Sunday 18 February 2018

Motorsport: Alonso feeling the burn as Red Bull raise temperature

David Kennedy

As YouTube Korean pop sensation PSY got to wave the chequered flag last Sunday at his country's Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso tried Gangnam-style to elicit a few extra revs out of his prancing as opposed to dancing horse when he brought his Ferrari home in third place behind hat-trick victor Sebastian Vettel.

And so the countdown begins. There are four races over five weeks still to play for. After back-to-back grands prix in India next weekend, followed immediately by Abu Dhabi, the only respite is one free weekend before Austin, USA and then it's on to Brazil for the grand finale.

Alonso has gone from leading the championship by 44 points after his last win at the German Grand Prix in July to a six-point deficit.

As the Ferrari driver contemplates his bleak chances of beating his rival, neither can he take comfort from the past. In 2011, Vettel was on pole for the final three grands prix. In India, Vettel won and Alonso came third. In Abu Dhabi, Vettel retired and Alonso finished second. In Brazil, Vettel was second and Alonso was fourth. The Austin, Texas 'Circuit of the Americas' is a new venue but its fast pace will undoubtedly suit Red Bull.

In these warmer climes not even the weather will be on Alonso's side. He's desperate for rain but that's an unlikely scenario unless Bernie Ecclestone borrows a few rain machines from Hollywood.

Alonso must wonder how different things would be if Ferrari had secured the services of Adrian Newey for 2012 but the gifted aerodynamist stayed loyal to Red Bull. I suppose when you are, allegedly, paid ten million dollars a year, you don't move to another team for the money.

Success flows from Newey's pen whichever team employs him be it Williams, McLaren or Red Bull. This season could see him clinch his ninth constructors' title in 20 years.

Mercedes and Lotus started the trend for double DRS, which in effect reduces drag and thus increases top-line speed, but Newey perfected it. Mercedes struggle with their version and Lotus have yet to use DRS in a race but it has proved a vital tool in the battle for qualifying.

Driver-assisted DRS will be banned in 2013 but since Lotus' version works independently it will be permitted. No doubt Newey will be ahead of the posse on that too.

Since Singapore, thanks to the double DRS, a new front wing plus a myriad of aero tweaks, Red Bull has shown a clean pair of heels to the opposition. The team has many laurels on which to rest but to be fair they never get complacent.

So, while Vettel looks to be on a fast-track to his third consecutive world championship, Alonso is not giving up and he will fight with every last drop of his Asturian Celtic blood to keep the dream alive.

Lewis Hamilton's challenge looks like it's hit the buffers. But in some ways not being a candidate for a title could give him the freedom to go for wins instead of trying to finish in the points. Alonso would like nothing more than to see McLaren put some breathing space between him and Vettel as the Spaniard keeps his eye firmly on the coveted prize. McLaren have promised some updates that could put them back in the running by India next weekend, which may come in handy in their battle to overtake Ferrari for second in the constructors' race.

In the testosterone-loaded world of Formula One, it was welcome news to see Sauber appoint the sport's first female team principal.

Monisha Kaltenborn, who also owns a third of the team, came to the top position via a law degree that saw her work on legal and corporate Sauber business before becoming CEO of the company two years ago.

She was born in India and moved to Austria when she was eight. The 41-year-old mother of two young children is also an ambassador for the FIA's Women in Motorsports Commission and she wants to use her position at Sauber as an example to encourage other women into the sport. Kaltenborn has already shown great judgment by signing Nico Hulkenberg for 2013. He was Team German A1GP champion in 2006/7, two years before Team Ireland won the title. Hulkenberg also

won the GP2 championship in 2009. The 25-year-old leaves Force India to make this important move in readiness for when he may replace Massa at Ferrari at the end of next season.

Speaking of the FIA commission, it also backs the terrific initiative 'F1 in schools' ( This is a global multi-discipline, which has reached seven continents, 34 countries and has 15,000 colleges taking part. Students get involved in all aspects of designing an F1 car of the future using engineering, science, technology and marketing skills. Students collaborate, design, manufacture, test and then race miniature compressed-air-powered balsa wood F1 car models. They have to explain their work to a panel of judges, market their concept and race their car at speeds of over 60kph along 20-metre straights. In Abu Dhabi next weekend, the world finals take place and Team Quasar from St Ailbe's school in Tipperary will represent Ireland.

The team members include Sinéad Cummins (Team Manager), Maeve O'Gorman (Marketing and Communications Manager), Gerard Barlow (Manufacturing Engineer), Megan Cleary (Resource Manager) and Deirbhle Hennessy (Graphic Designer). Their aim is to follow in the footsteps of the Irish 2009 world champions, the Koni Kats, and walk away with the Bernie Ecclestone F1 in Schools World Championship trophy.

In a separate collaboration, runners-up who also won a special category get to work with an opposite number. Ireland is represented by Elite Racing from Presentation College, Carlow, who team up with Team XLR8 from River Valley High School, Singapore.

Best of luck to all of them.

Sunday Indo Sport

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