With a few exceptions (mainly the desperately boring European Grand Prix at Valencia) 2011 has been a superb series of races. And of course we did have the rain factor in Hungary, but the excitement was already there, it was just the icing on the cake.

Winners

Jenson Button: What a great way to celebrate your 200th Grand Prix and the place where Jenson won his first race back in 2006. Jenson may not be Alonso material, but he’s a great character and on his day, unbeatable. It could have been very different, I actually think he may have pitted if he’d been in front of Lewis when the rain started to come down, but that’s conjecture on my part. A great result and who knows what will come next.

Sebastian Vettel: Although he didn’t win, he was ahead of both his main rivals for the championship – Lewis and Fernando. This was a good championship banker for Sebastian and still makes him the favourite. He is now almost 100 points ahead of both of them (notice I haven’t put Mark Webber down as a rival), and that means they need to win four races with Seb not picking up a single point to overtake him. Not very likely.

Martin Whitmarsh: Martin has come in for a bit of stick regarding McLaren’s performance, I have no idea why, as he is doing a brilliant job. McLaren have prided themselves on being the only team that can run two ‘number one’ drivers, however this has often been at the cost of much intra-team rivalry and friction (Senna/Prost; Hamilton/Alonso), and it has to be said that Ron Dennis’s partial approach to drivers has often appeared to fuel such tensions. Martin Whitmarsh has a different style and one which is about fairness, balance and the team. Undoubtedly there is a good relationship between Jenson and Lewis, but it is the team approach that will either build or destroy this, congratulations to Martin and McLaren for giving us such great racing yesterday. If McLaren had used team orders it would have been so much more boring and we wouldn’t have seen the best of Jenson or Lewis.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton: It was a big shame for Lewis as he deserved a far better result than he ended up with, but he took the outcome with stoicism and for that he probably should have been a winner as well! There is much more to come from Lewis in the second part of the season.

Team Orders: Towards the end of the Hungary race I was reminded of Austria 2002, the day when Jean Todt, oblivious to the views of F1 fans across the world decided to get Rubens Barrichello, who had outdriven Schumi all weekend, to pull over and allow the Schumi-meister to win the race. Undoubtedly Todt’s motives were sincere and for the benefit of the team, but in reality they did far more damage to the team and their lead driver. Contrast this with Lewis and Jenson fighting tooth and nail for every last piece of the abrasive Hungaroring circuit and you realise how much racing team orders can destroy. Let’s hope all teams reflect on this and think how they can get the best out of everyone and put on great racing, because that was what we witnessed yesterday.

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So as the season now enters its second phase with the traditional European races, who are the winners and losers from Barcelona?

Winners

Vettel: Looks every inch in control of the tyres, the race and the championship, not sure about the Crazy Frog impressions though.

Racing: Yet again we had an exciting race, it was a big shame that Alonso’s stellar start didn’t pay dividends for him, but it was really great to see three different car/engine combinations (Red Bull Renault, Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes) running so closely in the early stages.

Sauber: With the disappointment of having been disqualified from Australian, Sauber were able to underline the quality of their 2011 package with ninth and tenth places.

Williams (in Q3): Pastor Maldonado was able to bring some cheer to Williams by making it into Q3 and bringing the team from Grove their highest grid position of the season so far – eighth place, although sadly he was only able to turn it into fifteenth in the race.

Losers

Mark Webber:  this was his chance to undermine some of Vettel’s momentum, but it didn’t happen and Mark, as usual, was pretty open about the reasons in a tweet today “Barca didn’t turn out for me in terms of top result… wasn’t good enough on the day”– so how about Monaco?

Qualifying: the new regulations certainly seem to have improved the racing, although I’m not sure about DRS. However one of the casualties seems to have been qualifying. The teams are now compromising qualifying performance to ensure they have enough tyres – particularly the softer option, to remain competitive on Sunday. It is also interesting that in a couple of notable cases – Webber in China and Heidfeld in Barcelona, someone who has started last, with a full set of tyres, has been able to overhaul most of the grid: Webber finished 3rd, and Heidfeld eighth, so if grid position becomes a disadvantage is this the end of qualifying as we know it (or at least qualifying pre-2011)?

Some further musings

Not sure if Pirelli are winners or losers, they certainly seem to be responsible for a big change in the unpredictability of the race and the variations in performance, but I’m still not sure if this is a good or bad thing – need more races to come to a final view.

It was interesting to see that things seemed to have gone a bit quiet on the ‘off track’ front. For ‘off track’ read negotiations for the 2013 Concorde Agreement, which normally means things are happening behind closed doors. It was interesting to see both Ron Dennis and Dietrich Mateschitz present at Barcelona so perhaps there were a few high level meetings going on.

The fog appears to be lifting and a resolution emerging that may secure the future of F1, at least until 2012. Max Mosley has reiterated his intention to stand down at the end of October and more significantly has come out in support of Jean Todt, former CEO of Ferrari, replacing him. Although FOTA have made noises about the need for an independent chairman (ie with no history in a current F1 team) the real power base in FOTA is Ferrari and they would be far more positive about Todt’s appointment than some of the other teams. Former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen has also indicated his intention to stand, whether Mosley’s support for Todt means Ron Dennis may emerge as an alternative contender remains to be seen. Although Todt is well regarded at Ferrari it would be a mistake to regard him as partisan should he become President of FIA, Todt’s track record suggests that whatever role he has taken on, he has done so with total commitment and dedication to his new organisation and I see no reason why this should be different should he become President of the FIA, the problem is more likely to be one of perception from the other teams.

 The other matter which needs resolution is the signing of the commercial agreement, which Flavio Briatore had hoped was a matter of a few days back on 25 June (see blog 2 July). As it now involves 13 teams (including the three new entrants) this is more complex, but progress is apparently being made and the hope is that this will be concluded by the Hungarian Grand Prix on 26 July (clearly a few days for Flavio equals one month for the rest of us). The other interesting question is the future of Bernie Ecclestone whose recent comments regarding Adolf Hitler has led to some strong feedback from the majority shareholder in Formula One Group – CVC Capital, with fellow Director Sir Martin Sorrell being particularly forthright. While Max’s departure may (I emphasise may) now be inevitable, the likelihood of Bernie stepping down is a different matter altogether.

There have been many books written on the subject of Leadership. One aspect of leadership is that it is often all about timing, being in the right place at the right time (and similarly being in the wrong place at the wrong time). F1 is littered with examples of teams who entered with the wrong car at the wrong time such as Aston Martin and Ferguson in the 1960s and Lotus and Brabham in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly individuals come and go, some like Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley moved from team ownership to become involved in the running F1 in the early 1980s when they represented the British based Formula 1 constructors in opposition to the FIA and the car manufacturers. They were in the right place at the right time, but they also made the most of their opportunity and progressively strengthened their position over the years.

 Now we are in a different place with different antagonists, but many of the same principles apply. So who will end up being in the right place at the right time? Two of the most influential management figures in Formula 1 over the last twenty years are currently conspicuous by their low profile and silence on all matters related to the FIA/FOTA schism. They are Ron Dennis formerly of McLaren, and Jean Todt formerly of Ferrari. They both achieved many victories when at the helm of their respective teams, they also both have reputations as great leaders and as bringers of change within the sport. They may well be now enjoying life on other projects away from the politics of F1, or maybe one or both of these individuals will end up being in the right place at the right time. Time will tell.