Twenty Five years ago today, Oasis released their seminal debut album Definitely Maybe. Over the next decade and a half, through various incarnations and following several bust ups, the band finally disbanded for good. Over their career they wrote, recorded and released around 150 songs, amongst them tunes which for many would come to define their generation. 

To celebrate a quarter of a century since arguably my favourite band of all time released their first LP, I thought I’d collate my own list of the 25 songs of theirs that mean the most and that resonate the loudest with me. I’ve put the whole thing up as a playlist on Spotify. It’s not intended to be a definitive list. Such a thing, I’d argue, is impossible to create as music is entirely subjective. It’s just a personal collection of songs that I love by a band that I idolised. 

Some might say there are some glaring omissions, but don’t look back in anger. It’s just a bit of fun.

25. Fuckin’ In The Bushes – Not so much a song as a tune but it was at the time of its release and remains today an absolute belter. The band never actually played it live, but did use it as their hype and walk on tune for years. And with good reason. Its driving beat and thumping riff stirred your rocking soul and announced the (re)arrival of the band. Mark II. 

Standing on the Shoulder of Giants received a mixed reception but remains one of, if not my favourite Oasis album. There’s so much of interest as Noel, freed in many ways after the first three albums and the post euphoria comedown (literal, musical and metaphorical) from the excesses of Be Here Now, lets himself loose. Creation Records was gone and so was Alan McGee. Guigsy and Bonehead had left. The band was basically just Noel, Liam and Alan White on drums. Gone too was Owen Morris as producer, replaced by Spike Stent. 

What you have, then, is Noel essentially writing what he wanted in his own timeframe. Released as the first album on Big Brother records, it was a message of intent from the Gallaghers, too. They weren’t going anywhere, and they were going to adapt to the changing musical landscape and grow with it, and their audience.

Interestingly, its inclusion on the album saw it being banned from sale in Walmart across the USA.

24. D’You Know What I Mean?Be Here Now has become roundly seen as the nadir of the Oasis back catalogue, thanks in large part to Noel’s own later-years sober disgust and dismay at his third offering as songwriter. 

I remember its release only too well, queueing outside Our Price in Fleet waiting for it to open early so I could be one of the 424,000 people to get my hands on the album on day one. I was 16. And I loved it. 

The album reflected everything of the time. It was big and loud. It was lurid and braggadocious. It was also, not to put too fine a point in it, a bit of a mess. But it was unmistakably Oasis. The recording sessions reportedly swung between wild drug binges and ferocious arguments, but despite all of that what has perhaps been lost in the intervening 22 years of fashionably abject negativity is that it includes some fantastic songs. 

Is this one of them? Arguably not. For one, it’s lazy as hell. It is Wonderwall on electric guitars. Check the chord sequences. They’re identical. It’s simply a rehash of what made (What’s the Story) Morning Glory so good, layered with a million guitar overdubs and some special effects. If you want to know the bonkers levels the band went to in the minutiae of the layers on this album, the morse code in this song spells “bugger all,” “pork pies” and “strawberry fields.” 

But at the time, it had me hooked. The video aped Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. It was even filmed at Beckton Gas Works, where Kubrick had recreated the Vietnamese city of Hue and filmed the final scenes of the movie. Liam’s snarling vocal was a call to arms for anyone left of our generation that wasn’t already a signed up member of his swaggering clam of wannabes. Did we know what he meant? Probably not. Did it matter? Not one bit. Was it a great song? No. But who cared. It rocked. 

23. Stop Crying Your Heart Out – With a full-time line-up that now included Gem Archer (Heavy Stereo) and Andy Bell (Ride), for their fifth album the band now had three acknowledged songwriters. Much was expected of their first album together as the band found what would become arguably its most technically and professionally proficient line-up (my personal favourite line-up only came with the arrival of Zak Starkey on drums.) Division still existed however, as drummer Alan White would leave soon after the album’s release. 

Their first album together, Heathen Chemistry, always fell flat for me, but in hindsight is a far more complete offering than its follow up Don’t Believe The Truth. HC was disjointed and lacked the cohesion of the first four offerings, perhaps because Noel was now having to share songwriting duties and the process was having to become more democratic. 

That said, there are some stand out moments and this is one of them. The line “All of the stars have faded away,” called to a culture in which our childhood heroes were tripping up in front of us and falling from the pedestals on which we’d placed them. The band included. 

As England crashed out of yet another football tournament, this was the song that accompanied their defeat. The party was most definitely over.

22. Who Feels Love? – Reversed guitar loops, a hypnotic almost dirge of a melody, tabla percussion and pseudo mystical lyrics, this was an interesting choice for the second single from SOTSOG but it’s stood the test of time well. Sure, it’s a bit of a George Harrison homage, but its one of the band’s most intriguing moments as it attempted to rediscover its purpose and direction.

21. I’m Outta Time – Although Liam’s first songwriting attempt (the actually very sweet Little James from SOTSOG) had been ridiculed, he quickly grew into the role. Heathen Chemistry saw three of Liam’s songs make the cut, including the searing “Born on a Different Cloud.” He got three onto DBTT, as well, with “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel,” a personal standout. But it was on the band’s final album, the much maligned but I personally find excellent Dig Out Your Soul, that he really hit his stride. The special edition featured a massive five songs by the younger Gallagher sibling, and this is his masterpiece. 

While many simply tried to downplay it as a cheap imitation of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy (not at all helped by the Lennon voice sample at the song’s close), it’s in this song that Liam shows for perhaps the first time the genuine prowess he possesses as a songwriter, an under-appreciated skill that would only come to the fore in his solo work over the past few years. 

It’s a fantastic song and a gorgeous ballad that not only merits its place on the album but marks it out as one of the finest songs on the record. 

20. Let There Be Love – While many of Oasis’ songs feature a combination of Noel and Liam on lead and backing vocals, there are precious few that feature both in lead roles. This was only the fifth time the duo would share lead duties, and it came on the band’s penultimate and ultimately most disappointing album, Don’t Believe The Truth.

There’s already a sense of foreboding in the song’s lyrics, and with the music video featuring black and white slow motion footage of the band playing live, it already started to feel perhaps not quite like a farewell, but perhaps the beginning of the end. 

19. Flashbax – The B Side to “All Around The World,” Flashbax always intrigued me as a single. Its relatively stripped down nature in the midst of the cacophony of the multi layered fog of Be Here Now immediately made it stand out. It was a hark back to the B Sides of the first two albums and I’ve always absolutely loved it. Frustratingly, it also holds up a mirror to what Be Here Now could have been, had it not seen many of its greatest moments lost under the weight of excess.

18. (It’s Good) To Be Free – One of the B Sides written for Definitely Maybe, the song featured as a B Side to the non-album track “Whatever.” It perhaps didn’t come to widespread attention until it was included on the band’s B Side album “The Masterplan” in 1998, but when it did fans were immediately drawn to its rawness and the still youthful fragility of Liam’s voice, long before the drawling rasp for which it became known and which was later much missed when he cleaned his act up a bit. In a sea of outstanding B Sides, this one always stood out to me. 

17. Rock ’n’ Roll Star – I remember the first time someone put on Definitely Maybe. That bent first note, the build and expectation and then the whallop straight into the future. For a kid in No Fear pants and a baggy jumper listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, this was altogether something different. Everything about this song spoke of what it was to be reaching for a dream, especially one that people said you’d never achieve. It was two fingers up at anyone who ever told you that you couldn’t do something. The bravado, the confidence, the joy and the positivity. In that moment we all became rock n roll stars. We were all part of the band. This was our journey now, too. 

16. Cast No Shadow – To me this has always been one of Noel’s simplest and most glorious moments of songwriting. He would later admit that the piece was written about Verve singer Richard Ashcroft who, so Gallagher thought, never looked very happy despite his incredible talent. Thus the staggering line, “bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say.” Like a lot of songs on WTSMG, it’s beautifully produced and features a string section that Gallagher had become so taken with after recording Whatever. Stands the test of time as one of his best.

15. Fade In-Out – This song is, I believe, the only Oasis song to feature guitars in drop D tuning, giving it the grungy, almost country sound. The full Western influence comes to the fore with the slide guitar, played surprisingly deftly by Johnny Depp. Depp and Noel had first met during the recording of the Warchild HELP EP, and became reacquainted on the island of Mustique where Gallagher had taken himself away to write and record the demos that would become Be Here Now. While a lot of people find it a hard listen, for me it’s always been one of the few parts of BHN that made sense. The chaos and the screaming. It’s almost a primal. Part of me wanted to put this in the top 10. It’s just a belting rock and roll track.

14. Whatever – If you live in America, chances are this appears on your copy of Definitely Maybe. If you’re from the UK, the chances are it definitely does not. “Whatever” was released in the UK as a winter / Christmas single and filled the gap between the band’s first two albums. It was a song that the band didn’t initially believe Gallagher had written as they all thought it was too good. Ultimately it turned out to be, as Neil Innes (Monty Python, The Rutles etc) successfully sued them for nicking part of his 1973 song “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.” As a result he now receives royalties and a co-writing credit, much as Lennon and McCartney do for much of the music he wrote for The Rutles. At the time this song was the highest entry into the UK single chart for the band, but it was more important than simply reflecting their new levels of notoriety and popularity. 

With a big budget, orchestra and sumptuous production, it was a sign that the garage band was moving on. They weren’t pretending to be in a pop band anymore. They’d made it.

13. The Shock of the Lightning – This is going to seem a bit controversial so if you’re upset by this, well, do your own list. Because I utterly adore this song. There’s an urgency to it, an importance. As the lead single to what would be their final album, it was also a time machine back to the earliest days of the band. Here again was the rawness, the intensity and the passion, with lyrics almost spat down the mic by the greatest front man of his generation. 

If it sounds a little rough, that’s because it is. Noel came up with the idea and ran into the studio one night. He played the drums, bass and guitar. Laid the tracks down. And that was it. The demo is essentially the final song. 

Accompanied by a psychedelic video of the bands musical and life influences, there’s even Liam singing Champagne Supernova backwards at the end. It’s a belter and I won’t hear otherwise. 

12. Stop The Clocks – If the inclusion of the last song is controversial then this one will be even more so. Stop The Clocks was originally written by Noel in 2001 and was recorded for Don’t Believe the Truth in 2004. For some inexplicable reason, it never made the album. Never even made it out as a B Side. Was Noel perhaps saving it for himself? We’ll never know. 

All we do know is that when Oasis released their greatest hits and announced it would carry the name of this mythical song which Noel had sung in sound checks at gigs for years, fans believed they’d finally get to hear a studio version. But when the album dropped the song was missing. 

When Oasis disbanded, any hope of the song seeing the light of day short of studio session bootlegs seemed lost. Until Noel sat down and recorded it with his High Flying Birds. Interestingly, he’s never played it live with his new band. So, for me, it remains an Oasis song. 

It’s a beautifully crafted song, written around the time the band were recording Stop Crying Your Heart Out and the melancholy is self evident. Lyrically it isn’t far off The Masterplan in its introspective nature, but musically it’s one of the most complex and soulful songs Noel ever wrote for the band. 

11. The Masterplan – For many this isn’t simply the best B Side the band ever recorded, it’s the best song. Period. Written by Noel in a Japanese hotel room, it’s all about the path our lives take and how ultimately “all we know is that we don’t know how it’s gonna be.” 

Hidden as the fourth song on the Wonderwall single, it became an immediate fan favourite helped in no small part by Noel’s stunning version recorded for the MTV Unplugged series in August 1996. It’s one of those songs that is inescapably Noel, and which one couldn’t imagine with Liam on vocals. For a long time, it was heralded as the reason the band needed to release a B Sides album, and so when they did finally succumb to the pressure of doing so, they duly named the collection after the song. 

It’s a tremendous work but for me I’ve always been hugely frustrated with its production. Noel’s vocal levels were recorded way too hot and they clip. If you listen closely you can hear it from the very first word as the hard T of “Take the Time” and the esses of “Some Sense” and “Say” distort. Most annoying is “Looking-glass” where the esses are so distorted it sounds as though he’s lisping. Without that, it’s Top 10. Maybe even Top 5. But that’s always, always frustrated the hell out of me. So it doesn’t make the final ten. 

10. Talk Tonight – There’s a fascinating story behind this song that revolves around Noel Gallagher quitting the band on their US tour in 1994 and disappearing off to Vegas after an awful show in LA where they’d all reportedly been off their nuts on meth. While in Vegas he met a woman in a bar and talked all night about the Beatles, their joint love of the same music reminding him why he’d starting writing songs in the first place and sending him back to the band. 

To me, it’s by far one of Gallagher’s most perfect ballads. It’s sweet yet sincere and if the story checks out then it’s almost entirely biographical. 

Musically it’s what you’d expect from Gallagher around this time, the chord shapes and progressions aping Wonderwall, Whatever and Cast No Shadow, yet in his inimitable and unmistakable style, he’s able to pass it off somehow as fresh and new. Oh, and having Paul Weller on it didn’t hurt either.

It’s not just one of my favourite Oasis songs, but one of my favourite songs ever written. And if I’m ever at an open mic night, it’s the only song I can pick up a guitar, play and sing with any semblance of confidence. 

9. Columbia – This was the first song Noel Gallagher wrote with Oasis. It was the first song they ever played together live. And it went down like a sack of shit. The band couldn’t believe it. But in hindsight, you can see how it might have dropped like the proverbial lead weight. Manchester was still Stone Roses territory in the early 90s. Certainly in the venues the likes of Oasis were playing. Yet the Hacienda was also at its height and so dance music was everywhere and bands like Primal Scream were highlighting a completely different path of dance based rock with Screamadelica. 

At the start, Columbia was just a jam. A six minute groove of a driving up-tempo, back beat… almost dance beat. Noel’s simple riff loops over and over. For punters more used to baggy indie, this wasn’t normal. One night, high on acid, the guys wrote some lyrics. And created an anthem.

It’s as thumping a tune today as it was when they first played it almost 30 years ago. At the band’s gigs it was a staple, from their first to their last days. In many ways it forged the path from what had been and what was the scene in the early 90s to where Oasis was taking indie and rock music into the mid 90s. It’s just mega. 

8. Wonderwall – Is it our generation’s Stairway to Heaven? If there’s one song likely to get you kicked out of a guitar shop, it’s this. Hit that first E minor chord and you’re gone. Yet it remains for many the first song they’ll ever learn on guitar and the one classic everyone and anyone can pull out of the arsenal around a camp fire. And everyone knows every word. 

The song takes its cue from George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music in 1968, but other than that, there’s not much more to tell. Everyone knows it upside down and inside out. Oh, there is one interesting fact – the cello isn’t a cello. It a melotron, played backwards. 

What’s perhaps most fascinating about this song is how its legacy has seen so many different versions crop up. Before it had barely entered the charts there was the 60s inspired Mike Flowers’ Pops version, but perhaps the most important of all covers was that recorded by Ryan Adams for his 2004 album Love is Hell. He put a much more sombre tone to the song, taking the view that the vocal could just as easily have been sung by someone contemplating suicide. 

His take on the song so changed the tone and feeling of Wonderwall, that Noel Gallagher now plays Adams’ version at his live gigs. 

7. Acquiesce – Unquestionably one of the band’s greatest B Sides, Acquiesce was so strong that it almost made the cut for (Whats The Story) Morning Glory, only to be relegated at the last moment. Alan McGee wanted it to be a double A Side with Some Might Say but after an argument with Noel Gallagher it fell to being just a B Side. 

It immediately became a fan favourite and was belted out for years at gigs by both Gallagher bothers, this song forming one of very few in which both take centre stage. Noel had to take the vocal in the chorus as, apparently, Liam couldn’t hit the high notes. 

Personally, it’s always been a favourite. Not least because the first time I ever went to watch Oasis live, on the Be Here Now tour, my friends and I were jumping up and down and going so nuts in the seated section next to the side of the stage that Liam dedicated it to us as the encore. We were 17 and, needless to say, completely lost it.

6. Live Forever – 1994 had been a pretty shit year. Ayrton Senna had been killed. Kurt Cobain had blown his brains out. As a 13 year old I loved racing and music and so these two events naturally felt borderline cataclysmic. As a stroppy teenager Nirvana’s music appealed. Of course it did. All nihilism and hatred of anything and anyone telling you what to do. We could look at our feet and shuffle along telling anyone who would listen how unfair it all was. When Cobain sang “I hate myself and want to die,” we concurred in barely registrable mumbles. 

When Oasis came along it was like a blast of sunshine through the clouds. And this… this was the anthem of the new way. “You and I are gonna live forever!” 

That unconfined joy is still evident in every breath of the song. It’s just so unashamedly optimistic that even on the most overcast of days it can’t help but lift your soul. 

It was a cornerstone of one of the finest debut albums in rock history and created the foundations upon which the bombast of Oasis was built. Here were these guys, a bunch of scallies from Manchester who’d not had two pennies to rub together, telling us we could all be rock n roll stars and we were going to live forever. 

It was the beginning of one the most life affirming periods of my life I’ve ever known. 

5. Supersonic – If you’re going to be a rockstar, you’d better have something important to say. And with Supersonic, snarling down the camera from the top of a derelict building, Liam Gallagher laid out his stall with the very first words he ever uttered to the world. 

“I need to be myself, I can’t be no-one else.”

I challenge you to find a better opening line for any frontman in rock n roll history. 

As debut singles go, there have been few as brash. It was bare faced, arrogant, swaggering confidence. It was the best bits of everything guitar-based British music had been suggesting for the past few years yet it was completely new. It was working class guts and devil may care attitude. All served up with a heavy dose of “fuck you.” It was everything that a post Thatcherite Britain needed. 

Teenager, adult, on the dole or on the way up, it didn’t matter. Britain had a new voice. 

4. Let’s All Make Believe – Another B Side and another entry from the SOTSOG period, this song is one of the least known yet one of the most beautifully written and performed songs in the entire Oasis catalogue. Whether the lyric is about Noel and Liam’s relationship, or that of two quarrelling lovers, it contains some of the most meaningful and, some might say, profound words the band ever penned. 

The jangling guitars make for an uneasy bed, immediately placing the listener somewhat on edge, but it’s Liam’s powerful and purposeful vocal, delivering the searing words with apparently heartfelt emotion, allied to the accompanying strings, that combine to create one of Oasis’ most accomplished and beautiful songs. 

If only for the line “strangle my hope and make me pray to a God I’ve never seen but who I’ve betrayed,” this deserves its billing among the very finest things the band ever created. Q Magazine thought it so good they put it at #1 on their list of the 500 greatest lost songs in history. 

It’s utterly brilliant.

3. Champagne Supernova – If Live Forever became the post-grunge calling card of a generation finding ease with itself, then Morning Glory’s sign off became its anthem. In many ways, it was the come down before the comedown, the moment of calm in the midst of the storm. Champagne Supernova’s lyrics may not have meant anything to anyone who wasn’t immersed in the wave of Gallagher hysteria, but the song… the song was universal.

Search too deep for meaning in the lyrics and as so often you’ll come up with a bit of nonsense. The “Caught between the landslide” line was famously alleged to have come from the Alessi sugar jar that belonged to Noel’s then girlfriend and future wife Meg Matthews. The very title was supposed to have come from a mishearing of the Pixie’s album Bossanova. 

What is clear with this song, however, is just how far the band had come in such a short space of time. Keep in mind this album was written, recorded and released in the year following their debut and yet so assured are they of their place and their importance within the industry that they were able to conjure up something that it took even the likes of the Beatles more than six albums to achieve in terms of its scale, gloriosity and composure. 

Champagne Supernova works on many levels, too. It could form part of your heartfelt mixtape to a girlfriend whilst at the same time being the quintessential terrace chant or drunken pubcrawl singsong home.  Like so many of Oasis’ best songs, the trick for that lies in its seeming simplicity and the seemingly effortless vocal, delivered in Liam’s now quintessentially accentuated guttural growl and elongated vowels. 

I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the opening strum is actually the riff to the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant, just played as a chord, and given how much of Gallagher’s songwriting at the time owed itself to either nods of the cap to influences, or straight up nicked concepts, chords and melodies, I’ve never believed this to be a coincidence. 

Champagne Supernova remains one of the band’s most towering achievements and a song which still evokes memories of time and place whenever those first crashing waves are heard.

2. Slide Away – Noel once said that Slide Away was a conscious decision to try and write a song that combined The Smiths with Neil Young. It’s birth, however, may have been a touch more natural. Johnny Marr lent him the guitar on which he’d written “The Queen is Dead,” and that same night Noel wrote and fully formed the song we now know as “Slide Away.” In many ways, it was as if the song had always been in the guitar, just waiting to be let out. 

So taken with the song were the execs at Creation that they wanted this to be the last single from Definitely Maybe, but with four singles already released from the album, Gallagher Sr insisted that five would be too many. It remained an album track. 

Of all the songs on Definitely Maybe, it remains by far the most accomplished and the most rounded. Contrary to popular opinion, the album was not an easy one to record. It involved a huge number of different recording sessions and producers until it came to be formed into the cohesive unit we know now. And Slide Away is for me, without question, its defining moment. A bittersweet love song which remains, so it is believed, Sir Paul McCartney’s favourite Oasis song.

For a band with so much youthful exuberance and urgency, for a group of kids who wanted to take on the world and run it their way, in this song lay the shades of grey and the nuances that would permit them to go on to take over the world. Slide Away allowed more than just tone, it gave the band depth. And it remains, even after the now decades long falling out between brothers, Noel’s favourite vocal performance by Liam. 

The moment that cemented this song as one of my all time favourite Oasis songs was hearing it on BBC Radio 1, Live from Knebworth. I couldn’t tell if Liam was singing “Take me there,” or “Take me back” but it didn’t matter. There was so much soul to his plea, so much heart in his desire to be heard that it buried itself deep inside me. 

And it never got out.

1. Gas Panic – If Be Here Now was the ultimate reflection of the excess that the end of the 90s represented, then Standing on the Shoulder of Giants was the comedown. It was the moment of reflection for all of us, of realisation and of rebirth. It was a reflection of a time for us all to find our place in the world and to figure out, once and for all, what was going on with our lives. Where we wanted to go and who we wanted to be. 

Gas Panic is Noel Gallagher’s very real comedown. In some interviews he’s put the content down to prescription drugs he was taking at the time. Some believe it’s more reflective of his elimination of the high quantities of narcotics that had become part of normal life from the moment the band hit the big time almost half a decade before. The panic attacks and crashing anxiety created by him giving up cocaine.

What’s clear is that never had he written a more personal song. Never had his words been so searingly visceral. So brutal. So meaningful. Never had they weaved so complex a web and so complete a story. Nor had they balanced so perfectly with a song that jarred so vastly against the norm for the band, yet at the same time seemed so born of their foundations in the relative nihilism of post punk, indie rock.

“What tongueless ghost of sin crept through my curtains?
Sailing on a sea of sweat on a stormy night
I think he don’t got a name but I can’t be certain
And in me he starts to confide
That my family don’t seem so familiar
And my enemies all know my name
And if you hear me tap on your window
You’d better get on your knees and pray
Panic is on the way.”

This isn’t your traditional Oasis singalong song. It’s not going to be belted out on the terraces. It isn’t going to be sung by students who only know how to play two songs around campfires or whacked on as the last dance at the school disco. This isn’t and was never supposed to be a universal song. And yet it is. 

It became one of the band’s most popular and mighty live tracks. Perhaps because, by the early 2000s, we’d all had to grow up. We’d all had a taste of the real world. Because we’d all had to come down. 

Perhaps because Standing on the Shoulder of Giants represented as much of a search for affirmation via discovery of self for the band who had helped us to define ourselves as our own search for truth had brought us to a point of reckoning in the same period, there’s an argument to be had that the songs from this album resonate with those of us of a certain age more than the others. 

Or perhaps it’s just a perfectly crafted song. Written by one of the country’s greatest ever songwriters at a point of his most heightened expressive and emotional states. Freed from previous constraints and permitted to just write whatever and however he wanted. 

I’ve been a fan of this band from the first note I heard them play. 25 years after they released their debut album they have released more than 150 songs into the world as a band and well over 200 if you include the solo records, other ventures and covers. 

And yet, for me, this song tops them all. 

We live in an odd time.

The internet has made the world far smaller. It has enriched our lives with a sea of information on any and every subject we could possibly wish to study. From mathematics to Mozart, theories on the beginning of time to recipes for the perfect New York cheesecake, if you want to know something, you can find it.

It has given everyone a voice. If you have an opinion, you can make it heard.

The level of debate should have risen. With the bounty of information at our fingertips, the quality of argument, of reasoned and intelligent discussion, should have improved exponentially.

And yet it hasn’t. It has plummeted. Debate and reason has been replaced by vitriol and anger. Frustration and belligerence surmised in 140 blindly tapped characters.

News stories that an individual dislikes are instantly passed over as “fake news.” Stories that don’t fit the narratives which individuals have created for themselves are dismissed out of hand. Experienced and knowledgeable journalists, researchers, writers and broadcasters are lambasted and insulted by those who dare not step out from behind the veil of anonymity which the world wide web provides.

An opinion is no longer debated and discussed. It is used as a beating stick. It is chewed up and spat out as being false, fake, biased. Yet an opinion is just that. It is an opinion. It doesn’t have to be agreed with. It isn’t an absolute. It is an opinion. Personal. Subjective. Neither right nor wrong.

This age, this time of unlimited information should have created an open forum of discussion. It should be the height of intellectualism in our world. And yet all it has created is a cesspool of contempt, bitterness and hatred.

I have worked in my chosen field for the past decade and a half. I immerse myself in the inner workings of the Formula 1 paddock at every race. I will soon attend my 200th Grand Prix as a journalist and broadcaster. I have commentated on over 350 races in my career to date. I write my blog, my column and flood my twitter feed with information and the occasional opinion in order to try and open up the world I love to its fans around the world. Fans of all nationalities, fans of all teams and drivers. I do not favour one over another. I have no favourites. I try, with every semblance of my being, to write, report and act in a professional and unbiased manner.

You may disagree with me. You may dislike the things I say.

But it is you who follow me. You who clicked that button and decided you wanted to hear what I was reporting and, on the occasions that I proffer an opinion, that you were willing to listen to that opinion and respect it as having come from someone who works at the very heart of the thing that you love.

I like debate. I love discussing this sport.

But I won’t stand for abuse. I won’t be insulted.

It saddens me that I’ve had to block anyone on social media channels. And yet over the past six months I’ve had to do so more regularly than ever before. In the last month alone I’d wager I’ve been forced to block as many people as I had done over the previous three years. That, unfortunately, is the reality of the depths in which reasoned debate now finds itself drowning.

The need to do so comes not from wanting to disengage from debate, nor from wishing to deafen myself to opinions contrary to mine. But from an absolute need to halt abusive, aggressive, unreasonable behaviour which has no place in any forum or in any walk of life.

I’m not the only one. Every one of my colleagues have been forced to do the same. And it’s not something that fills any of us with any satisfaction. We report on this sport because we love it. We want to share our passion with you. We want to share our stories, our experiences and our knowledge with you.

But should you find yourself boiling with rage, reading something I or one of my colleagues has written, ask yourself a few questions. Why would we lie? Why would we risk our careers by favouring one driver or team over another? Why would we allow bias to creep in to our work? Why would our employers allow it? Why would they continue to employ us?

If more than one of us is following the same path, ask why that might be so. Ask yourself why all of these people, with all of this experience and all of these contacts and all of this access, are saying similar things.

Then ask yourself if we’ve got it wrong, or if it simply doesn’t fit with what you’d hoped. And if it doesn’t, then ask why it doesn’t. What doesn’t fit?

Engage. Question. Discuss. Debate.

And if you still don’t like what we write and find yourself in the vocal minority that can find no other path than to stoop to the level of verbal abuse, it’s really very simple. Click that button that says “unfollow.” If you really want to live in a world where the only news you read and the only opinions you see are those that back up the stilted and one-sided views you’ve invented for yourself, and can find no means of debate other than abusing those who hold a different opinion or proffer facts that betray the narrative you’ve created as your own, go right ahead. But that’s not the world I live in, nor want to promote.

There is space and there is a right for all opinions and all viewpoints to be heard and debated. That’s what a world wide web should be about. It should be a melting pot of opinions and discussion. We all have the information at our disposal to make logical, reasonable, informed debate the norm, not the exception.

As a kid, the thing I loved about going to races was that you could stand trackside next to people of different nationalities, supporting different teams and different drivers and everyone got along. It wasn’t them and us like at a football stadium. It wasn’t tribal and warlike. It was respectful, it was engaging and intellectual and fun! This sport is one that brings people together. It doesn’t divide or hate.

So please, if you feel that passion start to burn as anger, take a step back. Passion is great. It’s why we all do what we do. Fervently loving your team, your driver, your country, whatever it might be… that’s what makes this sport so brilliant and so beautiful. It is all about the passions that drive us and get us excited. But please, temper that passion in the field of argument.

Anger, hatred and vitriol has no place here.


Sebastian Vettel at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

I have attempted to steer clear of writing about Baku since Sunday. The dust kicked up by Sebastian Vettel’s lap 19 contretemps with Lewis Hamilton has now begun to settle, thanks in no small part to the FIA confirming that it is investigating whether or not there is due cause to initiate a hearing on the matter. As such, now is perhaps a good time to try to make sense of it all.

The incident itself has been pored over countless times and yet there still appears to be some confusion over exactly what happened, the rules which surround Safety Car periods and how they change when those periods are coming to a close, and finally about exactly what the FIA investigation represents.

I’ll do my best to explain, in the knowledge that I will, as I have been countless times this week already, likely be dubbed a Hamilton fanboy, a Vettel sympathiser, an FIA apologist and an anti-FIA zealot hell-bent on taking the fun out of the sport. Which, if all four come in at the same frequency as over the past few days, means I must be doing something right.

The incident itself is rather easy to dissect, and has been analysed brilliantly by James Allen and the folks at F1.com.

What is clear is that, having been left behind at the first Safety Car restart, Sebastian Vettel didn’t want to allow Lewis Hamilton to get a similar jump on the second restart. As is customary, once the lights on the Safety Car are extinguished it is beholden on the race leader to determine the pace. Now, some have confused the mention of “Safety Car lights” with the Safety Car lighting panels trackside. These are two different things. The leader’s choice of pace comes into effect once the lights on top of the car are out. At this point, the ten car length rule also ends.


The Safety Car leads Hamilton in Baku
James Moy Photography

Hamilton does not brake any differently to his first restart or indeed any other lap behind the Safety Car. The graphic shows him to be on the brakes through the apex at around 50kph, but rather than accelerating down the hill from Turn 15 to 16 he simply coasts. It is at this point, as Vettel accelerates, that the initial contact occurs.

The screen graphic shows a slight touch of brake from Hamilton at the point of first impact. With Hamilton’s foot resting on the brake pedal, such a jolt from behind would likely show a trace of brake as his foot is shaken, but any suggestion of brake testing has already been refuted by the FIA, having monitored the Mercedes driver’s telemetry.

We should be in no doubt then, that the initial contact is simply a regular incident behind a safety car and one we have seen countless times from countless drivers. It is the nature of the beast. With the lead driver slowing the pack, some are caught off guard, and contact can and does happen. We’ve even seen drivers crash out under Safety Car, caught so unaware were they by the slowing of the field ahead. Look back to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2000 and Jenson Button’s moment as Michael Schumacher slowed the field for the restart.

So, is it Hamilton’s fault for slowing too much? Is it Vettel’s fault for driving too close? Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Hamilton had been warned by his team that his first restart had left him too close to the Safety Car. One only need look at the GP2 races at Baku in 2016 for a reminder of how easily one can catch the pace car if the throttle is buried from Turn 16. As such, on the second restart Hamilton slows the field all the way through Turns 17 and 18 before putting his foot down.

The first moment of contact can, then, be put down as a simple and quite usual occurrence under the Safety Car. Contact shouldn’t happen, but it often does. With no major damage done to either car, it probably wouldn’t even have been worth investigating.

It’s what happens next that has caused the debate.

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Vettel and Hamilton make contact
c/o F1.com

Vettel first lifts both hands in a questioning manner, asking what Hamilton was doing. He then drives alongside Hamilton on the left hand side, gesticulating at him with his left hand raised. The Ferrari moves across the track and its rights wheels connect with the left wheels of the Mercedes. Vettel, intentionally or otherwise, makes contact with Hamilton.

Given the position of his left arm and the angle of the onboard camera it is impossible to see whether Vettel has his right hand on the wheel at this point. It is also impossible to see whether, should his right hand actually be on the wheel, he makes any deliberate move towards the Mercedes. There has been a suggestion that in gesticulating, he inadvertently allowed his car to stray into the path of the Mercedes. Some think he may have intended to manoeuvre his car in a way that would let Hamilton know his displeasure. A frightener, if you will. And that he simply miscalculated and made contact. There is a third suggestion, that he deliberately drove his car into his rival.

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 11.07.26 copy

Camera position makes it impossible to ascertain intent
c/o F1.com

Without Vettel’s steering and throttle trace, it is impossible to know exactly what happened in this moment. While we have been allowed to see the telemetry absolving Hamilton of blame for brake checking, we have not been shown Vettel’s telemetry for the secondary collision. Of course, data will only tell us so much. The only person who knows what the intent or lack of, was in this moment is Sebastian Vettel.

But as of the last time he spoke to anyone about the incident publically, he was refusing to even accept the second contact had happened, referring instead only to the first front/rear contact and to his gesticulation. His ire at a stop-go penalty for dangerous driving remained clear. He ignored any and all calls to explain the second contact and whether it had been deliberate.

So we have a suggestion of deliberate contact between drivers on track. And then we have the penalty handed down by the stewards of the meeting.

To many, the penalty of a ten second stop-go, was woefully inadequate. Given the options available to the stewards, which included a race disqualification and/or suspension from the next event, to lose just 30 seconds and two positions by the time the flag fell could be argued to be incredibly lenient. What happened to Lewis Hamilton in the race, as regards his head rest coming loose and the time he lost as a result, is neither here nor there. It does not and should not form a part of the argument.

What we are looking at here is the precedent which has been set. And that precedent is that, whether by intent or as a result of a loss of control (figuratively and literally), a driver has made contact with another under the Safety Car. And perhaps that’s the most worrying element. The track is not a closed environment under pace car conditions. Marshals and track workers are operating. Yes, we were due to go back racing so it is unlikely that anyone would still have been on track, but the SC lights were still flashing trackside. We were still under caution.

Wheel banging while racing for position is part and parcel of racing. Watching drivers jostle for position is part of what makes this sport so exciting. But aiming your car at another, whether at 50kph or 250kph has never been deemed to be acceptable at any level or in any championship. It is the one absolute that exists in racing. You do not use your car as a weapon. Ever.

Thus for the stewards to hand down only a stop-go penalty for the one, single and absolutely clearest misdemeanour on the books, one must drop any faux pretence of shock that the FIA wishes to look deeper into the incident itself and the manner in which it was handled.


FIA President Jean Todt has based his leadership on a basis of road safety initiatives.
James Moy Photography

The stewards are not law makers. Just as the Judiciary in a democracy, the stewards’ role is to interpret the law, to pass judgement and to hand down the correct sentence within the structures of the law as written. In legal and political parlance, we would refer to this as the creation of Common Law, where precedent fills in the gaps left by the law makers themselves. Should that Common Law stand at odds with the objective of the law makers at the time they passed the law, it would not be uncommon to see new legislation passed to clear up the confusion which led to a precedent at odds with the intention of the law. Similarly, in many democracies it would not be uncommon for someone in the position of a Secretary of State, or a Home Secretary, to have the right to request the sentence be re-examined should it be deemed too lenient.

The FIA has such a system in place, too.

There are two courts at the disposal of the governing body of our sport. There is the International Tribunal and the International Court of Appeal. Should the FIA’s investigation into Vettel’s conduct in Baku deem a hearing, it is at the International Tribunal that the case will be heard. It is this court that has the right to hand down whatever sanctions it sees fit, its judgement superseding that of the stewards. The judgement may then be appealed through the ICA, should it be deemed appropriate by the parties against whom the judgement and sentence was levied by the IT.

We must state for the time being that the FIA has not said the International Tribunal will hear such a case. Merely that it is investigating whether there is grounds for it to do so.

The general feeling, however, is that the Tribunal will sit.

The FIA President has based his entire leadership on the noble aims of improving road safety around the world. His initiatives have included not only the safety of the build of the cars on our roads, continuing the work of Max Mosley via the NCAP safety ratings, but have extended to road construction and infrastructure and worldwide campaigns for safer driving, responsible driving and mindful driving.


The FIA’s Action for Road Safety logos are highly visible in F1.
James Moy Photography

Every Formula 1 car carries the FIA’s “Action for Road Safety” logo. Every driver is an ambassador for the programme.

How, then, does it countenance the actions of a four time world champion in what many will argue is a clear show of “road rage,” with a slap on the wrist? If the FIA holds up these drivers as the best of the best, as role models for drivers around the world, can it allow such driving to go by unchallenged and unpunished?

Again, remember, this is not a racing incident. This is under safety car. This is not wheel to wheel racing, all arms and elbows and for the glory of victory. This is a frustrated driver making contact with another, deliberate or otherwise.

The other reason many believe that this will go to the Tribunal is not just because the stewards arguably awarded too light a punishment, but because nobody can think of another occasion on which this occurred. Of course, we can look back at Pastor Maldonado’s contacts with both Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez in qualifying sessions for which he was awarded grid drops. But there has never been, to anyone’s recollection, an example of a driver positioning his car alongside and driving into a rival under a Safety Car.

Because this is the first example of its happening in Formula 1, the punishment must be proportionate and appropriate. Something this potentially important should not be left to part-time stewards to decide. It goes higher than that because the precedent it sets will be applicable from top to bottom, from Formula 1 to karting. It has to be right.


Zidane was sent off in the 2006 World Cup final for headbutting Materazzi. Both would later be pulled before FIFA’s courts. Both would be awarded fines and match bans.

This situation isn’t unique to Formula 1, of course. All global sports have a system in place whereby the governing body can initiate hearings in the event that a situation arises which, be it by creating a new and unforseen area of law, or is deemed to to so clearly in the interests of the sport that it is required to be taken further and investigated more rigorously. It happens all over the world, in football, rugby, athletics. Think of a sport and there will be examples. This isn’t specific to Formula 1. There is no British media-driven witch hunt against Sebastian Vettel.

It is the due and correct process of a sport’s governing body.

So, for Vettel and Formula 1, what will the result be?

First, as we have said, there is no guarantee that it will even go as far as the Tribunal. But if it does, I cannot see that Sebastian Vettel gets out of it well. His total lack of acceptance of the penalty handed to him in Baku, his total ignoring of a secondary contact and total lack of contrition make him an easy target. Factor in that he is already on thin ice following his outbursts in Mexico last season and that he sits just three license points away from a race ban as it is, and the ground upon which he stands does not look terrifically solid.

From the camera angles we have seen and the explanations from the parties involved in the incident, it also doesn’t seem likely that the German comes out of it looking innocent. Even if the contact was unintentional, the result is still that he drove his car into another. Regardless of the mens rea, the intent, the actus reus, the objective element of the crime, is still present. The responsibility is still his.

What will he be handed? In all fairness, I think disqualification from Baku is the most likely outcome. Whether he is handed a further race ban for his failure to admit his wrong doing and his overall lack of contrition, allied to his previous outbursts and a potential charge under Article 151c for bringing the sport into disrepute, I don’t know. But a DQ from Baku seems the likeliest of outcomes.


Vettel in the Shadows in Baku
James Moy Photography

Should such a penalty come to pass, there will be those who claim the FIA is pro Hamilton, pro Mercedes and are interfering with the world championship. Yet look at 1994, Michael Schumacher’s disqualifications at Silverstone and Spa. Did the FIA think about the championship then, or did they think about what was right to the letter of the law?

Should no further penalty be awarded to Vettel, be that via a lack of Tribunal or their finding Vettel to be absolved of blame, then we’ll get the same “Ferrari International Assistance” jibes. Again look to 1994, and Michael’s arguably deliberate smash into Damon Hill at Adelaide and the lack of penalty.

That’s not to say the incidents are comparable. Merely to highlight that people claiming bias and interference in a world championship is nothing new when the result of a decision leaves the driver of whom you’re a fan, hard-done-by.

Fast forward three years to 1997. A deliberate contact between racing rivals. And one had his entire season’s points erased. He was forced to commit to hours of community service promoting road safety. The FIA made an example of him. They have the power to do the same to Sebastian.

Whichever way you look at this, Sebastian Vettel broke the cardinal rule of racing on Sunday. Deep down he knows that. And, I’d wager, is kicking himself for such a silly, unnecessary momentary lapse.

Make no mistake, it could cost him the title. And he’ll have nobody to blame but himself.

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 10.03.41 copy

I haven’t used the blog in a while… a pitfall of actually writing a proper column for a proper outlet.

As such I thought I’d use it in the interim to write on a few things I maybe needed more than 140 characters for. So here goes.

I thought I’d start doing a few Spotify playlists, just for a bit of fun. And so here’s my first.

To celebrate Sir Paul McCartney’s 75th, the fact that yesterday was Father’s day and my dearly departed Dad got me hooked on The Beatles, and also just because I’m a nerd, I thought I’d have a go at creating The Black Album.

The Black Album is a concept of what The Beatles’ very last album might have been, had they hung together through 1970/1, by using the tracks on their earliest solo works to create a compilation that works as an album.

I’ve opted only for their very first solo albums (of their own work, as Ringo had 2 covers albums before his eponymous debut in 73). Some people allow McCartney’s Ram into the mix, but mostly only so they have an excuse to use Lennon’s Imagine, too. But I’ve stuck with their debuts. 

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it is Harrison heavy. All Things Must Pass is an absolute belter of an album and shows, I think, in many ways the frustrations a great songwriter must have had sharing a studio with the unstoppable genius that was the Lennon and McCartney partnership.

The album is designed to be played as an LP, with tracks 1-7 forming Side One… well, 1-6 with 7 as an interlude. Tracks 8-13 form Side Two and are deliberately more contemplative and sombre in mood, a reflection that this was to be the ending of the band. I wanted it to reflect the closing of Abbey Road, (which is in itself a perfect send off for the band) with Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End, and to that end the climax is all Harrison, not just because it ensures an even flow, but simply because the three tracks rest together, I think, beautifully.

But then, much as with Sgt Peppers and A Day in the Life, I thought it needed a full stop. And so it has one, named for the overarching theme of all The Beatles work: Love.

Enjoy. Let me know what you think x

Buxton’s Beatles Black Album

Carlos Sainz Scuderia Toro Rosso James Moy Photography

Carlos Sainz
Scuderia Toro Rosso
James Moy Photography

5. Carlos Sainz

The Spaniard’s sophomore year in Formula 1 was desperately impressive. Consider for a moment that he and Toro Rosso entered the season with few expectations, running as they were a year-old Ferrari Power Unit which would receive no updates between lights out in Australia and chequered flag in Abu Dhabi. As such it was the early races of the season in which the team hoped to make its biggest push for points and yet Sainz consistently put his car in places it had no right to be, putting in performances that promoted his team to seventh in the Constructors’ Championship, just 11 points shy of McLaren Honda.

Factor in also the emotional gut punch that the promotion of Max Verstappen to Red Bull Racing created, and the realisation that a seat at the top team now could not be his for the foreseeable future, and the youngster’s ability to compose himself and carry on in the manner he did is all the more impressive.

He had nine Q3 appearances in 2016, which by all accounts should have been 10 save for the technical failure which put him out of Q2 in Austria, and despite the severe power deficit of his car leaving him with a target on his back in almost every race, he was able to bring it home in the points on ten occasions.

Canada (11 positions from start), Austria (7), America (4) and Brazil (9) stand out as exquisite drives, and one wonders what he might have achieved in Singapore were it not for the first lap contact with Nico Hulkenberg which saw him pick up damage and receive a meatball flag that relegated him out of points contention. But for me, one of the races which stood out the most was Japan. He qualified 14th and finished 17th. He was all over the place. But when the flag fell he attempted to make not one excuse. He merely apologised for his driving and said he hoped he hadn’t spoiled anyone’s race.

A driver who is so readily willing to accept when he is not as his best, seek to put no blame on anyone but himself, and use that introspection to further his racecraft is a rare thing indeed in the supposed pinnacle of open wheel racing. Not only is he critically aware however, he is quickly maturing into one of the most tenacious and impressive drivers in the sport. If I was Toto Wolff, I’d have no hesitation in putting in the call and paying whatever Helmut Marko asked to break him away from a Toro Rosso squad from which the Spaniard knows he has little chance of progressing within the Red Bull family. Carlos Sainz is a champion in waiting.

Nico Rosberg Mercedes Petronas AMG James Moy Photography

Nico Rosberg
Mercedes Petronas AMG
James Moy Photography

4. Nico Rosberg

The 2016 Formula 1 World Champion did everything he needed to do to wrap up the biggest prize in open wheel racing. And yet, for all his moments of brilliance, there will forever be question marks over the manner in which Nico Rosberg became champion. Even as the champagne was drying into the fibres of his race suit in Abu Dhabi, articles were penned and the debate initiated as to whether he was deserving of his place in the pantheon of the all-time greats.

Make no mistake about it, Nico Rosberg is a fine driver. His ability to put a car through its paces with metronomic efficiency, think around problems, extract the maximum from his equipment whilst also being kind to it, should be applauded. But with the finest car in the field at his disposal there were many who wanted to see more from the German in the year that he finally put it all together. There were many who left 2016 feeling deflated.

Rosberg worked harder than ever in 2016 to get on top of the niggles that had let him down in his previous two championship fights with Lewis Hamilton. It is inarguable that he started the season as by far the more prepared driver. He had spent the winter redoubling his efforts to understand both himself and his car, to use everything in his armoury to unsettle his now three-time world champion stablemate. Those in Hamilton’s corner will forever use either the shifting of mechanics at the start of the season or the Briton’s misfortune with car reliability as the reason for Rosberg’s successes in 2016, but the fact that these issues riled Lewis so much, the fact he allowed them to permeate his confidence, has everything to do with the fact that Rosberg in himself presented a more difficult prospect to beat than he ever had before. We should not forget that in their entire careers, Nico Rosberg had never beaten Lewis Hamilton to a championship. But 2016 spec Nico Rosberg was a different prospect to the boy and latterly the man whom Lewis Hamilton had taken it for granted he could not just match, but defeat.

Rosberg’s start to the season was sensational. And, after Hamilton’s incredible run of form which saw his comeback reignite the championship fight, Rosberg found it within him to pull another, previously undiscovered level. His race weekends in Singapore and Japan were nigh-on perfect.

But, and there is a but, Rosberg lacked in one key area. His racecraft. Be it in his defensive driving or his attacking acumen, he at all times appeared clunky. Spain, Germany and Austria proved he lacked the requisite ability to keep a driver behind him cleanly. His attempts at passing were all too often born of the same problems. He was penalised on multiple occasions for attempting to edge a driver beyond the limits of acceptable racing in situations which, frankly, should never have required such actions. It was as if he was overthinking his moves, and with that came an overall feeling that his racecraft lacked finesse and quality. His move on Verstappen in Abu Dhabi, even with the Red Bull on older tyres, was a heart in the mouth moment not just because of its audaciousness, but because it was the kind of thing we’d seen go wrong in races earlier in the season.

It’s all well and good having the fastest car and taking it to the top step, but when he was pulled into the fight, all too often one was left with the impression that he had been found wanting. In three years as team-mates he never once put a move on Hamilton and made it stick (no, race starts don’t count). In his entire Formula 1 career he never once won a wet race. And so the questions from the doubters will always remain as to whether he truly had the ability to fight in all situations, or whether he simply played the smart game by the numbers.

But such small trifles will matter not to him. With his retirement announced, his place is assured. Personally, I think it is a great shame we will never get to see what Nico Rosberg could have become, how he might have raced and how his mettle might have hardened without the pressurised constraints of the effort required to win that all important first title. But he’s done what he always set out to do. And for him that is enough, and all that matters. Nico Rosberg is the Formula 1 World Champion.

Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
Red Bull Racing
James Moy Photography

3. Max Verstappen

If Max Verstappen rocked the establishment in his rookie season, he began to completely take it apart in his follow up year. Many will name him their driver of the season, such was his impact and so large does his ability rest in the focus, but to do so would be to overlook the rough edges which still exist, and which we must expect to exist, in a racer who is still so young and still so comparatively inexperienced.

Nobody could fail to have been impressed by Verstappen’s ascent to the top, nor his stunning debut for Red Bull Racing in Barcelona. Of course, one could argue that the strategy that day was played out by the team to give their new charge a better chance of winning than that afforded to his team leader Daniel Ricciardo, but Verstappen still had to make it work. The way he toyed with Raikkonen in the closing laps, the manner in which he looked after his tyres and pulled away from the final chicane to leave the Finn just metres behind a realistic pass attempt and his ability to soak up the pressure was phenomenal. That the race itself was just the fifth time he had been strapped into the Red Bull RB12 after three practice sessions and one quali, makes the achievement all the more incredible.

Of course, Verstappen courted controversy in 2016 too. His defensive tactics were deemed to be highly questionable, with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari leading the vocal minority who had an issue with his allegedly late moves. Verstappen’s methods led to the rule of what was and was not permitted under the auspices of defensive driving to be clarified under what became, slightly unfairly, to be known as “The Verstappen Rule.” I say unfairly, because the rule wasn’t actually changed, merely clarified. It also seems slightly unfair to have dubbed it as such as Verstappen himself was never found guilty of exceeding the legalities of the rule, while other far more experienced drivers were.

Verstappen was able to frustrate his rivals so much due to a deft feel for the brakes. That, combined with the aerodynamic efficiency of the RB12 and its ability to be stopped and turned on its nose, made the Dutchman an almost impassable prospect. But his audacious attacking abilities are what marked him out in equal measure. I’ve explained already why Brazil was a great drive but in reality nothing earth shattering, but the fact that he was the only driver willing or able, apart from Esteban Ocon, to try those lines is something we should all applaud. If there is a downside it is in qualifying. He has the pace, but too infrequently does he put it all together.

He is still rough around the edges. In contrast to the likes of Carlos Sainz, Verstappen’s ego-driven confidence makes one question whether he holds the ability to be self-critical. If not, he will find it harder to learn and to develop if he has to be told by either his bosses or his father when he needs to analyse what he is doing, than in being able to do so of his own volition. He’s also needlessly thrown away potentially great results. Monaco was a horrible weekend, and his spin at the start in Abu Dhabi was born of the youthful desire to get everything done on the first lap.

He will learn, one hopes. And when he does, he will become an incredible prospect. For now, he seems to be on the verge of true greatness. A sensational racer, with talent oozing from every pore. He can pass, he can defend, he can rile his opponents and dance around them in almost every weather condition. And he’s still so young.

When those rusty edges get cleaned up, he’s going to be ridiculous.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas James Moy Photography

Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes AMG Petronas
James Moy Photography

2. Lewis Hamilton

The most poles and the most wins of 2016, yet Lewis Hamilton saw the world championship slip from his grasp and into the hands of his team-mate. Was that the fault of his team or does he need to take this one on the chin and admit that he was, in equal measure, responsible for letting it get away?

There is no way of getting around the fact that Nico Rosberg entered 2016 as the better prepared of the Mercedes drivers. With a tricky clutch on the W07 Hybrid, it was the German who had gone to great lengths to understand its intricacies in pre-season, while Hamilton took time to get to grips with it once the season had started. The lost positions he suffered at race starts throughout the year is thus on him. Some will argue that Hamilton’s focus wasn’t fully committed to the sport in the early part of the season either, with so much time being spent Stateside playing at being a model or a musician.

From early on, though, something changed in Lewis Hamilton. Looking at the opposite side of the garage he could barely have recognised the man in the other silver car. This was not the Nico Rosberg of old. He was more focussed, more composed and more complete than ever before and Hamilton quickly realised he would have to bring everything he had to F1 2016 if he was to beat him and hang on to his title.

But with technical gremlins hitting seemingly only Hamilton’s car, the frustrations started to show themselves. The Briton regularly and publically questioned the shifting of his mechanics onto Rosberg’s car at the start of the season. The cryptic “Someone doesn’t want me to win this” quote, after yet another mechanical failure, resonated. To the outside world Lewis was either throwing his team under the bus or venting his annoyances at factors outside his control. Or, perhaps, they were the only way he could exhale the frustrations he felt in himself for either not being completely on it from day one or for allowing Rosberg to get under his skin.

Spain was, for me, the turning point. When Rosberg ran Hamilton off the road, I have little doubt that Hamilton’s mindset ran that if he wasn’t finishing the race he’d be damned if Rosberg wasn’t coming with him. From that point on he redoubled, and put in a quite magnificent run of form which lasted the remainder of the season. He overturned a 43 point deficit to lead the championship going into the summer break by an incredible 19, despite an off colour weekend in Azerbaijan.

He continued to drive quite brilliantly, but still lost out to Rosberg in the four races immediately following the summer holiday. Rosberg would put in another blinder in Japan, usually one of Hamilton’s happier hunting grounds, before the Brit went on to take the final four races of the season, eventually losing the title by five points. The engine failure in Malaysia, while leading, and the 28 point shift that put into play will be seen as the real nail in the coffin for Hamilton’s season. But, if we are being honest, it came far earlier.

Nico, Max and Lewis could have been put into any one of the positions from four to two on this list. There are positives and negatives in each of their seasons and finding the right order in which to place them has not been an easy task. For the simple fact that he overcame such a huge deficit and would, but for Malaysia, have entered that final weekend leading the championship, Hamilton thus nudges his way to the top of the pile of three.

He drove wonderfully for three quarters of the season. And while reliability woes of course played their part, one feels if he’d just been on it from day one, he might have finished a place higher. On this list, and the one that really matters.

Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing James Moy Photography

Daniel Ricciardo
Red Bull Racing
James Moy Photography

1. Daniel Ricciardo

There isn’t a more rounded driver in modern day Formula 1 than Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian cemented himself as the sport’s leading light both on and off track in 2016 after a season born in equal part of frustration and fortitude.

“In the way he approaches racing he’s always very committed to everything he does. On the track you cannot see any mistakes when you are together with him. In the overtaking manoeuvres probably he is the best out there. When he commits to one movement, 99 per cent he will achieve the result that he wanted.”

These are the words of Fernando Alonso about a man whose approach to the sport and to racing commands the respect and admiration not just of the two-time champion, but of every other driver on track and of team bosses the length of the pitlane. Ricciardo is fast and fair, determined and dignified, and in 2016 took his racecraft and reputation to the very top level.

It is difficult to think of a single mistake that he made this year. He swallowed the strategy that put Verstappen onto the top step of the podium in Spain, and was even magnanimous two weeks later when a bungled pitstop in Monaco denied him a shot at victory. Too often in 2016, Red Bull’s strategy let him down on a weekend when he might have fought for the win, but as ever he kept smiling, kept plugging away and kept pushing with every sinew of his being. It’s his never-say-die attitude, combined with a racing style that is as tough as it is graceful, that has made him a firm fan favourite and unquestionably the driver of 2016.

He was honest enough mid-season to admit that Max Verstappen’s speed had caught him off guard, and he wasn’t too big to state on the record that he’d actually learned a few things from his new team-mate. His win in Malaysia was rich reward for the efforts he put in, and his consistent pace and relentless enthusiasm pushed Red Bull Racing into a position which was only a dream when the year began.

With Formula 1 moving back to an aero Formula from 2017, Red Bull Racing could find themselves back in the ascendency. And with Daniel Ricciardo not just at the top of his game but at the summit of the mountain of the current F1 crop, next season already feels like a tantalising prospect.

Daniel Ricciardo is the personification of the joy of motor racing. But behind the smile and the sparkling childlike eyes, lies a steely determination and an awe-inspiring talent. If he goes as well in 2017 as he did in 2016, he’ll start the year in his home nation as champion-elect.

Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team James Moy Photography

Romain Grosjean
Haas F1 Team
James Moy Photography

10. Romain Grosjean

A podium finisher who had for years stood on the verge of a breakthrough first F1 win, the Frenchman’s decision to move from his longtime home in Enstone to the all-new Haas F1 Team for 2016 was seen in many quarters as the biggest gamble of his career. But with Renault in a period of rebuilding, the top three teams bereft of free seats and with Grosjean entering his thirties, it was a gamble he felt he had to take. And in the short term, it appeared inspired. Aided by as close to a customer car as the sport had seen in almost a decade and the steely nerves of a brilliant strategist, Haas and Grosjean scored points on debut. Indeed, they would score three times in the first four races to shake the established midfield to its core.

But that was as good as it was to get. Even if the team had already switched focus to its 2017 contender, as it claimed, it appeared that the daily necessities of a racing team were slipping below expectation. The pitfalls that can affect all new teams seemed to take hold. Petty squabbles and empire building saw staff members leave. Inexperience in vital areas led to basic mistakes. A brake problem which first reared its head in Bahrain took until Mexico for a solution to be trialled. The car appeared, at times, to be undrivable.

But while Esteban Gutierrez allowed the frustrations to bubble over into public denigration of his team, Grosjean tried at all times to pull the squad together. His radio messages couldn’t hide his regular disappointment, but he recognised how the making public of his comments was affecting morale and vowed to keep calm. He would score points twice more, in Austria and fittingly in the USA, amassing each of the 29 points that took Haas to an incredible eighth place finish in their rookie F1 season.

Romain Grosjean took the gamble and did everything to make it work, carrying the heavy burden of the team’s hopes on his shoulders alone. While not his most successful season in terms of outright results, 2016 was one which showed how far he has come, how well he has matured, and how boldly he can lead a team to achieve more than it ever believed it could.

Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari James Moy Photography

Sebastian Vettel
Scuderia Ferrari
James Moy Photography

9. Sebastian Vettel

For the second time in three years, Sebastian Vettel has gone a whole F1 season without a win to his name. Seb’s detractors like to point out he’s never won a race from lower than third on the grid, and given he only managed to start a race that high five times in 2016, one perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that he failed to reach the top step. But, if we’re being fair to him, that he was able to get the SF-16H that high up the grid speaks volumes of what he was actually able to drag out of it. It also fails to recognise the fact that on at least two occasions this season, Ferrari threw away an almost certain race victory by gambling on an alternate strategy when they had absolutely no need to.

If one thing confused about Ferrari in 2016 it was that they genuinely didn’t seem to understand when they had true pace and when they’d lucked into the position they were in. This confusion was reflected in almost every facet of the team’s operation. They appear lost, their leadership not coming from the General in the field but from the Monarch on his throne in the safety and comfort of his palace. Ferrari has gone back to the way it was in the 80s and early 90s, run from the boardroom by a businessman rather than from the track by pragmatic racers who delegated responsibilities and got the job done with ruthless efficiency. They have, for want of a better phrase, become Italian again. And, much like the Italian football team, at times they seem so scared of defeat that it seems they’ve forgotten how to win.

Sebastian Vettel could and should have been the focal point around which the team rallied. At a time of apparent chaos they looked to him to steady the ship. But with James Allison’s departure mid-season, the German’s veil of positivity slipped and never returned. His frustrations boiled over, not only in the radio messages broadcast around the world, but inside the team and the garage. His words of optimism became forced, the same lines trotted out ad infinitum.

And his race performances suffered as a result. Despite a return to form in Abu Dhabi this was, without doubt, Sebastian Vettel’s most disappointing season in Formula 1. No, the car was not what he wanted or needed. No, the team was not operating as he wanted or needed. But, as a four time champion, one should have expected more from him than the often petulant feet stamping he displayed all too often. Sebastian’s own disappointment in his season will be dwarfed only by his team’s own disappointment in him as their leader. For while he outscored his team-mate and came fourth in the championship, he will be only too aware that he let them, and himself, down in 2016.

Kimi Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari James Moy Photography

Kimi Raikkonen
Scuderia Ferrari
James Moy Photography

8. Kimi Raikkonen

The Finn has never warmed to the cars of the hybrid era. Their first iterations in 2014 left him scrabbling to get on top of brakes that lacked the feel he had become used to in the decade plus of his career in the sport. Lacking confidence in brakes takes its toll on a driver, even one disposed of Raikkonen’s apparent cool, calm and unflappable bravery. It has taken him time to grow accustomed to these new cars, at the same time learning to deal with one of the sternest challenges he has ever faced on the opposite side of the garage. For not only is Sebastian Vettel one of the finest racers of his generation, there is little question over his number one status at Ferrari.

But Kimi has never been one to dwell on such matters. He simply gets his head down and goes racing. And in the chaos that became Ferrari in 2016, as detailed above in talking about Vettel’s own season, never before had Kimi’s “Iceman’ moniker been so vital. Raikkonen’s qualifying pace excelled, and in race trim he looked better than I’d seen him since his return to the scarlet cars that brought him the 2007 world championship.

Kimi relaxed into himself again, allowing humour and smiles to ring out as he spoke. There was a joy present in him this season, an enjoyment of his racing and a love of his craft. While his team-mate lost his cool, it was the Finn who stayed dependable and calm.

With big tyres and mid 2000s levels of aero back on the cars in 2017, Kimi should be back in his element. And on the basis of 2016, he goes into the winter as by far the better performing and more at ease Ferrari driver. If Ferrari gets its sums right for 2017, a happy Raikkonen should make everyone fearful.

Sergio Perez Sahara Force India James Moy Photography

Sergio Perez
Sahara Force India
James Moy Photography

7. Sergio Perez

It was another astonishing season for Sahara Force India and the man who has scored every podium the team has achieved in its history, bar one. But while they and he had to make do with just the sole rostrum finish in 2014 and 2015, in 2016 they took two, one after an utterly incredible drive in Azerbaijan and one at the sport’s most famous race, on the streets of Monte Carlo.

The spectre of his failed season at McLaren still hangs heavy in the Mexican’s mind, not because he was disappointed in the way that he drove, but because he is so concerned that his career will forever be judged on the fact that he was let go by such a successful team after just one season. But since joining Force India, Perez has turned himself into one of the sport’s genuine stand-out drivers. His team-mate for the past seasons, Nico Hulkenberg, is widely regarded as one of the best in the sport and the one most deserving of a top-line seat. And yet he has not one F1 podium to his name. Perez has seven. Four in the past three years.

He has become the absolute master of the current regulations and managing Pirelli’s tyres. He has driven with maturity and intelligence, combining with Force India’s excellent strategist to concoct bold race plays that only he could make work. Behind Mercedes, if either Red Bull or Ferrari had a slip up you could have put your house on it being Perez standing by to pick up the pieces.

If one thing showed just how well Sergio Perez has done at Force India this season, it was Nico Hulkenberg’s announcement that he was leaving the team to join Renault. Sure, it was a good move for the German and a chance to join a factory team, but the bottom line was that he simply couldn’t afford another season of being shown up by the Mexican. Rather than wait for a big team to come calling, Sergio Perez has been the momentum behind turning Force India into one of the big teams on their own merit. Truly an incredible season for both driver and team.

Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda James Moy Photography

Fernando Alonso
McLaren Honda
James Moy Photography

6. Fernando Alonso

If 2015 was a season of abject frustration for Fernando Alonso, with his radio messages often providing the few moments of comic relief in a season which merited few smiles in Woking, then 2016 saw the green shoots of recovery from which McLaren should feel not only proud but hugely positive as they aim for the new start that 2017 represents. But while McLaren itself made huge steps forward this season, watching Fernando Alonso back to his bull-fighting best was perhaps an even greater delight.

For while the car still struggled for pace all too often, the drives the Spaniard put in were regularly mesmerising. In particular his race starts were things of beauty. Watching his on-board replays as he scythed through the field in the opening corners of a race, that champion’s brain constantly two steps ahead of the pack, was a joy.

When points became the expectation, that look of disappointment returned to him as the hunger burned for more. Next step podiums. Next step race wins. The fevered desire that had seemingly alluded him in the gut-wrenching toil of one year before was evident for all to see. Fernando Alonso was back.

The season hadn’t started at all well, of course, lest we forget that huge accident in Australia and the resultant damage it did to the driver that put him out of the next race in Bahrain. That his replacement should step in and score points in a car whose user manual he’d only read on the flight to Bahrain should tell Fernando Alonso everything he needs to know about the challenge he’ll face next season. He’s had a young GP2 champion to deal with before in the opposite side of the garage, but a decade older and wiser from the man who locked horns with Hamilton in 2007, one feels that Vandoorne and Alonso could form a potent mixture in 2017.

Certainly if the Spaniard is racing the way he was in 2016, McLaren Honda will have only the car to blame if results are not forthcoming. Alonso was a joy to watch this season. Not quite back to his best, but with fire back in his heart and determination in his soul, not far off it either.

Tomorrow: Positions 5-1

Max Verstappen 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

The 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix ended up being a wonderful race. It’ll be one of those events that I was proud to say I witnessed first-hand, one of those contests that I am sure will come to define not just the season but perhaps this generation and, in particular, its stand-out driver.

I’ve been fully signed up to the Max Verstappen fanclub for a good few years. I’ve never made any bones about it nor attempted to hide my genuine excitement over his talent and potential. But even I had to take a small step back from Brazil. Because while his drive was outstanding, it was also born of the simplicity of common sense. What was surprising to me was not so much what Max was doing, but more what his rivals were not.

It’s something I’ve become used to calling in races as a live report from the track, but when the heavens open Max Verstappen and, if we are to be fair, those of his age group such as Esteban Ocon, tend to prefer to use what I have come to refer to as the wet “karting” lines.

You see, when it rains, the irony is that the last place you really want to be is on the traditional racing line. In dry conditions the racing line is that which becomes “rubbered in,” and thus provides the greatest level of grip. However in the wet this very same line of rubber that provides grip in the dry becomes slippery. As such, the racing line is really the last place you want to be. Yes, it is the shortest route around the track, but in the wet the racing line can also be the trickiest path to tread.

The highest levels of grip in the wet both cornering and under braking can therefore be off the traditional line. Not only does taking these lines thus offer you a better shot at getting the car stopped or putting the power down, but also, as they are off the traditional line, a clearer scope of vision as you pull out of the spray of those ahead.

It really isn’t rocket science. Go to any kart track and watch any competitive kart meet in the rain and you will witness exactly those lines and precisely that technique. It is something you learn from your earliest days in racing. It is something you make use of throughout junior formulae. And yet it is an art that apparently most of the Formula 1 fraternity has forgotten.

Raikkonen retires 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Raikkonen retires
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

In my opinion this has, in no small part, been down to the ease with which racing in the rain became over the past few decades. High levels of downforce combined with incredibly efficient rain tyres allowed Formula 1 drivers the ability to stay on the racing line in the wet with only a limited reduction in overall pace due to the grip afforded by these two crucial factors. Today however, those benefits do not exist. Formula 1 cars have but a fraction of the aerodynamic grip of their forerunners and Pirelli’s wet tyres are, to put it politely, less than exquisite.

Sebastian Vettel has labelled Pirelli’s Full Wet tyre the “safety car tyre,” as its only real use in his eyes is to run behind the pace car. It’s why so many drivers risked switching to the Intermediate in the hideous conditions on Sunday. The half-way house tyre provides almost the same level of grip at racing speeds as the Full Wet, which is in itself a damning state of affairs.

Of course the Full Wet is not helped by being run for so long behind the Safety Car. Temperatures and operating pressures drop at such low speeds, meaning the tyre can rarely do its job of dissipating water from the racing line and is then less than at its optimum when racing finally commences. Even at full speed and peak operating conditions, however, the Full Wet tyre seems woefully inadequate for the job at hand.

But, as we regular road users are constantly told, one must drive to the conditions. If the tyres available only offer a small amount of grip, then as the alleged best drivers in the world it is a Formula 1 racer’s job to get the maximum performance from those very same tyres. It is worthy of note that both red flags came about as a result of drivers running on the Full Wet, the first for debris strewn across the track from the wet-shod Raikkonen’s shunt and the second because it was believed that the Full Wets could not handle the weather as it was at the time, despite numerous protestations to the contrary from drivers who understood the mantra of racing to the conditions.

What can we draw from Verstappen’s fine racecraft in Brazil, then? Have Formula 1 drivers, as a collective, forgotten the very basics of driving in the wet? Have they become lazy, expecting to be able to simply forge the simplest, fastest route at all times and in all conditions? Are they so uncertain of their cars or their tyres that they dare not deviate from the racing line?

Or is Max Verstappen a straight up genius?

Esteban Ocon2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Esteban Ocon2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

Again, it has gone relatively unnoticed that Esteban Ocon was taking the same lines as Verstappen. This practice frustrated many of those trying to pass his comparatively uncompetitive Manor, but showed again the benefit of attempting either the different or the sensible. For whichever argument you wish to take, the end result is the same.

I am, of course, doing both Verstappen, Ocon and those who attempted those lines and those moves a disservice. We all know that it isn’t as simple as just sticking your car on a different part of the track and suddenly finding grip, speed and a few seconds a lap. If you are going to drive your car off the racing line at 300kph, you need to have bravery, skill, confidence, and not a small amount of luck. You are going to hit standing water. You are not going to find that dry line. You are going to experience far more squeaky bum moments.

Which, I suppose, makes these stand-out drives all the more impressive. For as much as they are born of the application of one of the most basic of racing maxims, they still require a high level of risk and a huge amount of skill to pull off. Even more so to make it look so effortless.

Whether the majority of F1 drivers have become lazy, timid or simply forgetful, thank heavens there remain the extraordinary few who, in their racing adolescence, still remember and still attempt the basics.

Max Verstappen 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

Sergio Perez Sahara Force India - Mexican GP 2016 James Moy Photography

Sergio Perez
Sahara Force India – Mexican GP 2016
James Moy Photography

If the Mexican Grand Prix showed us one thing, it is that as we approach the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season and prepare to shoot the supposed silver bullet of a technical regulation overhaul designed, as always, to “improve the show,” the sport finds itself at a moral and regulatory crossroads.

The fight is one between over regulation and a laissez-faire attitude towards the rules of racing, and falls particularly into two categories: track limits and what Mercedes earlier this season termed “the rules of engagement.” There is no easy answer to the question of how one deals with either, for both sides of both arguments have merit. But choose the sport must. And choose it must soon.

Track Detail Budpaest 2016 James Moy Photography

Track Detail
Budpaest 2016
James Moy Photography

Track limits has been a bugbear of the sport for many years. Of course, it is a problem which never used to exist. You had a racetrack, you had a painted white line on the side of it and then you had grass. Or dirt. In some places you had kerbs but they tended to knock your fillings out or be so high that they’d rip your suspension off so driving on them wasn’t advisable.

Gravel traps came and disappeared, at first deemed to be a safety measure and then too dangerous in places. In a bid to make the sport ever safer, run off became de rigeur. Get it wrong and you can still get it back seemed to be the overarching philosophy. Fans want to see their heroes competing, after all, not finishing a race in the kitty litter. Kerbs were flattened.

Run off became an extension of the track. Rules about having “all four off” had to be invented. Because racing drivers will take the shortest and fastest route possible.

Bernie Ecclestone hit the headlines in Mexico for claiming that we should put walls up around the tracks. While the safety lobby got up in arms, nobody with any common sense could take the suggestion at all seriously. But the intention behind Bernie’s comments was and is sound and is agreed upon by every driver I’ve ever met. There needs to be a punishment for going off track. Be it losing time or going home, exceeding track limits requires a punishment.

These are, as we keep being told, the best drivers in the world. Part of the allure is watching them dance a car around a complex racetrack. Straight lining corners does not a hero make.

Lap 1, Turn 1 Mexican GP 2016 James Moy Photography

Lap 1, Turn 1
Mexican GP 2016
James Moy Photography

Case in point was Turns 1 and 2, lap 1 in Mexico. If you have a gravel trap in that vast swathe of grass at Turn 1, neither Mercedes makes it to Turn 3.

Hamilton was too late on the brakes, had to get off them to avoid a flatspot, but rather than attempting to make the corner simply playstationed it across the grass. Rosberg makes the corner but in a side-by-side with Verstappen bangs wheels and is knocked off track. The overhead then showed us something a bit naughty. He goes to return to the track, turning right towards the asphalt. Knowing at this point that he will likely have to pull in behind Verstappen and likely also be overtaken by Hulkenberg, instead he makes no effort to make T2, instead turning left, gunning the throttle and maintaining his position.

It was all too easy to say that he was banged off track by Verstappen and thus shouldn’t have been penalised. The reality is that he was moving back to the track, but decided better of it in order to keep position.

That’s both Mercedes drivers opting to take to the grass. That’s the first two guys on the grid deciding that their race is better suited by avoiding a corner than actually taking it.

That the Safety Car came out and bunched the field, thus negating any “lasting advantage,” critically the words within the regulations that must be fulfilled in order for exceeding track limits to be punished, means both Hamilton and Rosberg got away with cutting a corner. But should they have been able to?

Track Detail Budapest 2016 James Moy Photography

Track Detail
Budapest 2016
James Moy Photography

Of course the same thing happened with Verstappen later in the race. He’d got it wrong in his attempted pass on Rosberg earlier in the race and his sideways moment trying to keep the car on track was the sort of thing we all want to see. Him cutting the corner to keep position in his fight with Vettel was not. And the call for him to give the place back is something that has become a necessary evil.

Earlier this season there was a suggestion from the likes of Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, men whose judgements I usually admire and agree with, that we simply do away with track limits and let the drivers go to town. But then, what is the point in marking out a racing circuit?

The sweepers at Austin? Screw it, just straight line them. St Devote at Monaco? Well actually if you double back there, then you hit the access road that takes you to Tabac so you might as well just do the Formula E track. Imagine if we were still racing at Indianapolis. No track limits? Sod the infield guys, I’m just going to drive the oval.

Yes that’s extreme and of course not at all realistic, but the idea of getting rid of track limits just doesn’t sit well with me.

But then we have a problem. Because while I want to see track limits enforced, what do we do about truly great overtaking battles, drivers on the limit, where one is edged a touch wide but makes the move stick despite having all four off? Verstappen on Nasr in Spa last year was, to the letter of the law, illegal. But it was a damn fine move.

That’s your problem. Because if you want to be a stickler for the rules, you can’t then just let them go when it suits you.

If running one wheel, let alone four, off track is punishment in itself due to the potential to lose time, then one does not need to regulate for exceeding track limits. And so the only solution here seems to be to completely change the current trend of creating run off and kerbing around every corner of every track. Asphalt, a white painted line and grass / dirt is all you need. But the cost of retrograding every F1 circuit would be vast. And therefore unlikely.

And so we will have to come up with a stringent set of rules and stick to them.

Verstappen vs Raikkonen Hungarian Grand Prix 2016 James Moy Photography

Verstappen vs Raikkonen
Hungarian Grand Prix 2016
James Moy Photography

The same seems to be true in the art of racing and defending, or what Mercedes referred to as “the rules of engagement.”

Max Verstappen has been much maligned this season for the tactics he employs in his defense of position. Made possible by his deft touch on the brakes and a car in the Red Bull which you can stick on its nose and stop on a dime, I’ve been in Verstappen’s corner for the vast majority of what have been seen as questionable manoeuvres. For the most part of the season, so were many of the drivers. The trick was that Verstappen wasn’t actually doing anything illegal. But it was a bit naughty.

That the FIA clarified (and it’s crucial here we note it was a clarification rather than an actual new rule) the regulation for acceptable driving in the braking zone in defense of a position, came after much lobbying from, amongst others, Sebastian Vettel. Nobody had much of an issue with the clarification because, of course, the rules hadn’t actually changed. But it meant that defensive driving was now a hot topic and flashing bright and clear on race stewards’ radars. Ironically it would be Vettel himself who would be the first driver to suffer under the new hard line policies his own lobbying had created.

He and Ferrari cried foul, a race result taken away from them by bureaucracy. Of course it was that very same bureaucracy over track limits which had handed them a podium in the first place. The same bureaucracy over the strict regulation of racing etiquette which they had pushed for in the wake of the “Verstappen chop.” Ironic, yes, but as a purist it is immensely sad, too.

Be careful what you wish for... Sebastian Vettel - Mexican Grand Prix 2016 James Moy Photography

Be careful what you wish for…
Sebastian Vettel – Mexican Grand Prix 2016
James Moy Photography

How hard can a driver defend? How hard can a driver attack? How much of the trailing car needs to be alongside the leading car in order for the car behind to have a right to be given space? And how much space? Precisely what percentage of a car needs to be alongside for a door to be left open? And when we say open do we mean wide open or just ajar? If a driver makes the move stick but has all four wheels off the track does he have to give the position back? And if so should it be done immediately? What if it the position is given back before a DRS detection point, meaning the driver then has an advantage to take the position straight back again under DRS?

It’s all become so clinical and methodical and cold. Where’s the excitement in coming up with a scientific formula as to what creates an acceptable overtaking move?

The sport needs to think long and hard over the winter about how it deals with these problems. In over regulating the means by which a driver can race, you threaten to neuter the sport. In investigating every overtaking move you take away the joy and the excitement. Racing should be hard, it should be on the edge. No it shouldn’t be dangerous, but it shouldn’t be easy either. Why can’t drivers bang wheels? Why can’t bargeboards go flying? Why can’t a driver overtake another on the grass, where he should theoretically be losing time and going slower?

But then by that same token, if you under regulate the sport, you threaten to create chaos. Why can’t the best of the best stay within the lines? Why can’t they ply their trade and play their sport within the confines of the playable surface? Why can’t the best of the best execute a move for position without reverting to knocking the other guy off the track?

There is no easy solution because you can see the arguments from both sides. And both have merit.

Ultimately the key here is consistency, clarity and certainty.

The overriding feeling after the Mexican Grand Prix was one of disappointment. It was all just such a messy, unsatisfactory end.

Nobody wants to see races decided in the stewards’ office. Nobody wants to see great racing penalised. But nobody wants to see rules flouted and liberties taken.

Is this Formula 1’s impossible question? I hope not. Because the ramifications for our enjoyment of the sport are vast.

Dany Kvyat Russian Grand Prix 2016 James Moy Photography

Dany Kvyat
Russian Grand Prix 2016
James Moy Photography

Dany Kvyat received a time penalty and license points for his first lap misdemeanours at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix. But should it have been more? Some are calling for the Red Bull Driver to be parked. Some are calling him reckless whilst holding firm in the belief that Sunday’s mistakes could cost him his place at the team, and ultimately could spell the end of his F1 career.

But Kvyat’s own instincts and personal recollection of the first three corners of Sunday’s contest, and his role in the incident which ultimately brought an early end to Sebastian Vettel’s race, do hold merit. The evidence, while not removing the burden of responsibility from Kvyat entirely, does throw up some interesting and mitigating circumstances. With a calm head and the benefit of hindsight we will look at why.

First, though, I want to start in China. Dany Kvyat made a brilliant start, shot up the inside of Sebastian Vettel and made a clean, gutsy pass for position. The Chinese Grand Prix should not even enter this conversation and yet it has already been brought up in some quarters as evidence of his supposedly reckless abandon on the opening laps of a Grand Prix. It was a great move, complained about only by those who’d failed to defend against it. End of story.

And so to Russia. I am going to break this down piece by piece so that we can see exactly what went on and how each part of the puzzle was formed.


The overhead shot of the run down to Turn 2 shows the funnelling effect of the track. Kvyat is boxed in but in a perfectly good position. He brakes late, and admitted locking his rears to such an extent it felt as though he was being pushed from behind. Replays show, of course, that he flew into T2 under his own steam. A small lock up of the front right, and he punts the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.


As Vettel’s car is pitched sideways it makes contact with Daniel Ricciardo, who himself is then pushed into Sergio Perez. Although we don’t know this at the time, the damage to Perez will play a significant role, as the contact has been with his rear right tyre which will soon let go.


Ricciardo runs wide, at T2, as does Lewis Hamilton who, seeing Kvyat, Vettel, Ricciardo and Perez all make contact to his right, has no option but to take avoiding action, miss the T2 apex and head for the re-entry point determined by Charlie Whiting on the left of the polystyrene bollard on entry to T3.



Vettel by now is slow on exit of T2, fumbling the wheel he bounces over the left hand kerbing, which almost catches out Kvyat again with the two narrowly avoiding contact.


His slow exit from T2 means that there is by now a sizeable gap between the Ferrari of Vettel and the Force India of Sergio Perez. But as Vettel enters T3, Hamilton appears on his left, re-entering the track. Vettel gives him space but is swiftly around him.


Moving back to Kvyat, this is where his suggestions that Vettel slowed, and in so doing caused the collision, hold merit.

Turn 3 begins with the exit of T2, usually at around 155kph in 3rd gear. It seems Vettel has already had to snatch 2nd after being hit, thus helping create the less than optimal getaway. Putting the power down we hear his rear wheels spin, which at the time caused some audible suggestion of a problem at the rear and potential puncture. The video from fans in the grandstands appear to show Vettel’s car in adequate health and certainly there are no signs from Kvyat’s onboard of a problem with Vettel’s rear tyres. Indeed, Vettel quickly tempers the throttle and accelerates into the corner.

The first turn in at 3 is invariably carried at over 250kph in 6th gear, before accelerating to 7th and a top speed of 290kph before the braking zone at T4. It is a constant radius, constant acceleration zone.


Yet no sooner has Vettel cleared Hamilton’s Mercedes on his left, than the closing speed on Perez increases rapidly. The Force India twitches markedly and Vettel not only lifts but downshifts twice as he feels the Force India coming closer. Of course we now know that Perez was struggling with a rear right which was about to let go. This is what caused his twitch, his sudden loss of speed and in turn caused Vettel to back off.


Kvyat is still passing Hamilton at this point, and as the Ferrari slows suddenly ahead, the Russian tags his rear and spins him around.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 13.04.40

Hamilton is fortunate not to be collected by the spinning Ferrari, as is the rest of the field who pass by as Vettel ends up in the barriers and on the radio to the team to vent his anger.

(EDIT: Something that struck me last night when re-watching this video, look at the positioning of the Toro Rosso cars. If Kvyat slams on his brakes, he gets a Toro Rosso flying over him. If he moves to the right to avoid Vettel, he takes out the other Toro Rosso. The onboard video shows the gap between the slowing Vettel and Hamilton decreasing. If he moves left, chances are he takes them both out. With Vettel slowing rapidly ahead of him, he is essentially boxed in.)

The point in all this is that Kvyat’s hit on Vettel does not come out of some reckless decision to nerf him out of the way. Vettel is caught out by the twitch of the Force India and his own closing speed on a car which had, moments before, held at least three car lengths advantage over him. Running in close quarters behind, Kvyat has no time to react to Vettel’s sudden slowing and the result is the four-time champion’s exit.

In some ways, then, I can understand Dany Kvyat’s defense of his actions on Sunday. His mistake at Turn 2 was silly but we’ve seen far more grave mistakes at the first braking zone on the first lap of a Grand Prix. In the greater spectrum of driver errors, it really wasn’t huge. The knock on effects however combined quickly. The Perez puncture, the sudden need for Vettel to slow, and the karmaic positioning of Kvyat to be the one that collected him.

There’s a great line in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket – “Private Joker is silly and he’s ignorant but he’s got guts… and guts is enough.”

The same could be said of Dany Kvyat.

The moment that sparked it all T2, Lap 1, Russian GP 2016 James Moy Photography

The moment that sparked it all
T2, Lap 1, Russian GP 2016
James Moy Photography

His move in T2 was silly. No more than that. But he wasn’t ignorant to that and accepted his mistake. His refusal to accept the blame for T3 however did seem, at the time, to be somewhat silly and ignorant. But my word does he have guts. And guts often is enough. He had guts to keep his nose in, but also, as it turns out, guts to stand up for himself after the race and say what he did about the circumstances of T3

Because he was right! Vettel did slow dramatically. And he was caught out by it. There is simply no way that a driver, on the first lap of the race, in the middle of a corner taken at over 260kph and under constant acceleration could have anticipated the sudden slowing of the car ahead. It is the close quarters racing of an opening lap which so often creates contact. Thus has it ever been so.

Dany Kvyat made contact with Sebastian Vettel at Turn 3 on the first lap of the Russian Grand Prix in an incident which ultimately caused the Ferrari driver’s retirement. But there were mitigating factors.

That Kvyat was the architect of those factors is hard to argue. But it’s not the simple nerfing that many are trying to claim.

  • For video analysis of the incident please see this excellent piece put together by FOM using my NBCSN interviews with both Dany and Seb here
Neville Chamberlain Heston Aerodrome, 30th September 1938

Neville Chamberlain
Heston Aerodrome, 30th September 1938

In 1938, on his return to England from crisis talks in Germany, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaimed “Peace for our time,” as he waved aloft a piece of paper which contained a signature from the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, “symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.”

“Go home and get a nice quiet sleep,” he willed his people.

Less than a year later, the world was at war.

Chamberlain’s speech has since become one of the most studied and infamous pieces of political naivety. In over-estimating his counterpart’s good will and similarly under-estimating his counterpart’s political savvy, Chamberlain’s promise of peace wasn’t worth the paper upon which it was written. A lesson for all. And a lesson for us.

Anyone who believes that the recent capitulation of Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone is a sign of the ending of hostilities in the fractured world of Formula 1 politics is gravely mistaken.

The qualifying argument was never supposed to get this big. I firmly believe that the resolve of the teams to stay united took everyone by surprise. Perhaps even the teams themselves. But they must be careful neither to judge this success too positively nor to take from it excessive confidence or bravado. It was simply one small battle at the start of a far larger war.

What we must never lose sight of, is that Bernie doesn’t give up a fight when he already has the advantage of the political high ground. Not without a damn good reason. Not without an alternative advantage being won by doing so. And so I simply can’t bring myself to believe that Todt and Ecclestone backing down on this subject can be viewed in the simplistic narrative of an overwhelming victory for the teams. Indeed, in the long run the supposed weakness of Ecclestone and Todt and their apparent capitulation could come to be seen as a quite brilliant masterstroke of political manoeuvring.

The stakes have not changed. This is still about the controlling rights of the governance of the sport. The teams want a greater say and after this success will feel emboldened. But by showing their strength and playing their hand so strongly and so soon, there is a bitterly ironic twist that they may just have laid the foundations for their own defeat.

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt Monaco Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt
Monaco Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

To find out why, we must start in the South East of England. It is this part of the world that Anneliese Dodds, a British Labour politician, represents at the European Parliament. Having received representations over anti-competition from numerous engineering firms within her constituency, she made a complaint to the European Union Commission (EC) over the governance structure of Formula 1, the position and authority of the Strategy Group, and the role of the FIA.

The roots of Europe’s involvement in Formula 1 go back a decade and a half. In 2001, an EC investigation into the dual regulatory and commercial role of the FIA concluded that the FIA had abused its position and had acted in an anti-competitive manner. A resulting EU Directive meant the FIA had to modify its position within the sport to become concerned solely with a role “limited to that of a sports regulator, with no commercial conflicts of interest.”

As such, the commercial rights of the sport were sold by Max Mosley’s FIA to a Commercial Rights Holder, Bernie Ecclestone, for a period of 100 years. The payment was a one-off figure of $313 million. The FIA thus withdrew from the business side of the sport in order to ensure its own independence from any commercial aspects of Formula 1. At the same time Ecclestone, as the Commercial Rights Holder, had to give up any positions he held at the FIA.

In short, the Directive forced upon Formula 1’s governance a complete Separation of Powers. Today, however, the governance structure of Formula 1 lies in a convoluted mess. The clear lines prescribed by European law have been blurred. The Separation of Powers has turned into a Fusion of Powers.

If one starts with the Strategy Group, Ecclestone as Commercial Rights Holder holds six votes, the same number as the FIA President, with a further six votes divided between the represented Formula 1 teams. The F1 Commission then sees every Formula 1 team represented, along with some circuit promoters, sponsors and suppliers. Bernie Ecclestone sits on the World Motor Sport Council, the most powerful rule-making body in the FIA’s system of governance.

The current Concorde Agreement lasts until 2020. Ecclestone has individual contracts with the teams, as part of Concorde, that last until then. Contracts with which he is no longer pleased. A Concorde Agreement with which Todt is also unhappy.

Three years ago, in a move to ensure a new Concorde Agreement was signed, the FIA accepted a yearly payment from the Commercial Rights Holder of $40m. It is said this is why the teams were invited to the table through the Strategy Group. At the same time, the FIA was offered a 1% equity stake in Formula 1 on the occasion of its flotation on the stock market. But while that flotation did not take place, the 1% equity shareholding did go ahead as the FIA purchased the stake for a reported $400,000. This 1% of F1 adds an estimated $120 million per annum to the governing body’s coffers.

As Dodds has argued to the EC, “It is very unusual for a regulator to have a financial stake in what it is regulating. Recent developments are akin to the Food Standards Authority taking a stake in McDonalds.”

A tangled web indeed.

A new Concorde Agreement Hungaroring, Budapest, 2013 c/o James Moy Photography

A new Concorde Agreement
Hungaroring, Budapest, 2013
c/o James Moy Photography

And so we move to the complaint raised at the EC. In the first instance it was responded to with a letter tantamount to a brush off, but last year Force India, Lotus (now Renault) and Sauber followed up Dodds’ complaint with one of their own.

“We submitted our complaint,” Force India’s Bob Fernley recently told Reuters. “The complaint has then gone to CVC. CVC have responded back, which we have a copy of, and then we have to reply again to that final part of it. Then they’ll look at it. It’s going through the process.”

In the meantime, the Sauber Formula 1 team lies in desperate financial straights. With question marks over its continued participation in the sport, one might assume Formula 1 would leap to the aid of a team which had asked the EC to investigate anti-competitive practices within the sport, a distribution of funds it claimed was unfair, and a cartel-style system of governance in which the richest teams had all the power. And at any other point it might have done.

But what if Formula 1 does not come to the aid of Sauber? What if allowing the team to fail promotes the EC to look far deeper into the manner in which Formula 1 is run? What if that’s precisely what those we think have lost the qualifying battle want the EC to do?

Because if the EC takes even a cursory glance at the events of the last few weeks it will see that the supposed “sole regulator” of the sport has been over-ruled by its own competitors. It will find a sport in which the governing body with which it imbued the sole responsibility of governance, cannot govern. It will find a system of law making in which the commercial interests it decreed must be separated from governance have become inextricably entwined.

Dodds has already requested that the EC front a deep and thorough investigation into the governance structure of Formula 1, calling on Europe to not allow itself to be left behind as it was by Switzerland and the USA in their investigations of FIFA.

Given the EU Directive, it seems entirely possible that the result of a new European investigation could be for the EC to tear up every shred of the governance structure that we know and force the sport to rewrite it all. Bernie would get to erase the deals he’s done with the teams and come up with new, more favourable terms under a new Concorde. The FIA would have to give up its $40 million sweetener and 1% equity stake, thus putting $160 million a year back in the pockets of the Commercial Rights Holder and CVC. Little wonder Ecclestone has always stated he has no issues with the EC taking a deeper look at the sport’s governance.

While financially the FIA would take a hit, procedurally an EC investigation might also benefit the governing body. Because if the decisions taken 15 years ago are upheld, the FIA would once again become sole regulator and absolute authority in the sport. All legislative power would return to the Place de la Concorde.

What happens to Todt would be less clear. While there is no suggestion of any FIFA-style misdemeanour in terms of personal financial gain, the two deals that most brazenly contravened the EU Directive, in that they merged commercial and governing interests in F1 bringing $160 million to the FIA annually along with them, were both signed by the FIA President. While Max Mosley wasn’t forced to stand aside after the last investigation, any suggestion of the incumbent FIA President essentially selling the independent status of the Association might not play out so well for a man with ambitions of landing a prominent role at the UN.

When it comes down to basics, an EC investigation could see the sport forced to return to a point at which the FIA concerns itself solely with making the rules, the teams bite their lips and go racing, and the Commercial Rights Holder promotes the product and makes the money. As was ever the case in Formula 1 politics, when the guns stop firing and the smoke clears the air, it is Ecclestone who is left standing. It is Bernie who wins.

Far from the teams holding the balance of political power their small victory might suggest, their very show of strength in recent weeks might yet come to form the basis from which they have it all taken away.

This fight was always about far more than just qualifying.

The teams might have won the battle. But did they just lose the war?