Saturday, 5 April 2008

Bahrain Qualifying Report - Kubica Stars as Massa Falters

Pole on Pole? Pole to Pole? Pole Dancing His Way to Pole? Pole Pollaxes His Way to Pole Position? The tabloid headline writing possibilities are endless! Regardless of your pun of choice, the result is that young Polish driver has taken his first ever pole position by the slimmest of margins, and the first for BMW-F1. Read on to find out more...

Robert Kubica upset the form books with a sensational debut pole position in the Bahrain desert. Everything pointed towards a Ferrari pole position and most likely an all Ferrari front row judging by the pace in yesterday's practice sessions. However, it wasn't to be as the young Polish driver beat Massa into second place, with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen in third and fourth respectively.

The first session included a red flag as Takuma Sato lost the back end of the Super Aguri on the exit to the final corner, spinning out into the wall. His car was too badly damaged to continue, though should make tomorrow's race without any problems. The big loser in Q1 was definitely David Coulthard, who finished the session down in 17th. It has been a rather disappointing performance from the Red Bull team so far this weekend, after showing so much promise in Malaysia. Sebastien Bourdais was probably the star of the session, making it through to the second session for the first time in his debut season.

The big story of Q2 was Jenson Button squeezing through in 10th place by the thinnest of margins, just edging out Mark Webber and his teammate Rubens Barrichello. Button would eventually end up an excellent ninth place for Honda. Aside from that everything went to form in this session.

Going into the final session Felipe Massa was in such confident form that it looked like he would breeze through to secure pole, but it wasn't to be. Lewis Hamilton was the first of the big boys to show his hand, showing that the crash he suffered in practice yersterday hasn't set him back too much. Kubica and Massa both went faster though by the end of the first hot laps. In the final runs it was Hamilton again who was the first across the line, and again he went quickest. However, behind him Kubica was flying and setting fastest sector times and went through two tenths quicker than his good friend Hamilton. Raikkonen was next through but was a slightly disappointing fourth. Massa was the last of the main contenders on a hot lap, but the timing screens showed that he had lost nearly three tenths in the middle sector due to a slight error. He couldn't manage to overhaul Kubica, missing out by a few hundredths of a second.

So a wonderful first pole position for Kubica, and for his young team BMW. Judging by how fast he was in comparison to teammate Heidfeld who finished down in sixth you would have to assume that he's very light on fuel, but a remarkable performance nonetheless. What does this mean for Felipe Massa though? He has had a dreadful start to the season and there have been rumours surrounding his future with the Scuderia. So far this weekend he had silenced the doubters, looking incredibly fast. But when it really mattered, he yet again failed to produce the goods by making a mistake on his final run. Still, he has the race tomorrow to redeem himself, and will still have to be the pre-race favourite to take the win.

Qualifying Results

01 R. Kubica BMW 1:33.096
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:33.123
03 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:33.292
04 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:33.418
05 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:33.488
06 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:33.737
07 J. Trulli Toyota 1:33.994
08 N. Rosberg Williams 1:34.015
09 J. Button Honda 1:35.057
10 F. Alonso Renault 1:35.115
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:32.371
12 R. Barrichello Honda 1:32.508
13 T. Glock Toyota 1:32.528
14 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:32.790
15 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32.915
16 K. Nakajima Williams 1:32.943
17 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:33.433
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:33.501
19 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:33.501
20 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:33.845
21 A. Davidson Super Aguri 1:34.140
22 T. Sato Super Aguri 1:35.725

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Friday, 4 April 2008

Bahrain Grand Prix Friday Practice

Under fire Ferrari driver Felipe Massa emerged from Friday's two practice sessions with his head held high after topping the time sheets twice. It was a fairly devastating display of Ferrari dominance all day long, as Kimi Raikkonen finished second in both sessions too. But in the end that wasn't the big story of the day, as McLaren's Lewis Hamilton crashed heavily in the second session causing extensive damage to his MP4-28.

Hamilton ran too high on the kerbs between turns six and seven and the back end stepped out viciously on him, sending him sliding side-on into the barriers at speed. Thankfully he emerged unscathed from his shunt, but there will be sleepless nights in the McLaren pit tonight as the mechanics have a considerable amount of work to do to get the car ready for qualifying tomorrow. McLaren had shown earlier in the day that they have decent pace in their car but they will be somewhat worried that they couldn't really match Ferrari's pace on the day.

Felipe Massa ended the session almost a full second quicker than his teammate Kimi Raikkonen after a late qualifying simulation run in second practice. None of the other teams could even come close to matching that kind of pace. It is clearly advantage Ferrari going into qualifying tomorrow.

Elsewhere Williams impressed, with both Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima finishing high up on the time sheets in both sessions. They'll be looking to bounce back after a difficult weekend in Malaysia. BMW's Robert Kubica showed that the car has some decent pace, although Nick Heidfeld ended the day strangely off the pace. The star of practice, aside from Massa, was Sebastien Bourdais. He put his Toro Rosso in an impressive ninth place in the second session, and ran consistently well throughout the day.

So far then this weekend the Ferraris appear to be cruising, and their rivals have a huge amount of work to do if they are to stop them running away with this race...
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2008 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

This weekend sees the Formula One circus move to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the fifth running of the Bahrain Grand Prix. As has all too often been the case over the past season or so, the sport has a cloud of controversy following it wherever it may go. However, I don't think the sport has ever seen one quite like the one that shook the world's motorsport fans last Sunday, the fallout from which looks nowhere near settling. With Max Mosley absent from this Grand Prix for obvious reasons, let's hope that all the talk this weekend is about what goes on on the black stuff rather than one what certain people choose to do (or have done to them!) in seedy London basement apartments. Somehow, I doubt it will be though...

Ferrari go into the race on a high after a very strong showing last time out in Malaysia, spoiled only by Felipe Massa's unforced error and DNF. They should have every right to be confident of a race victory this weekend, especially as they were only one of two teams (Toyota being the other) to have tested at this very circuit over the winter. Both Ferrari and arch-rivals McLaren have tried to play down the significance of this testing session, but the advantage should definitely be there, no matter how small, as Ferrari absolutely obliterated Toyota in that particular winter test.

McLaren will be looking to bounce back after they dropped the ball big time with their needless-penalty hit weekend in Malaysia. That's not a mistake we will ever be seeing again, as the rules for qualification have since been tweaked to avoid that situation, but McLaren will know that their weekend will need to be perfect if they are to keep pace with the Ferraris. One suspects it will also need to be perfect if they are to stay ahead of the BMWs, who have looked extremely strong so far this season.

After the two "fly away" races down under, this will be the first race we will be seeing some of the updated aerodynamic packages for some of the teams. We will see if anyone has made any significant progress back in the windtunnels while the race teams have been jet-setting around the globe. We probably won't be seeing any widespread, major updates until they hit Barcelona next time out, but there will be tweaks aplenty for the more well-heeled teams. It will be interesting to keep an eye on who has made steps forward or not.

The race will be the third hot race in a row for the drivers and teams to contend with, but this time out they will have new foes to contend with in the form of dust and high winds instead of the extreme humidity down under. Due to the very exposed nature of the track wind has often been an issue here, and this weekend the predictions are for it to be especially windy here. This is bad news for the drivers on two fronts: firstly the wind blows dust onto the circuit giving unpredictable traction; secondly it can play havoc with the cars' delicately balanced aerodynamic setups. A strong gust of wind during one of the Sakhir circuit's numerous high-speed, high-downforce corners can easily cause a sudden loss of grip.

The drivers should definitely be earning their wages if the winds are up as high as predicted, and it should keep things exciting to watch...
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Thursday, 3 April 2008

Mosley Fighting for his Career After F1's Manufacturers Wade Into Battle

Whilst the media and F1 fans whipped themselves up into a frenzy over the bombshell revelations of Max Mosley's, err, "interesting" private life, everything went eerily quiet within the F1 fraternity for a few days. A mixture of stunned silence and carefully considered reticence pervaded the Grand Prix teams. Stunned silence because nobody knew how the hell they are supposed to react to such outrageous news. Considered reticence because nobody dared speak out in case it all turned out to be false and they risked the wrath of Mosley's formidable team of lawyers if they were to speak out of turn.

Now that it is clear that this is no hoax, and it really was good ol' Max strapped to that torture bench, key people are beginning to pipe up. Firstly Bernie suggested that it perhaps wouldn't be best for Max to be at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, is it would bring the wrong kind of media attention to the sporting event. Then shortly after it was revealed by The Times that the decision has been taken out of Max's hands anyway, as the Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has written to Mr Mosley saying that he is not welcome in Bahrain this weekend anyway.

Perhaps seeing that Mosley was on the ropes after that blow from the Crown Prince, four of the biggest teams in F1 have gone in for the kill. Firstly the two big German manufacturers BMW and Mercedes-Benz released a joint statement saying that the consequences of Mosley's "disgraceful" actions, "extend far beyond the motor sport industry." Whilst they may not have said it in so many words, what they are saying is that if Max were to stay in office it would be catastrophic for the image of World Motorsport, and that they would no longer want to be a part of anything that Max is in charge of. Effectively, either he walks or we walk.

Seconds out, Round 2...

In step the Japanese. Both Honda and Toyota released their own separate statements on the matter, with both saying roughly the same sort of thing. The crux of the issue for the manufacturers is that the scandal surrounding Mosley inevitably draws massive negative publicity onto the whole sport and its participants. They are demanding that the FIA "takes action" to stop the rot. The only conceivable action that could alleviate the crisis is, of course, the immediate resignation of Max Mosley.

Whilst some of the sport's biggest teams are yet to step in, notably McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, the fact that it is the actual manufacturers and not the teams that is most damaging to Mosley and the FIA. The big manufacturers tend to be the ones with the most money and the most influence rather than the teams themselves, and BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota are four of the biggest and most influential manufacturers on the planet. The FIA does NOT want to get on the wrong side of them! Perhaps the most significant step in all of this is that those most bitter of arch rivals BMW and Mercedes decided to release a statement together, not separately. If that isn't a signal of intent then I don't know what is.

Now even young hotshots Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have had something to say about the issue. Whilst being careful not to say too much in direct relation to Mosley, when asked whether they agreed with Honda's statement regarding people carrying out their duties with "integrity and respect," they both talked about the importance of people in the public eye "setting a good example."

Apparently in response to the statements made by the sport's big money teams, the FIA this afternoon released a statement saying that an Extraordinary General Assembly of the FIA Senate has been called, and will take place at the earliest possible date.

The referee is standing above Mosley, beginning his 10-count. Can Mosley drag himself up off the canvas after this?
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Sunday, 30 March 2008

Auf Wiedersehen, Max?

FIA supremo Max Mosley has apparently been filmed engaging in a five hour bondage torture session in a private S&M chamber with a group of prostitutes! And this wasn't just your average, run of the mill bondage marathon. Ohhhhhh no. This one involved Nazi death camp roleplay! You simply couldn't make it up!

I'll spare you the full graphic details, you can read for yourself by clicking the link below if you have the stomach for it. But to put it briefly, he plays the role of both torturer and prisoner throughout the debacle, speaking in German through much of it. He was flogged so hard his backside needed medical attention at one point, before taking turns at spanking a series of prostitutes dressed in 'prison camp' uniforms.

Clearly this is appalling to say the least. However, some of you may not know the full context to these revelations. Max Mosley is the son of the notorious Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and a close personal friend of Adolf Hitler. Oswald Mosley was imprisoned during the war for his extreme views and his close personal ties with the Nazi party (indeed, Hitler and Goebbels were both guests at his wedding to Max's mother Diana Mitford), and his name is still to this day a by-word for extreme Fascism in the UK. Max has fought a constant battle to disassociate himself from his father's legacy, claiming that (quite rightly) a man should never be judged on the actions of his father. In fairness, he has been very successful in this. Up until now that is!

Now, Max Mosley has never been the most popular chap in the world of motorsport, often courting controversy with his single-minded authoritarian approach to ruling the sport. However, he has remained in charge for well over a decade and has many supporters who defend him by comparing his reign to that of his predecessor Jean Balestre, who was the most unpopular figure ever to hold the position. This controversy, though, will make anything else Mosley has faced in his career seem like a storm in a teacup. It is impossible to see him being able to continue in his role after these disclosures. Whether you now view him now as a figure of hate, or one merely of ridicule for his depraved actions, his position is in all probability untenable.

Link to the hideousness. WARNING: there are pictures and even a video, and they are NOT pretty! - News of the World article

An interesting perspective on how this had all come about relates back to the last big controversy that Mosley has had to deal with, the McLaren 'Spygate' scandal. Towards the end of 2007 Max Mosley announced that he was pursuing legal action against prominent F1 reporter Martin Brundle and The Times newspaper after an article by the former F1 ace published in the paper was critical of the way that Mosley handled the affair (see here for more). Mosley was openly furious that Brundle had presented him as being the leader of a witch hunt against the McLaren team. However, scratch the surface a little and we see that The Times newspaper is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International and News Corporation. The News of the World is also part of the News International stable.

Knowing the, ahem, aggressive tactics of News International in the many, many legal actions they have contested over the years, it is not too great a leap of faith to imagine they would have been digging very hard to dish some kind of dirt on Mosley. It is often the best way to avoid such cases ever reaching court and getting messy. Judging by the way things have been filmed it just screams 'set up'. Max Mosley has taken the bait, been lured into the trap, and has given News International the jackpot they have been digging for!

I often feel a little bit of sympathy for the footballers and celebrities that end up getting ensnared by these little tabloid traps, but for some strange reason I'm not the least bit sympathetic! It couldn't have happened to a nicer person!
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