You Can’t Beat a Bit O Bully

Well there race fans, October comes and goes quickly in the Motorsport world as the remaining races in European series are squeezed in alongside the showdowns in most championships in far flung locations. Most of the victors of the past 12 months have been confirmed with few series left to complete:

Lewis Hamilton is the 2015 F1 Champion, while Stoffel Vandoorne wrapped up an impressive GP2 season and will likely race for McLaren in 2017. In GP3 the title is still open with 2 round (4 races) left to go with the steady Frenchman Estebhan Ocon trailing the Itailian Luca Ghiotto by only 2 points. Ocon is setting the junior categories on fire at the moment with both pace and consistancey after winning the Euro F3 title last year at the first time of asking and is lining himself up to do the same in GP3. While Ghiotto is recovering after a dissapointing 2014 in FR 3.5 (which looks like it could of been a step up too early) he too has a stellar Junior career and it could well be witnessing the too bang wheels time and time again over the next few seasons.

Looking outside of F1 Scott Dixon took the Indy Car title, Sebastian Ogier the World Rally Championship and Jose Maria Lopez (of fleeting USF1 fame) took the WTCC crown. Pascal Wherlein wrapped up the DTM title putting him on the path to F1 and Gordon Sheddon took another BTCC series win. The World Endurance Championship has still one round left to go with the Porsche Team of Bernhard/Webber/Hartley in the prime seat to take the title in Bahrain but endurance racing is a cruel mistress.

On two wheels Johnathan Rea dominated the Superbike championship while Danny Kent should wrap up the Moto 3 title at the last round after Johan Zarco polished up Moto 2 earlier this year.

That all leaves us with one very big motorsport championship hole to fill in the shape of Moto GP and with the title to be deicded at the traditional season finale in Valencia this weekend the last round in Malaysia certainly ramped up the drama. Rossi and Marquez (whos out of the title race) got into a ding dong during the Thursday press conference and then qualifying and then during the race there was an almighty battle until Rossi lost patience and force Marquez outwide and sat him up (and made him crash/kicked up/ whatever). The result has been Rossi leads the standings going into the last race looking for that 10th World Title (and 8th Premier Class title) 7 points clear in the standings but looks likey to start from the back of the grid. It should make for good viewing thats for sure!

F1 still has two more events to go after the refreshing visit to the Mexician GP last weekend, while the racing was poor due to the new tarmac (as is often the case for new races) visiting an historic track with a passionate full house of fans brought a smile to many a face. The classic track has been upgraded well and the loss of the Peraltada is great (and lets face it unavoidable for a corner that was too dangerous in 1992 and is now completly blind thanks to the stadium) it has been ofset by that stadium section which worked incredibly well. Next up is Brazil which rarely surves a dud with its gritty old schoolness unlike the glitz and glamour of Tilkdrome Island (or Yas Marina if you prefer), which will finish the season off.

The off season is likely to be dominated by Red Bull and their search for an engine, the team have 4 cars on the grid as they operate STR as a junior team and have used Renault engines in the hybrid era which have been woefulyl underpowered and un-reliable. It appears that there is no other option availble for the main team while STR could well be running 2015 Ferrari units which could lead to STR out performing the “main” Red Bull team if they end up running re-badged Renault PUs. Meanwhile it looks 100% certain that Renault will take over Lotus once more – although they may not immediatly re-brand the team and the big rumour on the street is that Vijay Mallya’s finally come undone and Diago are backing a buy out of the team to run it as a Johnnie Walker sponsored Aston Martin Mercedes team, now that could well be a potent mix!

F1 Silly-ish Season

Well its been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog, but life has gotten in the way of things once again. But on the whole I have been watching this years Grand Prix championships on both 2 and 4 wheels. It is at this time of year that the pieces start to fall into place for 2016 and with Kimi Raikkonen staying on at Ferrari the pieces are starting to fall into place. But it’s not just drivers that have been subject to silly season this year, the return of competitive engine developments (the old V8’s were heavily locked down and were all very similar in terms of performance) have seen the power train become one of the most hotly debated parts of 2015’s silly season.

Mercedes and Ferrari are set to retain their drivers for next year as both teams will make an assault on the world championship in 2016 after Ferrari’s huge gains after making a mis-step with its engine design for the first year of the V6 hybrids. However Raikkonen is likely to race only one more year for the Scuderia as his contract has been announced as 1 year with no option to extend from either party. While Merecedes look fairly stable they have Pascal Wehrlein waiting in the wings (the 20-year-old currently leads the DTM championship and has impressed in F3) and Nico Rosberg is likely to be out of contact at the end of 2016 or 2017. Sauber have also opted to retain their drivers being the first team to confirm its 2016 plans (well apart from Mercedes who have both pilots under contract until at least the end of next year and their not doing half bad) and will continue with Ferrari power.

With Raikkonen staying put at Ferrari, Williams will again have Massa and Bottas driving the Martini liveried car. However Massa is 34 years old and the team also has GP3 champion Alex Lynn in its ranks (who sits 5th in his first year of GP2) so it could be possible to see the Britain make a few practice outings this year if the team or Massa himself decide is time for younger blood in the cockpit.

2015 has been a unmitaged disaster for Renault with the Red Bull teams (their only remaining customers) giving the team an ear full in the press all season. The engine team did little development over the winter and arrived at the first race of the year in worse shape than the previous one and this has proved too much for even the Red Bull chassis to overcome. Adding insult to injury Renault have yet to bring any engine upgrades at all to the track this year to improve matters. The power plants have proved not only slow but un-reliable as well leaving the Red Bull teams unable to compete at the sharp end despite both squads developing impressive chassis and aerodynamic packages. The divorce has been all but announced and the teams will return to Ferrari power for at least the next two seasons, with BBC reporting that they will bring the VW group to the sport to either buy out the team or at the very least provide them with engines. Im not 100% convinced on this rumour but Stefano Domenicali has been at Audi for the past 18 months not doing a whole lot with his time from the outside so one assumes he’s up to something below the surface.

This leaves Renault with no one to supply for next year but its an open secret that the French marque are trying to get a bargain basement deal for their previous works team. After all Renault shouted the loudest about changing the engine rules to the current format and have been resoundly beaten, so leaving all together may not provide the best return on investment. The deal is all but done as Lotus are perilously low on cash and could be wound up before the end of the season. The main reason for the delay is Renault are trying to extract maximum bonus for their historical performance from CVC (Bernie) who obviously aren’t keen to fund Renault out of their own pockets but may have little to no choice in the matter. As for drivers it looks like Grosjean has jumped ship and the team announced Pastor “Money Crash Bags” Maldonado will continue with the team next year. The timing of the announcement was curious with the press release circulated after everyone had left Singapore or asleep meaning no one could question anyone on the announcement.

Elsewhere in the mid-field the last remaining piece of the puzzle will be the final Force India drive (Hulkenberg has been retained) with Sergio Perez in the frame but interested in the second drive at Lotus/Renault but seems to be biding his time to see what the result will be with the Enstone team. Joylean Palmer is rumoured to be in this mix along with Magnussen and Jean Eric-Vergne but with only one birth available between them (Perez probably has his pick of them) there is plenty to choose from there.

McLaren have endured their worst season in their long history and have failed to get close to a podium and have suffered with both power and reliability from the brand new Honda unit. It remains to be seen if the Japanese manufactuer can turn in around for 2016 but it looks increasinly likely that Jenson Button has had enough and will retire from the sport and head off to WEC, Rallycross and/or a TV career. The decision is expected to be announced this week and then we will probably wait far too long for the team to pick between Magnussen and Vandoorne.

At the back of the grid its all change with Manor moving to Merecedes power and will give the German marque a junior team in return for engine, gearbox etc. (basically as much as they can get). It should make the team more competitive finally after years of bringing up the rear and not getting close to bothering anyone, however as for drivers Mercedes are very keen to place Wehrlein in the team alongside Alexander Rossi (who will see out the season with Manor) to increase their prescense in the U.S.

Finally Haas will pick up the peices but I fully expect the team to be somewhere near the back despite all the right positive noises that they are doing it properly. But there are already 9 teams on the grid doing it properly and I can’t see them crusing into the midst of the mid-field. However Romain Grosjean looks like he’s placing a bet on the US team to produce something competitive and has left a factory team (brave? foolish?) to join the new outfit. He looks likely to be joined by Esteban Guitierrez mostly for commercial reasons as the Mexican looked woefully out of his depth at Sauber during his first stint in F1.

F1 is alive in 2015 but its still in Intensive Care

So the first race of the 2015 World Championship is done and dusted with Lewis Hamilton showing he is one of the best drivers ever and deserved 2x World Champion with a pole and a comfortable victory. The margin of superiroity was clear for all to see and as predicted from winter testing the Merecedes works team are streets ahead, even more so than they were last year.

Hamilton was on pole by 0.6s to his team-mate and by a whopping 1.4s to the nearest rival team, Williams (Felipe Massa) in a dry uninterrupted qualifying underlining the huge superiority the Brackley based team have going into 2015. He also had an answer to his team-mate all day Sunday keeping him out of DRS range and still having better fuel usage than the German. Fans will be hoping that Nico can raise his game for the upcoming races because while Mercedes dominated last year it was great contest between that kept bums on seats right to finale in Abu Dhabi.

Ferrari also had reasons to be cheerful with their cars qualifying 4th and 5th while a rather miffed but rejuvenated Kimi Raikkonen lamented a mistake that he says cost him 3rd place. In the race their progress, especially with the power unit was underlined with new boy Vettel claiming a maiden Scuderia podium (Raikkonen got tangled in the first corner and continuted until a series of rear wheel problems lead to his retirement) and lone customer team Sauber recording a much needed 5th place with debutant Felipe Nasr after a pointless season last time around.

However thats where the good news stories ended apart from Force India recording a double points finish after their troubled winter, with events conspiring to have only 15 cars start the race and only 11 finish!

McLaren Honda’s troubles continue and the decision not to have a second team on board for the years seems less and less wise as weeks rolls by. After running no more than 12 laps in sucession all winter and their star driver injured after a testing accident the beleaguered Woking squad arrived in Australia with low expectations and they were duly met. The cars qualified last of those running and replacement driver K-Mag blew up on the way to the grid and failed to take the start. Things were a bit better for Jenson Button who managed to complete the race but the former World Champion was 2 laps down and in last. However McLarens insistence that the potential is there has started to gain some momentum after Jenson managed to keep Force India’s Sergio Perez at bay for a number of laps despite being way down through the speed trap. Also towards the end he obviously turned the wick up and put in his fastest two laps at the end of the race that would place the car somewhere in the mid-field if it could consistently run at that pace.

The Red Bull Renault teams haven’t had that much of a better time of it than Honda with the 2015 unit being slower than last years and with horrible driveabiltiy (IE the power delivery isn’t smooth). So bad is the issue that when home favourite Dan Ricciardo was asked on the radio how the tyres were he could only report on the fronts with the power delivery being so inconsistent to the rear wheels that the Aussie couldn’t get a read on the rubber. Things were even worse for his new Russian Team mate who like Magnussen managed to blow up en route to the start of the race. Max Verstappen would also fall foul of the misbehaving power plant and after a spirited drive had to retire just outside the pit entrance. Typically the Red Bull head honchos were in a fighting mood and were quick to point the finger at both an uncooperative Renault and the FIA before finally issuing a threat to exit the sport.

Lotus meanwhile showed promise with the new Mercedes engine powering both cars in Q3 but both cars would retire on the opening lap after getting stuck in the first corner melee with Pastor Maldonado ending up in the wall, but for once there was very little crash prone driver could do about it after getting his tyre struck from behind. However while there was no points for the Enstone team heads are a being held quite a bit higher on the promise of their quali speed.

Williams had a mixed weekend with Felipe Massa qualifying 3rd but only managing to finish 4th after a clever pit strategy for Ferrari put them ahead. They are still the fastest car that isn’t a Mercedes AMG (they do have the same engines however) but Ferrari have closed right in on them and it will be a vicious fight to the end of the season between these two as they must pile on the points early as Red Bull and possibly Lotus & McLaren could end up in this battle in the second half of the season. Valteri Bottas however had a tough opening weekend after hurting his back during qualifying on Saturday the Finn failed an extraction test (a FIA medical test to asses whether you can get out of the car in an emergency properly) and was declared unfit to race. The team expect him to be back for Malaysia and there will be more motivation for the Finn to make it back in cockpit promptly, however bizarrely the team alluded to the fact that Suzie Wolff is only their “test” driver so they wouldn’t necessarily race her. I’ve often stated my dislike for Suzie Wolff due to her lack of results in other series and her constant statement that her gender is holding her back (which from the evidence I would think that the opposite is true), she is still a safe pair of hands and also has had a days testing in the 2015 car.

Finally spare a thought for Manor who managed to defy the odds and make it to Melbourne only to have issues loading the software into their ECU’s and fail to make it onto track at all over the course of the weekend.

Lots to work on before Malyasia!

Teams on their Garde for the First Race

So it’s here, the 2015 Motorsport season kicks off proper this weekend with the traditional opening race in Albert Park, Melbourne (Now if we could just restore either Japan or Brazil to the finale that’d be great Bernie). The race has a history of upsets, the simple flowing track is a little tricky to overtake on but the walls are close, the cars are new and the circuit is a temporary track where the grip can change dramatically from session to session.

However while usually most eyes look towards the front of the grid at the beginning of the season to see who will be in the title mix, the spotlight this year however is on the back of the grid. Manor Marussia (I’m still not 100% sure what the official title of their chassis is) will complete their return to the sport after entering administration before the US Grand Prix in 2014. It will boost the grid to 10 teams and they will field Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi for the “opening rounds”. Mehri has a contract to race a second season in FR 3.5 which starts in April and is he is expected to still take that up after an impressive rookie season left him 3rd in the standings. The team will use a modified 2014 car that complies with the regulations until their 2015 challenger is ready sometime around Bahrain / Spain.

While Manor have pulled off a Lazarus act, Sauber have got themselves into a right mess. The team had a contract with Giedo van der Garde to race this year and people have suggested this would have been alongside Jules Bianchi who would come with cut price Ferrari engines. Van der Garde does have decent sponsorship behind him but after Sauber failed to score a point last year and the accident involving Bianchi has left him in hospital the team had to look elsewhere for drivers and more importantly, funds. The team snapped up former Caterham pilot Marcus Ericcson alongside Brazilian GP2 ace Felipe Nasr (who finished 3rd in the standings showing constant improvement over his 3 seasons), both of whom bring huge sponsorships to the table rumoured to be around 16 -18 million euros EACH! However the team apparently hasn’t been able to tie up the loose ends with Giedo who has taken them to court but unlike Adrian Sutil who will seek damages, Van der Garde has demanded a race seat for the year.

Surprisingly the courts in both Switzerland (where the team is based) and Australia (where the first race is) have agreed with the Dutchman who apparently should be racing this weekend. However it is thought there has been no seat fitting done as Giedo wasn’t in their plans for this year and now it has emerged that van der Garde hasn’t filled out the proper paperwork and doesn’t have a super license. This throws up yet more issues to a strange episode for the struggling Swiss outfit, who are the 4th longest-serving team after Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

The team desperately need their current two drivers to race due to the sponsorship they bring but one would assume that Guido is also a pay drive so will be required to bring funds, a super license and a court injunction to race. Furthermore if Guido does race the spurned driver and their sponsors are not going to be too happy!

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.