Nigel Mansell, as defined by Simon & Schuster in the marketing blurb for his upcoming autobiography (this being distinct, dear readers, from his previous autobiographies), Staying On Track:

Always an aggressive driver, his exciting style meant he was hailed as a hero by his millions of fans in the UK and around the world. Out of the car, he was outspoken and charismatic, which merely served to enhance his reputation.

The word ‘charismatic’, as defined by Merriam-Webster:

Having great charm or appeal

I’ve checked. The picture on the front cover is definitely of that Nigel Mansell.


When last we met, there was talk of how best to thoroughly louse up a season preview. For those of you who find yourselves too bone-idle to scroll down and read the last entry, a reminder: I, combining my extensive knowledge with my God-given knack for making predictions which diametrically oppose what subsequently goes on to happen, selected a top 10 for this year’s F1 world championship, taking the time not only to justify those picks but, in a new and exciting twist, explain why I might turn out to be wrong.

As the teams head off for their summer shutdown, some 34 laps into the second half of the season, let’s take a few moments to review whether I’ve been successful this year or whether I’ve instead managed to maintain my usual standards of foresight. Spoiler alert: it’s probably the latter.

This time we’ll be summarising the fortunes not only of those I selected in pre-season but of those who had the temerity to arrive unbidden. I’ll italicise those drivers who are so far performing in line with my predictions, partly so they’re easier to spot and partly in lieu of the lap of honour I’d normally embark upon in cases of unexpected success.

10: Pre-season pick – Fernando Alonso (McLaren Honda, currently 15th)
      Real-world interloper – Romain Grosjean (Lotus Mercedes)

If your powerplant is capable only of going nowhere fast or going nowhere at all, not even the best driver in the sport can help you.

Honda’s ongoing struggles are a waste of two talented drivers and a McLaren that appears to be a reasonable weapon when presented with a series of corners, possessing point-scoring pace at Hungaroring (the slowest permanent track on the calendar) and Monte Carlo (the slowest street circuit). Alonso’s Q1 run at Silverstone was both his and McLaren’s season in microcosm: 6 tenths down on a Ferrari along the straights of sector 1, a further 6 tenths down in sector 3, home of the Hangar Straight, but only 2 tenths away through the middle sector of the lap – through Luffield, where mechanical grip and traction are tested; then through Copse; through Maggotts; through Becketts, the kind of almost-but-not-quite-flat-out high-speed blasts that highlight the differences between a great racing driver and a Fernando Alonso.

The Honda may go on to be a potent weapon – it can’t be any less potent than the engine that earned both Alonso and Jenson Button a 25-place grid penalty in Austria – but the Spaniard is presently hamstrung by a power unit that, it seems, went racing a year too early. Give the man the tools and Alonso remains without peer.

Down Enstone way, Romain Grosjean’s chief handicap is a team lacking the funds to properly develop a reasonable car. While it’s not difficult to look calm and measured in comparison with Pastor Maldonado, the patron saint of drive-through penalties, the Grosjean of 2015 is a much more rounded, mature racing driver than the “turn one nutcase” Mark Webber so pointedly shot down not 3 years ago. The fundamental speed has never been in doubt and remains present, allied now to enhanced racecraft and the ability to better understand which causes should be fought on-track and which should be conceded.

Aside from his collision with the lapped Will Stevens in Montreal, when he seemed simply to forget that the Manor Marussia was still there, Grosjean has kept his nose clean, taken what this year’s improved chassis and aero package are willing to give him and converted that performance into solid points at every opportunity.

9. Pre-season pick – Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes)

Force India’s post-Monaco step turned out, for reasons financial, to be a post-Spielberg step, one which coincided with Hulkenberg’s victorious return from Le Mans. Nico, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy’s win for Porsche at La Sarthe gave a clear shot in the arm to a driver whose abundant gifts had briefly threatened to wilt under the weight of another year in mid-table.

After a relatively tardy opening to the campaign, The Hulk came alive in Austria, qualifying 5th and finishing 6th in what was still a bare-bones evolution of last year’s Force India, a result which he followed up with further points at Silverstone when the new VJM08B made its debut. That Austrian qualifying effort has been exception rather than rule, with it being hard to escape the feeling that Nico leaves himself a little more to do than he ought to come Sunday afternoon, but what’s been particularly evident of late has been his haste in making up for that, running 5th in the early going having started 9th at Silverstone and 5th from 11th at Hungaroring.

The team think a podium was on at the latter event had an errant front wing not forced a spectacular retirement and while it’s difficult to agree with them, I have no problem seeing why paddock rumour links their driver with a return to Williams for 2016.

8. Pre-season pick – Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull Renault)

While it’s difficult to argue that Daniil’s 2015 to date has been anything other than a little underwhelming, the reasons for that have less to do with the young Russian than with the situation in which he finds himself.

Promoted prematurely into a team whose disharmonious relationship with its engine supplier has threatened to derail the entire year, Kvyat’s year has been spent chasing after a car/engine package that can’t give him as much grip as he desires without leaving him a sitting duck in a straight line. Red Bull’s RB11 is a more highly-strung piece of equipment than its immediate predecessor but where Red Bull have been able to set up their car for optimum performance (Monte Carlo, Hungaroring), Kvyat has scored handsomely, keeping his nose just about clean enough for long enough to take his maiden podium in Hungary even if he lacked a little pace relative to Daniel Ricciardo. Where the set-up has been compromised to compensate for the obvious deficiencies of the Renault V6 (absolutely everywhere else), the other Red Bull has tended to be a little way ahead, its driver coping that bit better with a car being purposefully moved away from a sweet spot that the team haven’t always been able to find to start with.

All exactly as you’d expect, in other words, from someone whose details sit in the file marked “Quick But Inexperienced” – remember, Kvyat only recently turned 21.

7. Pre-season pick – Felipe Massa (Williams Mercedes, currently 6th)
    Real-world case of overoptimism – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Renault, pre-season prediction 4th)

Felipe, you remarkable man, I am yet again quite wrong about you.

Back in March, writing my pre-season piece, I believed that Williams were best of the rest behind Mercedes and that Massa, better in 2014 than at any time since his near-fatal 2009 accident but still not quite the driver he’d once been, lacked the consistency to do the car full justice. In what is assuredly the season’s 3rd-best package, Felipe has not only been metronomic on Sundays but fast enough on Saturdays to hold a 6-4 qualifying lead over the supremely rapid Valtteri Bottas. Away from the Ferrari pressure cooker and now entirely settled at Williams, Massa’s peaks are on the same level as the best of his 2008 championship near-miss and being delivered more regularly than at any time since then, free of the sense that his concentration might fail at any moment that so blighted his final years with the Scuderia.

If that’s unexpected, not just by the viewing public but by Felipe’s self-confessedly startled employers, it’s also very welcome. From spent force at Maranello to a force to be reckoned with at Grove, this most personable of drivers is making the most of an unexpected Indian summer.

Down the road in Milton Keynes, Daniel Ricciardo is making the best of an unexpected French shower. This year’s Renault power unit started life with no more power than last year’s but with a far greater fondness for ritually barbecuing itself. Just like Kvyat, Ricciardo’s only hope of competing on the straights has been to trim the car out and deprive himself of the downforce Adrian Newey’s design team are so famously adept at providing. If chasing after the scraps at the lower end of the top 10 is demoralising the habitually cheerful Daniel, you’d hardly know it. Indeed, only once has Danny Ric’s natural frustration been expressed in public, during a Canadian weekend in which he professed himself lost with a car that wouldn’t handle and an engine that wouldn’t power.

Above all else, Ricciardo remains a racer. His talent as an overtaker remains undimmed, boosted as ever by a remarkable feel for the limits of adhesion in the braking zone, and he remains like a dog with a bone when presented with the faintest sniff of victory. In the end, his bid for honours in Hungary was stymied by – whoever would have thought it? – a lack of top speed on the straights, forcing him into bridging ever more outlandish gaps under braking, but if the final desperate lunge on Rosberg was doomed to failure from the start, it’s impossible to do anything but love the man for giving it a go in the first place.

6. Pre-season pick – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, currently 3rd)
Real-world occupant – Felipe Massa (Williams Mercedes, see above)

Yeah, I know…

The case for the defence is that a few months ago, it really wasn’t clear whether Sebastian Vettel’s 2014 struggles were with his Red Bull specifically or with adapting to the absence of blown diffusers generally. The team won 3 races but each time it was the car on the other side of the garage taking the honours, Vettel enduring the first winless full season of his F1 career. Not only was Daniel Ricciardo generally quicker, he also did a better job of tyre management, traditionally one of Seb’s strongest suits. Vettel began this year with his reputation dented, driving for a team whose last genuinely quick car was produced 5 years previous and, perhaps most importantly, no longer driving for those who offered him such backing and protection in years gone by, irrespective of whether or not that protection was actually warranted.

2 races into his Ferrari career, Vettel won, not through luck or inclement weather but through great pace and – wouldn’t you just know it – terrific tyre management, letting him sneak through a door left only a little ajar by Mercedes. His entire season has been spent illustrating that while he claimed 4 world titles driving terrific cars, the bloke behind the wheel was none too shabby either. The Malaysia win was opportunistic, his recent win in Hungary absolutely dominant and that other hardy perennial, “Yeah, but he’s no good in traffic, is he?” was laid to rest once and for all by a magnificent drive through the field after technical problems ruined his qualifying in Montreal. Within 50 points of the championship lead going into the break, clearly enjoying his work and in prime position to pounce should Mercedes falter, Vettel’s reputation is as high now as at any time during his championship-winning streak.

5. Pre-season pick – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

In a race-winning car ran by a team becoming ever more aligned to Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen has only a single podium to his name.

It’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that what we’re watching is Kimi’s farewell to Ferrari and, in all likelihood, to motorsport at the highest level. Once a man whose qualifying runs could put the entire paddock on notice, Kimi returned to F1 seemingly shorn of that electric pace and is no closer to rediscovering it. The 6 tenths he’s consistently missing in comparison to team mate Vettel on a low-fuel flyer appear to be gone for good and if the reasons are a complete mystery to those watching, so they seem to be equally perplexing to Raikkonen. At times unlucky come race day, as when leaving the Melbourne pits with only 75% of his tyres safely attached and when losing a certain Hungaroring podium to mechanical trouble, Kimi is too often either the architect of his own downfall or, more concerningly, simply too slow.

He has argued that his race pace has been strong all season and that he’s suffered from being caught in traffic on Sunday afternoons, to which the obvious remedy is to start in front of the slower cars – Raikkonen has somehow contrived to miss Q3 twice already this season. At his best, Raikkonen remains a driver from the very top drawer but his best is increasingly hard to come by…

4. Pre-season pick – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Renault, currently 7th – see above)
    Real-world Flying Finn – Valtteri Bottas (Williams Mercedes)

…which isn’t something you’d say of Valtteri Bottas, 10 years Raikkonen’s junior and poised to save Ferrari’s mechanics from the trouble of having to take those Finnish flags down from the garage awnings next year.

The original prediction, of course, was for Valtteri to be a place higher, with the qualifier that he’d struggle to attain 3rd place if Ferrari or Red Bull outspent and out-developed Williams. Ferrari were faster from the outset, as it turned out, but believe they’d be faster still with Bottas at the wheel. A quick glance at the championship table doesn’t necessarily reveal why – Bottas, Raikkonen and Massa are covered by just 3 points after 10 races – but, for all that I love a good statistic, glances at the championship table don’t allow you to see a substantially quicker car getting caught behind a Williams in Bahrain and being completely unable to find a way past its steely, millimetrically-precise occupant. Nor, come to that, do they show you how Bottas claimed a podium position in Montreal by virtue of a strong start and a race spent repelling the theoretically faster man behind for as long as it took that man to lose patience and spin himself out of contention.

On both occasions, the car behind was red. They were paying attention in Maranello.

3. Pre-season pick – Valtteri Bottas (Williams Mercedes)
    Real-world humble pie baker – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

2. Pre-season pick – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

The enigmatic Rosberg has days when he simply can’t be defeated – Spain and Austria for starters – and would progress from potential threat to genuine contender if he could only have them more often.

The relationship with Lewis Hamilton that threatened to turn into open warfare during 2014 seems far better on the surface this year, to Rosberg’s ultimate disadvantage. The combination of Nico’s Spanish dominance and that remarkable Monaco win, inherited when Hamilton’s 20 second lead turned to dust in one needless pit stop behind a late-race safety car, would last year have been seen as the ideal platform from which to ramp up the mental pressure on his team mate.  This year’s model, perhaps still feeling the after-effects of the booing that stung him post-Spa 2014, has too often seemed to genuinely believe that Hamilton has his number and misjudged his one attempt to destabilise the reigning champion, complaining that Lewis had thought only of himself and not the team in China. Rosberg’s key complaint that day was that Hamilton was driving excessively slowly to preserve his tyres, thus allowing Vettel the opportunity to stay close. The watching fans, either missing the subtle nuances of Nico’s argument or else blowing a gigantic hole through it, depending upon your viewpoint, suggested that if the man ahead was going so slowly, it might have been worth trying to pass him.

Rosberg remains the second fastest Mercedes driver but without the edge, the faint air of menace he brought to last year’s title fight. To stand any chance of usurping Hamilton over the remaining 9 races, Nico needs to rediscover that air, quickly.

1. Pre-season pick – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

The fastest Mercedes driver, 2014 qualifying weakness fully addressed, driving better than at any stage of his career.

From the word go, Hamilton proclaimed himself happier with the W06 than with the title-winning W05, that happiness leading to the return of that Schumacher-esque searing speed over one lap, the speed we’d grown so used to in Hamilton’s McLaren days. Car 44 has sat on pole position 9 times in 10 races, going on to win 5 times, and only in Austria has he been soundly beaten for pace. Several wins, most notably those in Melbourne and Shanghai, came with pace to spare had it been needed, while his domination of the Monaco weekend was as crushing as his ultimate disappointment. His reaction to that weekend and his immediate return to winning ways in Canada were marks of the man’s increasing maturity, as was his willingness to take blame for a Hungarian race spent hitting everything that moved, as if he’d crashed into his bedside table upon waking up and decided to take it as a sign of something.

The lead is 21 points. But for one pit-wall gaffe, it would have been 38. Lewis believes he has more in his locker yet.

That pit-wall gaffe is something for which the neutral fan should be thankful. As a direct result of it, the summer break begins with Rosberg able to take the championship lead if he wins in Belgium and Hamilton fails to score. Substitute Vettel for Rosberg in the same situation and the top 3 drivers could head to Monza separated by less than 20 points. Imagine Vettel, already celebrating his wins in delighted Italian over the radio, going to Italy for the first time as a Ferrari driver right in the heart of the title fight, the Tifosi turning Monza into the kind of seething, foaming sporting cauldron only those of Latin blood can ever properly create, the Mercedes drivers cast into supporting roles by that most partizan of crowds…

Anything is possible. In truth, though, the Mercedes has had the legs of the Ferrari too often in 2015 for Vettel to properly sustain a title tilt, no matter how many miracles he might work between now and November. Seb’s presence guarantees that the Silver Arrows have to extend themselves come race day but the battle for ultimate honours remains between their drivers. My money remains on Hamilton.

Where’s yours?

Things we could be discussing: Manor Marussia miraculously making it through the winter; Max Verstappen becoming F1’s first and, under next year’s licence rules at least, only 17 year old driver; Nico vs Lewis – This Time It’s Exactly As Personal As Last Time; Vettel and Ferrari seeking success together having both separately misplaced it.

Things we’re discussing instead: Sauber employing 3 men to drive 2 cars.

What the sport needs to learn from this is that if a team cannot make it through a winter without signing a driver whose sponsors will pay up front, all the while hoping that the driver they already signed to drive the same car either won’t mind or else somehow won’t notice, there’s a need to consider whether the existing costs of competing are sustainable. Much of Sauber’s conduct this week has been unfortunate, some of it disreputable, but much like the Lotus development driver we discussed last week, at the heart of it is a desperate grab for survival cash.

We’ll find out how the whole sorry business ends in due course, but first, crystal ball time. We’ve tried the broad, wide-ranging preview piece. We’ve tried 5 themes to watch. We’ve tried having an enthusiast lose a prediction contest against his own mother despite a) 25 years of avid fandom and b) his mother not really understanding what any of the questions meant. How next to thoroughly louse up an F1 season preview?

The answer, it turned out, was to write half the piece – some 1300 words – before unwittingly deleting them all via a keyboard shortcut I didn’t know existed, which is the kind of thing that can lead to someone snapping. Lacking the time, energy or strength to start from scratch leaves us with this, a cut-down version of the original plan: pick this year’s top 10 in the world championship, explain why and then, in a piece of immediate and immaculate back-tracking, highlight why I’m probably wrong.

10: Fernando Alonso

Relentlessly quick, combative, the ultimate competitor. New McLaren Honda doesn’t yet appear ready, so no real penalty for missing Australia after very, very curious testing accident and subsequent lay-off. Chassis appears strong and Alonso will outpace Button once everything inside the engine works at the same time, but that might not be until we’re well into the meat of the European season. Forget all of this if the engine remains incapable of more than 8 laps at a time past the summer break, or if the chassis only seems good because the Honda is detuned in ways that would suit an Austin Maestro.

9: Nico Hulkenberg

A superstar who’d prove it to the watching world more readily if only someone would give him the right tool. New Force India isn’t it – late, undeveloped, underfunded – but ran as many laps in 2 days of testing as McLaren did in 12. Reliability already there, pace will come from Monaco updates onwards, The Hulk wont miss an opportunity to score. Main risks to this prediction are that the post-Monaco step might not come and that the team might not survive the year.

8: Daniil Kvyat

Quick, intelligent, committed. Kvyat will go far but his promotion to Red Bull is, by the team’s own admission, a year too soon. Kvyat will impress this season but his performances will contain too many troughs to progress further up the standings, though the contrasting peaks will be high indeed. Won’t be any lower than this, could conceivably be higher if he’s more ready than we think.

7: Felipe Massa

Supremely likeable man whose move to Williams seemed to liberate him. Freed from the shadow of ex-teammate Alonso, Massa rediscovered old form but brought with him recent inconsistency, along with his unshakeable gift for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany…). New Williams is firmly in the best-of-the-rest fight and podiums are likely, but surely not often enough to rank higher. Surely. Surely?

6: Sebastian Vettel

Man with a point to prove. Winning for Ferrari will dispel notions that 4 world titles were down to Adrian Newey’s cars and not Vettel’s driving. Winning for anyone at all might leas folk to forget about a 2014 spent in the shadow of Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull. New Ferrari appears a big step from last year’s maligned F14 T but new teammate Raikkonen has looked quicker in pre-season. Then again, Vettel has never had a problem waiting until the prizes are being given out before showing his hand…

5: Kimi Raikkonen

Unintelligibuhl’s finest has a car he can feel the limits of again. Notoriously sensitive to front-end behaviour and steering feel, the Iceman’s 2014 car gave him none of what he needed. Ferrari SF15T is already a marked improvement, designed with Kimi’s needs in mind. Has experience of Ferrari’s internal politics, continuity within the team and no reason to fear Vettel given his own natural speed. May, however, have extended periods of relative anonymity if faced with setup or tyres he dislikes.

4: Daniel Ricciardo

When reviewing the Kvyat entry above, bear in mind that a year ago nobody thought Danny Ric was a Vettel-beating regular race winner. Red Bull appear to be in amongst the Williams/Ferrari fight but keep their powder dry during pre-season where possible – the car will be thereabouts and the driver has only Hamilton for company at the top of the wheel-to-wheel combat tree. Probably can’t go higher without a Mercedes engine, can only go lower if Ferrari has a clear performance advantage.

3: Valtteri Bottas

The Real Deal. BO77AS teams speed with metronomic consistency, has a Merc engine behind him and sits in a sensible evolution of Williams design philosophy. Can’t win the title this year because he isn’t a Mercedes works driver, could undoubtedly do so in a car that allowed it. Wins are a realistic target but may need to come early – predicted P3 in championship might be unsustainable if Ferrari/Red Bull outspend and outdo Williams in the development war, though they didn’t in 2014…

2: Nico Rosberg

New Mercedes W06 has greater margin over rest of field than dominant W05 last year. Expect a Mercedes 1-2 in the final rankings. Nico is the second fastest of these drivers, hence this placing. Outqualified Hamilton last season but no match in races, losing 6 of last 7 and being outpaced by Lewis in the 7th. Requires Lewis to have a mental lapse to go higher but would need to go to extraordinary lengths to finish lower.

1: Lewis Hamilton

World’s fastest driver + world’s fastest car = world champion. The speed has always been there but last year came the patience and intelligence to use it wisely too. Recent changes in personal life could destabilise a driver of unusual emotional sensitivity, though car advantage is such that finishing below 2nd would involve a special effort. There for the taking as long as Hamilton doesn’t make too much of a hash of things.

Remember, though, that my track record in these matters is quite terrifically bad. We’ll check back in through the season to see how well (or otherwise) this is going…

One day, not all that far into the future, you’re likely to see a follow-up post apologising for that headline.

The usual drill applies when it comes to analysing pre-season testing. (The first person to say, “What, you’re going to ignore it and then go 2 years without writing anything?” earns themselves a round of terrifically slow applause, alright?) There are real, genuine limits to what you can learn without knowing what fuel load everyone’s carrying, whether the track was 3 degrees warmer today than yesterday, whether Williams have turned their engine up and Ferrari haven’t, whether Driver X is really pushing and so on. This blogger is, however, going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Mercedes might be quite quick. You get nowhere in this business without making the occasional shocking, left-field prediction.

Williams may or may not have turned their engine up when Susie Wolff drove the new FW37 in Barcelona last week. The general response to news of female participation in a male-dominated sport is often to assume that the driver is where she is because of her looks, her marketability or who she knows. Susie, she of the Vogue photoshoot, the articulate media-friendly nature and the well-connected husband (Mercedes F1 chief Toto), is no exception, but to assume that her Williams role owes everything to those attributes is to ignore a career spent scoring points in DTM and podium finishes in Formula Renault, beating Aston Martin factory driver Stuart Hall and Audi sportscar specialist Oliver Jarvis along the way.

Susie is, in other words, more than fast enough for a team like Williams to learn something when she drives their cars and spends time in their simulator. For Williams, a once-mighty organisation heaving itself back to the top of the pile after too long languishing in the middle of nowhere, it has to be this way. A test and development driver needs to be quick enough to fully assess a car’s performance, then concentrated and intelligent enough to give their engineer concise, accurate feedback on how it behaves.

The situation is much the same at Lotus, who followed two race-winning years with a 2014 season good for nothing, beyond reminding the team that hey, at least 2015 can’t be any worse. Armed with that knowledge, meet their new development driver, Carmen Jorda.

The initial Lotus press release described their new signing as having enjoyed “a distinguished racing career.” Last season, Carmen competed in GP3, a feeder series two rungs below F1, and finished the season 29th in the championship standings. In practice for the season’s first event in Barcelona, Jorda placed 27th out of 27, one second slower than the driver in 26th. The season’s other female competitor, Beitske Visser, finished ahead of Jorda in the championship despite only competing in the first two races. It’d be easy, of course, to blame the car, but then again a) GP3 is a one-make series, so everyone has the same equipment and b) she was replaced in the Korainen team for the final 4 races by Dean Stoneman, who took Jorda’s car to 2 front row starts and 2 race wins.

Considering these facts has forced this writer to remind himself of how the dictionary defines the word “distinguished”, having briefly considered that he must also be in the middle of a distinguished racing career and had simply failed to realise. Considering them further led him to realise that if the racing career required him to take part in this many photo shoots wearing short dresses, shorter shorts or no obvious shorts at all, perhaps his being too tall and heavy for it was for the best after all.

Reaction to the announcement, including GP2 racer Mitch Evans advising that it isn’t April 1st yet, Jorda’s former team mate Rob Cregan suggesting that she “couldn’t develop a roll of film, let alone an F1 car” and GP3 race winner Richie Stanaway cutting straight to the heart of the matter with a simple “LOL”, hasn’t quite been universally positive. The reaction emphasises the points we covered a paragraph ago, of course, but Lotus will have seen it coming. They must have done, because they’d already appointed 2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer as their official test and reserve driver weeks ago.

That being so, what exactly is Carmen’s signing meant to achieve? Recent years have seen Danica Patrick win in the IndyCar Series, while Sarah Fisher scored podium finishes as a driver and a race win as a team owner. Simona de Silvestro followed up wins in Formula Atlantic with an IndyCar podium too, before her F1 aspirations were put on hold by a contract dispute with Sauber after a year occupying her own development role with the Swiss outfit. While neither Danica nor Sarah have shown any serious desire to build a career in Formula 1, Simona gave it a go on the back of a very respectable career to date and made it no further than driving a 2 year old car on a private test day.

The message sent out by a sport that turns away de Silvestro while welcoming Jorda, then, must surely be that yes, women are welcome, but only if their legs are long enough and their pout seductive enough to satisfy the sexists. Perhaps you’ve arrived here after browsing one of the many articles on the same subject, reading through the comments threads and – go on, since you’re there – adding your own tuppen’orth while you’re at it, with a mind that’s already made up and an opinion formed of the very clearest crystal. Perhaps the man writing this blog entry thought the same thing when he first heard the news. Perhaps, though…

What follows is only a thought, something to mull over, to consider. It’s widely thought that Carmen Jorda brings with her a not-inconsiderable amount of sponsorship money, which will be particularly useful to the perennially cash-strapped Lotus outfit. Money talks in a language we all understand, a language in which the bearer’s gender makes no difference. We’ve briefly spoken of Jolyon Palmer, whose career is backed by Comma, an automotive oil company. Pastor Maldonado comes to Lotus bearing gifts of his own, these ones from PDVSA, the Venezuelan government-backed oil and gas company.

Simona de Silvestro had no money to bring to a Sauber team fighting to stay afloat. Adrian Sutil had a 2015 race deal in his pocket with the same team but was cast unceremoniously aside when Felipe Nasr produced USD $15 million of Banco do Brasil cash. Marcus Ericsson took the second Sauber seat with sponsorship deals thought to be of a similar value. While Kamui Kobayashi returns to Japan to race domestically, having failed to nail down an F1 drive despite being blessed with speed and the belief that every corner in the world represents an overtaking opportunity if you’re rude enough, Manor Marussia are preparing to feel the benefit of Will Stevens’ personal backers, as Caterham did during their farewell appearance in Abu Dhabi last year.

Formula 1 is increasingly the preserve of those with the manufacturer backing or the personal funding to support its ever-increasing costs. Those costs, those increasingly unsustainable costs of competing in a sport too racked with individual self-interests to ever consider its collective future health (another rant, for another time), apply to all, whether male, female, black, white, yellow. Carmen Jorda’s arrival in F1 is igniting a debate, as it should, but in a sport where drivers of both genders are increasingly being assessed on the same wallet-heavy criteria, the debate being had is the wrong one. Increasingly, it seems that male and female competitors are equal in the way that matters most to the teams in the lower reaches of F1, those outfits who act as an entry point for emerging talent. No matter who you are or how you look, if your bank balance ain’t large enough, you ain’t getting in.

Oh! It’s you! Let’s ease ourselves back in gently, shall we?

Though a Vettel by any other name would drive as quickly, it cannot hurt the modern racing driver to make himself stand out as far as possible in the minds of fans, potential employees and prospective sponsors. Some have the advantage of looks – put a call in to Central Casting asking for a racing driver and they’ll probably send you the spitting image of Carlos Reutemann. Others – Hunt, Raikkonen, Depailler – became favourites through devil may care spirit, embracing the idea that you only live once and enjoying that one shot to its fullest.

It has often struck me, though, that it can only be a good thing to be the owner of a memorable name. Take, for instance, 1985 British F3 National Class winner Carlton Tingling, then see if you can forget that handle in a hurry. Hungry? Have a Bertrand Baguette with some Thornton Mustard, another British F3 name from times past.

There are the urologically sound (Dick Passwater), the born-to-do-it (Lake Speed won at the highest level, Scott Speed whined there), the translator’s dream ticket (Libero Pesce, translated literally from Italian, is “free fish”) and the oddly relevant questions (Willy Vroomen? His team boss hopes he will). Famous landmarks (Ricardo Londono-Bridge) vie for attention against modes of transport (Ric Shaw), those with time to fill and a means of filling it (Fred Wacker) and those still more practiced in the same art (Kye Wankum, Dick Creamer, and it goes on – a rich seam would appear to have been struck here).

Some press officers are never more than one false key press from disaster (Buck Fulp, Vanina Ickx) while others dare not let their drivers have control of the barbecue (Bernd Burger), the length of their leash (Kiki Wolfkill) or anything else at all (Ken Klutz). Certain drivers have a career on the dirt tracks mapped out from birth (Dusty Rhoades) while others know broadly what to do but can’t commit to a specialism (Bernard de Dryver) and still others had a change of heart once they’d thought about it (Dick Salesman).

Perhaps some aren’t stand outs by themselves – Will Power may argue that he is, but when teamed with Andrew Ranger in ChampCar, he’s one half of an unbeatable duo. In this sub-category, file those who didn’t drive together but ought to have done, such as the ultimate missed opportunity, a Patrick Watts/Cristiano Da Matta endurance partnership (imagine Murray Walker at full tilt and consider their surnames – you’ll be in agreement soon enough), and those a bored reporter slipped past their editor (the Kamiya Iwanalaya/Onri Wenyapaimi sportscar pairing, as brilliant as it is fictitious).

Before we get back to the relatively serious stuff, let me know if I’ve missed out one of your favourites by leaving a comment. If you happen to be any of the above-named, I am genuinely interested to know if your name brought you any advantages (or disadvantages, come to that) when pitching for sponsors and so on, so please do drop me a line.

Alonso: I would support Massa if needed.

In other news this evening, Petrolhead Blogger: I would become trapped in a lift with Beyonce if needed.

I mean, what is this all about? is the link, the man in the YouTube video linked to from that site looks an awful lot like the Kimster, the whole shebang looks legitimate and I’m assuming the folk responsible are using viral marketing to generate interest in some sort of product endorsement deal…

Keep your eyes on it, though.  Just in case.