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Phuket Sports: Boots, boredom and bluster – F1

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PHUKET: What a boring race! The second drag reduction system (DRS) did not enliven Catalunya. Pirelli caved-in to pressure and supplied 2012-style hard tyres. They degraded anyway. Pirelli’s intention is to create two and three stop strategy options for each race; four stops is too many. The race became a shambles that even drivers could not follow. Pirelli has said it will address the situation by Silverstone. I hope they will not bow to vested interests and take us back to easy wins.

It seems Red Bull would like a return to the dark days when Formula 1 started the cars in order of speed on indestructible tyres, and finished the same way.

In 1995 Michael Schumacher won 53% of GPs. In 1996 Damon Hill won 50%. In 1997 Schumie was disqualified for cheating. In 1998, Mika Häkkinen won 50%, and 1999 was similar.

In 2000 and 2001, Schumie reconquered with 53%, in 2002 he raised and took 65%. He won again in 2003, and in 2004 won 72% of races including seven consecutive wins. It was seven races each for Alonso and Räikkönen in 2005, and Alonso and Schumacher in 2006.

2007 to 2010 saw Räikkönen, Hamilton, Button and Vettel each win with five or six races. Then, in 2011 Vettel got 15 poles from 19 races, won 58% of GPs, equaled Schumie’s 2002 record of 17 podium finishes, and took 83% of all possible points.

Despondency returned. Schumacher had the best car designer, was the best driver, and cheated. Red Bull has the best car designer, and Vettel could believe himself heir-apparent to Schumie’s vacant throne. But it is a way for F1 to lose fans.

2012 saw seven winners in the first seven races, and the bleak days looked banished. Pirelli’s made-to-degrade tyres produced the most exciting racing in years.

Today’s teams do not try to head the grid at the expense of a good race set-up, and the drivers have to manage more than speed.

This displeases Red Bull, whose drivers cannot push their car to the limit without destroying their tyres. Patriarch Dietrich Mateschitz has weighed into the debate, arguing that the sport is no longer about racing, but about tyre management. So it is clear that Red Bull is rattled.

The tyres need a bit of tweaking. Let Pirelli manage that and keep vested interests away. I said last week that traditionally teams bring upgrades to Catalunya (click here for article). Clearly Ferrari pulled out all the stops to give Fernando Alonso a winning package for his home GP. Alonso, one of the very best drivers, capitalized on it. Massa, the oldest F1 driver, also did well. Ferrari has changed the championship dynamics, and it now looks as if Alonso and the Iceman will slug it out.

McLaren brought more upgrades to Catalunya than any other team; they needed to. Unhappily, they did not pay-off, and I fear their championship hopes are over.

As forecast Kimi Räikkönen did well, and Grosjean might have done something too if his suspension had not failed. That cost Lotus constructor points, and they need more upgrades to beat Ferrari.

Mercedes and Sauber did not have competitive cars. It seems Mercedes is focusing on 2014. But Hamilton was out driven by Rosberg which will make for interesting Silver Arrows watching from now on. Nico Hulkenburg is a good driver, but the silly pit lane incident with Toro Rosso lost Sauber their chance of points.

Red Bull looked underwhelming. Vettel lost championship points, but in the Constructors’ Championship, Webber’s continual contribution has kept Red Bull nicely ahead. Adrian Newey will even now be plotting to catch Ferrari and Lotus.

The field is dividing into three. In the Yellow Jersey is Vettel on 89, together with the breakaway group Räikkönen 85, and Alonso 72. A second group has Hamilton 50, Massa 45, and Webber 42. The peloton is headed by Grosjean and Paul di Resta on 26 and Rosberg 22. Max Chilton is the Lanterne Rouge with null points. The main battle order seems set now.

In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull is on 131, Ferrari 117, and Lotus 111. The rest are unlikely to challenge them. But Force India is unlucky not to have more points. If Lotus could overtake Mercedes, that would be dramatic.

Monaco on May 26 is one of the highlights of the year. But more of that next time.

Keep checking our online Phuket Sports pages or join our Facebook fan page for the latest local, national and international sporting news.

— The Digby

 

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