Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hamilton on Pole as Brawns struggle in Singapore

"apart from the shunt at the end of the qualify it was a positive day...flat out tomorrow"

You have to love Rubens Barrichello. It can't be easy to maintain a positive attitude on a day when the Gearbox Fairy had basically farted in his face and a truculent bit of wall had got in the way of a crucial flying lap in the final qualifying session, but that tweet from Rubens shows that he is as on fire as ever. He is the one who has managed, despite the Brawn team's various woes over the Summer, to get his head down and steadily build vital constructors' partnership points. He's been the tortoise to Jenson's hare and we all know who won that race.

The first bad news of yesterday came before qualifying even started. The gearbox that had been damaged in the engine fire at Spa, when Rubens had nursed a smoking car home to snatch a couple of points, was finally deemed to be, in technical terms, knackered. I suppose we can't bear it any grudges after it had powered him to victory in Monza, but its replacement meant that wherever Rubens finished in qualifying, he'd end up 5 places further down the grid. I guess it would have been worse if the gearbox had failed during the race because then he'd have no points in Singapore and would have to take the grid penalty at the next race in Suzuka, but, still, it's frustrating.

So, with Rubens already at a disadvantage, how would championship leader Jenson Button fare? Would he be able to capitalise on his teammate's misfortune? Well, no. Despite an excellent first practice on Friday, when the Brawns looked very quick, yesterday morning's session was marred by a plaintive, exasperated radio transmission from Button to his engineer that he was "massively struggling for grip" which has been his anthem in some ways since Turkey.

As it turned out, Jenson didn't even make Q3. Team boss Ross Brawn explained that they'd "underestimated the competition" in the second session, meaning that they were lucky to get Rubens through with Jenson languishing in 12th place.

Rubens may have been able to grab pole at the last minute, although he hadn't looked that strong in the final session, if he hadn't had an argument with a wall that ended up stopping the session early. He finished the session in 5th and will start 10th, a few places above Button.

This being a street circuit, with walls rather than nice run-off areas, the chances of drama during the race is quite high. I completely missed it last year (Glenrothes again) so I've enjoyed getting to know the circuit and the beautiful Singapore skyline. I know we don't quite have the same weather, but it did make me wish that we could show off Glasgow in the same way - I reckon we could build a reasonable street circuit there although I expect the very thought would have glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie raging.

It must be very weird for teams and media alike as they are sticking to European time. Because it's a night race, they're getting up 6 or 7 hours before the race, rather than 13 or 14 so that drivers and teams are as fresh and awake as they can be. They end up going to bed at 4am and getting up at lunchtime - a bit like all my friends and colleagues who were in Bournemouth last week for Party Conference.

Racing in the dark means that the cars, especially I have to say the pesky Red Bulls and the Ferraris, look absolutely gorgeous under the lights. The night skyline is very pretty and on the wide angled camera shots you can see car headlights on the roads which are open. It takes a bit of getting used to but I really like it. The darkness seems to add to the drama of the event.

The Prize for Ironic Moment of the Weekend has to go to new Renault driver Romain Grosjean. As the team arrived in Singapore, desperate to move on from the terrible events of the inaugural race, what's the first thing that Grosjean does? Crashes, with style, at turn 17, now cruelly and probably permanently dubbed "Piquet Corner."

I wrote earlier in the week about how Renault's punishment had been virtually non existent. However, where the FIA failed, its sponsors did not as Dutch banking group ING pulled the plug early on its contract wit the team. It's hardly surprising, as the large ING on the car is the first thing you see when you watch a replay of one of the most shocking incidents of sporting cheating of all time. Unfortuantely, nobody seems to have told whoever run Renault's official Twitter account as it's still using the ING logo at the time of writing.

An award for bravery must surely go to Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan who pushed
Bernie Ecclestone quite hard on the Renault decision and particularly on the fact that he had described the life ban for Briatore as harsh when he'd been part of the decision making process. Getting a straight answer out of Bernie is like trying to nail slime to a wall at the best of times, but they really tried. EJ even brought Bernie's earlier comments about Hitler. We'll know next week whether they get their paddock passes for Suzuka.

As far as the race is concerned, we'll have to see if the Red Bulls can capitalise on their relative advantage over Brawn, although even if Vettel wins he can't overtake Rubens to take second spot in the championship. Hamilton might well have the advantage, not just with his magic KERS button but of being considerably heavier on fuel, but he's also displayed a growing attraction to walls this season, as we have seen in both Monaco and Monza, and Singapore has plenty of opportunity for disaster.

I reckon we'll see the Safety Car at least once and there's every opportunity for the Brawn boys to finish in the points - and, of course, if Rubens finishes ahead of Jenson, it closes the gap in the Drivers' Championship some more. The boys need Ross Brawn's genius strategic mind more than ever today.

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