Archive for May, 2012

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.