Archive: Bahrain Grand Prix

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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.

You can read part 1 of my mid-season rankings, where I assess the bottom half of the grid.

6. Force India

Force India have come along way in the past couple of years. From being perennial tail-enders, they are now solid midfield runners and can regularly expect to beat the likes of Williams, BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso. Vijay Mallya has succeeded where Alex Schnaider and Spyker failed.

A question mark remains over the driver lineup. I still find Adrian Sutil rather unimpressive. In his fourth season, surely we should be seeing more. And Vitantonio Liuzzi, while showing flashes of excellence, has generally failed to live up to expectations.

Force India also need to be careful that their progress up the grid does not come to a shuddering halt, with a mass exodus of their technical team having occurred this year. James Key has moved to assist in Sauber’s resurrection, while Mike Gascoyne has poached some of his ex-Force India colleagues to join him at Lotus. Looking at the five teams that are ahead of Force India in the Constructors’ Championship, it is difficult to see how they can make much more progress.

5. Mercedes

It hasn’t quite gone to plan for Mercedes. Seemingly fed up with McLaren, the manufacturer opted to buy the Brawn team that was so stunningly successful last season. Then, in a crass marketing stunt, they signed Michael Schumacher with much fanfare. Well, it’s all been a bit of a damp squib.

The car has not met up to expectations, and I have heard rumours that Ross Brawn is not too happy with the way Mercedes run the show (who knows if there is truth in that though).

For my money, Mercedes must have the worst driver line-up with the possible exception of Sauber. Nico Rosberg is relatively well rated. But let us face it — we all know there is still a question mark as to how good he really is. Meanwhile, it was clear to me from the very start that Michael Schumacher would be rusty, and his performances has fully justified my view.

It would have been much better for both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher if a more sensible driver was chosen. Schumacher could have kept his dignity in retirement; Rosberg could have learnt from a genuinely solid and reliable barometer. Someone like Nick Heidfeld, perhaps. Or, you know, Jenson Button or Rubens Barrichello…

4. Ferrari

It has similarly come apart for Ferrari. Although they showed promise at the start of the season, with a win in Bahrain (even if they didn’t quite have the outright pace). But since then the story has been one of a slow but steady decline as the season has progressed, as Ferrari have failed to keep up the pace of development, and as the Championship has increasingly focussed on Red Bull and McLaren whose cars are far superior.

The drivers have to take their fair share of the blame too. Fernando Alonso has been making many more mistakes than usual, and he is not as enjoyable to watch as he used to be. A worrying development for the person I consider to be the best driver of the past decade. Meanwhile, after a relatively bright start in Bahrain, Felipe Massa has seemed off-colour for most of the season.

3. Renault

They may be fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, and, yes, they have the fifth fastest car. But I have elevated Renault in my rankings because it is an astonishing comeback.

It is incredible to think that just a month ago, the Renault F1 Team was mired in the quite unsavoury scandal that became known as ‘crashgate’. Having lost its sponsors and its star driver in addition to its team principal and technical director, you would expect 2010 to be a rebuilding year for Renault.

But the rebuild was swift. The team has rebranded to focus on its racing heritage, feeling less like the team that descended from Benetton. It has a steady new boss in the shape of Eric Boullier, who I think is doing a fantastic job. And its new star driver, Robert Kubica, looks set to become the team’s long-term centrepiece.

Kubica is doing really well just now and seems happy — by his standards at least! Vitaly Petrov is a fair bit off his pace, but he has not disgraced himself in my view. It should be remembered that Petrov is the only rookie among even the midfield teams, never mind front-running teams — so he should be given a bit of room to breathe and develop.

2. Red Bull

Red Bull should be number 1 on this list. This ought to be their year. They came out this season with easily the fastest car. Their car is still easily the fastest car. They have two of the best drivers on the grid.

Unfortunately, the last little bit — professionalism, cohesion, restraint — that takes all these ingredients and turns an operation into a championship winning Formula 1 team is missing. If it isn’t some kind of reliability problem, it is a strategy goof, or the mother of all mismanagements.

Just now, Red Bull remind me of where McLaren were at a few years ago. Unable to control team mates. Bizarre strategy calls. Constantly walking into traps that they set up for themselves. Somehow conspiring to hoof it over the bar in the face of an open goal.

The statistics illustrate it well. Out of ten races, Red Bull have had nine pole positions, but have had just five wins. They lag behind McLaren in both championships. For a team that has what is probably comfortably the quickest car, Red Bull have managed to immensely stuff it up so far.

1. McLaren

McLaren have not been without their troubles this season. At the start of the season, it was clear that their car was not as quick as they would have liked. But the way they are dealing with it is the opposite to Red Bull, and that signals to me that they have learnt a lot from their difficult period in the mid-2000s.

As with Ferrari, they were scuppered by poor tactics during qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, severely compromising their race. Yet they still salvaged a fair points haul. Jenson Button did the same again at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago. Even when it goes wrong, McLaren sort it and get it right. McLaren is now more agile and astute in its strategy calls than it was two or three years ago.

Martin Whitmarsh has done an outstanding job to plug the few gaps in McLaren’s abilities that Ron Dennis left behind. Now McLaren are a formidable force that should never be underestimated.

McLaren’s pace of development alone makes them stand head and shoulders above the rest. The high-profile failure of their new blown diffuser at Silverstone is only really notable because it is so unusual for a new McLaren part to go wrong. Other teams have this sort of difficulty all the time. Witness the various botched attempts to adopt the F-duct, another part of the McLaren package that makes it the best of 2010 so far.

Then there are the drivers, who are both on song. Despite various figures constantly trying to goad them into a bloody deathmatch, they appear to get on like a house on fire.

Witness the difference between the McLaren team mates and their Red Bull counterparts at Turkey. McLaren’s drivers had a misunderstanding, but instead of blabbing to the media or making silly hand gestures, the drivers sorted it out with a quick chat after the race. Very professional. Lewis Hamilton’s and Jenson Button’s approach is a very healthy approach to racing all round.

That is what makes them championship winners, and today’s championship leaders. That is why McLaren are still the best team, even when they don’t necessarily have the best car.

Without doubt, the Canadian Grand Prix was a highly unusual and exciting race. It brought us a new, unfamiliar situation and it was fascinating to watch it unfold. The staggering figure of 65 on-track passes will count as among the very highest seen in a dry race in recent years.

It is therefore no surprise that the kneejerk calls to “learn from the Canada show” have come thick and fast. In my view that is dangerous.

First of all, as I have pointed out before, the focus on “the show” is vacuous, trite and antithetical to the idea of the sport. Of course F1 should be exciting. But what you can’t forget is that we love F1 already — because it already is exciting.

What we now risk — with this crazy obsession with “improving the show” — is future of F1 that is increasingly watered-down. F1 is becoming too convoluted due to bizarre rules that are tacked on bit-by-bit in a misguided and unnecessary attempt to engineer excitement. This is the stuff of bad game shows or WWF or Nascar. We are talking about F1, the greatest sport in the world. It doesn’t need this.

I am particularly disappointed in Mike Gascoyne’s bizarre call to attempt to somehow incorporate the conditions that occurred in Canada into the tyre rules:

If you were going to write the tyre rules for how you wanted races to be, they would be like Canada. You had changing strategies, overtaking and lots of excitement.

It was exactly what F1 needs, and it’s proved that the argument for one tyre being very marginable is very strong.

This surely overlooks the key reasons behind why the Canadian Grand Prix was such a great spectacle. First of all there is the fact that it is an incredible circuit that brings us great, edge-of-your-seat races time and again, regardless of what the current rules are. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a great circuit. Full stop.

Moreover, one of the features of the circuit that has emerged as a major factor over and over again is the fact that it is hard on tyres. I vividly remember the 2006 Canadian Grand Prix, where the tyres were degrading in such an odd way that the circuit was absolutely covered in marbles. I seem to recall David Coulthard describing those conditions as the worst dry-weather conditions he had ever raced in.

Then there is the fact that this is the first time Formula 1 has visited Montreal with the current slick tyres, and with the current restrictions on the numbers of sets of tyres teams can use, and there you have your recipe for the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix.

Some of this cannot be replicated. Some of it already is. The rest is artificial interfering.

The call for the tyre supplier to provide the teams with increasingly marginal tyres goes against everything that F1 is supposed to be about — the best drivers using the best equipment. Artificially hobbling drivers is a fake approach to racing. More overtaking is meaningless if it isn’t real overtaking.

That is why Pirelli’s stated desire to “have a Canadian GP every race” sends a shiver down my spine. I was hoping that the switch of tyre supplier would be the perfect opportunity to ditch the current tyre regulations, which are currently a mess from a sporting standpoint. Instead, it looks like the tyre rules are only going to become worse.

But most of all there is the issue that the unpredictable will soon enough become predictable. The way events unfolded in Canada caught the teams off guard. But the second time something like that happens, they will be much better prepared. The third time they will begin to set a routine in place. After a handful more occasions, they will know the drill down pat. All the unpredictability will be gone.

This is what we saw with refuelling. At first it was an interesting novelty, and it added an interesting strategy element. But by the end of the refuelling era, it was adding nothing to the show. Armed with 15 years’ worth of data, and with the calculation powers of modern computers, the teams always knew what the optimum strategy was and employed it. The result was neutered racing, with the refuelling only adding an incentive for drivers to “overtake in the pitlane” and avoid on-track action.

The same would happen with tyres, as the teams gather data and become better prepared. They may say they want to improve the show. But they also want to win the race. It is a classic prisoners’ dilemma — and, just as with refuelling, the teams will always try to win the race before thinking about the show.

It is worth considering that the reason the Canadian Grand Prix was so exciting was that the teams pushed too hard and ended up painting themselves into a corner. The Bahrain Grand Prix was so boring because the teams were far too conservative, fearful of overstepping the mark with the tyres and ending up in exactly the scenario that unfolded in Canada. The teams want to have their cake and eat it.

F1 teams are constantly looking for the boundaries of performance, and sometimes they go beyond those boundaries. When they do, they learn the lessons and adapt their approach for next time. No set of rules can affect this fundamental nature of the way teams behave.

What we really should take away from the Canadian Grand Prix is the joy of watching a great race. This is the sort of thing that should be celebrated. But there were great races in the past, and great races are caused by a variety of factors that cannot be pinned down.

Even if they were pinned down, knowing the factors would be a surefire way of ensuring boring races for the rest of the sport’s future. What makes F1 exciting is its inherent unpredictability. Trying to engineer unpredictability is surely an oxymoron.

This does mean that sometimes we endure the odd mediocre race. But since we follow a sport and not a show, we are all happy with that — aren’t we?…

In my previous article about the post-Bahrain backlash, I noted that I thought the main reason why people felt that the race was boring was down to something fully within Bernie Ecclestone’s control. It is the most important thing to the vast majority of fans, although in the rush to blame the presence of heavy fuel loads or front wings or whatever personal hobby-horse they have, many people have forgotten about the television coverage.

FOM feed the world

Nowadays, the “world feed” carried by every broadcaster for almost every race is produced by FOM, run by Bernie Ecclestone. (The only exceptions at the moment are the Monaco and Japanese Grands Prix, where the world feed is produced by Télé Monte Carlo and Fuji Television respectively.) This is generally a very good thing.

Until a few years ago, races were covered by local broadcasters, meaning that the quality of the coverage could vary quite wildly from race to race. I always remember the Japanese Grand Prix being particularly bad because so much time was spent on board with a below-average Japanese driver trundling around doing very little.

This situation was not helped by the fact that the quality of this standard feed was deliberately stunted while Bernie Ecclestone attempted to launch a premium digital television service, F1 Digital+. “Bernievision”, as it was called, was a very good product.

There were lots of innovations that improved the quality of the coverage, including some smart systems that could detect when an overtaking manoeuvre or a crash was about to happen. You can see this in action here, when the coverage automatically cuts to the on-board camera of Jacques Villeneuve just before he crashes into Ralf Schumacher during the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

Unfortunately, the main problem with F1 Digital+ was that it was ahead of its time. The adventure began in 1996, at an impossibly early stage of the development of interactive television. There were teething problems in the early days, including an incredible clanger at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, where the “superior” product managed to completely miss the biggest crash in F1 history! But they learned over time and there were innovations aplenty. With the broadcasters struggling to make any money with it, the service was closed down in 2002.

Since then, the technology on which F1 Digital+ was based has been used on the standard world feed, which FOM have gradually taken over from the host broadcasters. This has brought about a noticeable improvement in the quality of coverage since 2004. Broadly, the pictures have been better. Incidents have been caught live more regularly, and replays have been shown quickly. The information displayed on the on-screen graphics has also improved considerably.

But after reaching a peak in quality three or four years ago, FOM’s coverage has stagnated. Many times, innovations have been brought to the coverage, only to be used sparingly, and eventually disappear.

For instance, whatever happened to the tyre temperature indicators that were used once or twice a few years ago? Why do we no longer often see the graphics comparing the telemetry of two drivers racing side-by-side? What has happened to the thermal images?

Why don’t FOM buy some of those awesome super slo-mo cameras instead of just using the ones in Germany? Why is line comparison only ever used during practice, and even then not very often? Why isn’t more use made of the graphics that show the position of drivers on a map of the circuit?

The poor usability of FOM’s new graphics

Things are not totally stagnant at FOM though. At Bahrain, they unleashed a new set of graphics. It has to be said straight away that they are very good looking, and with a few tweaks will work very well. However, at the moment there are some major flaws with them.

The font appears to be a version of DIN. This is a bold, clear and readable font.

However, FOM have made a mistake by choosing to display the drivers’ names in all uppercase. It is known that all-uppercase is more difficult to read. Often readers look at the shape of words rather than the individual letters. This is much more difficult when capital letters are all the same height and many are roughly square-shaped. It is thought that it may even increase the amount of time spent reading by as much as 20 per cent.

Then there is the odd slanting of the lower-third graphics. I see what they are trying to do, by echoing the slant of the Formula 1 logo. But while it looks stylish, it is pretty painful if you want to actually try and read it!

Example of FOM's new graphics

As you can see, unlike a normal table, the text is not aligned to allow for easy comparison of figures down the column. Instead, you have to read down and to the left. Slanting is one thing, but if you are going to slant one way, slant towards the right! We read from left to right. Effectively reading from right to left (and then switching back to left to right to actually read the information!) is completely counter-intuitive. I know Bernie Ecclestone is keen to take Formula 1 to new markets in Asia, but making us read from right to left really is going a step too far!

The graphics also animate on rather extravagantly. This is particularly irritating with the graphics that update as each driver crosses the line. Each driver’s name and time now takes a while to animate on. But when cars are passing through so quickly, this is vital reading time lost. The new graphics really are a bad case of style over substance.

Example (a rare one) of FOM's tower graphics There was also a large outcry over the fact that the ‘tower’ graphics — which display a list of positions down the left hand side of the screen — appear to have been done away with. Although the tower made a couple of appearances during the race, it really is much more useful during qualifying, where positions change much more rapidly.

During the commentary, Jonathan Legard mentioned that the BBC had received plenty of complaints about the disappearance of the tower, although the content of the world feed is beyond the BBC’s control. For commentators to start bemoaning the poor quality of the world feed once again shows how much of a backward step FOM have taken lately.

On the plus side, there were a couple of interesting new additions as a result of the renewed emphasis on the speed of pitstops. The pitstop time graphic now shows the length of time spent in the pitlane as well as the amount of time spent stationary. However, the stationary time displays only after the driver has exited the pitlane. Why not reveal this first?

They also get the thumbs up for finally switching the lap counter so that it counts up rather than down. I generally like the new graphics, but they have some major flaws just now. With a bit of tweaking, it will look great and work well. But I do wonder what FOM were thinking of when they made some of these decisions.

Too much action was missed

But, of course, the design of the graphics is small beer compared with the actual pictures themselves — and it is here that I think FOM are particularly letting themselves down just now. A few years ago I was amazed at how much action they caught live. Today, I find myself with difficult believing how little action they catch — and how few replays they show.

For instance, what actually happened to Karun Chandhok? We know he binned it, but how? All FOM showed us was his slightly smashed-up car. A replay of the event was never shown. Did their cameras completely miss it?

Moreover, the BBC’s post-race ‘forum’ showed several replays from the on-board channels that brought to light much more action than FOM showed us. Nico Hülkenberg’s first lap was rather eventful, but FOM showed very little of it.

Another on-board shot, not shown on the world feed, revealed how Felipe Massa squeezed Lewis Hamilton early on in the lap. This was totally missed by FOM, and caught all viewers, and even apparently the pundits, by surprise when the BBC showed it later.

And why were viewers never given the full story of the mêlée caused in the midfield as a result of Mark Webber’s blue smoke on lap 1? And, for that matter, why was so little attention paid to the recoveries by Adrian Sutil and Robert Kubica, who made their way back up through the field following that lap 1 incident?

I have to admit that I am baffled. The race was allegedly “boring”, so there was plenty of time to show replays of interesting incidents, but clearly the opportunity was passed up. Why?

The whole style of FOM’s product has become rather stale, clinical and formulaic as well. While a few years ago the feed contained interesting shots of the cars and the circuit. Now there is a greater emphasis on wide shots of the venue. While these shots are attractive, they do not showcase the race.

The coverage of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a prime example. There were so many wide shots that it was often difficult to pick out the cars. It felt like most of the time was spent looking at the giant sparkly hotel that looks a bit like a rude sex toy rather than the race itself. And the final lap lunge by Jenson Button on Mark Webber was missed by the cameras!

You can see the moment on this video, at 2:30. Also watch out for when the cars out out of shot when Robert Kubica is battling with Sébastien Buemi at around 1:40, so we don’t properly see what Kubica really did.

It is worth noting that the FIA obviously thought that FOM had done such a good job of producing an uber-slick but ultra-dull feed that they awarded the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix an award for the best television coverage. I thought it stuck out as a particularly poor performance from FOM. It was another triumph of style over substance. I guess they were trying to trumpet this new grand prix, when it was widely recognised to be an underwhelming circuit that produced a rather dull race.

When will HD finally come?

I feel as though FOM have almost given up on improving the television product. F1 is supposed to be the most technologically advanced sport in the world, yet it is still not even broadcast in HD. It is probably the last major sport in the world to only offer an SD feed, and before you know it 3D will have come along by the time F1 goes HD.

Fuji Television are prepared to produce an HD feed for the Japanese Grand Prix (although this is only shown in Japan). I also noticed people praising the Japanese GP coverage for its interesting shots and pretty solid coverage. But Fuji were once universally recognised as one of the worst of the host broadcasters back in the bad old days.

Fuji really have upped their game in the past couple of years. It is notable that we can actually now compare Fuji with FOM and say that Fuji may actually be better. Certainly, Fuji provide a welcome breath of fresh air to F1 coverage when every other race is presented using the formulaic approach that has increasingly been taken by FOM.

Screengrabs nicked from stefmeister. If you are as much of a geek as me about both Formula 1 and television presentation, I highly recommend the F1 coverage thread on Digital Spy.

It has to be said that the writing was on the wall for the Bahrain Grand Prix before the teams even arrived there. And it’s not due to the refuelling ban. There are arguments for and against refuelling, but on balance I think banning refuelling is a good idea.

The legacy of refuelling

Some people had decided in advance that scrapping it was a bad idea, and have used the relatively pedestrian Bahrain Grand Prix as definitive evidence that they’re right. But one race is far too soon to judge. And as I pointed out in the previous article, there was actually more overtaking than normal.

It is no secret that F1 has a bit of an overtaking problem. The amount of overtaking has declined steadily throughout its history, and nose-dived in 1994 when refuelling was introduced in the modern era. In the intervening decade-and-a-half, the amount of overtaking has been relatively stable at this low level.

For me, the biggest legacy of refuelling has been to gift seven World Championships to a driver who isn’t particularly good at wheel-to-wheel racing, but transformed “overtaking into the pit lane” (i.e. gaining positions just by being in the pit lane at the right time) into the most important aspect of modern-day grand prix racing.

It is often argued that this “strategy” element adds an important dimension to the racing. The argument goes that what is lost in terms of on-track action is gained in terms of strategic intrigue.

This may have been true in the early days of refuelling, when strategists were still finding their feet with the new rules. But over time, it became clear what worked and what didn’t.

Armed with 15 years’ worth of data, teams had their strategies worked out by computers to the extent that there was one clear optimal strategy, and the race was won or lost on whether your first stop was made on lap 17 or made on lap 18. More often than not, after the first stop, it was clear how the rest of the race would play out, and the whole spectacle usually settled down.

The powers that be concocted increasingly contrived ways to re-inject a strategic element into the racing, but it stopped working. We reached the ridiculous situation where cars were qualifying on race fuel loads, which still did little to avoid the harsh reality that there is one optimal strategy.

How to re-introduce strategy while keeping purists happy

For me, there is far too much talk about “the show”. F1 is not a show. It is a sport. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to see a show, you should go to the pantomime. Todd on the latest Formula 1 Blog podcast said it best: “Jim Clark didn’t take part in a show. He took part in a race.”

Yet, with the obsession with making F1 more entertaining, the rules have constantly been tinkered with. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and the powers that be have to tread a fine line. They must make the sport more appealing to people who, truth be told, aren’t really interested in F1, while keeping the purists happy.

F1 is special because it is, at its core, about finding the fastest driver in the fastest car. Everything else is tinsel. Some of the new rules actively go against this attempt to find the fastest.

Look at the obsession with strategy. Look at attempts at mixing up the grid. The current tyre rules are among the most unpure in F1 today.

Forcing drivers to use two different types of compounds achieves nothing for anyone except Bridgestone. And I am yet to work out what is achieved by the new rule forcing drivers to start the race on the same tyres they qualified on. What does it prove? Do we tie one hand behind the back of footballers to “spice up the show” there? It is ridiculous.

Yet, all the talk is to introduce a mandatory two stops. That is certainly what Martin Whitmarsh implied on the BBC’s coverage last weekend. The idea sends a shiver down my spine. And quite how it is supposed to spice up the action is beyond me. Just now the optimal strategy appears to be a one-stop. Now they want to enforce a two-stop strategy? It’s difficult to see the scope for spiced-up strategy action here.

But I can think of a way of re-introducing the strategy element while keeping the purists happy: get rid of the mandatory tyre change. This would blow wide open the possibility of a no-stop strategy, thereby potentially reducing the predictability of the current situation. Sure, Bridgestone will be unhappy — but they are leaving the sport anyway so there is no point in making them happy.


The decline in overtaking pre-dates 1994. It has been clear for years that it is not as easy for F1 drivers in F1 cars to overtake as it perhaps should be. There are plenty of pet theories as to why this might be. The ones that get the most attention are the ones that are put forward by Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, as they are the most powerful people in F1. But of course, they have their own agendas.

The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have long blamed modern aerodynamics for the lack of overtaking. The received wisdom has become that aerodynamic grip is bad news if you want overtaking, and that the emphasis should be more on mechanical grip.

I was very interested to see James Allen write about what Frank Dernie thinks about this — that’s it’s a load of old cobblers. I have felt for a while that the argument that aerodynamics damage the racing does not hold water. On a Renault podcast a couple of years ago, Pat Symonds pointed out that the races that have the most overtaking, as everyone knows, are wet races. In the wet, aerodynamic grip is ramped up, and mechanical grip plummets.

When you think about it, it’s so right. It does amaze me that, in the face of so much hard evidence to the contrary, people still blame aerodynamics for the poor racing. I have come to the conclusion that many people’s views on the overtaking problem are shaped largely by fashion and spin rather than the evidence.

Speaking personally, I love seeing what sorts of devices teams come up with. We have all been fascinated by McLaren’s “F-duct” (even though it seems to have done them “F-all” good). Neutering these sorts of areas is the first step on the slippery slope towards spec chassis. And then it just wouldn’t be F1 any more.

I am not totally averse to restricting the cars though. Formula 1 is, after all, a formula — it always has been.

I am no engineer, but it strikes me that F1 cars are simply too fast to allow for much overtaking. In particular, the brakes on F1 cars are so good today that there is little opportunity for a driver to perform an outbraking manoeuvre. With such small braking zones, the scope just isn’t there in the same way it might have been in the past. Is somehow reducing the power of the brakes a viable option?

The points system

Bernie Ecclestone has also sought to blame the points system for the lack of overtaking, and the system has accordingly been tweaked. I personally think there is something in this. The points system rewards conservatism.

Think about instances where a driver attempting to overtake faces a 50-50 situation (or, more accurately, a ⅓-⅓-⅓ situation). By this I mean that there is a ⅓ chance that a clean pass will be made and a position will be gained, a ⅓ chance that an attempt will be made but will fail, and a ⅓ that the move will go wrong and end in a crash. (Obviously this is a major simplification of the real-life scenario, but I think this “50-50″ thought experiment still underlines an interesting point.)

Under last year’s scoring system, for a driver in second place trying to overtake the leader, this “⅓-⅓-⅓” situation would lead to an expected gain of… -2 points. Under the new points system, the expectation is -3⅔ (although as a percentage of the winner’s points haul, this is better). No wonder drivers can’t overtake. It’s not in their interests to even try unless they are practically left an open door.

This was the core reason why I was in fact, contrary to the fashion, in favour of Bernie’s proposed “medals” system. Then, attempting to gain a position would be unambiguously advantageous.

The circuits

However, I think there would be much more to be gained in ensuring that circuits are more challenging and provide more in the way of opportunities to overtake. Nothing is certain. After all, Suzuka is normally entertaining, but produced a bit of a stinker last year. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

But we all know that certain circuits, in general, produce better racing than others. I really do struggle to think of any grand prix held at Interlagos that was boring. But I know not to expect much action at, say, Valencia or Shanghai. Or Bahrain for that matter.

We know this because teams and drivers will often turn up a circuit and say, “there is only a certain place you can overtake, and it’s here”. Adrian Newey, Sam Michael and Martin Whitmarsh are all in agreement. As the Williams technical director said:

You’ve got to ask yourself, why do you go to a race such as Barcelona where no one overtakes, and then take exactly the same cars to Monza, Montreal or Hockenheim and you get lots of overtaking.

And the McLaren team principal said:

You only need to do simple statistical analysis and look at where the overtaking moves are If, say, we race on 18 circuits with 350 corners, then 90 per cent of overtaking moves in a year would happen at just 10 corners… The fact that overtaking is focused on such a small number of corners clearly demonstrates that it’s circuit-dependent.

Ferrari and Renault went to Valencia in 2008 proclaiming that they know from their simulators that there would be little in the way of overtaking. Ferrari even based a fundamental decision about their engine on this prediction. And they were right.

But Bernie will not entertain the suggestion that the circuits are to blame. This is because, unlike the effort made by drivers or the aerodynamics or the strategy, this is the area that he is responsible for. And he doesn’t want to take responsibility for it.

The effect of adding a new slow, narrow, bumpy, twisty section that looks as though it was almost designed to prevent overtaking was predicted before the race began. Quite why the organisers of the grand prix thought it would be a good idea is beyond me.

GP2 world feed commentator Will Buxton saw the writing on the wall, and was left exasperated by the negative effect this different circuit configuration had on the GP2 racing. He predicted a similar negative effect on F1, and it transpired that he was right.

What else is Bernie to blame for?

While I confess that it is a bit too easy to lay the blame on Bernie Ecclestone for the boring race in Bahrain, there is another core part of F1 that he is responsible for, which led to a dull spectacle being played out in our living rooms last Sunday. But that is what I will deal with in another article in the near future.

I have to say I have found the Bahrain Grand Prix boring — well, the aftermath of it. All the same old whingers keep on stomping their feet about their old hobby-horses. They couldn’t wait for this season to start so that they could claim that Formula 1 has been broken by X, Y and Z.

That’s despite the fact that the grand prix wasn’t actually all that bad. Sure, it wasn’t a sizzler. But hardly the end of F1 as we know it. I reckon there were at least a dozen races in 2009 that played out in a similar way. In fact, this Bahrain Grand Prix had much more overtaking than the average race in 2009, even including the mad wet races.

There can not be a set of “fans” that complain more about the sport they follow. And yet, bizarrely, year after year, they carry on watching for some reason. Who’s the sucker here? It sure ain’t me.

Too much hype

The problem was that, as usual, F1 journalists went into overdrive with the pre-season hype. Time and time again we were told that 2010 was set to be the most exciting in years, although not much in the way of evidence was ever provided in support of this.

We were supposed to be excited because of the return of Michael Schumacher. But as I pointed out months ago, he was always bound to be off the pace, and so it proved to be. There will be no eighth world championship. Unless lots of sixth place finishes really get you going, there will be little in the way of excitement round here.

I think the new teams were also supposed to add a new dimension of excitement. They certainly have increased the level of interest in the back of the field — and a good thing that is too. But quite what else we should have expected as a result of their participation is a head-scratcher for me.

I seem to remember journalists banging on about the all-British inter-team rivalry at McLaren this year as well. That has also turned out to be a bit of a damp squib (so far). But it is not exactly a problem with F1 if one of them has so comprehensively outclassed the other already. Is Lewis Hamilton supposed to drop anchor just in order to increase the excitement here?

I sent the hypothetical question out there on Twitter — Can anyone remember the last time journalists didn’t say that the coming F1 season was due to be “the most exciting ever”? Alianora suggested 2004, which is a good thought. Although it was on the back of a really rather good 2003 season (tyre-rules-rigged-in-favour-of-Ferrari-scandal aside), and there was a lot of interest surrounding the radical Williams “walrus nose” (another damp squib).

The forgotten good news stories

No wonder people were upset. Not many races could have lived up to these expectations. What was, in truth, an average race (nothing more, nothing less) has been cited by hordes as definitive evidence that F1 is dying.

But I struggle to understand what people were expecting. Indeed, I have been quite surprised at the sheer number of interesting angles on the Bahrain Grand Prix that appear to have been largely overlooked.

  • Fernando Alonso’s winning début — Okay, so this one has been covered extensively, but it is worth underlining. Alonso joins the select group of drivers to win on their Ferrari début — and he set a fastest lap over a second quicker than anyone else to boot. Forget the comeback of Michael Schumacher — Alonso showed his critics that he is the best, and with ease.
  • Felipe Massa’s comeback — In his first race since his horrific crash in Hungary last year, Massa put in an admirable performance and finished second.
  • The speed of Red Bull and Vettel — Despite the Ferrari 1-2, Red Bull have shown that last year wasn’t a blip, and they are serious contenders this year.
  • Nico Rosberg outclassing Michael Schumacher — This one doesn’t fit in with the “Schumacher is the saviour of F1″ narrative, but even so I’m surprised more people aren’t hailing Rosberg’s success after what must have been a rather difficult winter for him.
  • McLaren’s sneaky and massively clever pit stop strategy — McLaren appear to have exploited an under-advertised new rule that introduces a 55 metre zone round every pit box, designed to stop unsafe releases. My brother reckons McLaren are exploiting this to their advantage by bringing their cars in on the same lap as rivals that are just the right amount ahead of them, just to delay the release of that car. Genius (both McLaren and my brother!).
  • Force India becoming the best of the rest — Most will have expected Williams to be the fifth team, but Force India look like they hold that position quite comfortably just now.
  • A steady performance from Russia’s first ever F1 driver — Vitaly Petrov did a solid job in his first ever F1 race, running in a very respectable 11th place until a suspension failure. Petrov’s GP2 career was a slow burner, but his F1 career has got off to a bright start.
  • Lotus beating Toro Rosso — This one has been covered extensively too, but it’s still worth highlighting again. Lotus — who have only had five months to design and build their car — have already emerged as the strongest of the new teams. They look to be around equal with Virgin in terms of pace, but definitely have the more reliable car — and even beat a Toro Rosso. Lotus are also bound to improve more than the other teams. At this rate, I’d be surprised if they don’t score a point this season.
  • Virgin’s CFD-only gamble not backfiring — The question as to whether avoiding the use of a wind tunnel would be fatal to Virgin’s hopes has been put to bed. The car sets a decent pace, and the biggest problem is in fact reliability.
  • Hispania’s miracle breakthrough — After a horrific winter, Hispania turned up at Bahrain having never tested, and did a hugely admirable job. Special mention should go to Karun Chandhok who did a great job in qualifying despite not even taken part in any practice!
  • The less said about Sauber the better — although it’s still an interesting story.

It looks to me as though there is plenty for F1 fans to sink their teeth into just now, if only they tried. It is just that there was so much hype about the wrong things that the wood has been lost for all the trees.

But it can be improved

However, like most people I would prefer Formula 1 to have more wheel-to-wheel action. The signs at Sakhir were not particularly encouraging. I will reveal my thoughts on what’s what when it comes to on-the-track action in my next article.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Ferrari have raised eyebrows by choosing to speak the truth about the new teams in Formula 1:

This is the outcome: two teams will limp into the start of the championship, a third is being pushed into the ring by an invisible hand – you can be sure it is not the hand of Adam Smith – and, as for the fourth, well, you would do better to call on Missing Persons to locate it.

This week, that fourth team — USF1 — finally threw in the towel, after weeks (indeed, months) of speculation. And this evening they have been officially removed from the entry list. But I’ll discuss USF1 in further detail later.

However, this news once again shines the spotlight on the new teams, and the FIA’s process for selecting them. Right from the beginning there was controversy surrounding some of the choices. There is also the fact that new entrants were seemingly forced to use Cosworth engines.

It is worth remembering that there were at least two highly credible entries that were rejected by the FIA, to the surprise of many. David Richards and his Prodrive operation has been looking at entering F1 for years, and indeed had a slot on the 2008 grid until the future of customer cars was thrown into doubt. Lola were another highly credible entry with the ability to field a strong car.

So, what’s going on with the new teams? In this short series of articles I will take a brief look at the five main protagonists — Lotus and Virgin (the good side of the process), USF1 and Campos (the bad side) and Stefan (the ugly side).

The good side of the process

The Lotus position: last?

Lotus driver Jarno Trulli openly admits that the team expects to turn up at Bahrain four seconds off the pace. And yesterday Heikki Kovalainen back-pedalled from comments attributed to him that this year’s Lotus is worse than the Minardi he tested in 2003. The Finn claims the comments have been taken out of context.

Nonetheless, for my money the Lotus team has good long-term prospects. The jury is out on Mike Gascoyne’s abilities as a technical director. He is well regarded and appears to do a good job, but critics point out that he has never produced a World Championship-winning car.

Lotus are at pains to point out that they have had just five months to create this F1 car. That is nowhere near long enough to produce a competitive package. In the long term, they could be headed for a respectable role in the midfield.

The driver line-up of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen is unadventurous, but at least it is credible. Trulli and Kovalainen have both won just one race each, and neither is particularly convincing during the race. But at least they are two established and experienced drivers.

Virgin’s CFD gamble

Virgin — the Richard Branson-backed F1 entry of Manor which has been highly successful in lower formulae — has taken a gamble by exclusively using CFD to design the car, without ever having put the car in a wind tunnel. The car has been blighted by several reliability issues, while typically lapping five or six seconds off the pace. If testing form is anything to go by, there is little for the team to be optimistic about.

On the plus side, they have a credible driver pairing in the former Toyota driver Timo Glock and experienced GP2 racer Lucas di Grassi. Perhaps more important, given the current climate, is the fact that the team appears to have been highly successful in attracting sponsorship. I guess sponsors are magnetically attracted to the golden Virgin brand.

Lotus and Virgin are the two teams that are described by Ferrari as “limping” into the start of the championship. That is the best side of the new teams. The other two new teams, Campos and USF1, have both teetered on the brink of collapse. But that is for the next article…

10. Kimi Räikkönen

Increasingly, Kimi Räikkönen comes across as a disinterested Formula 1 driver. Any sense that last year may have been a blip has faded further. In Räikkönen’s favour, it is clear that his Ferrari car is probably one of the worst he has driven in years. But once again he is being outclassed by Felipe Massa.

His season has not been without its highlights. Räikkönen was the first to score a point for Ferrari in Bahrain, and has produced Ferrari’s one and only podium, in Monaco, after almost grabbing pole with an awesome lap in qualifying. But Massa has strung together a more impressive and consistent run of results.

9. Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton is having a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde year. He began the season putting in some very impressive performances in a car that patently wasn’t up to the job. So he was battling for 3rd in Australia, and grabbed a superb 4th in Bahrain. But he has also made a couple of catastrophic errors, most notably during qualifying at Monaco. The team felt they had a good chance of getting a good result, but Hamilton binned the car during qualifying and lined up last on the grid.

Interestingly, at the start of the year Hamilton came across as frustrated and terse during interviews, yet he was putting in good performances. Today he is more relaxed, but his performances are sloppier (witness his mistakes at Silverstone). I wonder if he has given up trying. Not the spirit you like to see as a fan. This is a learning year for Hamilton, and I’m sure he’ll emerge at the other end as a much more complete driver, but a lot depends on his attitude from now on.

8. Jarno Trulli

Trulli has had a decent season. As the Toyota’s performance has dropped off, his race results have not dropped off as much as Glock’s have. His qualifying performances are as great as always, and he has grabbed another pole position in Bahrain this year. But unusually, his race performances seem to be holding up quite well.

In fact, this year Trulli’s Achilles’ heel seems to be his starts. His starts at Silverstone and Spain were particularly sluggish. Beyond that, it’s difficult to find any real fault in Trulli’s performances this year so far.

7. Fernando Alonso

I find it difficult to say much about Fernando Alonso this year. I have not noticed him an awful lot, and nothing about his results sticks out. He is doing exactly what you expect him to, which for most drivers is great. But I expect something more from Alonso.

Clearly, his car is not good. But at the start of last year his car was not very good either. In fairness, this time last year I felt disappointed with Alonso too. Then I placed him 8th. Let’s see what he can do in the second half of this season.

6. Felipe Massa

Massa is having a fairly solid season. The only real goof he has made is a bit of a ragged performance in qualifying at Monaco, which he rectified for the race by finishing 4th.

Apart from that, he has produced the obligatory good performance at Turkey, and he put last year’s Silverstone nightmare behind him to finish 4th. He also came very close to scoring a great result at China before his car broke down. He was thwarted in Spain by a fuel problem that was no fault of his own.

5. Nico Rosberg

This year I think Nico Rosberg is doing the business. At last! In general, I have been disappointed at the way Rosberg’s career has unfolded. But this year you have to say that his performances are very consistent, and he is regularly scoring respectable amounts of points.

The jury is out on whether the Williams is a good car or not. My impression is that, despite the glory-runs in practice sessions, the Williams is not up to scratch and is very firmly a midfield car. Just have a look at what Nakajima is doing. The gap between the Williams drivers in the Drivers’ Championship (7th to 20th) is larger than any other team mate battle, even Alonso versus Piquet. In this respect, you have to applaud Nico Rosberg this year.

4. Rubens Barrichello

It’s Lazarus! Just five months ago it seemed as though Barrichello was never going to race in F1 again. Now look at him — 2nd in the World Drivers’ Championship. In truth, though, the superiority of the Brawn car flatters Barrichello.

For the most part this season, Barrichello’s driving has been a bit sloppy, and he now looks past his best. This reminds me a lot of David Coulthard’s season last year. Take his crash-tastic Australian Grand Prix, or his lacklustre performance in Turkey.

One thing that Barrichello has going for him is that he seems to be driving the way Brawn’s weekend unfolds as a team. We hear about how Button makes heavy use of Barrichello’s set-up data, and you get the sense that it has saved the Brit’s skin a few times this year.

3. Mark Webber

After years of unfulfilled promise, Mark Webber finally has a car that allows him to deliver the goods. And his performances so far are not too bad. Webber’s experience has been put to good use, and his superior racecraft has allowed him to gazump Vettel on the occasions when the German has got bogged down behind another car.

But there is a major question mark over his qualifying performances. Sebastian Vettel has outqualified him in every race so far. And that first win still eludes him. He will be hoping to change that in the second half of the season. He’s got to if he wants to challenge for the Championship. This could be the best opportunity of his career.

2. Sebastian Vettel

I don’t think many can have expected Vettel to be challenging for the Championship so early on in his career. Most will have expected him to make a move to a bigger team before being in that position. But given a surprisingly good Red Bull car, Vettel already faces his big opportunity.

So far, it is clear that he is not a complete driver. Probably not ready to win the World Championship. His qualifying performances are usually great, but he is still variable during races. Both of his wins this season have come from pole position, and he threw another opportunity away in Turkey with a disastrous first-lap mistake. And there is also now a major question mark over his ability to overtake, having got bogged down behind Hamilton in Bahrain, Massa in Spain and Button in Turkey.

1. Jenson Button

What can you say? Button has been an absolute revelation this season. I was disappointed after a dodgy 2008 from him, and he didn’t look like he had much to look forward to. Now, with a good car in his hands, the question has been: can he step up to the plate? And you have to conclude that he has.

Six wins out of eight races says it all, and Button has found himself in the odd position of being compared with names like Jim Clark and Michael Schumacher. Even Ross Brawn himself has said he is seeing similarities between Button and Schumacher.

It’s no accident, and it’s not just because he’s driving the best car. For one thing, he is easily outclassing Rubens Barrichello. But more than that, Button is now more focussed and is working harder. He has genuinely become a better driver in these circumstances. It might make him, in his words, “a right boring bastard”. But it will almost certainly win him the World Championship, and rightly so.

It was not the most entertaining of races, even though — somehow — I was kept interested in proceedings the whole way through. The race has produced little in the way of talking points though.

The Brawn rout continues, and Jenson Button looked more untouchable than ever. Yes, Sebastian Vettel took pole position, but yet again it was with a light fuel load. Matters were not helped at all when Vettel ran wide halfway through lap one, handing the lead to Jenson Button on a plate. From that point, the race was effectively won.

Increasingly, Red Bull look like a team not yet capable of winning races. After Vettel’s unforced driving error, the Red Bull’s tacticians failed to adapt and Vettel was kept on a three-stop strategy which was only ever going to drop him backwards. Time and again Red Bull have given Vettel an unworkable strategy, which is allowing Mark Webber to gain the upper hand by the end of the race. It’s difficult to know which to blame more between Vettel and the Red Bull team for their inability to take the fight to Brawn.

One possible explanation for keeping Vettel on a 3-stopper was that the Red Bull could not handle the softer tyres as well as the Brawn can. Mind you, Webber managed on a two-stopper.

One of the most disappointing aspects of Vettel’s race was the fact that he once again demonstrated an inability to overtake when it mattered. He got stuck behind Hamilton in Bahrain and Massa in Spain. This time in Turkey he failed to overtake Button despite having caught up with him quickly as a result of being on a lighter fuel load. Now we are told that the Red Bull car is bad in dirty air (so much for the FIA’s new aero regulations then). But I have to admit to losing a bit more faith in Sebastian Vettel every race now.

It’s not only Vettel who is managing to mess things up. Rubens Barrichello had an absolute nightmare of a race. The Brawn made another one of its occasional sluggish starts, and Barrichello found himself down in 12th at the end of lap 1, having started 3rd. He made a valiant effort at climbing back through the field, with some optimistic overtaking moves. This provided the main entertainment of the race.

He had a particularly brilliant battle against Heikki Kovalainen. But when Kovalainen “kersed” him back, Barrichello just got frustrated and ended up getting in a tangle a lap later. That only left him further behind.

Having dropped down in 17th, he tried to charge back through. He easily dispensed with Lewis Hamilton and totally spooked Nelsinho Piquet into making a mistake. But he was rather too optimistic against Adrian Sutil. I actually couldn’t believe that the most experienced F1 driver of all time thought that was even remotely a goer. Perhaps it goes to show how frustrating Rubens Barrichello is finding this season, despite the fact that he has the best car.

Perhaps it is a sign that Barrichello is past it. The picture that is emerging is one that is similar to what we saw with David Coulthard last season — an experienced driver whose mind is not quite as sharp and is unable to think on his feet as well as he used to.

Apart from that, it is difficult to know what to say about the race. The one other notable on-track battle was Piquet against Hamilton, where against the odds the Renault driver got the upper hand (albeit on a much lighter fuel load).

Ferrari’s resurgence has come to nothing, with Massa finishing 6th and Räikkönen 9th. Toyota looked better than they had done, but not enough to challenge at the front. And BMW also improved, but only to the midfield. Their pet project, kers, looks like it might be dropped for the remainder of the season.

Let’s hope that someone can make the British Grand Prix more of a challenge, but I don’t see it happening.