Probably enough has been said about the Grand Prix itself. The Tilke track had all the charm of a Holiday Inn courtyard and was so bland that it had to have low speed ‘error generator’ corners designed into it. If there’s one thing that makes a modern F1 car look even sillier it’s a slow, understeer-inducing corner where neither aero nor mechanical grip can do anything other than make it look like an Austin Princess turning into Tescos. Want a corner that can generate an error? Then think back to pre-chicane Woodcote with Keke Rosberg averaging over 160mph for the whole lap....
The sheer speed of Lewis Hamilton and the McLaren in qualifying surely portends next season. He was over half-a-second ahead, and it wasn’t to do with being light on fuel. Why would Button want to go up against that next year? More later....
The Ferraris were on a hiding to nothing. Fisichella, sadly, propped up the back of the grid again, underlining the awkwardness of the outdated F60 and making me think that perhaps Massa isn’t such a journeyman after all with some of the results he achieved with it. Raikkonen in his last race for the team before being ushered out the door was a second quicker but never made it into the final 10 for qualifying. Ferrari not only had 6 drivers there (count them – Badoer, Gene, Schuey, Fisi, Massa and Kimi) but also had an agitated-looking Montezemolo occasionally directing operations from the pitwall. Can’t be easy for the team to have the big boss there, especially when things aren’t going well.
Once Hamilton retired from the lead with brake problems it was left up to the Red Bulls to cruise home for the win, with Vettel taking his fourth win and second in the driver’s championship. Mark Webber had to fight off new champ Button in the final few laps, and this was about the only racing that went on. Button again underwhelmed, was out-qualified by team-mate Barrichello and only got ahead of him because of the latter’s wing-bending contact with Webber at the start. About the only major team going into the 2010 season without big changes is Red Bull and this result underlines just how competitive they will be.
And then came all the après-racing bits!
Firstly, in a move much anticipated, came the withdrawal of Toyota just a year after Honda did the same. Permanent underachievers, they had managed to blow billions since starting in F1 in 2002, with not a single win in 139 races. There was plenty of ‘I told you so’ going on but, honestly, would you start an F1 team from scratch based in an ex-rally workshop in Cologne? Drivers and designers came and went, but trying to do it the consensual ‘Toyota way’ was no good in the rough and tumble of this new world. When Mike ‘Bulldog’ Gascoyne was fired from being technical director in 2006 it became clear that the culture clash between F1 and the Japanese way of doing things was never going to bring results. All a bit strange that because in other racing spheres, rallying, sportscars and even F1 engines, Japanese makes (including Toyota) had been very successful and even dominant. It just didn’t seem to work when it came to running a complete F1 team. Thinking about it, Toyota had a couple of goes at Le Mans and gave up without winning that either.
Bridgestone also announced they were taking their bat home at the end of next season. Again, does it surprise you? Solus tyre suppliers only get the flack and not the glory. How many times have you heard ‘my tyres were no good’, ‘it just understeered everywhere’, ‘there was no grip’ but there was never any mention of ‘my Bridgestone tyres were fantastic’ when someone won a race. The whole thing probably did them more harm than good in the eyes of the tyre-buying public. And it’s about time the F1 teams went and bought their own tyres, just like you and I do. This might be an opportunity for F1 to move away from 13" wheels and high profile tyres. How absurd that every 18 year old lad has bigger wheels on his Saxo than the cars which are supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport!
And then we had the saga of the Brawn/Mercedes get-together. Apparently fed-up with Ron Dennis’ and McLaren’s ambitions to make road cars all the time, the Merc board decided to do a bit of lateral thinking and had a chat with Ross. I estimate that Ross, a brilliant technical mind, did not really want to be weighed down with the cares and risks of owning a multi-million enterprise and was glad to sell it on. It is reported that he made £35m out of the deal, plus whatever he managed to save out of the Honda dowry when they paid him to take the team off their hands. Financially absolved, he can now get back to what he does so well, and Mercedes have fired McLaren off into the weeds. Ron Dennis put a brave face on it but there’s little doubt that it will test McLaren’s business plans in future years.
Part of the fallout from the Brawn/Merc deal was Jensen Button and the non-signing of his 2010 Brawn contract. The talks between the two companies had undoubtedly been going on for a long while and I can only conclude that they simply had no interest in the Brit driver and he shuffled off to the only other decent team that would have him: McLaren. Again, he put a brave face on it, saying it was entirely his choice but I think he had no choice whatsoever in the matter. He hardly convinced anyone of his prowess as a top division driver; in the first half of the season he had by far the best car and when the others caught up he faded. Mercedes want a pair of German drivers, have signed Rosberg (is he German?) and look likely to get stuck with Nick Heidfeld – unless of course we have the fabulous but unlikely scenario of Michael Schumacher making a return to his old partner, Ross Brawn, who guided him to so much success at Benetton and Ferrari.
As for Button he is really entering the lion’s den next year. He's not in the same league as Hamilton and he will surely suffer at his hands next season. Hamilton has the strongest possible base in that team and my prediction is that he will overshadow Button. It'll be interesting to see if McLaren make Jenson smarten up and then there’s the battle of the two model girlfriends; who will come out best there?
Another movement of ownership has happened, this time at Williams where both he and Patrick Head have sold part of their shareholding to an Austrian called Toto Wolff who, it is said, will bring in additional sponsorship through his many business contacts. Remind you of a few things? There was already a Wolf involved with Williams back in the ‘70s, a different one, a certain Walter Wolf who bought into Frank Williams Racing as it then was. That all ended in tears. As did another relationship that was supposed to bring in additional sponsors: remember the Tom Walkinshaw, Arrows and Prince Malik of Nigeria story that had us all in hoots of laughter back in ‘99? There’s nothing new in F1, but both Frank and Patrick are astute operators who will have covered all the angles, and according to various commentators Toto Wolff has a successful record of investments.
There’s so much else going on in the F1 world that’s it’s going to be an interesting time ahead. Will Renault stay? How will Alonso fare in his new team? Will Massa get fit enough to go against him? Will Max soon announce the results of the investigation as to who set him up with the News of the World? What will be the verdict in Flav's court case against the FIA? Will Sauber survive? How will the new teams get on? Would-be contenders N.Technology have had their action against the FIA selection process chucked out by the French Courts. Campos Meta have signed Bruno Senna and their car has just passed homologation, which you would expect as it's being built by Dallara. Manor have signed Toyota refugee Timo Glock. As for some wag's view of one (or two) of the others, click here. I’ll try and keep on top of it all for you.
Finally I can't finish without mentioning the sorry saga of the British GP. Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd went into administration last week after failing to raise the required funds, so the race won't be there next year. How sad that Tom Wheatcroft should die (over the Abu Dhabi weekend) when the thing was so clearly heading for the rocks. As I write, Bernie and Silverstone are still haggling, but I have a more profound fear than the possible loss of the British GP for a year: if racing stops at Donington, will the NIMBYs ever let it start again?
If you would like to make a charitable donation in memory of Tom Wheatcroft and to give thanks for his contribution to motor racing click here.
Click here for FIA lap chart.