FIA

Williams knows the score, it’s time we did too

Photo Credit: Williams Martini Racing

Recent news has told us the fairytale of Robert Kubica’s return to a Formula 1 grid looks to be all but over after recent tests with the Williams team, Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin also tested the car in Abu Dhabi and the team has concluded the Russian was faster. While some of you may be upset by the decision that could see Kubica out of the running, Williams knows the score and it’s time we did too.

It may sound ridiculous that a team of Williams’ stature has to resort to the possibility of signing yet another rookie driver in what looks to be for financial reasons, which in reality is complete hogwash. To sign fast and experienced drivers, you need to show you can deliver the results for them to compete at a high level and as hard is it to admit, the Grove-based team just haven’t done that.

Their last title came at the hands of Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 and have only won a single race in 13 years with Pastor Maldonado at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix taking the only one since Juan Pablo Montoya’s last win for the team at Interlagos in 2004. When you think about it in that respect, it’s certainly a no-brainer Williams just cannot attract the type of great names from the past that lies in their trophy cabinets.

Having utilised the talents of Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa since 2010 in order to try and gain stability within the team having an experienced driver helping in the development of the car and the team, it could be time to abandon that ideology.

Paddy Lowe openly stated mid-season the design philosophy of the car would change for the FW41 into 2018 in order to climb back up the grid and it seemed that having an experienced driver could help with that. But with changes in the technical departments, maybe it’s time to change how they view a driver line-up too.

While Stroll had a very mixed bag of results and form in 2017, he did show glimpses of what he and the team were capable of, Should Sirotkin be the one to partner the 19-year old next season, it may not be the worst line-up imaginable. With a fresh perspective from both drivers and a solid leader technically in Paddy Lowe, maybe some youth and speed behind the wheel isn’t a bad way to change to look for a change of fortune.

Sirotkin may come with money from his backers at SMP racing, every driver brings some form of sponsorship/money with them to an F1 seat, that’s just how it works. The 22-year old has had relative success in the junior series but has shown he has pace in F1 machinery after Renault’s Alan Permane said he believes the young Russian deserves a shot at the top level.

On Kubica I admit, when I first got wind of his possible return to an F1 cockpit I was supremely excited, a man who impressed three world champions in Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and his new manager Nico Rosberg claim was one of the best they’ve ever raced, was going to get a chance that was never supposed to have been possible.

Having run for Renault at the test after the Hungarian Grand Prix, it all looked good on paper, but eventually the French team passed over on the Pole in favour of the youth in Carlos Sainz. A decision you certainly cannot blame them for, especially as they’re looking forward and working hard to return to the front of the grid in years to come.

Kubica’s pace at the Abu Dhabi test behind the wheel of Williams’ FW40 did look to be quick, but there always appeared to be question marks over his performance through the subtle comments the team did say after the two days of running.

With seven years out of the cockpit, it appears that despite the efforts made to make him comfortable in the car, the pace we were accustomed too from him just didn’t seem to materialise in order to get himself back on the grid. Despite everything the 32-year old should be enormously proud of himself to be able to drive an F1 car again at speed, having once been told he would never drive a racecar again.

There are opportunities for Kubica outside of F1 in sport cars, especially with the WEC LMP1 field growing after the departures of Audi and Porsche in recent seasons and the rapid growth of the IMSA series in the USA, there is plenty of room for him to still find a spot on a race track and continue his own journey, even if it is away from Williams and F1.

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Logos, the future and the blame game

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Motorsport

In light of the new logo for Formula 1 presented to the world after the 2017 season finale in Abu Dhabi, the backlash has been quite swift and critical of the new commercial owners in Liberty Media for replacing the old logo which had been in place since 1994. While their first season in F1 can be a relative success, their true challenges are only getting underway and with it will come wars of words and the blame game from fans and its inner sanctum.

The bigger issues

“Why focus on a logo instead of the bigger issues?” is the argument I’m hearing most from the fan base and while I can see their side of the story, it really doesn’t hold up as a talking point against Liberty’s actions. The new commercial owners have been fully aware of the problems at hand and are working hard in the background to resolve them.

Ross Brawn and Martin Brundle laid down some very harsh truths in a piece for Sky Sports F1 which I urge you to check out if you haven’t seen it already, both were very critical of the current situation F1 is finding itself in and rightly so.

Outrageous spending, vast performance and financial gaps with little in return for those at the back of the grid and the fans watching in the stands and at home, it is a sad and sorry image for what is supposed to be the ‘pinnacle’ of motorsport, something which F1 claims to be but must admit it’s not delivering on that statement.

MotoGP in recent years has led the way in showing the world what a motorsport should be, something that is gripping, edge of your seat action, with possibilities up and down the grid to succeed regardless of whether it’s a factory or satellite team.

One of the standout markers from their teams is the willingness to do what is in the best interest of the sport. They wish to make sure there is competition, parity while maintaining their own identities and put on a show with the best riders from around the world, something which F1 has failed to do for numerous years and it’s a constantly degrading problem which is so blatantly evident.

A necessary culture change

A completely new mindset is required to move the sport into a more sustainable future. In the past, it may have worked for some to adopt the selfish strategy, but in the modern age we live in where hegemony is despised, it is now time for a change in how F1 operates in order to literally save itself from burning itself out entirely.

Liberty Media wants to see the sport become cheaper, fairer and most of all sustainable. Right now teams are burning through their purses quicker than ever before just to find those precious tenths or even hundredths of a second just to get that competitive edge over their opponents, while those who have to reign in their spending are languishing behind unable to catch up.

Despite the recent criticisms of Chase Carey and his team regarding the move to a new logo, it must be understood changes are afoot to shift away from the completely unfair prize money structure former commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone had arranged in this current Concorde Agreement which was created back in 2013.

On top of that, Ferrari recently made threats to quit the sport and the narrative coming out from the management is they are prepared to work with Ferrari… to a point. However I suspect in the background, they would be ready to allow the Scuderia to walk away.

Why? You may ask. Ferrari is part of the DNA of F1 and would suffer greatly from their departure is the common argument against it, however, while they have been integral to the sport, sometimes a great loss is needed to make the necessary changes needed to move forward.

I suspect when the time comes to sign on the dotted line for 2021 and beyond Chase Carey will hand Ferrari the contract and a pen to say, “These are the rules and regulations, up to you if you want to sign it and continue to be a part of the sport.”

The future is bright despite the criticisms

While we are a long way away from seeing any part their vision come to life, everything they have laid down thus far appears to be on the right track. I fully understand why fans are unhappy with the way the sport has performed in recent years for one reason or another.

However, despite this, I am almost certain of a much brighter future for F1 as the years roll on through.

Once we can get teams onboard with a much fairer financial structure, a better aerodynamic package as well as more exciting engines to race with and listen too, then we all soon have a series we can enjoy once more, but it must be remembered this is no overnight fix. We have years of hard work, drama and even potential walkouts to come before our current problems are made better.

I urge as many fans as possible to stay along for the ride because I have no doubt we will all be rewarded when the time comes.

SC

Ferrari must prepare to have its bluff called

Photo Credit: Ferrari Media

Ferrari has yet again threatened to leave Formula 1 if Liberty Media’s future plans do not fit with the Italian manufacturer’s plans then they will not ‘play’ according to president Sergio Marchionne, but the time has come for Ferrari to stop trying to call the sports bluff.

It feels like a Ross & Rachel will they won’t they won’t they story but in complete reverse. Ferrari does have a unique history with F1 having competed every year since the inception of the championship in 1950. However I can’t help feel despite the historic success of the Scuderia, it’s behaving like a petulant child demanding sweets from a shop despite a parent saying no.

Threats to leave are nothing new from Ferrari and some would be quick to suggest it’s nothing more than that, as the old saying claims ‘F1 can’t live without Ferrari and vice versa. But I would argue this time is different and Ferrari must prepare to have its bluff called by Liberty Media.

No more security

Bernie Ecclestone is no longer in charge of the commercial aspects of the sport having sold Liberty Media almost a year ago and while most of 2017 has been awash with glossy smiles and token gestures, the time has come for the owners to lay their cards on the table as the future of F1 is uncertain beyond 2020.

With the 87-year old no longer part of the power structure they could once rely on, Ferrari now finds itself in a position where its position within the status quo no longer exists.

Liberty’s CEO Chase Carey has been abundantly clear from the outset he wants to see the sport more competitive and made more fair in as many ways as possible. He and his fellow executives Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches wish to see a far more even keel for all the teams to allow for those ‘Leicester City’ moments we would all love to witness, everyone loves an underdog right?

A loss of potentially $100m a year could be taken away from them in bonus payments just for being a ‘Long-standing team’ within the sport, budget caps are planned to be set in place and run by external auditors as well as many other issues on the table are set to leave Ferrari in a position just like the rest in position where they no longer have the power and influence to maintain its status as they see it.

The perspective has changed

With a new ownership of F1 comes a new mantra not just from those in power, but it runs right down to the fans are arguably the ones that make F1 what it is. As they say, no one driver or team is bigger than the sport they participate in, certainly, an argument can be made for that here.

A tremendous amount of the fan-base I have spoken to are fed-up with the dogmatic view Ferrari have been holding onto for years when it comes to their participation in F1 and it appears Liberty Media won’t put up with it either to a certain degree, while it can be argued Ferrari do deserve some perks, it should not be anywhere near to the tune of what they get currently.

For too long F1 has been dominated by money and power and with new commercial owners, the slate has effectively been wiped clean putting all the teams in the same position and rightly so.

Former professional race driver Tiff Needell setup a poll on his Twitter account asking fans whether Ferrari’s bluff should be called or be made happy and the poll results have certainly given a clear answer with nearly 5000 people voting a 91% in favour of having their bluff called.

Prove heritage means something

Having won 15 drivers titles and 16 constructors titles, Ferrari has a history in F1 whose success can only be rivalled currently by Williams and McLaren, but moving forward into the future the Scuderia must prove now more than ever their heritage means something and prove it has not been won just by holding onto a position of power.

Should Ferrari take a new perspective going into the 2021 regulations and commercial agreements set by the FIA and Liberty Media, there is a chance can the prancing horse can win back the respect of the fans who have felt disillusioned in recent years by the erratic behaviour shown by their predecessors.

A future where we no longer could see those scarlet cars roaring past at 200mph chasing down yet another victory against their rivals would certainly be a true sombre moment in the sport’s history.

Ferrari’s success in the echelons of motorsport history is untouchable, but the time has now come for those in Maranello to understand that clawing onto the money and power is no longer the answer.

Ferrari needs F1 and F1 needs Ferrari. but the latter can survive without them if it has to. Let us hope that it does not come to that and we can continue to witness the prancing battle for glory in years to come.

A new dawn approaches…

It appears with breaking news this evening that Bernie Ecclestone, the FOM chairman and CEO of Formula One has been removed from his post effective immediately.

With the aquisition of the Liberty Media group in it’s final stages, it was clear that a shift in the heirarchy of the paddock walls was going to change.

Liberty Media are a company well versed in sports management and broadcasting, making them a great fit into the fold of F1 despite not having any prior experience of the sport to begin with.

Many are quick to point that fact out and hold, what almost feels like resentment towards the new owners despite not really knowing anything about them.

Some even think that the buyout of F1 is nothing more than another investment to create a cashcow.

This is not the case, because of what Liberty are as a company, their investment now rests on the sport to be successful, in all areas. Only then will they see return on their $8bn purchase of F1.

Rumours have been rife for months about the potential plans Liberty are plotting, yet none have been proven to be truthful thus far.

However, it has been pointed out in the last week that CEO Greg Maffei has made comments about how Ferrari recieve too much prize money for their participation in F1, this will no doubt cause feathers to be ruffled in Maranello. 

But, this is a signal of intent by the new owners, Bernie is now no longer the go to guy to help get deals through in their favour. 

This postering by Liberty is a power play that is clearly showing they have intentions and are willing to put them into action, however this could well yet take a while as the current concorde agreement which binds the teams to F1 still has until 2020 to expire.

However, when the time comes, radical changes will no doubt be in the pipeline to be made part of the championship in the future. 

Whatever the future may hold for the F1 world championship, It is now in a pair of hands that will do what’s best for the sport. 

I certainly look forward to what they’ll bring to the table. 

Taking the next steps

In light of the Motorsport Network take over the Haymarket media group it’s got me wondering how this may affect Formula One’s coverage moving forward and perhaps how it impacts future generations of journalists like myself coming through the ranks. 

I personally don’t carry the money to travel to Grand Prix nor do I carry FIA accreditation to do so just yet.

Finding something that I wanted to do in life after trying my hands in at music, health courses as well as some public services through my further education years was difficult for me, but when my  daughter Lauren was born in October 2014, I found my calling into my writing.

It’s not glamourous, it’s not coated in a fantastic tail of a life’s pursuit, it stems from a life long love and burning passion for Formula One and motorsport itself.

I watched Damon Hill take his world championship that very morning in 1996, nearly win in Hungary in the Arrows and the sodden drama of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix among many others.

Now while my life story so is pretty irrelevant, it’s the future I look towards, I personally dream of making it to every race and reporting it first hand. I know it may not always be the glamourous lifestyle, flying around the world for weeks and months at a time with little to no sleep. 

However, being at the heart of the sport I treasure most is something I dream of and with another potential shift in the media market, coming in the shape of the Motorsport Network takeover coupled with the Liberty Media buyout of Formula One, for up and coming journalists who wish to make their mark may have more uncertain futures.

I have been a couple of major events now and met some very famous faces, some of whom have even read my work before and enjoyed it, this does buoy me with confidence, yet I am left still unfulfilled because no matter how much further I look down the road, walking up to the gates of the Formula One paddock and flashing my badge at the machine and being allowed into the inner sanctum still feels a million miles away.

While the future seems very uncertain for the media world of motorsport, it does so especially for myself, trying to help keep a family afloat while trying to make it to events and make my presence in the motorsport community known, it’s a very difficult prospect indeed.

I plan to chase my dreams as long as I financially can without compromising my family life. I wish to fight to prove why I belong in the paddock to bring you all the latest and best news and information from the Formula One world, sharing my burning passion to be at heart of the pinnacle of motorsport.

Here’s to moving into an uncertain future.

2016 Singapore Grand Prix Review

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

The heat, The humidity and the back drop of a beautiful brightly lit city alongside the Marina bay set the scene for a Singapore Grand Prix that had a tense feeling in the air. The final third of championship was to begin here and the heat is now well and truly on.

Unfortunately for Romain Grosjean the race didn’t even get going after brake by wire issues hampered his attempts to even make the grid, this meant a DNS for the frenchman who clearly isn’t happy with his current situation, especially after  qualifying describing his VF-16 as “The worst he has ever driven”.

As the rest of the drivers lined up in their respective grid slots, the tension was palpable. 

When the lights went out Nico Rosberg got a great start while everyone else bogged down especially Max Verstappen, while Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg went to pass the slow Dutchman, it was Hulkenberg getting squeezed into a gap that swiftly closed, causing massive damage including a hit into the pit wall. No one was at fault for the incident, it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas also got caught up in the melee, while Button moved to avoid the spinning Hulkenberg he clipped the rear of Bottas’ Williams, this meant a broken front wing, damaged brake ducts and broken floor for the McLaren driver while Bottas luckily only suffered a puncture.

As a safety car was called to slow the pack down so marshals could collect the wrecked Force India, due to the amount of shattered carbon fibre across the pit straight the cars were ordered to travel through the pit lane to avoid the huge chucks of debris. 

In a strange set of circumstances messages from race control on lap two appeared confusing and the safety car ducked in at the end of that lap, however that message either wasn’t passed on correctly or that race control got the call wrong, but this led to a marshal running for his life at turn one as Rosberg led 20 other Formula One cars at full speed as the race restarted. No doubt there will be a swift investigation as to how on earth this happened.

With the race still in it’s infacy both Mercedes cars already were managing brake issues, while brakes are always on the limit in Singapore managing them this early on was a concern for those in the team.

Despite starting on the red marked supersoft tyre, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t quite keep up with Rosberg in the early stages of the race allowing Rosberg to get away, this however would later change.

While the race continued to be a slow burner and the strategies played out, we were treated to a great tussle between Max Verstappen versus the man he replaced at Red Bull; Danil Kyvat. The Russian did not give a quarter to Verstappen at all, you could get the sense this was personal for him, to prove he can race and be just as good as he has shown before. 

Valtteri Bottas had a very strange issue with his seatbelts coming undone on lap 30, despite pitting immediately to get them done back, unfortunately he had to retire five laps later with mechanical issues, Jenson Button also had to retire following damage to car causing too many issues with his Mclaren caused by the first lap clash with Bottas avoiding the spinning Hulkenberg.

However when all thought the race was run after the second stops were made, it all burst into life on lap 45 when Mercedes ignited an inspired strategy to help Hamilton get back third place from Raikkonen, this triggered the Ferrari to stop the Finn the next lap in an attempt to prevent the powerful undercut on fresh tyres. Despite the Scuderia’s efforts Hamilton made the outlap count to pass Raikkonen as he exited the pitlane.

Because of the respective stops Hamilton and Raikkonen made, this allowed Red Bull to pull the trigger and try to do the same for Ricciardo to catch Rosberg. With the undercut being so strong the Mercedes strategists had to make a do or die call whether to pit the leader or keep him out and gamble with the race victory, or put him for fresh tyres and risk losing the lead to fight with the Red Bull for the final 14 laps.

Mercedes decided to stay out and gamble, meanwhile Ricciardo was using his fresh supersofts to full effect, closing Rosberg down at two to three seconds a lap. It was starting to look as if the win was in jeopardy because the gap between the two was in freefall, however in the final five laps Rosberg was granted a repreive in the shape of lapped traffic.

This allowed Rosberg some breathing space while Ricciardo had to make his way through it at some of the slower points of the circuit, by the time Ricciardo got clear of the traffic it appeared his tyres were beginning to scream enough and he would not make it to Rosberg. On the final lap he gave it everything he could, the nailbiter in all of us would of watched as he gained through every corner, the gap was visibily shrinking every second. 

Despite all of his efforts Ricciardo lost out by just 0.488 of a second in his hunt for victory (pictured above), both drivers looked exhausted not only through the physical endurance of the event, but also through how much they had put in to fight for that win.

Other inspirational performances from the race were Sebastian Vettel, definitely deserving his driver of the day award after coming back from last to fifth with an inspired strategy to get through the field, also a great result for Fernando Alonso in seventh place giving McLaren a boost. Danil Kyvat also made the points helping his fight to keep his F1 career alive and Kevin Magnussen who got Renault’s second points finsh of the season.

The 2016 Singapore Grand Prix was a race of many stories which culminated in a nailbiting finish, I was certainly happy with what the race has to offer and it’s given another twist in tale of the drivers chanpionship too. With Nico Rosberg taking his eighth win of the year and snatching the lead of the championship in the process, the onus is now on Lewis Hamilton to make a comeback if he wants that fourth title and to prevent Nico taking his first.

Next stop is in Malaysia. I wonder what’s next in the magical story of the 2016 championship, no doubt there will still be twists to come. 

The Final Push

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

With the european season is now over as Formula One begins it’s final third of the season, teams will be preparing for the final push, the onslaught of seven more races from the bright night lights of Singapore right through to the heat of the desert for the grand finale in Abu Dhabi.

Just two points now separate title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the championship standings, the closest it’s been for a very long time. Both drivers will be looking across the garage at each other knowing that one mistake, one reliability issue or one clash could end their respective title bids, but do not expect they’ll give each other any quarter to claim the grand prize.

The fight behind the warring silver arrows couldn’t more alive, Red Bull have really pushed on in 2016 by taking on the mught of Ferrari and beating them. With Max Verstappen taking victory in Spain ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo’s pole position and near Monaco victory, Ferrari still have not managed to record neither a victory or pole position through major inconsistancies much Sebastian Vettel’s dismay.

The fight for second place will get more intense as each race gets crossed off the list, despite the big prize being out of reach, pride is on the line for both Red Bull and Ferrari. Neither will back down without a fight with just 11 points between them, so don’t expect niceties, expect a dogfight to the bitter end.

Same could be said for the fight for fourth place in the constructors between Williams and Force India, both teams are  performing valiantly for their much more smaller outfits compared to those ahead of them. There is no telling who may come out on top of this fight with them both being so evenly matched. Just three points lie between the two privateers, so every position & overtake matters greatly.

McLaren-Honda recently pinched sixth place from Toro Rosso and with their recent upgrades taking to great effect with both chassis and their power unit. Despite Jenson Button’s recently announced sabbatical and the always fired up Fernando Alonso relishing a fight, it could be a tall order for the junior Red Bull squad to take it back. With no power upgrades available to them and just chassis improvements the only weapon in their arsenal, it’ll no doubt make their efforts more tricky.

The criticism that Renault have faced all season for their results has been quite unfounded, the car was what was leftover from the very underfunded and deeply in debt Lotus team last season. With only six points to their name so far in 2016, it may seem from the outset they’ve had very poor season for a manufacturer, but don’t be fooled, with both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen always pushing to prove their critics wrong, I’d be wary of what the results that could be possible. 

Locked in a fight for that coveted tenth place in the constructors standings, Manor and Sauber are pushing like crazy to beat each other. Manor hold the high ground having scored a crucial single point with Pascal Wehrlein in Austria, while the swiss outfit have struggled all season long with financial woes that have hampered much of their intended progress, there are still seven races that could throw a surprise result in either teams favour, so don’t the fight isn’t over yet. 

While all of the teams have now converted their full focus to the new chassis regulations of the 2017 season that lies ahead, updates that were pre-planned are still filtering through. Despite this the pecking order we see won’t change dramatically if at all, what we will see is the gladiatorial clashes of that will keep us on the edge of our seats.

With still plenty to fight for regardless of their positions whether it’s the prized world title or the pride of a top ten finish, this season is far from over, I expect the final third of the season to showcase the best of what Formula One always has to offer. 

Let’s Race!