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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…

Jerez

An engineer quoted on the Autosport live commentary during Jerez testing said that fastest lap times are probably the least useful information to be gleaned from preseason testing — unless I dreamt that at some point very early in the morning, which is entirely possible. But let’s say an engineer did actually say those words. Still, fastest lap times are probably what most of us, especially simpletons like me, are able to grasp most intuitively. In which case OMG IS RUBENS GOING TO WIN THE WDC???

No, just kidding — even I don’t think that. (It would be cool, though.)

What I’m catching on to is that teams play their cards pretty close to their chest at this point in the preseason. Because this is the first time I’ve paid close attention to preseason testing, I’m finding it all very fascinating. The consensus seems to be that Red Bull is not trying for the lap times they could be getting; instead, observers present at the track talk in hushed tones of the fearsome consistency of their lap times, and one gets the impression that the drivers are holding themselves back, like a grown-up jogging with a kid and limiting their pace just enough to prevent the kid from bursting into tears of frustration and inadequacy.

Other teams, like Williams and Sauber, might be trying to show both current and potential sponsors what their car is capable of, with at least a few very fast laps on low fuel loads and/or supersoft tires. Then there are the individual drivers with something to prove, like Nick Heidfeld on Saturday. On the subject of having something to prove, I’m not sure I’m on board with Mark Webber’s theory that Michael Schumacher’s fast lap on Friday was a “show for Germany.” Would it really be necessary this early on? Are eyebrows going to be raised every time someone does an unusually fast lap on those supersoft tires? (Even Michael Schumacher?)

Not sure what to make of McLaren at the moment. Doesn’t seem like most other people are, either.

I have a feeling Ferrari is going to be Red Bull’s scariest rival this season. Not exactly a risky or controversial prediction, I know. In fact, it’s probably something a lot of people would have said before testing even began. So far, nothing has happened to make it seem any less likely.

Oh, not long before I finished writing this post, F1 Fanatic published an interesting chart of lap times during longer runs to show how different teams fared. Take a look at that Sebastian Vettel line. You could go skating on something that smooth and horizontal!

And what kind of fan would I be if I didn’t say something about Bruno Senna’s day of testing with Lotus Renault? Of course, as we have established, fastest lap times don’t mean much at this point — but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice seeing his name fifth on the time charts. Obviously the guy would rather be racing than testing — who wouldn’t? — but he seems genuinely happy to have a chance to do some real testing in an F1 car and help the team however he can.

It was brilliant. It was the second test I had in a Formula 1 car, ever. Considering I raced for a year that’s quite incredible.

Doing a full test day in a car makes you learn so much as a driver because of how much work you can do in the car. You can plan without having to worry too much about having only one and a half hours to do this or that. You can do different runs so I gathered a lot of experience, not only from driving the car but also from listening to the conversations between all the drivers and engineers. [From Autosport.]

The interviewer in that Q&A gave him a perfect opportunity to slag on the HRT car if he so chose, but he didn’t even take it. I defy you to tell me the world would not be a more pleasant and harmonious place with more people like Bruno in it. I will not hear a bad word said about that man! That’s right — I’m pointing menacingly at you!

Finally, one of my favorite images from Jerez. In case it’s not immediately apparent, it’s Fernando Alonso, wearing an image of his friend Robert Kubica’s helmet on his own helmet. Get well and come back soon, Robert!

Valencia Testing: I Was Watching

And when I say “watching” I mean “watching the live timing on the Williams web site, which, by day three, was starting to bug me a bit, because that fake time Karthikeyan got on day two was still up there improving his overall ranking as though it wasn’t totally fake — although if I know Colin Kolles, he’s probably ignoring the fakeness and going around announcing how great it is to have finally a driver who’s able to show the F110’s full, awesome potential, unlike some Bruno Sennas he could mention.”

I obviously didn’t mean I was watching watching, as in able to use my eyeballs to follow the progress of actual cars as they drove around the circuit. I’m in the United States, and therefore such a feat would have required television/video coverage of some sort, of which there was none. But am I alone in saying I’d pay for something like that? If, say, there were a web site or sites willing and able to stream coverage of F1 testing live, I would be willing to pay for it. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that, considering how desperate fans are at this point in the year. I’m just saying, is all.

As for testing itself, it’s obviously too early to make much of what we did “see,” especially for largely ignorant people like me. Today I actually saw at least one person (a fan) predict that Robert Kubica will win the 2011 championship. It’s possible that this person was even serious, although sometimes I find F1 fans hard to read in that respect. For example, I also saw several people declare in apparent seriousness that the shark fin on the RB7 is there solely to accommodate the tail on a larger Red Bull logo. Surely, this ludicrous suggestion, which was echoed by several people, was meant in jest — or was it? Who can tell? Not me, apparently. Deadpan humor that isn’t that funny doesn’t always translate well online, I think.

In any case, I think I prefer to focus on the opinion of former F1 designer Sergio Rinland, who says it is his belief that the RB7 is at “a higher level” than the other cars, and what’s left for other teams to do at this point is marvel at its greatness and wish their car was even close to being that awesome. He used the words “neat” and “clean” numerous times in his description of the RB7; these are properties I imagine are as desirable to an F1 design professional from an engineering standpoint as they are to me from both a general and aesthetic standpoint. So, although it might be slightly premature after just three days of testing, I’ll just go ahead and congratulate Adrian Newey and his Red Bull posse on building the RB7, which I hope will neat and clean its way to another championship in 2011.

Other miscellaneous things I’ve woken up contemplating over the past few days:

  • I love the looks of the Renault this season. LOVE. Best-looking 2011 car I’ve seen so far, in my opinion. I think I was alone in really disliking the old yellow livery, but I LOVE the new JPS-like theme and the way it’s playing out on this car, which reminds me of a panther poised and ready to strike.
  • And I’m not just saying that because that team is now employing Bruno Senna. But I’m glad they are. That was a good move, as was their recent link up with Jackie Stewart. Gonna be hard to hate them now, isn’t it? Yeah, you know it is.
  • Poor Felipe Massa. Ridiculously reliable F150 bursting into flames? W.T.F.
  • So I see that Red Bull is going with KERS this year. I just — seriously, guys. Please tell me Mark Webber won’t have to try to lose any more weight. This concept concerns me. Not that I think he couldn’t do it, because he is the Man of Steel, and there’s pretty much nothing related to personal discipline he couldn’t kick the ass of.

Okay, show of hands: Who’s taking March 11 off work/school to watch the first Friday practice of the season?!

Come on. Like you’re going to get work done that day?

Scariest Dude in F1?

In the November 2010 issue of F1 Magazine, HRT boss Colin Kolles answers a series of questions from readers.  Okay, first he intimidates the interviewer for fun, as is apparently his way — but then he answers a series of reader questions.  And really, what’s notable about it, as far as I’m concerned, is that only one of his answers truly made my skin crawl.

One reader asked about the last time he got really angry, and Kolles responded that getting angry isn’t really his style.  He’ll be angry for maybe only two minutes or so — and then?

. . .it’s two minutes then I know now you are on my list and it’s only a matter of time before I deal with you. There is a saying: ‘sometimes it’s better to stay calm on the bank of the river and to wait for the dead bodies to float past you. . .’

Oh, right!  That’s one of my favorite sayings, too.  I think I first learned it in kindergarten.

Honestly, this guy is like the boss of my darkest nightmares.  (Of course, the fact that he’s a dentist doesn’t exactly help.  I’ve always been scared of them.)

I was reminded of all this because there was another gem of a quote from him in the F1 press today, this one not so much bone chilling as just. . . well, insulting.  It regards his satisfaction with the job Davide Valsecchi did during the young driver testing in Abu Dhabi this week.

[Valsecchi] definitely did an awesome job. It took him a few laps to understand the car, while some of his colleagues did not succeed even after a full season.

There can be no doubt, of course, about the identity of the “colleague” to whom he is referring.  Bruno Senna is the only HRT driver who even came close to driving for a full season.  So all I really have to offer is “Ouch.” If I were Bruno — or any other driver for that matter — I think I would prefer pretty much anything over spending a season with Kolles as my boss.  I don’t know about you, but to me, selling coconuts on the beach sounds infinitely preferable.

Of course, having Kolles as your boss isn’t just potentially unpleasant; it’s also extremely expensive.  I read that the going rate of a seat on the HRT team is 8–10 million euros.  Ouch again!  This is assuming there will be an actual seat to sell for all that money.  Will HRT even be on the grid next season?  It sounds like that will need to be resolved reasonably soon, since they really ought to be working on their 2011 car already.  Maybe Kolles ought to terrify some people into investing.  It might not be as fun as intimidating an interviewer, but it would probably be more profitable.

Allow Me to Extend a Triumphant “Number 1” Finger

I’ll tell you a secret: I had a feeling Webber would qualify last among the four contenders.  As usual, you will just have to take my word for that, I’m afraid.  I didn’t say it out loud or put it in writing anywhere on the intertubes, because as soon as the feeling was, er, felt, I immediately denied its existence.

Feeling: So the way I see it, Webber might not qualify so well–

Me: WHAT NO FU YOU’RE AN IDIOT

Feeling: I’m just saying, is all–

Me: LALALALALA

My intellect (such as it is) insisted that any one of the four championship contenders had a very good chance of being on pole, but that annoying feeling in my gut just would not go away.  Still not sure what the root of it was.  Maybe something about Webber’s (apparent) mood this weekend, compared with the (apparent) moods of the others.  Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass because I have no idea where the feeling came from.  Ah, yes, that sounds more likely.

Vettel, though. . . I wanted him to be on pole.  Kind of a lot.  As I am one of perhaps five or six native-English-speaking people who genuinely likes the guy, this is probably not surprising.  I wanted him to be, at the age of twenty-three, tied with some of the legends of Formula 1 for ten pole positions in a season.  I’d love to see him be the youngest world champion.  I’d love to see him be the youngest driver to — I don’t know — take his fricking car past the sound barrier.  You name the achievement, and I’ll be over the moon if Seb is the youngest F1 driver to accomplish it.

So, yes — very happy to see Vettel on pole.  And now, I will spend the rest of the day contemplating the 6.02 × 1023 possible permutations of the title race outcome.  For example, if Vettel wins, Webber manages to pass Alonso, Hamilton comes third, Button goes fastest in sector 2 on lap 27, Massa uses .7 mL less fuel than Hamilton on laps 35–43, the wind is out of the southwest at 7 mph or greater, and Rosberg snags fastest lap of the race, then Vettel and Webber will actually be co-world champions and will have to share the trophy, which, in accordance with FIA regulations, will spend alternating weekends on each of their mantels.  Seriously — I’ve done the math, people.

Will it give us wings? Only time will tell.

Well, math isn’t everything, of course.  Superstition is also of utmost importance for tomorrow’s race.  Therefore, a friend and I will be drinking our very first cans of Red Bull Energy Drink.  No, I’ve never tried the stuff.  I’ve always assumed it would taste sort of like a liquefied ass sandwich.  Tomorrow morning, we will both find out for sure!  (She is primarily a Webber fan, by the way. We will see whether the power of her can of Red Bull trumps the power of mine. Personally, I will be quite happy either way.)

Now. . .just one other thing.  As you probably know, there was a big group photo taken yesterday — a “Class of 2010” photo with the drivers, team principals, and Bernie Ecclestone.  There were three drivers missing: Michael Schumacher (the absence everyone is talking about the most), Timo Glock, and Bruno Senna.  I find this rather gutting for Bruno, especially, considering this is his rookie season and he has not yet signed onto a team for next year.  The thing I keep reading is that he was busy talking to the stewards about the incident with Hamilton that happened during Friday practice.  Yeah, okay — so then why was Hamilton able to make it there in time to be in the picture?  It’s my understanding that they both had to meet with the stewards about the incident.  Right?  Well, I read this on Motorsport.com (emphasis mine):

According to another report in Brazil’s Globo, Senna apologised for not showing up, insisting that his team had not informed him in time after being summoned to the stewards to explain his practice incident with Lewis Hamilton.

Seriously, HRT?  Seriously? If this is all being reported correctly, I don’t even know what to say about it.  Sure, maybe it was all a big mistake.  A BIG mistake, but hey, who knows?  However, Colin Kolles has always struck me as someone with a certain amount of contempt for particular people on his team, and this is doing nothing to disabuse me of that notion.

Brazilian Grand Prix Qualifying and My Psychic Powers

An emotional roller coaster of a qualifying session, that was!

And I’ll tell you one thing that doesn’t make things any easier: the GIANT, HONKING time lag between qualifying reality and qualifying as presented by SpeedTV.  So, for example, I see the fact that Bruno Senna spins out and ends up qualifying last, first via the live timing, then via the BBC text commentary — and then I get to spend a very unpleasant ten minutes or so waiting to see the actual bad thing happen on my television screen.  (More on this in a moment.)

Look, SpeedTV guys — I know you feel the need to start your qualifying coverage with a lengthy Will Buxton segment, in an attempt to create the appropriate dramatic atmosphere for the viewers and all that (and far be it from me to complain about today’s Senna segment!), but could you please, PLEASE do this by starting your broadcast a half hour before quali actually begins?  I and my blood pressure will thank you.

So Will Buxton caught up with Bruno Senna after Q1, and Bruno was about as pissed off as I’d ever heard him.  Okay, there was the, um, dog thing — he sounded way more pissed off then — but let’s just say the guy did not sound at all happy today, and with amply good reason.  He said the problem was down to an error in strategy.  Will Buxton wanted to know whether he meant strategy with regard to car setup in terms of downforce, and Bruno answered, very tersely, “No. Tire strategy.”  End of interview.

According to this story on GPUpdate.net, because the team chose not to change his tires toward the end of the session, he wasn’t able to fully take advantage of the improving track conditions.  According to him, on Twitter just now, they “changed strategy and had no tyres left at the end.”  In any case, here’s hoping tomorrow goes better for him.

After I had done some quality sulking, the time came to put the computer aside for Q3, so that I wouldn’t find out who got pole position from the internet before I got to see it happen on my TV.  Today I was very, VERY glad I did that!  Watching Nico Hülkenberg on those last couple of laps was just. . .I don’t even know!  Shocking and joyful and fantastic and unbelievable.  I was in tears.  As James Allen very perfectly put it, Nico’s performance was nothing short of “swashbuckling.”  Obviously, I’m a Red Bull fan, and I wanted one of those two gentlemen to be on poll — but I think you’d have to be cold and dead inside not to feel at least a little happy, watching what happened today.

Also, I would like to state for the record  that I predicted a native German speaker would be on pole — and I even have witnesses!  *cough*  So. . .I wonder what might happen if I were to predict that, say, an Australian will win the race tomorrow.  On the basis of today’s results, I’m thinking Alan Jones might show up, leap into a car, and show these guys how it’s done. . .

Korean Grand Prix Qualifying

Qualifying generally has its ups and downs for me — not surprising, considering who my favorite drivers are and their widely varying fortunes over the course of this season.  A lot of times, I’ll just keep my mouth shut about it (figuratively speaking) and not bother posting here.  Apparently, today is not one of those days.

I’m very happy for Sebastian Vettel, King Pole Position.  Can that guy pull a massively fast lap out when it counts, or what? The answer is obviously “Yes, yes he can, bitches!”  Now I suppose my question is, will Seb and Mark actually race each other this time?  Or will they sail along to another safe one-two finish, as we saw in Suzuka?  I don’t know about you guys, but I think a race would be kind of fun!  What about you?

I’m very sad for Bruno Senna.  I think I read once in an interview that he doesn’t read his own press, and I honestly hope that’s the case — because so much of it that I read is, in my opinion, pretty lazy.  I have a lot more I want to say about this — really a lot, I learned, as I was originally typing paragraph after paragraph of this post.  But I’ve now excised it so that I can develop it more fully for a future post, rife with DAMNING EVIDENCE and whatnot.  Because, although I, too, am often lazy, I’d rather not be about this.  I owe that much to both my readers!  ;-)

Well, anyway, onward to the race.  I hear there might be some rain in the morning beforehand.  In fact, I just saw James Allen reporting on Twitter that at midnight it was raining pretty hard there, presumably washing all the rubber off the track. . .