F1: The great design race

Renault F1

Formula One is one of my great passions in life and to visit a design exhibition based on my favourite sport is a dream come true.

At the Design Museum in London, a fascinating exhibit is on display showcasing the innovation in design and the advancements in technology over the past 50 years.

To see the racing cars up close is a wonderful experience. You can’t believe how much the sporting regulation and the use of materials have defined the look of these extreme machines.

Throughout the exhibition, there are number of display giving important information on the changing history of the sport. This includes the development in safety, car design and engine management.

In addition, there is a private screening area to watch archive footage of Formula One. The highlight was the on-board camera action from the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna.

What was the best bit in the show? Seeing the suspended parts of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella’s championship-winning Renault R25. It looked like a sculpture revealing the work of art in the design of the car.

If only I had the opportunity to sit inside one of the cockpit of these amazing cars…

Michael Schumacher wins, then announcing his retirement

Schumacher Monza 2006

It’s official. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher will retire at the end of this year’s championship after announcing in the press conference – after winning his 90th Grand Prix at Monza – that he will leave Formula One.

Michael was very emotional as he revealed his decision to quit Formula One after the final three Grands Prix. He has enjoyed every moment in the sport, from driving at Benetton and winning his first two titles at the team, to moving to Ferrari and winning the drivers’ championship a record five times for the famous Italian manufacturer. But now, the German decides to call it a day after winning today’s Italian Grand Prix.

This is what the seven-times World Champion has to say after 15 years in Formula One:

“Words are not enough and whatever I could say now will never fully express how much I love this fascinating world of motor sport and all it has given me,” said Schumacher. “From go-karting to Formula One, I have lived through moments that I will never forget. I am profoundly grateful for everything I have had. I want to thank everyone who has accompanied me, supported and inspired me, right back to the days of my childhood.

“Above all, a special thanks goes to (my wife) Corinna and our two children, who have given me the strength to do what I have done. All these years in Formula One have been amazing, especially those spent alongside my friends in the Scuderia. Soon my future will belong to my family, while I am happy to be still part of Ferrari. But for now, what matters is this world championship.”

His Ferrari team also paid tribute to their great driver after so many successful seasons at the top.

“I had always said that the decision to retire would be his alone, but now that decision has been taken, I feel a sense of sadness,” commented Ferrari President and CEO, Luca di Montezemolo. “We have lived through some unforgettable times together, some good some bad, achieving results that will be hard to equal. To Michael goes the thanks of everyone in the company and supporters of Ferrari for all the dedication he has shown to our colours, for the determination and courage with which he has worked, which has provided immense satisfaction. He is both sincere and passionate and has earned the affection of all of us and of our fans. His relationship with Maranello will continue, albeit in a different form and I am very happy about that.”

“Michael has been the author of a unique chapter in the history of Formula One and of Ferrari in particular. It has yet to reach its conclusion and what he has achieved extends over and above the results obtained,” added Managing Director, Jean Todt. “He is an exceptional man and will become a legend as a driver. For me personally, he is a great friend and together we have lived through unrepeatable experiences. Having had the opportunity to work alongside him has been and will continue to be a privilege.”

As expected, Kimi Raikkonen will be joining the Scuderia Ferrari team in 2007 alongside Felipe Massa. The Finn, who finished in second position in the race, will leave McLaren-Mercedes to fill in the void left by Michael.

“Whilst I have taken the decision to leave Team McLaren Mercedes, I want to stress that I really enjoyed my time with the team,” said Raikkonen. “I have the deepest respect for everybody and will be giving my all in the remaining races.”

Kimi will drive for Ferrari for the next three years and he is determined to become World Champion for the famous Italian team. I believe he can actually do it due to the enormous resources provided by the Maranello-based team. I look forward to the on track rivalry between Massa and Raikkonen next year. Though, I would prefer the idea of Schumacher challenging the young Finn in the red cars…

Anyway, let’s talk about the race itself in which Michael has significantly reduced the championship points to Renault’s Fernando Alonso.

The German won the Italian Grand Prix in commending style ahead of Kimi Raikkonen (second) and an impressive Robert Kubica (third for BMW-Sauber).

McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen started the race on pole position but didn’t have the speed to beat Michael in the Ferrari. Despite this, the Finn will be satisfied to finish the Grand Prix in second.

Robert Kubica, who finished in third, drove an impressive race in the BMW-Sauber. I am impressed by Kubica’s performances in the last three Grands Prix and to finish on the podium is remarkable.

Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella finished in fourth after a one-stop strategy. Honda’s Jenson Button was fifth ahead of his team-mate Rubens Barrichello (who finished in sixth). Jarno Trulli drove a solid race in the Toyota to come home seventh with a disappointing Nick Heidfeld (who originally started in third) in P8 in the BMW-Sauber.

As for Michael’s main championship rival, Fernando Alonso, he suffered an engine failure after 44 laps of the 53-lap race. This ended the Spaniard’s shocking weekend after being penalised for ‘impeding’ Felipe Massa during qualifying…

Despite starting tenth, he made steady progress up the grid thanks to his Renault’s pitstops. He was in P3 behind the faster Ferrari and McLaren before his engine let go…

Ferrari are now ahead of Renault in the Constructors’ championship by three points, while Schumacher is now only two points behind Alonso. The next race is the Chinese Grand Prix in three weeks time. Can Renault and the current World Champion fight back and retain their title?

Massa victorious as the champions duel continues

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa became Formula One’s second newest winner (after Jenson Button) with a superb lights-to-flag drive in the Turkish Grand Prix. The Brazilian didn’t make any mistakes throughout the weekend after his fantastic pole position in qualifying. His race pace was consistent and fast compared to his team-mate Michael Schumacher, who finished a very close third behind his main title challenger Fernando Alonso.

In fact, in the last few laps, everyone’s attention was focused on the duel between Schumacher and Alonso. The Renault was suffering a tyre wear issue but Alonso was in complete control of the situation despite the pressure of Michael in the faster Ferrari directly behind…

This duel reminded me of the closing stages of the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. At that time, Alonso was in the lead and Michael was close behind and was seeking a way through in order to win the race in front of the Tifosi. In both cases, the German was desperate to get past but Alonso absorbed the pressure exceedingly well.

Indeed, Alonso was well comfortable in the tricky situation that he was adjusting the revs of his Renault RS26 engine according to how close Schumacher was… It got a little precarious at times, but Alonso knew Schumacher couldn’t afford to take them both off, since it was he who had a ten point deficit to worry about.

Despite that, going into the tight last corner on the final lap, Fernando protected the inside line just in case. But the Spaniard compromise the exit… And Michael had the momentum… In the end, Alonso just finished ahead of his championship rival by half a car’s length to create a dead heat finish. The time gap splitting the two contenders was less than one-tenth of a second!

By finishing second, this was a crucial boost to Alonso’s title defence, extending his lead from 10 to 12 points with just 40 available over the remaining four Grands Prix.

But the true significance of Alonso’s runner-up finish was to bring about a six point swing in his favour since, had Schumacher been ahead of the Spaniard, he would almost certainly be given the race win and the maximum ten points for victory.

In hindsight, Schumacher’s race was comprised by his errors during qualifying. He should have qualified the Ferrari 248 on pole position as he had the fastest package – chassis and Bridgestone tyres – to win the race. But Massa did a better job and it was a rich reward for the Brazilian after 67 Grands Prix. If Michael did get ahead of Alonso, then Massa would pull aside to let his team leader through to take the win, thereby closing the championship gap significantly… But it all went wrong during the Safety Car period.

Vitantonio Liuzzi spun his Toro Rosso at the first corner and stalled it. Forcing the race director to bring out the Safety Car so that the track marshals can remove Liuzzi’s car. This prompt the Ferrari team to conduct the first round of pitstops for both cars during this period. But Massa was ahead of Michael at that point and it was the Brazilian who was served with fresh fuel and new Bridgestone tyres. Michael was forced to wait behind and this delay cost him the track position and more importantly the race win…

With two Ferraris in the pits, Renault decided to call Alonso in for his first stop at the same time. And with Michael stacked behind Felipe, the Spaniard made the most of the opportunity to get ahead of his title rival.

So a ‘dream result’ for Felipe Massa winning his first Grand Prix for Ferrari. With Alonso in second after admitting he was lucky to finished in the runner-up spot thanks to the Safety Car. Without that, I would reckon he would have finished a distant third… As for Michael, he was frustrated to come away with only third after showing he was the fastest driver thoughout the weekend. But the German is determined to win the next race, the Italian Grand Prix so that he can close the 12 point gap…

As for the others, Jenson Button drove another impeccable race, but in dry conditions his Honda RA106 was no match for the Ferraris and Renaults and he had to make do with fourth. McLaren’s Perdo de la Rosa drove a solid race to fifth despite stopping once for fuel. While Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella recovered well from his first lap spin at Turn 1 to take sixth.

Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher also recovered well after being involved in the first corner incident. While the last point finisher was Rubens Barrichello in the Honda.

As for the start, there was mayhem at Turn 1. Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella spun after team-mate Alonso had to brake hard to avoid contact with the two Ferraris. The Spanaird had slipped ahead of his title rival, but was forced to brake as Massa moved across in front to take the lead.

Nick Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber lost its nosecone on the stricken Renault, and behind them there was carnage as Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren) was hit from behind by Ralf Schumacher (Toyota). Then Scott Speed (Toro Rosso) hit the back of Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren), and a sideways Takuma Sato (Super Aguri) was hit by Tiago Monteiro (Midland), who retired on the spot.

While that was happening, Ralf Schumacher swept across the track and collided lightly with his Toyota team-mate Jarno Trulli… R. Schumacher, Fisichella, Heidfeld, Speed, Raikkonen and Sato all pitted at the end of the lap before resuming. A lap later Raikkonen crashed heavily in Turn 4 after running off the road, possibly because of associated problems…

I do feel sorry for Raikkonen as he was trying to avoid the spinning Renault at the start but was hit from behind damaging his car. I really hope he can end his time at McLaren with a high by scoring a final win before joining Ferrari next year (the rumours are that the Finn will definitely drive for them and the announcement should take place during the Italian Grand Prix weekend).

Ferrari will be looking for a strong result at their home Grand Prix in Monza in two weeks time. Michael Schumacher will probably announce his decision whether or not to continue in Formula One next year. But in terms of this year’s championship, he is now 12 points behind Alonso with the Italian team only two points beind the leading constructor, Renault. The battle for the title continues in the remaining four races.

Stylish F1 pieces for the home from Renault F1

Love Formula One? Seeking a way to spend all of your disposable cash for your cool pad based on your favourite sport? Then how about purchasing some really special items made exclusive from the championship-winning Renault R25 sound?

Yes, you can own bits and pieces of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella’s Grand Prix winning car by sampling the beautiful collection here: http://www.renaultf1teamcollection.com/collection.htm

Be warned though, some of the items are pretty expensive. The Candle Sticks for example is yours for around £1,900… The Wing Table, a very nice coffee table cost £4,000. But the pièce de résistance is the Chess Set. Made from the parts of the Renault F1’s suspension, hubs, uprights, wings and cockpit. With the materials from titanium, stainless steel, aircraft-spec aluminium, carbon fibre, sterling silver and leather. This board game is… Wait for it. £21,000!

So, if you got money to splash out and you’re looking for something unique and modern. You can’t go wrong by owning some rare and beautiful F1 pieces of equipment.

Hmm… Time to start saving I think!

Autosport goes British Racing Green

This week’s issue of my favourite motor racing magazine, Autosport, features the familiar colour of British Racing Green on the masthead. The ‘green’ is to signify a momentous sense of occasion in British motorsport and in this particular case, the first Grand Prix win for Jenson Button last Sunday.

I have always enjoy reading this magazine as it provides me all the news with detailed analysis and fasinating stories on my favourite sport. I’ve never miss a copy and this week’s edition is a cause of celebration for Button’s maiden victory.

Villeneuve leaves BMW Sauber by mutual consent

Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve has left BMW Sauber with immediate effect in a move which could bring his Formula One career to an end.

The French-Canadian’s contract was due to expire at the end of this season, but has been terminated by mutual consent.

Vileneuve was replaced by test driver Robert Kubica for last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix after the Canadian told the Hinwil-based squad he was not ready to race following his shunt at Hockenheim.

But it now seems that the crash hastened his exit from the team, although he still had five races to run on his contract.

BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen said in a team statement: ”Jacques has performed well for us this year, scoring the team’s first grand prix points in Malaysia.

“He has made a significant contribution to developing the newly formed BMW Sauber F1 Team and the performance of the car.

“However, after Jacques’ accident in the Hockenheim race the team decided to review its options for next year, including assessing Robert Kubica in a race environment.

“Our decision to look towards evaluating our driver line up has naturally impacted Jacques’ position for the remainder of this season.

“We fully understand that it is difficult for Jacques to maintain his natural level of commitment in circumstances of uncertainty.

“We respect his position and wish him well for the future.”

Such a shame to see Villeneuve go as he was driving so much better this season compared to 2005. I will miss the Canadian’s driving in Formula One and his unique, fun personality. I wish him all the best and would love to see him drive a race car again…

…And if the rumours are true, we could see Jacques racing in NASCAR, like a certain Colombian who left Formula One last month. Two F1 stars racing on ovals? Oh yes.

Victory for Jenson Button – at last!

Finally Jenson Button has won a Grand Prix. After 113 starts in Formula One, the Honda driver charged though to take his first win of his racing career and it amazing considering he started the race in P14 on the grid!

The Hungarian Grand Prix was filled with incidents and action throughout the 70 lap race. It was the first time in 21 years that the Hungaroring was a wet race and the first rain-effected Grand Prix this year. Wet weather conditions always provide a real challenge to the drivers and can often provide top racing entertainment. And in this case, the Hungarian Grand Prix was the best race of the season and it surprising to say the least considering how difficult to overtake on this narrow and twisty track.

Anyway, at the start McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen led the 22-car field from pole position. The Finn was leading in the early stages, but lost the lead to the flying Renault of Fernando Alonso (who started in P15). Then on lap 26, he collided into the back of Vitantonio Liuzzi’s lapped Toro Rosso.

His team-mate Pedro de la Rosa was close behind and witness the shunt between the two cars. Kimi retired on the spot – bringing out the Safety Car – while Liuzzi returned to the pits and was out of the race.

After the Safety Car period, it was a race between Alonso and Button, who both drove superbly from the mid-pack to the front. Alonso held track position and was looking towards a well-deserved victory (to keep his lead in the championship) but after his second pit-stop, his Renault suffered a rare driveshaft failure… And Alonso was out! Now Button is in the lead and the Brit held on to score an emotional victory.

As for Michael Schumacher, who started the race ahead of Alonso and Button on the grid (P11), the German was struggling for grip with his Bridgestone tyres. In fact, he was lapping a couple of seconds slower than the leading Michelin runners (Raikkonen, Button and Alonso). The wet tyres (intermediate) from Michelin was working a treat – offering grip and confidence to the drivers.

Michael Schumacher was overtaken by his championship rival Alonso not once, but twice! The first time for race position and the second time, to lap him! In the later stages, Micheal’s Bridgestones was wearing out and he was losing grip. This allowed McLaren’s De la Rosa to close up and challenge the Ferrari driver for a podium position. The Spanaird had the grip – after changing to groove (dry weather) tyres when the track was drying out – and Michael was in a desperate situation to defend his race position. The McLaren driver made his move on Michael at the chicane, but the seven-time World Champion refused to give way and cut across the chicane. Michael had to let him through but didn’t… A lap later, De la Rosa passed the Ferrari with a clean move at the same corner and he was now in second position.

Now it was Nick Heidfeld’s turn to overtake the slow Ferrari. Nick was watching closely at the Perdo and Michael battle in his BMW Sauber. Once De la Rosa was passed, it was his turn. He went down the inside of the Ferrari at the same chicane but contact was made! Michael turned into him (possibly?) and came out the worst. Heidfeld gained the track position – third – and he went on to finish. But Michael had damaged his 248 Ferrari and had to retire…

With Michael and Fernando not scoring any points this weekend, the championship battle remains the same – 11 points between them – and will resume the duel in Turkey in three weeks time.

But a fantastic day for Jenson Button. Not since the Australian Grand Prix three years ago when David Coulthard was victorious (in his McLaren) has a British driver won in Formula 1. Sixty-three long races past and it so nice to see a new winner on the top step of the podium. Jenson drove faultlessly from fourteenth on the grid. Avoiding trouble and incidents. Was setting faster laptimes than Fernando in the middle stage of the race and held on to a popular win. Will this be the first of many for Jenson?

Perdo de la Rosa finished his career-best with second in the McLaren. His only mistake was spinning during the formation lap! The Spanaird drove a solid race and can be proud of his achievement in the MP4-21. BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld came third and this was the team’s best result since rebranded as a BMW team.

Honda’s Rubens Barrichello finished fourth ahead of David Coulthard’s Red Bull Racing (P5) and Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota (P6). Polish superstar Robert Kubica drove an impressive race to finish in the points with seventh, despite spinning twice and damaging the front nose of his BMW Sauber! And in eighth, it’s Felipe Massa who had a frustrating time in the Ferrari. The Brazilian was struggling for grip. Spun twice and got lapped… At least he set the fastest lap as a small consolation.

UPDATE: Michael Schumacher has gained a valuable single point after the race stewards disqualified Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber from the result. His car was found to be underweight…

Schumacher is now 10 points behind Alonso as we take a three-week break. Battle continues in Turkey on August 27.

Schumacher’s hat-trick of wins. Alonso feeling the pressure?

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won his third race in succession and his fourth German Grand Prix in Hockenheim. The German’s victory is significant in terms of closing the points gap to championship leader Fernando Alonso, who struggled with blistering rear tyres and could only finish in a distant fifth.

If Michael wins the last six Grands Prix then he will be the 2006 FIA Formula One World Champion. Unbelievable to say the least a month ago, when Fernando Alonso looked comfortable with a 25 points advantage. But after three poor races (USA, France and Germany), I believe the Spanaird is feeling quite tense about the form of Ferrari and Schumacher recently.

Schumacher’s 89th Grand Prix victory has reduced the gap to Alonso to 11 points. Ferrari scored a perfect 1-2 result with team-mate Felipe Massa doing a splending job in supporting his team leader. The Italian team is now ten points behind Renault in the Constructors’ championship.

Renault was left to trail home in fifth (Alonso) and sixth for Giancarlo Fisichella and for most of the race could not lap within one second of the flying Italian cars. The pace of the Ferraris at Hockenheim was impressive. Michael and Felipe could even lap the whole field if they wanted to, but decided to drive safely and finish the race.

McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen finished in third place after starting on pole position. His qualifying lap was based on an unrealistically light fuel load, as was evinced when the Finn pitted on just lap 16. But the Woking-based squad seemed to have the legs on Renault throughout the weekend, and Raikkonen’s eventual third-place finish was a fair reflection on the two teams’ relative performance.

Jenson Button drove a good race in the Honda to come home fourth and even though he was beaten to the third place by Kimi Raikkonen (in the closing stages of the race), he was still delighted to finish in the points for the first time since May.

Toyota’s Jarno Trulli drove another strong race to charge from the back of the grid to seventh, making up much of his ground on an incident-filled opening lap. And Christian Klien earned his second point of the season with a solid performance (P8) at a critical moment in his contract negotiations with Red Bull Racing for next year.

Special mention to Mark Webber in the Williams. The Australian was driving superbly and was racing against Raikkonen and Button for the final podium place. Alas, the unreliability of the FW28 let Webber down and yet again under non-points finish. A shame really…

But the end feeling is that Ferrari are on a mid-season charge in it’s quest to win this season’s championship. Renault and Michelin are under pressure to return to winning ways and they needs to find a dramatic improvement in pace to keep their championship hopes alive.

The next race is the Hungarian Grand Prix at Budapest next Sunday (August 6th) and if Ferrari score another one-two result then we could have an exciting and tense championship finale.

Schumi – the King of France

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won his eighth French Grand Prix (an impressive race statistic) after a dominate lights-to-flag victory over Fernando Alonso. Felipe Massa finished in third position.

Schumacher’s victory has significantly reduced the points gap to championship leader Alonso to 17 points. And with seven races to go, this will mean that we will have a tense and exciting duel for the title.

In the early part of the race, Ferrari were running one-two with Michael ahead of team-mate Massa. But Renault changed their pit-stop strategy (from three pitstops to two), which allow Alonso to jump ahead of the Brazilian and gained that all-important extra points with P2.

Bridgestone was the fastest tyre package in Michelin’s home race, judging by the pace of the Ferraris and the Toyotas. But the Williams team did suffer a tyre problem especially for Mark Webber, who had to retire with a left-rear running over temperature…

Ralf Schumacher finished in a good solid fourth in the Toyota with McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen in fifth. Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella drove a low-key race and finished a distant sixth, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa in the McLaren. The last point scorer was Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber.

As for Honda, it was a weekend from hell. Terrible qualifying performance from Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello and then in the race, a lack of race pace which ended in retirement for both drivers…