Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Nice smiles or grubby hands: Which one do you like ?

Hello all, busy, busy, busy, on to Mexico.

Hamilton’s championship win has opened up something of a debate;

Is formula One about the Engineering or the drivers?

There is a camp which would have it that F1 has always been just about the teams and the desire to build faster and sexier cars. It is a sport mostly supported by men that enjoy the mechanical and technical aspect of the sport more than the personalities that drive the cars.  Yes, we all remember the great drivers, those that transcend the ordinary bounds of physics that we mere mortals have to live with and who dance with the angels out there on the limits. But name those backmarkers that bring money to mid table teams to carve out a career being merely ‘solid’. Things start to get a bit tricky don’t they?
Without looking at Wikipedia or one of the myriad F1 books of motorsport you have on the shelf behind you, name three drivers that drove for Osella? A team that raced from 1980 to 1990, entered 253 races, employed 17 drivers who qualified to race 172 times.  They were a perennial backmarker team that never achieved much and were pretty hopeless.
Now give me three engines that Williams F1 have used since 1980, I’ll bet more of you can do that off the top of your head.

Hamilton, and this was something I touched on before, is stepping out of that car oriented support to connect with people that are unsure where the engine is in an F1 car. Musicians, fashionisters, film stars all want to be seen with him in a way they never wanted with Senna, Mansell or Schumacher. Vettel never showed Ferrell Williams around his Redbull car, wasn’t seen front row at Paris Fashion week or had a four page spread in GQ. No, Hamilton is also talking to those people that think engineering is a grubby little profession best left to men in cold sheds. ERS is what you do when the Barista asks if you want sprinkles on the decaf mocha Frappuccino lite to go. DRS … Isn’t he that banging DJ from NY?

Hats, yes, yes, I know back to the hat thing. How many different hats did Hamilton wear over the weekend in America? And which hat did he choose to show off retaining his world title?  

A nice hat
An America branded Merc cap. It looked quite good actually but the point is that hats speak more to some people than the number of laps he got out of his intermediate tyres. They’re wrong of course; the tyres were the key to the race. But a flash hat appears to connect better with some strange people, just ask Nico.

The number of eyeballs watching F1 is dropping, the switch to a pay TV model has reduced the number of weekly viewers, those that would watch it on a Sunday afternoon because there was nothing else on have moved to cash in the attic, these days you have to pony up if you want to witness the spectacle. And if you’re willing to pay to watch it, chances are you’re already paying for the Football or Moto GP or even cricket. It’s a crowded market and dull races with an odds on favourite will struggle to raise much interested. 

So having a driver out there who is happy to pose on a beach in Miami with a bunch of hat wearing mates who look vaguely aspirationel , draws in the social media savvy generation with their disposable income and appreciation of branded hats. The likes of you and me knowing Williams has used Supertec, Honda and BMW engines or that Eddie Cheever, Nicola Larini or Alex Caffi drove for Osella in the 80’s, isn’t enough to keep Bernie and CVC in sharp suits and corporate jets for very long.

Yes there’s a place for the technical minutiae of the number of elements on a Sauber front wing, but the Merc engine can’t tell you how it felt to pass the Ferrari. The Renault engine can’t explain why it’s not got the legs for a race on a dry track. We need the drivers to stand there and tell us how exciting it really is. And I want a driver to tell me it was difficult, I want to hear Alonso call the Honda engine no better than a GP2  engine, I want Nico to throw the hat back and look miffed by the celebration; because then I know they’re human, they’ve got the same passion for it all that I have. I even want Hamilton to stand there under his hat and say “Yeah, that felt good man”.

The money shot.
So then the drivers and constructors championships are done and dusted and there isn't much left to play for. Nico need to get some pride back by beating Vettel, who want to build up a head of steam to challenge Lewis next year. There is only a four point difference between them so the race for the best of the rest will be worth watching.
 All the big teams have drivers signed up for next year now so no one has to try and impress the boss. Well maybe not, there is still some doubt over what engine the Redbulls and Torro Rosso's will be running next year, or if they're coming back. So Ricciardo, Kvyat, Verstappen and Sainz could do with keeping their stock high just in case they suddenly have a big window in their 2016 calendars.

Everyone else is just sort of planning where they're going to be for Christmas this year.  

The smart teams will be testing 2016 bits now and trying to avoid spending unnecessary money rebuilding 2015 cars. "Keep it calm lads! Remember, no one needs to be a hero ok" will be final thing the drivers hear before the starting lights go out.

I have no idea what this new Mexican track has to offer, back in the good old days it used to have this amazing 180 degree slightly banked final corner that would try to kill the unwary. But they built a baseball stadium on top of it a few years ago so now we have a bit of a Mickey Mouse ending to the lap instead. It goes under the grandstand ... woooooo novel.
The best thing about the place was the track used to resemble a ploughed field and not in a good way. This used to be a circuit that active suspension was designed for; few cars came back with all the nuts and bolts still attached at the end of the race.  I might be wrong but I think it was built on a reclaimed swamp or something. So yeah, it might test some of these new blood brought up on billiard ball smooth European tracks.

Mexico Yesterday

So it is going to be a bit of a lottery, apart from Merc and Ferrari up front. The high altitude means the air is a bit thinner than the usual European tracks, so engines already a bit wheezy will struggle. Don't expect too much from the Renault boys and McLaren has already said they're only turning up because they have too.

 There you go, good luck, see you on the other side.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The land of the free

Saddle up compadres we’re off to the good old US or A, Yee and indeed Haar good buddies!

So, four rounds left, USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi – Two good tracks, an unknown and the perpetually dull  last middle eastern hurrah before three days holiday.

Yeah I like the Circuit of the Americas, an unusual stance from me I know. Sure it’s got no atmosphere, but it looks pretty good in an empty bit of America kind of way, it’s got that lovely fast flowing section off the start line hill, a balls out high speed straight and a technical arena section. I even like the silly tower thing it’s all kinds of quirky. What is especially important is it doesn’t look like a car park or an industrial estate in some grim northern service town off the M42 near Solihull. 

And the racing has generally been pretty good here. It rewards drivers willing to go out there and spank it, not sit there and wait for the race to come to them. It’s got a bit of give in it. It’s a lot like Istanbul used to be, which long term players will remember as a circuit that I would have happily had in France or Germany, anywhere but Turkey, but that’s by the by. I hope CoTA gets to stay on the calendar for long enough to get established. Rather than be tossed aside for the next third world dictator who rocks up with a shed full of cash and a pesky human rights record that needs a bit of a PR make over.  

Give it time to establish and it’ll get an atmosphere, some heritage and a bit of personality. And it’ll show the Americans that they don’t need to throw a full course yellow whenever race control needs to nip off for a cup of coffee. If you’ve ever seen any other America motorsport than you have my sympathies, NASCAR and INDY races are generally two to three hours or so, plenty of overtaking for the lead and if you ignore the fact they just turn left constantly its pretty good racing. But then someone does something silly and a bit of body work gets knocked off, in Europe that’s not a problem, wave a yellow flag and send the work experience lad out to pick it up, everyone carries on racing. Not so in America, they throw a full course yellow and everyone slows down behind a pace car, then and this is the bit I don’t get, they send a marshal out in a big Ford pickup truck, who stops next to the bit of  debris picks it up and then drives back. We then have 2o minutes of pits opening, then closing then opening a little bit then all those drivers who weren’t fast enough earlier get waved round to join the back of the leading pack and one lucky driver gets waved round a couple of times. Then race control packs away the coffee things, nips to the toilet, gives the fans a chance to get back form the beer tent (please drink responsibly)  and we go racing again. A typical 2 hour INDY street race can have at best 30 minutes of actual green flag racing.  Don’t even get me started on the “yellow flags for a dirty track but we actually need to have a commercial now” in NASCAR.

You think we have too many safety cars in F1, we have it lucky, we really do.

So yeah, the Circuit of the Americas, a bit of a pretentious name, for a pretentious champion to be re crowned. Anyone following Hamilton’s social media world will have seen his Miami beach buddies photo this week, we are most definitely not in Stevenage now. Still, he’s earned it this year, well really he earned all this with the last two championships, this one has been a bit of a cruise, I think he needs a hand full of points to beat Vettel and maybe a few more to stop Rosberg. Basically a win and he’s done it. anything less and he’ll win it in Mexico. Vettel looks like he’s got the momentum to keep second place in the championship, which sets 2016 up nicely if nothing else. A resurgent Ferrari battling an all-conquering Mercedes. Vettel V Hamilton, the finger versus the bling chains. That could be just a little bit tasty.

Further back Force India are pushing Redbull who are chasing Williams. Last year it was Williams swanking around the pits looking smug and giving it the “check it out ladies” best of the rest smile to the media, they had opportunities to beat Merc but fumbled the ball on the line but still held their heads up high at the end of the year. 2015 was going to be their comeback year to the top step. Except it hasn’t really happened, Valtteri has looked pretty handy at times, but I think the interest Ferrari showed in him rather took Williams eye off the ball and before they knew it Ferrari were past and off up the road without even a cheery wave of thanks. Now Redbull, with a couple of plucky mid seasons runs are starting to give the strategy boys a Williams a few sleepless nights. 

But Force India have finally got they’re car all peachy keen and they’re got Redbull in their sights. If only they can get both of their drivers to have weekend to remember. Imagine the Hulk and Smiles flanking Hamilton on the top step this weekend, wouldn’t that be something to behold, unlikely I know, but we can all dream.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Not as dull as expected shocker.

Well I'll be, that wasn't too bad in the end. Well okay I did fall asleep for a lap or two in the middle. But I've been up since midnight watching the WEC race from Japan which was, by the way an absolute belter.
Okay, well this is going to be a bit short I'm afraid as the France v Ireland game kicks off in a bit so I have to be ready for that.

Firstly congratulation to Mercedes for securing the Constructors world title today, they needed Kimi to t bone Bottas and get a time penalty to achieve it, but let's be honest it was pretty much a forgone conclusion from about Australia wasn't it. Ferrari had a go at making a fight of it, but the only thing that was going to beat them was reliability, certainly not a Renault or Ferrari engine.

Almost but not quite there, Lewis has one hand on the big silver trophy tonight. He needs to beat Nico by 10 points and Sebastian by 2 in the next race in America and he's home free, given how well he's driving at the moment,  I can't see there being much problem for him .. Once again the only thing that could stop him is reliability.  
And that's the tricky one it's the little things inside the cars that's causing problems for Mercedes at the moment, Lewis failed to finish in Singapore for want a 3 penny spring in the engine.  Now Nico fails to finish because of a washer in the throttle control.  Small stuff that ruins the race and can rob a driver of the title, so it's not all cut and dried just yet!

So Lewis inherited his win, but would probably have passed Nico at some point, or not, who knows. He failed to get pole as like everyone else he couldn't dial the car into the circuit. The limited running they all had meant they had to make a few guesses along the way and Lewis operates best when the car is right underneath him. Nico is the one that can take a loose car and adapt his driving style, it's probably the only thing he's better than Lewis at.   But it was all mote when the throttle stopped working on Hamilton's only real opposition, the Williams didn't have the Legs and Vettel was too far back to push the Merc. So it was a relatively easy win in the end, although there was a slight question about the rear win in the closing laps as Lewis reported it might be loose.  See Lady Luck is a cheeky Minx.

Vettel was second and had to remind Kimi just who was in charge. He got the fastest lap at the end chasing Hamilton.

Perez was third and looked like he'd just won the world championship. Okay he had to rely on Kimi taking out Bottas (lots of people will be buying Kimi a beer on the plan home tonight I suspect) but he put himself there with a trade mark "looking after the tyres on a long run" race. Something he's had a lot of practice at over the years and no, it's not pretty but it gets the results and Force India deserves a break.

Massa was largely anonymous driving from the back of the field to fourth, a poor  qualifying  making life difficult for the Williams driver.

Home boy Kvyat was fifth on a bad day for Renault engine drivers.

Nasr has a good run to sixth to remind everyone that Sauber are still there.

Maldonado wasn't the one to smear a Lotus down the wall this week. Hurrah, he was seventh at the end and the team felt he could have tried just a little bit harder.  

Kimi is eventually classified eighth, the stewards gave him a stiff talking too about driving standards and handed him a 30 second "stop, hold and go" penalty. I think he also gets a grid penalty for a third stiff talking too and points on his licence or something. But I'll check that before we get to America.

Button was ninth with a rubbish underpowered dog of a car and engine. The McLaren headquarters has this big atrium area with all the cars they are most proud of, Le Mans winners and the cars Bruce McLaren designed, stuff like that. The 2015 F1 McLaren Honda should be front and centre, the very first car all the employees should see first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Just to remind them how badly they all got it wrong and how it feels to fail so abjectly. No one ever improved looking at the things that went right, you learn from the things that humiliate you in front of the world.

And finally tenth goes to Verstappen because even though Alonso finished tenth on the road, he didn't feel the need to respect the track limits repeatedly even after the stewards told him to stop being so naughty.   So he got a post race five second penalty and Verstappen beat him to the points by 2.786 seconds.  Tough, tough but fair.

Okay last man standing was Will Stevens who is rapidly becoming Max like in his ability to be rubbish.

Right the rugby is about to start so I'll end it there. See you in two weeks for the crowning of a new champion in Texas.  

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Back in the USSR, Crimea a river.

Hello you lovely people.

So the days are getting shorter as the warm summer breeze starts to turn damp and just a bit chilly. It’s the time of year for long walks in the woods, kicking up the leaves, collecting conkers and big roast dinners with the family, then falling asleep in front of the TV and thankfully the F1 circus rocks up to the interminably dull Sochi circuit.  

Russia has many fantastic cities; Moscow with its Red Square, St Petersburg  with the Hermitage and Sochi with its errrr .. with that thing the .. errrum. Oh yeah the industrial truck park round the back. No wait .. there’s that big round international flag thing, yeah that was interesting. A big long corner with no overtaking on it .. yeah. That corner was … well it looked nice, the one between that Aldi super store and Ikea outlet depot. Its supposed to be a the track winding its way through what is apparently the 2014 winter Olympic village, but it just looks like a brutalist theme park to me.
Yet another track shoehorned around an out of town shopping centre to promote a country by showing a really dull 2.4 miles of its car parks.  I mean Russia is a pretty big place, there is an awful lot of it and not an awful lot of people living on vast chunks of it. So why slap a street circuit around one of the least visually appealing ones?

[insert pictures of Dollars here]

Monaco  works because it has the weight of history behind it. Its slap bang in the middle of the city and it uses the landmarks to promote the city. It looks exciting, it looks dangerous and you can see the drivers having to work for their money.
Singapore works because it’s in the middle of the night, its brash bright neon lit, loud, fast, dangerous and exciting. You can’t really see the actual city but you can imagine it behind the floodlights and grandstands as an exciting place to visit. It has mystery and the lure of the orient about it.

Sochi meanwhile, looks like you can get a good two for one offer on cabbages soup, if the highly visible, highly armed and very mean looking troops don’t turn you away first. Oh it looks bright and sparkly new … but would you actually want to go there?

No this weekend has far more interesting things happening than a stodgy old race in Russia, trust me. But I’m afraid you’re going to need satellite TV to catch it, starting at midnight on Saturday we have the Australian V8 from Bathurst. One of the truly great race tracks in the world. An absolutely amazing ribbon of tarmac carved up the side of Mount Panorama in New South Wales. This is a real circuit for real proper drivers with grit and determination. Go and look for it on YouTube, type in Bathurst 1000 and marvel at what a car can do when its driven on the edge of reason round a mountain.

I have a bucket list of races I’m going to attend before the red wine catches up with my liver. Bathurst is front and centre top 3, behind a Le mans hospitality suite and grandstand seats over the start finish line at the Indy 500. As events go, the V8’s round Bathurst has to be seen to be believed. The fans drink enough booze to sink the titanic, they even had to limit the amount of beer being brought onto the circuit to 24 cans per person.

Next up and following right behind the Ozzy V8’s,  round 6 of the WEC from the Fuji international circuit in Japan. Yes I know it’s turning into a bit of a Porsche benefit year, but trust me, it’ll be worth getting up for, Fuji is a beautiful circuit.

Okay, watch those two if you can, then when the F1 start you won’t mind if it’s as dull as an English Rugby second half performance.

Other news … Bernie reckons the whole shebang will be sold off to the highest bidder before the end of the year ! Yes, odd news this, it might just be Bernie dangling a line during a slow news week to the more na├»ve elements of the press pack. But who knows with Bernie! Maybe CVC have had enough of teams asking for more money, they’re currently loading the cars with all the loot they can carry, Kevin has been sent back to check under the sofas in the staff canteen to look for any loose change they may have missed. The Big boss is sitting in the driver’s seat nervously checking his watch, the EU could be round any minute asking difficult questions  and he’s not the one who’s going down for this blag.
If CVC were to sell the right to F1 to some other shadowy group of faceless money men, Bernie would get a whole new shed full of dirty cash and no doubt be left in charge, despite being one hundred and eleventy stupid.  oooh sure Its’s all probably just more Bernie smoke and mirrors .. time as ever, will tell.

Good news for the Lotus peeps. Renault have said they’ll buy the gig and have signed something that keeps her Majesties customs and excise from the door until the end of the season. There is still no actual official announcement on what’s actually been bought and whose paying for what.  There are apparently several creditors with noses out of shape, you’d think they’d be used to that, having bank rolled Maldonado these past two years. One theory is, Renault will withdraw the team for 2016 so there are no Renault engines on the grid, which means they can redesign the whole thing and restart the team in 2017 with a brand new engine thus avoiding the whole tokens/points/money FIA mess thing.

Because they have told Redbull and by extension Torro Rosso what it can do with its engine contract. Tired of being blamed for the teams problems and passed over when  the glory is being handed out, Renault will not be supplying engines to either team in 2016. Now as I’m sure you’re all aware a car without an engine isn’t much of a race car. It’s not really a car at all is it? it’s a sled, and that’s about it. So Redbull have been flouncing around and waving their hands in the air and threatening to hold their breath and generally acting like spoilt children. See they treated Renault appallingly badly for years, and when they went knocking on the doors of other engine manufactures “demanding” no less, that they “give them an engine and it better be damn good mind you”  No company appears to be ready to deal with this petulant team.
They told Audi it had better give them an engine and stop with all the WEC nonsense right away, Audi mumbled something about being busy and winning and not needing the grief. Then VW who sort of own Audi got caught cheating on their road car emission tests and suddenly F1 with a team not known for hushing up engine problems, was not the place for a toxic brand.
So they went to Ferrari who said they had a couple of old units knocking around they could have at cost. Redbull said no Ferrari were to give them the best newest engines for free or they’d tell Bernie Ferrari was being mean. Ferrari laughed and told them to get lost.  
So Redbull knocked on Mercedes door demanding the same engines as the works team and this time they brought Bernie along. But Mercedes are winning and they don’t need the grief either. Bernie wasn’t happy about this and so in Japan, quite unrelated of course you understand, Mercedes who won the race at a canter were strangely absent from our television screens. Mercedes just shrugged and said “No, Redbull are not getting our engines in 2016”.

There’s always Honda I suppose ……. Hahahahahahahahaahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah

Ok, Sochi then, Merc and Ferrari, chased by Redbull and Williams .. Lotus now it’s got some money and Force India with something to prove. Verstappen will be the only thing worth watching if Mercedes don’t get any air time again.

Good luck