NASCAR: The bad boys

September 9, 2012

F1: What can be learnt from American racing (part 1)

August 21, 2012

The recent wild finish at the NASCAR Watkins Glen road course brings memories of what happened in Hockenheim, where Sebastian Vettel was penalised for overtaking Jenson Button while going off track and was demoted from second to fourth as a result.

The NASCAR race at the Glen produced one of the best finishes in recent times with Marcos Ambrose moving from third to first in a short period of time, including an amazing battle with Brad Keselowski and an overtaking move that included, er, going off the track and back. But this is NASCAR and there wasn’t even a suggestion of a penalty.

NASCAR gets it right. Why?

Because as long as we have a level playing field, it’s fine. Drivers should be able to use all the track and a bit more, because that will generate more spectacular moments. Those magic moments where fans at the circuit or at home stand up and cheer. Moments they remember years later. They may even want to watch a video replay and pay for that content.

Of course, tracks should be designed in a way such that going off track does not yield an unreasonable advantage, like a massive shortcut. Most of them already are.

F1 should be much more pragmatic and less purist in its approach to racing. Penalising moves such as Vettel’s will make others think twice before trying something audacious, although in this instance Vettel had the chance to try and get out of it when it was clear he was going to run off track.

There is already a strong incentive to wait for a super safe opportunity to overtake in the DRS zone (curiously, that is where this incident occurred). Penalising ambitious but not unsafe moves isn’t exactly a good way to promote overtaking and the show.

Over-penalising also brings incentives for rival teams to protest as soon as there is something vaguely unusual about an overtaking move. For example, Button took less than a lap to complain to his team on the radio. Whilst these protests are within the rules, they are not positive for the sport, just as it is not positive when football players pressure the referee for a penalty as soon as something unusual takes place in the box.

Finally, the biggest negative of all is F1’s inability to deal with
incidents promptly. Even of Vettel were to be penalised, someone in race control should have demanded him to give up the position immediately back to Button. If teams have an army of dedicated strategists following the race, it is not unreasonable to have one dedicated individual to each driver in race control that would make this call within seconds of the incident. In this case, Vettel would have dropped back to third place which was still a fair outcome.

Instead, stewards added an arbitrary amount of time to his race, promoting Romain Grosjean, a man who was never in contention, to the podium.

That’s definitely not right.

NASCAR: More road courses please

August 12, 2012

As it’s widely known, the first tier of NASCAR racing, the Sprint Cup, is run mostly on oval courses. To the foreign eye, all ovals look pretty much the same (“all they have to do is to turn left” etc.) but the reality is that oval racing is incredibly difficult and technical and there are in fact at least 4 types of ovals: 1) superspeedways which are run with a restrictor plate as otherwise racing becomes too dangerous (Daytona, Talladega), 2) other “long” ovals (Indianapolis, Fontana), 3) 1.5 mile ovals (Texas, Las Vegas) and 4) short tracks (Richmond, Bristol) – this last format is particularly weird for the European taste but has a massive following, not least because the races provide a unique fan experience (I.e. fans can often see the whole track and the effect of 43 cars spread within 0.5 miles is overwhelming).

So there’s more to oval racing than meets the eye but that doesn’t mean that NASCAR has the perfect race calendar…

There are some road courses in NASCAR but too few and far in between. However, both the Sonoma and Watkins Glen events have provided excellent racing in 2012 – eg the last lap of today’s race.

It would be a very smart move by NASCAR to expand the number of road courses as this would appeal to a large fan base outside the United States who enjoy V8 Supercars, DTM and other forms of powerful touring car racing. With a 36 race schedule this would be perfectly doable. It’s with steps like this NASCAR can move from a very successful US business to a more global series.

INDYCAR: Ramblings

August 11, 2012

The Indycar 2012 season has reached a critical stage with 3 races to go and 4 drivers separated by 28 points, the equivalent of a sixth place. The season has taken some interesting turns with Helio Castroneves winning the opening round after a winless 2011, and then Will Power looking dominant over the following 3 rounds. However, the oval courses saw the return of Will’s lacklustre performances (which surprisingly started happening in road and street courses as well) and this allowed Dario Franchitti to win his third Indy 500 (frankly the only positive thing he has done all season) and then Ryan Hunter-Reay to come out of nowhere, win 3 consecutive races and take the points lead. Scott Dixon also stepped up a gear and won at Detroit and Mid-Ohio whilst Castroneves returned to winning ways in Edmonton. So now Power leads from Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and Dixon with 3 to go. As usual, Indycar is providing good entertainment even if most races have not been spectacular.

Interestingly, the last three races are at Sonoma (road course), Baltimore (street) and Auto Club Speedway (oval). Sonoma is one of those Indycar tracks that looks great on TV and (located in the California wine region) provides good booze to the fans, but unfortunately tends to produce extremely boring races with little overtaking. In 2010 the only highlight was an entertaining first lap incident whilst last year the race was so boring that Indycar threw a caution with a few laps to go as Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung parked his car in a perfectly safe manner. Both races were won by Will Power, last year’s also being a Penske 1-2-3. Surely Power is again favourite to win this one.

Baltimore is the typical modern Indycar street course, i.e. absolutely uninteresting and almost amateurish – one of the hairpins is so tight and narrow that it generated a traffic jam last year.

Will Power was last year’s winner but both Dixon, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay have won street courses this year, so it’s a difficult call.

The final race is at the Fontana superspeedway, nowadays known as Auto Club Speedway. This event marks the return of Indycar to superspeedways and it has been recently extended to a 500-mile race. The track is notorious for two things: producing incredibly boring NASCAR races and for those 1990s Indycar races run at 380+ km/h with drivers endlessly slipstreaming each other until their engines blew up in spectacular fashion. Brazilian Gil de Ferran set the closed course speed record on this track in 2000 lapping it during qualifying at an amazing 388.537 km/h. The video below shows that the track is so wide and the car looks so slow, almost as if de Ferran is on a Sunday drive.

It will be interesting to see how the modern cars and engines will perform, especially over 500 miles, and suspect that a few drivers will conclude that it is better to start the race with a new engine and take a 10 place grid penalty. It’s very difficult to predict this race and it has the potential to be either exciting and random or extremely boring. It seems a good idea to tune in to the Japanese commentary feed (the action below is not from Fontana but from a similarly shaped superspeedway oval course – the last lap provides the best entertainment).

The four title contenders will need to play to their strenghts and minimise the damage on bad days. Scott Dixon appears to be the best package overall as Power can be very strong in road and street races only for his title hopes to vanish with a DNF in Fontana. Castroneves has had ups and downs and it is difficult to see him doing 3 consecutive strong performances. Hunter-Reay has a decent chance and it would be really good to see a new Indycar champion, especially an American one. All in all a fascinating climax is shaping up in the 2012 Indycar season.

F1: Plane crashes are not caused by a single factor

July 16, 2012

Maria de Villota’s unfortunate accident while doing a straight line test for the Marussia team has led to a lot of speculation around its causes, with questions being raised around driver experience and the safety standards of such tests. This is a serious debate given that the incident, which involved hitting a stationary truck, resulted ultimately in the loss of Maria’s right eye, arguably the biggest injury sustained while driving a Formula 1 car since the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1st, 1994.

Two weeks after the incident, the Marussia team issued a statement in which car failure was ruled out as a contributing factor to the crash. This “it wasn’t me” attitude has not been extended to explaining the location of the truck and how it came in the way of a moving F1 car, although to be fair no one has really looked seriously at safety standards and potential hazards of straight line tests, which tend to be done in places like airfields instead of proper racing circuits.

The scenario of driver error remains a possibility, with the potential for some embarassing scenarios such as Maria being caught by the car’s anti-stall system due to her lack of experience with such devices and powerful single seaters in general.

It is still too early to establish the exact causes of this tragic accident although, just as with modern plane crashes, it’s unlikely that one single factor was at play. If in-season testing was better regulated (this doesn’t mean a return to unlimited testing), Formula 1 cars would only be driven in racing circuits meeting international safety standards. If the funding model for teams was fair, Marussia wouldn’t need to employ a driver purely due to financial reasons. And the handling of these mighty powerful machines should arguably be left to drivers with a superlicense that have shown to be competitive in GP2, FR3.5 and other similar championships. Maybe one of these factors is a non-issue in this instance but it’s very likely that most of them were part of the problem.

Safety in Formula 1 has been a trial and error process in the past, at times too reactive. On the other hand, the sport has shown an irritating propensity to investigate things that don’t have to be investigated. Sometimes freak accidents happen. But in this instance there are enough open questions to justify a proper look at the incident. And possibly to change a few things.

F1: Special Moments Reduction System

June 11, 2012

And Hamilton goes round the outsiiiide… And TAKES THE LEAD FROM ALONSO!!!

It wasn’t THAT exciting in reality, was it? Because everyone knew that Hamilton would get through. He just had to wait until the DRS zone, open his wing and wave bye bye to Alonso. Some have praised him for not trying a crazy overtake anywhere else on the track. He did well to keep his cool and only attack when he knew Fernando would be a sitting duck.

With DRS, the sport is losing magic moments every race. The real overtaking moments or the really smart defending tactics with an inferior car. With DRS, Gilles Villeneuve would not have won the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix. Mika Hakkinen wouldn’t need to make a brilliant move past Schumi in Spa 2000. Everyone still goes to youtube to see those moments. We will not be going to youtube in a few years time (or pay for content) to watch Hamilton open his rear wing and breeze past Alonso to win the Canadian Grand Prix.

F1: Entertainment by design

June 10, 2012

After yet another thrilling race in Canada, the obvious question is why can’t we have more tracks like Montreal, that always seem to generate an interesting race for one reason or another?

It is a fair question. What is the answer?

It seems to be possible to construct a race track that is likely to generate good racing. Low grip, punishing run off areas, a few walls and multiple overtaking points; mix all of those, add a few spices and it’s done. With a modern simulator, a new track could be programmed and the effects of various options could be assessed. Why on earth do need to put up with all the new boring Tilkedromes?

Safety is probably one reason. F1 has become obsessed to reduce the risk of death or serious injury to such an extent that it has, consciously or uncousciouly, sacrificed some of the racing excitement. It is easy to criticise this choice until something goes wrong. In Montreal, this seems to happen every 10 years or so with Olivier Panis breaking both legs in 1997 and Robert Kubica lucky to survive a major impact in 2007. None of these accidents would have happened in Abu Dhabi or in the Buddha International Circuit and it’s a close call on whether having one serious accident every 10 years is an acceptable cost for a thrilling race every year. It can be argued that the perfect circuit simulator would allow for the best of both worlds as long as the supercomputer could solve a very complicated set of equations and constraints but in practice this may be difficult to achieve.

What other reasons are out there for the Boring Lookalikes? A viable conspiracy theory is that, whilst drivers and fans love circuits like Montreal, the bosses do not. They want a proper return on their investment and if they have a technical edge, predictable and safe racing may be a good way to bring home the bacon.

For the fans and the racers, the picture is less rosy. In 10 or 20 years time, it would be sad to see a World Championship full of Tilkedromes and circuits such as Spa, Montreal and Albert Park gone. Everyone should enjoy races like today’s while they can.

F1: Everything is “under investigation”

May 30, 2012

The Spanish and Monaco GP have again highlighted the issue of penalties in modern F1. Schumacher was penalised in Barcelona for running into the back of Bruno Senna with a five-place grid penalty for Monaco, something that cost him a potential victory. Massa and Vettel were penalised for not slowing enough under the yellow flags, a penalty that had last been applied to Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Several drivers were under investigation for short-cutting Ste. Devote on lap 1 of Monaco to avoid the spinning Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Sergio Perez was penalised for crossing the track in front of Kimi Raikkonen while entering the pits. Pastor Maldonado, the hero of the Spanish GP, was penalised for running into Perez during practice and then incurred a second penalty by changing his gearbox. He was lucky to avoid a third penalty for running into the back of Pedro de la Rosa at the start of the race.

Everything seems to be “under investigation” in Formula 1 these days. The number of penalties is exponentially higher than 10 or 20 years ago. Why is that?

For a start, there are more rules nowadays, so the sport had to invent more penalties for breaking those rules. For example, 20 years ago there was no Safety Car and no pit lane speed limit, so obviously no penalties were required.

Secondly, there are technical requirements that require a penalty, such as the limitation in number of engines to be used in a season or the need for gearboxes to last four races. In the past, any technical infringement would be dealt with through disqualification, but that’s obviously not very reasonable in case someone’s gearbox goes bananas.

Finally, there is a “excess of zeal” culture in Formula 1 that has gone beyond reasonable limits. It all started for good reasons after Imola 94 but has evolved to a stage where there are way too many penalties, which creates a negative culture in the sport, with various participants in the sport chasing penalties for any incident, much in the same way as football teams claim penalties for anything vaguely unusual happening inside the box. The myriad penalties we see in modern F1 racing also generate significant consistency issues, which further reinforces negativity amongst teams, drivers and above all the fans.

For example, is the pit unsafe release rule really required given that cars are already damn slow on the pitlane? What about the investigation done on the cars avoiding Grosjean on Turn 1? No action was taken but the simple fact that the matter was investigated shows the current culture in Formula 1. Even more ridiculous are the penalties for impeding other cars in qualifying, often in very dubious situations. If Ayrton Senna was alive, surely he would tell the cry babies to shut up and SORT IT OUT, if they find traffic in their hot laps it is their own fault for not being good enough to get a good track position. Most of the drivers come to F1 via karting where constant overtaking is required. They should stop complaining and just get on with it.

Collisions and incidents are way over-penalised as well. Most of them are racing incidents and should be treated as such. If anything, drivers should sort out their issues as adults. Of course, there are limits to be respected and any dangerous driving should be dealt with seriously.

Finally, there is one big issue with the way penalties are applied. They should only affect the event where the infringement happened. No “leftover” penalties for future events should be allowed. So, Schumi shouldn’t have been penalised in Spain in the first place, but if it would be deemed fair to give him a penalty, then it should not affect future races. He was out of the race so the only thing left to do was to fine him or dock some points (not that he has many…). Anyway, it is a sure thing that it is the penalties system that needs be urgently “under investigation”.

INDYCAR: Indianapolis 500 finish – LIKE!!

May 28, 2012

This year’s Indianapolis 500 finish was a thriller. Just like last year’s, but for very different reasons.

In 2011, if JR Hildebrand hadn’t done the favour of crashing in the last corner while leading, the final stint of the race would have been remembered as a fuel saving exercise. We had Bertrand Baguette staying out hoping for a yellow (there should be a law against someone called Bertrand Baguette winning the Indy 500). And the Ganassi cars, who had looked so strong all day, were out of contention because of fuel issues.

In 2012, there were no such situations. Pure racing until the very end was exactly what Indycar needed at the moment.

Formula 1 is too influenced by tyres, and Indycar is too influenced by fuel strategy. It needs to think through how to avoid excessive influence of this one single factor.

Special thanks to Takuma Sato – Indycar would not be the same without him and his kamikaze moves. Just like Kobayashi in F1, it’s not only about bringing the second biggest economy in the world into the sport. They definitely fulfil a higher purpose. Arigato!

INDYCAR: New Lotus press release

May 24, 2012

Lotus is pleased to announce its strategy to maximise brand exposure at the upcoming Indianapolis 500.

This carefully thought strategy consists of four main pillars:

1. Ensure our partners Judd build a really crap engine

Self explanatory.

2. Piss off the teams we supply by not giving them enough crap engines

Follow up with each individual team to make sure they dump us as an engine supplier and ideally sue. Keep a team or two to ensure publicity during the actual event.

3. Hire a 47 year old that never drove an oval and doesn’t drive open wheelers since 2001 as ambassador for the brand. Get him a place at the Indy 500

Self explanatory.

4. Maximise publicity by going very slowly in qualifying and the race

Ensure appropriate headlines such as:

“Lotus’ only hope of qualifying is that there are only 33 qualifiers for 33 spots”
“Jean Alesi qualifies for Indy 500 with a speed that would enable him to last start the race in 1988”
“Indy Lights running faster than Alesi”
“Lotuses black flagged after 5 laps for being too slow, no one was pitting at the time so maximum TV exposure attained”

Lotus is still working on this last point. Stay tuned for Sunday.


F1, INDYCAR: The worst corners in motorsport

May 23, 2012

Very good article…

F1: Big manufacturers don’t likey, why?

May 16, 2012

Map of official manufacturer involvement as of 2012:

Why does this happen?

One obvious reason is cost. Formula 1 may provide a decent return on investment for sponsors, but the maths are more challenging for a fully fledged F1 manufacturer operation. This model has proven to be too expensive – Renault has reverted to being an engine supplier and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mercedes decided to do the same in the future. They could gain the same benefits by supplying say McLaren as they get by having their own team.

The meritocratic, technically driven, winner-takes-it-all nature of Formula 1 also makes it difficult for new manufacturers as they have a lot of catch up work on the technical side vs. the incumbents. The number of different teams winning a race in a given season ranges from 2 to 5 which shows how difficult for a new team to achieve success. Toyota for example spent hundreds of millions of dollars over 8 years to achieve a few podiums (podia?). It is striking that if we have six manufacturers in F1 then someone’s best results will be around tenth place or so and if they are less experienced they could remain there for a while. After a couple of seasons the big cheeses in the boardroom will start to ask tough questions and might pull the plug.

Other series have attempted to lower the cost of manufacturer involvement and level the playing field by introducing “spec” elements, such as the chassis – eg NASCAR with the Car of Tomorrow. If Formula 1 wants to be more manufacturer-friendly then it needs to consider this path.

Likeness to standard automobiles is another advantage that the likes of NASCAR, DTM, WRC and WTCC can offer and F1 obviously can’t. So not much to do there.

Finally, manufacturers are looking for publicity through innovation – eg Audi diesel engines or Toyota hybrids in Le Mans. Formula 1 rules are way too rigid for manufacturers to be able to achieve true differentiation in their involvement. Cars and engines look the same because the rule book does not allow teams to think outside the box.

Of course, the most fundamental question for Formula 1 is whether it NEEDS mass manufacturers to be successful… The answer is not straightforward.

F1: Would Gilles Villeneuve be successful today? (Part 2 of 2)

May 11, 2012

Maybe he would.

Gilles was an extreme driver with a unique personality. That could be used as a marketing tool. Several examples exist today, most notably in American racing. Danica Patrick is a talented driver but has attracted more than her fair share of interest from top teams and sponsors. Charlie Kimball is a decent driver but the case for him to drive for Ganassi probably revolves around the fact that he is the first person with diabetes to compete in a top racing series. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Has experienced more successes off the track than on it. And so on.

Some people believe that Villeneuve was destined to win world championships in Formula 1, but the reality is that he lived for the next lap, where he wanted to be the fastest, or the next corner, where we hoped to outbreak someone and overtake them spectacularly. That is often a bad route to try to win championships, especially in modern times where rock-solid reliability means that drivers need to absolutely try to make the most out of a bad day, even if that means an extremely boring race.

Villeneuve would probably not be successful on the track in terms of victories and championships, but surely he would pull a few inspired performances. Throw in a few brands with deep pockets to support him as an enfant terrible and he would be destined for a successful career.

F1: Would Gilles Villeneuve be successful today? (Part 1 of 2)

May 8, 2012

I love motor racing. To me it’s a sport, not a technical exercise. My ideal Formula 1 car would be something like a McLaren M23 with a big normally aspirated engine, 800 hp, 21 inch rear tyres. A lot of people say we should have narrower tyres, but I don’t agree because you need big tyres to slow you down when you spin. And you need a lot of horsepower to unstick big tyres, to make the cars slide. That would be a bloody fantastic spectacle, I can tell you. We would take corners one gear lower than we do now, and get the cars sideways. You know, people still rave about Ronnie Peterson in a Lotus 72, and I understand that. I agree with them. That’s the kind of entertainment I want to give the crowds. Smoke the tyres ! Yeah ! I care about the fans, because I used to be one of them ! I believe the crowd is really losing out at the moment, and that’s bad.”

If Gilles Villeneuve could get back to life 30 years after and return to racing, he would be shocked. He thought that the F1 machines of his time had too much grip and too little horsepower. The behaviour of modern F1 cars would be repulsive to the little French Canadian. So much downforce and stability. And what about these “Formula 2” engines? Gilles would probably not be interested in making it to the pinnacle of open wheel racing so most likely we would not see him there. If somehow he ended up in Formula 1 and reproduced his performances of ’77 and ’78, he probably would have been fired. If he wasn’t fired he would quit out of boredom. Or because it’s too politically correct.

Where could he survive, or indeed thrive? Rallying would be an option, although he would be writing letters to the FIA to ressurrect Group B. He would try NASCAR and conclude that the machines are likeable but why the hell are they used to go round in circles like an idiot? And what is the point of tandem drafting? That’s not racing!

Whilst in North America he would check Indycar. If F1 was repulsive, a modern Indycar would make him vomit. He would call Randy Bernard and say “Randy, the closest thing I would consider doing is to drive those 90’s Indycars. I saw a few videos and yeah, wouldn’t mind racing those babies. Could you please bring them back?”

Motor racing used to be wild. Now it’s civilised. That’s why we love Villeneuve. Like the centre of the universe, he represents something that is lost in the spacetime continuum and we can never access again…

NASCAR: Brilliant

May 8, 2012

Kurt Busch entering the pits in the opposite direction after being hit by Brad Keselowski late in the race on Sunday’s Aaron’s 400 at Talladega.

Brilliant. For how many races would an F1 driver be banned for this?

F1, INDYCAR: The Lotus farce

May 4, 2012

Lotus has a F1 team with its name but it doesn’t own or sponsor it… Why does this work? The hypothesis is that team owner Gerard Lopez is either interested in buying Group Lotus or selling tge F1 team to them. If both these options come off the table then it makes no sense for the F1 team to continue carrying the name when it can monetise value with other potential sponsors.

Lotus also has an engine in Indycar which was actually built by Judd and is way behind other engines in the series… So two of their teams already gave up on them. Whether any of their cars qualifies for the Indy 500 remains to be seen.

Lotus Cars is struggling and its parent company just got sold. The world domination plans are likely to be shelved and their strategy of doing motorsport on the cheap is probably going to collapse.

What a farce.

UPDATE- Another Indycar team (Dragon Racing) has dumped Lotus and sued them over contract fraud. This leaves Simona de Silvestro’s HVM Racing as the only regular entry to use the “Lotus” engine. The farce continues.

F1: China positives and negatives

April 21, 2012

Oh well, one more decent race in Shanghai with a little bit of help from DRS and the long back straight.

First positive mention goes obviously to race winner Nico Rosberg who drove like a winner. Excellent timing to appease his critics and also the big cheeses in Stuttgart who were starting to wonder why they have bought their own Formula 1 team.

Romain Grosjean finally managed to avoid trouble in the early laps to finish sixth and earn his first ever points. Well done to the Frenchman.

Williams was heavily criticised for hiring what effectively are two pay drivers but managed to produce a car that can fight for points. The team has already scored more points in three races than in the whole 2011 season. Things are moving in the right dictection for Sir Frank.

As usual, the selection of negative highlights was simpler. Ferrari could only manage 9th with Alonso whilst Massa finished outside the points again and now has the unfortunate distinction of being the only driver with no points besides the HRTs, the Marussias and the Caterhams.

The “Sebastian Vettel is losing it” theme continued as the reigning world champion could only manage a fifth place, was again beaten by his team mate and had heavy complaints about straight line speed during the race which is a slight issue in a circuit like Shanghai,

Finally, Mercedes’ pit crew did their best to prevent Michael Schumacher from reaching the first podium since his return. It used to be possible for cars to come back to the pits on three wheels without terminal damage, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore…

NASCAR: Can it be global?

April 5, 2012

NASCAR is just too (Southern) American. At the recent race at Martinsville (a place known for its hot dogs!), some race restarts were sponsored by KFC (see video below at 1h18m). Brilliant.

Can this ever be turned into a global concept? Stock cars are now making in-roads in Europe but it’s still very nichy.

However, Indycar was also too American before Fittipaldi and others arrived. Let’s see.

INDYCAR: The verdict after two races

April 5, 2012

After two races it’s possible to make an initial assessment of the changes that Indycar has implemented for 2012. The introduction of the new ‘spec’ car and multiple engine providers has clearly worked well for the series and the performance issues in ovals do not seem to be too serious (the cars clocked averages of 218mph on a recent  test at Indianapolis which mean that the organisers’ target to reach 225mph during the actual event are not unreasonable).

On the racing side, a boring race at the St. Petersburg street course was followed by a surprisingly good one at the Barber road course. This is interesting because over the past years Indycar has failed consistently to produce good races in road courses whilst the street courses tend to be more unpredictable and enjoyable to watch. Of course, the series also runs on ovals, but only five events are scheduled for 2012 – less than one third of the calendar. Races at ovals have suffered from poor attendance for years (even if the racing is good), partly because many tracks are owned by the International Speedway Corporation, a part of NASCAR that is unsurprisingly more interested in promoting NASCAR events. So Indycar has been forced to search for alternative venues, resulting in new street courses of very dubious quality (such as the one in Sao Paulo, Brazil).

Indycar needs to tackle this problem. Clearly the series would benefit from more ovals as this is the core of American racing and Indycar itself. Finding a couple of ovals abroad could be an option, especially in markets like Brazil that are already more familiar with the series. Something needs to be done about the awful street circuits as well.

Interesting to see how the next events will turn out to be. Long Beach is a classic and should go well whilst Sao Paulo, with a combination of a poor track and unpredictable weather, makes people wonder how Indycar cannot find a better venue in such an important market…

F1: Malaysia positives and negatives

March 29, 2012

The changing conditions at Sepang produced an interesting and eventful race with a surprising victory for Fernando Alonso and a brilliant second place for Sergio Perez.

Those are obviously the first two positive highlights. It’s not easy to choose a third one from the various contenders but in the end Jean Eric Vergne is probably a worthy pick. He drove magnificently in a wet track with intermediate tyres en route to his first world championship points.

It’s much easier to highlight negatives.

Felipe Massa, who finished 97 seconds behind his teammate in 15th place, must be starting to think that he could be better off somewhere else, like Sauber (who gave him the first opportunity to drive in F1). Of course, that is assuming that Sauber would choose him to replace Perez in a straight swap, instead of going for Adrian Sutil or Jaime Alguersuari.

Mercedes were appalling in the race and could only manage a point for Michael Schumacher after Pastor Maldonado’s retirement near the end. Surely there some German big cheeses in Stuttgart must be wondering why Mercedes has a works team in Formula 1.

The final negative mention has to go to Sebastian Vettel who is seemingly losing it after a poor race – not something we have seen last year. It will be interesting to see whether Red Bull can close the gap to its rivals and Vettel can regain a more positive mood over the next races.

The next battle in China should provide plenty of artificial DRS overtaking in the long straight and potentially interesting tyre management strategies.