Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Never say goodbye // Does the aging half of the F1 grid still have a lot to offer?

Published by Ryan Gault

At a sprightly young age of 41 years and 113 days, American Greg Hancock won the Speedway Grand Prix after his fourth place finish in Croatia. This while beating off competition from the younger riders, the likes of Andreas Jonsson, Jaroslaw Hampel and Emil Sayfutdinov all eleven years younger. The latter Russian would have only been six when Hancock first competed in the first ever Speedway Grand Prix event in 1995.

Hancock’s 2011 Championship win was his second, one that followed his first way back in 1997. After years of consistent riding and without doing much spectacular, and even the odd rumour that he would be retiring, 2011 came as a massive surprise to everyone. Wins came in Prague, Cardiff and Vojens, as well as various podiums. It was an excellent season for the veteran American rider, and he can cap it off in style in Gorzow next Saturday.

But while the elder Speedway riders are thriving at the top level, the more experienced Formula 1 drivers aren’t having the same level of success. Michael Schumacher has been blocking and flying, Jarno Trulli has been constantly outpaced by his team mate Heikki Kovalainen and Rubens Barrichello has been dealt with a horrible car to drive.

Jarno Trulli at Team Lotus - is he past his best?
Jarno Trulli at Team Lotus - is he past his best?Credit: Team Lotus

Mercedes master

Schumacher has probably not only been statistically the best of the three (pretty much guaranteed thing due to him being in the far superior Mercedes) but probably has performed the best as well. Although, it hasn’t been perfect. Rosberg is currently 12-2 up in terms of who has qualified higher, and 9-5 up on race pace.

His performances though have been more memorable than his team mate. If you ignore his controversial driving style at Monza, he was able to stick a Mercedes up into fourth and stop an arguably faster Lewis Hamilton behind him, despite his frequent ability to use DRS, for half the race. This followed another fifth at Spa-Francorchamps, where he drove fantastically after his crash in the first minutes of Q1.

Obviously, he was helped largely by the fact he was knocked out in Q1, and here would normally go my usual moan of how life is so much easier when you fail to advance much further. But I suppose Vitaly Petrov’s dreadful race at Singapore - you know its bad when a Team Lotus finishes ahead of you on merit - shows you need a bit of craft to be able to make the most of the situation.

These strong performances, rather than the consistency that Rosberg has been showing, have him just ten points behind now. Any contract in 2012 is looking more and more justified.

Teammate trouble

Yet while Schumacher is enjoying some strong performances right now, it is the polar opposite for both Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli.

Barrichello should be wiping the floor of Pastor Maldonado...

Barrichello should be wiping the floor of Pastor Maldonado, in fact Maldonado should have been chucked in the rubbish bin and sent to the recycling centre to create another standard, below average pay driver. But that isn’t happening, and Barrichello seems highly reluctant to even get the mop out on Maldonado. The facts are hardly pretty, and while Barrichello is ahead, it’s the equivalent of winning 1-0 against Lincoln City.

It’s a similar story for Jarno Trulli, while Kovalainen has massacred him in qualifying, the race pace has meant that both of them are fairly equal. Though the fact remains that he was replaced for the German Grand Prix in place of Karun Chandhok, and will have no doubt the same done to him when the new Indian Grand Prix comes around.

Why stop now?

After his Championship win, Hancock said, "I've never said I would stop when I stop enjoying it. I said I would stop the day I woke up and didn't believe I could win the World Championship."

Now the Formula 1 World Championship is much harder to win than the Speedway Grand Prix. No matter there are fewer riders, but it is much less about the bikes and more about the riders talent and skill. But the essence is still there. Neither of these drivers are going to win a World Championship, they aren’t going to win a race nor get on the podium, or even get in the high points scoring positions. Or… well you get the idea.

So why do Barrichello and Trulli want to stay on in Formula 1? Enjoyment can only get you so far.

The experience the pair will provide the teams should be invaluable.

There’s no doubt of the young talent that the two drivers could get out of the way for. But it’s much more than that. The experience the pair will provide the teams should be invaluable.

And in terms of Barrichello, I would agree. The man has been in Formula 1 non-stop since 1993, he’s been in more races than everyone else and will have contributed somewhat to the development of the car over the season, and to some extent, helped his rookie team mate Pastor Maldonado. Jarno Trulli realistically offers neither of the two there, all he has shown this season is constant whining and constant beatings by Kovalainen.

Yet Trulli keeps his contract for 2012 at Team Lotus, despite the appeal of Karun Chandhok’s money (let's be honest, it is the only thing appealing that can get Chandhok in a Formula 1 car), while Barrichello is looking more and more likely to be ousted from his Williams seat, be it from Kimi Räikkönen, Adrian Sutil or whoever. For me it doesn’t make much sense, Williams are a team in decline, and if they lose the experience in Barrichello, for say the crash-happy Sutil (he’s only doing well because he has a good car) or the laid-back Räikkönen, then they probably will struggle to reverse the trend. Although Räikkönen has arguably more ability in terms of driving than the Brazilian, Barrichello is more likely to aid in the improvement of the car.

Age versus wisdom

It’s a shame and those that still have something to give are likely to be on the way out, while those who don’t seem to be staying. Although the other option for Team Lotus is seemingly the unimpressive Chandhok, Trulli is now straggling along at the back, and his famed one lap pace is now out of the window. Rubens Barrichello is performing somewhat better, but compared to a mistake strewn, pay driver team mate, it isn’t stellar stuff. But his experience is what is keeping Williams from avoiding humiliation this season.

I do appreciate the talents of Nico Hülkenburg, but he is still young, and I don’t think Williams would be on four points with the Hülkenburg-Maldonado partnership. Michael Schumacher is, to be fair, doing a fine job. He certainly isn’t as quick as he used to be, but recent races have proved him to be still capable of challenging for plenty of points. And any reports that he should be retiring are proving more wrong each race. Schumacher won’t last forever, nor will Trulli. Mercedes will be wanting to bring up the talented Paul di Resta soon enough, with Nico Rosberg still having a lot to offer.

And for Greg Hancock, unlike the trio of Schumacher, Barrichello and Trulli, I can see the American picking up more wins in the years to come.