Saturday, 11 July 2009

German Grand Prix Qualifying

With a three week interval since Silverstone, it was inevitable that the politics of Formula One would take centre stage. A few days after the British Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone waded into the fray, tipping the balance towards the teams and effectively ending Max Mosley’s long reign as President of the FIA.

The teams, under the umbrella of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), made it very clear that they had no desire to breakaway, but that they felt unable to continue under Mosley’s autocratic leadership style. By giving a name to the problem, they explicitly gave Ecclestone an exit strategy.

After a meeting in Paris on 24th June, it was all over. Mosley emerged proclaiming that a deal had been struck with which all parties were happy – he played the whole thing as a triumph for his own negotiating skills, despite the evidence of the previous three months.

Then the bombshell. He would step down as FIA President at the end of his current term in October. Ecclestone had wielded the knife and, no matter how much he protested that it had always been his intention to stand down, Mosley was covered in blood.

When the detail of the deal was examined, it was nothing more than a non-specific expression of intent to reduce costs. Mosley’s hard and fast budget cap was dead, and lying beside him in the gutter.

Over the next few days the debate moved on to who would replace Mosley, and whether they would have sufficient independence and fortitude to regulate the teams. The pendulum had swung, and, although peace was breaking out, there was still some jockeying for position to be done.

Clearly stung by the humiliation, Mosley last week publicly accused FOTA of “dancing on my grave.” Crucially, he also claimed that he was, “under pressure now from all over the world to stand for re-election.” Painting himself as the reluctant speaker, he threw the cat among the pigeons with his implied threat to renege on his retirement decision.

On Wednesday night, the eight FOTA teams once more walked out of a meeting with Mosley, threatening to withdraw their 2010 registrations. Once again, the breakaway threat was in the air.

As the BBC coverage started, a pre-packed report on all the above shenanigans introduced Ari Vatenen as a potential rival to Max Mosley. Vatenen is a former World Rally Champion, which lends him credibility, and is well respected within the sport. In an attempt to raise his profile, he appeared on camera to meet Jake and the boys. Eddie Jordan was asked to interrogate him, and employed his usual incisive line of questioning: “Ari, we’ve known each other for a long time. I’m delighted to see you here. If you were President of the FIA, what would you stand for?”

After Vatenen presented his manifesto without a single challenging question, there was a great little film of Mark Webber meeting the Australian Cricket Team, over in Europe for The Ashes. Ricky Ponting, who is the chippiest of Australians when surrounded by Poms, seemed to get on well with Webber, and they obviously each knew a lot about the other’s sport.

The best moment was when Brett Lee enquired about Webber’s continuing recuperation from a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula with a chirpy, “How’s the leg going mate?” Got to love Australians.

On the track, qualifying was splendidly disrupted by rain. There’s always something exciting about rain at the Grand Prix, especially when it comes and goes during a session.

There’s always one surprise casualty in the first session of qualifying and, this time, it wasn’t Lewis Hamilton. Toyota’s Timo Glock managed to screw up every single hot lap he attempted. Missing a chicane during one lap, then sliding off the track in the next, he ended up racing round in the last minute, needing to improve his time, and, as spots of rain started to appear, the game was up. He will start the race from nineteenth.

Speaking of Lewis Hamilton, Eddie Jordan was actually talking up his chances before qualifying. His strong performance in earlier practice and some much publicised upgrades to the car prompted Jordan to predict a top three result in qualifying. Right on cue, Mercedes bigwig Norbert Haug appeared to make him look foolish, and intoning that this would be a little optimistic. There is controversy though within the team, as Hamilton has got all the upgrades, but his teammate Heikki Kovalainen has not. He is, we are told by Martin Brundle, “silently unhappy.”

The second session started in the rain, with everyone desperate to get out and put in a good lap. The first lap saw Nakajima, Massa, and Hamilton all go off the track, and everyone abandon their plans, coming in for intermediate rain tyres. As the water started to lash the track, they all started again – much more exciting for the blogger, if a little more frustrating for the drivers.

As the rain abated then fell again, Rubens Barrichello combined impeccable timing with good fortune and recorded a lap on dry tyres at just the right moment to take first place by two seconds. Less lucky was Fernando Alonso, who put dry tyres on just in time for the rain to fall again and was rewarded with a spin on his last attempt to qualify.

The final session appeared to restore normal service as the rain stayed off, the track dried out, and the familiar battle between Red Bull and Brawn for pole position was resumed. The driver on pole changed six times in the last minute but it ended Webber, Barrichello, Button, Vettel.

Interesting to see the Brawns performing well against Red Bull because, before qualifying, Ross Brawn had appeared to talk down his team’s chances. With much talk of tyre temperatures and weight distribution, there was an unmistakable pessimism in his voice.

Lewis Hamilton came in fifth which, whilst not quite as good as Eddie Jordan predicted, is no mean feat. It would seem that those upgrades really are making a difference.

Related Articles:
Previous Grand Prix – British Grand Prix
Previous Qualifying Session – British Grand Prix Qualifying

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