Archive: 2010

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Are hopes for a Korean Grand Prix in 2012 disappearing down the plughole?

Last weekend saw the second Korean Grand Prix. Already there are murmurs that it may be the last. Autosport are today reporting that the Korean Grand Prix organisers are seeking to renegotiate their contract with Bernie Ecclestone in order to stem their losses. Good luck with that one.

Watching the Korean Grand Prix over the weekend, it was difficult not to draw a parallel with the Turkish Grand Prix. It seems to suffer from a lot of the same problems, with an extra few problems on top just to make sure.

Istanbul Park was notorious for being in the middle of nowhere and tough to access. The Korean circuit, located at Yeongam, appears to be similarly remote. Although close to medium-sized city of Mokpo, it is several hours away from the main hub Seoul. This has been the source of some grumbles from within the F1 fraternity over the past two years.

But more striking was the emptiness of the grandstands. It did not seem quite as bad as Turkey, but it certainly was a cause for concern and a topic of conversation over the weekend. It seems as though Formula 1 has failed to capture the imagination of the Korean public.

Apparently, almost no other events take place at the circuit during the rest of the year. So it is not difficult to imagine that the facility might be struggling financially.

A lot of surprise was expressed at how little has been done to the circuit since the inaugural race last year. Even then, the circuit famously faced a race against time to even be ready to stage the race at all. In the end, it is said that corners were cut, raising concerns about the safety of the race.

Drainage was poor, the newly-laid tarmac was slippery, leading to some of the worst visibility conditions in memory. Earlier this year, Fernando Alonso said, “it remains quite shocking what we did in Korea.”

Some elements of danger have clearly not been removed in the past year. The pitlane entrance and exit are both viewed as unsafe. I had expected the pitlane exit at least to be modified following the first race, but no.

I am staggered that such a patently inadequate design to both the entrance and exit has come about. During the BBC commentary, David Coulthard joked that Hermann Tilke must have had his YTS designers working on the circuit.

Hermann Tilke has come up with a lot of goofy circuit designs, but this problem takes the biscuit. How many failed circuit designs do there need to be? You really do wonder how he has managed to be almost the only person involved in designing or redesigning Formula 1 circuits in the past 15 years, yet still manages to come out with stuff like this.

The original vision was for a city to surround part of the circuit. But none of the city appears to be in place yet. Part of the circuit is even described as a “temporary street circuit”, though quite how can you call it this when the streets themselves do not even exist yet?

The circuit itself is nothing special in terms of racing either. At least Turkey had a good circuit, with its instantly-legendary quadruple-apex Turn 8. I was also keen on the last few corners, where there was often some great wheel-to-wheel racing. Korea International Circuit has none of that.

In a way, it was a shame that the Turkish Grand Prix has ended up being dropped from the calendar (although it remains on standby to step in, just in case any more races — Bahrain, the USA or Korea — fall off the calendar). But at least Turkey managed to get seven races under their belt. Korea has two so far. Would anyone miss it if there wasn’t a third?

What a tangle Formula 1 has found itself in, again. The sport has ended up on the front pages for the wrong reasons yet again.

The problems with rescheduling Bahrain

The reinstatement of the Bahrain Grand Prix is somewhat of a surprise. Clearly the situation in Bahrain is not the sort of circumstance where you can reasonably expect to hold a major international sporting event in complete security.

Employees of Pirelli were in Bahrain when trouble first flared up, when the GP2 Asia race had to be cancelled at the last minute. According to Adam Cooper, they are “not keen to return”.

Then there are the morals of holding the grand prix when the spotlight is on Bahrain’s human rights record. (Not that regularly holding grands prix in China seem to make many people bat an eyelid.) If Bahrain’s problems are temporary, as some maintain, then let them prove it and return next year.

If holding the grand prix will be a “unifying force” for Bahrain, as others claim, take a look at the planned “day of action” for 30 October, the rescheduled date for the grand prix.

30 October. That brings me on to the logistics of this. It is clear that holding the race even in a perfectly peaceful situation would involve a logistical mountain to climb. Not only does it involve moving the Bahrain Grand Prix. It also involves moving the inaugural Indian Grand Prix to the end of the year, which in turn stretches the length of the season to breaking point.

The teams are not happy about the prospect of racing just a couple of weeks before Christmas. By that time, their workers will be overdue a holiday. If the season gets much longer, teams would have to contemplate hiring extra staff. But with everyone involved in Formula 1 desperately trying to keep a lid on costs, this would be a painful step to take.

All of this makes me think, what is really going on here? Is it feasible? What is the real story?

Why move the Indian Grand Prix?

30 October was whispered as a potential date for a rescheduled Bahrain Grand Prix a few weeks ago. My very first thought was, “Why move the Indian Grand Prix?”

Last year there were high-profile troubles with the new Korea International Circuit. The circuit was barely finished in time, as it failed inspection after inspection. In the end, the race could be held — just. But it was marred by a dreadful spray problem in rainy conditions, which some attributed to the type of tarmac that had to be used to lay it in a hurry.

Fernando Alonso recently said, “It was completely dark and it was so wet. It was one hour delayed because of the wet. We could not follow the safety car because of the spray. There were so many things in one race that it remains quite shocking what we did in Korea.”

As far as I’m aware, there is no serious suggestion that the Buddh International Circuit in India is in danger of not being completed in time. But it is not complete yet, with just a few months before the original October slot.

Has the Indian Grand Prix been moved to give the circuit constructors a bit more breathing space to ensure that the circuit is completed properly? To have another Korea-style embarrassment for a second year running is clearly to be avoided.

Perhaps the main aim was to move the Indian Grand Prix, and use Bahrain as the pawn to do it. If the FIA decide that the Bahrain Grand Prix cannot be held after all, they will simply cancel it and keep India in its new 11 December slot.

What’s going on with the 2012 calendar?

On the same day, the provisional 2012 calendar was published. It also had a couple of surprises. Bahrain and India are both in the calendar in the positions you would expect, the same as the original 2011 calendar.

What is a surprise is that Turkey is included — albeit with one of those infamous asterisks. All previous indications were that the 2011 Turkish Grand Prix would be the last one.

With the addition of the United States Grand Prix, this nudges the calendar up to 21 grands prix. This has always been a big no-no. Even 20 races is pushing the limit of what the teams are in favour of. Bernie Ecclestone claims his aim is for a 20 race calendar. Jean Todt says that there will “absolutely not” be as many as 21 races next season, despite the provisional calendar.

So what’s going on? It seems to me like the powers that be are trying to cover all the bases. If Bahrain can’t take place next year, Turkey is ready to go and Bernie has his 20 races. Similarly, if India can’t take place, or the USA, or indeed any other race, the backup plan is there.

With one extra race in the calendar anyway, this looks like a way for Bernie Ecclestone to be sure that, after this year’s hiccups, 2012 will have 20 races.

Another grand prix, and another Sebastian Vettel victory. In terms of race results, it is now on a par with Michael Schumacher’s 1994 campaign. Five wins and a 2nd place from the first six races. It is difficult to get much more dominant than that.

For the 2010 World Champion, 2011 is looking much easier. Some drivers, like Kimi Räikkönen, lose their hunger after they become World Champion. Others are taken to a new level. When the best driver in the world becomes better, it’s truly scary.

But despite his World Champion status, some still argue that Sebastian Vettel somehow isn’t the best driver.

Mechanical advantage

After all, he has the best car — and that is indisputable. Who can say what Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button might be able to achieve in that awesome Red Bull?

On the other hand, Vettel has the upper-hand over Mark Webber. Vettel’s advantage was marginal last year. But this year he is much more dominant. Comparatively, Mark Webber is struggling in the supposedly all-conquering Red Bull.

Ah, they say. Red Bull favour Sebastian Vettel. Webber must have a different car, says his manager Flavio Briatore. “Each time something happens, it happens to Mark.” That glosses over the kers issues that Vettel has constantly suffered from, along with Webber.

For most of his career, Webber has had more than his fair share of bad luck. That has continued this year. It is nothing more malicious than that.

Question mark over wheel-to-wheel combat

“Oh! But Vettel can’t overtake!” Oh really? I have long found this argument spurious.

Partisan Brits may still fume at his accident with Button in Spa, but in low-grip conditions it can happen to anyone. It was just bad luck that Button happened to be there at the time. All drivers lose control from time to time.

Jibes about the number of wins Vettel has taken from pole are unimpressive too. It is hardly a revelation that it is easier to win a race from pole position than any other place on the grid. But Vettel the idea that all of Vettel’s wins have been plain sailing affairs from pole is just wrong.

Those three crucial passes on his out lap in Spain ought to have put this to bed once and for all. Sebastian Vettel can overtake.

Defensive driving under pressure

Vettel can also soak up the pressure. Also in Spain, Vettel had to fend off a hard-charging Lewis Hamilton. Martin Brundle noted in the post-race analysis that Vettel was modifying his line according to how close Hamilton was to passing. He knew when he needed to defend, and he knew when not to. A masterclass of efficient driving.

Making the most of a bad strategy

In Monaco, Vettel demonstrated that he could make a bad strategy — even a strategy cock-up — work well. The race threatened to unravel during his disastrous pitstop when he ended up on ‘prime’ soft tyres, when a second set of ‘option’ super-softs was apparently in order. Apparently a radio jam caused the confusion.

That could have been disaster for Vettel. But instead, the strategy was modified brilliantly, and it caught strategy masters Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso off guard.

Button went for a three-stop strategy that probably worked in the simulations. Alonso went for a two-stopper. But Vettel held out on a one-stop strategy. It is almost unthinkable with this year’s Pirelli tyres, but Vettel lasted a mind-boggling 56 laps on soft tyres.

Of course, the red flag helped matters. Theoretically, Vettel would have run out of grip sooner or later — certainly before Alonso, who would in turn lose grip before Button. We can never know if that would have been the case.

But I was keeping an eye on the timing screen as the battle was intensifying, and Vettel was normally the second fastest man on track at any one time. His lap times were holding up remarkably well. There was no sign that Alonso or Button were on the verge of actually getting past.

The reality is that Vettel came out on top. Even though the circumstances with the red flag were unusual, the bottom line is that Vettel’s radical emergency strategy paid off as well as it possibly could have. He won the race.

How does Vettel compare to his rivals?

What else has Vettel got to prove? Well, who are the rivals for the mantle of “most complete driver in F1″?

Jenson Button is reliable and smart. But he doesn’t always have the fire in his belly, and consequently his awesome drives are mixed with anonymous tours.

Lewis Hamilton certainly has the fire in his belly, and his talent is awesomely supreme. But his enthusiasm often gets the better of him and he is prone to making massive errors in the heat of the moment.

Fernando Alonso is normally cited as being the “most complete” driver. There is no doubt that he is a formidable talent. And despite not having the equipment to win the Championship in recent years, Alonso remains a joy to watch. His qualifying lap in Spain is just one example of how Alonso passionately drives out of his skin.

But he has also begun to make a few too many mistakes. His errors in 2010 — at China, Monaco, Silverstone and Spa — are well documented.

Alonso remains fearsomely awesome. Just look at his starts in Spain and Monaco to see just one instance where Alonso excels.

But I am beginning to wonder if Sebastian Vettel is now the closest F1 has to the “complete package”. Whether he is or not, his youth alone should be a cause for concern among his rivals. Vettel is currently showing up drivers with masses more experience than him.

If Vettel is still learning, and he is already trouncing the opposition, it boggles the mind to imagine just how good he might become.

This is part two of a two-part series. Check out part one.

Autechre — Move of Ten

Move of Ten coverAutechre’s second release of the year is officially an EP, but is just as long as its companion album Oversteps. In the case of the second half of this EP, you can certainly hear that these tracks are different versions of tracks from Oversteps, continuing the ‘versions’ concept of their previous album, Quaristice.

However, the vibe of Move of Ten is quite different to that of Oversteps. Move of Ten is more beats-oriented. It’s glitchier, and it’s funkier. And, as you would expect from Autechre, it is all brilliant.

Babe Rainbow — Shaved

Shaved coverI have a bit of a hot and cold relationship with dubstep. It always seems like it’s on the cusp of being brilliant, but actual brilliance is thin on the ground. Latterly, a lot of it has sounded highly derivative.

But Babe Rainbow caught my attention. Maybe it’s because he’s on Warp, a label that had seemed to have given up on pathfinding electronic music. But this is exciting. In fact, it reminded me of when I was first discovering Warp and artists like Brothomstates. For my money, Babe Rainbow is the most exciting new Warp artist since Battles.

In that sense, I am surprised that Babe Rainbow hasn’t been getting more attention. Or maybe it just goes to demonstrate why Warp have given up on new electronic artists.

Caribou — Swim

Swim coverDan Snaith’s latest is poppier and more immediate than previous albums. It’s a bit of a foot tapper. Things have been stepped up a gear.

But none of the experimental or psychedelic edge of Caribou’s previous albums has been lost. As such, Swim is as good for your head as it is for your feet. Which is exactly how it should be.

VHS Head — Trademark Ribbons of Gold

Trademark Ribbons of Gold coverBrilliant, brilliant, brilliant. It is so exciting to hear music this strong from a new artist. And it’s especially great to see it coming out on Skam Records, a label that has been largely dormant for the past five years.

Spliced together from samples taken from old VHS videotapes, Trademark Ribbons of Gold mixes the dark nostalgia of hauntology with the futuristic vision of IDM. Part Mordant Music, part Boards of Canada and part Jackson and His Computer Band — but also unlike anything that has ever come before.

This album is absolutely massive, and with the possible exception of Autechre’s releases, the standout of the year.

Jaga Jazzist — One-Armed Bandit

One Armed Bandit coverThis is Jaga Jazzist’s first album in five years. Releases are few and far between. Apparently being a ten-piece makes it difficult for them to churn them out, though at least it’s alway an event when it does arrive.

I have to be honest. This isn’t my favourite Jaga Jazzist album. But it is still much better than most other stuff going. The band’s tip-top mix of jazz, prog and electronics is almost tailor-made for my ears.

The highlight of the album is undoubtedly Toccata, which builds and builds — no doubt with a bit of inspiration from Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Because that’s what you really want to know, isn’t it? It is mid-April, and ever since Christmas you have been on the edge of your seats thinking, what music really got Duncan’s toes tapping in the arbritary selection of 365 days we elect to call “2010”? Well your luck is in, because I am going to tell you right now, while neatly ignoring everything that has happened in 2011 so far.

So here are my five of my top ten releases of 2010, in no particular order. The other five will appear in a separate post to be published next week.

Squarepusher presents Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator

Shobaleader One coverSquarepusher has always existed in an extra dimension, deftly able to make his albums sound like they can be performed live, while clearly being studio creations. Building on previous albums, Just a Souvenir introduced the ‘fantasy band’ concept, cementing the vision of ‘live’ music that could never be played live.

Shobaleader One is supposedly the realisation of the fantasy band. The band seems to be made up. It’s the concept of Gorillaz mixed with the gimmicks of Daft Punk. But the music sounds like Squarepusher’s.

While parts of the album seem naff, I can’t help but enjoy this music — and still marvel at Squarepusher’s inventiveness.

Autechre — Oversteps

Oversteps coverAs if we needed reminding, Oversteps was a reminder of why Autechre are considered to be at the forefront of electronic music. In fact, it seems like a shame that seemingly no-one is able to make music that comes close to what Autechre achieve.

For instance, take the track ‘ilanders’. Who else could come up with those crazy unique beats, mixed with that bad-ass bassy melody, and make it sound so right? I hope Autechre are documenting their techniques so that they are not lost.

For me, Oversteps is Autechre’s best work since 2001’s Confield. If you know how much I love Autechre’s music, you will understand just how excited I was by this album.

Machinedrum — Many Faces

Many Faces coverI had lost touch somewhat with what Travis Stewart had been up to since his releases as Machine Drum on the excellent Merck label, which shut down a few years ago.

I was delighted to learn about this release, which sees Machinedrum expand beyond the glitch-hop of his earlier releases and move into massive electro-house — and beyond. It’s the “many faces” of Machinedrum, geddit?

Great fun to listen to, and my favourite musical surprise of the year.

Field Music — Field Music (Measure)

Field Music (Measure) coverAn increasinly rare slice of thoughtful and intelligent rock music.

Field Music manage to produce surprising and perhaps unconventional music without heading towards pretentiousness. And their music clearly takes cues from music of the past, without ever ending up sounding derivative.

The music of Field Music has always been well-constructed and melodic. But mixed in with the bouncy angular tunes that we are accustomed to from Field Music, is a helping of more subdued songs.

Moon Wiring Club — A Spare Tabby at the Cat’s Wedding

A Spare Tabby at the Cat's Wedding cover

This is a delightful slice of electronic music. It is spooky, haunted genius. Fitting neatly into the hauntology scene, it is seriously wronged-up and unlike anything you have heard before.

Amazingly, Mister Moon Wiring Club makes all of this music using MTV Music Generator 2 for the PlayStation 2. This does give the music a slightly templatey sound, with rather odd-sounding beats. But this gives Moon Wiring Club a very strong signature sound that is not replicated by anyone else. It amazes me that music like this is made on a PS2!

In keeping with the confusing nature of the music, the CD and vinyl editions are substantially different to each other. And the second pressing of the CD comes with a different cover.

One of the most worrying trends in F1 is the increasing tendency of wheels and tyres to come loose and fly off. Since refuelling was banned for the start of the 2010 season, the speed of tyre changes has become easily the most crucial element of a pitstop. With the greater number of pitstops this year as a result of the current deliberately dodgy tyres, this has become even more critical.

During the Chinese Grand Prix we saw Jaime Alguersuari’s right rear wheel roll itself off the car soon after a pitstop. It flew off towards marshals, photographers and other bystanders, while Vitantonio Liuzzi took to the inside to avoiding being hit while he passed the stricken Toro Rosso.

Top F1 journalist Adam Cooper reported on Twitter that the wheel came dangerously to hitting him:

#F1 Here's the wheel that Jaime Alguersuari @squire3 tri... on Twitpic

# Hoping to bump into @squire3 [Jaime Alguersuari] tonight after his STR wheel nearly killed me! Luckily he missed…

# I was behind an opening in the debris fence and hit on the next secition, about 2m away, head height. Bit scary…

# Here’s the wheel that Jaime Alguersuari @squire3 tried to kill me with! Scared the #### out of me…

For me, loose wheels are easily the most dangerous thing in F1 today. When two marshals died in he space of a few races just over a decade ago, they were both as a result of flying wheels. Stronger wheel tethers were introduced after those incidents, but these do no good if the wheel is not properly attached to the car in the first place.

With the emphasis on tyre changes now at the very forefront of every race, it is no surprise that teams have been looking to save time in this area. Mercedes have been particularly inventive, developing a wheel nut that is attached to the wheel itself.

But there have been lot of wheels coming off since the start of 2010, clearly as a result of not having been attached properly in the first place. Robert Kubica’s wheel detached after a few laps of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes also had a few wheel failures last year. Among these was the truly scary moment in Hungary when Nico Rosberg’s wheel came off the pitlane, causing all sorts of havoc as it bounced and rolled around while several dozen mechanics were busy working.

It is high time this was nipped in the bud. I am sure the teams would take more care in their pitstops if a real penalty was applied. This isn’t a sporting issue. It is a safety issue, and any teams that are not attaching wheels securely enough should face a ban.

Flying wheels are not just putting drivers at risk. They are putting marshalls and mechanics at risk. But worst of all they are putting spectators at risk.

Renault were suspended in 2009 after Fernando Alonso’s wheel came off in Hungary that year. However, the suspension was lifted. That was fine. Then, it was a one-off incident — in the refueling era there is little to suggest that Renault were cutting corners.

But today, the loose wheel problem is truly endemic. It must be stopped.

Whether you like or dislike the philosophy behind Pirelli’s tyres, which have been designed to be dodgy, there is one undenable benefit. It leaves those that cannot manage their tyres exposed.

Lewis Hamilton has long had a repuation for ruining his tyres too quickly. Up to this point, it has only bitten him once in a while. The benign Bridgestones were, for the most part, accommodating to Hamilton’s excesses.

But with Pirellis that are designed to drop off in performance quickly, Hamilton may find himself being bitten more often. The McLaren car is performing well, yet Hamilton was only able to finish 8th in the race.

He put this down to having to stop early, then stop early again, and again — and again. And it is that final fourth stop that really sealed Hamilton’s fate. While early stops may not have been ideal, if he only made three of them he could have salvaged a few more points.

But here we come to Hamilton’s second weakness — his lack of strategy nous. Hamilton has been feeling the heat for being weak on strategy and relying on McLaren to call too many of the shots.

What is interesting is that in this instance, according to Ted Kravitz, Hamilton went against the advice of his McLaren strategists. McLaren advised that, despite the excessive tyre wear, Hamilton might have been able to hang on to finish 5th or 6th if he stayed out. However, Hamilton decided to make the extra pitstop nonetheless.

It is not often that we see Hamilton act autonomously like this, but sadly it backfired on him. If F1 in 2011 is going to involve better tyre management and more strategic thinking, this could play right into the hands of Jenson Button.

While tyre management and strategy are two of Hamilton’s biggest weaknesses, they are Button’s greatest strengths. At least twice in 2010 we saw Button use making smart strategic decisions that helped him win races. In Australia he went against the advice of McLaren, and went on to win the race. China, too, saw Button capitalise on good strategy.

If Hamilton seemed overly despondent after the Malaysia Grand Prix, it may be because it was the moment the penny dropped that he is going to find F1 a whole lot more difficult from now on. And it won’t be fixed by having a faster car — because in these conditions, Button will always come out on top.

Thanks to those on Twitter — thescottwilkes, davedpg, f1givesyouwings, Khan_F1 and cmckinleyF1 — that helped me out on remembering where Button capitalised on strategy in 2010.

I wonder what Timo Glock is thinking just now. Following an impressive early career, and after showing flashes of talent at Toyota for two years, Glock faced a difficult decision prior to the 2010 season.

Renault or Virgin? Once upon a time it was a tough choice

His first option was to take a risk and sign for Renault, whose future was on the line. At the time it was said that Glock was considering driving for Renault, Robert Kubica was seeking assurances about the team’s future. Renault were beginning to phase out their involvement in running an F1 team.

His other option was to sign for a new team, Virgin, but one that was not likely to have the plug pulled on its future so soon. Glock chose this option.

Virgin’s struggles

No doubt, with the information he had at his disposal at the time, Timo Glock had a difficult decision to make. But today, he must feel sick about his choice.

He is making increasingly frustrated noises about Virgin’s lack of progress. He first complained that Virgin had lost ground to the teams it was targeting, such as Toro Rosso. Then he began to question whether Virgin was even capable of qualifying for races following the reinstatement of the 107% rule.

Judging by Virgin’s performance in Australia, these fears were well founded. And what’s more, they risk slipping back even further.

Threatened even by Hispania

For Malaysia, Hispania will be looking to race with their 2011-spec front wing. Their new front wing failed a crash test, apparently by a minuscule margin. So they used a 2010 front wing in Australia. But if they can fit the new wing for Malaysia, the hot word is that Hispania could be faster than Virgin.

That would be seriously embarrassing for Virgin. The team has staked its reputation on Nick Wirth’s idea that a competitive car can be designed without the use of a wind tunnel. They just about got away with it last year. But this year, with Virgin’s lack of progress, a serious question mark is beginning to hang over the CFD-only method.

Over the winter, the Hispania team has become something of a laughing stock. Struggling for cash, the team has done the bare minimum of running. It did no testing. Before attempting to qualify in Australia, they had only completed the merest figleaf of an installation lap.

They then failed to qualify for the race. It was worryingly reminiscent of what Arrows did in 2002 in its final few races before it had to close down, when the drivers deliberately failed to qualify in order to avoid the costs of racing while still meeting their contractual requirements.

However, a recent article by James Allen suggests that the future for Hispania may be more promising than Australia’s performance indicated.

While Virgin struggle, Renault are flying

That article also says that Glock “looked a haunted man” following the Australian Grand Prix. It’s easy to imagine why, when you consider again the choice he faced before 2010.

The team he apparently walked away from, Renault, is on the up and up. While Renault themselves may have more or less pulled out entirely, the team now has solid backing from Genii Capital, a group that appears to mean business in F1. The team also has major, prominent backing from Proton, who are using the team to promote their Group Lotus activities.

The Renault car itself is in great shape too. Its innovative exhaust system is one of the most talked-about car developments of the winter. And Vitaly Petrov’s solid run to third place in Australia sent a strong signal that, while Renault may not exactly be title contenders, they are certainly out to give the front runners a real run for their money.

So, the situation could hardly have gone worse for Timo Glock. He had a difficult decision to make, but as things stand it has turned out to be unambiguously the wrong one. It could cost his career dearly. To be pottering around in a car that may not even be fast enough to qualify does not befit a driver of Timo Glock’s stature.

With Virgin worrying about 107% while Petrov stands on the podium, it is easy to see why Glock would look haunted.

It is a cliche to say, but it’s true — predicting a team’s performance on the basis of testing form is a mug’s game. Just ask Mr Sniff Petrol.

But one thing I am pretty sure of is that Force India have taken a step backwards. Force India’s 2010 was a story of unfulfilled promise.

At the start of the year, they were firmly the best of the midfield bunch (with the exception of Renault, who managed to compete with Mercedes to be viewed more as a front-running team). But by the end of the year they had fallen firmly behind Williams, and slipped into the clutches of Sauber and Toro Rosso.

When I watched the season review DVD over winter, one of the things that surprised me was how good Force India were at the start of the season. I had totally forgotten. By the end of the year they were so underwhelming and failing to finish ahead of Williams — over whom they had a respectable lead at mid-season — cemented that sense.

Nevertheless, they finished seventh in the Constructors’ Championship. That is a very good result by the team’s recent standards. The team that was Jordan, then Midland, then Spyker before becoming Force India has not had such a good year since 2002.

Of the team’s four owners in recent years, Vijay Mallya is the one who has turned the team from the grid’s tailenders into a serious midfield force. He deserves great credit for that.

But it seems that as soon as this was achieved, the whole project ran out of steam. During last season, the team seemed to suffer from an exodus of staff. Most notably, James Key moved over to Sauber, who now look set to leapfrog Force India having made great progress during 2010 and a promising winter of testing. Another clutch of staff moved to Lotus, another team that looks to be on the up.

This sense that Force India have lost ground in the midfield battle was summed up for me in comments made by Adrian Sutil last week:

Looking at Sauber and Williams, they started last year a bit worse than they finished.

Over the winter they have done a good job and look quite strong, also Toro Rosso have made a step and are in this group who look very close together. Going into the top ten will be a tough goal.

Adrian Sutil has singled out Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso as ones to watch. But those are precisely the three teams that make up the midfield group that Force India were leading one year ago. It strikes me as a long-winded way of saying “Force India look crap”. Sutil has expanded on those thoughts this week, urging his team to find more speed.

But it’s difficult to know where that speed will come from. On the outside, it seems to me that Force India has peaked. The energy they had in late 2009 and early 2010 has gone, and I don’t see them moving on the way up any time soon.

Let me start off by pointing out that I would really like to see Paul di Resta do well in F1. It is always good to see fresh blood and I am a big fan of his cousin, Dario Franchitti.

But I have found Paul di Resta’s route into F1 curious. Why does Paul di Resta deserve to have a race seat when, for instance, Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t? Why, indeed, should he get the nod for a Force India race drive over the team’s reserve driver, Nico Hülkenberg who secured a pole position last year?

Unconventional background

Paul di Resta is coming into F1 having been in DTM for the past four years. There is no doubt he is a great racer — fools don’t win the DTM championship. But DTM is not known for ushering stars of the future into F1.

It is more well-known as a home for former F1 racers whose career is on the wane (Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard), former stars of the future who never quite made it into F1 (Gary Paffett) and drivers that specialise in racing touring cars.

One driver who has made the step from DTM to F1 is Christijan Albers. His F1 career lasted for two and a half years, largely without success. He was dropped by Spyker midway through 2007 after escaping from the pitlane with his fuel hose still attached proved to be a gaffe too far.

Euro Series success

Paul di Resta first attracted the attention of F1 bosses as a result of the success of another driver. Back in 2006, Paul di Resta competed for the Formula 3 Euroseries championship against Sebastian Vettel. Di Resta won.

But it was Vettel who managed to make the step up to Formula 1 the following season. Having already impressed as BMW’s third driver, and he stepped in for one race to deputise for Robert Kubica following the Pole’s huge crash in Canada. Later that year, he got a race drive for Toro Rosso, and it wasn’t long before he was being hailed as an “inevitable future world champion”.

As big wigs looked to Vettel’s route to F1, it was noticed by Mercedes bosses that he was beaten in F3 Euro Series by Paul di Resta. Mercedes resolved to line him up for a race seat, initially at McLaren. In the meantime, di Resta raced for Mercedes in DTM.

Attention switched to getting him a race seat at Force India in 2009. But progress was slow again as they opted to retain their existing lineup of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella. Meanwhile, since buying the Brawn team, Mercedes focus has switched to having a German-only driver line-up.

In the run-up to 2010 the Paul di Resta hype was curiously quiet as Force India secured the services of Vitantonio Liuzzi instead. But as the season got going, it became increasingly clear that Force India wanted him to race in 2011.

But on what basis?

Protracted junior career

Paul di Resta’s protracted junior career may have set back his F1 career overall. Any comparisons with Sebastian Vettel based on F3 performances from five years ago are now irrelevant. Vettel now has a wealth of F1 experience that di Resta lacks.

At 24, Paul di Resta is relatively old for an F1 rookie these days. All of F1’s most successful drivers in recent years started their careers much earlier. Of the recent world champions, Sebastian Vettel’s first race was as a 19-year-old, as was Fernando Alonso’s. Jenson Button was 20, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher were 22. Kimi Räikkönen was 21, having made the leap directly from Formula Renault UK!

Paul di Resta is by no means too old to become an F1 rookie. But having a long — or indeed a successful — career in junior categories has not been shown to help create a great F1 driver.

All of the champions of the last decade progressed rapidly through the junior ranks. Vettel and Button made the leap straight from Formula 3. Hamilton efficiently strode up the ladder virtually one season at a time. Alonso had one season the Euro Open by Nissan (which today is World Series by Renault), and one season of Formula 3000 to his name.

Perhaps encouragingly for di Resta, Michael Schumacher for one raced more than just single-seaters before entering F1. Schumacher joined F1 after competing in the World Sportscar Championship. But he did not hang around there for four seasons, as di Resta has done in the DTM.

Time will tell

It remains to be seen whether or not Paul di Resta’s relatively unconventional route into F1 will pay off. There is, of course, no right or wrong way to go about a racing career. But I don’t see a great deal of evidence to suggest that di Resta will succeed in F1. I hope I’m wrong.