Archive: pitlane

As well as David Coulthard’s career, the Brazilian Grand Prix brought down the curtain on another fixture of Formula 1 life. ITV broadcast their last grand prix before Formula 1 moves back to the BBC for 2009 onwards.

ITV’s first race was way back in 1997, the Australian Grand Prix. “Do not adjust your sets,” said anchor Jim Rosenthal. “This is Formula 1 on ITV.” My recollection is hazy. I was just 10 at the time. I had begun watching Formula 1 in 1995 or 1996, right at the tail end of the BBC’s F1 coverage.

Up until that point, Formula 1 was only ever shown on the BBC and in a lot of ways it was unthinkable for the sport to move over to commercial television. The first BBC Grand Prix was broadcast in 1976 — on a circuit that, albeit radically altered, is still used by F1 today: Fuji.

Their last grand prix was also in Japan, at Suzuka in 1996. For the occasion, they put together a package that really highlighted just how much of the history of Formula 1 — both good and bad — the BBC had brought to British homes over the years.

At the time, the downside of Formula 1 moving to ITV was obvious: the constant commercial breaks. This was a sad reality of Formula 1 coverage on ITV, and there was no use in complaining about it. For as long as F1 was on ITV, it was going to be interrupted by adverts.

That doesn’t make the pill any less bitter though. It has been estimated by Keith Collantine that over the course of its 206 grands prix, ITV took enough commercial breaks to miss 31 races’ worth of action — almost two entire seasons. The number of important events that ITV missed are almost too countless to mention. Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox failure in Brazil 2007, Michael Schumacher’s engine blowing in Suzuka 2006 and the infamous incident when ITV interrupted an intense battle between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher in the final few laps at Imola 2005 are just a few examples from recent years.

Once, ITV even opted not to show the United States Grand Prix live on ITV1, shifting it to the digital-only ITV2. This was in the pre-Freeview era, at a time when digital television viewers were very much in a minority. The decision to leave F1 fans in the lurch like this was a real slap in the face. Thankfully, ITV never repeated this stunt with any other race, although a good few qualifying sessions have been shown on digital-only channels over the years.

The adverts were not the only issue people had with ITV’s coverage. The obsession with Lewis Hamilton was almost suffocating. Their previous fixation with Jenson Button was more muted, but more ridiculous since Button was not even a fraction as good as Hamilton.

Other elements of the ‘pre-race show’ were also criticised for their light nature. Cooking with Heikki Kovalainen, anyone? Then there were the countless tedious reports about “glamorous” events.

The commentary has been another focal point for criticism. James Allen is a good writer (I’m a big fan of his book about Michael Schumacher, The Edge of Greatness). He was also good as a pitlane reporter. However, his commentary grated with many, including me.

There is no doubt that it is a tough job, and some of the sheer vitriol that was written about James Allen by some people was not justified. But I never understood why ITV did not give another commentator (such a Ben Edwards) a chance given that the unpopularity of James Allen was so widespread.

Then there is Ted Kravitz, who is an excellent journalist. But too often he got over-excited in the heat of the moment and sometimes regressed into stating the obvious. He was never too far from saying something like, “They’re putting on some new tyres. And, is that?… YES, some fuel is going in as well.” It is fair to say that when Murray Walker retired, the quality of ITV’s coverage took a step backward.

ITV’s coverage was not all bad though. There is no doubt that Formula 1 coverage in the UK has come on leaps and bounds since ITV gained the rights in 1997. It is worth remembering that the BBC did not even show qualifying often until its last few years of coverage. In this respect, ITV has fewer blots on its copybook, although I don’t doubt that the BBC would have moved in a similar direction. After all, broadcasting in general has changed a lot over the past twelve years.

In its final moments, I felt that ITV were pretty open about the shortfalls of their coverage. Steve Rider wrapped up the highlights of the Brazilian Grand Prix saying, “no more awkward commercial breaks”. I can only imagine the embarrassment that the producers must have felt whenever something important happened during a commercial break.

James Allen has also responded to his critics, saying:

I was always pretty confident that when Murray decided to retire I would get the gig, but never anything less than utterly self-critical and seeking to improve with every race and every year, which I think I’ve done.

It’s a very difficult and high-pressure job, because with 20 cars there are 20 different points of focus…

Of course there are many people at home in their armchairs who think they could do it better and one of the challenges for me was that I replaced Murray just as the internet opened up to allow everyone to have their say in chat rooms and forums.

But I know from market research and viewer feedback that the pros massively outnumber the vocal minority of cons.

Despite the criticisms though, I think overall ITV and North One can be proud of what they have done over the past twelve seasons. Tomorrow I will look at some of my memories from ITV’s coverage over the years.

Even though most of the focus tends to be on the Drivers’ Championship, the Constructors’ Championship is the prize that reflects a team effort. Ferrari are the sort of team that, if it misses out on the Drivers’ Championship, it will pick up the Constructors’.

The last time McLaren won the drivers’ Championship, with Mika Häkkinen, the Scuderia scooped up the Constructors’ prize. That was in 1999, and it was a victory that signified a team very much on the rise. This year, it reflects a team that refuses to go off the boil, even though they threatened to do so.

Let us not forget the massive changes that have been made in the Ferrari team over the past few years. Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver of all time, retired. Ross Brawn took a sabbatical and re-emerged at Honda. Rory Byrne took a back seat. Now Jean Todt has left. The axis of Schumacher is no more.

This was Stefano Domenicali’s first year in charge of the team. He had a baptism of fire in Australia, an unmitigated disaster with both drivers suffering from some kind of engine failure. Even though that proved to be a blip rather than the norm, it was by no means a one-off. The team that propelled Michael Schumacher to five World Championships is no longer the slick operation it was a few years ago. We have caught glimpses of the Italians’ calamitous ways once again.

In addition to the Australian disaster, there was a Singapore snafu. Before Kimi Räikkönen crashed out, Felipe Massa left the pitlane with his fuel hose still completely attached, the traffic lights having turned green. The controversial traffic lights system also caused Felipe Massa bother in Valencia, when he was dangerously released straight into the path of Adrian Sutil. Then, the team was simply slapped on the wrist by the FIA. In Singapore, though, it completely ruined Massa’s race.

Ferrari say they will bring back the traffic lights system for next season, adamant that it saves them enough time to justify the risk of complete foul-up. But if it saves them a couple of tenths, is that worth the occassional loss of ten points? Given how close the championship ended up being, that traffic lights system transpired to be a very expensive mistake for Ferrari.

The Scuderia also often found itself completely unable to answer the McLaren challenge. Hamilton was unstoppable in Silverstone while the Ferraris were spinning like tops in the midfield. Similarly in Hockenheim, Hamilton managed to make Felipe Massa look like a small child. A final sub-par performance came in China, though at least that time round they still finished 2nd and 3rd, albeit a long way behind Hamilton.

There were also a few alarming reliability problems. Ferrari continued to (legally) develop their engines through the engine freeze, though this was at the expense of reliability as two Ferrari engines went pop in two successive races, in Valencia and the Hungaroring. Perhaps more startling was the loose exhaust that ruined Kimi Räikkönen’s race in France — and that was when the rot began to set in in the Finn’s season.

A question mark also remains over the ability of their two drivers. Massa is clearly competent as I outlined in my previous post, but he is no Schumacher as a number of errors, particularly at the start of the season, demonstrate. And Räikkönen’s slump into near-obscurity remains a mystery to all observers. Meanwhile, four arguably better drivers — Hamilton, Alonso, Kubica and Vettel — are all weapons in their main rivals’ armoury. Ferrari are retaining their pair until at least 2010, and you have to wonder if that is the right decision.

All-in-all, then, Ferrari have had an up and down season. They have had some wonderful highlights, and also some incredibly low troughs. But almost all teams have had a poor season for one reason or another. Certainly their main rivals, McLaren, cannot exit this season without taking a particular look at their strategy or the performance of their second driver Heikki Kovalainen.

As such, even though I cannot stand the Ferrari team, I have to concede that they have done a great job this year. They have had eight wins to McLaren’s six. And both of their drivers were regularly in contention for good results unlike McLaren. So congratulations to the Scuderia. I just hope they don’t win too often. ;)

This is the first of a series of posts rounding up my final thoughts on the season.

You probably don’t need to be told that Lewis Hamilton is the 2008 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion. At the age of 23 years and 300 days, he eclipses Fernando Alonso to become the youngest ever World Champion. He has done so in just his second season.

No matter how well-protected Lewis Hamilton has been by the McLaren team, you don’t achieve that sort of thing by luck. Hamilton is lucky in that he has always been in a great car. It is unprecedented for such a strong team to offer a race drive to a rookie. As such, the statistics flatter him.

However, it is highly questionable that this year’s McLaren MP4-23 was the best car in the field. Ferrari did, after all, win the Constructors’ Championship. Certainly, the McLaren car put in some dominant performances, most notably at Silverstone and Hockenheim. But in both races Hamilton truly overshadowed his team mate, Heikki Kovalainen.

The Finn finished a distant 7th in the Championship, a massive 43 points behind Hamilton. No other inter-team battle has been so comprehensive in its outcome — not even in Renault. Whether the gulf was caused by Hamilton’s superiority or Kovalainen’s inferiority is a matter of interpretation. I suspect it was both.

Kovalainen will point to the fact that he was always put on the more unfavourable strategy, giving him a heavy car during qualifying. This makes his pole position in Silverstone all the more special. But Kovalainen had only one race win which, let us be clear, was a fluke.

Other drivers on the grid have been more flawless. Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel spring to mind. But impressive though those drivers have been, the spotlight does not shine so intensely in the midfield. Nor were any of those drivers regularly in contention for wins like Hamilton and Massa were.

In the end, the Championship battle rightly came down to a showdown between Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton. Both drivers have made their fair share of mistakes. While Massa had a few spins throughout the season (Malaysia, Britain), Hamilton had a couple of unforgivable crashes (Bahrain, Canada).

Both drivers have also had some bad luck. Ferrari’s pitlane blunder in Singapore cost Massa a sure win and was completely out of Massa’s control. Meanwhile, Hamilton found himself at the rough edge of a suspiciously high number of stewards’ decisions.

It would have been unfortunate if Massa had won the Championship for that reason alone. There is enough anger surrounding the stewards’ decisions this year that had Massa won the Championship many people would regrettably have viewed it as a tainted win. As Clive says, just like Räikkönen’s triumph last year, Hamilton’s Championship victory is the best for international relations.

In the end, I think across the year Hamilton has shown that he deserves to become World Champion. He demonstrated that 2007 was no fluke. Mind you, in a lot of ways Hamilton’s 2008 season was a great deal worse than 2007. It was certainly less consistent. Hamilton never looked even close to equalling his staggering run of nine consecutive podiums achieved in 2008. The problem with 2007 was that Hamilton’s season completely collapsed right at the end. This year the foul-ups were interspersed all across the season — and they weren’t as severe for the most part.

This is key to why Hamilton has won this year when the title eluded him last year. He could afford the odd blow here and there as long as he didn’t let the whole thing unravel at the end. His approach towards the final two races was a world away from the immature hot-head that went to China and Brazil last year. ‘Discipline’ was the keyword emanating from the McLaren camp.

Hamilton’s Championship victory was calculated. The McLaren team’s preparations were so meticulous that it all came down to a confident weather call. Hamilton did not lash out at Vettel once the German had overtaken him, as the Hamilton of old may have done. Instead, he waited for the rain to come and spoil Glock’s final lap.

It was a calculated gamble, and it almost didn’t pay off. But McLaren and Lewis Hamilton knew exactly what they were doing. What a contrast to last year’s bungle which saw McLaren leave it too long to change Hamilton’s tyres in China and Hamilton being too eager to needlessly make up positions in Brazil.

Even though Hamilton’s performance in Fuji this year caused some raised eyebrows, that looks like it was a one off. The overall picture of Lewis Hamilton this season is one that has learned from the mistakes of last year. He has reined in the impatient streak and has learnt not to needlessly go for the win.

For me, it would have been a shame for Hamilton to have lost out on the Championship for a second time, having come so agonisingly close twice. Massa showed that he has what it takes to be a Championship contender. But Hamilton has now done it twice. And even though he couldn’t make it stick in 2007, it would have been cruel to let all of his effort and now obvious talent go unrewarded for a second year.

It is increasingly a rarity. But today the powers that be in Formula 1 have done something right. Bernie Ecclestone’s website, Formula1.com, has uploaded videos of the three controversial incidents that happened during the Japanese Grand Prix. The intention is clear as the title of the video asks, “what do you think?”

This includes a handful of extra camera angles that have not previously been seen by the public. Put aside the fact that they should be offering more video clips anyway. We have to applaud them when they move in the right direction.

Going through the incidents one-by-one as I did in my previous post, I don’t think the angles of the turn 1 incident really telly us anything new. In my view, the videos conclusively show that the Ferraris were indeed impeded by Hamilton’s dodgy manoeuvre. However, as many have pointed out, Heikki Kovalainen wasn’t completely innocent and it also looks as though several drivers outbraked themselves as well.

The new videos of the Massa–Hamilton crash did make me raise my eyebrows. I think after seeing the onboard view from Massa’s car, I would be more inclined to give Massa a penalty. He got the corner completely wrong and was well out of place for the duration of the corner. It was Hamilton’s corner in my view. Massa appeared to make absolutely no attempt to avoid an accident until it was far too late.

Having said that, I still think that there was more that Hamilton could have done to avoid the accident too. For Massa’s onboard I can only conclude that Massa thought he could manage to get through on the inside, although I admit that that would have been quite optimistic of him. But if Hamilton was clever, he would have given Massa more space. Indeed, a harsh observer of the final angle of this incident may point out that it’s almost as if Hamilton turned into Massa. They both drove into each other. For me, this is still a 50–50 incident which probably would have been better left alone by the stewards.

Unfortunately, the new angles for the Sébastien Bourdais penalty do not reveal an awful lot. Ideally we’d have a helicopter view, or a view from the inside of the corner. Seemingly no such angle is available, so all the angles we are given are from the far side of the incident, taken from the left of Massa’s car.

From what we can see though, it looks to me as though Bourdais is not quite as tight in to the inside of the corner as I initially thought. However, if anything this is because it was further along in the corner than I thought. If Sébastein Bourdais is not right on the inside of the corner it is because he is exiting the corner.

Sure, he could have backed off more. But as Le Seb himself has pointed out, that would have been tantamount to rolling out the red carpet for Massa to accept. This is racing. F1’s not supposed to work like that. Massa is the one who came steaming in from behind and made a total hash of the corner.

All-in-all, I’m glad to see that FOM have released these videos to give fans a clearer idea of what happened on the track. It brings us closer to the sort of views the stewards are given, and this is a step in the right direction.

It’s clear, though, that the only reason they have done this is because of all the furore surrounding the penalties. I still think it is sad that F1 has come to this. In my view, these are three racing incidents, and there is no doubt in my mind that had any of these incidents happened, say, ten years ago, no-one would have raised an eyebrow at the incidents, far less felt that they were deserving a penalty.

Check out another view on FOM’s decision to release these videos from Keith on F1 Fanatic.

Incidentally, I am busier this week than I had originally expected, so I may not be able to analyse the Japanese GP until after China. I’ll see what I can do though.

So another race, another clutch of dodgy stewards’ decisions. During the ITV broadcast today, Martin Brundle got it bang on: we are now watching a nanny state F1 where we are constantly paranoid about penalties. And that was even before the most ridiculous penalty of the lot — to Sébastien Bourdais — was doled out.

I’ll tackle these incidents in the order they happened on the track. The first was the incident that Lewis Hamilton got a drive-through penalty for. The Brit was judged to have forced cars off the racetrack.

Clive reckons that Hamilton is totally in the clear here. I’m afraid I have to disagree and I think Clive is being a bit disingenuous because he has chosen his screen-caps selectively.

If you watch the video you can clearly see that Kimi Räikkönen spends a lot of time going straight trying to avoid Hamilton when undoubtedly he would otherwise be turning into the corner. Indeed, at one point Räikkönen even moves slightly to his left, away from the apex of the corner, to avoid the out-of-control Hamilton. Arguably this set up a chain of events throughout the first corner as everyone tried to avoid each other.

Hamilton is right to point out, however, that he was not the only person to brake late. While he was by far the worst of the lot, Kovalainen was also too late on the brakes and arguably the Ferraris and a few other cars were as well.

And here is the thing. This is normal first corner stuff. We see this sort of thing several times a season. In fact, it is a surprise whenever all the cars make it cleanly through the first corner. While Hamilton unquestionably compromised the Ferraris and a few other cars, this is nothing we don’t see on a regular basis. For me, this is a complete racing incident; simply an occupational hazard of being in the first corner of a race.

It is not as though Hamilton gained any advantage from the whole scenario. If memory serves, when the whole thing shook out he ended up in 6th place. Hamilton had a shockingly poor start and he panicked. He paid the price, and that was penalty enough in my view.

What is interesting to me is that there is a far more obvious instance of someone barging another driver off the track in today’s race, when Robert Kubica was defending aggressively against Räikkönen. Now I thought that was good racing and I would not have liked Kubica to have got a penalty for that, but I think Kubica had a clearer intention to push someone off the circuit than Hamilton did.

Hamilton ended up nestled behind Massa who seemed to be struggling to keep the McLaren driver at bay. On lap 2 Massa overcooked it and left the door wide open for Hamilton who duly took advantage. However, the recovering Massa skipped over the chicane and tapped straight into Hamilton. The Brit was sent into a spin and had to rejoin at the back of the field while Massa went off into the distance.

This is a more difficult incident to judge because clearly Hamilton was disadvantaged from what was arguably an avoidable accident while Massa gained by cutting across the chicane. I don’t think Hamilton was completely blameless however. Even though Massa was out of shape coming into the entry to the chicane, Hamilton must have known that Massa would still be right there on the exit.

As such, Hamilton could have left more room for Massa. You can well say that Hamilton didn’t need to because he was ahead and Massa skipped the chicane. But for me, the pair were clearly racing. I think there must always be some leeway for a driver to come off the circuit if he finds himself in a pickle coming up the a chicane. I defended Hamilton for doing this in Belgium, so I will accept Massa’s right to cut the chicane as he did.

So Hamilton could have left more space for Massa, while Massa could have backed off a bit. Both could have avoided the accident, but neither chose to take the evasive action. For me, this is a 50–50 incident, the definitive racing incident.

However, given that it was 50–50 and Hamilton came out worse, I can see why the stewards may have wanted to penalise Massa. If I were a steward I may have felt that I needed to penalise Massa. But if I penalised Massa, I would probably have to penalise Hamilton for the first corner incident to balance it all out. I fear that this is what the stewards did.

What they should have done, though, is say, “racing is racing, let’s just carry on.” Seemingly, racing is no longer allowed in Formula 1.

As if we needed any more proof that there is something seriously wrong with the processes in Formula 1, then came the penalty for Bourdais. Now, I went to bed after the race had finished to catch a few more hours of sleep. When I woke up, the first thing I did was check BBCi to see if the stewards had penalised anyone. I had a bad feeling in my waters about it. It’s come to something when you can no longer trust the stewards to leave a reasonable race result the way it is.

When I saw that Bourdais had been penalised, I was disappointed, but I can’t say I was surprised. In fact, I kind of expected it. That shows just how bad the situation has become.

For my money, there is absolutely no way that you can say that Sébastien Bourdais was in the wrong in any way, shape or form whatsoever. He had come out of the pits minding his own business. Felipe Massa was the one who turned straight into him as if there was no-one there. Massa was the one who moved in the direction of Bourdais, who was ahead and racing for position.

From the one and only television angle we have seen so far, it looks as though Bourdais was on the kerb and he had nowhere else to go. Bourdais himself says, “I don’t know what I was supposed to do basically. I could have unrolled the red carpet and given him the corner. That is the only thing I could have done.” From the evidence we have seen so far, I have to agree with him.

Like the Hamilton first corner incident, this is something we see time and time again throughout the season, literally on a race-by-race basis. This is something that we see in almost every race, and it has become part of the sport to see who comes out in front when one person is exiting the pits and the other was on the racetrack.

The stewards’ explanation for penalising Bourdais is apparently that he “did not back off enough”. Why should Bourdais have backed off? He was racing for position. Presumably he was supposed to defer to the precious Ferrari. If ever you wanted clear evidence of a “red car rule” at play in F1, this is it.

For me, the Japanese Grand Prix is yet further proof that Formula 1 has become far too bogged down in penalties for the sport to remain credible. This is the “choose your own result” culture, where stewards and fans alike have begun nitpicking every little minor misdemeanour on the track in an attempt to justify their own favoured race result. Formula 1 is no longer a competition of racing. It is a competition of bureaucracy.

From what I have been reading on respected website Grandprix.com, the job of FIA steward has become a jolly for Max’s mates under Mosley’s leadership. It seems to be brimful of Mosley’s allies from the WMSC and those who voted for him in the General Assembly. The steward’s job is seen as a “perk”. There have even been instances where there have been stewards who have never even watched a grand prix motor race! And boy, can you tell.

The story of the latter half of this season has been bungled steward’s decision after bungled steward’s decision. This ranges from the Bus Stop controversy to the Rosberg incident in Singapore to today’s unmitigated mess. It is easy to construct conspiracy theories, but I think this is as much down to incompetence as anything else. But what else can you expect when the FIA has a thoroughly poisonous person as its President, filling the steward’s job with his chums no matter what their level of expertise is?

This nanny state F1 needs to be stopped. The powers that be are currently obsessing themselves with increasingly bizarre ideas such as the “Curse” / KERS system, standard engines and a spec series. Well if you ask me the cars aren’t the problem because the on-track action this year has been top-notch in my view.

The real problem with F1 is that we can no longer have confidence in a race result until several hours after the chequered flag. Any number of increasingly unpredictable penalties can be meted out for flimsy reasons. Max Mosley has filled the steward’s room with a bunch of bureaucrats who don’t like racing but love pretendy court cases. Mosley likes gets a thrill out of punishing people in the bedroom, and his cronies love to dish out the punishments at a grand prix. I imagine these people just get a massive kick out of going around the place thinking, “I changed that race result.” Well I am sick of it.

There needs to be a culture in F1 where we can sit back and let the drivers get on with it. Racing is racing. I am not saying get rid of all penalties. But the stewards need to seriously look and think to themselves, does this really merit a drive-through? Too often nowadays drivers are penalised for petty reasons, and the amount of penalties given out goes up and up all the time.

I was listening to the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast earlier today and they made a brilliant point. No-one came away from Dijon in 1979 saying that anyone should have been penalised. People just sat back and enjoyed the excellent racing. Today pathetic people would say, “oh he went off the race track”, “he caused an avoidable banging of the wheels”, “oh he got barged off”.

It does amaze me that the powers that be claim to be doing everything they can to encourage good racing and overtaking. But when any good racing ever does happen, a driver gets penalised for it! Okay, maybe drivers take risks every so often. But that is the point of overtaking! An overtaking move is supposed to be a risky manoeuvre! It wouldn’t be special and important otherwise. If drivers are penalised for taking risks, we might as well pack up, go home and give up on motor racing completely.

Punishments have a place in F1. But there should be much more of an arms-length approach. Drivers should be penalised only for egregious attempts to gain an advantage and for instances where there is a clear intention to pull off a dangerous manoeuvre. If we are talking about Schumacher in Jerez 1997 or Rascassegate, then throw the book at them. But Hamilton today? An honest mistake that was punished enough by natural events on the racetrack.

Unfortunately, Formula 1 has become a judged event, as open to interpretation and abuse as figure skating. It ought to be a sport where the winner is determined by what goes on on the racetrack, not in the stewards’ room. Sadly, those days are long gone and my patience with Formula 1 is wearing thinner by the race.

There could hardly be a greater contrast to last year’s race at Fuji. We had a stonking last-lap battle between Kubica and Massa where they were barging each other, banging wheels, cutting chicanes and using run-off areas all over the shop. And that was great fun racing and it was rightly left alone by the stewards. Today, a Formula 1 driver will get a drive-through penalty for as much as giving his rival an evil stare.

The BBC have done a very interesting interview with Max Mosley. During it, the FIA president was pressed on the perception that F1’s governing body is biased in favour of Ferrari.

Adam Parsons: You have a Ferrari over there. Ferrari International Assistance — that’s one of the things I’ve read on a blog — for the FIA. Let me put to you the question that they were right in the fact — is the FIA biased in favour of Ferrari?

Max Mosley: Absolutely not, no. One’s seen that over and over again. What happens is that the bloggers notice when something happens which disadvantages, say, McLaren or Renault. They don’t notice with Ferrari. I’ll give you an example. The mechanics on Räikkönen’s car in Monaco this year were a few seconds too long on the grid changing his tyres and he got given a drive-through. Well, a drive-through in Monaco — that’s it normally. And nobody noticed.

The reason nobody noticed was because it was the right decision. Of course you don’t have people applauding when the FIA makes the right decision. It’s supposed to make the right decision. It would be a pretty sorry state of affairs if people started noticing when the FIA was right rather than when it was wrong. That Max Mosley uses this as a barometer of the FIA’s success rather concerns me about the low level of standards he is actually looking to achieve.

The beef people have with the notion of Ferrari International Assistance is not that Ferrari are never punished. It is the fact that Ferrari are not always punished when they should be.

Why, I wonder, did Max Mosley not offer a justification for the FIA’s decision to let off Ferrari for Felipe Massa’s unsafe release in Valencia? Instead, he chose to focus on one drive-through penalty that Kimi Räikkönen received several months ago, as though that was proof of anything whatsoever. Does he really think that pointing to once instance of Ferrari getting a drive-through penalty several months ago is good enough “proof” that the FIA is not biased in favour of Ferrari?

And it’s not just penalties that make people suspicious. I struggle to think of any innovations that were made by Ferrari which were banned by the FIA in recent years. Why, for instance, were Renault’s mass dampers banned, but Ferrari’s wheel bins weren’t? A coherent justification has never been offered, as far as I’m aware. Why, also, were Michelin’s tyre banned towards the end of the 2003 season when Ferrari were in the deep brown stuff when there had not been a whiff of scandal about the very same tyres for several races beforehand (Ferrari went on to win the Championship)? No answer given.

As a side-note, I notice that the interview was conducted by Adam Parsons. He has been linked to a role on the BBC’s F1 coverage next season in an investigative / journalism / uber-Ted Kravitz sort of role. The fact that he conducted this interview seems to lend some credibility to that rumour.

This morning Pitpass has a scoop that reveals details of the BBC’s team that will be covering Formula 1 next season.

The names mentioned are Martin Brundle (the only person to move from ITV), David Coulthard, Jonathan Legard, Lee McKenzie and Jake Humphrey. Some of the names are not connected to any roles, but it seems pretty clear who will be doing what.

Anchor: Jake Humphrey

Jake Humphrey’s name entered the frame in the rumour mill a few weeks ago, and the more you think about it the more he makes sense. He may not have any experience in F1 broadcasting, and frankly we don’t know if he actually likes F1. However, he is clearly a rising star and, moreover, a thoroughly competent presenter with a background in a diverse variety of sports.

Despite a background in children’s television, Jake Humphrey started climbing the BBC Sport ladder when he presented Sportsround, a children’s sports news programme. Since then he has become the youngest person ever to present Football Focus and Match of the Day. He also attracted widespread acclaim when he presented the BBC’s coverage of the NFL Superbowl earlier this year.

Pundit: David Coulthard

This has been widely expected for weeks, months, perhaps even years. As a highly experienced British Formula 1 driver, DC was always likely to start a career in broadcasting once he retired from driving.

Coulthard will not just bring his driving expertise to the role — he is also a very entertaining speaker and is not afraid to speak colourfully. Some have noted that the BBC may want to rein in DC because he is not the most politically correct person in the world. He notably exclaimed live on British breakfast television earlier this year that he wanted to kick “seven colours of shit out of the little bastard”, referring to Felipe Massa. I doubt DC will launch into such a tirade in the relaxed atmosphere of a studio in London, but his colourful style will entertain viewers.

Main commentator: Jonathan Legard

Perhaps at the different end of the scale to David Coulthard, Jonathan Legard is a conservative choice for the BBC to make for the role of main commentator. He is a safe pair of hands. Perhaps not the most entertaining of speakers. He is certainly not a Murray Walker. But nor does he have James Allen’s cringeworthy faux-excitement. Legard is a calm, analytical commentator.

A BBC man through and through, Legard used to commentate on Radio 5 Live’s F1 coverage before leaving to become the station’s football correspondent. I had read that Legard was reluctant to take on the role, having ruled himself out earlier. But this is an important one for the BBC to get right given the sticks and stones that have gone ITV’s way as a result of James Allen over the years.

Colour commentator: Martin Brundle

Despite the BBC wanting to put their own mark on F1 coverage next season (as is evident from the choices above), Brundle has become almost as indispensable as Murray Walker was when coverage moved from the BBC to ITV back in 1997. It was feared that Martin Brundle would not be a part of the BBC’s team, but he is simply too good for the BBC to ignore.

It would, in fact, have been a bit of a farce if they decided not to hire Martin Brundle. He has won an armful of awards for his commentary while at ITV. His ability to come up with witty, pithy quips on the spot has won him legions of fans. That’s not to say that Brundle is perfect, and mistakes seem to be creeping into his commentary more and more as time goes on. But this is clearly the right choice for the BBC to make.

Pitlane reporter: Lee McKenzie

Lee McKenzie is the daughter of F1 journalist Bob McKenzie and has previous experience presenting motor sport highlights on ITV. More recently she has presented Sky’s A1GP coverage.

I was just recently wondering whatever happened to Lee McKenzie (I don’t have Sky) so it was a pleasant surprise to see her name in the Pitpass report. I have no idea what she is like as a pitlane reporter, but she has been presenting motorsport coverage for some years now so this should work out fine.

Anyone else?

It would be interesting if this is the entire BBC team. ITV have had two pitlane reporters ever since they got F1 coverage, with one person chasing drivers for interviews while the other hunts out stories from the garages. If the BBC have only one pitlane reporter, this will be a big drawback of the coverage.

According to the Pitpass report, the BBC will be spending less on their F1 coverage than ITV. It seems highly likely that the coverage will be anchored from a London studio, although surely the commentary team in addition to the pitlane reporters at least will travel to the races. It would be quite strange, though, as MotoGP is always presented from the paddock just like ITV’s F1 coverage.

However, I personally wouldn’t mind the coverage being presented from London. I don’t see the big advantage of having Steve Rider and Mark Blundell standing in noisy garages with engines roaring so that you can barely hear them speak. Keeping the coverage in London is a sensible scheme that will save license payers’ money.

The names now out of the picture

The omission of Holly Samos is interesting, as I had earlier read that she was already privately confirmed as the pitlane reporter. Samos is okay, but she has made a few bad mistakes during her Radio 5 Live coverage this season, completely ruining my understanding of the race on at least one occasion.

As for the main commentator, if Jonathan Legard had decided to rule himself out, David Croft would probably have been in line to take the job. I am slightly relieved that he hasn’t got the job. While I think he is a competent commentator, he does make mistakes and he has a bit of a James Allen thing going on.

My preferred choice for the role would have been Ben Edwards. However, I have heard that it is a precondition of being part of the BBC’s F1 coverage that presenters will not work for any other broadcaster. Given that Ben Edwards has his fingers in many pies, this will have ruled him out.

What is really interesting is that no-one from the current BBC Radio 5 Live team has made the jump to the corporation’s television coverage. This is not entirely unexpected. When it was originally announced back in March that the BBC had acquired the rights to broadcast F1 on television, I suggested that the BBC might keep the current team on Radio 5 Live.

Even this is not confirmed however, as the contract to produce Radio 5 Live’s F1 coverage, currently held by USP Content, is up for renewal for 2009. It could be a case of so near yet so far for the 5 Live team. Both Holly Samos and David Croft were strongly linked to roles on BBC television, yet according to Pitpass neither has got the nod. Might they even be absent from next year’s radio coverage as well?

Update: Here is more opinion on the news from Keith at F1 Fanatic.

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.

Another thing I haven’t got round to writing about yet is the climax of the GP2 season which happened in Monza.

As it was, Giorgio “Pants” Pantano took the championship with a sprint race to spare. He had a commanding lead in the championship for a long time running up to Monza, so that was no real surprise. However, in the feature race he managed to underline why he finds it so difficult to find an F1 drive.

What should have been a relaxed cruise to a vaguely good result from pole position (he only needed to come 3rd) was made a lot more touch-and-go when he made a silly mistake coming out of the pitlane. He crossed the white line — and not by a little bit. Astonishingly, almost half of his car was over the white line. For a driver with that amount of experience, that is simply unforgivable. Pantano has had 78 GP2 starts plus 34 Formula 3000 starts in addition to his 14 F1 starts.

Getting such a silly drive-through penalty in such a high-profile situation was unlikely to endear himself to many F1 teams. Ian Phillips, who worked with Pantano at Jordan, was speaking on Radio 5 Live over the course of the Italian Grand Prix weekend. He was pretty disparaging about Pantano, saying he never saw what was so great about him and that none of the teams are particularly interested in him.

Earlier in the season Pantano seemed quite optimistic about his chances of getting an F1 drive for next season. But his demeanour after the GP2 feature race in Italy spelled it out — he’s going nowhere. After four wasted years in GP2, Pantano looks set to head to the States to try and carve out a career for himself over there.

The demeanour of Bruno Senna could hardly be more different. Despite losing out to the GP2 championship, he looked happy, relaxed and confident. He says he has spoken to most of the F1 teams except for Ferrari and he is almost a certainty to be in F1 in the near future.

Whether he is ready to get a drive for next year is uncertain. Despite a few strong performances early on in the season, he tailed off a bit towards the end and does not quite look like the complete package yet. Although he was strongly linked to a race seat at Toro Rosso for next season, Red Bull’s people appear to prefer Sébastien Buemi and it looks increasingly likely that Senna will be unable to find a seat for next year. In fairness, another year in GP2 would probably do Senna a lot of good.

Coming third in the championship was Lucas Di Grassi. This is a rather impressive driver who managed to come close to the top of the table despite having missed the first three events (worth a potential 60 points)!

I am not so sure that Di Grassi is quite ready for F1 yet. He doesn’t really stand out on the race track, but he certainly gets the results. He already has very strong ties with the Renault F1 team as a result of his participation in the Renault Driver Development programme. He is already a Renault test driver, so could be a very good shout as a replacement for Nelsinho Piquet.

Another Renault Development Driver is Romain Grosjean. He was pre-season favourite to take the title, having dominated the GP2 Asia series last winter. But he waned in the main GP2 series and could only finish fourth. Grosjean looks like a potentially exciting talent for the future, but he needs to clean up his act a bit before he can be seriously considered for F1. He is in danger of becoming known for his overly-aggressive moves and he has picked up one or two penalties as a result of his ham-fisted defending.

In fact, the person who looks most likely to get a seat in F1 next season is the aforementioned Red Bull protégé, Sébastien Buemi. He only finished sixth in the GP2 championship, behind Pastor Maldonado. Buemi has shone once or twice this season, most notably in the French sprint race. However, for much of the season he has been rather anonymous, collecting plenty of points but with relatively little fanfare.

Whatever, the people at Red Bull clearly feel that they have got a good return on their investment so far and look set to put him into a Toro Rosso seat for next season. Is it wise for Toro Rosso to select Buemi over Senna? I’m not so sure. I feel that both could do with an extra year in GP2. And both have undoubtedly shown flashes of talent. But Bruno Senna feels like the more complete driver so far.

Given the marketing value of the Senna name, it would be a bit of a surprise if Buemi gets an F1 seat and Senna doesn’t. At least I suppose it would show that F1 isn’t all about money. Not quite yet.

The Belgian Grand Prix was frustrating not just because of the stewards’ decision to penalise Lewis Hamilton, but because for almost all of the race the indispensable Live Timing was not working. Live Timing is without doubt the best feature of Bernie’s website. And like many of life’s great things, you never realise how much you depend on it until it’s no longer there.

That is on the back of a number of failures over the past few grands prix where individual transponders have failed, causing drivers to start falling down the order on the screen when in fact they had lost no places at all. But this was a whole lot more serious — the live timing application simply wasn’t loading at all.

I wonder what caused the failure. I spent periods of the race trying whatever I could think of to get live timing to work — using different browsers and so on. I noticed that Formula1.com as a whole was slow. I do wonder if the failure was simply caused by too many people trying to access it. If that is the case, I hope it has sent a message to Bernie Ecclestone. The fans love circuits like Spa-Francorchamps, and we want fewer Tilkedromes!

In addition to the live timing problems of the past few races, there have been a number of incidents involving fuel rigs. There were a number of fires during the Hungarian Grand Prix while drivers were taking on more fuel. Then in Valencia, in addition to at least one more fire, a Ferrari fuel rig became stuck, partially causing the nasty incident when Kimi Räikkönen left his pit box too soon.

Fuel rigs ought not to be having these sorts of problems as they are all standardised and supplied by the FIA. These types incidents of by no means unheard of. But it does seem unusual that there have been so many problems in such a short period of time.

Now Renault have criticised the meteorologists employed by the FIA to provide all of the Formula 1 teams with weather data. All the teams contribute to pay for the service provided by Météo-France. But it seems as though Pat Symonds doesn’t think the system is working well enough. Here is what he said during the post-Belgium Renault podcast:

We use a weather prediction service this year from Météo-France. It’s really not been terribly good at the best of times. But it actually failed for fifteen minutes during the race just before that [the rain shower towards the end of the race] occurred. I think if you were to listen to the recordings of our pit communications, you’ll find a bit that would definitely need to be bleeped out when the radar comes back on and we see what’s on it. So it was very difficult for us to make those decisions at the time.

Oh dear.