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In Case There Is Any Doubt


In reference to:

“Analysis: Brawn and Hamilton defiant amid Mercedes F1 storm” [Note: Ben Anderson, it’s actually “bated breath.”]

“‘I’m still in charge’ – Brawn” [Note: ESPN staff, it’s actually “complementary.”]

NY International Auto Show 2012

It’s been, er,  a while since I stopped by, but this seems like the best place to post a bunch of photos from the New York International Auto Show, as I did last year. Last year’s post was super-popular, by the way; people seem to enjoy photos of F1 cars, even when they’re taken by the likes of me. I have some amateurish photos of F1 cars this year, as well, although it was a little more difficult to get them. There was always a rope or other barrier of some kind getting in the way, and the lighting where the Lotus was was all wrong. However, as usual, nothing was going to stop me from snapping photos indiscriminately!

(Note: In this gallery, you can access hi-res versions by clicking on the Permalink.)

News of the Day: January 4, 2012

Just now sitting down to read the news and write this post — which doesn’t bode well, considering I usually would have posted by this time. Oh, currency-based economy that makes it necessary for me to have a job, how I resent you!

Clearly, the biggest F1 news story today is this item from Alan Permane’s Twitter:

The Iceman cometh…. (well, to Enstone tomorrow for a seat fit!)

No, wait… I’m sorry! That’s not actually the biggest F1 news story today. For a moment, I had it confused with the F1 news story that made me flush anew with excitement as I was reminded again that Kimi really is coming back. Yes he is. I get those confused a lot, actually.

The real biggest F1 news story of the day was this:

How Does That New Blocking Rule Work, Anyway? The FIA Tells All!

2012 F1 Sporting and Technical Regulations, published today on the FIA web site.

This article by Andrew Benson on the BBC site and this one by Keith Collantine on F1 Fanatic provide good summaries of the new rule changes. The one that seems to have caused the greatest amount of argument is this:

20.3 More than one change of direction to defend a position is not permitted. Any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position off‐line, should leave at least one car width between his own car and the edge of the track on the approach to the corner.

Keith Collantine has been explaining to commenters on his site all day that this is merely a codification of one of the unspoken yet already existing rules of F1. Stewards have been enforcing it for a while now; it just never used to be written down anywhere. Now it is. Nothing to get upset about, right?

The thing is, I hate these kinds of rules.  The other thing is, I don’t feel very qualified to argue about why I hate these kinds of rules. When Peter Windsor says “More rules are taking the art away from defence and attack,” that sounds intelligent and like something I want to agree with. However, the real truth of my problem with this is nothing so logical. It almost certainly has more to do with how I can’t get my head around the concept of not being allowed to do just about anything to defend your position in a race. I can see it now: me, in an F1 car, weaving back and forth several times trying to keep someone behind me, getting penalized, then not being able to stop myself from doing the same thing again the next time someone threatened me. Because what am I going to do? Just let him go right by? I think not! Reason number five million and two why I would make a terrible racing driver.

All of that aside, though, less ambiguity where steward decisions are concerned would be welcomed by many. Some, though, have been wondering exactly how much less ambiguity this rule will lead to. For example, is leaving a car width feasible in the approach to every corner? Will the stewards be deciding some such things on a case-by-case basis? And, if so, how does having article 20.3 to point to make any difference at all?

It will make a difference because everyone will at least be on the same page with regard to the standards the stewards are using to begin with, even if they do then consider them in light of the particular circumstances of a given situation. Keith Collantine makes a very good case for turning unwritten rules into written rules in this post from 2008, in the wake of a controversial ruling against Lewis Hamilton.

The Disappearing AT&T Logo Was No Fluke

Williams spokesperson confirms title sponsor news to Reuters

As everyone basically knew as of yesterday, Williams and AT&T have ended their title sponsorship relationship; this has now been confirmed. It has left Williams in the market for a new title sponsor, and Joe Saward is reporting that Qtel, the Qatar telecommunications company, is rumored to be a candidate. What implications, if any, this might have in terms of driver choices isn’t clear. Or maybe it would mean staying with the known quantity that is Rubens Barrichello.

Also, I’ve got to agree with Saward about one thing: that Qtel logo could be blended very attractively with the Williams logo. If I weren’t so fricking exhausted right now, I’d play around with that in Photoshop. Maybe in the morning.

And now, because I just spent literally an hour chasing quotes from Luca di Montezemolo all around the internet and came up with a big mess of weirdness, none of which ended up qualifying as news of THIS particular day, I am going to have to give up until tomorrow. Maybe, by then, I’ll have come up with a combined Williams/Qtel logo that’s so fantastic and stunning and brilliant that both parties will have no choice but to strike a lucrative deal with one another. And then they’ll come to me in their gratitude, asking what they can ever do to repay me. In response, I will humbly request that I be able to choose the driver for next season. This all seems really plausible — don’t you agree? Stay tuned…

News of the Day: January 3, 2012

Today is my last day as a free woman before returning to work. Now, to make the most of it by really digging into some juicy, exciting F1 news!

Uh. Yeah. Er. So much to choose from today.

There Is Something Conspicuously Missing from the Williams Site

See for yourself.

Up at the top of their home page, where the logo is? Anything look different?

The apparent end to AT&T title sponsorship for the Williams team is probably the only thing that qualifies as actual F1 news today. Actually, I first saw it pointed out yesterday on Twitter, but it wasn’t until today that news stories in English started to pop up online. Here’s one, from SpeedTV. I don’t see any announcements on the Williams web site, and it’s not clear to me what “initial reports” the article is referring to, but you’ll see that same wording pretty much everywhere — it’s all from the same GMM wire story.

Oh, look — it turns out  Joe Saward posted about all this on his blog yesterday, but I didn’t see it until today. (I thought he was still on vacation!) In fact, he might be the “initial reports” the GMM wire article is referring to. Why don’t people just cite sources? I’m never going to understand that. Unless your story is based on information from an anonymous source, it would be nice to know who/what the source is!

Anyway, according to Saward, the national bank of Qatar, QNB, will soon be announced as Williams’ new title sponsor.

More Words from Adrian Newey, OBE

Interview with Autosport.

Straight after his interview yesterday with Unnamed ESPNF1 Staffer, Adrian Newey headed over to Autosport HQ to chat with Jon Noble and Pablo Elizalde. On his way in, he passed Nico Rosberg, who was just leaving and stopped to greet him.

“So,” Nico said, cheekily plucking a nonexistent piece of lint from the lapel of Adrian’s sportcoat. “I hear you are going to try to have your car ready for Jerez?”

Newey smiled agreeably. “Yes, I think that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Nico shrugged. “If you’re sure that’s the best way to proceed. Of course, you know best, but… There are those teams that would prefer to perfect every detail for an extra two weeks.”

“And there are those teams that have no need of an extra two weeks to perfect every detail.”

Nico laughed, perhaps too loudly. “Of course. See you in Barcelona, each with our perfect cars…”

Newey turned and headed into Jon Noble’s office for his interview — and that next part of his day turned out to be very much par for the course.

As Adrian Newey has said many times in many interviews (and says again here), Sebastian Vettel is a very intelligent and hard-working young lad who is constantly putting every aspect of his race under a microscope and trying to fine-tune it to absolute perfection. I think a lot of people would prefer that he did less of that. Maybe he could take up a hobby, like R&B album recording? But no — I don’t think he’s going to stop doing what he’s doing anytime soon.

So, Newey tells Autosport, one can expect Vettel to be using this break to take a very close look at the mistakes he made during this past season — mistakes like the fateful one in Canada. Oh, Canada.

…he was distraught post-race – that he had been beaten, having dominated the whole race, on the last lap.

Well, we all were to be honest.

Oh yeah, I hear that. Distraught is what I was, too. However, I’ll be surprised if we see Vettel make that particular mistake again. See the last hundred interviews with Adrian Newey or Christian Horner for the reason why.

Newey also says no one on the team is tired of winning yet. They’d actually like to continue doing that.

God, no, I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do to make this story interesting. I mean, I love hearing about how great Seb is a lot more than the next guy, and it makes me happy that Newey and Horner genuinely think so highly of him, but I honestly feel like I’ve read this interview twenty times in the past year. The first time I read it, I loved it. The second time I read it, I loved it. But…damn, people. Are there some new questions someone could ask Red Bull management at some point?

Jules Bianchi Says Things About 2012

French radio interview, reported numerous places, like ESPNF1.

Jules Bianchi, the Ferrari test driver and GP2 racer about whom you sometimes find yourself wondering, “Wait — he’s Italian, right? No, no — French. French.” is now rumored to be in contention for the Force India test/Friday driver position. Basically, he’d be this year’s Nico Hülkenberg, the Hulk obviously having graduated to racing full time for the team. I haven’t heard a lot of people saying they were blown away by Bianchi’s awesomeness in GP2 (he finished third in the 2011 championship), so I hope all this works out for him. I’m also not sure whether this means he is not going to be competing in GP2 in 2012. Anyone know?

“Sustainability Director”?

News item in the Austin Business Journal.

The Circuit of the Americas has hired Edgar Farrera as its “director of sustainability.” No, I don’t know exactly what that is, either. Oh, wait — the article says! See link above. You should go read it and see if it sounds like the sort of career you might want to pursue. I’d reproduce the description here, but I’m deeply opposed to the use of the word “green” to mean “environmentally friendly,” and that happens twice in the relevant paragraph of the article.

I know this is not exactly thrilling F1 news — or even F1 news at all, except in the most tangential sense — but it struck me as encouraging that COTA is hiring people for positions other than the most fundamental ones, like “director of making sure a circuit exists by November.”

Speaking of whom, it looks like he or she has been busy; here are some photos of the circuit posted on Facebook today.

And now, I’d like to thank you for making it this far into this blog entry. BY GOD, this was a dull day for F1 news. Perhaps tomorrow will be more exciting…

News of the Day: January 2, 2012

Around this time of year, a type of “news” story that’s always around becomes a lot more prevalent. You might call it the “This Guy Has Something to Say, and Here It Is” story. It isn’t “news” in the sense of something of note happening — someone getting hired or fired, a rule change being made, etcetera — it’s the sharing of a couple of statements someone involved in the sport said in an interview, something that fans might find interesting. Or not. Probably depends on what kind of mood you’re in and how starved you are for something to read about F1, because, to be honest, it’s usually a bit dull. Minor measures could be taken to make them a bit less dull (see below for some ideas), but most F1 journalists, presumably saddled with numerous deadlines and strict word limits, tend to stick with just-the-facts reporting.

Today, Autosport and ESPNF1 both led off with “This Guy Said Stuff” stories on their home pages.

Nico Rosberg Says Things About His Team Missing the First Test

Autosport interviews Nico Rosberg.

You probably heard about Mercedes deciding to skip the first preseason test at Jerez in order to continue developing their 2012 car, and ever since then you’ve probably been wondering, “Hmm…but what does Nico Rosberg think about that decision?”

Well, wonder no more. Autosport has interviewed Rosberg about this and other matters — although if you want to know about the other matters, you’ll need to pay up. Nonpaying readers, this is what you’ll need to be content with: Nico Rosberg doesn’t have a problem with the decision to delay testing. As he stroked his attractively stubbled jaw, the dashing German explained to Jon Noble that he has full confidence in the team, specifically in the restructured tech part of the team, and if they say it’s important to have that extra time for car development, then he’s happy to get on board with that. “This year,” he said with the barest hint of a wry grin, “we would not have managed to do the first race if we had run the car that late.” He leaned closer with a slightly conspiratorial air, the leather of his jacket creaking with the movement. “But with the way the factory is now optimised, I am confident that we can quite happily make it happen…”

“Quite happily make it happen.” Let’s hope he’s right. We need Mercedes out there being competitive. It would be a great thing to see their drivers on the podium in 2012.

Adrian Newey Says Things About the RB8

ESPNF1 interviews Adrian Newey.

He’s obviously not going to say anything specific, but what Adrian Newey does say gives the impression that he is not too bothered by the 2012 rule changes. No exhaust-blown diffusers allowed? Well, it’s not as though it’s the first time he’s had to work a change like that into his car design. I takes a lot more than that to faze Adrian Newey, my friends.

No need for a wholesale overhaul of the basic design, Newey says. The RB8 will be an “evolution” of the very successful car of the past three years, and it’s going to “kick your ass” even more comprehensively. (Note: “kick your ass” is a direct quote from me, not Newey.)

But, the ESPNF1 interviewer asked, isn’t it really bloody annoying that this innovation you’ve perfected is now against the rules?

No, Newey is not too upset about that, because he’s been in F1 a long time, and that’s just the way it works. A team comes up with something awesome, and sooner or later, for one reason or another, it’s banned. “That’s the nature of the business,” he said mildly.

Newey also hopes Red Bull will be able to maintain the crazy-fantastic reliability they enjoyed during the 2011 season — but perhaps “enjoyed” is the wrong word. According to Newey, they have “hard work and discipline” to thank for that reliability. It’s not as though it’s something that simply fell from the heavens.

It became clear during the course of this interview that nothing the ESPNF1 staff member said was going to upset the coolness of Adrian Newey in any way — not mentioning of the forbidden exhaust-blown diffusers, not bringing up how unusual and unlikely the reliability of the car was last season, nothing. Flustered and frustrated at his inability to shake the man up, the interviewer ended the interview by leaping from his chair and yelling, “Yeah? Well, you could have at least made sure your fly was zipped before you got here!”

But Adrian Newey merely cocked an eyebrow and smiled pleasantly as he rose to leave and thanked the staff member for his time, never looking down in even the briefest moment of self-doubt. Naturally, his fly was impeccably zipped — in fact, much to the staff member’s annoyance, it was the most expertly zipped fly he’d ever seen. Damn that man…

Don’t Count Rubens Barrichello Out Just Yet

Andrew Benson BBC blog entry.

Andrew Benson, being a super-cool “insider” with “sources” and whatnot, has some actual information to provide today that requires little or no embellishment. Williams is, as Benson reminds us, the only decent option for an open race seat right now, and there is a surfeit of recently sacked drivers out there who would be only too happy to plant their jumpsuited behinds in that very seat. Williams is free to essentially sit back, relax, and ponder the possibilities, secure in the knowledge that whoever they do offer that seat to will absolutely not say “no.”

What is now coming to light and is reported here by Benson is the fact that Williams might, in the end, not make any changes at all to their 2011 driver lineup. Rubens Barrichello recently has shown himself willing to do everything just short of falling on his knees and begging to keep that seat, including finding sponsors if he needs to. As much as people love the guy, it seems a popular fan opinion that it’s probably just about time for him to retire. However, as Benson points out (and Barrichello himself has argued), it might be a good idea to keep some continuity where the drivers are concerned, especially in the face of the many other changes the team is undergoing.

In addition, Benson has been “told” that Patrick Head was somewhat less than charmed by Barrichello’s many complaints about the team, and he points out that now that Head has severed professional ties with the team entirely, that’s “one less barrier” to Barrichello being retained.

The other names you hear most often in association with the Williams seat are Adrian Sutil and Bruno Senna. Sutil is apparently trying to negotiate too short a contract for Williams’ liking (see Auto Motor und Sport and James Allen’s site). In the past few days there have been intertubes rumors that’s Senna is close to a deal — but there are intertubes rumors about lots of things, of course. Dimitris Papadopoulo seems to think there is something to the Senna vs. Barrichello idea, though.

My personal preference is to see Bruno in F1 next season — period. He’s an agreeable, sensible guy who keeps his feet on the ground and is being realistic about exploring all options, but I have no doubt this Williams seat would be his first choice. And let’s not forget what happened when he and Barrichello went for the same seat back in 2009! Maybe it’s time for a little turning of the tables…

News of the Day: January 1, 2012

It is New Year’s Day, and none of us are exactly swimming against a mighty current of thousands of F1 news stories. Now is the time when F1 drivers are engaged in activities like shoveling snow, torturing themselves by not eating bacon sandwiches, and clinging to the backs of daredevil motorcyclists, but one thing they aren’t super-busy with at the moment is making F1 news. One consequence of this, I suppose, is that it will be a bit easier for me to meet my goal for the month of January, which is to post something about current F1 news stories in this blog every single day — and the fewer stories there are, the less of an intimidating task that should be. Right?

Let’s get started and find out…

Ferrari Will Be Back. They Hope. I Mean, the Chances Are at Least Fair to Middling, I Think We’d All Agree.

Autosport quotes Stefano Domenicali, Pat Fry, and Luca di Montezemolo.

Every so often, the folks at Ferrari seem to like to remind us that they have always been and will always be a force to be reckoned with, and that it is only a matter of time before they reclaim their rightful place at the top of the world contructors’ championship and make you truly fear them once again.

And then sometimes, instead, they say things like in this article: Today on Autosport.com, Stefano Domenicali is quoted as saying that he and the team are “optimistic,” “doing a reasonable job,” and “working in the right direction.” Part of his slightly understated optimism comes from the change in the regulations to eliminate off-throttle exhaust blowing, as his team was never quite able to get that right. Pat Fry, chassis technical director and possessor of one of the most glorious heads of hair in F1, says they’ve made improvements in one of the main areas that gave them trouble in 2011 — namely, their imperfect wind tunnel data correlations — and that the engineers, especially in the aero department, are being “a lot more creative.” Finally, di Montezemolo is quoted on the subject of Ferrari’s recent organizational changes, which he describes as “good improvements…without a revolution.” He’s not expecting a miracle overnight; just improvement from year to year.

I think all of this serves to remind us that not everyone associated with the Ferrari organization communicates like the Horse Whisperer. Sure, it would be a lot more entertaining if they did — but are they here to amuse us? Are they a clown to us? No, they are not, and these are not imperious statements made by those who are bragging about a sure thing. Even di Montezemolo, who often sounds that way, doesn’t here. I’d describe the mood here as “cautious optimism.” Which, I think, is about the most that can reasonably be expected from anyone aspiring to stop the Red Bull/Vettel juggernaut.

A note on the reporting:  The quotes from Fry are from a December interview with Autosport, but the source(s) of the quotes from Domenicali and di Montezemolo are not clear from this article. I always find that annoying. There’s also an almost unreadable sentence that has two phrases set off with em dashes and “it’s” used in place of “its” — but the failure to mention the source of the quotes is even more annoying.

Sebastien Buemi May or May Not Be Close to Becoming a Red Bull Test Driver

Reported in Blick in fairly uncertain terms. (As far as I can tell.)

The fact that the Blick article states that no one will say whether a contract has been signed is not stopping other media outlets (SpeedTV.com, for example)  from picking this story up and reporting it, although they are careful to qualify the news with words like “reportedly.” Well, I suppose I’ve heard more bizarre things in my life; I wouldn’t be totally shocked if this did end up being true.

What’s been surprising me more is some of the reaction I’ve seen from fans, which can be summarized as “Why him and not Alguersuari?!” As though this plum reserve driver job would be the first choice of either former Toro Rosso driver. The whole thing has to feel like a hearty kick in the teeth. Maybe Buemi, for whatever reason, feels as though this is the only way he’ll be able to stay in F1 right now, while Alguersuari is exploring other options. Who knows?

Of course, some are bound to speculate that the notorious video of Alguersuari getting an earful from Helmut Marko has something to do with all this — and, I’ve got to tell you, I’m already tired of people making so much of that clip. Really, guys? You’d think no one had ever been chewed out by their boss without getting fired before. And, frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed by Marko’s level of anger in that video. But hey, maybe that’s just me. You should see some of the workplace arguments I’ve had…

Marussia F1 Unleashes Its Decent-Looking New Logo

This was probably in a press release for actual media types; however, see it here on their new Facebook page and web site.

The F1 team formerly known as “Virgin” and then “Marussia Virgin” is, as of today, now officially known as “Marussia.” The main form this news is taking is reporting of the new logo — which, in my opinion, isn’t bad. Sort of a tasteful marriage between the straight-up Marussia logo and the Van Halen logo. However, the Marussia logo itself really, really reminds me of certain 1980s video games. For example, take a look at the Marussia logo, here. Now imagine it slotting neatly into the top row of aliens in this screenshot from Galaga:

Right? That’s what I’m saying!

Oh, the Unfinished Posts

So many unfinished posts. They just loom there in my Drafts folder, tapping their fingers on the table, eyebrows raised in silent judgment. They’re really starting to get on my nerves.

I realize now I haven’t posted anything on this blog in more than a month, and it has nothing to do with waning interest in the sport, which I still spend an unseemly percentage of my waking hours obsessing over. No, it has to do with the increasingly stringent standards I gradually set for myself in terms of post quality. What started out as brief, flippant comments on races and F1 news items eventually became long essays — and you know what’s a pain in the ass to write? Long frickin’ essays.

As an exercise in shame — and possibly as an exercise in freeing myself of them once and for all — I’m listing some of my unfinished posts from this season, along with brief excerpts, starting with the most recent.

Continue reading

Yeah, About That…

Okay, so approximately once each decade or so, the planets align themselves unfavorably and I end up being mistaken about something. And, every once in a great while, I’m actually kind of happy about that.

So it might just be crushed-under-the-heel-of-his-bright-blue-Puma domination, after all.

Actually, no, maybe I shouldn’t even commit those words to the intertubes. It might not be good luck. As I’ve mentioned, I control the fate of Chicago sports teams simply by virtue of which shirt I choose to wear during a game, and I’ve been known to inadvertently ruin Red Bull’s races by eating turkey sandwiches. Think it’s easy wielding that sort of power? Think again.  But as long as I stay away from turkey sandwiches next weekend, it probably won’t matter what I say about Vettel’s domination. It will still be there. And he will, sometime in the next five races,  succeed in scoring the one point necessary to win his second straight championship. Call it a hunch.

As it turns out, those rumors of Red Bull’s domination being “over” were greatly exaggerated (by the BBC, of all news outlets — imagine!). In fact, that domination seems to have steamed along rather impressively, even at two circuits where everyone expected the RB7 to have trouble. What can we make of that? How could this have happened? Why are the F1 gods seemingly deaf to the anguished cries of those who love close competition and who yearn for different, non-Vettel dudes to win races?

I think the reason is fairly clear. There is one driver who has pleased the F1 gods above all others by being exemplary in every respect. I don’t think I need to say his name. You know — that guy. If only he would begin a lucrative pop music career, right? Or start crashing into more people. Or not stay late with his engineers on a regular basis, working hard to get every last ounce of speed from his car, correct every minor mistake or difficulty, anticipate every possible problem. If only he’d give those superhuman, (sometimes literally) blistering pole laps a rest. If only he’d stop driving each lap of each race with the entire race and every minute aspect of it in mind. If only he’d stop being so damn curious about everything all the time, being the only driver to accept Pirelli’s invitation to visit their HQ and learn about the new tires over the winter break, doing little things like walking around  pouring water on the curbs the Thursday night before a race to test grip levels.

But these are things he will not do, and it’s this that makes the F1 gods smile benevolently and bestow great favor and rich rewards.

Perhaps if he would be so good as to keep his eyes firmly on his astronomical points total and stop driving every race as though it were the first of the season, with everything left for everyone to play for, then someone else might have a fighting chance. Back in July, he had this to say about whether he knew how many points in the lead he was over the next guy:

“No, I don’t know so please don’t tell me!

“I don’t care. The thing is as soon as they start mentioning points I skip that bit!

“What does it help? What is the gain, what do I learn from it? Obviously I know we are in the lead – you keep telling me – but it doesn’t really matter if it is one point or 100.

“What do I learn from it?” On the basis of everything I’ve read, this is one of the qualities that sets Vettel apart and will likely continue to set him apart: he’s a world champion, about to be one twice over, but he’s never going to stop trying to learn how to be better. He’s never going to just sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and believe he has it all sufficiently figured out.

People are starting to talk about Vettel differently now. I’m not talking about people “in the paddock,” obviously (how would I know?); I’m talking about the fans in online forums — the only F1 people I have contact with. Over the past two race weekends, I’ve noticed a thirty percent decrease in outright anti-Vettel hostility alongside a thirty-five percent increase in pro-Vettel admiration (some of which is grudging in nature, but what can you do?). Let’s see how those numbers I just made up pan out by the end of the season. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember there are still five races left, and so many things can happen.

Sebastian Vettel is a guy who just seems to be doing everything right at the moment. Of course, it’s impossible for a mere human to go on doing absolutely everything right forever. To expect as much would be a bit unfair. But if someone had a gun to my head and told me I had to bet on one guy doing it longer than everyone else, I know who I’d put my money on.

There’s Domination, and Then There’s Domination

And so we’ve reached another terrible, seemingly endless F1 summer break — that time of year when drivers jet off to the south of France for some quality uninterrupted cavorting with supermodels, journalists make a big show of how great it is to have a few weeks’ reprieve from the terrible drudgery of their work, and fans weep and wail about how empty their lives have become. How empty our lives have become. I’m certainly no exception; I find these breaks in the action to be weirdly excruciating, not quite like anything sports-related I’ve ever experienced. By the time first practice in Spa rolls around, the sound of an F1 engine will be like a healing salve applied to my soul. My very soul, I tell you!

Hyperbole aside, the summer break does suck. One needs something to fill the void, and sitting here next to my TV I have four, count ’em, FOUR season review DVDs from Netflix: 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Schumacher domination ahoy! I can only assume that watching the first three of those DVDs will bore me beyond belief and make me want to stop following F1 forever — at least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten, seeing people wail and gnash their teeth in remembrance of the Era of the Schumacher. It was a dark time, that, or so I hear. So dark that the sight of a German winning the first few races of the current season triggered something akin to a collective F1 fan PTSD episode that still hasn’t quite subsided.

No matter, though. From what I’ve been reading, Red Bull’s and Vettel’s domination is “over”! The RB7 is no longer the fastest car — at least not during races, when it really counts. This is even the case at circuits like the Hungaroring, full of the sorts of corners the RB7 normally relishes. Vettel got pole position there, but only just. I obviously can’t take issue with any of these statements except perhaps the first, although I suppose it comes down to how you’re using the word “domination.” People (other than me) will sleep more peacefully at night if Vettel isn’t winning ALL the races — and, if things stay as they are with the RB7 relative to the other cars, it’s pretty likely he won’t.

But Vettel and Webber aren’t going to sit still for an RB7 that isn’t what it could be, and I can’t imagine anyone else on the team is, either. Certainly not Adrian Newey, by all accounts one of the most competitive carbon-based life forms ever to walk the pit lane. Obviously no one is planning to circumvent the forced two-week break — that would be wrong — but, although you might be able to stop factories from churning out bits, you can’t stop someone’s brain from churning out brilliant ideas. Especially not his.

Will Red Bull find a way to resume their total, crushing domination in the face of McLaren’s and Ferrari’s considerable improvements? I’m going to go with a safe “maybe…?” because I’m not feeling cocky enough to comfortably offer up my usual trash talk at the moment. During the past two race weekends, I found myself filled with an unfamiliar sense of dread; this was the case even after Vettel won pole position in Hungary. Something just didn’t seem quite right with the car, and it was like you could read it on the faces of everyone on the team. Or maybe that’s me projecting. Vettel seemed more positive about what the car could have done during that race than I felt afterward, and I suppose he might know better than me. Maybe.

Still, we’re coming up on two circuits that aren’t exactly tailor-made for Red Bull’s car. We could be looking at another disastrous scenario in which Vettel is able to increase his championship lead by only a few points in each race! And see, that’s where one’s particular view of “dominance” becomes relevant. Vettel might be looking at a remainder of the season in which he doesn’t win ALL the races. But which one driver is going to step up and win them instead? That’s where the rest of the field runs into a problem. There simply isn’t one other driver presenting a challenge, racking up the points. It ought to be Alonso, right? Or Webber? And yet . . . no. Instead, four guys are battling it out for the points Vettel doesn’t win, spreading them fairly equitably amongst themselves. If those four guys were able to merge into one terrifying mutant superdriver, then yes, maybe Vettel’s domination of the season would be in some serious danger. As it is, I think it will continue. Perhaps not as spectacularly as at the beginning of the season, but surely and steadily.

The largest margin by which anyone led the championship last year was 14 points. Vettel’s current lead is 85 points. And he’ll continue to learn from every mistake, to adjust his performance accordingly, to do everything in his power to finish every single race, to wring everything possible out of that car no matter what the conditions, building on his lead even if he isn’t able to make it to the very top of the podium every time. That is my firm belief.

The season might not end with the same euphoric, crushed-under-the-heel-of-his-bright-blue-Puma kind of domination we saw at its beginning — but the trophy he wins at the end of it will be just as shiny, and his signature will be on it twice.

British Grand Prix at the City Winery

I watched the race at the City Winery in SoHo last weekend, and I really can’t say enough about what an excellent event that was. About two hundred of us hardcore F1 fans (and if you’re reading this somewhere other than the US, believe me when I tell you that was a number that impressed everyone involved) were welcomed into this restaurant — normally not open at 7:00 am, which is when we started turning up — and served coffee, drinks, and breakfast as we watched the race LIVE on large screens and were (crucially!) supplied with free WiFi. Wait, though — it gets better. What we were watching was the actual taping of the broadcast that would air on FOX later in the day for the rest of the country. Therefore, amazingly, we were actually addressed directly by Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, and Will Buxton, and we got to hear some of their unedited banter as they commented on the live race. The unadulterated freaking coolness of that cannot be overstated!

After the race, when everyone was still reeling from the team orders, er, incident that went down, we were shown a sizable clip from the Senna  documentary. A lot of people in the audience had already been lucky enough to see the movie — including me, twice (read my review here) — but it was a privilege to be treated to a piece of it again, enough to further whet our appetites for the movie’s official release here in the US in August (when we will all be taking our non-F1-fan friends to go see it, right? right?!).

So, although they are unlikely to read this, I really want to thank everyone involved in that entire event: Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, Will Buxton, and SpeedTV in general; the staff at the City Winery, at least some of whom had also worked the night before and were cheerful and helpful yet almost certainly exhausted; and the NYC meetup organizers, as well as those involved in distributing Senna here in the US, who I gathered had much to do with the whole event.

I was certainly left with mixed feelings about watching races with a bunch of other people in a bar, especially with the widespread (and eternally puzzling) loathing of Sebastian Vettel that’s so much in vogue these days. There sure were a hell of a lot of McLaren and Ferrari fans at this thing, not surprisingly, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard such a ferocious roar of joy as when the jack broke during that fateful pit stop.For maybe the hundredth time, I was left thinking, “Really? Is that how you want it to go down?” For many, apparently so. I actually heard one guy say, “I’ll take it any way I can get it!” and he’s clearly not alone there. Rather than seeing their guy triumph, they’re content to see their enemy meet random misfortune. Well, okay, then. Congratulations on that broken jack!

Not an easy thing to put up with, I have to say. If I’d been watching in my apartment, it might have been a bit better for my mental health. ;-)

I will freely admit, though, that Fernando Alonso thoroughly deserved that win. It’s not as though it was just that botched Red Bull pit stop that decided the race. The guy’s incredible; I’ve never for a moment tried to argue otherwise, and this race was a good illustration of why. Also, I think Seb is right to be concerned about Red Bull stepping up their game in light of this performance. Ferrari came with updates, and they sure did seem to be working well.

Now, if anyone reading this has read my past rants on team orders, you might be wondering when I’m going to come down on Red Bull like some sort of pissy fist of self-righteous rage. Well, the answer to that question is “now.” I hate team orders. I hate the thought of any situation existing in which racing drivers aren’t racing during a race. I think it sucks for pretty much everyone involved: for us, the fans; for the driver being ordered to, say, “maintain the gap”; for the driver supposedly benefiting  from said gap being maintained, whose skills at maintaining the gap himself are brought into question; to a lesser extent for the team, which ends up looking like a bunch of jerks to a hell of a lot of people; and for the sport, the planet, and the universe (because I say so).

I’ve heard and read many arguments on both sides with regard to what went down last Sunday, and I’m not so dumb that I can’t see the logic of each. Yes, yes, I get it. Yet if I were either driver, I, personally, would be very pissed. If I were Mark, I’d be thinking, “What the hell? I’m racing to effing win!” If I were Seb, I’d be thinking “What the hell? I don’t effing need you telling anyone to back off me!” And if you haven’t seen people slagging off on Seb over this mess as though it were somehow his fault and/or a reflection on his skills, I’d submit that you don’t read too many English F1 forums.

What I’ve learned from all this is that Red Bull Racing is not any different, not in any respect, from any other F1 team. Yes, there were those of us naively thinking otherwise, especially after statements like those Dietrich Mateschitz made late last season, about how he’d rather they lose the championship than use team orders. Well, maybe Mateschitz felt that way — and still feels that way — but Christian Horner clearly doesn’t. In spite of all the hue and cry about hypocrisy, I always got the distinct feeling that Horner’s objections were purely a matter of expediency — first because team orders were illegal, and then because his boss really didn’t care for them or the image they convey.

Still, I had believed that Horner and the rest of the team would be compelled to work within those philosophical confines, and that clearly is not the case. Mateschitz has expressed his approval of Webber’s actions, and I don’t know about what sort of talk went on between Mateschitz and Horner behind closed doors, but BOY would I like to. Maybe Mateschitz’s entire position is also one of pure expediency — projecting the image he wants for his brand — but even so, Horner sure did put a dent in it last weekend.

I’m left wondering what the Red Bull Racing fan ought to take away from this incident in terms of “team philosophy,” to the extent that such a thing can exist with any sort of integrity in F1. “We let our drivers race each other — under certain conditions!” Again: not different from any other team.

A final, slightly bothersome thread of this issue has been tied in a neat knot for me with Mark Webber’s clarification of his own position on team orders. He had been a fairly vocal supporter of Ferrari’s use of team orders in Hockenheim last season, and that had left me waiting for clarification — which has arrived with his most recent BBC column:

What made it difficult for me to accept was that it happened so close to the end of the race.

Over the years in F1, we have seen a number of situations when a team has asked one driver to let another by to ensure both their strategies work, for example.

Earlier in the race, there is still plenty to go on, and you are helping a guy who at that point of the race is quicker because of strategy or whatever.

But when you are coming to the line and you’ve only got five laps to go, there is no more strategy to be played out. It’s just a straight fight.

In other words, it comes down to a matter of timing. So late in the race, all that’s left — all that should be left — is a “straight fight.”

I think a lot of us want to see just that no matter what part of the race it is.