Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh, Micheal, No

Micheal Schumacher will line up in 2010 behind the wheel of a Mercedes F1 car. When he does so, he will re-open the story that is his Formula One career. And he takes a terrific risk in doing so.

Schumacher is remembered as unquestionably the greatest modern era driver. Better than Prost, better than Senna. Better than Mansell. And of all the champions since, perhaps only Fernando Alonso deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as those four.

Schumacher's final drive in Brazil 2006 underscored both his drive and the quality of his car -- coming into the race with still a mathematical chance of winning the drivers' title, and after being forced to the back of the pack with an early puncture, he cut his deficit to the leader from 90 seconds down to 60 over the race distance. This showed that had he been anywhere near the front of the pack, he could have won. Which might not have granted him the drivers' title, but it would have reminded everyone of how dominating he could be.

I was relieved when Schumacher bowed out of attempting to replace Massa in 2009. The risk to his reputation was too high.

And I think it is still too high. If Schumacher is shown up by these youngsters, and I think that he just might, it will devalue what is unquestionably the greatest record of the modern era.

I also think that Ferrari will be angry as Schumacher will now be pictured next to the Mercedes Benz symbol instead of Ferrari's prancing horse. All those years of being associated with Schumacher will probably just evaporate.

Still, Schumacher is as Schumacher does. If he's bored and wants to play at racing cars again, who really is going to stop him?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2010 Deadpool

Well I went 0-for-3 on my initial predictions last year. I predicted that Honda and Torro Rosso would be gone this year, and that Williams and Red Bull would be the low-hanging fruit for 2010.

So Bernie Ecclestone is predicting two team failures even before the first grid. His low-hanging fruit: USF1 and Campos. So lets quickly have a look at the current grid, plus first-alternate-elect, and see if we can call any failures.

The Establishment:McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams, Mercedes. All definitely in.

Not Really Establishment: Torro Rosso. Red Bull's junior team is getting their own manufacturing capability, which means they are going to have to design their own car. This was a necessary step in separating the team from their big money parent. Red Bull wants out of Torro Rosso -- they'll get sold sometime this season, possibly to one of the potential entrants who were thwarted during this summer's expansion.

Similarly I drop Force India in here. While there were some surprising results in 2009, and while team owner Vijay Mallya hasn't run out of money yet, I really don't know anything about the ownership structure of the team. Results will continue to depend on the organization being a McLaren B team. I will say they will continue through 2010.

Former Members Of The Establishment: Renault is executing a graceful exit by selling 75% of the team to a third party. Renault as an organization will be out of F1 within three years; however the team should be good to continue on at least through 2010.

Similarly, Sauber (ex-BMW) will be good to participate all through 2010. Technically the team should be able to perform in the top half of the grid, although I have doubts of their ability to either step up to the top tier, or to keep up with the big teams in terms of ongoing development through a season.

First-Alternate-Elect Stefan GP has acquired the designs for Toyota's 2010 car, and as such qualifies as a "Former Member." The team intends to test their car next year if they are not permitted to race. Should someone fall out before Australia, Stefan GP may get the nod to show up. Personally I don't give them much of a chance of being able to show up in 2010, even if asked to. If space opens up for 2011, look for them to show up then -- and we'll re-evaluate them then.

The New Boys: Lotus Racing is the organization bankrolled by the Malaysian government. The Lotus name has a storied history, but unfortunately the most recent parts have not been covered in glory. The Malaysians have money, so the team will participate through 2010. However if the results are not there, they may not make it to 2012.

USF1 has been making a splash all year with their intentions to race in 2010. I believe they will have the finance to make it through 2010. The results, combined with the F1 visibility in the USA and whether or not an economic recovery starts to take hold there will dictate how much further they get.

Virgin Racing has an infusion of cash from the Virgin brand. While this is a splashy sponsorship, keep in mind that Richard Branson never spends money he doesn't have to and decided not to pursue title sponsorship with Brawn. Nick Wirth is involved, and while his ownership of Simtek didn't go well, he isn't the owner this time, just technical director. I would say they have a chance, probably a better chance than Lotus or Campos. But not much better.

I don't know anything about Campos Meta. However they do have Bruno Senna driving for them, so I presume that money will be OK for at least the first part of the season.

My predictions:

I would say that the bubble teams are Campos Meta and Lotus, with Stefan GP not being able to show up even if asked. Virgin could end up on the bubble next year depending on results.

Tune in next year for the laughing and pointing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Site Update; Apology to RSS Readers

After a week of Google Analytics showed me that nobody reads this, I decided to split Red Glory into two weblogs.

Formula 1 content remains here.

Hockey content is now at the badly named Healthy Scratch.

More commentary on this exiting new development is available over there.

Oh, and if anyone was subscribed to the RSS feed at Planet Dave, sorry about the dump of all the hockey articles again. That happened because I exported them from Red Glory and dumped them into the new blog, then added the RSS feed to the Planet. So naturally you get all the history dumped on you again.

Sorry about that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Points System For 2010

The FIA recognizes that due to the increased number of competitors at each event -- potentially 26, although I'm somewhat skeptical that everyone will make the show -- there will be increased competition for championship points. Therefore, the FIA is proposing that points be awarded: 25 points to each race winner, 20 for second place, 15 for third and 10 for fourth, before descending 8-6-5-3-2-1 for fifth through 10th positions.

This Autosport article notes that this is the most recent change to F1 points was in 2003, when points were awarded to the top 8 finishers instead of only the top 6.

I am not sure I approve. I remember the old days of 1990, when qualifying meant something -- you were not in the top 26, you didn't get in -- and there were even cars showing up for pre-qualifying (only the top two cars would be promoted for qualifying -- failing that meant your F1 weekend was over at 9AM on Friday). And through all that, points were only awarded to the top six finishers.

I remember this because I was following in 1991, when the Jordan team debuted. Their being the new kids on the block forced them to participate in pre-qualifying for the first half of the year. Because the Jordans were so good it meant that the other pre-qualifiers were basically wasting their time and money since they would never beat the Jordans.

Of course reliability was much less than it is today. Take the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix. You had 34 cars show up for the weekend. Four don't pre-qualify. Four more don't qualify, leaving you with a Sunday grid of 26. Of those 26 starters, only 10 were classified as running at the end.

And of those, only 6 were awarded points.

This year it was rare to have more than two or three cars drop out. The rules were written so that if a car was mechanically capable of running, they had to or they would be penalized -- this lead to incidents such as the one where both BMWs were pounding around several laps down, or Mark Webber's Red Bull at Suzuka.

I guess there is an argument for making there be more tangible rewards for continuing to run... but I am still not sure I approve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

BMW in 2010

A couple of articles in the media this week taught me something about how BMW views the world.

The Globe And Mail points out that once Porsche and Volkswagen reverse-acquire each other, BMW is going to be the only independent luxury marque of any practical size. This has huge implications for how the automaker designs cars, since the manufacturer doesn't have any econo-box volume sales to cover design mistakes with luxury cars. Their models have to be successful.

This also has implications for how the manufacturer goes racing. BMW has to ensure that they get the maximum amount of publicity, technology, and exposure from their participation in racing -- and to a large extent, that means being successful in the racing venues that they choose to participate in. F1Fanatic reports on BMW's choice of WTCC and GT racing for 2010 now that they have exited Formula 1. The GT racing is especially interesting because it puts the manufacturer, and the cars that they have for sale, directly in view of more Americans.

When viewed like this, BMW's retreat from F1 makes more sense. Since they are not a gigantic conglomerate, they cannot afford to spend huge amounts of money for little practical or measurable gain. And F1 has lost prominence over the last year.

Perhaps the only real surprise is how quickly BMW made their decision.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

F1 Engines

James Allen reports on comparative studies of 2009 F1 Engines:
Most teams reached the conclusion, based on acoustic analysis and GPS, that the spread of engine power from the best to the worst engines was less than 2.5% this year. This means that, if the Mercedes is believed to have had 755hp, the least powerful engine was 18hp down, which is worth just under 3/10ths of a second per lap.
I find that 0.3 second per lap penalty from 18 horse power to be suspiciously large.

Power wise, the ranking is Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, and Toyota.

Efficiency wise, the Renault was the best engine, the Ferrari the worst. This will be important next year as refueling is no longer permitted.

For 2010, Cosworth is claiming 770 horse power. That is another 15hp up on the Mercedes. As Allen notes, the Cosworth has much less reliability testing and fuel consumption is an issue.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Renault Preparing To Exit F1?

Joe Saward quotes Indian sources quoting Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosen about F1:
“F1 is one of the most-seen spectacles in the world,” he said. “It is facing some challenges: Challenges on how fair it is and how do you marry F1 with the environmental concerns. Can you bring zero emission through technology? So there are lots of questions about F1.”
“I don’t think it is going to be very important for anybody, if it doesn’t answer some of the concerns that surround F1,” he said. “I notice that in the last year, three car manufacturers have bowed out of F1. Three in one year! That means there are a lot of questions that we need to resolve.”
If we are reading the hall of mirrors here, one would have to say that Renault wants out, at least as a team participant. They will probably continue to provide and service engines for whomever wants them since it will be very difficult for teams currently committed to Renault to change now. Since there isn't much in the way of engine development permitted to go on any more, the costs of the engine is a sunk cost and supplying them can probably even be profitable.

Right now only Red Bull is an engine customer, and they were allegedly trying to get Mercedes power for 2010. But by now they are committed.

I think that once the FIA decides what penalty to give Toyota for bailing, Renault will follow shortly after.

Friday, November 20, 2009

2009, End Of An Era

So with 2009 winding down, we really do appear to be looking at the end of an era in Formula One. In the last year we have lost Honda, BMW, and Toyota. Renault hasn't decided what to do yet. This leaves Mercedes and Ferrari as pretty much the only major "manufacturers" still in the sport.

Toyota's departure was probably inevitable. Much was made of Toyota's goal to be in Formula One to beat Honda; and while Toyota managed to do that, Honda didn't make that a very high bar to clear. This year the word was that Toyota would have to win or be drummed out. While they came close at the beginning of the year, their challenge faded again as it has every year. When word came down in Brazil that Toyota was releasing their drivers to make other arrangements, the writing was pretty much on the wall.

I liked Toyota in Formula One even though they never really came to grips with the sport. I enjoyed watching them, and their participation was one factor which helped decide one of our car purchases.

I think that Formula One loses some of its legitimacy with the exodus of manufacturers from the sport. The presence of globally-recognized names helping to develop the cutting-edge technology needed to compete raised the level of prestige. The idea is that if a manufacturer has smart people who can make competitive race cars, they have smart people to make road cars, too. This may be totally faulty reasoning, but it is what I went with.

Next year will be a different year, with more private teams joining the sport. The levels of money in the sport will drop, and we will probably end up with a larger performance variation between the front runners and the back of the pack. If Renault does indeed withdraw, engine choice will be reduced even more (unless Renault does another Mechacrome/Supertek-style technology sale).

It will be interesting to see where Formula One goes from here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Time Out

Sunday, October 25, 2009

F60 "Hard To Drive"

Subs struggling because F60 difficult to drive - boss
Ferrari's 2009 car is "extremely difficult to drive" and explains why its occupants have struggled to keep up since Felipe Massa crashed in late July.
An intriguing assertion to make.

On one level, he's probably right -- the car is probably hard to drive. The 2009 rules in general, and Ferrari's implementation in specific, make the cars somewhat unlike anything else that the drivers have driven before. Ferrari's specific implementation is obviously different enough from the Force India that Fisichella comes from to make a transition difficult.

This isn't helped by Ferrari having given up on 2009, while much of the rest of the grid is still making some progress. Ferrari is falling behind.

Of course the bottom line is that all this is aggravated by the total lack of available testing this year.

There definitely needs to be some accommodation for testing, if only so that reserve drivers get the experience they need to drive the cars safely under race conditions.

I don't like tests where the teams run at a track before an event. Perhaps we should have some ability for them to run for a couple of days after an event, at pre-determined times at the year?

This would be an increase in costs, since the race team would not be able to participate -- and the race-specific cars obviously can't participate, due to the restrictions on engine and gearboxes used. So we would be back to the "test team" days of... well... last year?

But it is clearly needed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Honda Engine

F1 Fanatic wonders if Honda threw away a double-championship season?
Earlier this year I asked a Brawn engineer whether he thought the team would have been as competitive if its cars were still using Honda engines instead of Mercedes.

The response came back firmly in the negative, and various disparaging remarks were made about the quality of Honda’s engines and their inability to remove the skin from rice pudding.
Interesting reading.

My view has been that the Honda engine wasn't impressive, but still somehow wasn't impressively bad enough to justify being re-balanced as the Renault engine was. The Mercedes engine is clearly the powerplant to have, given the success of Brawn, McLaren, and even more amazingly, Force India.

Based on that I conclude that while the double-diffuser would give the Honda an edge at the beginning of the year, the team would be quickly caught as the rest of the pack developed similar pieces, and we would probably have been left with a Red Bull championship in 2009.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


People who have known me a long time know I have an irrational affection for Jean Alesi. I have been a fan since his first year at Tyrrel Racing, when he had the nerve to cut back underneath and re-pass Ayrton Senna in Phoenix. His style, his passion, his ability to drag Ferrari cars around much faster than they had any business going -- it all appealed to me. I always thought that if Gilles Villeneuve had a spiritual successor, it was Alesi. Alesi only scored one Formula One win, in Montreal's 1995 race. I was there when it happened, in the GA area at the first hairpin.

So I'm pleased to note that Alesi may be getting involved with a different branch of Ferrari, AF Corse, which runs a GT2 car in the International Grand Turismo Championship series. Alesi participated in a test this week that went very well, and all parties are optimistic that Alesi will be a part of the 2010 program.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I still can't believe it

So why we sit and marvel at the sight of Jenson Button doing his level best to piss away a world championship, I think I'm finally ready to address the story of the year so far in F1.

I still can't believe that Renault essentially copped to race fixing.

I'm probably the only one in the world who believes that F1 is about competition, and while rules might be aggressively bent, they would never be blatantly broken. And yes, that makes me an idiot.

In a sport with this much money flowing through it -- and make no mistake, the "budget capping" exercise will do little to reduce the flow of money, only slightly redirect into which pockets it ends up residing in -- it is probably surprising that this doesn't happen more often. Or maybe it does, and the surprise is that nobody admits it or gets caught doing it.

Keep in mind that if Piquet had not been abruptly terminated in mid-season, he probably would have never spoken about it to the media. If it ever came out, it would probably be in indirect terms buried in someone's memoirs in twenty years when nobody would be around to care any more.

The FIA moved quickly on this, as it had to. Any overt rumblings of out-and-out race fixing would have to be investigated, and if there was substance to the stories, the perpetrators punished.

So how were the various players punished?

Pat Simmonds got five years. This seems a reasonable punishment, and really his being associated with this scandal will put him to rest for longer than that. It does give him the possibility of building up his reputation again in another formula once the five years have passed.

Flavio Briatore -- he got a lifetime ban. This has a knock-on effect with his other dealings, in that the football organization he is an owner in says you can't be an owner if another sporting federation has kicked you out, which the FIA has. It also buries his driver management side-business. It makes him a persona non grata in motor racing, and will affect his life beyond this.

This I think is excessive. A charitable reading of the evidence might suggest that the idea was made in jest, with people not being sure if the idea was really a jest or not -- maybe a joke that got out of hand. When I read it, my impression was that it was Piquet and Simmonds who were the main protagonists. Briatore knew, was involved, did not do anything to object or prevent it from happening, and as team principal is ultimately responsible for what happened -- but life? Come on.

Nelson Piquet Jr got nothing, since he was granted immunity. And yes, he was in an impossible situation, since his agent was also the team principal. However the fact that he gleefully shared Renault's dirty laundry after being dismissed will give many other people pause before they hire him, which is worse than anything the FIA could have possibly done to him. I doubt we will ever see him in F1 again.

Team Renault got -- nothing.

Wait, that can't be right. We had better read the decision again. Section 68 says:
The WMSC considers Renault F1’s breaches relating to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to be of unparalleled severity. Renault F1’s breaches not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jnr himself.
I don't think you can sugar coat that. This is about the worst thing a competitor can do in Formula One.
The WMSC considers that offences of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship.
Permanent. Disqualification. Sounds severe. Also sounds appropriate. I mean, Renault has only called into question the integrity of the entire Formula One organization in general, and the FIA's ability to police it.

However, there's a However:
However, having regard to the points in mitigation mentioned above and in particular the steps taken by Renault F1 to identify and address the failings within its team and condemn the actions of the
individuals involved, the WMSC has decided to suspend Renault F1’s disqualification until the end of the 2011 season. The WMSC will only activate this disqualification if Renault F1 is found guilty of a comparable breach during that time.
Don't you love fine print?

Translation: Renault will only be permanently disqualified if they are convicted of doing the same thing. In other words, short of getting caught fixing another race in the next two years, there's no punishment.

So yeah, Renault got nothing.

This is completely ridiculous. When Schumacher drove into Villeneuve, he lost all his world championship points for the year. When BAR was caught fiddling with their cars in post-race scruitineering, they got banned for two races. When McLaren was caught with Ferrari developmental documentation, they got fined $100 million AND lost all their constructors points for the year.

But Renault commits an offense which the FIA states is about the worst thing you can do, they get -- nothing.

Now F1 is in a fragile state right now. Honda has gone, BMW is leaving, Toyota and Renault both are considered on the edge, and the FIA has a bunch of new teams who all signed up to run under a different set of rules from what will actually govern next year's series. The chances of next year becoming a Formula Farce with teams that can't compete or can't keep the required level of funding are very high.

And say what you want about Renault, they are an organization which can field a reasonable team and can build some very competitive engines as evidenced by their Red Bull customers. So kicking them out of F1 completely would have some very unpleasant knock-on effects for F1 as a whole.

Now I am not arguing that Renault should have been banned. I think a whopping great fine would have been appropriate plus docking them the manufacturer points for '08 (since that was the year of the offense) and '09 (since that will have an effect on how they conduct business in 2010).

But the FIA's attempt to have its cake and eat it too, in that it is seen as being able to quickly and effectively police the series under their control while not actually harming one of their important competitors -- I think this has backfired completely. How can one view this verdict as anything other than political?

I hope that the FIA can somehow figure out a way to hang this on Max Mosley's head so that some, if not all, of the stigma departs with him. But really, it is hard to take the FIA seriously after this.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fourth at Suzuka

Good credit to Kimi Raikkonen for pedaling his undeveloped Ferrari to fourth place this weekend in Japan. Raikkonen did well to put in the fast laps when it counted, managing to pass Heidfeld for fifth, then being gifted with fourth when Rosberg lost out in the safety car shuffle.

The laps in between his pit stop and Heidfeld's were magic to watch, and TV viewers were treated to the Ferrari being pushed around the circuit. Here in Canada we cut to commercial, but due to an arrangement with the sponsors the live feed continues on in a small letterbox so we could continue to watch the action during the commercial breaks. Since I was watching on PVR, I had the option of fast-forwarding the commercial, but I watched through the break just to watch the Ferrari's laps.

It is a shame that at the end we didn't have enough to beat Hamilton's McLaren, but we can't have everything. Fourth was a lucky gift as it was.

Fisichella had a somewhat more character-building afternoon, banging wheels with the second McLaren, en-route to twelfth. I'm sure that Fisichella wonders what might have been had he been at the wheel of a Force India car instead.

So I'm pleased with the result, I was worried that the Singapore experience was going to be representative of the remaining races. Hopefully there will be some more good points finishes coming.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Well That's 2009 Done

Ferrari really is pretty much done with 2009, aren't they? Now that Fernando Alonso has been confirmed to drive alongside Philippe Massa, the team is left in the situation of having two drivers who won't be back next year driving a car for which no further development will be done.

Makes one wonder what the point of the last few races will be.

If Raikkonnen can't get competitive pace out of the car, what hope does Fisichella have? Raikkonen circulated out of the top ten in Singapore, which means that Fisichella's target for the rest of the year pretty much boils down to "don't be last and don't run into anybody else".

If Singapore is indicative of the rest of the year, any points would be above reasonable expectations.

Given that situation, I doubt that Massa will risk a return to racing in 2009. Between his injury and the car dropping back in competitiveness, there's no reasonable way he can put up anything even close to a good race result. Massa will wait for winter testing to return to the driver's seat.

2009 ends on a sour note for Ferrari. Not that we really expected much in the way of results. Right from the word go this year the car was not a world-beater. Both Ferrari and McLaren have demonstrated what is possible if you have a lot of resources available to throw at car development. McLaren managed to do it better, demonstrated by the fact that their car was once of the worst at the beginning of the year and is now regularly at the front.

I sure hope this early focus on 2010 pays off, even if I'm not a fan of Alonso... but maybe more on him another time.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Translation Programs Like F1

Red Bull set F1 racing blog: Red Bull puts apparatus See resolution on hold
[...]Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner has said that he when one pleases not stew more wide-ranging its locomotive locale until after next week’s FIA World Motor Sport Council hearing into Renault. Accepting a second-rate locomotive apportion is not on the team’s agenda – which is why it has no more than been account the Mercedes-Benz or Renault road. [...]
The rest of the "article" is similarly badly translated.

I gather the original source has been swiped from elsewhere and then double-translated, so I doubt reproducing it here will cause any trouble.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm absolutely floored

Renault will not contest race fixing charges; Briatore, Symonds leave team
ING Renault F1 Team Statement – 16 September 2009

The ING Renault F1 Team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. It also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team. Before attending the hearing before the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 21 September 2009, the team will not make any further comment.
I really don't know what to say.

I've long thought that team orders should be legal -- at the time my argument was that Ron Dennis pays a lot of money to run two F1 cars, if it should please him to run one particular one in front of the other, then that should be his privilege. Assuming of course that there's no unsporting behavior going on.

Using one car to defend another -- that's been done for years. Recall Boutsen's Williams at Hungary in '89 or '90 -- Patrese in the sister car delayed his pit stop, destroying his own chances at a good result, so that Boutsen would have a few more clear sailing laps before the McLarens would catch up with him.

And holding up faster traffic, especially lapping faster traffic, is a time-honored tradition, even if it is technically against the rules now.

But deliberately crashing one car to the advantage of the other?

Frankly, I'm stunned that it happened, let alone that Renault has, as an organization, essentially copped to it.

(Update: Comprehensive analysis at

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Podium at Home

Ferrari comes away with a podium at their home Grand Prix, albeit one gifted them by a very strange mistake made by Hamilton. I seriously wonder why McLaren permitted Hamilton to keep charging with only two laps to go -- the extra two points on offer were not risking the six points already in the bag. The rate that Hamilton was closing on Button left me with little doubt that while the two cars would probably cross the line nose-to-tail, the McLaren would not be able to pass the Brawn. It was out of reach.

Raikkonen did what he had to do, although for the second race in a row he found himself trying to fend off a Force India car. Unfortunately for him the car was much less happy on the last set of tires than previous sets, and that let Sutil stay closer than perhaps anyone at Ferrari cared to see. But until then the Ferrari had more than enough to keep the Force India behind.

Speaking of which -- hey whoa, those Force India cars really are fast. Sutil didn't feature in Belgium, but he got the job done here this weekend. I can only wonder what might have happened had Fisichella stayed with Force India.

Fisichella himself sees a bit of a redemption -- ninth is better than dead last, and knocking on the door for points. I doubt he will get on terms with his new teammate this year, but extra points will always be a good thing.

Overall though the race was a bit of a tactical procession, save some Toyotas trying to bang wheels at the end. I must say that I still don't see anything that gives me hope for an improved quality of racing next year. The KERS cars can occasionally pass non-KERS cars, but straight-up there is little passing unless someone makes an error or has a problem of some sort.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brief Deadpool Update

Toyota confirms F1 Participation:
Toyota's Formula 1 chiefs have been assured that the Japanese manufacturer is not planning a shock withdrawal from the sport later this year - but the team has been warned to prepare itself for major costs cuts.
So that's good news. However, some are speculating that Renault's tenuous commitment to F1 will be dashed by the FIA's investigation into last year's race at Singapore.

Personally I'm more than a little surprised at this level of interest by the FIA. I would have thought with F1 as fragile as it is, the FIA would have sought every possible excuse to deal with this quietly and sweep it away under the rug. The fact that it has gone this far must mean there is something very compelling behind this issue.

Given Renault's lack of results over the past two years, it would not be surprising if this bad publicity pushed the company to decide to pack it in after this year or maybe next.

Fisichella joins Ferrari

Well, I sure called that one, didn't I? Not.

I sure hope Force India will be well compensated for releasing Fisichella. I still think that Fisichella was Force India's best chance to secure meaningful results, and the lack of those results will hurt the team's ability to attract sponsorship.

One mistake I made in my analysis was to assume that Fisichella was still thinking of continuing beyond this year. Many articles this week have made mention that Fisichella was hoping to be named Ferrari test/reserve driver for 2010, a position which would be almost totally ceremonial in today's testing-free environment. Take away Fisichella's concerns for the future, and going to Ferrari now is a good move for him.

It is a good move for Ferrari, too. Fisichella represents perhaps the best chance to convert the 2009 car's capabilities into points. Although those chances may narrow somewhat as the team moves their focus to the 2010 car.

The Monza setup should be well-developed though. It is the home race for Ferrari, and even though it is a one-off in terms of downforce and car configuration, the team will come well prepared.

Finally, by retaining Fisichella for the remaining races, Massa is given the rest of the year to heal and get ready for next year. Although I am sure Massa will be itching to get back in it, it probably won't be a bad idea that his next turn behind the wheel will be in testing and not a high-pressure Grand Prix weekend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Driver Problems

Ferrari has a driver problem. In that, they need one both immediately, as well as to build the future of the team.

In the short term, Luca Badoer has shown that whatever his credentials in testing, he is just not up to driving this year's car on no practice and testing. Ferrari desperately wants to hang on to third in the Constructors championship, and needs someone who can potentially drive the car for points-paying finishes.

This is a problem, because in my opinion this person does not exist outside of Formula 1 today. The field is too tightly packed in terms of performance week-to-week, reliability is unbelievably high, and most attrition seems to come from cars running into each other or other driver-related failures. In this environment, there is not anyone you can parachute into the Ferrari and have them produce what the car is capable of -- especially when you consider that for the first part of the season, it was difficult to see both Ferraris in the points, never mind high up in the points.

The press seems enamoured with the idea that Fisichella will be raised up from Force India into the second Ferrari seat, and he would be further rewarded with a "testing" position next year.

In the short term, this isn't a bad idea. Fisichella has the experience in a 2009 car, and can surely come to grips with a Ferrari somewhat faster than Badoer has/can. Whether or not he'd come to grips with it enough to bring a Ferrari from the back row into the points soon enough to do any good for the Constructor's table is anyone's guess, but he's better qualified than most other candidates.

In the long term, my first reaction would be that this was a bad plan for Ferrari. Everyone is expecting that the Ferrari driver lineup next year is going to be Alonso and Massa, with Raikkonen bought-out or sold to the Fiat World Rally Championship team or something. Further, if Massa is unable to get the job done at Ferrari next year, if this injury really is a career-ending one, Raikkonen could be kept on enough of a string to be brought back -- although a team with Alonso and Raikkonen would be definitely unpleasant to work at for everyone, drivers included. Especially if there was a championship in the offing.

But if Ferrari is serious about divesting themselves of Raikkonen, then having Fisichella in reserve is a smart move.

Note that personally I don't put any stock in these stories regarding Micheal Schumacher making a return next year. It wouldn't do his reputation any good. I think that he wouldn't be able to come to grips with the cars after so long away, and a Ferrari in his hands would be wasted. Even if it was a "third car", something else I don't rate highly as a possibility for next year.

Ferrari has assembled themselves a lot of question marks for next year.
  • Alonso -- will he be any good out of the box?
  • Massa -- can he really return and be effective?
  • Raikkonnen -- is he motivated any more?
And to add Fisichella to that mix.

There are two problems with Fisichella, neither of which are really Ferrari issues. First, there's the issue of Force India. I'm sure Adrian Sutil is a sincere guy, but lets face it -- he drove the same car as the one which chased a Ferrari around Spa last weekend without it being anywhere near as interesting to watch. And new guys Alguersuari and Grossjean showed that while they were better than Luca Badoer, that's about all they were better than.

To suggest that Force India is about to accept losing the driver who seems the difference between being competitive and being present is ridiculous. While selling Fisichella to Ferrari might help settle some outstanding accounts with respect to an old engine contract, the results that Fisichella could potentially bring to the team will be worth far more in terms of both short-term sponsorship dollars and long-term prestige. Packing that in to run Sutil and another inexperienced driver for the rest of the year -- well I wouldn't do that. I'd hold on to Fisichella with both hands, and make sure that Ferrari understood that the selling price would exceed their grasp, no matter how long a grasp they might grow.

Fisichella is the second problem. While practically any Italian driver might drop everything for the chance to drive a Ferrari, especially at Monza, it is a career risk. As pointed out above, there is a potential logjam for Ferrari seats in 2010. The "reward" of a test/reserve driver position is virtually meaningless in the no-testing environment of Formula 1, which means Fisichella would be basically relegated to the sidelines, watching his skills atrophy. Basically Fisichella would be in the unenviable position of hoping both that Massa can't come back, and Raikkonen gets moved along before Massa withdraws; nothing less would give him a competitive seat at Ferrari.

There is also the chance that Fisichella might not get the Ferrari to score points, which won't do his chances for 2010 elsewhere much good, as he's already shown that he can run competitively. If he stays at Force India and does nothing else this season, the results will be blamed on the car. If he goes to Ferrari and does nothing but "be better than Badoer", the failing will be blamed on him. If I was in his management, I'd be encouraging him to stand pat at Force India.

Given all that, the best use of the 2009 Ferrari seat is to build for the future. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any room through 2010 to build, which means that building effort now would be wasted.

There is also the problem that Ferrari is on the verge of concentrating on 2010 instead of developing in 2009. Once that happens we can pretty much close the book on the season.

So that's a lot of words to say -- Ferrari has a problem. It is tempting to make a bunch of predictions, but I have not got many of those right recently and really I don't know what should happen, let alone what will happen.

Monday, August 31, 2009

No, Really -- A Win!

Woo hoo! I shouted at Raikkonen all the way around La Source that first time, and after the safety car he nearly ran over Fisichella at the top of Eau Rouge while going past.

After that, some steady driving, combined with Fisichella's tactical inability to take any real chances (lets face it, Fisichella was under orders to bring that car home in the points no excuses) solidified the win.

That said, the total absence of Brawn and McLaren cars at the sharp end of the grid, plus some bad luck for the Red Bulls also helped; Vettel demonstrated the ability to reel in the BMW, Force India, and Ferrari ahead of him; however it's questionable as to if he would have been able to do anything about any of them had he actually caught them.

Those of us who remember our history know that one race does not mean that a team has permanently fallen behind or sprung ahead. I remember the March/Layton House team struggling to qualify in Mexico, and two weeks later in France running second and third. Force India has to show that they can repeat this kind of pace before we'll decide that they have legitimately improved.

Similarly we can enjoy the improvement in BMW form, something which should go a long way towards securing the team's future as a viable enterprise. But in the absence of the championship contenders, we can't really draw any conclusions.

But for Ferrari fans, it was a good day, one we'd doubted that we would see given the lack of pace at the beginning of the season.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This is a joke, right?

Fisichella nabs first Force India pole in Belgium
Face it, you would, too. Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella did a radio double take -- "pole position?" -- as his crew informed him he had nailed top spot for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium. He turned a lap of 1 minute, 46.308 seconds on the 4.3-mile forest course that dates to the 1920s, nearly a tenth of a second ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Hey, lookie, an all-Italian front row.
Eh? What? Weren't the Brawns and Red Bulls supposed to resume normal service here? And what about the McLarens and Ferraris that were ready to pick up the slack if either of the two front runners faltered?

This is unbelievable.

Just about the only thing from today that went as predicted is that Luca Badoer is still stuck at the back.

For some random reason I actually recorded qualifying today, and after I read the result I just had to watch it. And the Toyotas and Fisichella and the BMWs were legitimately quick today, while the usual front runners struggled for unknown reasons.

I mean -- who could predict the McLarens barely scraping into Q2 and being almost invisible in Q3?

Normally you have a feel for how things will play out in the race based on qualifying, but here I don't know. Sure, Barrichello's Brawn is well placed to run here, but it is not impossible that Raikkonnen's Ferrari will ride KERS past him either into turn 1 or on the run down to Eau Rouge. If that's the case, the Ferrari will be a threat for any step on the podium.

I'd say that of the top three qualifiers, my money is on BMW making the podium. As for the rest, the scramble around the first lap will decide much of the finishing order.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Valencia: Year Two and F1 2010

This is the second year that Formula 1 has raced at Valenica.

Last year I described the race course as a cement-walled gerbil run. The TV lines were so bad that most of the time we only got a single car in the shot, leading to the illusion that the cars were running on their own the whole time. The fact that we were more interested in pit-lane violations and fancy lights verses of a lollipop instead of actual racing speaks volumes about both the state of Formula One in general and Valencia in particular.

This year they moved the walls back, which helps a lot from the TV show perspective. Without the cars being walled in so tightly we can see more of them and you can watch cars following each other more closely than last year. However from a racing perspective it was still pretty dry.

Next year there will be no more refueling. Instead of pit-lane and fuel-load strategy, the cars will have to challenge for position, and make passes, on the track.

The problem I have with this is that as currently written, I don't believe that these regulations will lead to any improvement in the racing. If anything, the show next year stands to be even more boring than this year.


Because I don't think the technical rules will actually make passing any easier.

I had such high hopes for 2009. I was positively salivating after the Australian Grand Prix, which featured Vettel tangling with Kubica in the closing stages of the race. The event had featured closer racing for position up and down the field, too. The fact that it ended in tears for Vettel didn't do much to discourage me, and left me hoping that this would be a sign of things to come.

Yet it hasn't panned out that way. This year, as in previous years, the majority of on-track, non-contact position changes have happened on the first lap. Beyond that it is usually pit lane strategy that changes the running order.

Try running Valencia from this year without the refueling. What would have been different? Well, the McLaren cars wouldn't have had to stop; Kovalainen could have parked his car on the racing line and let Hamilton draw out an untouchable lead. Neither Barichello nor Raikkonen would have been able to move up. We would have snoozed through the procession race, and woken up to a one-two McLaren finish.

And that's the problem I have with the regulations for 2010. Yes, we'll no longer have to worry about fuel loads, as the order will be more or less set from the first lap. But since the cars can't run closely enough together to make passing a real possibility, I think in the end it will be more boring next year.

Even more so at gerbil runs like Monaco and Valencia.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Good Couple Of Races

Kimi Raikkonen has had himself a good couple of races.

On the podium both in Hungary and Valencia, he's keeping Ferrari in the thick of things. It shows that when it comes to these point-and-squirt type tracks, the KERS-equipped Ferrari is well suited. It also reaffirms that he is motivated, something which doesn't hurt in these days of driver indecision at Ferrari.

The result in Valencia is probably more legitimate than that in Hungary, as the Brawn cars obviously started their summer break a bit early. But Barrichello had the Brawn wound up properly today, and was in the perfect position to take advantage of McLaren's mis-step at the last round of pit stops. A third today is well done indeed.

That said, the issue of the reserve driver is one which has to be addressed. It is almost criminal that drivers are placed in Formula 1 cars in a race situation without any testing ahead of time. Badoer just couldn't get it together today. The other relative rookies are definitely coming from more recent competition than Badoer is, and that certainly helps.

Having one's debut at Valencia, too, makes things excessively difficult -- the nature of the circuit means that if you get one corner wrong those errors will tend to compound and get carried forward much more.

If you ask me, Micheal Schumacher probably would have done better, but I personally wouldn't have put any money on him scoring any points.

So given that a new, inexperienced driver is unlikely to contribute much to the points tally, Ferrari should have picked someone likely to grow into the organization longer term. This would be an unpopular decision in the press, but is more likely to assist the organization in a long-term way than the Badoer decision.

I hope Badoer does better at Spa, but again I'm not putting money on his chances for points. The sharp end of the grid is too tightly packed, and reliability too good, for someone to squeeze in.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Button: Man or Monkey?

F1Fanatic ranks this year's drivers, ending with Jenson Button as number one. But the telling quote is the reader-supplied quote on Button:
It’s all well and good having a good car, but Barrichello has proved that its not just about the car. Button has driven superbly this season, and completely outdone Barrichello in the same machinery. --Claire MSJ
The thing is, I still don't rate Button very highly, for the same reason that I never rated Villeneuve highly -- his success only came when he was in a car which had a huge advantage over the rest of the field.

In Villeneuve's case, my description is usually Williams built a car that a monkey could win the world championship in. And in this case, there is a compelling argument that this is precisely what happened.

When Villeneuve's career was winding down, he found himself in the BAR with Button in the opposite car. While the car flattered neither driver, neither driver particularly covered themselves in glory while driving it.

The way Button's season has suddenly appeared to sag at the seams just as everyone was warming up the Button Becomes World Championship headlines gives lie to the suggestion that while he is certainly a competent driver, he is hardly exceptional.

The excuses have been convenient -- the Brawn can't deal with the cooler temperatures which prevailed at Silverstone or Nurburgring. The KERS cars had a technological edge in Hungary. But the fact is that those same KERS cars where overwhelmed at Monaco, where the Brawn put on a clinic of domination.

Brawn walks a tightrope as a team right now, balancing the need to strike the Championship now, while the fire is hot, and building a team which will compete reasonably in the future. Given their financial state, and the almost total lack of visible sponsorship support, one would think that the short-term thinking of maximizing performance potential today would be the best thing they could do; otherwise, their performance could drop off before a big-money sponsor is committed for next year.

But all that aside, if Button is going to promote himself from the ranks of the truly adequate, he's going to have to bring something special to the second half of the season.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

BMW Getting Lesson In Economics

BMW has a problem: it wants out of Formula 1, and it wants out this year.

BMW has another problem: they have confused "replacement cost" with "resale value". In trying to find a way to transfer the ownership of the team to Peter Sauber, BMW thinks that the team is an asset that has a value, and therefore they want to be compensated for handing over ownership of that asset to another party. Under most circumstances, that would be reasonable thinking. I have something of value that you want; therefore you pay me if I am to agree to give it to you. The thing is, while the team facilities and equipment would undoubtedly cost money to replace, this doesn't really have any bearing on the actual value of the team.

It is a fundamental point of economics that an object's value is dictated by a willing buyer meeting willing seller. So if I have a Formula 1 team that would cost say $300 million to replace in terms of staff and facilities, but I can't find someone willing to pay me $300 million for it, is it actually worth $300 million?


In this case, BMW's demands for money as a part of the sale means that quite probably the sale won't go through. This is because the revised Concorde Agreement has been signed by everyone else, and to alter the agreement now would require all other signatory's consent. And as the Schumacher testing debacle shows, such unanimity is hard to come by.

The sad thing is that by insisting on a particular value for the team, BMW has effectively dropped its value to nearly zero, plus any proceeds from winding up the team by selling its components.

In this situation, everyone loses: Peter Sauber loses a team he spent so much time and effort building, F1 loses a capable participant, and BMW ends up with more mud on their face.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Formula 1 Deadpool, Revisited

Well I didn't see BMW's departure coming at all. I figured that BMW would recognize that the dynamic change in the rules, coupled with the predictable unstable "clarification" of some rules with respect to the aerodynamics (specifically, the double-diffusers), that this year was going to be a down year. I fully expected them to brush themselves off and carry on building towards a more successful year next year.

Their involvement and support of both the FIA's wacky technologies (KERS) and FOTA's insistence on having some control over their own destinies showed that they were trying to bridge the gap between the two positions and embrace the future of the sport.

Instead, they are gone.

In the short term, this is the perfect time to quit. It means that they can focus on finding a new ownership group for the team instead of paying to develop next year's car. The ownership should be pretty straight forward, the rumblings seem to suggest that Peter Sauber will get control of the team if nobody else more attractive comes forward; from that point, building for the future becomes someone else's problem. This reduces the risk that BMW will feed another Brawn, paying to develop a car which ends up being much more competitive than expected and making the departure look premature.

So what else has changed since we last looked at the deadpool?

Red Bull has become unexpectedly competitive. This will breath new life into Torro Rosso as a 'junior' team, assuming that the results continue to be suitably 'junior' and costs can be kept under control.

Toyota has had a down year. While they were optimistic about their chances this year, the results have followed the path from previous years -- being on the verge of a break-out at the beginning of the year, then falling back as the rest of the pack continues development. For some reason Toyota builds a better car on average at the beginning of the year but just can't develop through the season. It is an odd failing. Toyota also has to face the fact that their goals in joining Formula 1 will not be met -- they joined to beat Honda. The problem is that 1) Honda isn't in Formula 1 any more, and 2) even having left, Toyota can't beat the remnants (Brawn).

Renault has been revealed to be a bigger budget team than suspected. This makes them a prime candidate to be the next to depart, especially considering their results thus far and the treatment they are receiving for their behavior in Hungary. Their parent company continues to have a rough year financially and the Formula 1 team has to look increasingly like low-hanging fruit to cut from the expenditure table.

Toyota and Renault's uncertain future has to have an effect on their customer teams too. Williams and Red Bull are current engine customers, and should the parent team leave the supply of engines may be eliminated. One wonders if Red Bull knows something we don't, as there have been stories that they are seeking a supply of Mercedes engines instead. It's quite possible that they want to get rid of the Ferrari engines that Torro Rosso is using, and shuffle around who is using what, but the fact that they might have been quietly told that alternate arrangements will be required cannot be dismissed.

All in all, things are looking pretty grim for Formula 1 as a premier series. The series enjoys its status because of the manufacturer involvement. Should too many of the manufacturers withdraw, it will become just another international series.

We can only hope that Renault and Toyota stay the course for the next few years and then re-evaluate things as the costs come down.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Massa's Impact

F1 Fanatic has a well put together entry examining the physics of the hit Massa took this weekend:
By the numbers above, Massa would have been 14 times better off being hit by Nolan Ryan fastball. He would have been four times better off letting Barry Bonds take a full-force swing at his head. For that matter, in terms of sheer energy, he’d have been better off letting Barry Bonds hit him in the head at the same instant that someone shot him point-blank with Dirty Harry’s gun.
Hmmm, a little hyperbolic.

But still, the point is that taking 800 grams to the head at 100 miles per hour could quite easily have been a tragedy and can still be a career-ending incident. The brain is an amazing construction but can still be damaged in ways we do not understand.

Filipe not only lives, but looks to have a strong prognosis -- this alone makes him very, very lucky. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Changing Of The Guard?

F1 Fanatic is talking about a potential sea-change for the rest of the season based on the Hungarian Grand Prix:
The Hungarian Grand Prix was an odd race in every respect. We saw a massive shake-up of the competitive order with McLaren and Ferrari and Brawn - the team which dominated the first third of the championship - struggling even to score.

If this sets a pattern for the rest of the year, we’re in for another unpredictable end to the season.
I disagree, and this is why:
  • The Hungarian Grand Prix is a specialist event. It is very much a stop-point-and-squirt track with little opportunity to let the cars run at sustained speed. For this track, the KERS-equipped cars were always going to excel -- and surprise surprise, that's exactly what happened.
  • Brawn hasn't lost the plot. While I can accept that McLaren and Ferrari have the resources to come up with improvements to close the gap on Brawn and Red Bull, I find it very unlikely that McLaren AND Ferrari AND Williams AND Renault have all come up with developments to put the Brawn AND the Red Bull in the shade. More likely these cars suited the specialist nature of the Hungaroring.
  • Red Bull (probably) hasn't lost the plot. The fact that the other "front runner" of the season also had a poor showing at this event reinforces the fact that this is a specialist track. (I say probably because I'm still surprised at their competitive level this year!)
  • Neither McLaren nor Ferrari has a complete line-up. Let's be honest here -- Filipe Massa will probably not return to the car this year (if ever -- my feeling is that this is a career-ending injury, and even should he return he will never be as competitive again) and Heikki Kovalainen isn't getting the same performance from his McLaren that Lewis Hamilton does. One could even argue that Kimi Raikkonen's motivation is somewhat inconsistent from event to event. Without two top-flight drivers, neither team will be able to put in the consistency required to challenge for the Manufacturer's title.
My feeling is that the Brawn and Red Bull cars excel at running at sustained speeds, and should be better suited to tracks coming up like Monza and Spa. The KERS cars should do well at Valencia, and the Renault should be suitable there as well (if they can get around the ban in time). But for the end run of the season it will be Brawn and Red Bull, with McLaren amongst those scrabbling for the remaining points.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Renault Banned for Loose Wheelnut

According to the stewards:
Having carefully reviewed the available film recordings and radio recordings and having met the team manager twice to discuss the matter the stewards believe:
  1. that the competitor knowlingly released car no. 7 from the pit stop position without one of the retaining devices for the wheel nuts being securely in position, this being an indication that the wheel nut itself may not have been properly secured,
  2. being aware of this failed to take any action to prevent the car from leaving the pit lane,
  3. failed to inform the driver of this problem or to advise him to take appropriate action givent he circumstance,s even though the driver contacted the team by radio believing he had a puncture,
  4. this resulted in a heavy car part detaching at Turn 5 and the wheel itself detaching at Turn 9.
Offence: Breach of article 23.1.i and Article 3.2 of the 2009 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations.

Penalty: The competitor ING Renault F1 Team is suspended from the next event in the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship.
The relevant sections are:
3.2 Competitors must ensure that their cars comply with the conditions of eligibility and safety throughout practice and the race

23.1.i) It is the responsibility of the competitor to release his car after a pit stop only when it is safe to do so.
My initial reaction was that this was an excessively strong punishment. Other commentators have pointed out that there have been incidents in the past which, while not exactly the same, are similar enough to draw some comparisons to. A more proportional penalty would have been a fine of some kind.

Consider that the last team to get a ban on participation was the BAR team, and this was after they had been caught running their cars underweight ie a blatant violation of the technical regulations.

But after the death of Henry Surtees last week, and Massa's accident this weekend, being concerned about debris on the race track and large masses of parts being shed at racing speeds... it still feels like a knee-jerk reaction, but one which might be understandable.

The suggestion from the Stewards' report is that Renault was aware of the problem before the car was released. This does make it a more serious offense. However I'd put it down to miscommunication in the pits during a high-stress event.

I would look for Renault to appeal the ban, and at the very least tie it up in the courts until after Valencia.

Oh, and probably quietly fire the guy who was responsible for the front-right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aero Change at Ferrari

Ferrari fires aerodynamic boss Iley
Ferrari has dismissed its head of aerodynamics and wind tunnel John Iley, Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Wednesday.
Interesting choice of words in the release: a "serious" mistake in the area of the aerodynamics.

John Iley has been working with Ferrari since 2004 and so worked on several championship winning cars, so he's nobody's fool; the fact that he's already being linked to Brawn reinforces that notion.

It sounds to me as if the aero problems on the car this year led to a situation where all involved decided a change would be required. With development set to ramp up on the 2010 car, now is the best time to make that change.

Monday, July 13, 2009

BAR vs. Stewart

It occurred to me this weekend that the two teams at the top of the grid this year, Red Bull and Brawn, both have their roots in teams which were started about the same time. Red Bull has its genesis in the Stewart team started by Jackie Stewart in 1997, while Brawn's modern roots go back to British American Tobbaco's buy-out of Tyrell in 1998.

At the time there was a lot of back-and-forth in the media over whether it was better to start a new team from scratch, or effectively buy an entry from an existing team and throw everything else away.

In the end it was kind of moot as both teams went through a couple of metamorphasis to get to where they they are: Stewart -> Ford/Jaguar -> Red Bull and Tyrell -> BAR -> Honda -> Brawn.

But it is interesting to see two teams which were formed at the same time coming to prominence at the same time.

Contemplating the two teams, I am surprised that Honda bailed out when they did. While I am sure that the Honda board is kicking themselves for bailing out just before a dominant and successful season, I have serious doubts as to whether the team would have been as successful with a Honda engine in the car as opposed to the Mercedes. It also remains to be seen if Brawn can produce another competitive car for next year while pursuing this year's championship.

I am surprised that Red Bull managed to succeed at all. Their first year was flattered by the preparation done the previous year as Jaguar, and I really through they had bitten off more than they could chew when they immediately went out and bought Minardi as a junior team, and was unsurprised that by the end of the first year of Red Bull/Torro Rosso all four cars were circulating more or less together. The fact that Torro Rosso got the umbrella's first win (Vettel in Italy last year) only showed the ineptness with which the organization was being run. I had them pegged as an "all flash no dash" team and fully expected them to have divested themselves of Torro Rosso by now.

In a way both teams profited by the big two teams dropping the ball the way they did. However the fact is that they both had the means to take advantage of those mistakes by others.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Refuling vs Overtaking

Brad Spurgeon eavesdrops on Pat Simmonds:
“We were talking about overtaking earlier,” he added, “and I think there is too much reliance on strategy to be used for overtaking. And this is one of the things that I think I saw at Silverstone; people had similar performance and they were thinking, well, I have a couple of laps in this car so I will just push for two laps and I will get in front of him in the pit stops. But without refueling maybe we will see a bit more racing. I think we have to keep an open mind. Let’s try it for a few years.”
Interesting thought, that. However I think that for the most part the lack of overtaking is due more to fancy cars that get unhappy in unstable airflows, rather than any passiveness on the part of the drivers.

Taking the strategy out of it might encourage more attempts, but I rather doubt that many of them will succeed, and we will end up with more collisions at the end of the day than anything else.

...although the media would argue that collisions make for good press.

Personally I'd get rid of refueling on safety grounds more than anything else, and then see about making the rules such that the cars can actually pass each other.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Peace In Our Time

One of the downsides of only occasionally having time to comment on goings-on is that you want to produce posts which, while timely, are both insightful and not about to get overtaken by external events too quickly. The firestorm around Formula 1 over the past two months has been moving so quickly that I get buried trying to figure out who said what and how they are managing to make the situation even more improbably worse than it was.

Practically anything I would post would quickly get overtaken by what's really happening, and from what's left you can only say I think Max Mosley is carrying on like a destructive idiot so many times before it becomes boringly repetitive.

So with Formula 1 finally seeming to take a collective breath... where are we?

There's no more break-away series (at least for now). I honestly felt this was the worst of all possible outcomes. It seems that the grownups have finally sat down together and followed the money. The sport's history and legitimacy is no more threatened than it is every year by the FIA's bizarre ducking and weaving.

FOTA can't keep their mouth shut. The comment about Mosley being a dictator was probably taken out of context from some low-level PR flack who thought he was speaking off the record. Never the less, it gave Mosley the ammunition he needed to try to blow the whole crisis up again. The fact that Mosley's "I'm not a dictator" explanation basically boils down to "I unilaterally set the rules and accept no argument about my decisions" does little to clear things up.
I guess we can all consider ourselves lucky that F1 appears to collectively gone on holiday this week and there's no one around to help make a bad situation worse.

Max Mosley is out (or maybe he isn't). Mosley appeared to be stepping aside by not standing for re-election this October. Then the whole "dictator" comment came up, with Mosley now threatening to stand for re-election, and making dark statements to the effect that he retains his position, responsibility, and power up until the election in October.

The 2010 rules will be identical to the 2009 rules (except where they are not). So while the budget cap won't happen, the refueling and tire warmer bans will. I've written at length in the past about the budgets in F1. I won't be sad to see the end of refueling. The tire warmers I won't miss either, even if I think that banning them on the grounds of cost-cutting is more than a bit ridiculous.

Overall: I think F1 is where it should have been six months ago. Really, this outcome is the only one which preserves F1 in anything even remotely approximating its historical form, while preserving the historical continuity.

Even though we can thank Max Mosley for much of the way that Formula 1 looks today, the truth is we can blame a lot of its problems on him too. The last year hasn't been kind to him, and I think he is no longer suited to be at the helm of the sport.

But for all my ravings, he's no idiot. I can't believe he seriously thought that he would get away with the changes he wanted to make in the manner he was trying to make them. There has to be another angle, another move, another goal that was concealed while we were all looking at the circus in front of us.

What did he think he was really up to?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gentlemen: Start your lawyers!

FIA lawsuit follows FOTA pull-out
The FIA anounced it will sue lead defector Ferrari and the team owners' group.
Is this how this is going to be settled? The FIA trying to destroy its own participants through the courts?

No good can come from this -- and I still can't see what Mosley's grand move is. If he doesn't fall in the coming election, F1 will be damaged for a long time to come.

I don't think the damage is irreparable yet, but short of one side or the other caving, I don't see it happening in the near term.

The next step in the courts has to play out first.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


It's been hard keeping up with all the political wrangling in Formula 1 these days. I know the media claims they'd rather be talking about the racing. In the real world though the racing is pretty dry what with Brawn winning everything that's not pouring rain. Besides, past years have shown the media loves a controversy and will build one out of practically nothing if needs be.

Personally I find it hard to care these days. I don't have the time to watch all the Formula 1 racing I want to -- I've seen only one or two qualifying sessions in the last year. And I've only seen maybe one race live in that time too. Real life has intervened.

I'm also not sure where I'd follow if there was a series split. While Ferrari has a history, the fact of the matter is that F1 has all the TV contracts, so a spin-off series is less likely to get any coverage over here in Canada, let alone live coverage. And if F1 had a bunch of spear-carriers that I really didn't care about, and/or if the racing was incredibly dry, I'd probably drop away from racing altogether.

This I think is one consideration that the FIA has not taken into account. It isn't just about Ferrari fans following the series. It is about fans of any team following the series, year after year, including dry years.

Of the teams which agree they are committed for next year and beyond, Williams is the only one I can think of which can be described as having a large fan base. The big teams are McLaren and Ferrari, with Renault being a strong regional player and BMW building fans (well up until this year anyways). And Toyota is a huge name.

Team credibility is an important factor in this sport. Part of the problem with this year is the optics that Brawn has swept in from nowhere and run over the established leaders of the sport. The truth is that Brawn got a heck of a head start courtesy of Honda last year.

But next year -- and with all due respect to them -- what if Prodrive shows up and runs away? What does that show for the legitimacy of the sport if some nobody can show up and take over? It suggests not only that the bar to success in the sport is very low, but that the FIA is incapable of attracting competent regulars to contest the series.

F1 needs Ferrari and the majority of the FOTA members. The history of their participation legitimizes the present competition.

Lose that legitimacy, and you'll lose some measure of your fan base, which dilutes the value of the series.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Turning the corner?

Raikkonen calls for patience for Ferrari
[...]However, Raikkonen is urging caution in not letting expectations on the team get too carried away - especially since Brawn and Red Bull Racing still appear to have the edge at the front of the field.[...]
He's right, of course.

Also missing from the equation is any mention of Toyota, who I believe will be back towards the sharp end in Turkey.

Behind the all-conquering Brawn cars there is a logjam of potential -- Red Bull, Ferrari, Toyota, and McLaren all have to be seen as possibly "the best of the rest" right now. I'd currently put Red Bull at the head of that pack, but behind them it depends largely on luck and who has the right upgrades for the weekend.

The fact that Ferrari can again be credibly included in such a discussion shows how far they have come since the beginning of the year and says a lot about the team's continuing ability to respond to the changing conditions of the sport.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why I don't Trust Max Mosley

For all the alleged peace and love and good hope for the future nonsense that has followed all the existing F1 teams posting their entries for 2010 and beyond, I'm still not hopeful for the future of F1.


Look at the World Rally Championship.

Specifically, look at the manufacturer championship table. It features:
  • Citroen Total World Rally Team
  • BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
  • Stobart VK M-sport Ford Rally Team
  • Citroen Junior Rally Team
  • Munchi's Ford World Rally Team
...and that's all. Citroen, and three Ford outfits.

It's a sad imitation of what it used to be.

Recall that when Mosley arrived on the scene, we had such heavyweights as Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Peugeot. We had second-liners like Skoda and Hyundai. Toyota was about to finish their involvement, but was still there.

The one thing I'll give Mosley credit for -- even if it wasn't directly any of his doing -- for North American viewers, we went through a golden age of coverage. For each of the three days of the event, we got a one hour same-day broadcast showing highlights, usually at a humane hour -- 4PM or 5PM broadcasts were not unheard of. Unfortunately the typical North American race viewer likes his "roundy-rounds" and the WRC programming didn't do very well in the ratings, and Speed discontinued that level of coverage after a year or two.

But now look at where the WRC is. Losing clasic events to a "non-sanctioned" championship and being unable to attract any kind of depth to their events.

This is what Mosley got the WRC.

And now he's "helping" Formula 1.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Monaco 2009

I managed to watch some of the qualifying for Monaco, just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And at the time, I commented that it was a measure of how bad the season had been up to that point that I was happy with Ferrari having the fastest time in Q2, and P2 in Q3.

Now that said the whole weekend was very kind to Ferrari when it counted. Both cars got into Q3, and Raikkonen managed to be less than three hundredths of a second slower than Button's Brawn. In the race both cars ran well and although were unable to make up places on the track, ran competitively and ended up "best of the rest" behind the Brawns.

And the result can be considered more or less legitimate, too. The only real absence during the race was Hamilton's McLaren after it was bounced into the barriers during Q1, effectively ending Hamilton's weekend right there.

Because Monaco is a strange event, I am not that concerned by Toyota's miserable showing. Monaco shows who can drive and who is flattered by horsepower. Which is fine, because next time out we can be flattered by horsepower again. I firmly believe that both Red Bull and Toyota will be back at the sharp end when we go to Turkey.

The event does highlight the stranglehold that Brawn has on the 2009 season. The car just seems to work well everywhere. And while I think Button may be more Jacques Villineuve than Micheal Schumacher, he definitely knows how to get the best from the car in more circumstances than his team mate does.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Max Mosley: Idiot, or genius?


OK, I should probably qualify that somewhat.

One of Mosley's saws that he keeps going back to is that despite the teams and manufacturers enthusiasm for Formula one, not a single one has signed a legally binding contract to remain in the sport for any given period of time.

Now seriously: why would an organization commit to participating in a sport that requires the outlay of millions (either tens or hundreds, doesn't matter at this point), if the rules for participating in that sport are going to get changed at the drop of a hat? If someone had given Mosley a five-year commitment two years ago, they'd be feeling more than a little taken at this point. Radical rules changes for 2009, and even more radical changes for 2010.

This whole showdown with the teams has a predictable next-stage to it. The major teams won't file entry papers. Some half- (or, lets be generous, three-quarters-) baked teams will step in to replace them. Mosley is threatening to stand for re-election this year; this potential ruination of the Formula 1 championship is going to be more than adequate grounds for the delegates to dismiss him. Mosley is (despite my insistence at the top of this post) no idiot, he has to see that what is going to happen is that he is going to have to blink and step aside. Someone else will sweep in and broker a compromise that will let the teams continue to participate while maintaining the FIA's authority; I'm going to predict that the replacement teams who try to participate under the 'cap' rules are going to be tossed aside in favor of the establishment's interests. I'll also predict at least one major team (my money is on Toyota) will use the chaos as an excuse to withdraw.

Mosley and Ecclestone always seem to be three moves ahead of anybody else when it comes to these political games. So you have to know that they have the next two moves figured out.

But what is the next move? What is Mosley's ultimate goal here? Where is the endgame? I don't see it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

2010, Part Two

A couple more changes for cap teams, which I read about on
  • more power from the engine
  • a greater range for movable aerodynamics
  • double KERS potential
  • four wheel drive
  • no limits on testing
  • full-scale windtunnel testing
Of these, the most interesting is the four wheel drive. From the linked article above:
For [budget cap] teams, article 9.1 of the technical regulations that states "No transmission system may permit more than two wheels to be driven." has been scrapped from the rulebook.
This means two things: first, that the KERS can now be charged from the brakes on the front of the car, and second, that KERS can probably drive the front wheels by feeding the KERS charge back through the generators.

Of course there a whole whack of difficult problems to solve, not least of which is that the driver will have to contend with front drive that comes and goes. But on the other hand, a car that can feed KERS energy back through the front wheels would potentially have an incredible advantage in the wet...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Rules Changes for 2010

The 2010 Sporting Regulations (with differences from 2009 highlighted) makes for some interesting (if dry) reading. It represents the FIA's current vision of F1 racing in 2010, as a gateway to further development in the future.

Given the FIA's previous history with making changes to their proposed changes (everyone got that straight?) we cannot assume that this is the final word; in any case, I have some thoughts on the lowhighlights of the changes.

Cap or no cap?

I have to admit that my initial thought about this was oh no please not another sport that you need a capology expert in order to follow in detail. The NHL's salary cap rules are pretty thick reading, and navigating those regulations to maximize the value out of every penny spent in player compensation requires attention to tedious detail. Such details may make opportunity for plenty of column issues -- but the fan in the arena doesn't really care. Besides, the issue with hockey is that the owners spend themselves into a hole and then punish the players in an attempt to get themselves back under control... after which point they go berzerk again.

The FIA brings a whole new kind of crazy to the idea of a spending cap. There is going to be a cap of something like US$45 million per year -- well, except for marketing and promotion and driver compensation and...

Not only is there a cap, but it is optional, and depending on whether you opt in or out, there are going to be different rules governing what you can do with your money. If you spend lots of money, you will be restricted in some ways; if you go with the cap, you will have more opportunities, but less money to pursue them.

Naturally, the chronically underfunded independents love this idea, while the well-heeled factory efforts don't. Someone suggested that Toyota would have to cut 90% of their spending to fit under a cap. While the board of directors might like this idea, I'm not sure the rest of the organization (those who would be left after the inevitable downsizing, that is) would be so on board with it.

This has all the ingredients of a farce in the making, especially when you add the FIA's punishment (to be decided based on... well, whatever the FIA bases decisions on) and promise to "tune" the areas of technical freedom to keep the cap and non-cap teams more or less at parity.

I have long said that the problem with F1's budgets isn't that Toyota spends US$400 million a year, it is that Toyota has $400 million a year to spend. Telling Toyota that they are now only permitted to spend $45 million is not going to really fix anything.

No refueling

I was never really a fan of race refueling; it seemed to be an artificial way of adding a hidden complexity to something that should really be straight forward. I was never really opposed to it either, except that some of the fires that happened put the drivers and mechanics at risk. While playing with high-tech motorcars is never going to be a totally safe enterprise, refueling made it dangerous for no really good reason.

There are several interesting side-effects of this. First, the cars will now require larger fuel tanks so that they can go a race distance. This will require some changes to the way that things are laid out in the car's midsection, which may themselves be interesting to look at.

The second is that cars will no longer be required to qualify on "race fuel". We will once again be treated to cars being driven at the absolute limit -- fresh tires, low fuel, and no more droning around for the first half of Q3 to burn off fuel. (I still want to return to single lap qualifying, but I'm pretty much the only one who wants that.)

Another will be that the tires will have to be engineered to deal with a car which is much heavier at the start of the race than it is at the end; if the FIA persists with the "option tire" silliness then the weight difference may dictate what tires get used when.

Finally, it means that pit stops will be short again. I doubt that we will get back to the sub-4 second zone that McLaren and Benetton accomplished, but it should be a bit more interesting. The only problem with this is that limits on the number of tires available to a driver will reduce the opportunity for the teams to demonstrate their skill.

15 kg Heavier Cars

This is an attempt to reduce the penalty that taller, heavier drivers have when it comes to sorting their ballast. Right now Kubica runs without KERS because he would rather have a balanced car than one with KERS.

I'm not really sure how this will make much of a difference; lighter drivers will always have more ballast to play with.

No tyre warmers (again)

The GPDA screamed bloody murder about the proposal when it was made for 2009; I'd expect more of the same for the 2010 proposal. Their arguments were a bit silly last time around, but really they have no choice but to repeat them, or they would look silly themselves.

KERS may not be used above 300kph (186mph)

Now I think the intention here is to make KERS a tool for starts and for exiting corners; not for use when going down the main straight, reducing the potential top speed that the cars can achieve. Which is confusing, since it will eliminate one of the prime uses for KERS, which is to get a run at the guy in front of you so you can get into the next corner before he can.


Overall I think these rules changes are a combination of keystone-coppery (the whole cap issue) and fiddling with small change (the tire warmer ban). I foresee much wrangling over the details and implementation of these rules in the near future.

In short, nothing less than we've come to expect from the FIA.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Red Bull's Growth

Lost a bit in the kerfuffle of the New Diffuser World Order is the fact that Red Bull is surprisingly competitive this year. What makes it surprising is the fact that the car does not yet feature a double diffuser.

While one could wave aside the victory in China as Vettel cementing a reputation as a wet-race specialist, the fact remains that the car was extremely competitive in Bahrain, out shone only by the Brawn and the Toyota.

The records of the first four events show us that the car has qualified extremely well so far this year. Third and tenth in Australia. Third and seventh in Malaysia. First and third in China. Third in Bahrain, with the second car impeded. The car is clearly quick over the short haul, and Vettel's performances in the races make it clear that the car is quick over the long haul as well.

Another interesting thing to think about is the fact that the car features Adrian Newey's pull-rod suspension design. I read somewhere that this design on the rear of the car will make implementing a double diffuser a non-trivial task, due to the spaces that the suspension occupies.

But one really has to ask -- should Red Bull even bother? There are other areas where the car can be improved, and they are clearly not at an excessive disadvantage due to the lack of such a device.

Red Bull has come a long way since their Jaguar roots. I was one of those who wrote off Red Bull's performance their first year as being entirely the result of Jaguar's efforts the year before, and called their purchase of Minardi (or Torro Rosso) as a dangerous over-extension of the team's reasources. The following years proved me correct, as the Red Bulls frequently found themselves circulating with, or even behind, their "junior team" brethren.

Last year showed what the potential of the car was with Vettel's performance in Italy. I believe that Torro Rosso's performance there was almost entirely due to gambling on the wet conditions and being correct, instead of trying to do a safe and conservative compromise. Had the conditions ended up being different, Torro Rosso would not have factored in at all that day. I am not trying to take anything away from Vettel's performance that day, I am just saying that it was Torro Rosso's gamble that gave Vettel the opportunity to shine, and he grabbed it with both hands.

Red Bull is definitely in the "Best Of The Not-Brawn Cars" group, a group which includes Toyota, and possibly McLaren or BMW depending on the day.