Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Predictions for 2014

There seems little point in making a forecast for the Brazilian GP, other than that an RB7 will win it. So I thought I'd go to print early with some probably disastrous predictions for next year.
  1. There will be more retirements than this year. New engines, new ERS, this simply has to be right - although teams these days really do focus on reliability as well as performance. I just don't think they will have the time to get both right.
  2. Williams will be back in the high second Division. With the move away from exhaust blowing, the aero guys there will find that they are losing fewer aero points than the top teams.
  3. Caterham and Marussia will also close the gap to Toro Rosso and co, for the same reason.
  4. Most races will have only a single stop. Pirelli will take solid rubber to the races because they simply can't have any more bad PR.
  5. There will be more wet races than this year. We haven't had one yet this year, so I can't be far off on this one.
  6. Red Bull won't have the dominance they have had in the second half of this year. They will be hurt more than most by the exhaust changes, and maybe Renault.will get the blame for not delivering as good an engine as Mercedes.
  7. Hamilton will win the Drivers' Championship. Mercedes will do a good job with the engine, and Lewis will outscore Nico.
  8. Kimi will outscore Fernando. No idea why, I just think Alonso will lose focus, especially if he does sign for McLaren in 2015.
  9. Hulkenberg will still not get a drive in a Top Four team. Criminal.
  10. McLaren will score infinitely more wins than they have this year. That is, at least one. They will be back. I'm assuming it will be Jenson, but you never know...
So, what do you think?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

That's a freeze?

Interesting opinion piece in Autosport today about the end of the V8 era.

The one thing that stood out for me was the statistic that after the freeze on development was implemented in 2007, 95% of the parts in Renault's current V8 engine are different to the corresponding part from six years ago.

That's quite impressive, and excludes the changes to software maps, which change much more frequently than changes are made to the hardware.

The change freeze was implemented in an attempt to stop spending on engines get out of hand. To a certain extent it has worked, and with the requirement to have only eight engines per season, there is no longer a continual stream of shiny metal coming out of the engine builders' premises.

But that is only half of the story. Development costs more than building the same thing repetetively, so having a team of people looking for small gains (which arguably become more important when large change is banned) and working continuously can still be almost as expensive as not having a freeze.

The 95% statistic is a good example of how F1 teams push regulations. They are allowed to make changes for reliability purposes, so of course, a stronger con-rod would be allowed (oh, didn't we mention it's also 0.1 of a gram lighter?).

Curing vibration is a vital part of helping reliability of an engine, as is reducing friction. Which is why engine manufacturers work so closely with oil makers of course. And as there is no restriction on oil development, it is perfectly reasonable to modify your engine to benefit from improved lubrication. Etc etc.

And then there's the Coanda effect.

When faced with a barrier, engineers look for a different solution. Put a wall in front of them and they will try to go over it, under it or round it. Some might even try to build a time machine so they could still go through the gap that is no longer there.

With engine power frozen at 750bhp - in order to stop the engine being a performance differentiator (I always thought that was a daft concept) engineers had to think differently.

Of the fuel burnt in an F1 engine, only about a third of the energy produced by the explosions actually gets used to turn the rear wheels. Nearly half gets lost in the exhausts, both as heat and noise and pressure.

So the solution that the engineers devised, which I think has really hit the teams at the back of the grid, is to use the exhausts to generate downforce. We've had hot blowing and cold blowing and I pray to the Gods of Formula 1 that next year we do not get any blowing at all.

Engineers are clever, and the cleverest deserve to win, and be rewarded for winning. But when you have a situation where an engine manufacture can show that two engines,  with only 5% of all of the parts are shared, are essentially the same, things have gaot out of hand.

Wouldn't it be great if the teams could agree to limit the spending, instead of limiting power output?

But then, accountants are clever people too.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Black and Round

There's a report on today's Autosport that teams fear that 2014 will be boring.

I can understand the logic. Pirelli, after suffering from some less than optimal PR at Silverstone, and a couple of other explosive tyre incidents, are likely to bring more conservative tyres to next year's races.

Especially if they are not allowed to test.

The result is likely to be a bit like the Austin GP, with drivers circulating to a plan, in order to help them reach the optimum window for making a single tyre change.

To avoid this, there would need to be a regulation change but as we've seen, teams simply will not agree with each other, especially if it means a weakening of their own position.

Is it a coincidence that Mercedes are perceived to have the best engine package for 2014, and are also the team mentioned by Autosport as saying there will be enough interest due to reliability issues? I don't think so.

The first half of 2013 may well turn out to be the most closely contested 10 races we are likely to see this decade. Obviously the second half of 2013 doesn't fall into that category.

It my not be 100% down to the tyre changes that were made halfway through the season. But if it is, then we can expect there to be very little on track action next year.

And if that turns out to be the case, is there really any point in investing so much cash to develop the cars?

Personally I'd be in favour of a complete rethink of the regulations. But I can't see how it can happen.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Electricity Bill

In Switzerland, we are fortunate with the cost of electricty. When we've got tired of skiing in March or April, the snow all melts and flows down through gulleys, gushes over waterfalls and ends up in lakes somewhere.

The water has a bit of a rest there, and then carries on down a river, where at some stage, it'll end up turning a turbine and making electricty for the local population to use as they see fit. For example, quite a lot of new houses just use electricty for heating, as it's clean and doesn't cost much. Finally - something in Switzerland is cheap!

So it was a bit of a surprise to read this morning, that Sauber had paid their electricity bill. Well, not a surprise that they had paid it, but a surprise that the fact that they had paid it was newsworthy.

Switzerland has a relatively sophisticated system of getting bills paid. You get the usual couple of reminders, and if they are not paid, the creditor has the opportunity to request payment from your local council.It being Switzerland, the local council are quite happy to add a charge for this service.

The council maintains a register (Betreibungsregister) of any such requests, and it is generally considered to be a bad thing to have entries against your name. According to the article, Sauber currently has 57 such open entries against its name, totalling well over half a million Swiss Francs.

Nothing compared to what Lotus owed Kimi, and probably less than The Hulk was due. But not pleasant all the same, and any one of these requests could lead to the company being closed down. (Incidentally, I would translate the statement that Sauber made regarding Nico's salary as "a payment has been made" and not "we have paid Nico")

Motor racing companies are notorious for not paying bills quickly. It can often be a hand-to-mouth style of existence. But we are talking about the pinnacle of motorsport here.

F1 is a sport generating greater revenues than pretty much any other annual championship - larger than the Premier League for example. And there are only 11 teams to keep going, so it really shouldn't be too hard to make ends meet.

But clearly it is hard. Looking at the teams, you'd have to think that Force India, Caterham, Marussia (along with Sauber and Lotus) are struggling to bring money in that isn't being provided by the team owner - which isn't an effective business model.

There seems little point in continually harping on about the cash that CVC take out of Formula 1. But I can't help thinking that half a billion dollars could fix a lot of problems.

Or pay a few bills.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Why, er, it'll not be Valsecchi

Ok, so I got that completely wrong, but that just shows how necessary it is to have as much information as possible. And even Joe Saward got it wrong, so I'm in good company.

It is still about the money though, and this whole affair shows that off-track activities are as (if not more) interesting than what's happened on the tarmac recently. And let's be clear, by "off-track" I am (for once) not referring to the modern habit of crossing the white line at the edge of the circuit.

So the story goes like this: Lotus are currently fourth in the Constructor's Championship (WCC). They are 26 points behind Ferrari. They could theoretically pass Ferrari, but it is unlikely. Passing Ferrari would be very good for Lotus. There would be several million reasons for Messrs Boullier and Lux to smile if they did.

Exactly how much it would mean we don't know (because of the lack of transparency in the Concorde agreement) but it must be in the region of 20 million dollars. That would be worth striving for. Worth paying off one contracted driver (Valsecchi) and employing another. And Heikki wouldn't need much in the way of remuneration - he's keen to just show he can still cut it. A quarter of a million dollars per race?

It's still a long shot though.

So far this season, with Kimi (aka points-scoring machine) on board, Lotus have netted on average 16.5 points per race. At that rate, those 33 points would give them a seven point lead over Ferrari, which would essentially need Ferrari not to finish either race, which isn't going to happen.

So Lotus will be fourth in the WCC. Whatever happens. At least, that was my logic. There is no way this will change, and therefore no point in ruffling feathers.

Apparently it's not just a truism that teams say "it's not over until it's mathematically impossible". I get that. But actively betting heavily on a long shot doesn't make sense to me. Maybe I'm not enough of a racer.But I prefer to think of it as only fighting battles that I think I stand a chance of winning.

It does though, raise the question of whether Ferrari put pressure on Kimi to have the operation now to stop him scoring points (I don't think so) and whether Maranello paid Sauber/Hulkenberg to stop him going there (again, I don't think so). Sauber allegedly still owe Ferrari money, so that doesn't really add up.

For The Hulk to have driven at Lotus this weekend, there would have had to have been an agreement reached with the Contract Recognition Board in Geneva. Maybe that could have happened quickly enough, maybe not, but it would be difficult for The Hulk to show that Sauber are in breach of contract to an extent that he could get an immediate release.

It's possible, but sadly in F1 it's often best to assume that a team will do whatever will upset its rivals the most. Which is why there is never agreement on anything.

Anyway, today's predictions are:
  • Heikki will struggle with the tyres and will not be able to use the same strategy as Grosjean in the race. He may scrape a couple of points.
  • Valsecchi will be unhappy, having missed probably his only chance to start a Grand Prix, for no valid reason
  • Lotus will finish fourth in the WCC
I will, no doubt, be retracting those on Monday...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

How does it smell?

You know the old joke - My dog's got no nose...

Well, you only have to look at Craig Scarborough's article in Autosport on how next year's cars might look and realise that it's a joke we'll be hearing, in revised form, for all of next year.

Because the cars are going to look terrible. Having got used to the duck-bill noses in 2012 and on some of the 2013 cars, we are faced with a Pinocchio-style (thanks @MarkDEvans) nose for 2014. Forget how the 1.6 litre engine will sound (great, incidentally) forget that the cars are still racing on 13 inch wheels which haven't been seen on any road car this century. That nose will be the talking point. For sure, as Stefano might say.

So why is it so hard to get regulations right? And why is it so hard to even decide how high the front of an F1 car should be?

The idea behind the high nose, if I recall correctly, was that when touching the rear wheel of the car in front, the car would not be thrown up into the air. No doubt Alonso was glad of that when Grosjean casually sidled past his ear at Spa last year.

Now, we're going low. Presumably the logic is that if the nose is low enough, it can neither be thrown up into the air nor pulled over the top of the wheel. Which sounds fine. But surely, in a sport with thousands of simulations being carried out each week, someone should have worked this out years ago?

It's similar with front wing end plates. All exposed edges have to have a radius of (I think) about 5mm. Which means that an end plate that theoretically should be as thin as possible, ends up being half an inch thick.

Why? To avoid having a sharp edge and puncturing the tyres of the car in front. Well that works just fine doesn't it. I'm not sure how many first lap punctures I've seen, where it hasn't even been necessary for the car with a damaged front wing to pit in order to replace the nose that is now sporting dangerously sharp pieces of carbon fibre after the slightest touch.

As an aside, I'm also amazed that, as the car with a razor sharp piece on the nose no longer complies with the regulations, it isn't black flagged to have a new one fitted...

What do I suggest? The FIA should employ someone clever: Ross Brawn, Craig, Gary Anderson (me even!) to go through the regulations with a fine toothcomb before publishing the regulations.

Please get it right for 2015.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


The story that Mclaren have decided to delay their title sponsor announcement comes as, well, maybe it's not a surprise but it's certainly an interesting development.

Perhaps the most unlikely part of what Martin Whitmarsh said, is that he hadn't "spoken to our PR function".

Mclaren's head of  Communication and Public Relations is Matt Bishop, and it's almost unthinkable that anything would be communicated (or released) without him knowing about it.

Information is the lifeblood of Formula 1, and how it is presented or perceived can make a massive difference.

Right now there will be sponsorship gurus wondering if they can snatch something away from Mclaren before a deal is signed, both because it is the business of these gurus to know which companies Mclaren have been talking to, and because any statement like this indicates that something may not have been signed and there is still a chance to sneak in and offer a better deal.

So when an announcement like this comes out, it's very unlikely that Matt hasn't been informed. Whitmarsh might not have spoken to the "PR function" because that function reports to Matt. Which is why it's so interesting that Whitmarsh didn't say "Communications". If you want more of this logic, I'd suggest Joe Saward's piece from 15 years ago here.

Oh, and Mclaren haven't signed any drivers yet. Although the press has announced it will be Button and Magnusson.

Is that a coincidence, or an indication that Mclaren's income for next year is still in doubt? Let's not forget that they aren't going to finish as high as expected in the Constructor's Championship, which will reduce their income somewhat.

A coincidence? Seriously?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Why it will be Valsecchi

The news that Kimi won't be turning up to Austin or Interlagos has set the F1 Fan World alight,with many people suggesting their favourite driver as a possible stand-in.

Hulkenberg is an obvious choice - get him into the car early, so he understands the team before starting for real (if the Quantum money ever turns up) next year.

There are a number of problems with that, not least that Sauber wouldn't want to release Nico as they are still trying to accumulate points to ensure as good a position the Constructors' Championship as possible.

But the main reason that Davide Valsecchi will get the drive is this: he has a contract.

I've seen people suggesting that the reserve driver won't get paid much, a figure of 50k Euros has been suggested. What nobody seems to be insinuating, is that he won't be being paid at all.

The reserve driver postion at an F1 team is a coveted one. You get to learn so much about how a team works, all of the engineering work that goes on, the processes and occasionally, you might even get to drive the car in a Friday morning session.

Valsecchi, or more likely his management, will have paid handsomely for the privilege of having Davide be the test and reserve driver at Lotus. Let's say they paid in the region of 3-5 Million Euros.

His contract will specify how many Young Driver tests he will get to drive the car in, and how many Free Practice sessions. It will also state that he is the reserve driver, and that if Kimi or Romain are unable to race, then Davide will slot in to fill the gap. This happens so rarely that teams are happy to take the risk, and take the money. Interesting that the last time it happened it was also Lotus, when Romain received a one-race ban.

So if Lotus don't put Davide in the car while Kimi is off sick, they will almost certainly be in breach of contract with DV's management. Who will expect their money back - and currently, Lotus aren't in a position to do anything of the sort.

So it would be a massive surprise if anybody else steps into the car. Lotus might prefer somebody else, or they may be happy that DV is their best option. BUt that's probably irrelevant.

As always in Formula 1, the first thing you need to look at is the money.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The CRH in the Dock

When I think of racing and endurance, it's usually Le Mans, Spa (the 24 hour race, not the GP) and Nürburgring (ditto) that come to mind.

But this week, a racing event starts that could run for two weeks or more. The Commercial Rights Holder (aka CRH, aka Bernie) is in court in London over the allegations of corruption relating to the sale of, essentially, the Commercial Rights to F1, which Bernie had acquired at a very suspiscious price a few years earlier from his good friend Max.

Bernie did a great job as a team owner at Brabham, and with Max Mosley, he managed to get a lot more cash for the teams. But that was last century. This century, the focus has been on maintaining his power and wealth.

So I'm kind of torn. Without Bernie, we wouldn't have so much F1 on TV, or at least, it would have taken a lot longer. So I'm grateful to him for that.

But now there is so much money flowing out of the sport, at a time when only four teams can comfortably afford to pay their suppliers, and young drivers are having to find so much money to get anywhere. It is simply wrong.

And it's the latter view that is fuelling my desire to see change, any change. I'm hoping he is found guilty, and that doesn't feel good.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Abu Dhabi and Ferrari

The Abu Dhabi race is a strange one. I was lucky enough to go there in 2010; sitting with Virgin Racing's Superfan, Alex,on the roof garden of the team's hospitality building at the end of a media drinks party, overlooking the harbour and hotel, and with a fridge full of wine and beer, is a great memory.

It is a magnificent event, but somehow it doesn't feel like a "race". Although Seb's drive through from the pits last year did at least show that overtaking in the DRS era is at least possible. Unlike in 2010, when a dodgy strategy call by Ferrari, calling Alonso in to cover Webber, left the Spaniard struggling to get past Petrov. The result? Seb's first championship.

This year, on about lap two, I tweeted that I was bored, because it was pretty obvious what was going to happen. It did. I got some stick for that tweet, probably rightly, suggesting that I might need a break from F1.I don't think I do, but I am frustrated by how the sport (or entertainment if you are in India) is developing.This week's court case could prove more interesting than last week's race - and that's not right.

I think my favourite part of this year's ADGP was seeing Felipe still ahead of Alonso after nearly 40 laps. I tweeted that too, just as he came in for what looked to me, like an earlier than necessary stop. Given that he had already done more laps on softs in his first step than there were left in the race, there seemed to be only one choice. Apparently there wasn't, and Ferrari's Abu Dhabi strategy again looked questionable.

I don't know if Felipe didn't have any usable softs left after qualifying, but mediums was a strange choice, likely to cost Felipe around 15 seconds over the remaining part of the race. And more importantly, give him the drive out of corners to pass people (Vergne for example). And if they were really that concerned about the life of the softs (with way less fuel on board than at the beginning of the race) surely one or two laps more on the mediums would still have netted a better result, even if he was losing two seconds a lap. Which he wasn't.

So, the conclusion appears to be that they just pulled him in to let Fernado past. "Felipe, Fernando isn't faster than you, but we're letting him through anyway".

And that passing Vergne off track thing? I cannot believe the stewards let Alonso off that. There are as many ways to avoid an accident as there are to skin a cat. If that had been Monaco, with a barrier rather than a white line, Alonso would have backed off. Braked even.But he didn't, and he did gain an advantage.

But the stewards didn't think that was the case. It was pointed out to me that Ferrari World is nearby, and that maybe local stewards had over-ruled the driver steward, but no, there were no locals on the panel.

It was just the same story as always, inconsistent application of the rules. And ip front, just the same story as always. A great drive by Seb.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Steady on, James

There are a number of people asking whether the two Russian drivers that are likely to enter F1 next year are "ready".

I think today's penalty for James Calado, puts the question into perspective.

James is an experienced, intelligent driver, and until the penalty was handed out, still had a theoretical shot at becoming GP2 Champion. He is 24, and has been racing in GP2 for the last three years. He has completed a Young Driver test and three Friday FP1 sessions with Force India.

Sergey Sirotkin and Danii Kvyat are both significantly younger than James Calado. They do not have the depth of experience that James has.

And yet James Calado is still capable of reacting angrily to an on-track incident and forcing another driver off the track during a practice session. Not qualifying, not the race, practice. He must have seen Maldonado do it to Perez at Monaco during FP3 in 2012. But he should know better by now.

Sergey and Danii would be loaded with excess insurance premiums if they were to try to get road car insurance in the UK, because young male drivers are seen as dangerous drivers. Manouevres like James' will not help their cause.

Photo: Autosport

Crossing the Line

I'm getting fed up with this topic. I was fed up with it in July when I ranted about it then. Massa goes off on the exit of a corner after a great overtaking move in Hungary. Ricciardo goes over the the lines on the exit of 130R

Then we get to India and Charlie Whiting (who I have met and have a great deal of respect for) decides that it's ok to cross the white line, because if you do, you don't gain an advantage because you'ull be running on the astroturf.

And now in Abu Dhabi, drivers are being told to avoid crossing the lines particularly around the DRS detection zones. What will it be in Austin I wonder?

Wouldn't it just be easier to enforce the rule that says you must stay on the track at all times, and if all four wheels cross the line (which marks the edge of the track - not the kerbs) then you have left the track.

Leave the track in qualifying - that laptime does not count. Do it in the race - drive-through (or the time penalty if it's in the last few laps, as specified in the rules.

It doesn't need a regulation change, it just needs consistent application of the rules.

Photo: Autosport


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Effing and Blinding

Apparently, Eric Boullier has apologised for the language used by his team during the Indian race.

Allegedly, trackside director Alan Permane told Kimi to "get out of the fucking way" when Grosjean (interesting that we call them Kimi, and yet Grosjean, isn't it?) needed to get past in a hurry.

Kimi's response was equally to the point: "don't fucking shout at me". although that mayhave had "in the fast corners" tacked on the end. It depends which report you read.

But why apologise? It's a private channel, admittedly a channel that can be broadcast to the public if the powers that be at FOM deem it suitable. If it's not suitable, don't broadcast it. Simple.

What Eric should have done, is tell anyone that complains to eff off.

Incidentally, I have followed David Hepworth's lead in using the fuck w***. It seems pointless to me to obliterate three letters in a w*** when it is quite clear what we are talking about. We are grown-ups after all, and if you are offended by that kind of language, then I'll send Eric round, and he can tell you what to do.

Photo: Autosport

Monday, 28 October 2013

More whinging about Tyres

Pirelli were apparently unhappy about the fact that some teams, Lotus for example, ignored their recommendation and ran more laps than the tyre manufacturer thought "safe".

I can understand Pirelli's POV: after a year where tyres have exploded in races, this doesn't look good. But in every other race they have allowed teams to decide when to change tyres, and haven't specified how long either the Option or Prime (they don't like those terms either) would last.

So they must have been feeling a bit panicky to come out and say that. But they also know that it is an F1 team's job to push every component to the limit. Colin Chapman once said that a race car should fall apart as it crosses the finishing line. Each component only just strong enough to do its job. Otherwise it's too heavy. OK, he got it wrong quite a lot and bits broke before it got to the line, but you see the point.

Pirelli are supplying tyres to F1 teams and they have to trust them to do their job. And as it happens, the teams were right. In comparison, at Phillip Island for the Moto GP race, teams were set a hard limit of 10 laps. And if you look at a picture of a tyre that did 11 laps, you'll see why. But MotoGP teams don't have the sophistacted telemetry that F1 cars do, so the organisers had to take a hard decision. It looked daft, but it was right.

As for Pirelli, let the teams do what they know best, otherwise you might as well try to tell Perez not to lock his brakes.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Baba O'Riley

No, I haven't only just heard the One Direction "cover" of The Who's great song and been horrified at their cheek, that's old news, at least a month old, and as Pete Townshend has apparently come out and said it's fine - no IPR has been compromised, who would I be to argue anyway?

So why bring it up again? Well, I've just been having a bit of a "punk" day, and to cut a short story long, it began by listening to Sandinista!, the triple-album by The Clash, a follow up to the double London Calling. Incidentally that made me think "surely it was London's Burning?" but that was of course on the first album, along with White Riot and the wonderful cover of Police and Thieves. But back to Sandinista!. I'd never listened to it as I always thought it was rubbish, because that's what I'd heard or read (and a triple album is a bit of an investment when you're at college) but it's not rubbish at all. An hour into it on Spotify and I hadn't hit the "next track" button, which is pretty unheard of for me these days. Well worth a listen, which I guess means I have to give Fleetwood Mac's Tusk a spin, previously rejected for the same reason.

I enjoyed listening to Mick, Topper and Co, so much so that I figured a punk playlist was in order. The Damned, Buzzcocks, Ramones - the usual suspects. And then I got to playing X-Ray Spex. Germ-free Adolescents. Surely that's the song that 1D ripped off? Or X-RS ripped off from The Who? But still, no matter; as Townshend says, it's all three chord stuff, you can't have a copyright on that. So not really anything to say about it, is there?

I bet you're glad you came here now. You may as well at least listen to Poly Styrene, Laura Logic and the other :‎

One thing I also didn't know before today. Poly passed away peacefully in her sleep two years ago. Makes you think.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Gaining an Advantage

In the days when I used to race single-seaters, one of the circuits we'd visit was Pembrey, in Wales. It's an interesting little circuit, about a mile and a half long, with a couple of reasonable quick corners.

One of these corners, Dibeni, would always be mentioned in the drivers' briefings. Because it was a long, double-apex corner, with a lot of tarmac on the inside, there was a tendency for drivers to shorten the corner by running their inside wheels across the white line.

The Clerk of the Course made it quite clear that if we were seen doing it, we would be shown a warning flag, and if we did it again afterwards, the black flag (Go direct to Jail, do not pass Go etc).

Note that this had nothing to do with passing another car. Just gaining an advantage.

So why don't the stewards at a GP enforce the "cars must remain on track" consistently?

Which would mean, looking at yesterday's race, that anyone leaving the track at Turn 3 (eg Rosberg, Webber) or on the exit of Turn 5 - or maybe 6 (Kimi, Vettel, probably just about everybody) should have been served with a drive through. I certainly don't think that Grosjean gained more of an advantage by leaving the track than Vettel did by repeatedly pushing the limits of the track.

F1 drivers are greedy. If they believe that it's possible to get away with something, they will do it. Firm and consistent enforcement of the rules is the clearest approach.

Friday, 26 July 2013


This isn't news, but I was looking at the championship standings today and noticed something that, well, it didn't surprise me, but it was still a shock.

Everyone says that Felipe Massa is having a bad year, and isn't good enough for Ferrari. And yet he has scored more points than the two McLaren drivers added together.

That really shows just how much they are suffering in Woking. I just hope they have at least one good result at either Spa or Monza when the cars are running in low-drag specification. At least nobody will be running any downforce...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Fragility of Life

I was on a tram yesterday, heading out to The Orange Cinema, that great lakeside viewing experience, to watch a film about getting old (The Quartet). It's especially lovely on a warm sunny evening, which it was.

Suddenly, the tram bell rings, brakes are applied hard and there's a thud. A woman is whirling past the window I'm sitting next to. I see her fall to the ground; the back of her head hitting the ground hard.

There is no movement.

A feeling of helplessness, tempered by the knowlege that at least 50% of the Swiss on the tram will be trained in first aid. They spring into action but there is ân obvious reluctance to move her at all.

I get off the tram, I'm right by the front. There is a bicycle lying under the front of the tram. It looks like the woman decided to sneak in front of the tram at the tram stop, probably didn't hear it and didn't look. She wasn't wearing a helmet either.

I decide that I cannot do anything, and that staring is pointless. I leave and complete my journey on foot but I find I keep wondering if that was the right thing to do. I wonder if she lived, or what her injuries were. As I got out of the tram, I noticed her face had changed colour to a sort of bluey redness. It's not exactly haunting me but I do keep looking in the local newspaper sights to see what's been reported. Nothing yet, other than a few other accidents involving trams, trains, trucks where people will never complete their journey.

Many other relatives and friends whose lives have changed in an instant.

Monday, 1 July 2013

What sort of flag is that?

Very pleased to see Mark on the podium yesterday. He is one of the best drivers on the grid, and very high up the list of decent blokes.

But what was that behind him? There was an outcry from the Australian side of the sofa: "That's not an Australian flag! It's horrible".

And I looked and agreed. Something didn't look right.

So I investigated (ie, had a look on google and fiddled with a pic from the podium). Here's what the flag looked like according to FOM:

and here's what it should really look like:

Obviously the colours are a bit out, but it's the aspect ration and the size of the stars that make it look wrong. Wrong in the sense that it looks like a child has drawn it.

I'd be very unhappy if it was my national flag, and frankly the Union Flag quadrant does look nasty here - although it's actually quite close to the 5:3 aspect ration commonly used on land for the Union Flag. At sea, the ratio is apparently normally 2:1, like the Australian flag, which is not surprising as the Australian flag is based on the design of the White/Red Ensigns that you'll see on ships of the British Royal/Merchant Navies.

Given that Bernie is normally such a stickler for detail, I'm very surprised that he allows this sort of thing. Can we go back to real flags over the podium please?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Playing with tyres.

I think Lotus have a point.(see Autosport)

But so do Pirelli.

Now that #testgate has allowed us, other than Ferrari's pathetic Horse Whisperer, to move on, we don't have to talk about tyres any more do we? Regretably, tyres will remain the most important variable throughout this, or probably any other, F1 championship.

During 2012, Pirelli were asked to make changes to the tyres for this season, to make the races more entertaining. This they did, and I for one am happy with how things have been going. Lotus, a team with a smaller budget than Red Bull and Ferrari, have been able to challenge the giants by making better use of the more sensitive tyres. This looks set to change now that Pirelli are selecting Hard and Medium tyres for Hungary, rather than Medium and Soft as they did last year.

There could be several reasons for this, but it's certain that this is the most conservative choice that could have been made, and that's not what Pirelli were originally asked to do. And this is not a question of safety, nobody is suggesting that tyre failure will result.

Pirelli seem, understandably, to be concerned about open criticism from teams, especially about tyre wear and degradation. I've said before (and you've probably guessed that I'm about to say it again) that the solution is to give the teams the choice of which tyres to use, rather than specify two compounds that must be used.

At that point, it would be no use Red Bull saying that the mediums degrade too much, especially if Lotus can get them to work. Similarly there's no way Lotus, or anyone else, can complain if Red Bull do a better job with the hard compound. it would simply be the car making a better job of using those tyres.

Pirelli simply supply their tyres, which have clearly been designed brilliantly to do the job that was asked of them and the teams do their best with them.

I'd like to see each team given three or four sets of each compound at the beginning of the race weekend, with three sets returned to Pirelli on Friday, and three more on Saturday.

Everyone would know which teams have how many of each compound left for the race, which would give the TV strategists plenty to talk about.

Even better from Pirelli's point of view, there would be no more talk of Options and Primes. Just the four different compounds. And by removing the need to run more than one compound, teams can run a zero stop strategy if it looks workable.

It would need a regulation change, but it shouldn't be impossible to get it through, especially as Pirelli have a relationship with each team, and F 1 is in the situation where it desperately needs a tyre manufacturer for 2014 onwards.


Monday, 17 June 2013

Why isn't the FIA tougher?

Every now and then, usually on a weekly basis, I get wound up about the vast amount of money flowing out of motorsport and into the pockets of the F1 CRH (Commercial Rights Holder) and his associates at CVC.

And then I think, well, there's not much that anyone can do, and let's face it, Bernie did legally buy the commercial rights for the next 100 years. Even though everyone at the time said it was way too cheap. It's the one thing that Max Mosley did as president that I really didn't like, and still feel it was an unfair transaction.

But that doesn't explain why the FIA doesn't try to buy the rights back, and then resell to a more racing-friendly party. Having first redefined the governance so that the FIA remains in charge, and isn't reliant on an external party to negotiate things like Concorde agreements.

OK, it might not be cheap, but Bernie and CVC clearly believe that there are buyers in place, as they plan to float in the near future. Wouldn't it make sense for the FIA to put together a syndicate, and excercise their power over the regulations to keep Bernie's price from going up? After all, if Bernie knows someone wants to buy, he's no longer interested in selling; at least, not at the same price.

So Jean, grab the bull buy the horns and find someone to out-Bernie Bernie. He can't be the only person out there that can play hard-ball. Maybe a lawyer that could use the "German situation" to effectively lower the float price of CVC, but offer a "reasonable price" to take the problem away?

I'd volunteer myself, but I'm just not that clever.

The Joys of Golf

It's been a difficult few weeks recently, so it was good to get out for a weekend of golf with Paul and Clive in the New Forest.

The weather wasn't perfect, but the company was. It's an annual event and this was the first year that the trophy was awarded on handicap, so despite some brilliant play, Paul didn't get to retain the Cup.

Clive retained the spoon, though an ankle injury sustained while looking for my ball during FP1 probably had a lot to do with it.

But I was very happy to shoot two rounds under 100, which, while not great, is very good for me. Thanks boys!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

How do you define 2011?

The subject of tyre testing will remain a hot topic until the international tribunal on June 20, at which point there will either be a big fuss, or a big fuss. Mercedes will either be chastised, possibly even severely punished, or they will be cleared. And whichever way the decision goes, some people in the paddock are bound to be upset, unless the tribunal manages to pull off a masterpiece of diplomacy.

And even then, Luca di Montezemolo is likely to be miffed and rant a lot, because that's what he does.

But nobody is really talking much about the Ferrari test, run between the Bahrain and Spanish GPs.

Ah, but it was a 2011 car, run by Corse Clienti, so that's ok, goes the standard response. Mercedes used a current car and that's not allowed in the Sporting regulations.

So here's my question. What defines a 2011, or a 2013 car?

The regulations certainly define what's legal, but we all know that the regulations haven't changed that much in three years. Probably the biggest change is in the exhaust-blown diffuser area. DRS was around in 2011, and the new noses make a bit of a difference, but not much I'd guess.

The monocoque will have been optimized, but not to a massive degree, we are not talking about something that would fundamentally change the way the tyres are used.

I've seen a floor of an F1 car put together in a garage at Barcelona. It involves bonding some carbon fibre, grinding some edges, and maybe cutting some slots, maybe some trimming work. It's not beyond the imagination to think that a 2013 floor could be fitted to a 2011 car. Especially if you've run out of 2011 spares.

Of course you'd need to use the correct exhausts to match the floor, but they mount direct to the engine, the design of which has been frozen for the last, what, six years? So you could get them to fit too, easily. Especially if all your 2011 exhausts had been turned into rather elegant hatstands or lamps.

Bodywork? At worst there is tank tape, or duct tape if you prefer. I've seen whole corners of a car repaired with tape at a race meeting. To think that the most gifted mechanics in the world couldn't fake a set of 2013 bodywork with tape is, well, unthinkable.

And the easiest aspect of all? The electronics. The ECU is standard, and I don't believe the hardware has changed since 2010. Putting the latest software on it would be as easy as updating from iOS5 to iOS 6. Easier probably. And remember, there is no scrutineering at a test.

Here is my second question. As Pirelli already own a 2010 spec Renault (aka Lotus) why didn't they either upgrade that to 2011 spec, or buy/lease/rent a 2011 spec car from Lotus, or even HRT?

I believe that the reason that Pirelli needed to test the current tyres was to understand the current implementation of exhaust blowing. To understand how the tyres deal with the varying loads generated.

Presumably, that's why they haven't purchased a 2011 Sauber, Caterham or Marussia. Teams that would presumably be happy to get some extra income from a sale. Those cars just wouldn't give Pirelli the information the engineers need.

I'm certainly not saying that what I described above actually happened. But it wouldn't be inconceivable that it could be done.

Rather like Trigger's Broom - "I've had this broom for 20 years, it's had five new handles and six new heads, but I wouldn't be parted from it..."

I can't help wondering if Theseus's paradox will be referred to on June 20.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Porsche at Le Mans

I seem to be picking a link from Autosport each day, and in fact that's not a bad way to plan for the future. Today I was pleased to see the new Porsche LMP1 car is running earlier than planned.

I always used to listen to radio reports from La Sarthe; tales of Ferrari v Porsche, or Ferrari v Ford. But in the 70s and 80s it was Porsche that dominated: 935s and 936s (Martini livery, not the Jules after-shave version please) and the all-conquering 956 and its not-quite-so-pretty, longer wheelbase (to protect the drivers' legs) sister, the 962.

It's all too easy to forget that F1 drivers used to drive cars other than F1 (don't forget that Jim Clark actually won the BTCC championship in 1964, his two F1 championships either side of that, and there were sports car and Indy activities too).

Two races spring to mind, the Brands Hatch 1000km, 1970 and the 1000km at Spa, 1985. The first has a happy ending, Pedro Rodriguez driving through the pouring rain to win by 5 laps despite being black flagged early in the race. The second was where Stefan Bellof (who was closing on Ayrton Senna in the infamous 1984 Monaco race) lost his life, the result of trying to pass Jacky Ickx at Eau Rouge. Fortunately, safety has improved since then, although we have again been reminded of the fragility of human life, with Mark Robinson tragically being crushed by a mobile crane in Canada. We can never under-estimate the work that marshalls do, and the risks they take.

Porsche belong at Le Mans, and it will be good to have them back. I'm not sure what my favourite Porsche Le Mans car would be, I've seen 956s and 962s there (and oodles of GT2/3 911s but that doesn't count) and also the GT1, but the favourites for most people are likely to be the 917s, probably in Gulf colours.

In choosing my favourite version, I'll admit a preference for the Langheck (long tail) version, but given that my all time favourite from Stuttgart would be the 908/3 in Targa Florio form (see my profile on Twitter if you don't know what that looks like) then I should really opt for the 908 LH. As you can see below, it's not too different visually to the 917s above.

 Sadly, I doubt that anyone is likely to hand over a 908 to me, but if you do have one, and need an independent evaluation of its handling characteristics, you know where I am.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Red Bull and Tyres

I must confess I don't understand Red Bull's attacks on Pirelli this year. See Autosport's story for the latest grumble.

Unsafe the tyres are most certainly not. We've had no spontaneous punctures (the only failures have been where nasty sharp carbon fibre shards have been involved) and although there have been a couple of delaminations at Mercedes, the carcass has remained solid and the car has continued to be driveable.

Well, I say I don't understand the attacks - but of course I do. I just don't want to.

Most F1 fans (I think) tend to believe what they read in the papers, hear on the radio and see on TV. But the problem is always the sub-text. What people are not saying. And what Red Bull are not saying is that they believe their car is so much better than all the other cars, which they could prove by running off into the distance if only they could get some consistent rubber to race on.

They understand (of course) that the tyres were designed to be unpredictable and degrade in order to make the racing more interesting. But no team wants interesting racing, they want to win. Winning an interesting race is great, obviously, but they would never choose interesting over winning. So their campaign is aimed at  getting back closer to 2012 rubber, where their aero package would work even better than it does with 2013 tyres.

That would probably be seen as unfair on the teams like Lotus (née Toleman) who designed their cars to the published specifications. But, as lobbying for change to the rules is not itself outside the rules, it's considered fair game. Compulsory even.

It's pretty well known that F1 teams find it impossible to be unanimous about pretty much anything. Which is why there is still no (Concorde) agreement to define the commercial agreement between the teams and FOM. It is amazing that the teams ever agreed on the name Concorde. There used to be a story that at one of the meetings at Heathrow airport, the only agreement reached just before the lunch break was what sandwiches should be served for lunch...

When I've talked to F1 engineers and team principals, the key message seems to be that they don't really mind what the regulations are, as long as they are the same for everyone. Of course, if you can get the regulations that you believe would benefit you (eg a budget cap would benefit a less well-off team, unlimited testing is more desirable for teams with large budgets) then all well and good.

The FIA is there to define the regulations, which they've done. And they should remain static for the year. I personally would like to see Pirelli give three sets of each of the four dry compounds to the teams for each car. And then let the teams use them how they like over the weekend. Regardless of the circuit.

The strategy options would multiply significantly, introducing more doubt, and teams would have to push more. If they think the Mediums are wearing too quickly during free practice, they could qualify on Softs and then switch to Hards and run without a stop in the race. Or throw on a set of Super-Softs for the last three laps if they get a puncture.

Of course, there would still be something we'd find to complain about, as would the teams. But I still think it would be fun.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Racing Contact

Pastor Maldonado seems to be upset to receive a penalty for something that he considers to be perfectly normal. "It was not a mistake. It was normal racing contact ".

Perhaps this explains a lot about the way he drives. F1, BTCC even, are supposed to be contact-less sports. Which by definition, excludes "normal contact". As it happens, I did think he was unlucky, as the contact with Sutil was a result of apparent misjudgment, rather than a blatant attack or badly mistimed lunge. But frankly, he still deserves the penalty just for thinking that he should be allowed to contact other cars.

The recipient of his challenge, Adrian Sutil, also needs to think a bit more. And while I disagree with the current blue flag regulations (I think being able to pass back markers should be part of a driver's armoury) Sutil does need to understand and respect the rules that currently exist. It's pretty clear that a driver needs to give way within two to three marshalls' posts, or risk a penalty. Not a complete lap as he is reported as saying. That's probably because he is not used to being a lap down on the leaders, but that is no excuse. I bet recordings of adrian ranting that a Caterham or Marussia won't let him past straight away aren't that tricky to find.

Finally, in the drivers that need to be a bit more careful league, Guido van der Garde. While he claims that Webber came from too far back to pass going into the corner, for me he is missing that spatial awareness that drivers like Alonso, Hamilton and Webber show when racing each other closely. How can he not have noticed that Mark was on the inside? It's simply not good enough to look in your mirrors and then drive round the corner without looking again. Drivers must know where the other cars are, or contact is inevitable. His penalty for the Sauber incident, though, is laughable. A five place grid penalty - for the man that almost always qualifies 21st or 22nd. It makes no sense.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Save the Ring

I saw a sticker on the back of a car in Zürich this morning: "Save the Ring". I'm guessing that unlike most residents of the city, I knew what it meant. is a commendable venture, aiming to protect the world's greatest stretch of tarmac from the hands of evil businessmen and councillors.

But I can't help thinking that the campaign isn't really necessary - although it does provide a reason for ring-lovers (I hope that's not a euphemism for anything) a chance to meet up without having to spend their hard-earned €uros on laps of the track. Not that they'd mind that, it's their favourite hobby.


I love the Nürburgring, or more particularly the Nordschleife - a 22km long one-way toll road (as it's officially described) running through beautiful German countryside. I've driven round it in quite a few different cars, and the only reason I haven't scared myself silly is that I'm too much in awe of it. During the first lap I drove, I passed the scenes of two accidents. In each case, a motorcyclist had over-estimated their talent and left the road. Motorcyclists do not combine well with Armco barriers, and an ambulance is usually urgently required on the scene.

The Nürburgring is perceived as being under threat because of the huge financial debts associated with it after the "Nüro-disney" theme park that was built there, but, to be honest, I'm more concerned about Brands Hatch (especially the GP circuit) or Oulton Park. Monza even. These are the sort of circuits that suffer a real threat; wealthy residents have moved close to the tracks long after the circuit was built, and don't like the noise of racing exhausts at peak barbeque time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Political pressure ensues.

But the Nürburgring doesn't suffer from that. The Eifel forest is an empty area with only a few villages, most of whom either make their living from timber or businesses that generate revenue from people driving round the Nordschleife with great rapidity.

It makes no sense to close the Nordschleife. It is perfectly possible to run a commercial venture that covers the operating costs with income from car manufacturers, race teams and people like me, who just enjoy the opportunity to drive round corners at speeds higher than Her Majesty's Constabulary deem prudent.

The theme park will never recoup it's investment, and it's unclear whether the losers will be local taxpayers, Germans in general, or the people that fund the European Union (there may be a subtle difference between those last two but I doubt it). But nobody will decide to destroy the circuit.

At some stage, someone will decide to separate the toxic part of the business (the leisure park) from the profitable part of the business (the racetracks) and all will be well.

Not ideal perhaps, but well. There may be hikes in charges for using the Nordschleife, but that's appropriate in a commercial business aimed at providing the best return to its shareholders (which should be all businesses). A competent management will balance supply and demand and if they don't, the business will fail, and someone else will buy it and aim to maximise their investment.

In many cases, dying businesses are bought in order to strip them of valuable assets.  In this case, the main asset is a racetrack, built on land that isn't really useful for either industry or housing. So it will continue to make sense to run it as a circuit, it's just a question of determining the price that makes it viable. Obviously, users of any service like that service to be as cheap as possible, but that is determined by competition. And, as there is only one Nürburgring, there is no equivalent, no competition.So the customers will continue to pay the market price to use it.

So do we need to Save the Ring? I'd like to think that it will save itself. Just as long as we love it enough.


You may have noticed that I'm having a bash at revamping/rebuilding/resurrecting my blog.

I'm trying to get together some pieces that have been publisghed elsewhere, and have them pretty much in one place. Hopefully that won't frustrate any readers that see a five-year-old post suddenly appear in their reader. Apologies if it does.

And it'll take me a while I'm afraid. I keep reading all the stuff that I wrote ages ago, and have already forgotten...

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Two things struck me both about today’s race, and the background to it.

Firstly, DRS is currently too significant. Yes there was some great passing, but some of it was just too easy. My current theory is that DRS shouldn’t affect top speed, just allow the car behind to gain the speed it would have had if it hadn’t been running in dirty air. It can’t be impossible to develop an algorithm to allow that. I’m available if the FIA is interested.

Secondly, what’s all this nonsense about letting Bahrain be the first race again (as it was in 2010, the only year that I’ve been there)? They should be happy that the race hasn’t been cancelled either this year or last, and they don’t even fill the low capacity grandstands. So why would anyone want them to have the honour (that currently Australia rightly has) of having the first race? The reason would, of course, be money; money that will not be staying in motorsport. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Zurich - Planet Walk


Just 20 minutes by train, the S10, from Zurich main station, is the best view of the city and lake you'll find.


The Uetliberg is at the top of the ridge that runs along the lake, and gives spectacular views in all directions, especially from the observation tower.


It's a 15 minute walk from the station to the viewing platform, and it is uphill, so can leave you a bit out of breath - but the view may well take your breath away too.

It's also educational, along the walk are scale models of the sun and the nine planets (eight if you're a purist and no longer count Pluto) of our solar system.

In the photo above, you can see the sun, and Mercury is a tiny ball bearing encased in the blue plastic you can just see mounted in the stone.

The Earth is about a quarter of a mile down the path.

I confess, I've never got as far as Pluto.

Friday, 5 April 2013


I don't understand economics very well. Or maybe that's macro-economics. Quantative-easing, that sort of thing. Supply and demand, market forces, I'm ok with that, but not when it comes down to printing money and restricting the money supply.

My view on Cyprus recently was quite simple. Let it fall out of the Euro and see what happens. If it's bad, then we protect Greece, Spain etc. If not, then maybe next time we let them go their own way. It seems to me that it's a bit like being a member of a golf club. I wouldn't expect other members to pay for me if I fell on hard times and couldn't pay my subscription. It might be (ok, it definitely would be) harsh on the citizens of cyprus, but they have a democarcy and thus all share in the state they have ended up in.

But recently I read a very good article in the London Review of Books here. I especially liked the bit about how an unexpected ten pounds had a much wider effect on the economy as a result of becoming a multiplier. I'm probably not supposed to quote this much text, but as it's less than a paragraph I'll give it a go (If you're from the LRB please let me know if you're unhappy):

Imagine for a moment that you come across an unexpected ten pounds. After making a mental note not to spend it all at once, you go out and spend it all at once, on, say, two pairs of woolly socks. The person from the sock shop then takes your tenner and spends it on wine, and the wine merchant spends it on tickets to see The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and the owner of the cinema spends it on chocolate, and the sweet-shop owner spends it on a bus ticket, and the owner of the bus company deposits it in the bank. That initial ten pounds has been spent six times, and has generated £60 of economic activity. In a sense, no one is any better off; and yet, that movement of money makes everyone better off. To put it another way, that first tenner has contributed £60 to Britain’s GDP. Seen in this way, GDP can be thought of as a measure not so much of size – how much money we have, how much money the economy contains – but of velocity. It measures the movement of money through and around the economy; it measures activity. If you had taken the same ten quid when it was first given to you and simply paid it into your bank account, the net position could be argued to be the same – except that the only contribution to GDP is that initial gift of £10, and if this behaviour were replicated across the whole economy, then the whole economy would grind to a halt. And that, broadly speaking, is what is happening right now. People are sitting on that first tenner.

It reminded me of my simplified underlying belief in how the economy works: tell people they are living in a booming economy and they will spend, tell them it's a recession and they get worried and don't spend.

So, I'm just off down the pub to spend my tenner. How about you?