This morning I discovered one of the benefits of racing. Racing drivers develop quick reflexes. Reacting quickly saves lives.
I race karts socially. They’re not particularly fast, just 160cc single cylinder no-gear karts at my local indoor kart track. There is a karting league at the track, and I’ve been part of a team there for just over a year.
On the kart track, when a driver spins just in front of me, I react without even thinking. Avoiding the accident has become instinctive. Sometimes it’s impossible, but most of the time, the reflexes I’ve developed will keep me out of trouble. Reflexes are also useful for kart control. If the kart slides, I have to react quickly enough to control the slide, otherwise I will spin. This has also become natural, and I’ve reached the point where I can use the slide to my benefit. Until this morning, however, I did not really appreciate how significant karting has been in improving my reflexes while driving on the road.
While on my way to work this morning, driving in traffic, a man ran in front of my car. He was just going for his morning jog, and decided not to wait for a few cars about to cross an intersection. Avoiding him should have been easy, except that there was an SUV on my right and slightly in front of me that blocked my view of the runner. As a result, I only saw the man when he was probably about 10 metres in front of my car. I was doing about 30 km/h, no great speed, but enough to potentially do him some quite serious harm.
As it turned out, I saw him, braked, just missed him, and carried on driving. He carried on running quite serenely as though nothing had happened. But I was left to wonder what could have happened if I had been just a little distracted, just a little slower to react, just a little less sure of what to do.
The conclusion I have come to is that my amateur, social racing experience probably saved that man’s life, or at least prevented serious injury. I was fully focused on my driving, and was able to calmly and confidently take the correct action for the situation with no hesitation. Without the experience I have on the race track, I’m not sure that I would have been able to do so.
The German dream team was created for the 2010 season. Mercedes returned to Formula 1, Michael Schumacher returned to Formula 1, and up-and-coming star Nico Rosberg joined the team. Mercedes had bought Brawn, the team that won both championships in 2009. Who could compete with them?
As it turned out, everyone could compete with Mercedes. They finished only 4th in the 2010 Constructors’ Championship and didn’t ever look like challenging for a win. Rosberg stood on the podium 3 times and qualified on the front row of the grid once, but never really challenged for a race win. Schumacher looked a shadow of his former dominant self, and didn’t trouble the podium all season.
The 2010 season was a big let-down, but perhaps that was understandable. Any Formula 1 team needs time to develop, and Mercedes had not yet had that time. In addition, Schumacher had been out of Formula 1 for 3 years. He was visibly rusty, and only more track time could solve that problem. The positive that came out of 2010 was that Nico Rosberg looked every bit a future race winner. He easily outperformed Schumacher and raced hard on the track for his 3 podiums and 7th place in the championship.
Pre-season testing for 2011 looked promising. The new Mercedes seemed fast, although it’s always difficult to compare testing times. There was hope that 2011 could be a year of podiums and perhaps a win or two. Sadly, it was not to be. The expected competitiveness did not materialise. Once again, Mercedes were the 4th fastest team, and once again they were nowhere near winning a race.
In 2011, Mercedes did not win a race, did not appear on the podium and did not qualify on the front row of the grid. If anything, the team has fallen even further behind Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari than it was in 2010. What is particularly concerning is that Mercedes seem to be operating conservatively. No big technical developments have come from Mercedes this season. Red Bull pioneered the blown diffuser, McLaren started the season with very interesting looking side-pods. What are Mercedes doing differently? They have no shortage of resources, so where is the innovation? If it is happening, it’s not visible.
On the positive side, 2011 saw a resurgent Schumacher. He still lacks a bit of qualifying performance, but his race-pace is no longer questionable. His race starts have been impressive, and as a result he has frequently been fighting with the top teams early on in the races. The car has let him down, however, and he has not been able to translate those good starts into big points. Schumacher put in a fantastic performance in Canada in changing conditions to finish 4th, after running second close to the end. Jenson Button and Mark Webber managed to pass him only with the benefit of DRS. If he can carry this form into 2012 and Mercedes can give him a front-running car, Schumacher should have a strong 2012. His contract finishes at the end of 2012, and while he can extend his contract (the team have already stated that they are open to an extension), Mercedes will have to give him a reason to stay.
Nico Rosberg had a quiet but strong season. He finished 7th in the championship again, ahead of Schumacher, and outqualified his team-mate 16 times out of 19 races. Among his performances, Rosberg led in the opening laps of the Belgian Grand Prix after storming to the front on lap 1 from 5th on the grid. Alas, it was not to last as Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull eventually proved simply too quick for the Mercedes. Rosberg has shown his pace. He has already proven that all he needs is a competitive car to be able to fight for race wins. But there is an impression of frustration developing. 2 years in to his contract with Mercedes, he is not at the front, and it is obviously the car that is lacking. If the 2012 car is not capable of winning, Rosberg’s patience will be severely tested.
Mercedes have now been back in Formula 1 for 2 difficult years. 2012 must surely be a significant year for them. Either they will return to the front of the grid, or the dream will begin to fade. Pre-season testing will give some indication of what is to come, but ultimately, Mercedes have to deliver in the races. Thus far, they have not done so.
Jos Verstappen has accused Michael Schumacher of cheating in 1994 by using illegal electronic driver aids to win the Formula 1 World Championship.
Verstappen was team-mate to Schumacher at Benneton for 10 races of 1994. He never matched the German for pace, scored only 10 points from 10 races (while Schumacher won 8 races and the title) and was replaced by Johnny Herbert before the end of the season. In fairness to Verstappen, it was his first season in Formula 1, and he was in a top team with a steep learning curve. He would not have been expected to match a team-mate who already had 2 full seasons under his belt.
Now Verstappen has suggested that Schumacher found his edge by using electronic driver aids, which were banned by the FIA for the 1994 season. This is not the first time Benneton have been accused of cheating during 1994. Ayrton Senna was convinced that Schumacher’s car was using traction control, and during the season there were also accusations that Benneton were using a launch control system. Both traction control and launch control were illegal.
Benneton’s car was checked for launch control, and the system was found on the car. However, there was no evidence that it had been used, and so no action was taken by the FIA. No action was ever taken against the team for use of other electronic aids, which suggests that they were never found. Considering that the cars go through rigorous scrutineering before and after every race, it seems unlikely that Benneton would have succeeded in hiding illegal driver aids for the entire season.
Verstappen has suggested that he and Schumacher did not have equal cars, as an explanation for his inability to match his team-mate. He said: “I kept thinking: this can’t be done! I braked at the limit and went as hard as possible into the corners. Schumacher was able to do things and not me. There was something wrong.”
Did he never consider that Schumacher was just better than him? Most Formula 1 drivers of the last 20 years have had to come to that conclusion at some point. Schumacher is now a seven-time World Champion, and Verstappen never managed to win a race. There really is no need for further comparison.
Lotus Renault have announced that Romain Grosjean will occupy their second race seat in 2012. The French driver will partner 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen.
The announcement comes after weeks of speculation regarding Lotus Renault’s driver line-up. Robert Kubica recently announced that he would not be available for the beginning of the season, which raised the question of who would drive the second car. Grosjean’s appointment means that 2011 Renault drivers Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna are now searching for teams for 2012.
Grosjean has driven in Formula 1 before, when he partnered Fernando Alonso at Renault for the last 7 races of 2009. Grosjean did not impress during that season, and was dropped for 2010. He subsequently competed in the FIA GT1 series briefly before winning the 2010 Auto GP (previously called Formula 3000) championship. In 2011, he comfortably won the GP2 championship, showing that he has developed strongly as a driver since his first attempt at Formula 1.
The past 2 seasons have been quite tumultuous for Lotus Renault. They have used 4 drivers (Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna), which has not been ideal. The team needs continuity to develop and that is something that has definitely been lacking recently.
Lotus Renault have gone for a mix of youth and experience for 2012. Kimi Räikkönen has been around for a long time and won a World Championship. Romain Grosjean has proven himself in the lower single-seater categories. It looks like a combination that can take Lotus Renault forward, as long as they put in the time to make it work.
Lotus Renault GP have already filled one seat for 2012, with Kimi Räikkönen coming out of retirement. The other seat is a matter of much speculation.
Russian Vitaly Petrov has a contract for 2012 that gives him a race seat. He also comes with substantial sponsorship. In his 2 seasons with Renault he has stood on the podium, and generally looks to have developed as a Formula 1 driver. However, Renault have not yet confirmed that he will drive in 2012, which of course suggests that he might not. If his place in the team were already decided, Renault would have announced it already. So Petrov’s position is in doubt.
Bruno Senna has driven for Renault for the last 8 races of the 2011 season. His performances have been mixed, but he has shown that he has the speed to compete at the highest level. He does not have a contract to race in 2012, but will be hoping that his 2011 performances will assist him in finding one.
Romain Grosjean raced for Renault in 7 races of the 2009 season. In that time, his highest finish was 13th, and his performances were unmemorable. It was thought that he might be a bit inexperienced to compete in Formula 1. After the disappointment of 2009, he returned to GP2 (Formula 1′s primary feeder series) and won the 2011 title comfortably. Renault signed him up as a reserve driver towards the end of 2011, which shows that they think he has developed as a driver. He is a strong contender for the race seat alongside Räikkönen.
It is quite unfortunate that these three drivers seem to be in competition for a single seat. All three have Formula 1 experience, speed and skill. But of course Renault can only choose one. Will it be Petrov with some experience and sponsorship, Senna with his amazing racing pedigree, or Grosjean with his recent GP2 form? Renault have stated that they will make an announcement by 10 December. We can only wait til then to find out.