It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.
Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.
Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.
Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.
Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.
Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.
It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.
The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.
There is a surfeit of motor racing championships that aim to usher in the next generation of Formula 1 stars. But only a few are worth paying serious attention to.
GP2 — the ‘official’ way to progress to F1
The most well-known by a long way is GP2. Backed by Bernie Ecclestone, GP2 is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ feeder series to the pinnacle of motorsport.
Since its inception in 2005, GP2 has been a stepping stone for some of F1’s biggest names. With a solid F1-style car and a unique status as the support race to almost every European grand prix (thereby giving drivers vital experience at many F1 circuits), there is no doubt that GP2 is a strong category.
The main alternative: World Series by Renault
But beyond the ‘official’ routes to F1, World Series by Renault (sometimes known as Formula Renault 3.5) has established itself as a series to take seriously.
No fewer than 18 F1 drivers have raced in World Series by Renault or one of its earlier incarnations. Among them are Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi. In 1999, World Champion Fernando Alonso also won what was then the Euro Open by Nissan series.
Most impressively, in 2007 Sebastian Vettel was leading the championship when he became an F1 driver mid-season. We all know how that story ends.
Strong drivers in World Series by Renault
This year’s World Series by Renault field has some very strong drivers in the field. Two of the favourites for the championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Wickens, are currently already F1 test drivers, for Toro Rosso and Virgin respectively. These drivers are so hotly tipped that both have been rumoured to become race drivers before this season is even finished. I will certainly eat my hat if they are not racing in F1 in 2012.
The pair put on a wet weather masterclass in Race 1 at the Nürburgring two weekends ago. In changeable conditions, they had the measure of the rest of the field while engaging in a tense battle for the lead.
The talent doesn’t end there. Other current F1 test drivers participating in World Series by Renault include Fairuz Fauzy and Jan Charouz (both for Renault F1).
Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne is next in the queue behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Young Driver sausage factory, and rightly so. His performances at Spa-Francorchamps were at times jaw-dropping.
Young Estonian Kevin Korjus (Race 2 winner at the Nürburgring) has also turned heads in his rookie World Series by Renault season.
Scrappy driving in GP2
When you compare it with this year’s GP2 field, the ‘official’ feeder series seems to lack that edge slightly. No driver has managed to take full control of the championship — nor has anyone shown signs that they deserve to.
Romain Grosjean has come the closest. But you could argue that he ought to be. He is highly experienced compared to most of his competitors, and even has some F1 races under his belt. He is this year’s Giorgio Pantano. He has been involved in some questionable incidents. He managed to crash into his teammate at Barcelona. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then climbed all over him as part of the truly farcical scenes in the qualifying session at Monaco.
Meanwhile, the hotly-tipped Jules Bianchi (who is a Ferrari test driver) has been surprisingly clumsy, lurching from needless crash to avoidable gaffe. After a promising (albiet curtailed) GP2 Asia campaign last winter, Bianchi currently languishes in 15th in the championship, having managed to score points in just two of the eight races so far.
Giedo van der Garde has arguably been the most consistent, but still manages to make needless errors. In Valencia, he was penalised for overtaking under yellow flags.
Beyond this, it is difficult to see where the F1 stars of the future are in this year’s GP2 field.
A good alternative for both viewers and drivers
Moreover, the World Series by Renault season has been more action-packed for my money. This season’s calendar visits seven current Formula 1 venues, including some of the best circuits in the world. Spa, Monza, Silverstone and even Monaco all have slots in World Series by Renault. The calendar is refreshingly light on Tilke designs.
The Formula Renault 3.5 cars themselves are impressive, providing an ideal bridge between the well-established Formula Renault 2.0 cars. They typically run just a few seconds a lap slower than GP2 cars.
From next season, the car will step up a gear with a more powerful engine and greater downforce. But most eye-catching is the introduction DRS-style moveable aerodynamics. It could well be that the new Formula Renault 3.5 cars will prepare drivers for F1 better than a GP2 car can.
The combination of superb F1-style cars, excellent circuits and promising drivers is creating great entertainment. For me, it is the feeder series to watch.
If you follow Formula 1 online, it has been absolutely impossible to avoid the hype. Films about Formula 1 do not get made often. It is highly unusual for so much footage to have been prised out of Bernie Ecclestone. When you factor in that the film is about Ayrton Senna, a driver who has reached an almost legendary status, it was inevitable that this film would attract a lot of attention.
Moreover, the film has been met with near (although not quite) universal approval. Seasoned film critics and those with no interest in motorsport have lapped it up enthusiastically.
So it has been a painful wait. I was delighted to learn that it was being shown at my local cinema, so I took the first opportunity to watch it.
I found the film truly engrossing and hugely emotional. The story of Senna’s career — or at least one version of it — is very well told. Some of the footage, particularly of drivers’ briefings and the like, is absolutely astonishing.
The film’s treatment of Alain Prost has come under a lot of scrutiny. It is said that Prost is cast as the villain of the film. I was relieved that his treatment was not as bad as I had feared.
I actually felt that Prost comes across quite well in the film — though this may be for ideological reasons, and that I already understand the Prost–Senna rivalry. It is easy to see why, in a film that celebrates Senna’s approach, others may feel that Prost’s alternative approach to racing does not come across so well.
In fairness to the filmmakers, I think it does illustrate that the frosty tensions between Senna and Prost had thawed in the final months of Senna’s life. We see Senna embracing Prost on the podium at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, Prost’s reaction to Senna’s fatal crash from the TF1 commentary box and Prost as a pallbearer at Senna’s funeral. A caption at the film’s climax also displays the fact that Prost is a trustee of the Ayrton Senna Foundation.
Important details skipped
However, I do feel that the film does not get across just how controversial Ayrton Senna was. The only time it is really tackled is in a relatively brief clip of Jackie Stewart’s famous interrogation of Senna’s dangerous driving.
I was also disappointed in how little of Senna’s career is actually covered. The film skips straight from karting into F1, then practically fast-forwards to the Prost–Senna rivalry, which is clearly the meat of the film. Thereafter, the 1992 and 1993 seasons get the briefest look in. In the process, the championship victories of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost are belittled, particularly through the skilful vilification of the Williams car.
After the film had finished, I felt like only a handful of incidents had been covered. I was left feeling that only a superficial account of Senna’s career had been presented.
I can fully understand why this is so. There is a limit to what Bernie Ecclestone will allow. So the filmmakers are left with the quandry of how to sum up an amazing driver’s entire career in the time it takes to complete just one grand prix.
I also found myself being annoyed by tiny details that I felt detracted from the authenticity of the film. For instance, almost all of the source footage must have been shot in 4:3, but the film is in a different aspect ratio, meaning that all of the footage is cropped. When much of the footage is blurry enough as it is, this doesn’t help.
A significant proportion of the film also contains a blurred-out Globo DOG, with a new one superimposed on top of it (presumably to meet the requirements of the Brazilian broadcaster). Then there are the mock TV captions that crop up throughout the film.
These are small details, but I found them irritating me. To me, they detract from the cinematic mood.
When I read about the edits that have been made to some of the footage, particularly the sound, my eyebrows were raised. “They managed to change it, so it’s very authentic,” says Manish Pandey. It reminds me of a line from the Pulp song Bad Cover Version: “Electronically reprocessed to give a more lifelike effect.”
Intense and emotional
Having said that, the film is no less gripping as a result of all these niggles. I felt the grin across my face as I watched Senna’s awesome driving in the Toleman and the Lotus. The events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend are well-handled and emotional to watch.
However, here it does once again feel that certain events are rushed through. Rubens Barrichello and Roland Ratzenberger are both only briefly introduced before their crashes are shown. Not much time is reserved to dwell upon these events, even though Ratzenberger’s death was, for me, the most emotional part of the film to watch.
Summing up Senna
All-in-all, Senna is a brilliant, emotional film packed with extraorindary footage and with a well-constructed story. But the time constraint, and (let’s face it) the requirement to make a film that would be commercially successful, did leave me feeling as though only the tip of the iceberg was considered.
In fact, for me, the Top Gear feature from last year summed up exactly what Senna was all about in only 13 minutes. It outlines exactly what made Senna so different to other drivers, and was not afraid to investigate his controversial racing style while also underlining his parodoxical concern for safety.
The Senna film sets out to do something different. So in this respect I was slightly disappointed in the fact that the film is a celebration of Senna’s career, and not a thorough factual account of it. However, as a celebration of Senna’s career, it is difficult to imagine how this film could be improved, beyond being longer. I am eagerly anticipating the DVD release.
Confession time. I have always been a bit sceptical about the Le Mans 24 Hours.
There is nothing to doubt about its prestige, or the special challenge it presents. It clearly is one of the most important races on the planet.
But as a spectacle to watch on television, I have always been a bit wary. Could I be kept on the edge of my seat by a race where the gaps are ultimately measured in laps rather than seconds?
This year, for the first time, I have got access to Eurosport. So I decided to make a concerted effort to watch as much of the Le Mans 24 Hours as possible. For one night only, my sofa became my bed, and I dozed off with the race going on in the background.
I am mighty glad I did watch it. Because I discovered that Le Mans has it all and more.
All the initial indications were good. An intensely close battle between the Audis and Peugeots was promised. But disaster struck twice for Audi, with truly horrific crashes for Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller.
McNish’s crash was incredibly worrying. But the way the car teetered over the barrier before somehow opting to land back in the gravel trap, was truly frightening. I was concerned for all the photographers that were being showered in debris, and it can be considered luck that there wasn’t another 1955 Le Mans disaster.
Even scarier was Rockenfeller’s crash. It was difficult to make out anything in the darkness, but the mangled wreckage looked very little like an Audi R18 TDI. I feared the worst, and the Eurosport commentators revealed later in the race that they had as well. It was such a relief to hear that he managed to exit the car by himself and suffered only a cut arm.
These were two low points that punctuated a rollercoaster race. Once it was established that Rockenfeller was OK, I drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up at about 7am, I was astonished to see that — after around 18 hours of racing — the top three cars were all within two seconds of each other. I watched it while I could, but soon succumbed to the sleep monster for another couple of hours.
I awoke again to see my favourite of the Peugeots, the #7 driven by Anthony Davidson, Marc Gené and Alexander Wurz, had crashed off. The gaps had grown, and the fight was basically down between one Audi and one Peugeot, although there were a couple of other Peugeots a few laps down that could help out.
This tense battle, coupled with some hairy driving tactics from the Peugeots and an intriguing difference in strategy, ensured that the last few hours of the race were utterly gripping to watch. After 24 hours, the lead cars were separated by just 14 seconds. Incredible.
But it wasn’t just about the battle at the front. With 56 cars, there is no shortage of stories to tell. Plus, there is a variety in the designs of the cars and engines that simply does not exist in most other forms of motorsport.
It makes Formula 1 seem like toytown in comparison. All the F1 cars have practically identical 2.4 litre V8 engines. The spirit of innovation has been lost there in the drive to cut costs. But at Le Mans, it lives on strongly.
I also enjoyed seeing what the spirit of Le Mans is all about. The reactions of rival mechanics to the horrific Audi crashes. Victorious Audi chief Wolfgang Ullrich graciously congratulating his rivals from Peugeot immediately after the race. The deepest lows imaginable. Great joy at immense accomplishments. Sheer love of motorsport.
Watching Le Mans this year, it finally clicked with me. No longer do I just need to take people’s word for it that it is a special race. Now I feel it as well.
But the thing is, I don’t think either of the incidents in Montreal were nearly as bad as what he got up to in Monaco.
Yes, the move up the inside of Mark Webber at the start was too optimistic. But in the dry it probably would have worked. If you look at Hamilton’s onboard camera shot, Hamilton looks like he is going to make it, but then understeers through a puddle.
It would be right to argue that Hamilton should have taken the conditions into account. So in that respect, it was a dodgy move on Hamilton’s part. But at least he didn’t just steam straight into Webber in stable conditions, as he did to Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado in Monaco.
As for the crash with Jenson Button, I think this was an unfortunate racing incident. Hamilton got such better drive than Button, that it is perfectly understandable that he had a go. Plus, the racing line along the pit straight at Montreal effectively goes from the extreme right to the extreme left, back to the right again.
No matter which way Hamilton went, he would have found himself getting squeezed eventually. It was just a bad deal that Button couldn’t see him in his mirrors due to a mixture of bad conditions and confusion. Again, Hamilton should have taken the conditions into account. But, again, at least it wasn’t as malicious as what went on in Monaco.
Why does Hamilton get himself in so much trouble?
It does strike me, though, that Hamilton is taking on far too many of these marginal overtaking attempts. Hamilton has always been a little bit like this, though he had seemed to calm down a bit. His excitable inexperience is no longer an excuse — this is his fifth F1 season. He has more than enough grands prix under his belt to know what’s what.
But what is making him go for all these half gaps? One theory is that he just has to push harder this year to beat Red Bull, and is becoming desperate as a result. Undoubtedly that is part of the problem. But Hamilton had a much worse start to the season in 2009 and he wasn’t quite as clumsy as this then.
If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.
Senna was known for his high-risk, sometimes dangerous moves. The key to Senna, though, was that he was often able to intimidate drivers into moving out of his way. Michael Schumacher also had this trait.
It is well known that Hamilton idolises Senna. When Hamilton goes for a half opportunity, you can imagine him repeating the Senna quote to himself in his head.
It’s more than just “going for a gap”
But overtaking is about so much more than simply driving round another car by going faster. You need to assess the situation; analyse what the opposing driver has at stake, work out what he is thinking and how much he will yield. It is effectively a 200mph game of chicken.
Senna and Schumacher managed to balance the scales of this game of chicken massively in their favour by building up a fearsome reputation. They were the hard-chargers who would impose themselves on their opponents through a mixture of speed and aggression. Perversely, this possibly made it easier for them to overtake.
Hamilton, on the other hand, is very quickly building himself the opposite reputation. He is becoming clumsy Lewis — probably about to cause another crash that will be all his fault.
Even in a situation where Hamilton may have the upper hand on track, he may begin to find overtaking more difficult. Hamilton’s reputation is such that even in a racing incident, he could well find himself being blamed for every clash he is involved in. This, in turn, could make his opponents more open to defending more aggressively.
Could it be that in his attempts to become this generation’s Senna, Lewis Hamilton has actually achieved the reverse?
Here is an incredible video of three times British Rally Champion Mark Higgins losing control of his car at 150mph with a journalist on board at the Isle of Man TT (via dank_ross).
Higgins describes it as “the biggest moment of my life”. But the journalist looks nonchalant! It is an incredible save.
It reminded me of another incident that was similar, but with very different consequences. In 2003 the then Jaguar F1 driver Antônio Pizzonia took a journalist round Albert Park in a Jaguar road car. The problem was that he appeared to forget that he was driving a road car, and allegedly used the F1 braking point — with disastrous consequences.
This time the journalist seemed to have his wits about him more than Pizzonia did. Thank goodness they both escaped unscathed from that one.
I have become a big fan of the FIA GT1 World Championship in the past year or so. The recently-revamped championship has done what had previously seemed impossible — it has made GT racing exciting.
But it has also developed a reputation for some pretty poor driving standards. No race goes by without some silly incident on the first lap, coupled with an avoidable crash or two midway through.
Things boiled over during yesterday’s qualifying race at Silverstone, when the Young Driver Aston Martin car driven by Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke was forced to retire after a messy incident involving the Sumo Power Nissans. Afterwards, Darren Turner spoke out about driving standards in GT1, saying that some drivers “need to chill out”.
But today’s championship race saw an even worse incident involving two of the same cars. Richard Westbrook, driving the Sumo Power Nissan, made an optimistic attempt to pass Stefan Mücke. The Aston was punted off the circuit, but it has to be said that the Nissan came off far worse in the incident in terms of damage.
Then came one of the most shocking and disgraceful pieces of driving I can ever remember seeing. With red mist seemingly getting the better of him, Stefan Mücke came charging down the Hangar Straight at full speed, and crashed into Richard Westbrook in an apparent attempt at revenge.
It’s understandable that Mücke might have been angry following the crash. But there is no way his actions can be excused. It may have been wise for him to heed the advice of the driver he was sharing his car with: just chill out.
If a driver feels aggrieved, it can be dealt with later. The racetrack is no place for revenge. Whether Mücke intended to cause a crash is debatable. But he was certainly driving dangerously. Needless to say, that’s not on in a motor race. Not only could drivers get injured, but marshalls and spectators could too.
It’s a shame because it has cheapened the GT1 World Championship. It was a prestigious event in the British motor racing calendar. The GT1 race was also for the 2011 RAC Tourist Trophy, and it was the first major race to be held at the revamped Silverstone Circuit with its new Wing complex.
Out at the front, two drivers from the same teams were showing how to race hard, fair and safe. Lucas Luhr in the Nissan held off Alex Müller’s Young Driver Aston by two tenths of a second in a scintillating battle as the race reached its climax.
What a shame for it to be overshadowed by idiocy. I hope the FIA throw the book at Mücke.
Another grand prix, and another Sebastian Vettel victory. In terms of race results, it is now on a par with Michael Schumacher’s 1994 campaign. Five wins and a 2nd place from the first six races. It is difficult to get much more dominant than that.
For the 2010 World Champion, 2011 is looking much easier. Some drivers, like Kimi Räikkönen, lose their hunger after they become World Champion. Others are taken to a new level. When the best driver in the world becomes better, it’s truly scary.
But despite his World Champion status, some still argue that Sebastian Vettel somehow isn’t the best driver.
After all, he has the best car — and that is indisputable. Who can say what Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button might be able to achieve in that awesome Red Bull?
On the other hand, Vettel has the upper-hand over Mark Webber. Vettel’s advantage was marginal last year. But this year he is much more dominant. Comparatively, Mark Webber is struggling in the supposedly all-conquering Red Bull.
Ah, they say. Red Bull favour Sebastian Vettel. Webber must have a different car, says his manager Flavio Briatore. “Each time something happens, it happens to Mark.” That glosses over the kers issues that Vettel has constantly suffered from, along with Webber.
For most of his career, Webber has had more than his fair share of bad luck. That has continued this year. It is nothing more malicious than that.
Question mark over wheel-to-wheel combat
“Oh! But Vettel can’t overtake!” Oh really? I have long found this argument spurious.
Partisan Brits may still fume at his accident with Button in Spa, but in low-grip conditions it can happen to anyone. It was just bad luck that Button happened to be there at the time. All drivers lose control from time to time.
Jibes about the number of wins Vettel has taken from pole are unimpressive too. It is hardly a revelation that it is easier to win a race from pole position than any other place on the grid. But Vettel the idea that all of Vettel’s wins have been plain sailing affairs from pole is just wrong.
Those three crucial passes on his out lap in Spain ought to have put this to bed once and for all. Sebastian Vettel can overtake.
Defensive driving under pressure
Vettel can also soak up the pressure. Also in Spain, Vettel had to fend off a hard-charging Lewis Hamilton. Martin Brundle noted in the post-race analysis that Vettel was modifying his line according to how close Hamilton was to passing. He knew when he needed to defend, and he knew when not to. A masterclass of efficient driving.
Making the most of a bad strategy
In Monaco, Vettel demonstrated that he could make a bad strategy — even a strategy cock-up — work well. The race threatened to unravel during his disastrous pitstop when he ended up on ‘prime’ soft tyres, when a second set of ‘option’ super-softs was apparently in order. Apparently a radio jam caused the confusion.
That could have been disaster for Vettel. But instead, the strategy was modified brilliantly, and it caught strategy masters Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso off guard.
Button went for a three-stop strategy that probably worked in the simulations. Alonso went for a two-stopper. But Vettel held out on a one-stop strategy. It is almost unthinkable with this year’s Pirelli tyres, but Vettel lasted a mind-boggling 56 laps on soft tyres.
Of course, the red flag helped matters. Theoretically, Vettel would have run out of grip sooner or later — certainly before Alonso, who would in turn lose grip before Button. We can never know if that would have been the case.
But I was keeping an eye on the timing screen as the battle was intensifying, and Vettel was normally the second fastest man on track at any one time. His lap times were holding up remarkably well. There was no sign that Alonso or Button were on the verge of actually getting past.
The reality is that Vettel came out on top. Even though the circumstances with the red flag were unusual, the bottom line is that Vettel’s radical emergency strategy paid off as well as it possibly could have. He won the race.
How does Vettel compare to his rivals?
What else has Vettel got to prove? Well, who are the rivals for the mantle of “most complete driver in F1″?
Jenson Button is reliable and smart. But he doesn’t always have the fire in his belly, and consequently his awesome drives are mixed with anonymous tours.
Lewis Hamilton certainly has the fire in his belly, and his talent is awesomely supreme. But his enthusiasm often gets the better of him and he is prone to making massive errors in the heat of the moment.
Fernando Alonso is normally cited as being the “most complete” driver. There is no doubt that he is a formidable talent. And despite not having the equipment to win the Championship in recent years, Alonso remains a joy to watch. His qualifying lap in Spain is just one example of how Alonso passionately drives out of his skin.
But he has also begun to make a few too many mistakes. His errors in 2010 — at China, Monaco, Silverstone and Spa — are well documented.
Alonso remains fearsomely awesome. Just look at his starts in Spain and Monaco to see just one instance where Alonso excels.
But I am beginning to wonder if Sebastian Vettel is now the closest F1 has to the “complete package”. Whether he is or not, his youth alone should be a cause for concern among his rivals. Vettel is currently showing up drivers with masses more experience than him.
If Vettel is still learning, and he is already trouncing the opposition, it boggles the mind to imagine just how good he might become.
I feel sad. The Monaco Grand Prix was a great race — easily the best of the season so far. At a track notorious for processions, Monaco was producing a corker.
Pirelli’s tyres held up for a change, meaning genuinely good racing through strategy, not cartoon-style degredation. The DRS is little use round here too, meaning it had little effect.
A beautiful move on Schumacher
DRS did play a role. But even so, passing into Sainte Dévote requires a massive pair, whether you have DRS or not. And that is just what Lewis Hamilton did. He pulled off a stunning move on Michael Schumacher that brilliantly caught the veteran off guard.
It was brave, but it was also perfectly judged. Both gave each other racing room. It was just the sort of passing that we want to see in F1.
Hamilton loses the plot against Massa and Maldonado
But sadly it went pear-shaped from there. It seems as though, after completing the move of the season, he seemed to believe he was invincible.
An over-ambitious move on Felipe Massa at the Lowes hairpin was a poor misjudgement. His drive-through penalty echoed that handed out to Paul di Resta who made a similar error.
Having damaged the Ferrari, Hamilton then opted to overtake Massa in the tunnel. It is not news that there is only one line through the dangerous and high-speed tunnel. Hamilton’s move forced the Brazilian onto the marbles and ultimately the barrier.
Then after the re-start, he attempted to repeat the move he made near the start on Schumacher. This time his target was Pastor Maldonado, but unfortunately this time target was meant in the literal sense. Hamilton barged straight into Maldonado, in the sort of move that only really belongs in a touring car race, if it even belongs there.
Hamilton’s excuse? It can be paraphrased: “Well, at least I was trying to race.”
I’m not buying that. There was plenty of excellent overtaking going on during the Monaco Grand Prix that didn’t involve punting others off. There were lots of examples of aggressive, but clean racing.
Hamilton managed it himself early on against Schumacher. But there was Schumacher’s move on Rosberg. Barrichello’s on Schumacher. Massa and Maldonado against Rosberg. Clean racing is possible, even at Monaco — no contact required. Check out the excellent highlights video at Axis of Oversteer to see them all.
But Hamilton couldn’t hold his hands up and admit that he had a bad race. He instead chose to question why he had been called to see the stewards at five out of the six races this season so far.
Here is a clue. Don’t cause three crashes in one race. Then you might not get hauled in front of the stewards. As it is, Hamilton is lucky not to have got the black flag for driving dangerously and ending the race of two other drivers.
Instead, Hamilton chose to “joke” that “maybe it’s because I’m black”.
A reminder of why Hamilton is so divisive
It’s too easy to blame the stewards. Worryingly, Hamilton seems to genuinely believe that he should be untouchable — that he can get away with whatever he wants.
Paul di Resta caused an accident, got penalised, and held his hands up after the race. He admitted that he made a rookie error, that he needs to learn from it and improve for next time.
For Lewis Hamilton? As Martin Brundle said in the BBC’s post-race F1 forum, the problem with Hamilton is that it’s always someone else’s fault. He has never been able to accept his mistakes, and he is always the first one to get straight on the radio and whine about non-existant instances of bad driving he has seen from other drivers.
All-in-all, this weekend has been a reminder of what made Lewis Hamilton such a divisive figure when he burst onto the scene in 2007. Back then his cockiness grated, but he was young and arrogant. In that sense, maybe it could be understood.
In more recent years, he seemed to have mellowed. He deserved to win his championship in 2008. Ever since he has done a good job at McLaren, and has managed to keep the lid on his post-race outbursts, even if he is quick to get on the radio to whine during the race.
But Monaco brought it all back to square one.
And it was such a fine start to the race as well. If he’d just left it there, his original, clean move on Schumacher would probably have ended up being my pass of the season. As it is, I have been left angered by the cockiness of a driver that really ought to know better by now.
It is a given that I love motorsport. But there is also no doubting that my interest is primarily in cars, especially single-seaters. Over the past ten or so years I have always kept an eye on MotoGP, but it is a relationship that blows hot and cold.
Last year in particular was a pretty poor year for MotoGP in my view. It was all too predictable. Even the prospect of someone other than Valentino Rossi winning the World Championship was not enough to reel me in. The reality was that Rossi’s mid-season injury made the championship a shoo-in for Jorge Lorenzo.
It had all just become a bit boring and predictable. But I hadn’t even realised that was the problem — until this year.
2011’s big MotoGP shakeup
MotoGP in 2011 has a very different feel to it. The pecking order is very definitely different. Valentino Rossi has switched to the temperamental Ducati bike. Casey Stoner has moved to Honda, who have stepped up to the plate. Meanwhile, Jorge Lorenzo has become the definitive team leader at Yamaha. This has all given MotoGP a fresher feel.
Last weekend’s MotoGP race at Jerez was an absolute sizzler that had it all. In damp conditions, there was more action in that race than the whole of last season. Everything that MotoGP has been lacking recently was here.
An amazing race
Valentino Rossi, struggling on his Ducati, started from the middle of the grid, and slowly worked his way up. Out front, Stoner was struggling more than form would suggest.
Sensationally, Marco Simoncelli took the lead on the satellite Gresini Honda. The fancied youngster has a great record from the more junior categories, but up to this point his best race finish had been fourth. I am a Simoncelli fan, and I was personally getting quite excited at the prospect of a race victory for him.
Stoner had dropped to second, and Rossi was up to third. In an audacious move, Rossi overtook Stoner — but fell off his bike, taking out Stoner in the process. Rossi rode on, but needless to say, Stoner was not too impressed.
From there it should have been easy for Simoncelli, but he fell off his bike of his own accord in the damp conditions.
This allowed Lorenzo, who had been unspectacular for the whole race up to this point, to breeze by into the lead. The race became a Lorenzo masterclass. A study in precise riding — reaching the edge while never exceeding it.
It could even have been a Yamaha 1-2, as Ben Spies was also able to capitalise on all the mayhem, as well as passing Dani Pedrosa, to run in second. That was until he, too, fell off his bike. Colin Edwards was then running in third when he beached it in the gravel.
All the while, there were developing issues with Pedrosa’s pace dropping off as he continues to struggle with arm issues from a crash at Motegi last year. It was the opposite story for Rossi, who, despite the big accident earlier on in the race, managed to fight his way back up to fifth again.
I loved the race not just because of the madness or the wet weather. I was hooked even before riders started falling off left, right and centre.
What struck me was that I was watching racing. It wasn’t a procession by any stretch. But nor was it an overload of devalued overtaking that bike racing sometimes seems like to me.
I saw riders fade in and out of contention. They slipped away because of fatigue. They fought through in inspired bursts. They defied the odds. They raced tactically, and with no mandatory pitstops in sight.
And there was no need for an “overtaking working group” to come up with half-baked and ill thought-through ideas like F1’s DRS. There was no contrived nonsense about tyre compounds. No flexi-wing controversies. No stewards’ decisions.
I love Formula 1. But right now it looks like MotoGP has the right recipe for racing excitement. And what is most promising about it all is that it is not contrived. It is so free of gimmicks. It is pure racing, and I am looking forward to taking it all in this year.
Because even when everyone was getting excited about the magical combination of Casey Stoner and Honda dominating rather than the Yamaha routs we had become accustomed to, Jerez showed that the reality is much more complicated than that — and more exciting too.