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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's quite disappointing really...

Believe me when I say that I remain an avid fan of F1 no matter how much I complain about it.  I say this, of course, to preface some further remarks which will cast further aspersions on the sport and those involved in its day-to-day operation.

It seems to be okay for the likes of Bernie et al to voice their concerns about the direction in which the sport is moving but I've noticed that few, if any, of the reputable journalists deign to provide their own opinion on these matters.  What I read tends to parrot the comments of Bernie, Alonso, Kimi, etc. without ever straying into the realms of how they themselves might institute changes to improve the formula.

I understand that their fates and their futures are tied up in the sport and it is not therefore in their interests to be seen to be partisan towards one rule change or another.  It is also true that there is not much point in them being seen to criticise elements such as degrading tyres, fuel management, or DRS, as these things have now taken root in the sport and as such must only be reported upon.

Journalists would say that it is their job to report the news as it happens, to be impartial and that criticism of the sport is outside their purview, only relevant to the likes of columnists rather than serious journos, and technically, I guess they would be right, however wouldn't it be interesting were some of the journalists to mention, in their race reports, what percentage of overtaking was carried out under DRS or how many laps in the race were run by each team on "fuel-saving" mode?

Last weekend's race was a little more exciting than anything we've seen to date because there were quite a few non-DRS overtakes carried out, primarily on the final corner into the DRS zone.  So, whilst the overtakes were carried out without DRS they were completed with the DRS flap wide open and I wondered if that would be counted as a DRS assisted overtake?

I do note Joe Saward's position on giving time to the "new" formula and perhaps in another situation I would agree with that practice but it is my belief that if F1 is to retain its crown as the peak of motorsport it must be the situation that the drivers and cars are racing 100% of the time.  I believe that it is anathema to have a race situation where they must lift and coast in order to save fuel, except where in-race refuelling is allowed and the team are working to a particular strategy.

Racing at 100% tests the driver, tests the engines and tests the team and it is ridiculous to find a team in the situation where they are given a 25 place penalty on a grid of 20 cars because of engine changes.  I'm all for creating a robust engine that serves 3 race weekends at a time, but the sanctions imposed by a 4 engine rule are way out of proportion and serve only to penalise teams unfairly.  Do they not realise that such penalties could drive smaller teams into liquidation because it would impact upon their TV coverage and thus their advertising potential?

Of course those are other matters which you know I can gripe on about but this one is all about those professions that rely on the sport for their income.  It is vital that they start opining more if we are ever to see real improvement.  For the fans and for the good of the sport I formally request F1 journalists to publicly give their two cents to the ongoing discussion on the future of the sport.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I've been whittering on and on about the state of F1 for years now; the state of the tyres, the DRS, the reliance on artificial racing, gimmicks and gadgets and, for the last two years about how the sport has gone from hero to zero in terms of speed, physicality and pure racing.

At the same time I've talked about falling attendances at races, the introduction of ridiculous newly constructed tracks which do nothing for racing, the huge costs to the circuits and Fans of hosting and going to an F1 race and the fact that F1 is moving away from its European heartland in order to rake in extra cash.

Well it's time for it to stop!

Over the past three weeks we've been hearing Bernie bemoan the fact the sport is no longer attractive to fans, we've seen the teams and the heads of sport start talking about fundamental changes and now we have drivers and ex-drivers admitting that the sport has lost its way over the past 6 years and needs to get back to its prime function - racing and the love of racing.

It has seemed like a cry in the wilderness for the last few years, like nobody has been listening to the fans and have simply pressed ahead with their own agenda regardless  but now we have Alonso and Coulthard both admitting that they pretty much hate where F1 is  you can read their comments here and here.

Gods above I hope they get it right this time around!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"You're going to have to come up with another plan!"

Where would F1 be without the DRS system?

There is no question but that the vast majority of overtaking now relies on the Drag Reduction System zone to make a move stick.  It is my belief that the very fact that the system is in use has reduced the competitive nature of the drivers themselves.

This may well be happening unbeknownst to them.  How much easier is it when you're driving a better car to simply drive into the 1 second window and await the DRS deployment zone before dispatching the car in front.  There's no real impetus to overtake anywhere else on the track - unless you are recovering from a bad grid position or a spin.

Have you noticed how much overtaking a driver in one of the front-running cars can do when he's racing through the field to get into the points? They overtake everywhere and get away with it because they catch the guy in front by surprise. Nobody overtakes around the outside of the 130R! Nobody dares to overtake going into Eau Rouge! Who would overtake you in the twiddly section of Hockenheim? Nobody, that's who!


...if he started at the back of the grid and he's trying to chase down the top 6 cars you notice that the driver's racing abilities somehow come back to him; he chases, he feints, he brakes late, accelerates early, takes different lines through the corners, and...He Passes! And then he goes haring down the road looking for the next victim and does it all over again!

The more I think of it DRS is limiting F1 drivers because it is serving as a replacement to overtaking rather than as a aide to overtaking. It limits their natural racing instincts by providing a substitute which removes their natural desire to muscle their way past the guy in front.

I thought this was illustrated perfectly, once again, in Barcelona (a circuit on which it has always been difficult to overtake) when Lewis, having come out of the pits behind Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari was told on the radio that he'd have to pass him on the track:

Lewis Hamilton's race engineer: "We're going to have to this [overtake Vettel] on track, mate." Hamilton: "I can assure you that's pretty much impossible to do, so you're going to have to come up with another plan."

It turned out that they did come up with another way to get out ahead of Sebastian, but Lewis had simply stated the truth, there was no way he would be able to overtake the Ferrari ahead of him on the track!

It was a confession that copperfastenes my belief that the sport has lost its way and is now over-reliant on gimmicks to maintain its appeal.  It is the equivalent of putting sticky tape over a crack - it doesn't fix the crack, it just means you can't see it anymore.  Well, unless F1 exposes the cracks and tries to fix them the whole house is going to come down on their heads.

Its time to focus the sport on speed, agility and ingenuity. Its time to tear up the rulebook and give the designers and engineers carte blanche to produce cars that can live up to the title "The Pinnacle of Motorsport".

By way of an addendum, I note that the drivers are launching a fan based discussion on social media over the Monaco Weekend on how F1 could be improved. I look forward with interest to seeing how that will be presented and how much traction it will have with the FIA, the team owners, and the sport's governing body.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sparks Fly

I don't care whether one team dominates F1 for a long period of time. I've watched Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull dominate the sport without it ever affecting my enjoyment so Mercedes is welcome to control the sport for the next five years as far as I'm concerned, as long as there is a competitive grid behind them.

I say this because it is not the fact of Mercedes dominating that upsets me, it is that the powers that be have messed with the formula so much, in order to open it up to a wider audience, that what is left is no longer primarily about racing it is about "the spectacle"!

And this is exhibited nowhere better than the fact that sparks flying from beneath the cars at Bahrain seemed to attract more comment than the actual race itself.  The replacement of the old block undertray with a titanium one was nothing more than a cynical exercise to create a "spectacle" reminiscent of the late 1980's/90's.  It would appear to have achieved its stated intent.

It did not however improve the racing.  Watching the highlights programme last night left me in no doubt that there were very few highlights to watch.  I haven't watched the Bahrain GP for four years now because of the political situation in that country but I did watch the highlights last night simply because I wanted to see if the circuit provided a halfway decent race.  It would seem not.

But it did bring home to me exactly why the current formula isn't working for me.  In the old days the team strategies were simple to understand.  Apart from the obvious need to pass the person in front of you the strategies fell under one heading; fuel.

You set your car up to run light or heavy and you made your pit stops accordingly.  You either worked out that a three stop strategy, running on lighter fuel, would get you to the end faster than your opponents or you might gamble that a one stop would get you to the end in a better position than where you started.

It was simple and at the same time fascinating! You could see someone like de Cesaris in a Tyrell starting in 12th and trundling his way around to 5th/6th by doing only one stop.  The car would be out of position for most of the race whilst all those around it flew past time and again, on their three stop strategies, but after the third pitstop, when everyone was on equal fuel levels he'd be sitting pretty with a 10 second gap to the car behind and 12 laps remaining.

As a viewer I could grasp the different strategies and appreciate how they were implemented and I could also appreciate when one of the top teams changed their strategy mid-race.

Pit stops made sense when the cars were being refueled.  The difference in pitstop times between a three stop and a two stop were fundamental to the strategy because the amount of time the car was sitting in the pits was significant.  On some tracks the strategy would be clear because it was obvious that two stops would be 10 seconds faster overall, but on others it was muddled and teams would shift between two and three with the outright speed of the car being the only essential difference.

My point is that I could understand the strategies because I could see them being played out, because I could participate.  The current situation is such that we are not participants in the team strategies because we are not participants.  We are told that Hamilton is fuel-saving and we hear Rosberg being told to manage his tyres, but we are not actively engaged in the team strategies, we are passive, viewing it without really understanding why.

The problem, for me, would appear to be that I cannot engage with the idea of fuel saving in the middle of a motor race.  Fuel saving is anathema to racing, as is tyre management.  Motor racing shoujld be about getting out there and driving the car as fast as it is capable of going until it falls apart around you.  Push the machine over the line if you have to, but don't save fuel or tyres in the middle of a race.

The refueling era gave us the "splash and dash" of cars running to the fumes and then, right at the end, ducking into the pits for a three second splash of fuel to get around the last 5 laps. Fresh tyres on and 15 litres to burn the cars would then swoop out of the pits and hunt down everyone who had overtaken them.  On old rubber they were easy meat.  Their tyres weren't going to fall off a cliff, they were more than adequate to get them to the end of the race, but new rubber combined with a light fuel load was a deadly combination that lead to some spectacular racing: spectacular overtaking and defensive driving.

As Murray used to say - "it's one thing catching them, its another entirely to get by".

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

If I want to watch car, tyre and engine management I can film myself driving to work!

So far this season I have to admit that once again I am not enamoured by the way F1 is going.  To me the races seem very static and immensely boring and, unfortunately it was the same again in China.

You can always forgive Melbourne, because that's where the cars, drivers and engines get their first taste of racing and the cracks tend to show up - as they did again this year.

But when the only excitement - other than DRS enabled overtaking - is Jenson battling his way through the corners with numerous better cars, in a phenomenally bad McLaren Honda, for 14th position then you know that there is something seriously wrong.

One thing that certainly felt, and sounded, wrong was Nico's call to the pits around Lap 20 regarding a slowing Lewis Hamilton up ahead.  The real story for me was not the complaint that Lewis was slowing but rather that Rosberg started complaining that if he couldn't stay 2.5 seconds behind he would get into the dirty air and wreck his tyres!

Nico, leave the management of the car to the team and just go racing!
Photo courtesy of Mercedes AMG Petronas

Instead of complaining about his slowing team-mate why didn't Rosberg take the opportunity to attack and try to overtake? Isn't that what racing is all about? Have I lost something in translation?

And this is exactly what is wrong with F1.  Nico is meant to be a racing driver, not his team-mate's shadow and not a manager.  He's supposed to be trying to win the race ON THE TRACK, not on tyre strategy, not by the dreaded "undercut" but actually on the track.

The excitement of a Grand Prix is watching wheel-to-wheel battles on the track, sparks flying from the undercarriage of the cars as two racing drivers speed downhill into the corner each wondering who will be the last of the late brakers.

If I want to watch car, tyre and engine management I'll film myself driving to work and look at it later!

Formula 1 is meant to be the pinnacle of motorsport, not just the pinnacle of engineering.  It is meant to be a sport. The drivers must compete against each other on the track as well as in the expensive shacks out in the paddock.  It is their responsibility to provid us with an on-track spectacle, the sight of the worlds best drivers battling for position, fighting to achieve everything that can be achieved.

The best of these guys are paid very handsomely by the teams to wring the most out of the cars and we should be seeing that happen every racing weekend.  Instead we are being shortchanged.

We are being treated to the sight of drivers in "fuel-saving mode", drivers "harnessing Energy Recovery", and drivers "managing tyres". We have drivers unable to drive flat out because they have to manage their engines due to the fact they have been limited to 4 engines per season.  

What has any of this got to do with racing? Nothing

Do we remember the furore a couple of years ago that the engine manufacturers were going to quit F1 unless it was made more relevant to their road car business? Well this is the result.  F1 is now becoming nothing more than a test bed for road cars, rather than a motor-racing series.  They got relevance and we lost racing.

I hate to go all Jeremy Clarkson on it but motor-racing is supposed to be fun isn't it? It's not supposed to be about boring, everyday concerns like fuel saving, tyre conservation, or engine management.

I want drivers to drive to the limit. I want the cars to be set free from the artificially imposed shackles of a maximum fuel allowance. I want the teams to design cars that will set an unfettered fastest lap and I want drivers to be encouraged to beat that lap-time. I want Formula 1 to organise its race schedule to reduce its carbon footprint in a realistic way rather than impose pathetic power units on the cars as a public but ultimately pointless sop to the green brigade.

Let's face it, 18-24 cars doing 56 laps flat out around a circuit is having minimal impact on the environment when compared with 12 teams, numerous TV stations, etc, carting their staff and equipment from Billy to Jack by air without considering how they could do it better.

Take of the shackles, release the drivers and the cars and bring me some adrenalin-pumping, petrol-burning, ear-splitting, high-octane car racing.

How would I do it? Simple -

  • Keep the 1.6 turbo - get rid of the batteries!
  • Forget tyre compounds - one dry tyre, one intermediate and one wet.  The slick should be capable of lasting the entire race.
  • Bring back refueling and the option of not having to refuel. Choice is the essence of strategy.
  • Get rid of KERS and keep DRS.
  • Measure the wake of an F1 car at top speed and enable DRS once the following car is within that wake. Let the driver decide whether to open it or not.
  • Penalties must be taken on Raceday they do not carry over to the next race.  Penalties that are not taken on the track are punished financially.  The team pays for penalties relating to the car, the driver pays for driver error, and finally
  • Ban racing on most Tilke tracks - they are too wide, too boring, and do not seem to encourage good racing.

We can only hope that Europe saves F1 again this season, though with F1 failing to save Europe's best, historic racing tracks the days of F1 might well be numbered.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Magny Cours, Hockenheim, Nurburgring, Monza...Is this the end of F1 Europe?

It is with despair that I read that Germany will not be hosting a GP this year. The Nurburgring, one of the most iconic of all GP tracks was unable to sort itself out of the financial mire and Hockenheim, which stepped in to try and recover the deal could not sell enough tickets to make the event profitable, even with some financial support from Mercedes, the current holder of both the Constructor's and Driver's titles.

I've harped on about this before, many, many times and, though I haven't blogged for nearly a year I had to come on and make my call for action.

  • France is gone, with no hope of a return...
  • Spa Francochamps, another of the iconic tracks, is struggling every year to make the GP happen...
  • Nurburgring is gone and is unlikely ever to be in a financial position to host a GP...
  • Hockenheim cannot afford to host a race every year...
  • And now I'm hearing that Monza will not be on the calendar once its contract is up in 2016.

And where is F1 going to replace these lost races?

New Jersey!
Abu Dhabi!

There are two factors at play here. One is Bernie stealing every last dollar for his investor's and the second is the fact that the European Governments are not allowed to fund the racetracks in their own countries to hold the event while those countries not part of the EU have no such restrictions.

There are a long list of dodgy states willing to fund F1 as a flagship, international event.

But even if we forget the suspect politics of the new boys (which is what Bernie likes to do) like Bahrain, Azerbaijan, China, and Abu Dhabi, and the opportunism of other states like Russia (who, lets face it need all the goodwill they can get and the moment), Singapore and Malaysia, do we not have a need to respect and protect the history of the sport and the historic racetracks located within the sport's heartland?

Mercedes in Germany
Ferrari in Italy
Renault in France
Honda in Japan

And these are just the current engine suppliers.

The teams are all located in Europe, in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Britain.

What Historic tracks are left on the 2015 calendar?

The Circuit de Catalunya, Spa-Francochamps, Silverstone, Monaco, Suzuka, Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Hungaroring, and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

That's eight tracks out of 19 races! And only 5 of them in Europe!

F1's main fanbase is European and this is why we have night-time racing in Singapore and Evening races in Abu Dhabi, so I find it incredible that the sport I love panders to its European fans by making GP's outside of Europe pander to Europe's TV times while at the same time cutting the number European GP's! It is a crazy concept - Short-term profiteering at the expense of the history of the sport and threatening it's fanbase through neglect.

This total lack of care for the traditional F1 fan is nowhere more apparent than the move from free-to-air to subscription TV.  Not only are we losing our historic (and exciting) tracks but we are also being cut out of the loop when it comes to watching the sport we love on television.

Subscription TV doesn't need the millions of free-to-air fans to sell advertising.  It doesn't care, in the same way as Bernie and his owners have forgotten us with the move to "new markets".  They all expect us to be here when the shit hits the fan and F1 begins to struggle.

We are seeing the start of it over the past 3 years with smaller teams unable to raise the finance to be competitive.  This is not simply a result of the rising cost of F1 it is also because traditional advertising has abandoned the sport due to the fact that business sees that the numbers of viewers will decrease dramatically once Europeans can only access the sport via subscription television.

There are no longer title sponsors willing to pay upwards of €10 million to splash their name across a car. Even McLaren, a stalwart, can't find a title sponsor this year.  That makes a serious statement about the state of the sport. A statement that the Sport itself seems to be failing to hear, or perhaps they simply cannot understand it.

So, to survive, the likes of Sauber take on two drivers who pay €40 million to drive in F1, Manor (Marussia) come back on a wing and a prayer, Caterham are gone, Lotus are struggling, no-one knows how Force India are managing to fund themselves given the state of VJ's finances, Williams posted a loss last year, and aid their funding through non-F1 pursuits, McLaren are focusing on their non-F1 work, Red Bull are funded by their owner as a vanity project (a bloody good vanity project mind you), Toro Rosso the same...

Who actually makes money out of F1? And how do they make it?

They make money because we, the fans, take all the shit and keep coming back for more.

  • We let them cut our races, we let them take our GP's to the Middle-east and to Asia; to places where most of us cannot afford to go to watch our  favourite sport;
  • We let them shift away from free-to-air towards subscription television;
  • We let them build boring, sanitised circuits where nobody is penalised for making a mistake;
  • We let them mess with the format of qualifying away from the one hour 12 lap system that, these days, actually seems more competitive;
  • We let them get rid of in-race refuelling;
  • We let them mess around with our tyres to try to introduce "strategic" overtaking; AND
  • We let them stick fiddly bits on the car and in the engine to "aid" overtaking- to improve the spectacle! 

We let them do all this because they want to make the sport more attractive to non-F1 fans - In other words they want to attract people who are not already F1 fans - new people who can afford to fly to Singapore for a race, who don't care that it is being held in Azerbaijan, where they will never go: they want to attract people who will pay for the subscription but who will only watch 3 races a season!

That way they won't have to care about the rest of us until, day...the stalwart teams; Ferrari, Williams, Sauber and McLaren, all realise that their success in the sport was built on the fans who followed them from European track to track; the fans who didn't travel to a European race for four years so they could make a pilgrimage to Japan or Brazil to watch the season climax; The fans who never missed a race on television and bought the team gear because they loved the team.

When they wake up to the new reality it is with sadness that I predict that three-quarters of their traditional European fanbase will have abandoned them simply because our sport is doing us a disservice by retreating from us to some lofty height where the people who made you what you are are no longer deemed "necessary".

Come back, F1, before it's too late...