Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s official, we have a race for the 2011 F1 season. For the first half of the calendar, Sebastian Vettel was so dominant that most of his competitors were already writing off their chances for the Drivers championship. Blown Diffuser-gate was (un)intentionally supposed to even the playing field, but even after that blew over, Ferrari and McLaren discovered some newfound pace, and for the first time this season, two straight races have been won by non-Red Bull cars. So is it safe to reannounce a competition for the Driver and Constructors championships? Not so fast…
Vettel, with his 4th place finish at the Nurburgring courtesy of a bungled pit stop by the Ferrari crew, is still 77 points ahead of second place contender and teammate Mark Webber. In all likelihood Vettel and Red Bull will wrap up the championships by my predictions in Korea. But that doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of some drama for the rest of the season.
The disappearance of Felipe Massa
Back in 2009, Massa sustained one of the more scarier injuries in recent memory when he was struck in the head by a dislodged suspension spring from fellow countryman Ruben Barrichello’s car. Massa was traveling at around 180 mph when the spring struck him square over the left eye area, and he was instantly knocked unconscious. Take a look.
Interestingly enough, the FIA and F1 have looked into the possibility of a closed cockpit and/or a raised windshield design in the future to protect the drivers from these type of freak accidents. But what about splattered bugs? Could F1 cars possibly have windshield wipers in the future? One can only giggle at the possibility, but I digress…
Forced to sit out the rest of the season, Massa hasn’t been the same racer since the accident, and his winless streak stands at 39 races. And now for the second straight season, Massa seems all but relegated to serving as a #2 to teammate Fernando Alonso’s and Ferrari’s championship aspirations. One can only wonder if the high drama and heartbreak of missing out on the 2008 Drivers championship courtesy of a last lap pass by Lewis Hamilton on Timo Glock permanently damaged Massa’s driving mettle. Massa is one of the more likable drivers on the grid and a natural underdog, but given McLaren and Red Bull’s(despite what they say) policy of having two drivers of equal skill and standing, Ferrari needs to consider other options going forward to stay competitive. Robert Kubica is the most obvious choice, but Lotus Renault seem keen on holding on to him at all costs. Massa may never be World Champion, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to stick his nose into the scrum. Or maybe he’s holding on too tight, he’s lost the edge…
Schumi vs. Rosberg
Unlike last season’s much ballyhooed but ultimately disappointing showing, Schumi this season has looked feisty and competitive, evidenced by his near podium at Canada. The 12-point gap between his 32 to teammate Nico Rosberg’s 46 is the smallest amongst the driver duos of the top teams, and their in-team competition is for me the most engaging and insightful. As the most successful F1 driver of all time, Schumi has got to be frustrated at the lack of points and podiums, but if he is he’s doing a commendable job of hiding it. The real winner in all of this is Rosberg, who for 1.5 seasons has outdriven his boyhood idol, and raised his stock in the process. Both drivers have voiced their self assessments as the faster driver, and since Mercedes’ title hopes are practically unattainable, the only real reason to watch or care about Team Germany is for the automotive civil war between their two field generals. All this German on German racing action is kind of exciting, let’s just hope they fight fair and clean.
Driver Lineups for 2012
Unlike most other professional sports, drivers are free to discuss with other teams over prospective racing opportunities even though they’re still under contract with their current teams. Hamilton, Button, Kubica, Massa, Webber, and a handful of other names have all had their turn in the rumor mill. Hamilton’s behind closed doors meeting with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was by far the biggest headline this season in terms of potential driver relocations, and was a real wakeup call to McLaren that there’s no guarantee their boy wonder will be content to play out his career with the only team he’s ever raced for. While a Vettel/Hamilton partnership seems highly unlikely and extremely volatile, it would be an F1 fan’s dream come true. But it’s always fun to speculate, and for whatever there’s been plenty of it this season, more so than in years past. I expect Webber, Button, and Hamilton to all stay put, but as mentioned before the Massa/Kubica situation has real legs. Massa recently signed a one year extension for next season, which was three years shorter than the one teammate Alonso agreed to, so one has to believe Ferrari is prepare to make a change after next year. And what do you know, coincidentally enough, Kubica is signed with Renault through 2012. Funny how things works out.
No bye week on the schedule after Germany, which means Hungary is this weekend. Don’t hold me to it, but I expect a similar outcome to last year’s race, and look for Ferrari to be strong, assuming the track conditions are warm and not wet. But if it does rain, all the better!