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Another intersting article

ITV Sport's pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz brings you the inside track from the Chinese Grand Prix weekend in his latest notebook.


McLaren

This story about the FIA assigning a scrutineer to ensure no sabotage comes to Fernando Alonso’s car in Brazil is the most ridiculous turn in what’s already been a strange year’s events.

McLaren is genuinely fair in what equipment they give their drivers, often to their own detriment. And given Fernando’s engineers and mechanics really want to beat the other side of the garage to the world championship, why would they deliberately slow down their own car?

I have to admit, I love a good conspiracy theory, and I’m even willing to believe those who say the result of the Chinese GP was fixed to ensure a three-way showdown at the last race – but to sabotage Alonso would only serve to help Kimi Raikkonen through to take the title off both McLaren drivers, and no one in the team wants that.

Fernando’s still out of McLaren at the end of the year, though. His departure is now spoken of in the paddock as a done deal, and the latest rumoured replacement is Heikki Kovalainen.

It would be a straight swap with Renault. Both teams would release their drivers to work for the other and the harmonious Alonso-Fisichella pairing would be reunited. Perfect!

The overriding feeling from Lewis Hamilton’s race in China is that the team got so bogged down in the detail of finding a gap in the weather and, crucially, covering what team-mate Alonso was doing, that they lost sight of the big picture.

Lewis didn’t need to win the race – he just needed enough points to make Brazil a formality. Instead he goes to Sao Paolo needing a massive result, and knowing he could easily lose the championship lead when it really matters.


Ferrari

Nigel Stepney himself would be proud of the new development Ferrari’s pit crew introduced in the Far East: They’ve done away with the lollipop man and replaced him with a small set of traffic lights.

The lights hang down from the tyre gun booms and are connected to the fuel system. So the driver can see the red, amber and green lights that the fuel man gets to denote that the stop is about to begin, is in progress, or finished.

The chief mechanic stands nearby with an override switch that he can use to keep the lights on red if it is not safe to release the driver. If it is safe, the driver just reacts to the green ‘all the fuel is in’ light, and leaves the pit.

Firstly, this cuts down on time. The lollipop system is inherently slow as it relies on two human reactions – the lollipop man reacting to the fuel nozzle coming off and then the driver reacting to the lollipop.

Given that the average human reaction time is about two-tenths of a second, that time is now saved by cutting out one person’s reaction time.

Secondly, the new system will prevent the phenomenon of ‘chief mechanics’ twitch’, whereby the driver thinks he sees the lollipop go up or the mechanic raises it too soon, as demonstrated by Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone and Christijan Albers in France.

So it’s a nice idea, albeit slightly complicated. Will it make the difference to Raikkonen or Massa possibly overtaking someone in the pits? I doubt it, but the system is likely to be copied by everyone else in the pit lane anyway.


BMW Sauber

Robert Kubica was looking pretty good for a podium before he retired. A pit stop on lap 25 saw him on dry tyres, leading the race, with but one stop to make before the end.

For him to suffer the same hydraulic problem that BMW had experienced three times already that weekend was gutting, if not particularly surprising.

Once they rinsed off the hydraulic fluid, the engineers packed up the faulty parts in a few suitcases and flew them back to BMW HQ in Munich, presumably to dump them ceremonially on their hydraulics designer’s desk with stern instructions to come up with something that works.

The cars are flown directly from Shanghai to Brazil, so it looks like Lufthansa will be raking in the excess baggage charges when BMW check in with re-worked hydraulic systems for their flight to Sao Paolo next week.


Williams

So, farewell then, Alexander Wurz. Even at the point of retirement, you’ve got to hand it to him – he’s a class act.

Unlike Ralf Schumacher (who also lost interest several months ago), as soon as Alex decided he’d had enough, he quit on the spot, rather than waste his and the team’s time – and possibly his life – driving in one more race for no purpose.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Wurz is, by some margin, one of the most intelligent drivers I’ve encountered in 10 years of F1, and I’m sure he’ll pick up a testing job with another team if he wants it, and surely has what it takes to be a successful team boss in the future.

In the meantime, we wish Alex, Julia and sons Felix, Charlie and Oscar all the best.

Williams dropped a bit of a clanger when they gave Nico Rosberg the wrong (wet) tyres after he pitted with a puncture on lap 28, necessitating another stop for slicks four laps later.

But that was nothing compared to the obvious hint that Patrick Head dropped as to the identity of Wurz’s replacement next year when he congratulated “the Toro Rosso drivers” (of whom only Tonio Liuzzi is unsigned for ’08) on their race drive in the last line of the team’s press release.


Shanghai International Circuit

I’m indebted to reader Emma Jones who made the excellent point in the comments section of last week’s notebook that the Fuji circuit could learn a thing or two from Silverstone about where to place grandstands.

She’s right, of course, but Silverstone still felt it had something to learn from F1’s Asian leg as the track’s MD Richard Phillips made the trip out to Shanghai.

If he came to see Bernie Ecclestone, he would have been disappointed, as Bernie was not present in China, but Phillips would have seen what’s possible when money is no object.

The Shanghai circuit was built in a couple of years by 6,000 workers on day and night shift – something you couldn’t imagine happening in Northamptonshire.

Indeed I’m not sure Silverstone could relate anything they saw in China to the job they have to do in the UK, but it was notable to see them there nonetheless.

There were also a few interesting celebrities hanging around the Shanghai circuit.

Keanu Reeves was on the grid, and got his photo taken with a load of Honda mechanics (they’re building quite a collection after Posh and Becks at Silverstone).

Keanu’s presence attracted much female attention, with verdicts varying from “he looks old” (Reeves recently turned 43) to “he hasn’t rubbed his sun cream in properly” to “he looks chubbier than he did in Point Break”.

All of which may or may not be accurate, but he’s still a massive star and it was most excellent to see him in China.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a quotation from one of Keanu’s finest works: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

itv.com/f1 - Ted's Shanghai notebook
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