Setting The Agenda

A belated happy Christmas to all readers – I hope you have enjoyed the days of festive fun, and are looking forward to New Year’s Eve celebrations. Of course, this is a critical period for blogger’s as it is a time to reflect upon a year of content. 

In terms of Formula 1 in general, what a year it has been. Twelve months in which the on-track action has been spectacular, yet overshadowed by financial politics, as well as the agony of Japan. 2014 also marked my second full year of blogging and my personal perception of proceedings, along with the views of active readers, is that the quality of content has improved over the past year. 
However, there is still a lot of work to do. As has been the case with the Team Review’s series, many article styles have not galvanised the desired interest and are not as pleasing to write. Bland news articles which contain minimal opinion are one such area of ‘dis-interest’.
So, the agenda for 2015 is to largely continue publishing similar content to this year – yet with even more emphasis on opinion. News articles tend to be more vinegar than vintage and are not as entertaining to write nor read and as such, any breaking news stories will be covered on this site by heavily opinionated content, making KGibbsF1 as unique a read as possible. 
Of course, it is you the reader that is integral to site – without you, this page would not exist. As such, I would love to hear your opinions on the content of 2014 and any ideas for the future. 
Thanks for reading and happy holidays.

Merry-Go Round At Maranello

Ferrari are rarely away from the Formula 1 headlines, but this past week as been a busy one even by their high standards. After their first season without a win since 1993 and arguably, their worst campaign since the ill-fated double floor of the F92A, few would doubt that change has become a necessity. However, no-one expected change to be quite so rapid and in a whirlwind week, Gutierrez and Vergne have been confirmed as new recruits, with Mercedes’ Jock Clear heavily linked with a move, while Pat Fry, Nikolas Tombazis and Pedro De La Rosa, are all confirmed departures. Maranello now looks markedly different in comparison to just a week ago.

Maranello, Italy
by Francisco Antunes [CC-BY-2.0

JEV Completes Crazy Week

Despite failing to finish in his first Formula E outing, Jean-Eric Vergne made quite an impression on his début weekend, taking pole position for Andretti Autosport. Regardless of his Formula E prospects, I imagine that JEV’s ever-growing army of fans will be ecstatic to hear that he will be returning to F1 – albeit, not in the capacity in which they first hoped. However, a job at Ferrari is illustrious and that is exactly what Vergne has obtained.
It was only Monday night, that the team announced that Esteban Gutierrez would fill the role of the team’s third driver for 2015, after being ejected from his Sauber seat. Following today’s news, Ferrari have signed two new drivers in the space of six days – and two prime candidates at that. Both Vergne and Gutierrez are fine additions to what is a growing roster of Scuderia drivers, with race seat occupiers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen clutching five world titles between them, already accompanied by test drivers Marc Gene and Davide Rigon. Undoubtedly, the team have an abundance of driving expertise among their ranks. 
Adding Vergne to a line-up already bursting at the seams may seem unnecessary at first, but it is a canny move from F1’s longest serving outfit. Vergne is an experienced driver, who has first hand knowledge of the characteristics and traits of a modern F1 car – an attribute that can only be attained from having recently possessed a race seat. His predecessor, Pedro De La Rosa may have a wealth of experience under his belt, with the ability to draw upon knowledge of racing in several eras of the sport across his 106 race starts, but 2012 was his last season as a race driver – he faces the challenge of being a Ferrari development driver without a campaign-enriched understanding of the new technology. Anyone who frequently reads this blog will be well aware of my opinions in regards to JEV – a magnificent appointment to the team, who will surely make significant contributions to the programme at Maranello.
Elsewhere in the team, it has been a seismic week of reshuffling. James Allison’s role has become far more identifiable – he is now Technical Director, following the departures of Head of Engineering, Pat Fry and Chief Designer Nikolas Tombazis. It appears as though these are two high profile names who have been held accountable for this season’s shortcomings, to add to the already surprising list featuring Stefano Domenicalli, Luca Marmorini and Luca De Montezemolo no less. Even the role of team Press Officer will see a new name on the door in 2015, Renato Bisignani will stand down and be replaced by Alberto Antonini. 
In terms of radical change, this eclipses even the Mercedes-overhaul between 2012 and 2013. Ferrari seem to be attracting talented individuals, (as you would expect from such an attractive luxury brand,) and are arguably looking stronger now than they did throughout 2014. This is however, only a first impression as it remains to be seen whether these new personnel can work co-operatively and efficiently – after all, Ferrari’s fundamental problem this season was miscommunication between the engine and chassis departments.       

Gutierrez Enters The Ferrari Fray

Just weeks after being dropped by Sauber and facing the daunting reality of an early end to his Formula 1 career, Esteban Gutierrez is now once again employed – and by one of the most famous names in motorsport, no less. Ferrari have snapped up the 23-year-old Mexican, who will be their reserve driver for 2015. Esteban has certainly made the best of a bad situation this winter.

Esteban Gutierrez 2014 Singapore FP1
By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Welcoming Esteban

The past two years have undoubtedly been underwhelming where Gutierrez is concerned. He only managed to score 6 points in his maiden season, compared with teammate Hulkenberg’s 51 and while he did narrowly beat Adrian Sutil across the course of this season, his 8-7 victory was far from convincing – particularly, since neither driver was able to score points.
However, Esteban has been thrown in at the deep end. In 2012, the Sauber C31 was a regular front-runner and in an admittedly unpredictable campaign, the team scored four podiums. Signposts therefore, suggested that Esteban would be supplied with ample machinery to demonstrate the full extent of his talents. Unfortunately for the team, the early half of 2014 was a case of regression and it was not until the mid-season tyre construction change, that both Gutierrez and indeed Hulkenberg, had the equipment to challenge for points. Ultimately, Nico enjoyed a far more fruitful end to the season than his rookie teammate, yet this was understandable – Esteban was still learning his trade.
In 2014, the combination of a thirsty powertrain and an unpredictable car has meant that the Mexican has had a tough time once again. With no points to show for his efforts, Gutierrez was ejected from the seat. However, Ferrari have acknowledged his potential and aged just 23, Esteban certainly has time to develop as a driver. 
Newly appointed Team Principal and successor to Marco Mattiacci, Maruzio Arrivabene, has clearly acknowledged this. “We are pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to Esteban who, although young, has plenty of experience relating to the new generation of Formula 1 cars,” he said. “I am sure that, with his experience, he will make an important contribution to the development work of the team in the simulator.” This is a fascinating observation. Gutierrez can be considered as the perfect package for such a role – he is young and could be a potential Ferrari driver of the future, should he impress the team’s hierarchy, but he also has experience of driving an F1 car for two full seasons. Not just any F1 cars – Ferrari powered F1 cars. As such, he already has an in-depth knowledge of how the powertrain and technology itself functions and should be able to swim when dropped into Maranello’s simulator for the first time. 
After facing their first year without a win since 1993, next season has to be better. Appointing Gutierrez appears to be a wise decision from Ferrari, in a year when development has to be high on the agenda.   

A Year of Sauber Struggles

In terms of disappointing season’s, Sauber’s 2014 campaign is has to rank as one of the worst and neither Adrian Sutil nor Esteban Gutierrez could overhaul the deficit created by their sub-par machinery. The hope is that the Hinwil-based outfit can have a more prosperous 2015, with two new drivers in-bound.

Adrian Sutil – Sauber C33
By Mariom990 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Facts…

  • Sauber finished 10th in the championship, failing to score a single point. 
  • Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez suffered 13 retirements between them across the course of the campaign. 
  • Gutierrez was eliminated at the Q1 stage of qualifying on four occasions, including at Canada, where an accident in FP3 ruled him out of the session. 
  • Sutil’s P10 in Austin marked the team’s best qualifying performance of the season and the only time that either car made it into the final phase of qualifying.

Tug Of War

After enjoying two years of relative prosperity, Sauber came down to earth with a bang in 2014, as the C33 failed to match the performance of its predecessors. As such, this campaign has been the worst in the team’s history – since their entry in 1992, they had never failed to score a point in a season. Certainly, a streak that Monisha Kaltenborn et al did not want to break.
Character-building is one particular sporting cliche which springs to mind. To compound the on-track performance issues, Sauber faced an on-going political battle off-track, as it united alongside Lotus, Force India, Caterham and Marussia, in what became a tug-of-war between F1’s “have’s” and “have not’s.” While Kaltenborn has been particularly vocal in regards to the financial unsustainability of the sport for quite some time, her argument was made more potent in the closing stages of the campaign as Caterham and Marussia slipped into administration. Regardless, the situation is yet unresolved, even if Sauber’s financial predicament seems to have been alleviated in the short term by their latest driver appointments. Every cloud has a silver lining though and the political issues did somewhat detract the attention away from Sauber’s on-track woes.

Driving The Changes

Reluctantly, drivers will always come and go in this sport and we may have seen the last of both Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez in F1, after disappointing campaigns. Albeit hamstrung by a challenging car, neither driver demonstrated the type of credentials which would either make them a candidate in the eyes of potential employers or their current employers, for 2015.
Gutierrez’s 2014 season seemed particularly discouraging. The Mexican, driven by a desire to compete in his home race next season, failed to improve his performance after a difficult rookie campaign, in which he scored just 6 points to teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s 51. While his poor returns last season were somewhat understandable, a second lackluster performance has seen his credentials drawn into question. While he may have narrowly beaten Adrian Sutil over the course of the campaign 8-7, the notable mentions go to the German – two 11th place finishes in Australia and Hungary and a Q3 appearance at Austin. The clumsy accident in Monaco did nothing to improve the perception that was growing in regards to an underachieving Esteban.
However, both Esteban and Sauber in general have been hugely unlucky this season. Gutierrez’s retirement in Singapore is perhaps the most unfortunate moment of their trouble filled campaign, as the Mexican looked likely to secure points until an electrical issue halted his progress and prompted his famous glove-throwing exploits, captured on FOM’s world feed. Meanwhile, following his impressive result on Saturday, Sutil’s US Grand Prix was abruptly concluded when Sergio Perez misjudged his speed Turn 15 and careered into the back of the Sauber. While Gutierrez’s race pace suggests that Sutil may have struggled to maintain his top ten placing, his qualifying account predicted otherwise. I guess we will never know what could have been on that November afternoon.

Final Lap

Best Moment of the Season
In a year of trials and tribulations, Adrian Sutil’s incredible qualifying performance at Austin was both spectacular and unexpected – the highlight of an otherwise gloomy season.

Best Performance of the Season
Sauber’s 177 lap total in the final day of testing that stole the headlines.  

Final Grade

    Button and Alonso Confirmed At McLaren

    While many analysts were beginning to guesstimate that Christmas could come before the McLaren driver saga drew to a close, the team have finally given their verdict – and it is pleasing news for Jenson Button’s army of fans. The Brit has retained his seat at the team, at the expense of Kevin Mganussen, who has been ousted to a reserve driver role. In regards to the worst kept secret of the season, Fernando Alonso was confirmed as Button’s teammate today and means that McLaren will field the oldest driver line-up in the sport next season – yet with 500 races and 47 wins between the duo, it promises to be a successful combination.

    McLaren, Button, Cross The Line
    By emperornie (Mclaren, Button) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    Button In, Magnussen Less So…

    Evidently, McLaren have opted to pursue experience over potential. At a time when a new powertrain is inbound, this appears to be a simple decision to make, at least at face value. The fact that in Jenson Button, the team bestowed a driver with 15 race wins, 50 podiums and a World Championship title to his name, would have surely made this an even easier choice. However, regardless of what Button fans would declare, the choice was far from a simple one.
    Kevin Magnussen has enjoyed a steady 2014 – the Dane has not been as spectacular as his surprising podium in the opening round would have implied, but he had demonstrated the type of potential which encouraged both Ron Dennis and Eric Boullier to continue their support of him. Kevin has looked particularly impressive in wheel-to-wheel combat. At times, he has unfortunately overstepped the boundary between what is spectacular and what is acceptable, with his thrilling dice with Fernando Alonso at Spa springing to mind, for which he received a totally-justified twenty second time penalty. However, dogged determination is what has defined Magnussen’s campaign.
    In terms of raw speed, he has also fared well against his teammate. His qualifying performance in Germany stood out as a spectacular result, as the Dane notched a superlative P4, compared with a lackluster P12 for Jenson. The race may have seen him at the heart of an unfortunate collision with Felipe Massa at Turn 1, but Saturday’s result could not be forgotten. Where Kevin has struggled in 2014, is in race trim and his deficiencies on a Sunday have been exaggerated by Button’s stunning consistency – the Brit is famous for being an excellent points-scorer and in the MP4-29, Button enjoyed one of his best campaign’s in this regard. His performances on a Sunday were rarely anything less than the maximum. 
    Perhaps one of the biggest determining factors to create this disparity has been driving styles. It seems as though Button and Magnussen are a polarized as styles come. Jenson is the super-smooth operator, inputting subtle commands into the steering wheel and driving with a type of precision which ultimately hampers his one-lap ability. Meanwhile, Magnussen is visibly much more aggressive with his inputs, demanding much more from the car on turn-in and therefore, demanding much more from his tyres. As such, Kevin has been the better qualifier while Jenson has had the upper hand come race-day. 
    However, the argument that points make prizes, is far too simplistic here. 2015 is a year of change at Woking, as Honda re-enter the sport with a first generation powertrain. Immediately, they face an uphill struggle as they will face opposition from second generation powerunits, and McLaren have to begin to learn the fine details and subtleties of it – something which the competition completed a full twelve months ago. As such, experience is a factor which cannot be underestimated and Jenson’s finely tuned senses will unquestionably prove pivotal in a year when driver feedback is of particular importance. If Jenson fails to spot something, you can be sure that his opposite number will, and vice versa of course. 

    Burying The Hatchet

    Fernando Alonso 2007 USA 2
    By Matthew Blasi from Fredericksburg Va & Washington DC, USA (2007 US Grand Prix)
     [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
    While it was Jenson Button making the headlines today, Fernando Alonso’s appointment to the team in which he faced serious turmoil in 2007 is just as intriguing. The intrigue has undoubtedly been quelled by the news being the worst kept secret in F1 for quite some time, but it is still a fascinating storyline to explore. 
    Without retelling the countless details, Alonso’s time at McLaren ended in acrimonious fashion – as acrimonious as it gets. The Spaniard was at loggarheads with Ron Dennis, as the former questioned his status in the team and seemed to use every trick in the book to win a position as the undisputed number one. As the championship neared its conclusion, the pair were no longer on speaking terms and both Alonso and that rookie teammate of his, missed out on the title after a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of the McLaren drivers and bosses stepping on each others toes.
    As such, the chances of Alonso returning to McLaren were somewhere between slim and none – particularly as Ron Dennis returned to the helm. However, it seems that the pair are now ready to bury the hatchet and move forward in a harmonious coalition. For both McLaren, Honda and Alonso himself, it is a good job they have.
    The double World Champion may be moving into the autumn of his career, yet another sublime campaign behind the wheel of a decidedly average Ferrari has demonstrated that age has certainly not eroded any of his talents. In the right machinery, both he and Button have shown enough potential in the past 12 months to justify that that they can deliver a championship title.  
    However, delivering a championship is not on anyone’s mind as a goal for the immediate future at McLaren. This is a project and regardless of how effective the Honda powertrain is, the team as a whole need to overcome the fact that they are essentially twelve months behind the opposition. If they can win races in 2015, that will be an impressive achievement in itself, but to challenge the mighty Mercedes for the title would surely be a bridge too far.
    Regardless, McLaren seem to have made a wise choice in terms of drivers. Experience over youth is an age old argument and is applicable to most sports, yet as circumstances suggest a rocky road ahead as McLaren and Honda reacquaint themselves, a safe pair of hands behind the wheel is an excellent place to start. They have elected for the safe option, but as a famous saying suggests, discretion is the better part of valour.         

    Caterham’s Year of Strife

    Politics, politics and more politics have plagued the Leafield based squad this season and their trials and tribulations have highlighted just how challenging life at the back of the grid can be.

    Caterham Pit Box 2014 Singapore
    By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

    The Facts

    • Caterham finished P11 in the Constructors Championship, failing to score a single point
    • The team gave F1 debuts to Marcus Ericsson, Andre Lotterer and Will Stevens across the course of the season. 
    • 2014 was Caterham’s fifth season in the sport.
    • Their best result of the season came in Monaco, where Ericsson narrowly missed out on points, finishing in P11.

    Political Plight

    Caterham’s 2014 campaign will forever be remembered for flawed politics. The ‘messyist’ of messy seasons, resulted in mass confusion, with even the drivers complaining of a lack of knowledge in regards to the outfit’s ownership. 
    Rewinding back to late January, during a team press event in which their latest driver pairing was announced, then-owner Tony Fernandes highlighted that his interest in the sport was dwindling. He gave a clear message that 2014 would have to be a success story if he was to maintain his influence – ultimately, as Caterham were cut even further adrift of the midfield pack, Fernandes could no longer justify his investment and therefore, sold the team. 
    While it initially looked as though they would not make an appearance at the British Grand Prix, their attendance was sparked by the investment of a mysterious Swiss Middle-Eastern consortium of buyers, (later identified as Engavast SV,) who prompted a raft of changes at the helm of the squad. Ex-driver Christijan Albers took over duties in the Team Principal role, while Colin Kolles’ involvement in the outfit was in an advisory capacity. This appointment was particularly poignant at the time, as Kolles has been the man deployed to save team’s grappling with financial and sporting turmoil in the past. This assessment, stemmed from his time in the upper echelon of Jordan, in which he oversaw the transitions to Spyker, Midland and eventually Force India. 
    However, it soon emerged that this new structure was untenable. After key personnel such as Technical Director Mark Smith had been removed from their positions earlier in the year, the consortium dismissed more than 40 members of staff early on in the takeover. However, 38 members of this group declared that they were unfairly dismissed and took legal action against the team. According to Caterham, negotiations have been taking place with the ex-employees, yet these talks seem to have broken down, with one former employee having claimed that a settlement had not been offered and neither had they received the money which they were owed.   
    Evidently, the takeover had been unsuccessful and it soon emerged that disputes between Fernandes and Engavest were the source of the fundamental issues behind the scenes. The two failed to meet a compromise and soon, the administrators jumped in to rescue the declining outfit, following a Russian Grand Prix which threatened to by their last – Kobayashi’s bizarre retirement highlighted just how dire the situation had become and as such, news of administration came as no surprise. In stepped Finbarr O’Connell, in a role of interim Team Principal and soon unveiled a grand plan to put Caterham back on the grid – Crowdfunding.

    Crowdfunding Controversy 

    The concept of crowdfunding, in which private donations were made to the team, ranging in both shape and size, was controversial to say the least. Christian Horner was one particularly vocal opponent to the scheme, yet O’Connell had clear justification for the plan – evidently, making it to Abu Dhabi and demonstrating to the world that Caterham F1 Team was still operational would greatly increase the potential for more sustainable, long-term investment. While I myself questioned the ethics of crowdfunding, the justification was undoubted and the fact that Caterham made it to Abu Dhabi demonstrated just how significant “fan-power” can be. As for long-term investment, official news has been in short supply, yet speculation suggests that potential investors are on the horizon and a spot on the grid in Melbourne is far from an impossibility, even if the team have to run a 2014 specification car, (for which they have received the required dispensation to do.)

    Adverse Driving Conditions

    Evidently not a great year for staff at Leafield and ultimately, this transpired to a what was a difficult year for Caterham drivers. Despite the political turmoil, both Ericsson and Kobayashi were relied upon to bring home the proverbial bacon and seal the outfit’s first points scoring finish – a desire made more potent by Bianchi’s ninth place and Marussia’s first points in Monaco. 
    In fairness, both Ericsson and Kobayashi dealt with the situation remarkably well, maintaining their focus firmly on racing – perhaps assisted by their clear lack of knowledge in regards to the complexities and veiled threats behind the scenes. It was an admirable performance, which only wavered as administration loomed large. 
    In terms of ultimate performance, it is impossible to suggest that Ericsson was anything other than average throughout the course of the season. However, it is unfair to make a judgement in regards to his talent on the basis of this campaign – he may have been beaten by his more experienced teammate, but in his rookie year, Marcus was provided with sub-par machinery and the type of instability which is sure to unsettle the most experienced of drivers – even if the young Swede hid his concerns remarkably well. 
    On reflection, Kamui Kobayashi may feel as though coming back to the sport was a mistake, as in order to return to the paddock, he had to relinquish his place in the Ferrari GT programme. Signed for his spectacular race craft, the popular personality was unable to flex his overtaking muscles too often, due to the nature of the CT05. To compound the issue, he found himself replaced by Andre Lotterer at Spa on account of the team requiring an injection of additional funding – meanwhile, Ericsson maintained his seat, despite having been beaten by Kobayashi on a regular basis throughout the season. For Kobayashi, this Caterham opportunity was somewhat of a last chance saloon for him to salvage his F1 career. Unfortunately for him, his brave decision to leave Ferrari was not rewarded.

    Final Lap

    Best Moment of the Season
    Despite the adversities faced by the team, Caterham made it to Abu Dhabi and managed to guide Will Stevens to the chequered flag – a great advert for the team.

    Best Performance of the Season 
    Marcus Ericsson’s drive to P15 in Singapore

    Final Grade

    Doha Meeting Springs Some Surprises

    Heading into today’s World Motorsport Council meeting in Qatar, all talk centred around double points and standing restarts, yet yesterday evenings main headlines have been dominated by some surprise notices. Perhaps the most surprising of all storylines is that the Korean Grand Prix has reappeared, taking a spot on the provisional 2015 calender and on a date which could cause some headaches. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen could have etched his name into the history books for good – It was certainly a seismic day for F1 news.

    Yeongam Korean Grand Prix October 2012
    By calflier001 [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    A Recording Breaking Calender…

    The provisional 20 race calender was an ambitious proposition to begin with – Bernie Ecclestone has previously suggested that 20 would be the maximum number of rounds, on the basis of logistics. However, with demand for spaces on the calender as high as ever, the headline news which emerged from Doha yesterday was that the Korean Grand Prix would be retuning to the calender after a year’s absenteeism.
    Ultimately, the headline came as a massive surprise to almost everyone. Talk of the Indian Grand Prix making a reappearance was rife when it was initially dropped this time last year, yet with speculation in regards to this thread falling quiet, the provisional 20 race schedule, (featuring the Mexico Grand Prix) looked set to be ratified by the WMSC. However 20 has become 21 and in uncharacteristic circumstances, a secret was kept as just that.
    The return of the Korean Grand Prix is intriguing for a number of reasons. Not only has it emerged out of the blue, but a race which has failed to attract the audiences which Ecclestone desires has reappeared after just a year away- so what has changed? Other than the date on the calender, it is difficult to see what. It was suggested that the landscape around Yeongam would be vastly altered as part of a development plan when the venue initally appeared and this could be a first step towards remounting the road towards this end goal. It is certainly an exciting prospect.
    One issue surrounding the race is its scheduling. I imagine that it will lead to logistical headaches for all the teams, with it placement on May 3th meaning that it will be a back-to-back event with the Spanish Grand Prix. In terms of development programmes, teams may be forced to alter their usual schedules, as the typical three week hiatus prior to the European season will now be disrupted by a fifth fly-away in succession – not-to-mention the logistical nightmare that will be travelling from Mokpo to Barcelona in a week. Regardless, it is another race and another weekend of entertainment in 2015.

    The Youngest EVER

    Another piece of news which slithered under the radar yesterday will certainly have caught young Max Verstappen’s attention. After criticisms have been made in regards to the simplicity of the super-licence process, the WMSC have clamped down on youngsters entering the F1 scene, placing an age restriction on qualification – in short, anyone under the age of 18 will not be able to obtain a super-licence from next season. Fortunately for family Vertsappen, Max has already earned his and as such, he has dodged the new regulation.
    Not only that, but the news suggests that Max Vertsappen’s name could be etched into the history books forever. If this age restriction becomes a cornerstone of the super-licence process, (and it is difficult to see it ever coming under scrutiny), Vertsappen will be the youngest F1 driver ever, forever, as a 17-year-old débutante. Entering the fray with a record already established is certainly pleasing, particularly when it seems as though it will be entrenched.