Saturday, August 22, 2009

F1 Returns in Scorching Valencia

It's been a long 4 weeks without Formula One. Although the sport has been making loads of headlines, with Michael Schumacher's coming back and then not coming back and lovely Nelson Piquet Jr being given his marching orders by Renault, there really is nothing like the scream of a V8 engine at full pelt to get your heart beating a wee bit faster.

I'm a bit of a Valencia virgin. For some reason, that I strongly suspect has to do with the Glenrothes by-election, I missed this race last year. The circuit is weird. You have shots of cars speeding round a marina with no boats on it and then through what seems like a fairly nondescript concrete surrounded series of turns. It's not got the magic of the other street circuits in Formula One and has no chance of ever becoming a Monaco.

This is a bit of a crunch weekend for the Brawn team. After a stonking start to the season, they've had 3 races where they've struggled to get heat into their tyres and have only had one podium finish, for Rubens at Silverstone. It's not unusual for teams to make a blistering start and then struggle mid season - the same thing happened in Michael Schumacher's earliest championship wins at Ferrari. He'd win at the start of the season and then they'd struggle for a while and then come through at the end.

That said, it was a huge relief to see the Brawn boys back on top yesterday. It would have been a bit of a disaster, though, if they hadn't been able to warm the tyres in the 30 degree heat, but, still, it's good to see them back on form, with Jenson saying that the car feels like a Brawn again. Rubens finished fastest in the first practice, with Jenson second and Rubens 3rd in the second session. Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal has just mischievously suggested on 5 Live that Ross Brawn would not let Rubens win the race if he were ahead. Maybe he hasn't heard that they don't allow team orders any more:-).

After Schumi's withdrawal, the injured Felipe Massa has now been replaced by test driver Luca Badoer. The last time he raced, my 10 year old was a babe in arms. Bless him, he's lovely, but no very fast. He might as well have been driving round the circuit in my Micra yesterday, he was so far off the pace. If Massa's going to be out until Brazil, in 4 races' time, Ferrari are surely going to have to find a faster option. I don't understand why they just don't bring in either Sebastian Bourdais or Nelson Piquet, both of whom are available having been fired, unreasonably in my opinion, by their teams.

It'll be interesting to see whether Fernando Alonso, who is lucky to be racing here after Renault won its appeal against a ban, can capitalise on his success in the second practice yesterday and grab pole position. If he does, in front of his home crowd, then he will no doubt be running on fumes - he has consistently been very light in qualifying this season, and will have less chance of actually winning the race.

I'm looking forward to see how the Force Indias do, as well. They have had a huge upgrade for this weekend and are targetting at least getting both cars into Q2. Adrian Sutil is currently at the top of the leaderboard for the practice, but I think that's more because the session has been stopped after Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull spewed oil all over the track, than because he's actually fastest.

I shall be watching qualifying from behind a pillow, hoping that the Brawns grab the first pole positions and re-assert their authority on both championships. I'd really, really like to see a Rubens win, because he thoroughly deserves it. If Jenson come ssecond, he'll still be leading the drivers' championship by a long way.

Spare a thought, though, for the poor overall clad mechanics in the pit lane in the scorching heat. The garages must be roasting, especially when the cars come back in. They are the unsung heroes of the weekend.

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