Archive for July, 2010

Do we need the new teams?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 by philcurryf1

Bernie Ecclestone has gone on record saying that, apart from Lotus, He wouldn’t miss the new teams in F1 this season. He also suggests that two teams may not make the end of the year.

So what have the new teams brought to the pinnacle of motor racing? Well it can’t be argued they’ve bought a challenge to the established guys that is for sure. But are they simply touring around making up the numbers? Could F1 do without them?

The answer, in my mind anyway, is no.

At the start of the year, three new teams, Lotus, Virgin and HRT entered the fray. With the in-season testing ban, they’ve had to develop their cars at races, while their rookie drivers haven’t had a chance to pound circuits for lap after lap and concentrate on their job, without jumping out of the way for someone. As I’ve said all along, this year will be one long test for teams that may have some experienced staff, but are new to the operations and dynamics of the F1 world.

Yet for too long, F1 was aiming itself at being an exclusive club, and to a general fan, it felt like that too. All the teams spent hundreds of millions of pounds on their seasons, developments, and there was an air that the ordinary fan couldn’t get close. However, the three new teams have succeeded in getting closer to the audience and keeping it this way. Even the now defunct USF1 was looking at producing a series of videos on YouTube, about what goes on at a factory.

Today, interactive media is at its peak. Twitter and Facebook are king. While established teams do have Twitter accounts, they don’t use them that often, and don’t always respond to a direct question. Or, they will use them to promote themselves, sometimes in the face of opinion. Ferrari’s account carried on the talk of a great team job and deserved win for Fernando in Germany despite many fan thoughts to the contrary. Renault and McLaren only seem to tweet when there is something important happening, as do Red Bull.

Of the new teams, Lotus constantly tweet, with information about the team, where they are, what they’re doing. Mike Gascoyne also views his opinions, often from the pit wall during the race. Virgin Racing never stop, and are always answering questions or giving thoughts, not just on what’s happening with them, but also what’s going on in the F1 world and beyond. HRT don’t use twitter, but they have bought in Karun Chandhok, a driver who is always talking, and that’s not a bad thing!

So the new guys have made F1 more open, and by doing this, more interesting to the fans. No longer is the sport an exclusive club, it’s proven that anyone can be involved.

Looking at the on-track action. David Coulthard is constantly criticised by Eddie Jordan for calling the new team battle ‘Class B’. But it isn’t a bad thing. I’m sure Lotus, Virgin and HRT will admit to being unable to beat the more established teams. But as much as I enjoy watching the leaders battle for position, I also enjoy seeing what’s going on at the back. It’s like a second championship – which new team will come out on top.

Then there’s the bet between Richard Branson of Virgin, and Tony Fernandes of Lotus, that whoever comes in behind the other will need to work as a stewardess on the winners airline. Somehow I couldn’t see Martin Whitmarsh and Stefano Domenicalli doing the same thing.

Next year, with a full season under their belts, I expect the new boys to be better, and closer to the midfield. Does F1 need them? Yes – they’ve opened the sport to the fans, and provide some excitement at the same time. Long may they continue.

You can follow the people mentioned in this article on Twitter…

@VirginRacing – Virgin Racing F1 team

@MyLotusRacing – Lotus F1 team

@MikeGascoyne – Mike Gascoyne – Lotus F1 Technical Director

@karunchandhok – Karun Chandhok – HRT F1 Driver

@allaboutf1 – that’s me!

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After you-gate

Posted in Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 by philcurryf1

How many something-gate scandals can we have in F1 this year? There’s been a lot more off-track action in 2010 than any other season I can remember.

The latest, of course, is the incident on lap 48 of the German Grand Prix. Despite all their protests of innocence, it is hard to see how Rob Smedley’s message was not coded team orders. It seems too coincidental that Smedley told Massa that Alonso was faster than him, in a very clear, slow and concise way, then asked if he understood that message, then a couple of laps later Felipe slowed on a straight and Alonso whizzed past. It also seems strange that after holding him off for so long, and battling to keep the lead earlier in the race, he should decide to hand over a victory just like that. Massa could most likely see Alonso was faster earlier in the race, so why did he shut the door firmly after the pit stops?

There are a lot of people crying out that Massa was cheated out of a victory. A year after his life threatening accident just rubs salt into those wounds. But was he? Personally, I believe Alonso would have passed him before the end of the race.

However, Fernando has said that it was better that way, than they crash and get nothing. This to me adds fuel to the team orders fire. The Spaniard is not a slow driver, and not exactly the least talented on the planet. Neither is Massa. I am certain they could have executed an overtaking manoeuvre that was fair while still racing. In that comment, Alonso sells himself short. If we look at Turkey, and the McLaren pair, they diced for position fairly, gave room where they could, and although they barged wheels, it wasn’t a hard whack that ended a race. I firmly believe the Ferrari pair are on that level. To say they could have crashed is nonsense.

So would Massa have won? Probably not. However F1 fans were denied the opportunity to see the two best drivers of the day battling for the lead of the race. Instead, the German GP was processional, and controversial.

Of course, the matter will be looked at by the World MotorSport Council. On this panel will be one Jean Todt, the President of the FIA and former Ferrari team manager. This will be an interesting case to watch. Before he was elected, many (myself included) were worried that Todt would continue the Mosely era, and show some empathy toward Ferrari, as it appeared the FIA had in the past. I have since held my hands up, and admitted my thoughts were wrong. Todt has been very fair in his role, and the FIA more open.

However, all those who have the 2002 F1 Season Review on video, will know about the Austrian GP of that year, and the camera focusing on the former Ferrari Team Manager as he says over the radio “Rubens, let Michael pass for the championship. Let Michael pass for the championship Rubens please.”

Now the man who delivered the most famous public team order in modern F1 must sit and help judge whether his former team were wrong for doing what he once did. To make it worse, the current rule they must debate over was brought in after the actions of Todt and the Ferrari team in that race.

Whatever happens, Ferrari were very wrong in Germany. Wrong to make the order, wrong to believe they needed to, wrong to prevent fans seeing a true battle for the lead, and wrong to insist afterward that they didn’t hand out a team order, and that they wouldn’t.

For the drivers, they are just the innocent party in this. Massa must have realised, as Rubens once did, that his place in the team would be in serious jeopardy if he didn’t comply. For Fernando, he couldn’t exactly slow and crawl behind his team-mate. Mike Gascoyne of Lotus suggested today that Ferrari lose their points from the race, but the drivers keep theirs. That I feel is the fairest penalty of all.

Feel the Force

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22, 2010 by philcurryf1

I’ve written a lot recently about the new teams, or about the goings on in the top four. But what of a team which is, to my mind, performing well yet being overlooked?

Last year, up until Spa, Force India had not scored a point. The team was formally Jordan, until it was sold to Midland, who sold it to Spyker, who then sold it to VJ Mallya to become its current guise. It took a remarkable drive by Fisichella to win their first points, after a poor season with the superior Mercedes engine. Even so, they only finished ahead of the Torro Rosso team, and were considered to be making up the numbers.

This year however, they have plugged on, becoming regular points scorers. While the point placings have been increased down to 10th, Sutil has finished in the top 8 on five occasions. The team is ahead of Williams, Sauber, Torro Rosso and the new constructors in the table, while the German driver is 10th in the drivers standings, ahead of the Renault of Petrov.

I don’t think enough is given to the team, who are now a strong midfield team with high ambitions. Whether they’ll challenge the top five in the constructor’s championship for the rest of the season remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they scored a podium or two before the chequered flag at Abu Dhabi

The halfway point – disappointments

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 by philcurryf1

I’ll be looking at the disappointments and the triumphs of the 2010 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season today, and first, the disappointments.

Felipe Massa – Three seasons driving against Kimi Raikkonen showed that Massa was a serious, ambitious and successful driver, a far cry from his early F1 days when he often chucked a Sauber into the barriers. After his horrific accident last year, many were looking forward to seeing this raw talent take on the might of Fernando Alonso. Yet the Spanish double world champion has strolled in and taken over the team. Rather than compete with him, Massa has fallen back. Yes at the start of the season he was running ahead of Alonso a few times, but he was also holding the Spaniard up. He doesn’t look like the Massa we knew in 2008, and half of 2009. Of all the teams where we expected infighting, Ferrari was high on the list. However Massa has not shown up to the party. I hope he does, and I still believe he is capable of challenging Alonso in an internal team battle.

Kobayashi – He was a driver who we all screamed about when he fought with Button in Brazil, and diced with whoever he could in Abu Dhabi, while only filling in for Glock at Toyota. Yet in the Sauber, he hasn’t shown the same fighting spirit, at least he hadn’t until Valencia. He’s made too many mistakes, caused a few incidents and not pushed the car as much as he did the Toyota. While that may be down to the fragile Sauber, his drives just haven’t made the impact they did in two races last season. Of course, Europe and Britain have gone some way to dispelling that, and I think we’re going to start seeing the fighter again now he has got a couple of good races behind him.

Ferrari – When they were topping all the test sessions prior to the season starting, everyone said Ferrari would walk away with the title this season. This was to be Alonso’s third championship (or Massa’s first). Yet they’ve never converted their pace then into race pace now. They were lucky in Bahrain, although they may still have won, but since then no stand-out results have materialised. They haven’t been able to make the F-Duct work as well as they hoped, and the talk of gaining 7/10’s of a second with their blown rear diffuser has proven to be wide of the mark. Yes it’s made them faster, with good performances at Valencia and in qualifying at Silverstone, but they still haven’t challenged for a win with it. One problem may be with their cooling. There have been numerous times when the cars have had to back away in traffic due to engine temperatures raising.

Michael Schumacher – Yes, ok, I was never a fan of him in the first place, but still I got excited when I heard the rumours that he may sign for Mercedes. Then when it was announced, I looked forward to seeing him battle with Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Massa, Kubica, the modern greats. However, so far the battles we’ve seen him involved in are with the Torro Rosso cars! At the start of the year, I did say that he needed time. Now I think that three years out was too long. He has come back to very different cars, with different tyres, and looks like a rookie, rather than a seven time champion. Will he win a race this year? I don’t think so, if Mercedes do, it’ll be Rosberg.

Mercedes – At the start of the season, every journalist raged about the ‘Top Four’ challenging for the title. Yet there have only ever been three teams looking like being on the highest step of the podium at each race. Last year’s title pace, lack of money through the season and a late ownership takeover seem to have cost Brawn, while bringing Schumacher into the team has translated into great PR, but not great results. The fact that Renault have them in their sights shows how this top four team has become just another contender.

Safety Car Rules – We’ve had two changes to the safety car rules this year already, which shows something was wrong. While I believe (and I have said before on this blog) that Schumacher was rightfully punished in Monaco, I do concede that the rule about the last lap was open to interpretation. I have also said that Hamilton was only just in the wrong, and received the correct punishment – which due to circumstance negated itself. But still, the Safety car should have been deployed in a different manner, so to pick up the leader. At Silverstone, this was done, thanks to a rule change, and seemed to work much better. All we need now is for the pit-lane to close when the SC boards come out…

No HD coverage – I don’t own a HD box of any sort. My TV is apparently ‘HD Ready’ but at present, I have no wish to upgrade my current set-up. But the lack of HD coverage in F1 upsets me. The sport is the pinnacle of motor racing, one of the most technologically advanced in the world, yet FOM have not embraced the new broadcasting options, and don’t look to do so until 2012. By then we’ll have super HD!

The New Teams – Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve said, and will always say, that F1 needs the new teams. They have added some excitement to this season, they boost the numbers and provide opportunities for other drivers to come in. Yet there was a lot of hype surrounding them when they started. All the USF1 fanfare, Virgin using CFD and no windtunnel, the Lotus name back in F1 etc. Each of them hope to get a couple of points, in fact, Tony Fernandes and Richard Branson even made their famous bet, that whichever team finishes lower in the constructors race, the owner will have to serve as a stewardess on the winners airline. It seems that bet will be settled by race positions, rather than points. The teams have not looked anywhere near to scoring this season, and although I do think the tag of ‘class B runners’ is harsh, they are in a different league. Next season however, is when they should improve, and I believe they will.

Do you agree or disagree with my choices? What are your own disappointments? I would love to read your comments, please keep them civil, but don’t hold back too much!

First crashgate, now winggate…

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 by philcurryf1

Are Red Bull favouring Vettel over Webber?

When you read the papers, watch the coverage and link back to what happened in Turkey, it would seem so. But are they really? I don’t think so. Are they naive? Very much so.

History shows that the driver who is ahead in the championship is the one who gets the better treatment. This is etched in the roots of Formula 1, all the way back to the 1950s. Red Bull were simply following this premise, the driver in front gets the best the team can offer.

Unfortunately, Vettel was only in front of Webber by 12 points. Coming up to the halfway mark of the season, that was just not enough of a lead to justify a major change of direction into focusing on one driver. Yet Vettel was in front, so by Red Bull’s own standards, they gave him the new front wing, straight off Webber’s car. Had Mark been in front in the championship, he most likely would have kept the wing. If he hadn’t, then it would be obvious, but we’ll never know.

Should Red Bull have gone down this path however? Not on your life. It was a total PR disaster, one which is going to pull the team apart. Had the crash in Turkey not happened, or the comments afterward not been made, they may have been able to cover any talk of favouritism. But after those events, for the sake of 0.1 seconds, they should have kept the wing on Luscious Liz, rather than Randy Mandy.

The fact is that Vettel was unlucky. The mounting failed and his wing was damaged. It may have been repairable had he not driven back to the pits with it hanging down. Yet bad luck plays a part in F1, and as he had the failure, the option should have been to leave the good, new wing on Mark’s car. It would have settled, rather than instigated, talk of favouritism. But Red Bull’s policy of giving the championship leader the better components should the situation arise when there is only one, has blown open a team, and possibly could hurt their title aspirations.