By Nikki Grubb-Clarke
It would be tremendously remiss of me to start writing about this weekend, without starting by conveying the shock and devastation of all of us here at Riding Fast and Flying Low upon hearing the news of the passing of Maria De Villota. Not just a great racing driver, Maria has shown over the past year and a half that she’s one of the most courageous, tenacious women you would ever wish to meet. Truly a woman, whose story has and will continue to inspire anyone for whom life changes suddenly for the worse. A woman who inspires you to fight, fight, and keep on fighting, because by remaining strong, maintaining your fight and never giving up, you CAN get back all you lost. Her courage, her beautiful and ever present smile, and her passion will forever be her legacy. The thoughts of all of us here are with Maria’s family and friends, to whom we send our love.
Ah Suzuka. The Land of the Rising Sun. Home of some of my best and worst memories in Formula 1. Right up there with Monaco, Silverstone and Spa – an old school, REAL race track, and I love it! Given its positioning in the calendar, we often come to Japan with someone able, or close to be able, to secure the WDC. So it is again that as the engines fire up, Finger Boy could secure his 4th world title in a row this weekend if he wins, and Alonso is 9th or worse.
Now if you’ve followed my articles since Barcelona, you’ll know this wouldn’t make me happy. There’s no getting away from it, while I rate Vettel, I don’t rate him as one of the best ever. I’ve never seen him take a donkey of a car and drag it onto the podium based on sheer talent. I’ve never seen him tussle and drive elbows out, making tough overtakes to regain positions. Sure, I’ve seen him come through from the back, but look at the majority of overtakes made on those occasions. Either through pitstop strategy or easy passes on vastly inferior cars. I’m not denying he can drive, and drive fast, or that he’s one of the best of the current crop, but SURELY there’s more to being one of the best of all time than that?
I want Vettel to prove me wrong, I really do. I want the 2014 Red Bull to be a bit dodgy. I want to see him do with that car what Alonso has been doing all season with the Ferrari and outdriving what the car can do. I want to hear him being talked about with Senna and Prost, and Fangio and Clark and believe he deserves it. Come on, Mr Newey. Give us a dog of a car and let your boy prove his worth!
OK, rant over!
The theme of Qualifying 1 seemed to be fire, or rather being on fire. Literally. And not in the good way. First, we saw Esteban Guttierez’s Sauber spitting out a huge flame while sitting in the garage, prompting the speedy Mexican to hot foot it out of the car. Then with the session in full swing, the breaks of Jean Eric Vergne’s Torro Rosso caught fire. Some quick thinking and a modicum of bravery saw Jean Eric stay in the car until he was right next to a marshal’s post, before quickly hopping out – a move that meant that the marshals were able to deal with the fire more quickly, and saved the car from Crispy Critterville. If that doesn’t earn the boy a pat on the back and a stiff drink from the team, then I don’t know what would! Thankfully no injuries were sustained, and indeed Esteban was able to take the car and plop it into Q2! Not bad going, I think you’ll agree!
As the session progressed, the times started to fall, and Valtteri Bottas put in a stunner to take his Williams into Q2. Oh good. That pleases me thoroughly. No really. Sadly for Force India, this put Adrian Sutil out of the running for Q2. It’s no good, I can’t pretend I’m not going all ‘The Simpson’s’ Ha-ah! about it. I just don’t like Adrian Sutil. He might be a good driver, but his relationship with glass and its proximity to people just hasn’t endeared him to me. Quite the opposite. What I AM pleased about is that for once, the FI Stuff Up hasn’t affected Paul Di Resta today! Or should I say yet. I mean there’s time…
Hang on…wait just one minute…Max Chilton: 19th? Well I never thought I’d see the day! Has the Walking Wallet FINALLY found his groove? I truly hope so! But the pressure will now be on him to prove this wasn’t just a weird fluke! Credit where it’s due though, well played, Max!
17 Adrian Sutil – Force India
18 Jean-Eric Vergne – Torro Rosso
19 Max Chilton – Marussia
20 Charles Pic – Caterham
21 Giedo van der Garde – Caterham
22 Jules Bianchi – Marussia
Now Pic, who received his 3rd reprimand of the season in Korea, automatically incurs a 10-place grid penalty, so will start from 22nd. He received the reprimand for leaving the pits when the red light was displayed during qualifying. Well guess what? He only went and did it again! As he’s already going to be starting from the back, the Stewards have taken the massively unusual step of giving him a Drive Through Penalty that must be carried out during the first 5 laps of the race. Added to this, Sutil has been whacked with a 5-place grid penalty after the team needed to change his gearbox. Phew! Busy Bees, them Stewards!
Ah Pastor Maldonado. The man who SO infuriated me this week with his arrogance when he said that he’d rather stay at home than spend another season in a backmarker car. There are an abundance of remarkable young up-and-coming drivers who have FAR more talent than Pastor will ever have, and would give all they have as well as any organs they could spare to get a drive – ANY drive – in Formula 1, and he says that. Him, the man who has amassed such a reputation for causing bangs, it has gained him the nickname ‘Crashtor’. The chap who has started to be overshadowed by his team mate and was well and truly out done by him in Q1, and out-qualified by him in Q2. Well here you go, Crashtor, let me hold open the door for you. And don’t let it hit you on the behind on your way out.
Oh McLaren!! Oh how I love this team! I can’t stand watching Qualifying 2 and feeling so tremendously nervous, almost certain that at least 1 of the cars won’t make it to Qualifying 3. And so it was that AGAIN Button got himself safely to Q3 and Cheeky JUST missed out, pushed to 11th. With the return to Honda in 2015, one has to assume that Mercedes aren’t going to be altogether ‘sharey sharey’ with engine information next season, which might well lead to another shocker for them…what a horrible thought. I kinda feel like only one thing can save them now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Bring Back Ron Dennis!
11 Sergio Perez – McLaren
12 Paul di Resta – Force India
13 Valtteri Bottas – Williams
14 Esteban Guttierez – Sauber
15 Pastor Maldonado – Williams
16 Daniel Ricciardo – Torro Rosso
Usually, the big question for the Q3 Shootout is ‘Who will make it count?’ Who is going to be able to hit every sweet spot? Who is going to have the perfect set up on their car and have everything come together to create 1 beautiful lap that catapults them to the top of the time charts, and the coveted Pole Position. Not this week though! This week, the question is ‘Can ANYONE beat Vettel?’ There’s no getting away from it. He has been dominant so far this weekend. Oh how I long for a Lew-Lew Special, or come to that an ANYONE Special! Let’s at least keep the championship a little interesting!
Mark Webber went out early and put in a great lap putting him top. Do we dare hope this early in the 10 minutes that maybe something unexpected could happen?
With 2 minutes to go only 4 cars had set times, but all 10 were on track. This was it – the beginning of the Last Gasp Shootout. Bring. It. On.
Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line first, but couldn’t beat either of the Red Bulls. Crucially, Vettel crossed and couldn’t beat Webber’s time – he DEFINITELY wouldn’t be on Pole this weekend!
Webber crossed and improved his time at the top of the table. With Romain Grosjean not on a super speedy time, the only man that could topple him at the top was Lew-Lew. Could he do it? His lap was good, but it wasn’t a Lew-Lew Special…Webber stayed on top and grabbed Pole! A brilliant result for probably the unluckiest driver out there!
Now we just have to hope he can maintain that form and take the win tomorrow. I shall be keeping everything crossed!
1 Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing
2 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing
3 Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
4 Romain Grosjean – Lotus
5 Felipe Massa – Ferrari
6 Nico Rosberg – Mercedes
7 Nico Hulkenberg – Sauber
8 Fernando Alonso – Ferrari
9 Kimi Raikkonen – Lotus
10 Jenson Button – McLaren