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.

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