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Qualifying in Australia

Raikkonen on pole, Alonso next up – no surprises there. Even the four tenths of a second gap was about what we expected. Massa might have been able to make it a Ferrari front row but a broken gearbox put paid to that. It was a good reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in this first race of the year, however; there will be more retirements to come and they could easily make a mess of any predictions.

Nick

Nick Heidfeld on his way to third slot

The second row is interesting: Heidfeld and Hamilton. The BMW could be even better than anyone suspected, likewise Lewis Hamilton. No wonder Ron Dennis was fairly chortling with glee afterwards – he has picked a winner in the young Brit and can look forward to a great season for McLaren. And, with Kubica confirming the pace of the BMW with his fifth grid slot, maybe even Mario Theissen will consider the possibility of victory in this race.

Fizzy did as much as could be done with the Renault in hauling it into sixth, but Mark Webber worked wonders to grab seventh in the Red Bull. For the Toyotas to be next up is also something of a miracle, especially as both had trouble in the second period of qualifying. Any bets on how long they will last in the race?

As for the Super Aguris being tenth and eleventh, I don’t have to say anything – Colin Kolles is shouting loud enough for his protest to be heard back in England. At least it shows that sometimes it’s better to go with development of last year’s chassis than a completely new car – Honda are mystified by their RA 107′s refusal to perform.

Otherwise the grid is more or less as one would expect, although the Williams cars were a little disappointing. But allow me to point once again at Scott Speed; he was almost a second faster than Liuzzi and for a while looked as if he would make it into Q2. The guy is in F1 on merit, I tell ya.

And now we will all sit down to see what happens when the red lights go out; for me, it will be 10:30pm Saturday, others will be in Sunday. All around the world there will be sighs of contentment as our withdrawal symptoms are eased. It has been a long wait but at last we begin – and this season looks to be a humdinger.

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An American in F1 – Scott Speed

A while back there was a rumor that Scott Speed was going to be replaced in the Toro Rosso team for 2007. This was denied very quickly by the team and since then there have been no further rumblings. However, it does highlight the fact that Scott is not generally given much credit for his performance this year, whereas the brief tussle between Toro Rosso and Red Bull over which team should have Vitantonio Liuzzi’s services next year would indicate that the Italian is pretty highly regarded.

In view of this, you would think that Liuzzi had comprehensively trounced his American teammate in 2006. Yet a study of their results for the season shows a somewhat different picture.

In qualifying, Liuzzi grabbed a higher grid slot at twelve races, Speed managed to outpace him six times. Which looks bad for Scott until we separate the year into two halves. In the first half, Liuzzi outqualified Speed eight times and Speed managed to get the drop on him only once. But, in the second half, the figures are Liuzzi 4, Speed 5. That speaks of a remarkable improvement in Scott’s speed (if you’ll pardon the pun) – suddenly he is at least on a par with his supposedly-quick teammate.

If we then turn to the races, disregarding DNFs (Did Not Finish) as they are not always the driver’s fault (and anyway they had the same number of retirements – 4 each), we find that Liuzzi finished higher than Speed at five races and Speed beat him the same number of times. The same swing of the pendulum that we noted in qualifying is also apparent here – Scott finished higher than Liuzzi only once in the first half of the season but notched up four thereafter.

Of course, we should remember that you can prove anything with statistics, but these figures make it pretty clear that, judged by results, there is little to choose between the two drivers. In fact, you would be wiser to put your money on Speed since he exhibits a learning process and is likely to get better with time. Yes, he made a few mistakes in his first season but so does any driver new to F1. The point is that he is learning.

Liuzzi may be learning too. But, if he is, he isn’t doing it as fast as Scott. And my conclusion has to be that, of the two, Scott Speed has the greater potential. It is no wonder that Toro Rosso laughed at the idea that they would drop him.

Scott 2

Scott Speed in the Toro Rosso STR-01

Next year Toro Rosso will have Ferrari V8 engines and will no longer suffer from running a limited V10. Then will the true performance of the car become apparent and the abilities of the drivers be easier to assess. It is just possible that Scott will surprise us all and become one of the hot properties of 2007.

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Suzuka Qualifying

The weather gods were kind to Michael Schumacher again in Japan, the dry conditions giving Bridgestone a decisive advantage over Michelin. Whatever the hype from both camps, it is quite clear that tires are playing an enormous part in the races at the moment, allowing us to predict a Renault victory when it rains or a Ferrari win when it doesn’t.

Massa

Felipe Massa

So it is no surprise that the front two rows of the grid are Bridgestone-shod; if there is a surprise at all, it was that Massa managed to grab pole. Even that is not unprecedented, given the Brazilian’s performances of late. Some seem to think that his race in Shanghai was below par but that is ignoring the fact that he was hampered by his tires while the circuit was wet (and all the Bridgestone runners had problems to begin with) and was then taken out in a coming-together with Coulthard.

Massa looks like a champion waiting to happen. He is now as fast as Schumacher and is even developing a similarly ruthless willingness to do anything to get ahead. He begins to fit the Ferrari mold very well.

Next up were the Toyotas, everyone assuming that their pace was the result of running light on fuel. That may be but their Bridgestones had something to do with it as well. They will be difficult to pass in the first stint and Alonso must hope to beat them to the first corner after the start, if he is to stand a reasonable chance of running close to the Ferraris.

The Hondas also put on a good show, taking seventh and eighth, and they could be a factor in the race, particularly if the weather turns changeable. Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual, with the one exception of Kimi Raikkonen. The McLaren must be very poor at this track for Kimi not to have made it into Q3.

It looks like it will be an easy race for Ferrari, given that the weather prediction is for even better conditions than today’s. Nothing is certain in this game, however, and Renault fans must hope for something to take the edge off the Ferraris’ advantage. Rain, against all forecasts? An engine problem for Michael?

Somehow I think it will take something like that for Michael not to win this one.

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Yet More on the “Blocking” Controversy

Yes, I’m nearly as sick of the subject as you are but some things need to be pointed out since nobody else seems to be mentioning them. Hopefully, this will be my last post on the matter.

It seems that the FIA is moving to clarify the rules regarding blocking in qualifying. SPEEDtv.com reports that the FIA released this statement yesterday:

“Complaints that a driver has been impeded during qualifying will no longer be referred to the stewards of the meeting. Only in cases where it appears to race control that there has been a clear and deliberate attempt to impede another driver will the stewards be asked to intervene.

“We now feel it is pointless for the stewards to engage in long and painstaking enquiries if competitors ignore clear scientific evidence and instead abuse the regulator.”

The first paragraph looks like an admission that the rule was incorrectly applied against Alonso. If the stewards did not make a glaring error, why is it necessary to clarify the rule at all? In effect, the FIA is admitting that the whole thing was absurd and that something needs to be done about rules that are open to abuse.

To then turn on Renault in a pointed remark about competitors ignoring “clear scientific evidence” is mere bad temper. Renault had every right to protest against such an awful decision and to make their views known. Had they kept quiet, as the FIA is clearly suggesting, nothing would have been done to alter the rule; the FIA can’t have it both ways.

Max Mosley

Max Mosley

FIA President, Max Mosley has attempted to justify the actions of the stewards by saying that “blocking in fact did take place as the Ferrari driver lost time through the long right-handed Parabolica turn” (F1 Racing-live.com). This is the biggest load of baloney I’ve heard in a long time. So Massa lost some time in the Parabolica? Where is the proof that this was caused by Alonso, who was over a hundred yards ahead of him at the time? For all we know, Massa may have slowed for other reasons entirely.

Presumably, Mosley means that the Ferrari’s aerodynamics were affected by the turbulent air created by the Renault – but welcome to F1 qualifying, Max; this happens time and again to every driver and they accept that it’s part of sharing the track with other cars. Plenty of drivers were much closer to the car ahead on their hot lap than Massa ever was but they didn’t see a need to complain to the stewards.

The plain fact is that the Monza stewards made a decision grounded entirely upon their favoring of Ferrari and we all know it. The FIA is engaged in a rearguard action to save its reputation but, let’s face it, that reputation was blown long ago and this latest incident merely serves to confirm what we have suspected for years.

Okay, I’ll shut up now.

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