Should we Stand for this?

F1 once again is tweaking the rules, should we be surprised – no, should we be pleased – no. Interestingly its technically a return to an old idea of sorts and going back to standing restarts (like the start of the race) instead of rolling restarts (how they are currently after the safety car peels off into the pits).

The idea is that apparently F1’s current DRS fueled over taking spree’s haven’t been enough and the sport needs more craziness to attract those kids that love crashes and what not! Restarts have been deemed not to create enough changing of places currently so now the process has been lengthened once more from the current annoyance where the back markers slowly limp on past the safety car and have to get far enough out in front so we can restart again to stopping the whole thing and going again! So standing re-starts it is.

However they’re keeping the safety car for no other reason than its more advertising, before its insertion as a thing either yellows were waved or the race was simply stopped and everyone went back to the grid and then we re-started. Once again however F1 is playing with fire, it is beyond me why these gimmicks aren’t tested first on the GP2 or GP3 series to see if they have the desired effect or are just ridiculous. While they are nice things to win, if you lost out to some gimmick its not the be all and end all of your junior career as they’re mostly used as talent spotting exercises.

In my opinion F1 is missing the most obvious solution to its problems – DRS needs to work in reverse  (DIS) as a sort of combination of the 2009 front wing solution and the current setup. If the car behind could add down force their car (IE  increase the angle of the front and rear wings) when within 1 second of the car in front (and then shed it again on the straights) it would minimise the dirty air issue and help them look after their tyre’s better which are the current problems with trying to race wheel to wheel in down force ladened single seaters. While its technically artificial it removes the unfair aspect of the current DRS solution as if balanced correctly two identical cars going through a turn would have the same down force in the turn and the same drag on the straights whereas the current system relies on Tilke’s ridiculous miles long straights to nullify the loss of down force through the turn and then blast bast with far superior top speed. Additionally we’ve seen things like drivers tactically not overtaking in spots to then gain the DRS and go past easily, this system it makes no difference where you overtake in fact you can tun the system on constantly (drivers within one second could have it come on and they over ride it on the straights or vice-versa). It would bring back the art of meaningful defence and we wouldn’t be sat going, yawn another boring DRS pass as it would still be the drivers making the difference as they’d either have to pull a blinder and overtake in the corner (YES PLEASE!) or use the grip to better exit the corner and do an old fashioned slip streaming to make the pass. There is currently no skill in a DRS pass, the pass itself isn’t exciting its the pace that the driver is managing to achieve and how far he will get not can he overtake because the answer is almost always yes of course he can.

 

The standing starts were discussed and rubber stamped at the FIA Sport Conference this week and the other item of note was the failure once again to agree any meaningful cost reduction. Unsurprising seeing that only the 6 big teams sit on the strategy group that decide these rules. But the sport is once again spiralling out of control of the bills after a few years of managing to keep the lid on it (the engine freeze in 2008 did wonders to reduce budgets by almost half). This year saw new open engine development, in season testing galore and a whole new aero rules package that has created merry hell with the balance sheet. But once again the idea of a budget cap has fallen away with a reduction in wind tunnel hours (Will reduce running costs but you still have to build and maintain a tunnel!), in-season testing (which 2 days will be young driver days and will reduce costs) and 4 rather than 5 engines (pointless as any saving in constructing another engine will be hoovered up by development costs of making them last that long). This season should of been a great way to re-brand F1 for the modern age with technology that matters and spending money in R&D that will create something useful except everyone has moaned at the sound and the cost and its no wonder there’s not been sponsors jumping up and down to come on board alongside an ever reducing viewer ship thanks to the rise of pay TV.

We don’t need double points, standing restarts, fan vote turbo boosts, a race on the moon, sprinklers or what ever the next crack pot idea to fall out of Bernie’s brain is – the obvious simple answer and the best drivers in the world driving the best cars – job done go back to your yachts!

Learning the lessons of last time

So I know its been a while since i’ve posted on the blog, applogies for that but I hope you’ve all been enjoying the racing! The story of 2014 has been domination with Mercedes winning all the 4 wheeled Grand Prix’s while Marc Marquez has taken 6 from 6 in the Moto GP (I’ve only caught a few races but that was a belter at Mugello over the weekend) however there have been tales up and down the grid not least towards the back. After gaining an entry to the sport in 2010 one of the young teams have finally scored a point with Jules Bianchi bringing his Marussia home in 9th place after penalties in a race of attrition in Monaco. Points these days go all the way down to tenth place meaning in theory it should of been possible for one of the teams to have grabbed points but with those extra places came extra reliability and the failed effort of HRT managed to record the two lowest finishing positions in world championship history!

But the news this morning is that former HRT boss Colin Kolles (he was team manager and was hired to help the team limp round looking semi professional) has had his Romanian backed Forza Rossa (FRR) accepted as the 13th team in F1 to join Gene Haas’s effort we have a look at where the pitfalls are in starting a new team.

1. Money Money Money

It comes as no surprise that many a promising effort over the years has fallen flat due to a lack of cash and with money issue’s stretching all the way up to Lotus it should come as no surprise that liquidity is key in the money mad world of F1. With the rumours surrounding many teams fiscal state the decision to start a new team from scratch is a puzzling one, since one could take a few hundred million and purchase Sauber, Toro Rosso or Caterham to gain a place on the grid its an odd choice to sink the same amount of cash into starting a new team just to get to the back of the grid. Over the course of the last 4 seasons and a bit HRT folded after being bought and sold like a failing stock while Manor was first funded by Virgin before Marussia bought a stake in the team. Virgin started trying to run the team using no wind tunnel time and a budget of around 40 million that clearly didn’t work out and the team are now spending closer to 70 million a season!

New New Teams:
Gene Haas has made some bold claims about doing F1 the American way and doing it for a competitive amount of money, this seems unlikely since many American sports have rules that limit the amount of money you can spend in them. NFL has team salary caps and a player draft, while Indy Car is a spec series (with engine competition). Nascar allows car development but it severely limited to keep the budgets down and the competitor numbers up. Haas could well find himself HRT-ing at the back or with a black hole in his budget, but then he is no cowboy and does know how to run a tight ship.

Forza Rossa have the backing of a Romanian Ferrari importer as well as Government funds looking to promote the country, now it remains to be seen how long both of those will stick around if they are rooted to the foot of the table. Hopefully there will be some corporate sponsors who would look to take advantage of corporate hospitality while the team gets moving in the right direction.

2. Location, Location, Location

All 3 of the new teams within a few years had relocated from their idyllic settings in search of pastures new, with HRT getting it very wrong in a comedy of errors and moving to Spain only to find the region was bankrupt! The other two teams moved from Norwich and Rotherham to the South East of England where all of the other teams are located bar Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Sauber (who form a Northern Italy / Swiss cluster). This allows the teams to easily hire from other teams so that people do not have to up root their entire families for a change of team. Also there are other considerations such as the South East of England has 4 major airports and you can send the trucks off to the Ferry/Tunnel for the European rounds whereas other locations in the country simply add to the stress of getting to the races.

New New teams:
Well Mr Haas haven’t we been here before? The aborted USF1 project faltered due in part to the added costs of running a team out of the states (furthermore just think, every team member you poach you have to pay a huge relocation fee for them to move to the US!). However its not as insane as it may seem at first, the team is located in the US’s cluster of racing firms so there should be plenty of talent there the difficulty will be in getting experienced F1 hands to go and help start the team. Haas also has a F1 standard wind tunnel (that some of the teams rent out from time to time) and a huge facility the only question remains is what will happen in Europe and what will happen in the US.

Forza Rossa on the other hand are going to start at least out of Colin Kolles’s Munich base where the HRT team was based prior to the doomed Madrid switch, there are some racing teams in Germany – most notably Toyota’s former F1 facility but its a little out of the way in F1 terms and it will be a struggle to run a team there long term with no other teams in the vicinity.

3. If at first you don’t succeed – buy it

The entry process for the new teams in 2010 was packaged together with a sweet deal of a ready to go engine (Cosworth), gearbox (Xtrac) and transmission (Ricardo) to slot into you new chassis and aero package, all at the bargain price of £5.5 million a season (and 1.5 million initial setup costs). This was supposed to help the teams quickly get to grips and adapt to F1 and also help them not spend their way into oblivion, there was however one slight problem with all of this. The new parts were made to be a cost effective solution but while the engine was good enough (if a little fuel thirsty) the gearbox was atrocious and left the new teams having to worms their way out of the deals. By the end of the second season the teams had either walked away from the package all together (Caterham), designed their own gearboxes instead (Marussia) or bought a better gearbox from an F1 team (HRT).

But the issues didn’t end there, HRT’s chassis which was designed by Dallara was about 10 years out of date and shocked some of the new staff when they were brought in to evaluate the project. The moral of this story is buying is a good way to get good parts cheap, however only ever buy from racing teams.

New New teams:
While at first glance Mr Haas may have walked into a huge pitfall marked HRT with announcing Dallara will make its chassis, however with one simple caveat. The team will be designing it and using Dallara’s facilities to manufacture it which hopefully should be a good cost effective solution. Haas has delayed his entry until 2016 and may partner with one of the existing engine manufactures or use Cosworth to bring back Ford to the party if they are willing to part with lots of Dollars.

Bizarrely Forza Rossa are planning on using Renault engines according to reports in the media, which seems strange on all fronts considering they are slowest of the new packages and they’re funded by a Ferrari importer. Past that little is known about the suppliers at this stage but the team are aiming for 2015 so they need to get a move on!

 

All in all F1 is an expensive business and these mistakes cost the last batch of teams tens of millions of pounds, so it remains to be seen if any lessons have been learned but it wont be too long until we’re finding out.