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May 17, 2017 @ 7:36 am

Spain 2017

Was the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix the most exciting race of the Formula 1 season to date? Well, yes, say the Pitpass team of Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch, but that's hardly anything to shout about.

The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel was enthralling, on that they agree, and that made for a welcome change following the snoozefest that was the Russian Grand Prix. However what Spain didn't provide the team with was a clear indication of the new pecking order.

There was an abundance of updates up and down pit lane, but just how much influence did they have on the pecking order? One thing that's clear is that Red Bull remains the clear third best team, though Force India is punching well above its weight - as we've come to expect - and could mount a challenge to Red Bull if it's not careful.

Force India's secret has been its driver combination, suggests Noble and Balfe, a strength not all of its midfield rivals can boast. Indeed there is a smattering of lopsided lineups out there, and the Pitpass team highlights two that need an urgent reversal in fortunes, for failing that a firm hand from management.

It's what's missing at Mercedes, suggests Balfe and Coch, after news that Hamilton has been racing without a drinks bottle in 2017 to save weight. Having come across the team radio with the sort of voice you normally pay for by the minute, the post-race revelation prompted some fairly serious discussion among the Pitpass ranks.

As did news of Silverstone's uncertain future. Of course we've been here before, so much so it feels like we never left, all the while the future of the British Grand Prix hangs by a thread with Formula 1's new owners unwilling - or is it unable - to throw the BRDC a bone.

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May 3, 2017 @ 11:14 am

Russia 2017

Hot on the heels of Valtteri Bottas' first Grand Prix win, the Pitpass crew assembles to digest that latest round of the Formula 1 world championship.

Chris Balfe, Mat Coch and Max Noble all squeeze in to the Pitpass recording studio to reflect on the Russian Grand Prix, a race the trio agree was far from a classic. About as far from a classic as they came, or, a classic non-classic race from start to finish.

Still, there were glimmers of hope, enough to keep the team enthralled if not particularly entertained, and optimisitic ahead of the European leg of the season beginning.

Bottas' performance was of course a stand out, but there are others who rate a mention. Jolyon Palmer, for instance, is mentioned at least once, as is three-time world champion Nelson Piquet.

The truth is, the Russian Grand Prix wasn't a grandstand event, but it injected interest back into the sport at a time when it needed it most. As pressure from some corners mounts on Mercedes to back Lewis Hamilton's tilt at another world championship, Bottas has thrown his hat in the ring and shown he's not about to roll over for his more illustrious team-mate.

There's also the prospect of a Ferrari versus Mercedes tussle to enjoy, with the German team seemingly on the ropes for the first time in years. Can Ferrari actually deliver for Sebastian Vettel or, to ask the question a different way, did Fernando Alonso leave too soon?

Naturally there's talk about Fernando, though it's an old topic that seems to do nothing but go around in circles. Ironic, really. Then there's McLaren and the fate in front of it. Still, at least it can console itself knowing it's partnering up courtesy of Honda with that F1 powerhouse that is Sauber.

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April 12, 2017 @ 7:20 am

China 2017

The Pitpass team is back to discuss the Chinese Grand Prix, picking apart the key moments from the weekend.

From the weather to Fernando Alonso and simplified front wings, Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch once again cover a huge amount of ground as the reflect on the second round of the 2017 Formula 1 world championship.

The weekend in Shanghai provided a number of talking points, and perhaps just the merest of glimpses at the order after an Australian Grand Prix that gave little away. The weather conditions in China meant the weekend was difficult to read, but there were some important lessons the team picked out.

Among them was the fate of Formula 1 in the region, with Malaysia having announced the 2017 race will be its last Grand Prix. With talk that Singapore could follow suit and the demise of Korea in recent years, there are precious few events left in a region where a small following translates into a huge amount of support.

It's a notion which is in short supply, with Sergio Marchionne suggesting Kimi Raikkonen needs a kick in the pants following a weekend where he didn't get on the podium. It's a rich statement given Ferrari dropped the ball strategically, and gets the Pitpass crew wondering if the Italian meant what he said, or whether they were comments designed to apply pressure to the Finn - and let's not forget, the team's last world champion.

That could all change this year, and a competitive showing from Sebastian Vettel wasn't missed, nor was the fact he is joint championship leader with Lewis Hamilton, while Ferrari is only a point adrift at the top of the standings. Yes, it's an optimistic bunch that gathered in the wake of the Chinese Grand Prix, and while all may not yet have been forgiven after Australia, there are enough positive signs to keep the guys enthused.

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April 5, 2017 @ 7:14 am

Australia 2017

The 2017 Formula 1 season has begun, with victory for Sebastian Vettel (spoiler!) over Lewis Hamilton in Australia. Together to discuss all the important events of the weekend, the Pitpass trio of Chris Balfe, Mat Coch and Max Noble jump in the studio to do what they do best.

Strangely, Vettel's drive to victory barely gets a mention. Not for that matter does Hamilton's battle with Max Verstappen. Even Daniel Ricciardo's weekend, as if a pair of week old socks, only gets aired briefly at the very end. Instead what got the guys excited about the Australian Grand Prix was the glimpse it gave us into the shape Formula 1 will take in 2017 and, if Coch is to believed, until 2019 at the earliest.

The big question is; do the guys like what they saw? There wasn't a lot of passing, but there never is in Melbourne, though that in itself leaves the team trying to work out if that made the race good or bad.

The other big question of the weekend was always going to be how much faster are these aggressive new cars? We were promised lots, but there are compelling arguments to suggest they've no delivered on that front.

There are a few other fronts Noble suggests the sport's new owners, Liberty Media, have also failed to deliver in what really was their first real day on the job.

What has the guys really worked up though is what's bubbling away behind the scenes; the talk and posturing from the sports players and rule makers, and the path that is leading it all down. Has Liberty Media transformed the sport, and we sit on the precipice of a new golden era for Formula 1, or, like the chippie up the road, is it just the same business under new management?

 

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March 17, 2017 @ 11:50 am

2017 Season Preview

As teams and drivers pack their bags ready for the flight to Melbourne, the Pitpass team jumped into the studio for the first podcast of the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Its' like getting the band back together as the trio of Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch once again run their eye over the state of play and conclude that the only certainty in the year ahead is that McLaren is in for a world of pain.

After a pre-season testing which could be politely described as 'difficult', Balfe in particular holds great fears, and goes so far as to propose a radical approach to what is now a three year old problem.

McLaren wasn't the only target in his sights though, as the now infamous F1 Live Timing app draws Balfe's ire, who was particularly bemused when he seemingly caught the team behind the program out for a cheeky long lunch one afternoon.

It's a black mark on Liberty Media's early involvement too, the company which now owns the sport which is reputedly trying to open up the sport more to an online audience.

It begs the question; is Liberty Media really interested in improving the sport, or just after its cash? It's a question Noble poses as he ponders two different approaches the new owners could take in the way it chooses to market the sport.

There is though an opportunity, he suggests, and a way to recreate the sort of razzamatazz the sport hasn't had since Flavio Briatore was flying around the world with beautiful women (or so the story goes).

Balfe agrees, suggesting there's no sense of occasion at a time when the sport should be working itself into a lather as it builds the anticipation among fans.

The problem of course is the best way to do that is to have the teams working together, which as the team discusses is about as easy as herding cats, or choreographing the Superbowl halftime show.

That's also a bone of contention with the suggestion Liberty Media wants to transform the sport into an American style spectacle, but that isn't what's at the sport's heart the team argues with Balfe in particular suggesting the marketing arm of the sport has lost its way.

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December 13, 2016 @ 4:47 am

Season Recap & Pitpass Awards 2017

Who was the best driver and which was the best team in 2016? That's what the team has gathered to discuss in the Pitpass.com end of season podcast, as well as the slightly awkward fact that they forgot to talk about Nico Rosberg last time around.

Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch return for one final lap in 2016 to hand out the chocolates, with awards for best pass, most memorable moment and best innovation. There's disagreements, differences of opinion and plenty of bad jokes.

But there is more than just the handing out of awards, with discussion turning to all the key topics of the moment. For instance, no podcast would be complete without the mention of biscuits, and the team goes to great lengths to quantify Rosberg's world championship. Indeed, it spurs Balfe into asking the obvious question about the newly crowned world champion, the one nobody had thought to ask.

There's another question to be answered too, and that's who does Mercedes replace Rosberg with or, more to the point, is the Mercedes drive a poisoned chalice? Stepping in alongside Lewis Hamilton is a daunting task, and the team runs through a list of drivers and what they might stand to gain, and lose, should they fill the vacancy.

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December 1, 2016 @ 8:53 am

Abu Dhabi 2016

As the 2016 championship draws to a close, the Pitpass team gets the band back together to review the final race of the season.

It's been a few weeks since the guys have caught up, but they get straight back in the groove as they discuss the merits of Max Verstappen, and try to quantify just how good he really is. The general consensus is varying degrees of 'bloody good'. That poses a raft of new questions too, such as what does it mean for Daniel Ricciardo's career, and Lewis Hamilton's ego.

If Verstappen's career has Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch salivating in anticipation, the retirement of two of the sport's most popular drivers has them reminiscing. After more than 300 grands prix there will be no Jenson Button on the grid in 2017, nor Felipe Massa – two drivers who enjoyed successful careers in a sport which has been so brutal to so many.

Of course there's no escaping discussing Hamilton's performance at Abu Dhabi. Did he overstep the mark, play to the letter of the law or bring the sport into some sort of disrepute. The team's opinion is unanimous, while Noble, who once again dons his Mercedes team boss cap, suggests a quiet word in the new year is all that is really necessary to calm things inside the team. Of course if that doesn't work there are a range of other options.

The crux of the discussion is not however over whether what Hamilton did was fair and just, because there's no doubting it was, but whether it was moral. Indeed it all gets rather philosophical as the team compares the three-time world champion with the man he bested to claim his first crown.

With one more season-wrap to follow, the guys for once manage to stay (more or less) on topic in their analysis of events in what was a dramatic, enthralling, nail-biting race.

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October 13, 2016 @ 5:45 am

Japan 2016

Was the Japanese Grand Prix the turning point of the season, or the next chapter following Nico Rosberg's breakout drive in Malaysia a week earlier? That's what the Pitpass team is in the studio to discuss this week, along with the plight of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen's defensive driving and the storm that was Hurricane Lewis.

Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch managed to forget the biscuits in all the excitement of Japan, preferring instead to marvel and applaud the performance of championship leader Nico Rosberg. After a getting a glimpse of the sort of confidence the German currently has the race before at Sepang, the Japanese Grand Prix saw him stamp his authority on the race in style. Was in the race that broke the back of the championship? We'll have to wait and see, though team-mate Lewis Hamilton appears to be feeling the pressure.

Has he reached meltdown though? The team discusses at length Hamilton's comments from the weekend, analysing what might have caused them and whether there are other forces at work behind the scenes which saw the reigning world champion pick a battle with the British media. It's a fight Balfe suggests he's not likely to win, the Fleet Street firm seemingly in the process of knocking down a man they turned into a superstar. So what does Hamilton do from here, and was he showing the sport the direction it could or should be going by engaging with his followers on Snapchat instead of journalists across the weekend?

If Hamilton is feeling the heat so too is Sebastian Vettel, a man who according to the team looks a shadow of his former self. The swagger is gone, the wins have dried and instead of a boss with a twitchy foot he now works for a boss with a savage tongue, one all too ready to throw the team under the bus in pursuit of success. Is that the right approach, and is Vettel the man to lead the team out of its comparative dark ages the way Michael Schumacher did?

McLaren's weekend on pseudo home soil in Suzuka didn't go to plan with a weak performance from both drivers. After a number of positive glimmers from the team in recent races it was a blip on the radar, one that came at perhaps the worst event of the season for a team whose engine manufacturer owns the Suzuka circuit.

Force India and Max Verstappen caught the eye of the team, while Williams caught their ire for another Grand Prix that saw them comfortably outperformed by their nearest championship rivals.

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October 5, 2016 @ 6:03 am

Malaysia 2016

Despite the quick turnaround between the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix, the team has found time to sneak into the studio to record the latest episode of the Pitpass Podcast.

Chris Balfe and Max Noble once again join Mat Coch to discuss a race which, according to Balfe, was better than nail-biting. Indeed it scored a Full Packet on the illustrious Biscuit Board and would have left our editor giving it two thumbs up if only he hadn't bitten one off in all the excitement.

But while there were moments too exciting to chow down on a shortbread there were points that had one absentmindedly munching away while pondering the enigma that has become Felipe Massa. Set to hang up his boots at the end of the season, boots which will probably not smell faintly of champagne on current form, the Brazilian's performance has left Noble at odds with Coch and Balfe. A stellar career he might have had debate rages on whether he's gone on too long, and what Williams options are as they begin looking towards 2017. The solution proposed by Balfe is so obvious nobody has yet spotted it.

One thing the team does agree on was that Malaysia was perhaps the race of the year for Nico Rosberg, an event in which it seemed he started to believe he could be champion. Where once he'd roll over and sulk he drove the race of a champion, refusing to give up and stealing third place at the flag as a result. But if it was the race of the year for Rosberg, what does it mean for Lewis Hamilton as the team discusses the fall out of the world champion's engine failure, and Lord Almighty do they pull no punches in that regard.

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September 23, 2016 @ 6:40 am

Singapore 2016

It's all tea and biscuits in the Pitpass podcast following the Singapore Grand Prix, an event that saw Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo's grandstand finish overshadowed by a lizard and a moustache.

Chris Balfe is once again joined in the studio by Mat Coch and Max Noble, the three probing and prodding at all of the fleshy bits from the Singapore weekend. There's of course talk about Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo's dash for cash at the end of the race, and a discussion on Balfe's innovative biscuit based race rating system. This year's Marina Bay encounter netted an eight butterscotch rating, though we've no idea if that's good or bad or if Chris just got hungry mid-race.

Never one to shy away from the big issues the team also tackles the difficult subject of people on race tracks, though at Singapore that doesn't seem a particular challenge given a lizard a drunk and a marshal have all enjoyed unique views of the event in recent times. There is though a serious side to their debate given there were severe safety problems over the weekend, some emanating from race control but others from the drivers themselves as they chose to believe those yellow flags marshals were waving were just their nostalgic support for the Jordan Grand Prix team. That causes Coch to lose his rag and brand the lot of them amateurs – clearly he wasn't a Jordan fan.

Ferrari and McLaren get a mention, as does Williams though Valtteri Bottas is politely asked to ensure his seatbelt is securely fastened throughout the duration of the show. It was a bumpy weekend for Haas too, with Romain Grosjean's moaning almost of Lewis Hamilton (who has been on the backfoot all season, even while winning six races in seven) proportions.

However there was on topic from which there was no escaping, and one which Nigel Mansell will perhaps be glad finally raised its head. For the first time in decades the Best Moustache in Formula One Award has left his mantelpiece and has been whisked across to the office of Chase Carey with minimal fanfare.

Carey was of course on a meet and greet mission and shook hands and had conversations all weekend. So too did Bernie, and one suspects that may be the first glimpse of Liberty Media's new commercial strategy for the sport; the ultimate in reality TV shows as it follows the sports powerbrokers to decide who has the best handshake and small talk.

Exactly what Liberty's involvement will be remains unclear of course, that's the way Bernie tends to try and keep things wherever possible, but Balfe in particular isn't sold on the idea. It's probably because he hasn't got any shares.

PS, Don't worry Nige, you've still got the best eyebrows.

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