Archive: David Coulthard

Korea International Circuit logo
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?

It can’t be easy being the oldest driver in F1. Just ask the BBC’s commentators.

I remember Martin Brundle once describing how the fact that he was the oldest driver in the 1996 season caught up with him and began to define him as a driver. Despite having a reasonable season, by the following year he had switched to his new career in broadcasting.

Meanwhile, David Coulthard’s final season in F1 was littered with clumsy accidents. Didn’t his first corner coming-together in the final race of 2008 just sum up his season?

Now it looks like it might be Rubens Barrichello’s turn to have a rusty final season. Certainly, his Australian Grand Prix weekend was about as error-strewn as it gets these days.

There was an off during Practice 2. A further spin in Qualifying 2 ended his session early, cementing 17th slot on the grid.

Then on lap one of the race he went off at turn 4. Some time later, he steamed into Nico Rosberg at the same corner. It looked suspciously like a ridiculously optimistic overtaking move that was only ever going to go wrong. But Barrichello later blamed his tyres. This sounds like a tall tale to me.

Rubens Barrichello is not the oldest driver on the grid this year. That accolade falls to Michael Schumacher, who is probably seen by most as a separate case. Schumacher faces his own kind of pressure — the over-the-hill seven times champion who should have stayed in retirement while his reputation was still in tact.

Beyond that, Barrichello is the stand-out old guy in F1. He certainly has the longevity and experience in F1 that no-one else has. He has started a truly staggering 300 grands prix. That is an astonishing 36% of all Formula 1 grands prix that have ever been held! But the experience doesn’t seem to be doing him much good at the moment.

I hope it doesn’t turn out to be the case. It’s impossible not to have a soft spot for the Brazilian. But I fear already that he may be having his “Coulthard year”.

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

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

Unconventional background

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

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

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

Euro Series success

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

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

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

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

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

But on what basis?

Protracted junior career

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

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

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

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

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

Time will tell

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

There was some alarming news for F1 fans yesterday. According to The Guardian, the BBC is considering ditching F1 coverage as a result of budget cuts.

Easy target

I used to think the chances of the BBC dropping its F1 coverage at the end of the current contract were fairly high. For critics of the BBC, F1 is an easy target.

For one thing, the image of F1 as a glamorous, expensive sport for rich men doesn’t help. Nor, indeed, does the perception that it is environmentally unfriendly.

There is also a myth that Formula 1 can be adequately covered by commercial broadcasters. Anyone who actually tried to sit down and watch a race on ITV will know that this is simply not true. But the fact that it has only been back on the BBC for two years so far means that it is not seen as a BBC jewel.

Hugely popular

But since it regained the rights in 2009, the BBC have done such an exemplary job of covering the sport that it has become a matter of even greater importance to many F1 fans. It’s not just about the lack of advert interruptions, which was a huge barrier to ITV gaining acceptance from fans. It is the sheer breadth and depth of the BBC’s coverage.

The quality of the programme itself is top-notch, despite apparently having a much lower budget than ITV. All practice sessions are broadcast on the red button or online. And post-race analysis often goes on for as long as the race itself. There is plenty of archive footage on offer too.

As a result, ratings for Formula 1 are generally much higher than they were by the time ITV was finished with it. A recent BBC Trust report revaled that Formula 1 coverage was exceeding all of its targets and enabled it to reach a young male audience that the BBC otherwise finds difficult to reach.

The other sporting event that was regarded as a ‘hit’ by all measures was Wimbledon. This is the other sport apparently being considered for the chop.

So are the BBC planning to do a 6 Music, and demonstrate that BBC coverage of these events needs to be saved as a result of strong viewer opinion? Or is F1 genuinely being lined up for the axe?

Budget cuts

It’s pretty clear that the BBC’s F1 coverage has faced a budget cut for the year. The BBC took the odd decision of removing the well-respected commentator Jonathan Legard, and failing to properly replace him. Instead, the rest of the existing team has been reshuffled and each member of the on-screen team will be spread more thinly.

David Coulthard and Martin Brundle

For instance, it is expected that Martin Brundle will continue to do his pre-race gridwalk, do a full race commentary, and participate in the post-race analysis. David Coulthard will continue in his punditry role both before and after the race, in addition to being the co-commentator during the race. This would normally amount to four or more hours of continuous live broadcasting (more if the race is delayed for some reason), without much in the way of a break.

As former grand prix drivers, there is no doubt that Martin Brundle and David Coulthard have stamina. But I think even the most seasoned broadcasting pros would find this sort of workload to be a tough act.

So why not bring someone new on board? Is it just a case of a salami slice budget cut, or is the BBC preparing to wind down its coverage of F1 altogether?

I have long felt that there have been too many penalties in F1. Many talk about the inconsistency. This is indeed a problem. But the main issue is that they are handed out far too often. Today I feel that the stewards overstepped the mark once again and interfered with the race when it was not necessary.

Another clumsy mistake from Vettel

That does not excuse what Sebastian Vettel did. I am a great admirer of Sebastian Vettel. But I am sorry to have to say that today he demonstrated just why he does not deserve to win the Drivers’ Championship this season.

Vettel’s speed is not in doubt. But in a wheel-to-wheel situation his judgement is left in question. This season he has made several unnecessary mistakes. His clash with Jenson Button is just the latest one, and it would not surprise me if there is at least one more this season.

It does seem to be Vettel’s greatest weakness. For a while he had a reputation for being a driver who was unable to overtake. He had shaken that off, but these scrapes that he is increasingly getting himself into are threatening to make this question return.

People talk about experience. David Coulthard certainly brought that up plenty of times during the BBC’s coverage. But experience has little to do with it. Lewis Hamilton was able to handle life at the front of the grid much earlier in his career without constantly putting his foot in it in this way. Yes, Hamilton made mistakes, and he still does. But he was not clumsy in the same way.

Meanwhile, the most experienced Formula 1 driver in history, Rubens Barrichello, also managed to lose control at the very same corner, steaming straight into Fernando Alonso with great force. That is not a reflection on Rubens Barrichello’s skill. With 300 races under his belt, no-one can question his skill or experience.

Accidents will happen

Instead, it underlines that accidents will happen in racing. Sometimes you come off well, sometimes you come off badly. F1 is a risky endeavour by its very nature. There is not a driver on the grid who can say he has never caused an accident. This is what happens when you are racing on the edge. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much experience you have. In tough conditions, mistakes are made. That is racing.

That is why I have to question whether it was necessary for the stewards to punish Sebastian Vettel by making him serve a drive-through penalty. Yes, what Vettel did was a bit silly. It seems like he got mixed up in a car that was clearly faster than Jenson Button’s and didn’t know what to do when he suddenly found himself halfway up the McLaren’s gearbox.

Incidentally, if my reading of some of the post-race interviews is correct, it seems as though it was part of Jenson Button’s job to hold up the other cars to give Hamilton maximum advantage. Were team orders at play? Was Jenson Button deliberately holding up the pack? Notice how in his post-race interview with the BBC, Lewis Hamilton says, “he did everything he could to back us up and get the most points”.

Nonetheless, Sebastian Vettel got himself into a situation that he did not need to be in. The consequences were disastrous — for both Button and Vettel. The thing is, these incidents have killed Vettel’s title challenge. That in itself is the penalty a driver faces for poor driving standards.

Penalty-creep

Formula 1 is a sport, not a court. The problem is that the stewards often find themselves in a power trip and like to hand out penalties willy-nilly for increasingly minor indiscretions. Whether or not there is a former driver in the stewards’ room, this is the main problem with the stewarding system.

For years, I have been fearing that Formula 1 is in danger of banning racing. Instead of Formula One, the sport is in danger of becoming Formula None. As far as I see it, Sebastian Vettel was penalised today for attempting an overtaking manoeuvre. Yes, it was a manoeuvre that went wrong. But motor racing is inherently risky. If overtaking wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be exciting to watch.

These are drivers racing on the edge of what is possible with today’s machinery. In changeable conditions, Vettel got the balance wrong. But it was a judgement call that he had to make in a very short space of time.

A clumsy driver punishes himself enough

One of the beautiful things about motor racing is that it is all about balancing risk in real-time, in a very natural way. That is what we see every time there is a wheel-to-wheel battle. Everyone knows in this situation there is a chance that things might go wrong. Drivers are ready to face the consequences when things go wrong.

Sebastian Vettel’s real penalty was the natural one. His race was ruined by his mistake. With a damaged car, having to make a pitstop to change his front wing, the potential of a second place finish went up in smoke.

For some reason, the stewards decided to interfere in this natural justice system that is inherent in motor racing. Now when drivers see that they can be penalised for attempting an overtaking manoeuvre, they will soon enough stop attempting as it will no longer be worth the risk. The balance will have tipped too far in the opposite direction, and in an artificial manner.

And people wonder why there is not enough overtaking in F1?

A penalty should be handed out in the most extreme circumstances. I would say that Michael Schumacher’s barge in Hungary was a perfect example. That was a clear, premeditated move that was carried out over the course of a number of seconds. Vettel made a split-second move that suddenly went wrong. The intentions are different, and the seriousness of Vettel’s mistake is not in the same league.

Racing should be allowed. If it is not, the sport will be dead. But yet again, F1 finds itself curiously punishing someone for trying to race. Sebastian Vettel punished himself enough.

The Hungarian Grand Prix lived up to its reputation for being a boring circuit in terms of overtaking, but always delivering action of some sort. Hungaroring may be dull as a spectacle, but there is never a shortage of talking points.

This year’s was provided by Michael Schumacher. His already infamous move to push Rubens Barrichello towards the pit wall while both were travelling at top speeds was one of the most vicious I have ever seen. I was yelling while it was happening.

I think I will forever vividly remember watching the onboard shot from Rubens Barrichello’s car live. I was cheering him on as he lined up to overtake Michael Schumacher. Then I was horrified when I realised what Schumacher was doing.

Not that it is much of a surprise. It is well known that Michael Schumacher is capable more than anyone else of pulling a dirty move out of his lowest drawer. His famous tainted legacy: Why does driver who is so good — a seven time World Champion no less — feel the need to pull off these extreme moves.

In a way, what he did to Barrichello in Hungary this year was worse than anything we have seen from him before. When he crashed into Damon Hill in 1994 it was to win the championship. When he crashed into Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 it was a last-ditch attempt to win the championship. When he parked his car at Rascasse in 2006 he was a championship contender. This? A futile fight for 10th position in a nothing year for him.

By now everyone knows that 2010 has not been the comeback Michael Schumacher was hoping for. In his recent interviews he has stated that he is only interested in winning championships. Scrapping away in the midfield is not interesting to him. He doesn’t like racing; he is only interested in winning.

I have always felt that his wheel-to-wheel abilities are actually quite poor. Schumacher’s speed cannot be in doubt — when he is out in front. But when he is on the back foot, he switches into panic mode. All of his most notorious moves have been snap decisions that he has made in a moment when he has suddenly been put under pressure. He is a quick driver. Unfortunately this means he often makes a move before he has engaged his brain.

This is what we have seen this year. Not just in Hungary, but also in Canada. He noticeably struggled in Montreal. He had a scrappy race and made a few panic moves, including a chop across Felipe Massa.

Unfortunately, an uncompetitive Michael Schumacher is no less ruthless. If anything, he is worse when he is on the back foot. Is it really the done thing to desperately try to push someone into the pit wall for the sake of one point?

One perspective is that this is good, hard racing. I also liked the viewpoint put forward by Axis of Oversteer — that this is the manifestation of genuine bad blood between two drivers. Schumacher and Barrichello have a lot of history, and it’s easy to imagine that this was all in the minds of both drivers.

But full credit to Rubens Barrichello for completing the move. He showed great bravery on the track, and immense integrity off the track. Barrichello’s behaviour after the race was exemplary. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher complained that Barrichello is a whiner.

It is said that at Spa in 1998, Michael Schumacher stormed up to David Coulthard and accused him of “trying to fucking kill me”. I think Barrichello had cause to do a lot more than merely “whine”.

Michael Schumacher knows that in order to be successful you have to be ruthless, and at times aggressive. He is by no means the only aggressive driver on the grid. Mark Webber stands out. In fact, Webber was involved in quite a similar incident at Fuji in 2008 with Felipe Massa. But in this instance, Webber’s move across the track was made much earlier, much more gradually, and he did not push Massa nearly as far.

As such, Webber is respected as an aggressive driver, but also one who speaks about on-track safety with authority. As major player in the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, Mark Webber has made it his business to care about safety. This is the beauty of Mark Webber — he pushes it, but he knows exactly where the limit is, then stops. The problem Schumacher has is that he doesn’t know where the line is drawn.

Michael Schumacher is a hugely successful driver that many look up to as a role model. I would hate to think that he finds these sorts of dangerous manoeuvres acceptable. I am surprised that he did not receive a disqualification. He should also have received at least a one race ban. I bet if, say, Vitaly Petrov tried the same thing, he’d be sitting out the next few races.

The next race is in Belgium — where Schumacher’s fans turn out in force. The race after that is Monza, where the fans have quite a few fond memories of Schumacher as well. I would hate to think it is the case, but you would almost think the powers-that-be had one eye on the purse strings and the PR value of having Schumacher continuing racing — even though he is a known danger.

The way the race and the incidents during it were managed raise doubts that could see F1 lose some credibility again, as it was seen around the world.

–Ferrari statement, 27 June 2010

It’s a shame, not for us because this is racing, but for all the fans who came here to watch a manipulated race.

–Fernando Alonso, 27 June 2010

I don’t consider Formula 1 a sport anymore.

–Fernando Alonso, 10 September 2006

I don’t mind team orders in F1. We know they exist. F1 is a team sport, not just a contest between drivers. It is always important to bear that in mind.

But F1 is also a sport, and those involved should always remember that. Ferrari in particular should be sensitive to this matter, and instantly comparisons were drawn with the scandal of Austria 2002.

This was nothing like as bad as Austria 2002 — when the move was made at the very last corner, with Rubens Barrichello having dominated over his team mate Michael Schumacher all weekend. But the way it was executed still left a sour taste in the mouth.

Today is exactly one year on from Felipe Massa’s horrific accident in Hungary, and he was having a fantastic race in Germany. He found himself under intense pressure from Fernando Alonso for a period. But Alonso failed to capitalise on his chances, and Massa put the hammer down to extend the lead.

The way the team orders were executed after Massa had established his right to win the race was the problem. It insulted our intelligence.

I think most can understand why Alonso would be favoured for the Championship. But, as in Austria 2002, it is too early in the season to be switching drivers round. There is still half of the season to go, and anything can happen. (I am sure that if team orders were not in play in 1999, Eddie Irvine would have won the Drivers’ Championship.)

The way Rob Smedley relayed his instructions to Felipe Massa left us in no doubt as to what was really going on. With that, he has left the door wide open for punishment.

Much of the post-race debate has focussed on the rules regarding team orders. My view on this is clear: there should be no rule on team orders. As David Coulthard consistently pointed out, there is no way to police it. F1 is a team sport, it always has been. There are team orders, there always have been, and there always will be.

The issue is not whether team orders should exist or whether they are legal or not. What is key, though, is that a team should always remember at the end of the day there are viewers out there upon whom F1 depends. As Fota and the like keep on telling us, it’s all about the show!

The problem was that Ferrari executed a team order in the most blatant way possible. Then they tried to deny that there were any team orders. In doing this, they treated the fans with complete contempt. They acted as though we are idiots. This is what has caused the outcry.

Ferrari have been fined $100,000 for their actions today, and the matter has been referred to the World Motor Sport Council. I think a fine alone is a fair enough punishment. The result should stand. It is not the switch that was offensive — it was the way they went about it.

The embarrassment Ferrari have caused themselves should be punishment enough. If they acted in a more noble and sporting way, then people would start taking them more seriously when they start talking about “manipulated” results and how “Formula 1 is not a sport anymore”.

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?…

I suppose it is inevitable, but I dislike the blame game that has gone on since the horrendous crash between Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen during the European Grand Prix last week. The most important thing after an incident like that is to take stock. I was in awe of the extremely high safety standards demonstrated during that crash, but lessons need to be learned. Fingers don’t need to be pointed.

For me, it was a racing incident, in which both drivers could share a portion of the blame. Heikki Kovalainen probably tried to defend more than was really justified against a hugely superior car. Meanwhile, Mark Webber tried to catch a bit more slipstream than was necessary. Both made a mistake, and the result was that both were punished. That’s racing.

But BBC pundit and Red Bull Racing “Ambassador” David Coulthard was among the first to start pointing fingers, during his post-race analysis on the BBC. The comments about “A-class” and “B-class” teams that were being bandied about on the BBC were rather crass in my view.

Given that he is paid by Red Bull, David Coulthard’s comments perhaps shouldn’t have been surprising. For him, Heikki Kovalainen should have stepped aside, rolled out the red carpet, and allowed the Red Bull car to pass without a fight.

In fairness, it is not just his link to Red Bull that might have made him say this. David Coulthard has a history of suggesting that the “slower” car, should move over for the “faster” car. I have never forgotten his whining following the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix, when he was unable to overtake Enrique Bernoldi whom he was racing for position. You still hear him moan about it from time to time.

The idea that, when cars are racing for position, the car behind needs to overtake the car in front, has always appeared to evade Coulthard’s grasp. Formula 1 should award the drivers with the most skill, not just the engineers who can design and build the fastest cars. Overtaking is exciting because it is a skill, and if drivers of “slower” cars were to just stand aside, viewers would soon flock to another sport.

Yesterday David Coulthard went further still, blaming the crash on the slower speed of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus car. As Keith Collantine points out, the difference in speed is hardly alarming. Certainly, by historical standards, the pace of the new teams is actually very quick.

There has been a lot of talk about the reintroduction of the 107% rule, coming next season. Had the rule been in place for this season, the new teams would only have been caught out a handful of times. But in the mid 1990s it was a fairly regular occurrence for a Forti, Minardi or a Tyrrell to fail to qualify. Before then, to have cars that were several seconds off the pace was frankly the norm.

The only reason a car 2.5 seconds off the pace is considered “too slow” these days is because the standards in F1 have greatly increased over the past five or ten years. Of course there is a reason why chronically slow cars should not be allowed to race. But when we are talking about teams that are on the margin of 107%, the issue seems overblown. It’s not as if the Hispania cars are performing like the Mastercard Lola.

I get the feeling that David Coulthard thinks only “fast” cars and “fast” drivers should be allowed in F1. Of course, Formula 1 is an elite sport. But every single one of the cars on the grid this year is an elite car. The new teams (the first real new teams since 2002) have done an incredible job to be so close to the pace so quickly. Hispania is an elite team, as are Virgin and Lotus.

Of course, David Coulthard had the advantage of always racing for “fast” teams in F1. His F1 career began at Williams when the team was reaching the height of its mid-1990s dominance. When he moved to McLaren, they were never terribly far off the pace. Even when he raced for Red Bull, they weren’t exactly backmarkers.

Maybe if he had done a stint with a smaller, less well-resourced team, he would have a bit more sympathy for the tailenders that are every bit as important to F1 as the front runners.

There is not a great deal to say about the racing at the Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend. With the novelty of the night race concept having worn off, Singapore’s street circuit revealed itself to be on a par with Valencia’s in terms of on-track boredom.

That is not to say there aren’t a few talking points. Even though the race was quite insipid in many ways, there is little insipid about the podium. Lewis Hamilton put in a solid, though uneventful, performance to take a well-deserved second win of the season.

But I was most interested to watch the interview with his team mate, Heikki Kovalainen, after the race. Amid the latest rumours that Kimi Räikkönen is heading back to McLaren, Kovalainen is on the back foot. He needs to put in better performances in order to prove to McLaren and other teams that he deserves to be employed. But his demeanour after the race said it all — he sounded like a driver who realised he had been found out. 7th isn’t really good enough when the car is capable of winning.

Full credit must go to Timo Glock for finishing second. It is true that he largely inherited this position as a result of the woes of drivers in front: drive-through penalties for Rosberg and Vettel, and brake failure for Webber. But he was there to capitalise, having done well to qualify sixth when quite frankly to my eyes the car looked horrible on Friday. His team-mate Trulli, meanwhile, finished a lowly 12th.

Fernando Alonso obviously likes the circuit and scored the best result of the season at the same point where Renault’s fortunes turned last year. The Renault hasn’t looked capable of finishing on the podium all season. And Alonso has seemed strangely off-key to me this year. But he did it this time round, and caused a stir by dedicating his podium finish to Flavio Briatore. Some are interpreting it as a parting shot; others the human reaction of a man who has lost the boss who helped make him successful.

Whatever, it seems increasingly clear that his move to Ferrari for 2010 has been secured, with the rumour mill frantically suggesting that an announcement will come at Suzuka this coming weekend. Perhaps that is the reason why Alonso’s fire in the belly has returned to allow him to finish third.

Then we come to the title protagonists. Red Bull had another nightmare weekend which has pretty much hammered the last nail into the coffin for their championship hopes. All four Red Bull cars seemed to be suffering from brake issues, with such a failure making Webber’s race end in the barrier. Vettel could have had a much better result were it not for a drive-through for speeding in the pitlane, something which Vettel is adamant he has not done. In that context, fourth is a pretty impressive result for him.

As for Brawn, they salvaged something from what threatened to be a disaster. It seemed to be an up and down weekend for them. They seemed happy on Friday, but Button began complaining vociferously during Saturday Practice. Then both Brawns struggled in Qualifying, culminating in Barrichello’s session-ending crash. Ross Brawn declared qualifying to be disastrous.

As it was, they put in an okay performance during the race to finish 5th and 6th. Most importantly, Brawn have practically sealed up the Constructors’ Championship.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button has extended his Drivers’ Championship lead for the first time since Turkey. He edged further ahead of Barrichello by just one point, but with just three races to go, it looks like a tall order if anyone is to overhaul Button’s 15 point lead.

Maybe that makes the Championship boring now, which is perhaps why my eyes glazed over during that period in the middle of the race when nothing seemed to be happening. It has been an interesting season, but not an exciting one. Fair enough — we have had plenty of exciting seasons over the past few years and were perhaps overdue a dodgy one.

I am very much looking forward to the next race at Suzuka though. F1 finally returns to this classic circuit after three years, and it will surely provide a better class of show than the gimmicky Marina Bay circuit.

Just a final word about Adrian Sutil. What a chump. Fair play to him for trying to overtake someone, but his was a foul-up of Coulthard-esque proportions. Indeed, the entire incident was reminiscent of Coulthard’s attempt to overtake at Valencia last year.

But from my perspective, Sutil’s attempted move on Alguersuari was never on in a month of Sundays, and his determination to keep the throttle floored while in a spin was a stupid move when there was oncoming traffic. You have to feel sorry for Nick Heidfeld, who had his amazing run of consecutive finishes brought to a cruel end by a driver who should know better. Sutil’s $20,000 fine seems hefty, but I don’t feel much sympathy.