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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Onboard lap of Silverstone pre-1991

Silverstone is one of the best known and most popular circuits in motor racing. It hosted the first ever Formula One World Championship Grand Prix in 1950, is currently the venue for the British Grand Prix. In the circuit’s 65 year history, the track has undergone a few major alterations and seen many minor modifications. One of the more significant re-designs took place in advance of the 1991 British Grand Prix.

This video shows the layout that was used up to and including the 1990 race. The car is a Lola-Lamborghini with a V12 engine, and was entered by the Larousse team. The driver is Eric Bernard. The year is not shown, but it is either 1989 or 1990, as those were the years that Eric Bernard raced with number 29 on his car. Commentary is by John Watson.

125 Superkarts in South Africa

I am fortunate to race a 125 Superkart at Killarney in Cape Town. There are two classes racing together: 125 Superkarts (for over 30s) and 125 Shifters (for drivers 20 to 29 years old). I am in the latter category, with the younger and less experienced drivers. Fortunately the classes race on the same track at the same time, which gives the younger drivers the chance to race against more experienced competitors.

The performance of the karts is phenomenal – acceleration and braking forces are brutal, and cornering speeds defy logic. Speeds around 200 km/h are possible depending on gearing, and that’s in a vehicle that is light enough to be picked up comfortably by two people. Driving one of these tiny beasts is an enormous thrill, and racing wheel to wheel in them is exhilarating.

Not only is the driving experience extremely satisfying, but it is also surprisingly accessible. Karts can be purchased second-hand for around R15,000 (less than $2,000 and not much more than £1,000). Once the equipment is purchased, a season can be completed on a budget of R15,000, including race entry fees, fuel, oil and most regular maintenance. As racing goes, this is about the most cost-effective series around.

And the racing is of a high quality. The drivers are competitive, pushing themselves and each other to the limit in pursuit of victory. Off the track, however, all those involved are as close as family, and the post-race prize-giving and party are as enjoyable as the racing.

The 125 Superkarts and Shifters will be racing at Killarney race track in Cape Town on 17 November, for the final event of the season. The championships are already wrapped up, and the club has chosen to open the day to competitors with single event licences in order to offer them a taste of competitive racing in the format of a normal race weekend.

This video was produced in 2011, before the introduction of the under-30s Shifter class, to provide some insight into this highly competitive yet affordable racing formula:

carting from Steve Searle on Vimeo.

Alonso eases to win in Germany

Fernando Alonso has taken his third win of the season with a fairly uneventful victory from pole position in Germany.

After making a good start, Alonso led almost continually to the flag, surrendering the lead for only a couple of laps when he made his first pitstop. Although he never had to defend too vigorously, there was always a challenger close behind. In the early stages of the race it was Sebastian Vettel who was chasing the Spaniard, and then after Button passed Vettel in the second round of pitstops, the Briton kept Alonso honest until Vettel took the place back while he was outside the limits of the track. The stewards ruled that Vettel’s pass was illegal, and he was handed a 20-second penalty after the race was completed, but he crossed the line second with Button close behind in third.

Kimi Raikkonen came home fourth after a fairly strong afternoon that included a good pass on Michael Schumacher. Kamui Kobayashi finished fifth ahead of his Sauber team-mate Sergio Perez, and the pair of them were followed by Schumacher, who struggled for pace over the race distance but managed to collect his 77th career fastest lap. Mark Webber came home eighth after a race in which he lacked performance for no apparent reason. Nico Hulkenberg finished ninth for Force India followed by the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in tenth.

Lewis Hamilton was hoping for a strong race in dry conditions after struggling in yesterday’s wet qualifying session, but the McLaren driver was unfortunate to pick up a puncture in the early stages of the race that put him out of contention. He eventually retired his car with 11 laps remaining after providing some entertainment by passing Sebastian Vettel to unlap himself. Despite Hamilton’s tough day the team will be reassured by the pace of the car after a significant upgrade for this race.

There were no points for Williams and Toro Rosso today, continuing the run of bad form both teams have experienced recently. Pastor Maldonado in particular must be wondering what he has to do to achieve decent results – since winning in Barcelona over two months ago, the Venezuelan has not finished in the top ten.

Vettel’s post-race penalty pushes him back to fifth position, giving Kimi Raikkonen his fourth podium of the season, and promoting Kamui Kobayashi to fourth place. Vettel is gradually falling back in the Drivers’ Championship, a situation he will want to remedy in a hurry.

Alonso has now extended his championship lead to 34 points over Mark Webber, with Vettel a further ten points back. Kimi Raikkonen has moved up into fourth place in the table, albeit 56 points behind Alonso.

Formula One now heads to Budapest for next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Alonso will be keen to consolidate his championship lead ahead of the mid-season break, but he will face stiff competition from Red Bull and the resurgent McLarens.

Alonso on pole in Germany

Fernando Alonso has taken pole position for tomorrow’s German Grand Prix, in a brilliant display of wet weather driving.

Although there had been rain earlier in the day, the racing line in Q1 was completely dry, and the teams streamed out onto the track, fearing that the weather might affect the latter part of the session. The rain held off, which was fortunate for Michael Schumacher who only just squeaked in to Q2 with a last lap effort to put him 17th.

The rain came down just before Q2 started, which made the conditions difficult to read. All of the drivers who had made it into the session went out on intermediate tyres, but as the rain continued to fall the full wets became necessary, and the times soon stopped coming down. Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean were caught out by the weather, and did not manage to post quick enough times to make it through to Q3.

Q3 was very wet, so much so that Nico Hulkenberg aquaplaned into a spin in the high-speed turn five, and Michael Schumacher complained over the radio that the track was too wet to drive. Nonetheless, the drivers kept at it, and as the cars began to disperse the water the times started to tumble. Ferrari made a good strategic call to bring Alonso in for a fresh set of full wets, and he rocketed to the top of the time-sheets with only a few minutes to go. Right at the end, Alonso improved on his own pole time, which proved unnecessary as no-one else could challenge him.

The Red Bull pair of Vettel and Webber qualified second and third respectively, followed by Schumacher, who had a strong Q3 despite almost not progressing from Q1. Hulkenberg and Maldonado were fifth and sixth, followed by the McLaren pair of Button and Hamilton who seemed to struggle in the wet conditions. Paul di Resta came in ninth to complete a good session for Force India, and Kimi Raikkonen  rounded out the top ten.

Alonso’s second pole in as many races highlights his form, particularly in the wet, where he has been untouchable so far this season. The weather is expected to be dry for tomorrow’s race, which shouldn’t bother Alonso too much as the Ferrari F2012 seems to be quick in all conditions.

Webber should have gone to Ferrari

“If someone said to me that you can have three wishes, my first would have been to get into racing, my second to be in Formula 1, my third to drive for Ferrari.” – Gilles Villeneuve

Villeneuve’s view of Ferrari’s place in racing is shared by the vast majority of drivers. As Sebastian Vettel recently put it, “…if you asked the 24 drivers in Formula One if they would like to go to Ferrari in their career, all 24 would say ‘yeah, clearly’, and it is the same with me.” Yet, Mark Webber chose not to go to Ferrari in 2013, and instead re-signed with Red Bull.

On the face of it, Webber’s decision might seem sound. Red Bull have had the best car for the last two seasons, and their 2012 car is gradually beginning to pull away in the development race at the front of the field. Red Bull have legendary designer Adrian Newey shaping their impressive aerodynamics, and with Newey showing no signs of leaving, it is likely that next year’s RB9 will be just as competitive as this year’s RB8.

Perhaps Webber was wary of being number two to Fernando Alonso. Although he has yet to be World Champion, Webber is no slouch behind the wheel, as his two wins so far in 2012 show. He would not want to find himself in the position of Felipe Massa, who is very clearly the second Ferrari driver.

But the upside to driving for Ferrari is just so enormous, it makes no sense that Webber would choose not to go there. Ferrari has resources that no other team can match, and they are showing it this season with the development of the F2012. The car started the year well off the pace, and in less than half a season has become a front-runner, with Fernando Alonso now leading the championship.

Aside from the financial implications of a move to Ferrari, the team is so steeped in Formula One history that any driver would want to become associated with the famous marque. Consider the great drivers who have driven for Ferrari: Schumacher, Fangio, Prost, Lauda, Alonso, Farina, Andretti, Scheckter and Hawthorn are but a few of the legendary names to have raced for the most famous of Formula One teams.

Ferrari have the largest following in Formula One, with fans all over the world, so much so that every race must feel like a home race for a Ferrari driver. Racing for Ferrari at Monza must be a remarkable experience, as the tifosi cover every possible spectator space around the circuit, adorned with Ferrari clothing, flags and signs in support of their heroes.

If making it to Formula One is the dream of racing drivers, then racing for Ferrari is the dream of Formula One drivers. Webber had the chance to realise that dream, and he let it go. The opportunity is unlikely to come again.

Testing times for young guns

In recent years, Formula One teams have conducted a test in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season for their young stars. It is a rare chance to gain experience in a Formula One car while still climbing the racing ladder. This year, the Young Driver Test is split in two – at Silverstone this week, and then at Abu Dhabi as usual at the end of the year.

This week’s test takes place on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 July at the home of British motorsport, just a few days after the British Grand Prix. Only three teams are taking part – Williams, Marussia and HRT. The other nine teams will test in Abu Dhabi.

This is the only opportunity available to the teams to test on track for the rest of this season, which raises the question of why so few teams have chosen to take part. It’s not only about testing the young drivers. There is valuable data to collect from running the cars, perhaps with new parts that could find their way onto the cars for later races. Yet most of the teams have chosen not to run this week, which makes very little sense from a car development point of view.

Williams are testing their reserve driver, Valtteri Bottas, who has been taking part in some of the Friday practice sessions during the season. Bottas is the reigning GP3 champion, and his experience in the FW34 should make this a productive test both for him and the Williams team.

HRT will be giving Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua his first taste of a Formula 1 car today and tomorrow. The 24-year old from Shanghai won the 2011 Chinese Touring Car Championship and joined HRT’s development programme in April of this year. After failing to qualify for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the team has made steady progress and is now able to consistently compete with Marussia on the track. This test will be crucial to HRT continuing to move forward.

The Marussia F1 team is still reeling from Maria De Villota’s horrific testing accident last Tuesday. She had been lined up to drive at the Young Driver Test, but the team has had to make other plans after the crash. Marussia will be running their GP2 drivers, Max Chilton and Rio Haryanto, each of whom has tested an F1 car once before. The two drivers will each have one day in the car.

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