Solving Formula One’s prize money problem

 

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Credit: Bleacher Report

Last week, Autosport revealed that Formula One teams had been awarded a prize pot of some $965m for their performances last season.

The money was given by Formula One Management (FOM) to the ten teams that competed in the 2015 world championship, with newcomers Haas not yet eligible for a share of the pot.

While the teams were all awarded some part of the cash for participating in the series, as well as for performance, a staggering $295m of prize money was awarded not on merit, but to a select few teams as a result of pre-signed agreements with Bernie Ecclestone.

It means that Ferrari – which benefits from a $35m constructors’ championship bonus as well as a controversial $70m payday for its status as Formula One’s most historic team – took home $192m for its 2015 efforts, while runaway champions Mercedes – which enjoys $74m in bonus payments – earned just $171m.

A further $74m in bonuses for Red Bull meant that the Austrian concern was given $144m, while Williams – which is entitled to just $10m in added payments and beat them to third place in the constructors’ standings – earned just $87m.

McLaren – which endured a wretched 2015 and placed a disastrous ninth – were the fifth most successful team in the earning stakes, with a generous $32m bonus handout netting the Woking outfit $82m.

Beneath McLaren are the teams not deemed eligible for these funds in the eyes of the sport’s elite. Force India earned $67m, while Lotus (now Renault) took home $64m. Toro Rosso was rewarded with a $57m piece of the pie, while Sauber benefitted to the tune of $57m. Manor, the only team not to score a point in 2015, earned $47m.

A full breakdown of the prize fund for 2015 can be seen here:

Pot 1 ($335m) Pot 2 ($335m) Pot 3 ($295m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Ferrari $33.5m $53.5m $105m $192m
Mercedes $33.5m $63.5m $74m $171m
Red Bull $33.5m $36.5m $74m $144m
Williams $33.5m $43.5m $10m $87m
McLaren $33.5m $16.5m $32m $82m
Force India $33.5m $33.5m N/A $67m
Lotus $33.5m $30.5m N/A $64m
Toro Rosso $33.5m $23.5m N/A $57m
Sauber $33.5m $20.5m N/A $54m
Manor $33.5m $13.5m N/A $47m

Thanks to gift-wrapped bonus payments, what these figures create is a huge disparity between the teams fortunate enough to have been around long enough or been successful enough in the past, and those whose efforts have not been rewarded on the track.

That Formula One currently finds itself in a situation where teams at the back of the grid are struggling to make ends meet while the sport’s coffers are being divided in such an unfair manner is a damning indictment of those at the top.

Ferrari may be the longest serving and most successful team in Formula One history, but what gives a team that has won nothing in the way of championships since 2008 the right to a healthy bonus of more than $100m, while teams like Sauber and Manor earn nothing as they face a desperate struggle for survival?

Mercedes may be the team of the moment, and Red Bull, McLaren and Williams have certainly enjoyed many a day in the now firmly set suns of yesteryear, but in the here and now, prize money should be what it says on the tin. It needs to be distributed in a fair way, based on performance, and not as a note of thanks for their contributions to the sport.

That a team like Force India has produced such fine cars in the face of such a raw deal from the sport’s kingmakers is a glowing testament to the talents of their workforce back at Silverstone. With a fairer share of the prize pot, their potential to achieve would only be greater still.

A redistribution of funds

F1 Grand Prix of Italy

Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Now, armed with a calculator and with my Bernie Ecclestone-styled wig firmly donned, I have devised an alternative prize pot with the aim of rewarding teams on performance rather than prestige.

To make this a fair experiment, I will be playing with the $965m that the teams were given in the real world, but I have changed the way in which it is handed out.

I have split the total prize fund into three distinct pots, the first two worth $432.5m apiece, with the third pot containing $100m.

Pot one will be given to teams for their participation in the sport, ensuring that, straight out of the box, everyone earns a nice starter of $43.25m.

Pot two is a tiered performance bonus, with Mercedes, as champions, earning 14.5 per cent, with Ferrari netting 13.5 per cent for coming second and so on until you get to Manor, which gets 5.5 per cent of the pot. This ensures that each team earns a minimum of $67.05m, more than Force India got in real life for finishing fifth.

This brings us to pot three, which is a pure $100m performance bonus, and is shared between teams based simply on how many points they scored in the previous season.

Mercedes finished with 703 points in 2015 – 36.6 per cent of those available, and therefore, they take away $36.6m, with Ferrari – who amassed 22.3 per cent of the possible points on offer – bagging $22.3m. This filters down to McLaren, which earned just 1.4 per cent of the points last season. Manor, which failed to score in 2015, gets nothing from this pot.

This leaves us with the following breakdown:

Pot 1 ($432.5m) Pot 2 ($432.5m) Pot 3 ($100m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Mercedes $43.25m $62.7m $36.6m $142.55m
Ferrari $43.25m $58.4m $22.3m $123.95m
Williams $43.25m $54.1m $13.4m $110.75m
Red Bull $43.25m $49.7m $9.7m $102.65m
Force India $43.25m $45.4m $7.1m $95.75m
Lotus $43.25m $41.1m $4.1m $88.45m
Toro Rosso $43.25m $36.8m $3.5m $83.55m
Sauber $43.25m $32.4m $1.9m $77.55m
McLaren $43.25m $28.1m $1.4m $72.75m
Manor $43.25m $23.8m $0 $67.05m

As a result, the amount of prize money that each team earns reflects fairly their on-track performance during the 2015 season.

While in real life, the difference between the amount of money awarded to the highest-earning team and the lowest was $145m. Under my system, this disparity falls to $75.5m. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren all find themselves worse off, but the four richest teams in the sport aside, every other constructor benefits to the tune of at least $20m.

This boost in revenue would give the midfield teams more funds, which could be used to invest in better personnel and facilities, increasing the chances of added competition on the grid. Teams would be less likely to need to procure the services of pay drivers, opening up more room for the most talented youngsters to progress to Formula One.

At present, teams only begin to earn prize money at the end of their second season, and only the top ten in the championship benefit from the system. I would change both of these factors, which would allow the Haas team to immediately reap the fruits of their vast investment into the sport and prevent the risk of any one team being cut adrift as a result of a lack of money.

With a formula in place that rewards teams on current endeavours rather than past glories, the message would be simple: if you want more money, do your talking on the track.

Stephen D’Albiac

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Maldonado out, Magnussen in: A refreshing change…

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A growing poison within Formula One in recent years has been the way in which able talents have been so readily cast aside for no other reason than the lack of contribution they have been able to make in the funding department.

Since 2010, no fewer than nine drivers, all of whom had proved themselves worthy of a place in the cutthroat world of Grand Prix racing, have been left unceremoniously dumped from the sport.

The sole reason? Simply that their pockets were not deep enough to satisfy a litany of teams who are struggling to survive in this age of rising costs, declining sponsorships and an ever-growing calendar.

Although some of these drivers list fell victim to the ruthless world that is the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, that the likes of Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne were unable to find drives at other outfits after they were culled by Toro Rosso had little to do with performance.

Similarly, Kevin Magnussen did little at McLaren to show that he could not cut it in the pinnacle of motorsport.

And yet, of these ‘cast-offs’, only Nico Hulkenberg managed to get a proper second chance en route to becoming arguably the best racer on the grid currently plying his trade outside a top team.

Instead, the volume of money is only increasing when it comes to earning a place in the promised land. Forgetting Pastor Maldonado, and the likes of Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton – among others – can all claim to have bought their way onto the grid at one time or other at the expense of their more talented companions.

That is why the news that Maldonado is to be replaced at Renault by Magnussen comes as a welcome relief.

In five seasons of broken front wings, rebuilt cars and a permanent pass to the stewards room, only the odd flash of brilliance prevents the Venezuelan’s CV from amounting to nothing more than a high-speed dodgem.

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The sight of Pastor Maldonado in a barrier became an all-too common one during the Venezuelan’s five years in Formula One.

It is easy to look no further than the PDVSA petro-dollars that have funded Maldonado’s career and forget that he was more than deserving of a Formula One drive when he made his debut for Williams in 2011.

An inconsistent yet occasionally brilliant junior career that earned him a reputation as a specialist around the fabled streets of Monte Carlo and culminated in the GP2 Series crown of 2010 would have made Maldonado a candidate for graduation to the top tier, even without his grotesque level of backing.

His second season in 2012 that saw the still scarcely fathomable win in Spain and a number of top three qualifying performances showed that he had the speed to survive in Formula One, if not the temperament.

And that was always Maldonado’s problem. A driver who earns his staying power in Formula One on merit cuts out the silly collisions, reckless petulance and embarrassing prangs by the time he enters his second season, but far from honing his speed and developing into the well-rounded midfield runner that he had the potential to be, he became little more than an imitation of a Wacky Races character.

It was why his move from Williams to Lotus in 2014 was met with indignation by most, why a website charting his every collision in exquisitely humorous fashion continues to flourish, and why his continued presence in a team famous for its true racing spirit has become little more than a frustration.

But where one door closes, another one opens, and Maldonado’s demise now looks set to give Magnussen a refreshing opportunity to revitalise a stalled career.

Cut adrift at McLaren for the sole reason that Fernando Alonso became available, the Dane should have had teams queuing up to secure the signature of a man who bagged a remarkable second place on his Formula One debut and proved more than an able foil for Jenson Button.

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Kevin Magnussen spent 2015 on the sidelines through circumstance more than any lack of performance.

Yet until Maldonado’s funding dried up, he was left high and dry and faced with a switch to IndyCar or the World Endurance Championship just to get some racing under his belt.

Thankfully, the buyout of Lotus by Renault has turned the financial situation at Enstone into one of rude health, and means that placing a driver of Magnussen’s quality alongside Jolyon Palmer, himself a beneficiary of high value backing, is now a reality rather than a far flung dream.

Once the transition season of 2016 is done and Renault prepares its first fully-fledged manufacturer entry since 2010, one can only hope that a second opportunity for an established driver will arise at the team.

Although not a necessity, the prospect of a French driver delivering the goods at a French team would do Renault’s image across the Channel no harm. Of the talented cast-offs, Jean-Eric Vergne, a man who proved more than a match for Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso, is another, like Magnussen, just crying out to be given a second opportunity.

Just imagine, a year down the line, the prospect of Renault signing Vergne to partner Magnussen, and in so doing securing one of the most exciting young driver line-ups on the grid.

If so, it would make a welcome, and refreshing change.

Stephen D’Albiac

Performance Podium: Bahrain

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned out to be a race in which some rather unexpected names stood out, making this the Performance Podium of the ‘unusual suspects’.

But in which order did the stars of Sakhir end up in performance terms? Keep reading, and you’ll find the answer.

1) Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez answered his critics in fine fashion in Bahrain with a highly impressive drive to sixth place.

The McLaren driver had been criticised for not defending hard enough when battling with other cars in China, but Perez came back brilliantly in Bahrain, getting stuck into fights with other drivers throughout the race, most notably with teammate Jenson Button, with whom the Mexican tussled in a thrilling duel that lasted many laps.

Perez got the better of his McLaren sparring partner late on in the race, before passing Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in the closing laps and also demonstrating his renowned tyre management by getting to the end on three stops, in a race where Button was forced to make four visits to the pit lane.

The challenge now is for Perez to continue to produce drives of this nature, and if he manages to do so, he will more than begin to repay the faith McLaren showed in signing him to replace Lewis Hamilton.

2) Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean was another man slightly under the cosh before this weekend. The Frenchman hadn’t driven particularly badly, but had failed to show the speed he had often demonstrated in 2012.

It was perhaps apt, then, that Grosjean produced by far his best performance of the season so far in Bahrain, the scene of his maiden Formula One podium last year, making best use of a three-stop strategy to take third place.

Having spent the first part of the race mired in a battle with the McLarens, Grosjean came alive in the second half, using his fresher medium tyres at the end to pass Paul di Resta in the closing stages and claim his first podium finish since Hungary last year.

Grosjean has managed to keep his nose clean so far this season, and if he can build on the speed he found this weekend, then the Frenchman could well become a regular podium challenger throughout the year.

3) Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta made best use of an extremely quick Force India to match his career best finish of fourth in Bahrain.

di Resta moved up to fourth on the opening lap, and when Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg began to drop back, for a time was running in an incredible second place on merit.

The Scot lost out to Kimi Raikkonen on lap 34, but then ran solidly in third place, and looked set for a maiden F1 podium before Romain Grosjean’s charge bumped him down to fourth in the closing stages.

Despite missing out on the podium, di Resta will be delighted with his weekend’s work, and with Force India fighting it out at the front on merit so far this season, a top three finish may not be too far away.

HM) Sebastian Vettel

It would be hard not to find a place in this Performance Podium for Sebastian Vettel, who even by his standards produced a storming drive in Bahrain.

A stunning overtake on Fernando Alonso on the first lap put him second, before his swift pass on Nico Rosberg gave him an early lead which allowed him to streak clear at the front.

From that point Vettel never looked like being beaten, and comfortably drove out the rest of the race to take his second win of the season and cement his place at the top of the drivers standings.

HM) Fernando Alonso

It’s a testament to Fernando Alonso’s driving ability that he recovered from two DRS failures to secure eighth, and a good haul of points from today’s Grand Prix.

Two unscheduled stops in the early part of the race, put him on a compromised pit strategy, and with no DRS to make his way through the field, he was forced to make up lost ground with a significant speed disadvantage.

Despite the lack of DRS making him defenceless against Sergio Perez in the closing stages, Alonso will be happy to have salvaged some points from this race and minimise the ground lost in the title battle ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 13pts
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 10pts
2) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
2) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
5) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 5pts
5) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
9) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 2pts
12) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
13) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-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

Rampant Vettel takes dominant win in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel cruised to his second win of the season as he romped to victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

After losing second to Fernando Alonso at the start, Vettel produced a stunning overtaking manouevre to reclaim second at turn five on the opening lap, before passing polesitter Nico Rosberg on lap three to take a lead he never looked like losing.

Kimi Raikkonen came second after using a two-stop strategy to come through the field, while his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean took his first podium of the season by finishing third, passing the Force India of Paul di Resta in the closing stages of the race.

di Resta’s fourth place underlined the improvement Force India have made over the winter, whilst Lewis Hamilton, the hugely impressive Sergio Perez, Mark Webber and the luckless Alonso, who had to pit twice in the opening laps after his DRS got stuck open, rounded out the top eight.

Poleman Rosberg and Jenson Button completed the points, with both struggling to preserve their tyres throughout the race and the pair had to make four stops to get to the end.

Everyone got away cleanly at the start, with Rosberg making it to the first corner from pole position, ahead of the dicing Alonso and Vettel.

Alonso made it out of turn three in second place, but Vettel then used his KERS to great effect on the exit of the fourth corner to blast up the inside of the Ferrari and reclaim his starting position in brilliant fashion.

Now into second place, Vettel clearly had more pace than the Mercedes of Rosberg, and having spent the whole of the second lap threatening a pass, pulled off a move at turn six on lap three to move into the lead.

Alonso then waited his turn behind the Mercedes, and with the help of the DRS made his move on Rosberg to take second at the start of lap five.

However, in passing the Mercedes the Ferrari’s DRS had failed, and the flap on the rear wing of Alonso’s car jammed open, contravening FIA regulations and forcing him to pit on lap seven to get it fixed.

That pitstop dropped the Spaniard way down the order, and instead of hunting down race leader Vettel, he was now staring at the gearbox of Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. He used the DRS to pass the Frenchman into turn 11, but as he did so the Ferrari’s flap stuck open again, forcing a second visit to the pits in as many laps.

With the use of DRS not an option for the remainder of the race, Alonso was forced to make his way through the field without the use of his main overtaking aid, but creditably fought back into the points in the closing stages. He passed Perez to take seventh place, but with no way of using his rear wing to make inroads into the scrapping Webber and Hamilton ahead of him, he became easy prey for the McLaren in the closing laps and the Mexican retook the place to leave Alonso in a still very respectable eighth.

Perez was one of the standout performers of the race. Having received plenty of criticism over his racecraft since his move to McLaren, he got himself into some cracking battles for position throughout the race, most notably with teammate Button in the second and third stints. The pair made contact on more than one occasion as they fought wheel-to-wheel, and the Mexican got the better of his more experienced teammate, managing to complete the race on one less pit stop.

A fine afternoon for Perez was completed on the final lap when he passed the Red Bull of Webber to take sixth place.

Hamilton was another driver that fought through in the closing stages. The Englishman had endured a subdued afternoon up until the final round of stops and looked set for a place in the lower reaches of the points, but fought through in the closing stages to pass Perez and then Webber right at the end after a thrilling battle that lasted several laps.

By now Vettel and Raikkonen were safely out front, and the big question was as to whether di Resta would be able to claim a place on the podium ahead of Grosjean, who had been forced to visit the pits on three occasions throughout the race.

Having driven a storming race, undoubtedly the finest of his F1 career, it looked as though di Resta was set for his first ever podium finish, but the Lotus of Grosjean made a late charge on the medium tyres and with just five laps remaining, took the place from the Force India on the pit straight to take third place and ensure an exact repeat of the podium standings from last year’s race.

But there was no stopping the dominant Red Bull of Vettel, who comfortably drove his car home to take his second win of the season.

He now leads the world championship on 77 points, ahead of Raikkonen with 67, whilst Hamilton lies third with 50, three clear of Alonso in fourth place.

Classification
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:36:00.498 secs
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – +9.111 secs
3) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – +19.507 secs
4) Paul Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – +21.727 secs
5) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – +35.230 secs
6) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – +35.998 secs
7) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – +37.244 secs
8) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – +37.574 secs
9) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – +41.126 secs
10) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – +46.631 secs
11) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – +1:06.450 secs
12) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – +1:12.933 secs
13) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – +1:16.719 secs
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – +1:21.511 secs
15) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – +1:26.364 secs
16) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1 lap
17) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
18) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – + 1 lap
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
20) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 2 laps

Not classified
22) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 41 laps

Stephen D’Albiac

Brilliant Alonso storms to Shanghai victory

Fernando Alonso took his first win of the season with a scintillating drive at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Alonso passed poleman Lewis Hamilton for the lead at the start of the fifth lap and never looked back, the only thing troubling him from then on being the negotiation of those on different strategies after his pit stops.

Kimi Raikkonen finished second after getting the jump on Hamilton at the final round of pit stops, with the Lotus driver having an eventful race which included him damaging his front wing when Sergio Perez forced him off the track on lap 16.

Hamilton finished third, although he only just held off a charging Sebastian Vettel on the final lap, with the Red Bull driver’s mistake coming onto the back straight costing him the chance to launch an attack on the Mercedes in the DRS zone.

Jenson Button came home fifth after making a two-stop strategy work better than anyone else, with Felipe Massa following him home sixth.

Daniel Ricciardo produced a very impressive drive on his way to a career-best seventh, with Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg completing the points.

Eight drivers, including both Raikkonen and Vettel, were investigated for illegal use of the DRS under yellow flags after the race, but the stewards took no further action against them, meaning the result of the race stands as completed.

There were a number of other incidents throughout the race, with the most spectacular coming on the sixth lap when Esteban Gutierrez misjudged his braking point on the back straight and slammed into the back of Adrian Sutil, ending both their races. The Mexican’s mistake has earned him a five-place grid penalty for next week’s race in Bahrain.

It was also a race to forget for Webber, who after starting from the pit lane, stopped on the first lap of the race to get rid of the soft tyres, and jumped more than half the grid to move himself solidly into the points.

However, it all unravelled for the Australian when he collided with Jean-Eric Vergne, and then retired after his second pit stop went wrong and his right-rear wheel came loose, eventually parting company with his Red Bull on the exit of turn 14. To compound Webber’s misery, he has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the Bahrain Grand Prix for causing the incident.

Nico Rosberg’s stunning run of form at Shanghai is also at an end after the Mercedes driver retired on the 22nd lap with a mechanical problem.

The result of today’s race means Vettel leaves Shanghai as the championship leader with 52 points, three points ahead of Raikkonen on 49, with Alonso’s win moving him up into the top three with 43 points.

Classification
1) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1h36:26.945
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – + 10.100s
3) Lewis  Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – + 12.300s
4) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – + 12.500s
5) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – + 35.200s
6) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – + 40.800s
7) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – + 42.600s
8) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – + 51.000s
9) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – + 53.400s
10) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – + 56.500s
11) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – + 1m03.800s
12) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – + 1m12.600s
13) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – + 1m33.800s
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – + 1m35.400s
15) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
16) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
17) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
18) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap

Not Classified
19) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
20) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault21) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
22) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) – Sauber-Ferrari

Stephen D’Albiac

Hamilton storms to Shanghai pole

Lewis Hamilton has his first pole position as a Mercedes driver after blitzing the field in qualifying for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton topped all three sessions in Shanghai, and his time of 1:34.484 in the final shoot-out was enough to secure top spot by three tenths of a second.

Kimi Raikkonen will start second after a stunning lap in Q3, which gives the Lotus driver his first front row start in nearly four years.

Fernando Alonso completed the top three after going fastest in practice this morning, and with Ferrari’s pace on the longer runs looking ominous this weekend, he will be right on the top two’s heels tomorrow.

The other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg starts fourth, a mistake in the final corner of his hot lap potentially costing him the chance to join his teammate on the front row, while Felipe Massa qualified fifth and missed out on the chance to outqualify Alonso for a record fifth race on the bounce.

Romain Grosjean will line up sixth, ahead of the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo, who produced a stunning lap to give the Australian his highest grid position since Bahrain last year.

Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten, although none of them made a serious attempt to challenge for pole and the trio will start the race on the medium tyre, a gamble that may well see them rise through the field in the opening stages tomorrow.

It hasn’t been the happiest three weeks of Mark Webber’s Formula One career, and that trend continued during qualifying as the Australian’s Red Bull ran out of fuel partway through Q2. Webber had qualified 14th, but his misery was compounded by being sent to the back of the grid for not providing a big enough fuel sample to the FIA.

Paul di Resta qualified 11th, and shares the sixth row of the grid with Sergio Perez, whose already difficult weekend didn’t get any better. Adrian Sutil will start 13th, with Maldonado the first beneficiary of Webber’s penalty as he moves up to 14th. Jean-Eric Vergne completes the runners who made it through the first part of qualifying and will line up 15th.

Q1 was a hurdle that Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez failed to clear, with both being knocked out at the first stage for the second time this season. The ever impressive Jules Bianchi starts 18th, seven tenths ahead of his teammate Max Chilton, while the Caterhams of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, and the luckless Webber complete the grid.

The Grid
1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:34.484
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – 1:34.761
3) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:34.788
4) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:34.861
5) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:34.933
6) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:35.364
7) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:35.988
8) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 2:05.673
9) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – no time set (Q3)
10) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – no time set (Q3)
11) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – 1:36.287 (Q2)
12) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:36.314 (Q2)
13) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:36.405 (Q2)
14) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:37.139 (Q2)
15) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:37.199 (Q2)
16) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – 1:37.769 (Q1)
17) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:37.990 (Q1)
18) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:38.780 (Q1)
19) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:39.537 (Q1)
20) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – 1:39.614 (Q1)
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:39.660 (Q1)
EX) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault

Stephen D’Albiac

Lotus’ tyre management makes them genuine title contenders


There is no question that Lotus were be the happiest team that left Australia on Sunday night and will be extremely confident going into the next few races.

The team’s superior tyre management compared to any of the other top teams was the single biggest factor in Kimi Raikkonen’s drive to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

That’s not to say that was the only reason Raikkonen won the race – he was running with the leaders all the way through the first two stints and the E21 had the pace to challenge for the win on merit – but had Lotus not been able to keep their tyres working on a two-stop strategy, it’s quite likely that Raikkonen would have had to settle for second behind the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

However, the fact that Lotus did make the tyres last over a two-stop race, especially with tyre management set to be a crucial factor over the first half of the season, means that they could well be considered the early favourites for the title, and with good reason.

If the team can consistently get away with making one less stop than its rivals, it doesn’t matter if their car isn’t the fastest. With an extra visit to the pits costing on average around 20 seconds, it means that as long as Lotus can run within a couple of tenths of the quickest driver on the track, they will be in a position to compete for victory.

With it taking on average near to half a season over the last two years for all the teams to get a proper understanding of the Pirelli tyres, there is a great opportunity for Raikkonen to take several more wins over the next few races, and if Romain Grosjean can start to deliver the goods as well it will put Lotus in a great position to challenge for not only the drivers’ championship, but the constructors’ title as well. For a team that has tasted remarkably little success since the Fernando Alonso-Renault era of 2005 and 2006, this presents a fantastic opportunity for the Enstone team to put themselves back on the top step of the podium.

There are other reasons for Lotus to be confident as well. Whilst having an extremely fast car over a race distance last year, the team’s Achilles heel came with the car’s inability to perform well in colder temperatures. Raikkonen’s victory at a chilly Melbourne not only indicates that Lotus have sorted out their issues in far from ideal temperatures, but also if similar progress has been made when Formula One heads to warmer climbs, they could well have the strongest package of anyone in race trim.

Of course, the issue over the team’s qualifying performances remain, with both Raikkonen and Grosjean managing no higher than the fourth row of the grid in Australia, but given the highly disrupted nature of that session and the fact that dry tyres were only fitted to the cars in the dying minutes of Q3, it will take a couple of races until we know for sure where Lotus stand in qualifying. However, it has certainly looked from testing and the dry practice sessions in Melbourne as though the team is lacking in this area compared to the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes.

These qualifying issues should not be much of an issue over the next few races, with Malaysia, China and Bahrain all circuits that offer good opportunities to overtake, meaning that as long as Lotus can put themselves somewhere around the top five on a Saturday, they will have a chance of competing on the Sunday.

Taking the team’s superior tyre management into account and adding in the strength of Raikkonen, the potential of Grosjean as well as the team’s improved pace in colder weather, if Lotus can develop at a similar rate to its rivals and improve their car over a single lap, there is no reason why they can’t win both championships for the first time in seven years.

And with Raikkonen at 7/2 in the betting stakes to become a double world champion this year, and Lotus a generous 7/1 in the odds for the constructors’ title, that could well prove to be a shrewd punt come the end of the year.

Stephen D’Albiac