Archive: Ayrton Senna

At last, bluffer’s guide makes its return. For the past couple of months I’ve been too busy to continue the series, but now I have some more free time. Previous bluffer’s guides have looked at the rules and aspects of strategy. This guide will look at issues around teams and drivers: how they enter, why they enter and what their job is.

Entry requirements

At present there are ten constructors (the posh word for teams) in Formula 1. Each team enters two cars, meaning that 20 cars are entered into each event. There is nothing set in stone about these numbers. It is thought that according to the Concorde Agreement (which will be covered in a future bluffer’s guide) a minimum of 20 may enter. According to the FIA Sporting Regulations, a maximum of 24 cars may start a race.

Teams normally stick with the same two drivers throughout the season. However they may use up to four different drivers in one season, or more at the FIA’s approval.

In addition to the two race drivers, every team employs test drivers. These test drivers may be used during the Friday Practice sessions, although each team is still limited to running two cars. For this reason, teams tend to use their race drivers anyway.

A driver must be awarded an FIA Super License before he may compete in Formula 1. To achieve this, a driver must show consistent form in a lower category. Failing that, a driver may get a Super License with the unanimous approval of… whoever makes that decision — provided he has tested for at least 300km at racing speeds in a current car.

This is basically to prevent rubbish but rich drivers from paying loads of money to achieve his childhood dream of entering a Grand Prix. However, it hasn’t stopped the occasional bad egg from slipping through the net!

The decision to enter

Unlike some other sports, there is no promotion or relegation in F1. The decision to enter Formula 1 is essentially little more than a business decision. Once a team has met the FIA’s requirements, all a team has to do is be able to fund itself in order to keep going.

The huge costs involved in running an F1 team are enough to keep the list of potential entrants low. There is space for 12 teams in the Championship and only ten of them are taken. One of those teams is currently up for sale. There is little point in setting up a new team if you can easily buy an existing one.

This season began with 11 constructors. But when Super Aguri ran out of funding it had to pull out.

Similarly, drivers have few requirements to meet. They must have a Super License (as outlined in the section above). But apart from that, all they have to do to get a drive is basically to persuade a team to give them a drive.

This does not depend on talent alone, although that is of course a huge factor. Many drivers get a slot at a poorly-funded team by bringing sponsorship money. Such drivers are known as ‘pay drivers’ because they effectively pay for their drive at a team.

Some pay drivers have gone down in history as being notoriously awful. Ricardo Rosset had lots of cash as he was the heir to an underwear business. Fittingly enough, his performances in F1 were, indeed, pants.

The 2008 season is said to be the first year for a very long time (perhaps ever) when the grid did not contain any pay drivers. However, it is also thought that Nelsinho Piquet and Adrian Sutil bring substantial sponsorship moneys to their respective teams.

A team sport or an individual sport?

Formula 1 (along with most other forms of motor racing) is rather unique among sports because it is both a team sport and an individual sport. A good driver would be nowhere were it not for a team of hundreds working tirelessly to provide him with a good car. On the day of the race, an army of people analyse the race as it happens to try and come up with the best strategy for the conditions. And the efforts of the pit crew cannot go unnoticed, as they must be relied upon to ensure that pitstops are carried out smoothly.

In this sense, you can say that Formula 1 is a team sport, but one that places a huge amount of the responsibility on one individual. Once the driver is on the track, there is not much more the team can do to help him, and it is up to the driver not to make a mistake. For this reason, there are two championships in F1 — one for drivers and one for constructors.

Each team enters two drivers and these are often referred to as “team mates”. However, often there is nothing “matey” about the relationship between these two individuals. Indeed, they might hate each other because the one person they want to beat more than anyone else is their team mate, who is usually racing with equal equipment. Comparing team mates with each other is an important barometer of a driver’s skill, so it is usually in a driver’s interest to undermine his team mate.

However, pragmatically a driver has to remember that he is an employee of his team. If a team decides that it is in their best interests to help one driver more than another, they are within their rights to do this. This is known as “team orders” and is part of racing. (Team orders will be discussed in more detail in a future bluffer’s guide.)

Testing

Teams spend a lot of time testing their cars to make sure that their developments work properly before racing with them. Such tests must be held at an FIA-sanctioned circuit. Testing is limited to 30,000km per team per calendar year. This limit excludes promotional events and young driver training. A young driver is defined as a driver who has not competed in a Formula 1 event for 24 months or has not tested an F1 car for more than four days in the past 24 months.

Teams often employ test drivers whose specific job is to test the car. Often race drivers are used at test sessions in addition to test drivers. Some drivers become highly regarded for their ability to give feedback to their engineers and for their knowledge of how to set up a car. Examples of such drivers include Pedro de la Rosa, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson. These drivers are all highly regarded as test drivers but struggle to get a race drive.

Car development

F1 teams do not just launch a car at the beginning of the season and race with it all year. Teams work throughout the year to improve their performance and developments are made to the cars several times per year as the teams see fit. In most cases, the car at the end of the season is completely different to the car that began the season. Check out Formula1.com’s excellent technical section to keep up with the main car developments throughout the year.

Logically, though, the largest leaps are made over the winter when there is no racing going on. Usually each car is an evolution of the previous year’s car. Sometimes cars are re-designed almost from the ground up each year. This used to happen fairly often, but is increasingly rare these days — unless a team hires a new chief aerodynamicist or some other radical team structural change.

Every time there is a major change to a chassis, its name changes. Usually the name changes in a predictable way for the start of each season. For instance, in 2007 Ferrari’s chassis was the F2007 and McLaren’s was the MP4-22. This year those teams’ chassis are the F2008 and the MP4-23 respectively.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop a team from using the same chassis for two years in a row (although this usually doesn’t happen because the pace of development is such that running a two year old chassis would be a serious disadvantage to any team) or from running two different chassis in one season — just as long, of course, as the chassis met the technical regulations. It is quite common for a team to use their old chassis for the first few races of the year if the development of the new car has been delayed for some reason. This happened to Toro Rosso this year, whose new STR3 was not used until the Monaco Grand Prix, six races into the season.

Liveries

Historically, teams ran traditional liveries with each nationality having a traditional colour. Britain, of course, had British Racing Green, and Italian cars ran in the deep scarlet colour (‘Rosso Corsa’) made so famous by Ferrari. Of course, with the introduction of sponsorship in the late 1960s, this was never going to last and now teams appear in whatever colours take their fancy. But is it true that F1 cars are “glorified cigarette packets”?

The arrival of sponsorship does not mean that the history has gone forever. McLaren (Mercedes) run with a predominantly silver livery and red car numbers, a reflection of the Silver Arrows’ history. BMW run with their corporate colours of navy blue, though the majority of the car is white, Germany’s traditional racing colour.

Honda and Toyota have also run in Japan’s traditional white and red (although today Honda runs in a white, green and blue ‘Earth’ car to highlight environmental concerns). When tobacco sponsorship was still allowed in F1, Honda cleverly used the Lucky Strike logo to double up as the traditional ‘red sun’. Ferrari, of course, are famous for running their traditional ‘Rosso Corsa’ colour. However, in recent years this shade has become lighter, more similar to the shade of red used in Marlboro packets (Phillip Morris still heavily fund Ferrari even though tobacco sponsorship technically does not exist in F1).

Ligier / Prost used blue until the team’s demise in 2002. When Jaguar briefly participated in F1 at the start of this decade, it ran in a deep green. However, it was slightly lighter than British Racing Green, apparently to make sponsor logos stand out better on television. The team that Jaguar bought, the (Ford-powered) Stewart team ran in white and blue, the American racing colours.

Of course, there is nothing in F1′s rules that dictates that teams should use traditional colours. These rules were relaxed in 1970. But clearly many F1 teams still value their heritage enough to run colour schemes that are inspired by history.

Some aspects of the livery are restricted though. The two cars of each team must look “substantially” similar at every event in a year. In 1999, the new BAR team (owned by British American Tobacco) wanted to advertise two of its cigarette brands, one on each car. However, the FIA would not be moved. BAR’s compromise was to advertise one brand along the left side of the car and a different brand on the right. The resulting livery was a real mess and widely derided. From 2000 onwards, BAR’s ditched the ‘dual livery’ scheme.

Each car must display the badge of the car make on the front of the car. The name and national flag of the driver should be displayed on the side (usually just behind the driver’s helmet on the engine cover). The car number should also be visible from the front and the side. However, many spectators complain that the numbers are so small that you cannot see them.

Nowadays, a different way of telling apart the two cars of each team is to look at the ‘T-cam’ (the onboard camera that appears on top of the rollover structure just above and behind the driver’s head). For the lead driver, this is a fluorescent red. For a team’s second driver, it is fluorescent yellow.

Of course, another way to tell drivers apart is to look at their helmets. Traditionally, drivers design their own helmets although these days they are covered in sponsor logos just like the cars are. A good helmet design can become as famous as a historic car livery. Just think of Ayrton Senna’s yellow helmet, Graham Hill’s deep blue helmet with white tabs around the top (an adaptation of a London Rowing Club design, and also used by Graham’s son Damon) or Jackie Stewart’s white helmet with a tartan band around the top.

Car numbers

A minor, but interesting, point is how car numbers are allocated. Car numbers are published by the FIA before the start of each season and remain the same all season.

The current World Champion always races with the number 1. His team mate is allocated number 2. In instances when the World Champion is not participating in the race, it is probable that the Constructors Champion would use the numbers 0 and 2.

Under the old system of allocating car numbers (which ran until 1995), this happened in 1993 and 1994 when Damon Hill ran with the number 0 for two years running. The first time was because of the retirement of Nigel Mansell and the second time was due to the retirement of Alain Prost.

After the numbers 1 (or 0) and 2 are allocated, the following numbers are allocated according to the finishing position in the previous year’s Constructors Championship. So, ignoring the Constructor bearing numbers 1 (or 0) and 2, the highest-scoring constructor will carry the numbers 3 and 4, the next highest-scoring will carry the numbers 5 and 6, and so on. The number 13 is skipped for unclear reasons, though it’s safe to assume that this is due to superstition.

Not all superstitious numbers are removed though. In 2005 Japanese driver Takuma Sato was allocated the number 4 which is an unlucky number in Japanese culture (ominously being closely associated with death). True enough, his season was riddled with bad luck and strange mistakes.

This season McLaren are racing with the numbers 22 and 23 because they were excluded from last year’s Constructors Championship. Super Aguri were allocated numbers 20 and 21. Although Super Aguri no longer participates in F1, McLaren’s numbers remain 22 and 23 for consistency throughout the season.

Once again I have found myself becoming more annoyed with Lewis Hamilton because of his interviews following a controversial on-track incident. The first time this happened was during the Brazilian Grand Prix — ironically following another incident with Kimi Räikkönen.

This time round in Canada, Lewis Hamilton pulled off the distinctly un-Senna-esque feat of crashing himself out in the pitlane after failing to observe a red light. Even though I’m not a fan of Lewis Hamilton, and am a vocal critic of the mad unjustified hype that surrounds him, I didn’t feel too much schadenfreude.

The thing is, the British media’s plan of convincing us all the Hamilton is one of the best drivers there has ever been — an equal to Senna — is blatantly beginning to backfire now. And when it comes to the British press, that can mean only one thing: the backlash. And that’s not pretty to see, and it would be a real shame for Hamilton to suffer this.

The thing is that he is a genuinely talented driver, but the British media built him up so much that he couldn’t realistically achieve what the public would inevitably expect from him. So just because he is a very good driver rather than a great driver, he is going to face some horrific treatment from the media soon.

Indeed, the post-Canada backlash was pretty bad, as summarised by Axis of Oversteer. The Daily Star even went as far as to suggest that an ‘L’ plate should be affixed to Hamilton’s McLaren in future.

Others — still trying to push the ‘Hamilton is the new Senna’ myth — looked to blame the team, particularly on ITV. Nothing is ever Hamilton’s fault, it seems. If he presses the wrong button on the steering wheel, it’s McLaren’s fault for having the button there in the first place. If he crashes into someone it’s the cars fault for losing its bridge wing. And now that he failed to observe a red light, it’s the team’s fault for not telling him about the red light.

The thing about McLaren is that, partly because of the team’s culture and partly because it is also in their interest to present Hamilton as the greatest driver alive, McLaren will happily absorb all of the blame in these situations. So it’s a win-win — the media gets to blame McLaren and McLaren happily take the blame to support their driver.

But should McLaren be warning their drivers about things like red lights? I remember a few years back the F1 world dissolved into fits of laughter when it was revealed on the FOM world feed one race that Takuma Sato was being told over the radio when to move left or right. That, of course, is meant to be the driver’s judgement call.

So what is it to be? Should the driver’s hand be held throughout the race by a committee of “spotters”? Isn’t the driver paid to make these judgements for himself? This isn’t mickey mouse IndyCar or Nascar — this is Formula 1, which is supposed to contain the 20 best drivers in the world.

The fact is that Lewis Hamilton shouldn’t have needed any kind of notification or signal from his team that there was a red light at the end of the pitlane. There was already a very clear signal: the actual red light. He should have seen this. It is his job to see it. He failed. Game over.

The thing is, Hamilton made a silly mistake. Or at least, it sounds like a silly mistake. He failed to observe a red light. The right light is a classic obstacle; one that millions of road drivers every day manage to navigate with ease. As such, Hamilton’s incident is perfect for tabloid ridicule.

But the red light problem is relatively uncommon in Formula 1. Even though the presence of the red light during Safety Car periods has been around for yonks, for various reasons drivers in the past normally encountered this light as green and it was rarely an issue.

However, the red light is a particular problem at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve because the pitlane is so short compared with the actual race circuit that runs along next to it. The pitlane is basically a continuation of the long straight whereas the start / finish straight has a chicane at one end of it and a tricky ‘S’ bend at the other. Juan Pablo Montoya was disqualified a few years ago in Canada for running the red light. Fisichella and Massa were disqualified last year. The problem has become more common at other circuits now partly due to the new Safety Car rules.

Anyway, Hamilton fell foul of a rule that he should have known about. But it is still a relatively uncommon incident, so perhaps it is not much of a surprise that checking for the red light slipped his mind. After all, Nico Rosberg slammed straight into the back of Hamilton having also failed to spot the red light. I saw Hamilton’s incident as a silly but understandable mistake.

However, Lewis Hamilton’s post-race interviews made sure that any sympathy I had for him drained away pretty quickly. Here he exhibited all of the characteristics that rub me up the wrong way about Lewis Hamilton.

First of all there is the refusal to accept he made a mistake. You can tell he knows he was in the wrong. Even as he got out of the car his body language said it all. He looked simultaneously embarrassed and angry. But he just can’t bring himself to actually say it. This week’s Chequered Flag podcast has an interview that demonstrates his evasion of responsibility (it’s 13 minutes in if you want to look for it):

Lewis Hamilton: You can’t even call it a racing incident really, can you? I mean, what is it?
Holly Samos: Just one of those mistakes?
LH: I don’t… I don’t call it one of those either. I don’t know what I’d call it.

I would definitely agree with him that it was not a racing incident. A racing incident is what happens when two people are racing for position and it’s a 50/50 situation and both end up colliding and it’s no-one’s fault in particular. This certainly wasn’t the case here. Kimi Räikkönen was just minding his own business and the whole incident can be put down to Hamilton’s brainfade.

So it must have been a mistake, right? Not according to Lewis Hamilton. He can’t even bring himself to use the word ‘mistake’ in his response, calling it instead “one of those”. But the fact that he doesn’t know what to call it other than a mistake says it all. Listening to him duck responsibility like this is as painful and embarrassing as listening to a politician evade a pressing question.

The interview also encapsulates Hamilton’s rather misplaced confidence. You might call it cocky or even out-and-out arrogance. In his interview with ITV he asserted that he was “breezing it” during the race. In the BBC interview he said, “We were the best this weekend. No-one could touch us this weekend.” But you certainly aren’t the best — you definitely aren’t untouchable — if you are prone to a silly brainfade moment like that.

Moreover, it’s not clear that Hamilton would automatically have won the Canadian Grand Prix without the pitlane incident. He looked good in qualifying, but we don’t really know how much fuel Kimi Räikkönen had. Filling up at that stage of the race, almost certainly both cars would have needed to stop again, in which case Räikkönen probably had the advantage because he had got out in front of Hamilton. And, having fuelled lighter, Kimi may have been able to pull out a decent lead.

McLaren really needed to win in Canada. The circuit is known to suit the McLaren in particular. Coming off the back of Monaco — another McLaren-friendly circuit — meant that these were two vital races for McLaren and they really needed to maximise their points haul to make much of this year’s championships.

As it was, Ferrari looked surprisingly good in Monaco and Hamilton needed a dash of luck to take victory there. Meanwhile, Kovalainen could only manage one point in Monaco. In Canada, McLaren came away with a big fat zilch. Make no mistake — this is a major blow to McLaren’s chances. The next few circuits suit Ferrari better and this could be the red team’s opportunity to pull out a serious lead.

Canada was probably McLaren’s best chance to grab 18 points in a weekend but instead BMW took the 1-2. And now McLaren lie 3rd in the Championship. They can’t have been planning for that. Furthermore, the fact that the McLaren underneath Kovalainen did not perform in Canada must be ringing alarm bells in Woking. Far from “breezing it”, I think McLaren will now be bricking it.

At last I have finished my exams so I now have more time to post. There is a huge backlog of issues for me to get through, and I’m not sure if I’ll get through them all. I will attempt by condensing posts and including them as ‘mini posts’ in a series. These little sub-sections could have been posts in their own right had I had the time. This first of my catch-up posts looks at the trouble we have nailing down three front-running drivers.

The mystery of Kimi Räikkönen

Clive wrote a post last month revealing his “gnawing doubt” about Kimi Räikkönen.

Why does he throw it off the road so needlessly sometimes? Why has he not blown Massa into the weeds yet? Why does he look so determined at one race and then apathetic at the next? It is all very well blaming it on his enigmatic personality but that explains nothing. The fact is that he is completely unpredictable and it is probably this that makes me doubt him.

There’s no doubt that Räikkönen blows hot and cold. Just look at the first half of 2007 compared to the end of the season. At the start, Kimi was rather unspectacular — almost anonymous. But as the season finale drew closer he became hyper-motivated, more flawless and quicker. The fact that he overcame a 17 point deficit in the final two rounds just says it all.

But now he is looking a bit more average again. In Australia he seemingly couldn’t keep his concentration, spectacularly throwing it off the road needlessly a number of times. In Bahrain and Turkey, too, we saw little of his foot-to-the-floor attitude we saw towards the end of last season. Clive asks, “Must we admit that Massa is on a par with our hero?”

I think it’s a bit much to say that Räikkönen and Massa are on a par with each other. But unquestionably Räikkönen has not become the race-winning machine some people expected him to become five or six years ago.

My own theory is that Räikkönen is genuinely great. But we became too used to Michael Schumacher’s utter dominance. When he retired, we expected someone to immediately fill a Schumacher-sized gap. It doesn’t happen that way.

Schumacher was exceptional in that he was in close contention for the Championship in almost every year of his F1 career (1999 being an exception due to his broken leg, 2005, 1996 and 1993 due to abnormally inferior equipment). No-one before him can claim that level of dominance, and I see no reason to expect anyone after him to claim it either. Not for a long time, anyway.

The mystery of Felipe Massa

Ah, for the days before Bahrain. It was all so simple then. Massa can’t handle F1 without traction control and Ferrari are looking to replace him ASAP. Not so fast. In the subsequent three races the Brazilian has mounted an incredible fightback under extreme pressure. Dodgy drivers don’t score 28 points from 3 races.

But I’m not a convert. I still think Massa is a sub-par driver who certainly does not deserve a Ferrari seat — at least not with an “equal number one” status. As has been pointed out by plenty of people, this year’s calendar flatters Massa. Turkey has moved to an earlier slot, meaning that most of Massa’s favourite circuits are bunched together.

In fact, this year he has done worse than last year. Last year he won in Spain whereas he could only come second behind his team mate this year. In 2007, Massa scored 37 points at the five circuits where Massa has managed to score 28 this year.

Of the Massa-friendly tracks, only Interlagos remains. Given that it is at the end of the season, Massa will probably be well out of contention by then, and may have to give way to assist Räikkönen’s championship hopes.

Monaco comes next, and Massa’s record there is not so glittering — a sole third place from last year being his best result in the principality. I might find myself eating humble pie here, but I doubt it. It will be business as usual from this Sunday.

The mystery of Lewis Hamilton

The last time I wrote about Lewis Hamilton, it was on the back of a lacklustre Bahrain weekend. Since then he has mounted something of a fightback, with strong performances in Spain and Turkey. But the Turkish Grand Prix yet again brought to the fore that issue that Hamilton appears to have with tyre management.

After the race it was announced by Bridgestone that Lewis Hamilton’s tyres were found to be at risk of internal delamination. Therefore, for safety reasons, McLaren opted to put him on a three stop strategy, thereby minimising the amount of time spent on his tyres, particularly the softs.

I have to take my hat off to Lewis Hamilton for managing to make the best of a bad situation. There seems to be some confusion over the optimality of his strategy. Clive seems to think it was advantageous to be on a three-stopper, but I don’t understand his explanation. He says, “that the three-stop plan was the only way for [McLaren] to stay with the Ferraris and it had nothing to do with tires”. But the explanation for this, as Clive himself goes on to explain, has everything to do with tyres. And if it was the only way for McLaren to go, why was Kovalainen on a two stop strategy?

Mike Gascoyne on Maurice Hamilton’s Inside Line podcast said that the two and three stop strategies are actually equally optimal at Turkey according to the simulations. But if that is so it doesn’t explain why Hamilton was the only person in the entire field to opt for the three stop strategy. If they were really equal, would not more people try it out if only to try and overtake their rivals ‘in the pitlane’?

I conclude that if Hamilton’s tyres could withstand it, he would have gone for a two-stopper. So he had a compromised strategy in Turkey. In this context, Hamilton had a stormer of a race. Even if the three-stopper was his preferred strategy, it was a great fight between him and Massa. On live timing it looked captivating as the pair swapped green and purple sectors throughout the race. And on top of it there was even a genuine overtaking move for the lead!

So hats off for the performance. But is it time for Hamilton to get his act into gear when it comes to looking after his tyres? I have been saying this for a while now. All too often now, Hamilton has been thwarted by shot tyres. You can pretty much squarely blame his championship loss on his worn-out tyres.

The debate has been whether or not Bridgestone should cater for Hamilton’s more aggressive driving style. There is something to be said for this. However, Hamilton should really learn the limitations of his equipment and be able to drive on that limit without exceeding it. Is that not what motor racing is about? For a period of time Kimi Räikkönen became known as a car-breaker because his engine went pop a few times. I think a better case can be made for Hamilton being a tyre-ruiner.

We keep on hearing from a certain man who works for ITV that Lewis Hamilton is “Senna-esque”. Senna was known for being able to make dry tyres work in wet conditions. Hamilton is struggling to make dry tyres work in dry conditions. So until he masters this, I’d like to see less of the Senna comparisons.

In the post I wrote about Lewis Hamilton a couple of days ago, there was an interesting tangential discussion in the comments that I would like to share on the front page. Kathryn S suggested that one of the reasons Lewis Hamilton may be struggling now is that he hasn’t spent enough time in a “shed” of a car:

I think there is something very educational about driving, what I believe Mark Webber once referred to as, a shed around for at least your rookie year in F1. How do you hone skills in a beautifully balanced car? I can only imagine a great driver who learns how to unlock performance from a “dog” car can transfer those skills to even get better performance from a great car. I’ve heard people comment that Lewis has only driven the top cars on the grid for many, many years. Maybe the result of that is what we’re seeing now.

A few other people, including myself, ran with the concept. When you look back through the list of recent World Champions, few of them started their careers in a car that was as good as the McLaren MP4-22. Here is a list of recent World Champions and the team with which they made their début.

Thanks go to 4u1e for building parts of this list.

  • Kimi Räikkönen — Sauber in the midfield
  • Fernando Alonso — tail-enders Minardi, then moved to Renault when they were in the midfield
  • Michael Schumacher — tail-enders Jordan, then moved to Benetton when they were in the midfield
  • Mika Häkkinen — tail-enders Lotus, then moved to McLaren while they were in a slump
  • Jacques Villeneuve — the one anomaly, began his career in the dominant Williams
  • Damon Hill — the lacklustre Brabham team
  • Alain Prost — McLaren in a slump
  • Nigel Mansell — Lotus in a slump
  • Ayrton Senna — midfield Toleman
  • Nelson Piquet — started off in an Ensign for one race then a privately-entered McLaren
  • Keke Rosberg — “a variety of complete dogs”

This is by no means scientific. For one thing, we haven’t seen how common it is for World Champions to start their careers in a top car throughout history. This list only goes back roughly to the start of the 1980s.

Another point is that we are ignoring part of Kathryn’s original hypothesis which was that Lewis Hamilton has driven the top car throughout his entire motor racing career. Looking at the start of a driver’s F1 career is only the tip of the iceberg. What cars did these people drive in lower formulae?

Another point that goes against the “Time in a Shed” theory (as Pecker coined it) is the fact that top teams seldom hire rookies anyway! When have, say, Ferrari ever given a race seat to a rookie driver? I can’t think of an instance since I started watching F1 in the mid-1990s.

Even if, say, Fernando Alonso was the perfect driver when he first entered an F1 race in 2001, the chances that Benetton / Renault (or, indeed, Ferrari) would have hired him are very slim indeed. In fact, since Alonso was one of the Flav’s drivers, this is effectively what Benetton / Renault did — give Alonso some experience in a Minardi, out of harm’s way, before committing fully.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting theory to think about. If Hamilton has never learnt how to get good results out of a bad car, can he be getting the maximum out of a good car or a mediocre car?

I’m taking a brief break from my break because I think I can afford to now.

When I last wrote about the racism issue in F1, it was to bemoan the media’s role in fuelling the fire. If you have been reading for a while you might know of the distaste I have for some of the coverage found in F1 Racing over the past year or so.

I am not the only person to have noticed a decline in the standard of the journalism in F1 Racing. For instance, Clive has spoken about “the abandonment by the magazines of the high ground.” Alvin in the comments here has said he is currently boycotting F1 Racing.

Craig at craigblog has posted at least twice on the subject of cancelling his subscription to F1 Racing. And there are a few people in the comments saying the same thing time and again — “I have been buying F1 Racing for around ten years, but now I have to stop”.

Speaking as someone who is sitting just yards in front of a huge pile of eleven years’ worth of issues of F1 Racing, I have to say I am in the same position. This is not the result of some kind of mass internet campaign against the magazine. But I can’t help but notice for a lot of people that at some point in the past year came a few straws that broke some camels’ backs.

One particularly low point came when the editor Matt Bishop wrote a poisonous piece about Ralf Schumacher. It was little more than an excuse for “The Bish” (as no-one but Mr Bishop himself calls him) to use up four or five pages to explain how he told Ralf Schumacher to “off you fuck!”

Now, Ralf Schumacher was not the most popular driver in the paddock and you would struggle to find many fans of his. But for me, Matt Bishop’s piece was highly unprofessional, particularly for an editor as experienced as him. It was just so childish. “Ooh! Look at me! I told Ralf Schumacher to fuck off!” It’s like a small child saying, “Hahaha! I called the teacher a fanny!”

Last year there was also a heavy dose of unbearable Hamilton hype (or should that be “Lewis hype”, seeing as the whole British media is apparently on first name terms with him?). Then of course there is the fact that it is much more convenient and quicker to get all of the news on the internet rather than waiting every month for a dead tree to pop through the letter box. By the end of last year, it is fair to say that quite a lot of us were bashing The Bish.

And then The Bish left. In retrospect, that is probably why he felt free to write that terrible Ralf Schumacher article. His new job is as an apologist for Lewis Hamilton–no change there then.

But it begged the question–would F1 Racing improve again with someone else at the helm? The first couple of issues sans-Bish did not promise much. But what a pleasant surprise I had when I read this month’s editorial, written by the magazine’s deputy editor Stuart Codling.

I sorely want to quote it in full, but out of respect for the publishers I will summarise it. Mr Codling writes about how the phone was ringing off the hook after the racism story broke as radio producers went on the hunt for “experts” (those are Stuart Codling’s scare quotes, not mine). He writes about this poisonous era of 24 hour radio and television which is making coverage of anything increasingly confrontational and shrill. “Complex issues become a shouty amalgam of ‘Us’ vs Them’.”

He continues, racism does not solely exist in Spain. The aggravation that Lewis Hamilton faced was as a result of his rivalry with Fernando Alonso. As I wrote a couple of weeks back, we all know that the racists would be out in force no matter what country was involved, and British people especially are not in a position to lecture others countries on how their sport fans should behave.

Mr Codling’s next sentence is such a breath of fresh air–it actually felt like a relief to read it.

But who stoked up this grudge that has so publicly become a vehicle for xenophobia and racism? Well, we all did — both writers and readers, supply and demand.

He goes on to bemoan the goading that Alonso received from a British press eager to get an anti-Hamilton comment from the Spaniard. It has to be said, that Alonso’s behaviour in the media has been absolutely faultless, and you seldom hear him commenting on Hamilton in negative terms, and certainly not on anything other than his on-track actions. This is certainly a great deal more than can be said for Lewis Hamilton, who cannot seem to resist constantly making snide comments about Alonso.

Stuart Codling clearly has his head screwed on. He has a sense of morals, unlike most in the media. The way his editorial ends basically sums it up. Hearing that Mr Codling speaks with a modicum of balance, the radio producer ended the call “to find someone ‘better’.”

Three cheers for Stuart Codling. His behaviour was certainly much better than that of Matt Bishop. Mr Bishop had no qualms appearing on Radio 5 Live to say one of the most ridiculously overblown things I have ever heard someone say about Formula 1:

Lewis Hamilton is in the same chapter only as Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher. And that’s it.

This was made after Lewis Hamilton had completed his third race. No-one has a career after three races. Not even Michael Schumacher was Michael Schumacher after his third race. To compare Lewis Hamilton with names like Ayrton Senna after just three races does justice neither to Hamilton’s talent nor Senna’s legacy. If that needs explaining, as it did for one commenter* on this blog, please read this.

So I will not be cancelling my subscription to F1 Racing just yet. Unfortunately, this month’s issue is the last of Stuart Codling’s short tenure at the helm of the magazine as Matt Bishop’s replacement has been hired. For those who are worried about the increasing tabloidisation of F1 Racing it could be bad news. The new editor is Hans Seeberg. Is that the same Hans Seeberg who has recently been deputy editor of Nuts And / Or Zoo Magazine? Oh dear…

*Quite ironic when you look back on that actually. Lawrence says that Hamilton deserves comparisons to Fangio and Senna on the basis of his drive in Fuji. Hamilton was later to be investigated for dangerously bad driving during that grand prix.

Firstly — apologies for the lateness of my review of the Japanese Grand Prix. Another busy weekend spilled over into Monday, and is spilling over into Tuesday and Wednesday as well. (I am being very naughty by writing this post.)

There are so many talking points that it is difficult to know where to start.

I guess I should start by noting that it looks as though Lewis Hamilton will be this year’s World Champion. On the basis of his performance in treacherous conditions at Fuji, he fully deserves it. I still think that Fernando Alonso deserves to be World Champion more because I think he has been on balance the better driver. But it’s points that matter.

Hamilton’s drive at Fuji was solid and impressive. In a lot of ways it was a basic pole-to-flag drive for Hamilton. Besides a little run-in with Kubica, he had no real challenges to face. Not much impressive in that, dreadful conditions aside of course. This does not rank alongside, for instance, Senna at Donington in 1993, or even with Alonso at Hungaroring in 2006.

But Hamilton’s race showed firstly that he can drive in the wet. As his engineer noted at the end of the race, he has ticked the “driving in the wet” box that he so conspicuously failed to tick earlier this year at the Nürburgring. It also shows just how quickly he is learning. He made no obvious clangers at Nürburgring, but it was overall a pretty scrappy and unimpressive race. Fuji put that to bed.

It was exactly the opposite for Alonso. It is difficult to know exactly what was wrong with Alonso at Fuji. The conditions should have worked in his favour. Driving in the wet is a major strength of his, as last year’s Hungarian GP demonstrated. At Fuji, though, he was all over the place (certainly in comparison to Hamilton). Seemingly, Hamilton got pole with a heavier car as well.

For another reminder of how well Hamilton is doing, you just had to look from the back of Hamilton’s car on lap 45. Behind the safety car, Sebastian Vettel caused one of the most embarrassing crashes of the season. Mark Webber was running second for Red Bull, and he felt like he was in with a chance of winning. Sebastian Vettel was in third for the Red Bull sister car, Toro Rosso. It would be a historic finish for Red Bull, and for Toro Rosso who were on line for their first ever podium, and their first points of the season.

Then Vettel lost his concentration behind the safety car and slammed straight into the back of Webber. Both cars had to retire from the race. Vettel was distraught — crying in the garage upon his sheepish return to the pitlane. How does he explain to the boss what happened?

Webber was noticeably furious, and threw the steering wheel from his car as though he were an Olympic shot put competitor. ITV reported that early on in the race Webber had been sick in his helmet. Lesser men would give up when their stomachs empty themselves. That’s what separates us from Grand Prix racing drivers. The decision to continue was being paid off in the form of second place.

I bet while he was running in second he had forgotten all about the vomit in his helmet. Being slammed in the rear by a driver of his sister team was probably enough to make him sick all over again. Take a sip of water to calm yourself down. Oh no, you were sick into your straw.

Furious Webber stormed back to the pitlane and blasted Vettel in the strongest possible terms. It provided the funniest moment of the race. On live Saturday morning television, in the same slot where Pocoyo is normally shown, he blasted, voice noticeably trembling with rage:

It’s kids, isn’t it. It’s kids with not enough experience, and they just go and FUCK IT ALL UP!

Here it is on YouTube — enjoy it while you can, before FOM remove it.

Vettel has probably lost a lot of his reputation with that moment. Usually it would be forgiven as a rookie mistake, but the problem is that this year there is a rookie who you cannot envisage making that kind of mistake. More evidence of what a good job Hamilton is doing. (Having said that, I can’t think of Kovalainen dropping any similar clangers either.)

Someone else who lost a lot of reputation — as if he had any left to lose — was Ralf Schumacher. During qualifying 1 he was seemingly worried about not making the cut. For whatever reason he felt the need to take an ambitious move alongside a Spyker. Unfortunately, instead of going alongside the Spyker, he just went straight into it and damaged his car so badly that he wouldn’t have been able to go into Q2 anyway. To rub salt into the wound, he qualified for it. Yesterday, Ralf Schumacher was sacked left Toyota.

I suppose this is the thing about wet races. It makes some people look like complete idiots. It makes other people look like superheroes. So many drivers put in amazing performances at Fuji. I have already noted Hamilton, Webber and Vettel (before his boo-boo moment).

But Kimi Räikkönen was probably the most impressive driver on the track. He suffered badly from Ferrari’s strategic (and rule-breaking) blunder to start the race on intermediates while everyone else was on full wets. It was a nonsensical decision in the first place, and after just a few laps behind the safety car both Ferrari drivers had to pit in to change to full wets, relegating them to dead last.

Despite this, and in those crazy conditions as well, Räikkönen and Massa both managed to get themselves into potential podium positions. Räikkönen in particular had a stunning race, with a notable move on the outside of David Coulthard being the highlight. It really is the stuff that champions are made of. I hope Räikkönen’s career won’t finish as a case of “if only” as it has been so far.

Kudos also to Massa who was ahead of Räikkönen which is really inconvenient for Ferrari’s hopes in the Drivers’ Championship. And team orders don’t exist, especially from Ferrari. So it was time for a suspicious “splash n dash” to let Räikkönen ahead of Massa, who dropped straight back to 7th.

I suppose we shouldn’t be so cynical. It did let us see a truly amazing last-lap ding-dong battle between Massa and Kubica. There was an uncomfortably high amount of the run-off areas being used. I feel that Massa’s wide line through the run-off at the final corner is what gave him the edge over Kubica in the end, but they were both guilty of using the run-off areas. It provided some damn fun racing, but you can’t help feeling that they were both… cheating?

Ah yes cheating. What about that business with starting on intermediates when they were told to go on wets? Ferrari didn’t get the email apparently! Hah! Yeah right. All of the other teams and even the commentators knew the deal, but Ferrari didn’t. Likely story. Of course, FIArrari believed them.

I should also mention Jenson Button. After his torrid season in a shitbox Honda, he qualifying performance was truly encouraging and I was hoping that he could get a good result. Unfortunately he lost his front wing early on and had to get it replaced.

Rather alarmingly, though, he ran sans front wing for a few laps without any major drop-off in performance. An illustration of just how bad that Honda is — it can lose its front wing and you wouldn’t be able to tell from the times being set.

Liuzzi almost scored a point for Torro Rosso. It would have been scant consolation for Vettel’s lost podium, but it would have been something. Yup, it would have been, had he not passed Sutil under a yellow flag! Doh!

So instead, Adrian Sutil scored his first point, and Spyker’s first point as well. Just in time to impress their latest new owner (they must have had four owners in as many years!). In seriousness, Sutil is seriously impressing this season. A drive at a better team for 2009 surely beckons.

History also for Heikki Kovalainen, who took Renault’s first podium of the year, and his first podium of the career. Apparently it is also the first time two Finns have been on the podium, so a good day to remember for Finland.

A shockingly awful day for Japan though. On their home territory, all of the teams with Japanese links did awfully. I have already mentioned Schumacher and Button. Barrichello was 10th, Trulli finished dead last of the runners, both Williams-Toyotas and both Super Aguris failed to finish. Sakon Yamamoto was 12th. Who would be a Japanese F1 fan?

This is just a bit of what I have been thinking. I could go on and on and on about that race, but I have to stop somewhere. The championship looks like it’s nearly over, but I can’t wait for the Chinese Grand Prix. Luckily, we only have to wait a few days for it.

Update: As soon as I published this, I spotted this on Sidepodcast. It provides very convincing evidence that Hamilton could have caused the collision between Webber and Vettel. It also backs up Vettel’s post-race comments about how he was being put off by Hamilton. Commentators noted Hamilton’s erratic driving behind the safety car, and it does look a little bit like Hamilton was taking things rather over the line with his excessive start–stop driving.

You can only assume that he was deliberately trying to cause an accident, or rattle his opponents. (As Sidepodcast notes, it can’t have been warming brakes, because that involves abrupt changes in speed, not the gradual halt that Hamilton comes to.) What do you think? Watch quickly, before FOM take it down.

I have to say, well done to the person who took the footage. It’s better than anything the actual TV director took of the incident, and reveals a whole lot more of what was going on in the incident.

Update: The original video has, as predicted, been removed by FOM. For the benefit of the many visitors still reading this post, here is another copy of the video. This will probably get pulled down as well.

Via Telegraph Technology.

The world of Formula 1 will be waking up to a very different world this morning. Some say that Michael Schumacher is very important to Formula 1, that his success has attracted fans who want to be able to say to their grandchildren that they watched the greatest racing driver of all time.

I don’t buy that. Michael Schumacher is famous because he is a good Formula 1 driver. Formula 1 isn’t famous because Michael Schumacher was dominant. There are probably a great many sportsmen who are dominant in their field, but are completely unknown because their field is anonymous. Formula 1 was big before Michael Schumacher and it will be big after Schumacher. It might even be bigger in his absence as we see closer competition.

Michael Schumacher is unquestionably the most successful Formula 1 driver in history. He was just one victory short from having as many wins as the two next most successful drivers (Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost) put together. Dizzyingly, he has won more than a third of the 250 races he has entered.

He also has more pole positions, more front-row starts, more fastest laps than anyone else (and actually more than the next two drivers — Prost and Nigel Mansell — put together), more podiums than anyone else, led more laps, scored more points and — of course — won more World Championships than anyone else. Put simply, he has achieved every record worth setting, and then some.

What is also incredible about Michael Schumacher is that he has looked capable of winning every single World Championship since 1994 (apart perhaps from 1996 when he was driving a dog of a Ferrari — and he even managed to score a good few race victories in that).

But these records are just lists of numbers. You can argue that a lot of this is just down to the nature of modern-day Formula 1 racing. In the 1950s and 1960s there were far fewer races per season — sometimes in the single figures compared to today’s eighteen in a season.

So what about Schumacher’s actual racing? This is where there is great debate about Michael Schumacher’s status as one of the sport’s true greats. The phrase “flawed genius” is a bit of a cliche, but it might as well have been invented for Michael Schumacher. It is difficult to think of a more controversial driver. Almost all of the most negative publicity in Formula 1 over the past decade and a half has involved Michael Schumacher in some form or another — last year’s exploding Michelin tyres at the US Grand Prix being the exception.

It was beginning to feel as though Schumacher was mellowing in recent years. And then came Rascassegate, where Michael Schumacher controversially parked his car on the track during qualifying at Monaco to prevent Fernando Alonso setting a faster time.

You can clearly see his movement in the steering wheel — he starts to steer left in the middle of a right turn. Jackie Stewart said, “This was too blatant. When you see it in slow motion, turning the wheel one way and then the other, he had plenty of time to do something.”

The incident brought back a lot of bad memories from the past decade. The July issue of F1 Racing magazine listed some of Schumacher’s transgressions. The list is long.

  • Britain 1994 — Disqualified and banned for two races after failing to take his stop-go penalty for overtaking on the warm-up lap
  • Australia 1994 — Crashed into Damon Hill to ensure victory in the 1994 Drivers’ Championship
  • 1994 season — Suspect software found on the Benetton that Schumacher drove
  • Brazil 1995 — Accusations that Schumacher delibrately put on weight for the twice-yearly weight check so that he could race underweight
  • Belgium 1995 — Blocking moves lead to the introduction of the ‘one move’ agreement where drivers can only move once to prevent being overtaken
  • Europe 1997 — Drove into Jacques Villeneuve in an attempt to secure the Drivers’ Championship. “You’ve hit the wrong part of him my friend!,” said commentator Martin Brundle. Williams put Villeneuve’s car on display to show the mark left by Schumacher’s tyre.
  • Britain 1998 — Wins the race in the pit lane by taking his stop–go penalty after crossing the finish line
  • Canada 1998 — Forces Frentzen to leave the track by abruptly joining the racing line after a pit stop, leading to the introduction of the pit lane exit line that cannot be crossed
  • Belgium 1998 — Accuses David Coulthard of “trying to fucking kill me” after crashing into the back of the Scot
  • Austria 2000 — Following a shunt, manoeuvres his car into a dangerous position in an attempt to get the race red-flagged and re-started
  • Austria 2001 — Team-mate Rubens Barrichello forced by Ferrari to pull over to let Schumacher through on the last corner
  • Germany 2001 — Once again moves his car into a dangerous position in an attempt to get the race red-flagged — this time successfully
  • Austria 2002 — Barrichello again forced to let Schumacher pass on the final corner — this time for the win. The spectators were furious. This leads to the “ban” on team orders
  • USA 2002 — A failed attempt at a “manufactured dead heat”. Some say it is payback for Austria. Once again, the fans are furious — and of all places, the USA is the one place this should not happen
  • Europe 2003 — Successfully encourages track marshals to push his beached car back on to the race track
  • Britain 2004 — Deliberately spins in quali 1 to miss the rain expected in quali 2
  • Australia 2005 — Yet again helped out by marshals who choose to ignore Nick Heidfeld who is also beached
  • Monaco 2006 — Rascassegate

The BBC has another list here.

What you have here is a man who is determined to win at all costs. Not all of these incidents were methodically planned in advance. Many of them happened when Schumacher was under great pressure. These decisions were made quickly. Schumacher is a quick thinker, and he knows how to make the best out of a bad situation. Unfortunately, it has left this otherwise outstanding driver with a somewhat tarnished reputation; a reputation as an ruthless, intimidating cheat.

Many argue that this is what you need to become a seven times World Champion. You need a bit of aggression, a do-or-die attitude, a notion that you must win at all costs. It’s just unfortunate that this trait has overshadowed his achievements.

People point at the fact that Ayrton Senna was hardly a clean racer either. He was known for stooping to low levels in order to win, probably most controversially when he crashed into his own team mate and championship rival, Alain Prost in order to win the Drivers’ Championship. Jacques Villeneuve might be known for his outspoken rants, but I think he had it spot on when he was asked about Michael Schumacher in an interview for the September issue of F1 Racing.

Michael simply isn’t a great champion because he’s played too many dirty tricks and because he isn’t a great human being. Yes, Senna played dirty tricks, too, but he did it with more class, more integrity. When he took Prost out at Suzuka in 1990, he said he was going to do it before the race. So, unlike Michael, who ridiculously insisted he was innocent at Monaco this year, Senna said, ‘Yes, I did it. But I told you before the race that I was going to do it.’ That’s very different from what Michael did at Monaco and Jerez [in 1997] and Adelaide [in 1994]. Senna wasn’t lying to his fans. Michael was.

Another dimension of the Michael Schumacher debate that has cropped up this weekend is the fact that it is difficult to remember any great overtaking manoeuvres that he has made. I was thinking the same thing myself before this weekend. Schumacher is certainly quick at getting a car around a circuit, but when he actually has to race other cars? That’s more tricky.

But in retrospect I think that might be an unfair criticism. Even today we saw a few great moves from him. Nevertheless, it has to be said that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher preferred to make gains in position through having a superior pitstop strategy rather than taking a risk on the circuit. This might be the prudent thing to do from Schumacher’s point of view, but it is a very unattractive way to win a race.

Then add in to the equation all of the races that Schumacher has won from pole position. This is another one of Schumacher’s incredible records. He has done it a staggering 37 times. Sometimes it was all too easy for him to win races, particularly in 2002 and 2004. The dominance is not good for the sport. I cannot remember a great deal of the early part of this decade.

When Schumacher hasn’t had such a dominant car it has sometimes felt like he is a bit rusty at actually racing. Nevertheless, Schumacher’s ability to make his way through the field so easily if he happened to start at the back of the grid for whatever reason is pretty much unparalleled. As far as overtaking goes, I’ll give Schumacher the benefit of the doubt.

Another, kind of related, criticism of Schumacher is that for most of the time he has been in the best car. This was certainly true for some seasons. But were the Benettons of 1994 and 1995 really the best cars? Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve benefited more from their utterly dominant Williams cars in 1996 and 1997.

The Ferrari of 1996 certainly wasn’t the best car in the field. Ferrari might have had the prestige, but it was in a horrendous barren spell which had seen little substantial success for the team since the 1970s. And Michael Schumacher can certainly take much of the credit for building Ferrari into a team of world beaters by the 2000s.

But it is true that Michael Schumacher has had little real competition. Formula 1 in days gone by has had so many greats — Prost, Senna, Clark, Stewart, Fangio and so on. But the past ten years has been a barren spell, Schumacher aside of course. Maybe this is genuinely because Michael Schumacher is simply head and shoulders above everybody else.

But really, where was his competition? In the 1990s the closest he had to a championship rival was Damon Hill, and Hill can hardly be considered one of the sport’s very greatest. And Jacques Villeneuve certainly can’t. After Mika Häkkinen won his back-to-back titles in the late 1990s, Michael Schumacher literally had no rivals for years. Now we have a crop of young promising drivers — Kimi Räikkönen and particularly Fernando Alonso look as though they have great futures ahead of them.

We’ve seen a few good seasons of Alonso versus Schumacher, so you can’t accuse Schumacher of running away as soon as the competition got tough. But everybody will remember the way he would never allow a competitive driver to be his team mate. The list of Schumacher’s team mates is hardly a hall of fame: Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa. Then there is the fact that the entire Ferrari team was built around Schumacher’s Championship hopes. The team would do everything in its power to manipulate the result even if it meant a gain of just one point for Schumacher.

Now that Kimi Räikkönen has joined Ferrari, Michael Schumacher has jumped ship. There was an opportunity for Michael Schumacher’s talent to be measured against a genuinely quality driver racing in identical machinery. But Schumacher denied the fans a chance to judge his ability in a competitive environment. So we’ll never know. What a great shame.

Schumacher didn’t like racing. He only liked winning.

So will Michael Schumacher mainly be remembered for his amazing skill or for his questionable tactics? I think the fact that the debate even exists means that we already know the answer.

Update: Schumi comes under fire from Hill.

Was Fernando Alonso’s first lap at the Hungaroring as good as Ayrton Senna’s legendary first lap at Donington in 1993? A bit of a debate seems to be starting.

Nigel Roebuck doesn’t think Alonso’s lap can be compared with Senna’s:

The majority of the work was done in the opening seconds – literally away from the grid. Ayrton at Donington was a different thing.

But F1Fanatic says:

Alonso’s start was wholly reminiscent of Senna’s, in that once he’d passed one car he’d decimate the gap to the next then pass it as if it were standing still. To my mind, he demonstrated exactly the same intuitive grasp for the levels of grip on a changing and inconsistent surface that Senna did on that celebrated day.

I don’t know if Alonso’s lap was really as good as Senna’s. But I definitely disagree with the idea that Alonso made all of his places at the start. Infact, I initially thought that Alonso had completely blown his chances at the start, particularly when Schumacher made so many places before turn 1.

If you look at the footage of Alonso’s start, I reckon he only makes — at the very most — two or three places before the first corner — and only just! But the real magic happens on the rest of the lap. Judge for yourself by watching the onboard video:

Unfortunately, the footage of Alonso’s first lap isn’t quite uninterrupted. But we see more than enough to grasp the fact that Alonso was quite simply on another level compared to everybody else on the circuit. By the end of the first lap Alonso had made his way up to 6th position having started 15th on the grid.

This was not down to Alonso’s car. By the end of the first lap he had taken Felipe Massa in the Ferrari with a truly incredible and brave move. Alonso went on to overtake his teammate (who had started from 7th) on lap two.

By lap three Alonso was all over the back of Michael Schumacher, and on lap four (at the very end of the video) we see Alonso overtake Michael Schumacher on the outside of the corner. By the end of that lap Alonso was in 3rd position.

This is a wonderful display of driving. I now feel that Alonso fully deserves to be compared with Ayrton Senna.

Funny how watching a grand prix entirely from onboard cameras and without commentators serves to make it seem all the more dramatic.