Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Drivers Briefing: Lewis Hamilton

Many were surprised by Lewis Hamilton's announcement that he has signed a 3 year deal with the Mercedes F1 team starting from 2013. McLaren has funded Hamilton's entire single seater career after sponsoring him while he was still karting at the age of 13. These type of funding deals are based on mutual performance and both sides seem to have come to the party with multiple wins in each of the 6 years that Hamilton has been in F1, not to mention winning the drivers championship together in 2008 and missing the championship in his rookie year in 2007 by a single point. No other team can match that score over the same period. Not Red Bull, not Ferrari and not Mercedes.

Racing drivers tend to strive to get into the best seat available at the time. This provides the driver with the best opportunity to win, furthering their career, lining their pockets and satisfying the ego that each and every competitive driver must have. In single spec series, as the cars are identical, a well funded team that can afford to replace spare parts and employ the best engineers is the team to be with. In Formula 1, where each team manufactures their car, the team with the best designed and engineered car is the team to be with. While serious funding is required to build a F1 team capable of winning races and championships, a well funded team will not necessarily be a championship contender. This seems particularly relevant to road car manufacturers who turn their hand to Formula 1 to show their wares. Mercedes is one such team and, other than Nico Rosberg's sole win earlier this year, the return of Mercedes as a manufacturer in F1 has been uninspiring. In order to make their way to the front of the grid they have employed some serious engineering talent in the last year or so to assist Ross Brawn. Now they have brought across a driver whose talent behind the wheel is not doubted. For the Mercedes team this is a great move. I'm just not convinced that it is the right move for Lewis.

Hamilton may prove to be the Michael Schumacher of his day, gelling the team and developing the car to allow him to get the best out of his machinery. If he can do this I will have a newfound respect for the Brit.

The more likely scenario that I see is a frustrated Lewis watching his replacement at McLaren take more points than himself, all the while dividing his team with snarky comments and failing to develop the car to its full potential. Even at this embryonic stage I can imagine Lewis leaving Mercedes before his 3 year contract is up. Where to? Home to McLaren of course.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Pit Board: 6 to go

With 6 races remaining in 2012 and with both the driver's and constructor's championships still up for grabs, there is still plenty to look forward to on track. Off track, the plans of Hamilton, Schumacher and Ferrari's decision on Massa have the potential to send the silly season into a frenzy at any time.

The driver's championship has been rewarding Alonso's consistency so far this season. Grosjean's squeeze on Hamilton at the start of the Belgian grand prix and the consequential ramming of Alonso's Ferrari brought Alonso's record seeking run of consecutive points finishes to an end. Alonso's 3 wins and 5 other podiums have rewarded a non-dominant car in a field of non-dominant cars.

Mark Webber was snapping at Fernando's heels for the first half of the season, again a result of consistency from Mr 4th Place. However, since signing a contract with Red Bull for 2013, Webber has disappeared into the midfield. In the fight to take his place, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have ticked and tacked for 2nd place. This battle for 2nd place has allowed Alonso to creep further into the lead of the championship. Not so slow but steady may just win this race.

On the other hand there is an increasingly desperate Lewis Hamilton, frustrated by the lack of wins despite creating a Jensonesque bubble around him in 2012. Lewis' problems curently seem to be circling around his choice of team for 2013. Would he really walk away from a team that has provided wins for him each year he has been in F1 and go to a team that cannot sort out a win for the driver with the most wins in F1 history?

Then there is Sebastian Vettel. Keen to continue winning in a package that has been crippled by tightening loopholes in the technical regulations. However, the biggest concern and the thief of considerable points is a component as pedestrian in its concept, being a vital component of internal combustion engines since their invent, as an alternator. At least the fans are now aware that Magneti Marelli are still present in F1. Sebastian lost what looked like a certain 25 points at Valencia and stopped in the late stages of the Monza GP from 6th position, a further potential 8 points. But for losing these potential points he would be on 198 points and leading the championship. However, this is speculative and the points on the board show Fernando leading Vettel by 29 points.

Button started off the season with a win in Melbourne, but then quickly fell to the midfield. McLaren have found leading pace for the last 4 races and Jenson was dominant in Belgium. However, with McLaren's drivers battling each other for wins, Alonso is creeping ahead in the championship.

The other championship contender is Kimi Raikkonen who has been gathering points during the year with 6 podium finishes but more importantly, points in all races except China.  The Finn's consistency has landed him in 3rd place in the driver's championship although is 45 points behind Alonso. 

Alonso is looking good for his 3rd driver's championship at this stage, but it is far from a foregone conclusion. Vettel can win his 3rd championship with an average points finish of 5 more than Alonso over the remaining races, an achievable task provided Vettel, Red Bull, Renault and Magneti Marelli can together finish each race. Bring on the final 6 races of 2012!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Delayed Pit Stop

I have neglected this blog for too long now and it's time to return. My mind and my spare time have been occupied with our now 8 month old daughter. She is the most wonderful thing on this planet, but I do wish to return to some of my pre parenthood hobbies, including imparting my opinion on Formula 1 related matters.

I have been watching all of the races and qualifying sessions and even the occasional practice session. All except for the Montreal race were watched live. The problem with being in Sydney is that the Canadian race starts at 3am and this turned out to be particularly troublesome after an unsettled Bean at 1am. It appears I'm not as flexible as I once was.

So for those who read my thoughts, I thank you for your attention and for your patience. Now, back to the track...

Monday, 2 January 2012

Splash & Dash: What would you change in F1?

Imagine for a moment that you had the combined influence of the FIA, FOM, FOTA, GPDA and Mr E. What would you change in F1?

All comments are invited but in the meantime here are some of my thoughts:

Scrap DRS... the moveable rear wing that is designed to be an overtaking device is a gimmick. Formula 1 is a sport and does not need gimmicks. Racing in 2011 was sufficiently enhanced by the new Pirelli compounds and the reintroduction of KERS. There was no need to add the free pass that is the DRS. The concept of having variable downforce is not offensive in itself, but limiting the use of the system to following cars only distorts the racing to the point of being farcical. Adding a second DRS zone only makes the joke complete by allowing the pass made in the first DRS zone to be undone by a subsequent pass in the second DRS zone. The solution is to either free up the use of DRS by allowing all drivers to use it equally or scrap it altogether.

Focus on fuel efficiency by adopting the suggestions below. Increased fuel efficiency is critical to the future relevance of F1 and is directly relevant to road car technology. Increasing fuel efficiency for F1 cars means that the cars need to carry less fuel at the start of the race and this has flow-on benefits to acceleration, braking distances, cornering speeds and tyre wear. All this adds up to faster lap times.

1. Reduce the total weight of car back to 600kg rather than continuing to allow the car to blow out like a 1st year uni student to 640kg from 2012. This makes fuel weight a higher proportion of the weight of a fully fuelled car thereby creating greater balance, handling, tyre life and weight advantages to the most fuel efficient car and engine combinations.

2. Free up engine development to allow the engine manufacturers to improve weight, economy and performance but continue to limit the number of engines for each car over the course of the season.

3. Free up use of Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) with unlimited amounts of energy harvesting and energy release. By not limiting the use of these technologies, the development of various ERS technologies is bound to ensue. These technologies are road relevant and smart teams can capitalise on their IP in the same way that McLaren Electronics and Williams Hybrid Power have used their technologies for commercial success. The key restriction on the use of ERS should be that the car has no stored charge while the car is in the pits. This would ensure that the focus is on energy recovery rather than on energy storage sourced from the local electricity grid. Also if the car has no stored charge while it is in the pits, there is a much reduced chance of members of the pit crew being shocked or electrocuted.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Splash & Dash: 2011 The Champagne and the Pits

It is the end of the calendar year and as most of the world it is a time of reflection of the year that was. Of course, F1 teams only look forward so it is up to the rest of us to take this retrospective.

The Champagne

1. Red Bull's domination of both the driver's and constructor's championships

2. Sebastian Vettel's domination of qualifying and the first 2 laps

3. Adrian Newey

4. Jenson Button proving his skill on the track and for being the guy you want to become good mates with

5. Pirelli and Paul Hembrey doing exactly what was asked of them and simply being brilliant

6. Senna the movie - and it's universal appeal

7. McLaren releasing it's 2nd road car and following the Ferrari model

8. Fernando Alonso for steering clear of the Ferrari polemics and doing what he does best - race fast

9. KERS and the development of an alternate energy systems that are roadcar relevant

10. Mercedes GP for giving a kid a hand - or funding the fitting of his prosthetic hand

11. HD television coverage

12. The proliferation of F1 related social media

13. Engine developers for pushing the efficiency of the engines while engine development is frozen

14. Fernando Alonso and Bernie Ecclestone for providing true fans with the spectacle of an historic F1 car being driven as it should

The Pits

1. Hamilton's Ali G joke

2. Hamilton's pouty look and spoilt child demeanor that he carried for most of the year

3. Massa's defiance to admit that it takes two to tango

4. FIA's mishandling of exhaust blown diffusers

5. DRS - for making a mockery of the art of overtaking

6. FIA's handling of Bahrain

7. FOTA for being largely innefective and then losing 3 teams - but at least there were no threats to start up an alternate series

8. Stark reminders that motorsport is dangerous - RIP Dan Wheldon, RIP Marco Simoncelli, hope to see Robert Kubica at some stage in 2012 and thanks to many for allowing Sergio Perez to continue on with just a short break

9. Hamilton and Maldonado coming together at Spa during qualifying after the session had stopped

10. Two Lotus Renault teams proving that neither was worthy of the name

11. The everpresent question of whether F1 is sport or entertainment - to clarify, sport is entertainment

12. The worst season of Williams F1 in their history

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Splash & Dash: Why Vettel's dominance is good for F1

The 2011 Japanese grand prix has been run and won with a beautiful drive from Jenson Button, while Sebastian Vettel earned the final point (plus a few more) to clinch the 2011 drivers championship, completing back to back world championships for the 24 year old German.  Vettel has been dominant in 2011, wrapping up the championship with 4 races remaining before the season ends.  He has been on pole for 12 of the 15 races to date in 2011, starting from 2nd twice and 3rd once.  He has finished all 15 races so far, being on the top step of the podium 9 times, 2nd place 4 times, 3rd place once and 4th place once.  These are inpressive statistics that support an impressive season of racing, and regardless of which team shirt you choose to wear on Sundays, the young man deserves the respect of all F1 fans.

What's more, Sebastian is entertaining, communicative, generous and humble in front of the press, and this is in his English press engagements.  He jokes with the press and the other drivers.  He thanks the team, and occasionally the sponsors.  If you want proof of this, read the transcript of the post-race press conference in Japan.  The banter between Vettel and Button is wonderfully refreshing following years of monotone commentary from the leading drivers. 

Vettel loves being in F1.  He loves winning in F1.  The only drawback seems to be The Finger, and perhaps this wouldn't be so offensive if we hadn't seen it so many times this year.  This is not to say that Sebastian isn't aggressive.  When things are not going well he gets angry, you can see it in his eyes and body language, however he keeps a bottle on it in the public arena.  I'd be very surprised if he maintains this same composure behind closed doors, but you don't become a world champion in any field if you happily accept failures.

Sebastian Vettel is a product of the Red Bull Junior Team, picked up at age 12 and sponsored by the energy drink company through his career to date.  The rumour goes that Red Bull did not seek their logos to be displayed on the young Vettel's kart or clothing as they did not want to be seen to promote their product to such a young audience. 

The Red Bull Junior program is designed to support future F1 stars and with Sebastian Vettel the program has realised its ambitions of having a Red Bull supported junior win the F1 world championship in a Red Bull car.  This is quite an achievement and has come at quite a cost for Red Bull.  Motor racing in all its forms is expensive, but none more so than Formula 1.  Formula 1 is even more expensive for Red Bull which is supporting two F1 teams.  The problem with the cost of an F1 program, particularly for an organisation that does not have F1 as its core business, is that if you do not achieve results, then it becomes questionable as to whether you are benefiting from your participation in F1.  Add to this the share of commercial revenues that each team receives based on their finishing position in the season and a lack of results becomes even more costly.  This is one, not the only, reason that we have seen Toyota, Honda, BMW and Renault leave the sport as manufacturers in recent years.

Red Bull is in a different position to car manufacturers in that their brand is not tarnished by failing to win.  In some respects just having a presence in F1 is enough to demonstrate a commitment to extreme sports.  However, as a winning team, Red Bull is much more likely to stay in F1.  Given that they have brought Sebastian Vettel, Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne to the F1 grid in 2011 and in the past have supported Enrique Bernoldi, Karun Chandhok, Robert Doornbos, Patrick Friesacher, Narain Karthikeyan, Christian Klien, Vitantanio Liuzzi and Scott Speed we can only hope that Red Bull continue to develop talented youngsters and feed them to the F1 teams.

Between the drivers, the teams and the talented staff within those teams, there is a lot for us F1 fans to be grateful for in the existence of Mr Mateschitz and his energy drink company.