Monday, 27 July 2009

Short thoughts on the Hungarian GP

Of course the first thing to say is that I, and everyone I know, hope that Felipe has a quick recovery. It was a shocking accident, and it's only a week since writing something similar. At least it looks as though Felipe will be OK, although as I write this, there are fears for his left eye.

Qualifying and the race proved to be highly interesting though. Not least for the pace of the McLarens - I wonder if Kovi was happy with being so far behind Lewis allweekend? And talking about McLaren and Ferrari running in P1 and P2 brought back memories of the old days. Strangely, it seems only a blink since the start of the season, butsomehow it's an eternity since the silver and red cars were running at the front.

The other surprises were just how much Red Bull and Brawn suffered with their tyres. I find it hard to understand how we can have a situation where the entire grid is covered by such a small margin and yet two of the front running teams seem to eat their tyres if the weather is not perfect. It's almost as though the regulations inevitably lead to cars running at around the same pace, but only for a few laps.

As usual, a decision made by officials seems to be quite outrageous. Stopping Fernando from racing on home soil, albeit for the second time this year, sounds a little harsh. Especially when Red Bull escape with a reprimand for letting Webber out into the path of Kimi. And a reprimands what exactly? Nothing. Even a fine means nothing (unless you're McLaren, and then it seems to be out of proportion). A telling off doesn't hurt at all. The teams would even hire someone specifically to be told off if they thought it would save a couple of tenths. I appreciate that the message from the stewards is that Renault should not have quiet about the problem, whereas the Red Bull incident was just a split-second mistake.

Jaime did well, despite no time in the car. And it seems a little unfair that people say he is inexperienced, when he's achieved more, or as much as, certain other people on the grid - I'm thinking Button, Kimi, Trulli. So I hope he gets more than just one more race to show wjat he can do.

Other thoughts? Timo Glock impressed, but maybe that just shows what strategy can do. And Rosberg is continuing to pick up fourth places. I think he's re-signed for 2010, and I hope that Williams continue to give him a good car. If the Resource Restrictions come into force, and they should, Williams will be in a strong position.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Hungarian GP Preview

The Hungaroring is one of those tracks that would be great to have a race at in a low downforce car like a Formula Ford 2000 or a Formula Renault. Exactly the sort of thing I used to drive in fact.

The circuit is full of long corners, close together, and a series of elevation changes that make it fun to drive, especially if you have the track to yourself. Unusually, the circuit has five corners that are hairpin-shaped, although they are reasonably quick ones, and only a few gentle curves. The result is that it's a slow circuit and consequently high speed drag is of little relevance.

So the cars will be running very high downforce, and the resulting turbulence will make it very hard to get close to the car in front, and consequently almost impossible to overtake. The only real chance is at the end of the finish straight, which was reprofiled a few years ago to make overtaking more of a possibility. Anyone that saw the 1990 race will remember Senna's frustration at not being able to pass Thierry Boutsen, and understand why it's often compared to Monaco.

To be fair, the circuit did see one of the most dramatic passes ever, back in 1987 when Mansell passed Senna, when the Brazilian was momentarily baulked by a slower car. But this year's race will more likely be determined by qualifying and strategy.

Those strategy options are helped by the fact that safety cars have been rarely deployed at the Hungaroring. This may be due to the fact that cars don't get too close to each other, so the only likelihood is at the first corner of the first lap. And maybe the second…

The Hungaroring sits slap bang in the middle of all races on the calendar in terms of time lost in the pitlane, so it's unlikely that a team will opt for three stops, unless they are really struggling with tyres. It will certainly be interesting to see if the Brawns have got over the problems they had at the Nürburgring.

The heat should suit the Brawns though, and help them get back amongst the Red Bulls, especially as they have new a parts package this weekend. Mind you, most other teams will have upgrades as well - it would be fascinating to compare the results of a Barcelona test now with the pre-season times. Each team is making such massive progress.

Ferrari and McLaren are certainly not to be written off, and neither are Williams and Renault. Which just leaves Toro Rosso (who will get the new Red Bull package, and the youngest driver ever to start a Grand Prix) Force India, Toyota and BMW. I'd like to think Toyota could do well, but they really struggled in Monaco so it could be the same here. As for BMW, if they get to Q2 they will have done very well.

My prediction? The three podium slots will be split by Red Bull and Brawn, with Button just sneaking through after a brilliant strategy call by Ross. The Ferraris and McLarens could well put the cat amongst the pigeons at the start, as their KERS systems could prove very useful on the drag to the first corner. Strategists will have to take that into account.

But if it's on-track excitement you're after, I'd recommend watching Q1 on Saturday. It's likely to feature one of the most exciting few minutes of dry qualifying ever as everyone squabbles over the last few places on a shortish track. Q2 won't be much different, and the fight for pole will be fascinating as always.

I think it'll come down to Jenson and Sebastien for pole, but you can't rule out Mark or Rubens. And would you bet against Lewis or Felipe? Probably best just to watch and find out.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Henry Surtees

Yesterday I felt sad that Tom Watson hadn't won the Open Championship, not managing to remain calm on the last green.

But this morning on reading the news that Henry Surtees, son of 1964 F1 World Champion John, had died in an accident at Brands Hatch, one is reminded of what is really important in life.

Thoughts are with Henry's family and friends.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Proper qualifying is back

It hadn't really occurred to me until this week.

We get proper qualifying back next year! And either my memory is getting worse than I think it is, or I haven't seen anyone talking about that.

Which is strange, as it's one of the most emotive topics of the last few years.

But with no refuelling, there's no point in adding fuel for Q3. So I checked the Sporting Regulations for 2010, and sure enough, there's no difference between Q1, Q2 and Q3.

You can add or remove fuel between sessions as long as the car is in the garage area and the engine switched off.

Adding fuel is permitted after Q3 -before the race. And refuelling during the race is not permitted. Period. Or full-stop - if you're British like me.

Which means, if you want to start from pole, you have to have a car set-up to get pole, and live with that set-up throughout the race. Other than front-wing changes which are still allowed.

I think that's great news, and it means that once again we'll be seeing F1 cars at their purest in the last few minutes of qualifying.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Thirteen inch wheels

I've often wondered why F1 cars have 13 inch wheels, when all interesting road cars have at least 17 inch wheels these days.

So I asked Nick Wirth, and he told me that it's down to Bridgestone.

Apparently the tyre manufacturers are concerned about the aerodynamic loads put through the sidewalls, and moving to a lower aspect ratio would mean that the sidewalls have more stress to deal with.

So although that compromises many things like brake size and cooling. we just have to live with wheels that look shabby.

Not a very good reason is it?

Surely it's something that they could work on for future seasons. But then I guess we'd need to get the teams to agree on it...

Due Diligence

Some people have been surprised by the teams selected by the FIA to run in the 2010 F1 championship. Or to be precise, surprised by teams that weren't selected.

So it was with great interest that I was able to hear Nick Wirth talking about the due diligence process, where the candidates were grilled by CVC and Deloitte, an independent and internationally renowned firm of auditors.

Nick obviously couldn't comment on why any other applicants weren't selected - although it was clear to me that any team wanting to use an engine supplied by any manufacturer other than BMW or Cosworth would be contravening the regulations.

It seems the Manor approach was simply to get on and do the job, and stay out of the media spotlight, because every hour spent talking to the media was one hour less that could be spent perfecting their application.

Time well spent, it seems.

Text of the FIA press release:

2010 FIA Formula One World Championship - Due Diligence Q&A 12/06/2009

How are you ensuring that applicants are adequately and securely funded?

We are using professional advisors to make checks on the substance behind any funding sources on top of obtaining reviews of pertinent contracts and other relevant documentation. Bank references have been supplied in many cases.

What is involved in the Due Diligence process?

We have requested documentary evidence to support all the new teams’ assertions, in particular with regards to funding. Thus we have been provided with accounts, contracts, multi-year business plans and other supporting material. On the technical side we have asked for a thorough description of their capability, key staff, project plans, capital assets (present and planned for), organisational charts, and so on. Where there are key sub-contractors required we have asked to see contracts and letters of intent. This extends to the sponsorship side, where plans and any descriptions of existing relationships are required. In all these aspects we have requested evidence that substantiates any claim in the teams’ plans. In the background to these evaluations, where key individuals were identified on the funding side, our forensic accountancy advisors have run reputational checks, alongside the checking of factual data supplied. Once we had formed an opinion of the serious contenders we asked them to come to London to be questioned face to face by the due diligence team. Then a short summary report on the top five was sent to the FIA President.

Have you enlisted the help of other experts to help with the Due Diligence?

It would not have been possible to perform this exercise without expertise from our advisors, Deloitte, who have assisted us throughout. The forensic ability to give advice on the documents provided is invaluable.

How many applicants were there and were all of them taken forward to the due diligence process?

There were 15 applicants and we took 12 of these through the process initially. We interviewed nine of the more promising potential teams. There were a surprising number of well-presented entries, with substantial funds behind them.

Is it really possible to perform due diligence on all of these organisations in such a short amount of time?

It has been intense. The one advantage is that the short timescale has revealed the teams that really have their plans together and the answers to hand, and those that are making it up as they go along. If they are going to be in Formula One they need to be able to respond quickly and competently. Thus the condensed time line has ‘stress tested’ the new entrants.

Have you been surprised by how many viable teams have applied to enter the championship?

Yes it was a surprise in some ways, but more reassuring than surprising. Formula One is a fantastic prospect and with the financial reforms to lower the barrier to entry to realistic levels it is good to see such a strong market for new teams. This exercise has demonstrated that the only reason there have been vacancies on the F1 grid for many years was the excessive cost of participation.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Me and Manor

As I'm starting to write more about F1 again after taking a breather from, it's only fair that I declare an interest in Manor Grand Prix. I don't work for them, at least not yet, and neither am I a shareholder, but I do know some of the people involved and can tell you that they are both very serious about being in F1, and aren't there just to make up the numbers.

I had dinner with Nick Wirth and Jane Nottage last night at the Nürburgring, and will be letting out entertaining snippets (hopefully not too biased) as they occur to me.

If you think I'm out of order, please leave a comment.

Alternatively, if you think I'm right, please leave a comment.

And if there's anything you want to know, ask me a question. I'll try to give a fair answer.

Btw - I could have called this piece "Manor and I" but I liked the alliteration.

So what's wrong with using Cosworth?

There's been a few stories in the press recently about teams that didn't get an entry complaining about having to use Cosworth engines.

That's fair enough at first sighting, although you'd think that someone claiming that "I had a real possibility of obtaining a Renault, Mercedes or Ferrari engine" would know a bit about the regulations.

The sporting regulations for 2010 state: "A major car manufacturer may not directly or indirectly supply engines for more than two teams of two cars each without the consent of the FIA."

And guess what? Ferrari and Renault already supply two teams. So does Toyota. And Mercedes currently supply three teams because the FIA, with permission from Vijay Mallya(*), granted Brawn an exception for one year to save the Honda team from extinction.

Which just leaves BMW, who don't seem interested in selling engines at the moment, or an independent engine supplier.

So to claim to have found out only one day before the announcement of the new teams (on June 12) that a Cosworth engine was the way to get selected shows either a distinct lack of understanding (or disregard) of what's required, or a disingenious and spiteful attempt to cover up an inadequate entry.

Either way, I think the FIA is perfectly right not to select that kind of team.

I am still wondering what engine Brawn will run next year though.

* See

Starting Grid

The random thoughts of a lifelong Formula 1 fanatic.