The midsummer break (slightly longer this year due to the season calendar being one race shorter than the previous one) should be a time for drivers to unwind and recharge before the all-important push in the second half of the championship. In the meantime, teams re-work their strategies and develop new upgrades based on what they learnt in the first 10 races of the season. While that second aspect of the summer break might still be the case, the news that have been seeding through into the public domain suggest that the F1 world – drivers included – are feeling far from relaxed this season.
ALONSO – FERRARI SPAT
The constant (and consistent) title pretender Alonso has never been too generous in dispensing praise for his team and, especially, his own work. Usually highly self-critical, he also always recognised that the car was still not up to speed with their main competitor – in a literal and figurative sense. And although he is the undoubtable front star of the Formula 1 circus today, his post-Hungary comments caused a storm among the uber- controlling Ferrari chefs.
“There is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone,” was the first statement on the company’s website, to which Ferrari boss, Luca di Montezemolo added:
“This is the moment to stay calm, avoid polemics and show humility and determination in making one’s own contribution, standing alongside the team and its people both at the track and outside it.”
The nature of the Spaniard’s comments was later revealed and, to an extent, it was understandable why some Ferrari souls would get upset: since Fernando’s birthday followed the Hungarian Grand Prix, he reportedly “joked” that the best birthday present would be one of his rivals’ cars.
On top of that, the speculation about Alonso being offered next year’s vacant Red Bull seat emerged, which certainly didn’t help in the “family” relations. Ferrari’s team principal, Stefano Domenicali, had to step in, defending Fernando’s position in the Scuderia, reassuring the talking heads that his champion was not going anywhere. Even Alonso chipped in to say he was not interested in driving alongside Vettel. But The Boss had to further stomp his ground with a follow-up:
“Fernando is a great driver and I understand him, he is a bit like me: he wants to win… But I didn’t like some attitudes, a few words, some outbursts.
“I reminded everyone, including the drivers, that Ferrari comes before everything, the priority is the team,” he told Corriere della Sera, comparing himself to a father who makes sure that everyone in the family knows the rules. At least he got that one right.
And not to leave one driver without a reprimand, Felipe Massa was left to savour some extra pressure over the summer break, as he was reminded his position on the team is far from set in stone – and dependent on results, which have been faltering recently. This pressure helped the Brazilian find his feet in the second half of 2012, so let us hope he can repeat that feat this year also.
IT’S NOT WORTH STAYING FOR WEBBER
Formula 1 has gone downhill – that’s the gist of Webber’s conclusions about what’s been happening in the sport over the recent years, namely – the financial pressures that drive the hiring decisions, leaving some really talented guys with no chance for a seat. One could read the comments as a sign of concern for the sport – or a self-justification to his decision to ditch it all for sports cars.
“When I was on the grid at the back with Minardi you had Irvine, Salo – all those guys had been on podiums,” Webber told AUTOSPORT, reminiscing his debut F1 outings 13 years ago.
“[Now] there are a lot of talented guys out there, but a lot are slipping through the net unfortunately. That’s a sad state.”
He did, however, praise the decision of the FIA to bring Austria back into the F1 calendar – after all, that gap had to be filled, left after the long-awaited and already-missed Russian Grand Prix, which failed to put its bid in on time for 2014.
At the same time, Red Bull team principal was not doing the Aussie any favours when claiming that Vettel’s critics disrespect Webber.
“I think that’s very disrespectful to Mark Webber, because we run two cars and Mark is a good race driver, a very good race driver,” Horner told AUTOSPORT when asked to address those who still doubt Vettel’s greatness, after which he added: “I think it is without any shadow of a doubt that Sebastian is most definitely the real deal.”
Mind you, Ross Brawn sang the same tune, saying that Rosberg’s current form just proves the greatness of Schumacher when he was still at Mercedes. It’s hard to determine where the actual praise is going in both cases, as neither the three-time-champion Vettel or the seven-time-champion Schumacher need motivational talk; and it’s hard to believe Webber or Hamilton would feel particularly flattered in either case. It’s either a misjudged attempt at playing nice guy – or the principals are just making clear who they want to stay friends with. Tough call.
FORCE INDIA LOST ITS MOJO
When Sahara’s prodigal son, Adrian Sutil, returned to the team to join already strong Paul di Resta, Force India was up for something big – and they proved it with the first few races, scoring points that put them ahead of the midfield and in high hopes of aiming for the constructors’ top three. But then things went downhill, with di Resta having to swallow the rotten qualifying mistakes his team would serve him, with the all-time low in Hungary when – at a shock to himself – Paul didn’t even make it out of Q1. And although the Scot’s form and determination have been consistent enough to keep those point coming, di Resta shared his mid-summer reflections: the team had lost it. In the meantime, Adrian Sutil had to concede that his return might not have gone down as well as he had hoped and that he will have to make an extra effort to keep his seat. Both of the boys are then hoping wholeheartedly that the team will have done miracles over the summer break, so that they can benefit from the revamped Silverstone base.
SAUBER STILL HOLDING IT TOGETHER (SO THEY SAY)
Maybe the fall through of the Russian GP on next year’s calendar made the rumours of Sauber’s agreements with their life support collapsing ring true. The Swiss team will rely on a line of Russian sponsoring to compete in the financially more-than-ever demanding 2014 season, and so was heavily dismissing the allegations that some of those vital contracts were being withdrawn.
“Our announced co-operation with Russian partners is on a solid footing,” the team claimed in a statement for AUTOSPORT, maintaining also that their expected next year signing, 17-year-old Sergey Sirotkin, will be having his first training after the summer break.
“We are bewildered by the ease with which various media have published falsehoods and rumours.” The fierceness of this line of defence can only suggest that not all is going to plan on that front.
LOTUS MONEY WORRIES NOT SO BAD (AS ABOVE)
Eric Boullier has advocated for the lowering of Formula 1 costs for a few good months now, claiming during winter training – as he did at the start of the summer break – that unless something is done, only the big players will remain and the “competition” will be reduced to three richest teams on the grid.
However, his recent comments sparked a media upheaval suggesting something is rotten in the Lotus garage. There were rumours of staff not being paid and even a strike in the making – all of which were dismissed by the co-owner of the team’s saviour-sponsor Genii, Gerard Lopez. In a rare media comment, Lopez reassured all concerned parties that all is good and better than ever at Lotus – and even if the team is not going to invest in many upgrades in the second half of the season, that’s to be understood as “those are things you do in the first 10 races.”
But still, there is a huge debt behind the team which had initiated the talks with Red Bull sponsors – Infiniti, who are set to take over 35% of Lotus’ stake.
“Once this is done it will be a new era for Enstone because financially we will be secure for many years at another level,” Boullier told AUTOSPORT.
The upbeat attitude must be spreading across the Enstone site, as Grosjean was reported saying his form was better than it looked – and it didn’t look good in the last few races, particularly to some drivers who had to endure his frantic driving style. “After our performance in the last few races, I honestly believe my first win is now just around the corner,” Grosjean said in an interview on Lotus’ website… Well, he might wait for that win till after Spa, where the 20 second penalty for colliding with Button in Hungary and the bitter memory of last year might pose a bit of a hurdle in that respect. No pressure there.
And last but surely not least…
TYRE MANUFACTURER STILL UNCONFIRMED
“It is the most bizarre situation. We have agreements in place with the vast majority of people involved, but there is not a clearly defined process.
“We are going forward, getting teams signed up, getting promoters signed up and working on 2014. We can only work with what we are being asked to do.
“We have cooperation from teams, cooperation with promoters and ongoing cooperation from the FIA, so until someone tells us something different we don’t see what we should do differently.” (Paul Hembery for AUTOSPORT)
Pirelli’s stance is understandable – the new technical regulations for 2014, including, primarily, different type of engine and weight restrictions, require an updated and tested compound which, naturally, takes time. The teams take months of their current season to work on their machines for next year, on top of any upgrades that need to be undertaken here and now, and the situation is pretty much the same for the tyre manufacturer. Apart from that in this case, it’s not.
Having been under more pressure than ever for their “deadly” tyre concept, Pirelli had a lot of explaining to do and attempts to make amends, even if they were then curbed by the organising body, the FIA. The company’s boss Paul Hembery has had the ultra-difficult task of trying to maintain a fairly positive media image of its company – but to what end, really? The idea that they would be doing whatever it took to stay in the sport for 2014 is a debatable one – the fiercest party would get discouraged after the amount of criticism Pirelli received this year alone, adding to its not-so-glamorous 2012 record. On top of that, they don’t really have any competitors for the position, with the likes of Bridgestone and Hankok having put a definite no-go on that avenue a while back. And yet, Pirelli claim to be committed to the sport, as – from whatever angle you’d look at it – they are the only realistic option Formula 1 has left for next year.
So with all the troubles Pirelli has been having with the FIA – a desperate cry for attention disguised behind numerous diplomatic interviews by Hembery – the definite agreement shambles – which only confirms Pirelli as the single tyre manufacturer for the sport until the end of this year – seems very unfair for the tyre company.
But then, since the FIA remains stubbornly quiet on this and other topics, we can only know one side of this story.
With a week to go before the re-start of the season at Spa, there is bound to be more drama in the F1 world – but hopefully, that drama will not spoil the long awaited on-track action.