News and views on motorsports

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.