roger federer does it again

federer. he's the man!

there are no words to describe roger federer any more.

and to rafa nadal, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse to be around at the same time. nadal is one of the best players the sport of tennis has ever seen. and yet, it will be tough for him to achieve what roger has achieved.

the third set was a demonstration of tennis. yet another one.

and roger was so happy to beat rafa. this is a fun rivalry. there is respect, irony and great will to beat each other. in the first number one against number two year ending duel, the number two taught the number one a lesson. just like a more experienced master tells the not-so new kid on the blog: “this is how you do it, friend”.

and the world once again was awed.

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Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 21:29  Leave a Comment  
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mario gomez – the most talented german striker

it had become a running gag. not only here in bremen, where i live, but basically everywhere in germany. playing football with your friends, someone has a perfect chance and misses the goal incredibely – and someone will shout his name. “mario gomez”, followed by some laughter. but how did this relatively young striker get to become the laughing stock of a nation?

young mario gomez

to find that out, one has to go back. quite a few years, actually. mario gomez emerged as another young talent from the greatest talent producing club of the decade, vfb stuttgart. many young players in many positions really started showing first promise playing for the team from south germany. phillipp lahm might be the most famous one; although he always belonged to bayern, it was during his loan at stuttgart that he became a bundesliga player and a national team player. kevin kuranyi is another example. he started his career at stuttgart and scored many goals for them. kuranyi left stuttgart for schalke 04 after three superb seasons, where he scored 39 goals in 94 matches. who would replace the german brazilian?

hopes were high for the young mario gomez. he was born in south germany, to a spanish father and german mother. when kuranyi left, gomez was still 19 and had only played a hand full of matches for his home club. the first season after kuranyi marked gomez’ rise into the main team. 30 matches and already six goals for the youngster showed promise. the season 2006-07 catapulted him to stardom, 14 goals in 25 matches and his debut for the german national team. he was surely the promise for the german attack, to finally replace aging miroslav klose. and he couldn’t have done better in the season right before euro 2008: he scored 19 goals in 25 matches, made the squad and started in the first match against austria.

 

gomez has often been frustrated when playing for germany...

that’s were the image began to appear. mario gomez managed to miss a certain goal in that match: 2 meter in front of the empty goal, he shot the ball over the bar towards the night sky. after that, he was so nervous that he didn’t get anything right in the match. germany won it, but gomez, still 22, lost his spot. and became the tragic figure of that team.

gomez went back to business for stuttgart, though. he had his best season to date, scoring a whopping 24 goals in 32 matches, much more than any other german player. but he spent that whole season without scoring even once for the german national team, and reporters started to pick on that. mario gomez had proven himself in the season after the tragedy in austria, but he still was very unlucky on international duty for germany. even his eight goals in ten international matches for stuttgart, with whom he won the german championship in 2007, didn’t seem to rid him from the tragic image. people were now trained to focus on the goals he missed, and not on the goals he scored.

 

the success in stuttgart continued, though...

this is why his move to bayern munich was blessing and risk at the same time. a blessing, because the 35 million euros payed from munich to stuttgart, the highest ever fee in the bundesliga’s history, showed his importance. if bayern wanted you and paid a record fee to get you, you must be good. and the numbers showed it: 82 matches from age 21-23, and 57 goals – in the bundesliga alone! for a young player, this is a spectacular record. and its reasons were easy to explain. mario gomez is an intelligent player, strong physically, solid technically. and he is rare in that his left shot is as good as his right shot, and that he is tall and a great header; so basically he can score goals from any situation, and that he did!

the risk was two-fold. would he be able to perform as well at the high pressure existing at bayern, much higher than in stuttgart – and with the price tag? and with a team tactic that wouldn’t be taylored for him, after the new coach louis van gaal declared that buying gomez wasn’t his idea. and when the dutchman arjen robben arrived, the change in tactics would really be to gomez’ expense. bayern would play a 4-3-3, which meant two things: only one central attackar (either klose, or luca toni at the time, or gomez), and two attacking wingers (robben & ribéry) who like to shoot on goal and not cross the ball to the center. tough times for gomez or klose? well, even under those circumstances, the young striker used his chances and scored a total of 10 goals in the first half of the season. he then was injured, and klose did a good job after that. since gomez is a horrible “joker” (never performing well when entering the match late), he almost lost his place in the 2010 world cup squad – and it was klose, even after a bad season, who started for the german national team, with great success.

 

things are going well for him now, at bayern...

gomez was the looser again. bad second half for bayern, bad joker at the world cup. his time was supposed to be there, and things looked even worse, since klose came back from the world cup as the starting attacker for bayern. mario gomez even though about joining liverpool and leaving munich, but he stayed, klose got injured, and then the following happened: 8 goals in 12 bundesliga matches, 6 goals in 5 matches at the champions league, and even 2 goals in the last 3 national team matches. spectacular numbers for a truly gifted striker.

by the way: that “mario gomez” jokes have vanished from the amateur football fields in germany.

Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 22:35  Leave a Comment  
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gareth bale – a future best?

quite a few young and promising players are appearing from many countries. candidates for the main individual crown with no more than 21 years of age are as numerous as ever. this might become even clearer if you list world famous players at the current age of 22 years: the argentinians gonzalo higuain, angel di maria and sergio aguero, the german mesut özil, the spaniards busquets, javi martinez and juan manuel mata, the frenchman karim benzema. all of them have what it takes to become the main stars in the sport, in a few years time. and all of them, curiously, play in the spanish first league.

 

maybe a future best: alex pato, milan and brazil, and still 21

if you think of the 21 year olds and younger, maybe the brazilian alexandre pato (ac milan) comes to mind. he’s been one of football’s greatest promises for years now, and he seems to be living up to expectations. thomas müller, the bayern munich player, was virtually unknown just a year ago, and is now a major star and world cup top striker. and of course, there is the talented, but somewhat troubled italian mario balotelli, who’s trying his luck in england, at manchester city. and i’d mention toni kroos, still looking to fulfill his great potential at bayern munich – he’s only 20. and why not remember neymar, who didn’t accept a chelsea bid in pre-season and continues to play for santos in brazil, and the new brazilian national team.

 

gareth bale might be the next great player on the football planet.

but a young player has been stealing the show in this new european season. gareth bale was in the news four years ago, when he became the youngest welshman to play an international. yes, he was 16. and yes, he is from wales; what might be a disadvantage for a future bid to become the best player in the world could actually be overcome by his incredible talent. bale has been at tottenham since he was 17, and has extended his contract for another four years, in may. last season, his career seemed to take a little out time from the quick ascend to the top, with him only playing in 23 matches and scoring only 3 goals. but he has definetly learned from that year.

in the 2009-10 season, bale is not only the most valiable player of his team – he has also scored important goals and become of the most notable names in the uefa champions league. tottenham is in there instead of liverpool, and gale has shown his talent in almost every single game. fantastic and decisve in bremen, a one-man show at the holder in milano, even with the 3-4 loss, and finally the man of the match at a convincing 3-1 win over inter. tottenham lead that difficult group and are set to reach the next round – and gale has scored 4 goals in 4 matches. he’s been scoring important goals in the premiership, too – one of them in the incredible 3-2 comeback after 0-2 at arsenal, in the london city derby, just yesterday.

 

two fantastic matches against champions internazionale in the champions league have captured people's attention and fascination.

gareth bale, of course, is much more than goals. he’s a smart player, very fast, with a great left foot, finesse in his passing, and the confidence that might just be capeable of dribbling on or the other defender. he is as effective assisting to goals as he is scoring them. and with his young age, he has made it onto the wish list of the greatest british and european clubs. the welshman has promised to fulfill his 4-year contract at tottenham, but doesn’t seem to be the very likely.

in any case, it’ll be worth it to watch the uefa champions league match against werder bremen, on wednesday. games envolving bremen are always exciting, tottenham might celebrate classification to the round of the last 16 – and you’ll probably see another gala by gareth bale.

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 16:31  Comments (1)  
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my top ten drivers in f1 2010

it’s the end of the year, time to remember the season. i’ll do that by defining my top ten drivers of the 2010 season. but first, the main disappointment: felipe massa had a horrible season, was almost never even close to his team mate’s pace, lost his credibility with his home fans after hockenheim – and today wasn’t even capeable of passing jaime alguesuari. a season to forget for the brazilian. but here the top ten.

10. adrian sutil (force india)

the german had a wonderful first third of the season. when force india continued its surprising run to the points, it was mostly lewis hamilton’s friend who would take the points for the team. at the end, he carried 47 out of 68 team points, one of the clearest winners of the season; if he continues his good form (since last season), he might land a great driving seat for 2011 or 2012.

9. rubens barrichello (williams)

williams was the best of the rest in the second half of the season, sometimes even getting better results than mercedes gp. barichello wasn’t the guy on the pole in his home grand prix, but he did beat hülkenberg most of the time; 47 out of 69 points for the team came from the veteran brazilian.

jenson button, without a chance this year.

8. jenson button (mclaren)

he had a pretty good beginning of the season, being the best driver when conditions got tough. the “tyre whisperer” won two races by doing exactly that – being better than everyone else in the handling of the tyres. but at the end, it became painfully clear most of the time that his team mate is simply the better driver – tough for the 2009 world champ.

7. kamui kobayashi (sauber)

his career starting promising at the end of the 2009 season, subbing for timo glock at toyota. kamui showed talent, but mostly he showed a very agressive attitude, very refreshing. this was observable when the car started to get better in the second half of this season, when kamui scored most of his 32 points – out of the 44 team points! thats more than 75%. this might just become the best japonese driver ever.

6. mark webber (red bull)

he won two races  brilliantly. barcelona and monaco were webber’s highlights of the season. but they were races number five and six. webber won in britain (needing some luck) and inherited a victory in hungary. after that, he tried to become world champion by scoring points constantely. it’s just not enough! not only his horrible mistake in korea or his horrible weekend in abu dhabi, but his inability to really challenge vettel in brazil, japan, italy and even hungary. for one of two men with he best car, it was just not enough. even more if you consider that he had no mechanical failures during the year, and still finished third after the turkey crash. still, his best season to date.

5. robert kubica (renault)

the pole had an incredible start of season, driving with the big dogs and taking part in the initial championship race. his car shouldn’t even be at a level with mercedes gp, so ninth place would have been realistic goals. he did end up in eighth place, but scoring only 6 points less than the best mercedes, and 8 points behind felipe massa’s ferrari. he had a pretty weak second half of the season, but a strong last race in abu dhabi.

lewis was sometimes fantastic, sometimes infantile.

4. lewis hamilton (mclaren)

the brit was the most spectacular driver of the year, and is clearly one of the most talented.  but mistakes in two consecutive races cost him a very probable championship in the middle of the season. he did show his pace once again at the end, and clearly a favorite for next year, too.

3. nico rosberg (mercedes)

it almost seemed that he didn’t really exist anymore. even with his fantastic season 2009, rosberg seemed to be completely overshadowed by schumacher’s comeback. at the end, though, he beat the veteran seven-time champ in almost every qualifying session (or every practise session at all) and scored 142 points – only two shy of massa and almost exactly twice as many as michael. to be clear: he humiliated one of the greatest of all time. it’s a shame the car wasn’t a winning car, but it might be next year. look out for rosberg 2011!

fernando had a great first season at ferrari...

2. fernando alonso (ferrari)

okay, his last race was disappointing. okay, he did take advantage of an ugly team order when he seemed out of the title race. but fernando alonso is maybe the best driver in formula one, and he showed it by leading the championship coming into the last race, but only having the fifth best car on the grid for most of the year. and he completely humiliated felipe massa, a very talented driver. demoralized him. alonso showed that he’s still got it, and ferrari will try even more, next year.

1. sebastian vettel (red bull)

in a season where things were always close, vettel showed what he’s made of in these last four races. red bull had the best car, but only slightly. and in the race, mclaren and sometimes alonso were able to match red bull’s pace. but vettel completely dominated the last four races, showing that he’s matured a lot over he year. he was very unlucky in the beginning of the season (when he was also dominating), lost himself a little in the middle, but never stopped believing and showed incredible concentration, focus and just talent. he’s still 23. he’s won 10 races.  and he passed the final test today!

a deserving champion: seb vettel

vettel, hamilton and alonso should dominate formula one for years to come, maybe joined by rosberg. button, webber and schumacher might still hope, sutil and kubica might also become important in future. maybe eben massa can come back from this season. still a lot to happen in 2011! only 4 months to go until bahrain!!!

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 20:35  Leave a Comment  
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the f1 season in review – in the old points system!

schumacher, here still in retirement, helped vettel win the title today...

we all know what happened today. without really intending it, schumacher’s mistake and webber’s not feeling to well were the decisive key to vettel’s happy day. and of course renault’s strength on the straights.

today, vettel was simply perfect. he did everything he had to do. get 2 seconds away from a really fast hamilton, stay on the track longer and coming back right in front of kobayashi (who was in front of kubica and hamilton), and then pressuring button, who still stayed out. vettel was perfect. but he needed help. and he got it.

from schumacher. he lost control of his car, luizzi crashed into him, and the safety car came out, prompting petrov and rosberg to switch tyres. then webber wasn’t feeling well at all on the option tyres and put it an early pit stop. alonso had to react, to stay in front of him – if the spaniard had waited one more lap, who would have come back behind the aussie; little did he know that he should’ve stayed on the track for as long as possible, since it became impossible to pass petrov. and he still needed to pass rosberg and kubica, with his late stop strategy.

 

comeback of the year... and quite disappointing. less than half of his team mate's points!

we all know that it was a pretty unique formula one season. not only because it ended with the youngest f1 world champion of all time, but because so many drivers were fighting for the title in different phases of the season. even with the new point system, it became clear. but let’s relive parts of the championship as if the old system was still in place.

after the third race, vettel and alonso would have led with 15 points each, equaling massa’s 15 points, but having scored a victory each. rosberg would have 14 points, kubica 13, button 12 and hamilton 11. can you imagine this? seven drivers within only four points – and webber would’ve had only 9 points at the time, in eight place. aftet china, button (then sixth) jumped into the lead, at 22 points. alonso and rosberg with 20 were trailing only by 2 points, hamilton in 4th (19) and vettel in 5th (18) and kubica in sixth (17) still close; massa fell from second to seventh, but still 5 points ahead of webber.

 

mark webber wins monaco. he also won another glamour races, the british grand prix being one of them.

but webber won the next two races in europe, and look what that did to the standings, now after six races; and here is  difference, because vettel would have been the leader before that turkish grand prix, with 32 points, one more than alonso, and two more than webber, now in third. button, with 26, and kubica (24) would still be relatively close, hamilton and massa would be at 23 (still less than a victory away from the lead), and rosberg with impressive 22 points, but in eight. the eight place in the championship only 10 points behind the leader, it hasn’t even been close to this interesting in any f1 season before. after the turkish crash, webber still took over the lead in the championship (would have taken), two points clear of button (34 points) and three of hamilton. vettel and alonso followed with 32, with the top five within 4 points. this is incredible. kubica (27, 9 points behind), massa (26) and rosberg (25) already seemed a little out of the picture, even though all of them were still pretty close. one race later, the second mclaren 1-2, and things changed a little more. hamilton was now in front of the pack, with 43 points – only one more than his team mate jenson button. webber had 40 points, alonso 38, and vettel 37. at this point, kubica, rosberg and massa were officially out of the championship race.

vettel won the next race and moved up to third place at 47 points, one behind button and four behind leader hamilton. webber, at 40 points, seemed out of the race, and alonso at 39 points was already 12 behind. it seemed to be a trio now. but, as always in the season, things changed pretty fast. webber won in silverstone, and alonso in hockenheim – both were back in the race! by the way, after the british grand prix, hamilton had 6 points of advantage over his toughest opponent, team mate button. this was, at that point, the biggest lead of any championship leader! and he extended that lead to seven points after the german grand prix. 64 points for hamilton, 57 for button, 55 for vettel, 53 for webber and 49 for alonso. it still didn’t seem likely that the ferrari driver could get into the fight between mclaren and red bull. but that’s what he did.

 

alonso wins monza and is back in the race!

in hungary, vettel made his first big mistake, and webber won his fourth race, twice as many as anyone else. that was webber’s last win, which he only inherited from vettel’s mistake. hamilton would have still been in the lead, with 64 points, but webber had 63, vettel 61 and button, 58. alonso was back in he game, at 57, only 7 points behind the leader. interesting that, at that time, all drivers had been in the points in 10 out of the 12 races. only seven to go!

after the belgian grand prix and vettel’s accident with button, the title fight seemed to be between only two drivers: lewis hamilton (74 points) and mark webber (71). vettel was already 13 points behind the music, button had 58 and alonso 57. none of them really out, but all three in clear disadvantage. but then came monza and singapure, changing everything. mistakes by hamilton, and everyone seemed to be back in the race; mostly fernando alonso, who won both races and stormed up the ranks. this is when lewis hamilton lost the title; his two dnfs dropped him to third, 6 points behind the leader, mark webber. alonso had passed him, too (77 points), and vettel also had 74 points, in 4th place. even button was now only nine points behind, at 71.

 

before japan, these five drivers still had a shot at the title!

then came japan. everything still looking good for webber, even losing to his team mate sebastian vettel. the red bulls celebrated a 1-2 with no team orders. the duo now led the title race, with webber four points ahead of vettel (88×84 points). alonso was third (83), and the mclarens were starting to look worse and worse. they had led with both drivers right into the middle of the season, and now they were in 4th (hamilton, 78) and 5th (button, 76). it seemed like a race between the red bulls and alonso now, and that is precisely what would happen.

after the red bull disaster (webber’s mistake, vettel’s engine blowing up), alonso inherited the race victory and topped the f1 standings for the first time since his win in the first race of the season. 93 points, five over webber, seven over hamilton and nine over vettel. it seemed that vettel’s dreams were now gone, and he would have to help webber win the title. hamilton was back!

but in brazil, red bull decided not to use team order, and vettel lead a 1-2 red bull victory, but alonso’s third place meant he who be the favorite for the title. 99 points in the old system would mean that a second place in abu dhabi would be enough for the title. vettel would have to win and hope for a fourth place for alonso. not impossible.

vettel became the champ by 4 points in the new system. here the final standings of the championship in the old point system:

 

he's the number one. here in japan, but also in the world. youngest champ ever, sebastian vettel!

1. vettel 104

2. alonso 101

3. hamilton 99

4. webber 97

5. button 86

6. massa 56

7. rosberg 55

8. kubica 52

9. schumacher 25

10. barichello 15

11. sutil 14

12. petrov 9

13. kobayashi 9

14. hülkenberg 6

15. luizzi 5

16. de la rosa 2

17. buemi & heidfeld 1

 

 

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 19:39  Leave a Comment  
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fernando alonso: simply the best!

i have to start this by saying that i am one of not few who simply hate fernando alonso. actually, i’ve hated him even more in the past. i don’t even really know why. but i have to recognize that this year he has been the best man in the field.

 

in 2001, not even 20, but already in f1!

initially, in the first semester, it was lewis hamilton who i was seeing as the deserving coming champion, with a really more mature, but still agressive style, and a lot of competitiveness. but his car and even himself didn’t do as well in the second half, while alonso has been constantly good – this year and actually in all of his career years.

2001, one year before webber, alonso entered into the sport at minardi. since then it was his dream to drive a ferrari, just like other great drivers before him (prost, senna, schumacher), and even more starting his career with an italian team, his dream of being world champion for ferrari is old. alonso wasn’t even 20 years old when he sat in a f1 car in a race weekend, for the first time. the minardi was slow and not reliable, but alonso showed talent from the very first qualifying session, beating his team mate (brazilian tarso marques) by a whopping 2.6 seconds. alonso went on to even beat benettons in qualifying a couple of time, a fet that impressed their team chef, flavio briatore, que quickly became his manager. even without scoring a point in the season, he had quite a few impressive performances, most notably the japanese gp in suzuka, where he finished eleventh, in front of many better cars. he was offered mark webber’s job as renault’s test driver, with a good chance to become a regular driver for them in the future; webber took his job at minardi, a team who would soon be bought by the red bull empire.

incredibly, fernando alonso did so well as a test driver that briatore got rid of a young aspiring british driver to give him a seat for the 2003 season – jenson button had to leave renault. and it worked out! the team that had had their last successful spell with michael schumachers double championship in 94 and 95 finally was getting close to winning races again. alonso was the youngest driver to sit on pole position and the youngest driver to win a race, both in that year, and he had incredible 4 podiums and a 6th place in the driver’s championship, considering ferraris, mclarens and williams had far better cars. trulli, who started the season as the main driver, scored only 33 points, and alonso was on his way.

 

quite a duo: alonso and his boss/manager briatore, after his first pole position in march 2003.

in 2004, alonso didn’t win any races (although trulli did win monaco). benetton had left the williams behind, but the bar car with jenson button reached a high enough level for alonso to finish in 4th, one place behind the driver he stole the seat from. alonso still had a good season, with 59 points, 4 podium finishes and a 13 point advantage over team rival trulli, who fighted with team chef briatore and left the team before the end of the season. but alonso left the replacement jacques villeneuve no chances in the last 3 races, a world champion in his right. and renault seemed to be the main rival to fight ferrari and schumacher dominance, that had lasted for five years.

2005 was alonso’s great year. he became the youngest ever f1 champion by beating schumacher in the ferrari, although truth be said: the ferrari was only the third fastest car on the grid that year. it was a greater achievement for alonso o beat raikkonen, who had the better car (a mclaren); the spaniard won seven races, had 15 podium finishes and an incredible 133 points (schumacher had 62, in third place). fisichella, alonso’s new team mate, managed the first victory of the year, but only added two more podiums to he tally and ended up in 5th place, behind montaya’s mclaren, schumacher’s ferrari and raikkonen’s mclaren. alonso had won, and he’d won in style. he was the new schumacher, who also took 2 years at benetton to rise up the car’s level and crown himself champion in the third year. could he repeat schumacher’s feat of defending the title with a benetton? they had the same team chef (briatore), and they both seemed arrogant to the media, perfect parallelism. and what irony that schumacher tried everything in 2006, his last year at f1 (before his so far unsuccessful comeback), but alonso repeated the german’s feat and defended his title. seven wins again, 14 podiums, 134 points. schumacher managed 121 with an improved ferrari, but now the benetton was clearly the better car. alonso got the title, schumacher the glory, since many regard that last season as his best, even though he didn’t win the prize.

 

at the beginning they could smile... but this fight almost reminded of senna and prost...

it was time for alonso to move on, just like schumacher did. but not to ferrari, his dream. he first went to mclaren, to replace raikkonen, who went to ferrari instead. just like in 96 when schumacher left benetton, briatore’s team declined. and alonso continued his success, but he felt he was entitled to a better treatment, as the reigning two time champions and superstar of the sport. alonso never got along with the new boy hamilton, who totally managed to steal his thunder. in the british team, it seemed that alonso wasn’t as appreciated as the young lewis, who even seemed to have it in him to steal all of alonso’s records as youngest driver to achieve this or that. it was a tough season for alonso, and he almost won the championship; but hamilton actually threw it away, which also meant that alonso was, for the first time, outdriven by his team mate. it was a close call, but hamilton had had a better season with  tragic ending, and ironically raikkonen won the main prize. alonso angrily returned to his haven, the benetton team and flavio briatore.

 

alonso celebrates in hockenheim, another contreversial race in his career. vettel lost.

the two years to come were basically a wait for raikkonen to leave, since massa wouldn’t: alonso wanted to finally go to ferrari, even more so because his benetton car couldn’t give him wins. or at least shouldn’t, since it was a pretty medium car. there were victories anyway, two in a row even, but one of them with great controversy. his team mate nelsinho piquet caused an accident right after alonso’s pit stop, giving the spaniard the edge and the win in last year’s singapore race. until today, alonso denies that he knew about the scheme, but that seems highly unlikely. in any case, his image hadn’t been the best since his year at mclaren, and ferrari was all he was looking for to recuperate some lost respect and even dignity.

no way better than to start the new season in the new red car with a victory. a victory which came from a mechanical failure in sebastian vettel’s red bull. kind of a symbol for how the whole season has gone.

alonso has been there when needed. and he’s had quite a lot of luck this season. it would surprise me if his luck would change, but at least he has a clear goal – he needs to finish second, or he can kiss the title goodbye (vettel will certainly let webber pass, if needed). so the main action for the title might come out to be a direct duel between webber and alonso – fighting for second place behind vettel. another symbolical moment for the season might be coming in the closing weekend…

 

close to his dream - the title for ferrari!

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 18:25  Leave a Comment  

sebastian vettel – too reckless for truimph?

ayrton senna was a phenomenon. even winning most of his races and all of his titles after double-champion emerson fittipaldi and triple-champion nelson piquet, the brazilian was able to become the biggest star not only of the sport in his native country, but maybe the biggest star ever, alongside the king of football, pele. but after him, it’s been tough for any other landsman to really shine. barichello and massa both got to drive ferraris for quite a while, but they were both beaten by superior adversaries (schumacher and currently alonso); massa only really had a shot for the title in 2008, when raikkonen was his team mate. but it was not to be. and the zontas, pizzonias, di grassis & such will probably never even get close to winning races. basically, it’s tough to be  brazilian f1 driver, with senna’s shadow overcasting all.

 

seb vettel, here as a 17-year old test driver for bmw.

what does this have to do with sebastian vettel, who has a small chance of clinching his first f1 drivers title on sunday? well, he also has a fellow countryman who has quite a few successes under his belt. michael schumacher dominated formula one for years, in unseen proportions. he had more than twice of senna’s world championships, and more than twice of his grand prix wins. how could anyone even get close to his success our popularity, in the future?

vettel is far away from schumacher’s success, although he would be taking a first step towards a shiny career if we were to become the youngest f1 champ ever, this weekend. but schumacher was never as popular as senna, and vettel is today probably more popular in germany than schumacher ever was. it’s important to limit it to germany, since vettel doesn’t seem to enjoy too much sympathy outside of german borders. it’s not dislike or hate, the way schumacher at times experienced it (although that was also rare), it’s more of a “he’s too young and too wild”. not that f1 specialists and the public don’t like those adjectives, they just have given them away to f1’s current favorite driver, the brit lewis hamilton. and there is a parallel to be drawn between vettel and hamilton, as they do have a lot of the same personal and professional characteristics. both had great success in the business right from the beginning, both are always eager to attack and pass, both sometimes lose balance and make mistakes, and in both cases, it has costed one or the other championship title. and the question is justifiable: did vettel through away the drivers championship in 2010?

 

vettel in his toro rosso days...

vettel was a test driver at bmw in a very young age, and when he starting testing in the friday free sessions, posting best lap times, he caught everyone’s attention. the austrians from red bull saw the talent and the market (germany’s sport and f1 market is probably the biggest in he world) and hired him in the middle of the season, to driver in the ex-minardi team toro rosso – still italian, but already red bull. funny that all three championship contenders started their career at the italian team. vettel became a rising star almost instantely, with good performances in qualifying and race. the second half of the 2008 gave him a particular boost, as he was able to constantly finish in the top 5 with what was considered the eight or ninth best car in the field (=16th places would be in order). vettel won monza in a toro rosso, an amazing feat by any standards. and even in the big finale in interlagos, when massa failed to take the title out of hamilton’s hands, it was vettel who almost decided the championship in favor of the brazilian, passing hamilton in the rain of the last few laps. people commented on a possible duo of young, talented drivers for mclaren, but vettel stayed at red bull and moved up to the main team. a mistake, many people remarked, since the toro rosso seemed faster than the red bull, at the time.

but right at the beginning of the season, it was clear that vettel would be fighting for the title. his car was an instant success, leaving only the new team (brawn gp) in front, because of a technical advantage. thanks to button’s incredible consistency in that first half of the season and one or the other reckless mistake by vettel, the championship seemed decided early in button’s favor, but red bull had positioned themselves in front of mclaren and ferrari – and vettel in front of webber. it was one of the rare occasions when the world champion was not voted driver of the year.

 

monza winner in 2008 with toro rosso must be his most spectacular performance to date...

this year, vettel has made a couple of mistakes. but most of all, he’s had an incredible share of bad luck. it started in the first race of the year, when a certain victory was taken away from him by malfunction in the gear box. he lost three gears, but still was able to finish the race in 4th position, quite an impressive performance. alonso won that race (do the math in your head). in the second race, once again leading, vettel’s car lost torque (a clear team error) and he had to abandon the GP – instead of 50 points, he had 12. he won in malaysia, even after losing to team mate mark webber in qualifying (vettel’s first non-pole of the year). one can clearly state that if it weren’t to reliability problems in his car, vettel would’ve started the season with three wins. but even with the mishaps, he was only two points short of championship leader felipe massa.

in china, vettel qualifyed on pole again, but ever-changing weather conditions and one mistake during the race dropped him down the field, to 11th position; he eventually finished the race in 6th, a good result considering the circumstances. in spain, for the first time in the year and in his career, vettel was completely dominated by his team mate mark webber, who managed pole and a 100% race lead to the checkered flag. to top it, red bull made a mistake in the german’s pit stop, costing him second place in the race. our tally of points lost by team mistakes (and not driver mistakes) is now up to 41 points.

monaco started to worry vettel’s fans and himself, since once again it was webber who claimed pole and victory in this tradicional race. was the status quo changing and webber putting himself into championship contention? vettel showed better pace than webber during the race, which he finished second, but now both of them had taken the lead in the championship, with 78 points each, three ahead of fernando alonso. in midst of this doubt about who was trully red bull’s number one driver, the turkish grand prix arrived, seventh race of the season.

 

another win for vettel, here in suzuka a few weeks ago.

here is my take on that race: webber once again beat vettel for pole, and this was the third time in a row. the duo led the championship, and the afternoon’s winner would be sole leader. webber continued to push forward during the race, and vettel managed to get past hamilton. at a certain point, webber, vettel, hamilton and button were all in one “train”, which in f1 usually means that the first car is the slowest. and, in fact, vettel’s pace was better than webber. and he was being pressured by hamilton. so an overtaking manouver was necessary for him, and the team gave its okay, without announcing it to mark webber. it was still pretty clear, though, that webber should let his team mate pass in case of an attack, since he clearly was not up to the pace (read the article https://figobay.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/in-defense-of-red-bull-racing-and-ferrari/ for my stand on team order). vettel did see an opportunity and actually was ahead of his team mate at the end of a straight, but webber did not leave enough space and the two collided as vettel prepared to take the next curve. that would’ve been 25 points and the lead in the championship, but instead it was 0 points, down to 5th place in the standings – and a lot of angriness. i’ll stop counting now, but this is 66 points already. no matter what other bad luck other drivers out there had, vettel should be the championship leader at any point, and he isn’t. it’s true that he did make a couple of mistakes after the turkish grand prix, one of them in an attempt to pass jenson button at spa francorchamps, but even with those episodes, he would confortably lead the championship before the korean grand prix.

but he didn’t.

 

he's had a lot of bad luck this season... time for some luck?

incredibly, though, he went on to dominate that race in the rain, while his team mate webber made a mistake and striked out. finally, for the first time in the season, the championship lead was in his hands – when his motor blew up.

no driver can come back from 91 points lost due to outside factors and at least 25 due to own mistakes. and sunday might prove this to be true. but it is in fact astonishing that vettel is still in the running, after so much bad luck. vettel is, at times, reckless. but most of the time, he is talented and fast, and he would be this year’s deserving champion. or will he? only if the others finally have one of these vettel days…

Published in: on November 10, 2010 at 15:02  Comments (3)  
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mark webber – the people’s favorite

 

mark webber wants to become world champion - and he has a good shot at it on sunday...

today, tomorrow and on thursday i will publish posts taking a closer look at each one of the three championship contenders (lewis hamilton will be ignored in this one). and i’ll start today with the aussie mark webber.

in most polls all around the web, if asked who people favor for the title this year (and not who you think will actually get the gold), mark webber comes out victorious. and this has quite a few reasons, the most popular are these: he is the underdog, it’s probably his last chance to fight for the title (since he’s the oldest), he’s the most handsome, he’s the nicest. in general, people love it when specialists are wrong, and they have never really regarded mark webber as someone deserving of the formula one driver’s championship. and it seems pretty likely that mark can do the trick. but before we look at the irony of life, let’s look back to his career.

when mark was 20 years old, he finally moved to england to persue his dream of a f1 cockpit. over 13 years ago, he started his first formula 3 championship, but even with some good results there, in formula 3000, in fia gt and even le mans, it took him another five years to land a job in formula one – and at the smallest team on the grid, minardi. his career had really started when he earned a job test driving benetton for 2001, and became a personal client of his then teamchef, flavio briatore. flavio arranged a seat at the also italian minardi (replacing also briatore-client alonso, who replaced webber as a test driver for benetton) and webber had his first race at home, in the australian gp 2002. he actually finished in the points in that race, the only points the team would pick up in the entire year; still, mark webber was voted rookie of the year for that feat and for being faster than his team mate yoong in every single qualifying and race. in that vote, he beat the other rookies including felipe massa and takuma sato. this earned him a seat at jaguar, then the seventh best team on the grid.

 

as a rookie of the year, for minardi

mark webber proved himself in that he once again gave his team mate not a bit of a chance; when the brazilian antonio pizzonia, who had tested for then giants williams the previous season, was fired, mark webber had scored incredible 13 points, against zero from his team mate. at the end, jaguar ended up in seventh place in the cosntructor’s, but webber was tenth, carrying 17 of the 18 team points. although he was now a sought after driver, his age was never an advantage, since he was already 27 at the beginning of the 2004 championship, another season for jaguar. his new team mate was the austrian christian klien, who just recently came back to f1 in the hrt team.

mark webber had eight top ten finishes that season (against 4 by klien) and scored 7 points, out of ten for the team. jaguar, still seventh best constructor, wasn’t progressing, and mark webber knew that this would be his chance to fight for podiums or even the championship – if he could only get a new job for 2005! he’d proven himself in three pretty good season, taking easily care of his competition within the team. and he wasn’t getting any younger.

williams was supposed to give him the opportunity to win...and he did get a pretty good job. williams f1 wasn’t at the top any more, but it was still the fourth best car in the grid, destined to always be in the points. 2004 found them finishing on the podium only four times, though, but with one victory in the last race, by juan pablo montoya. it was a bad year for williams, who had slipped from ferrari-chasers number one to fourth, and they wanted to come back. montoya and ralf schumacher left the team powered by bmw, and nick heidfeld joined mark webber for a brand new season and attempt to get back to the top.

it wasn’t  good season for williams, and it was even worse for mark webber. for the first time in his career, his team mate was getting better results than him: the german nick heidfeld had three podium finishes in the first seven races, two of them as the race’s runner-up. webber managed a third place, his first podium, in monaco – but heidfeld finished second there. after the turkish grand prix, heidfeld had scored 28 points, 4 more than webber. then he suffered two different accidents and had to sit out the remainder of the season; antonio pizzonia, webber’s former team mate, replaced the german for the remainder of the season. and it was the same as two year earlier – pizzonia scored two points, webber 12. still, williams had slipped behind toyota and mclaren and were now only the fifth best car in the grid.

 

horrible accident in montreal for webber in the williams

bmw left the team for the 2006 season; mark would be 30, and williams didn’t seem to improve. a new and young driver replaced heidfeld, and it was another german: nico rosberg, today maybe one of the most valued drivers in formula one. as a rookie, rosberg didn’t have the same results as webber. everytime they both finished a race, webber ended up in front of his young team mate, but he retired a massive 11 times and only scored 7 points in this, the most disappointing year of his career. rosberg retired eleven times and had 4 points, leaving the williams team with an all time low of 11 points in a single season; that was eight place, behind bmw sauber, honda, toyota and even red bull ferrari, at the time with coulthard and klien as drivers.

this is when mark webber decided to switch from a rapidly declining team to a seemingly ascending one: red bull racing became the aussie’s home in 2007, and many experts judged that the once promising driver had just given up on any win or title hopes, similarly to his much more successful new team mate, david coulthard. red bull started seventh in the constructor’s hierachy that year, which meant that they would hope for one or the other point. it took webber seven races to get his first two points for red bull, and at the end of the season he had 10 points, 4 less than coulthard. still, it wasn’t to be considered a loss (or a win), since webber won the qualifying duel and did normally beat the scot when both finshed a race (which only happened four times), most famously in the european gp, when he got his second career podium finish in a great day for red bull. still, webber needed to prove the world and himself that he could beat an opponent like david coulthard, himself a gp winner, but not one of the greats in the sport. by the way, after that podium finish, the daughter team toro rosso (used to be minardi), bought by red bull to train and observe young talent, fired the american scott speed and hired the young german sebastian vettel…

last week in korea, both cars were still in the race at this point...red bull racing had rise to fifth place in the f1 hierachy, and wanted to go higher in 2008. webber had a good start to the year, finishing in the points in six out of the first eight races and getting his tally up to 18 points before the middle of the season. coulthard had finished on the podium once in these races (which webber hadn’t managed), but that was his only point finish, so he only had a third of his opponent’s points at the time. things seemed to be going well for webber. but the second half of that season was to become pretty humiliating.

webber only managed 3 additional points in the last 10 races, still one more than his british team mate. but the tragic in it was the performance of the daughter team toro rosso; destined to be a true second team with theoretically second hand material and a much smaller budget, the frenchman bourdais scored two points and finished in front of webber three times. much worse, though, was the performance of young german sebastian vettel. even without his incredible victory in monza, vettel scored 20 points in those 10 races – and with he victory, a whopping 30, ten times as many as mark webber’s! as vettel accepted red bull’s offer to move up to the main team in replacement of the retiring coulthard, the f1 world was asking itself if that wasn’t a major downstep for the german. and webber knew: here comes someone younger than me, praised by f1 boss ecclestone himself, and destined to be the future of the team. and what seemed worse: he seemed to be a better driver.

that would be a first for webber, who had been miles ahead of yoon and pizzonia, and slightly, rosberg and coulthard. only heidfeld was at the same level or slightly above him. but vettel could be a problem. to be a number two driver anywhere is a career breaker. at least the kind of career that looks for victories and world championships.

webber’s fears came true. although he was glad that red bull went from seventh to second best car of the season in one year, his first two victories and fourth place finish in the world championship were personal highlights, for sure. after all, when the won the german grand prix in july last year, he was almost 33 years old. but vettel outshone him in what was supposed to be his moment, in this 8th season of f1 circus. 4 wins, best man of the second half and elected the best driver of the year (instead of world champion jenson button), vettel was the man of the season for red bull and for most f1 specialists. and the defeats in qualifying, once webber’s domain, were normal. webber ended the season with few mistakes and 69.5 points, vettel ended it with more mistakes and still 84 points. and he would enter the year 2010 as one of the main contenders for the crown.

the irony is that vettel has been faster than webber most of the year, and will probably be on sunday, again. still, webber depends on his enemy in the team to be world champ. even if the aussie manages to win the race on his own merit coming weekend, he needs vettel to be second, in front of alonso (who is driving the second best car, currently). if vettel where to finish third or below, alonso’s second place would guarentee the spaniard’s title. and there’s still the more likely option of vettel having to hand webber the world title in the last round, which would be gentlemanlike, but still pretty humiliating. even for an underdog world champion.

 

will it be this time, mark? now or never!

webber came into formula one replacing fernando alonso after his successful rookie season at minardi. alonso got webber’s job of testing the benetton. now, alonso has two world titles, both for benetton, and is close to the third. irony wherever you look in the small world of formula one.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 16:27  Comments (2)  
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in defense of red bull racing – and ferrari!

this is a mini-manifesto.

from someone who has been interested in formula one in a household were no one else was since the age of 11, and watched every single race since 1994. from someone who is arrogant enough to think he can determine what is “right” in term of sportsmanship and what is wrong in formula one. and the subject is that of team orders.

i know that there are many opinions on this, but once again i will be arrogant enough to say that it is not a matter of opinion or relative truth, but this actually a pretty clear question. and i must say that i am very surprised not necessarily by the lack of knowledge of bloggers all around the world criticizing RBR after yesterday’s race, but by the terrible and unfounded opinions found in newspapers all around the world. i will just say it: most of them are simply wrong. and i’m right! 😉

what do to? vettel and webber have quite an onion to unpeal...

this is the game, this is the sport, this is formula one. there are two titles to be won in the formula one world championship. this is due to the fact that each team participating in the expensive competition has the right and duty to hire two drivers. there can only be one champion team, and there can only be one champion driver, that’s as simple as it is.

generally, teams equip drivers with the exact same material. at least in theory. in praxis, it is very rare that two drivers have the same ability to drive a particular car. most of the time, one driver is constantly the faster one; this is just a general statement that completely justifies, from the point of view of the team, why one driver might get more current or better material when there is only one piece available. it would not make sense at all to limit the second driver deliberately, since this is commercial nonsense. if schumacher, for example, had the advantage in new materials in his car, it is not because he was more beloved; it is because he was simply faster than a barrichello or a massa. this type of privilege, including the one in strategies during the race, is deserved in a purely competitive merit. this happens because formula one is run by teams, and they do have limited recources and economical considerations. not necessarily to sell more mercedes benz (in case of mercedes gp), but in terms of expenses and outcome. felipe massa would deserve priority in material and race strategy if he were more likey to score more points for his team. this is, once again, a merit that is earned through a career and a race-to-race performance. and now, more then ever, performance can actually be clearly measured and cracked into data, interpreted statistically and used to make decisions.

in this case, i am totally in favor of team strategy. and, this should be said, it is actually pretty rare that a driver  gets a real advantage over his team mate, since the differences, even if they exist, are too small to actually matter; this is what i’ve seen over the years. and those who complain too much about differentiated treatment are mostly just bad loosers.

a second situation is, what do you do if two drivers of one team fight meet each other on the track? i truly believe that here, there is a way to settle things in a sportive manner. first of all, if there is a duel between drivers of the same team at all, most of the time the faster driver in that particular race is the one attacking. this is very simple: to even get to a fight for positions in formula one, other than a good or bad timing in box stops, the car behind must be going faster than the car in front. in this situation, two phases should be put into practice. in the first phase, the car in front has to show that he has at least equal speed compared to the car behind. if he fails to show that, he should let his team mate pass. this is to reduce the risk of both drivers getting themselves out of contention through a stupid and unnecessary accident. open fights like senna x prost were only possible because no other drivers had cars good enough to compete with them, and there this is justified financially. but that would never have happened if other drivers were in contention for the end of year’s crown. it’s almost a decision for the fan: do you want to see two drivers driving for the same team battling it out on the track, or do you want multiple drivers from different teams trying to become world champion? i must say, i prefer the latter.

alonso could be the champ, and in my book, it's legit.

i am in favor of a faster team mate in a particular race be able to pass, if he’s shown that he is faster, for whatever reason (better or newer tyres, or just more pace).

what i am totally against is a driver with less pace being waved forward by the team for championship reasons before his team mate is out of contention.

just to finish up this little manifesto, here are examples.

ferrari making barrichello give schumacher the victory in austria – apalling and horrible, totally against the sport.

ferrari asking massa to let alonso pass in hockenheim this year, that was okay. alonso showed in the race that he was much faster. so actually massa should have let him past, but he couldn’t because that would be horrible for his fans in brazil, so the team order became the only option. i don’t applaud it, but alonso deserved to pass, since he is in the same team and was much faster. it doesn’t really matter that alonso as ahead in the championship (and at the time out of reach in the title race).

red bull not letting webber pass for the championship was correct, yesterday. if webber had reached vettel and started attacking him, vettel should’ve at least not complicated things and let him pass if he attacked. that’s my opinion. since vettel showed he was superior yesterday (and most of this season and all of last season), that was not an option and red bull made the right decision.

there is one exception to the rule, which is when a driver has no mathematical chance of being the world champion, and his team mate does. in this case, it is normal and understandable for a driver to help his team mate; this might be vettel’s case in the very last lap of the abu dhabi grand prix. a pretty sad way for webber to be world champion, somewhat humiliatging, but still, that’s what vettel should do. unless webber deservers the title and wins the race by his own merit.

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 16:58  Comments (2)  

red bull have one title – and the other in their hand!

the big question after today’s pretty exctiting race at the interlagos circuit in são paulo, brazil (which saw no brazilians, but four germans in the top ten) is if sebastian vettel is capable of being a gentleman. one could almost feel the sadness in mark webber’s expression and voice after the race. but actually, if you really look at it, it wasn’t a bad race for mark at all.

 

sebastian vettel was the man of the day - and can give his enemy in the team the title next week!

ferrari had the same pace as the red bulls, and they showed it today. but fernando alonso will have to deserve the title by finishing in front of one of the red bulls, since abu dhabi promises to be red bull land. and if mark stays ahead of alonso, he has a great chance to become world champions because of sebastian’s vettel talent. today, once again, he showed to be just a little better than webber, and had he not had problems in his car and that accident with webber (i still blame the australian), he would be world champion right now. there is a good chance that vettel will lead that race until the end, and if webber is able to stay in second and alonso is in third, as it was today, the question will arise: is sebastian vettel gentleman enough to gift webber with the title?

red bull has made it extremely clear that they will not interfere, and they proved it in a very professional and sportive way this weekend. so it will be vettel’s call, and i truly believe that he will let his team-mate become the world champion, even if they really are and never will be good friends. vettel has to win the race and alonso could only finish in fifth for the german to be champion. which is difficult, unless alonso has massive bad luck. so, if red bull plays it like this weekend, the champion next week will be the australian mark webber!

today is also a day to recognize the organization and management of red bull racing, who indeed have invested less than the big teams and have won the world championship for austria. the country had their first title in formula one in the early sixties, when jochen rindt was the only postum world champion. niki lauda added a couple of titles, and now red bull are on top! and really, if you look at it, this is quite an impressive achievement for such a new team, first laughed at as not serious enough to do well. red bull showed class today, with performance and sportivity. and sebastian can show class next week, leaving the victory to webber, if absolutely necessary.

Published in: on November 7, 2010 at 19:12  Leave a Comment