The February Review.
By Charles Oladeji.
With less than two weeks before the 2010 Formula One season gets under way in Bahrain, final tests continued this weekend in Spain. Februarys’ F1 testing started in Valencia moved on to Jerez and finally Barcelona. Despite some bad weather in Spain ( also affecting the America’s Cup in Valencia), just about every Driver worth noticing had some positive time on the track. Alonso, Button, and Kobayashi (Sauber) posting fast laps at one time or another came as no surprise. Nonetheless, professional, technical, amateur and geek commentators have been keeping scores and disseminating the information to an audience eager for the games to begin between the 12th -14th of March at Sakhir. The tests are mostly a publicity stunt. Since the cars will be carrying heavier fuel loads in actual competitive grand prix races, these tests reveal little. That is, unless the PR goes horribly wrong, as it did with Virgin Racing.
First, the launch of the VR-01 developed by brainy Nick Wirth’s Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) suffered a PR set back when it’s online launch crashed, after which Virgin Racing Driver Lucas Di Grassi crashed the car during testing on Thursday at Barcalona. Furthermore, there are some pace issues linked to the cars hydraulics, and the official statement is the car is being “debugged”. Being a fan of Nick Wirths’ work in ALMS, and his influence on yacht racing design by CFD, I had hoped Wirth Research would prove the doubters wrong; but the real test will be on the track in Bahrain.
I noticed Formula One commentators who usually ‘know it all’ have been hesitant to endorse any Driver they consider a cut above the rest. The field this year has a lot of oomph, with the inclusion Schumacher, Hulkenburg and Kobayashi added to Button, Vettel, Alonso, Massa and Hamilton. Such is the level of ambiguity amongst experts that the latest Autosports Magazine (UK) dated Feb 25th has Robert Kubica and Renault up on the front cover as ‘ F1 2010’s Dark Horse’.
Off the testing race track Ferrari.com launched a sideswipe attack on Max Mosley, Stefan GP and all new teams engaged in an uphill struggle for grid positions on the 2010 season. While Virgin CEO Richard Branson called Ferrari comments ‘sad’, Mosley hit back saying Ferrari was acting like a ‘jealous middle aged woman’. Mosley knows exactly what buttons to press. I’m with Mosley on this one, but not so much with Stefan GP. I can’t help but feel there’s an ulterior motive involved when it comes to Zoran Stefanovich. I could be very wrong.
Leaving the royal court of F1, the beginning of February brought forth the World Rally Championship (WRC), opening in my wife’s’ backyard, Sweden. The Swedish Snow Rally was always an ambition of mine, so imagine my torment realising I wouldn’t make it Karlstad after all. There’s always next year I suppose, Colin’s (Mcrae) Crest will just have to wait. As for the racing, last year’s second best Diver Mikko Hirvonen returned to the championship in 2010 with a vengeance.
Hirvonen flat out took no prisoners, beating current world champion Sebastien Loeb by 42.3 sec, forcing Loeb to conscientiously settle for second place. Since his multi crashes last season Loeb he lives to fight another day. The Citroen Team of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo are fired up and vowing to recover from the Swedish set back come the next stage in Mexico. All the while, this year’s WRC sensation, former F1 Driver Kimi Raikkonen, debuting for the Citroen Junior Team is end the Swedish rally in 30th position, 37mins behind Hirvonen, having crashed out earlier on SS10.
Last year, the exciting news of Iceman Raikkonen participating in the WRC was complemented further by the announcement that American Gymkhana Video giant Ken Block would be joining the WRC in a Ford Fiesta. Yesterday, (27th of Feb) Block won the second stage of Rally America (100 Acre Wood) up in Washington State USA. The Acre Wood Rally was a WRC Rally between 1983-86 when Group B cars ruled the championship. Block will make his 2010 WRC debut 5-7 March in Corona Mexico.
Unfortunately, Rally America means little to the generic American Motorsportsports fan. After the fun and games of the Budweiser Shootout with Danica Patrick dominating racing news for just ‘being Danica Patrick’, what most American fans were waiting for on Valentine’s Day was ‘The Great American Race’, The Daytona 500. It was the start of NASCAR 2010 season; and the promise of more glimpses of Danica.
In reality, Danica Patrick did little more during the race than Sarah Palin did in the stands as a high profile spectator. The NASCAR 2010 season began with a surprise win for Jamie McMurray at Daytona 500. With nearly three races into the season, Kevin Harvick leads 331 points going into the third race in the Sprint Cup, while Carl Edwards leads by 335 points in the Nationwide Series. Kevin Harvick won the Sam Towns 300 race in Las Vegas yesterday (Nationwide Series) but remains 116 points behind Edwards. As I write this piece the current NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson seems to be edging his way back to the top , winning the Las Vegas Motor Speedway 400 after winning the Auto Club 500 last weekend. That puts Johnson and Hendrick Motorsport just 78 points behind Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing going into race four at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 7 .
Leaving American motorsports and looking ‘Down Under’ at more stockier Stock Cars from Australia, the V8 Supercars Series got under way in Yas Marina Abu Dhabi with two night races, much to the chagrin of many Aussie race traditionalist. Despite the muffled grumbles, V8 series boss Tony Cochrane has expressed his desire to see more overseas races take place in the future adding to New Zealand, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
At the races, having changed from Ford Falcon to Holden Commodore, Jamie Whincup has begun to dominate by winning all four races in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain thus far for his new TeamVodaphone outfit. The series moves back to Australia in Adelaide for the Clipsal 500, 11-14 March.
Lastly, for this review I’ve included the 33rd America’s Cup (Sailing Regatta) which took place in Valencia four days after schedule between the 12th and 14th February. The America’s cup won by USA 17 (BMW Oracle) by challenger from cup defender SNG represented by Alinghi 5 was a defining moment and raised questions about technology in relation to sailing skill in regatta races. The sophistication and technical influence of auto racing has found its way into sailing and thus divided opinion over what direction the America’s Cup should go in. Personally, I feel that the genie’s let out of the bottle in terms of how design and CDF influence sailing, USA-17 and it’s sail wing was a game changer. The good old days of racing regular monohulls, in the America’s Cup, are ending.
February brought forth a new day in ocean racing, even the Volvo Ocean Race may need to adopt more extreme sailing in future and move beyond 70 ft monohulls. Watch out for the March Review.