Have we actually been seeing good racing in Formula 1 lately? It’s a question I’ve been pondering since the August break. Sure the venues have been glorious, but has that blinded us to the fact that nothing truly special is unfolding on track? Red Bull fans will be quick to counter this argument as the team have returned to all-dominating form. We’ve seen some surprise podium finishers and some unfortunate retirements but has the racing really been any good? The silly season has kept most of us occupied with the off-track drama in between Grand Prix weekends, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve been blown away by anything on track. Today’s Grand Prix of Korea answered that question and helped uncover a few contributing factors.
First Lap Crashes
Motor racing and crashing have always gone hand in hand, but the sheer volume of first lap crashes and subsequent retirements we’ve seen since Spa is bordering the ridiculous.
The actions of Romain Grosjean have been discussed over and over, but consider today’s race in which both Sauber’s ended the races of Jenson Button and Nico Roseberg. This was the second weekend in a row Rosberg was taken out on the first lap. Have Formula 1 drivers become that desperate to save their seats? Both Grosjean and Kobayashi have been under heavy pressure to produce for their respective teams and the careers of both drivers hang on a very fine line.
Grosjean has displayed a raw talent and blistering speed while Kobayashi has been a consistent driver and a fan favorite. But the desperation on track and resulting collateral damage has had a major effect on the seasons of some of the sport’s leading contenders. What many of the drivers on mid-field teams are failing to recognize is that races aren’t won on the first lap.
Ferrari and Red Bull have had their issues over the course of 2012, but no front running team has suffered more with reliability than McLaren. After gearbox issues in both Monza and Singapore, suspension problems ruined Lewis Hamilton’s race in Korea.
After starting behind the Red Bulls in P3, Hamilton began to fall back in the field, struggling with the car for most of the race. In the final laps he was fighting for valuable points against Torro Rossos and Force Indias. Hamilton criticisms aside, fighting for P10 is not usually something we’re used to seeing him doing. As a team, McLaren severely need to get their act together. Since the Hamilton split, they’ve been in shambles. From a fan perspective these reliability issues have had an effect on the quality and competitiveness of the racing. We all expect to see our favorite teams at the top of their games.
While some like Red Bull have exceeded expectations, others including McLaren and Mercedes have failed to meet the mark.
Safety Cars & Incompetence
Many will say it was the safety cars that made the Singapore Grand Prix a complete wash. But what about Japan? The restart after clearing the damage of the first lap crashes saw Sebastian Vettel charging like a gazelle, while the rest of the pack were left dazed and confused. Did Kobayashi and Button not get the memo that the race was back on? Incompetence has also played a role in recent race weekends. In both Japan and Korea, we’ve seen yellow flags during the flying laps of Q3.
Kimi Raikkonen spun his car in Japan, while Daniel Riccardo experienced gearbox issues in Korea. On Sunday’s race another yellow flag affected the racing when track marshals failed to remove Nico Rosberg’s beached Mercedes. That particular instance is up for debate, as Rosberg’s car posed no apparent threat to the drivers on track. Safety is an obvious concern that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but at what point has the FIA begun to babysit the drivers? Everyone in the sport understands the risks involved but now the caution is beginning to affect the show.
The Irrelevant Grand Prix
Is the Korean Grand Prix a joke?
Apart from the financial and sponsorship advantages, what’s the point of this race? The Korea International Circuit’s gates open only once a year for Formula 1. The track is filthy and the race has failed to attract the kind of attendance FOM had originally anticipated. One only needs to watch the Korean Grand Prix to understand why this event continues to lose money.
The organizer’s incompetence is blatantly obvious from the track literally falling apart during the race, to event staff harassing the drivers during podium interviews. Lewis Hamilton’s race went from bad to worse after his McLaren picked up a chunk of astro turf which lodged itself on the car’s side pod. He spent the remainder of the race with a green streamer. As the podium interviews started, Sebastian Vettel was hounded by one of girls who handed the drivers their microphones. Apparently she wanted his hat. It’s easy to laugh at the race’s more ridiculous occurrences, but for a World-class event it’s completely unacceptable. Not to mention the fans couldn’t even be bothered to stay in their seats to support the podium ceremonies.
It’s been 3 years since the Korean Grand Prix joined the Formula 1 calendar and I’m still struggling to understand why we still have it.
Despite all the misfortunes of today’s Korean Grand Prix, it wasn’t without its stars. Hats off to Felipe Massa who is winning my support week after week. We’re back to the old Massa, the one before the accident. He’s got a smile again and his demeanor shows through in his driving. Even Ferrari can see it as they issued team orders, telling him slow down as Alonso’s pace weakened.
Rumors suggest he’s already signed a 1 year extension with Ferrari, which could very will be the case. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to see him competitive again. Another driver who made a case on Sunday was Nico Hulkenberg. I was part of the minority that said he should have replaced Hamilton at McLaren and today he showed everyone why.
His cool, collected demeanor would’ve been a perfect fit at McLaren and he could’ve flourished under the guidance of Button and the rest of the team. If the rumors are correct, Hulkenberg will do well at Sauber next year.
As much as it pains me to say this, we all have to admire what Red Bull have done in the last few races. Adrian Newey is a genius and has built another brilliant car. Even Mark Webber had a great weekend and should be pleased. No one was going to be able to stop Vettel in his RB8. However, I’m still hung up on the skills of Vettel. Is it the driver or the car? Earlier in the season he struggled when the car wasn’t performing and now that it is, he’s back to winning races.
The bottom line is that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari have quite a bit of work to do between now and the end of November if they hope to win another WDC.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.