x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

F1's summer slumber

August was once a busy time on the Formula One calendar, with races to contest and deals to massage, but not any more.

Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver, has been able to put up his feet and enjoy being world championship leader during Formula One's four week summer break.
Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver, has been able to put up his feet and enjoy being world championship leader during Formula One's four week summer break.

August was once a busy time on the Formula One calendar, with races to contest and deals to massage, but not any more. Like cork crash helmets and drilled metal throttle pedals, the mid-summer rumour cauldron has all but disappeared. With seven of this year's 19 races still to go, the top seats for 2011 are already allocated - and have been for some time. Every team was obliged to close its doors for two weeks in the wake of the Hungarian Grand Prix, where Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver, scored his fourth victory of the campaign to reclaim the championship lead, and the development race was momentarily suspended.

That has now resumed its customary ferocity, although some teams - those without realistic title pretensions - have more or less given up on the season in progress, to focus on building a better car for 2011. It is a sign of the pervading tranquillity that Andy Soucek - Virgin Racing's reserve driver - briefly captured the headlines in the specialist media when he announced he was leaving the team with immediate effect. The Spaniard won the FIA Formula Two title last season, but had not actually driven the Virgin at the time of his departure.

They don't make silly seasons like they used to. It has not been wholly quiet, though - and Soucek is not the only substitute to have moved on. Earlier this week, Mercedes released Nick Heidfeld, their test driver, to allow the German to take up a development role with 2011 tyre supplier Pirelli, which has just started its preparatory programme at the Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit, in Italy. Although it has recently been active in several motorsport disciplines, including the World Rally Championship, Pirelli has not competed in Formula One since 1991 and required a cocktail of speed, impartiality and recent experience.

Heidfeld has competed in 167 grands prix since 2000, scoring 12 podium finishes, but has been largely inactive since BMW, his former employer quit grand prix racing last winter. He will drive a 2009-specification chassis supplied by Toyota, which withdrew from the sport one day after participating in last year's inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Heidfeld's move strengthens the belief that Michael Schumacher, the seven-time champion, remains committed to the Mercedes F1 project, despite the difficulties he has faced since returning from a three-year sabbatical.

He lies ninth in the standings, two places and 56 points behind his teammate Nico Rosberg. The German faces a 10-place penalty on the grid for the forthcoming Belgian Grand Prix, for his unsportsmanlike driving in Hungary, but continues to talk positively about the future. "I feel comfortable and believe we are moving in the right direction to ensure we will be real contenders next year," he said.

The current Mercedes is based on last season's title-winning Brawn, developed for Jenson Button - a driver wholly comfortable with an understeering chassis. That, like this year's results, has been something Schumacher vehemently dislikes. sports@thenational.ae