News and views on motorsports

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.