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Monday, March 31, 2014

Let Them Race: Malaysia, Williams & Team Orders

I have to preface this post by saying that I'm a huge Williams fan. Ever since I first started watching F1 the racing heritage, the competitive spirit, the all-consuming love of the sport and the hard but fair attitude of Frank and the Williams Team has attracted my attention and support & whilst for a few years, being Irish, my allegiance shifted wholly to the Jordan Team, my affection for the team was always such that I rejoiced in watching Mansell, Prost, Hill, Button, et al driving the Williams cars and always appreciated the engineering talent of the team.

I was devastated both for myself and for the team on that fateful day at Imola in 1994 and was angered over the Italian persistence in seeking to apportion blame to the team for what was an horrific and massively upsetting racing accident.

Over the last few years I would think that my desire to see the Williams Team back at the front where they truly belong matches that of the team itself and the frustrations of the last two years where the performances have failed to match up to the team's potential have, this season, vanished in the renewed optimism derived from the signing of Felipe Massa, the retention of Valtteri Bottas, the magnificent boost of pre-season testing and the storming drive of Bottas at Melbourne after his puncture.

Massa leads Bottas in the closing stages of the Malaysian GP in contravention of Team Orders
Photo Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
And so to Malaysia where, in the terrible and equalising conditions presented during qualifying, the driver's couldn't get themselves out of Q2 and ended up 13th and 15th on the grid, with Bottas losing a further 3 places for, what appeared to be a relatively innocuous level of impeding Daniel Ricciardo through Turns 14 & 15.

Nonetheless, come the start of the race the two drivers stormed up the field with Massa up to 8th by lap 4 and Bottas two places behind in 10th.

And the cars in front of them throughout the race? Two Mercedes, two Red Bulls, one Ferrari, one Force India and one McLaren.  Hulkenburg in the Force India qualified in 7th and simply held position, with a two pitstop strategy in order to gain 5th at the end, both Magnusson and Ricciardo having troubles which promoted Nico up to fifth.

I'm not detracting from the hard work Hulkenburg had to undertake to keep everyone behind him, or from the pace of the car which allowed him build a considerable lead over Button behind. I'm simply positing the fact that, should the Williams have qualified in a similar position they too would have been able to race for the top 5 points scoring places.

Then in the closing stages of the race, with Massa holding 7th and Bottas behind in 8th, the call came repeatedly from the pitlane to Massa that Bottas was "faster" and to allow him overtake in order to chase down Button (around 1 second up the road).

This was a devastating imposition of team orders that, in my opinion (humble or otherwise), Felipe was completely right to ignore. He had been chasing Jenson most of the race and, after the final set of pitstops, had caught right up to the McLaren but was unable to pass.

Both cars carry Mercedes engines, both cars are being driven by massively experienced veteran drivers and it seemed that the Williams simply could not carry enough speed into and through the DRS zones to enable Massa to carry out an overtaking opportunity that would stick.

What, with 6 laps to go, made the pitlane think that Bottas could do better? First he would have to overtake Massa safely, then close the 1.5 second gap that had grown up between 6th and 7th place, and only then, if Jenson Button had not taken advantage of the orchestration going on behind him, would he have an opportunity to consider overtaking the McLaren.

All-in-all it was a highly unlikely scenario and one which I do not believe Frank would have approved of at such an early stage of the season.

The post-race defence, that Bottas would have given the place back if he was not successful, was not clarified in the pit-to-car communication and would be very hard to control assuming that Bottas might have a chance to overtake all the way around the final lap.

A pecking order within a team cannot be considered at such an early stage of the season. Last year at this very race, should we forget, was the "multi 21" saga which cast such a shadow over Sebastian Vettel's season that he had to contend with booing at a number of races, up to and including Australia two weeks ago. On the other side, Nico Rosberg, at the same race, was told to hold station behind Hamilton even though he was much faster. Nico made it clear that he would expect the favour to be returned.

I accept that Williams are in a difficult position at the moment, seeking to maximise points in the early stages of the season where their car is likely better than the cars carrying Renault & Ferrari engines.

The urge to control races and their driver's racing is therefore very strong, but they must desist from micro-managing the point's haul.

Let the driver's race and trust them to show good and proper sense when it comes to overtaking each other.

Insist they hold station in the final 8 laps simply to ensure a points haul, and

Do not instill a pecking order until such time as one driver has a clear advantage over his team-mate.

Simple rules that every driver will understand and appreciate.

Felipe Massa has been given enough team orders in his lifetime.  He is definitely a top class driver and I've been arguing since March 2011 that he needed to get out of Ferrari in order to rediscover the scintillating form he showed in 2008 when he was robbed of the Driver's Championship by a combination of Crashgate and Timo Glock.

He is now in a team that needs him to extract the best from himself and one which at the moment seems to be in a strong position to have a good season. The last thing either he or the team needs is to feel that they do not have each other's full support.

I don't know who made the decision to call Felipe but I do not see how that call was in the best interests of the team: it certainly wasn't in the best interests of Felipe Massa.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Melbourne was a good race...when there was racing!

But is it really F1?

Yes there is the matter of the engine sound (or distinct lack thereof) but there are other far more fundamental questions that need to be asked about the direction our sport is taking.

I mean our drivers appear to be car managers rather than racing drivers under the new rules. They manage tyres; they manage fuel; they manage KERS and DRS; so, when do they actually manage to race each other?

Answer: when they've managed to manage everything to a point in the "race" where they can be sure that their tyres won't give out and their fuel won't run out.

I'm just not convinced that this is what F1 should be aspiring to.

Even worse than all of the foregoing is the absurdity of limiting fuel usage to a maximum of 100kg/hr. This is what saw Daniel Ricciardo being disqualified from a well deserved second place in the first race of the season. Our sport is limiting fuel AND fuel consumption!

Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from second place for exceeding maximum permitted fuel consumption rates.
Pure Madness!
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images, published courtesy of Infiniti-Red Bull Racing
What is the purpose of this insanity? To appear greener?

As I was considering F1 last week a friend put this idiocy in its proper context:

We have 22 cars racing on up to 20 tracks per year. The teams rack up a massive number of air miles and road miles over the course of the season which completely environmentally outstrip any miniscule damage being done by the cars themselves on-track.

He's absolutely right, if you're going to do something about the environmental impact of F1 then the F1 circus should address this issue rather than emasculating the cars themselves to a point where they are little better than GP2 material.

I don't mind the engine size, I celebrate the return of turbo and applaud the installation of electric batteries; all of these changes are commendable, to a point. but we had 1.5L turbos in the 1980's and, as the above friend pointed out, they sounded brilliant! They gave F1 a distinctive and loud engine sound.

Can anyone explain to me how all these changes are good for the sport? They may reduce it's envionmental impact by a teensy, weensey marginal amount but that has nothing to do with it being good for the sport.

There will be those that argue that F1 was becoming irrelevant to the engine manufacturers and that may have been true but those same manufacturers would still learn shedloads from a 1.6L V6 Turbo F1 engine with two electric batteries attached that is neither limited on fuel or fuel consumption which would translate down to their hybrid cars being constructed on the factory floor.

I don't want to come over all Jeremy Clarkson on this issue but Crikey! These changes are about as logical as giving the inmates control over the asylum. Let's put the racing back into Formula 1 racing for crying out loud!

Melbourne & Engine Noise

Watching Melbourne I was amazed to hear the tyres squealing under braking; it's a sound that I have very rarely heard before because it was generally, completely masked by the engine's roar.  

I was astonished to hear it at Melbourne and, to tell the truth, I am not in the least surprised that the race organizers are looking for some kind of compensation for the spectacle of near silent cars travelling at reduced speeds around a track while fuel saving madly for half the race.

The City of Melbourne may have a love/hate, contentious relationship with F1 but it may be that this level of change may be a step too far and could tilt the question of Melbourne's future in favour of the naysayers.

Formula E

It is madness to continue down this road when the FIA are already bringing Formula E to the track this year. Why am I actually looking forward to this series? Because it will do exactly what it says on the tin. All the cars will be electrically powered. This will give a huge boost to electric vehicle technology which is currently limited by distance vs need to recharge. If the Formula E cars can be recharged in 90 seconds in the pits in 2015, which is what the FIA were predicting last year, then essentially the main obstacle to the sale of Electric vehicles will have been overcome and surely the Formula E car technology will push improved engine design and output, should this series gain enough popularity.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Pre-Melbourne Musing

I know it's been a long time between posts but with all of the rule changes and the pre-season testing fiasco's out of the way I have one or two thoughts about the season to come that I thought I'd commit to paper (well e-paper!).

The first obviously concerns Red Bull who have suffered three disastrous tests in Jerez and Bahrain.  The Renault engine would appear to be the least competitive on the grid over the pre-season but there's no question but there are other problems affecting the car in terms of its packaging.

We all know that Adrian Newey is fastidious when it comes to packaging all the various elements of an F1 car under the skin and this space-saving has, in the past, created problems which the team have had to overcome. Invariably they have done so and have come out the other side stronger than ever. Why should we expect it to be any different this time around?

Red Bull: not a pre-season to write home about!
(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

It is likely to be a difficult start to the season for them but I would be confident that, by the time they get to Europe, Newey will have expelled the gremlins from the machine.

Based on pre-season times, which tend not to be indicative of true pace, the Renault engine will not be the fastest on the grid but I would expect Red Bull to be leading the French Marque's charge by mid-season.

The other possibility is, of course, that Red Bull suffer the way McLaren did last year.

Seeing another top team suffer an Annus Horribilis as they struggle to keep pace with the front-runners is not a prospect that I look forward to. I would prefer to see the teams at the back catch up to the front four rather than watch one of the front four fall back into the pack: the latter is a temporary spectacle that does nothing for the sport whilst the former represents a marked improvement that can result in spectacular and unpredictable races.

The pre-season engine has definitely been the Mercedes with both the Marque team, Williams and Force India indicating that it will be the engine to beat in the coming season. But what of McLaren?

Mercedes Engines have been looking good in pre-season
(and of course Bahrain will be under lights)
Photo copyright of Mercedes
I'm not sure that they are getting the same level of co-operation from their engine supplier as they did over the course of the last few years.  I've seen the reports where Mercedes have been saying that their commitment to the team is as strong as ever and that it will remain so until such time as it is in their interests to distance themselves from a team which is taking on Honda engines next year but I have to wonder, on the strength of pre-season if Mercedes attention has now refocused onto Williams. After all Toto Wolff has a history with Frank and his wife is third driver for the team and will be given FP1 time this year.

Perhaps McLaren will have to endure another depressing year struggling to keep up with Williams and Force India before finding their feet in 2015 with the new Honda Works engine. That of course is predicated on the expectation that Honda will come out of the box at a sprint. All other engine suppliers will have had this coming year in the cars to learn and improve, Honda will be starting from scratch.

With such a strange preseason the joke has been going around that most of the cars won't see the chequered flag in Melbourne but underneath the pithy tweets and news reports there is an underlying seriousness which wonders if the event that we are all looking forward to, the 2014 season opener, will be less spectacle and more fiasco!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Marshal killed at Canadian GP

I would just like to express my condolences to the family of the 38 yr old Marshal who died at the Canadian GP.

As all of you know, without these dedicated Marshals who do this dangerous work for the love of the sport, there would be no Formula 1.

These days such accidents are few and far between and I think the last time a Marshal was killed at a GP was 2001 in Australia when the wheel of Villeneuve's BAR passed through a gap in the safety fencing.

I trust that, regardless of the accidental nature of yesterday's fatality, all of the circuits will review their vehicle recovery procedures to ensure the health and safety of everyone on the scene.

May he rest in peace.

Vettel Booed on Podium

This is the second time this season that Sebastian Vettel has been booed on the podium.

The first race of the season saw the Australian crowd react badly to him though it was not as audible as at yesterdays podium ceremony.

I'm not in favour of this kind of behaviour, regardless of each individual's right to express his/her opinion.  In the same way that I don't agree with drivers cursing during live, post-race interviews I think that the winner of a GP deserves to be given due respect for the fact that he has raced and won that day.

I'm not a huge fan of Vettel and certainly I'd prefer Mark Webber beat him more consistently but the fact is that he blitzed all competition yesterday and for that deserves to be rewarded by the crowd showing a bit of respect.

Fans of F1, by their nature, tend to be well informed about their sport and it is not uncommon for each fan to support more than one team and more than one driver.

I, for instance, give a lot of my support to Williams, Button, Webber, Ferrari, Sauber, Massa, Raikkonen, and Rosberg but I also have a lot of time for Bianchi, Hamilton, Bottas, Mercedes and McLaren.  Then there are Team Principals and Tech Directors who are of interest culminating with (of course) Adrian Newey.

So while I may not be a great fan of Red Bull Racing I have an interest in them from my support of Webber and my awe of Adrian Newey.

Sebastian may not be the most loveable of characters but a lot of that is based on his success and success does not deserve to be booed.

For me there were only two occasions in all the time I've watched F1 where booing was acceptable, the first was the 2002 Austrian GP podium which was shambolic and the second was also in 2002 at Indianapolis.  Funnily enough it was Michael Schumacher who was deserving on both occasions - and I was a big supporter of MSC from his very first appearance with Jordan in the 191.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dr. Gary Hartstein on his time in F1

All video's today.

I haven't seen this one but will be watching it later to see if he has said anything about the way in which he was pushed out.  He expressed his anger quite forcefully on twitter after being replaced and did say he'd be giving his side of the story at a later date.