Alonso sets the standard

Fernando Alonso’s face as he stood on the top step of the podium said it all – a mixture of extreme satisfaction, delight and disbelief.

“Incredible, incredible,” he said in Spanish in his television interviews immediately afterwards, and that seemed as good a summing up as any of one of the most remarkable and thrilling grands prix for some time.

Alonso’s victory was the 28th of his career and it moved him ahead of Sir Jackie Stewart in the all-time list of winners – he is now behind only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell, whose 31 wins are his next target.

The Ferrari team leader’s presence in such celebrated company is a reminder, as if one was needed, of what a great grand prix driver Alonso is and it was appropriate that his drive on Sunday was one that befitted such a landmark.

Fernando Alonso

Alonso moved up to fifth on the all-time victories list with his win in Malaysia. Photo: Getty

Arguably not the greatest qualifier, Alonso has produced some stunning races in his career, and the one in Malaysia on Sunday ranks up there with the very best.

The Ferrari in its current form has no business whatsoever being able to win a race. In normal, dry conditions, it is way off the pace of the McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus, and almost certainly slower also than the Williams and the Sauber.

And yet there was Alonso, up in fifth place from eighth on the grid by the end of lap one, challenging world champion Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull, which he moved ahead of thanks to stopping one lap earlier for wet tyres in the downpour that led to the race being stopped on lap six.

What won him the race, though, were the laps after the re-start.

He emerged in the lead on lap 16, helped by McLaren having to hold Lewis Hamilton in the pits as Felipe Massa came past.

After everyone had stopped for intermediate tyres, Alonso was 2.4 seconds ahead of Sauber’s Sergio Perez – of whose stunning performance more later – and 6.2secs ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren.

At that point, most would have expected Hamilton – one of the greatest wet-weather drivers in history – to close in on the two cars ahead of him. Instead, Alonso pulled away from Perez, who himself pulled away from Hamilton.

This was, as BBC F1 co-commentator David Coulthard said, “Alonso at his brilliant best”, as he built an eight-second lead over Perez in 12 laps.

Alonso is such a benchmark, so peerless, so utterly relentless and unforgiving when he senses a sniff of a win, that it seemed impossible at that stage that he would not win the race.

But then Perez began to come back at him – showing the differing characteristics of the two cars that have been apparent since the start of pre-season testing. The Ferrari is hard on its tyres and the Sauber is the opposite.

Closer and closer Perez got, first by fractions, then by full seconds until by lap 40 he appeared to have Alonso at his mercy.

Stopping a lap earlier than Perez for ‘slick’ dry-weather tyres put his lead back up to seven seconds, but on these the Sauber was even more superior.

Perez was within a second of Alonso by lap 48 – with eight to go – and what would have been a fully deserved victory by a man who from the beginning of his career last year has looked destined for great things seemed inevitable.

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F1 being what it is, a lot may well be made of the radio call that Perez received at about this point. “Checo, be careful, we need this position,” he was told by his team, who use Ferrari engines. Was this simply a team that is known to be struggling for finance sensibly warning an excited young driver to make sure he didn’t bin it when a valuable podium place was up for grabs? Or was it, as some will surmise, team orders in disguise, an order not to try to deprive the company on whose largesse they have depended in many more seasons than this one of a much-needed win? If it was a team order, Perez didn’t seem to pay any attention – he continued to push hard until he made that fateful error. And team principal Monisha Kaltenborn dismissed any thoughts of a conspiracy.

“What we meant was get the car home,” she said. “It was important to us to get the result – there was nothing else to it. There was no instruction.”

Either of them would have been a deserving winner after two superlative drives – and there were other noteworthy performances down the field, too.

Bruno Senna showed something of his famous uncle’s wet-weather skills with his climb up from last place at the restart to finish an impressive sixth.

And Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, who narrowly missed out on a point on his debut last weekend in Australia, delivered in spades with a sure-footed drive in the treacherous conditions at Sepang.

The Frenchman was the only driver to stick with intermediate tyres in the early downpour, and he continued to perform impressively on his way to eighth place, just behind last year’s rookie of the year Paul di Resta, who also looked good.

Senna, Vergne and most of all Perez clearly have bright futures ahead of them.

But ahead of them all was the man whose consistent excellence over a 10-year career not only they but everyone else in F1 has to aspire to.

“Great race for Alonso, top job, and also Perez,” Jenson Button said on Sunday evening in Malaysia. You can say that again.


Eitel Cantoni Bill Cantrell Ivan Capelli Piero Carini Duane Carter


Rosberg answers critics in emphatic style

Nico Rosberg looks every inch the archetypal image of a grand prix driver – blonde, good looking, perfect smile, the lot. And in Shanghai on Sunday, at the 111th attempt, he finally delivered the most important part of the package – the perfect win.

It has been a long time coming.

This is the 26-year-old German’s seventh season of F1 and while Lewis Hamilton, who was his team-mate when they were teenage karters 12 years ago, was a winner almost from the start of his Formula 1 career, Rosberg’s route to the top step of the podium has been somewhat more torturous.

So torturous, in fact, that there have been times when some wondered whether he would ever follow his father Keke in becoming a race winner.

Nico Rosberg’s dominant victory in China ensured he has become the first son of a living grand prix winner to follow in his father’s footsteps – and only the third ever. The fathers of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve were killed when their son were children.

Keke Rosberg also had to wait a long time to stand on the top step of the podium – his first victory came in his fifth season.

Like Nico, that was Keke’s first year in a competitive car, and he ended it as world champion. It seems unlikely at this stage that Nico will follow his father in that sense, too, but after such a dominant win it certainly cannot be completely ruled out.

Nico Rosberg led from pole position to score Mercedes’ first victory since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. Photo: Getty

Watching Rosberg’s assured driving as he drove away from team-mate Michael Schumacher in the early laps, and then proceeded to control the race, it seems strange to think that there have long been questions about his ultimate standing as a true world-class grand prix driver. But there have, and to some extent they remain still.

There is no doubt about the calibre of Rosberg’s win on Sunday, but it remains difficult to be absolutely sure of his ultimate potential.

He is clearly very fast – but just how fast is not completely clear. Likewise, it remains to be seen whether he possesses all the other qualities that make up a great grand prix driver.

So far, for example, he has appeared to be the sort of driver who will deliver to the potential of his car – but not one who is able to transcend it occasionally, in the manner of Hamilton or Fernando Alonso.

In his debut year, he was generally marginally out-paced by Mark Webber, his team-mate at Williams at the time. And for the rest of Rosberg’s career there before joining Mercedes in 2010 he was partnered with journeymen drivers and in uncompetitive cars.

Rosberg has dominated his Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher in qualifying since then, but it is clear to most that the seven-time champion is not the same driver he was before he retired in 2006 and spent three years on the sidelines. And until Sunday, Schumacher had generally matched Rosberg for race pace since last season.

The improved performance of Mercedes this year will finally give Rosberg the chance to go wheel-to-wheel with the top drivers on a consistent basis for the first time, so a clearer picture may well emerge.

A first win, especially one so impressive, will do wonders for his confidence, although he has never lacked for that.

Rosberg is a highly intelligent man, who was planning on a degree in engineering had he not become a Formula 1 driver. He is an individual character, and can be a prickly interviewee.

It may be that will change now he will no longer be faced with endless questions about whether he believes he can be a winner.

He could not have answered them in more emphatic style.

If Schumacher had thought Rosberg’s 0.5 seconds a lap advantage in qualifying was a one-off based on a unique set of circumstances, he was soon disabused of that belief in the race as the younger German sprinted off into the distance, building a five-second lead in the first 10 laps.

That margin was the foundation for his win, but it was not as if Rosberg then spent the rest of the afternoon hanging on in front of faster cars.

After the first pit stops, Jenson Button was up into a de facto second place and in clear air, but Rosberg continued to pull away, although he was on the faster tyre. Button came back at him before the McLaren driver made his second stop, but only marginally.

Had the mechanic fitting Button’s left rear tyre not suffered a problem with a cross-threaded wheel nut at his final stop, the Englishman would have rejoined about 14 seconds behind Rosberg with 19 laps to go.

Button’s pace on the slower tyre suggests that he would have closed on Rosberg at that stage, but whether it would have been quickly enough is a moot point.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted: “I think it would have been very difficult to beat him.”

Where have a team who have gone backwards in the first two races found that pace from? Both Rosberg and Mercedes sports boss Norbert Haug had a simple explanation – set-up changes allowing better use of the tyres.

They had used them too much in the first race in Australia and not worked them enough in the second in Malaysia. Here in Shanghai they found a middle way.

Behind Rosberg was a fantastic scrap for second place, what Haug described as “one of the best races I have ever seen”.

Recounting the story of Red Bull’s race from ninth and 14th places on the first lap to fourth and fifth at the flag, team boss Christian Horner said he sounded “like a horse racing commentator”.

The championship is clearly going to be very close and it is setting up what look set to be a superb season.

“We’ve had three very different races,” Whitmarsh said, “and I think this is going to be a season where potentially we have 20 very different races.

“It’s fascinating, really. I enjoy it and I’m sure people watching it enjoy it. Who’s going to predict who’s going to win in Bahrain?”


Birabongse Bhanubandh Lucien Bianchi Gino Bianco Hans Binder Clemente Biondetti

Fox Marketing Lexus IS concepts meet the crusher [video]

If you’ve ever wondered what happens to the various concepts that tour the auto show circuit, you’ll definitely want to check out the latest video from Fox Marketing.


Ernesto Brambilla Vittorio Brambilla Toni Branca Gianfranco Brancatelli Eric Brandon

Spanish Grand Prix fire shows dangers of F1

My flight back to London from the Spanish Grand Prix was full of tired mechanics, exhausted race engineers and sleepy drivers – all of them recovering from an extraordinary weekend of mixed emotions in Barcelona.

It was a very strange feeling on the plane, alongside plenty of Williams personnel who were torn between celebrating a monumental win for the team, yet understandably concerned about their colleagues who remain in hospital after the pit lane fire on Sunday evening.

People know motorsport in inherently dangerous, and that F1 can never rest on its laurels as far as safety is concerned, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not easy to become blasé about our working environment.

Let’s take the pre-race show we do for example. Along with plenty of other media personnel, photographers and guests, we’re in a pit lane surrounded by fuel, electronically charged KERS units, all manner of other mechanical equipment, not to mention F1 cars leaving garages or scorching past at 60mph. The same applies to the grid.

Williams garage fire

31 people were injured following a fire at the Williams team garage after the Spanish Grand Prix. Photo: Getty

However, with no driver death since 1994 and serious injuries or nasty accidents mercifully rare, it is easy to forget an F1 track still remains a dangerous place.

As the fire blazed in the Williams garage and a horrible acrid smoke filled the air, there was genuine shock this was happening. Most people currently involved in the sport were not around in the dark days when dramatic incidents were common.

It was so unexpected I initially thought it was an old diesel engine starting up, David Coulthard assumed it was a catering fire, and some thought Williams were letting off a flare as a celebration.

The people I’ve spoken to on the flight, and in the departure lounge, actually paint a much more serious picture with Frank Williams and the whole team celebrating their win in the garage as the fuel explosion happened.

At this point is worth mentioning not only the Williams crew who were clearly well trained and dealt with the situation quickly, but also the members of the nearby teams such as Toro Rosso, Force India and HRT who reportedly didn’t think twice before diving in to help the situation.

F1 can seem like such a safe and sterile environment with its perfectly clean garages, and the garage interiors transformed each race by the plastic walls they construct, all in team colours of course. It looks modern, safe and made-for-tv. The reality is that it is still a garage like any other and, for all the commercially driven, PR-controlled world that the viewers see, it remains dangerous.

Thankfully the injuries were limited to just a handful of people. Williams suffered extensive damage to their garage and equipment, including plenty of laptops and other bits of kit which will be frantically replaced before Monaco.

However, as ever, the real cost is human and we’re all thankful it wasn’t more serious.

In fact, it’s not just the garages that can be dangerous places. With just moments left of the race, Eddie Jordan decided he’d love to go and congratulate Frank Williams and went haring off to find him – as only Eddie does. I was sitting in the McLaren hospitality area and Eddie re-appeared just moments latter grimacing in pain.

“I think I’ve broken my ankle,” he wailed. I looked down and his foot was starting to swell outside of his shoe. It transpired he’d tripped on his way to see Frank, and his ankle had taken the brunt of the impact.

Eddie was quite a driver in his day, and like many racing drivers of his era, he lives with damaged ankles from crashing cars.

So, picture the scene. Pastor crosses the line to win and, instead of celebrating, we’re getting Eddie’s foot raised up and tracking down some ice to take down the swelling whilst poor old EJ looks like he might pass out.

I was wondering if I’d have to head outside to host the post-podium celebrations alone, however, ever the soldier, EJ was able to cope with the pain and he hobbled out to cover the end of the race with me.

And what a win.

Pastor has come in for a fair amount of criticism. It’s no secret that he comes with a large chunk of change from Venezuela, which was reportedly one of the big reasons for him replacing Nico Hulkenberg in 2011.

Well, what do we make of his talents now? He’s spent most of the season fighting the Ferraris, and now he’s beaten them. It wasn’t a fluke but genuine pace.

As for Eddie’s foot, well by the time we went on to the F1 Forum the pain was too much and, after the wonderful McLaren doctor Aki strapped it up, we eventually resorted to pushing Eddie around on a tyre trolley to get him around.

Thankfully, as Eddie lives in Monaco, he can now have a rest for a week or so, as we’re heading his way for the next race. And what on earth can Monaco have in store for us?

It’s remarkable to think we’ve had five different race winners in the past five races, and it seems nobody is able to explain why it’s happened or how the following races might play themselves out.

In Spain, we saw Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel lose pace throughout the weekend. Williams and Ferrari weren’t expected to have the pace to out-race Lotus, whilst Sauber had another strong race.

There wasn’t a Mercedes, McLaren or Red Bull in the top five on the grid.

Who was your driver of the day? I loved watching Lewis’ drive. He has really impressed me this season.

Mind you, one thing that has almost gone unnoticed amongst all the excitement is that we’re already a quarter of the way through the 2012 Formula One season. And if the next 15 races are anything like the first five, then we’re in for some season.

Thanks for sticking with the BBC for the action. We’ve been delighted with the viewing figures and I love seeing your thoughts on Twitter – keep them coming and let’s hope Eddie’s ankle lasts the distance!


Zsolt Baumgartner Elie Bayol Don Beauman Karl Gunther Bechem Jean Behra

Vettel set for titles aplenty

© Daily Telegraph

Tom Cary says in his column in the Daily Telegraph that the man dubbed ?Baby Schumi? has plenty of time to match or even surpass his compatriot?s record haul of seven world titles after he cinched his first in the Abu Dhabi night.

?Here, after all, is a young man, already dubbed ?Baby Schumi? by Germany?s tabloid press, winning the first of what will presumably be multiple world championships, and all at the tender age of 23. Plenty of time yet to match Schumacher’s incredible haul of seven world titles. And yet, their phenomenal ability to drive racing cars apart, there is little similarity between the two men. ?There are still lingering doubts over his racing ability but with such blistering qualifying pace he is nearly always leading from the front anyway. Vettel is set for multiple world championships. Just don?t call him Baby Schumi.?
The Guardian?s Paul Weaver says it was difficult to begrudge Vettel his moment of glory after he won the first of what will be many world titles. He also looks back at some of the season?s highlights.
?An amazing Formula One season produced its final twist here on Sunday when Sebastian Vettel, who had never led the title race, won his first world championship. It is difficult to begrudge him his glory, for he had more poles (10) than any other driver and shared the most wins (five) with Fernando Alonso. There will be red faces as well as red cars and overalls at Ferrari, though, for deciding to bring their man in when they did, only to see him re-emerge into heavy traffic. ?Among the highlights, and every race felt like a highlight after the bore-start in Bahrain, there was that wonderful beginning to his McLaren career by Jenson Button, who won two of his first four races, even though he couldn’t keep up the pace, especially in qualifying. ?Hamilton once again drove his heart out, and outperformed a car that looked a little too ordinary at times. He was superb in Montreal. Then there was Webber, the Anglophile Aussie who was the favourite among most neutrals to win the title. There was that spectacular crash when he ran into the back of Heikki Kovalainen and the most famous of his four wins, at Silverstone, when he said to his team at the end of the race: ‘Not bad for a No2 driver.’ ?But in the end there was only one German who mattered. It was the remarkable Vettel. This will be the first of a clutch of championships for him.?
The Independent?s David Tremayne focuses on the plight of the other title contenders, writing it is easier to feel more sorry for one than the other.
?It was impossible not to feel for both Webber and Alonso. Yet while a frustrated Alonso gestured at Petrov after the race, the Australian, predictably, refused to complain about his pitstop timing. ?A world championship seemed an inevitable part of Sebastian Vettel’s future, but it came a little sooner than most expected, after his recent tribulations. You wouldn’t bet against several more, and if that record-breaking streak continues, perhaps even Schumacher’s achievements will be overshadowed.?
And the Mirror?s Byron Young elaborates further on the petulant behaviour of Fernando Alonso on his slowing down lap after his title dreams ended behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
?Fernando Alonso was hurled into more controversy last night for a wild gesture at the former Lada racer who cost him the title. But the Spaniard brushed off accusations he gave Russian Vitaly Petrov the finger for ruining his title hopes by blocking him for 40 laps as they duelled over sixth place. “The Ferrari ace was caught on television cruising alongside the Renault driver on the slowing down lap and gesticulating from the cockpit. Petrov was unrepentant: “What was I supposed to do? Just get out of his way, pull to the side? I don’t think that is how we race. It was important for the team for me to get points.”


Jim Crawford Ray Crawford Alberto Crespo Antonio Creus Larry Crockett