The return of Brut Patrol (and Formula One)

I can hear literally tens of Australians breathing a sigh of relief as they realise that this weekend marks the resumption of racing for 2011. All this week the Formula One machine has been warming up for its return to the world stage for the (now largely redundant) completion of the championship.
Yes, I say redundant. I wanted to start this brief second half season preview off on some lighter note, but I distracted myself with some quick mathematics which led to the rather depressing conclusion that, despite McLaren and Ferrari’s arguing to the contrary, the 2011 season ended some time ago.
Let me put it to you this way. Mark Webber, currently Sebastian Vettel’s ‘closest’ championship rival, sits second in the standings, down by 85 points. With this healthy, three-and-a-bit race buffer, the so-called ‘Baby Schumi’ can come home second to his teammate’s first in each of the eight remaining races and still take the championship. But, let’s say he has a bad day at the office. That’s okay, he can also finish third in each race and still take home the ultimate piece of silverware. And if he finishes fourth? Well, then he’s at risk of losing his championship grasp, but only by a measly 19 points – and that assumes that Mark Webber will win every race. Hmm…
Any hope in Vettel not winning the championship relies on, strangely enough, the drivers with fewer points than Webber. Hamilton and Alonso – all within four points of Webber, so fewer than 90 points down on the lead – have to rely on either their respective teams taking some monumental steps forward, or Red Bull miraculously falling off the pace. Fernando was right when he said McLaren and Ferrari will have to rely on each other to steal points from their rival – but then it would still rely on only one of the drivers winning each race.
Depressing, but not unfathomable . Not totally unfathomable, anyway. So let us instead turn our attention to some positives for part two of 2011.

The competition (or komeptition, for those McGinley inclined amongst you) is strong. McLaren and Ferrari won’t give up, especially when there’s still life in the constructors’ championship. They’ve been roughly on par with Red Bull’s race pace for most of the season so far, which means if they sort their qualifying performances out we’ll have some really cracking races to come.

Senna do BRASIL, in for Heidfeld

The k/competition in the midfield will also be exciting to watch, with Renault brining a significant upgrade package to Belgium with the aim of taking fourth place back from the ailing Mercedes GP team. Mercedes have, as was the story last year, failed to deliver on their potential. The car is fundamentally off the pace, and they’re already looking to abandon it in favour of their 2012-spec challenger. Moreover, Renault have extricated Nick Heidfeld (and his lucrative substitute teacher contract) from their team after some negotiating, with former HRT driver Bruno Senna taking his place for a so far unknown number of races. Should he be competitive around the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, he’ll probably stick around. Uncompetitive, and he’ll be at risk to the much-hyped second coming of Romain Grosjean.
STR will be looking to leapfrog Force India – another team having a disappointing year. India’s only Formula One team have slated their own set of upgrades for the second half of the season, with team principal/billionaire Vijay Mallya believing they now have a more complete package. They themselves are only nine points behind the quietly confident Sauber team, so it’s full power ahead for midfield points-squabbling. As for Williams… ahem…
As for the tail end of the grid, it’s down to how (if at all) Virgin can salvage their season, though they’d probably do best to look to 2012. HRT seems thankful to still exist, though they’re chugging along nicely to their credit. Meanwhile, the ever-ambitious Lotus is hoping they might be able to steal a point when no-one’s looking before the end of the season, and I don’t think anyone would be disappointed to see that happen.

Driver market
For some of the drivers, this is the time to stake their claim to a race seat in 2012. Heidfeld has already fallen, but there are a number of drivers beneath a contact cloud. Mark Webber has the highest profile amongst them. Christian Horner has expressed his desire to keep Webber on at the team, while Webber has said that he’d like to say. But, much a like a pair of awkward teenagers, neither has yet plucked up the courage to ask the other one out. It would be surprising, however, if they didn’t eventually decide on terms. Red Bull is Webber’s only choice for a competitive race seat, while Red Bull need a consistent driver who can do (almost) as well as Vettel.

STR has a tough choice ahead

Force India are keeping their options open, stating that they won’t be signing any contracts until December, by which time the market will be much clearer. Rookie Paul di Resta needs to settle down to put in some consistent performances, while Adrian Sutil really needs to put his right foot forward to prove he can maximise whatever purported performance resides with his Force India package.
The most interesting seats, however, are at STR and Williams. Toro Rosso were gearing up to ditch one of their drivers this season to make way for the frequently mispronounced (by us) Daniel Ricciardo. However, both Alguersuari and Buemi have upped their respective games this year to put in some brilliant performances, often just to offset the car’s poor qualifying pace. It’s a sign of management’s respect for the drivers that they haven’t turfed either of them over the break, as is normally the case with the Red Bull wannabes. I look forward to seeing what happens there.

Rubens at risk?

Williams, meanwhile, are in a bit of a predicament. Pastor Maldonado, despite his lukewarm rookie year, will almost certainly stay where he is, with Williams in desperate need of his PDVSA money. Rubens Barrichello, on the other hand, is suddenly far from safe. He brings little money to the team, and has himself admitted that he doesn’t see him sticking around beyond 2013. While is experience is an invaluable asset, the team’s need for money – which can be valued – is becoming critically serious. Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg, along with a host of near-unknowns, have all been named as potential funders drivers to the once-great team. While they would undoubtedly love to keep the Brazilian veteran – just as they would have Hulkenberg – money is a strong talker.

A circuit steeped in history, the Belgian Grand Prix in 2011 represents a return of the briefly successful Brut Patrol. Viewers of Australia’s Formula One coverage will be all too aware of the Brut antiperspirant commercials that riddle our broadcast. This round, I’ll be taking bets through Twitter as to how many ads will be shows each race.
The first half of the season ended with a disappointing three points in Hungary. There are rumours Brut are bringing a revamped package for the Belgian Grand Prix in a bid to turn around their rapidly diminishing season. They’re also under threat from newcomers ‘Mark Webber endorses Swisse’ and ‘Promotions for RPM’. The Belgian Grand Prix is looking set to be a truly riveting weekend.

So it must be said, despite all the doom and gloom, the conclusion to 2011 is set to be exciting. There’s no question we’ve been spoilt over the last few years. Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button and Vettel all won their championships after the season went down to the wire. The competition has never been so fierce – even if that competition has been several seconds behind Sebastian Vettel. The thrill in 2011 isn’t the big picture, as we’ve come to expect – it’s more the finer details. The racing has been wonderful, but it’s shaping up to be the year for Formula One nerds. If you’re the sort to care what happens behind the front four cars, then you’re going to love the end of this season.
And if you don’t you always have #BrutPatrol on Twitter. Unless you’re from outside Australia, then you may as well watch something else.

 You can follow me on Twitter, if you have nothing better to do: @MichaelLamonato


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