Archive: San Marino Grand Prix

Senna film poster

If you follow Formula 1 online, it has been absolutely impossible to avoid the hype. Films about Formula 1 do not get made often. It is highly unusual for so much footage to have been prised out of Bernie Ecclestone. When you factor in that the film is about Ayrton Senna, a driver who has reached an almost legendary status, it was inevitable that this film would attract a lot of attention.

Moreover, the film has been met with near (although not quite) universal approval. Seasoned film critics and those with no interest in motorsport have lapped it up enthusiastically.

So it has been a painful wait. I was delighted to learn that it was being shown at my local cinema, so I took the first opportunity to watch it.

I found the film truly engrossing and hugely emotional. The story of Senna’s career — or at least one version of it — is very well told. Some of the footage, particularly of drivers’ briefings and the like, is absolutely astonishing.

Alain Prost

The film’s treatment of Alain Prost has come under a lot of scrutiny. It is said that Prost is cast as the villain of the film. I was relieved that his treatment was not as bad as I had feared.

I actually felt that Prost comes across quite well in the film — though this may be for ideological reasons, and that I already understand the Prost–Senna rivalry. It is easy to see why, in a film that celebrates Senna’s approach, others may feel that Prost’s alternative approach to racing does not come across so well.

In fairness to the filmmakers, I think it does illustrate that the frosty tensions between Senna and Prost had thawed in the final months of Senna’s life. We see Senna embracing Prost on the podium at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, Prost’s reaction to Senna’s fatal crash from the TF1 commentary box and Prost as a pallbearer at Senna’s funeral. A caption at the film’s climax also displays the fact that Prost is a trustee of the Ayrton Senna Foundation.

Important details skipped

However, I do feel that the film does not get across just how controversial Ayrton Senna was. The only time it is really tackled is in a relatively brief clip of Jackie Stewart’s famous interrogation of Senna’s dangerous driving.

I was also disappointed in how little of Senna’s career is actually covered. The film skips straight from karting into F1, then practically fast-forwards to the Prost–Senna rivalry, which is clearly the meat of the film. Thereafter, the 1992 and 1993 seasons get the briefest look in. In the process, the championship victories of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost are belittled, particularly through the skilful vilification of the Williams car.

After the film had finished, I felt like only a handful of incidents had been covered. I was left feeling that only a superficial account of Senna’s career had been presented.

I can fully understand why this is so. There is a limit to what Bernie Ecclestone will allow. So the filmmakers are left with the quandry of how to sum up an amazing driver’s entire career in the time it takes to complete just one grand prix.

Authentically inauthentic

I also found myself being annoyed by tiny details that I felt detracted from the authenticity of the film. For instance, almost all of the source footage must have been shot in 4:3, but the film is in a different aspect ratio, meaning that all of the footage is cropped. When much of the footage is blurry enough as it is, this doesn’t help.

A significant proportion of the film also contains a blurred-out Globo DOG, with a new one superimposed on top of it (presumably to meet the requirements of the Brazilian broadcaster). Then there are the mock TV captions that crop up throughout the film.

These are small details, but I found them irritating me. To me, they detract from the cinematic mood.

When I read about the edits that have been made to some of the footage, particularly the sound, my eyebrows were raised. “They managed to change it, so it’s very authentic,” says Manish Pandey. It reminds me of a line from the Pulp song Bad Cover Version: “Electronically reprocessed to give a more lifelike effect.”

Intense and emotional

Having said that, the film is no less gripping as a result of all these niggles. I felt the grin across my face as I watched Senna’s awesome driving in the Toleman and the Lotus. The events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend are well-handled and emotional to watch.

However, here it does once again feel that certain events are rushed through. Rubens Barrichello and Roland Ratzenberger are both only briefly introduced before their crashes are shown. Not much time is reserved to dwell upon these events, even though Ratzenberger’s death was, for me, the most emotional part of the film to watch.

Summing up Senna

All-in-all, Senna is a brilliant, emotional film packed with extraorindary footage and with a well-constructed story. But the time constraint, and (let’s face it) the requirement to make a film that would be commercially successful, did leave me feeling as though only the tip of the iceberg was considered.

In fact, for me, the Top Gear feature from last year summed up exactly what Senna was all about in only 13 minutes. It outlines exactly what made Senna so different to other drivers, and was not afraid to investigate his controversial racing style while also underlining his parodoxical concern for safety.

The Senna film sets out to do something different. So in this respect I was slightly disappointed in the fact that the film is a celebration of Senna’s career, and not a thorough factual account of it. However, as a celebration of Senna’s career, it is difficult to imagine how this film could be improved, beyond being longer. I am eagerly anticipating the DVD release.

What do viewers at home love about F1? It is great wheel-to-wheel racing? Lots of overtaking? Strategy calls? Or the venues? Looking at the polarised reactions to this past weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix got me wondering.

A few of the journalists were pretty effusive about the race. Will Buxton was particularly euphoric:

Epic race. One of the best of the season. Wow.

I saw that this drew a few hoots of derision, including from me! Because from the comments made by other fans watching at home was that… well… it was a bit dull really.

It wasn’t a stinker by any means. There was some good action and a fair few talking points. But large stretches of the race were rather processional. Hardly epic.

The epic race without the racing

Will Buxton justified his comments:

No sarcasm. Epic race. ALO VET lap trading, WEB early stop and brill drive, HAM / WEB moment, GLO driving arse off. KUB amazing.

There is some truth in what he says. While Webber and Kubica provided some entertainment, this was only because they were out of phase with the surrounding cars strategy-wise, so were not on an equal footing with the drivers they were battling with.

As for the battle at the front, the problem was that Alonso’s victory was never truly in doubt. He commanded the track all weekend, and always even looked like he might have a bit extra left in the tank too.

During the first phase of the race, Vettel drifted back to 3.5s behind Alonso. After the pitstops, the gap eventually grew to over 2s before slowly decreasing again. Vettel did get mighty close to the end of the race, but this was typical Alonso driving conservatively.

Renault engineers always talked about how conservative Alonso was as a driver. They never had to tell him to turn the engine down; he had already done it.

So it was in Singapore. Alonso had done just enough to establish himself as the certain winner of the Singapore Grand Prix and had the whole situation under control.

It may have looked good on the timing screens. I did indeed get excited when purple sectors were being set and Vettel started to decrease the gap. But the “lap battle” was partly down to the street circuit becoming cleaner and faster towards the end of the race.

I’m sure they were playing with each other, but neither looked to be pushing particularly hard. Alonso was always in control, and Vettel never looked interested in truly pressurising.

At the start of the race, Vettel had ceded the first corner, setting the tone for his race. It did not look like he was particularly interested in winning — a suspicion confirmed by Vettel’s comments that passing Alonso would have been too risky. And why bother? Alonso is the ultimate defensive driver, as his amazing battle with Michael Schumacher at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix demonstrated.

The bottom line is that if you hold a race on a street circuit with one overtaking spot — two at a push — then the racing isn’t epic. There might be stuff surrounding the racing — strategy, crashes, pretty buildings… But not much overtaking.

Interesting, yes. Epic, no. The ingredients simply weren’t there.

Epic racing or epic facilities?

There is a trend for certain venues to be talked up a lot by the F1 circus, no matter how good the racing is. I particularly remember Valencia Street Circuit — which has served up three of the most turgid grands prix seen in the last decade — was universally praised by the teams as being a great venue for grand prix racing.

Scratch the surface of the headlines, though, and you see that they are not so interested in the racing itself. Ron Dennis said that the 2008 European Grand Prix at Valencia was so great that it made him “ashamed to be English”. But it left most others ashamed to be F1 fans, it was so bereft of racing.

Of course, Ron Dennis was thinking about the facilities. Facilities are apparently the only thing that matter in F1 these days. Never mind what the viewers at home make of the track. As long as the venue is equipped with a shiny silver throne for the McLaren chief to do his golden business in, who cares about the people at home?

Similarly, the journalists have clear favourite places to visit and places they can’t stand. China? Don’t talk to them about it. And spare a thought for poor, poor Magny-Cours. It was so awful — not because of the circuit, of course, but because it was in the middle of nowhere, as the journalists never missed the chance to remind us!

Meanwhile, Melbourne is always the “great place for a race” — is that code for a booze-up? And Singapore is now “epic”.

Never mind the fact that the Marina Bay Street Circuit is not great for overtaking. Never mind that the 2008 race needed a manufactured crash to pep it up, and that the 2009 race was voted the fourth worst of the season by F1 Fanatic readers.

TV coverage demonstrates skewed priorities

The scenario was not helped by some rather lacklustre television coverage from FOM this weekend. It looked to me like the director was more used to directing pop music videos than motorsport.

Coverage at night races is always dominated by shots of the lit-up buildings and the scenery surrounding the circuit. It feels more like the Singapore Grand Prix is more like an advert for Singapore than a motor race. Who was going to bed last weekend without seeing that flashing “Your Singapore” banner in their sleep?

When it comes to races like this, Bernie Ecclestone’s priorities are clear. Why else would the bland coverage of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix have won an FIA award for best coverage of the season? Much of the race action was missed. Anyone not paying full attention would have thought that the race was won by a hotel that looks like a giant flashing lady-toy, so fixated were the cameras on anything but the cars.

Those in the inner circle in F1 should remember that the fans at home are looking for epic racing — not epic Holywood movies, epic nightlife or epic superloos.

I love the Brazilian Grand Prix. It is a unique circuit — not only anti-clockwise, but uniquely short in the same way you might think of Spa-Francorchamps as being uniquely long.

It is also special because it has now comprehensively replaced Suzuka as the proper place to settle a World Championship, particularly due to its useful time slot. It is on prime time on European television. That is another unique aspect of Brazil, due to the lack of North American races this year.

So it was most fitting that Jenson Button managed to seal the deal in Interlagos, even when it seemed further out of his grasp than ever. A disastrous qualifying session sent us off the scent. The only saving grace was that Vettel’s was almost as bad. But his main rival Barrichello was on pole at his home race.

Unfortunately for Barrichello, he never gets any good luck at Interlagos, even when he is doing well. I will never forget the tragedy of his car breaking down in 1999 while he looked like he could win the race driving for Stewart. His bad luck struck again.

After a strong first stint which he led with relatively little challenge, he somehow managed to lose the plot by failing to push hard enough at the start of his second stint, handing the lead to Mark Webber. Later in the race came his tangle with Lewis Hamilton, which resulted in a puncture for Barrichello.

(Apparently Lewis Hamilton can’t go to Interlagos without having an eventful time. Hats off to him for ploughing his way up to a 3rd place finish from 17th on the grid.)

In normal circumstances, therefore, we would normally be talking about Mark Webber’s fabulous win. And Pink Peril was right to point it out in the comments to my previous article. Mark Webber did a great job — the one person who managed to do well in both qualifying and the race.

He certainly had a better weekend than the Red Bull driver who needed it, Vettel. It was suspected that Red Bull would do well thanks to the “testing” Webber was able to do at Suzuka. Sadly we didn’t see much of Webber’s race because the television cameras were more focussed on the Championship protagonists.

As for the Championship winner, Jenson Button, I would say he had the race of his season — possibly even the race of his life. It really is as though his bad qualifying performance gave him the kick up the backside he needed. I read one story today which said that after his poor qualifying, he texted his mum to say, “Don’t worry mum, we’re going to kick some butt.” She replied, “Good, go and kick some butt.”

It was as though a barrier had been passed. Button was no longer defending his lead, as he had been since the start of the season. The tide had turned so far that he now had to attack to win. And attack he did!

His aggressive and ballsy driving was captivating to watch. He was already 9th by the end of lap one. Once the Safety Car period was over, he was ready to line up Romain Grosjean, and in the process took a risk by going round the outside. I thought Grosjean did a solid job when racing side-by-side for two or three corners against Button. Button put a lot of faith in the inexperienced Grosjean not to do something silly. But both came out of the fight looking good.

Within a lap, Button got past Kazuki Nakajima in a rather risky move at the Senna S. Several laps later, also into the Senna S, he finally got past Kamui Kobayashi who was in his first race. After that, as the pitstop strategies shook out, Button found himself looking good.

There has been some criticism of Kobayashi’s driving, particularly weaving in the braking zones. Certainly he pushed it too far later on in the race when he was involved in a high-speed accident with Nakajima. But his defensive driving against Button impressed me and suggests that Kobayashi has promise, even though he wasn’t particularly good in GP2 (like Nakajima).

While there was some decent racing going on for most of the race, the majority of the action came on the first lap which was rather crazy. My theory is that they just decided to do a Wacky Races thing because it was on prime time.

First there was the accident which brought an end to the races of Adrian Sutil, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Alonso was so placid about it that the BBC’s commentators did not even notice him at first. He just trudged nonchalantly into his lift. I sense that he really has just been going through the motions, awaiting his big chance in a red car before exerting himself once again.

Little wonder Alonso went by unnoticed, because Jarno Trulli was running up to Sutil and gesticulated in quite a threatening manner. I am struggling to remember the last time I saw a driver so angry. It looked like it was going to turn into this sort of moment!

I am struggling to see what Trulli was so worked up about. Maybe Sutil could have left Trulli some more room, but I think Trulli was optimistic trying to overtake him there anyway. And it is not as if Sutil drove into Trulli. In fact, before Trulli loses control of his car you can see Sutil clearly make an attempt to steer away from Trulli to give him more space.

It was a racing incident in my book. But the accident that resulted was quite a high-speed one, which I guess is why Trulli was so rattled.

Then there was the pitlane fire, when Heikki Kovalainen drove off with the fuel hose still attached. It wasn’t Kovalainen’s fault — he was instructed to leave, but the fuel hose was still attached.

I really am confused as to why we get so many more of these incidents these days. I can’t remember ever seeing a driver leaving with his fuel hose still attached until Jenson Button did it at Imola in 2006. Since then there have been several, from Christijan Albers (who was effectively sacked for it), to Massa in Singapore last year and Alguersuari in Singapore this year, to Kovalainen now. And I’m sure there are one or two more that have slipped my mind.

The increasing frequency of these incidents is quite alarming, particularly when so much attention was given to Ferrari’s pit lane incidents in 2008. Surely teams and drivers must be more aware than ever of the possibility, and it is just bizarre that it keeps on happening over and over again now.

Massive, massive kudos to Kimi Räikkönen for driving through the fire which resulted from Kovalainen’s premature pit box exit. The fuel was more or less being sprayed into his face, and flames briefly exploded all around him. Yet he kept his foot down and kept driving.

After the race, he said his eyes were still burning! Yet he plodded on. As far as I’m concerned he could have been blinded by that sort of thing. He must have huge balls. And people say he doesn’t have motivation.

One last thing to mention — Robert Kubica. He finished 2nd, his best result of the season, after starting 8th. He had a great restart when the Safety Car pulled in — he was right on top of Nico Rosberg and passed as soon as he could. I am sorry that Kubica has not been able to show more of his talent this year. I hope Renault can build him the car he deserves.

Next we head to the brand new circuit in Abu Dhabi. The last time the Championship was decided before the final race of the season was in 2005. Then we were treated to one of the best Grands Prix there has ever been, the breathtaking 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. Maybe the same end-of-term atmosphere can spice up Abu Dhabi, which aside from the gimmicky pitlane exit looks like it will be another bland Tilke operation.

A pain in the neck has brought a halt to Michael Schumacher’s planned comeback. The injuries caused by his motorcycle accident in February have proved too much to cope with.

There were rumblings about his neck immediately after his first test in an F2007, but the extent of the problem was not made clear. The possibility that Schumacher’s comeback was gently brought into focus last week when his spokesperson Sabine Kehm emphasised that his comeback was not certain and depended on medical assessments.

Now we know for certain that Schumacher will not be racing in Valencia. Now it was nothing more than a useful distraction for the media to occupy themselves with over the otherwise quiet holiday period.

Amazingly, in Schumacher’s place instead will be Ferrari’s veteran test driver Luca Badoer. In a way it is payback for the way he was treated in 1999. I always felt sorry him since he was overlooked in favour of Mika Salo when Michael Schumacher was unable to race after he broke his legs at Silverstone that year.

But Badoer’s comeback is a real shock for a variety of reasons. For one thing, he is almost as old as Schumacher himself. At 38, Luca Badoer will be the oldest driver on the grid in Valencia. He also becomes the second man on the grid to have raced against the likes of Prost and Senna. Like Rubens Barrichello, he made his début in 1993.

Barrichello has gone on to race in every season since then, in the process becoming the most experienced Formula 1 driver in history. But Luca Badoer has notched up a very different kind of record. He has amassed more starts than any other driver never to have scored a point. In 48 races, his career best finish was 7th, at the 1993 San Marino Grand Prix.

He did almost score three points at the hugely eventful 1999 European Grand Prix. But when his Minardi had to be stopped with gearbox problems, he famously broke down in floods of tears at the side of the track.

But in his defence, he has only ever driven for minnows in the past: Scuderia Italia, Minardi and Forti. This will make Ferrari the fourth Italian team he will have raced for.

His last race was a staggering ten years ago. I can’t imagine even Badoer ever believed he would get the race drive at Ferrari, especially after the 1999 snub. If he wasn’t good enough then, what on earth makes him good enough now, ten years since his last F1 race?

On paper, Marc Gené seemed like a much more feasible candidate. His last race was only five years ago. He scored a point for Minardi after Badoer’s breakdown in Europe, and scored another two at Monza with Williams in 2003 when he stood in for another Schumacher, Ralf.

He also has recent experience of other racing, having put in some relatively good performances in Le Mans Series. Indeed, he won this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside David Brabham and Alexander Wurz. Being a Spaniard, Marc Gené would also have made commercial sense for racing Valencia.

I am sure Ferrari have their reasons though. I look forward to seeing how Luca Badoer performs. No doubt he is being thrown in at the deep end, but I for one am happy to see him getting one last chance to race in a Formula 1 grand prix.

I will review the Hungarian Grand Prix soon, but I have a couple of other articles I need to get out of the way first. I didn’t want to do any of that before mentioning Felipe Massa.

It goes without saying that I deeply hope that Felipe Massa makes a full recovery, and that it won’t be too long before he is racing again.

I was shaking during qualifying as news of what had happened to Massa had emerged. I don’t think I have ever felt that bad in all the time I have been watching Formula 1 since 1995, although Robert Kubica’s accident at Montreal in 2007 came close to that feeling.

I said last week following the death of Henry Surtees that the greatest risk that faces racing drivers is not having a heavy impact with a wall, but being hit by a wheel. This week we must extend that to debris in general. The spring that fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car is said to have weighed around a kilogram, not the sort of thing you want to be approaching at upwards of 160mph. Meanwhile, his car’s heavy impact with the tyre barrier does not appear to have caused or exacerbated any serious injury.

Martin Brundle has rightly pointed out that the term “freak accident” is inappropriate in motorsport. When you are travelling at speeds regularly approaching 200mph, there is only so much you can ever do to make it safe.

But there is no doubting that Felipe Massa was extraordinarily unlucky. The part that failed on the Brawn had never failed before. The spring then bounced around for four seconds, before just happening to be in exactly the right position to hit Massa’s helmet. You couldn’t aim it like that if you tried. Had Massa arrived a second earlier or later, or been a few inches further to the right, we probably would never have known about the spring flying around on the track.

That this should have happened just six days after the death of Henry Surtees adds further to the sense of tragedy. When you have one tragic accident it might be easy to dismiss it as a freak one-off, but to have two similar incidents in close succession rings alarm bells. Rubens Barrichello has compared this week to Imola 1994.

There will be a renewed look at safety, which I sense has taken a back seat since cost cutting became the more fashionable cause. Many are asking, is it time for Formula 1 to consider closed cockpits? The debate has been started by Ross Brawn, F1 Fanatic and Checkpoint 10. But there are no easy answers. This weekend during an IndyCar race we saw a perfect demonstration of the extra dangers that a closed cockpit may create, when Tony Kanaan’s car caught fire following a refuelling problem.

Going back to Felipe Massa, ever since the second he hit the tyre barrier the reports that have come out have been conflicting and confusing. Thankfully, the latest news appears to be positive. Let us hope that Massa will make a full and speedy recovery.

Forza Felipe.

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.

F1Fanatic reports that ITV will be hiding the Canadian Grand Prix on their digital channels ITV4 and ITV2. Only highlights will be shown on ITV1. Perhaps ITV think that nobody will notice because of the World Cup. Well they are wrong. You would understand if there were World Cup matches clashing with the F1, but there aren’t. Instead of the race analogue viewers will be subjected to ‘Animals Do The Funniest Things’!

Curiously, ITV1 will be showing more of the qualifying session than the race. The late-night qualifying re-run is due to last for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The race highlights show will only last an hour! What kind of idiots are responsible for these decisions?

I am quite sure that they have shown every race live on ITV1 for about five years now. They were flamed about half a decade ago for not broadcasting the United States Grand Prix. So this marks a bit of a departure. Maybe ITV think that enough people have Freeview now for them to get away with it. I’m lucky because I have Freeview, and probably about two thirds of the population has access to ITV2. But that still leaves one third of the viewers high and dry.

It is more common for ITV to avoid broadcasting qualifying sessions, particularly for races in the Americas where sessions take place during prime time. The last time ITV didn’t show qualifying live — last year’s Canadian Grand Prix, as it happens — Jenson Button took pole position! The British hope’s big moment was not shown live on ITV. But even then they still showed the race live on ITV1.

Having had their fingers burnt, ITV decided to improve their coverage. At the last minute they decided to show qualifying for the US Grand Prix. Over the past year or so, ITV seem to have been eager to treat F1 better, even in the light of Indygate. But it looks like they’ve got bored of this season (which I guess is understandable!). Let’s just hope that Jenson takes the bloody chequered flag now though, because then ITV really will have some explaining to do.

ITV’s relationship with Formula 1 fans has been patchy to say the least. The fact that they have to show adverts during the action was never going to be popular. Their antics at last year’s San Marino Grand Prix, where they decided to cut away from one of the most exciting climaxes to a race in years in favour of a commercial break, sent every F1 fan in the country into an apoplectic rage. I can’t think of another sporting event where adverts are shown during the action.

But then again, I struggle to think of any sports where play lasts non-stop for 90–120 minutes. It isn’t reasonable to expect ITV to stop showing adverts — they have to fund the F1 coverage somehow. But they have an hour-long ‘race build up’ programme which contains only two commercial breaks! Could they not do what they do in football and bunch all the ad breaks in before and after the race?

Update: It seems as though ITV1 will be broadcasting the race. It seems as though the confusion was down to the fact that they hadn’t decided which World Cup match they were going to show.

Oh man. You know how I’ve been in ‘light blogging’ mode because of all that exam malarkey. Well I was going to break my silence today, because there was a Grand Prix today, and I usually write reviews of each Grand Prix. But it’s been a real struggle. That was an immensely boring race, and it’s difficult to think of much interesting to say about it. But I’m writing about it anyway just to prove that I’m still here. (I was also going to write about the local elections, but I couldn’t be arsed with that either.)

Firstly, I should take my hat off to Ferrari. I said at the time that I thought Imola was a fluke, but they’ve shown that it wasn’t. Ferrari are back and consistently challenging once again. Not only has Michael Schumacher won two races in a row (after a drought lasting over a season, discounting last year’s USGP), but Felipe Massa has also scored his first podium.

Everybody who was thinking that it would be a case of Alonso vs. Räikkönen was wrong. We’ll have to wait until at least next year for that. Right now Michael Schumacher is in much better shape than Kimi to challenge for the championship, particularly with that vulnerable and slow-ish McLaren.

Despite Ferrari’s resurgence, Renault are still looking good. Well, Alonso is anyway. Giancarlo Fisichella had a pretty rotten weekend. He failed to make the top ten in qualifying for the second race running, losing his rag with Jacques Villeneuve in the process. Traffic or no traffic, at the moment Fisichella is making the Renault look rather mediocre while Alonso makes it look like the best car in the world.

It was yet another worrying result for Jenson Button and Honda. They are failing to convert their winter testing form into consistent results. After all the pre-season promise, this season is beginning to look more like 2005 than 2004. At least Rubens Barrichello got a decent result. His issues with the car seem to have finally been resolved.

As for Williams, those Cosworth engines, which were bullet proof in winter, have become a liability. At least Rosberg had a good race, starting last on the grid but ending up with two points. Good work. BMW, meanwhile, are looking slightly slower but more consistent.

Maximum comedy points this weekend go to David Coulthard and Vitantonio Liuzzi, driving for the Red Bull A- and B-team respectively. They knocked each other off at the first corner. David Coulthard thinks he’s good at starts at the Nürburgring, and he’s right — he moved from 12th to 4th at the first corner last year. But taking that inside line isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be crashed into. In fairness, Liuzzi was tapped by Ralf Schumacher, so it was really Ralf’s fault — ITV’s commentators never noticed this.

We’re off to Barcelona next week, and that is usually quite a boring race because the drivers all know it so well because they test there all the time. And after that is Monaco, where it’s almost impossible to overtake! I’ll need to make sure we have enough coffee…

Full race result

That was a strange race. It wasn’t very exciting, then it got very exciting, and then it became very boring again. A few points.

First of all, I am not at all sure we television viewers got the full story of the race. It is a shame, but you can really tell these days whether the coverage is being done by FOM or a host broadcaster (RAI in today’s race). Today’s coverage was woeful. It needlessly concentrated on the front-runners even when nothing was happening — and it’s not just an Italy / Ferrari bias. We got laps and laps of Fernando Alonso doing absolutely nothing with no cars around him. Wouldn’t that have been a perfect opportunity to take a look further back in the field so that we could get a better taste of the race further back? We never even saw it when, for instance, Coulthard and Sato retired.

Martin Brundle and James Allen also seemed frustrated, commenting that we weren’t getting nearly as much Team Radio as we get on the FOM broadcasts. It really is a shame, because FOM have got a real knack of selecting great radio messages to broadcast, and it really adds loads to the coverage. We got none of that today. I suppose we should really be grateful for the wonderful coverage FOM bring us these days, but some of the host broadcasters really need to get their act together to get up to the same standard, or FOM ought to handle every race because it’s obvious now that FOM really know how to broadcast a Formula 1 race.

Right. So for the parts of the race we did see. Is Yuji Ide‘s surname short for Idiot? How many chassis have Super Aguri got for him to be doing stupid things like crashing into Albers like that?

Where the hell are McLaren? I really am scratching my head. Juan Pablo Montoya got a podium finish, but his race was very anonymous and I have a feeling it was as much down to mistakes by Massa and Button that gifted him 3rd position. Kimi Räikkönen really worries me though. He was seriously anonymous in that race — he should be managing better than 5th. Alonso already has twice as many points in the championship as Kimi, and he shows little sign of being a serious challenger this year.

I am beginning to seriously dislike Honda. Are they a joke team? Have we got them confused with Super Aguri? I’ve been watching Formula 1 for long enough to know that accidents in the pitlane are inevitable, but what happened with Button’s second stop today really shouldn’t be happening. As far as I could tell, nothing went wrong with the pitstop, and everything was going to plan. Yet the lollipop man took his eye off the ball and raised the lollipop while the fuel nozzle was still on.

Luckily, the lollipop man realised his mistake and brought the lollipop back down. Drama over, right? Err, no. Jenson Button needs to get a clue: if the lollipop comes back down it is not a sign that you should keep the accellerator floored until you’re halfway down the pitlane. Button broke the fuel rig and the nozzle was still attatched when he was halfway down the pitlane, and he toppled over half of his mechanics as well. Not clever from Honda; two people completely lost their concentration there and it cost them big time. I’m amazed there wasn’t a big fire as well.

I’ll end here with Ferrari. It’s Ferrari’s first proper win since Suzuka 2004 (we don’t talk about USGP 05). It’s good to get a non-Renault winning for a change, but I wouldn’t get too excited for a big Michael Schumacher / Fernando Alonso championship battle. Ferrari are usually great at Imola — remember last year when Schumacher had a brilliant battle with Alonso at the front in the San Marino Grand Prix. Yet for the rest of the year they were nowhere.

A few final questions: BMW were disappointingly slow, and Toyota seem determined to prove that the podium in Australia was a complete fluke. And where was Nico Rosberg? Disappointingly anonymous. Giancarlo Fisichella was nowhere — and he got knocked out in qualifying yesterday. Although he got 11th place where you can choose your own fuel load, he was unable to capitalise. Rubens Barrichello was also unable to capitalise on his brilliant qualifying performance. Lots of bad races for big names today.

Full race result at Formula1.com.

Update: Stewards reprimand Ide
Update: Raikkonen blamed by McLaren boss — Kimi needs to up his game because he’s beginning to look pretty average these days

Better late than never. Races don’t come much more action-packed than that. It’s just as well the race itself was good fun, because by the looks of it there isn’t going to be much of a championship battle this year. Renault and Alonso look as though they could race their cars backwards and still walk the championship in their sleep.

Just like qualifying, cars were falling of the circuit left, right and centre. Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t even wait for the race to start to go off on a spin. He looked like a bit of a funnyman. Lucky for him that Fisichella stalled and caused there to be a second warm-up lap! Montoya’s retirement in the end was possibly one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. If that had happened to me I would be pissed off, but Montoya in his post-race interview he was joking about it! “Haha, yeah, I had a few spins! Crazy old me, eh?” Fiery guy.

He went off in the same place as Michael Schumacher, and that really was weird. Schumi made several mistakes in the run-up to his retirement. It’s not unusual to see him run a bit wide every once in a while, but he just piled on mistake after mistake. James Allen said he was obviously wound-up big time because he ended up storming into the Toyota garage apparently thinking it was his Ferrari garage! Very odd.

Loads of folk were crashing though. Massa once again proved how much of an idiot he is. He took out Rosberg at the first corner, which is a shame for Rosberg. Klien had a funny accident near the start as well, and Tonio Liuzzi had a strange off after a restart. Must have been a tyre thing — loads of folk were complaining about grip.

Fisichella and Button were both complaining about grip. I think Fisichella is just making excuses though because he magically found a bit of speed when the boss got on the radio to tell him to pull his finger out (after having already been told, live on worldwide television, that he was being two seconds slower than Alonso for no good reason). He lucked into that 5th place due to Button’s problem, although he was pretty brave to drive straight into Button’s fire and oil. And given that Fisichella had to start the race from the pitlane I guess he has to take a bit of credit for getting that far up the field in the first place.

As for Button’s last-minute engine blow-up, it meant one of the most exciting ends to a race that I can remember. How unlucky must you be for your engine to blow up on the very last corner? Gutting. Button drove a smooth race yet again, but although he can get the odd pole position (and he didn’t seem to be too lightly fuelled) he is seriously lacking in race pace.

Honda’s decision to pull over to avoid getting an engine penalty is a talking point. I would certainly have gone for the points if I could. It’s a bit defensive to sacrifice two, three or maybe even four points for a measely grid penalty isn’t it? Are they really so scared of ten places on the grid? Pat Symmonds says it was the right choice — but he’s with the other team so I don’t know if I believe him! Whatever, if this was really about taking advantage of Button’s and Honda’s strength at Imola, surely this strength would only make the ten place penalty easier to swallow.

As for Alonso and Räikkönen, I am sad that Räikkönen wasn’t able to challenge Alonso more closely. By the end of the race Kimi wasn’t actually that far behind, but all sorts of things were conspiring against him. He had some kind of problem with his front wing which wasn’t a help. But the biggest factor was the restarts — the Midlands allowed Alonso to storm away and have a four second lead at the restart — twice. Alonso doesn’t even need to try with help like that. This really bunched up the field and some of the restarts were insane.

Alonso can take a lot more credit for what happened at the first restart. His overtaking move on Button was perfectly timed and got me very excited. Genius. It is moments like that that make you really appreciate why Alonso is World Champion.

Third place was Ralf Schumacher, and that is a real return to form for Toyota. A surprise after their fairly torrid first couple of races, particularly Bahrain where they really were in amongst the backmarkers. When you consider that Ralf had a drive-through penalty as well, Schumacher Jnr’s race was pretty good.

The BMWs were also fantastic. They look much stronger than I had anticipated, and I’m pleased for Heidfeld especially to get such a good result by finishing fourth. Williams looked like they were the stronger of the two teams in Bahrain, but Williams have some reliability issues that they need to iron out. I’m not a great fan of Mark Webber, but you really have to feel sorry for him to have that failure whilst leading his home grand prix (even although he was yet to pit).

Rubens Barrichello was lucky to finish as high as he did. He undoubtedly benefited from there being so many retirements. Given that he spent so much time being stuck behind Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri, you must wonder about his ability to get to grips with his Honda. To be stuck behind what is effectively a Honda B-team running a four year old car really shouldn’t happen. Whatever the problem with that Honda is — and both Button and Barrichello are complaining — it seems to be hitting Barrichello much harder. He said on the radio that he was struggling like a bitch. Button, on the other hand, seems able to battle on and make the most of what he’s got without getting into a mope.

Another controversial A-team versus B-team moment was with Red Bull and Toro Rosso. The Toro Rosso is controversial because of its V10 engines, and at the start of the season I decided that as long as it was behind the main Red Bull cars then everything was above board. But the Toro Rosso was ahead of the Red Bull on the track. How angry was David Coulthard after the race? Livid. And he took it to the stewards: Scott Speed overtook DC under yellows. Then Speed was given a penalty and lost his 8th place and first points finish. So he said a sweary word to David Coulthard. Come on lads. Aren’t you both racing on the same side? Do some in the Red Bull team feel threatened by the existence of Toro Rosso?

Okay, a three week break until the next race now so there’s plenty of time to reflect on it all. I’m off to watch the highlights programme — that was a race worth watching three times!