F1

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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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. 

2016 Belgian Grand Prix Review

Photo: Red Bull Racing

The hills, the forest, it calls to them. A sacred ribbon of tarmac that weaves it’s way through the forest of the Ardennes. Many drivers have conquered the legendary 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, come rain or shine. The weekend certainly saw the bright sunshine and the unusually hot conditions that made this a Belgian Grand Prix we won’t forget.

During the free practice sessions on Friday, the unfamiliar high temperatures were causing the drivers a great deal of problems in managing their Pirelli rubber through the high speed nature of the demanding Spa circuit, it was clear the race was never going to be straightforward from then on.

For qualifying while Lewis Hamilton was out of the running for pole position after his three power unit changes left him at the back of the grid with penalties, it was up to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s to challenge the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for the front row. It turned out that no one could, Rosberg had just enough in hand to keep pole position but not by much. 

Heading into Sunday with the hot tempretures not abating, it was clear that tyre strategies were going to play a great role in how the drivers and teams negotiated the 44 laps of the day. Rosberg, Ricciardo and both Ferrari’s were smart in Q2 to utilise a strategy of starting of the yellow marked soft tyres to start the race with in the hope it would benefit them at the start of the race.

As the lights went out Max Verstappen got a poor getaway and tried to repass Kimi Raikkonen on the inside of La Source, unfortunately both were pinched by Sebastian Vettel making his way around the outside of both drivers, this led to a three way collision that damaged all three cars.

With Vettel left stranded at La Source waiting for the rest of the field to pass, Verstappen fought side by side with Raikkonen down the hill to Eau Rouge. On the other hand Rosberg made a great getaway and missed out on all the shenanigans going on behind.

Unfortunately it didn’t end there, into Les Combes Manor’s Pascal Werhlein ended up in the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren ending both of their races, this is a shame considering both of their great efforts from qualifying, luckily Werhlein’s new team mate Esteban Ocon managed to avoid the debris.

Kimi Raikkonen pitted to change his broken front wing but in the process of his mechanics trying to fit a new one, the underside of the car kept trying to catch fire, thankfully they managed to put it out and get the wing on.

On Lap 6 the race took a turn, after making a great start both Renaults of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were running in the top ten and doing well, unfortunately on the exit of Radillion Magnussen lost the rear of his car and spun at high speed into the barrier, luckily he managed to hobble out of the car despite a noticeable limp. Thankfully after checks in the medical centre and more later at the local hospital, he only suffered a cut to his left ankle and should be fine to race in Monza next week. 

Unfortunately his R.S16 Renault was a total write off, the most concerning part of his accident as that the head rest that bolts to the inside of the cockpit came loose from it’s fixings and left the car with quite a bit of ease. The FIA are going to look into the incident to find out why it happened and to perhaps see if there is something that can be learned from it.

With the barriers needing repair a red flag was called, prior to this Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had made their way through the pack to end up fourth and fifth respectively, not a bad effort from the back of the grid.

As the race got underway once more, Nico Rosberg had swapped to medium tyre and quickly made a break for it to escape the clutches Hulkenberg who was under immediate pressure from Ricciardo. It didn’t take him long to pass the Force India in front and try to hunt down Rosberg, however the Mercedes had the pace to eventually sprint away.

Jolyon Palmer suffered after the red flag due to high temperatures to his car much to his dismay, the British rookie really hasn’t enjoyed much luck in F1 since his arrival.

As the race wore on Verstappen and Raikkonen found themselves on the same piece of tarmac once again, this time with the Finn on the offensive, Verstappen makes a late defence move to protect his position much to the dismay of the 2007 world champion. Verstappen faced further criticisms when he ran Raikkonen and Sergio Perez off the road at Les Combes with defensive manoeuvres that led to him not even staying on the race track himself. 

At the final set of pit stops Hamilton was chasing Hulkenberg for third and passed him quite quickly leaving the German still without a podium finish from his 107 starts so far in Formula One.

Fernando Alonso managed to hold off the advances of both Williams and Raikkonen in latter stages of the race after a very impressive drive, with Honda having brought updates to the car, it certainly showed at Spa, however Monza will be the ultimate proving ground as to whether they’ve made true ground on their rivals.

Ultimately Hamilton only lost ten points in the title battle with his team mate and he’ll certainly be grateful for the race he had, while Rosberg will wondering what else he’ll have to 

Just nine points seperate them with eight races left to go, 1 dnf apiece, 6 pole positions and 6 victories between them, it could hardly be a closer run in, there is still plenty of action, speed and no doubt controversy yet to come.

Monza up next!

Push It To The Limit

Photo: Williams Martini Racing

One of the most heated debates in Formula One of recent years has been that of track limits. In the past if a driver made a mistake or pushed the limits just that 1% further than the car will manage, they were punished with a trip to the outer limits of grass, gravel and in many cases; the wall.

With the implentation of numerous run off areas over the last decade on most of the circuits that Formula One now travels to, drivers exceeding track limits has now become a chronic issue that is bothering the drivers but mostly, the fans.

Racing drivers are trained to go as fast as possible, to utilise every inch of a racetrack to find the fastest way around it to beat their opponents and that’s what we love so much about them, but give them that inch and they’ll try to take a mile.

Safety

I’ve been asked by some fans over the years “Why do we have these run offs?” As it is with most decisions in Formula One, safety is the number one priority. The idea of creating run offs was to allow a smooth surface for cars to slide on in the event of an accident, as it was deemed gravel could cause a car to flip and perhaps cause more harm.

An example of this is Mark Webber’s accident at Valencia in 2010, despite the fact he did walk away with no physical injuries, had a gravel trap been at least half way in the run off, he may never of reach the tyre barrier in such a violent fashion, however that is mere speculation.

Motorbike riders are also having an issue with this scenario all now for a different reason, with the tragic loss of Moto2 rider Luis Salom at the Catalan Grand Prix earlier in this year, run off areas and track safety are being scrutinised even further in the name of safety.

A lot of circuits that Formula One travels too often have some motorbike action at other points of the year which can often make designing precautions to cater for both very difficult. Bike riders dislike run offs because of they come off the bike and slide, the friction caused by the slide can often burn through their leathers and cause burns, or in Salom’s case a lack of deceleration before colliding with the wall close to the track.

The current modern view is that gravel & grass are deemed as dangerous because of how a car could dig in and perhaps do more harm than good in the event of a violent accident.

Two examples come to my mind when I think about this debate, one of which is at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix Fernando Alonso collided with Estaban Guttierez in the turn three braking zone, as Alonso reached the gravel trap the car pitched into a roll and came to a stop after barrel rolling and a flip. Alonso climbed out of the car and walked away despite finding later he had a few fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Had that of been a run off, would he have scrubbed enough speed before the wall in a similar fashion to Webber’s Valencia crash? Hard to say. But the gravel trap certainly did it’s job.

My second example falls to Jack Miller from MotoGP, at the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix during the sunday early morning warm up session, as he exited turn seven he rode the kerb on the inside and it unsettled the bike and caused him to lowside at quite high speed. The gravel trap on the exit helped dissipate the speed he was carrying albeit bouncing his way through it, but again despite a few minor injuries he managed to survive, had it of been a run off he could well of ended up in the wall, something we don’t want to see again after Luis Salom’s tragic incident in Barcelona.

Getting the Balance Right

Fans around the world know that the white lines in any sport is the difference between in or out. Whether it’s a football in a goal or a try in rugby, so fans are asking; Why in Formula One are we having this issue?

The white lines either side of the circuit define the race track, it’s very simple, so when a driver decides to take all four wheels off of the circuit they should be punished for taking the car beyond the defined race track.

Currently there are being placed on specific kerbs at corners where they deem an advantage can be made. Is this the correct answer? I don’t feel it is. The looming threat of a 10 second penalty in the race is no match versus the possible cost of retirement.

I personally would allow a run off that it is just one quarter of the car’s width on every corner exit, followed by grass and gravel, this way there can a tiny room for error, but push any harder whether defending or attacking a position, or if your going for pole position in qualifying, you get punished.

Many would argue on the safety front and while I agree to a certain extent, these drivers get in these cars knowing they may not get out again, so we should them as such with the right balance between safety and common sense, driver skill must prevail above all else.

Powering Into The Future

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Recently Mercedes executive technical director Paddy Lowe stated that with the current power unit regulations ending in 2020, discussions should begin on what will power our formula into the next decade.

Plenty of fans since 2014 have spoken out on their displeasure with current 1.6 hybrid V6 turbo era because of the lack of the high screaming pitch that had become so accustomed to the nature of the sport.

Yet despite all of this this we’re seeing the evolution of the fastest power unit the sport has ever seen, with the first iterations of these in 2014 showing not much more than around 750-800 horsepower. Heading into 2017 with no development tokens to hold them back, the fourth evolution could well take us past the 1000 horsepower barrier, in just four years a rough estimate of a 200 horsepower gain is incredible.

But alas, the current units are extremely technical and is alienating some of the fanbase who can’t understand the technology and are often finding that they don’t give the same thrill the old engines once did because of the noise generated. 

So how do we power into the future? 

With a move away from the current power unit the most likely scenario, the biggest question is; what will be the next power plant in the back of these cars?

A move back to the 3 litre V10s of old as some of the fanbase have called for is almost out of the question, the world markets and manufacturers are quickly steering away from such units as they are just simply to fuel thirsty. The V10 would run at nearly 190kg of fuel per hour, this versus the current V6 hybrid turbo running at 100kg per hour and producing the same power now if not more so, it would appear that progression of efficiency has clearly made the V10 now a cast into shadows of history in the technology stakes.

How about a move to an even smaller unit similar to that of the LMP1 Porsche 919? A 2 litre V4 block with a hybrid system that still as a package produces 1000 horsepower? A world away from a normally aspirated V10 sure, but it certainly would be an idea put forward by the manufacturers to allow the V4 to be the I.C.E (Internal Combustion Engine) and perhaps allow a the hybrid system to have a massive development window to increase the electrical power output. 

This might be more difficult to achieve in terms of technicality and with fans being put off already by some high tech being put out there, it might be a path the FIA may not want to adopt.

How about sticking with the 1.6 litre V6 format? It’s certainly not the most popular choice, but with the continuation of any regulation set will always sees the performance gap shrink, so why steer away again at possibly a great cost to again move to a different power unit? 

With 1000 horsepower, the removal of the development token system and the 30% fuel efficiency that has been achieved, it ticks all the boxes for manufacturers to continue down this path, but with some fans who still haven’t quite bought into the concept it might be hard to convince them that this is the way forward. 

The most common suggestion that has been put forward is to bring back the 2.4 litre V8 engine, but with perhaps a version of the current hybrid system attached including the turbo. While some of the technical aspects would remain because of the hybrid systems attached, a V8 ICE is something the teams know very well and would be easy to work with.

Fans want to hear the scream of an engine that makes their hairs stand on end and rightly so, the hybrid setup will give the power unit a very different scream because of the energy recovery systems at work, but no doubt it would satisfy fans as well as keeping manufacturers interested in sticking around. 

The tricky task would be efficiency, the V8 was roughly consuming 130kg/ph on fuel, to get back towards the 100kg/ph limit we have now would be a task for the manufacturers to work on, but no doubt they would be up to it; perhaps maybe even decrease the displacement to 2 litres  could help with this?

Parity With The Rules

With Paddy Lowe making the suggestions we should start talking about it makes perfect sense. When discussions started for the current era of power units back in 2011 there was a lot of things that just haven’t succeeded in the way they were intended, with limited power units and the early frozen development on a regulation set so new really hasn’t worked out.

To get discussions underway with 4 seasons remaining makes great sense, decide the unit, get the rules and regulations fixed fairly at a reasonable cost, all of this with some wiggle room for development without complete restriction would certainly please many in being prepared for the coming change.

It’s going to be a long way until 2021, but it all starts somewhere and I don’t think many would disagree with Paddy’s suggestion to start discussing it all now, I know I don’t.

Race Hard Or Go Home

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Many fans out there want to see all out attacking racing with no quarter given, that’s what the drivers are brought up to do through their junior years. Now we all all know there is an entiquette to overtaking in Formula One because of the speeds that get achieved. Respect is paramount when racing at 200+ mph.

In light of the incident between Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen at the German Grand Prix a week ago, questions have to be asked as to whether we’re sending out the right messages to the junior drivers out there from today’s top level formula.

On lap 29 Rosberg on warmer tyres made a lunge up the inside of Verstappen for third place into the turn six hairpin. This move was very optimistic and bold but managed it without making contact and has to be appluaded from how far he came back.

This is where I’ll stop and now recognise a similar move between Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya from the same race in 2002, Montoya attempted to try around the outside of the same hairpin but Raikkonen ran him out of room, the two then ran side by side for the next four corners before coming into the stadium section with Raikkonen being ran wide into putting two wheels in the astroturf/gravel exit.

Now, not one complaint was made about that racing from either driver at the time and that to me showed respect, determination and above all sensibility from the stewards to allow them to settle it out on track. 

So why can’t this happen today?

In the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg raced hard all the way to end ducking & diving all without making contact despite how close they ran and yet, once again the stewards let them get on with it. 

We don’t like to see contact but we do want to see hard racing without drivers being penalised for doing what is only in their nature to do, which brings me on to another point.

Since when did driver’s start complaining so much!?

For quite a few years now we’ve been privalidged enough by FOM to hear team radio during the sessions. While I think we can all appreciate the odd mumble and grumble over certain facts of a race weekend because lets face it, we can’t always have a perfect weekend.

But it seems now to be becoming a trend that drivers will winge and moan over sometimes the most trivial of things. The British Grand Prix in 2014 witnessed a great tussle between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, however while racing each other, they were constantly on the radio complaining about each others driving when it came to track limits on the exit of copse.

Max Verstappen entered Formula One in 2015 and quickly made an impact with his style of driving, flamboyant, aggresive and unwillingness to back down quietly. This became apparent in Monaco while despite being lapped, on lap 55 he followed Sebastian Vettel past Valtteri Bottas into Portier to steal a postion away from the Finn.

At the Belgian Grand Prix he preceded a daring pass around the outside of Felipe Nasr into Blanchemont and making it stick into the bus stop. On the flip side at the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix he defended bravely against Kimi Raikkonen who came attacking in the final stages of the race, even despite the contact made.

Verstappen has had his critics, but so have many when they’ve made such a bold impact.

While not all of the drivers moan and groan, it has to be said that some drivers need to focus on racing hard, give no quarter and do whatever it takes to win. 

Give as good as you get and race hard or go home.

Allison Parts Ways With Ferrari

Photo: Scuderia Ferrari

As I wrote last week, there was mounting speculation that James Allison was leaving his post with Ferrari to move back to the UK. An announcement was made by Ferrari today that this was now confirmed.

Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene said “The Team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together, and wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavors.

James Allison also made a statement in which he said “During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it. I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.”

It is unclear the long term goals that Ferrari may now have, but they have announced that Mattia Binotto will take over the Chief Technical Officer position within the team.

This is probably not a massive surprise to Ferrari, however this will still no doubt have be a shock to the team in the long run; especially as this stage of the season the massive upward turn in development towards the 2017 regulations will be taking place.

Alongside this story is the talk of an apparently unhappy Sebastian Vettel. With Allison leaving the team it will no doubt unsettle Vettel about the long term ambitions of the team and how they will move forward with the new regulations.

Allison’s long term future plans are unknown and I wouldn’t like to speculate as to his possible ventures, but after a devastating year for him and his family, I hope you’ll join me in wishing him well for his future.