News Wrap, Week 28
And with a thrilling race in Monza, Formula One’s European leg draws to a close. Ahead: the run home with six final flyaway races. The 2011 season has passed with incredible haste, perhaps as a result of Sebastian Vettel’s near-perpetual success. Though it must be said – and Rob and I do so often – that the racing has been excellent, a fact only highlighted during the 53 circulations of the wonderful Monza circuit.
The Italian Grand Prix could not have had a more fitting start, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso roaring off the line and into the lead, delighting the home crowd. Monza is one of the very few circuits on the calendar at which the fans can be louder than the cars, and the first five laps of the race demonstrated as much.
Further behind the battle for the lead was Michael Schumacher – the most successful driver around Monza – fighting to make his underperforming car a match for the racy McLarens. His innate driving ability, coupled with a few cheeky defensive moves amounted to the equivalent of flipping off his increasing number of detractors this season – the man’s still got it, to the joy of the still-loyal Italian supporters who haven’t forgotten Michael’s role in the resurrection of the prancing horse all those years ago.
It was a race symbolic in many ways of the season overall. Brilliant but truncated flashes of brilliance from Ferrari, consistency from McLaren with veteran Button keeping his cool to outwit his younger teammate, and Vettel using his cunning behind the wheel to steer a car ill-suited to the track and geared for a gamble past the chequered flag in first.
And with that, let’s take a look at the ensuing news post-Italy.
Formula One admits the obvious
Finally – finally – Formula One has admitted the fight for the championship is over. Even the eternal optimist that is Fernando Alonso could not sugar-coat the championship standings. No longer are we getting anything could happens from the Spaniard, instead he served up a the championship is impossible at the conclusion of the race.
Sebastian Vettel – double world champion (soon)
Likewise, a gloomy Mark Webber admitted to the media after he crashed out of the Grand Prix that he would be fighting for second place from now in the championship. It’s a long way from him suggesting at Belgium that Vettel’s dominant run of form during the season’s first half would come to an end.
We have six rounds of the championship remaining: Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Abu Dhabi before the season finale in Brazil on 27 November. But we all know – and have done for a while – that the title race isn’t going make it to Sao Paolo. Suzuka would be a stretch.
Let’s do some number crunching. Or, better still, let’s re-iterate James Allen’s number crunching, who’s saved me the potentially embarrassing task of mathematics.
Sebastian Vettel currently leads the championship by 112 points over Fernando Alonso, and 117 over Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton lies 126 behind, and is the last of the drivers still in the running.
Let’s assume – quite reasonably – that Sebastian Vettel wins the Grand Prix in Singapore. With one hand then on the championship, he would have to rely on Alonso finishing fourth or below, and Button third or below to mathematically eliminate them from the running. A second place from Mark Webber would keep him in contention, albeit by a margin of a single point.
Though we could give Vettel the championship now and be proven correct by the end of the season, it seems likely that we’ll have to wait until Japan to rule out even the most astronomical of realities from the equation. This is good in many ways, as it gives us time to prepare for the mother of all finger pointing, and quite possibly a reprisal of the Crazy Frog impression.
Sam Michael moves to McLaren
Those of you have been following the sport for most of the year will remember Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson announcing their intention to resign from Williams after the team’s worst ever start to a season. Sam Michael, the highly-regarded technical director, was billed to leave the team after the Korean Grand Prix, paving the way for the once-disgraced Mike ‘Xerox’ Coughlan. However, earlier this week it was confirmed that Singapore would be Michael’s final race with the team after it was announced that he is taking up the role of sporting director at McLaren from 2012.
Sam Michael defects to McLaren
While the news was unexpected, Michael is generally well regarded in the paddock, and was expected to find worksomewhere in the Formula One world by next season.
His new role entails joining the ‘senior management team in addition to taking specific responsibility for the development and management of the team’s trackside operations’, according to McLaren.
Frank Williams, who it was revealed wanted Michael to stay, wished him all the best.
‘I am delighted that Sam has found a new role that will enable him to continue to apply his energy, passion and experience to Formula 1,’ he said.
‘I would also like to thank Sam for his help in enabling a swift and smooth transition to our new technical leadership. Mike Coughlan and Jason Somerville are settling in very well and the restructuring will be complete when Mark Gillan joins us as Chief Operations Engineer on 19 September.
‘On behalf of everyone at Williams I wish him a successful move to his new team.’
I’ve written it here before, but the news that Team Lotus will be rebranded as Caterham for 2012 seems one step closer to being confirmed.
From Danny Bahar reportedly talking in a friendly manner with Team Lotus staff to Tony Fernandes remaining non-committal about his Team Lotus brand in interviews, it seems some form of settlement has finally been reached between the warring Loti.
‘We will see,’ said Renault team principal Eric Boullier. ‘Changing the name of the team/chassis can have some complications with sponsorship and obviously with TV money, so it is a matter we have to raise when we have all the elements in our hands.’
Indeed. For a team to change its name, unanimous agreement must be found amongst the other constructors, lest the team lose its right to its claim of television money via the Concorde Agreement. Though this would hardly present a stumbling block as the row between Group Lotus and Team Lotus is generally regarded to be damaging to the sport, and confusing for fans. I, meanwhile, have found it rather entertaining trying to explain it the bemused Rob and perplexed Peter McGinley.
You can read Tony Fernandes’ comments on the future of his team on the Autosport website, with whom he spoke exclusively.
People unfamiliar with our show and/or Finnish karaoke culture will be totally baffled by this headline. Perfect. Read on.
The Williams rumour mill continues to grind along as the team looks to finalise its 2012 driver line up. Currently they employ the talents of rookie Pastor Maldonado and Formula One’s most experience man Rubens Barrichello. The problem: Williams has no money, and the girl’s not happy. As a result, no driver’s invincible.
The latest names to pop up have been Force India’s Adrian Sutil, whose seat won’t be confirmed until December according to team principal Vijay Mallya. He has experience and does though isn’t as highly regarded for his technical know-how as Rubens – and Williams needs someone who can develop the car. However, more curiously, one-time World Champion, casual ice-cream spokesperson and tractor enthusiast Kimi Raikkonen has been the latest name linked to the potentially vacant seat.
Is the Ice Man back?
Raikkonen was forced from Ferrari at the end of 2009 to make way for Fernando Alonso. Though he had one year remaining on his contract, it was widely understood that the Fin had grown weary of Formula One after snatching the championship in 2007. With rumours of his return brewing, it’s since been revealed that he visited the Williams factory at Grove along with Sutil as the team looks outwards for a driver.
Of course, Raikkonen would not accept being a ‘pay’ driver – he won’t be a Maldonado, paying to drive in F1. Instead, Williams will be banking on his ability to pull sponsors to the ailing team to offset his contract costs.
The biggest sticking point, meanwhile, will be Raikkonen’s motivation. When he’s motivated to race, he’s a powerful force. When he isn’t, he’s less than inspiring as a driver. However, his forays into rallying and NASCAR in the subsequent two years have been less than impressive – could he be missing his glory days in Formula One?
Joe Saward joined the dots on this one – read his article, which has a less perplexing headline.
Or, go here to watch Kimi Raikkonen singing karaoke.
You can follow me on Twitter, if you have nothing better to do: @MichaelLamonato