Formula One - On And Off Track Week 8

Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent

Formula One - On And Off Track Week 8

Story Highlights

  • No Italian drivers in Formula One this season
  • Team mates: Who will beat who in 2012?
  • Ross Brawn not happy with FOTA split

No Italian drivers in Formula One this season

After Jarno Trulli was replaced by Vitaly Petrov last week, there will be no Italian driver participating in the FIA Formula One 2012 Championship as Trulli’s only compatriot Vitantonio Liuzzi had already been replaced by Narain Karthikeyan at the Spanish HRT team.

“Isn’t there enough talent in Italy, or are Italian drivers not motivated enough?” is a question ex-Minardi Formula One team owner Giancarlo Minardi was asking himself after he heard the news about Trulli. Minardi thinks the economic crisis in Europe is the main culprit. “Europe is undergoing a severe economic crisis and Italy is paying a high price. In contrast there are other growing economies and they push hard by using the sport as a vehicle for promotion,” said Minardi.

Giancarlo Minardi
Giancarlo Minardi

Photo by: Brousseau Photo

“Car manufacturers are no longer present in Formula One as it once was and therefore the current teams must balance the books and are therefore looking for pay drivers,” he added. But, he also warned, “Today it is about the drivers, but soon European circuits will have to give way to new nations.” And Minardi concluded, “Sport is supported by advertisers. This goes for any discipline of sport, not only for motor racing. If we continue on this road, the sport will die.”

In fact Minardi was the last private Italian Formula One team, and Minardi did employ many Italian drivers since it was founded in 1985. To name but a few, Alessandro Nannini, Gianni Morbidelli, Alessandro Zanardi, Luca Badoer, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli, they all started their Formula One career at the Italian team. Therefore Minardi cannot be criticized for not giving Italian race talents a chance in Formula One.

Ferrari is a team that has today, and in the past, been criticized for not hiring Italian drivers, If we leave out Badoer and Fisichella who both replaced Felipe Massa in 2009, the last Italian to race for the Maranello-based team was Ivan Cappelli who drove 14 races for the Scuderia in 1992, but retired from 10 of those 14 races that season.

In 1950 Giuseppe Farina won the Driver’s Championship for Alfa Romeo, but the most successful Italian in Formula One was without a doubt Alberto Ascari, who won the Driver’s Championship in 1952 and 1953, but was tragically killed at Monza in 1955 when he tested Eugenio Castellotti’s Ferrari 750 Monza sports car. Ascari was, and today still is the only Italian to win the Formula One Drivers’ Championship in a Ferrari.

Alberto Ascari
Alberto Ascari

Photo by: Ferrari Media Center

Other famous Italians to drive for Ferrari in the early days of Formula One were Luigi Villoresi, Giuseppe Farina, Eugenio Castellotti, Lorenzo Bandini and Ludovico Scarfiotti. Sadly, none of them survived this most dangerous era of the sport.

Italians do have an unbridled passion for motor racing, on four and on two wheels. Ferrari is bigger than the pope in Italy -- ex-FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre once said that Enzo Ferrari was the pope of motorsport -- and at one occasion the pope actually came to visit the Ferrari headquarters to give his blessings to the newly designed cars.

But after Ascari no other Italian ever won the Formula One title again, despite the fact that in total 101 Italian drivers have been active in Formula One since 1950. We all remember the names of Andrea de Adamich, Giancarlo Baghetti, Michele Alboreto, Andrea de Cesaris, Elio de Angelis, Vittorio Brambilla, Alex Caffi, Ivan Capelli, Corado and Teo Fabi, Bruno Giacomelli, Piercarlo Ghinzani, Nicola Larini and the most successful Italian driver of the past decades of Formula One, Riccardo Patrese.

Riccardo Patrese
Riccardo Patrese

Photo by: Honda GP

The most memorable season for Italians was 1989, when 14 Italian drivers defended the Italian "tricolore", the number one Italian Riccardo Patrese finished in third place of the Drivers’ Championship, while the 14th Italian, Enrico Bertaggia was classified as 46th.

But there is hope for the future, Luca Filippi, who was second in the 2011 GP2 Championship, and Davide Rigon, are two possible candidates for a race seat or a position as test and reserve driver next season.

Team mates: Who will beat who in 2012?

Now that all teams have confirmed their driver line-up for 2012, it is interesting to see who is the strongest driver in a team, or to put it in another way, who is going to beat who this season?

HRT has hired Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan, without a doubt de la Rosa is the most experienced driver of the pair, but not necessarily the fastest driver. Of course his experience will help de la Rosa to master the new HRT very quickly, but the new car still hasn’t passed the FIA crash test, and therefore it looks like both drivers will have to get used to the new car during race weekends, the advantage in this case goes to de la Rosa.

Marussia has the experienced Timo Glock and the inexperienced Charles Pic who will race alongside the German this season. Marussia still has not presented their new car, and poor Pic has been practicing his skills in the 2011 Virgin this week, and it is expected Glock will be the first to try the new 2012 car when it is finished. Again the advantage goes to Glock when it comes to experience, but Pic has proved in the past he is a fast driver as well.

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham F1 Team
Vitaly Petrov, Caterham F1 Team

Photo by:

Next on the list is Caterham, who dumped the very experienced Trulli in favor of Petrov, the Russian will team up with another experienced driver: Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn has last year proved he was faster than Trulli, and it stands to reason he will progress even more this season, as he knows the new car, the team and the engineers, while Petrov has only today driven the Caterham for the first time. However, given the right car, Petrov has also proved he can be quick, he took third place during the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, and it looks like this in-team battle could become an even match.

Williams has hired Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna, unfortunately both were selected because of their sponsor portfolio, and both drivers have so far during their short Formula One career not scored any memorable results. Maldonado has made some progress last year, but Senna still has to prove what he is worth, and the Brazilian certainly doesn’t have the talents of his late uncle Ayrton. It is expected both will fight for the number one driver position at the Williams team. When it comes to pure speed, both drivers can be equally fast, which makes the situation even more complicated when it comes to the prediction of who will beat who.

Toro Rosso dumped Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi in favor of two rookies: Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. The latter is not a real rookie anymore, as he was last year given the chance to prepare himself at the Spanish HRT team where he learned the ropes. Ricciardo is very eager and has done well during testing in Jerez and Barcelona, but Vergne has showed what he can with a championship winning car during the Young Drivers Test in Abu Dhabi last year. In Abu Dhabi he was the fastest of all rookies driving the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, but the Toro Rosso is not at all like last year’s Red Bull, so it remains to be seen if Vergne can get used to the Toro Rosso fast enough in order to beat his Australian team mate.

Sauber continue with Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, Kobayashi scored 30 points last year, and Perez only 14. Both are aggressive drivers and especially Kobayashi is a joy to watch when it comes to overtaking, but drivers don’t get points for overtaking. Both drivers are not in a rush to establish themselves as the number one Sauber driver, but are wisely concentration on developing the car and scoring points. Both drivers are evenly matched so Peter Sauber doesn’t have to worry about who will beat who this season.

Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta
Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta

Photo by:

Force India has dumped Adrian Sutil and given test driver Nico Hulkenberg a race seat for the 2012 season, a decision team owner Vijay Mallya will certainly not regret. The German has won about every championship he has participated in, while his Scottish team mate Paul di Resta was awarded Rookie of the Year 2011. Di Resta is just as determined as Hulkenberg, and this could be one of the more interesting in-team battles to watch this season.

And higher up the rankings we find Lotus, who hired 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who will make a return to Formula One after an absence of two years. Romain Grosjean is looking forward to working with the Finn, but as the Iceman has the status of the number one driver, it will be very tough for the Frenchman to beat Raikkonen.

Another step higher is Mercedes, now in their third year of Formula One. Although they tried the best they could, Mercedes has not been as successful as they had hoped to be, as they were not able to fight for the victory, let alone to fight for the championship. Nico Rosberg has beaten seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, now 43 years old, during qualifying and the race on almost all occasions. But after 108 races, Rosberg still has not won one single Grand Prix, and that will probably be his main goal this year. The only thing Schumacher has to prove is that his critics are wrong, and he can only do that … by winning a race this season.

No doubts about who is the number one driver for Scuderia Ferrari, it is Fernando Alonso and it is because of the determination of the Spaniard that Ferrari ended up on third place of the 2011 Constructors’ Championship, he scored 257 points, and Massa only 118. Whatever happens, this will be Massa’s final year at Ferrari; even in the unlikely event he would win the title this season. Luca di Montezemolo has given the Brazilian several chances to prove himself, but if he doesn’t deliver this year, he could even be replaced before the end of the season.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes and Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes and Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes

Photo by:

The higher up the ladder we go the more interesting it gets. Another in-team battle is the one between McLaren’s Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, both World Championship winners. Hamilton made a mess of his private life last year, and thus also made a mess of his 2011 season. He collided with other drivers many times, most notably Massa, visited the FIA Stewards on many occasions, dumped his father as his manager, made bad jokes about being black, and ran away from press conferences when he didn’t like the questions that were being asked.

Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has time after time stated to the media that there is no number one at McLaren, and more important, he kept repeating both drivers were free to race each other. And that is what they did last year, and Button emerged as the winner, he became second in the championship, Hamilton was fifth. Button is the smarter one of the pair, he has assembled a team of mechanics and engineers around him at McLaren, and they fully support him and work around the clock to get his car as fast as they possibly can.

Button is patient, waits for his chances and then strikes; Hamilton is always impatient, takes his chances at the wrong place and time, and although both won three Grands Prix in 2011, Button clearly emerged as the better McLaren driver. Button’s best performance was winning the Canadian Grand Prix in atrocious conditions. If Hamilton gets into trouble again this year, he could also lose the support of his team, and then he will be really in trouble. Again, this will be an in-team battle worth to watch.

And the last one, Red Bull. Vettel won the 2010 and 2011 crown, while Mark Webber in an identical car, well almost, was beaten by Button in 2011 and had to be satisfied with third place in the championship. Webber is a very difficult person to understand, one day he is not satisfied with playing second fiddle, and the next day he is perfectly happy helping Vettel to yet another victory.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing

Photo by:

Team Principal Christian Horner has also said both drivers were free to race each other, but Vettel and Webber very rarely met each other on track last year, and if they did, Horner whispered in their ears not make a mess of it, and they duly obeyed. Most clashes between Webber and Vettel are verbal, and most of the time are about the question whether Webber is or is not the second driver at Red Bull.

When it comes to talent, Vettel is certainly more blessed than Webber, but Webber never gives up and is certainly a race winner as well, but it always seems the Australian runs out of luck at the moment when he needs it the most, a question of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. So this is in fact the third interesting in-team battle we can look forward to in 2012, keep your eyes peeled for the in-team battles of Force India, McLaren and Red Bull this season.

Ross Brawn not happy with FOTA split

Recently Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Ferrari announced they would pull out of the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) after a row about the Resources Restriction Agreement (RRA). Especially Ferrari was disappointed about the implementation of the RRA, as they believed Red Bull had spent more money than was allowed. Red Bull in their turn announced they were not happy with all the accusations from the other teams and also left the alliance, soon Sauber and Toro Rosso followed. HRT had already left the FOTA, which means currently only seven of the 12 teams are a member of the FOTA.

Ferrari at the time reported, “Ferrari was on the front line in this area [RRA] even before the birth of FOTA and it intends to continue down this route to ensure the sustainability of the sport in the long term.” Not much later Red bull commented on their withdrawal, “Red Bull Racing can confirm it has served notice to withdraw from FOTA. The team will remain committed to finding a solution regarding cost saving in Formula One.”

Martin Whitmarsh and Ross Brawn
Martin Whitmarsh and Ross Brawn

Photo by: FOTA

It is believed that Red Bull and Ferrari turned their back to the FOTA to force all parties involved to get around the table again and talk about the RRA, and Ferrari confirmed this, “We are trying to arrange a meeting to sit the teams around the table and see where this takes us.” Current FOTA Chairman Martin Whitmarsh told that talks had been held with the four big teams, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes.

Ross Brawn, Mercedes Team Principal, confirmed this today, but he also had another message for the teams. Brawn believes the FOTA is not just about cost saving, but also about the 2013 Concorde Agreement, an agreement between the Formula One teams, the commercial rights holders FOM and CVC, and the sport’s governing body the FIA.

Said Brawn, “We are very committed to FOTA and we think it's a great shame that we've lost the members from FOTA because I think we may live to regret that.” And he added, “I think when there was a crisis and outside pressure it pushed FOTA together, now that there's not so much outside pressure the natural competitiveness of the teams is pushing us apart a bit.”

Brawn said the withdrawal of the four renegade teams was ‘short-sighted’. “But I think we are very short-sighted in not recognizing that FOTA has a very important role to play. I think it is an unfortunate feature of Formula One that we all find it fairly difficult to come together.”

He again said he still firmly believes in the FOTA, “I'm a great believer in FOTA but I'm disappointed, obviously, with what has happened in the last few months. I think we're going to regret it in Formula One because one of the objectives of FOTA was to find the right solutions for Formula One, not just the right solutions for an individual team!”

He also reminded teams that they have to work together to survive, “The concept of RRA is very important, but it does need everyone to commit to it and work together to find the best solution to having an RRA system. We are committed to it and we are going to persevere to try and make sure it is applied properly and it's viable for the future of Formula One. I think without it we are at high risk.”

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One - On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 7

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