September Goings On

September has been a busy month in Motorsport, with the majority of series returning after the summer break we also had the launch of Formula E and the end of the Indy Car season.

On four wheels the championship battle has become pretty much all square again with Mercedes reliability catching up with Rosberg and handing Hamilton his 7th win of the season. Whoever tops the standing come Abu Dhabi its almost certain that Hamilton will end the season with more victories than his German team mate. More concerning however has been the fate of a number of teams as the sport again turns to its favorite trick of shooting itself in the foot.

Bernie has been shouting about 3 car teams again this month stating that 3 teams could disappear over the winter break leaving a gird size of 16. This would trigger a clause in the concord agreement that the teams would have to all field a 3rd car to make up the grid. However within the rules these cars could not score points and as highlighted by a number of teams would need significant investment in money and personnel for a season. It almost certainly has an ulterior motive because the arrival of Gene Haas in 2016 would return the grid size to the minimum of 18 cars. Furthermore there are plenty of pay drivers with enough cash to carry the limping teams over the line until then. Caterham, Marussia and Sauber are the likely candidates to disappear into the annuals of history but there are also concerns at Force India and Lotus over their long term financing.

On two wheels however the story has been quite different and the Moto GP grid is set to swell over the coming seasons with the arrival of various manufacturers. The old CRT bikes with modified superbike engines will be a thing of the past and the privateer teams will run the customer Honda bikes, the Forward Yamaha or open Ducati’s. However next season Paul Bird’s team will be taken over by Suzuki and Gresini have given up their Honda satellite bike (Now taken over by Marc VDS to run Scott Redding) to run the factory effort from Aprilla after the manufacturer stepped in to provide funding to the team. Both new factories will compete in the open with concessions class like Ducati before the sport becomes fully unified in 2016 using a spec ECU with the software shared between the teams.

Not one to miss out on the party KTM also announced that they will have a prototype bike for 2017, however most sources indicate they aren’t planning on running a factory team so it will all depend on cost and subsidies as to whether any of the teams take up the offer. But potentially we could see in two years time 6 different manufacturers on the grid properly and its a huge vindication of the cost cutting measures put in place by Dorna over the last few seasons.

The mid field battle next season looks set to be intense with the all new Ducati alongside Suzuki and Aprilla. Also with the disappearance of the old CRT bikes and the customer Honda’s receiving a huge upgrade and the ever fast Forward Yamaha (who took their first trip to the podium with Aleix Espargaro’s 2nd place in Aragon) there will be a huge glut of riders on similar bikes. The Honda’s and Yamaha’s are likely to be up front and it remains to be seen how fast the new Ducati and the Suzuki will be, but they will still be running with Open concessions next year meaning they are unlikely to challenge the top step too often.

The rider market is in full swing with a factory spot at Aprilla and the Suzuki rides still up for grabs, the main man everyone is waiting on is the star of the CRT/Open class Aleix Espargaro and whether he can move up to a factory team or whether he will stay with Forward for another year and asses his options.

Elsewhere Indy Car finished early with Will Power finally claiming a championship crown, the long break allows the teams to work on the cars ahead of the introduction of Aero Kits made by Honda and Chevrolet alongside the original Dallara aerodynamics. There are mixed feelings about both its early end and a long time before seeing the championship again and a possible end to the tight competition caused by the spec cars.

Finally Formula E kicked off in Beijing with a highly successful event although Nico Prost caused a huge last corner accident by driving into Nick Hiedfeld and handing the win to Lucas Di Grassi. The series does have a few kinks to work out but the driver swaps went smoothly and the racing was good despite the awful circuit design. Definitely one to look out for over the coming years.

Gene Haas Ferrari Feeling

In the build up to Monza all eyes usually start to look at the following season with many agents using the last weekend in Europe and the modern showcase event in Singapore to do their deals along with their commercial partners. (Which I have to say these two events next to each other demonstrate some lovely symmetry of the history and modernism of F1).

But all the sounds coming from the PR men have been regarding 2016 not 2015 and the arrival of Gene Haas’ new American based F1 entry. Firstly there has been the confirmation that the team will use the name “Haas F1 Team” and have launched their official website. Secondly and more importantly has been the announcement that the team will run the full Ferrari power unit in a multi-year commercial deal. America is a hugely important market for Ferrari and the two teams commercial interest have little overlap outside of racing so the tie up has long been expected.

Surprisingly (or not as the case may be) there has been little heard from Forza Rosa the new Romanian team that had been accepted onto the grid for 2015! Colin Kolles was meant to be heading up the team but he’s currently knee deep in tearing up Caterham. One can image the Caterham team merging with Forza Rosa but if they are serious about making the grid for next season a power plant deal needs to be sorted imminently and with no races in Europe left one can’t see any other perfect PR opportunities to go and make some noise.

Finally despite the press releases and bravado from Honda, the engine which will power McLaren next year is late. A full systems test was meant to be carried out with the engine running on a dyno by the end of the month but the time for the check has come and gone and there are growing concerns out of Woking about the state of the engine. The delay will impact performance more than reliability and all things point to another quiet season for Ron and his boys. A final interesting side note, for everyone who thought there was a rabid pack of Honda engineers waiting for the Mercedes engine to arrive at Woking to dissect it, they may have been waiting some time! Mercedes only provided McLaren a block shape for development and don’t allow them to keep the engines, they are brought to every race and installed by Mercedes engineers from Brixworth (The engine factory). So the closest that engine got the MTC in McLaren hands was Silverstone!!!!

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.