Archive: Takuma Sato

Today it was announced that the Asian rounds of Superleague Formula have been cancelled. This is on top of the earlier cancellation of the South American rounds. The original 2011 calendar also contained races in Russia, the middle east, Australia and New Zealand. None of these took place.

In the end, the only two races that took place were at Assen in the Netherlands and Zolder in Belgium. This means that the championship was decided way back in July — but we only learned that today!

It was already quite an effort for those two races to take place anyway. Superleague had seemed worryingly dormant over the winter, and many suspected that it was dead.

Following in the footsteps of A1GP

The parallels between Superleague and A1GP (another failed attempt at an ‘F1 alternative’) have always been striking. Both have core concepts that are slightly alien to motorsport.

A1GP described itself as the “World Cup of Motorsport”. Drivers didn’t win races. Teams didn’t even win races. Nations did.

Meanwhile, Superleague was designed as a cross between football and motor racing. Drivers didn’t win races. Teams didn’t win races. Football clubs did. Any football fans I ever spoke to about Superleague were not very interested in the series. For this reason, the format was always going to be a loser.

But on the plus side for both A1GP and Superleague, they both provided some quite entertaining racing. And it is on this basis that they both attracted a cult following — a small but loyal fanbase. But this clearly isn’t enough of a fanbase to sustain a series for more than a few years.

A1GP lasted for four years. Cunningly, the series was run over the winter. Not very traditional for a motorsport series, but this meant that they could draw in motorsport fans suffering from withdrawal symptoms. It was moderately successful, and it led to GP2 (the closest thing there is to an official feeder series to F1) creating a spin-off GP2 Asia series that was run in winter. (GP2 Asia has since also been wound up, having had a troubled 2010–2011 season of its own when it was affected by the unrest in Bahrain.)

Not a super formula

When A1GP closed down, Superleague opened up and has so far continued for three seasons. Superleague runs with the same type of car, with the same type of drivers on the same types of circuits. For want of a better phrase, these are a B-class car, with B-class drivers on largely B-class circuits.

I have nothing against this personally, and I personally enjoyed watching A1GP and Superleague whenever I got the chance. But you have to question whether it is a formula for success in terms of bringing in an audience.

Sad but true: the standard isn’t high enough

There are lots of brilliant series below Formula 1 that provide real appeal. It is a sad fact that the motor racing world revolves around Formula 1, and the most successful sub-F1 open-wheel series are all about finding the F1 stars of the future. GP2, World Series by Renault, GP3 and the many Formula 3 series all stake their claim as being a testing ground for the stars of the future.

But series like A1GP and Superleague Formula cannot make this claim. As a result, their appeal is sadly limited. A series like Superleague is populated by drivers who aren’t good enough to progress further up the ladder. Some drivers almost made it to F1, but didn’t quite have the last bit that was required. If you’re lucky, there might be the odd ex-F1 driver like Jos Verstappen. But the world isn’t exactly set alight by the prospect of a battle between Neel Jani and Craig Dolby.

It is true that A1GP has been a stomping ground for a few future F1 drivers like Nico Hülkenberg. But these drivers had to make their way through GP2 aftewards to get to F1.

Because let’s be fair here. It is generous to describe the drivers in Superleague as ‘B-class’. B-class open-wheel racers can be found in IndyCar. IndyCar struggles enough to survive as it is. But at least some of its drivers are household names like Dario Franchitti or Takuma Sato. Jobbing open-wheelers whose sights haven’t extended to IndyCar end up in a series like Superleague.

While I have always found the concept of Superleague Formula to be shaky, I do hope that it is able to survive this embarrassing season and come back stronger in 2012. But I sadly doubt it will be the case.

On top of the exits of Bridgestone and Toyota came news that Renault had held an emergency board meeting to discuss their future in Formula 1. According to Andrew Benson at the BBC:

The French car company was considering whether to remain in the sport with its own team, switch to simply being an engine supplier or quit altogether.

Were Renault to pull out, it would conclude the removal of all of the major manufacturer teams in F1. Honda, BMW and Toyota have all gone in the past year. Renault are now seriously considering leaving.

In terms of manufacturer involvement, that would leave engine suppliers Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari. Both Mercedes and Ferrari are as close to being permanent fixtures as it comes in F1. Mercedes have been involved in F1 uninterrupted since 1993. With their increased involvement in Brawn, they look set to stick around. Ferrari have been in F1 since the beginning in 1950 and were they to leave it would be the end of F1. As such, you can more-or-less exclude both Mercedes and Ferrari from the list of manufacturers at risk of leaving F1.

I have to admit that I am wary of what Renault might do. I always suspected that Renault would be the first manufacturer to leave, certainly since Carlos Ghosn took over there. Now they are effectively the last one remaining. That is a surprise. Does it make it more likely for them to stay in the long run? Or is this the opportunity to join the queue of companies leaving the sport without looking a bit silly like Honda did?

There are more questions. Was Max Mosley right all along to push forward with his anti-manufacturer proposals? His justification was that manufacturers might leave with no warning, so it was wise to slash costs, freeze engines and neuter the sport in all sorts of ways. Now that manufacturers are leaving in droves, it looks like he may have been right.

The alternative possibility is that the changes he has forced through, along with the screeds of bad publicity it caused, have fundamentally made the sport less attractive. The manufacturers could well have preferred a breakaway than live with the FIA’s vision. But the FIA’s vision is what we’ve got. Ferrari certainly have their own views.

The thing is, manufacturers are always fickle. They always have been, and always will be. They will leave at the drop of a hat if it no longer forms part of their marketing strategy. Motorsport is not their core business. At the end of the day, if they won’t sell on Monday, why should they bother trying to win on Sunday?

But it was Max Mosley who originally moulded F1 into a sport dominated by manufacturers. He said that teams like Williams were not his vision of F1′s future. Now Williams is the model of the sort of team that will occupy around half of the grid next year.

In a sense, you can see this current phase as the F1 equivalent of a market correction. The bubble has burst. But while it seems painful now, this process paves the way for a more stable situation.

Throughout its history, Formula 1 has had a healthy mixture of manufacturer involvement and privateer passion. In recent years, the scales had tipped a bit too far towards the manufacturers, which drowned out the privateers to an almost dangerous extent.

F1 had become the plaything of manufacturers and multi-trillionaires. Let us not forget that alongside the likes of Honda and Toyota, businessmen such as Dietrich Mateschitz and Vijay Mallya — who have more money than they know what to do with — have bankrolled F1 teams to success. You will notice that, ignoring the ‘For Sale’ sign outside Toro Rosso (which isn’t very prominent), these teams have remained in F1, unlike the manufacturers.

They are a bit more like privateers in the traditional sense. They don’t want to sell cars, though they may want to sell drinks. But in a way they are in F1 because they are attracted to it as a sport, just as people like Frank Williams and Ken Tyrrell were. Manufacturers just do it because they feel like they should.

Next year there might be too few manufacturers. For there to be just three companies supplying engines would be a situation almost as unsustainable as what has happened up to this year. Cosworth may be crossing their fingers though. Their business model might work if they supply more teams.

But I can see Renault playing a happy role as an engine supplier, even if the Renault F1 team is put up for sale. I am certain that there would be a lot of interest from serious people wanting to buy the team. Despite the turmoil of this year’s scandal, and the fact that the team has gone off the boil for the past few years, this is a team that has the facilities and the capabilities to win World Championships.

I would be upset to see Renault leave the sport. I have a bit of a soft spot for them. Toyota were cold and clinical, on top of being comically bad considering their budgets.

Honda were always a bit of a fairweather presence. They took over BAR more-or-less because there was no-one else to do it after tobacco companies left the sport. Then they set up Super Aguri because they were scared to sack Takuma Sato properly. While many were attracted to Super Aguri for their pluck and while struggling at the back in difficult circumstances, it should never be forgotten that Super Aguri was always a crass and expensive publicity stunt.

Renault, though, have real heritage. They have a history in the shape of their involvement in the sport in the 1970s and 1980s. And the current incarnation of the team has been notably successful, mostly for being the one team that has been able to put up a sustained fight against Ferrari in this decade by beating the Scuderia two years in a row.

Here’s hoping that Renault don’t decide to depart. I am especially hopeful for Robert Kubica, a hugely talented driver who after being put through the wringer at BMW this year does not need this again. But, unlike the other teams, I have a feeling that the future of the Enstone-based squad will be perfectly safe no matter who owns it.

Who is the most controversial man in F1? Is it Bernie Ecclestone with his bizarre comments about Hitler and Jewish black female drivers? Is it Max Mosley with his political posturing and Nazi German prisoner themed sex orgies? Nope — it’s Michael Schumacher.

When it was announced that Michael Schumacher was preparing to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari while the Brazilian convalesces, the great ideological gulf among F1 fans suddenly re-emerged. I can’t remember seeing such strong reactions on any issue about any subject, let alone F1.

For some people, Michael Schumacher might as well be Jesus. You could produce video evidence of him killing a kitten and he would still be the greatest man on earth. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t appreciate genius when they see it?

For others, there is nothing that can redeem Michael Schumacher. He is a serial cheat whose team-mates were all hamstrung and whose seven World Drivers’ Championships are among the least deserving ever awarded. You must surely see that he is the most evil man on earth?

My view is slightly more nuanced. He was a bit of both. His record speaks for itself, and he must take credit especially for his ability to build a team around him. But I hated the way he went about racing.

The Edge of Greatness cover Incidentally, for a fair-minded assessment of Michael Schumacher, I highly recommend James Allen’s book, The Edge of Greatness. I always thought James Allen as a commentator was too biased in favour of Schumacher, but his book displays a very measured and nuanced assessment of his qualities as a driver, and his failings as a sportsperson.

I must come straight out and say that I have never been a fan of Michael Schumacher. Never. And for me, his talent was tainted by his tendency to bend the rules whenever he had the slightest opportunity.

I don’t even rate him much as a racer. For me, his wheel-to-wheel skills were rather poor, and he disguised this by being overly aggressive. That was why he often panicked under pressure, such as at Jerez in 1997. If he found himself in the midfield, he sometimes had very clumsy races indeed — his botched move on Takuma Sato at Suzuka in 2003 springs to mind.

Schumacher was famous for relying on Ross Brawn strategies to “overtake in the pitlane” rather than try to make a genuine overtaking move. I highly doubt that Schumacher would have won as many Championships if refuelling wasn’t legal. I won’t lie: 2000–2004 were my least favourite years of watching F1 since I first fell in love with the sport in the mid-1990s.

Since Schumacher left F1 I do feel as though I have started to enjoy F1 a lot more. Even though some of the drivers are not perfect in terms of their adherence to the rules or their spirit of fair competition, it feels a lot less like a dark cloud such as Rascassegate will come rumbling over the hills at any moment.

Now, of course, he is back in F1 and it has changed again. It amuses me greatly that even weeks before his first grand prix back is due to start, he already sought ways to cheat, to unfairly gain an advantage over his competitors. It says it all about him in one action.

Williams are not my favourite team either, but they were totally right to block this blatant infringement of the rules. Just a couple of weeks before, Toro Rosso’s new driver Jaime Alguersuari was refused a similar request, and he did a perfectly adequate job. Quite why a supposedly great 7 times World Champion needs to practice so much is not clear to me.

Ferrari’s enormously arrogant statement in retaliation against the blocked request sums up why I can’t stand the team so much. Apparently they think the red rule should still exist. What happened to that spirit of cooperation they were supposedly so keen on? I guess now that the Concorde Agreement is signed, cordial relations are not so important any more.

It is clear that the testing rules need amending. I have been saying so for a long time now. But until a new set of rules are agreed upon, everyone needs to adhere to them, otherwise you may as well just rip the rulebook up (some would argue Ferrari have ripped up the rulebook and written their own anyway).

This is all a sign that Michael Schumacher does not intend to simply go through the motions. I had wondered quite what was in this comeback for Schumacher. I saw easily why Ferrari were interested. But what could possibly have motivated Schumacher?

After all, he potentially has so much to lose. With his wife and kids — and we know his wife is concerned because he says he has made an “arrangement” with her that health is the top priority — he surely doesn’t want to be doing something so dangerous. He cannot possibly need the money, and he certainly doesn’t have anything else to prove (unless he wants somehow to prove that he can be a good sportsperson, but that opportunity has already been shot).

He also risks being embarrassed because of his waning ability. At 40, he is the oldest driver to compete in F1 since Nigel Mansell in 1995, and let us not forget that Mansell’s last period as an F1 driver was not exactly a roaring success. And after two and a half years out of competitive grand prix racing, there is every chance that he will be rusty during his forthcoming races.

But now we know what motivates him — it is his sheer, ruthless competitiveness. He may have initially agreed out of “loyalty” to Ferrari, but once he’s a driver again he is up to the same old tricks, looking for the slightest advantage wherever it may come from.

Of course, many would say that this is what sets him apart from everyone else.

For those of you who were celebrating, I hope you all had a great Christmas. I had a great time and a number of Formula 1-based gifts were involved. Keith at F1Fanatic wrote a series of posts outlining F1 gift ideas, but none of the gifts I received were featured by Keith.

Firstly I got a model car. I used to collect diecast models in 1:43 scale, and at one point I wanted to collect all of the Drivers’ Championship winning cars in 1:43 scale. I got bored of that after the third Schumacher Ferrari in a row in 2002.

Graham Hill Lotus 49B (1968) 1:18 scale model

Recently, my father came across a small selection of inexpensive 1:18 scale models in our local TK Maxx. He decided to get me Graham Hill’s Lotus 49B, which the side of the box informs me finished 2nd in the 1968 US Grand Prix.

Manufactured by Sun Star Models under the Quartzo brand, it is nice enough. But in all honesty it is not the highest quality model I have ever set my eyes upon. For instance, the rear wing is made of plastic, it comes separately and you have to attach it yourself. The engine is also made of plastic and is rather wonky-looking. It is also far from the best presentation I have seen. However, the majority of the model is diecast and looks great. For the money, it’s a pretty good buy.

Bernie's belt The most surprising gift I got was this official Formula 1 belt, which I got from my brother (who sometimes writes here as Onebrow) and his girlfriend. It was surprising not just because I didn’t expect it, but because I didn’t even know you could buy an official Formula 1 belt!

I’ve never been one for official Formula 1 merchandise. I feel little loyalty to Formula 1 — I will follow any great grand prix racing. Plus, the thought of adding more money to Bernie’s pockets doesn’t fill me with total joy.

Nonetheless, this is a classy little belt. The Formula 1 logo looks quite good on the buckle. The ‘F’ in the logo is actually transparent, thereby only turning black when you do the belt up. I don’t exactly see myself going around the place wearing it, but I did wear it for all of Christmas Day and it certainly brought a smirk to my face when I unwrapped it. I wasn’t expecting to get Bernie’s belt for Christmas. I’m just glad it wasn’t Max’s whip!

For those interested in it, for some reason the product is not available on the official Formula 1 store, but the belt was bought from Tesco!

But my favourite present was the one that I bought for myself! It is a Mega Bloks McLaren F1 Racer. It is a McLaren Mercedes MP4/22, the 2007 car driven by Fernando Alonso, in 1:12 scale. For the uninitiated, Mega Bloks is like Lego, but less Danish. This McLaren model clearly takes its cue from Ferrari Lego.

Given that the McLaren–Alonso combination didn’t exactly work out, it may not be the most sought-after of gifts. But as I quite like both McLaren and Fernando Alonso, I have no problem whatsoever with it.

I got this out of my workplace, Woolworths. The original price of this was north of £20, which I think is quite a lot. But thanks to the fact that Woolies has been holding a closing down sale, I got an extra 20% off this on top of my normal colleague discount, which made it much better value for money.

McLaren Mega Bloks tin I was, in fact, lucky to get it. We had sold out of it long ago, but a customer returned one and I put it aside so that I could buy it myself. It originally caught my eye partly because it was F1-related, but also because it is beautifully presented in a gorgeous tin, which this photograph does no justice to.

Christine and Me at Sidepodcast had a similar idea, although Christine got the smaller pit stop version.

Mega Bloks McLaren-Mercedes MP4/22 1:12 scale

And here is the finished article! I didn’t time myself, but I reckon all-in-all I probably spent about three hours on it. When I first opened the tin and saw the number of pieces (455, but it felt like about a thousand) and the size of the instruction manual it looked quite daunting. But once I got stuck into it, it became difficult for me to tear myself away from it. In the end, I was quite upset when I came to the final few blocks, despite the sense of accomplishment.

In fact, by far the most difficult aspect was putting the stickers on at the end. I think I did a pretty good job of it though. I think it looks absolutely great. Being made of Lego-style building blocks, it doesn’t exactly have the sleek look of an actual McLaren F1 car. But it is still gorgeous, and I can hardly stop examining it.

Mega Bloks McLaren-Mercedes MP4/22 1:12 scale sans engine cover In parts it is very blocky, but in other areas the detail is suprisingly good. The frong wing has a curvaceous look to it, and additions such as the T-cam, the ‘horns’ and even a couple of aerodynamic flick-ups are all present and correct. Be careful not to lift the car by the engine cover (the natural place to pick it up, I think) because it is not attached. It comes straight off so that you can examine the engine!

The tin and the instruction manual appear to promise a “building challenge”. It appears to be another model — some kind of fantasy futuristic vehicle, WipEout-style — that you can build with the same pieces, but there are no instructions for it. However, having completed the McLaren model, complete with stickers, I don’t think I can actually do this. Taking the McLaren apart, having basically stuck many of the bits together with sponsor stickers, will be near impossible. This seems to be an oversight on the part of the manufacturers.

Mind you, it looks so gorgeous that I probably wouldn’t be able to bring myself to take it apart anyway.

Meanwhile, I got my brother a 1:43 scale model of Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri SA03. It may only have competed in four races, but that makes the model all the more special if you ask me. My brother is fond of Takuma Sato and Super Aguri, so it felt right to get him it!

Did anyone else receive F1-related gifts for their Christmas? If so, what did you make of them?

Well, the season is well and truly over, and we have now had over two weeks to digest the happenings. It is high time I gave the season a thorough review, starting with my opinion on all of the drivers.

First off, I should point out that I think the standard of driving was exceptionally high in the 2008 Formula 1 season. It was the first time in history that all of the teams on the grid kept the same drivers all season.

Even Nelsinho Piquet, who was almost universally derided early on in the season, has clung on to his seat and will even continue to race for Renault next season. Indeed, I think that almost all of the 2008 season’s drivers deserve to remain in F1, with the possible exception of David Coulthard who has retired anyway.

So it is a tough job to rank all of the drivers, and inevitably I have had to make some tough choices that will no doubt surprise some. Without further ado, here is the first part of my driver rankings.

The first number in brackets denotes a driver’s placing in my mid-season rankings. The second number denotes his placing in last year’s rankings.

22. Anthony Davidson (20; 23)

Poor Anthony Davidson has never really had a proper chance to demonstrate his talents as a race driver, always being lumbered with inferior machinery. But at the same time, he has had a handful of chances to prove why he should be given a better chance, and he has never taken them. He was not demonstrably better than his Super Aguri team mate Takuma Sato, and I struggle to see why he should expect to get a race seat with a better team, particularly with so many youngsters waiting in the wings.

21. Takuma Sato (19; 14)

Like Davidson, Takuma Sato had little opportunity to show what he is made of this season. However, I place him above the Brit because I maintain that Sato is a better driver than Davidson, a subject I covered in this post.

20. Giancarlo Fisichella (22; 16)

I have to say that I’m now struggling to see why Fisichella deserves to stay in F1. I always thought that Force India were wrong to hire him, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything this season that’s made me eat humble pie. On the contrary, his ridiculously dangerous driving into the first corner in Turkey would have seen a less well-respected driver receive a ban. Yuji Ide lost his super license for less.

In fairness, it can’t be easy to shine in what is undoubtedly the worst car on the grid. But he rarely showed what he is made of. Perhaps most worryingly, his best results all came at the start of the season. Fisichella began to look more and more jaded as the season wore on.

Fisichella’s one and only main achievement of the season is to make it into Q2 for the Italian Grand Prix. He qualified an impressive 12th, but he has the weather to thank for that as much as anything else.

19. Adrian Sutil (17; 15)

As with his Force India team mate, I’m struggling to see why Adrian Sutil should remain in Formula 1. Some people say he is supremely talented. And while it’s true that it’s difficult to show your talent in the dogs that Sutil has driven during his two years in Formula 1, the fact is that he shows no signs of moving up the ladder.

His showing in Monaco was highly impressive, whether or not he deserved to be as high up as 5th position (having overtaken some cars under yellows). That is the reason I have placed him above Fisichella. But besides that, Sutil has remained anonymous, and I doubt whether he truly deserves a third year in F1 when there are drivers that we know are talented and are being wasted as test drivers.

18. David Coulthard (14; 11)

DC had a tough final season, as it seemed as though he simply couldn’t stop crashing. It was a blunder-heavy season for DC, and there is no question that a number of his crashes were of his own making. It’s sad to say it, but his rustiness this season makes it look like he stayed in F1 just a season too long.

The season was not without its highs though, and the podium finish in Canada was a flash of the talented driver we came to know over the previous decade or so. You can question whether or not he deserved that podium, but there is no question that he totally outshone his team mate Mark Webber during that weekend, albeit not across the rest of the season.

17. Nelsinho Piquet (18; -)

There is no escaping the fact that Nelsinho Piquet failed to consistently meet the standard expected of him. Whether that is because he has to live up to his father’s name (literally), or we have heightened expectations of what a rookie can achieve after Hamilton, or Piquet is simply just crap, is something we can only find out after another season.

That is why I agree with Renault’s decision to keep Piquet on for one more season. For while he had a number of rather embarrassing blunders scattered throughout the season, he did manage to impress on occasion. The 2nd place in Germany, although slightly lucky, showed that he has the maturity not to throw away a good result when the opportunity arises. Meanwhile, his 4th place finish in Japan was almost forgotten under the celebrations of Alonso’s victory. By no means was Piquet’s season a washout, which is why he deserves another year.

16. Jenson Button (15; 7)

Last year I was impressed by Button’s ability to grab a few decent results in that dog of a Honda car, compared with Barrichello’s slightly heel-dragging demeanour. This year, the roles have been reversed. Button finished in the points just once all season in what was an otherwise depressingly anonymous season for the Brit.

15. Kazuki Nakajima (12; 21)

Nakajima impressed many this season with his ability to quietly collect the points on a fairly consistent basis. While his team mate Nico Rosberg is flashier, he is also more accident-prone.

That is not to say that Nakajima has kept his nose clean all season. But for a significant portion of the season, the pair were separated by only 1 or 0 points. Considering Rosberg is supposed to be one of the hottest drivers around, while Nakajima is meant to be another crap Japanese driver who is only there to pay for the engines, that’s not bad going at all. Sure, Rosberg finished a good eight points ahead in the end, but whether he deserved quite as many points as he got in Singapore is highly doubtful.

14. Nico Rosberg (13; 8)

Nico Rosberg had an okay season. He did lose a worryingly high number of front wings. But he also gained a couple of podiums, which is not exactly to be sniffed at.

But next season will be a make or break year for Rosberg. Mediocre machinery or not, the fact is that observers are still in the dark as to whether or not Rosberg is genuinely talented enough to ever be a regular front-runner. After three seasons, Rosberg needs to start showing why he deserves a 4th and a 5th season, because his record as it stands isn’t quite enough in my view.

13. Sébastien Bourdais (21; -)

In retrospect, my mid-season verdict on Sébastien Bourdais is extremely harsh. There is no question that during the first half of the season he failed to meet up to expectations. That was despite an extremely strong showing at the Australian Grand Prix where he was set to finish in 4th position.

The second half of his season was significantly stronger. The only reason he didn’t get the results was because of a barrage of bad luck. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Frenchman as he choked back the tears recounting the final lap of the Belgian Grand Prix, where he was set to finish 4th, only to struggle with grip on dry tyres in wet conditions. And we can only speculate as to what he could have achieved in Italy had his engine not stalled. This man deserves another year in F1, if only so that we can see for real what he is capable of.

12. Rubens Barrichello (10; 20)

What an improvement Barrichello has made on the 2007 season. Last year, Barry was beginning to look past it. This season, despite driving one of the very worst cars on the grid, it has looked like the Brazilian has had a renewed vigour.

A podium finish in very tough conditions in Silverstone that made mincemeat of his compatriot title contender, Felipe Massa, is testament to that. What a shame that the Honda 8 ball doesn’t appear to have noticed this! In my book, the most experienced driver in F1 history deserves to become even more experienced.

My top 11 drivers of the season will be published later this week.

With just four races of the season left to go, none of the ten teams left in the championship has made a change to their driver line-up. No teams show any sign of ditching their drivers any time soon.

Earlier on in the season there were rumours that Renault were losing patience with Nelsinho Piquet. But a lucky drive to 2nd place in Germany helped his cause. It has to be said, he has steadily improved in his performances. He appears to have secured his place until the end of the season.

There were also murmurings that both Force India drivers were threatened with being replaced with test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi. But little has been heard of this rumour for several months as Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella have both performed adequately.

Additionally, there was a rumour that David Coulthard would retire immediately after the Italian Grand Prix. However, this too has died down and it looks as though the Scot will see out his final season.

If all twenty drivers manage to see out the season, it must surely be the first time this has ever happened. I’ve checked every season right back to 1989, but I can’t be bothered to check the rest — but I’d be surprised if any season had this kind of consistency in its line up.

Arguably, 2008 doesn’t quite make the cut either as Super Aguri, along with its two drivers Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson, withdrew from the championship prior to the Spanish Grand Prix. But that can’t detract from the achievement of the other 20 drivers in the championship who are on the verge of, collectively, achieving what no other F1 grid has achieved before.

For me, it is a testament to the quality in display in F1 this season. The cars are all incredibly close to each other in performance, and the twenty drivers in the grid are all pretty much deserving of their seat.

Formula 1 appears to have shaken off the curse of the pay driver. I read earlier in the season that 2008 is the first time there has not been a pay driver on the grid, and I can well believe that. Thankfully we haven’t seen the likes of Sakon Yamamoto, Yuji Ide or Ricardo Rosset on the grid this season.

This is how the pinnacle of motorsport should be: twenty slots for the twenty best grand prix drivers in the world. It doesn’t often happen, but I think it has happened this year. The twenty drivers that have raced all season can reasonably argue that they are genuinely among the most talented in the world. F1 teams’ reluctance to hire any of this season’s GP2 drivers underlines this.

With the news this week that Toro Rosso will evaluate Takuma Sato for a race seat at a test in a couple of weeks, there have been the same gasps of confusion we hear whenever Sato is linked to another team. The usual question people ask is, “Why don’t they choose Anthony Davidson rather than Sato?”

Let us leave aside the reason why Toro Rosso are pursuing Takuma Sato. As F1Wolf pointed out last week, it makes perfect commercial sense for Toro Rosso to do this, so why not?

What I want to focus on is why so many people think that Anthony Davidson is better than Takuma Sato. Seriously, why? Because I for one don’t see it.

There is absolutely no doubt that Anthony Davidson has a very sharp mind. That is evident from his increasingly frequent forays into the commentary box for BBC Radio 5 Live. And I wouldn’t quarrel with the argument that he is an excellent test and development driver.

But does he cut it as a race driver? I am not so sure. For years, Davidson was always the “what if?” man. What if his first two races were in a team better than Minardi? What if his engine didn’t crap out on him not long after his one and only start for long-time employers BAR? What if he wasn’t driving a boat on wheels when he was at Super Aguri?

Fair points all. However, after his first two abortive stints as race driver, he was shown a lot of faith by Super Aguri who raced him for the whole of the 2007 season, and intended for him to race for all of 2008 (albeit in undoubtedly difficult circumstances). This prolonged period as race driver finally gave us the chance to see what a non-race-rusty Davidson was capable of. Did he impress? I’m not so sure.

You can argue that Takuma Sato didn’t impress much either. But that ignores one small fact… He did impress. At least, he impressed those who paid attention. Don’t forget that Sato earned four points for Super Aguri in 2007 while Davidson’s highest race finish all year was 11th, a whole three positions away from scoring even one point. He even only achieved that twice.

Plus, Takuma Sato’s overtaking move on Fernando Alonso in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix was just brilliant. Many drivers would have bottled it. But Taku just kept his foot down and pulled the move off with perfection. It doesn’t exactly fit in with his “crash-happy” image.

Show me anything that Davidson has ever done that even comes close to this. I don’t mean just mean a one-off qualifying lap or “he was running in 12th in the Bumshire Grand Prix until his car broke down”. I mean something that genuinely makes him stand out as a great racing driver. Because I never saw it.

The results don’t lie. Even though the Super Aguri was slow, at least it was not too unreliable. This gives us a good opportunity to compare results between team mates. Out of 9 races which both Davidson and Sato started in 2007, Davidson finished ahead of Sato just twice. Meanwhile, Sato scraped up the only points Super Aguri ever scored.

While Takuma Sato has a reputation for being rather erratic and “crash-happy”, he has had moments of great success. Having scored 44 points throughout his career, he is far and away Japan’s most successful F1 driver ever (and there have been many Japanese F1 drivers). He had a series of excellent results in 2004 including a well-deserved podium in Indianapolis. This was good enough to finish 8th in the Drivers Championship.

When you throw in the fact that Takuma Sato has started almost four times as many Grands Prix as Davidson and therefore has bucketloads of experience, I really scratch my head as to why so many people consider Davidson to be better than Sato. I just don’t get it.

Sato is erratic, yes, but on his day he has the pace and the guts required. Davidson is dependable but anonymous and slow. Am I not right? What am I missing?

The British Grand Prix marked the mid-point of the season. It is the perfect opportunity, therefore, to look back on the season so far. Which drivers have impressed and which have disappointed? This post outlines the drivers that I have ranked from 22nd to 12th.

22. Giancarlo Fisichella

I am starting to think that Giancarlo Fisichella didn’t deserve the lifeline that Force India threw him. On the track he has not shone. He has shown an amazing level of hypocrisy too. After criticising Nakajima for his “kamikaze” driving in Australia, just a few races later Fisichella literally drove straight over the top Japanese driver’s car in Turkey. A less experienced driver would undoubtedly have faced a ban for such appalling driving. Yuji Ide had his Super License revoked for less.

It can’t be easy to look good driving the slowest car on the grid. But his team mate Adrian Sutil, while far from impressing in general, was running up in 4th in Monaco. Fisichella has not even looked close to replicating such a performance. Martin Brundle summed it up in his commentary for qualifying when Fisichella ran wide: “He’s run out of track, and just about run out of talent.”

21. Sébastien Bourdais

It was widely predicted that Bourdais would struggle to make a smooth transition from ChampCar to Formula 1. But he surprised us all with a strong performance in the Australian Grand Prix where he had to retire with engine trouble while running in 4th place. His retirement was late enough to secure him 2 points. And although there was a huge amount of attrition in that race, it was not bad going for a début Grand Prix. He was running ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Renault and Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren in what was effectively a year-old Toro Rosso.

So his subsequent descent into complete anonymity is all the more puzzling. He has not looked close to repeating his Australian feat, with results including a dreadful 17th place in his home GP in France. Bourdais says he hopes his form will improve with the re-introduction of slick tyres to F1. But at this rate he won’t get the chance to try them out.

20. Anthony Davidson

Driving what was undoubtedly the worst car of the season, effectively an uneasy amalgam of the 2007 and 2008 Honda chassis, Davidson was never going to shine. I have to confess that I’ve never really got the fuss surrounding Anthony Davidson. Certainly, I don’t see what makes him so much better than the oft-derided Takuma Sato. If Davidson was that handy, he should surely be beating Sato easily. But the results are inconclusive.

If he is not so hot as a racer, he is certainly well-regarded as a good test driver. Perhaps more ominous for Anthony Davidson is the fact that his performances in the commentary box have been widely praised, and rightly so. Next year he is more likely to be working for the BBC than for a motor racing team.

19. Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato had the same uphill struggle as Anthony Davidson this year and he never really fouled it up. Originally the Super Aguri team was set up literally as somewhere to dump Sato, Honda having decided that they didn’t need him for their F1 team. He came out of the Super Aguri experience being linked to a drive with Renault to replace Nelsinho Piquet. The rumour may have been a load of rubbish (I don’t know), but the fact that it was even considered by anyone as a possibility shows how far Sato has come.

18. Nelsinho Piquet

Nelsinho “Junior” Piquet Jr has had a very difficult start to his F1 career. His desire to have the ‘Junior’ dropped from his name led to widespread ridicule, as fans pointed out that if he didn’t want to be called junior he had to stop driving like a junior.

In fairness, there are signs that his performances are picking up. He outwitted his team-mate, double World Champion Fernando Alonso, at the French Grand Prix. He repeated the feat by overtaking him again in Britain. Piquet was in big danger of losing his race seat mid-season. Luckily for him, it looks as though he has upped his game at just the right moment. Whether it will last is another matter.

17. Adrian Sutil

No less a man than Lewis Hamilton has tipped Adrian Sutil as a decent driver. But why is he tipped? Most of us are left scratching our heads. Okay, so he is driving a Force India, so it was always going to be an uphill struggle for him. But have we seen any flashes of talent?

Okay, so his performance at Monaco had a lot going for it. He was impressively running up in 4th until he got knocked out by an errant Kimi Räikkönen. You have to applaud Sutil for managing to wring that performance out of the Force India. But why has he never come even close to looking like repeating it?

16. Timo Glock

At the start of the season Timo Glock was at the centre of a tug-of-war between BMW and Toyota. Toyota won of course, but at the stage of the season I wonder if they think it was really worth all that hoo-ha. It’s all the more strange when you consider the fact that Mario Theissen of BMW generally finds some excellent drivers, having introduced the likes of Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel to F1.

Glock has generally looked out of sorts. He has been outqualified 7–2 by Jarno Trulli. He lies a distant 14th in the championship while Trulli is bringing home regular points hauls up in 7th. Hats off, though, for Glock’s performance in Canada, where he outperformed his vastly more experienced team-mate to bring the car home in 4th.

15. Jenson Button

Last year I was very impressed with Jenson Button as he managed to wring some results from the Honda “shitbox” Earth Car while Barrichello was beginning to look jaded and past it. Now the roles seem to have reversed.

In fact, I can scarcely remember anything that Button has done this season. A solitary 6th place in Spain is all he has to his name. He has been getting into some needless crashes — with Coulthard in Bahrain, Heidfeld in Monaco and Bourdais in France.

14. David Coulthard

David Coulthard has probably had his worst F1 season for a very long time. At the start of the season he seemingly couldn’t stop getting involved in silly little crashes. The Scot was beginning to look like a liability.

However, a very strong driver in Canada gave him a well-deserved podium finish. It remains his only points score of the season in a year where he has been thoroughly outclassed by Mark Webber.

13. Nico Rosberg

All I can say is: not impressed. If Rosberg is so good, why does he never get any good results? Why is it that whenever the camera pans round to him his front wing is missing? Why is it that his team-mate who is only there because he provides cheap engines is equal on points with him?

While the first two questions can easily be put down to the poor performance of his Williams car, the last question cannot be answered. Rosberg is being disgraced by a team mate who has precious little experience and did nothing special in GP2.

All right, so Nico Rosberg can get a good score in Williams’s oh-so-precious written exam? That means eff-all if he can’t get round a racetrack without losing his front wing.

12. Kazuki Nakajima

Speaking of Kazuki Nakajima, I have to say I am quite impressed with what he has managed to achieve. Few people tipped him to do very well, and although I regarded him as a dark horse before the season started, I did not expect him to be equal on points with Rosberg halfway through the season.

Nakajima has had a few needless little crashes, such as in Australia with Kubica and in Canada with Button. But you expect these things from time to time from a rookie.

Okay, so he has had few truly stand-out performances. But his is often there to pick up a couple of points when things go his way. And that is exactly what Williams need right now.

My top 11 drivers will be revealed tomorrow

At last, bluffer’s guide makes its return. For the past couple of months I’ve been too busy to continue the series, but now I have some more free time. Previous bluffer’s guides have looked at the rules and aspects of strategy. This guide will look at issues around teams and drivers: how they enter, why they enter and what their job is.

Entry requirements

At present there are ten constructors (the posh word for teams) in Formula 1. Each team enters two cars, meaning that 20 cars are entered into each event. There is nothing set in stone about these numbers. It is thought that according to the Concorde Agreement (which will be covered in a future bluffer’s guide) a minimum of 20 may enter. According to the FIA Sporting Regulations, a maximum of 24 cars may start a race.

Teams normally stick with the same two drivers throughout the season. However they may use up to four different drivers in one season, or more at the FIA’s approval.

In addition to the two race drivers, every team employs test drivers. These test drivers may be used during the Friday Practice sessions, although each team is still limited to running two cars. For this reason, teams tend to use their race drivers anyway.

A driver must be awarded an FIA Super License before he may compete in Formula 1. To achieve this, a driver must show consistent form in a lower category. Failing that, a driver may get a Super License with the unanimous approval of… whoever makes that decision — provided he has tested for at least 300km at racing speeds in a current car.

This is basically to prevent rubbish but rich drivers from paying loads of money to achieve his childhood dream of entering a Grand Prix. However, it hasn’t stopped the occasional bad egg from slipping through the net!

The decision to enter

Unlike some other sports, there is no promotion or relegation in F1. The decision to enter Formula 1 is essentially little more than a business decision. Once a team has met the FIA’s requirements, all a team has to do is be able to fund itself in order to keep going.

The huge costs involved in running an F1 team are enough to keep the list of potential entrants low. There is space for 12 teams in the Championship and only ten of them are taken. One of those teams is currently up for sale. There is little point in setting up a new team if you can easily buy an existing one.

This season began with 11 constructors. But when Super Aguri ran out of funding it had to pull out.

Similarly, drivers have few requirements to meet. They must have a Super License (as outlined in the section above). But apart from that, all they have to do to get a drive is basically to persuade a team to give them a drive.

This does not depend on talent alone, although that is of course a huge factor. Many drivers get a slot at a poorly-funded team by bringing sponsorship money. Such drivers are known as ‘pay drivers’ because they effectively pay for their drive at a team.

Some pay drivers have gone down in history as being notoriously awful. Ricardo Rosset had lots of cash as he was the heir to an underwear business. Fittingly enough, his performances in F1 were, indeed, pants.

The 2008 season is said to be the first year for a very long time (perhaps ever) when the grid did not contain any pay drivers. However, it is also thought that Nelsinho Piquet and Adrian Sutil bring substantial sponsorship moneys to their respective teams.

A team sport or an individual sport?

Formula 1 (along with most other forms of motor racing) is rather unique among sports because it is both a team sport and an individual sport. A good driver would be nowhere were it not for a team of hundreds working tirelessly to provide him with a good car. On the day of the race, an army of people analyse the race as it happens to try and come up with the best strategy for the conditions. And the efforts of the pit crew cannot go unnoticed, as they must be relied upon to ensure that pitstops are carried out smoothly.

In this sense, you can say that Formula 1 is a team sport, but one that places a huge amount of the responsibility on one individual. Once the driver is on the track, there is not much more the team can do to help him, and it is up to the driver not to make a mistake. For this reason, there are two championships in F1 — one for drivers and one for constructors.

Each team enters two drivers and these are often referred to as “team mates”. However, often there is nothing “matey” about the relationship between these two individuals. Indeed, they might hate each other because the one person they want to beat more than anyone else is their team mate, who is usually racing with equal equipment. Comparing team mates with each other is an important barometer of a driver’s skill, so it is usually in a driver’s interest to undermine his team mate.

However, pragmatically a driver has to remember that he is an employee of his team. If a team decides that it is in their best interests to help one driver more than another, they are within their rights to do this. This is known as “team orders” and is part of racing. (Team orders will be discussed in more detail in a future bluffer’s guide.)

Testing

Teams spend a lot of time testing their cars to make sure that their developments work properly before racing with them. Such tests must be held at an FIA-sanctioned circuit. Testing is limited to 30,000km per team per calendar year. This limit excludes promotional events and young driver training. A young driver is defined as a driver who has not competed in a Formula 1 event for 24 months or has not tested an F1 car for more than four days in the past 24 months.

Teams often employ test drivers whose specific job is to test the car. Often race drivers are used at test sessions in addition to test drivers. Some drivers become highly regarded for their ability to give feedback to their engineers and for their knowledge of how to set up a car. Examples of such drivers include Pedro de la Rosa, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson. These drivers are all highly regarded as test drivers but struggle to get a race drive.

Car development

F1 teams do not just launch a car at the beginning of the season and race with it all year. Teams work throughout the year to improve their performance and developments are made to the cars several times per year as the teams see fit. In most cases, the car at the end of the season is completely different to the car that began the season. Check out Formula1.com’s excellent technical section to keep up with the main car developments throughout the year.

Logically, though, the largest leaps are made over the winter when there is no racing going on. Usually each car is an evolution of the previous year’s car. Sometimes cars are re-designed almost from the ground up each year. This used to happen fairly often, but is increasingly rare these days — unless a team hires a new chief aerodynamicist or some other radical team structural change.

Every time there is a major change to a chassis, its name changes. Usually the name changes in a predictable way for the start of each season. For instance, in 2007 Ferrari’s chassis was the F2007 and McLaren’s was the MP4-22. This year those teams’ chassis are the F2008 and the MP4-23 respectively.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop a team from using the same chassis for two years in a row (although this usually doesn’t happen because the pace of development is such that running a two year old chassis would be a serious disadvantage to any team) or from running two different chassis in one season — just as long, of course, as the chassis met the technical regulations. It is quite common for a team to use their old chassis for the first few races of the year if the development of the new car has been delayed for some reason. This happened to Toro Rosso this year, whose new STR3 was not used until the Monaco Grand Prix, six races into the season.

Liveries

Historically, teams ran traditional liveries with each nationality having a traditional colour. Britain, of course, had British Racing Green, and Italian cars ran in the deep scarlet colour (‘Rosso Corsa’) made so famous by Ferrari. Of course, with the introduction of sponsorship in the late 1960s, this was never going to last and now teams appear in whatever colours take their fancy. But is it true that F1 cars are “glorified cigarette packets”?

The arrival of sponsorship does not mean that the history has gone forever. McLaren (Mercedes) run with a predominantly silver livery and red car numbers, a reflection of the Silver Arrows’ history. BMW run with their corporate colours of navy blue, though the majority of the car is white, Germany’s traditional racing colour.

Honda and Toyota have also run in Japan’s traditional white and red (although today Honda runs in a white, green and blue ‘Earth’ car to highlight environmental concerns). When tobacco sponsorship was still allowed in F1, Honda cleverly used the Lucky Strike logo to double up as the traditional ‘red sun’. Ferrari, of course, are famous for running their traditional ‘Rosso Corsa’ colour. However, in recent years this shade has become lighter, more similar to the shade of red used in Marlboro packets (Phillip Morris still heavily fund Ferrari even though tobacco sponsorship technically does not exist in F1).

Ligier / Prost used blue until the team’s demise in 2002. When Jaguar briefly participated in F1 at the start of this decade, it ran in a deep green. However, it was slightly lighter than British Racing Green, apparently to make sponsor logos stand out better on television. The team that Jaguar bought, the (Ford-powered) Stewart team ran in white and blue, the American racing colours.

Of course, there is nothing in F1′s rules that dictates that teams should use traditional colours. These rules were relaxed in 1970. But clearly many F1 teams still value their heritage enough to run colour schemes that are inspired by history.

Some aspects of the livery are restricted though. The two cars of each team must look “substantially” similar at every event in a year. In 1999, the new BAR team (owned by British American Tobacco) wanted to advertise two of its cigarette brands, one on each car. However, the FIA would not be moved. BAR’s compromise was to advertise one brand along the left side of the car and a different brand on the right. The resulting livery was a real mess and widely derided. From 2000 onwards, BAR’s ditched the ‘dual livery’ scheme.

Each car must display the badge of the car make on the front of the car. The name and national flag of the driver should be displayed on the side (usually just behind the driver’s helmet on the engine cover). The car number should also be visible from the front and the side. However, many spectators complain that the numbers are so small that you cannot see them.

Nowadays, a different way of telling apart the two cars of each team is to look at the ‘T-cam’ (the onboard camera that appears on top of the rollover structure just above and behind the driver’s head). For the lead driver, this is a fluorescent red. For a team’s second driver, it is fluorescent yellow.

Of course, another way to tell drivers apart is to look at their helmets. Traditionally, drivers design their own helmets although these days they are covered in sponsor logos just like the cars are. A good helmet design can become as famous as a historic car livery. Just think of Ayrton Senna’s yellow helmet, Graham Hill’s deep blue helmet with white tabs around the top (an adaptation of a London Rowing Club design, and also used by Graham’s son Damon) or Jackie Stewart’s white helmet with a tartan band around the top.

Car numbers

A minor, but interesting, point is how car numbers are allocated. Car numbers are published by the FIA before the start of each season and remain the same all season.

The current World Champion always races with the number 1. His team mate is allocated number 2. In instances when the World Champion is not participating in the race, it is probable that the Constructors Champion would use the numbers 0 and 2.

Under the old system of allocating car numbers (which ran until 1995), this happened in 1993 and 1994 when Damon Hill ran with the number 0 for two years running. The first time was because of the retirement of Nigel Mansell and the second time was due to the retirement of Alain Prost.

After the numbers 1 (or 0) and 2 are allocated, the following numbers are allocated according to the finishing position in the previous year’s Constructors Championship. So, ignoring the Constructor bearing numbers 1 (or 0) and 2, the highest-scoring constructor will carry the numbers 3 and 4, the next highest-scoring will carry the numbers 5 and 6, and so on. The number 13 is skipped for unclear reasons, though it’s safe to assume that this is due to superstition.

Not all superstitious numbers are removed though. In 2005 Japanese driver Takuma Sato was allocated the number 4 which is an unlucky number in Japanese culture (ominously being closely associated with death). True enough, his season was riddled with bad luck and strange mistakes.

This season McLaren are racing with the numbers 22 and 23 because they were excluded from last year’s Constructors Championship. Super Aguri were allocated numbers 20 and 21. Although Super Aguri no longer participates in F1, McLaren’s numbers remain 22 and 23 for consistency throughout the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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