Lewis Hamilton will start on pole for the second race running as he pipped Sebastian Vettel to the top spot in qualifying for tomorrow’s German Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver had been off the pace in the morning’s practice session, but found the sweet spot in his car when it mattered to beat Vettel’s Red Bull by just 0.103 seconds.

Mark Webber will start third tomorrow, just ahead of the Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, whilst Daniel Ricciardo continued his impressive run of strong Saturdays to qualify his Toro Rosso sixth.

The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso lock out the fourth row of the grid after opting to qualify on the medium tyres in order to optimise its race strategy, whilst Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

The big shock of qualifying was Nico Rosberg’s failure to make it through to the final part of qualifying. The victor at Silverstone last week was kept in the pits by Mercedes, the team thinking they had done enough to make it through to Q3, but a flurry of late improvements left him down in 11th and with an uphill struggle to fight for the podium tomorrow.

Rosberg was joined on the sidelines in Q3 by Paul di Resta, Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Williams celebrates its 600th Grand Prix this weekend, but the team marked the milestone in the worst possible way as both cars fell at the first hurdle. Valtteri Bottas will start 17th and shares the ninth row with Pastor Maldonado.

Charles Pic starts 19th, with Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton completing the grid.

Qualifying Results
1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes
2) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
3) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
4) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault
5) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault
6) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
7) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari
8) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari
9) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
10) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari
11) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
12) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes
13) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes
14) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes
15) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
16) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
17) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault
18) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault
19) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault
20) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault
22) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth

Stephen D’Albiac

German Grand Prix Preview

Posted: July 5, 2013 in Formula One

As Formula One arrives in Germany for the ninth round of the 2013 season, there’s only one issue that takes centre-stage as the sport’s main talking point – tyres.

The incidents that overshadowed the race at Silverstone just five days ago are still fresh in the memory, with no less than five blowouts affecting the drivers throughout the British Grand Prix, raising serious issues about safety.

In an attempt to prevent a repeat of last week’s shenanigans, Pirelli has brought a new, kevlar-belted rear tyre to this race instead of the steel-belted rubber that caused so much trouble at Silverstone, but it’s an issue that is set to rumble on throughout the weekend, with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association threatening to boycott the event if tyres continue to fail throughout practice and qualifying.

The new tyres could also have the effect of shaking up the pecking order. While Pirelli has said that the actual compounds haven’t changed, many teams feel that it could allow those who have struggled so far this season to come to the fore, and vice versa, with Nico Rosberg saying that ‘the title fight will be altered’. However, what impact the new tyres will have on the field remains to be seen.

The Nurburgring is a circuit with a mix of fast and slow corners, not too dissimilar to that of Barcelona or Shanghai, so it’s a venue that should suit the Mercedes and Red Bulls. It should also allow Ferrari to perform well, but after its poor showing at Silverstone last weekend, a track that should also have suited the F138, it’s too early to predict just how competitive they will be this weekend. Lotus also cannot be discounted, the E21 runs well in hot weather, and with temperatures in the mid-20s forecast for raceday, this could be a chance for the Enstone team to rediscover its early season form.

Nico Rosberg will be confident of tasting success this weekend. The Mercedes driver celebrates his second home Grand Prix this weekend, having won on the streets of Monaco, the principality he grew up in. Having also taken the chequered flag at his team’s home race at Silverstone last time out, there are plenty of good omens knocking about for him at this moment in time.

Out to stop him will be fellow German Sebastian Vettel. The championship leader broke down with just 11 laps remaining at Silverstone, gifting victory to Rosberg, and will be desperate to bounce back with a first career win on home soil. To do so, however, he will need to break his ‘July jinx’ and take his maiden Grand Prix victory in the year’s seventh month.

Standing in the way of the two Germans will be their respective teammates. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber have taken the last two victories at this circuit, and with punctures and a poor start costing the pair a realistic shot at winning in Silverstone, they will be itching to put the record straight on Sunday.

And what of Fernando Alonso? The Spaniard has a fantastic record in Germany, winning five times there over the course of his career, and after a strong drive to the podium last week reduced his points deficit to Vettel to just 21, if Ferrari give him the car to fight for victory on Sunday, you can bet he will be taking that opportunity with both hands.

Fans, teams and drivers alike will be holding their breath that there are no problems with the tyres throughout practice, and that both compounds behave themselves this weekend, ensuring that any threat to boycott the race comes to nothing.

And on the 99% chance that all does indeed go to plan on the tyre front, you can guarantee one thing. The ‘Ring will entertain.

The Circuit

Known by many around the world as the home of the legendary Nordschleife, widely regarded as the most challenging racetrack of all time, the Nurburgring has been part of the Formula One calendar in one form or another for over 60 years.

Dubbed ‘the Green Hell’ by triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, the Nordschleife proved to be the ultimate test for man and machine in the F1’s formative years. Names such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Graham Hill all won at the legendary 14-mile circuit, whilst Stewart himself famously took the chequered flag by over four minutes in the torrential rain in 1968.

But success regularly came at the expense of safety. Onofre Marimon, Peter Collins and John Taylor were just three drivers claimed by the remorseless circuit, and by the mid-1970s Grand Prix racing there had become too dangerous. Niki Lauda’s terrible crash in 1976, which left the Austrian scarred for life, brought a halt to Formula One at the Nordschleife.

In its place came a new 2.8-mile circuit that opened for business in 1984. After two Grands Prix at the new Nurburgring in the mid-1980s, it would be another decade before Formula One would return, with the success of Michael Schumacher ensuring there would be a second German race on the calendar, along with the race at Hockenheim.

The new ‘Ring became a fixture on the schedule once more, running under the European – and briefly, Luxembourg – Grand Prix banners, and played host to some memorable races, not least Johnny Herbert’s remarkable 1999 win for Stewart. However, the modern circuit had gained a reputation for causing first lap accidents, and as a result, the layout was slightly altered by fan favourite Hermann Tilke in 2002 to leave us the 3.19-mile ‘Ring we have today.

The European Grand Prix continued to be held at the Nurburgring until 2007, when the circuit agreed to become host to the German Grand Prix on a biennial basis, alternating duties with its old rival at Hockenheim.

With that little history lesson over, here’s what the track looks like in the flesh, courtesy of Michael Schumacher’s 2006 Ferrari.

Track Facts
Location: Nurburg, Germany
First Race: 1951 (1984 in current iteration)
Track Length: 3.199 miles/5.148km
Laps: 60
2011 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)*
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 1:29.468 (2004)

*2012 race held at Hockenheim

Past Winners (Nurburgring only)
2011: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
2009: Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault)
2007: Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Mercedes)*
2006: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
2005: Fernando Alonso (Renault)*
2004: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
2003: Ralf Schumacher (Williams-BMW)*
2002: Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari)*
2001: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
2000: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)*
1999: Johnny Herbert (Stewart-Ford)*
1998: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes)**
1997: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams-Renault)**
1996: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams-Renault)*
1995: Michael Schumacher (Benetton-Renault)*
1985: Michele Alboreto (Ferrari)
1984: Alain Prost (McLaren-TAG)*

* Race run as European Grand Prix
** Race run as Luxembourg Grand Prix

Stephen D’Albiac

On a day where tyres played a bigger role on the circuit than the racing, which drivers impressed the most at Silverstone? Here’s the belated Performance Podium from the British Grand Prix.

1) Mark Webber

With the headlines in the build-up to the race dominated by Mark Webber’s decision to leave Formula One at the end of the season and pursue a career in sports car racing, the Australian was looking to produce a trademark strong performance at Silverstone in his last British Grand Prix.

Webber started fourth, alongside his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel, but a disastrous start saw him lose several places off the line and contact with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus at the first corner left him in fourteenth place and a damaged front wing, leaving himself with a mountain to climb for the remainder of the afternoon.

But having never been one to give up, Webber – with the safety car’s help – managed to battle his way back up to fifth place with seven laps remaining. And with fresh wheels on his wagon, he quickly dispatched the trio of Daniel Ricciardo, Adrian Sutil and Kimi Raikkonen to take second, and give himself an unlikely shot of catching Nico Rosberg and taking an outstanding victory.

Despite pushing himself to the limit to pass Rosberg, the lap counter got the better of him and he was left having to settle for second. A couple more laps in the race and it may well have been a different story, but Webber had produced a characteristic display that has come to define his career, and one that was fitting for his final Grand Prix at a circuit that will go down as one of his most successful.

2) Lewis Hamilton

By the time the British Grand Prix had reached its eighth lap, it appeared that local favourite Lewis Hamilton was well on the way to a first Mercedes win and a second success on home soil, having led away comfortably from pole and opened up a convincing gap to Sebastian Vettel.

But then the wretched luck that came to define the Englishman’s 2012 season returned, and Hamilton fell victim to the first of many blowouts in the race, forcing him to crawl back to the pits and dropping him out of contention for victory in the cruellest of fashions.

However, with his chances of salvaging something from the race hanging in the balance, Hamilton began his recovery, and by the time the second safety car came in he had clawed his way up to ninth with seven laps left. And with the bit between his teeth in those final stages, the Brit picked up five places in the last part of the race to come home fourth, just behind Fernando Alonso and a place on the podium, capping off a strong fightback in fine style.

3) Nico Rosberg

The fortunes of Nico Rosberg in the British Grand Prix represented something from a bygone era, as the German benefitted from the reliability woes of both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to claim his second win of the season.

However, to say that Rosberg simply inherited the victory would be unfair on the Mercedes driver, for he drove a mature race and put himself in the position to be the main beneficiary of any problems in front of him. Furthermore, he kept his cool in the final laps despite having a reinvigorated Mark Webber breathing down his neck and threatening to deprive him of a third career victory.

For the first time in his career, Rosberg has a car underneath him capable of challenging for regular victories and he is making the most of this opportunity in impressive fashion.

HM) Sebastian Vettel

From the moment he took the lead of the British Grand Prix following Lewis Hamilton’s puncture, Sebastian Vettel appeared to be cruising to a fourth win of the year as he looked set to extend an already convincing margin in the driver’s championship.

But with only 11 laps remaining a gearbox problem dashed Vettel’s hopes of a second win at Silverstone, forcing him to retire from the race and leaving him with no option but to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon from his pit garage. The history books will show that the world champion failed to finish this race, but will ignore the way he’d looked like dominating it for such a large portion of the Grand Prix.

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 23pts
2) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 20pts
3) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 17pts
4) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 13pts
5) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
5) Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 10pts
5) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 10pts
8) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 7pts
8) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 7pts
10) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 6pts
11) Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – 5pts
11) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
13) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 4pts
14) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
14) Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari) – 2pts
14) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
17) Giedo van der Garde (Caterham-Renault) – 1pt
18) Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Renault) – 1pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Firstly, I’d like to join everyone else in wishing Murray Walker a very speedy and full recovery from his illness.

As someone whose commentary has provided much joy for motor racing fans across the world throughout a legendary career, and especially in the UK, the venue of the next race of the F1 season, I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that Murray deserves a show of support at the British Grand Prix.

Therefore I’d like to propose that before the race at Silverstone, a minute’s applause takes place on the grid to allow the F1 paddock and the thousands of fans that are set to pack the grandstands in a fortnight’s time an opportunity to show their support to a motorsport legend, and let him know that everyone in the sport is fully behind him as he begins his fight against his illness.

I’d picture this as being similar to how fans of Aston Villa Football Club show their support to club captain Stiliyan Petrov, who is battling leukaemia, in the 19th minute of every game they play.

As someone who is very much an armchair blogger with no Formula One connections, I don’t know how much chance this little campaign has of succeeding, but if you see this post, I’d kindly urge you to share it on your Twitter or Facebook pages or via any other form of media you can think of.

That way, hopefully those with the powers to organise such a thing will take notice and something will be done at Silverstone to show support to this great motorsport icon.

Stephen D’Albiac

Sebastian Vettel leads the world championship, but Fernando Alonso is lurking behind him

Sebastian Vettel’s dominant drive to victory in Canada last weekend has prompted many to conclude that the title race is already as good as over.

The world champion’s seemingly effortless charge to the chequered flag in Montreal was the most convincing win of the year so far, and helped the Red Bull driver increase his lead over Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ standings to a comfortable 36 points with just seven races gone.

The nature of the win means that Vettel is now odds-on favourite to claim a fourth successive title, with the 25-year-old’s price amongst the bookies being slashed as low as 2/5, indicating a fairly sizeable amount of confidence as to the final destination of the 2013 world championship.

But is the title race really over at this still early stage of the season?

There can be no disputing that Vettel is the clear favourite to make it title number four at this stage. He has a lead larger than at any point since his stroll to the championship in 2011, and his Red Bull is looking stronger than it has at any point over the season. If your life depended on choosing a champion this year, you would plump for the German.

But take a closer look at the race in Canada and the season as a whole, and things don’t look quite as clear-cut.

Focusing solely on the last race for the moment, and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve looks custom made for the RB9. With no high-speed corners to speak of, the track is far easier on its tyres than the likes of Barcelona and Sepang, meaning that everyone, even the notorious, rubber-wrecking Mercedes, had a relatively easy time of things during the race. This was borne out by the fact that the Force India of Paul di Resta was able to complete a marathon 57-lap stint on a set of mediums without any significant drop-off in performance.

Therefore Vettel’s Red Bull, one of several cars to suffer with high wear on the 2013-spec Pirellis, was rid of its main Achilles heel, and the tyre advantage of its rivals, particularly Ferrari and Lotus, was effectively gone before lights out, meaning he was able to push his car to the limit without any fear of having to conserve his rubber.

Not only that, but the RB9 is a clear step ahead of its rivals when it comes to generating traction, a characteristic that Montreal tests like perhaps no other venue on the calendar. The traction of the Red Bull is such that it makes the car capable of gaining at least a tenth through each acceleration zone, giving it a huge advantage throughout the lap and more than making up for what it loses through its relative lack of straight line speed. It’s also no coincidence that Vettel’s other convincing win this season came in Bahrain, another circuit which is heavily reliant on traction.

It so happens that traction is a weakness of the Red Bull’s closest challenger, the Ferrari. There is no doubt that the Scuderia have a cracking car on their hands this year, but its pace on circuits where good acceleration is a must has been noticeably lacking. Alonso was losing time to not only the Red Bulls through the traction zones, but the Mercedes as well, which delayed his charge through to second to the closing stages, and meant that even if he’d had a clear run at Vettel throughout the race, it’s unlikely he’d have ruffled many feathers upfront.

These factors created the perfect recipe for Vettel, and he took full advantage of it to produce the perfect dish for his team.

So what can we expect going into the next few races?

Focusing on the four tracks coming up, we have Silverstone, the Nurburgring, the Hungaroring and Spa.

They all have their unique challenges, but the quartet that makes up the next chapter of this season share some fundamental elements. All four have significant sections of long corners, plenty of which are medium to high-speed bends, all four should provide a bigger test of the Pirelli tyres than Canada, and traction is much less of an issue at each of these venues compared to Montreal.

This spells good news for Ferrari. Its car thrives on circuits with long, sweeping bends and its abundance of front-end grip means it can carry more speed through these corners than the Red Bull, and do it whilst being kinder on the tyres. Of the three tracks raced on this year that fit this profile, Alonso has won comfortably at two of them (China and Barcelona), and his spectacular front wing failure and premature exit from the Malaysian Grand Prix left an open goal for Messrs Vettel and Webber to squabble it out for the win, with explosive results.

If they get it right on the pit wall side of things, and luck goes their way with the weather, they have a very realistic chance of winning all four of those races.

And with the benefit of a driver with the relentless consistency and determination of Alonso to unleash on the field, if he gets a sniff of victory, he will be there every time to tough it out for the win.

Kimi Raikkonen is a potential third title contender, but his Lotus team appears to have taken a step backwards in recent races, and with the Enstone team overly reliant on tyre wear and hot weather – something far from guaranteed in the paradise of uncertainty that is the European summer – it looks as if his hopes may be starting to fade.

This leaves us with a probable repeat of the 2012 title battle; Vettel v Alonso.

Alonso trails Vettel by 36 points, but a win at Silverstone, coupled with a retirement for his rival, would cut the deficit to just 11, and with three tracks that should theoretically suit the Ferrari over the Red Bull to follow next, the title race would be well and truly back on again.

That’s not to say that Vettel doesn’t have a chance over the summer months. The Red Bull will undoubtedly still be right up at the sharp end challenging for podiums at the very least, and with the brain of Adrian Newey at its disposal, the team is only ever one upgrade away from taking a giant leap forward.

But if Ferrari does take the upper hand over the next few races, consistency will be key for Vettel. Even with a 36-point lead in his pocket, if Alonso can string a sequence of wins together, a sizeable advantage can evaporate fast for the championship leader if he’s not there picking up the points. It’s something these two men will know only too well after last year, when a run of four straight wins at the back end of the season helped Vettel overhaul a 39-point deficit to the Ferrari driver and take a lead he was never to lose in the title battle.

Things change so quickly in Formula One that it would be unwise to jump to any conclusions at this stage. What may look comfortable one day suddenly looks decidedly uncomfortable the next, and it is far too early to proclaim that there is only one outcome in this year’s title battle. The next four races will tell us much more, and only then will a clearer picture begin to emerge as to who will be crowned world champion in Brazil at the end of November.

For, to borrow a phrase from the legendary Murray Walker: “Anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does.”

And as the opening salvo of the 2013 season begins to take its final bow, a new chapter of uncertainty may be just around the corner.

Stephen D’Albiac

Having not blogged for a few weeks, one thing that was somewhat neglected was the Performance Podium feature. With points at stake based on how well a driver is ranked I kept a record of the best performers from each race, and so to bring the rankings back up to date, here’s a quick summary of my Performance Podiums for the Spanish, Monaco and Canadian Grands Prix.

The feature will return in its entirety for the British Grand Prix in three weeks time.

Spanish Grand Prix
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2) Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
3) Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
HM) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
HM) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari)

Monaco Grand Prix
1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes)
3) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
HM) Giedo van der Garde (Caterham-Renault)

Canadian Grand Prix
1) Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso-Ferrari)
2) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes)
3) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
HM) Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Renault)

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 23pts
2) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 15pts
3) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 13pts
4) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
4) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
4) Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 10pts
4) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 10pts
8) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 7pts
9) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 6pts
10) Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – 5pts
10) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
12) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 3pts
13) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
13) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
13) Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari) – 2pts
13) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
17) Giedo van der Garde (Caterham-Renault) – 1pt
18) Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Renault) – 1pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Back up and running

Posted: June 13, 2013 in Other

Those of you who regularly follow this blog will undoubtedly have noticed that things have come to a bit of a standstill over the last few weeks.

The reason for this was the need to prioritise my university work, and as someone who at the best of times has a tendency to become a little bit distracted, I decided to put the blog into parc ferme conditions for a few weeks whilst I got all my assignments together and handed in.

Fortunately summer has now arrived, and with no uni work to worry about over the next three months I’m now able to forget about the mindnumbing tedium that is the Harvard referencing system, and put all my efforts back into writing about the sport I love again.

Thanks to everyone who’s read the blog before and I hope I can continue entertaining you all with my thoughts.

Stephen