Why we need another Monza not another Tilkedrome

This weekend see’s the final European round of the season take place at the historic Monza race track in Italy. Home to Ferrari’s Tifosi and enjoyed by millions world wide as the ultimate theater of speed in a F1 car.

The race takes place this year with added interest as the biggest performance differentiator at the track has changed for 2014. With 75% of the lap at full throttle the power unit will take centre stage and the aerodynamics will be stripped away and teams expect top speeds to be 30 KPH higher than in the V8 era. The parabolica has been tarmacked over which is a real shame reducing the chance of getting it wrong out of the last corner drastically.

However with the new torquey engines, difficult brakes and low down-force the circuit could really prove to be a challenge this year. But its a one off and the teams make a special aero package for the race which is then binned afterwards! With DRS Spa has become more downforce friendly and the calendar could surely benefit from another real high speed raceway to balance a ever increasingly homogenous calendar.

The 19 races on this years calendar see us attend 6 tracks completely designed by Tilke, one he consulted on (Singapore) and three he heavily modified (Red Bull Ring, Hockenhiem and Cataluyna). While he isn’t a bad circuit designer (in fact his best circuit sits gathering dust outside Budapest) he does have things he likes to include in every track and does make mistakes with his layouts, increasingly so as his design work load has increased. But the inclusion so heavily of one designer has seen characteristic tracks disappear from the Calender to be replaced by 4-5 Km tracks with 16-20 corners that include a tight section and a huge straight.

While I’m not suggesting its possible to build a classic every time nor can you replicate the history a little variation would be nice, In an ideal world another power first circuit would do the sport wonders in the US where an Oval could possibly be adapted to produce a similar result requiring the cars to run in a lower downforce configuration.

Alas if not at least enjoy the fact that the calendar this year has seen the return of a classic circuit (Red Bull Ring) and next year the same (Mexico). And maybe just maybe enjoy Monza in its uniqueness – a piece of history amongst a lesson in always moving forward – Gentlemen start your engines!

Its a Lotterery Win at Caterham

Not happy with the announcement that 16 year old Verstappen will drive at Toro Rosso, Caterham have raced out of the summer break announcing that 32 year old German Andre Lotterer will make his F1 race debut for the team this weekend in place of Kamui Kobayashi. The team have hinted this is a one time team as Lotterer has WEC events left this year that clash with F1 and announced that Kamui remains with the team.

The German has had little recent top flight open wheel experience (His last taste of F1 was in 2002!!) but is a 3 time LeMans winner (Including the current champion) so it will be interesting to see how a driver does going the opposite way to many deposed F1 drivers.

The challenge facing the German shouldn’t be under estimated with these complex new cars, no testing time and racing on one of F1’s toughest tracks – Spa. Many drivers have stated that Eau Rouge will be a huge challenge this year with these new cars and is unlikely to be taken flat.

Its another bizarre decision from the team who were recently bought out by an Arab led consortium and proceeded to lay off 1/3 of the staff. Furthermore if the new owners were unsatisfied with Kobayashi’s work there are many experienced F1 drivers around who do not currently have drives, although recent history shows that swapping drivers mid-season usually does little to improve performance.

Andre Lotterer

Not Verstappen for Anyone

This morning Toro Rosso have announced that 16 year old Max Verstappen will drive for the team next year in place of Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman has raced for 3 season with STR but has struggled in qualifying but has shown himself to be a master in wet conditions, however last season saw him passed over for his team mate for a drive in the main team.

It again is a surprise pick from STR who promoted GP3 champion Danil Kyvatt to its ranks this year over Carlos Sainz Jr who remains a reserve driver at Caterham (and a junior Red Bull driver). Furthermore Verstappen wil lbe one of the least experienced drivers ever to take the grid and the youngest at 17 years old when the 2015 season kicks off. Max has claimed the Euro F3 title but in this day and age the series sits behind GP3,GP2 and Renualt World Series 3.5 in pedigree so he will have a lot of learning to do.

It remains to be seen what will happen to Jean-Eric but the Frenchman might struggle to obtain much in the way of a budget. He has been hurt by his lack of qualifying speed but his ability come Sunday might make him a viable option for some of the seams. He joins Alguersuari (the current youngest driver), Sebastian Buemi, Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Speed on the Toro Rosso scrap heap. (Antonio Luizzi also drove for the team but continued his F1 career afterwards with Force India and HRT completing another 42 races)

Outside of F1 Jean-Eric may look to other series which I will detail in an upcoming post.

Max Verstappen

The Girl who Cried Wolff

With F1 at the back end of its summer break many of the teams are winding back up again for the second half of the season which resumes at Spa this coming bank holiday weekend. During this enforced break (which I’m all for but its now mandated in the rules) various peoples P.R teams use the resulting news lull to pepper the pages with their propaganda.

This week it was the turn of Suzie Wolff, wife of former Williams share-holder Toto and Williams Development/Test driver. Regular readers will know I’m not a big fan of Ms Wolff, mostly for the reason she harps on about gender inequality in motorsport but constantly finds herself given advantages because of said gender. Now in this day and age any team would hire a female driver where she to be mildly competitive – just think of a sponsorships and press inches!!! But lets have a look at poor old Suzies attempt to justify her place on the grid:

Susie Wolff is adamant she’s with Williams based on her talent and not as part of a “marketing scheme” by the F1 team. – She continues to add the following evidence:

“Many people said that this is just a marketing scheme,” she told the official F1 website. “but Sir Frank Williams would never put someone in his car if he didn’t believe that they are good enough. – Kazuki Nakajima might beg to differ, along with various other pay drivers throughout barren spells. Furthermore shes just done a few practices hardly top line stuff.

The 31-year-old, though, says it is unlikely that she will find a place on the 2015 Formula 1 grid with Williams. “At Williams we have two good drivers, so it would be difficult,” she said. – So it is a marketing opportunity then surely? To being in more sponsors to a team your husband still has shares in?

“I am very proud to be with the Williams team. They’ve given me the chance to test an F1 car when nobody else was interested because I didn’t show enough performance in DTM.
– So no other team would touch you due to your poor (very poor) results in DTM, previous champion Paul Di Resta found himself without a drive this year! But its a staggering admission that Williams was her only option for these runs because of her poor junior career.

All in all Williams would do well to stop this farce, with Simona Di Silvestro looking possible for actually having what it takes to compete can we please stop promoting woman who have had little to no success in the junior categories for marketing purposes. And Suzie stop trying to claim your there on talent, while I have no doubt you can run the car around the track for good testing data, you’ve yet to prove you can race at any level. (Suzie Wolff has only managed 3 podiums at any level of professional motorsport – all in Formula Renault UK – She only managed to score 4 points over 7 seasons in DTM and has taken no poles or fastest laps at any level)

E-asy Does it as Formula E looms into view

Yesterday F1’s biggest challenger in years, Formula E completed a complete test simulation of an entire weekend at the Donnington Circuit in Northampton. I’ll admit to having not paid attention to the series recently after the announcement that the series will be broadcast live in the UK on the ITV network. The season will run the opposite way round to F1 and thus the season will start on the 13th of September in Shanghai. The biggest thing the series has managed to achieve over the past few months has been to secure races at classic street circuits in Monaco (The circuit is yet to be confirmed but its timing suggests it will be run in Monaco’s racing season on the Anthony Nogues circuit on the 9th of May) and Long Beach.

The series is concentrating on Street racing as the all electric championship is being used to promote the use of zero tailpipe emission cars in metropolitan areas. The inaugural season will see the 10 teams field 2 drivers in 2 cars each (drivers swap cars during the hour long races to avoid recharging) and all will field the Renault Spark car. The car has been built by Dallara with the power unit coming from the McLaren P1 super car and a battery designed by the Williams Group but from the 2015-2016 teams will be increasingly free to design their own parts for the car. To this end the most interesting team on the grid is the Audi ABT team leading to the widespread belief that Audi will produce their own power units next season along with the DAMS entry being backed by Renault.

There are some serious names behind the series too with a long list of former F1 drivers (Alugersauri, Buemi, Trulli, Heidfeld, Senna, Chandok, D’Ambrosio) there are also teams that will ring a bell for many motorsport fans – as mentioned DAMS and ABT alongside Dragon Racing, Andretti, Aguri, Mahindra and Virgin. There will be many who have raced in GP2 and F1 who are eying the series as a contender to keep their profile high and race in front of a large TV audience which outside of F1 is only really available in the US.

While the series will allow the manufactures to increase their technology base for their road cars (The current cars produce around 250 – 300 Bhp which is road relevant) it will initially provide a platform to promote electric cars as a viable option. The series is an attractive option however like many of the previous attempts to create rival motorsport series (Superleague Formula & A1 Grand Prix) it has a few questionable elements. The horrible fan boost idea allowing drivers more power during a race as a result of an online poll is a horrific idea to put any of Bernie’s mad off the cuff comments into the shade and also the choice to blast music during the races is a strange idea (with electric cars there wont be much in the way of engine noise – a major issue with electric cars). Also the decision to race on street circuits will hopefully bring in plenty of fans if the price is right (lets be honest who wouldn’t plonk down ¬£30/40/50 to go watch top drivers race when all it takes is a brief tube/train/bus ride?) however many street circuits suffer from tight twisty slow corners with a lack of over taking due to the tight confines of the circuits. Many of the circuits listed are new and I hope for the sake of the series they’ve mostly got the layouts right because 2 hours of F1 filled drama may far out weigh the hour long traffic jam racing around city centers.

Clearly the series is aimed at the younger audiences that aren’t tuning into F1 as its demographic grows ever older, the under 30’s are a market that motorsport is currently not reaching due to a number of factors. F1 is the only worldwide motorsport championship but ever increasing prices at races alongside the move to pay TV have put it out of reach of many families. Additionally the increasingly costly and rule heavy roads have seen many youngsters opt for trains and buses rather than their driving license. Furthermore F1 has failed to engage in new media and has constantly under mind itself with constant rule changes and bickering in the press alongside stilted corporate drivers. Finally the opulence and splendor of F1 might be seen as a turn off to many teenagers and young adults who are increasingly struggling to make reasonable wages in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crash.

If Formula E can attract manufactures alongside bringing the races to the people and putting sport first (drop fan boost!!!!) F1 could have a serious contender on its hands.

F1 Returns to Classic Mexico – Sort Of

The main news this week in between the German and Hungarian races has been the announcement that F1 has signed a 5 year deal to race in Mexico from next season. With two drivers in the field along with telecoms giant Tel Mex heavily involved in the sport it was a logical move to bring a race to Mexico. After the (apparent) failure of the New Jersey race there was still scope for another race in the Americas and with the amount of Mexicans visiting the Grand Prix in Texas the market is quite clearly there.

After many discussions of new tracks the sport will return to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodrigez for the first time since 1992 however as suspected many changes at the track are necessary to accommodate modern F1 machinery. The biggest issue with the track is its final corner the Peraltada which is a long 180 degree left hander onto the start finish straight. The corner is hugely fast and features little to no run off. Further adding to the complications are a large public dual carriageway which now sits behind the corner and the construction in 1993 of the Foro Sol baseball stadium which makes the entry to the corner completely blind. This will be solved be diverting the cars into the baseball stadium itself and then out mid way onto the final turn. When Champ Car raced at the circuit in the 2000’s the corner was deemed too dangerous and a chicane was added before the turn to slow the cars down, this from a series where the cars were designed to run on walled ovals.

http://www.f1aldia.com/photos/21000/21044/001_small.jpg

However the track features more re-profiling alongside the curious decision to add more hairpins than necessary into the final corner sequence. The first two sections of turns have been tightened, one would assume to promote overtaking and slightly reduce corning speeds in the modern cars, but this should provide similar speeds to the old track when raced using late 80’s machinery. The removal of the first ess in the sweeping section again is likely due to run off requirements as it gets close to a bank of tress, however this will speed up the cars entry into the remaining corners. Previously the track featured grass run off into tarmacked areas but we’d unfortunately expect run off areas to be heavily tarmacked despite already providing punishing but safe run off.

The track was built out in a park in 1962 but the city has grown out to meet it and now sits as a sporting oasis in a metropolitan sprawl. When the track underwent its last regeneration in 2001 it pulled a staggering 402,413 spectators to the race. With a best of both worlds situation of a permanent circuit in a populous area it could be primed to pull in huge crowds to cheer on Sergio Perez if it is priced correctly and one can only hope this will be the case after witnessing the sparse grand stands of the Hockenheimring last weekend.

It is again another return to a classic circuit after Austria’s triumphant re-appearance a few weeks ago, the loss of the final corner was to be expected (many commentators believed the sport wouldn’t return to the track due to not being able to re profile the last turn) but the decision to change so much of the circuit is a curious one and it will remain to be seen how much character will remain. The circuit will join Texas and Brazil towards the end of the season Americas leg again leaving Canada as a stand alone race in the great white north. However there are a mooted 23 roundss lined up for next years championship as along with the 19 races from this season along with Mexico there will be a return of India (which was only on a “break” this year), Azerbaijan (Baku street race) and New Jersey. As mentioned before all indications are that the New Jersey race has fallen through, furthermore¬† the political situation hasn’t shifted any in India meaning the sport is unlikely to return there. This still leaves another race to face the chop if the Baku street race goes ahead as the calendar is unlike to go beyond 20 events but the political situation in Russia may create the appropriate opening.

The Chopping Block – Mid Season Report

With the season 9 races down (out of 19) its that time again when we cast our critical eye over the grids less fortunate and see who is on the chopping block come seasons end.

1. Marcus Ericsson – Caterham – 0 Pts – 18th

On this blog we didn’t exactly greet the appointment of Marcus Ericsson with glee, a middling GP2 driver that we assume has been promoted to the top flight on the strength on his pockets not his talent. While this is not always a sure fire reason not to get the step up, his team mate Kobayashi, Sergio Perez et al all had poorer results than the swede. Last year in GP2 he picked up a win along with 5 podium places but its a series we still want to see the top 3 graduate to the top flight not those finishing 6th. His season has largely been anonymous apart from the fact he finished 11th in Monaco hence his championship position, however when it gets slippy out there he’s often found in the barriers. With the team being sold to new management and a Red Bull protege (Robert Frijns) waiting in the wings one would assume he will depart from Abu Dhabi to pastures new.

2. Max Chilton – Marussia – 0 Pts – 21st

Ahh Max your fathers Aon cash may not save you now. While the Briton’s deep pockets helped him to a second season in F1 alongside the remarkable feat of finishing every race the F1 reaper could soon be calling time on Chiltons top flight career. Again another GP2 driver that we suspected just didn’t quite have it Max has shown he’s a safe pair of hands but while his team mate has gone from strength to strength (including scoring points) Chilton has seemed to have stayed still. Furthermore his finishing streak came to an end after he punted off his team mate on the opening lap in Canada, alongside the likely fact that Marussia will finish inside the top 10 for the second year running meaning they will reap the fiscal rewards from Bernie they may decide against taking more of Max’s cash. He may be saved if Bianchi moves to a better team but if Jules remains for another year I suspect the Marussia boys may scout out for some newer talent.

3. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber – 0 Pts – 20th

Gutierrez is another drive on year 2 of his career but despite his up turn of form at the end of 2013 he can’t shake the look of a fish out of water. While he may of got to grips with the 2013 formula the complex 2014 power trains combined with Sauber’s dog of a car have possibly proved to much for the young Mexican. He has often tangled with the barriers in races (including at Monaco when running in 8th!) as well as a few practice shunts combined with being out shined by his experienced team mate despite his huge weight advantage in the lumbering obese Swiss challenger. Therefore one can predict sweeping changes at Sauber over the winter and unless there is a serious amount of willing from Telmex to keep him there (when Sergio Perez is doing a fine job flying the flag in the Force India) expect him to be given the chop.

4. Pastor Maldonado – Lotus – 0 Pts – 19th

Pastors move to Lotus was meant to be the dream move for the race winner from a poor Williams to a race winning team but its not turned out that way at all. The Lotus team has really struggled on track and off it and despite their form last season the move to hire the grids most notorious pay driver (estimates put his sponsorship at anywhere from 10 – 25 million a year!) should of been a warning sign to all. But while Romain Grosjean has gritted his teeth and pushed on to score 8 points Pastor finds himself way down the pecking order and yet to get off the mark. Every weekend its either dire reliability or his love of crushing carbon fibre against Armco that has squandered things. While the team haven’t given him the car he hasn’t had it in himself to get the thing over the finish line when it doesn’t go up in flames (although not the literal flames of the forward exhausts). If Lotus can secure funding expect to find Pastor out on his ear with his old habits burning his chance at the big time.

5. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 19 Pts – 12th

What is it about second drivers at Ferrari? For years the team suffered along with Felipe Massa, who now at Williams looks like a new man, and now his World Champion replacement has done no better. While his illustrious team mate has notched up 87 Pts including a podium the Finn has struggled to break into the top 10. With his major complaints being about the breaks he’s taken to smashing his car to bits in an effort to get higher up the chopping block table. He has a two year contract but he is in serious danger of his second stint at the Scuderia also being cut short by a year. Bare in mind last year in a Lotus Kimi scored a win alongside a further 7 appearances on the podium, this year he can’t even keep his team mate in sight down a Tilke straight.