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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Indycar and Dan Wheldon

On the death of Dan Wheldon I have to say that I'm at a loss to really address it in any meaningful way.  I can only give my sympathies to His wife, children and his family and say that from my perspective I was only aware of Dan's abilities in a racing car.

Before he went to F2000 in the US, Autosport used to make much of his abilities in Formula Ford and put him down as a potential future F1 star.

Sadly that opportunity never arose so, from an F1 fan's perspective, I never really got to see him race other than in highlights showing him winning the Indy 500 and read about him as Rookie of the Year and Indy Champ.

I'm afraid that I've never been a great fan of the Indycar series and I'm also very sorry that these accidents seem to be relatively regular in that sport.  In F1 we are lucky that since Imola in '94 we have had no fatalities on the track but in Indycar in the same period there have been 5 deaths, 6 now, and several serious accidents.

I don't know the ins and outs of Indy racing or the safety measures which they have put in place over the years but I would point to Kubica's accident in Canada in 2007, Webber's in Valencia last year, Massa's horrific injury in Hungary 2009, Perez' crash at Monaco this year, and Ralf Schumacher at Indy in 2004.  The level of safety which has been put in place since 1994 is such that, in the majority of cases, the driver's have walked away from accidents which, pre '94 would have been likely to be fatal.

Watching Mosley last night on the news I was struck by the point he was making, that oval racing and the banking evolved due to the fact that the original cars didn't really do cornering particularly well at speed therefore the banking allowed higher speed racing to evolve.

Modern Indycars are well capable of cornering at speed a fact that is evidenced by the number of street circuits on the calendar so really I ask the question "has the series outgrown the ovals?".  Can they not leave them to Nascar and evolve the sport to increase the safety of the cars and drivers and future circuits?

Look at modern F1 circuits in comparison - we've moved on to a state where gravel traps, common in the '90's, are now replaced by large, tarmacked run-off areas; where modern designed circuits are wider and bigger and the fans are moved further and further away.  While I'm not a fan of the Tilke tracks there is no question but they are safer - a little duller perhaps and requiring gadgets like DRS and KERS and degrading tyres to liven them up - but safer.

F1 has its anachronism being Monaco - and these are necessary to celebrate the history of the sport - but Indy has the Indy 500 which could be its anachronistic track - it's bow to the history of the sport.  In light of the sad death of Dan Wheldon perhaps it's time for Indy to move on.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Champion Crowned

Apologies to SebVet for not recognising his achievement earlier - I guess Murray took precedence in my head - probably because it is his second championship so obviously not quite as important to him!!
I have to say he has been massively impressive this season blowing away Webbo as well as the rest of the field.  It's a big contrast to last year where I thought (and hoped) that Webbo would achieve the chamionship.  His form was pretty close if not on par with Sebs and his Red Bull was the better of the two in terms of consistency.

This year he hasn't been at the races at all really.  Where Sebs car has been bulletproof all season he had problems with his KERS and his DRS at nearly all of the first six races after that it seemed to me that he had given up on the season - a shame after everything that he achieved last year.

Seb has driven superbly (though there are still little questions over his ability to race through the pack to a win) and has had the car underneath him to deliver the goods.  Newey has once again produced a sublime piece of machinery, a true world championhip car, and Seb has shown just how good it can be on track.

I just want to say congrats to him and to the Red Bull team and, on the relatively safe assumption that they win the constructor's Congrats to all of the engineers and R & D guys and of course to the kingmaker Mr. A.N. a knighthood can't be too far away.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Murray Walker OBE

Being Irish I'm not one to go around calling Bob Geldof, Sir Bob.  In the same way I wouldn't be calling Alan Sugar, Lord Sugar.  That kind of shtick is another country to most cases.  Murray is a different animal entirely.  Here is a giant of the motor racing scene, a man who deserves titles and praise to be showered down upon him on a nearly daily basis.  Master of the Microphone, the original F1 fanatic, the "Voice" of motor racing, there just aren't enough appellations, nicknames, or titles to go around.

He always commentated on a race in such a manner that, even if you knew nothing about the sport, you could immediately get into what was going on.  It was part of his ethos, as he said in an interview with the Gold Coast Bulletin in 2002:

My target audience in my mind was not the dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool knowledgeable anorak, who would watch anything and listen to anything on the subject. It was the un-committed, uninvolved and probably not very enthusiastic ordinary folks who were watching at home. I wanted to grip them by the throats and say 'Hey look this is fantastic! I love it and you ought to love it too. And here's why!'.

What he brought to the commentary box was his love of the sport and it was he and James Hunt commentating in 1990 that really brought the whole F1 show into clarity for me.  I understood the enjoyment of it and wanted to know more about it.  He gave me an insight into his love for the sport and gave me some of it.

Obviously without Murray there would be no Murrayisms and we all have our favourites, mine particularly came in 1993 when Senna was in the McLaren, obviously the wrong car that year.  At the time James was his co-commentator and Senna was in third place but massively uncompetitive, holding up about seven or eight cars behind him.  He was doing a brilliant job of it though and Murray in his enthusiasm referred to the crocodile building up behind him.  James immediately corrected Murray (which seemed to be a habit of his) saying, in his laconic manner, "I think you'll find it's called a snake Murray".  There were a few moments of silence only punctuated by the engine noise from the circuit and then Murray capitulated.  Obviously James had broken Murray's flow and Murray for a moment only was lost for words.

It wasn't really his Murrayisms that stuck with me though.  The phrase that he used over and over again that stood true up until this year and the introduction of DRS, KERS, and degrading tyres was "As I always say it's one thing catching up to the car ahead, it's another thing entirely to get past".  The last time I thought of it was at Monza when Lewis couldn't get past Michael for lap after lap.  I know Schumi enjoyed that and I bet Murray did too, if he was watching.

Happy Birthday Murray! Thanks for your dedication, your talent and above all for your love of the sport.  I wish you and yours all the best for today and for the future - Are Sky bringing you in as commentator? I'll pay for the Sports package to hear you aurally, with my ears!

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Weekend

My weekend is set up for me by sport.

Tonight it's Rep of Ireland V Andorra in soccer; at the moment every Rep of Ireland match is approached with trepidation because you just can't help feeling that they raise and lower their game depending on their opposition.  I mean...Andorra are a team of semi-professional players so you would expect no problems, but... they did score against us the last time we met.

Tomorrow morning then I'm afraid I have to sacrifice Quali for the Rugby World Cup Quarter Finals between Ireland and Wales.  Quali starts at 6.00am our time but the Quarter Final kicks off at 6.30am so quali will have to be delayed until the match is over and Ireland are victorious!

Senna is out on DVD here today and, having watched it in the cinema I'll have to apologise to my wife but it's one to watch again and again.  It is so well put together and contains so many insights into him and the world of F1 that it will never grow old.

Then, obviously, Sunday morning I'm up with the Sun to gaze adoringly at Suzuka, to race the 130R flat out, and to rejoice in the spectacle, the theatre, and the drama of Japan for probably the last time.  I have to say that I hope Seb gets his championship here on Sunday.  How fitting would it be that this circuit, so often the scene of the final showdown, would see a World Driver's Champion crowned here in the year of such a disaster.

The motorracing mad Japanese deserve all of the best things to happen - to return to life after the struggles, anger and sadness of the past year - Keizoku wa chikara nari

Equal Machinery - Who would win?

The constant speculation surrounding the question: "who is the best?" is one which is rarely answerable in any definitive way. You can talk about number of wins, number of pole positions, fastest laps, championships, etc. but the fact is that no matter who you are, it's likely that you've won the Driver's Championship thanks, in large part, to the fact you've got the best car in the field.

This is why commentators always say that your first job is to beat your teammate.

Still, that too is a bit of a misinformant when it comes to that ultimate question because luck, mistakes, and other outside factors always come into play over the course of a championship.

Look at Button/Hamilton this year, Jenson is ahead on points but then he's also been involved in fewer race ending collisions.  Lewis has had opportunities but has scuppered his own chance at success in a number of them.  But then you can point to Button's immense drive in Canada in changing conditions and, to cloudy the waters even more, his ability to slip past both Hamo and Schumi at Monza while Lewis got caught lap after lap after lap after lap...

Which of them is the best? for Speed probably Lewis, for Experience and Racecraft probably Jenson.  Over the course of a season it doesn't amount to much difference but in a championship winning car it's the difference between the title and none.

Vettel has the best car without a doubt and he is the best driver in the team with the best car...ergo the championship is his to lose. Put everyone in the Red Bull and the championship could go to one of many drivers: Hamo, Button, Alonso, Vettel, Schumi?, Rosberg?, Di Resta (Rookie of the Season so far)?, and maybe even the likes of Kamui, Sergio, et al.

The only thing that's sure is that the stars of today are the veterans of tomorrow and they'll be replaced with someone younger, faster, fitter, and more exciting.  Who's the best driver on the gird? Over a single qualifying lap - Old school with fresh soft rubber and fumes in the tank - it has to be Jarno Trulli!

Monday, October 3, 2011

William's Worst ever Season

With 5 races left Frank and Patrick are facing their worst ever result in the history of Williams in F1 - and that includes 1978, where they scored no points and only ran in 7 races.  If the points system were the same Williams would be on 0 points for the season.

Where has it all gone wrong for the Grove?  This will be the first time since 1978 that they've finished in 9th place.

The rot would appear to have set in around 2004 when the team finished 4th in the constructor's championship.

At the time the result would have been identified as a blip on the William's Radar in the same way as the 5th place in 1999 was.  At least there was an excuse for that '99 result - Mecachrome engines and the worst driver line-up of Schumacher (R) and Alex Zanardi (he of the steel brakes).

So what happened at Williams in 2004 and since? What has caused this spectacular collapse in form? Can it be addressed and everything made right again?

Three things of note appear to have occurred within the team in 2004; the first was the appointment of Sam Michael as Technical Director and Patrick Head moving to the position of Director of Engineering; the second was the opening of the team's second wind tunnel; and the third was the Walrus Nose (Yes - THAT nose!).  As well as these it was announced early in the season that Montoya would be moving to McLaren for 2005 and Ralf, of course, went to Toyota.

Of course the FW26 was also a relatively radical departure from the team ethos in that it was a brand spanking new car rather than a derivative of its predecessor which had been the most competitive of the BMW-Williams partnership.  The FW26, designed by Gavin Fisher, was further limited due to the fact that the BMW engine now had to last the full race weekend.

Nonetheless, the FW25 ('03) and the FW26 ('04) were both new cars out of the blocks but while the FW25 performed and brought the team 2nd place in the constructor's,the FW26 only brught the team 3 podiums, including the win in Brazil.

Antonia Terzi left her post as Chief Aerodynamicist in November 2004 and was replaced by Loic Bigois (ex-Prost designer).

One other thing of note happened in 2004 - the demise of the Jaguar Racing Team - in 2005 Red Bull Racing entered the F1 feeding frenzy.

With Montoya and R Schumacher gone the driver line up for 2005 was Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld.  BMW and Williams fell out very publicly with each blaming the other for poor results. One of the rumours around the paddock that year was that BMW refused to allow Williams to utilise the engines power to its fullest extent during the race weekend, effectively installing a limiter on the engine revs. This due to the Rule Change which now required each engine to last 2 GP weekends.

Each team was also limited to one set of tyres to last both Quali and the Race event, in order to reduce cornering speeds.

The FW27 was the first outing of a car designed by Sam Michaels, Gavin Fisher, and Loic Bigois.  It was not as aerodynamically sound as some of its competitors, and if we take the rumours as fact, unable to make full use of the Beemer engine.  The car scored some good results but flattered to deceive, taking 2nd and 3rd at Monaco from the Renault of Alonso on bald tyres and a full fuel tank. No wins and 5th in the championship.

2006 was even worse.  8th in the constructor's.  Rosberg (Nico) came into the team while Heidfeld moved with BMW to Sauber.  A Cosworth Engine in the FW28, Gavin Fisher was fired as Chief Designer due to te 2005 results and was replaced by Jorg Zander (Toyota and BAR).

Now we had Sam Michaels in his second year as Tech Director, and ex-PIG (I mean Prost) aerodynamicist and a Chief Designer who had put in work on the conspicuously absent Toyota and BAR F1 wagons (Funny that BAR won its first GP in 2006 with Geoff Willis, ex-Williams chief aero).  How was the year going to work out? Obvioiusly poorly. No podiums and few points.

See where this is going?


Can we put it down to Sam Michaels - old to the game but new into the role?

In 2007 Webbo left the team to join Red Bull Racing and was replaced by Alex Wurz who had been test driver the previous year (good in his day but many years out of the racing game at this stage). Toyota engine. Limited testing. No Michelin Tyres.

The FW29 was designed by Sam and Loic.  Jorg Zander had resigned in 2006 and had joined up with BMW at Sauber.  A much improved performance but only one podium and 4th place in the championship.

2008 and the FW30 is designed by Sam and Jon Tomlinson (Jordan followed by the Championship Renaults). Loic goes to Honda in 2007. Kazuki Nakajima is brought in for Wurz.

The 2008 season was up and down for Williams. Rosberg managed 2 podiums in Australia and Singapore but the car struggled at circuits with high speed corners. The team switched to developing the 2009 car (where new regulations come in) mid-season and they finished 8th.

2009 and Rosberg is now an old hand, Nakajima just hasn't cut it but is still racing. The FW31 is another "from scratch" car because o the wholesale rule changes and everyone is trying to find their feet.  Perhaps the reason why Brawn GP spectacularly manages to capture both crowns.  Red Bull show their hand also.

This is a difficult call to make.  In '09 they come 7th but the entire season is riddled with innovation and creation and I think the season turned into a bit of a lottery in respect of a number of teams sailing close to the wind in design terms.

Nico got a number of points finishes and all the points and if Nakajima had been capable the team might easily have been 5th respectably behind Mclaren and Ferrari.

2010 they come 6th with the FW32 Cosworth.  Reubens and Nico Hulkenburg are in the driver's seats.  It's the tightest world championship in years with RBR, Mclaren, and Ferrari all looking to take the constructor's, nevertheless the 69 points puts them firmly in the second tier of constructor's.

What changes have been made since? well we know that Sam Michael is now gone to be replaced by Mike Coughlan in 2012, this should bring stability to the team in that he's a good guiding hand (regardless of his prior history).  If only the team could take on two strong drivers - guys who can finish GP's and who can race for position.  I love Reubens as a driver but I think the spirit is weakening - his desire is waning on the basis that he's driven uncompetitively since 2009.  Maldonado too is not an option - he's just not good enough. What is needed is a pairing like Webber and Coulthard in the early RBR.  Rip it all up and start again - Good tech data providers, older, strong drivers who can set up a car reliably, a bulletproof engine, a balanced car and write off 2012 and perhaps 2013 with a view to 2014.

William's have the track record (pardon the pun) and just need to be a little more patient.  I think Sam Michaels is excellent - perhaps just not quite ready for tech director. If the will is there Coughlan can steer the team back to success.  I'd cross check that second wind tunnel data though - just for the sake of accuracy!!