Monday, 31 August 2009

Kimi Raikkonen wins for Ferrari at Spa as Force India get their first ever Championship points

This year has seen the worst start to a Formula 1 season for Scuderia Ferrari in almost three decades, with the legendary Italian marque failing to score a single point until the 4th race of the season. That dismal start comes after Ferrari won their 16th Constructors' World Championship last year and their driver Felipe Massa lost out on the Drivers' World Championship by just 1 point. However, at the end of a remarkable turnaround that started with the season's first podium finish for Ferrari at Monaco, the Scuderia shines again as Kimi Raikkonen gets their first ever Grand Prix victory for 2009.

Spa-Francorchamps, set in the heart of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, is a historic venue for motorsport with a history going back more than 80 years. It is a very high speed and challenging race track that demands the best from both man and machine, but rewards drivers highly for respecting and attacking it. Due to the high speed nature of the track, cars with a medium to low level of downforce generally perform better than higher downforce cars. Low downforce cars have less aerodynamic grip and more mechanical grip, and thus have a lower drag which enables them to reach a higher top speed than cars with higher downforce. That is why, although it was surprising to see some unusual names qualify at the top during Saturday's Qualifying, it was not totally out of the blue because the BMWs and the Toyotas and the Force Indias have all struggled for downforce at other tracks. But here at Spa, that lack of downforce played into their hands as Giancarlo Fisichella, shocking everyone on the paddock including his own Force India team, grabbed pole position. It is Force India's maiden pole position in Formula 1 and they achieved it on merit. They had a good car all weekend.

Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari was the only KERS equipped car to qualify within the top ten. He was in 6th place with a decent amount of fuel on board, behind Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello and Robert Kubica. Behind Raikkonen, Timo Glock, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg completed the top ten. For the first time this season, Championship leader Jenson Button qualified outside the top ten as he failed to go through to Q3, the final part of qualifying. He struggled to get the right level of grip and balance on his car and only managed to qualify in 14th place. Defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton also struggled as he qualified only in 12th place, ahead of Renault's double World Champion Fernando Alonso. Unsurprisingly, Ferrari's Luca Badoer was last on the grid.

With a Force India, a BMW and a Toyota as the top 3 cars on the grid, it was shaping up to be a phenomenal race on Sunday. BrawnGP's Rubens Barrichello was the lightest of the front runners on fuel load, so most people were looking out for Raikkonen with his KERS equipped Ferrari to challenge for the win. Being the only driver on the grid to have previously won a race here, Raikkonen had won three out of the last four races here at Spa-Francorchamps. So this track is clearly one of the most favourites for the Finn.

At the start of the race, Rubens Barrichello hit anti-stall and lost a lot of places by the time he got going. Kimi Raikkonen had a tremendous start though, and starting on the super-soft option tyres with good traction and the KERS, was immediately up to 3rd place by La Source, which is turn 1. Trulli and Heidfeld also made bad starts which enabled Robert Kubica to get up to 2nd place. However, Raikkonen overtook Kubica while coming out of Eau Rouge and heading into Les Combe, one of the fastest sections of the track. Coming out of Les Combe, Raikkonen was briefly hit by Kubica as the Ferrari took too much kerb and went slightly on to the grass. Both the cars were undamaged though.

As the top 3 cars of Fisichella, Raikkonen and Kubica powered out of Les Combe, all hell broke loose behind them. Renualt's Romain Grosjean, who was only in his second Formula 1 race, outbraked himself and hit Jenson Button and both cars went off and hit the barriers. Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari then took out Lewis Hamilton at the same time and all four cars were then out of the race. That meant absolute disaster for Championship leader Jenson Button, as he fails to score a point for the first time this season. During the race, Race Control said that the Stewards will be investigating both these collisions after the race. The final verdict, after the race, was that it was just a racing incident and no one was penalised.

Following this massive pile up, the safety car inevitably came out. As the safety car prepared to go back in at the end of lap 4, Raikkonen was right on the tail of Fisichella. At the restart, it was KERS into action once again as Kimi Raikkonen drove on the outside of Fisichella coming out of Eau Rouge to take the race lead. Immediately after that, Kimi Raikkonen set a string of fastest laps as he opened up a 2 second gap over Fisichella.

Meanwhile at the back, Barrichello made an early pit stop during the safety car period to go on a long middle stint and try and recover some positions following his disastrous start. Jarno Trulli also had to make an early pit stop to change his front wing, which was damaged when he hit the back of Heidfeld's BMW at La Source on the first lap. Trulli eventually had to retire on lap 22 as his car faced other problems during the race.

Meanwhile on lap 7, Kimi Raikkonen sets a new fastest lap of the race leading from Fisichella, Kubica, Glock, Webber, Heidfeld, Vettel and Rosberg. Barrichello was now up in 12th place after some overtaking. Kubica becomes the first of the front runners to make a pit stop from 3rd place on lap 12. Behind him, Timo Glock pitted at the same time as well but the German lost a lot of time in the pits as Toyota had a fuel rig problem. Out on the track, Mark Webber set a personal best lap time before he, along with Raikkonen, Fisichella and Heidfeld all pit on lap 13.

Raikkonen and Fisichella were the first ones to come in from 1st and 2nd place. This was crucial because whoever came out of this pit stop ahead could potentially win the race. A great work by the Ferrari pit crew meant that Raikkonen came out ahead of Fisichella and maintained his lead. They came out in 3rd and 4th place respectively, behind Vettel and Rosberg both of whom were yet to make their first pit stops. Back in the pits however, Webber had a bit of wheelspin when he was released from his pit box and that lost him a tenth or two of a second. This meant that the Australian came just ahead of Nick Heidfeld, a bit too close in fact, and Heidfeld was forced to take avoiding action. Although Heidfeld later overtook Webber on the outlap, Race Control announced immediately that they were investigating that incident. Almost straight away, Webber was given a drive-through penalty for unsafe release from a pit stop. Although Webber's drive through penalty at the Nurburgring was deemed to be a bit too harsh, here at Spa it was undebatable.

Nico Rosberg pitted on lap 18 just before Mark Webber served his drive through penalty. Rosberg came out in 11th with Webber 13th. By then, Fisichella had closed the gap with Raikkonen to under a second and although the Force India was a faster car, the Ferrari was faster on the straights thanks to KERS. At around lap 21, Kimi Raikkonen was told by his race engineer that they need to open up a gap with Fisichella at about a tenth of a second per lap, as both him and Fisichella are on a similar race strategy and may pit at the same time. Force India also tell Fisichella about Ferrari's instruction to Raikkonen, and tell him to close the gap with Raikkonen at about a tenth per lap.
On lap 24, Fernando Alonso, running on one-stop strategy, pitted from 3rd place. However, his race was ruined when the Renault mechanics struggled to change his front left tyre due to an earlier damage caused to the wheel nut. Alonso then had to retire a couple of laps later due to problems with his car. Sebastian Vettel, after making his first pit stop, was down in 5th behind Kovalainen and ahead of Heidfeld and Barrichello.

Sebastian Vettel, now up in 4th after Kovalainen's one and only pit stop, was starting to close in on Kubica at about half a second per lap. He moved up to 3rd when Kubica pitted for the second time on lap 30. On lap 31, Raikkonen and Fisichella make their second and last pit stops, again at the same time. Once again, a brilliant work by the Ferrari pit crew meant that Raikkonen came out in front. On lap 35, Vettel was leading the race ahead of Raikkonen, Fisichella, Kubica and Heidfeld before he came in for his second and last pit stop. While Vettel was driving beautifully, his team mate Webber was not at all comfortable in the car struggling with a lack of balance and too much oversteer. A brilliant couple of laps before coming into the pits meant that Vettel came out just ahead of Kubica.

Nearing the end, Sebastian Vettel set a new fastest lap of the race on lap 40 and was starting to close in on Fisichella. Both Fisichella and Raikkonen then responded with personal best lap times. At this stage, behind Raikkonen, Fisichella and Vettel, the order was Kubica, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Barrichello and Rosberg in the points scoring positions.

With just about 2 laps to go, smoke started coming out from the back of Rubens Barrichello's BrawnGP. Barrichello was then told on the radio by the BrawnGP pitwall that it was only an oil leak and that he needed to conserve the engine a little bit to make it through the final 2 laps.
At the end of lap 44, thousands of Scuderia Ferrari fans in the grandstand erupted with celebrations as Kimi Raikkonen took the Chequered Flag for Ferrari for the first time since Barcelona 2008. It was also the first time this year that a Ferrari has won a Grand Prix and all the mechanics and team personnel in the Ferrari garage went wild, and quite understandably so. However, it will be harsh not to congratulate Force India as they gain their first ever World Championship points thanks to their first ever podium finish. That podium finish was not a fluke because lap times suggest that the Force India was a genuinely quick car on this track.

As far as the Championships go, Ferrari is starting to consolidate the 3rd place it currently holds with 56 points ahead of 4th placed McLaren-Mercedes with 44 points. In the Drivers' World Championship, Sebastian Vettel is now up in 3rd with 53 points, just 3 points behind 2nd placed Rubens Barrichello. Button in 1st and Webber in 4th both failed to score any points at Spa.

Coming back to Ferrari, there is a lot of talk going on that Ferrari are apparently over with Badoer after his dismal performances in back to back races. Rumours also suggest that Force India's Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella could be making a temporary switch to Ferrari until Felipe Massa returns. It has not been officially confirmed yet, but Ferrari say that they will be announcing a decision regarding Badoer's replacement over the next couple of days. Meanwhile, their injured driver Felipe Massa is recovering very well and is currently in Miami in the United States to do some more medical checkups.

So after a spectacular Belgian Grand Prix at the wonderful Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Formula 1 is back in a couple of weeks at Monza in the heart of Ferrari land for the Italian Grand Prix. The grandstands are going to be full of tifosi cheering their heart out for Ferrari, wishing that this winning form found in Spa continues at Monza. It is going to be another very exciting race. Until then, drive safely everyone!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Raikkonen gives biggest hint yet of not being at Ferrari next year

Talking to reporters on Friday, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen threw some doubts about his future in Formula 1. Although Raikkonen said that he will be driving in Formula 1 next year, and that is a certainty, he gave the biggest hint so far of the possibility of not having a Ferrari drive next year.

Raikkonen said: "If for some reason I am not at Ferrari next season I know I'll have a seat at another team in the paddock. It's not a problem. Other teams want me.

"I'm too young to retire. I have a contract with Ferrari for next season. If I didn't want to race next season I would not have signed a contract."

For quite a while now, it has been an open secret in the paddock that Fernando Alonso will be driving for Ferrari next year. Neither Alonso nor Ferrari have officially confirmed anything yet, but rumours have it that Alonso has signed a binding contract with Ferrari which means that he will be replacing Kimi Raikkonen from next year. Ferrari was reportedly planning to announce the deal with Alonso during the Italian Grand Prix weekend in September, but since the horrific crash of their other driver Felipe Massa, may now wait to make the announcement until the end of the season. It seems pretty certain that whoever is driving the other car, Massa's seat is safe at Ferrari.

Raikkonen reportedly has a Ferrari contract worth $50 million that Maranello will have to pay out if the Finn is to leave them a year early. In spite of being the highest paid driver on the grid, Raikkonen's performance has been surprisingly lacklustre since he won the World Championship in 2007. Last year he was comprehensively beaten by his team mate Felipe Massa, who is on a lower pay grade at Ferrari than Raikkonen. It now seems that the Ferrari bosses are more intent in getting a driver who can perform consistently better as the team looks to get back into championship contention from next year after a dismal 2009.

It is also clear that at rivals McLaren-Mercedes, Heikki Kovalainen's seat is far from certain. World Champion Lewis Hamilton is locked into a contract with the Woking based team at least until 2012, but his team-mate's position is up for grabs, or so it seems. Some reporters have been suggesting lately that Kimi Raikkonen could make a shock return to McLaren if he really does not have a Ferrari drive next year. Raikkonen drove for McLaren-Mercedes between 2002 and 2006 before coming to Ferrari from 2007 as a replacement for seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher.

The so-called "silly season" in Formula 1 is in full swing right now and all these rumours and speculations and reading between the lines are only a part of it. However, as long time Formula 1 fans should know very well, that although not all the rumours eventually materialise, a lot more of them actually end up being true than people might realise.

After the current race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in mid-September is not just Ferrari's home race but is also the last of the European races this season. So we can possibly get a better insight into this whole Ferrari-Alonso-Raikkonen situation during that weekend. For now though, we have got the prospect of a very exciting race at Spa-Francorchamps and let us not get distracted from enjoying the race at one of motorsport's most historic venues. For UK viewers, coverage of the Qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps begins live on BBC One and the BBC Sport Website tomorrow at 12:10pm BST. Radio listeners can also tune in to BBC 5 Live sports extra for live commentary. Until next time, drive safely everyone!

Provisional 2010 Formula One calendar has Bahrain as the curtain raiser

Coming up to the last third of the Championship, it is time that the stakeholders in Formula 1 gradually start preparing for the 2010 season. In line with that, a provisional 2010 calendar is doing the rounds at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.

According to this provisional calendar, the Bahrain Grand Prix will host the curtain raiser for the 2010 season. The Australian Grand Prix, which have hosted the season opening races over the last few years, have been moved down the calendar to coincide with the start of the Daylight Saving Time in Europe, so that the time difference for European audiences is less than what it is normally. When the races at Melbourne started at their usual afternoon starting time, most of Europe would be fast asleep at the middle of the night and thus missing live coverage. To improve live television coverage in Europe, Bernie Ecclestone moved the start time of the Australian Grand Prix this year to 1700 local time. That gave an early morning broadcast in Europe, which massively helped the television viewing figures. The bad thing with such a late start to the race was that the setting sun seriously reduced the visibility, and the drivers complained quite a lot of poor visibility. Hopefully, that problem will not be faced anymore next year with an earlier race start.

Among the other changes, Shanghai moves back to autumn while Istanbul comes forward to April. All the other races stay pretty much the way they are this year, the only difference being the British Grand Prix will be at Donington Park and the German Grand Prix will be at the Hockenheimring. There are, however, 18 races on the provisional 2010 calendar as opposed to 17 this year. That is brilliant news because the wonderful track at Montreal comes back to Formula 1 with the Canadian Grand Prix. I am personally very happy to see Montreal back as it really is a great race track. Montreal last hosted a Formula 1 race in 2007, but then pulled out because of a lack of funding. Revised contractual arrangements with Bernie Ecclestone, however, has ensured that the Canadian Grand Prix is back on the Formula 1 calendar as the only North American race. Just like this year, the 2010 season ends with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the brand new Yas Marina Circuit.

Here is the full provisional 2010 Formula One calendar:

March 14 Bahrain (Sakhir)
March 28 Australia (Melbourne)
April 4 Malaysia (Sepang)
April 25 Turkey (Istanbul)
May 9 Spain (Barcelona)
May 23 Monaco (Monte Carlo)
June 6 Canada (Montreal)
June 27 Europe (Valencia)
July 11 Great Britain (Donington)
July 25 Germany (Hockenheim)
August 1 Hungary (Budapest)
August 22 Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps)
September 5 Italy (Monza)
September 19 China (Shanghai)
September 26 Singapore (Singapore)
October 10 Japan (Suzuka)
October 24 Brazil (Interlagos)
November 7 Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The final push to the Championship is on as Rubens Barrichello wins in Valencia

After a four-week long summer break, Formula 1 returned to the track this weekend with the European Grand Prix at the Valencia street circuit. This was touted to be a crucial race for Championship leader Jenson Button who has lost a big part of his lead over the last few races to the Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Since winning the Turkish Grand Prix, Red Bull has dominated most of the races while Button has struggled to even get a podium finish. That means that most of the mammoth lead he had in the Driver's Championship standings after Turkey had been wiped out by Webber and Vettel.

The main problem with the BrawnGP car of Button seemed to be with tyres and grip. Over the last few races, Button had been struggling to get his tyres up to the optimum working temperature, which meant that he was not getting proper grip and was thus lacking in pace. His Championship rival Red Bull meanwhile continued their progress with car development and was clearly dominating on the track. Lately, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari have also made significant progress and although the title bid for these two teams are technically over, they can surely help in deciding this year's title winner by winning some 0f the remaining races themselves. So it was very important for Button to turn around his fortunes at this race to set himself up for the final push to the Championship.

In spite of the swelteringly hot weather in Valencia, Button only managed to qualify 5th on Saturday. Given that overtaking is nigh on impossible on this street circuit, the Briton could only finish the race in 7th place after making a bad start. Getting caught up in traffic, Button was down to 9th by turn 1 in the opening lap. Red Bull's Mark Webber managed to get ahead of him by then and the two of them fought for positions for most of the race. Button finally managed to leapfrog Webber during the second and last round of pitstops. As Webber pitted before Button, the Briton drove some fast laps before making his own pit stop. On top of that, the fact that Webber was caught up in traffic on his own in-lap meant that he had already lost a bit of his advantage even before coming in to the pits. So after the pit stops, Button came out in front of Webber and finally finished in 7th.

At the front, McLaren-Mercedes qualified one-two on the grid for the first time this season with World Champion Lewis Hamilton on pole and his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen in 2nd. Behind them was the BrawnGP of Rubens Barrichello with a slightly heavier fuel load than the McLarens. Behind them Vettel, Button, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Alonso, Webber and Kubica completed the top ten. Ferrari's test driver Luca Badoer, who is temporarily replacing the injured Felipe Massa, struggled for pace throughout the weekend in spite of having an identical car as Raikkonen who was much faster. Badoer qualified last on the grid, and I am ashamed to say, that this is the first time in the history of Ferrari that a Prancing Horse has qualified last on the grid on merit, without any car problems. Although Badoer made up quite a few places at the start of the race thanks to KERS, he eventually came home last as he was clearly lacking true race pace. In spite of having the same car as Raikkonen had, Badoer was lapping about 1.5 to 2 seconds a lap slower than his team mate. It just goes to show, that you can have all the experience in the world in testing a Formula 1 car, but the actual racing itself is a completely different nut to crack.

Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari had a brilliant start and used his KERS well to overtake Button and Vettel off the line. So at the end of the first lap, the leading four were Hamilton from Kovalainen from Barrichello from Raikkonen. This order remained unchanged until about the first round of pit stops. Rubens Barrichello started with a heavier fuel load than both the McLarens and had slightly better race pace as well. Because of that, he was able to leapfrog Kovalainen at the first round of pit stops and then leapfrogged Hamilton at the second round of pit stops. This put Raikkonen back in 4th but the Finn was pushing very hard, and because of that was able to overtake compatriot Kovalainen at the second round of pit stops. The finishing order was thus Barrichello from Hamilton from Raikkonen from Kovalainen from Rosberg from Alonso from Button from Kubica to complete the top eight.

BrawnGP's veteran Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello wins his first race of the season, and given that he had a championship winning car it had been a long time coming. The Brazilian was very emotional after the race and dedicated the victory to his compatriot Felipe Massa, wishing him a speedy recovery and seeing him back on the track soon. This was Barrichello's first Grand Prix victory in five years, the last one being Shanghai 2004 for Ferrari.

Championship contender Sebastian Vettel had a dismal weekend all throughout. During Friday Practice, his Renault engine let go in spectacular fashion which meant that Red Bull had to fit a new engine for him for the rest of the weekend. During the race, just after his first pit stop, this new engine failed as well forcing the young German to retire. Red Bull's engine supply contract with Renault runs out at the end of this year, and after this double engine failure, they have said that they could be switching to Mercedes-Benz for 2010. A change in the FIA regulations mean that all engine makers can supply engines to up to four teams from next year onwards. BrawnGP and Force-India already have customer engine supply deals with Mercedes-Benz. McLaren, who are 40% owned by Mercedes, are treated as the works Mercedes powered team.

For Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen drove brilliantly throughout the race to get a deserved 3rd place and his second podium in a row. On top of that, it was Raikkonen's third podium this season and Ferrari's fourth overall. That is a stark contrast given the terrible start to the season for the Scuderia. As for Badoer, I personally hope that he either ups his game by a big margin at the next race, or that Ferrari bring in a real replacement until Massa returns. This is just humiliating stuff for the Scuderia and is doing terrible injustice to Felipe Massa's car number 3.

The Driver's World Championship, as it now stands, still has Jenson Button on top with 72 points, but his team mate Rubens Barrichello is close behind him in second with 54 points. The Red Bull duo of Webber and Vettel are third and fourth with 51.5 and 47 points respectively. With six races to go, there is a maximum of 60 points up for grabs. So in theory, any one of these four drivers can win the Championship.

The next race, which is Round 12 of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship, takes us to the wonderful Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix in just under a week's time. Spa always provides superb racing and this year, any one of Brawn, Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren could potentially win. Whatever you do, do not miss it. Until then, drive safely everyone!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

FIA overturns Renault's one-race suspension, while the French outfit confirm changes in their driver line-up

Following a hearing before the FIA International Court of Appeal on Monday, the ING Renault F1 team have been allowed to race at this weekend's European Grand Prix.

During the Hungarian Grand Prix three weeks ago, Renault was found to have breached the Sporting Regulations when they released Fernando Alonso unsafely after a pit stop. During Alonso's first pit stop in the race, an error by one of the pit crews working on the wheel meant that the front-right wheel on Alonso's car was not properly attached. Before any of the other pit crew realised this, Alonso had already been released from the pit stop and was on his way to rejoining the race. As soon as he came out of the pit lane however, it was pretty clear that the front-right wheel on his car was not fully attached. About half way around the lap, the wheel came off entirely and Alonso was forced to reitre from the race. The FIA saw this incident as a breach of safety in accordance with the Sporting Regulations, and the race stewards for the Hungarian Grand Prix subsequently handed Renault a one-race suspension.

Renault appealed against that decision and the hearing of that appeal took place yesterday before the FIA International Court of Appeal in Paris. During the hearing, Renault conceded that they had breached the sport's safety regulations but that it was not intentional. They also said that apart from the pit crew working on that wheel, none of the other Renault mechanics were immediately aware of the problem. So until the wheel detached from the car, the team personnel on the pit wall did not have enough time and knowledge to warn Alonso of the potential problem.
Renault then requested the court to reconsider the severity of the sanction imposed by the race stewards. Having heard the arguments, the court decided to upheld Renault's appeal and overturned the one-race suspension. Instead, the French team were issued a reprimand and a fine of $50,000. Following the hearing, the Renault team welcomed the decision as it now allows them to race at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, which is Fernando Alonso's home race.

On Tuesday morning, Renault officially confirmed in a press release that Nelson Piquet Jr. has left the team effective immediately, and that the current GP2 series champion Romain Grosjean will be taking his place to partner Fernando Alonso at Renault for the rest of the season. The 23-year-old Swiss steps up to Formula 1 from being Renault's official reserve and test driver. The current GP2 championship leader Lucas di Grassi will become the new official reserve driver for Renault.

Personally I think that it was the right decision by the FIA to withdraw the race ban. Although Renault clearly breached the safety rules, it was an unintentional incident that cost them a potential podium finish in the race. So a race ban was a bit too harsh to penalise a team in such a case. A reprimand and a fine is more suited to this kind of an incident. On top of that, given that the next race is in Valencia, the ticket sales would have been greatly affected if Spanish double World Champion Fernando Alonso had not been racing. That would be bad for the sport and its organisers. So overall, this is a fair decision.

As far as Romain Grosjean is concerned, he is just another one of several young drivers to have made their Formula 1 debuts this year. As Nelson Piquet Jr. would have found out, Formula 1 is a very tough and harsh place to be in but if one has got what it takes, the rewards can be great. Welcome to Formula 1 Romain, and wish you all the best.

First Free Practice for the European Grand Prix kicks off at the Valencia street circuit at 9:00am UK time this Friday 21 August 2009. UK viewers can watch it live on the BBC red button service or online at the BBC Sport website. Radio listeners can also catch live commentary on BBC 5 Live sports extra.

Following a four-week long summer break, we are now all set for the last part of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship. Between now and the 1st of November at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we will find out who takes the Drivers' and the Constructors' World Championships for 2009. It is going to a very exciting ride. Until next time, drive safely everyone!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Schumacher calls off his return to Formula One, Badoer set to drive for Ferrari

Seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher has cancelled his return to Formula 1 due to the neck injuries he suffered in a motorcycle crash earlier in the year. According to Schumacher's official website, he told Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo and team principal Stefano Domenicali late on Monday evening that despite trying very hard, he still was not fit enough to race. The fractures in the area of his head and neck are still too severe to take the strain of the G-Forces encountered in a Formula 1 car. As a result, a hugely disappointed Schumacher told Ferrari that he will not be able to stand in for the injured Felipe Massa.

Schumacher suffered his accident while doing a German superbike test at Cartagena in Spain in February this year. He had been looking forward to taking part in the German superbike championship, but following the accident, had to cancel those plans. Since he announced his return to Formula 1 to stand in for Massa, Schumacher had done a private test with an F2007 at Ferrari's Mugello test track in Italy couple of weeks ago. After doing about 70 laps at the Mugello circuit that day, which is much higher than the standard race distance on that track, Schumacher said that his neck had been paining a little bit. He was supposed to do another two days of testing at the same track with the same car today and tomorrow. Before that though, he did a final thorough examination on his neck yesterday and it appeared that his neck still was not up to par to take the affects of driving a Formula 1 car. Subsequently, he had to call off his Formula 1 return.

Schumacher said in his statement that he is disappointed to the core and is awefully sorry for the guys at Ferrari and for his fans all over the world. He said he has tried everything within his power to make his comeback possible, but that his neck is just not ready to take the extreme stresses of Formula 1 yet.

Ferrari later announced that in light of Schumacher cancelling his comeback, they will be drafting in test driver Luca Badoer to stand in for Felipe Massa. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said that they are unhappy that Schumacher will not be able to come back to racing, but they appreciate his great efforts and extraordinary motivation which has spread through the team and fans all over the world.

Di Montezemolo, in agreement with team principal Stefano Domenicali, have decided to give Luca Badoer a chance to race for the Scuderia after he has put in so many years of hard work as a test driver. The 38-year-old Italian Luca Badoer has been a Ferrari test driver since 1998 and last took part in a competitive race with Minardi in 1999.

Personally, I am very disappointed and sorry that Michael Schumacher will not be making his sensational comeback. Although, it is true that the legendary German has given us years of happy memories to live with, his five World Championships with Ferrari (the other two was won with Benetton), and for a long long time he will continue to be statistically the best Formula 1 driver in the world. So the man does not have anything else to prove, since he has broken almost every single record there is in the record books of Formula 1. Now he has every right to enjoy his retirement with his family.

Coming back to Ferrari and Massa's replacement, I am a bit perplexed as to why Ferrari did not go with their other test driver Marc Gene instead of Badoer. Gene has recently taken part in this year's 24 hours of Le Mans endurance racing, which means that he has a lot more recent racing experience than Badoer. So in my point of view, Gene would have been a more obvious choice. But the bosses at Ferrari and Fiat run a big organisation, so I will trust them that they know what they are doing.

It is now just about 10 days to go until the first Free Practice session of the European Grand Prix at Valencia. Until then, drive safely everyone!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Massa's accident prompts a change in the design of helmets

Following the accident of Ferrari's Felipe Massa during the Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying, Formula 1's helmet manufacturer Schuberth has reacted immediately by launching a revised version of its helmets. Seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher, who is temporarily replacing Felipe Massa at Ferrari, will be debuting the revised helmet at the forthcoming European Grand Prix.

Although Massa's carbon fibre Schuberth helmet withstood the force of the 800 gram steel spring hitting at more than 160mph, the left visor mounting was knocked off. Schuberth has now added a titanium disc at the transition from the visor to the helmet, where previously there was only plastic. Schuberth said that they made this change as a reaction to the accident, so that the mounting of the visor is now twice as strong.

Schuberth GmbH is a German helmet manufacturer who supply helmets to both the Ferrari drivers and also to BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld and Williams' Nico Rosberg.

According to German newspaper Bild, Schumacher's Schuberth RF1 helmet - with a slightly modified livery for his Formula 1 comeback - costs about 12,000 euros.

Schumacher said last month that he plans to come out of his retirement to partner Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari from the forthcoming European Grand Prix, until Ferrari's regular driver Felipe Massa is fit enough to come back to Formula 1.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Felipe Massa released from hospital

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver Felipe Massa has been released from the AEK military hospital in Budapest and is now flying back to his native Brazil. After a horrendous accident during the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying on 25 July 2009 saw him incur skull fracture and concussion, the Brazilian driver has been recovering at an astonishing pace. After nine days of treatment at the hospital, the doctors saw him fit enough to be able to fly back home. Earlier this morning, he was taken to Budapest airport by ambulance from the hospital and there he boarded a medically equipped private plane accompanied by his pregnant wife Rafaela and his private doctor Dino Altmann.

After arriving in Sao Paolo, Massa is scheduled to be taken to the local Albert Einstein hospital. He will stay at the hospital for a couple of days to undergo further tests and after that will be allowed to go home where he can start his recovery. In recent days, Massa has been quoted in several press reports as to be "very eager" to come back to racing. Although his condition has improved dramatically over the last few days, doctors say that it will still be quite a long time until he is deemed fit enough to come back to Formula 1.

While Massa continues on his road to recovery, he will be deputised at Ferrari by seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher. Schumacher and former Scuderia Ferrari team boss Jean Todt visited Massa at the Budapest hospital on Saturday to check on his progress. Both were impressed to see how well his condition has been improving. Schumacher and Massa were team mates at Ferrari in 2006. After the legendary German retired at the end of 2006, he remained at Ferrari as a consultant and to this day is still a close friend and mentor of Felipe Massa.

Meanwhile, Ferrari said yesterday that Massa will give an interview later today, which will be the first since his accident. The interview will be published on the Ferrari website later this evening.

This is great news for me and for anyone who has ever been a motorsport fan. After 18 year old Henry Surtees was killed in an accident in a Formula 2 race in July, it looked like the world of motorsport will see another dreadful weekend following Massa's crash. It did remind everyone of that fateful weekend at Imola in 1994, when we lost Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. Thankfully this time, the outcome, at least for Massa, was different. I wish him a full recovery and cannot wait to see him back on the track. Also not forgetting about Surtees, may he rest in peace.

Max Mosley signs off the 2009 Concorde Agreement, bringing a final resolution to the rows in Formula One

After months of wrangling and political bickering, Formula One's governing body, the commercial rights holder and all the teams taking part in next year's championship apart from BMW Sauber have finally signed the 2009 Concorde Agreement. The Concorde Agreement - which determines how Formula 1 is run and how the revenues are distributed - was last signed in 1998, and that agreement expired in 2007. The new 2009 agreement promises a renewed period of stability in the sport, with stable technical and sporting regulations, at least until 31 December 2012.

The FIA released a statement on Saturday morning stating that following the approval from the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), FIA President Max Mosley signed the 2009 Concorde Agreement on Friday night and thus securing the future of Formula 1.

After the FIA and the teams came to agree on a slightly revised set of technical and sporting regulations to apply from next year onwards, these changes in the published regulations have now been approved by the WMSC. The FIA said that instead of a fixed compulsory budget cap, the teams have agreed to enter a resource restriction agreement that aims to bring down costs to the 1990's levels.

The FIA statement also read: "The new Concorde Agreement, which runs until 31 December 2012, provides for a continuation of the procedures in the 1998 Concorde Agreement, with decisions taken by working groups and commissions, upon which all teams have voting rights, before going to the WMSC for ratification."

BMW Sauber, who this week announced their departure from Formula 1 at the end of the current season, have been given until Wednesday 5 August to sign the agreement should they elect to stay in the sport in 2010 and beyond.

In layman's terms, the signing of the 2009 Concorde Agreement basically means that all of the teams will now stay in Formula 1 at least until 2012, and that all stakeholders will have to follow set procedures and guidelines every step of the way. That means changes in regulations, for instance, can only come after consultation with the teams and as recommended by the working groups. So hopefully, at least for the time being, we do not have to see any more of the politics that has been dominating motorsport headlines for most of the first half of this year. Although, like I always say, the next round of political rows is never too far away in Formula 1 unfortunately, but until then we just want to enjoy some pure Grand Prix racing.

The Championship is set to go down to the wire this season as any one of Jenson Button, Mark Webber or Sebastian Vettel can end up winning the Drivers' World Championship. As far as the Constructors' World Championship go, instead of the usual Ferrari versus McLaren fight, we will be seeing BrawnGP and Red Bull Racing fight it out until the last race of the season for the title. That is what proper Formula One racing should be about anyway!

Until next time, drive safely everyone!