Archive: fuel

Well thankfully the predicted procession around the streets of Singapore failed to come and instead we were treated to an action-packed race. Okay, so it needed a couple of crashes, safety car periods and another calamitous weekend from Ferrari to make it so, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m just glad it wasn’t a bore of Valencia-sized proportions.

First of all, you really have to take your hat off to Fernando Alonso. For me, he has been one of the best drivers of the season and if anyone else deserved a win it was him. He’s been fighting hard all season in a car that has seldom been capable of keeping up with the front runners.

Alonso’s weekend got off to the worst possible start when he had a “fuel supply” issue (damn credit crunch) during qualifying, leaving him a poor 15th on the grid. This forced Renault to be inventive with their strategy, and they took a risk by having him start the race with a very light fuel load, pitting early and hoping for the Safety Car to come out. After his pitstop, Alonso was actually in last place.

But with this strategy Renault had struck gold. Alonso was the only person to have made his pitstop before the Safety Car came out and was able to move up the field slowly but surely until he was leading the race. From there, he looked awesome. He needed a shovelful of luck, but that shouldn’t detract from what was a great drive. I, for one, was delighted to see Alonso — whom I regard as the best driver on the grid — back on the top step of the podium.

Ironically, the Safety Car that Alonso needed was brought out by his team-mate Nelsinho Piquet’s crash. Bring those tin foil hats out of the cupboard!

Another man who benefited greatly from the situation was Nico Rosberg. He was running out of fuel when the Safety Car came out, so had to make a pitstop while the pitlane was closed. He got a 10 second stop–go penalty for that, but Rosberg was in the unique position of leading the race at the time, enabling him to pull out an enormous lead. As such, he actually lost very little in the way of track position, coming out in 3rd after his penalty.

Before the Safety Car came out, Rosberg was 10th. So by making an illegal pitstop, Rosberg still gained a lot despite the penalty. Yet another reason why the current Safety Car rules are ridiculous.

Hats off to Rosberg though. He did a stunning job to build up that gap and he kept his head to complete a career-best 2nd place finish. Apparently it’s all down to Frank Williams’s lucky tartan trousers.

Robert Kubica had no such luck. He went round behind the Safety Car for an extra lap before making his pitstop, so he came out in traffic. His stop–go penalty really hurt him and he was never in contention again. I think that’s the second time this season Kubica has been seriously disadvantaged by this disgrace of a rule.

Ferrari didn’t need Safety Car shenanigans to cause their race-ending pitstop disasters. Ferrari’s semi-automatic traffic light system that was brought under the spotlight in Valencia completely failed in Singapore.

A human was operating the lights, but goodness knows what he was thinking when he switched the lights to green as the fuel hose was nowhere near being released. Felipe Massa correctly read the green light that appeared, but took the fuel hose with him all the way down the pitlane — very reminiscent of the incident involving Christijan Albers at the 2007 French Grand Prix. The Ferrari mechanics sprinted down to the end of the pitlane to remove the fuel hose (with much difficulty) and Massa was able to carry on, but his race was over.

Massa had looked in control of the race. And his qualifying performance on Saturday was mesmerising, as he took pole by six tenths. But he scored no points in Singapore. This has enabled Hamilton (who was slightly, but not greatly, disadvantaged by the Safety Car situation) to regain the momentum coming into the final three races of the season.

It was, in fact, a truly disastrous race for Ferrari. They have had a few awful races this year. To compound Massa’s pitlane problem, Kimi Räikkönen had another one of his strange moments where he has fallen asleep, and grabbed some air at the controversial kerbs at turn 10, ploughing straight into the wall.

Red Bull are beginning to look like they are gaining some momentum again. They arrived in Singapore with some noticeable new aerodynamic pieces and they were performing pretty well during the race. Webber looked like he was going to score some points until he had a gearbox failure. David Coulthard, meanwhile, was running 3rd at one point before coming home in 7th following a minor pitlane snafu when the lollipop was raised too early, which was handled much better than Ferrari’s similar incident.

All-in-all, the first-ever night race must be hailed as a great success. It looked better on television than I expected. The circuit was quite fun with a couple of booby traps catching the drivers out, which is what we want to be honest. There was some overtaking, which is much more than can be said for Valencia. And it looked as though the crowds were huge, and they certainly seemed very enthusiastic.

I have to admit I was rather sceptical about night races beforehand, but this worked really well and there were no real disasters. The only real problem was the botched pitlane entry and exit designs, but that would have happened whether it was night time or day time. I now wouldn’t mind seeing more night races in the future.

Now we have three final flyaway races to go, with a double-header in Japan and China coming up. I’m off to catch some zzzs in anticipation for the early morning starts.

There might still be five races to go in the Formula 1 World Championship. But the Italian Grand Prix is the last European race of the season. That means that this weekend sees the climax of the GP2 Series for 2008.

This has been the first year I have watched GP2 races in full and I am a convert. It has been a thrilling season of GP2 action. It is an excellent complement to Formula 1.

If you’ve never seen GP2 before, the format is as follows. There is one race on Saturday called the ‘Feature Race’. Scoring for this race is exactly the same as in F1. On Sunday there is a shorter ‘Sprint Race’. The top six score points as follows: 6-5-4-3-2-1.

Whoever gets pole position for the Feature Race scores two points. Both races offer a point for the fastest lap (although a driver has to meet a number of conditions to qualify for scoring the point — he must start from his allocated grid position, complete 90% of all race laps and finish in the top ten). All in all, this means that a driver has the potential to score 20 points in a weekend.

Pre-season favourite was Renault Development Driver Romain Grosjean who dominated the GP2 Asia Series last winter. However, although Grosjean does still have a (slim) chance of winning the championship, in the end it has come down to a battle between former F1 driver Giorgio Pantano and rising star Bruno Senna. Another Renault Development Driver, Lucas Di Grassi, lies in third place. Di Grassi cannot be underestimated and he has scored this many points despite not even competing in the first three events!

The current standings are as follows:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Giorgio Pantano Racing Engineering 71
2 Bruno Senna iSport International 60
3 Lucas Di Grassi Campos 53
4 Romain Grosjean ART 53

Amazingly, the two main contenders have been unable to capitalise on each others’ misfortune and mistakes over the past two events. Unbelievably, both Pantano and Senna ran out of fuel during the Feature Race in Valencia. Senna was also unable to score in the Valencia Sprint Race, although Pantano managed to finish third.

However, Pantano found himself excluded from both races in Belgium after crashing into Di Grassi then overtaking under a Safety Car. Meanwhile, Senna received a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release from a pitstop that was very similar to the one Massa was let off with in the European Grand Prix. The Sprint Race was not much better for Senna as he had to retire after a crash with Sébastien Buemi. As such, Pantano scored nothing and Senna got just two points for his pole position.

Anything can happen in GP2. The drivers are younger and more hot-headed than the F1 drivers, and while it can look a bit amateurish in comparison, there is absolutely no doubt that GP2 provides plenty of action for the viewers.

Since this is the Championship showdown, I have decided to liveblog the GP2 races this weekend as a bit of an experiment. I will be very busy so apologies if it does not quite go to plan! I could do with some help, so if anyone is up for helping me moderate then that would be great.

The feature race starts at 1500 UK time, and ITV4’s coverage starts at around 1430, which is when I plan to start the liveblog. That’s very handy as that is directly after qualifying has finished. So if you find yourself at a loose end after qualifying tomorrow, come back here, switch on the television and join us for the liveblog!

In my previous post I concluded that Ferrari will have to look at their engines to bring a halt to their reliability woes. But following the European Grand Prix it is also clear that they will have to look at their pitstop procedures. There were two pitlane controversies surrounding Ferrari today.

First of all, Felipe Massa was released straight into the path of the Force India of Adrian Sutil. (Is it just me, or to Ferrari always seem desperate to dump on their client, Force India?) It always annoys me that this sort of thing is never penalised properly. The pitlane is the most dangerous section of the track, and lollipop men often have scant regard for the safety of their fellow mechanics in other teams.

The GP2 races this weekend saw a couple of drivers get penalised for being released into the path of oncoming cars. The pitlane in Valencia is especially narrow, perhaps among the narrowest all year, so it is more important than in most places that this rule is stuck to. So I was glad to see action taken to stop this sort of behaviour in GP2.

However, the race stewards completely bottled out of making a proper decision on Massa’s incident. They announced that they would investigate the incident, but elected to make their decision after the race. In short, the stewards bottled it because it involved a Ferrari.

In the end, Ferrari escaped with a reprimand and a €10,000 fine. I was glad that the race result wasn’t changed behind closed doors, which would have been the worst case scenario. But that only makes it all the more important that these decisions are made during the race, not after. Massa should have been given a drive-through penalty and that should have been the end of it. I certainly think that if it was Sutil who nearly ran over a cameraman and crashed into the safety car while being released in front of a Ferrari, the stewards would not have been so shy of making a decision during the race.

Ferrari’s defence was also absolutely bizarre. Their excuse was that “no sporting advantage was obtained” by releasing Massa too early. As Keith points out, the FIA have taken a dim view of this sort of explanation when it has come from other teams whose name is not Ferrari.

Moreover, not only is it doubtful that Ferrari did not gain an advantage by releasing Massa early, whether or not he gained an advantage is not even the point. The point is whether or not Ferrari created the potential for there to be a dangerous situation in the pitlane. In my view there is no doubt that they did create that potential.

Article 23.1 i) of the sporting regualtions states:

It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car after a pit stop only when it is safe to do so.

There is nothing there about whether or not a sporting advantage is obtained — only if the situation was safe or not. The FIA should not accept Ferrari’s explanation as a mitigating factor.

The FIA know that they have an image problem. They know about the ‘Ferrari International Assistance’ problem. We have heard Max Mosley mentioning it. What gets me is that whenever the FIA has an opportunity to shed this image, they fail to take it! This can only mean that they actually are set out to please Ferrari all the time.

Massa’s pitlane exit was particularly dangerous. The onboard footage from his car shows that Massa passed a cameraman who was kneeling in the ‘inner lane’ of the pitlane. Further down the road, Massa was sandwiched between Sutil and the Safety Car and Medical Car — presumably with driver Bernd Mayländer and the medics sitting in them. If Massa had crashed into Sutil here, I shudder to think what the other consequences could have been.

Felipe Massa’s “explanation” during the press conference was as low as it gets.

I think it wasn’t very clever from his [Adrian Sutil’s] side as even if he went out in front of me he needed to let me by. It was a shame to fight with him in the pit lane as we were very close and I needed to back off and I lost a lot of time but fortunately the gap was enough…

I stopped behind him in the pit stop and we leave together. When he was passing me by I was leaving the garage, so we were side-by-side. But I was the leader and he was lapping.

I don’t remember ever reading the rule whereby cars that are about to be lapped are supposed to wait in their pit box until the precious Ferrari has left the pitlane. The fact is that Adrian Sutil was exiting the pitlane minding his own business just as he does after every single pitstop he has ever done. Then all of a sudden this red car is released straight towards his sidepod! I struggle to see how this can be anyone’s fault other than the ‘lollipop’ man’s.

Which brings us on to the talking point of Ferrari’s pitstops. A relatively recent innovation, from the past couple of years or so, is Ferrari’s decision to dispense entirely with a lollipop and instead use a traffic light system. Each mechanic working on the car is given a button which he presses when he is finished. Once all the buttons have been pressed the traffic light turns green and away the car goes.

ITV made a lot of Ferrari’s ‘semi-automatic’ system. But my understanding is that the chief mechanic plays the role that used to be played by the lollipop man — i.e. he doesn’t press his button until he is certain it is safe for the car to be released. In Massa’s case, the lollipop man simply didn’t do his job properly. This would have been the case whether he had a lollipop or a traffic light system.

Ferrari had another problematic pitstop that quickly focussed on the traffic light system. Kimi Räikkönen attempted to leave his pit box while the fuel hose was still attached. Pictures from Räikkönen’s T-cam show that he left the box when the lights turned amber — not green.

I don’t know exactly how Ferrari’s traffic light system works, but my guess would be that when each of the mechanics has pressed their button the light turns amber, and only when the chief mechanic presses his button does the light turn green. Presumably 99% of the time when the light turns amber it almost immediately turns green. In this instance it didn’t because the fuel hose became stuck.

I guess the majority of the blame has to rest of Räikkönen’s shoulders for going when the light wasn’t green. But perhaps Ferrari can look at their system to make sure there is no chance of such confusion in the future.

What I haven’t seen noticed anywhere else is the fact that this was essentially another fuel rig failure on the back of the four or five fuel rig failures we saw in Hungary. It’s not unusual to see a fuel hose become stuck on a car and for the mechanics to struggle to remove it, but it’s worth noting that this incident came so soon after the high-profile incidents in Budapest.

The Hungarian Grand Prix saw yet more worrying failures of Formula 1’s important equipment.

The timing glitches that struck the German Grand Prix returned at the Hungaroring. Seemingly, despite the clear evidence that Kimi Räikkönen’s car had a faulty transponder, no-one decided to check it out.

So Räikkönen’s times for sector 2 and sector 3 were not recorded, he tumbled down the timing screen a couple of times before re-appearing in his proper position and his first pitstop didn’t properly register at first. Nor did he appear on the lap chart, as you can see by clicking here and launching the live timing archive.

More worryingly, though, no fewer than four teams had major problems with their refuelling equipment during the Hungarian Grand Prix. Fuel rigs are standardised and supplied by the FIA. The multiple failures occurred despite the fact that there were no new parts used in the refuelling process.

Of course, it could be just a coincidence. Flash fires in the pitlane do happen from time to time. Usually, however, you see two or three a year — not three within five minutes of each other. Sébastien Bourdais’s Toro Rosso, Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams and Rubens Barrichello’s Honda all briefly caught fire as the fuel hose was coming off. Meanwhile, Timo Glock lost around 15 seconds due to a fuel rig that did not fit his car properly.

One widely suggested explanation is that the heat in Hungary either changed the shape of the fuel hose enough so that it did not fit properly, or that the fuel expanded in the heat causing it to overflow. However, this explanation does not quite seem right as there are hotter races during the year, notably in Malaysia.

Whatever, this essential equipment ought to be designed to cope with ambient temperatures of 32 °C. This was the highest temperature recorded by FOM’s equipment during the race, and it does not strike me as overly hot for a summer in the middle of a continent towards the south of Europe.

A cheeky suggestion put forward by Ian Phillips during The Inside Line podcast is that flames are good for viewing figures. That is going a bit far even for Bernie though.

More seriously, this is quite a serious safety concern. Although the fires were small and all immediately extinguished, this sort of thing should not be happening. The FIA should get to the bottom of what on earth was going on during the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Other posts on this topic

One of the more minor talking points of the German Grand Prix was the failure of the live timing system provided by FOM. This is not the first time FOM’s timing systems have failed. In fact, a failure is a relatively common occurrence, and the odd glitch is to be expected in any system as complex as this which has to be hauled around the world.

However, the problems of the German Grand Prix were much more major than usual. And it represents what I consider to be the second large failure of FOM’s infrastructure in the past twelve months.

What happened in Germany

Problems with the live timing system became apparent when commentators across the world exclaimed to their viewers that Heikki Kovalainen was dropping down the order, but they couldn’t explain why. Soon enough commentators realised that this was an error, as Kovalainen was still running in third position with no problems whatsoever.

Each Formula 1 car carries a transponder which uniquely identifies each car. At various points on the circuit there is a beam which receives a signal from the transponder as the car passes through. This is the equipment that enables FOM to measure lap times to a thousandth of a second as well as car speeds. This equipment also records when cars enter the pitlane and how much time they spend in the pitlane.

What apparently happened is that the transponder on Kovalainen’s car failed. This is not the first time that has happened. Seemingly (and this is speculation on my part) once the people at FOM realised what was going on, Kovalainen was manually re-inserted into his actual race position — not before the legend ‘STOPPED’ (meaning “stopped on the circuit”) was displayed. This process seemed to continue for the rest of the race. A few times I spotted him slipping down the order a couple of places before magically re-appearing in his original position.

Apart from the initial scare of watching Kovalainen tumble down the order for the first time, this was a bearable issue. However, it was not the only problem to afflict live timing that day.

During the first round of pitstops, only three drivers were recorded as having entered the pitlane when in fact almost every driver had made a stop. This wreaked havoc as it was impossible to tell who had taken a pitstop and who had not. To make matters worse, the pitstops were subsequently manually added over a period of several laps. Cars were shown in the red text with the words ‘IN PIT’ which normally signify that a driver is taking a pitstop. However, they were not in the pitlane.

At this stage of the race Radio 5 Live’s pitlane reporter Holly Samos said that the teams were finding the failure of the live timing system very frustrating. It was very possible that the failure of this extremely important source of information could potentially have affected the race itself.

Captions on the television also went a bit awry for a short while at this stage, with the classification being displayed without the time or pitstop strategy information that normally accompanies it. For a few laps every driver except for Hamilton was shown as a being a lap down until this too was (seemingly) manually rectified.

The lap chart — which can still be accessed by clicking on the live timing link on this page — is a bit of a mess. Here, not only was Kovalainen largely missing from the chart, so too was Kimi Räikkönen.

2008 German GP live timing

The positions of the two Finnish drivers were not updated lap-by-lap as they should be. Instead, they jump about with their position updated at seemingly arbitrary points of the race. Gaps are left in the chart where they were supposed to be.

All-in-all, it was a bit of a shambles on the timing front during the German Grand Prix.

The other major failure

This comes off the back of the problems experienced in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix. Here, the timing systems were fine (as far as I am aware at least), but the weather equipment was playing up.

I and others had pointed out that the temperature was extraordinarily high at Interlagos. At its peak, the track temperature was recorded at 65 °C. Looking back, it seemed a bit fishy. Ted Kravitz pointed out, “That would’ve melted even my trusty Dr Martens boots.”

The track temperature is often of interest, but it is not usually a vital aspect of FOM’s offering. However, this time the temperature measurements were later to have a pivotal bearing on the race result in this, the final race of the championship. The Drivers Championship was almost decided by FOM’s temperature gauge.

In what became known as the ‘cool fuel’ saga, the BMW and Williams teams were deemed to have breached article 6.5.5 of the technical regulations which states that “no fuel on board the car may be more than 10 degrees centigrade below ambient temperature”.

A cooler temperature in the fuel would allow teams to refuel cars more quickly — and, indeed, fit more fuel into the car. The BMW and Williams teams were both accused (by FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer) of filling their cars with fuel which was more than 10 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature which was recorded at 35 °C.

There then followed the revelation that the rules do not state how the ambient temperature should be recorded. Should the fuel temperature be measured against the ambient temperature recorded by FOM’s equipment? Or should it be measured against the information supplied by the FIA’s meteorologists, Météo-France?

Météo-France recorded the ambient temperature as being “a few degrees lower” than FOM’s measurement. Meanwhile, Bridgestone recorded the track temperature as being 48 °C as opposed to FOM’s 65 °C.

Clearly, FOM’s temperatures were way off. Ted Kravitz speculated that their temperature sensor may have been placed in the sun — a mega no-no in meteorology. Williams technical director Sam Michael furthermore pointed out that the equipment had not been calibrated for a full seven years and that it had been clear to all the teams that FOM’s weather information was not to be trusted as early as 2005!

That just strikes me as complete laziness on FOM’s part. Coupled with the woes we saw in Germany which frustrated the teams, it is clear that, unless things change, FOM’s faulty equipment could one day alter the direction of a race or even a championship in a big way. Here’s hoping FOM look into the technical issues and try to avoid a repeat of what happened at Hockenheim and Interlagos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, what another incredible race! This year’s Canadian Grand Prix was always going to be exciting. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve usually provides excitement and unpredictability and pre-race reports of the possibility of rain threatened to add even more uncertainty into the mix. Then when the circuit started breaking up even more than normal during qualifying, another element of chance was added.

Well, the Canadian Grand Prix was highly exciting — but not, as it turned out, for the reasons expected. As the race drew nearer predictions for rain became vaguer and in the end it was not a threat. And overnight repairs to the circuit appear to have done the trick — the repaired tarmac held up better during the race than it did for the qualifying sessions.

But you can always rely on the tough pseudo-street circuit to throw the cards in the air. The barriers are almost as close as Monaco, but the Montreal circuit is much faster. This means carnage, safety cars and above all it means you need to skill to win the race.

Lewis Hamilton showed he does not have this skill — not this time round. He was mesmerising during qualifying, but a schoolboy error put paid to his hopes to repeat the feat this year. Pitting during the safety car period, Hamilton failed to notice that the red light was on at the end of the pitlane. While Kimi Räikkönen and Robert Kubica waited diligently for the light to turn green, Hamilton just ploughed straight into the back of the red car.

Nico Rosberg wasn’t much better, as in turn he hit Hamilton on the rear for good measure. The damage to Hamilton and Räikkönen’s cars was extensive enough to end their races immediately. As the pair climbed out of their cars, Hamilton looked sheepish and turned away from Räikkönen to avoid the inevitable ear-bashing. No so easy Lewis — Räikkönen tapped him on the shoulder so that Hamilton could not avoid paying attention. The Finn wagged his finger like a school teacher. Even with their helmets on, the emotions were clear to see from their body language.

Some will say that this is payback for Räikkönen taking out Sutil in Monaco. Indeed, what goes around comes around. Now all we need is for someone to ride up Hamilton’s jacksy for things to really even out…

Hamilton’s many supporters quickly began to complain about the rules surrounding the red light at the end of the pitlane, but this is no excuse. The red light is not a new rule. Pitlanes have always had red lights at the end — certainly for as long as I can remember, and probably for a much longer time than that. There is a very sensible reason for that.

The fact is that a safety car period means that there should be no overtaking on the race track. You can’t have cars re-joining the field in the middle of the queue because of the confusion it would cause. Where in the queue to re-join? It’s like barging your way to the front of the queue at the post office: it’s just not on. Plus, such an eventuality would lead inescapably to overtaking — therefore racing — taking place. You simply can’t have cars re-joining the middle of the train during a safety car period.

Hamilton should know the rules. He does know the rules. He was just too late to notice the red light. That means game over. It is now up to the stewards to decide if he will be penalised for ending Räikkönen’s race. The three protagonists in the pile-up — Hamilton, Räikkönen and Rosberg — are being investigated by the stewards as we speak and we await their decision. My gut instinct is that if that was a Piquet Jnr or a Nakajima that ploughed into the back of the World Champion in the pitlane, that young driver would be facing a ban.

(Update: It has been announced that both Hamilton and Rosberg will face a 10-place grid penalty at the next Grand Prix in France.)

It could all have been so very different. Sitting next to Räikkönen at the end of the pitlane waiting for the lights to change was Robert Kubica. In a parallel universe, Hamilton would have ploughed into the back of Kubica. In this instance, the luck went the Pole’s way. It’s a classic Montreal win — get a bit of luck, then use your skill to capitalise on it.

Robert Kubica certainly has the skill. He had plenty to deal with during the race. Being among the first to stop during the first Safety Car period, meaning that he had to trundle around in the midfield. He spent a portion of the race being held up by a Toro Rosso. He was the leading driver of those who had made a stop, but it was beginning to look like Nick Heidfeld had the upper hand up front. The German had pulled out enough of a lead to make a pit stop and still come out ahead of Kubica.

However, Heidfeld was on a one-stop strategy and was advised by his team to let through the lighter Kubica, who would need to make an extra pitstop. The race became a classic battle of pitstop strategies: the one-stopping but heavier Heidfeld and the two-stopping but nimbler Kubica.

It was tough for Heidfeld to keep his patience while his team mate steamed into the lead. At one point he got sucked into a battle with the (probably two-stopping) Alonso, when in reality the pair weren’t really racing at all. His engineer wisely advised Heidfeld to forget Alonso and let him past in an attempt to ultimately save him time.

In the end, Kubica had the speed to capitalise on the situation. When it was time for Kubica to make his second pitstop, he was over 25 seconds ahead of his team mate — enough to retain his on-track advantage. He would go on to take the win.

The victory is historic for a number of reasons. Firstly, Robert Kubica is the first Polish driver ever to stand on the top step of the podium. For this, he must be immensely proud.

This is also BMW’s first ever win as a constructor (although the won races in the past with Williams as an engine supplier). And of course, the BMW team has grown out of the Sauber F1 team. It is worth remembering that, despite the temptation to shorten the team’s name to ‘BMW’, officially this is still ‘BMW Sauber’. I did not find Sauber to be very likeable, but under the guidance of BMW and Mario Theissen, I now have an immense amount of respect for the team.

So a first-ever win for BMW and a first-ever win for Sauber. And for that win to be a 1-2 as well makes the victory sweeter. It’s the first time a team’s first win has been a 1-2 as well for ten years. Jordan did it way back in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher.

This is a signal that BMW mean business. McLaren may have laughed off the possibility that they could sustain the pace of development across the entire season, but commendably BMW have got on with the job and come up with the goods. You can’t ask for more than a 1-2, and BMW have provided it. It is a testament to the leadership of Mario Theissen and the great driving skills of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld.

I can’t help but be reminded of the steady progress that Renault made with Fernando Alonso. Renault’s performances improved throughout 2003 until that first win came. In 2004 some another win came along with more strong race showings. Then in 2005 and 2006 back-to-back World Championships came. Can BMW repeat the feat? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Just as Alonso led the charge for Renault, Kubica is the promising young star who is threatening the big guns. I wouldn’t say that this win was overdue. But we certainly knew it was coming. And for that first win to come at the scene of his horrendous accident last year — one of the most violent-looking accidents I can ever recall seeing — speaks volumes about the man’s positive character, mindset and approach. Is Robert Kubica a future World Champion? Put it this way: I’m excited for him in the same way as I was excited for Alonso about five years ago.

But does this mean that Nick Heidfeld is the tired, past-it, lost talent that Trulli represented in the Renault days? I am a big fan of Quick Nick. But this season he has just not been on it at all. Perhaps the car doesn’t suit him.

Whatever the problem with Heidfeld is, by anyone’s book 2nd place ought to be a reassertion of his authority. However, Nick Heidfeld looked thoroughly dejected in parc fermé. No doubt he feels that the win should have been his had he been able to hold up Kubica during the race as he perhaps feels he had the right to. All I can say is, Kubica had the speed to win the race and Heidfeld didn’t. The decision to let Kubica pass was the only sensible decision for the team to make. In the end the race was won on raw pace, and Kubica had it while Heidfeld didn’t.

Nonetheless, 2nd place represents a titanic effort from Heidfeld. Yes, he had a bit of luck. But he still had to wring the performance out of his car to take the advantage. He started from 8th on the grid, which is the kind of performance we have come to expect from Heidfeld this season. But today he came alive and played a vital part in BMW’s maiden 1-2. He should be proud, not dejected.

And, as he pointed out in the press conference, Heidfeld has played a major part in the development of the BMW Sauber team. He has been there with BMW since the start of the BMW-Sauber relationship. He raced with BMW engines when he was at Williams. And before that he spent a number of years at Sauber. Heidfeld can be happy with the doubtlessly valuable input he has provided the BMW Sauber team over the years, and today was payback day. Hopefully one day soon — as much as I am a huge fan of Kubica — it will be Heidfeld on the top step of the podium in navy blue and white overalls.

My race report will be continued tomorrow.

This is the second in a series of “bluffer’s guides“. The first part covered the basics of Formula 1. This second part goes deeper into the rulebook and also covers one of the most important aspects of a race weekend — strategy.

After Qualifying: parc fermé

After the Qualifying session is finished, cars are deemed to be under “parc fermé” conditions. Parc fermé is literally French for “closed park”. All the cars are kept in parc fermé overnight to prevent the teams from working on the cars.

No-one can touch the cars without the express permission of the stewards. Even then, work is usually limited to routine procedures carried out under the supervision of the FIA’s Technical Delegate and other scrutineers.

All cars that qualified 11th on the grid or lower may refuel, but cars in the top ten cannot. Tyres can be changed. Minor set-up alterations can be made in the event that weather conditions change between qualifying and the race.

But apart from that, cars are essentially the same in the race as they were during qualifying. In the past, some teams used specific qualifying-spec engines which were deemed by the FIA to be wasteful. Parc fermé prevents teams from doing this.

If a team needs to do more work on its car, it may opt to do so but the car will have to start the race from the pitlane. This means that the driver must wait at the end of the pitlane until all of the other cars have cleared the start / finish straight.

The start procedure

The pit lane is opened 30 minutes before the scheduled race start time. It is closed 15 minutes later. In this time, cars must make their way round the track and onto the starting grid.

15 seconds before the advertised race start time, all mechanics must leave the grid so that only the cars are left on the circuit. Then the green lights switch on, signifying the start of the formation lap.

The cars then make their way round the circuit. They will be seen weaving around as the drivers try to get their tyres up to racing temperature — warmer tyres have more grip. Similarly, drivers will often stamp on the brakes to get brake temperatures up. Check out this video from the 2008 Malaysian Grand Prix to see this in action.

Warm up from AC on Vimeo.

Overtaking is forbidden on the formation lap unless a car has a technical problem. In this event, cars may make up their positions again so that they can start from the correct grid slot. If the car is unable to start for good, marshals will push the car into the pitlane where mechanics can work on it. If a driver manages to re-start the car but all the drivers have moved off for the formation lap, he must join the queue at the back and will start from the back of the grid.

Once the drivers have all lined up again on the grid, the starting procedure proper commences. Five red lights will switch on one at a time at one second intervals. Then, after a random amount of time the lights will switch off. When this happens, the race has begun.


Formula 1 now has one tyre supplier — Bridgestone. There are four kinds of tyres that are brought to each circuit. Two of these are different ‘compounds': one is softer and the other is harder. The other two are wet tyres: intermediate and extreme wet weather. The intermediate is sometimes simply called ‘wet’ because the extreme wet is only used in truly atrocious conditions.

If the race is dry (as most races are), each car must use both the soft and the hard tyre at some point during the race. The softer tyre has a white stripe painted in one of the grooves of the tyre so that viewers can tell which tyre the driver is on. If the race is deemed to be wet at any point, teams are free to choose whatever tyres they want.

There are actually four dry compounds — super-soft, soft, medium and hard. But Bridgestone only take two of these to any race weekend and from there one is designated ‘soft’ and the other ‘hard’ for simplicity. The choices are made based on the characteristics of the circuit.

Soft tyres have more grip but wear out more quickly. A harder tyre is more durable but does not give the car the same speed.

During a race weekend, each team has access to seven sets of each of the dry compounds, four sets of intermediate tyres and three sets of extreme wets. Sets cannot be mixed. If the race starts behind the Safety Car, the use of extreme wets is compulsory.

Pitstop strategy

A number of aspects may play a role in race strategy. The two biggest factors are fuel and tyres.

As mentioned above, soft tyres wear out relatively quickly which might make a 2 or 3 stop strategy more viable. Meanwhile, hard tyres might be more suitable for a 1 stop strategy. Of course, nowadays both types of tyres must be used during the race, so it isn’t as simple as that any more.

Fuel levels also play a role. A team may choose to fill their car lightly, making the car speedy on the track but with the tradeoff that an extra pitstop must be made.

A typical pitstop may add 30 seconds to a normal race-speed lap time. But of course, this depends on the length of the pitlane as well. Circuits that have a short pitlane (such as Magny-Cours) lend themselves better to a 3 stop strategy.

Teams also try hard to arrange their pitstops so that their drivers will emerge from the pitlane in “clean air”, i.e. without any traffic. There is nothing worse than to have your race ruined because you came out behind a slow car after your pitstop.

Weather is also a big issue. If rain is predicted, a race can turn into a bit of a lottery as you need either the great skill (or the good luck!) to change to wet tyres just in time for the weather to turn for the worse.

The prospect of a Safety Car period also plays a huge role. Teams take into account the likelihood that the Safety Car will come out. Some circuits have more accidents than others. Teams will try to adapt their strategy to make the most of the Safety Car periods.

It is advantageous to make your pitstop while the Safety Car is out because the other drivers are not at racing speed. A driver can make his pitstop and rejoin the tail of the queue behind the Safety Car.

This was deemed to be dangerous, so now the pitlane is closed as soon as the Safety Car is brought out. This has annoyed the teams and drivers who have suffered the bad luck to run out of fuel while the Safety Car is out. In this case, cars may make their pitstop, but they will incur a 10 second stop–go penalty. This rule may be changed in the near future.

Pitstop strategies are criticised by many for neutering the on-track race. It is said that many drivers avoid the risk of overtaking on the circuit and instead rely on their strategy to effectively overtake cars in the pitlane.

Safety Car rules

When the Safety Car comes out, it picks up the leader and the rest of the field lines up in race order. Drivers must keep within a distance of 5 car lengths to each other. Drivers deemed to be driving erratically will be reported to the stewards.

As outlined above, the pitlane is closed as soon as the Safety Car comes out. A few laps later, race control will reopen the pitlane when they see fit.

When the pitlane is open, a red light will still be displayed at the end of the pitlane if the train of cars is still on the start / finish straight. Drivers who run through the red light will be disqualified.

After a number of laps, lapped cars will be allowed to overtake the train and make their way round again to gain back their lost laps. These cars must still drive at reduced speed and overtaking cars on the same lap is still forbidden. Takuma Sato took advantage of this in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix when he unlapped himself under the Safety Car. When the race re-started he was in a position to overtake Fernando Alonso.

When the Safety Car is ready to come in, the orange lights on the Safety Car will switch off. From now on, the leader may dictate the pace and may fall back up to 10 car lengths behind the Safety Car.

The Safety Car driver is an unsung hero of Formula 1. He has a difficult job to do. Even though it is a reduced speed for Formula 1 cars, the Safety Car is on the limit. If the Safety Car was too slow, there is a risk that the Formula 1 cars would overheat.

It speaks volumes of the talent of current Safety Car driver Bernd Mayländer (who has been the Safety Car driver since 2000) that a Safety Car phase usually passes without event. Some quick thinking by Mayländer even prevented a potentially horrific accident in the 2007 European Grand Prix when Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control on the start / finish straight while the Safety Car was waiting to pick up the leader.

Engines and gearboxes

From 2008, engine development has been frozen and will be for the next five years. Teams will be unable to update their engines from now on due to homologation.

A single engine is expected to have a lifespan of two grand prix meetings. If a driver changes his engine before qualifying, he will be given a 10 place grid penalty. If he changes his engine after qualifying, he must start from the back of the grid. But the first engine change of the season will go unpunished.

Similar rules govern the use of gearboxes. A gearbox is expected to last for four race weekends. If the gearbox is changed a driver faces a five place grid penalty.

These engine and gearbox rules are a source of great frustration as even the most seasoned F1 followers find the rules too convoluted and impossible to keep track of.

Driver aids

From 2008 onwards, “driver aids” are banned. The most important of these driver aids are traction control and engine braking. In the past, these were allowed because they were deemed impossible to police. But in the interests of spicing up the race action, a standardised Electronic Control Unit has been introduced, making such aids impossible for teams to implement.

But teams can still use electronics to control engine map settings. But each change to these settings will take 90 seconds to take effect. This is what caught out Lewis Hamilton at the start of the 2008 Bahrain Grand Prix.

After the race: scrutineering

After the race — and often several times during the race weekend — cars are checked to make sure that they meet the various technical regulations. Among the most important is the weight limit. The minimum weight of a car including the driver at any one time is 600kg (605kg during qualifying). You will see the drivers and cars being weighed immediately after the race has finished before the podium ceremony.

Most of the technical regulations are quite detailed and I certainly am not in a position to digest them here. But an accessible guide to technical regulations is available on the official Formula 1 website.

Yet again the qualifying rules have been tinkered with, and yet again the law of unintended consequences struck. This time round, the fact that drivers aren’t allowed to refuel after qualifying led to Nick Heidfeld on a quick lap being dangerously impeded by around half a dozen cars crawling around at a snail’s pace trying to save fuel.

Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen have rightly been punished for blocking Nick Heidfeld. While other drivers were going slowly as well, it was the McLaren drivers who stuck to the racing line, thereby impeding the BMW.

But it would have been dangerous enough even if all of the drivers avoided the racing line. It is simply unacceptable for a sport that supposedly puts safety at the top of its agenda for cars to be going at radically different speeds at any one time.

This was a foreseeable — and foreseen — consequence of the new rules whereby cars in the top 10 are not allowed to refuel between qualifying and the race. Yet again, scandalously, the FIA have let it go ahead regardless. We don’t even know if they plan to rectify it. You would hope so.

Many people — particularly journalists — are saying that the remedy is to enforce a minimum lap time to ensure that drivers do not baulk on their way back to the pits. But this is just adding yet another layer of complexity to an already ridiculously convoluted set of qualifying rules which are now near impossible to follow.

We have ridiculous engine penalties. These are supposed to cut costs to help the smaller teams. But in reality it gives the smaller teams more incentive to change their engines because they are at the back anyway, so do not feel the penalty. Even though this did not work and is a bloody nightmare for fans to follow, the FIA decided to introduce a similar rule for gearboxes. And you can change your engine once without getting penalised. This is now a mad web of rules which is now so convoluted that even the intention behind them is not clear any more.

But the worst rule of the lot has been the set brought to us by the introduction of “parc fermé conditions”, whereby mechanics cannot touch the car between qualifying and the race. Gradually, some of these restrictions have been dropped over the years. But one confusingly remains resolute — race fuel loads during qualifying.

The race fuel load rule has existed in a variety of guises. It was relatively innocuous when it was used in the one lap qualifying format. Then, drivers would drive their one lap with the fuel load they would carry into the race. It mixed up the grid a bit and was relatively fuss-free, with not much opportunity or incentive for the drivers to mess about.

But the rule should have been dropped when the qualifying format was changed to the knockout system. But, for reasons that I still cannot reach, the FIA decided it would be a good idea to keep race fuel loads during Q3. Not only this, but a layer of complexity was added with “fuel credits” whereby drivers could have their fuel levels topped up after qualifying according to the number of laps they completed. I still don’t understand why.

This led to the patently ridiculous “fuel burning phase” of Q3 whereby cars would tour round the circuit for the first 10 or 15 minutes doing nothing but… burning fuel. When F1 is supposed to be projecting a more environmentally friendly image, perhaps it least green rule ever was introduced. Not only that, it was also deathly dull and it looked simply stupid.

In an attempt to remedy that this year, the FIA have decided to shorten Q3 to 10 minutes and get rid of the fuel credits system, so cars cannot refuel after qualifying. This has, of course, led to the problems we have seen today.

The race fuel loads rule is supposed to (if I remember correctly) mix up the grid slightly. But if you ask me, this makes the races even more boring. Because if a car qualifies on a light fuel load, that means he goes into the race with a compromised strategy. This makes it even more likely that the leaders will be able to run away with an easy race win.

If you ask me, this whole thing could be remedied simply by getting rid of race fuel loads in qualifying, and simply having every driver set a fast lap on a light fuel tank. But of course, Clive is right when he says the last thing we need is a sticking plaster solution.

The FIA needs to go back to square one. It needs to sit down and decide what the purpose of qualifying is. Is it to entertain the fans watching on television, or the fans at the racetrack? Is it to have the fastest driver on pole? Is it to mix up the grid in order to make the race more entertaining? Once it has decided what qualifying is for, it needs to come up with a simple, elegant solution aimed at achieving that goal with the minimum of rules.

That might finally end the farce of qualifying that has lasted for too many years now.

A full race review will come later. But I have to talk about the stewards’ investigation because it is so pressing.

I was hoping — as was everyone else who loves sport — that the World Championship would be decided on the track. I was hoping that there would be no irregularities found after the race. After the year Formula 1 has had, to have the World Champion decided in a private room between three men was the last thing we needed.

Unfortunately, the nature of the sport means that it is not always that way. Sometimes the scrutineers find something on the cars that causes a result to be changed after the fans have left the circuit. It happens a few times a year. This is a regrettable reality of Formula 1, but it is the reality. It was just unfortunate that it had to happen on this of all days.

Once it was announced that the Williams and BMW cars were being investigated for fuel irregularities, it was clear to me that the FIA were stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they disqualified the four drivers, they would be accused of handing the Championship to Hamilton. If they didn’t (as they haven’t), then they would have been accused of stealing the Championship from Hamilton.

Surprise, surprise, now that the decision — that the drivers will not be disqualified — has been confirmed, sure enough I can hear Stephen Nolan on BBC Radio 5 Live doing his nut about it (luckily David Croft is rather more balanced). There is no doubt in my mind that the reaction from some other people would have been equally angry had the decision gone the other way.

Earlier on this evening I was listening to the 606 phone-in, and everyone seemed to have a different conspiracy theory about the race. Depending on who you listen to, the FIA are pro-Ferrari, pro-Hamilton, anti-Hamilton, anti-McLaren. McLaren are pro-Alonso, anti-Alonso, anti-Hamilton, pro-Hamilton.

It is a sign of the bad management at the FIA that this could happen. Here we were in a situation where the stewards’ decision, whichever way it went, would have been criticised. And whenever anything slightly abnormal happens there is somebody out there ready with a conspiracy theory about it.

Murray Walker always used to say, “Anything can happen in Formula 1 — and it usually does.” Today it would be better to say, “Anything can happen in Formula 1 — and when it does, point the finger at the FIA.”

This has come about because Max Mosley has politicised the sport to a poisonous degree. The FIA has created far too many ridiculous rules, making the sport more convoluted than it should be. And Max Mosley does business on the basis of personal grudges rather than what is good for the sport.

It is sad — but understandable — that people can not have confidence in the decisions made by the FIA. It is yet another sign for me that the sooner Max Mosley is removed from his post as President of the FIA the better.