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