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.