Racing Blog Introduction
04 December 2005 - 19:39The Racing Blog is intended to be an outlet for commentary and argument about motor racing, concentrating mostly on Formula 1. It is not intended to be a comprehensive source of news as there are many well-staffed websites concentrating on that aspect. No, here we intend to: put the world to rights; dismiss stupid arguments; educate on technical matters; and hopefully entertain.
Latest Racing Blog Posts
British GP is become pawn in FIA/FOTA war
22 June 2009 - 13:53
One of the many news stories going around at last weekend's British GP at Silverstone was that Bernie and Max had agreed that there would "definitely" be a British GP in 2010. Bernie has previously been adamant that if Donnington Park (which had last year won the rights to host the event from 2010 onwards) wasn't ready in time for 2010 then there wouldn't be a British GP - "we're not going back to Silverstone" he said, more than once.
So what changed? I think it's obvious it has something to do with the other big story of the weekend: the announcement that FOTA would go ahead with plans to establish a breakaway series for its 8 teams to compete in in 2010. Bernie has threatened to sue, the FIA are already (according to Max) going ahead with legal action. But that's not all they'll do - why not try and do deals to prevent the FOTA series from getting the venues they want?
Bernie couldn't speak lowly enough of the British Racing Driver's Club (BRDC), owners of Silverstone, previously. Now he will offer them a contract, with a time limit to accept of course. Accept the contact and they will have saved the British GP for 2010 - if Donnington isn't ready they will put the race on as they did this year - if Donnington are ready the BRDC collects a nice retainer for doing nothing. But they will have done something: The contract will also contain an exclusivity clause. They will not be allowed to host any "competing" event.
The dubious decision to move the British GP to Donnington has been seen by those watching the activities of FOTA as the perfect opportunity to get at least one classic race on their schedule and that fact will not have escaped Bernie's attention. He is currently facing the chance of his life's work evaporating due to the bloody-mindedness of the FIA president. If the FOTA series does go ahead, the value of Formula 1 will be seriously diminished, having only one team with significant history. The least he will want to do is diminish the value of his competitors as well.
My hope is that the BRDC is wise enough to not fall for Bernie's offer. He has promised a British GP in 2010 and if the BRDC refuse to sign an exclusive agreement with Bernie now, they will still, I believe, get the opportunity to host the British GP, should Donnington not be ready, at a later date. Meanwhile, if the FOTA split does go ahead, wouldn't they rather host the FOTA event instead?
Eight FOTA teams to form breakaway series
18 June 2009 - 18:45
Wow, I really thought all the talk and bluster and the conditional entries for the 2010 F1 season were all part of a big bargaining exercise in getting the FIA to agree to their terms. I never thought FOTA would actually go ahead with their touted plans for a breakaway series.
Tonight they announced, after a 4 hour meeting at the Renault HQ, that they are indeed going to do just that. I have to say, this could get interesting. There are so many different issues here, there's no way I can cover them all in one blog post. Here are just a few:-
Can the manufacturer's actually set up a rival series for 2010? I think they can - there's enough race circuits that they can put togther a 10 or 12 race series that will still attract sponsors. Most territories have multiple TV channels and with Bernie's huge slice of the revenue no longer part of the equation, they can charge a lot less for the TV rights and will have no problem finding takers. Bernie has threatened that he will sue anyone who breaks their contracts regarding working with rival series, but I believe the motorsports world is big enough that the FOTA series can be done without, at least legally, standing on FOM's toes. And the FIA will have to sanction the series because as part of a settlement with the European Union, they agreed that they would sanction any series that met it's safety standards.
What will happen with the three FOTA teams that the FIA say have already ageed to race in F1 in 2010? When the FIA released the 2010 entry last week, they included the names of Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso unconditionally, claiming that those teams are already committed to F1 due to contracts they signed with the FIA and FOM in 2005. You will remember that the last time the manufacturers were talking about a rival series, Ferrari were the first the jump ship and signed with F1 in return for getting more money that all the other teams and a technical veto clause. That effectively ended the breakaway threat last time and it would be ironic if the contract they signed then also prevented them from participating in this new breakaway. If the FOTA series really does ahead, expect this contract (and one signed by Red Bull and Toro Rosso that is more in line with the one Williams says commits them to F1), to be the subject to much court action. It could wind up with those teams sending two unliveried, uncompetitive cars and a skeleton crew to the F1 races just to meet their contractural committments while the real team races in the FOTA series.
Will the split REALLY happen? Although this news seems final, I won't believe it until the FIA publish a few entry list for 2010 that doesn't have Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, BMW, Toyota, Brawn, Red Bull and Toro Rosso on it. Or at least 5 of those names. And more importantly it has the names of 5 more new enterants on it such that there was no way the FOTA teams could be allowed back into F1 at a later date. FOTA may still be playing hardball here, trying to force the FIA's hand. They can afford to spend $10-20M going through the motions, looking like they are deadly serious about setting up their rival series, and still pull the plug on it in a couple of months time when the FIA gives them the concessions they need. The only thing that will stop that happenning is, like I said, if the FIA fill all the spaces with other teams before then.
The growing F1 budget cap row
12 May 2009 - 14:30
Going back years and years, FIA president Max Mosley has been banging the drum of cost reduction in F1. He didn't have many ears for this until the global economy went down the pan in 2008. In the meantime the FIA had put restrictions on the number of engines used during the season and the amount of testing mileage teams could do. They also proposed many other cost-cutting measure that never made it for one reason or another.
It was always clear however that all these measures were just like squeezing a sausage - sure you could limit the amount of money spent on one thing, say engines, but teams that had the budget would just spend it on another, weight reduction or more wind-tunnel hours for example. The only real way to reduce costs was to limit budgets. And that is what the FIA first proposed last year and now has put a figure on - a figure that has most of the current teams up in arms.
The current FIA budget cap proposal is for an budget of 40 million US dollars per season. The FIA know that most teams are currently spend more than that - the big three spenders (McLaren, Ferrari and Toyota) by several times - and as such they haven't made the budget cap mandatory. It probably couldn't be forced on the teams anyway. In return for agreeing to this budget cap, the FIA say that teams will be allowed some technical freedom to make their cars more competitive. They will also be exempt from some current restrictions such as the ban on in-season testing, since those restrictions were only brought in to cut costs.
This has created fears of a "two-tier" formula harking back to the days when some Grand Prix featured F5000 cars alongside F1 cars. The essential problem is that it's impossible to make the FIA's new system completely fair. If the technical freedoms allowed to the budget-capped teams are too small they will always be backmarkers. If they are too great they will win races and the teams that spent many times more money and have all the experience and expertise will rightly be upset. Max wants to set a low budget cap figure to encourage new teams into the sport as well as to maintain current independent teams, hence the $40M figure, but what team is going to join if they are going to be condemned to the back of the field constantly. And yet if the capped teams win races, the other teams are forced to agree to the cap themselves and lay off a large percentage of their workforce overnight.
The only way to reasonably introduce budget caps into F1 is gradually. Come up with a figure that McLaren, Ferrari and Toyota can live with immediately, say $160M say, then bring it down to the level that teams like Renault are reputed to be spending, $120M. Then gradually down to whatever seems reasonable for independents to support in the end. Of course that means new teams would be unlikely to join for a few more years, but it would be viable without pissing off too many people.
At the moment you have what will be most of the grid - the manufacturer teams plus Red Bull's two outfits - threatening to not enter for 2010 if the current proposals are enforced. Of course nobody expects Ferrari to really pull out of F1 - remember that the company was founded race in Grand Prix and Enzo only made road cars to fund the racing. Negotiations between the FIA and FOTA will be intense over the next few months. I expect the teams to try and extract changes in for the following order of preference: Abandonment of the whole budget cap concept; An initially high budget that ratchets down over several years as above; A promise that technical freedoms afforded to budget-capped teams will not put them ahead of the uncapped teams.
It seems F1 is always in some kind of turmoil or another and it always works out in the end - McLaren weren't banned, the manufacturer teams didn't form a breakaway series, etc. Still, it'll be interesting to see how this one plays out. It would be truely epic of multiple teams, especially long-standing ones, did pull out over the issue. On the other hand, the expected growth of the grid to 26 cars should the $40M cap go ahead, would also be a big change.
Canadian Grand Prix 2007- Hamilton's first win
10 June 2007 - 15:56
Woah, what a race. Who said nothing ever happens in Formula 1 races any more?
The big news of course is Lewis Hamilton's first F1 win. He qualified on pole position and aside from the usual pit-stop lead changes, he lead the whole race. I was amazed before the race that ITV's unapologetically biased coverage stated that Lewis's pole position had taken away some of the "disappointment of Monaco". I'm sorry but how can finishing second for the 4th time in your first year of F1 be disappointing by any standard? I know what they were thinking - that Hamilton was prevented from winning the race by McLaren's team strategy/orders, but the reality is that if Lewis wanted to win in Monaco he needed to stick it on pole on the saturday because his only hope for the race was that Alonso would break down. Anyway, consider that Jenson Button had to wait until his 5th season of F1 in 2004 before he had a season with four second place finishes (and it's all been downhill from there). Consider also that Hamilton could have joined McLaren in one of their many 'lean' years but instead has joined in what looks to be a golden year for the team.
The start of the race all went wrong again for teammate and current world champion Fernando Alonso. He made a decent start but tried to go around the outside of Hamilton at the first corner. Too much speed left him cutting across the grass over the curbs on the far side. He managed to only lose one place to Nick Heidfeld's BMW, but it appears to have damaged his car's aerodynamics for the rest of the race because he was to have many more spins and offs with him only finishing 7th in the end. That finishing place was largely influnced by the 10 second stop-go penalty he recieved for pitting while the pit-lane was 'closed' following the deployment of the first safety car, but Alonso's problems went way beyond that and were summed up perflectly by him being overtaken in the 3rd to last lap by Takuma Sato in the Super Aguri. There is a lot of talk on the bulletin boards about how Alonso is finding it impossible to deal with the pressure of a fast teammate. I'm not so sure about that, but I'm at a loss to explain the errors of judgement he's made at the starts of the Spanish and Canadian GPs.
Hamilton's win and Alonso's race of woe leaves that seperated by 8 points, having been tied on points prior to Canada. It is the lead that both McLaren drivers hold after the Ferrari drivers that is more interesting though. Kimi Raikkonen had another problematic race finishing in 5th. He was passed by many cars (including Takuma Sato again) in the middle section of the race after picking up debris from Rober Kubica's crash in his front-wing. It has to be said he hadn't looked spectacularly fast all weekend and could only qualify 4th (although Nick Heidfeld in 3rd was lighter on fuel). At least Raikkonen scored points - Felipe Massa was black-flagged (along with Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella) for leaving the pit-lane while the red light was showing after he pitted during the first safety car period. This will probably be regarded with much controversey in both Brazil and Italy because the safety car and train of cars behind it was well past the end of the pit-lane when Massa and Fisichella left, but the rules are clear: if the red light is showing you don't pass. Montoya learnt that the hard way in Canada co-incidentally.
If it wasn't for the first win of Hamilton, it would surely be Robert Kubica's crash that would make the headlines in tomorrow's papers. We haven't seen a crash like that Formula 1 for years and I think everyone felt a bit sick watching it. It came following the restart after the first safety car period as the train of cars on under-pressured tyres and cold brakes headed down to the hairpin. It looked on the replays like Kubica tagged the back of one of the Toyotas, but the Toyota seemed unaffected by the incident so it's possible Kubica lost control by himself. In fact I suspected brake failure at first because he'd seemed to lose very little speed by the time he left the track. For some reason there is curbing on the outside of the bend leading to the hairpin and that launched his car through the air and into the wall that seperates the track on either side of the hairpin. From there his wheel-less car skidded across the track on it's floor, narrowly missing Liuzzi's Toro Rosso, before ending up on it's side in the run-off area on the outside of the hairpin. It took many more laps under the safety car for the medical people to remove Kubica to the medical centre and for the track staff to clear up the debris and remove what was left of the BMW Sauber.
I think we were all really worried about what had happened to Robert, but news filtered through as the race progressed that he was able to speak to his manager and had no broken bones. He's now been taken to a local hospital of observation as surely concussion-related injuries will be the doctors main concern. There have been many complaints about the emphasis on safety taking something away from motor racing, but watching Kubica's crash today should convince everyone of the value of the HANS device and the cockpit side padding.
Nick Heidfeld finished 2nd having passed Alonso at the start and never looked back. He never looked like challenging Hamilton for the lead either, but BMW will be very happy at having beated Ferrari today. In 3rd was Alex Wurz in the Williams-Toyota who looked exceptionally happy to be on the podium and given the performance of the Williams cars over the past few years, I'd say he should well be. Wurz was a surprise choice for the second Williams seat this season and after spending years testing for McLaren and then Williams, he was probably happy just to be racing, so to be stood on the podium is extra special.
Also having a great race was Heikki Kovalainen in the Renault. He's had a tough start to he F1 career after winning GP2 in 2005 and testing for Renault in their championship winning year of 2006. It had looked like Canada was going to be another bad weekend for him after he had to change his engine and then crashing in qualifying left him at the back of the grid. However a good strategy from the team and solid driving meant he would up in 4th. Makes you wonder where Fisichella would have finished had he not got himself black-flagged. I already mentioned Sato's amazing drive to finish 6th in the Super Aguri. He had qualified in 11th so the team has obviously found some speed in the car and while the row over the use of customer cars rumbles on, it should be Honda who are most bothered because Super Aguri are making the works Honda operation look very stupid right now.
There will be much to talk about from this race, but we are already looking forward to the USA Grand Prix at Indianapolis next weekend now.
Monaco Grand Prix - McLaren dominate
27 May 2007 - 10:30
After locking out the front row in qualifying yesterday, it seemed inevitable that there would be a McLaren winner in Monte Carlo and probably it would be the second McLaren 1-2 of the season. I wasn't expecting McLaren to be so dominant though. Felipe Massa qualified in 3rd and was able to finish fairly comfortably in 3rd and yet he was over a minute behind race-leader Alonso by the final lap - and he was the last driver on the lead lap!
We used to see races as recently as 3 or 4 years ago where one or two teams were so much faster than everyone else that they would lap almost the whole field, but in the last couple of years, and this year in particular, races have been much much closer. Yet now we have all the cars on the same tyres, engines that are at best estimate within 5% of each other and on a course where aerodynamics are supposed to be less important, we see one team pull out a massive advantage. Who knows how they did it, but I bet Ron Dennis could not be any happier.
The result puts the two McLaren drivers on the same points total after 5 races with 38 points a piece. Alonso leads the championship due to his two wins to Hamilton's zero. It's a testament to Hamilton's increadible consistency with podium finishes (1 x 3rd place and 4 x 2nd places so far) that puts him on the same points total as the guy that's won two races.
What's more telling is that Felipe Massa has won two races also, but finds himself in 3rd position in the driver's championship with 33 points - 5 behind the leaders. There is still plenty of time for Felipe to regain the lead and if he is being mentored by Michael Schumacher as has been reported, he will see that 5 point deficit as a small problem to overcome. You can't say the same for Massa's teammate at Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen. After enduring years of bad cars and bad luck at McLaren he switched to Ferrari for 2007 and aside from one dominant win in Australia he hasn't had too much fun. The retirement in Barcelona already put him behind the other 3 'contenders'. A qualifying mistake left him starting the Monaco Grand Prix in 16th position and by the end of the race he could only make it up to 8th position for a single point. He now has 23 points - ten less than his teammate and 15 less than the joint leaders.
The 100% finishing record for the McLarens and the consistently high points scoring of their drivers has given McLaren a 20 point lead in the constructor's championship and while Felipe is still very much in contention for the driver's championship, that lead in the constructor's really will be hard to overhaul for Ferrari.
In all the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix was not hugely attention grabbling - certainly not compared to last year's race. There was a brief moment of amusement in qualifying when, after snagging the armco coming out of the swimming pool section, Raikkonen went on to stop his Ferrari on track at Rascasse exactly where Schumacher had infamously parked his in qualifying the year before. Then Felipe Massa joined him for a moment while Raikkonen reversed his car to let Massa past. They both got going again so the session didn't have to be stopped, but Ferrari probably wish it had been because they were unable to repair the broken trackrod on Kimi's car in time to get him out again in Q2. Not having set a time in that qualifying segment, he was classified dead last from that group, completely compromising his race. If there's one race of the season where you don't want to make a mistake in qualifying Monaco is it.
Toro Rossos to get a little less ugly (we hope)
07 May 2007 - 18:01
Yes McLaren and Honda tested some wacky front-wing solutions in Barcelona this week, but it's taken some surprising news from Toro Rosso to get me blogging again. Toro Rosso have announced that they are getting rid of the stickers that give their Red Bull knock-off the ugliest livery on the grid. Interestingly it isn't because they've suddenly seen sense about the looks - it's actually because they've found that they cause too much aerodynamic drag. To put a fancy design like the one on the Toro Rosso requires stickers to be used - in fact all the sponsor logos you see on racing cars are stickers, but usually the logos only take up a small amount of space each and are quite thin. To cover a large area like the engine cover they have to use large injet-printed sheets of film that can stretch over the curves.
Due to the inkjet printing of the imagery on these stickers, they have a pretty rough surface, both physically and visually close-up. It's this roughtness that must be causing Toro Rosso their problems. Roughness on a surface will cause the boundary layer to build up more rapidly (meaning that the car is dragging more stationary air around with it) and can also tip the attached airflow into turbulence where it would otherwise be laminar. That's why you see the mechanics polishing the car's bodywork every time it comes into the garage from the track - it does make it look better of course, but it also avoids a situation where dirt on the surface of the bodywork affects the boundary layer.
Toro Rosso will replace the stickers with paint. One assumes it's not practical to paint such a complex design on the bodywork (there are artists that can airbrush like that but it would take too long for all the parts F1 teams get through) so they will hopefuly come up with a simplified and more tasteful design - although you never know.
By the way, Honda are supposedly using the same sticker technology on their RA107 'earth car' (as discussed on this Atlas-f1 forum thread). I wonder if that has anything to do with their aero problems this season?
Yet more motorsport! Peugoet 908 wins on debut
15 April 2007 - 17:49
After watching the Long Beach Grand Prix (Sebastian Bourdais is back to his old dominant form again!), I caught the end of a highlights show of the LMS race from Monza on Motors TV UK.
The five hour race was the first in the European Le Mans Series for 2007. It was won by the Peugoet 908 on it's first race outing. It's a shame that Peugoet missed the Sebring 12 hour race and that Audi have decided not to contest the LMS (racing only in ALMS except for the Le Mans proper) as we won't see how the Peugeot 908 compares to the Audi R10 until the Le Mans 24 hours in June.
The 908 wasn't totally dominant although the Marc Gene/ Nicolas Minassian car did finish a lap up on the second place Pescarolo of Emmanuel Collard and Jean-Christophe Boullion. The second 908 of Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin was delayed by double with it's doors popping open(!) earlier on in the race. I suppose that's the real advantage of the roadster format - there's one less thing to go wrong during driver changeovers. Still, from 2010 coupés are mandatory in the LMP1 category so the 908 is the way of the future.
By the way, it seems that Motors TV is very much the place for watching endurance racing in the UK. They showed the Sebring 12 hours race live earlier on in the year and will be showing the Le Mans 24 hours live in it's entirity for the second year this June. Congrats to them.
15 April 2007 - 14:40
It's been a big motor-racing Sunday here in the Racing Blog house. It started at around mid-day with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Then I watched a recording of the A1GP race in Shanghai. And now I'm rounding it off with the Champcar Long Beach Grand Prix. This reminds me that I should have linked to Patrick's excellent article on the current state of Champcar on his Motorsport Ramblings blog. That was written just after the Las Vegas race that opened the season and he's spot on about everything there in my opinion.
I like the look of the new Panoz car that Champcar is using this season. The old Lola cars were designed at a time when the Reynard was dominant and Champcar ran on a pretty even mix of ovals and road/street courses. With the series hardly running on ovals at all for the past few years, that Lola has looked increasingly lumbering. It was never the most attractive of machines either. The new Panoz car looks a lot like a GP2 at the front and back and like the classic Indycars in the middle. It looks a lot more nimble on the two street courses raced so far and that has to be the main thing. It certainly looks a lot better than the IRL cars do in their token road course races. Those things are a joke and would almost certainly be outpaced by a GP2 car if they ever raced on the same course.
By the way, I don't know much about Long Beach, but the area holding the race looks absolutely beautiful on the TV. Rather like the American Monte Carlo, but with much wider roads.
Laser ride-height sensor on the Ferraris
14 April 2007 - 13:13
The Autosport.com gallery for Saturday of the Malayisan Gran Prix contains a number of photos of the front chassis bulkheads of cars. The things you normally see on the front bulkhead of a Formula 1 chassis are: the ends of the torsion bars (they take the place of the suspension springs on F1 cars), the steering rack, the brake fluid reservoirs, and maybe a random electronic unit.
This photo of the Ferrari chassis has all those things but what's interesting me is the sticker on the front of the electronics unit that reads "Optimess". The real tip-off though is the international warning symbol for laser radiation. That unit is laser ride-height sensor. It works, as far as I know, by shining a laser on the road surface through a small hole in the bottom of the nosecone. The beam is directed not exactly straight down, but at a small angle such that reflected light would not come back at the laser diode, but at an array sensor next to it in the package. The sensor array is like the sensor in a camera, but tuned to the wavelength of the laser. As the distance from the groud of the sensor package changes, the spot of reflected light moves on the sensor array due to the triangular shape created by that small angle I mentioned earlier.
Such ride-height sensors are frequently used by Formula 1 teams in test sessions, but I've never seen one fitted on a race weekend before. Teams use lots of different sensors and data recording equipment in test sessions but discard it for race weekends due to the extra weight and holes required in the bodywork etc. It is especially odd that such a sensor package would be used in Malaysia since all the teams except Spyker tested there the week before.
Ride-height sensors are used on race cars to get a better idea of how the aerodynamic performace of the car relates to height off the road surface and it's attitude on the road (there would be a sensor at the back as well). There are positional sensors on the suspension as well, but these cannot tell you the exact height of the car off the road because they don't take account of tyre deflection. Another use for the ride-height sensor is to use that data in conjuction with the suspension data to determine tyre deflections. This secondary use is more common on sportscars however as in a formula car there is really only room for one sensor in the centre of the car at either end and thus it can't take account of body roll and thus get a good picture of what the tyres on either side of it are doing. On a sportscar you can position a laser sensor very close to each wheel.
A few thoughts on the Malaysian GP
12 April 2007 - 18:21
Thought I would just get a few thoughts down on the Malaysian GP before the Bahrain one happens - webhost and blog software problems prevented me posting earlier.
That was a good race I thought. Both the McLarens (from 2nd and 4th on the grid) getting past the Ferraris (1st and 3rd) made for an interesting start. Alonso was off the a flyer, Schumacher style, while Hamilton lapped far more slowly with his mirrors full of red. Still he kept it together brilliantly and it was the more experiened Felipe Massa that made the error. When Massa went off I expected Raikkonen to quickly get past or at least have some serious attempts at getting ahead, but for some reason he didn't seem that bothered and sat behind Hamilton until the first pitstops.
The second stint had Hamilton faster than Alonso, making up the gap created in the first, but again the Ferrari's failed to catch up the McLarens despite their supposed speed. In the third stint, the only remaining interest came from Raikkonen's attempts to catch Hamilton for 2nd place. Hamilton had opted to take the hard compound tyre in the final stint and was suffering for pace as a result. Still, Raikkonen only caught up to him on the final lap and Hamilton was ready by the then to show the same wide car to him that he had in the first stint.
Malaysia 2007 was almost the perfect race for McLaren. Sure, they would have liked to put the cars on the front of the grid in qualifying, but somehow it makes it all the more satisfying when you were expecting a damage-limitation exercise and instead you dominate. Lets face it, McLaren weren't expected to do anything more in Malaysia than they did in Australia - they would pick up plenty of points, but the Ferrari's were going to have a significant edge. Then in qualifying the McLarens were a real match for the Ferraris. They didn't outqualify Ferrari, but they were on the same level which is still significantly better than the consensus was after Australia.
Of course you can't count on getting ahead of your competition at the start of the race. Raikkonen left the door open for Alonso at the first corner in a perfect example of what Schumacher woundn't do - head straight for the racing line. Alonso was happy enough to go down the inside and park his car on the apex. Meanwhile Hamilton judge the condition of the track to perfection. It had rained heavily overnight and the track was said to be 'green'. In that state you can expect to get the same grip level everywhere, so going around the outside in turn 1 so you have first crack at the inside line in turn 2 is far more viable than it is normally.
It was a sign of how unexpected the two McLaren drivers performances were in the first stint that boss Ron Dennis was so keen that the first pitstop be perfectly executed. Alonso had lost radio contact with the pits and had to be brought in via the medium of the pit board. Fortunately drivers still look at those things - the stop was perfect and they even got the radio working again. I'm sure the team would have done just was well without Ron's close supervision in that pitstop, but when you've got a chance at a 1-2 when you thought you'd be getting s 3-4 at best, you don't want to blow it on something silly like running out of fuel through mis-communication.
The real sign of what this race meant for Ron Dennis was at the end. First he was greeted happilly by his current drivers, then during the weighing of the drivers that goes on behind the scenes, cameras filmed him conspicuously ignoring Kimi Raikkonen while grinning happily at Alonso and Hamilton. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen any team boss that happy with the outcome of a race. It's not just getting the 1-2, it's not just that it was unexpected but fairly won, it was getting it in a race where his old driver who defected to their greatest rivals, tried his hardest and could only get 3rd - and not because the Ferrari was bad but because McLaren were better. Because the two McLaren drivers were highly motivated, didn't make any mistakes, worked as a team and were happy to celebrate together afterwards. Kimi looked pretty lonely up on the podium drinking the champagne by himself while the McLaren buddies sprayed each other. When Kimi dropped his remains of his magnum down to his mechanics, as has become the custom, they dropped it. I think that sums up Ferrari's Malaysian GP.
A few other thoughts:
I thought after qualifying that Williams had been lucky to get Nico Rosberg qualified in 6th. As it turned out he had a pretty strong race until his car broke down with the old hydraulics problems. On the one hand it's great that Williams seems to have some speed again. On the other, despite the move to Toyota engines, the car still has questionable reliability.
Despite the Renault, Honda and Toyota works cars being outplaced by their customers in qualifying, they all did better than them in the race. Renault claimed 6th and 8th whereas the best Red Bull could manage was 10th for Mark Webber, David Coulthard having retired due to his brake pedal binding on the steering column - a odd one that. Honda had a dismal race with Jensen Button and Rubens Barricello finishing 12th and 11th, but they were still ahead of both the Super Aguri's by the finish line. Toyota's Jarno Trulli managed 7th in the race and while teammate Ralf Schumacher could only finish in 15th, the best Williams could manage after Rosberg's retirement was 9th for Alex Wurz.
In conculsion, the race wasn't action packed as such, but it kept us guessing, as far as second place was concerned anyway, right up until the chequered flag, and that's better than most modern F1 races so I was happy. I actually think Sepang is one of the best modern F1 tracks and sadly I don't see the upcoming Bahrain GP being half as interesting.
F1 Malaysian GP Qualifying thoughts
07 April 2007 - 17:52
I watched a recording of the Malaysian Gran Prix qualifying earlier - I didn't get up early to watch it live (6:30am here in the UK) because, well... it's only Malaysia - nothing much interesting happens there. By the looks if it I was wrong though - it actually turned out to be one of the most interesting qualy sessions in a while, particularly with the final ten shootout living up to it's name for the first time as far as I remember.
I've written loads before criticising the current F1 qualifying format and the final segment of it in particular. They tweaked it part way through it's first season (2006) and reduced that final segment down to 15 mins so that even though drivers would still drive a number of laps to burn off fuel, they didn't spend quite so much time doing that. Still, it's a both a waste of resources (fuel, tyres, wear on the cars) and the viewer's time to watch cars circling the track as slowly as they dare in order to game the rules on race fuel starts for the top 10.
In Malaysia though the teams apparently feared rain in both the Q2 and Q3 segments. In Q2 we normally see the top teams come out only at the end and just do one flying lap, but in Malaysia most of them came out and did a flying lap on a brand new set of 'option' tyres right at the start of the segment. Those that were in danger had to come out again and do another flying lap on another new set of the softer 'option' tyres in order to guarantee themselves a place in the top 10 (which is why they don't normally go out at the start at all).
No rain appeared in Q2 but apparently the teams still feared it in Q3 so many drivers came out on their relatively high fuel loads (remember they have to chose a fuel load before the start of Q3 that lasts them for all the rest of qualifying and the first leg of the race itself) and used a set of option tyres to set a time before reverting to the usual slow-lapping routine.
Massa set the best time at the start of Q3. After teams had spent as much time as they dared burning off fuel, the four contenders proceeded to have a go at getting pole. Alonso was first to set a good time. Raikkonen couldn't top it. Some of the shine rubbed off Lewis Hamilton as he failed to even bear Massa's time from the start of the segment. Right at the end Massa came round and as many predicted he would, took pole. So at the front it is 1. Massa, 2. Alonso, 3. Raikkonen, 4. Hamilton.
Behind the contenders we have first the pretenders and then the no-hopers. The pretenders are led by BMW. I don't mean any disrespect to BMW's efforts by calling them pretender, but I don't see them as championship challengers and they probably won't even win a race this season. But they look likely to fulfill my pre-season prediction and become the 'best of the rest' team and finish 3rd in the constructors behind McLaren and Ferrari. If we're talking real pretenders then we have to look at Nico Rosberg in 6th for Williams-Toyota. He must be low on fuel in my opinion. What's more interesting is that 8th and 9th positions on the grid are taken by the two works Toyotas. All the teams run low fuel in Q2 to try and get into Q3 so you can't say Toyota did anything deceptive to get 8th and 9th. Those positions may not satisfy the Toyota board for the hundreds of millions they've put into F1 so far, but they're a damn sight better than I'd expected them to be in the second race of the season.
When you look for disappointments you don't have to look much further than Renault in 11th and 12th position, sandwiched by the two Red Bull cars (powered remember by Renault engines this season). Then you have the works Honda of Button in 15th behind the Super-Aguri of Takuma Sato and the works Honda of Rubens Barrichello 19th, one place behind the Super-Aguri of Anthony Davidson. Again, all those times were set on low fuel and should be representitive of the car's true pace.
This qualifying session also featured some new on-screen graphics that we will hopefully see in the race. I'll talk about them some more in another post, but it seems like there are some reasons to be cheerful about Formula 1 in 2007 - as long as you don't work for Honda or Renault.
First A1GP win for Team GB
25 March 2007 - 18:37
I know I've really neglected A1GP since the middle of the first season, so posting about it now that we are two-thirds of the way through the second season will probably seem a bit opportunistic, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity of congratulating Team GB and Oliver Jarvis on their first win in Mexico.
I've witnessed several A1GP races now where things went wrong just as GB driver Robbie Kerr was in a good position and many more where the GB car ran reliably and nothing went wrong, but France (in season 1) or Germany (in the current season) just had too much pace to be caught. By contrast, in this weekends meeting everything went smoothly for GB, the car had good pace and equally important, almost every other country had some disaster befall them.
The start of the sprint race saw Mexic get squeezed at the rolling start, touching Brazil's rear and spinning them into Germany. Brazil and Germany had to retire but Mexico only needed a new front wing and was able to claim the fastest lap later on in that race, collecting the only point they would see during the meeting. Fortunately Malaysia's Alex Yoong and GB's Oliver Jarvis got away ahead of all that and stayed one and two for the remainder of the sprint. The sprint race scores down to 6th place this season (was 10 in season 1), so there aren't so many points available in that race (although all points are welcome!), but the most important thing is, it put GB second on the grid for the much longer feature race.
The feature race uses a standing start and in that Malaysia had clutch problems. Poor Alex Yoong was down in 7th by the time he actually got going. Malaysia's loss was very much GB's gain. Jarvis got away with a handy lead, followed by USA. And barring the change in positions inevitable during the pitstops, this is how it stayed for the rest of the race. In fact the cameras spent little time covering Team GB and USA's race because there was much more challenging driving going on behind. There were plenty of the order changes that set A1 apart from certain other forms of motorsport - New Zealand, Mayalsia and Portugal ran together and swapped positions during the second half of the race. But at the front, things were more like Formula 1 with GB and USA maintaining almost the same lap times and gap lap after lap with South Africa a bit further back. In the commentary Ben Edwards tried to put "the curse of Murray Walker" on Jarvis, but it didn't work :) There were no punctures or other random problems to stop him and at last GB have their first win.
The points from the 2nd in the sprint and the win in the feature race lift GB up to third in the championship behind Germany and New Zealand (both cars being prepared by David Sears of Supernova fame). For what is a much more independent operation, GB's 3rd place in the championship is pretty credible. Of course that shouldn't be an excuse for not regularly challenging for wins, but it's just the way it is when you're competing agains a two-car team run by the guy who's cars dominated Formula 3000 (A1GP's cars being a development of the old Lola F3000 chassis).
I don't know how Robbie Kerr will have felt watching this win from the pits. He's come close a few times and put in decent drives in many more races. He so wanted to take GB's first win and while I'm sure he is glad for the team, it must be a bit gutting seeing a team mate take the win.
2007 Season preview and predictions
16 March 2007 - 20:52
If you consider it cheating unless predictions are made before the start of qualifying, then I have less than an hour to go to get these out and published (not that anyone is going to read them today, but anyway :)
If we go on pre-season testing (not always reliable but better than just going on hunches I think), Ferarri and McLaren should be battling it out for the title this year. At the end of last season I would have said that Ferrari were odds-on to be the dominant team in 2007. As long as they don't make a hash of the aero and their engine is as reliable as it should be, then their experience with Bridgestone tyres (and close relationship with the company) should put them ahead of the pack by a decent margin. Early pre-season testing was disappointing for Ferrari, but in the final tests and in Friday practice in Melbourne, they have shown that they are leading the grid.
McLaren are desperate to turn around their performance after a massively disappointing 2006 season and also show that the departure of Adrian Newey has not damaged them. The new car features some interesting changes to the 2006 car but the most interesting change is that it is fast. Whether they can challenge Ferrari over the course of the season remains to be seen, but McLaren look like the most likely to win other than them.
Renault have won back to back constructor's championships but have seemingly had trouble adapting to the spec Bridgestone tyres in use this year. I wouldn't count them out for the season, but considering their driver lineup, I don't see them winning either championship this year.
BMW Sauber have been surprisingly fast in pre-season testing with Felipe Massa proclaiming that he expects the challenge to come from the refridgerator-white cars this year. Practice times in Australia show that BMW could be challenging for third place this season (pushing Renault down to third), but I don't expect them to bother McLaren and Ferrari consistently. There could be a surprise win for Robert Kubica though, much as there was for Jensen Button last year.
Honda have been slow in pre-season testing with their technical director already declaring that they plan to completely redesign the aero package at the earliest opportunity. They could improve during the season and it's hard to decide if you'd rather be highly rated pre-season and disappoint during it, or be badly rated pre-season and then improve during the course of the year. Their whole tree-hugger prublicity campaign and ridiculous livery don't endear them to me either. One thing is for certain: they won't be challenging for any championships and I doubt Button will get another win either.
Despite Red Bull having Adrian Newey to design the 2007 car from scratch, they look no better now than they did a year ago. The car is woefully unreliable and when it works it's not too fast. If they don't abadon this one after the first three races to work on the 2008 car, they could get some performance out of it, but don't expect them to bother the top four teams.
Toyota haven't changed a bit from 2006 either. I can't think of a single thing worth saying about them. Sorry if you're a Toyota fan.
Both Super Aguri and Toro Rosso have customer versions of the Honda and Red Bull cars respectively. This is a matter of much controversy which I will save for another post. So far it seems the Super Aguri has improved a lot (well, it could hardly get worse than the Scrap-heap Challenge car they used in 2006) and the Toro Rosso is suffering from having done even less testing mileage than the Red Bull.
Spyker is the new name for Midland. They've made an all new car apparently, but it again, looks not a lot different from the old one. Oh, and they've hired Mike Gascoyne (reuniting him with what remains of the old Jordan staff). I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Clearly he's going to improve the capabilities of the team, but on the other hand, he has a tendency to take designs in an odd direction compared to other teams. Either way, he didn't join in time to have much impact on the 2006 car and so now planning one of his trademark ''b' revisions. Most pundits have Spyker as the last-placed team this year, but my feeling is that Toro Rosso will actually suffer for using the under-developed Red Bull chassis mated with the Ferrari engine and as such Spyker could avoid being on the back row from time to time. It looks like they have been overhauled by Super Aguri though.
If I didn't already make it clear how impressed I was with Felipe Massa in my 2006 review: he is my clear prediction to win the 2007 driver's championship. If Ferrari have the best package (and I think they do), then I expect Massa to be world champion come October. The conventional wisdom had Raikkonen being the number 1 driver if he moved to Ferrari, but judging by his lack of motivation last year, I think he's a spent force in Formula 1. He'll have some wins for sure, but I think Massa, having been with the team for several years in various capacities and having won twice in 2006, will have the better of the Finn.
I expect McLaren to be the ones to challenge Ferarri and I expect Fernano Alonso to be the McLaren driver to do it. That's a pretty safe prediction anyway. I expect Lewis Hamilton to put in some good performances like Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica did last year, but I expect him to make some mistakes as well and it'll be DNFs rather than a lack of speed that will put a dent in his championship hopes.
Renault made some odd choices about their 2007 driver lineup, much earlier than they needed to. They knew they needed to replace Alonso and that test driver Heikki Kovalainen was the man to take that seat, but sticking with the consistently disappointing Fisichella was a very strange decision in my opinion. I expect Kovalainen to comprehensively outpace and outscore Fisichella this year and it should be the last year for this journeyman in Formula 1.
As for the rest of the drivers, do we care much about what they do? They don't have the cars to win (with the possible exception of Robert Kubica). I feel sorry for Australian fans. A few years ago it looked like Mark Webber had a bright career ahear of him, but he's made two decisions now which are questionable. Going to Williams was a mistake, obviously. But going from there to Red Bull is equally curious - he doesn't seriously think Adrian Newey can turn that team into winners in one year does he? The rumour is that in both moves (from Jaguar to Williams and from Williams to Red Bull), he had a chance to go to Renault. Things aren't necessarilly that simple, but it seems obvious that if he even had half a chance to go to Renault he should have taken it.
1. F. Massa
2. F. Alonso
3. K. Raikkonen
4. H. Kovalainen
5. L. Hamilton
Feel free to add any predictions of your own in the comments.
2006 Predictions review
16 March 2007 - 19:55
With the qualifying for the first race of the 2007 season only hours away now I am pressed for time because I really wanted to get in a predictions posting before the start of the season. But I also wanted to take a look back at my 2006 predictions first.
My 2006 preview and predictions article can be found in the archives. I promise I have not edited it in any way since it was originally posted (even though I've noticed some howling typos and spelling mistakes reading it back just now).
I said "The R26 has been reliable straight out the box. It's the obvious thing to pick Renault to repeat their win of the constructors championship and the obvious thing is usually right." And I was right, but only just. If Michael Schumacher's engine hadn't blown in Japan it could all have been so different.
On McLaren I wrote "I expect McLaren to challenge for the championship if they stay reliable, but that's a big 'if'. Otherwise they could not only lose out to Renault again but could also drop down behind Honda." In the event, McLaren were not only unreliable but also off the pace in too many races. Add to that several seemingly unnecessary crashes and a mid-season departure for Montoya and a "can't be bothered with it any more" attitude from Raikkonen and it lead to the first winless season for McLaren in a long time. They still finished ahead of Honda though :)
On Ferrari I wrote "I think Ferrari are the most unknown quantity going into the 2006 season. They may surprise us and dominate like that have in seasons past, on the other hand, they could have another year to forget with their talisman, Schumacher retiring at the end." That was mostly how in panned out in the end. Ferrari had problems at the start of the season, but they really turned things around and looked almost certain to overtake Renault and win until that engine failure. Schumacher's retirement at the end of the season was a matter of huge speculation even before the 2006 season started, so although my year-old article does sound prescient now, it really wasn't.
"Honda look like they might win races this season at long last." Well they did with Jenson Button's victory in an unusually wet Hungarian Gran Prix, but it was a single happy event in what was otherwise a pretty forgetable season for the team. Touted as one of the "big 4" before the start of the season on the basis of testing pace, in the end they managed fourth in the constructors championship, but were some ways behind even a winless McLaren. Further down I wrote "I think Honda will be ahead of Ferrari this year and if McLaren are unreliable in the races, they may pass them to finish 2nd in the constructors once more." Obviously completely and utterly wrong.
Even the small amount of optimisim I allowed for Williams was misplaced: "Williams could win a race or two this year, but even if they surprise out of the box, they will find it difficult to keep pace with developments from the manufacturer teams throughout the season." They did surprise with their pace in the first race but still only managed 6 and 7th places. The season went downhill from there with poor reliability and a disgruntled Mark Webber left at the end of the year.
I didn't share the Toyota chairman's confidence about his Formula 1 team's chances in 2006: "Based on their testing times, and the much hyped, but ultimately unconvincing revised aero package for Bahrain, I don't expect them to improve on their 2005 form." In fact they performed worse in 2006 dropping from 4th in the constructor's with 88 point to 6th with 35 points. Additionally I wrote of their technical director: "There is a real possibility of the highly-rated Mike Gascoyne losing his job if Toyota slip back this year in my opinion." As we all know, Toyota didn't wait until the end of the season to sack Gascoyne.
Aside from predicting that Honda might finish 2nd in the constructor's, by biggest mistake concerned my analysis of BMW Sauber's chances. I said that BMW wouldn't improve on Sauber's efforts and the whole exercise would be an expensive disaster for the BMW company. In the end BMW Sauber finished 5th in the constructor's, one point ahead of Toyota. That compares very well to the 8th place (with only 7 points scoring races) Sauber managed in 2005.
Red Bull had a season to forget with their first new car (the 2005 effort was a legacy of the Jaguar days) and the expensive supply of Ferrari engines. It started with a dismal pre-season (that has been repeated this year worryingly for Webber fans). I wrote: "For 2006, I expect Red Bull to suffer early on in the season, rising to their former mid-field position from the middle of the season onwards." In fact things got worse as the season went on and the team concentrated all their efforts on the 2007 car. By the end of 2006 David Coulthard was complaining in interviews that their all-new car was worse than the old jag he drove in 2005. Harsh. I don't think it was actually true, but with no development during the season it seemed like they were slipping backwards all the time. They had a lucky podium finish in Monaco but finished the season in 7th place in the constructor's with only Williams and the three no-hopers behind them.
Toro Rosso managed with the hand-me-down Red Bulls (which were hand-me-down Jaguars before that) and de-tuned, restricted V10 engines. They only managed one point all season, but it was still enough for the old Minardi team to finish ahead of Midland and Super Aguri. Midland were to subject of constant take-over speculation before the season had even started and were sold to Dutch supercar manufacturer Spyker before the season was done. Nothing was done to improve their form during the season and even though they claimed to have invested in an all new car for 2006, it still looked as boxy and old-fashioned as the previous Jordan efforts. Super Aguri can be proud to have competed all 18 rounds of the 2006 season on what must have been the smallest budget by far. Their old Arrows chassis sported a surprisingly large number of modifications throughout the season but none of them seemed to make it go any faster. I predicted not much for these three teams and that's what they produced.
I did about as well in my predictions for the driver's championship. I predicted that Alonso, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Button would do the best for their teams. That was true. I also dismissed thoughts that Fisichella might benefit from Alonso pre-anouncing his move to McLaren a year in advance. Fisichella had a typically disappointing season.
On the other hand, I claimed that Montoya could be just as good as Raikkonen and he didn't even finish the season. I predicted that Button and Barrichello would be evenly matched in the Honda. They did finish next to each other in the driver's championship at the end of the season (6th and 7th), but Jenson claimed nearly double the points of Rubens (56 to 30), so they weren't too evenly matched.
By far my biggest error in my driver predictions was dismissing the impact that Felipe Massa woud have in the second Ferrari. Based on his performances for Sauber, the fact that Ferrari had used him as a test driver previously and the wealth of talent in the drivers market, I thought it was a mistake of Ferrari to replace Barrichello with Massa - I thought it was only a stop-gap measure and that Massa was selected so that Schumacher didn't feel threatened. How wrong could I be? By the end of the 2006 season, Massa had won two races and finished third in the driver's championship. The first of those wins was in Turkey and came at his teammate's expense (Schumacher having to queue behind Massa in the pitlane during a safety car period because he'd been out-qualified by Massa). The second win was a lights-to-flag victory on his own turf in Brazil - something Barrichello had failed to produce in so many seasons - and it completely overshadowed both Alonso winning the championship for a second time and the event of Schumacher's final race. So much for not being a threat to his teammate!
I think I got more right than wrong here. There were a couple of big blunders though (Massa and BMW). Hopefully I'll do a bit better with my 2007 season prictions coming up shortly.
Looking forward to the season finale
21 October 2006 - 10:29
So it's been a couple of races since I last commented. I really wish I could have covered this amazing end to the 2006 season in more detail - there certainly has been plenty to talk about - but a lack of internet access, at least the kind where I have time to blog, has got in the way of that.
Still, what a second half to the season it's been. Michael Schumacher started to claw back Alonso's massive championship lead at the USA Grand Prix, but it still didn't seem like he could catch up with him, especially when he failed to capitalise on Alonso's DNF in Hungary. It would take a win from Schumacher and another DNF from Alonso to bring him into contention people said. And that's exactly what happened in Italy. Despite all the controversy over the qualifying penalty given to Alonso by the stewards there, it was the failure of him Renault engine that made all the difference.
In China Renault were supposed to strike back given the superiority of the Michelin intermediate tyres demonstrated already in Hungary, but it didn't happen that way. Bad decisions on pit strategy and a cock-up during Alonso's final pit-stop gave Michael the win. At least Alonso could finish second to limit the damage to two points. Even so, that left the title contenders level on points with two races to go.
Going into Japan it seemed Schumacher and Alonso would still be close on points afterwards. One would win and the other would pick up a decent tally of points to keep things alive for the final round. Given how many points there are and how many rounds, it's actually surprising how often the driver's title has been still open at the last round and it looked like it would be that way. The Ferrari's were dominant in practice and qualifying and it looked like the best Alonso could hope for in the race was third place. As it happened, the Michelin tyres were a lot closer to the performance of the Bridgestone's in the race and an early pit-stop for Massa (due to a slow puncture) got Alonso into seond place. Still, it looked like an easy win, and a two-point championship lead, for Schumacher. Then the unthinkable happened - a engine failure. Someone does the reasearch on TV and works out that the last time Michael Schumacher suffered an engine failure in a race was in the 2000 season. What a time for him to suffer what will probably be his last! Alonso wins the Japanese Grand Prix and goes into the final race with a ten point lead over Schumacher.
After the Japanese Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher conceeded the 2006 driver's championship. Or at least he said he did. It is still winnable and you never heard Schumacher conceed anything that was theoretically winnable before. This isn't snooker! If the Japanese result is reversed in Brazil, Alonso and Schumacher will be tied on points again and Schumacher will win the championship by having more race wins. It seems unlikely that Alonso will fail to score a single point, but it's possible. He has afterall failed to score in two races this season already. And a win for Michael Schumacher in his final Grand Prix isn't at all unlikely.
Some have suggested that there will be foul play on the part of team-mates (and even on the part of teams who run customer Ferrari engines). This all seems a bit far-fetched to me. I think Michael would rather bow out of F1 with seven championships instead of eight than he would remind everyone of the sad end to the 1997 season when he tried to win the championship by preventing Jacques Villeneuve from passing. An FIA court in that instance stripped him of all his points for the season, taking away his 2nd place in the championship. Losing second place probably didn't seem that bad at the time, but he was on the way up with Ferrari then, yet to win the five world driver's championships that would add to the two he'd already won with Benneton. Now he is in 'legacy' mode and looking like a cheat in his final race will ruin his already tarnished reputation, win or no win.
Well, qualifying starts for the final round soon. According to reports, it looks like this round will not be decided by the tyre manufacturers (thank god that's all done away with next year!). Although the two Ferrari's topped the times in final practice, Button's Honda and Kubica's BMW, both on Michelin tyres, were next in the order. It has been raining in Brazil, no surprises there, and that could affect qualifying. I kind-of hope it doesn't though and we see a typical grid on race-day with both title contenders in the first few rows - it would be very neat if Michael and Alonso were on the front-row together :) .
I probably won't get a chance to blog again before the race, so I'll just say I hope we have a good one. Lately we've come to expect the unexpected and it would be interesting if a McLaren or another team other than Ferrari and Renault won the race. If it rains we can expect plenty of DNFs, but I hope both drivers score points and Alonso gets his second title - with him moving to McLaren next year it could be the last he wins for a while. I know a lot of people want Schumacher to win in his final season, and although I have plenty of bad things to say about Schumacher, I don't want him to fail, I just want Alonso to win more. And besides, seven titles should be enough for any man!