Bianchi Passes Away

Today is Day One for Formula One – the start of a new count of days since the last driver death. A huge run of reforms and developments across all areas of Formula One safety occurring over the two decades since the last on track driver death made it seem like the modern sport produced indestructible racers. The last career ending crash, by my count, was Luciano Burti’s barrier-spearing shunt at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2001. Alonso in Brazil, Button in Monaco, Webber in Valencia, even Kubica’s mammoth accident at the ’07 Canadian GP all demonstrate the improved safety standards which allowed all aforementioned drivers to survive their big impacts, usually with only a bruised ego to lament. So for a driver to die in this environment is shocking. As with Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths 21 years ago, we must use this tragedy to work out the kinks in safety, to ensure we limit the chances of another death as much as possible. But in contrast to other fatal crashes, we cannot blame a fault with the cars or the driver protection. Bianchi’s death was a freak accident. No protective equipment, perhaps not even cockpit canopies (which may have become inverted during the impact and caused further injury) could have saved Bianchi from injury when he hit the back of the JCB removing Sutil’s car in the rain in Suzuka. The matter lies with car removal procedure, a method which Martin Brundle has spoken against since – in a spookingly ironic twist – he had his own near miss with a tractor in the same spot during the rainy 1994 Suzuka Grand Prix.

I won’t go explaining the different things F1 can do – and has done (Virtual Safety Car, for example) – to improve again on the safety of the sport. That’s for another article – or the countless articles which have been written since Jules’crash nine months ago. Today we mourn for the loss of a racer. The loss of an otherwise certain future Championship challenger. The loss of a popular, enthusiastic young man with an infectious smile and a love for the job he lost his life doing. But as we struggle to overcome the shock of his passing, we must keep the Bianchi family in our thoughts. Phillippe Bianchi, Jules’ father, recently spoke out about Jules’ condition in hospital. He hated his son’s quality of life and insisted that the condition was “worse than if he had died” in the crash. Today, although grieving for the loss of their child, the Bianchi parents can begin to move on and mourn their son – rather than endure the daily torture inflicted upon them during Jules’ nine months in hospital, where though breathing unaided, he never regained consciousness.

Although cruel to admit, what undoubtedly makes this tragedy that much tougher is who it happened to. Bianchi’s talents had been blatantly obvious for many a year, even before he ran circles around his backmarker colleagues when racing for Marussia. The obvious highlight of his career will forever be scoring points from the back of the grid for Marussia – in the worst car on the grid. It was a drive reminiscent of a young Ayrton Senna or Gilles Villeneuve. His talent was obvious, and with Jules testing for Ferrari during last year, it appears that he may have been replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari when the Finn’s contract runs out. With a seat on the Prancing Horse I believe Bianchi would have been the first French Champion since his compatriot Alain Prost snatched his fourth and final Championship in 1989.

Bianchi tested for Ferrari in July of 2014 (c) Scuderia Ferrari

Instead, on Tuesday we bury our first driver in 21 years and Formula One will come together as a community to mourn the loss of one of their own. Formula One will never be safe – that’s part of the attraction for the men who race – but hopefully it will become even safer.

For now, Ciao Jules. Rest in Peace.

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FIA To Retire #17 In Honour Of Bianchi

The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile today announced that it is to retire the #17 from the driver number selection in honour of Jules Bianchi, whose driver number was 17.

The 25-year-old Frenchman lost his fight for life on Sunday morning, nine months after sustaining massive head injuries in a freak accident at the Japanese Grand Prix last year. Although breathing unaided, he never regained consciousness.

Bianchi chose the number 17 as his driver number when the FIA introduced permanent driver numbers at the beginning of the 2014 season. Today’s announcement means the number 17 will always belong to Jules Bianchi, the first driver to lose his life on track since Ayrton Senna 21 years ago.

Among the tributes paid to Bianchi since the news of his death emerged was former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montazemelo who confirmed that the Scuderia had planned to replace Kimi Raikkonen with Bianchi, once the Finn World Champion retired. Bianchi had been a Ferrari academy member and test drove for them several times, most recently at Silverstone in July of last year.

Bianchi’s funeral will be held on Tuesday in Nice, France.

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Clarkson to spearhead North Korean F1 bid

North Korea have announced that Jeremy Clarkson is to spearhead it’s bid to host a Formula One race in 2016. The Briton made headlines this month when reports of a ‘fracas’ with a BBC producer came out, and ultimately lost him his role as a presenter on Top Gear.

Rumours of North Korea’s hopes to enter a bid have been whispered in the paddock for the last few days, but North Korean leader Kim-Jong-un confirmed their bid this morning in a press conference aired on North Korean TV.

“Well, the cat was let out of the bag a bit, I suppose”, said the 32-year-old. “It’s true that we’re looking at holding an F1 race at the moment.

“I was a big fan of Narain Karthikeyan’s and I really hope he can race in my country. It’d be super cool,” explained the Leader.

“We’ve asked Hermann Tilke to design us a track in the shape of an F1 car, but he said that’d be a bit too exciting.  I guess we’ll just take a typical Tilke track, which’ll probably be a bit dull to be honest.

“It’ll be WAY better than South Korea’s though”, Jong-un added.

South Korea hosted a Grand Prix between 2010 and 2012 before it was booted off the calendar due to spiralling ticket sales and poor racing. A planned marina, based on the Monaco and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix settings, was never constructed around the track.

Kim Jong-un says the North Korean track will have a firework display every ten minutes. He also promised that he would request that Hermann Tilke construct a Mario Kart style loop-the-loop in the second sector of the track.

As well as spearheading the Formula One bid, Jeremy Clarkson is to advise Kim Jong-un on dealing with Formula One management and their producers.

This story is a joke by the way. Happy April Fool’s Day!

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Super Seb Victorious In Malaysia

Sebastian Vettel stormed to victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix this afternoon, combining the Scuderia’s strong pace with a peculiar Mercedes strategy to take his fourth victory in Sepang.

The start of Vettel’s victory came with Marcus Ericsson botching an overtake on Romain Grosjean and spinning into the gravel at turn 1. His beached car brought out the Safety Car for several laps, and importantly saw the Mercedes duo dive for the pit lane, but second-placed Vettel staying out.

Several laps later, when the Safety Car came back into the pit lane, Vettel raced away in the front but Hamilton and Rosberg were stuck in traffic. Vettel had Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz and Perez to act as a buffer zone in front of Hamilton, with Rosberg another few cars behind again.

The reigning World Champion struggled more than expected to get past the misplaced midfield, and when he did finally get into free air, Hamilton surprisingly could not close the gap to the leading Ferrari. The gap lingered at the ten second mark until Vettel finally pitted.

Judging by Mercedes’ form last year and so far this year, it could be expected that the race was over with Vettel emerging from the pits in third place. On the contrary, the German sped up to his compatriot Nico Rosberg and took second before beginning his bloodthirsty chase of Hamilton who had a twelve second lead on him.

Within no time though, Vettel was within two seconds of Hamilton as the latter frantically reported that his tyres were degrading rapidly. The Ferrari was drawing even with the Mercedes later on the same lap and Hamilton ducked into the pit lane to adopt a new set of boots.

Vettel stayed out in front until his second stop, by which Hamilton had closed the gap to fifteen seconds. Crucially, Vettel emerged from his final stop ahead of Rosberg while Lewis reported that his tyres felt very bad and soon pitted again.

Emerging from the pits, Hamilton complained that his tyres were the hard compound as opposed to the faster medium tyres, but was told that he had the only fresh tyres available to him. His team-mate also pitted and slotted back into the race in third.

With the top three drivers having completed their final stops for the race, the Grand Prix turned into a procession to the flag, with Vettel unchallenged on his way to the 56th lap where he took the chequered flag. Crossing the line, he secured his 40th victory in Formula One – putting him one behind Ayrton Senna’s tally of wins.

In contrast to his team-mate’s straight-forward day, Raikkonen fought an uphill battle on his way to fourth. The Finn took a stab from Felipe Nasr’s front wing on the first lap and had to endure a full lap with a flailing Pirelli carcass. The rest of his afternoon was spent clawing back from the very back of the grid.

Pastor Maldonado also suffered a puncture this weekend, an innocent victim for the second weekend in a row. He was nudged by the returning Valtteri Bottas and also dropped down the classification. The Venezuelan’s afternoon ended prematurely when he was beckoned into the pit lane to retire the car.

In the other Lotus, Romain Grosjean finished just outside the points, as he crossed the line eleventh. The Frenchman was hit by Force India’s Sergio Perez as he attempted an overtake, but made a fantastic save in an out-of-control spin, which prevented him from ending in a similar fate to that of Ericsson in the earlier part of the race.

Perez was awarded a ten-second penalty for causing the incident, and his team-mate took the same penalty for a similar infringement: he kicked Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull into a spin at the second turn, losing the Russian time and a place to Daniel Ricciardo. The latter suffered throughout with a plume of brake dust shooting from the car at every corner, but survived the race to finish tenth.

Both Red Bull men were behind their sister team. The young and impressive Max Verstappen finished ahead of Carlos Sainz when an out braking incident turned into an impromptu overtake, while Kvyat finished ninth ahead of Ricciardo.

The Williams team-mates were a lap down by the end of the race, which seems to be a step down from their 2014 showing. The Grove-based drivers battled tooth-and-nail over the final stages of the race and it was Bottas who emerged on top, finishing fourth ahead of Massa in fifth.

Roberto Merhi was the sole Manor car driving today after an issue was discovered on Will Steven’s car shortly before the race. Despite losing one car, the team were fairly upbeat as they celebrated getting their car to the end of the race: an impressive feat for a team which didn’t exist two months ago.

Ferrari’s Team Principal Mario Arrivabene said pre-season that the team’s goal for the year was to win two races. With half of the objective met after just two races, it seems hard to imagine them not achieving it. But can Vettel and Ferrari challenge Hamilton for the title?

Full Race Results:

  1. Sebastian Vettel
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Nico Rosberg
  4. Kimi Raikkonen
  5. Valtteri Bottas
  6. Felipe Massa
  7. Max Verstappen
  8. Carlos Sainz
  9. Daniil Kvyat
  10. Daniel Ricciardo
  11. Romain Grosjean
  12. Felipe Nasr
  13. Sergio Perez
  14. Nico Hulkenberg
  15. Roberto Merhi
  • Pastor Maldonado
  • Jenson Button
  • Fernando Alonso
  • Marcus Ericsson

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

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Hamilton Drives To Controlled Australian Victory

Lewis Hamilton began his title defence by claiming his second victory at Albert Park, keeping team-mate Nico Rosberg at arms length from the beginning.

The reigning Champion faced intermittent challenges from Rosberg slipping within a second or two of the sister Mercedes car, but realistically held complete control over the Grand Prix from pole to flag.

While the Mercedes duo cruised predictably up front, the grid behind them was anything but predictable. The Manor drivers had failed to make Qualifying as their team struggled to reinstall software to the cars for the new season, meaning Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi will have to wait until at least Malaysia before turning a wheel in anger.

Kevin Magnussen was one of three other drivers who failed to start the race: the Dane, who was drafted in to replace the injured Fernando Alonso, saw his Honda engine give up on his lap from the pits to the grid pre-race. Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat also ended his race effort on his lap to the grid when a terminal problem with his gearbox was discovered. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas failed to even take his car from the garage today, as he was not given medical permission to race. The Finn injured the small of his back yesterday in Qualifying and failed one of the aspects of the mandatory extraction tests earlier today, meaning he will have to wait until Malaysia to begin his season proper.

These five absences left only fifteen cars on the grid for the race start, but the car number soon dropped to thirteen. Pastor Maldonado was the innocent victim of a jab from Felipe Nasr which sent him into the barriers at turn 2 and deployed the Safety Car. Meanwhile, his Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean suffered a technical fault which sent him out of the race, compounding a dismal weekend for Lotus.

With Maldonado’s stricken Lotus cleared, the Safety Car pitted and Hamilton led the drivers away for the first full racing lap of 2015. Nico Rosberg stuck close to the rear wing of the sister Mercedes, but third placed Felipe Massa soon lost sight of the Silver Arrows, such is the advantage the World Champions hold.

Further down the grid, the eleven other drivers had grouped together into individual battles spaced out along the track. Daniel Ricciardo spent time in front of his home crowd trying to keep Kimi Raikkonen’s slightly damaged prancing horse behind him. Further behind, Sergio Perez and Jenson Button were scrapping for the final places when the Mexican botched an overtake on his former team-mate and spun at turn 3.

The battle for third between Massa and Vettel was going well for the Brazilian until he pitted first and allowed Vettel to stay out in open air for several laps, while Felipe met traffic in the much slower RB11 of Daniel Ricciardo. When Vettel emerged from the pit lane a few laps later, he had promoted himself to third and held a cushion over the Williams.

Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen was doing a good effort of making up for the mistake he made in Qualifying which saw him start twelfth, and he stayed on track on his first set of tyres until lap 33 of 58. When the 17-year-old came out of the pits, however, a puff of smoke acted as a precursor for a full engine failure at Turn 15 a minute later. The heartbroken Dutchman clambered from his cockpit and lamented his bad luck as his former F1 racer father, Jos Verstappen, stormed out of the Toro Rosso garage.

Verstappen’s retirement reduced the number of cars to twelve, but when Kimi Raikkonen’s left-rear tyre came loose after a pit stop four laps later, the Finn was forced to pull over at turn 4 and stomp back to the paddock. As Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene grilled the pit crew as to why the car left the pits without the wheel properly attached, the stewards announced that the unsafe release will be investigated after the race. Raikkonen can expect a ten-place grid penalty for the Malaysian Grand Prix, as is the standard penalty for an infringement of this type.

With the racing drivers now limited to eleven, only Carlos Sainz and Marcus Ericsson gave commentators something to talk about as the latter caught and passed the former in the final laps. Up front though, Hamilton was untouched as he led Rosberg across the line for his 34th victory.

Sebastian Vettel crossed the line to take a podium finish on his debut with Ferrari, while Felipe Massa shadowed the Scuderia over the line. Felipe Nasr finished fifth on his Formula One debut – the highest result for a Brazilian driver in his first F1 race. Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, while Marcus Ericsson scored six points from finishing seventh – meaning Sauber take fourteen points home from the Grand Prix. Having gone scoreless in 2014, this will certainly not go uncelebrated. Carlos Sainz joined Felipe Nasr as a rookie scoring a point on his debut, when the Spaniard finished ninth for Toro Rosso. Sergio Perez was the final points finisher for Force India, while Jenson Button finished dead-last and was the only man to cross the line without scoring a point.

Provisional Race Results:

  1. Lewis Hamilton
  2. Nico Rosberg
  3. Sebastian Vettel
  4. Felipe Massa
  5. Felipe Nasr
  6. Daniel Ricciardo
  7. Nico Hulkenberg
  8. Marcus ericsson
  9. Carlos Sainz
  10. Sergio Perez
  11. Jenson Button
  • Kimi Raikkonen – Loose wheel
  • Max Verstappen – Mechanical failure
  • Romain Grosjean – Mechanical failure
  • Pastor Maldonado – Collision
  • Kevin Magnussen (DNS)
  • Daniil Kvyat (DNS)
  • Valtteri Bottas (DNS)

DNS – Did Not Start

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team. 

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Hamilton Eases To Australian GP Pole

Lewis Hamilton stormed to an unchallenged pole position at the Australian Grand Prix today, as Mercedes team-mate Rosberg predictably filled out the front row, albeit six-tenths down on Hamilton’s lap.

While Hamilton set an incredibly quick 1.26.4 on his first timed lap in Q3, Rosberg made a mistake at T15, sliding off the track and bailing into the pitlane as a result. This put the German on the back foot as he began his second timed lap, and could only go 1.26.9 – before Hamilton went faster again and put down a 1.26.3 lap as the checkered flag fell.

Felipe Massa was the best of the rest, slipping ahead of the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. On his Qualifying performance, Vettel said “3rd was possible today and we didn’t do it. It’s possible again tomorrow.” While Massa has reason to smile with his grid slot, his 1.27.7 laptime put him 1.3 seconds shy of Hamilton’s lap – showing the huge gap between Mercedes and the rest of the grid already.

Valtteri Bottas made a mistake coming out of the final corner on his flying lap and had to wrestle his Williams into staying in a straight line. The slip cost him time and the Finn qualified sixth, although it emerged afterwards that he had been complaining of a pain in the small of his back since the middle of Q2. Williams’ Head of Vehicle Performance Rob Smedley says they don’t know yet what is causing the pain, but a very stiff looking Bottas clambering from his cockpit post-Quali is an ominous sign for his race performance tomorrow.

Carlos Sainz had a strong showing on his Formula One debut as he qualified eighth ahead of the Lotus duo, who were equally pleased to make it into Q3 after their dismal 2014 showing. While Sainz’s eighth is a strong performance for Toro Rosso, his younger team-mate Max Verstappen showed immense promise when he went fourth in Q1, before his car let him down on the apex of turn 4 and ruined his flying lap in Q2. The Dutchman could place no higher than twelfth today, but money would be on him shooting through the grid in tomorrow’s Grand Prix.

Sauber’s Felipe Nasr was the first man to miss Q3, although qualifying eleventh is still something to be pleased about for his team following their pathetic effort last season. On the other hand, Nasr’s team-mate Marcus Ericsson was knocked out in Q1 and will line up sixteenth on the grid, almost a second slower than the sister car in the first session.

Daniil Kvyat qualified thirteenth in his first race since his promotion from sister team Toro Rosso, and ironically was just behind replacement Max Verstappen. Kvyat will have the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez behind him on the grid tomorrow.

Excluding Mercedes’ astonishing lead over the rest of the field, McLaren were probably the talking point of the session as Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen qualified on the back row of the grid for the race. Button’s best lap in Q1 was 1.5s behind that of what was needed to progress to the next group. The team broke the curfew last night as they struggled with the new Honda engine, and their long night could easily develop into a long season.

Manor weren’t ready to take part in Qualifying as they continued to reinstall the software that was wiped from their cars at the end of last season, and so cannot take part in the race tomorrow. Their efforts turn instead to the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Although six-tenths down on his team-mate, Rosberg wasn’t happy with his Quali lap and the realistic difference between the Mercedes duo is a lot smaller. Still, if Rosberg doesn’t jump Hamilton before turn 1 tomorrow it’s tough to see him out-racing the Briton in a straight fight.

Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Results:

  1. Lewis Hamilton
  2. Nico Rosberg
  3. Felipe Massa
  4. Sebastian Vettel
  5. Kimi Raikkonen
  6. Valtteri Bottas
  7. Daniel Ricciardo
  8. Carlos Sainz
  9. Romain Grosjean
  10. Pastor Maldonado
  11. Felipe Nasr
  12. Max Verstappen
  13. Daniil Kvyat
  14. Nico Hulkenberg
  15. Sergio Perez
  16. Marcus Ericsson
  17. Jenson Button
  18. Kevin Magnussen
  • Will Stevens (NT)
  • Roberto Merhi (NT)

NT = No Time

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team. 

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Rosberg Stays Fastest In FP2, But Hamilton Gets Closer

Nico Rosberg continued his strong morning showing by staying on top of the timesheets in FP2. His lead over team-mate Lewis Hamilton was more than halved, however, and Hamilton finished just a tenth shy of Rosberg’s time with the soft-compound runs completed in the afternoon.

With the track ‘rubbered in’, i.e. having more grip, after the first session, drivers began to push the limits a little harder on their laps. Alonso stand-in Kevin Magnussen was one of these drivers, but he stretched the limits too far and he skipped through the gravel at turn 5 before clouting the barriers as a result. The Dane was left with only a battered ego as a red flag was thrown to recover the damaged McLaren.

Other drivers who pushed the limits were a bit luckier: Carlos Sainz spun and continued at T15, Pastor Maldonado slid off-track at the same spot and his Lotus team-mate hobbled through the gravel at T3.

The Sauber drivers finally graced the track – their morning running hampered by the looming threat of Giedo van der Garde’s court case – but while Felipe Nasr’s first practice as an F1 driver was fairly straightforward, a problem on his left-rear tyre slowed Marcus Ericsson’s progress as he had to spend the rest of the session in the garage.

The Manor drivers were the only other team who failed to get their drivers on track for FP1 – and they had no success in getting drivers out for FP2. The team must completely reinstall software on the cars, meaning they will likely miss the Grand Prix on Sunday. Manor drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi could do nothing but stand idly by as their cars were tinkered on.

Felipe Massa also missed the session as a water leak discovered before FP2 began restricted his car to the garage. The other Williams, piloted by Valtteri Bottas, went fifth fastest behind the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Although the Scuderia drivers temporarily went first and second when they swapped to the softer compound Pirelli, it seems already that Mercedes should claim the front row for themselves in Qualifying tomorrow.

Free Practice Two results:

  1. Nico Rosberg
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Sebastian Vettel
  4. Kimi Raikkonen
  5. Valtteri Bottas
  6. Daniil Kvyat
  7. Carlos Sainz
  8. Pastor Maldonado
  9. Romain Grosjean
  10. Nico Hulkenberg
  11. Felipe Nasr
  12. Sergio Perez
  13. Jenson Button
  14. Max Verstappen
  15. Marcus Ericsson
  16. Kevin Magnussen
  17. Daniel Ricciardo (NT)
  18. Felipe Massa (NT)
  19. Will Stevens (NT)
  20. Roberto Merhi (NT)

NT = No Time

Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Team.

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