Eifelsucht.

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“Are you waiting for Mark?” asks Brendon. “He’s flown away already.”

Trees look like black lace on the smoky sky, sun has sat already, the grandstands are empty. The teams dissemble their equipment. Dunlop and Michelin have packed before the end of the race, the trucks start moving, and in a matter of minutes you almost get lost.

“I hope you had a good weekend,” says Brendon with a tired smile and heads towards their hospitality.

Did we have a good weekend? “Mega!” as Mark said, giving me a high five after the race.

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24h.

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Le Mans 24 Hours. I doubt there is anything in this world that comes close to it. It’s mythic, it’s unique, it’s a whirlwind of emotions, it’s on the limit and beyond. It’s on every racing fan’s bucket list, and having crossed it off the list once, I have instantly put it back on it, because there is not much that comes close to the atmosphere of this magnificent event. The racing melts into the town, floods into the narrow streets, with the prototypes rolling down the Avenue Général de Gaulle into the Place de la République on Sunday afternoon for the scrutineering, plaques with the handprints of the drivers who have written their names into the history books set between the cobbled stones at the Place Saint-Nicolas.

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Spa. Simply Perfect Atmosphere.

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Porsche 919 Hybrid passing by the LMP2 of G-Drive racing during the Free Practice on Thursday 05.05.2016

You close your eyes and listen: the birds singing, the wind rustling through the lacy tops of the old pines, the tiny river with an infamous name flowing along the stones overgrown with moss… this peace and quiet makes you forget about time. But once the lights go green and the sound of the engines enweaves neatly into the calm timelessness of the Ardenne countryside every thousandth of a second counts. It was my third time at the WEC 6h of Spa-Francorchamps, and it was magic.

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Live the passion

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When you stand under the podium in Monza the world ceases to exist, in some weird way you cease to exist, you become part of that energy, you breath with it, you scream with it, and you cannot quite believe that this can be real.

Monza wasn’t really planned for me three weeks before the race, but it suddenly came on the radar, when stuff got sorted out in the real life. I have always wanted to go to Monza, and it was not really about the event, it was more about the circuit. God she is beautiful! For a while before I started going to races, I didn’t quite get all the old-school-circuit kind of talk. I think after being to Spa twice and now having visited Monza, I begin to understand what people mean. There’s something about it, that I personally cannot put into words. Sheer realisation of the history of the place is enough for it to be breathtaking, but what comes on top, is the incredible energy the fans bring to the circuit. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you are a bit of a Ferrari fan.

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6h of Nürburgring or three days of pure happiness

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This weekend couldn’t  be more perfect. I think I will need a while to comprehend that this everything was real, that I didn’t dream it.

WEC is an amazing race to go to, after two years in a row in Spa, I knew that much for sure. Tickets are very affordable, the access is amazing, organisation is mostly impeccable. WEC is an amazing kind of racing to watch live.

Nürburgring has proven to be a great venue, too. The area is unbelievably beautiful. High up the Eifel mountains with the tiny villages around and that mideavel castle on top of the hill, it is a great destination to get away from the hassle of the real life.

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My take on the Pirelli vs. Seb

On lap 42 of the Belgian grand Prix today Sebastian’s tyre has disintegrated “out of the blue”, and after the race Sebastian was furious, I guess I have never seen him so furious before. Ever. He spoke to RTL, saying that he wasn’t concerned about the result, he was concerned about safety, and had the tyre given up 200m earlier he would head into the wall at 300 km/h. Moreover he mentioned that Pirelli said the tyre was good for 40 laps. And those 40 laps, in my opinion is the crucial problem.

The statement was confirmed by Paul Hembery. He of course said that it was just a guideline, and that they didn’t expect anyone doing a race on one stop. At this point I ask myself isn’t 12 laps too much of a deviation on 40 lap guideline? And if they were not sure, and expected the teams to do at least a two stopper, why would they have the 40 laps guideline? What are they having from overstating the useful life of the tyres, while their job is to make tyres that don’t last too long?

Sebastian also mentioned that concerns were raised after the incident with Nico Rosberg, who also escaped what could have been a very nasty accident. He is one of the people who has often voiced concerns that others didn’t: remember Suzuka 2014? Seb was the one who said that it was a shame they didn’t reschedule the race, and as far as I remember he said it before Jule’s accident.

I am sure Sir Jacky Steward wasn’t too popular when he fought for safety improvements. None of the people who contributed enormously to the safety in Formula One was. But their legacy is why after a crash the drivers get out of the car and carry on with their business.

Ihe risky strategy adopted by Ferrari is not really an excuse. It was a gamble, yes. But the tyres were 28 laps old (12 laps less that the guideline!), and at worst you should expect dramatic drop in performance, not the tyre disintegrating at 300 km/h. Ferrari gambled, the gamble didn’t pay off (though the worst case scenario would be fourth) – this happens this is racing, and it wasn’t what Sebastian was talking about. He spoke about safety, not the results.

What kills me is the hypocrisy. People complain about swearing? Really? Firstly, he speaks a foreign language, and it is likely to be a prejudice from my side, but I wonder how many of people who criticize him for it are able to form coherent sentences in a foreign language. Another point is, how so many forget he is actually a human being. I wonder how many of us would be able to keep calm and politically correct if someone shoved a microphone in front of your nose just five minutes after you had an accident that under slightly different circumstances could have cost you your life? Especially if you spoke about the situation a day before. Really I would look at you.

Seb is harsh, and I guess Britta will not be too happy about what he said, and the way he said it. But aren’t the same people who now criticize Seb say that the drivers have become too perfect and to corporate and no one expresses their opinions. You have an opinion and someone who has the balls to express it, so I am not sure there is a reason for complaints.

Formula one is a dangerous sports, and I guess from time to time all of us want to be fans of chess of snooker, it will always remain dangerous, but it doesn’t mean there is no point in trying to improve safety. If everyone would stick with “it’s dangerous, deal with it” philosophy, there wouldn’t be helmets or seatbelts yet.

I really hope that they will figure out something to improve the tyres, to make the drivers trust their equipment again. And I think that one day if we are unlucky, people will thank Sebastian for voicing, what no one did, and for being politically incorrect.

Ultimately, I don’t think that the important question is whether Ferrari or Pirelli are to blame, but what can be done to improve, and avoid something like that ever happening again.

A small follow up to the fury post about the “biography”

The previous post of fury has lead to a conversation with the author of the book in question. This conversation has actually answered a lot of ifs as well and some whys.

Well, you might imagine that I have to fight hard not to add a sarcastic comment here and there. What is actually funny, though, Ms Sturm didn’t comment on some factual faults, I have pointed out😉

A book for people banned on the Internet

When I had heard of Sebastian Vettel’s biography written by Karin Sturm, I thought I should get it. I even asked Ms Sturm on twitter whether it was the Tom Bower “skeletons in the closet” style or the Wikipedia style. She said it was neither. Well so far the book has a bit more interview quotes than the Wikipedia article, but other than that it’s Wiki.

One thing upfront, I haven’t finished the book, and I doubt I ever will, so my only hope is that somewhere in there it gets better. What I have read so far is more than disappointing it’s disgusting.

The fact that it’s Wiki,would be just disappointing, and I would just lay the book away and go reread something exiting like Tom Bower’s book, which is at least entertaining, or something with a claim to be true like the Autobiography of David Coulthard (even if you couldn’t care less about DC it is worth reading). Ms Sturm’s book takes the disappointment to the whole new level:

Zu Saisonbeginn [2009] hatte der Australier mit Sicherheit noch mit den Folgen seines Fahrradunfalls zu kämpfen, der ihn ja auch schon große Teile des Wintertestprogramms gekostet hatte. Im November war Webber in seiner Heimat, bei einem von ihm selbst veranstalteten Charity-Event, auf dem Rennrad von einem Auto angefahren worden und hatte sich nicht unkomplizierte Beinbrüche und auch einen Bruch in der Schulter zugezogen – Letzteres verschwieg er damals sogar seinem Team.

– Karin Sturm, p. 193

At the beginning of the season [2009] the Australian certainly had to cope with the consequences of his Bike accident, which had already cost him major parts of the winter testing programm. In November in the charity event he organised in his home country, Webber was riding a bike and got hit by a car and sustained not uncomplicated leg fractures and a broken shoulder – he has concealed the latter even from the team. 

The first point about missing the winter testing program may be partially true, but it is still worth mentioning that he was there when they launched the RB5 in Jerez in February (see e.g. Mark Webber, 2010 – A Season to Remember p. 9ff). The part about the broken shoulder is from a completely different chapter. Mark did suffer a broken shoulder and did conceal it from the team. Only it happened in October 2010, and not in November 2008, in a completely different accident (see Mark Webber, 2010 – A Season to Remember p. 176, The Telegraph). Ms Sturm’s book is not about Mark, obviously, but I am not sure that factual mistakes about googlable information should make it into a book.

This is the disappointing part. Another disappointment is the way the opinions are presented in a manner of the ultimate truth. It is clear that the paddock press takes sides, and one must be delusional to think that any of it as the whole truth. The whole Vettel-Webber saga, seems to be mostly the doing of the press rather than the drivers themselves. And Ms Sturm clearly follows the party line adopted by the German media: Seb is the saint, Mark is the villain. She clearly adores Sebastian in every way, but I am not sure she has any factual prove to the things she claims to be true. According to her, after the infamous Korean accident, Mark personally sent the troops of the British press into a crusade against Sebastian. Just a quote:

Mithilfe seiner [Webbers] guten Beziehungen zu den Britischen Medien stichelt er dann hintenrum doch gewaltig weiter.

– Karin Sturm, p.251

Using his good relationship with the British Press he keeps on taunting from the back. 

It is just to illustrate the tone Ms Sturm’s choses to write about Mark Webber, the guy is a pure evil, as are apparently “his people”. This is what Ms Sturm writes about the aftermath of the Brazilian Gran Prix 2010, when Red Bull won the WCC:

[…] sitzt im Fahrerlager jemand einsam und missmutig vor dem Red-Bull-Häuschen: Ann Neal, die Lebensgefährtin von Mark Webber. Vielsagend für die Stimmung – während  Vettel mit seinem Sieg und seiner souveränen Glanzleistung erneut unterschtreicht, wer in dem englisch-österreichischen Team derzeit der Bessere ist, können sich der Australier und seine Leute einfach nicht mit der sportlichen Philosophie von Mateschitz abfinden, eine WM im fairen Fight auf der Strecke und nicht durch Stallorder gewinnen zu wollen.

– Karin Sturm, p.266

[…] in the paddock, someone is sitting alone in front of the Red Bull hospitality: Ann Neal, Mar Webber’s partner. It speaks volumes amout the mood – while Vettel with his win and his solid performance undelines once again, who is the better one in the english-austrina team, the australian and his people cannot accept the sporting philosophy of Dietrich Mateschitz, to win the Championship is a fair fight at the circuit and not through the team orders. 

There might be some people who will find it acceptable, or even good journalism. I don’t. And not because I don’t agree, or I like Mark a lot, or because I suggest she is lying, but because I believe that making statements about people without any actual proof, does not qualify for good journalism.

I probably will not finish this book, my nerve cells are dear to me. This all just reminded me how much the press has hurt the people they write about. I remember a year ago Helmut Marko said something like Vettel is better than Hamilton and Rosberg together. Helmut was soon forgotten, but Sebastian was once again called arrogant. Those weren’t his words, but it was his name they stuck to. It’s sad that there is Sebastian’s name attached to this book. I hope he is a better person than that.

Horner talking, or How to stab people in the back

Don’t go to F1 searching for honour. People do and say horrible things, as if this were the only way. While everyone is busy with Christmas Shopping, Christian Horner is dutifully running the “Red Bull won’t miss Sebastian Vettel” campaign. So why not to give an interview to the BBC.

I don’t think Christian is making things up, but he is clearly very selective with the truth. He forgets to mention mechanical failures that cost Seb the practice sessions and car set ups, he forgets to mention all those times when the team made mistakes in strategy. He also forgets to mention that in Italy Seb was on older tyres, it was a great move, that Daniel pulled off, no question there, but you still need context.

I have always disliked sneaks. If you are unhappy with someone’s behaviour or attitude you go and talk to the man himself, you don’t go telling the press. Christian, who year after year praised Sebastian’s work ethic has suddenly decided to imply that Sebastian didn’t work hard enough, because he didn’t like the regulations. But stating it as a reason to leave for Ferrari. Well, sorry to disappoint, but Ferrari have the same set of regulations to comply to, so the move doesn’t exactly change anything in this respect.

What appointed me a lot more than selective memory of the Red Bull team principal, was the personal touch to it. “Knowing Sebastian as well as I do” implies good interpersonal relationships of some sort, and odds are there is some trust involved. He says this, and then lists all the things that can potentially undermine Sebastian’s credibility. Horner knows that that crazy unfounded hate did hurt Sebastian a lot more than he showed, and what he did now, was give the bloodthirsty press and couch experts a nice set of sticks to beat Sebastian up. It is disgusting.

Study in red

I think I am slowly coming to terms with Sebastian being a Ferrari driver from the next year on. At first I hated the thought of it, but the more I think about it, the more I think that I will be able to accept it.

Apparently Sebastian has engineered an amazing deal for himself with 25m a year plus bonuses (according to Sport Bild), furthermore Ferrari have always been fine with the personal sponsorship deals (which years ago lured Michael to them at the first place), and it is a lot of money, even compared to his 22m contract with Red Bull. I don’t actually think that there is something bad about choosing a better paying company.

Apparently his condition was that Alonso had to go, which is not surprising at all. And this point I find totally understandable, he doesn’t seem like a person who would be happy to play the mind games that Fernando excels at. Except he seems to have lost this round to Seb. According to the Sport Bild, Fernando was fairly pissed after his talk with Mattiacci on Thursday, the day before Seb told he was leaving Red Bull. So basically Sebastian has left Fernando with very limited bargaining power: he can’t stay at Ferrari, he is not going to Red Bull, Mercedes have two very good drivers, and Alonso seems to be the last person you would hire to improve the relationships inside the team. He is left with McLaren.

Ferrari has a mythos around it, this mythos is valid. They have been there forever, they used to be synonymous with F1 for so many years, they have the highest amount of trophies to their name. Ferrari have history, and being so much in love with the history of motorsport, Sebastian wants to write his own. I remember that interview done by Spiegel.tv. “Ich bin kein Schumacher, ich bin ein Vettel” (I am not a Schumacher, I am a Vettel) said the 12 year old Sebastian. Now he has four titles to his name, the experience and confidence that he can do what Schumacher once did. If Seb pulls it off he is a legend.

One may think that leaving Red Bull now is a betrayal, that Seb’s jumping ship. And to be honest to some extent he is. Red Bull has been on the top of the cycle for four years, and now they are inevitably going down. With less involvement from Newey, with the Renault motors they are stuck with, they will need at least a couple of years to regroup if they are to be on the very top to challenge Mercedes. It’s the same time Ferrari needs to build themselves up with the new people and the new hopes. Sebastian now did what Lewis did two years ago, he has left the team that has brought him up for the new challenge. He actually uses the same rhetorics Lewis used back then. Lewis made the right choice, and I hope that Sebastian made a right bet as well. I want him to manage what Alonso failed at.

I don’t know how I will manage my negative feelings towards Ferrari and my adoration towards Seb, but I somehow managed it with Lewis and Mercedes, it’s just going to be the round two. After all it takes 22 to tango, after all F1 is one big family quarreling about the estate.

I will still love Red Bull, they have something very special, and I want them to do well through the much tougher times that they have been having this year. I want them to keep pushing, and I am sure they will. Daniel has proven that he can do the job, he has pretty much outpaced the four times world champion. I am not sure about Kvyat, though. It is a gamble, it’s a huge gamble. But I am very happy that Red Bull went with their programme, that they didn’t go shopping for someone with a name to pay for. Next year they will have at least 20 more million to put into the car and one proven driver. It will be tough for the marketing department, though. It’s going to be hard to sell a Russian in Europe, or in fact anywhere in the world but Russia. Daniil though is as much a Russian as Nico Rosberg is a German. And in general I think that nationality is fairly irrelevant in F1. I just hope he does well and doesn’t cause too much of a fluctuation in the team, that he can build the sort of relationships with the guys that Sebastian and Daniel have built over the years. That he feels at home in the team and that the team feels good about him. Open mindedness gained through years of international experience may help him with this.

I think Christian is not entirely honest, saying that he was taken aback by Seb’s decision. People must have known before, I am not sure that Kenny leaving, or being let go, is a coincidence. And Seb has told them as soon as his deal with Ferrari was done, I don’t think that the timing of the announcement was bad. And Red Bull must have given a thought to what they do if Seb leaves. They had a plan, and PR wise they have handled the situation fairly well, announcing the driver line up, not to give a ground to any speculations. Christian seemed hurt, though, on more than just professional level. As did Dr. Marko. Sebastian reportedly was in tears, when he told his team in the morning, and that tweet from Stu is heartbreaking. Sebastian is obviously leaving a very happy place, and people who are dear to him. But he moves on, and the only thing left is to wish him to succeed at what he does.

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