Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cotton Candy Mobile

Faster than a speeding bullet…

More powerful than a locomotive… 

Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…

Look… down in Cavite Factory… it’s a bird… No… it’s a plane… no… It’s Cotton Candy Man…

Monday, February 28, 2011


About two months ago, 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher celebrated his 42nd birthday.  Not quite a pensioner yet, but already ancient in terms of world-class athletes of practically any sport.  Especially motor racing, where youthful reflexes and gusto are always necessary to produce stunning lap times needed in the game.  Case in point is the mantle of youngest ever world champion being passed over 3 times in the last 6 seasons, first to Fernando Alonso (24 in 2005), then to Lewis Hamilton (23 years & 10 months in 2008), and again last year to Sebastian Vettel (23 years and 4 months).  Seems like there is no room in the sport for someone who is old enough to be Vettel’s father.

When Schumacher was announced as Mercedes GP’s driver for 2010, hopes were high on not only both sides of the camp, but in fans and detractors even.  He was still considered by everyone to be on top of the game when he retired at the end of 2006, and even in retirement, Schuey kept himself in decent shape.  Other than the neck injury caused by a motorbike accident, there were little concerns about Schumacher’s comeback being a letdown.  Michael, was, after all, the epitome of a fit & trim race car driver in his prime, and is known as someone who will never give up.  Schuey also has been known as a very calculating person, and he surely would not place himself in an embarrassing situation.

But, boy, everyone was in for a surprise.  No one, not even his biggest critic, would have expected Schumacher to struggle like he did for most of the year.  After a decent start, and then a couple of strong races mid season in Spain, Monaco, and Turkey, Schuey regressed as he struggled to come to terms with the new Bridgestone tires that seem to be lacking in front end grip, something his driving style does not prefer.  Though as the season closed, in the last couple of races, Schumacher’s relative pace was much improved, still it was unusual to see the multiple World Champion struggle.  In his younger days, Michael was known as someone who could quickly adjust to any car in any situation, but 2010 proved that those days have long gone.  Even his most die-hard fan would have to admit it was an unsatisfactory season for the 91-time Grand Prix winner.

Most would now blame age as the primary reason for Schumacher’s disappointing 2010.  However, some people may point out that 5-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio won his 5th and last title at the age of 46, in 1957.  But the field wasn’t as competitive back then, as Fangio was competing with even older men.  A lot of his contemporaries were also in their 40s, some even in their 50s!  In his first year at Alfa Romeo in 1950, Fangio was actually the youngest of the teams’ 3 works drivers, at 39 years old.  World Champion Giuseppe Farina was 4 years older (43), while third driver Luigi Fagioli was 52!  Other later Fangio teammates like pre-war star Hermann Lang, Karl Kling, and Louis Chiron were also older than the Argentinean.  Only a few noteworthy drivers were someone you can consider as young like today’s top drivers – Englishmen Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, and Stirling Moss, were all in their 20s back then.  And it’s not just their age.  Some of Fangio’s opponents had physique more akin to a sumo wrestler than a race car driver (of today).  His friend and countryman Jose Froilan Gonzalez, known as the Pampas Bull, was so fat, was once quoted as saying, in the late 1960s, “In my day, the drivers were fat, and the tires were skinny”.  1952-53 World Champion Alberto Ascari had a pudgy physique he was known as “chubby” in Italian.  And it’s not just they are fat.  American Masten Gregory, with those thick-framed glasses he used even while driving at the races, looked more like a cast of the 1980s hit movie Revenge of the Nerds than the 1960s film Grand Prix.  In contrast, Schumacher will not be only competing against youngsters like Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg,  Kubica (if he weren’t injured), Alguersuari, Buemi, etc (all under 26), but also against relatively young veterans like Alonso, Felipe Massa, and Jenson Button, all still under 32 with at least 9 years F1 experience.  And Mark Webber, the next oldest grand prix driver after Schumacher, Barrichello, and Trulli, at 34, is known for his extreme fitness regimen, much like Michael was in his prime.

After a rather disappointing comeback season in 2010, Schumacher has modest hopes for this season.  Other than age, there is the wear and tear that has accumulated as Schuey has been racing since the early 1970s, at the age of 4.  Michael has always been known as someone who will never give up and never back down from a challenge, but everything comes to an end.  Other greats in different sports like boxer Muhammad Ali, and basketball star Michael Jordan, all seem to have the same problem of not knowing when to give up.  But more often than not it was a case of the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Ali was a pathetic sight in his last 2 fights, against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.  While Jordan was still good enough to make the all-star team in his 2 years as a Washington Wizard, he was clearly a shadow of his former self, and (then) young guns like Kobe Bryant ran rings around the hoop legend.

When Pirelli replaced Bridgestone as Formula One’s tire supplier for 2011, the hopes of Schumacher and his fans were raised up a bit as Michael has expressed a “cautious optimism” (his own words) on the Italian tire’s front end grip.  Initial tests in Spain showed considerable progress, as Schuey topped the time sheets at one of the testing dates recently.  Though more often than not testing times are not really a gauge of the car and driver’s true race pace, it was an encouraging sign for the German great.  If Michael wins a race this season he will be the oldest Grand Prix winner in 41 years – Jack Brabham was 44 when he scored his final victory in 1970, just a year after Schumacher was born.  If, against all odds, Schumacher wins the WDC, he will be the oldest champ since Fangio.  That would be some amazing accomplishment, something even his most ardent critic would surely salute.  Throughout his career, Michael has proven to be someone who would prove his doubters wrong, and he would surely do everything he can to do it one more time.  In a few months time we will know the answer to all of this.  When it happens, count it as a big boost for the 40-something crowd.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Au Revoir, Renault

Lost out in the shocking Robert Kubica rallye accident, and the squabble over the rights for the “Lotus” name between Eric Boiller’s group and that of Tony Fernandes is the end of the works Renault team’s participation in Formula One.  Though the team would still be called "Renault" by some quarters, in reality the Enstone, England-based squad has practically zero participation from the corporate headquarters in France, save for the 2.4 liter V10 engines.  This marks the latest of the on-going exodus of carmakers from Grand Prix racing, following Honda, BMW, and Toyota .  All 4 cost-cutting measures happened in a space of 2 years.

Renault’s low-key exit was made even more surprising by the fact that compared to the other 3 recent manufacturer pull-outs; the French team has had a successful stint in Grand Prix racing.  The team won 2 drivers and 2 constructors’ titles, the most recent of which was only 5 years ago.  The past 9 years, the Enstone-based squad had numerous podiums and won a total of 20 races (okay, only 19 were ‘legitimate’) and were the only really successful manufacturer team other than Ferrari.  Its second foray in the world of Formula One from 2002-2010 was certainly more successful than its initial stint from 1977-85 (curiously the same number of years), when it won 15 races but had zero titles.

Though less successful, that initial stint was nevertheless no less significant.  It was actually one of the most important historical landmarks in Grand Prix history.  It marked the first use of a turbocharged engine in Formula One (the Alfas of the early 1950s used a supercharger).  By the mid 1970s Renault was dominating Formula 2, and it was not contented, so it set its sights in the more visible world of Grand Prix Racing.  Using basically the same engine – the cylinder heads were of the same size, but stroke was reduced ¾ the size – the 1.5L powerplant was half the size of its competitors yet delivered at least the same amount of power, even compared to 12-cylinder behemoths like the flat-12 Ferraris and Alfa Romeos and the V12 Matras.  Certainly more grunt at high-altitude tracks like Kyalami in South Africa .  But while it wasn’t lacking in power, it was definitely short on reliability.  The 1.5L V6 encountered just about any other engine-related problem in its first couple of years.

In its debut at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1977, the RS01 (for Renault Sport 01) qualified 21st and lasted only 17 laps before the turbocharger failed.  Not only it marked the first use of a turbo engine in Formula One, it also marked the return of a volume car manufacturer in Grand Prix racing since Mercedes-Benz pulled out in 1955.  Their next couple of races was basically the same, and it was not until the middle of the 1978 season that its driver Jean Pierre Jabouille finally finished a race.  At Watkins Glen in New York for the penultimate race of that year, Jabouille finally scored points for the team, bringing home the yellow machine in 4th place, good enough for 3 points during those days.  Despite its continuing reliability problems, the team was increasingly become more competitive.

The following year, 1979, the team had a new car, the RS10.  It was even more competitive, and by mid-season the team was regularly fighting at the sharp end of the grid.  For that season the team also expanded to a 2-car entry, Jabouille being joined by countryman and fellow F2 champion Rene Arnoux.  At Dijon for the French Grand Prix, the team finally came good and won with Jabouille.  It would have been a 1-2 sweep for the team had it not for Gilles Villenueve snatching the runner-up spot from Arnoux at the final lap.

In 1980 the team was made a very strong start, with Arnoux claiming the races at Brazil and South Africa to stake an early claim at the World Championship.  But after that a series of yet more reliability issues hit the French squad, and Rene’s title bid faded by mid-season.  Jabouille won later that year in Austria , but broke his legs at the penultimate race in Canada , and the accident virtually ended JP’s career.  He joined Ligier the following season to join brother in law Jacques Laffite, but hung up his helmet after just a couple of races.

For 1981 Arnoux would be joined by rising French star Alain Prost, who had a good debut season at McLaren the previous year.  Despite regularly featuring up front once again, the yellow cars were again plagued by reliability issues, and it was not until the French GP at Dijon when the team won a race.  It was to be Prost’s first ever victory in what would eventually be a then a record 51-win career.  Alain would go on to win at Holland and Italy to make a late charge for the WDC, but a poor race at Canada ended his championship hopes.  He eventually ended up in 5th, just 7 points away from the eventual WDC winner (Nelson Piquet).  Arnoux has had a troublesome year, his confidence suffering a massive blow by a series of reliability issues.  His best showing was a 2nd place finish to Laffite in Austria , though he led a couple of races before the usual Renault mechanical failure.  At the British Grand Prix he should have won but a late reliability issue ended his race.

For 1982 hopes were high at the French team.  They dominated the first race in Kyalami, Prost overcoming almost a lap down to win in a stunning display of the speed of the yellow cars.  Then the following race in Brazil , Alain was declared winner after Piquet and Rosberg, who finished 1-2 in the Ford/Cosworth non-turbo cars, were disqualified.  Yet despite a big early lead, Prost soon faded from the championship battle after a string of yet more mechanical failures.  With the Ferraris now having turbos as well, but with reliability on their side, Didier Pironi soon took over the championship lead and held an iron grip on it.  That was until his accident at Germany , during practice, when he hit Prosts’ rear wheel, as he did not see his countryman in the rain.  Pironi’s accident left the door open once again for Prost, but he would not win again for the rest of the year.  Arnoux had a slow start but during the French Grand Prix, he was leading and he was ordered to let Prost, who was running second, to win.  Rene refused citing it was also his home race and that he still had a mathematical chance at the championship.  But it created tension within the team, and after that Prost and Arnoux would not speak to each other for the rest of the season.  Arnoux soon signed with Ferrari to replace Pironi, and would later win again at Italy , his yellow machine heading the 2 red cars of Tambay and Andretti (who temporarily replaced Pironi for the final 2 races).  With Arnoux about to arrive at Maranello, the win was dubbed as a “Ferrari 1-2-3” by the Italian press.  The year ended with Prost 4th and Arnoux 6th in the driver’s championship, and Renault as 3rd behind Ferrari and McLaren for the manufacturer’s title.  Despite having their best-ever championship positions in both categories, there was a feeling the Frenchmen could have done more, especially with the twin tragedies that struck the Ferrari team that year.

After a strong season, Renault’s only aim for 1983 was plain and simple: to win both drivers and manufacturers championships.  With Arnoux going to Ferrari, the second seat was given to Eddie Cheever, the American thus becoming the first non-French driver for the yellow cars.  Also for 1983, Renault started to supply customer engines to Lotus, with the type 93 of Elio de Angelis using the same engine as Prost and Cheever.  After being nondescript in the first 2 races, and mostly still using the old RE30 chassis, they came on strong at home ground, finishing 1-3 at Paul Ricard, with Nelson Piquet’s Brabham-BMW splitting the 2 yellow cars at the podium.  Prost then went on to win the Belgian, British, and Austrian GPs to take a commanding lead at the championship.  Then at the Dutch GP, Alain made a bonehead move and speared Piquet’s Brabham while the pair was battling for the lead, handing over the win to Arnoux’s Ferrari.  Piquet went on to win the next race, the Italian GP at Monza, and with Arnoux 2nd and Tambay 4th, the championship tightened up and with 2 races to go it was Prost 51, Arnoux 49, Piquet 46, Tambay 40.  Then the Ferraris faltered at the European GP at Brands Hatch, both failing to score, and with Piquet leading Prost home, Alain kept the lead, albeit slim at 57-55, with 1 race to go.  Despite still leading the championship, the pressure was on Prost as he had the whole of France ’s pride at stake, and that Piquet had already won the championship 2 years earlier.  And so it happened, Prost buckled under the immense pressure, and when he retired from the finale at Kyalami, Piquet cruised home to third place, clinching his 2nd title.  Prost, meanwhile, was sacked shortly thereafter.  Even before the final race he was behaving like he had already won the championship, and the Renault top brass was not impressed.  He was to be replaced by Tambay for 1984, with the other seat to be taken by Englishman Derek Warwick .  Despite both cars failing to score again, Ferrari clinched the constructor’s title for the second consecutive year, with Renault runner-up this time, the teams highest-ever finish.

For 1984 there was a major rule change – no more mid-race refueling, so cars had to start the race on full tanks, all 220 liters.  Renault introduced a novel idea of freezing the fuel, the idea being fluids at lower temperatures have higher density, thus they can pack a little more elf gasoline on the yellow cars’ fuel tanks.  In addition to Lotus, the other French team, Ligier, would also now be using Renault power.  This only happened because Ligier owner Guy Ligier is a friend of French PM Francois Mitterand, and this forced the state-owned carmaker (Renault) to supply engines to their team.  The first race at Rio proved that the cars were fast enough, as Warwick led for a while in the middle stages of the race.  But clearly they were not the fastest, as the McLaren-Porsches of Lauda and Prost zoomed past the Englishman easily at 2/3 distance.  A bigger problem was to be illustrated at what happened to the other Renault.  Tambay ran out of fuel with 2 laps to go, and it was clear that they, like all the rest, were no match to the McLaren-Porsches in terms of fuel efficiency.  This trend would continue the rest of the year, and the team would end up winless for the first time since 1978, their first full season in F1.  Their strongest performance, once again, came at their home race, where Tambay took pole position, led most of the race, but was overhauled by Lauda’s McLaren near the end of the race.  Patrick finished 2nd, his only noteworthy result of the whole year.

With a relatively disastrous season, Renault made a major organizational change for 1985.  Gerard Toth, a man who has never seen an F1 race before, was put in charge of the Grand Prix team.  Gerard Larrousse, who had been in charge of the Grand Prix program since day 1, jumped ship to Ligier.  Tambay and Warwick were retained.  Tyrrell also was added to the growing list of customer teams, though the Tyrrell-Renault would appear only beginning at mid-season.  Despite the striking livery (less white, more black, same amount of yellow), the new RE60 was a pathetic sight on track.  It was even less competitive than the RE50 of the previous year, and now Patrick and Derek were struggling for just a few measly points.  So by mid-season, Renault’s top brass decided to terminate the Grand Prix program by the end of 1985.  Tambay and Warwick went on to score a combined 15 points.

Despite pulling out as a factory effort, Renault was still very much involved in Formula One.  The Lotuses, Ligiers, and Tyrrells were still using the French powerplant, and for 1986 they introduced this novel idea of using compressed air in place of valve springs.  This enabled the engine to run at higher revs.  It did improve the power and fuel efficiency of the French engine, but overall it was still inferior to the TAG/Porsche engine, and now also to the Honda, as the Japanese V6 would now take over from the German design as the engine to beat.  Still, Ayrton Senna was able to coax 2 wins for the Lotus-Renault team.  And although they failed to score a single victory, the Ligiers were often very competitive, especially during the first half of the season.  Both Arnoux and Laffite in their Ligier-Renaults led at Detroit, and after the big 3 teams of Williams, McLaren, and Lotus, Guy’s team was clearly the best of the rest – even ahead of traditional powers Ferrari and Brabham.  But it was to be the Renault turbo’s swansong.  At the end of the 1986 season, the French car company pulled the plug on its Grand Prix engine program.

For the next two years, 1987-88, Renault power was absent from the grid.  But not for long.  For 1989 the Williams team, after being dumped by Honda for refusing to accept a Japanese driver a year earlier, struck a deal to have exclusive use of the new Renault V10s.  The new French engine proved to be instantly competitive, though still a step back compared to the then dominant McLaren-Hondas.  On most occasions they could keep up with the powerful but unreliable Ferraris, and were usually more reliable.  Williams-Renault driver Riccardo Patrese would finish third in the championship that year despite missing out on a win, by virtue of consistent placing and a plethora or 2nd-place finishes.  His teammate Thierry Boutsen would win 2 wet races at Canada and Australia , and the Belgian would finish 5th in the WDC race.  Williams-Renault would pip Ferrari for 2nd place in the WCC.

The following season, 1990, Patrese and Boutsen would win one race apiece in their Williams-Renaults, but the biggest news that year would be the impending return of Nigel Mansell for the 1991 season.  After a slow start in 1991, the Renault-powered Williams FW14, with its innovative active suspension, would supplant the McLaren-Honda as the car to beat.  Patrese and Mansell would go on a victory binge at mid-season and the duo would close in on Ayrton Senna’s previously seemingly insurmountable lead.  Ultimately Senna and McLaren-Honda would dig deep and would find enough firepower in their arsenal to hold off Mansell and Williams-Renault, but the writing was on the wall: The Williams-Renault is now the best car in Grand Prix racing.

And so they dominated 1992.  Mansell and Patrese opened the season with four 1-2 finishes, and proceeded to run roughshod over the rest of the grid.  It was no surprise they also finished 1-2 in the WDC race.  Williams-Renault clinched the WCC title with barely half the season done.  Incredibly, this was only the first WCC title for a team with a Renault engine, and Mansell became the first driver to win the WDC in a car with Renault power.  In addition to Williams, Ligier would also use Renault power that year, though apparently the French team was getting a lower-spec, older version.

The Williams-Renault juggernaut continued the following season, despite a completely new driver lineup that saw Mansell retire and be replaced by Prost, and with Patrese jumping ship to Benetton-Ford, test driver Damon Hill was promoted to the race seat and became Alain’s no.2.  The Prost-Hill combo would win 10 races that year in a car that could almost drive by itself, and the Professor would go on to clinch his 4th world title that year.  Hill, in his first full season, would be classified third at the final WDC standings.

For 1994 Senna would step in as lead driver at Williams-Renault, replacing the retiring Prost.  Expectations were high with what was considered by most at that time to be the best driver (Senna) moving to what was clearly the best team (Williams-Renault).  But with new rules banning all driver aids, it gave other teams a chance as most of those were perfected by the Didcot-based team.  Indeed the Williams-Renault FW16, without all the gizmos found in the FW15, would prove to be difficult to drive, even at the masterful hands of Senna.  Ayrton was struggling to keep up with the Benetton-Ford of rising star Michael Schumacher, and at the 3rd race Ayrton would be killed after the suspension component of his car would pierce his skull by passing through his visor.  With even more rule changes mid-season, plus unbelievable penalties to Schumacher to keep the championship close, Hill would went on to win 6 races that year, but would eventually fall short of the WDC title.  Williams-Renault, however, would keep the WCC crown, as Mansell would return for the final 3 races, winning the season finale at Adelaide .

In 1995, with their Ford engine obviously lacking in power compared to the Renault and the Ferrari, Benetton boss Flavio Briatore bought the Ligier team, and used the contract with Renault so that the Italian team could use the French engine.  With now the best engine (Renault) and clearly the best driver (Schumacher), Benetton and Schumacher were odds-on favorite to repeat as drivers champs.  But Williams, still with Renault power, would produce a better chassis through the genius of Adrian Newey, and the 1995 season would prove very interesting indeed.  It was round two of Schuey vs Newey, and for the second straight year, brilliance of man would beat brilliance of machine.  It mattered little to Renault, however, as the French engine would go on to win 16 of the 17 races that season.  The only blot on the copybook was at Canada , where Jean Alesi would inherit the win at the closing stages of the race after Schumacher’s Benetton-Renault encountered gearbox trouble.

With Schumacher moving to Ferrari for 1996, things got interesting.  The Italian car was clearly inferior compared to the Renault-powered teams, but will man prevail over machine once again?  One look at the F310, and clearly the answer was, not this time.  Schumacher pushed the dog-like F310 as well as he could, but could coax only 3 wins out of it, including one spectacular drive through the rain in Spain.  The other 13 wins that year were all gobbled up by Williams-Renault save for the Monaco GP.  It would be split between Hill and F1 rookie Jacques Villenueve, 8-4 in favor of the son of the 1962 World Champion.  Damon would go on to become the 1996 title holder, with Renault powering the constructor’s champ for the 5th consecutive year.  Defending constructors champion Benetton, still with Renault power, would be blanked in the win column despite the best efforts of Ferrari refugees Berger and Alesi.

With Newey still on board, the Williams FW19-Renault team would still be clearly the best car of 1997, but the rest were catching up.  Schumacher was now in his 2nd season at Maranello, and with Ross Brawn joining the Italian team, Williams-Renault was in for a tough fight.  Despite the inferior car Schumacher would went on to lead the championship by mid season, though brilliant driving in the rain and some clever pit wall strategies.  Even with Newey leaving for McLaren, Williams pushed the development of their car better than the rest and Villenueve overhauled Schumacher’s championship lead.  Michael would fight back to grab the lead by a point with a race to go, but Jacques would survive their collision at the season finale at Jerez so both WDC and WCC would be claimed by Williams.  After 1997 Renault would once again pull out as an engine supplier, though the basic engine would still continue to power Williams and Benetton, serviced by Briatore’s company, and rebadged as Meccachrome or Playlife.

Three years would pass by, and by 2001 Renault was once again back, powering the Benettons once more.  They had a radical wide-angle V10, but this created lots of mechanical problems, so the car was uncompetitive the first half of the season.  Slowly within the year they moved up the grid and Giancarlo Fisichella drove brilliantly at Spa, only losing 2nd to David Coulthard’s McLaren at the closing stages.  Fisi would eventually finish 3rd, their only noteworthy result all season.  But as agreed beforehand, Renault would buy out the Benetton team and its facilities by the end of that season.  So for 2002, Renault would be back once again as a works team, for the first time since 1985.

Fisichella would go to Jordan for 2002, in a direct 1-to-1 swap with countryman Jarno Trulli.  The team would once again be run by Flavio Briatore, mastermind of Benetton’s championship seasons with Michael Schumacher at the helm.  Jenson Button would remain, and he would prove more consistent compared to Trulli.  Still, the Englishman would be fired by the season’s end, with upcoming test driver Fernando Alonso being promoted to a race seat.

Alonso would immediately show why he was worthy of a Renault seat.  At Malaysia Fernando became the youngest pole sitter.  IT was Renault’s first pole as a works team since the 1984 French Grand Prix.  Alonso would go on to win later that year at Hungary , becoming the youngest ever Grand Prix winner.  He would eventually finish 7th in the championship.  Trulli was as inconsistent as usual.  With Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams locked up in a tight battle for both driver’s and constructor’s championship for 2003, most people barely noticed Renault’s return to prominence.

With McLaren and Williams underachieving for 2004, it was Renault’s chance to move up the field.  And despite Ferrari’s dominance that year, winning 15 of the 18 races, the French team was able to register its 2nd victory in its comeback, Trulli coming good and leading home the field at Monaco .  It was not a happy season for the Italian, however, as he had a falling out with Briatore right after mid season, and he would leave the team within the year.  He later would show up at Toyota .  Replacing Trulli at Renault would be former world champion Jacques Villenueve, but after several months away from an F1 car, he looked out of depth on his return to the cockpit.  Alonso, meanwhile, did not have a particularly good season, his best finish being 2nd to Michael Schumacher at the team’s home race in France .

For 2005, there was a major rule change prohibiting mid-race tire change, and this tilted the balance in favor of the Michelin-shod teams.  Renault was one of them, and they did produce a neat car,  the R25.  Fisichella would return to the team for this season, and things looked up well for the Italian when he took honors at the season opener at Melbourne .  Alonso, despite starting near the back of the grid after a troublesome qualifying, would finish 3rd.  After that, Fernando would stamp his authority on the team, winning 7 races on his way to his first WDC.  Fisi was generally overshadowed by the Spaniard but remained a good soldier.  Renault would also win the Constructors title that eluded them during their first stint in Formula One from 1977 to 1985.

Mid race tire changing was allowed back for 2006, and so did the competitiveness of  Bridgestone, Ferrari, and Michael Schumacher.  Alonso would have his hands full dealing with the 7-time World Champion, but with the Renault being better the first half of the year, Fernando was able to pile up a huge championship lead by mid-season.  Schumacher and Ferrari would furiously fight back, winning several races and taking the championship lead with 2 races to go.  Schumacher comfortably led the penultimate race in Japan , but with 15 laps left his engine blew, and Alonso inherited the win and took a nearly insurmountable 10 point lead with 1 race to go.  All he had to do was either finish in the points, and this Fernando did.  With Schumacher experiencing more mechanical problems during qualifying, Alonso had a rather easy time in clinching his 2nd straight title.  This, despite a memorable Schumacher drive that saw him fight back from nearly a lap down early on due to a puncture, to finish 4th, only a few seconds adrift of Alonso.  Renault also retained their constructor’s title, despite another so-so season from Fisichella.  The Roman did win at Malaysia early that season, but it was his only noteworthy result of the whole year.

With Alonso moving to McLaren, Renault was left in dire straits for 2007.  Indeed they would experience their first winless season since 2002.  With Fernando gone, Giancarlo would move on as lead driver, to be joined by rookie Heikki Kovalainen of Finland .  Kovalainen had a rocky start to his F1 career but would go on to improve as he gained experience.  Still, it was a forgettable season for the defending WCC champions.

After a controversial year at McLaren in 2007, Alonso returned to Renault in 2008.  He would be paired with 1st year driver Nelson Piquet Jr, son of the 3-time World Champion.  After a slow start the R28 became more competitive as the year went on, culminating in wins at Singapore and Japan at the second half of the season.  The Singapore win was rather controversial, as Piquet Jr intentionally rammed his car right after Alonso’s pit stop, and the team was able to take advantage of this so Alonso cruised home to victory.  By the year’s end they were practically a match to Ferrari and McLaren, and things looked good for 2009.

But it was not to be.  With KERS being introduced, Renault, like other KERS teams Ferrari, McLaren, and BMW all struggled out of the gate.  And while the other 3 turned from frontrunners to midfielders, Renault became back markers.  Despite the efforts of Alonso and the technical team, it was to going to be a long season.  And so it was, as the team did not even have a podium all-season long.  Worse, after Piquet was given the boot, Nelsinho and his namesake 3-time world champion father exposed the Singapore stunt the previous year, and then sued Renault.  Briatore, and Pat Symmonds were eventually banned from the F1 circuit as a result.  Because of the scandal, title sponsor ING pulled out immediately, and other sponsors soon  followed.  With Alonso transferring to Ferrari for 2010, Renault was in dire straits.

But the French regrouped.  With BMW pulling out, they were able to get the services of up-and-coming driver Robert Kubica.  But with the scandal the French reduced their participation and some of the team was bought out by Gerard Lopez’ group Genii Capital.  And the team hired Russian Rookie Vitaly Petrov for the 2nd seat, and with him came badly needed sponsorship money from Russian companies like carmaker Lada.  Their fortunes improved, and despite being shut out at the win column for the second consecutive year, there were lot of promising result.  Kubica had some podiums including a brilliant drive to 3rd place at Monaco .

Still, it was not enough to convince the French to continue.  They sold their remaining share in the racing team to another carmaker, the legendary Lotus name from Great Britain .  This caused confusion as there was already an exiting Lotus F1 team, Malaysian-owned and with blessing to use the Lotus F1 name, owned previously by David Hunt, brother of 1976 World Champion James.  Even now the dispute/confusion still hasn’t been resolved.  Most likely the Enstone-based team would still be known as Renault, despite now being registered as a British team.  Its latest F1 car was christened the R31, showing continuity from the previous season’s R30, yet its livery was black-and-gold, reminiscent of the last Lotus-Renault in 1986.

Despite still being called a Renault, this virtually ends the French team’s participation in Formula One as a constructor, at least for the moment.  On the engine front they’re still very much involved, powering the defending champions Red Bull Racing, as well as the other Lotus-Renault team.  Still, this marks the end of Renault’s 2nd stint in Formula One as a manufacturer.  Sad indeed as they are the second-most successful grandee (manufacturer) team of all-time, eclipsed only by Ferrari.  The French GP has been missing from the F1 calendar the past couple of years, and a return is not in the books, at least in the near future.  With no French drivers on the grid and no one noteworthy in the lower-formula pipeline, things are looking grim for the once-proud nation where motor racing was born.  France hosted the first-ever Grand Prix in 1906, and it’s sad to see first its drivers, then its Grand Prix, and now its racing team gone from the pinnacle of Motor racing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Return of the Turbos

Return of the Turbos

When Alain Prost in a McLaren-Honda won the 1988 Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide , it marked the last time a turbocharged car would win a Grand Prix race.  Or so we taught… A few days ago, the FIA mandated that in 2013, the boosted engines are back, after a 25 year absence.

Since the start of the official Formula One world championship, turbocharged cars have always been allowed to race.  The “Formula” during the 1950s was 4.5 liters for non-turbo engines, with blown engines limited to 1/3 their size, or 1.5 liters.  The first two championships were actually won by the Alfa Romeo 158 that had a 1.5liter, straight-8 engine, with a supercharger.  But after Alfa Romeo withdrew at the end of the 1951 season, and from 1954 onwards there was a new Formula of 2.5L non-turbo or 0.75L (yes, 750cc) normally aspirated.  With this new 2.5L formula in place, not one of the competitive teams chose to take the boosted path… So for the next 25 years, regular “atmospheric” engines ruled Grand Prix racing…

The French, however, had other ideas…By the mid 1970s, Renault was dominating Formula 2 racing with its 2.0 liter V6 engine.  But they were not satisfied with success in the feeder series.  First they had their sights on the country’s premier auto race, the 24 hours of Le Mans .  The Gallic team eventually conquered their home race in 1978, with local heroes Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud driving, after several years of being thwarted and frustrated by long-time nemesis Porsche.  Almost simultaneously, the Frenchmen also had their sights on Formula One.

Led by a relentless technical chief named Francois Caisting, the yellow team chose a different approach in the quest for Grand Prix glory.  At that time the field was dominated by the venerable 3.0L V8 Cosworth/Ford engine, used by majority of the teams.  There were a couple of other options…  The Ferrari flat-12, plus the Alfa Romeo and Matra V12s were all more powerful, but were also much heavier.  These 12-cylinder engines also consume fuel at a much greater rate, and this further adds to their cars’ weight because they were carrying more gasoline at the start of a race.  So Renault chooses to downsize their F2 engine to 1.5L, then bolt in a KKK Turbo.  It could produce power that could rival (and potentially exceed) the bulky V12s yet weigh less than the Cosworth.  Their first car, the RS01 (for Renault Sport 01) was so small it looked like a Formula 2 car when standing next to F1 cars of that time.  Small weight plus huge power would spell success… but that would not be the case, at least not initially.

They made their debut at the 1977 British Grand Prix, with their long-time driver and 1975 F2 champion Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the wheel.  The car came to a halt after only 17 laps and a lot of people in the pit lane were silently laughing at the French effort.  For the next couple of races the result was more or less the same, so the opposition was left unimpressed…. But not for long.

Slowly, the yellow machine became more and more competitive.  Little by little their cars were moving up the grid, and by 1979 it was regularly featuring up front.  By then the team was now a 2-car effort, with Jabouille being joined by countryman and fellow F2 champion Rene Arnoux.  Despite its obvious speed and competitiveness, the car was still unreliable, but JP would win the French Grand Prix at Dijon that year.  The following year (1980), Arnoux would win the Brazilian and South African Grand Prix, and would lead the WDC race early on.  He would soon fade from the WDC race after a series of reliability issues.  Jabouille would go on to win in Austria that year, before practically ending his career in a nasty crash at the fall Canadian GP.

Renault was still far from being the title favorite, but by then they were getting everyone’s attention.  Enzo Ferrari was one of them.  The fabled Italian team was the first to follow Renault’s lead, and by 1981 the red cars had their own V6 turbo bolted at the back of the 126C.  A few races into that season another turbo engine showed up, the Hart, at the back of the new Tolemann team.  The Hart was actually an inline 4 engine that was one bank, or half, of the Cosworth/Ford DFV.  Renault won 3 races that year, and Ferrari 2, but the non-turbo brigade won the remaining 10 races and both championships.

However, the writing was on the wall.  The following season, 1982, the previous year’s champion, the Brabham team made their own switch to turbo power courtesy of the 1.5L BMW inline 4 engine, again via the Formula 2 route.  It was actually based on the production M12/M13 engine that can be found on the top of the line 3-series road cars.  At that time the turbo engine’s main Achilles heel was its (lack of ) reliability, and the Ford-powered cars would take advantage of this on numerous occasions.  But Ferrari was able to solve this issue quickly, courtesy of water injection, and the team won the constructor’s title that year.  They should have won the drivers title as well but its 2 drivers’ careers ended during the 82 campaign, with Gilles Villenueve being killed at Zolder and Pironi nearly amputated after a nasty accident at Hockenheim.  At the time of his accident, Pironi was leading the WDC race by a good margin, and most of the 5 races left are to be run on “power” circuits like Hockenheim, Osterreichring, and Monza , the title was virtually in the bag.  In his last 7 races Pironi was on the podium 6 times, the only occasion he wasn’t was at Canada when his car, in pole position, stalled at the start.  He was then hit from behind by the Osella of young Ricardo Paletti, who was killed shortly thereafter.  Clearly, the time of the turbos have arrived.  The British kit car teams that long have relied on the DFV power plant rushed to have their own turbo partner.  After Brabham got BMW, Williams got Honda and McLaren commissioned Porsche to design a turbo engine for their own use.  Lotus became a Renault customer team, later to be joined by Ligier and Tyrrell.

By 1983 the turbos would win all but 3 races – the twisty street circuits of Long Beach , Monaco , and Detroit being the only wins for the atmospheric engine.  The following season, despite the refueling ban that was supposed to slow down the turbos, the remaining non-turbo teams were annihilated, despite Stefan Bellof in a Tyrrell nearly winning at Monaco and teammate Martin Brundle at Detroit .  In 1985, Tyrrell was the only remaining non-turbo team, and by mid season they would switch to Renault turbo power.  In its last few races, in 1985, the non-turbo Ford/Cosworth V8 was a painful sight, usually filling up the last grid spot and finishing races 5 laps or more behind the winner.  In its final race at Austria , Brundle’s 012 was the only car that did not make the 26-car grid.  He would have been allowed to start as the 27th (and last) car, but the mighty McLaren team vetoed their participation, citing that Brundle would get in the way once he would be lapped by Lauda and Prost in their McLaren-Porsches.  This, despite Ken Tyrrell fitting a tractor-grade rear-view side mirror in the Englishman’s car.  Ron Dennis was not impressed.

1986 was an all-turbo year.  Not a single non-turbo engine even bothered to show up at any of the 16 races.  By then Renault have pulled out as a works team, but the groundwork of the turbo technology has been laid out.  However, the next year (1987), due to spiraling cost, some teams like Tyrrell and Lola, would switch back to non-turbo power.  By then the engine size for non-turbos was bumped to 3.5 liters, but they were still no match to the boosted engines.  A separate championship called the Jim Clark trophy for drivers was even established for these teams but it garnered little interest for fans, if any at all.  Pop-off valves, boost limits, as well as a further reduction in fuel capacity were done to slow down the turbos, to no avail.  By 1988 there were only a handful of turbo teams – McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus, and Arrows, plus small teams Zakspeed and Osella.  But they still dominated, winning everything in sight.  For 5 consecutive years the turbo cars would win every race.  So for 1989, turbo engines were all together banned indefinitely.  In a few years time, 2013, they will be back.

The apparent logic upon the turbo engine’s return was its fuel efficiency, fuel economy even, done for all these environmental brouhaha we see all the time nowadays.  But since when was Grand Prix racing all about fuel economy?  Motor racing is all about going fast.  Putting fuel restrictions would slow down the racers, but each team/driver would still try to find a way to be faster than the other, and this usually involves consuming more fuel.  Even during the time when refueling was banned, from 1984-1993, conserving fuel will not win you races and championships.  Initially (1984-85) the Porsche V6 was far and away the most fuel efficient amongst the turbos, and after that the Honda V6 got the edge in the fuel efficiency stakes.  Yet during all that time, their non-turbo counterparts were consuming much less fuel, but it bought them little success.  Even before entering Formula One in 1954, Mercedes toyed with the idea of using a 0.75L supercharged engine, but their research showed that it would consume 2-3 times more fuel compared to its normally-aspirated counterpart.  So they went for a 2.5L normally aspirated engine instead.  In a nutshell, fuel economy and Grand Prix racing just don’t belong in the same sentence.

For the past couple of years the F1 cars had a green stripe to indicate which tire compound they are using.  The green color was used to show environmental awareness, but it’s all lip service.  Whether the tires have green stripes, or yellow, or pink, or none at all, they will leave the same “footprint” in the environment.  Ditto the engine Formula.  No matter what it is, engine builders would try to find a way to generate more power.  Furthermore, despite their lowly fuel consumption ratings, there are only 24 F1 cars and even if you combine all the fuel these cars use during the season, just a day in Manila’s traffic congested roads will result in the road cars collectively wasting more fuel.  If Formula One wants an environmental image, it better think of other ways.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My F1 cars

coming soon...

Is Formula One Going into a Pay Driver Era?

Despite a sensational pole position at the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix just last month, his team’s first in 5 years, promising young German driver Nico Hulkenberg was told by Williams they would no longer be retaining his services for 2011. The reason? The team needs money, and in comes Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado and his $15 million budget from backers, some allegedly even coming from the government of President Hugo Chaves.

A driver bringing in money so a team could sign him is nothing new. They are usually called pay drivers. Formula One is a very expensive sport, and money has to come from somewhere else. Some Grand Prix greats even started that way, like 3-time World Champion Niki Lauda, who practically bought his March seat in 1972. 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher’s debut in a Jordan would not have happened at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix were it not for Mercedes bankrolling $100,000 for the drive, as part of their long-term plan to someday participate in Formula One. Even 2-time WDC Fernando Alonso’s seat at Ferrari was allegedly dictated by Spanish banking giant Santander. There is actually nothing wrong in having financial support from backers, as it happens in just about every sport, but at the end of the day the driver has to earn his place in what is supposed to be the pinnacle of motor sport.

Mind you, Maldonado is no pedestrian. He was, after all, the 2010 GP2 champion, by a good margin, and after clinching the title this year he is no longer eligible to compete in the premier feeder series to Formula One. But this was also the same driver, who, just a year ago, got spanked big-time by Hulkenberg himself when they were teammates at the ART team in that series. Nico dominated GP2 in 2009 as a rookie, while Pastor was nowhere in sight, despite already being in his third year in the sport and being more than 2 years older than the German. Maldonado’s championship season this year was partly due to being much more experienced than his rivals, as he was already in his 4th year in the series, while others are either rookies or sophomores. There was also an influx of GP2 graduates to other forms of motor sport this year, so competition was further thinned out. Hulkenberg, Vitaly Petrov, Kamui Kobayashi, Romain Grosjean, Karun Chandok, plus Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna from 2008, have all graduated to Formula One. It was like being a man against boys. His toughest competition came from Mexican Sergio Perez, who at 21 was much younger and was only in his 2nd year in the series. Like Maldonado, Perez will also drive in Grand Prix racing next season, for Sauber, despite not having the best of credentials. $25 million from Mexican telecoms giant Telmex, from the World’s richest man Carlos Slim, ensured that the Latin American country will have is first F1 driver since Hector Rebaque bought the 2nd Brabham seat in 1981. Promising GP2 drivers this year like Jules Bianchi, Sam Bird, and Christian Vietoris were all too young and inexperienced compared to the 25-year old Venezuelan. It was like 2008 all over again, when F1 refugee Giorgio Pantano nipped Senna for the title, but the ex-Jordan driver did not get a call in Formula One simply because it was already the Italian’s 7th season in the series.

Maldonado’s supporters will surely argue that success in lower Formula does not guarantee Formula One greatness. They will be quick to point out the cases of Kobayashi and Grosjean, who both entered F1 late in 2009. Grosjean was Hulkenberg’s main competition for the 2009 GP2 title before his promotion to the Renault F1 seat, while Kobayashi won only 2 races in 2 years at GP2. But unlike Pastor, Kamui did not have the best of teams in GP2, so he did not have a really good chance to showcase his talents in that series. Furthermore, Grosjean was pitted against a dominant driver, 2-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, and with no in-season testing allowed, his chances of making a good impression was practically zero. Kobayashi, on the other hand, had to compete with an up-and-down Jarno Trulli for 2 races, and then journeyman Pedro dela Rosa, who has not driven in F1 regularly since the 2002 season, this year, so he had a much better chance to impress the team owners. Hulkenberg was actually offered the 2nd Ferrari seat vacated by Felipe Massa’s serious accident at last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, but his manager Willi Weber wisely turned down the offer, as he would have no chance against a WDC (Raikkonen) with no testing allowed. This year, still with no in-season testing allowed, Nico started slowly against Rubens Barrichello, but he improved a lot throughout the year. He outscored his seasoned teammate during the 2nd half of the season, and there was little to choose between the two in most races.

Prior to winning GP2 in 2009 at his first attempt, “the Hulk” was also the F3 Euroseries champion in 2008 in his first full season. In 2007 he dominated A1GP for team Germany, setting many records in that series. That was where he was spotted by Willi Weber, who was looking for a new client as his long-time ward Michael Schumacher have just retired from Grand Prix racing after 7 titles & 91 race wins. With impeccable credentials like those and having Weber by his side, many were expecting a lot from the then 22-year old rookie at the start of the season. But Nico has had a roller-coaster first half, the only significant showing being a 10th place finish at Malaysia, finishing well-ahead of Barrichello. Most of the time he was involved in accidents not of his own making, and there were mechanical troubles as well. At times it looked like he was trying too hard, and his results suffered. But the turning point came in Valencia, and from then on there was little to choose between Nico and Rubens. At Monza, Hulkenberg heroically held Mark Webber’s much faster Red Bull for most of the race, incurring the ire of the Australian WDC title contender. At Interlagos, in his first visit there, he had perfect timing and planted the Williams-Cosworth on pole in changing conditions. He expectedly faded in the race as he was gobbled up by faster cars, but he held on to finish a decent 8th place. It looked like he had done enough to ensure his future in Formula One, but it was not to be. Less than a week later, before the start of the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Williams told Weber that his client would not drive for them in 2011. The British team allegedly offered to have Nico on loan to HRT (who will be using Williams gearboxes in 2011) for 2 years, but Mr Weber turned down the offer. It was similar to Jenson Button’s deal with Benetton/Renault in 2001 when Juan Pablo Montoya arrived, also at Williams. But Weber said no, so now, it appears Hulkenberg is left out in the cold.

After the provisional 2011 Formula One lineup was posted by the FIA yesterday, there appeared to be some hope for Hulkenberg. There were as many as 10 racing seats still left, most promising of which were at Force India, where there were 2 openings. The best opening in terms of car competitiveness is definitely at Renault, but it appears Petrov once again will have his millions ready and is about to sign in the next couple of days. The second Williams seat alongside Barrichello was also vacant as of the moment, but Maldonado appears to have the inside track at it. There are 2 openings still available at Scuderia Toro Rosso, but with that team being Red Bull’s junior team where its drivers are “trained”, Hulkenberg has no shot at it. Jaime Algersuari appears to be a certainty, while Sebastien Buemi seat was less secure. The Swiss was allegedly being considered to be dumped in favor of Australian Daniel Ricciardo, yet another driver from the Red Bull driving academy. 2 of the 3 new teams this year, Virgin Racing and HRT, also have 2 openings each. At Virgin, incumbent Timo Glock is all but signed, while the 2nd seat looked set to go to yet another Russian, Mikhail Aleshin. Like his countryman Petrov, the rookie Aleshin brings with him millions to the team. At this point no one appears to have a clue who will be the HRT drivers next year, but after turning down Williams’ offer of being loaned to that team, we can practically rule out Hulkenberg in a Hispania next year.

At Force India, incumbent Adrian Sutil, yet another German like Hulkenberg, has been with the team in its various guises since 2007, and the son of an Uruguayan immigrant and a German mother had an impressive 2010. Lewis Hamilton’s buddy actually had his sights on a top team, specifically the second seat at Renault, but after Petrov’s impressive showing at the finale in Abu Dhabi, plus his millions from Russian companies like carmaker LADA, Adrian’s chances at the French team appears to have dwindled down. Most likely, he will continue with the Indian team for a fifth year in a row. His 2010 teammate, ex-F3000 champion Vitantonio Liuzzi had a disappointing season, but apparently has a contract for 2011. Still, as can be seen from lots of instances in the past, contracts mean nothing in the world of Grand Prix racing. Yet even if Liuzzi is dropped by FI, their test driver, Scotsman Paul di Resta looked set to race for the Silverstone-based squad. Another contender for that seat is yet another German, Nick Heidfeld, who drove for the team in 2004 when they were known as Jordan. So even at the Mercedes-powered team, Hulkenberg’s chances appear to be marginal at best.

So at this point, it appears the most likely destination for Hulkenberg for 2011 would be a third driver role at one of the top teams. Mercedes appears to be the best bet, as the German squad also employs the other Weber client, Michael Schumacher. He could possibly be groomed to replace the old man when he finally retires. There were also rumors at some role at Schumacher’s old team, Ferrari, and with Felipe Massa’s form being questioned as of late, the Hulk may have some slim chance of driving for the Scuderia someday.

Whatever happens, if he doesn’t get an F1 seat and the likes of Aleshin and Maldonado get one, it puts into question the quality of some of the drivers in the grid. While no one will doubt the talents of an Alonso, Hamilton, or Vettel, people will begin to question some of the drivers if this trend of buying race seats continue. Twenty something years ago, when there were close to 40 cars trying to get into the F1 grid, the field was populated by pay drivers whose names not even the most fanatic follower can remember. Deletraz, Bouillon, Inoue, and all those forgettable drivers arrived and left with hardly anyone noticing them. With manufacturers pulling out one by one, teams must find funding from different sources, and in a prolonged economic recession like what we are in right now, small, private F1 teams may have no choice. It may not look good for them, but it might be necessary for their very survival. As ugly as it seems, everyone must accept it, in order for us to see more than a handful of cars on the Grand Prix grid.

Will Vettel Break Schumacher's Records?

When Nico Rosberg crossed the finish line in 4th place at last month’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the young German’s position in the race confirmed his even younger countryman’s title of 2010 World Champion, or as in the words of Sebastian Vettel’s race engineer Rocky, “weltmeister”. Shortly thereafter, Vettel-mania swept Europe’s richest country as the nation celebrated its third native World Driving Champion after Jochen Rindt (who is often categorized as Austrian) and Michael Schumacher.

Much has been written and said about Vettel being Schumacher’s protégé, but Gerard Noack, who supervises the go kart track at Schumacher’s hometown of Kerpen, denied that the 7-time World Champion has funded young Sebastian’s karting career. Pictures of Vettel, sometimes as young as 5, posing with Schumacher certainly fueled those speculations. Ever since he became the youngest Grand Prix winner 2 years ago at Monza, Vettel has often been called Baby Schumi despite their different driving styles. In an interview early in 2004, Noack said that in his over 20 years of running the Kerpen go kart track, no one has come close to impress him like Michael. No one, until a certain Sebastian Vettel came along. At the time of that interview, Vettel was only 16 years old and barely out of go karts. And Noack has seen all German F1 drivers during that period - from Bernd Schneider, Heinz Harald Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher, to present-day drivers Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock, Nico Rosberg, and Adrian Sutil. So even at this point, there are actually lots of similarities between the early careers of Vettel and Schumacher.

For starters, they made their Grand Prix debut mid-season for a team they would never drive for again in their career – Schumacher for Jordan, Vettel for BMW. Their first teammates happen to be 2 veterans who ultimately would never win a Grand Prix – de Cesaris for Schumacher, and Heidfeld for Vettel. Andrea and Nick are actually 1-2 in terms of number of grand prix starts without winning a race.

After only one race, they transferred to a team that is neither a grandee (manufacturer team) nor a garagiste. Both Benetton (Schumacher) and Toro Rosso/Red Bull (Vettel) are in F1 to advertise their products, and for no other reason. In their new teams, they also have the same car number – 19.

Both went on to record their first victory about a year later, in their first full season, at historic tracks – Schumacher at Spa in 1992, Vettel at Monza in 2008. And both were in wet/changing conditions in a car not expected to win.

At the end of their 3rd full season in Formula 1, both Germans are World Champions. They also have 10 Grand Prix victories each in their name at the end of their title year. Both are very young when they won their first title. While Vettel at 23 is the sport’s youngest ever WDC, Schumacher, at the time of his 1st title in 1994, was 25 and was the 2nd youngest ever (to Emerson Fittipaldi) and missed out on the record by only a few days. The only reason Michael failed to earn that record at that time was that the FIA wanted a closer WDC race and disqualified and suspended Schumacher for 4 races for unprecedented and questionable infractions. Both Schumacher and Vettel were, coincidentally, driving car #5 during their maiden championship season.

At only 23 years and 4 months old, Vettel already holds most “youngest” records in Formula One. He was the youngest to drive an F1 car on a race weekend (barely 19 in 2006) when he was BMW’s test-driver. His 8th-place finish at his GP debut made him the youngest ever point-scorer (still 19 at that time). At Monza in September 2008 he became the youngest pole sitter, and a day later was the youngest Grand Prix winner, at 21, breaking Fernando Alonso’s records by more than a year. And last Sunday, Sebastian became the youngest ever World Champion.

Schumacher holds practically every record in Formula 1. Will young Seb eventually break them? Michael’s 91 wins and 7 WDCs appear to be nearly unbreakable, but the same has been said about Prost’s 51 and Fangio’s 5 in those areas just a few years ago. With already 15 pole positions, Vettel is clearly on track to one day surpass Michael’s 68. During Michael’s first full season in 1992, his teammate Martin Brundle said “I raced against Senna at 23, and Michael is better than Senna at 23. There’s absolutely no question about that”. At this point in time, Vettel at 23 has accomplished a lot more than Michael at 23.

Despite that, Sebastian still has lots of room for improvement. While no one would doubt his qualifying speed, as well as his ability to pull-away when he is ahead of the pack, he has yet to prove to be a great overtaker. The Red Bull’s characteristics may have something to do with that as teammate Webber also have difficulties in passing others. Still, this is one area for improvement. Another would be in the driver fitness category. Not that young Seb is unfit, but Michael, even early in his career, was already the benchmark in that category. Noack even once said that even when he was barely 8 years old (yes, an 8-year old kid), Schumacher was already doing fitness routines! Schumacher also has been known to pull his team together, and while Vettel has shown similar things at Toro Rosso, Webber appears to have the mechanics’ trust at Red Bull. Those are 3 areas Sebastian has to concentrate on.

Only time will tell if Vettel will be one of the greats like his more illustrious countryman. He has the talent, he has the backing, and he has the right attitude. He will have some tough competition in the years to come – Lewis Hamilton is only 2½ years older, while Fernando Alonso is not yet 30 years old at this point. Both are also backed by traditional powerhouse teams McLaren and Ferrari, and the pair would surely make thing difficult for the baby-faced lad from Heppenheim. There is also no shortage of young chargers wanting to be world champion. Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg are both under 26 and have performed impressively this year. In a few years time, we will know the answer to all of this…