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Pick and mix - Showing a bit of spirit in Spain - Alcohol sponsors, series comparisons and parade lap analysis

Published by Christine

Terrazza bar in Passeig Joan de Borbon spotlights custom Martini cocktails

Those predictions that the 2014 season would one for the intelligent drivers have proved correct, as the Spanish Grand Prix was a battle of anticipation, of wills, and of biding your time until the right moment. It proved a race with an incredibly tense finish and three close fights went almost to the wire. It's not F1 that we're used to seeing but that doesn't mean it's bad! Meanwhile, I spotted some things from the Spanish weekend that I wanted to share, so let us begin.

1. Under the influence of alcohol

Williams, as we know, have rebranded themselves with the inclusion of title sponsor Martini this year, welcoming a surge of sponsorship and much-needed income as they search for a way up the grid. On the very same day they were launching a pop-up Williams Martini experience in Spain, Force India stole some of the spotlight with their own alcoholic backing.

The Silverstone-based team have already run liquor logos on the car, with team boss Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher brand plastered on the car. Now they have introduced Smirnoff as a sponsor, with a large sticker on the side of the chassis appearing in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Naturally, the combination of alcoholic beverages and fast driving shouldn’t be encouraged, and every announcement comes with the words “promote responsible drinking” but it still seems like a worrying trend. Tobacco sponsorship made its way out after a fall from grace due to the public health perception. Drinks companies are becoming popular in Formula One at the moment, but will they remain? Whatever happens, the teams need to get their money from somewhere, and for the moment, Force India will also have a few additional pennies to spend.

Interestingly, the team also announced a fan-friendly initiative, although weren’t so specific as to confirm pop-up stores or the like. Instead, Smirnoff hope to “open up the sport to new fans” with a “fan-centric alliance.” I await the revelation of what that actually means with interest.

2. Lotus leaps and lulls

It’s very easy to pick on Pastor Maldonado because, well, because he makes it easy. A terrible Saturday for the Venezuelan driver saw him crash out in qualifying and fail to secure a grid slot for the second race weekend in a row. The stewards have so far given him permission to race, but must be questioning their decision after he ended up colliding with a Caterham and picking up an early penalty on Sunday.

Maldonado experiences a bad Saturday
Credit: Staley/Lotus F1

Unfortunately for Maldonado, he’s brought his problems over from Williams. When he was there, I questioned at what point the funds he is bringing are outweighed by the cost – both in repairs, and in embarrassment – of a driver clearly out of his depth. Williams didn’t reach that tipping point, and so far Lotus have made no signs of frustration towards their new driver.

It may become more of an issue if the team’s upturn in form continues. After struggling in pre-season testing and the early part of the race, Lotus have finally found their feet. Romain Grosjean has found himself in the top ten of qualifying for two races, and in Spain, the Frenchman picked up Enstone’s first points of the season. Four handy points have raised them above Sauber, who remain on zero. Hopefully this trend can continue and their competitiveness increases, and hopefully Maldonado calms things down enough to capitalise on the new-found performance.

3. Pace versus progress

I saw a handful of complaints over the weekend that Formula One has taken a step backwards this year and is falling into the clutches of feeder series GP2. Marussia and Caterham were found to be slower in final practice than GP2’s pole position lap, whilst Sergio Pérez was particularly vocal about the situation.

When you look at the difference with GP2, I think it’s a little bit embarrassing that the GP2 cars are so close to us with the budgets they have.

- Sergio Pérez, F1 driver, Force India

He was specifically pinpointing the Pirelli tyres as a problem, suggesting that the Italian suppliers had over-reacted to last year’s problems, but whichever way you look at it, the gap to the GP2 series has been closed. I’m not sure why this has to be considered such a bad thing, though.

With the raft of regulation chances that F1 has seen this year, it’s clear the focus has switched from out-and-out pace to a more technical direction for the 2014 season. The pace will come once the niggles have been ironed out of these complex power units and energy recovery systems. GP2 drivers can be as fast and as crazy as they like, but F1 continues to push forward the motorsport and automotive industries in new and increasingly challenging directions.

Hitting out at the sport is one response, but just as with the engine noise, there’s a real opportunity for great PR here. Mercedes have spotted it, although they are obviously a lot happier with the season than others may be. To celebrate the new era of F1, they opted to rebrand their car to include the Hybrid name, bearing the word proudly on the side of the chassis. This is the kind of reaction we need to modern F1, rather than the constant nitpicking from drivers who could just as easily step back to GP2, if they so desired.

4. The hit parade

Jev and Max share a lift on the driver parade
Credit: Instagram/JeanEricVergne

It’s not a new phenomenon, but this weekend’s driver parade showed just what a difference the individual cars make compared to the more normal bus transportation. Rather than herding the drivers onto one open-top bus, and have them tour slowly around waving but rarely interacting with the crowd, each driver was granted their own classic car to complete the lap.

Immediately, this opens up possibilities for making the parade a better event. Rather than chatting with each other, the drivers are forced to acknowledge the crowd. Home favourite Fernando Alonso could stop his car and run towards the cheering fans, even passing his hat to a lucky child waiting on the other side of the fence.

When Vergne’s Rolls Royce broke down, he hitched a lift with Max Chilton, allowing for some fun photos and banter between the two. Given the chance to go at their own pace, stop when they want to, and enjoy better access to the crowd (who are the reason they’re doing it in the first place), it seems like the vintage car route would be a better option for all tracks.

Although, perhaps not if it’s raining.

All content in the series Spain 2014