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.