Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Canadian GP - The Race

Hamilton overtaking Alonso (as reimagined by the 4 year old)

The upside of having a race starting at 7pm is that I can actually watch most of the race without trying and generally failing to keep small children entertained and under control. It has been known after lunchtime races to discover that the coffee table has been liberally redecorated with felt-tips or scenes of utter devastation in various bedrooms upstairs (the 4 year old has reached the military campaign stage – one small tub of plastic soldiers bought on a random whim has unleased an imperialist monster).

The downside of having a race start at 7pm is that its practically impossible to watch any of the build-up or start or middle of the race as it straddles that fraught bit of the day which is feeding tired and emotional kids and attempting to get them off to bed. There was also some other Important Sport going on, ie. the football which has been on the TV pretty much constantly day and night in the House of Power since Friday but its cool, I love football too. I love most sport which I suspect was an important criterion for the husband back in the day (this is the man whose only main requirement when buying a house was did it have a Sky dish to watch sport on). But sometimes it is hard to keep up with it all, especially in the summer. Which Still Has Not Arrived. Still never fear, I’m off to France for most of August so it is stone-bonkingly certain that the UK will bask in glorious sunshine and a non-stop heatwave while we are away.

The great Gilles Villeneuve

Anyway no need to debate which coverage to select as the Beeb wasn’t showing the race live, so over to Sky. Hooray (not) to see Jacques Villeneuve was there once again still rocking the Lex Luthor meets the bloke from Crystal Maze look. There was some waffley chit-chat bit (about which I have written the words ‘very boring’) before we were treated to some awesome footage of Gilles Villeneuve winning the Canadian GP in 1978 and an interview piece by Nigel Roebuck on Gilles which was absolute magic. Sky should dispatch a minion to go off and unearth old reels of Roebuck’s stuff. It is pure gold.

Quick canter through some driver interviews (Alonso, Paul Di Resta), a further reminder from Simon Lazenby that Canada had among the best and most knowledgeable F1 fans of any race. That might well be true (they do love their cars across the pond) but it felt like he was really creeping up to Jacques every time he said it. It made me feel a bit sick. Once would have been enough. I will be gobsmacked if Lazenby is still presenting F1 next year. He is so awkward, nervous and ill at ease. His facial expressions vacillate between bored, irritated or stupid gurning looks. He really gives the impression of someone who has zero interest in F1 or had never been to an F1 race before Melbourne this year. Seven races already and he just really sucks at presenting. I’m sure he is a lovely guy but need to Get Rid Now. I mean, hello, Sky have the solution right under their noses. Two words…Damon Hill. Damnit, I’m joking of course – give JOHNNY HERBERT the job. Its so freaking obvious it should be him, its unreal. Rant over.

Iggle Piggle (just to keep the 1 year old happy when I re-read this tomorrow!)

Next up we had highlights of last year’s magnificent race. I remember watching all 4 or 5 hours of it whilst trapped in our cottage in Cornwall due to torrential rain. Plus ça change. It’s a miracle I haven’t emigrated yet or am not on anti-depressants for SAD living in this rain-sodden island of ours. The 1 year old suddenly gave Jenson Button a round of applause which startled us all – this is a privilege normally only reserved for Iggle Piggle. Hallowed status indeed. Ah Jenson, remember when you did loads of aggressive driving and stunning overtaking moves in the rain à la Senna. These were indeed Happier Times. For some reason, Sky decided to recreate the moment when Jenson overtook Vettel in last year’s race using the medium of two track buggies and Martin Brundle. It didn’t really work. This neatly segued into an interview with Martin Whitmarsh who didn’t have any explanation for why it is all going wrong for Button this year. He just looked sad and confused. A bit like Button really.

We got ‘treated’ to another track guide (the 3rd or 4th this weekend) to justify the increasingly pointless Sky Pad. Surely everyone also fast-forwards these bits as well? Another reminder of the victims of past races claimed by the Wall of Champions and the 4 year old was horrified to see Michael Schumacher crashing out until I pointed out this had all happened in the past. Although given Mercedes’ rubbish reliability* issues, this could also happen in the near future. (*may or may not be a Spoiler Alert)

So time for #MartinsGridWalk. Huzzah! First person that Martin pounced on was the founder of Cirque du Soleil which the whole of flipping F1 seems to have checked out this weekend. Not really a fan of circuses myself. Still each to their own. Then Martin spotted Bernie and Mario Andretti. Apparently Mario has been heavily involved with the new Grand Prix in Austin. I think this means Mario will be a highly-paid ambassador as opposed to anything too taxing but it was great to see him at the race. A proper old-school racer. His view on racing: “if everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.” 

Martin Brundle was floundering slightly for interviewees and nabbed a Red Bull mechanic to ask for £500 for his iphone which accidentally got ruined when Martin was chucked into the Red Bull swimming pool at Monaco (its non-stop fun and japes at Red Bull). The mechanic correctly responded with “ask my boss” and literally in a nanosecond up popped Christian Horner for a quick word. Sometimes I feel like there are 3 Christian Horners in the pitlane – there’s always one about 2 metres from a camera at any given time. Christian was there with Martin Donnelly who (Smug Claim to Fame Moment that probably won't impress many people) I met recently at Brands Hatch.

Adrian Newey's stash of drawings from the pitlane

The highlight of #MartinsGridWalk was Martin spotting Adrian Newey, the Master of the Dark Arts himself, intently scribbling/drawing away in a big notebook. The moment that Martin hoved into view (with a great phalanx of Sky cameras behind him), Adrian slammed his big notebook shut. Martin asked whether he was already drawing next year’s car. No Martin, I think he was drawing bits and pieces from other cars on the grid to shove into next year’s car. Not necessarily saying any industrial espioniage was taking place and of course Adrian might simply have been doing a doodle of some aliens like the 4 year old often does. But that big notebook has definite Tom Riddle’s Diary connotations. Also we saw that Scary Ron was in town. No wonder poor old Martin Whitmarsh looked haggard earlier.

Time For the Start and Go Go Go...! All the drivers got away cleanly. To my slight disappointment - the last thing we wanted was for Vettel to zoom off into the distance. This would be a Disaster. By lap 2 we already had our first slick overtaking move of the race by Massa (bet you didn’t see that coming!) on Nico Rosberg. Depressingly, Vettel had entered that setting continuous fastest laps zone. Next to scythe past Nico was Paul Di Resta for 6th place. Di Resta is a bit of an enigma to me – he is very calm and controlled and actually would be a perfect fit for Mercedes. Remind you of anyone? If the rumours are true, the Silver Arrows are keeping tabs on him.

Just as the ink had dried on my positive remarks on Massa’s start, he then had a spectacular spin putting a big flat spot on his tyres and sending him crashing own to 13th. Oh Felipe, you muppet. It all settled down for a few laps before Tyre Degradation started to rear its ugly head around lap 10. Nico who wasn’t exactly driving the wheels off his car was told to go easy on the tyres. To be fair, he couldn't really go much slower.

First into the pits was Massa, then Schuey and then Di Resta who had been complaining in a very mild and calm way about his tyres. Schuey came out right behind Kovalainen which surely wasn't the plan. Suddenly, Hamilton was starting to make massive inroads on Vettel. It looked like we actually had a race on our hands! Kimi Raikkonen suddenly woke up and did a stunning overtaking move on Jenson Button. After Kimi got past and zoomed off into the distance, Perez (keep a watchful eye on him!), Kobayashi and the Hulk were swarming all over the back of Button’s car.

With Hamilton almost touching his bumper (or F1 equivalent), Vettel dived into the pits on lap 17 and one lap later, in went Hamilton who by this time had Alonso right behind him. On the McLaren Pitstop Disastometer stakes, it was about a 3. The car went into anti-stall mode and Lewis lost about a second which is colossal in F1 terms. Still all was not lost as Lewis came out just ahead of Vettel. Last of the trio to pit was Alonso and Ferrari being Ferrari (well indoctrinated in ways of efficiency from the Schumacher Years) did a superb pitstop and Alonso emerged to lead the race. But not for long. Lewis got into position, activated the DRS and catapaulted past Alonso on the long pit straight.

I have jotted down that Grosjean then went into the pits from the lead and came out in 9th place. It didn’t seem important at the time but keep your other watchful eye on Romain (apologies for referring to him as Sebastian in my Monaco blog – too many years of watching tennis…). The commentators told us in meaningful tones that Button had pitted early which hadn’t worked; and now Grosjean had pitted later on which also hadn’t worked. Its fair to say that Lotus might have a better grasp of strategy than the Sky lads in the commentary box.

What might have been going through Narain's mind moments before his crash
From nowhere (but you know its always going to happen just the same!), Narain Karthikeyan took his HRT off track for an epic spin (ie. the type where you go round and round and end up retiring from a race). We were told there used to be a big tree at that corner which used to scare the drivers but the tree isn’t there any more. Not sure what the message was there. Either Narain was hallucinating about the tree or he just had one of those ‘help, I’m about to crash’ moments. I like Narain ever since I realised we drove around F1 circuits similarly (him for a living, me on the Wii). Wonder if there is a Fake Narain twitter account, or indeed a real one. That’s something to research while watching some random football match later.

Schuey was given the hurry up on Paul Di Resta whilst watching Kobayashi emerge from the pits in front of him. Its safe to say that Mercedes haven’t lived up their early season promise and, in a way, nor have Lotus. Lotus need a brilliant strategist like Ross Brawn and Mercedes need someone like Adrian Newey who can design a fast car that actually gets to the end of a race. Though Mercedes also need someone like Scary Ron who can shout a lot at people who make mistakes. Actually McLaren need Scary Ron. This is getting too confusing.

Back to a new scene of carnage involving an HRT and this time its Pedro de la Rosa’s car which appeared to be engulfed in plumes of big, black smoke. Its never good when a commentator uses the word ‘coalmine’ in relation to an F1 car.

Therapist couch - F1 style

Meanwhile it was suddenly brought to our attention that Sergio Perez, Ferrari-driver-in-waiting, currently in 5th place had yet to stop so clearly he was one-stopping. That would spice things up nicely! Lewis was then told over the radio they were sticking to Plan A. Given Button often gets switched over to Plan B which generally stuffs his race up (further), this was encouraging news. But what was Plan A – a one-stopper (like Perez) or a two-stopper? Is it worth mentioning Button went into the pits again and came out in 17th place. Nope, fair enough. Hope he is allowed access to Lewis’ therapist after the race as he might be in need of a session on the couch.

Finally on lap 42, Perez came into the pits and came out ahead of Nico in 7th place. Schuey was ducking and diving with Kobayashi back in 12th place. This wasn’t in the Mercedes script. Again. Will the real Mercedes team stand up? Is it the one which won the Chinese GP and took pole position at Monaco or the other one which we see in most other races and is basically a bit crud.

Lewis was back on the radio again asking were they sure that Alonso and Vettel weren’t in fact one-stopping. He was told yes, the team were sure they weren’t. Remember this exchange, folks.

Schuey had another routine pitstop and then we heard (and indeed could see) that his rear DRS flap was still open. So back into the pits and there were almost comical scenes as mechanics tried to force the flap shut (with as much technical prowess as the husband shows on those rare occasions he attempts DIY). All their pushing and tugging was to no avail and so Schuey had his fifth retirement out of seven races. This is bad luck of Johnny Herbert epic proportions. I’m almost welling up at the awfulness of it all. Stake your bets now for what will go wrong with Schuey’s car in the Valencia GP. Maybe a small bird will drop from the sky and become embedded in a brake duct causing another retirement and much distress to the 4 year old. The racing gods have not been kind to Michael Schumacher this year. David Coulthard would no doubt say this was karma. 

Schuey’s loyal but tired sounding comments were "I knew there was something not correct with the car but I didn't expect it to be the DRS. When I looked in the mirror and saw the problem, I thought: 'Oops, that's interesting.' But I've no regrets for the team. They did their utmost."

How much longer will he have the heart to stay driving at Mercedes? They have let him down terribly. It is getting embarrassing now.

Just in case we forgot about Vergne (its quite easy to), he incurred a penalty for speeding in the pitlane and rejoined just behind Button, ie. in the broken and demoralised world of backmarkers and Caterhams. Poor old Jenson was almost lapped by Lewis until McLaren thoughtfully hauled Lewis into the pits. Martin Whitmarsh is a kind hearted soul. Scary Ron would have let Lewis lap his team-mate just to teach Jenson a lesson. So another McLaren pitstop and another problem as Lewis was delayed moving off. Have they got a mole working in their pitlane crew from one of other teams. You just couldn’t make it up. Its like this is the title that McLaren should win but doesn’t really want to win.

Hamilton or Perez - take your pick

So lap 56 and the order was 1. Alonso, 2. Vettel and 3. Hamilton, but Lewis was driving like a man possessed and doing purple sectors all over the shop. But more to the point, Alonso and Vettel hadn’t gone in for second pitstops (as McLaren had banked on). Never mind, Lewis was now pyschotically focusing on winning the race and was eating chunks out of Vettel’s lap-times.

Not to be out-driven, Perez was also driving like a demon and overtook first Nico, then Massa to move into 5th position. He qualified back in 15th position. Lets just think about that for a moment. And the race was still not over yet. Lap 62 and Lewis cruised past Vettel on the back straight. One down, one to go. One lap later, Vettel pitted (okay I wasn’t expecting that) and rejoined behind Perez who was now in 4th place. Lap 64 and Lewis cruised past Alonso to retake the LEAD at the Canadian GP with just 6 laps to go. Go Lewis – thankfully no further pitstops looked likely so it was looking good for the young man from Stevenage!

Alonso’s race (well his tyres to be precise) starting falling off a cliff big-time as first Grosjean, then Perez (who was still setting unbelievable lap-times) and Vettel eventually passed him. Although Vettel was lucky to stay in the race after having a near miss at the Wall of Champions. Where’s his concentration – doesn’t he know it’s a Danger Spot? Silly boy.

Final lap and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line 2.2 seconds ahead of Grosjean. So we had our SEVENTH winner in SEVEN different races. The win in Austin for Narain is still on the cards! A fantastic drive from Lewis and that really breathes life into his championship challenge. Slightly sticky moment where he spoke to Martin Whitmarsh after the race.

Lewis: “Hey Martin, you told me that Alonso and Vettel were two-stopping like me”.
Whitmarsh: “Er, sorry Lewis, we got that bit wrong, anyway well done for not listening to us and still pushing as hard as you could and for winning the race”. <Paraphrasing a little but that was the general gist>

Scary Ron's bedtime reading

Away from all the driving, the tortuous round of contract negotiations have begun in earnest and Scary Ron’s most recent public utterance has been to say that Lewis “is at the end of a contract which was signed at a time when the economy was somewhat different and now there has to be a balance between that”. Lewis Hamilton’s manager is the ubiquitous Simon Fuller. The mind boggles at the thought of Scary Ron and Fuller negotiating contract terms in the same room! Still gives Ron plenty of opportunity for some trademark death stares. And all power to Ron in that regard.

So here are the results from the Canadian Grand Prix 2012:

1.     Lewis Hamilton – Superb and very mature drive but I am starting to wonder whether this is the beginning of the end of the beautiful relationship with McLaren. Loved his Union Jack moment at the end though.
2.     Grosjean – Talk about an all or nothing driver. One race – he is a one-man mobile chicane crash fiend, the next race he drives brilliantly.
3.     Perez – To reiterate, he qualified 15th and ended up on the podium. Awesome.
4.     Vettel – Some useful points but ending up in 4th place from pole ain’t great.
5.     Alonso – Big Ferrari Fail for not bringing Alonso in for another pitstop. They had the time.
6.     Rosberg – Totally forgotten about him.

Quick word on Button who finished in 16th place – he sounded like a broken man at the end of the race. Very sad to see especially for longtime fan, the husband. He said he was confused and lost (Button not the husband!) and I must admit it is baffling how Lewis is doing so brilliantly and Button’s season is rapidly disintegrating.

For my money, the title is distilling down to a fierce battle between Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso and it really is too close to call. This season is absolutely blinding – the best in simply years and I love, love, love blogging about it.

So until Valencia – lets go for an eighth winner in eight races. Mad for it…!

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