Alex Yoong

My soap box about motorsport mostly and other bits and pieces

I look over the entire grid and analyse the performances of the drivers. Neither of the leading Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are on first spot.

The Mercs have done phenomenally well and Hamilton is a massive 60 points ahead of third-placed Ricciardo.

It must be remembered, though, that both drivers have the best racing package on the grid and the slow starts endured by many as they adapted to the new V6 era has allowed them to race ahead.

Therefore, it is important to be objective when analyzing the 22 drivers that have thrilled us with their driving performances over the course of the season.

Ahead of the return of Formula One with Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, the best driver of the season is:

1. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)

It was hard to choose between Nico Rosberg and Riccardo. Especially as Rosberg has been so consistent this year – he hasn’t qualified outside the top four and has finished inside the top two for every race except for the British and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

But I had to give the top driver spot so far to Ricciardo because of the inferiority of his machinery, and his consistent ability to always seem to drag the Renault-powered Red Bull to heights it shouldn’t have been able to. His wins in Canada and Hungary were so skillfully done that it belayed his tender years.

Also, to out-qualify Sebastian Vettel, the best qualifier of the past few season (he leads 7–4) is amazing. A the start of the season, I would never have thought Ricciardo could have outshone the reigning four-time world champion so comprehensively.

2. Nico Rosberg ( Mercedes)

It’s been impressive to watch just how Rosberg has raised his game so much this year. He has always been quick but now you can add steel and better consistency to his driving that shows me that he has the tools to win this world championship.

His drive to second in Canada despite ERS and rear brake problems was a highlight. He seems unflappable and if he can keep this form up, he will be the slight favourite for the title.

3. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

Alonso never gives up. He is always pushing from the first lap on Friday to the last lap on Sunday. His F14 T is just not on the pace but Fernando somehow is always able to maximise a result – his two podiums at China and Hungary being the perfect examples.

His average qualifying position is 7.1 but his average race finishing position is 4.9, which puts him fourth in the championship battle. To put his performances in perspective, you just need to see how poor his team-mate, former world Champion Kimi Raikkonen (10.4 for qualifying and 10.2 for race) has fared.

Alonso is also the only driver to have scored points in every race this year.

4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams)

We saw enough from Bottas’s rookie season that we knew he would be good. I have been pleasantly surprised how well he has come on. Since his small brush with the wall in Australia, Bottas has just been getting more and more confident, which has shown in better controlled pace.

His two podiums at Britain and Germany have seen justice well served after his promising results earlier in the year were ruined by tyre wear or strategy issues within the team.

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

I know I’m going to get a lot of stick for putting Hamilton so far down. He has had some outstanding performances. He has won five times this year and his wins in Malaysia, Bahrain and Britain were especially outstanding. But we have also seen an unprecedented amount of mistakes by him too.

He made mistakes in qualifying in Canada, Britain and Austria which probably cost him pole. For me, Hamilton is second only to Vettel when it comes to qualifying and to see that many mistakes from him is unusual. I think he has heaped a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself with some ill-timed comments to the press, which have not helped.

Hamilton is currently still second in the championship, only 11 points behind his team-mate. Hopefully, the break will have done him some good and he will come back relaxed. If he does, I’m sure the qualifying performances will be back to his usual high standard and if that happens, Rosberg better watch out.

6. Nico Hulkenburg (Force India)

The Hulk has been his usual impressive self and has scored points in every race except the last one in Hungary. While Force India is in better shape than last year, thanks to their Mercedes engines, Hulkenburg is seventh in the title race mostly due to his ability to extract the most of his machinery on a consistent basis.

7. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Who would have thought the reigning World Champion would be so far down.

He simply has not adjusted to the new regulations as well as some of the other drivers. There have been a couple of bright spots, though, such as third place finishes in Malaysia and Canada.

But his usually solid qualifying form has deserted him this year which has surprised everyone. He also could have won in Hungary but a spin at the last corner ruined that particular race for him.

Let us not forget, though, that he is a four time world champion. This may be his most trying year since he joined Formula One but only a fool would bet against him turning his form around.

8. Danii Kvyat (Toro Rosso)

I’m sure I’ll also get some stick for having Kvyat so high up but he has been a bit of a revelation this year. The rookie has finished in the points four times this year and it would have been more if the Torro Rosso had not got such poor reliability.

His qualifying has also been very impressive, almost as good as Jean-Eric Vergne, his solid team-mate, who is having a good year as well. Kvyat’s highlight of the season was when he qualified seventh in Austria.

While he may sit 15th in the championship, I rate him this highly because it will have been so easy to mess up more in what is his first year in F1. Don’t forget that the Torro Rosso hardly ran in pre-season testing due to power unit gremlins so when Kvyat qualified eighth and finished ninth at the opening race, it made me sit up and take notice.

More importantly, he did not plateau has and continued to improve as the year went on.

9. Felipe Massa (Williams)

Massa has actually shown some of his old form back and it’s been so nice to see him get some resules. Williams have definitely rejuvenated him and his lap to secure pole position in Austria was an excellent one.

While Massa started the year evenly-matched with teammate Bottas, he has lost his way a bit over the last couple of races and will need to be a bit more focused to halt that trend.

10. Jenson Button (McLaren)

The Mclaren car has been a handful for both drivers this year. Consistency has been hard to find as well as pace. Button has been unspectacularly solid but he still seems to struggle more than expected when the car drifts a little outside of its neutral zone.

He currently sits eighth in the championship but I don’t actually think that matters too much. He needs to achieve a spectacular result or two to secure his seat for next year and I think he knows that. He has tried some risky tyre strategies in wet/dry conditions to try and pull a result off, as he did in Hungary, but it has not quite worked out.

11. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren)

The Dane started so well with an excellent second-placed finish in Australia but then the usual plateau that seems to affect most rookies in F1 seemed to set in. There have been some signs that he is turning that around over the last four races so if he can continue that trend, his rookie year may actually go from satisfactory to good.

12. Sergio Perez (Force India)

Sergio has been out qualified by his teammate quite significantly this year. But his race pace has more often than not been a match or quicker than Hulkenburg. He had a well-taken podium in Bahrain and he almost raced superbly to another third in Canada before crashing with Massa on the last lap.

If his qualifying performances had been better, he would be several postitions further up this list.

13. Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso)

Vergne has actually had a very strong driving year and doesn’t really deserve to be this far back. He has actually qualified in the top 10 seven times this year, a great result when you think about how poor the Renault in the back of the Torro Rosso is.

He has been dogged by poor reliability in the Torro Rosso which has resulted in five non-finishes. The other reason he isn’t further up is because of inconsistency in his race pace.

14. Jules Bianchi (Marussia)

Bianchi has had an excellent season; he has consistently out qualified his team-mate and both Caterhams. Also, his drive to Marrusia’s first ever points in Monaco was one of the drives of the year.

An exciting talent, I hope we will see him in a quicker car next year.

15. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)

Its been hard to rate Grosjean’s driving, simply because the Lotus have been so bad this year. He is another driver to not have finished five races and when he is running, the car does not look good to drive at all.

The reason I have him above Ferrari’s Raikkonen is because he has been significantly better than his teammate and also due to that excellent fifth place in qualifying for the Spanish GP.

16. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

Raikkonen just has not shown the form that he had in the Lotus over the last two years. He has been blown away by Alonso and sits 12th in the championship.

As an ex-world champion, he needs to, and should, do better.

17. Adrian Sutil (Sauber)

Its been a bit tough for Sutil as the his heavy frame combined with an overweight chassis means he is giving lap time away for free.

Esteban Gutierrez has been doing well lately and, unfortunately for Sutil, I feel he will struggle to get much from the remainder of the season. He must be praying that the updates Sauber have promised work well for him.

18. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham)

Again it’s a bit hard to gauge how well the popular Japanese has gone this year. He has out qualified team-mate Marcus Ericsson nine out of eleven times, so from that point of view his form this year has been good. But the Caterham has been the worst car on the grid this year and we just don’t know quite how much that has contributed to Kobayashi’s performances.

From his consistent performances in the past and the fact that we know he was good with both Toyota and Sauber before, I can’t quite put him in the bottom places.

19. Max Chilton (Marussia)

The young Englishman has out-qualified Bianchi three times this year, which is not great, but let’s not forget how strong his team-mate has been this year. Also, Max has an incredible run of just a single non-finish throughout his F1 career.

20. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber)

Gutierrez, at times, has been very average but he has out-qualified his heavier teammate Sutil 6–4. He was also in a position to score the team’s only points in Monaco before he put the car in the barrier.

He has the chance to change things around this year but must seize any more chances that come his way.

21. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus)

The Venezuelan has always been an inconsistent driver – from the highs of winning in Barcelona in 2012, he has made some pretty bad mistakes this year such as flipping Gutierrez in Bahrain this year. He has also been out-qualified by his team-mate in every race this year bar one.

His Lotus is not helping him either but Maldonado is not inexperienced anymore and I expect more from him.

22. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham)

I know it’s Ericsson’s first year and that he is effectively inside the slowest car on the grid. Also, I’m aware that it’s not really fair to look too much at the fact that he has been out-qualified in almost every race this year.

I still have him here at the bottom of the list because of the large gaps between him and the next driver. His laptimes have been too far from his team-mate most of the time in both qualifying and races. We know he has got talent from what he achieved in the junior racing categories and it is not easy at Caterham right now but there is still time to turn it round and I hope he does something for his sake.

 

 

The biggest discussion subject of the first two races of the season was not so much the racing, but the sound of the cars as they thundered around the race track. Mainly that there was not quite enough “thunder” compared to previous years. But before I wade into the “are the cars loud enough?” debate, lets talk about the technical changes for this year that contributed to the reduced decibels of a Formula 1 race.

In a bid to make Formula 1 more “greener” (although how green a sport can ever be when it travels around the world in great big jumbo’s remains to be seen) and therefore more applicable to car manufacturers around the world meant that the whole power train was completely changed for 2014. We must also bear in mind that the three engine manufacturers in F1, might have not stayed in the sport without these changes. Renault would definitely not be here.

Before this year, F1 cars had been using the high revving V10 internal combustion engine. Plenty loud enough, plenty fast enough but there were some drawbacks. They have been around a long time (with an actual freeze of engine development since 2007) and the technology of these engines was getting a bit long in the tooth, not to mention its petrol guzzling capabilities. F1 is firstly – in my opinion – about technical innovation and it was decided that it was time for a revamp. To introduce a whole new set of technical regulations that was cutting edge and more efficient (green).

Enter this year’s 1.6 litre, V6 turbocharged engine, with an energy recovery system (ERS) that is twice the power of the KERS system that used to be in F1 last year. I think it’s quite a sexy unit; I love cutting edge technology such as this. It’s also immensely complicated to get on top of, as the engine manufacturers will attest to.

One of the hardest things the teams have been facing is to understand how to get all the systems of the new power unit to work together. Firstly there is the new turbo – we haven’t seen a turbo-powered car since the late eighties – to get on top of. Then there is the ERS, which has never been done before. Think of it as a hybrid system on steroids. It actually recovers power through two power units that then either stores it into a battery or sends it straight back into the drive train for extra power. Following me still?

So one of these motor generator units is called the MGU–K, which harvests the kinetic energy lost under braking. It recovers this power through the rear axle of the car. The second motor generator unit is called the MGU–H, which harvests heat energy from the exhaust gases. Now both units can either store the energy recovered (or harvested if you like) in the energy store (battery), or transfer it back to the drive train for more power. The MGU – H can also be used to spin up the turbine in the turbo to decrease turbo lag.

I hope you can see how much more sophisticated the power unit is for this year. And we haven’t even touched on the control systems that control all these things to try and produce the right amount of power at the right, and more efficient, time. Lets leave that for another article with a smarter writer that understands it better.

Suffice to say, the smaller engine for this year will produce less power, although the turbo will help quite a bit – about 650hp without the ERS. But once the ERS is used, then the overall power will jump up to just under 800hp, which is pretty similar to last year’s power. But get this. It does it with five times more torque and 30%-40% less fuel. That’s pretty darn impressive to me.

Okay so now let’s turn our attentions back to the sound debate that has been raging around in the news. For me, beauty is all about excellence, and in motor racing’s case, that’s about speed and lap time. And you get speed and lap time through technical excellence/innovation. That’s how it’s always been in Formula 1 and I hope that is how it will always be.

What we have now is a Turbo that exhaust gasses have to travel through which restricts the sound of the car. But more importantly those gasses spin a turbine, which gives the car back more power and torque. So when I think of it that way, and I think about last years cars, I now think, “gee, that’s a huge waste of energy”.

And I have to say I kinda like the new sounding engines. You can make out the distinct differences between the engines and I personally think the quality and variety of the sounds is fantastic.

This years F1 car may make less sound, it may have lost a unique selling point, but it is technology at its very best. And for me there is no sweeter sound than that.

Kimi Raikkonen

Image : the Ferrari growling, whistling and whirling into the distance Through turns 1,2 and 3 in Bahrain pre season testing.

Mercedes show class in a complete performance at Sepang with a one-two finish for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

I actually enjoyed the race on Sunday. It wasn’t a classic but nonetheless it was enjoyable to see how the race panned out and to see the different strengths and weaknesses of each of the teams.

Mercedes AMG Petronas achieved here in Malaysia what they threatened to do at the season-opener by dominating the circuit with a fabulous one-two – Hamilton won ahead of team-mate Rosberg and it was no less than they deserved.

As one of the only two true manufacturing teams – Ferrari being the other one – where they build the engines as well as the chassis, they were expected to be ahead in integrating the power unit and chassis.

But then, I don’t think anyone expected to see them this far ahead, though.

They have hit the ground running from the first day of pre-season testing and have not only been quick but quite reliable as well, the only hiccup being Hamilton’s retirement in Australia which is understandable as no team has been entirely trouble-free in the new Formula One era.

Even the tyre management issues that Mercedes seemed to have on Friday was not a problem in the race on Sunday. It’s a good indication for them that they were able to address those issues swiftly whereas last year, it seemed to be a bugbear for them.

Having said that, I’m not too sure how much the drivers had to push in the race. They seemed to be driving within themselves, such was their pace advantage. For instance, Hamilton’s fastest lap was a whole second quicker than the next team.

Moving on to Red Bull, one positive for them was the fact that their car seems to be able to match Mercedes for overall downforce. They were just as fast in the middle sector, which is all about high-speed cornering, and you only go quickly there if you have plenty of down force. So at circuits like the fast-flowing one in Barcelona, I think they will be right there.

It was the first and third sector with their long straights where Renault-powered Red Bull were losing four-tenths of a second (each) to the Mercedes. This seems to indicate that while Renault were making inroads into the early advantage that Mercedes enjoyed, they are still quite a way off.

At the end of the first split speed trap, Vettel was consistently 10-13kph slower than the Mercedes duo.

I didn’t consider the official speed trap because that’s in the DRS zone and when it’s activated, the two teams actually show similar speeds. I believe that the Red Bull cars just take longer to get there and therefore bleed time.

Ferrari won’t be too pleased at being below Mercedes in the pecking order. They are clearly not quite as quick as Merc power in a straight line and I do not believe they are as bad as the Renault-powered teams. But they do not seem to have a quick car and losing half a second to Mercedes in the middle sector tells me that they will be beginning to have concerns about whether they can bring enough aero updates to close the gap.

My star of the show – other than race-winner Hamilton – was definitely Nico Hulkenburg. Force India do not seem to have anywhere near the sort of downforce of the top three teams (his fastest middle sector is actually 1.5 seconds slower than Hamilton’s) and so he should not have been fighting Alonso for fourth place nor finishing just 20 seconds off the podium.

He really is maximizing everything that is available to him.

Feel the force, indeed.

 

Heya guys, I’ve started doing video blogs now to supplement the coverage we do on Fox Sports. So please check it out. You can go to may Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Yoong-F1/321970735905 or www.racematelive.com for even more detail on the inner workings on Formula 1.

Here is another pre season review. Jeez, enough already.

Anyway its on Race Mate Live, check it out. Or don’t.

http://www.racematelive.com/alex_yoong_review

Pre-season testing took on more significance this year, than any other year. With the biggest technical changes ever to be seen in Formula One, it was crucial for teams to be out on track testing their new machinery before the start of the season in Melbourne, Australia. With only 12 days of testing available, the pressure was on and it wasn’t really surprising to see some teams and engine manufacturers slip up.

There were 4 days of testing in Jerez, before the circus moved to Bahrain for the remaining 8 days, split into two rounds of 4 days each. I was in Bahrain for the first 4 days and got insights into the new machinery.

Every year we see some changes to the regulations but this year they have been quite extensive. We have brand new 1.6 litre, V6 turbo charged engines replacing the 2.4 litre V8’s from last year. Also, the Energy Recovery System (ERS) has twice the power of the KERS from last year. Hence, with the ERS playing a far bigger role in overall horsepower from the power train as a whole, getting it right would be very important. Efficiency would also be key this year with only 100kg of fuel available to each car to make it through the race. Bahrain was perfect for pre-season testing, it being one of the hardest tracks on the calendar for fuel consumption and it was inevitable that teams and drivers had to drive conservatively on the race simulation runs to make the required distance. Most drivers I spoke to liked this technical challenge and it will be fun to see who can make the most of the subtleties of the new format.

Aerodynamics for the last twenty years has been the over-riding factor in making a quick Formula One car, especially since 2007 when engine development was frozen in a bid to save costs. With the new power trains, an engine development war is about to break out again thereby putting the microscope on the manufacturers to get it right.

Out of the three engine manufacturers, Mercedes has been a class above the rest. They covered the most distance and all 4 teams running their engines looked quick. Williams and Mercedes-AMG Petronas looked the quickest on low fuel and also very handy in the race simulations. They should be right up there at the sharp end come Melbourne. Force India showed a good turn of speed too, but they looked to be about a three quarters of a second off the pace at the end. While Mclaren started the pre season tests strongly, by the end of the test, they seemed to be struggling a bit. By my estimations, they are looking to find about a second in pure pace over one lap. That’s presuming everyone was running fairly similar fuel loads during the low fuel runs.

Ferrari had a reasonable test as far as mileage was concerned but it seemed that they were also a wee bit off the pace, with some insiders estimating they being  up to a second off the times set by the Williams and Mercedes. Personally, I’m not quite sure where they are. There is a buzz in the paddock that there may be a bit more to come from them.

The other Ferrari runners struggled a bit with Sauber not quite on top of their brake by wire system. As for Marussia, they had pretty bad reliability issues and did not do anywhere enough running to feel confident going to Melbourne. However when they did run, the car didn’t look too bad and I think they have made steps forward pace wise to get closer to the midfield. However, there will be big question mark on whether they could finish the first few races due to the lack of testing mileage.

The big surprise of the Pre Season was of course Renault. They had cooling issues and to get their ERS to work reliably. Red Bull suffered the worse as their tight packaging meant they suffered from over heating more than other Renault runners. Their car looks quick but I’m not sure Renault can give them the performance they need to challenge at the front. And it may be this way for the first 4 fly away races.

Of the Renault runners, Caterham managed the most laps and I think they will feel quite confident they will be able to get to the chequered flag in Melbourne. And with all the teams having reliability issues of some sort, a finish may even net points.

Toro Rosso, had a miserable start to the pre season test but had a pretty good last two days. Not really sure where they will end up but they seem to have a handle on the Renault systems a bit better than their big sister, Red-Bull Racing.

And I think the wooden spoon for the pre season has to go to Lotus. They missed the Jerez test and it cost them dear. Even when they were in Bahrain, they still clocked the lowest mileage of any team. Making it to the chequered flag would be an amazing result for them in Melbourne.

 

I know its been ages since i updated this. I actually started a journal – note book and pen – which has been quite interesting. Other than making my hand cramp, its been an illuminating experience. Emotions shine through much more in the hand written word. Anyway dear Website, i can’t cut and paste from paper and quite frankly i wouldn’t want to. Too many intimate details being recorded that would be scandalous or incomprehensible to an anyone except my mind.

This year has been a unique one. I don’t think I’ve had as relaxed a year since i was 17. My whole adult life until 2013 has been push push push and its been really good to concentrate on things such as relationships, being late, reading and socially, less accommodating.

I moved house over a year ago too and that was such a good idea. The new place is bigger, freer and a truer reflection of me. Except the Dog in it. That canine is not me. But i still have Tux, my 8 year old cat. He requires no love, except cuddles and that is a truer reflection of me.

On the professional side, racing in for Audi around Asia has been fun and a bit painful too. More fun than pain and i hope they think i did a good job for them. Also doing the pundit work for Fox down in Singapore has been fun. For the first time since i started doing it 6 to 7 years ago, i actually think i’m getting reasonably good at it.

Anyway, since its Formula 1 this weekend, i thought i’d post my preview to the race here too.

 

Preview United States Grand Prix

Well Abu Dhabi was another Steam roller by Sebastian Vettel as he won his sixth race on the trot. We now head to another typically modern Formula One circuit and the first of a two-stop trip in the Americas.

The United States Grand Prix last year was its inaugural race and universally considered a big success. With it being in the south of the USA, lots of spectators made the crossing from central America to fill the city of Austin to add to the excitement and atmosphere.

It’s also a pretty good track to drive. The drivers all speak highly about it and of the challenge in getting the perfect lap. So while it may not make it right to the top of their favourite list, such as Suzuka or Monaco, its still pretty high up there.

The first sector is the most challenging. The first corner goes up so steeply that you can only see sky in front of you before brake hard for a tight left hairpin. It’s also incredibly wide and as Sebastian Vettel acknowledged, very difficult to know where to place the car under braking. After the first corner, the rest of the first sector is all high speed and you need total commitment as well as a balanced car to get it right. This, like the first sector of Suzuka, is what makes driving a F1 car so euphoric.

The second sector then involves a couple of medium speed corners that lead onto a long straight sandwiched by two hairpins. This is the main DRS zone and best overtaking area on the track. When tyres start to go off and traction out of the preceding hairpin is lost, this straight is where drivers will be vulnerable.

The third and final sector is a very technical sector with slow and medium speed corners. Placing the car on the right piece of tarmac and being very precise with what you do with the brake and throttle will find you chunks of time. Vettel and Hamilton were supreme through here last year. Not only in qualifying but in the race as they adapted best to the changing grip levels.

With both championships sewn up, most of the attention will be on the battle for second position. Mercedes and Ferrari are close together on points in the constructor’s table and a moment’s inspiration or loss of concentration could be key in this fight. With Mercedes proving to be the quicker car at the moment, I think there will be more tension in the Ferrari garage to have a perfect weekend from an operational point of view. Only perfection will win them the runners up spot in that championship as their car simply is not quick enough. Especially in qualifying.

In the driver’s championship, Alonso has pretty much wrapped it up as the driver in third; Kimi Raikkonen misses the last two races in this year’s championship after under going back surgery.

The other main talking point about this weekend is whether Sebastian Vettel, our quadruple World Champion can actually win his eight race in a row to beat the previous record held by Michael Schumacher. I’d like to think we could see one of the other drivers give him a bit of competition this weekend. Perhaps one of the Mercedes or Grosean, or even his team mate, Mark Webber. But the fact is, he is at a different level right now and I can’t see anyone challenging the young German.

 

 

Wow, been a long time since i touched this. Well i guess its appropriate to then do it with my guide to this weekends Bahrain GP again! A whole year later :p.

Preview Bahrain Grand Prix

Bahrain is another modern F1 circuit like Shanghai and Sepang with a touch more dust and track surface heat to contend with. When the track has cleaned up the grip is good and the surface smooth. With good grip comes more wear and with the heat, we expect medium to high abrasion. There are also more slow corners compared to a typical purpose built track which means brakes are used hard. There are 4 times a lap where you brake from over 300kph.

Slow corners also mean you will need good traction out of it and we expect that the rear tyre wear will be more of a factor compared to China where it was front axle dependent. With a few long straights it is also quite demanding for the engine but not as bad as say Monza or Montreal.

With the soft tyre wearing so quickly in China, Pirelli have decided to bring the medium tyres to Bahrain instead. With the hard tyre there as well, the wear should not be as bad and we should see a mixture of 2 and 3 stops in the race instead of nearly everyone trying to three stop ala China.

So far this year tyres have been tricky to manage, and the headlines have been about qualifying being less important due to having to save tyres for the race. This may be true to a certain extent but essentially qualifying is still a very integral part of the race weekend. Imagine if Alonso had qualified 9th instead of 3rd in China. I think the traffic would have ruined his tyre life and he would have found it very very difficult to win.

Ferrari will be going into Bahrain full of confidence and while Alonso did a good job of out qualifying his teammate for the first time in China, you still got the sense that he could have done a bit better on the Saturday. Essentially he lost 3 tenths of a second to Massa in the first two sectors on his Q3 lap before nailing the last sector. If Alonso does maximize his Saturday and qualifies on the first row, I think he will be very difficult to beat.

Next up has to be Red Bull and Lotus. I think China was slightly unusual for Red Bull and I expect them to change it around and be right in the hunt for pole. Kimi did an exceptional job in the last qualifying session, but I think he was flatted by others such as Red Bull not maximizing their Saturday. I think Lotus still need to work on the Qualifying a bit. But a bit like Alonso, if Kimi is on the first two rows, they will be right in the hunt for the win.

Mercedes is the one I’ll be watching, they were so impressive in China all weekend until the race. They will be fighting for pole again but I think the problems of being able to be quick enough on Sunday, so that they can put less energy through their tyres will still be there. McLaren will also be closer to the top four teams but perhaps still not quite in the hunt for a podium yet.

Expect the mid pack to close up a bit and it will be fun to see Force India, Sauber and Torro Rosso mix it up for best of the rest. I would not be surprised to see Force India even mix it with the top 5 teams as I think this track will suit them. The other mid field team, Williams is still struggling and pressure will be on their Rookie, Esteban Gutierrez to preform after a bad performance in China where he crashed into Adrian Sutil.

Talking about teammates and pressure, there will be a few of them under pressure to perform. Massa, Grosean and Perez are all drivers who have been very underwhelming on race pace. They need to try and sort out how they manage their tyres to try and be there for the entire race instead of just the beginning when their rubber is fresh.

Whatever the case, its great to have 4, possibly 5 teams all with a chance to be fighting for the win. Expect another cagey but extremely close, hot race this weekend in Bahrain.

Its been awhile since my last post. F1 has started with a bit of a bang this year and i think we will have a cracker of a season. Personally, my life has been pretty busy and hence the lack of activity here. Actually learned to cook the other day (well, blend is more accurate really), and no damage so far. Might try it again next year.  :p

Anyway, the below is my preview going into the Bahrain GP. Catch us all on ESPN Star Sports :)

There will be a few unknowns going into the fourth leg of the 2012 Formula 1 season. A lot has been said in the media over the past few weeks about whether F1 was actually going to make the trip to Bahrain after it was cancelled last year.

And the real truth was that no one really knew if anything would happen until the Monday after the race.

So let’s not discuss the political implications, and instead focus on the racing.

The circuit is about a kilometer less than when we raced there two years ago and the only data teams have will be from the refueling days when cars ran a lot lighter over the course of a race.

It will also be the first time Pirelli will have been to Bahrain and this lack of previous data, should mean that we will see some teams getting the setup and strategy right and some who may get it horribly wrong.

Bahrain has 4 major breaking areas from over 300kph and this will mean brake and tyre wear will be an issue this weekend.

Tyre wear was the big talking point in Shanghai with most people, including myself, believing that Mercedes would have issues with their rubber and that Nico Rosberg would struggle to match his qualifying performance.

It was a nice surprise to see that this was not the case and Rosberg drove superbly, managed his tyres beautifully and dutifully won the race in style.

It was the first pole followed by the inaugural win for Mercedes since 1955 and it perfectly illustrated how open this season will be.

In my view, this year’s championship will go down as the most open and competitive of all. The mid-field teams have never been closer to the front teams and with only 3 tenths of a second separating the top 10 going into Qualifying 3 in Shanghai.

We should see more surprises as the year goes on. We have already seen Sauber finish 2nd at Malaysia and I expect them to go well in Bahrain too. Another mid-field team to watch out for has to be Williams. Their race pace has been good all year and if they qualify well, they will be a true threat to the top four teams.

When I say top four, I mean McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus. Ferrari I omit at the moment as they are still struggling for pace and it will be no different in Bahrain.

They are keenly hoping that the big update package planned for the following race in Spain will deliver the performance they desperately need.

Especially Massa – he delivered an improved performance in Shanghai but he is still struggling against the fantastic Fernando.

Perhaps the updates planned by Ferrari, will give him the confidence to deliver the performances that we know he is capable of and thus keep him employed at the Prancing Horse.

Happy New Year!

Its the first day of the Chinese new year and a time for visiting. Today i decided to visit my home town, Kuala Lumpur.

The factories close down, the air clears, the buses, cars and trucks disapear of the road. This is the day she looks her best and i wanted to see her on my bike.

So here are a few pics of my ride around the city.

Bukit Bintang actually empty of cars for once

Chinese New Year is just not complete without a Lion Dance

Loving the blue sky

Loving the sky line

Check out the completely clear roads in the reflection