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Testing tyres turn unpredictability into F1 art form

Fernando Alonso's flamenco red Ferrari danced to the beat of a different kind of drum when he won at his home Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalyunya in Barcelona. It doesn't get much better than the combination of Iberian sunshine, 100,000 diehard fans, Ferrari, a national hero and an unexpected win to create the perfect home race.

However, the race itself was chaotic. When teams end up making four pit-stops, some coming in a handful of laps after the start, your average fan could be excused for being completely flummoxed as to who is lying where. Until F1 devises a system of electronic classification displayed on each car, the paying public will struggle to grasp what's really happening, but then again, for some, that's half the fun.

Alonso's victory didn't please the Red Bull hierarchy, particularly the grand fromage himself, Dietrich Mateschitz. He is bending Bernie's Ecclestone's ear about the Pirelli problem. He wants a change from these super-degradation tyres to compounds that return the emphasis to engineering, aerodynamics and well . . . Red Bull victories. It looks like Pirelli will acquiesce.

That decision has Lotus in a spin, although not literally, because here's a team that is manipulating the ultra-sensitive tyres to their advantage, so much so that lead driver Kimi Raikkonen is lying second in the championship, trailing Vettel by just four points. Or in terms of a budgetary spreadsheet, the cash-strapped team is outgunning the biggest spender on the grid.

Former world champion turned Canadian TV commentator, Jacques Villeneuve had a funny take on it when he said, "At this rate, F1 is going to become a pit-stop contest with a few race laps thrown in."

The consensus is to return to the status quo. But there's nothing more entertaining than to witness aggressive, angry, intense ambitious drivers behave like ballerinas on thin ice as they call on all their regressive sensitivity and delicateness to tiptoe around on tyres that are shredding faster than you can say Rudolf Nureyev. It's a different sort of racing but, crucially, one that's unpredictable. It wasn't long ago that the pole-position man was favourite to win the race. Only once this season has that been the case: in Malaysia with Vettel.

Poor Nico Rosberg; you have to have sympathy for him. When he achieved his third career pole in Barcelona, he was well chuffed. It was his second this season and as if he hasn't had enough of being measured against golden team-mates – let's face it Michael Schumacher is one hell of a yardstick, albeit an aged one in F1 terms – Mercedes continue to keep him on his toes by hiring another, Lewis Hamilton, and once again Rosberg has to go out and prove himself. But he's a fighter and he doesn't have far to go to get advice from a former world champion, his father Keke.

Rosberg junior is an eclectic mix; he has a German mother, a Finnish father, he was born in Germany, lived in Monaco and went to the International School of Nice. When he wins, he's had either the German or Finnish anthems but he shows no particular allegiance to either. He's well used to change and adapting. He's fluent in five languages, which is testimony to his versatility.

Lewis is six months his senior. Both were team-mates in karting 13 years ago. They get on well and, unlike the pairing at Red Bull, have synergy. But deep down, you can never have any significant relationship with a team-mate because that could hamper you when you go in for the proverbial kill.

If anything could prove an impediment to Rosberg becoming champion, it is that he was privileged. When push comes to shove, euphemistically and literally, the fire in the belly is quelled by never having been hungry enough for the fight. It's a very subtle but defining edge that Hamilton has over him.

In Barcelona, Rosberg was half a second faster than Alonso in qualifying and a second slower in the race. This is the current conundrum.

Forgetting about the racing for a minute, the machinations are about the man who makes the news and is now the subject of it. Ecclestone's

days as F1's chief could be numbered. The 82-year-old has a lot on his plate. There's an impending bribery lawsuit where he's accused of paying off a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, to, allegedly, undervalue the share price to facilitate Bernie buying F1 back in 2006.

Except the banker diddled the German taxpayer out of a fair deal and has just been jailed for eight-and-a-half years for his sins. He's now, as they say, co-operating with the prosecutors. Bernie denies the payment was a bribe and claims he was blackmailed by the banker and that he wasn't aware that Gribkowsky was a public official.

Then there's Bluewaters Communications who have filed a lawsuit because they offered to pay 10 per cent over and above any other offer for F1 around the same time. They're claiming $650m in losses from just

about everyone involved in this murky plot, citing the bribery prosecution as proof they were deprived of certain profits. Private equity firm CVC, joint owner of F1 with Bernie, is planning an imminent $12bn flotation on the Singapore stock market; this is their second stab at an IPO after backing down the first time because of the global recession.

They'll have to convince investors that Bernie is expendable and that the serious charges he is facing will have no bearing on the share value. It's an uphill task. The octogenarian is still sharp, witty and energetic. He doesn't want a legacy that besmirches his reputation and he'll go down fighting. When asked to comment, he's come over all Catherine Tate-like with his 'am I bothered' retort.

The big news of the week is the Honda-McLaren partnership which will commence in 2015. The Japanese manufacturers are returning to a team that gave them eight world championships over two decades during the 1980s and '90s.

Monaco is next weekend. Posers, loafers, gofers, shysters, losers, winners, have-nots, have yachts, wannabes, have-beens, blaggers, swaggers – the usual list of suspects arrive in town for what is one of the best global sporting events.

Mercedes has a good chance of victory. If I had to choose a driver, I'd put my money on Hamilton. But unpredictability is a now an art form in F1, so like the other glittering event up the road in Cannes, the jury is out.

Irish Independent