A Daily Round up of Formula One news, inside whispers, opinion and comment. Today,
OTD Lite 1996 – Was Schumacher really the rain master?
Ask anybody about Michael Schumacher’s prowess in the rain and they will say he was the modern day ‘reinmeister’. Question them about his greatest drive in the rain and many will claim his 1996 Spanish GP victory when he was lapping up to 5 seconds a lap faster than his competition as arguably his greatest.
It followed that over the years – whenever it rained he would dominate the races but people forget that he would have two cars prepared for races – one with a full dry set-up and the other full wet. He’d jump between the two and off he went to another victory.
But I struggle with this. Of his contemporaries he was the most gifted by a mile. With Ferrari/ Bridgestone and co. practically working for the glory of Michael, it was inevitable that he would dominate races. Don’t misunderstand, I loved that he was driving for the Scuderia but the best in the wet?
On this day in 1996, Schumi finished third – a lap behind the Williams of Damon Hill and Benetton of Jean Alesi in a wet Brazilian GP. Four races later he crashed out on the first lap of a wet Monaco GP but this is all forgotten because of the following wet race in Barcelona.
A cliched F1 truism – you are only as good as your last race!
The Grumpy Jackal
Lauda – Vettel image changed when he joined Ferrari
Michael Schumacher won his first two titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995 but left to join the Maranello adventure that Jean Todt was building at the time. Of course he was well rewarded for his gamble to join the ailing Italian giants but there were two more important reasons for the change.
The first was simply the challenge to bring this historic giant back to the winners circle after so long but the second was his time at Benetton had left his image slightly tarnished. With unproven claims of traction control, his collision with Hill in Adelaide 1994 and various incidents in 1995 Schumacher was guilty by association with the Flavio Briatore / Tom Walkinshaw run Benetton team. By joining Ferrari his image changed overnight.
Three-time world champion Niki Lauda concurs and says Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Malaysia was good for Formula One and the German driver’s own image.
“I went to Ferrari boss, Maurizio Arrivabene straight away and I congratulated him from my heart,” Lauda said. “He is competition and the more competition the better, and if Ferrari wins Bernie can’t complain about boring Vettel because Vettel is not boring anymore. It’s very good this result for the total image of F1, because some people are always complaining.”
“It’s normal in sport when these things happen and you don’t win every race that the bell rings. The bell will ring loud and we all will hear it and we will react to it, which is normal. But nevertheless we were second and third and we won the last race, so the world is not finished yet after one Vettel victory. But nevertheless they were better today.”
“It’s very simple, they were unbeatable today I would say. They did a perfect strategy and Vettel did an incredible job, the car performed and the tyres lasted. For us it was a three-stop strategy. Why? Because the tyres at their peak it was important for us to make three stops and for Ferrari they were less hard on tyres altogether, therefore they could do a two-stop and win the race.”
Hamilton contract negotiations almost complete
It would appear that Lewis Hamilton’s protracted contract negotiations are finally coming to a close. Having taken the decision to terminate his contract with XIX Entertainment and handle his own negotiations himself it has been a long drawn out process for both sides.
With Wolff joking recently about Lewis having signed a contract with Maranello – before revealing it was to pick up the hypercar ‘LaFerrari’ – questions were asked about the Briton signing for the Italian team: “No don’t be silly. My contract at Mercedes should be done this week. There’s no reason why not. Honestly, it’s 99.6 per cent done. There’s no negotiating left, it’ just legal stuff.”
The contract is said to be worth in the region of $31 million dollars but win bonuses could well take his earnings over $40 million which puts the double World Champion in the same bracket as Alonso and Vettel.
When Hamilton signed for Mercedes at the end of 2012, many questioned his reasoning to leave a successful team for a team that was struggling in the midfield. Yet history shows that champions make their own luck by being in the right place at the right time – as proven by Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Sepang. Something that Hamilton considered whilst sitting beside Vettel.
“It’s nice to see Ferrari back up, I sat next to Sebastian and thought to myself, ‘What is Fernando thinking?’”
“I remember when I left McLaren and came here, we were better the next year. I had a good feeling then, but he’s almost done the opposite of what I did. It could have been him today. It’s just strange how things turn out.”
Wolff – Alarm bells ringing at Mercedes
In an echo of Niki Lauda’s sentiment – Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says Vettel’s win for Ferrari in Malaysia has set alarm bells ringing for the reigning world champions. For the first time since the inception of the V6 turbo era Mercedes were beaten on outright pace and Mercedes were left surprised by the gains the Italian manufacturer has found over the winter.
“We didn’t expect them to catch us this quickly, we were pretty dominant in Melbourne, we are always a little bit sceptical about our own advantage. That we’ve been caught up by a Ferrari in two weeks, that they beat us fair and square on the track, is a bit of a surprise, but equally a bit of a wake-up call, which is good for us.”
“We just need to analyse where in the next couple of days where we want wrong, what we need to improve, whether we need to bring any developments forward, put them on the car quicker, what we are doing about engine number two. And assess that properly. But definitely, we need to increase the pace of our development.”
Despite Ferrari technical director James Allison suggesting that this was a isolated victory due to specific circumstances and that Ferrari has developments in the pipeline for future races – Wolff expressed concern about the future competition between the two Grandees.
“Yes, that is worrying. In these circumstances here with the high temperatures, they were able to go at a faster pace over long runs than us. We need to analyse why that was the case and it clearly shows it’s not going to be an easy one. We’ve had completely different conditions here. One of the explanations today is the extremely high ambient and tarmac temperatures. We’ve probably gone a bit too aggressive on set-ups which pushed us into a direction of a three stop, which was pretty clear with all the algorithms.”
“There is no panic, but we were in a new situation. We were not in control of things. We had new information which was different to what we had assessed over the weekend. Today, things didn’t pan out in the way we expected it to pan out. It was clear the winning streak was not going to go on forever.”
Marko wins with Sebastian again!
Helmut Marko is recognised as a straight talking but divisive figure. There is no love lost between the Austrian and Mark Webber – who was seemingly attacked throughout his Red Bull career. Pirelli have suffered the wrath of Marko and currently Renault have gone on the offensive to counter his claims in recent months. Even the once golden boy – four time RBR champion Vettel – was given little leeway after his annus horribilis last year.
Yet Marko gave a surprising interview to Germany’s Sport Bild which would appear that the pair have reconciled their differences. Marko placed a bet on Seb winning the Malaysian Grand Prix after watching his Friday practice: “I knew that Sebastian could do it,” he said. “You could see it as early as Friday practice.”
After collecting his winnings of Euro 400, Dr Helmut explained how he had never lost faith in Seb’s abilities despite failing to take victory in 2014: “He did not forget how to drive in one year. He just could not drive our car as he needed to. Maybe people will realise at last that it was not our car alone that gave him those four titles.”
Which after 39 victories in Adrian Newey designed cars could ultimately prove the defining moment in the young German’s career.
Sky viewership rises in Italy following weekend
Race attendances and viewing figures have been in free-fall for some time and it is often cited that Mr E’s moving of TV behind pay-per-view services has affected the numbers. Even in Germany, where Vettel and Schumacher have claimed 9 of the 14 championships of the 21st century and Mercedes dominated the constructors last year, the figures are tumbling.
A similar situation has occurred in Italy where F1 and MotoGP have been moved off of free-to-air to Sky Sports, as in other territories, and, not surprisingly, the viewership has also fallen.
Yet in just one afternoon, with Ferrari winning in Malaysia and Valentino Rossi winning in Qatar Sky Sports F1 HD and Sky Sports HD MotoGP have collected 2,494,986 unique viewers, making them the most viewed channels of the network.
MotoGP in particular set an absolute record when 1,060,908 viewers tuned into exclusive live race from Qatar. This translates to an increase of 18% compared to the MotoGP debut in 2014.
The Malaysian Grand Prix, which was shown live exclusively on Sky Sports F1 HD and Sky Sports HD 1, had an audience of 762,072 viewers overall which is an increase of 21% compared to the 2014 event.
Of what should be particular interest to the marketing arms of the F1 teams and FOM themselves was the results of social media over the weekend. Over 3.6 million tweets and retweets were generated from these two races which were the most commented subjects of the weekend.
Bernie wants a female F1 championship
From time to time Bernie Ecclestone volunteers off the wall suggestions that will supposedly increase the viewership of F1 to the general population.
In recent years his infamous sense of humour has offered: ‘You know, I’ve got one of these wonderful ideas that women should all be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.’
In this context his latest idea seems surreal to say the least.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr E believes “I thought it would be a good idea to give them [women} a showcase. For some reason, women are not coming through- and not because we don’t want them. Of course we do, because they would attract a lot of attention and publicity and probably a lot of sponsors.”
After Pat Symonds recently made it clear that Susie Wolff was never under consideration to debutise for Valtteri Bottas in Melbourne she was pointed in her response.
“It’s most definitely not the right way forward. First of all, I don’t know where you’d find a full grid of female drivers who are good enough. Secondly, I have raced my whole career in motorsport as a normal competitor. Why would I ever look for a race where I was only competing against women?”
“I can hand on heart say it would not interest me at all to win such a race. I would rather not be in the race because what am I winning? A race where they’ve just looked for any girl to make a grid up.”
Which is a salient point when one considers her most recent competition would include Lotus “development” driver Carmen Jorda and Simona De Silvestro who tested for Sauber last season.