2015 British Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

The British Grand Prix weekend is my favorite race weekend of the season – but then again, I am biased. Nonetheless, Silverstone is a magical venue, featuring some of the world’s most remarkable corners and having played host to many classic Grand Prix’s of yesteryear. When a British driver heads into the weekend with a chance of victory, as Lewis Hamilton does this weekend, the atmosphere reaches fever pitch, with the potential to spill into euphoria should he repeat the feat of 12 months ago and take the 25 points away from his home race. However, with Nico Rosberg entering the weekend on the back of three wins from the previous four races, including success last time out in Austria, Hamilton will surely face a stern test.

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2015 Malaysia Grand Prix: Race Analysis

A Challenger Emerges

When a spectacle was needed, the sport found a way to deliver the goods once again. Just as armchair pundits began to prepare a year of Mercedes domination, Ferrari have emerged as credible challengers to Mercedes superiority, beating the world champions in a straight fight. Unlike Daniel Ricciardo’s three victories last season, Sebastian Vettel needed no invitation to take the win, as Mercedes found themselves out-paced by a rival for the first time in this current turbo era. A big day for F1 and an equally seismic occasion for everyone wearing red.


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.

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.   

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.         

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.


Sainz Jr Becomes Latest STR Recruit

While speculation suggested that the announcement would come on Monday, Toro Rosso have finally committed to an individual from their vast pool of promising youngsters – Formula Renault 3.5 Champion, Carlos Sainz Jr, has snapped up the seat alongside boy-wonder Max Verstappen for 2015. An inexperienced line up, but undoubtedly an exciting one.

Carlos Sainz Jr Motorland
By Willtron (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

JEV Out, Jr In

The biggest flaw with Dr Helmut Marko’s “School of Hard Knocks” is the mere fact that it produces too much world-class talent. As such, the Toro Rosso seats have become some of the most highly contested in the paddock. After 17-year-old Max Verstappen exploded onto the scene and secured one of the seats, a teammate to the Dutchman was required when Daniil Kvyat received the call from the big team, who wanted his services for 2015 and beyond. With Jean-Eric Vergne, Alex Lynn and Carlos Sainz Jr all in the running for the vacancy, speculation has been rife.
Speculation that was brought to an end today, as FR3.5 Champion and son of former World Rally Champion, Carlos Sainz Jr has earned the right to call himself a Formula 1 driver. Like Kevin Magnussen before him, Carlos has proved that winning the FR3.5 title can be an excellent launch pad into the pinnacle of the sport.
His credentials are there for all to see and he is fully deserving of his chance in F1. However, Toro Rosso’s decision and Sainz’s début season will be overshadowed by his unfortunate predecessor, Jean-Eric Vergne – the man who most people agree should be on the grid, with many suggesting that the injustice lies in the fact that he will not be donning Red Bull Racing overalls in 2015. JEV has become the latest refugee of the Red Bull programme and is perhaps the strongest of the ever-growing club. Remember, this is a man who was only narrowly defeated by Daniel Ricciardo, who has arguably forced a four-time World Champion out of his own team. 
However, it is 20-year-old Sanz Jr who will partner 17-year-old Max Verstappen in 2015. A Vergne and Verstappen partnership would have provided a pleasing balance of youth and (albeit relative) experience. Vergne could have been the perfect yardstick, by which Verstappen could be judged by. Ultimately, Toro Rosso have opted for total inexperience, yet the fact that they have chose an exciting duo jam-packed with potential and crammed full of impressive credentials, means that the disappointment of Vergne’s departure is somewhat nullified. I am looking forward to seeing what Sainz Jr can bring to the table.