Tag Archives: Sebastian Vettel

F1 2017 season preview

The new Formula 1 season kicks off in Australia this weekend without a defending champion for the first time since 1994 following the shock retirement of Nico Rosberg after clinching the 2016 drivers’ title. 

The announcement came just five days after the German was crowned F1 champion for the first time, bringing chaos to the ‘driver merry-go-round’ over the winter break.

The new season is also notable for the most substantial raft regulation changes since the introduction of the hybrid turbo engine in 2014, with cars set to lap five seconds faster than last season’s models.

The aim is to improve the F1 spectacle. Truth be told, 2016 was not the most exciting campaign, but there is hope – albeit not shared by all parties – that these changes will lead to  more overtaking and more exciting races.

Driver line-ups

Months of speculation followed Rosberg’s retirement before Mercedes finally announced Valtteri Bottas as his replacement. The Finn, 27, earned his seat with the champions after impressing at Williams

In what was likely the shortest ever retirement, Felipe Massa returned to Williams in Bottas’ place, having originally been replaced by now team-mate and F3 champion Lance Stroll. Confusing, right?

Other changes see Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne replace Jenson Button at McLaren, with the Briton taking a sabbatical, although whether he’ll return to F1 is debatable.

Vandoorne made his debut for McLaren last year, replacing Fernando Alonso for the Bahrain GP. He became only the second reserve driver to finish in a points-scoring position on their debut after Sebastian Vettel, coming 10th.

Former Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlien joins Sauber after missing out on the Mercedes race seat to Bottas. Wehrlien was at Manor Racing last year, in a deal where they received Mercedes engines.

The 22-year-old German secured the team’s only point of the year in Australia, and takes the seat of Brazilian Felipe Nasr after he was released by Sauber.

Kevin Magnussen joins Romain Grosjean at Haas Racing after he lost his place at Renault to Nico Hulkenburg, who in-turn has had his seat at Force India filled by Esteban Ocon who drove the second half of 2016 at Manor.

Given that Ocon and Vandoorne have had previous experience on the grid, that means 18-year-old Stroll will be the only true ‘rookie’ driver on lining-up at Australia.

So here’s how the team’s line up:

Scuderia Ferrari: 5 Sebastian Vettel (Germany), 7 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

Sahara Force India: 11 Sergio Perez (Mexico), 31 Esteban Ocon (France)

Haas: 8 Romain Grosjean (France), 20 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)

McLaren Honda: 2 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium), 14 Fernando Alonso (Spain)

Mercedes AMG Petronas: 44 Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), 77 Valterri Bottas (Finland)

Red Bull: 3 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia), 33 Max Verstappen (Holland)

Renault: 27 Nico Huklkenberg (Germany), 30 Jolyon Palmer (Great Britain)

Sauber: 9 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden), 94 Pascal Wehrlein (German)

Scuderia Toro Rosso: 26 Daniil Kvyat (Russia), 55 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain)

Williams Martini: 18 Lance Stroll (Canada), 19 Felipe Massa (Brazil)

Race calendar 

The 2017 schedule drops back to 20 races, with the German GP axed after F1 supreme Bernie Ecclestone (now deposed from power) failed to reach an agreement with the finically-stricken Hockenheim and Nurburgring circuits.

The race in Baku has been moved back a week to avoid clashing with the Le Mans 24hr race, having also had its title changed from the European to the Azerbaijan GP. Other changes see the British and Hungarian Grand Prix move back a week to fill the gap left by the German race.

March 26 – Australian Grand Prix

April 9 – Chinese Grand Prix

April 16 – Bahrain Grand Prix

April 30 – Russian Grand Prix

May 14 – Spanish Grand Prix

May 28 – Monaco Grand Prix

June 11 – Canadian Grand Prix

June 25 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix

July 9 – Austrian Grand Prix

July 16 – British Grand Prix

July 30 – Hungarian Grand Prix

August 27 – Belgian Grand Prix

September 3 – Italian Grand Prix

September 17 – Singapore Grand Prix

October 1 – Malaysian Grand Prix

October 8 – Japanese Grand Prix

October 22 – United States Grand Prix

October 29 – Mexican Grand Prix

November 12 – Brazilian Grand Prix

November 26 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Regulation changes

The biggest complaint over the past few seasons from drivers and fans alike has been the inability to constantly push the cars to the limit, due to tyre degradation and fuel-saving.

The new regulations have been designed to drastically increase speed by increasing downforce from both aerodynamic and mechanical methods, in an attempt to better the spectacle and reduce the difficulty of overtaking.

Opinions on the changes have been mixed, however. They have indeed made the cars quicker, but it’s yet to be seen whether we’ll see more overtaking.

There are also some loopholes being closed this season with respect wet-race starts and the 75 grid place penalties we have seen previously.

Technical changes

Cars have had 20cm added to their width, bringing them up to 2m and matching what they were in 1997.

The width of the tyres is also increased by 20% to increase mechanical downforce and in an attempt to better balance where grip comes from, not just relying on aerodynamic downforce – although this has also been improved.

Pirelli have also been given a brief to decrease tyre degradation, allowing drivers to push harder for longer. The downside of these changes is that the increase on drag which could increase the ‘dirty air’ the car produces – one of the main reasons why overtaking is so difficult.

Fuel consumption will also be affected. The more drag, the more fuel consumption, meaning that the cars’ minimum weight limit and fuel consumption have both been increased.

Changes to the front wing, bargeboards, rear wing and diffuser has given more scope to designers to generate increased aerodynamic downforce, again increasing speeds.

Rear and front wings have also been widened by 15 and 20cm respectively, allowing more room for aerodynamic features on the wings. The nose of the car has also been lengthened by 20cm, whilst the rear wing is 15cm lower and mounted 20cm further back, at more of an angle.

Bargeboards will also be returned to pre-2009 prominence, after years of being restricted, again allowing designers to be more creative as they seek greater downforce.

The same applies to the rear diffuser – they are taller, wider and moved further forward, although the regulations here are only slightly more lax in an attempt to keep dirty air to a reasonable level.

Rule changes

Last year’s Belgian GP saw Hamilton take a ‘tactical’ grid penalty of a record 75 places, after reliability issues earlier in the season forced him into a fifth engine change.

Given that this had already dropped him to rear of the grid, Mercedes used the opportunity to change other components, knowing that he could not drop any further back. This season, teams will be unable to ‘stack’ penalties at one race, meaning that individual penalties must be served at individual GPs.

Wet races which start behind the safety car will now having a standing start once the track has been deemed safe. If a race is suspended due to wet weather, however, then it will resume using the traditional rolling safety-car start.

What happened in pre-season testing?

It was Ferrari who set the pace at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest lap of 1:18.634, ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes followed close behind while also being the only team to complete over 1,000 laps, showing they have the reliability to match the speed. It all points towards a fierce competition between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Red Bull and Williams are also looking good, so it seems unlikely to be another one-horse race as it has been for Mercedes over the past few years.

There has been talk that Ferrari were ‘sandbagging’ and could go ever faster. Hamilton has suggested that they are favourites for victory in Melbourne, although Vettel has refuted this.

Despite the team’s speed, it would be unwise for Ferrari fans to get too excited. Last year they also showed similar pre-season pace but failed to win a race in 2016, although another winless season would be surprising.

Mercedes should also benefit from what appears to be a much healthier working relationship between Hamilton and Bottas. This should allow the team to focus solely on on-track matters instead of having to sort out feuding team-mates.

Red Bull, tipped to be Mercedes main challengers, have also shown good pace, alongside Williams who could be the dark horses. Massa was followed by Max Verstappen as the fastest cars behind Ferrari and Mercedes. The two teams will be hopeful of chalking up a few wins between them.

The midfield appears to be very tight – just six-tenths of a second separated Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso in 7th place down to Kevin Magnussen for Haas in 15th.

McLaren are the team who are once again suffering. Despite the car performing well aerodynamically, there are still big issues with the power unit supplied by Honda.

“No power and no reliability,” is how an increasingly frustrated Fernando Alonso described the car.

Who will win the drivers’ title?

Despite Ferrari’s pace in testing, Hamilton remains a clear favourite to take his fourth title with odds of 11/10 followed by Vettel (10/3).

Hamilton will certainly fired up after the disappointment of narrowly missing out in his fierce battle with Rosberg.

Bottas is not there to make up the numbers, however, and is aiming to give Hamilton a tough time. However, the general consensus is that challenging for the title in his first season at Mercedes will be a step too far for the Finn.

Vettel is widely tipped to be Hamilton’s biggest challenger, and it is hard to argue against that. With Ferrari looking improved this term, it is almost a certainty that the German will be challenging for wins on a more regular basis.

Despite the criticism he occasionally faces regarding his race-craft, Vettel, the most successful driver currently on the grid, has always challenged at the top from pretty much the beginning of his career, and there’s no doubting his speed.

Kimi Raikkonen should also not be overlooked. Perhaps he doesn’t have the raw pace of Vettel, but you can be sure that he will go quietly about his business and perhaps sneak one or two wins.

The team with the most exciting line-up has to be Red Bull. The rivalry between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, two young, fired-up and immensely talented drivers, could reach the intensity of Rosberg v Hamilton.

Red Bull should never be written off either. They have consistently produced cars capable of victory over the last eight years, although some were expecting them to show a little more pace in pre-season.

Williams, meanwhile, are definitely the dark horses. They have shown impressive pace, clocking faster times than Red Bull, and the return of Paddy Lowe as chief technical officer appears to have helped them to step to the next level.

In the last few seasons, they have been the best-of-the-rest without winning a race. This year, securing their first victory since Pastor Maldonado won the Spanish GP in 2012 is not unlikely.

Top five F1 championship finales

This weekend sees the climax to another thrilling Formula One season, with Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton going head to head for the World Drivers’ Championship.

For the second time in three years, Rosberg and Hamilton head the pack going into the Abu Dhabi finale.

This time, it’s Rosberg who is the clear favourite, given his 12-point lead – but there are still several ways Hamilton could come from behind to snatch the title from his team-mate.

Rosberg will win the 2016 crown if he finishes on the podium. Hamilton must finish within the top four to stand any chance of snatching the championship – but even then he needs a helping hand from his German rival.

The title has been won in the final race of the year 28 times in the 66 seasons it has been awarded.

Elephant Sport selects its top five final-race championship deciders; many British motorsport fans will be hoping that this weekend’s finale will be added to the list.

1984: Niki Lauda wins by the finest of margins

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1984 team mates Alain Prost (left) & Niki Lauda (right)

The 1984 season came to a dramatic conclusion in the final round at Estoril, Portugal.

The campaign was dominated by McLaren drivers Niki Lauda and Alain Prost.

Frenchman Prost had won seven races to Lauda’s five, but Lauda eventually prevailed by half a point – the smallest margin in F1 history.

Prost qualified second, Lauda 11th. There were shirts and posters already printed that stated “Prost: 1984 World Champion”; but Austria’s Lauda proved them wrong by climbing up to third.

Prost moved up to first and led most of the race, with Nigel Mansell in second in his last race for Lotus before moving to Williams. Mansell retired due to persistent brake problems, Lauda duly moved up to second- ensuring his third drivers crown.

1986: Heartbreak for Nigel Mansell

Three drivers stood a chance of claiming the drivers’ championship in the 1986 season finale in Australia.

Mansell, with 70 points, needed at least third place to beat Prost, who had 64. Nelson Piquet had 63 points going into the final race.

Mclaren’s Keke Rosberg initially led Piquet, with Prost third ahead of Mansell.

The turning point in the race came on lap 32, a blessing in disguise for Prost. The Frenchman’s right front tyre punctured forcing him to make a pitstop, and he returned to the track in fourth.

It looked as though Prost’s race was ruined, but it eventually proved key to him winning. Goodyear technicians inspected his punctured tyre and saw that it was actually in good condition.

The technicians informed the other teams that they could reach the end of the race, without needing to stop to fit fresh tyres.

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Mansell’s 1986 championship dreams explode

But on lap 63, race leader Rosberg retired with a tyre de-lamination; the compound tyres were not lasting the race.

With the McLaren gone there was one less car standing between Mansell and the title, and it mattered not that Prost had passed him, leaving the Briton third once again.

Mansell was on lap 64 of 82, when, cruising down the main straight, his left-rear tyre exploded and a shower of sparks burst from the rear of his car.

His catastrophic exit remains one of F1’s most enduring images, and it left Piquet leading from Prost.

The Brazilian on the verge of winning the championship, but there was no hesitation in bringing him in for fresh tyres.

That left Prost in the lead, thanks to his early pitstop. Luck was definitely on his side that day as he secured a second drivers championship.

1994 & 1997: Schumacher madness

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Schumacher controversially collides with Hill in the 1994 season finale

Two similar incidents occurred in the final races of both the 1994 and 1997 seasons to determine the world whampion, both involving Michael Schumacher.

1994 saw Schumacher pip Damon Hill to the title by one point in the last race of the season (Australia).

On lap 35, Hill was right behind the German, who led, when he saw his chance to pass. As Hill’s Williams drew alongside the Benetton, Schumacher appeared to turn in aggressively and there was contact between the two cars.

The Benetton was damaged badly enough to mean immediate retirement. Hill’s car initially appeared to be okay but soon he was also back in the pits and out of the race.

This left Schumacher champion on 92 points, with Hill on 91. The controversy and speculation was furthered when ‘Schumi’ attempted the same trick to win the 1997 title.

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And again in 1997; Schumacher collides with championship rival Jacques Villeneuve

Unfortunately for the German, it backfired.

On lap 48 of the season finale at Jerez, championship rival Jacques Villeneuve was catching Schumacher and attempted to overtake.

The Canadian had the inside line and was slightly ahead when Schumacher turned into him, his front right wheel connecting with the side of the Williams car.

Schumacher had ended his own race but Villeneuve was able to continue and went pn to take third place – enough to win the championship.

The German was later punished by for causing an avoidable accident and was disqualified from the 1997 championship.

2008: Hamilton’s last-corner victory

The 2008 finale in Brazil was one of the most dramatic yet, fought out in wet conditions between Hamilton (McLaren) and Felipe Massa (Ferrari).

Hamilton led by seven points going into the final round. A maximum of ten were available for thewinner, which meant that Massa could win the title if Hamilton finished sixth or lower.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 02: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes drives on his way to winning the Formula One World Championship during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos Circuit on November 2, 2008 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Hamilton dramatically passes Glock on the last corner of the race

A late-race rain shower looked to have cost Hamilton the title when he dropped to sixth after a stop for wet tyres.

Massa had won the race and prematurely began his celebrations.

But Hamilton managed to pass Toyota’s Timo Glock quite literally on the last corner of the last lap, to finish in fifth and clinch his first world title.

2010: Four-way showdown in the dessert

In 2010 as many as five drivers from three teams were in contention for the title. At different points in the season Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull all seemed to have the car to beat.

Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso all went to the final race in Abu Dhabi still with a chance of taking the drivers crown.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 14: Race winner and F1 2010 World Champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium following the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on November 14, 2010 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sebastian Vettel
An emotional Vettel clinches his first championship in 2010

Hamilton was an outsider in the McLaren with team-mate Jenson Button’s title hopes slipping away before the campaign’s climax in the desert.

Vettel drove a masterful race in the Red Bull to win and lift his maiden F1 title.

The German was third in the standings prior to the race but led from pole and saw other outcomes go his way to become F1’s youngest champion.

Ferrari’s championship leader Alonso came seventh after a poor pitstop strategy saw him stuck behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, and the same fate befell Webber (Red Bull) who finished eighth.

Hamilton, who had a slim title chance, finished second but it wasn’t enough. It was a dramatic end to an enthralling season and gave Red Bull their first drivers’ title.

The final standings had Vettel top on 256 points, four clear of Alonso, 14 above third-place Webber and 16 in front of Hamilton in fourth.

Overall, 32 different drivers have won the F1 drivers title, with Schumacher holding the record with seven.

Rosberg will be hoping to become No.33 by winning his first championship this weekend.

The current Drivers’ Champion is Hamilton, who won his first World Championship in 2008, regained it in 2014 and retained it in 2015.

But Hamilton, having been involved in several final-race showdowns, will know that the championship may not be so straightforward for Rosberg who is overdue some bad luck.

The lights go out on Sunday at 1pm (GMT) but the drama will begin on Saturday at 1pm with the all-important qualifying session to decide who begins on pole.

Organising the Race Of Champions

Since 1988’s inaugural event in Paris, the Race Of Champions (ROC) has been travelling the globe, bringing some of the biggest names in motorsport together to compete for personal and national glory in equal equipment at various world-famous venues.

This year the ROC was held in London for the first time since the event took place at Wembley Stadium back in 2008. Tt this time, it was run at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium situated in the Olympic Park in Stratford after ROC president Fredrik Johnsson, who had been openly keen about running there for a while, struck a deal.

Then came the process of organising it, and as usual, it was quite a task. It’s safe to say that in every facet the RCs has come along way since the first event, but that’s not made it any easier to put together. In fact, it requires more time and effort than ever.

Months before a horde of workers set foot in the stadium to build the circuit, there were all sorts of hurdles to jump for the event organisers. Every aspect has to be meticulously planned to ensure it’s an enjoyable time for both the drivers and fans.

All together now

One of the toughest parts of making the ROC happen is getting the drivers together, in one place, on one weekend; and with a seemingly ever-expanding/never-ending global motorsport calendar, finding the right weekend at the end of the season – when the ROC is traditionally held – has become quite a challenge.

Drivers, media, organisers, team members and fans alike complain each year about the sheer number of event clashes. Take a look at the weekend the World Endurance Championhsip is held at Silverstone as an example, as it has run parallel with the opening rounds of the British GT and Blancpain Endurance Series in recent years.

“If available, most drivers lap up the opportunity to compete”

For those at the top of the ROC, it’s even more of a headache, as for one weekend, they try to get drivers from every corner of the motorsport world to attend.

“Because we are very limited on what weekends we can run at each stadium, ROC usually takes place after the racing season has ended, during December. But this time round it was even more dictated by the stadium’s availability so we had to organise it before the end of the Formula One season,” explained operations director Dominic Olliff.

Then there’s selecting the drivers themselves. With a limited amount able to compete, and so many series to consider, creating an all-star-cast is no easy task. Thankfully, if available, most drivers lap up the opportunity to compete in what has become a United Nations-type selection.

Diverse line-up

Olliff said: “We try to avoid clashes, especially with the big series, but the stadium’s very limited availability meant we had little choice but to run it the weekend we did. That was great for F1 drivers but disappointing for the likes of WEC, GP2 [which added their Bahrain round after ROC’s event was announced] and F3.

“But I think we did a great job to still secure such a diverse line-up, and one of the best in recent memory actually. F1 is the most well known form of motorsport so it’s important to have those established, household names like Vettel and Button for casual fans.

“They all come along for the pleasure of doing it, because they get back to the essence of why they love racing”

“But ROC is also about bringing the best of the best together, and the likes of Tom Kristensen, Alex Buncombe and Andy Priaulx provide credibility from the wider spectrum of motorsport. That Priaulx and Jason Plato beat Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg in the Nations Cup final proves how important diversity is.

“When it comes down to securing drivers, it’s a combination of things, as they want to drive at the event and they want to know who else will be there too.

“The drivers this year were so relaxed,” he said. “As it’s not like a race weekend, there’s not much pressure or media – it doesn’t exist at ROC. They all come along for the pleasure of doing it, because they get back to the essence of why they love racing, and thet get to socialise and test themselves against key names in their field in equal machinery.

“They have a good time, it’s refreshing. There’s a real camaraderie at the event, guys like Vettel are a real advocate for that, as he claims he ‘get’s to know the driver under the helmet’. It’s old school.”

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Vettel proved why he’s one of the World’s best, winning this year’s event

While the drivers love it, trying to keep a consistent roster right up until the day can be difficult, however. Olympic track cycling gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy this year, for example, was drafted in to compete in place of MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo, who was busy celebrating his title success.

More than just racing

Outside of the drivers, there’s other forms of entertainment to think about. Over the years those looking at the target demographic of the ROC have realised that not only is it best to cater for every type of motorsport fan, but also for more of a casual audience who enjoy just seeing a different kind of sporting event in such a rare setting like the Olympic Stadium.

Therefore, other forms of entertainment have become part of the programme at the ROC, and rightly so.

“Of course it’s a motorsport event,” Olliff stated. “But you have to attract casual fans too, which is why there’s celebrities, Terry Grant, FMX, all those things going on too. You have to come up with something that works for everybody, and everybody can be impressed by Terry Grant, it doesn’t matter how many times he does a donut around someone’s leg, it’s amazing!

“Not only is it best to cater for every type of motorsport fan, but also for more of a casual audience.”

“Then with the celebrities there’s always going to be people there at ROC who will get something out of it, it’s all entertainment in the end. A lot of people come in groups, half will love these things, half may not be interested, but overall, everyone leaves feeling like they’ve had their money’s worth.

“It’s important, especially in a place like London. It’s more than just an event for hardcore motor racing fans.”

Transformation

Before they know it, the set-up process then dawns on the team, which while quick, is by no means simple. An army of contractors comes in, sets it up and dismantles everything to suit both the stadium and ROC organisers’ needs.

The first time everyone from ROC got to take a look round the stadium was the end of June in the same year, which stresses how much of a challenge it is to get everything together so quickly at a place which they don’t have access to freely.

Later on in the year, two more recce’s happen as things come together, and before the big week arrives. This year in particular, a change had to be made to the Olympic Park circuit due to its size. Instead of a dual-lane layout, a single track, pursuit-style system had to be created.

It didn’t detract from the experience however.

“They were keen to try something different anyway,” Olliff revealed. “We didn’t have a great deal of time on our hands because of the Rugby World Cup finishing and England playing New Zealand in the Rugby League series. You can’t just build a track and hope it works, it has to be tested.

“The track itself was built in four days in the pursuit style, an awful lot goes into it. Michele Mouton, Audi’s Group B rally driver is still involved primarily and is responsible for the design and concept. When she’s happy with how it is after it’s in place it gets handed over to other departments.”

“An hour after the racing finished on Saturday night people were digging up the track.”

“The transition between the Olympic Stadium and what will become West Ham United’s stadium was still going on around us during planning, so we had to factor that in. It wasn’t until the Rugby World Cup that we could get a real feel for where everything was going to be. A lot of the areas like the media centre, mixed zone, press conference room, places like that were in action for us to see.

“We work with the stadium, but we take it over when the time comes, it’s our responsibility.

“We broke the record of de-rigging afterwards, the previous one was 40 hours and we did it in 27 this year! An hour after the racing finished on Saturday night people were digging up the track and everyone worked on their own areas. It’s difficult to get the stuff out, especially all the concrete metal work and tarmac from the track so we could hand the stadium back on time which was Monday morning this year.

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“It’s like a building site,” Olliff concluded. “But on fast forward.”

And once the final piece of track leaves the stadium, the focus immediately shifts to the next year, when behind the scenes, the same process starts all over again.