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.

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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!