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It's Holiday Time!

FEATURE BY CHRISTIAN KLIEN
08/08/2013

With half the season now over Formula One is on its summer holiday. It's an important time of the year for teams because it gives them the chance to relax for a few weeks before the season starts up again. Already it's been a long season - ten races - and that means a lot of travel. Working in the garages isn't a glamorous job, it's hard work, so it's good that the guys get to have a couple of weeks off.

There have been a lot of stories in the first half of the year, the biggest probably being the Pirelli tyres. They've been in the news almost non-stop since the start of the season but I think the most important story was that they went back to the 2012 tyres.

Last year's tyres were slightly different in the way they built and maintained temperature because of their construction, and I think that played to Mercedes favour in Hungary. Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix nobody really expected much of them.

Lewis Hamilton drove a mega qualifying lap to take pole, and in the race was helped by his old teammate Jenson Button holding up Sebastian Vettel. That's not the reason Hamilton won though, his pace was still good and even if Vettel had not been stuck behind Button I'm not sure he had the pace to pass the Mercedes.

It was Hamilton's first win for Mercedes and the team’s third of the year showing they are making progress, while on the other hand it seems Ferrari is losing ground. Fernando Alonso made some comments that upset the team over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, and that to me says he can't see any improvement coming. Usually Ferrari starts the year a little but slowly and picks up pace as it goes on, but that doesn't seem to be happening this season. Alonso is an incredible driver, one of the best in Formula One without a doubt, but it seems 2013 is another lost year for him.

That doesn't mean he will leave Ferrari and go to Red Bull, of course. Red Bull seems to be interested in Kimi Raikkonen, but the question is if Raikkonen really wants the drive. He probably has three years of Formula One left in him if he wants a deal, but with Red Bull it would mean more simulator work, more media commitments and public relations work, and we all know he doesn't like doing those things. He is good friends with Vettel, but Vettel will always be the number one at Red Bull.

Daniel Ricciardo is the other driver in contention. He has been doing well since Mark Webber announced his retirement, and logically I think the Australian is the most likely to join Red Bull for next year. The problem is logic doesn't normally work in F1!

Romain Grosjean had a difficult weekend in Hungary, getting a time penalty for hitting Button and a drive-through for passing Massa off the circuit. The pass on Massa was a good, brave move. Turn 4 at the Hungaroring is really challenging because as you sit in a race car the apex is blind - you enter the corner over a little crest, more or less guessing at the turn-in point and hoping you get to the apex. For Grosjean and Felipe Massa to go through side-by-side showed fantastic skill and trust. If Massa had turned in too early he could have hit the inside kerb, making his car slide into Grosjean. It would have been so easy to do but instead they went around almost touching but not quite, only for Grosjean to be penalised for going ten centimetres off the circuit! While to the letter of the rules it wasn't okay, personally I think it was a little bit too much, and I'm not sure I'd have made the same decision if I was a the driver steward that weekend.

I did agree with the other penalty for Grosjean, when he touched Button early in the race. He had already made the pass and there was no need to go back to the racing line or try and close the door; if he'd just braked in a straight line there was no way Button could overtake him. It was a silly move and is a shame because Grosjean is very fast - when he was running on his own or following Vettel he was one of the fastest guys on the circuit. Grosjean, for me, is a little bit like Pastor Maldonado; both very, very fast drivers but just missing that little bit of awareness about what's happening around them.

The other problem for Grosjean is that he is in a good car, so his mistakes are costing him a lot. His teammate is 85 points ahead in the championship, which is just too much and just makes me wonder if we might see Nico Hulkenberg or Davide Valsecchi in that car in future.

The other big news story, at least as far as I'm concerned, is the return of the Austrian Grand Prix next year. It is a nice circuit in a beautiful area, up in the mountains with a lot of undulations (and cows!) - television really doesn't do justice to how much it rises and falls. Although it's been modified since it was first built the track still produces some exciting racing with lots of passing.

It's good that Formula One is adding a European race back to the calendar. I can understand why there are more and more races in Asia, it's a huge market and will only get bigger in future, and so it's a good sign that Austria returns next year. I think it's important that the sport keeps its historic races, like Monza, Monaco and Spa, and keeps races in its European heart.

For now though we must now wait for the next race, and luckily for us it's at one of the best circuits in the world. Spa-Francorchamps is probably my favourite circuit, one which is a real challenge for drivers. It's got fast, flowing corners where drivers can really make the most of their car’s downforce which makes it one of the best tracks to race on.

In recent years it's lost just a tiny part of the challenge because they've laid tarmac run-off areas which makes it safer - always a good thing - but takes a tiny part of the challenge away. Eau Rouge was much more difficult ten years ago when it had no room for error, and it was that risk which made it such an exciting corner for drivers. Of course it is still a fantastic corner, and a brilliant track.

We should expect Mercedes to be strong there. Typically they have struggled with rear tyre wear but both Spa and the next race in Monza are very easy on the rear tyres, with more focus on top speed. That should play to Mercedes favour and with Hamilton in the form he is, and within two race wins of Vettel's championship lead, I don't think we should be writing him out of the picture just yet.

Christian Klien

Learn more about Christian and check out his previous features, click here

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