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.