News and views on motorsports

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Hermann Tilke is Evil

Curious about the new Shanghai circuit in China, I searched the world wide web for a circuit diagram. I had read that it was styled to resemble a Chinese character. So a quick search on Google and true enough I found a suitable diagram for me to peruse. You can find it here

I was deeply disappointed. The track sucks just like Sepang really sucks. Both these circuits and the Nuburgring were designed by this same evil guy. OK so the Nurburgring is a bit better than the other two. It has in the past produced overtaking manuevers and some great racing to watch. But Sepang?

Examine it closely. The most remarkable thing about it is the grandstand and the concourse in between the front and rear grandstand. Of course for corporate hospitality, guests, politicians and their cronies the circuit is supremely comfortable and offers many facilities for these people to relax and kick back under air conditioned rooms and such. But what about the driving? The circuit is just one drag race after another. Drag race at the back main straight where the cars accelerate from the relatively slow and almost hairpin like Turn 14 to the final hairpin Turn 15. Another drag race happens from the last corner to the first. On hairpin to the next. Anyone who watches racing long enough will know that almost no overtaking happens when corners are arranged in this manner. After the two hateful Turns 1 and 2 there is another drag race to Turn 4 which is another slow corner. The hill sections in Turn 9, 10, 11 are also just disgraceful.

And so it is with the Shanghai circuit. The same drag race after drag race. At least Sepang has Turns 5 to 8 that is sort of a fun. (I've driven there many times). If you look at the diagram at the above mentioned website you will see hairpin straight hairpin straight. What is with this clown who designed it?

He seems to be designing just about every new F1 circuit nowadays. I don't know but I would guess that it's probably a requirement from Bernie Ecclestone. If you want your track to be on the calendar then you need a facility designed by this guy. I wouldn't be surprised if Bernie has some dealings with Herr Tilke with regards this. I mean it seems to me that the circuits are designed to pack people in rather than providing a challenge not only to drivers but to the set up of the cars itself.

It's sad to see drivers circuits being dropped one by one from the calendar. First, Estoril, then Spa. What's next? Thank god we still have Suzuka. God forbid that Bernie would want to take Silverstone out of the calendar as well.

And the point is these drivers circuits also produce the best racing and that looks great from a television audience standpoint. So why are they making these mickey mouse tracks. Formula 1 cars need space to run. Circuits like Spa really give these cars the space they need to show off their entire breadth of their abilities. With idiotic circuits like Sepang we hardly get to see it.

Give use circuits with lots of fast flowing corners like Eau Rouge or the Suzuka esses. What about corners like the Signe curve at Paul Ricard or the old Lesmos at Monza. What has happened to the long flat out corners prior to the bustop chicane in Spa. These are the corners that really test both man and machine. Not the silly hairpins that Herr Tilke is so fond of.

I say they should ban this man from ever holding a pen and designing a Formula 1 circuit ever again. And in the meantime get rid of that Bernie as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

On Team Orders

During the course of this week at Monza, high ranking members of the top teams have made quite a few comments regarding the interpretation of team orders. What exactly constitutes a team order? Telling Rubens Barrichello to move over for Michael Schumacher is definitely a team order I'd say. But what about if Coulthard running a different strategy to Raikkonen and is thus slower, lets his team mate past. Would that also constitute a team order?

Let us examine why the regulations have been put in place. I believe the controversy first started in the 1998 Australian Grand Prix. During that race Mika Hakkinen started from pole position with Coulthard second and trailing his team mate every step of the way. However during the course of the race, an order was mistakenly given to Hakkinen to enter the pits. He was subsequently waved off and told to continue. He did however, enter the pitlane and thus lost valuable time and the lead to Coulthard. In this case, I thought the order for Coulthard to slow down and move over for his team mate was completely justified. Hakkinen should not have been penalised for such an error on the part of the team.

However this decision caused an uproar among the fans. But not all fans I would say. As I recall, the main opposition came from those who had placed money with the bookies. Those betting on a Coulthard win were of course very upset. Even to the point of accusation of race fixing. Ahem. Excuse me? Only Ferrari would do that. Jokes aside though team orders such as these are common in motor racing. It happens all the time. During the DTM touring car championships of the early 1990s it was pretty disgusting to see the Mercedes teams practically deciding the order in which each of their cars would finish in. But hey, that's racing. In the end of the day it is also a team sport. Let's not talk about motor racing. In the Tour de France bicycle race a team will run the entire tour in support of the main rider. Miguel Indurain would not have won so many Tours otherwise.

Yes, Austria last year was not only pretty disgusting but completely unsporting. What were Ferrari thinking of? They had the dominant car with the dominant driver who was so far ahead in the championship that really on that day they should have let Barrichello win. The man had out raced and out sped his team mate all the way. Since there was no threat from anyone else why resort to such unsporting behaviour? I for one was entirely delighted to see the fans jeering on this cronied and highly political team. However I am the first to acknowledge that this is Ferrari's right. And it is a right that should not be taken away because the day will come when they will need to exercise this right when the championship does become such a close fight as it has this season.

The policing of the team order regulations are hazardous and like traction control, whilst difficult to accept and is against sporting behaviour (on occassions) there is no fair way to enforcing the rules.

Ross Brawn was also in the thick of the discussions regarding team orders. But really he should just shut the hell up. Because anything Ferrari does will be endorsed by the FIA anyway. In summary I think Bernie and Max should not be listening to the whinings of the bookmakers and punters. This is not horse racing, it's motor racing and this is just they way things are and always will be.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Formula 1 Competitiveness

This year has given Formula 1 fans the world over with a much better spectacle and a closer title race since year 2000 when Hakkinen and Schumacher were batlling to win their 3rd world drivers championship. Every race seems to turn up some surprises. Some have attributed this to rules stability, one lap qualifying and a host of other reasons.

Still, from race to race we lack the wheel to wheel action that race fans quite rightly expect. Overtaking still remains a rare occurrence. Even that passing devil Montoya has not been able to pull off any spectacular moves as he has in years past. Oh, there was that pass on Schumacher at the Nurburgring but still.

What's needed of course, is a set of regulations that result in the building of race cars that promotes close racing and overtaking. Over the years, the best racing has always been provided by the touring car boys and of course, Indycars. Why doesn't this occur in Formula 1? I'd like to think it's because they shape the rules to favour Ferrari. But this is of course not completely true.

At the height of the British Touring Car Championship heydays, we were treated to some of the best racing on planet Earth. From 1991 at the start of the Super Touring rules till 1999 close racing, overtaking, bumping and race craft became the hallmark of this championship. The rules were formulated to promote this sort of racing. And the fans should expect this of Formula 1. Strict rules governing the tyres and the rev limits of engines governed the championship. At the beginning of those days, aerodynamic aids were banned from the cars. No wings were allowed. That the cars were sticking to the roads were solely due to mechanical and tyre grip alone. However towards the end of that era aerodynamic aids were once again allowed after some manuverings from certain teams including an Italian one running cars that their owners would like to associate with Ferrari but are in actual fact glorified Fiats.

To be honest I haven't been following the PPG Indycar World Series recently. The survival of that series itself is currently hanging in the balance. However watching it from before it did produce some good racing. Especially when Juan Montoya was battling with Dario Franchitti. In that championship teams are allowed to purchase cars from other manufacturers. You did not have to make cars like you do in Formula 1. Plus the aerodynamic regulations of course allowed for stepped bottoms and ground effects aerodynamics that have been banned from Formula 1 since 1983. No electronic automatic gearchanges are allowed only sequential gearboxes just like touring cars. The effect of allowing ground efffects is that cars are less reliant on their wings to produce down force. The entire car itself produces a significant if not a major portion of the available aerodynamic downforce. This means that cars can run closer together and overtaking manuvers in corners and under braking would be possible. Sequential gearchanges of course still require the use of drivers hands to operate the gears. This is a skill completely missing from the autobox gearshifts of modern Formula 1.

Whilst it is not possible to ban wings from Formula 1 (where would you put sponsor advertising?) perhaps it would be better to move cars back to ground effects aerodynamics but perhaps more highly regulated and limited. I also believe that drivers fighting for the world championship should be made to work harder. Like using sequential gearboxes and clutches once again.

More importantly, who really cares about seeing Minardis, Jordans and BARs. Teams should once again be allowed to buy complete cars from manufacturers. However if they wish to manufacture their own cars then so be it. But for the smaller teams buying complete race cars are definitely the way to ensure their survival in the sport. After all, in this current year the cars that people are really watching are those that belong to the top teams.
Why not allow Minardi to buy a Ferrari and run them. Their entire budget can the be used to focus on the running of the car rather than being spent to very little effect on the design, manufacture and development of their own chassis. Engines can always be bought relatively inexpensively from manufacturers but the cost of building a bleeding edge chassis requires the budget of Williams and Ferrari.

If manufacturers were allowed to sell cars to other teams this would attract a lot more teams into Formula 1. Racing car manufacturers like Lola and March, even perhaps still others like Audi would participate in the world championship. The unit costs per car would drop because these manufacturers can recoup the development costs from sales of cars and spares to client teams.

Do not be surprised also, if you find that client teams can take on and even beat factory teams as has happened regularly in sports car and Indycar racing. This year the Michelin teams have cooperated very closely to produce a tyre that quite simply murders the Bridgestone. Imagine if all the teams running McLaren chassis were to collaborate closely to destroy the likes of Ferrari. A wily customer like Jordan for instance would probably do wonders running a Williams chassis.

You could even face a situation where a McLaren or a Williams chassis is run with different engines than the Mercedes or BMW engines that they normally run. Once again, more teams and more engine manufacturers would drop the cost per car. A return to the days of the 60s and 70s where the pits were overwhelmed with cars and teams would certainly send a spark of life back into the championship.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Culprit Ferrari: What a surprise

"I might add that Ferrari have always proved as adept in Formula One political matters as they have in terms of their competitiveness on the track and have been very effective in lobbying for changes which work in their favour. But perhaps that's all part of the F1 business and maybe you need to be able to do that." -- Patrick Head, Technical Director, Williams GP Engineering

Well, it looks as if my conspiracy theories have been proven correct. It was indeed revealed earlier this week that the scarlet snitchers are at it again. Ross Brawn admitting that it was Ferrari and Bridgestone that lodge the complaint against Michelin.

Ross Brawn telling the Italian press 'It was us who told the FIA at the end of the [Budapest] race that their treads were too big". And he continues with 'We are not going to accept losing this way anymore.' Oh bullshit! It was perfectly alright during the mid season when they were actually in the lead and winning. But now, it is completely unacceptable.

Also of interest is the FIA announcements regarding the issue. Max Mosley and Charlie Whiting had actually gone to the Ferrari factory for a visit, days before the FIA announcement of the new ruling. However, Mosley attempts to cover up that fact by saying that the subject "was mentioned but not discussed." That is to say, he was trying to cover up the fact that Ferrari had brought the matter to their attention. Furthermore, the FIA said simply "realised that its method of measuring tyres might need to be reviewed. Apparently this had happened in Budapest.

However, on September 3 an FIA spokesman had confirmed that Ferrari were the ones who had apparently lodge the complaint to the FIA. One day before that Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier all but pointed the finger at Ferrari by asking the question "So who has the most to gain from such an action?". Especially in light of the closest championship in years and it looked as if it won't be going Maranello's way.

The story doesn't end there. Ross Brawn is now speaking of protesting the entire 2003 results if it can be proven that Michelin's tyres have not conformed to regulations all year round. Well given that the geomety of Michelin's tyres have been the same since San Marino 2001 are they going to retrospectively protest year 2001 and year 2002 results as well. Of course not, because they won. Ferrari it would seem are simply sore losers.

You might think Ferrari are just well pissed off that Bridgestone hadn't thought about the same thing. And having been lapped at Hungary purely due to a lack of speed they might well be. However, I think Bridgestone would have done so had it not concentrated so much on pleasing their scarlet sugar mummy. The Bridgestone tyres are after all a part of a package to suit the Ferrari's characteristics. Their narrower tyre are made as such to suit the aerodynamics package of this years Ferrari. So they really shouldn't complain.

Furthermore, the FIA has been measuring tyres in exactly the same way for years now. Michelin have taken advantage of that as is their right and duty to do so. It is not their fault that the FIA chose not to put in place better tyre measuring procedures. To suddenly change it mid season and be penalised for it is completely unjust.

Yes, alright you may accuse me of being biased against Ferrari. But as I have said before this is the sort of stunts Ferrari loves to pull and it is this very reason that Ferrari will always be a most despicable of teams. It's been going on since they first competed in Formula 1 and indeed in any form of racing they endeavour in when things do not go their way.

Hopefully, but improbably the FIA will come to its senses. And hopefully but improbably in the event that they don't Michelin will still produce a new tyre that will rub their Ferrari's face in the mud.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Conspiracy Theory : More Dodgy FIA Rulings

Well what more can I say? The FIA are at it again. Now, with pressure from the Bridgestone teams and in particulary, Ferrari, no doubt, the FIA have ruled that from the next race onwards (Monza) they will change the way they measure tyres widths.

Apparently at issue here is the legality of the Michelin tyres. Now first, it must be understood that Michelin have been building their tyres in its current form since the San Marino Grand Prix in 2001. That's more than 2 years ago. But of course back in those days, their tyres were crap. So naturally the Bridgestone teams and of course Ferrari had very little to complain about.

Now the situation is different. Michelin are nigh all conquering with their latest offerings. So naturally there are those, and in particular the high profile Ferrari team are not at all pleased with the state of play. Michelin's tyres are said to have "special" characteristics that allow it to exceed the maximum tyre width of 270mm when their threads wear down during the course of a race. On the Autosport website it is further speculated that the tyre width increases beyond the maximum permissible width when the tyre is run at speed.

So what do the FIA do? They have just announced that from Monza onwards, the way that tyre widths are measured will be changed. The tyres will now be measured before and after the race. Prior to this, tyres were measured for legality only prior to the race. This of course is happenning in the middle of the bloody season when the championship is really hanging in the balance. I mean come on.

Take yourselves back to 1982 when minimum ride heights were introduced into Formula 1 to reduce the effectiveness of ground effects aerodynamics. The teams and in particular Williams countered this with electro hydraulic suspension systems that when at rest or not at speed would raise the car far above and beyond the minimum ride height. During the race however, it would lower the car to below the minimum requirement. It is legal because during the race and when the cars are running you couldn't measure for certain the car's ride height. So all is legal. And in fact the minimum height rule was abandoned after that season. It wasn't until 1994 when the wooden plank was introduced could the FIA regulate ride heights on Formula 1 cars.

Still though, it was a brilliant idea using that particular suspension system. But now let's say for arguments sake that Michelin has found a loophole in the regulations, they should at least be rewarded for their ingenuity. But to change the rules in the middle of a season reeks of foul play.

Michael Schumacher earlier this week stated that "Ferrari is a really strong team and the greater the difficulty the more determined we are to win." Yeah bitch. A bit too determined aren't we? I have no doubt that this team with its close association with Bridgestone are fully behind this plot. Yes, you can call this a conspiracy theory but I'll tell you something everyone in the paddock knows that these manouverings are part and parcel of the Maranello team being the ultimate politcial animals that they are. If the situation were reversed, you can bet the FIA wouldn't take any action against Bridgestone and would just shut the other teams up.

Perhaps the FIA are afraid that if Ferrari doesn't win again, they will lose all those blind bimbo tifosi that just so adore the scarlet machines. After all, last Sunday's debacle was pretty humiliating. All those years thinking their team is all that and all. Certainly I think a lot of those who especially know nothing about racing (and most Ferrari fans fall in this categories... not all but most) would begin to switch off their tele. The other teams are just not as exciting or emotionally charged. And you'd lose all these fans and viewing figures. And we can't have that can we, Bernie?

Again I digress. So, back to the original point. Changing the rules like this in the middle of a season is simply foul play. The Michelin teams and Michelin themselves should be prepared for a huge court room battle with the FIA.

I used to think that Jean Marie Balestre was a hugely biased FIA president. Being a Frenchman I always thought he ruled for his countryman Alain Prost more often than not. But at least he wasn't a greedy little bastard like Max Mosley and his comrade Bernie Ecclestone. My point is the FIA reeks with manipulation all in the name of the almighty dollar (or is the Euro these days?). This latest episode is just another example. And just when it was fun watching Formula 1 again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Cut the crap Luca!

So Luca Di Montezemolo was saying the other day that the debacle at Hungaroring “must never happen again.” Truly Signor Monte, was it so bad? Time was when you guys were regularly finishing a lap down on the opposition. Almost every weekend. Granted it's been some years ago and was prior to the arrival of Michael Schumacher and more crucially perhaps Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne.

In those days, I was a Ferrari fan. Suffering through the agony of seeing the red cars vanquished week in week out. They even hired some of the best drivers those days. Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Gerhard Berger to name a few. All of them however would tell tales of the frustration of working at Ferrari. The bueracracy and the on going politics getting in the way of actual work.

Names, names and more names was the complaint that Gerhard Berger made. High ranking personnel from Harvey Postlethwaite, John Barnard, Steve Nichols to current Toyota designer Gustav Brunner. They would walk in, start doing a good job before being cajoled. In the case of Steve Nichols put out to the freeze once Alain Prost left the team.

Back in those days and indeed for the last few decades, yes decades, till the present day, Ferrari would always have the biggest budgets, the best facilities and everything they could ever want provided for them by Fiat and yet years would go by and they would not win a single race. Their 1992 race car exemplified everything. The twin floor Ferrari was the slowest car on the straights. Slower even than the Yamaha powered Jordans. And no they didnt' win a single race that year. Or the year before or even indeed the year after that.

The most laughable situation must have been the 1991 Australian Grand Prix. In 1991, believe it or not, Minardi was a customer of Ferrari engines. Oh and in those days, Ferrari would give their customer teams pretty up to date engines. And you guessed the Minardi actually outqualified Ferrari. The Minardi incidentally was driven by current Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer. Giovanni Agnelli, the boss of Fiat was understandably livid. How was it possible that a customer could out qualify the works Ferraris, he boomed.

All this of course, despite the fact that their budget is always the highest in Formula 1. Frank Williams was quoted as saying that after every race the Williams team would strip their fuel pumps, rebuild it and reuse them. Ferrari would throw away used fuel pumps after every race. Yup, they're definitely big spenders. But it took them 21 years to win their next drivers world championship. Give the same budget to one of the smaller teams and they'd win it year on year every year.

And now today, they make it seem like they are all invincible. Take the trio of Schumacher, Brawn and Byrne away and I guarantee they will be back to their losing ways. I am going to divert off topic here a bit but to top it off, Ferrari have always had the favour of the FIA. What am I talking about? Well, how about this. When turbos were banned and everyone decided that normally aspirated engines were the way to go, all the other teams decided on a maximum of 8 cylinders. But hey guess what? Ferrari wanted 12, so of course the FIA dogs agreed. Refuelling was unanymously deplored by all other teams but Ferrari V12s are thirsty bitches. So we'll allow those dangerous fuel rigs.

In 1996, Ferrari decided to run on 10 cylinders, designed by Osamu Goto, formerly of Honda. Oh and now of course, its alright for the FIA to limit engine cylinders to 10. By the way, they sidelined Osamu Goto as well in the end. And what about that 1999 Malaysian GP barge board incident. Talking to all the stewards, they are all in unison that Ferrari's barge boards were infringing. They of course argued that a 5% tolerance level is allowed. Bullshit mate. That's only for the flat bottom and nowhere else. As one rival engineer said, in that case, we're all underdesigning our cars. And why not make engines of 3150cc since 5% tolerance is allowed. Ferrari is full of shit. But I am digressing here.

The point is compared to where they've been I'd say Ferrari are doing enormously well. They are winning races and championships and Mosley and Bernie are still their bitches. They still have 5 race wins to their name this year which is more than any other team. And they are still in with a shot at the championship. But after years of being so used to seeing red cars on top I really don't mind seeing more of the Hungaroring incident. You ain't doing so bad Monte. And to all the bimbo Ferrari fans out there. Remember where your team has been. Cause that's where they'll be heading back to once big Schuey quits.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Fernando Alonso: Future World Champion

Three years ago this chap made his debut in Formula 1 with the Minardi team. From his first race onwards this lad whipped every team mate he had, including the hapless Alex Yoong. And not only that, he also managed to man handle the ill handling and underpowered Minardi and challenge the faster Arrows Cosworth cars. Seeing such spectacles I knew then that this guy had all the makings of a future race winner and definitely a future world champion. He was just 19 years old at the time.

And yes, at this weekend's Hungarian grand prix my faith in this guy has paid off. Three years ago, perhaps only Flavio Briatore and the Renault team recognised his speed. Certainly he was overshadowed by the over publicised Jenson Button and also by that other rising star Kimi Raikkonen. Had this guy debuted in another car but the Minardi I am pretty sure that his talent would have long been recognised since then. Even perhaps to the extent that like Raikkonen he would have been given a full time drive in a top team in 2002.

Alas, Frank Williams decided to loan his protege Button to the Renault team (then known as the Benetton team). And I supposed after his magnificent year 2000 season was probably justified. A little more experience was needed and was provided by Jarno Trulli.

When Briatore decided to ditch Button at the end of last year, there was shock and horror amongst the racing press especially the British press, known for their blind biasness when it comes to their local heros. But I wondered what was the fuss all about. Didn't anybody remember year 2001 and just what Alonso managed to accomplish in the dismal Minardi?

I guess people have short memories. But they'll surely remember Alonso now. Such a serene effort from the young man. Smooth as they come. Plus, he managed to lap a 5 time world champion in what still can be seen as the best car in the paddock bar it's Bridgestone tires. One hopes this is the first of a long line of victories and ultimately world championships. At 22 he has perhaps 13-15 years of Formula 1 in his future. Plenty of opportunities for world titles. Who knows if he is as lucky as Michael Schumacher he might he just go after his records.

Logically speaking that perhaps is asking too much. Like I said, luck had a lot to do with Schumacher's successes. And also I doubt if Alonso has the same level of technical awarness and force of personality to bring a team together the way Schumacher has done at Ferrari and to some extent during his stint at Benetton. To reach Schumacher's level you need that AND the speed.

Still I am sure with Briatore looking after him (as he did Schumacher back in the day) Alonso will enjoy a ton of success. Hopefully Renault will provide him with a car that will be able to do this. However, with a major engine configuration change next year it's going to be very tricky.

Three years ago I said Raikkonen, Montoya, Button and Alonso would be the future world champions. I am glad that at least 3 of them have worked out. The future is looking bright for Formula 1. Perhaps the classic battles of the 80s when Piquet, Prost, Senna and Mansell were all batlling it out will return soon.

Enough of Schumacher and definitely enough of Ferrari thank you very much. And once again, congratulations to Fernando Alonso.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Bridgestone Crisis

At the start of the 2003, the season looked a repeat of year 2002. Michelin, having excellent hot weather performance and absolutely horrific wet / cool weather characteristics and the opposite for Bridgestone. Certainly, I was one of those who were absolutely vicious in my remarks against the French tire concern for the dumbfounding characteristics of their produce.

Well, I am happy to say that the scales are now tipped the other way and Michelin now has a superior tire that is benefitting their teams particulary the top teams like Williams, McLaren and Renault. All kudos to these guys who have provided the feedback and helped Michelin gain their current advantage. It must have been hard last year to see the Bridgestone boys particulary that red coloured one flying off into the distance.

The teams' patience have now been rewarded. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of McLaren and Williams who actually share testing data together with Michelin in tire development. The two excellent British ITV commentators made the astute comment that when Michelin have a good day they have 3 teams that can take points off Ferrari. Whereas when Bridgestone are having a good day they have to battle out those same 3 teams.

Unlike Bridgestone, who concentrate on Ferrari to the relative exclusion of everyone else, Michelin have produced a tire that seem to suit all their top runners. As Malaysians would say padan muka! Roughly translated, Bridgestone deserve all the hard luck they can get.

They did forget that it was McLaren that won them their first world title. McLaren it was that battled that won the 1998 world championship against the Goodyear shod Ferraris. When Goodyear left Bridgestone fell all over themselves to support Ferrari in 1999 making such fact very public.

Of course when Michelin joined the fray, Bridgestone decided to support their most glamourous and highest profile team Ferrari. OK and to be honest they looked the btetter team at that point. McLaren very wisely decided to go for Michelin and for more equal treatment. Bridgestone to me are a bunch of bastards. Loyalty zero. I mean I appreciate that Formula 1 is big business these days and these guys want to milk such successes and all. But Formula 1 is also sport. And somehow to treat McLaren the way they did isn't very sporting at all.

So, to Michelin I say if Ferrari want your tires show them the middle finger and tell them to stick their heads up their asses. If they get their lapdogs at the FIA or Bernie to make a noise then let them pay for it. And forget all that bullshit about exclusive engineers stationed with them like they have with Bridgestone.

If the Bridgestone tires are underperforming then Ferrari ought to suffer along with them. Both these highly political organisations ought to have their faces rubbed deep in the mud. And hopefully if and when Goodyear returns to Formula 1 they'll be snapped up by McLaren instead.

Sadly, I know this is hardly going to happen what with all the big business floating around Formula 1 these days. But it certainly is a persons right to dream.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Toyota: Fire the lot of them

I support the Toyota team if only because I drive a Toyota (guess which one?). I like my Toyota and I wish the Panasonic Toyota Racing team every success. Granted they have been quite realistic up to now on their expectations in this the highest echelon of motorsport. Unlike previous debutants like Jaguar and BAR who made such a big hype during their debuts and likewise later on crashed down to earth hard once those expectations were not met.

Toyota have been more cautious but however, one feels that they are feeling the pressure of Formula 1 quite overbearing. Chief designer Gustav Brunner was quoted as saying that development of the car practically grounded to a halt after showing a lot of promise during winter testing.

Nevertheless, given their enormous budget largely provided for by the largest motor vehicle company in the world, they should have had a better debut last year and should be well on their way this year much like Renault have had. Alas, this has not happened. I fondly recall Jordan's first season in Formula 1 way back in 1991. Despite not being the fastest contender in the field nevertheless they had such an impressive racing machine it was voted racing car of the year by Autosport in 1991. Michael Schumacher if you recall made his Formula 1 debut at the Belgium Grand Prix in this car. The next year wasn't too good however, when they opted for Yamaha engines.

Given the facilities and budget at their disposal I would have expected Toyota to have made a similar debut last year. And since they are not using someone elses powerplant and given that the Toyota engine is making some good horsepower, it should be doing a lot better this year. Maybe even being able to take on Jaguar in a straight fight.

So what happened? Let's first analyse the team personnel. The two highest profile people Panasonic Toyota Racing is team boss Ove Andersson and the other being ex Ferrari and Minardi designer Gustav Brunner. By and large, the other members of the team down to their mechanics were formerly part of Toyota Team Europe. These guys used to run the Toyota works rally effort in the World Rally Championship and they used to run in sports cars competing in Le Mans and the World Sports Prototype Championship. Their rally efforts did produce world championships in the hands the brilliant Carlos Sainz albeit in highly dubious cirmcustances. They were caught cheating and was actually banned from the world championship for a year.

The Le Mans effort was not successful however, being beaten every single time they had raced on the famous La Sarthe circuit. And now, just as Sauber did after their championship winning endeavours in sports cars, they enter Formula 1. Sauber formerly ran the Mercedes team in sports cars and produced the chassis that ran the Mercedes turbocharged V8s.

Well, Peter Sauber hasn't had much success in Formula 1, having been abandoned by Mercedes for McLaren. Mind you Sauber were the first to run the Ilmor engines that are now powering McLaren. But that's another story. Crucially and likewise, Toyota don't look like they are going to be winners anytime soon. Perhaps sports car teams and people should totally avoid Formula 1 altogether.

But those of you in the know will know that the guys running Ferrari now were also formerly from sports cars. Jean Todt was formerly boss at Peugot and Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, technical director and chief designer at Ferrari respectively were once part of the TWR Jaguar sports car team before then moving to Benetton and winning with them. Only later on did they move to the Scuderia. So we cannot say that this is 100% true. However, let's look at the overall organisation at Ferrari, Benetton and Toyota. Whilst the top men at Ferrari and Benetton came from sports cars, those working within the team that is the race engineers and mechanics have been in the sport of Formula 1 for years. Also, don't forget it did take time for Rory and Ross to get their footing. It took Jean Todt an enormous amount of time before he managed to figure things out.

Will Toyota with their very noticeable marketing aims in Formula 1 be able to wait that long? I would say Rory and Ross are probably work very well together and are able to produce the goods. Ross decides what technologies and systems to develop. Rory designs race cars.

At Toyota one would expect an old hand like Gustav Brunner to be holding a position like that of Ross Brawn that is a technical director calling the overall technical shots at Toyota. However, he has made it clear he does not want the job. He wants to design race cars. My feeling is that he is too old to design race cars and that job should be left to a younger, fresh and more dynamic engineer. Then Toyota won't be in a situation that they have now. Out of ideas for development? That is a complete sin in a fast moving paced sport that Formula 1 has become. In this sport, you stand still you move backwards.

Look at Patrick Head at Williams. He used to design race cars. But that was way back in the 1970s and 1980s. After 1990, I believe he stopped doing that totally and left that job to Adrian Newey, now with McLaren, whom he hired from Leyton House March. Nevertheless, he still commands the technical direction at Williams. Gustav should play a similar role. And if he can't he should get the hell out of Toyota.

I also have a feeling that all the other engineers inherited from the sports car team and rally team should all be replaced by those who have had more experience in Formula 1 and are better able to utilise the money and facilities that they have in hand.

In addition, I would say that Toyota's greatest mistake was to base their team in Cologne, Germany where Toyota Team Europe was based. That is no place to build racing cars. And for that matter, neither is Hinwil in Switzerland (base for the Sauber). The best place for building racing cars is still within the area of Surrey in England. A pool of readily available and talented engineers exist there that could easily make better use of the facilities available to the Toyota team.

Some of you may ask how Ferrari and Renault can do what they do. Ferrari especially are based in Italy. Well, Ferrari have been at this for years. And guess what? They throw even more money at the sport than Toyota. They've got two test tracks readily available, a pool of engineers hired from England, three wind tunnels. They better well be able to do what they do. As for Renault, they only build engines in France. The cars are built in Enstone near Oxford.

The choice of drivers are also dubious. Olivier Panis I believe does a great job. But Cristiano de Matta despite doing an excellent job and outscoring his much more experienced team mate I think is a huge mistake in terms of getting someone who is able to help out with the development of the car. I am still one who thinks that his best purpose in Toyota is because of his marketability in North America, a hugely important market for Toyota.

Does Toyota want to win or do they want to just sell more road cars? I say fire the entire Toyota Team Europe and hire better and more experienced personnel experienced in Formula or Indycar racing. Give an ultimatum to Gustav to either lead technically or have that resignation letter signed. Or better yet steal Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey. Then hire someone like former Williams aerodynamicst Geoff Willis to design the car. Fire that de Matta guy and hire someone like Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher or David Coulthard to really spearhead the development of the car. Quit hiring nobodies from Formula 3000 and hire some really good drivers from the junior formula to be their test drivers. Open a new team base in England and have the engines made in Japan and race prepared in England.

The way Toyota is doing things right now is wrong. All wrong. And the heartbreaking fact is they can do so much better. That Toyota paycheck ought to be paving the way for a really crack team destroying all comers. And for god's sake Toyota, can you please cut the marketing bullshit? You guys are already outselling everyone else. Put more thought in winning the sport and make us Toyota drivers proud. Else my next car is going to be a BMW or worse yet for you, a Honda. As it is I would be really glad to see them shut those Ferrari fans up.