Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Odd Musings

Photo: Phil Hill at Zandvoort, 1961 copyright CahierArchive
For some reason this morning, I was looking for a picture of the old sharknose Ferrari 156 from 1961. When I saw it, I recalled that during the 1950s, most race car numbers were "even" and thus there was no talk of a race car carrying the "coveted number one". But in 1961, here was Phil Hill, with "1" proudly adorning the pointed nose.

The current system, where cars carry numbers according to the previous year's championship positions, only started in 1996; previously, the numbers 1 and 2 had been granted to the championship winning team, with the outgoing champions receiving the old numbers from that year's winners. Thus, when Williams won the championship in 1980 with Alan Jones, Ferrari received 27 and 28, which then became forever associated with Villeneuve and Alesi, the numbers staying at Maranello until 1995.

When Schumacher moved to Italy in 1996, Ferrari automatically received the number one status, but the prospect of Alesi and Berger retaining the numbers 27 and 28, but in completely different cars (they had both shifted to Benetton from Ferrari) was prevented by a shake-up of the numbering system, so that Benetton raced as 3 and 4 - numbers for which Tyrrell had been the custodian since 1974, the year after Jackie Stewart last won the championship for the team.

Photo: Rétromobile

It wasn't always so. If you'd gone to Spa Francorchamps for the 1956 Belgian Grand Prix, you'd have seen Fangio, the reigning champion (and as it's Spa, I feel obliged to slip in a "raining" pun; which, it being Spa, it was) in a Lancia-Ferrari D50 with number 2 painted on the side. His team mates, Castellotti, Frere, Collins and Pilette, carried 4, 6, 8 and 20 respectively (and here you can see why Luca di Montezemolo thinks he should be allowed to run more than two cars). Maserati, Ferrari's closest challengers, were carrying 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38 on the side of their cars in that race.

So, a question to finish: What was the first Formula 1 Grand Prix, held outside of Great Britain, to have cars with odd race numbers, and to make it just a little bit harder, let's restrict it to odd numbers lower than 50.

Answer tomorrow on Twitter. And no, I'm not counting Indianapolis as it wasn't an F1 race, it just counted towards the World Championship.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Respect for Photographers

No, this is not a flexible rear wing being run by Red Bull. I was just looking through some old photos from last year and came across this reject, taken (in Hungary I think) from the pit wall.

Even with the pitlane speed limit, cars are travelling relatively quickly, and with an iPhone it's very difficult to pan accurately, and also to press the shutter at the correct time. That's my excuse anyway.

It just reminded me of the continuing outstanding quality of pictures we get from LAT, Suttons, Darren Heath and co. They do a fantastic job and even with the access they have most of us wouldn't get close to their quality.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

So what constitutes a "Great"

(This piece was originally written for www.BadgerGP.com but I figured I may as well post it here too)

I'll admit I was intrigued by the Badgers' latest question: "Does Vettel already belong to the Greats of Formula One?"

When you're as pedantic as I am though, the first thing to do is to define what "Great" means. Is there, for example, generally at least one Great in action at any given time, or should they be ranked like eternal Olympians, and only three can ever count as being truly Great?

It's acknowledged that it's impossible to compare drivers from different eras on an objective basis. So here's my first pass of my own personal list of the best drivers from each of the seven F1 decades. There's no consistency as to whether a driver is listed in the decade they started or finished their career, but that's half the fun.

1950s Fangio, Moss
1960s Clark, Stewart
1970s Fittipaldi, Lauda
1980s Piquet, Prost Senna
1990s Schumacher
2000s Alonso
2010s Vettel

Note that the list doesn't include drivers that have one more than one title. Graham Hill, for example never dominated the championship, and while you could never say he was lucky, Jim Clark was clearly the man to beat in both the years when Mr Monaco (as Graham Hill was known; he is definitely a Monaco Great) won the championship.

Jack Brabham too, doesn't make the list, despite winning three championships. He simply spent too much time tinkering and building his cars and I can't imagine that Moss wouldn't have beaten him in similar equipment. Häkkinen was perhaps the hardest to leave out, but somehow, I never felt he was "better" than Schumacher - fairer yes, but not better. Ascari? A double world champion and stood on the podium in over half of the races he started. But it was that strange Formula 2 era, and I simply can't rate him as highly as Fangio. 

So then, Sebastian? Where does he rank? For me he is the Jim Clark to Webber's Graham Hill. Somehow you know he is going to be just that bit quicker and make fewer mistakes. He's already definitely in the top ten – I could leave out Alonso and either Fittipaldi or Piquet. But he's not quite ready to break into my top three yet.

And who would my top three be? In alphabetical order: Clark, Fangio, Senna and Stewart. You're thinking that's four? That's because we not only have to define "Great", we also have to define "three"! For an explanation of "Option Base Zero" see http://vb.mvps.org/hardcore/html/optionbasezero-basedarrays.htm

So who's in your top "three"?

Photo Credit: As published on http://www.jsolana.com.mx/reportaje/lotus.html

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Paddock Club

One of the features at Marussia Virgin Racing was life at the blunt end of the pit lane. Sometimes you'd be the first pit to be reached in the pit lane, like at Silverstone, and others you'd be the last, as in Hungary. This usually depended on the position of the important facilities, such as the podium and media centre but it did also mean that quite often there was a more or less empty garage next to us, usually occupied by a group of marshals.

Nowadays, one comes to think of the Paddock Club as referring to the well-heeled guests and sponsors of the teams, receiving fantastic hospitality and exclusive access to drivers and garages in return for a four-figure sum. At MVR we were occasionally able to give away Friday tickets to lucky fans, but sadly that's the exception rather than the rule.

But I prefer to think of the volunteers that give up their time to allow any motorsport event to take place as the real Paddock Club, so here's a shot of the glamorous conditions just one storey down from its more opulent namesake. Trestle tables and cool-boxes are the name of the day, rather than linen and champagne buckets, but I suspect the guys are perfectly happy with their lot. You don't get to be a marshal at an F1 race without giving up time to go through a great deal of training, and there's usually a lot of officiating at club events (and in the UK that means putting up with very cold conditions) before moving up to the big stuff.

To all the marshals out there, thanks. Our sport couldn't function without you.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Time To Go Home

I know we are all looking forward to the Belgian Grand Prix, but when it's over, and especially if it's raining, spare a thought for the folk who have to put everything away. Packing starts while the race is still on, although care is taken to make sure it doesn't look like that. But that's when the trucks start to reveal their inner secrets.

Hospitality gets packed away too, so it's not uncommon to see trucks loaded with trees and bushes, or the occasional semi-surreal site of a fruit bowl co-existing with engineering equipment. Of course, the engineers and mechanics have fruit provided for them too (although the chocolate generally disappears first) but it's not displayed quite as nicely.

The motorhomes are not that easy to dismantle, although some teams have an easier job than others. You can generally reckon that the relatively simple HRT motorhome will be one of the first to be ready to drive home. Red Bull and McLaren, which require in excess of 40 trucks between them to transport the Energy Station and Communication Centre, will take a little longer.

This is the Williams motorhome, which for some inexplicable reason, starts to blast out loud rock music once it is no longer required for media functions.

Finally, there's the cars themselves. Sometimes they seem to sit around in Parc Ferme forever, before being released by the FIA. It's not uncommon to wait a couple of hours before they can be returned to the garage when they can then be cleaned, dismantled and packed for travelling.

As you can see, it starts to get dark fairly quickly, so all of the workers wear Hi-Vis to make sure that the fork lift drivers can see them, as everything still happens at F1 pace - nobody wants to stay longer than they have to!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Driver pics - Hungary

First of all, an apology for the quality of these pics. I probably should have taken a decent camera with me, but when you're in a working environment you kind of feel guilty about snapping pics of the stars in a quiet moment. So I never used flash, and the rooms or garages where the drivers congregate are always starkly lit, making photography from any angle tricky. That's especially true when trying to be a bit subtle, and when using an iPhone.
But still, not many people get to see drivers just before they get on the truck to do their parade lap, so I offer these as a sample. Let me know if the series is worth continuing. 

I've opted for a black and white look on these, as I love the shots from the sixties of drivers in the paddock. I always found it interesting to see who talks to whom, and in what language. You'll notice that Timo isn't in any of these pics, he was over on the left of the garage chatting, as he often does, to Jarno. Who's your favourite driver talking to?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

DRS - 1954 style

I really liked the article in F1 Racing recently about DRS 40 years ago (Thanks for that, Jimmy, Hans et al) especially as I was around in the 60s to see the cars running with ludicrous wings - I'm especially thinking of Jo Siffert at Brands Hatch here.

At the Nürburgring, by the entrance to the paddock, Mercedes were displaying two W196 cars from 1954. One was in standard open wheel form, the other was fitted with pristine "slipstream" bodywork. This was the German company's strategy for dealing with drag on the faster circuits like Reims and Silverstone. The two cars were both beautiful, but it's the streamlined one I'd drive, given the choice.

While you can't really call it DRS, as it's not operated by the driver, it was one of the first attempts in F1 to deal with the different aero needs of various circuits. Then, as now at Monza, the main reason for this is to reduce one of the forces that are reducing the acceleration of the car - in this case: aerodynamic drag.

As drag rises with the square of velocity, at high speed circuits with long straights it's very important to minimize drag where possible.

On a more typical circuit, the exit speed of a corner is more critical at determining the amount of time spent to cover the length of a short straight, so teams focus more on increasing that exit speed by using maximum downforce.

On an infinitely long straight, you would not run any more downforce than is necessary to keep the car from lifting at speed, and the car would accelerate more quickly along the straight than if it had a High Downforce set-up.

So the question becomes - where is the crossover between focusing on corner exit speed as opposed to Vmax - maximum speed (Velocity also includes the concept of direction, but as we are talking about a straight line it's ok to use the terms interchangeably. Well, I think so!).

In this totally fictitious example, let's look at two extreme set-ups, comparing the speed of a car exiting a given corner and accelerating down a straight (all other things being equal). You can probably imagine that the Low Drag set-up will start to bring dividends if the straight is about 700m long, or longer. But if there is only one long straight at the circuit, like Shanghai, the advantage on the straight will be more than negated by the time gained by using a high downforce setting over the rest of the circuit.

Which is why it's only at circuits like Monza and Montreal that we start to hear about "low downforce" settings; although I'd really prefer to talk about "low drag", as that's what we are aiming for. We would still want to maximise corner exit speed, but not at any price. Increasing downforce increases drag with any given wing, hence the need to reduce downforce - but we'd keep it if we could.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Reims and Silverstone were both circuits consisting of long straight pieces of tarmac where the corners were defined by where the straights crossed. And Mercedes' response to this was to build special bodywork. It wasn't until the late 60s that focus switched to increasing corner exit speed.

As usual, nothing is straightforward. At Silverstone, oil drums were used to mark the edge of the circuit. But Fangio could not see exactly where they were, so on his way to winning the race, he would occasionally get too close and tap one of the drums, denting the bodywork and almost certainly reducing the aerodynamic advantage. So it goes.
Sorry, I don't know who to credit for this photo, if someone does, please tell me!
Finally, if you've got this far and are wondering what sort of biscuit to reward yourself with, go for a chocolate digestive

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Hotel Life

It's always interesting going to a country you've never been to before, and Malaysia certainly falls into that category. I'd been to Hong Kong, and so I was expecting to see quite a few neon lights, but I wasn't expecting the extravaganza that the hotel presented me with when I arrived at night.

First up was a full size elephant (African, judging by the ears) calmly leaving the lobby, and ignoring the Ministry of Sound club on its left. On the other hand, perhaps it was only leaving because it was offended by the tiger ripping an antelope (or whatever it is) to pieces in one of the many fountains.

But I suspect it was actually headed just round the corner, to the shopping centre that's part of the hotel complex (as is a water and "scream" park, but we'll leave that for now). After all, when a shopping centre announces its presence with an über-lifesize Sphinx, complete with eyes that light up, you know you're in for a special shopping experience. Westfield please take note.

Two days later, I was forced to follow the elephant's route when I discovered that I had only packed team trainers, and had no other shoes with me. As Saturday nights plans included a sponsor dinner near the Petronas towers, that simply wouldn't do.

Sadly, the inside of a Sphinx is very similar to a UK shopping centre. Apart, perhaps, from the ice rink. I did manage to find some nice shoes though. In fact, I'm wearing them now.

Specific Job Title

F1 has some unusual job titles, "Dag Man" springs to mind, but while sifting through some old photos looking for a suitable subject to write about, I came across this. I can't help wondering if he has ambitions to push cars that aren't stalled...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Under Cover

Cars and bodywork stored Thursday night in Hungary
At a time when people in the UK are locking things away and pulling down the shutters, it seems appropriate to look at what happens when the doors come down in an F1 garage and the cars are put away for the night. For Marussia Virgin Racing, the procedure is slightly different on Thursday/Friday compared to Saturday, because of the Parc Ferme conditions.

On Thursday and Friday, there is no requirement for the cars to be covered when they are not being worked on, but of course they are - otherwise that speck of dust that crept in unnoticed might end up somewhere it shouldn't. The covers are made to measure and also prevent unwanted eyes from seeing the car and on Friday they are fitted just before the mechanics scoot off to the hotel for the night, which can be as late as 01:00 without breaking the curfew that was imposed this year.

On Saturday though, there are more likely to be guests and sponsors around after the covers go on, as work must stop 4½ hours after Qualifying starts; typically that's 18:30 local time. As one of the highlights of any trip to the paddock is a garage tour, it would be very frustrating for guests that have been invited for dinner in the motorhome if they can't actually see the cars - which are clearly the stars of the show. So a kind of transparent net cover is used, which is also sealed via a cord/cable as required by the FIA (there's also a camera in the pods above the cars to ensure no illegal work goes on) but the general result is that the guests can still see the cars.
Panorama shot (click to expand) early Sunday, Hungaroring

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

No Post Today

There are few times when F1 doesn't seem like the most important thing around. But with the riots in London, today is one of those times. So for today I'll just be keeping quiet, and hoping that sanity returns and that people are safe.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Frustrating Security

On the Thursday before a race, there's usually a signing session where the drivers rock up to sit and sign autograph cards and programmes for fans that are lucky enough to get close. In Hungary, Tabatha and I took Timo and Jérôme down to the sharp end of the pitlane and while T&J were signing cards, I tried to hand some out to some of the fans behind the barriers who were obviously never going to get close.

But that's apparently not allowed - the security guards stopped me from handing out cards to people that weren't in the official queue, so my only resort was to throw a load of cards into the crowd of fans. Not as satisfying, but at least it spread the MVR word a bit further!

It was pretty much the same story for the pitlane walkabout. The guards put up a load of barriers to stop fans getting too close - they don't do this for the Paddock Club walkabouts as there aren't so many people around.

In germany, @JonnyBowersF1 and I had managed to give about 20 impromptu garage tours to small groups of fans who showed an interest in the team - it didn't take long before a queue started forming. I firmly believe that F1 teams should try harder to get fans closer to the action. It's not impossible - usually. In Hungary though, security would not let us do it. I only managed it once, with a bit of local help from Brigi (aka @brigi00) who did the translating (and was lucky enough to win two Paddock Club tickets for Friday as a reward for that, and for writing a guide to Budapest for us).

When a fan from the UK who had been in touch over twitter, sadly I can't remember his name, turned up and I wanted to show him round, I wasn't able to do it. His son's sad face was enough to make me dash for the motorhome to dig out two caps. That helped a bit and I also figured, well, why not take their camera and take some photos in the garage, so at least they'd have something. They thought it was a good idea and handed over their camera and I went and snapped a few photos. Walking back to the barrier, I realised what I'd done. There were tens of cameras being proferred. I handed one camera back, and took another two into the garage. I settled on three shots, front three-quarter, side and cockpit with steering wheel. It's always one of the favourites.

Turning back to the crowd, I realised I had no idea whose cameras I was holding. Fortunately, the owners did. For the next 20 minutes I was just taking photos on other peoples cameras and handing them back, and I think I got them all right. I wouldn't have minded keeping the Nikon D300 though, the owner looked very worried when I waved goodbye at him!

F1 can't allow everyone access, but my view has always been that if you do what you can, the fans will appreciate it. Last year, I managed to get passes for a few fans that otherwise would have had no chance of seeing behind the scenes. It's by no means easy, but it's very worthwhile when it works.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Dedication to Detail

One of the things that strikes you about Formula One is that nothing is too much trouble. If there's an opportunity to do things better, you do it.

As soon as it stops raining, the trucks are wiped down so that they don't have watermarks that will last throughout the weekend. There's an immense amount of pride taken in how the garages and trucks look, scruffiness is not tolerated. At the Nürburgring, teams weren't allowed to paint the floor of the garage and everything looked drab as a result. Attention to detail counts.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cramped Conditions

Timo (top) and Jérôme, ready to go before the German GP. Not much room.

Note pipe for drinks and the green "umbilical" connecting the car to the overhead pod.

Leaving the pits

As we saw in Hungary, the marshalls seemed quiet happy to retrieve a car (Heidfeld's) backwards down the pitlane, despite the obvious danger. OK, cars aren't going quite as quickly when they leave the pits, but it can still cost a driver a lot of time.

In Germany, an HRT was being pushed backwards by the team's mechanics, rather close to where we would have been exiting the pits - the yellow markers are where we stop. Fortunately we weren't planing to stop then, but if we'd had to, we would have lost at least a couple of seconds. Which would, of course, only have been relevant to the other HRT...

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Kerbs at Hungary

While walking the track on the Thursday before the Hungarian Grand Prix, a few things struck, and the design of the kerbs at turn 6/7 was one of them. It's a two-stage affair, with a standard stepped kerb, with a semi-circular sectioned inside piece, clearly designed to reduced tyre contact area and thus grip, as well as raising the ride height of the RHS of the car - presumably with the idea of deterring drivers from climbing up it.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Back from Hungary, Independent Once More

When I started this blog, I wasn't working in F1, so I could say pretty much what I liked. And then circumstances transpired so that I would most likely (hopefully) be working with Manor Grand Prix, aka Virgin Racing, aka Marussia Virgin Racing - and at that point I figured that I should not be posting my own views.

Now after starting MVR (for I can refer to them as that now) on the social media path and handing over the reins, it's time to perhaps get back to the idea of propogating views and photos to the few people in the world who might be interested. But seeing as I agree with those journalists in the paddock that say there are too many blogs re-processing the same stuff, I'll probably just restrict myself to trawling through my old iPhone photos that for one reason or another never made it to Twitpic. Or maybe they did and I think they're worth looking at again. Either way, this should at least be a more permanent and searchable resource.

As a symbolic photo,  this post has the final shot I took with MVR. Packdown from the pitlane.