News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Thoughts For The Weekend

Its no secret that I loathe the Bahrain track despite some drivers saying that its good fun. Two items of big news for this Sunday's Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya is confirmed to be out for the next five weeks due to a hairline fracture on his shoulder blades. The Colombian is out for five weeks and Pedro de la Rosa, finally after an age, will once again drive in a race.

The Spaniard must be extremely excited. After all, the last time he had race driving duties was with the Jaguar team back in 2002. And we all know what a dog that must have been to drive. Now he has equipment that potentially could challenge his illustrious contrymen, Fernando Alonso's Renault. A tall order to be sure but despite the lacklustre start to the season, I still believe the McLaren does have pace. Hidden somewhere deep, deep in the Mercedes engine and the monocoque but its there. Senor de la Rosa is another matter though and his performance remains a mystery. Though judging from that other stand in Anthony Davidson, the replacements usually have an overwhelming time.

The other big news of course is the debut of the F2005. If history teaches us a lesson, cars rushed into service have the potential to be a disaster. However, modern day Ferrari are exceptional. So lets not take that for granted. I'm not sure what magical brew Bridgestone might come up with this weekend. But note carefully that the tarmac on the Bahrain circuit is identical to the one used in Fiorano. Yes, both tarmacs supplied by Ferrari lubricant supplier Shell. Despite it being hot and sandy in Bahrain, Ferrari naturally have the advantage there. Don't you just hate them?

Some bookmakers on the internet and placing Alonso as joint favourites with Michael Schumacher, with Fisichella as 3rd favourite. I'd say its too tough to call. Ferrari's F2005 has not been testing alongside the other teams' challengers (have they?), so there really isn't any basis of comparison. All shall be revealed on first qualifying.

Now I'm going to be jeered for this but I think the new qualifying format does have its advantages. Don't get me wrong. To me the best format ever is to let the driver's loose over any number of laps at any time during a one hour period. The current format is bollocks compared to that. But consider this. This year, at least you get to see the cars running on low fuel. At least for one session. And its nice to be able to see which cars have the absolute raw pace. And during the second session, you get to see who's likely to perform in the race. Which is better than a single shot session.

Of course, this depends on the weather holding and not turning qualifying into the lottery that was Melbourne. In Sepang, I rather thought it worked out quite well. I do agree with Michael Schumacher on one thing though. They ought to stop tinkering about with it all the time. Yup. Just use the format of the 1990s I say.

A weekend of anticipation then. The performance of the F2005 in Bahrain will be crucial. Secretly I think, everyone is hoping its a dog. If it isn't one can thank Ferrari for having the most time to test their cars, breaking all testing agreements.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Astute Observations Of An Old Hack

Allow me to point the discerning Formula 1 fan to this fine article on that gives further insight into the GPWC/FIA/Ferrari debate. The article is long but goes some way in explaining perhaps the motivation of the FIAT / Ferrari group. That is money, or the lack of it. The article touches on a whole host of issues underlying the problem including marketing, corporate control and the disposition of the FIAT group.

There are further insights on Shell's role in bankrolling former Benetton personnel Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn and of course Michael Schumacher. Mike Lawrence, the author, has obviously been around for a very long time. He observes that the sport is bigger than any one team and harkens back to the earliest days of grand prix racing to explain why Ferrari's "I am the star" declaration really deserves a place in the waste bin.

All in all I certainly wouldn't have been able to put the arguments better. I suggest you read it for yourself.

I've never actually browsed through Pitpass prior to this but looking at its list of writers, mostly old hands like Mike Lawrence and Eoin Young, you know this website contains some quality. Definitely on my daily reading list from now on.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Back Behind The Scenes has a very interesting article on Ferrari's response to the eight teams on the subject of "illegal" testing. The article is absolutely spot on in its analyses and the views expressed are shared by many fans, hacks and most people who have an interest in the sport.

Among the more interesting points the article notes are:

1. "Ferrari either does not see the wave of feeling that exists against its current policies amongst F1 fans; or it does not care."
2. From the feedback received by fans, concludes "that the majority of this is anti-Ferrari."
3. However, "there is a small but voceriferous pro-Ferrari minority who criticize any stories which reflect the feedback we receive from other fans."
4. Furthermore, "Ferrari has now reached the point at which it no longer listens to the other teams and no longer listens to criticism in the media."
5. Most damning of all, "There was a time when one would never hear the suggestion that the sport would be better off without Ferrari but increasingly that is a view being heard in F1 circles. We believe the trend is increasing." Hear, hear!

It would seem that Ferrari bashing bloggers like me are not alone. Whilst I do commend their exploits on the track and the magnificent record they have thus far, it is extremely frustrating that a so called "great" team would resort to tactics normally employed by cronies and dirty politicians. Such Machiavellian behaviour debases their proud achievements and make their victories seem hollow. I shall not recount the long list of Ferrari politicking in this article, you can read it for yourself in my previous articles and elsewhere.

What makes the achievments of blokes like Renault so delightful is that fact that these fellows play by the rules agreed by all and in the face of gross injustices from people like Ferrari. And by that same thread, that makes Ferrari despicable because they think they can make up their own rules. Yes, Renault have not won this year's championship but there are many out there who really hope they do.

At most of all, it would seem that I am not alone in my disposition. That Ferrari should be kicked out for the good of the sport. But not before some team like Renault beats them. And beats them good. Whatever the outcome, come 2007, either Ferrari engages in sporting behaviour or there shall be championships without them.

So much for the Ferrari issue. Elsewhere, it seems that Bernie and Speed Investments, the holding company formed by the three banks that control Formula 1's commercial rights have come to some sort of settlement. Read about it here, here, here and here. Not surprising given the increasing threat of the GPWC and Bernie probably need the banks to help him out on this.

The situation is increasingly tenous for Ecclestone. He had expected to some sort of settlement with the teams by Melbourne but this has not materialised. In fact, I believe as more details of the new Concorde come to light, teams are staying far away from signing a new agreement. The banks I would imagine are also increasingly worried that their investment, gained by Kirsch's default, is increasingly likely to being worth bugger all, should the teams' threats of a rival series come to fruition.

In fact, this article on seem to indicate that the teams, far from simply making empty threats are indeed pushing ahead with serious intent on realising the GPWC's rival series.

Moreover, should the rival series be realised, it could be heading to that wonderful street circuit, Adelaide. And they thought a rival series would have no circuits to run on. Hah! Bring back the classics, I say. Throw out the mangled Hockenheim, the silly Shanghai, the boring (and commercially unsuccessful) Bahrain and all these dogs designed by that imbecile, Hermann Tilke. (With due apologies to my readers for bringing up this guy again)

As for Bernie, it is reported that the banks via Speed Investments now have a greater say in the commerical decisions in Formula 1, proportionate to the size of their holdings. Whether or not this be good for the sport remains to be seen. And yet this feature on ITV-F1 written some time ago, may give an indication of things to come. Bayerische Landesbank, one of the three banks and BMW are old chums according to the feature. Intriguing n'est ce pas?

Old hands in the investment business JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers are also surely too shrewd not to see the folly of the current situation. Let's break it down simply. Should Ferrari throw toys out of the playpen and threaten to exit the sport, of course this would be to the detriment of the sport's commercial value as a whole. And yet pacify the "star" and in turn alienate the teams, and there simply wouldn't be any sport altogether. As investment bankers, they would be wise then to insist on more reasonable terms to protect their investments. There are signs that even Bernie is now seeing the light. Recently, in this article on ITV-F1, Bernie is reportedly backing the eight teams in the recent spat regarding Ferrari's extended testing of the F2005.

And yet, if is right and there is indeed a growing trend of hostility against Maranello and FIAT, fans and spectators would simply pick other heros and support other teams, thus still remain faithful viewers of the sport. Of course, if Ferrari exited the sport, who would bet against Michael Schumacher joining some other squad if the desire to compete still remains strong within him? I believe there are a lot of fans out there who are HIS fans and not necessarily that of Ferrari.

There would still I believe be a large enough of a following to entice sponsors eager to reach them. As a whole then, the commercial value lost should Ferrari leave, whilst not insignificant, would be minimised.

It would be sad to see the Scuderia leave. I for one, would prefer their presence in motor racing's highest echelon. But only if they agree to play by the rules. Surely they must realise that given Ferrari's resources, they can play by the rules and still win.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Flashback 1992

In 1991, Ayrton Senna was involved in a monumental battle for the world championship against Nigel Mansell. In the end, the Brazilian won it but not without exhausting all of Woking's resources in the process. So much so that development of their 1992 McLaren MP4/7 was pushed behind schedule whilst the engineering department was fully concentrated in turning around the 1991 MP4/6 into a car capable of beating the Williams Renault FW14.

Come 1992, Williams added active suspension to the FW14B and at the first race of the season at Kyalami, Nigel Mansell was dominant by a country mile. The FW14B was simply phenomenal, a product of current McLaren technical director Adrian Newey. McLaren, having had to delay their MP4/7 until later in the season used a modified MP4/6 that was simply outclassed by the Renault powered Williams. Nigel Mansell could simply turn on the speed at will.

The same situation persisted at Mexico where again, the Williams Renaults could not be stopped. The reigning world champion Senna, could not hide his frustration at being so helpless against Mansell and Patrese. So much so, he pushed for the introduction of the MP4/7 at the next race in Brazil. The MP4/7 too, promised active suspension (and hence active aerodynamics), fly by wire throttle and semi-automatic gearshifts.

The MP4/7 though was never meant to be introduced at the third round of the season. The car was simply too new and untested. For backup McLaren brought along the previous year's MP4/6 to Interlagos. The McLaren garage filled with 4 cars in total. 2 MP4/7s and 2 MP4/6s, a testament to their organization and financial firepower. Both cars went out during free practise but in the end it was decided that the MP4/7 would be used for the race.

It was a terrible mistake. The Honda powered MP4/7 in the hands of Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna still could not live with the Renault powered cars. In fact, they were under pressure even from Michael Schumacher, now in his first full season of Formula 1 in the Benetton Ford. Ayrton Senna famously remembered for slamming the door on Schumacher's face. I suppose that's where Michael learned a lot of his roughhousing. He may not admit it much these days but a lot of what Michael does reminds me of Senna.

In the end both the MP4/7s retired with reliability problems. Not that they had the speed to do anything about the two Williams.

Anyway, try and catch what I'm trying to say here. Two races into the 1992 season in the old car and McLaren were completely outclassed. In the third race, they rushed a new car in. Too new and untried, it turned out to be a mistake as the reliability simply wasn't there. In their rush to push forward a new car to challenge the dominant Williams Renault, they ended up scoring no points.

Now fast forward season 2005.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Letter To Luca Di Montezemolo

Reproduced below is last Sunday's letter to the chairman of FIAT, Luca di Montezemolo.The letter was signed by eight teams. I mean seriously, how can anyone stand up for Ferrari. I mean, if teams seem unanimous against them, surely it must mean they are doing something wrong. To say that the others are merely sour grapes is unacceptable. There have been teams that have similarly dominated in the past but that has never raised the level of dissatisfaction in the ranks as Ferrari do now. Anyway, you can read the letters for yourself:

Luca di Montezemolo
cc. Jean Todt

20th March 2005


Dear Luca,

For the past two years the Formula One Teams have been extremely active in finding ways to control cost and there is no doubt that a reduction of the track test programmes has been one of the few effective controlling mechanisms available to the teams.

This year, while 8 competitors, including some of the largest world manufacturers, have been very supportive and constructive, coming to an agreement aimed at a further decrease of testing time during the F1 season, the Ferrari team has not only declined to operate within the spirit of this agreement but has operated against it, with a COST INCREASE, by implementing a testing programme that is extended to the race weekend, breaking agreements which had been previously supported by Ferrari as well.

We believe that this attitude is highly disrespectful to the sport and we strongly request that Ferrari reconsiders its position in regards to testing constraints and aligns itself with the arrangements agreed between the other Teams.

Best Regards,


Below is an earlier letter sent to Ferrari. Originally it was meant to be signed by nine teams including Sauber. However, on Friday, Sauber released a statement distancing themselves from the letter below.

Eight teams wish to record their disappointment regarding Ferrari’s testing activities.

The Teams competing in Formula One have all previously agreed that one effective means of controlling costs in the sport is to restrict the amount of track testing performed by each Team. In recent years all teams have agreed to limit their testing under the Suzuka arrangements which has undoubtedly led to substantial cost savings.

In preparation for 2005 season all Teams entered into discussions to review the testing restrictions, with many hoping to achieve further substantial reductions. Inevitably for any agreement to be made, concessions must be granted by many with the smaller Teams supporting an agreement which exceeded their testing programme whilst some larger Teams agreed to a greater restriction than they would otherwise have exercised.

Ferrari refused to sign any Testing Agreement for 2005 unless it was given an increased allocation compared to its direct competitors. It is unsurprising that the other Teams declined to grant Ferrari such a competitive advantage.

It is with much regret, therefore, that the eight undersigned Teams, have learnt that Ferrari has tested and intends to conduct further testing, not only outside the parameters of the 2005 Testing Agreement, but also in excess of the previously established principles of the Suzuka Agreement convention. Ferrari’s actions not only potentially destabilize Formula One, increase cost but also provide Ferrari with an unequal advantage over all the other Teams.

Inevitably such actions on the part of Ferrari can only increase cost withion Formula One and undermines the principle of a level playing field in the sport. The eight undersigned Teams are requesting that Ferrari now reconsider its position and acts in a responsible manner to support this valuable cost-saving initiative in Formula One.

Signed by:

Nick Fry, BAR
Colin Kolles, Jordan
Ron Dennis, McLaren
Paul Stoddart, Minardi
Flavio Briatore, Renault
Christian Honner, Red Bull
Tsutomu Tomita, Toyota
Frank Williams, Williams

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Bullish About Toyota

Now I know its so very early on in the season and with a lot more races to come plenty of things might happen. We all probably know that backmarkers like Ferrari(!) will be catching up. Williams and McLaren are also forces not to be underestimated. But I've got this strange sensation that Mike Gascoyne might be right. Something tells me Toyota will be taking the top step of the podium sometime this year. Probably closer to the tail of the season.

I am encouraged by their performances in Melbourne and especially in Sepang. The last time I had a hunch like this was way back in 1986. That year, Benetton took over the Toleman team and with drivers Teo Fabi and Gerhard Berger started off the season in a quiet but solid sort of way. Both drivers scoring points early on in the season in Rio, Jerez and San Marino. At that point in time, I had a good feeling about this team. Basically, I liked it a lot and I felt they would surprise the frontrunners.

By Austria in midsummer, their cars were the class of the field in terms of outright speed. At the Oesterreichring, Gerhard Berger took pole with Fabi second. In the race, they simply ran away with it. They were destined not to win at that mightily fast and picturesque circuit but alarm bells must have been sounding in the Lotus (remember them?), Williams and McLaren garages. Alas, Fabi went out with engine failure and Gerhard was delayed two laps whilst the mechanics had to change his battery.

At Monza, again the Benetton B186 showed enormous speed helped by copious amounts of power from its inline 4 BMW turbo engine. The engines were so powerful that when Teo Fabi's engine blew up, the pistons went right through the cylinder heads. Gerhard Berger experienced electrical problems during qualifying. His engine cut out right after Parabolica and he had to coast to the line. Despite this, he still ended up fourth on the grid!

Two races on at Mexico, it all came good. Gerhard Berger ran a solid fifth early on, keeping up with the front runners. On that day Gerhard chose to run the hardest Pirelli tyres he could find and did the entire race without stopping. Yes, its been done before so the no tyre change rule these days isn't that big of a deal. Despite rock hard tyres, he kept his speed up and crossed the line in the lead to win his first ever race. It was also Benetton's maiden victory.

Last Sunday, Benetton, formerly Toleman and now known as Renault notched up yet another victory. And yet, the car that came in second reminded me of Benetton in 1986. Solid. Dependable. Some speed in it, but looking like it has the potential to become a world beater. They won't take any world titles this year. But something in my mind tells me they are going to win at least once.

After the race in Sepang I watched the Toyota team in celebratory mood. Looked as if they had won the championship. Mike and Jarno were in emotional embrace. Even Ralf looked pleased at the state of affairs. The Japanese engineers looked like they'd just scored with a hot blond babe. All the rest literally smelling of champagne especially Gascoyne. The pressure of meeting their goal this year is gone. They've already got the result they wanted. With that in mind, I think their engineers have now got a taste of things. With the pressure off them, I think they're going to be better motivated and will be able to think more clearly.

Grand Prix racing as in life has its uncertainties. But I think Toyota are in with a shot to score some good results this year. My estimations are simply hunches but I'd put some money on the Cologne team.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More On Ferrari Testing

As mentioned before on this Blog and elsewhere, Ferrari continue to test their F2005 challenger during grand prix weekends, essentially breaking test ban agreements. This has angered the other teams who responded with a "Dear Luca" letter last Sunday evening. Earlier on last week, a letter from nine teams were addressed to Ferrari to deal with the issue of testing. Sauber later on backing out by issuing a statement to that effect.

In this story on and this one by The Independent in London, a Ferrari continue to assert that the additional testing is in response to the unfair situation where Ferrari are the only major Bridgestone team and hence are disadvantaged by the current test agreements. What irks me even more is Jean Todt's statement that these politicking is "unnecessary. It's a situation we didn't create."

There are major flaws in these arguments that would be obvious to anyone who wasn't viewing the world through rosso corsa tinted glasses.

First, most obvious and on the contrary to Jean Todt's statement, is that this situation was created by Ferrari in the first place. As Geoff Willis mentioned, the Bridgestone tyres were created to Ferrari's specifications. It was at Ferrari's insistence that it be the case. This single factor forced many teams to look for a tyre manufacturer that would serve their needs equally and left Ferrari to be the only major team left. No, Mr Todt, you are directly responsible for this politicking.

Second, in essence the Bridgestone tyres are bespoke creations for Ferrari. They are built to Ferrari specifications. All Bridgestone testing therefore is for the sole benefit of Ferrari alone. Essentially Bridgestone development is Ferrari development. So, it cannot be argued that it is for the benefit of any other team. Certainly not for Minardi or Jordan. Saying that testing during the Grand Prix weekend is for Bridgestone's benefit doesn't hold water. It really is for Ferrari.

Third, it surely cannot be suggested that the testing that goes on during GP weekends are solely for the benefit of tyre testing. It is to develop other aspects of the car including engine and especially aerodynamics. To simply throw Bridgestone in the equation is disingenious.

Ferrari's recalcitrance in this matter boggles the mind. This Blog has accused them of being more alike a political party than a racing team but this is simply going too far. It would be madness now for the other teams to sign any Concorde agreement that carries a Ferrari veto. The rules are meant to be applied equally to all. But as usual, Ferrari demand special consideration.

Ferrari's attitude makes Renault's current domination ever sweeter. Some teams do follow the rules and still manage to whip their bottoms. In fact, quite a few teams did last Sunday. Everyone realizes Ferrari's urgency to get back on top but surely they must do it within the rules. These blatant transgressions simply demonstrates their lack of honour and unsporting behaviour.

I'm sure many Ferrari fans would argue for their beloved team. But I simply cannot understand how they can.

I say there can be no compromises against these mafia like behaviour from Ferrari. For the good of motor racing as a whole, a new championship under a new, fair and balanced regime must be established once the current Concorde agreement ends. Ferrari should be welcome to join in but should they resort to their usual behaviour, the penalties to them should be severe and fatal to their entry.

Meantime, I hope Renault et al demonstrate that it is possible to win against these Italian thugs whilst honouring agreements and conforming to sporting behaviour.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Tough Talk

Its been a while since last we heard Flavio talking this way. The last time I heard it was more than 10 years ago when Michael Schumacher drove for Benetton-Ford. It surely must be great to be able to do it once more. Confidence is building within the Renault team.

Whilst their boss is busy throwing down the gauntlet, Fernando Alonso seems to be taking things a little more sensibly, pointing out that Ferrari could at any moment turn things around. Briatore places Renault in a different class altogether and given last Sunday's victory he has reason to. Sepang according to the drivers, is probably the toughest race of the year. This applies not only to the sheer intensity of driving in the humid heat but also as a test of the chassis and tyres on a circuit with a good mix of different types of corners. To do well here is to have the ability to do well virtually anywhere.

There are conflicting reports. According to Michelin, this circuit is smooth. However, many team personnel claim that Sepang is very abrasive. Much like Barcelona. If the tyre performs well in Sepang, you can bet that it would pretty much perform everywhere else. Thats probably why Ferrari and Bridgestone are feeling the heat more than all others.

Renault by contrast seems to have passed with flying colours. Though I still think that the Bridgestone tyres would perform better in cooler climates. Nevertheless on the evidence last Sunday you must say that Renault look extremely good money for a title. Put it this way, the last time I heard Flavio talking trash, his charge Michael Schumacher took the championship. Now he's got two drivers equally capable I think of winning it.

But spare a thought for the two German powered cars, McLaren and Williams. Williams aero problems continue. McLaren don't seem to be on the pace with full tanks. However, lets wait till San Marino to find out. I don't think these flyaway races suit their cars at all. However, both Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug looked extremely stressed after the race. Again, perhaps the results here really point to deeper troubles with their machinery. Mario Thiessen was smiling at least having Nick Heidfeld on the podium. Their two drivers looking solid, though ultimately I think Raikkonen and Montoya are faster than both. Not that the results here today reflect that.

But what about that Toyota then. Given how they performed just 5 months ago in Brazil, they've really turned things around. Mike Gascoyne is now gunning for wins, now that the team has scored their first podium. I sense that the Toyota money is now being put to more effective use than in the past 3 years. The current TF105 is the first car designed under Mike. And given his statements in the last few weeks, more is coming up. The car in Bahrain is apparently going to be still different.

Toyota have often been criticized in the past, by the general press and least of all by this Blog. But like Ferrari many many years ago, one senses that should they put all the pieces together, and with the resources available to them, they can eventually be nigh invincible. This is Toyota we are talking about. Ferrari owner Fiat, may be running out of cash but Toyota are the most cash rich and profitable car company in the world. If the technical department is sorted out, look out everyone else. Renault included. As it is, they've already managed to outrun BMW Williams and McLaren Mercedes. And yes, even Ferrari.

Most of all for Toyota is the satisfaction of finishing on the podium whilst seeing their rivals Honda blowing up their engines after just a few minutes into the race. And despite having new Honda engines at that. After all the hurt Honda inflicted them last year, this must taste so good to the boys in Cologne and to the bigwigs in Japan. Anyone who knows the rivalry between the two Japanese giants know that it is deadly. Especially in motorsport. No wonder the Honda boss looked like he had a nine inch nail up his ass. And Button is extremely crossed!

All in all, so far its been excellent for the fans. Especially Ferrari bashing fans. Well, I think even Ferrari fans themselves must appreciate a little change to their team's monotonous dominance. Formula 1 could use the current status quo for a while. Even Bernie is pleased.

Malaysian GP Notes

It might be hazy in Sepang but to me its blue skies and sunshine. Ferrari, the doyens of unsporting behaviour, utterly dominant in 2004, now stands vanquished. Completely beaten and summarily dismissed. Reminds me of the good old days when Renault engined cars dominated the field leaving the men from Maranello to grind away in the bottom half of the grid.

First qualifying gave early signs of things to come with the Renaults of Alonso and Fisichella in first and third, split by Jarno Trulli's emergent Toyota. Running on light fuel loads Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren ended up in fourth position. Ferrari? Way back in midfield, in amongst similarly engined Saubers. Of course, plenty of talk from the drivers about fighting back in second qualy with race fuels loads blah blah blah. Looking at the first qualy lap times though you suspect that something was greatly amiss when Alonso's Renault ended up around 1.5 seconds faster than Barrichello with Michael even further back.

Second qualifying saw the same top threee positions on the grid. However, below the top three, there were some changes. Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren exhibiting signs that it was not quite comfortable on full tanks. If you watched the race in Sepang, you'd notice that through the esses of turns 5 and 6, the McLaren's traction control kept coming back on intermittently. Alonso's Renault by contrast, powered through the complex with smooth precision, engine not absolutely constant without any interruption from the traction systems. Ferrari also experienced the same traction problems the previous day, their engine notes sounded horrific as the traction systems came to the driver's aid. Same in qualifying 2. You knew then that this was going to be Renault's race.

There were some suggestions that Ferrari were running a heavy load for longer stints. Checking the lap times though revealed that everyone was running about 3 seconds slower than the previous day. So, it seemed that everyone was on similar strategy. Toyota were looking quick. However, there were some doubts as to whether their tyres would last the heat of Sepang. After all, in the cool Melbourne weather, it ended up blistered and destroyed.

Come the race, the top three simply ran away with it. Honda though suffered a massive blow very early on when both cars suffered engine failures, with a minute of one another. Talk about your precision engineering. Alonso meanwhile was opening up a gap, posting some consistently fast lap times. Time and again, Alonso managed the fastest lap. Fisichella meanwhile managed to stay with Trulli in the early stages before aerodynamic problems set in, resulting in understeer, something that Giancarlo had complained about all weekend long.

The Ferraris? Oh, the joy of seeing them being left behind lap after lap by the frontrunners. I watched the lap timings closely. Both Ferraris were consistently 2.5 seconds slower than Alonso's Renault. 2.5 seconds! Whilst Alonso was consistently in the 1m 36s bracket and dipping into the 1m 35s on occassions, the Ferraris could at best manage high 1m 37s. Their lap times were mostly within the 1m 38s bracket. At that point of the race, I would have imagined them being lapped. Man, just how good can life get?

Alonso was in a class of his own. However, Trulli, somehow managed to whip up some good lap times as well. Not consistently as good as Alonso's but his fastest lap was actually quicker than the Spaniards. In fact, Raikkonen's fastest lap eclipsed them all, being the fastest of the race. This brings me to think that the McLarens are quite good on a light fuel load but when loaded with fuel they're not quick at all. Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya being dropped to the tune of about a second a lap by the front runners.

But how about those Red Bulls? Coulthard making an impressive move on Barrichello through turn 4, with Christian Klein, following close behind. It looks like I've underestimated the young Austrian. He out qualified Coulthard and managed to race hard against the Ferraris. Given a few more laps, I have no doubt that Klein would have made it past Michael Schumacher. And really he deserved to.

Even Saubers were battling hard against their engine masters. Massa and Villeneuve mixing it with Schumacher and Barrichello. I have a feeling the tyres on the Ferraris simply can't match the French rubber on most of the runners. Bridgestone apparently made a tyre that was too hard for Melbourne. In Sepang it looked like they made it too soft. Barrichello retired from the race, with tyres that were almost totally destroyed. Hah!

But the surprise was Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. I fully expected them to lose it as the race progressed. But Jarno's early stints pulled him far away from any threats behind. His tyres were blistered but he managed to control his pace and conserve his rubber, making it into second spot. Mike Gascoyne's job is safe. The Toyota team clearly jubilant after the race. You could feel the tension ooze out of them, now that their target for this year has already been achieved.

Ralf Schumacher was involved in an exciting battle with the two guys from his former team. I have often criticized Sepang for being a place not easy to overtake. I was proven wrong. The battle between Heidfeld, Webber and Schumacher easily being one of the most exciting moments in Formula 1 in quite a while. Webber attacking Ralf with Heidfeld keeping close watch and then coming back to surprise both of them. Superb stuff. In general also, the drivers seem to profess a fondness for the Sepang circuit. Many commenting on the good mixture of fast and slow corners and therefore being a good testing ground for forthcoming races.

Towards the end of the race, Alonso was clearly slowing down and conserving his package. Both he and Trulli in the end were lapping in the 1m 40s bracket, some 5 seconds off the ultimate pace. Had this race been run under the previous regulations, I have absolutely no doubt that at least Alonso would have lapped Schumacher's surviving Ferrari.

It was fantastic to see a subdued Ferrari pit at the end of the race. Two weeks ago Barrichello claimed that no crisis existed in Ferrari and everything was under control. Tough talk also from Michael Schumacher prompted the others to be cautious. A great result then. Ferrari, clearly making an enormous error in using a modified F2004. The new rules obviously require a whole different philosophy and direction in design. The F2005 is now expected for Bahrain. If Ross Brawn is to be believed its roughly a second faster than the current car. That still won't be enough against the might of today's Renault. Still, it is currently in development, so the truth will be revealed in three weeks.

In the meantime, I shall bask in the glory of a humiliated Ferrari team. As will all racing fans who truly appreciate motor racing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Judas Jordan On Schumacher

Eddie Jordan has been speaking a lot lately since he sold the Jordan team and retired. He talks about some of the decisions he's made in the past, like firing Frentzen for instance. He's called upon teams to go with his good mate, Bernie Ecclestone, and sign the new Concorde for the good of the sport.

Recently, in these stories here and here, Eddie Jordan claims that he did not want to hire Schumacher back in 1991 to replace Betrand Gachot in the Jordan 191. Apparently, Michael's willingness to pay for the ride led to his seat in the Belgian Grand Prix of that year. Apparently, Bernie was desperate for Michael to be in Formula 1 to tap the German market.

Hmm... Goes to show, you can't really trust Formula 1 personalities. I remember 1991 very clearly. Subsequent to his stunning debut in the Jordan, Michael was then poached by Benetton to Eddie Jordan's chagrin. In fact, Judas Jordan kicked a big fuss about it in the press. The hoopla was enough to lead to the creation of the Contract Recognition Board. This doesn't sound like a man who didn't want Michael to be in his cars.

But even before the Belgian GP, Jordan had tested Schumacher and found him unbelievably quick. Like Senna and Prost before him, Michael exhibited the signs of someone who simply knew how things worked in the sport. I certainly remember Eddie Jordan being highly enthusiastic about the German wunderkind. Or perhaps that was just a bit of show, as Eddie Jordan is inevitably famous for.

Whatever it was, perhaps it was for the best that Schumacher ended up with Benetton. Had he stayed with Jordan in 1992, he'd have ended up with a real dog of a car to drive. The Jordan-Yamaha B192 was super slow, the Yamaha engine unable to muster much grunt on the straights. But they weren't the slowest on the straights that year. No, sir. That honour fell to twin floored Ferrari driven by Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli. Sigh. Those were the good old days then.

BMW Williams Follow Up

More news on today regarding the alleged split between BMW and Williams. Read the story here. Word has it that Williams has already started looking for a new engine partner. Apparently Cosworth and Toyota have been approached.

Such a shame. In both BMW and Williams we have people with the potential to win world championships. Both have secured world championship wins in the past. So, one would think that this partnership would easily have succeeded eventually. Except that this time, they've had to contend with Michael Schumacher and in its current guise, probably the best squad Formula 1 has ever seen.

If blame were to be apportioned, unfortunately I have to say that Williams shoulders most of it. Most but not all of it. Patrick Head once said back in 1992 that you can't beat McLaren by being more organized. McLaren are by far the most organized team in the sport. In modern times, that can be applied to Ferrari. The only way to beat McLaren according to Head, is to produce a faster car.

And a faster car they have not produced. In fact, since Adrian Newey left their cars are journeyman at best.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

FIA/FOM Madness

From an article at the BBC and I quote:

Among the issues concerning the rival teams and manufacturers are:

* Ferrari are guaranteed $67m (£34.8m) every year - an estimated 15-20% of their budget - before any money is distributed to the other teams.

* Ferrari have absolute veto over all changes agreed by the other teams, even if the other teams agree unanimously.

* Ferrari would get more of F1's commercial revenue if they finished last than any other team would if they won the world championship.

And Mosley dares to say that the manufacturers are living in a fairy tale? This sport is truly dead. That a team can be rewarded for coming in last greater than the world championship winner is absolutely ludicrous. I just don't see how the manufacturers would agree to this. How on Earth did Red Bull allegedly agree to the new Concorde? Just what deal did the devil do with them that they could agree to this? I can understand if Jordan did since former owner Eddie Jordan owes Bernie plenty.

BMW Williams Split?

There has already been speculation that BMW would not only supply the Sauber team with powerplants, it would purchase the Swiss team lock, stock and barrel. In a previous article, I speculated on the status of the Williams and BMW partnership should this transaction take place.

Well according to this story on, BMW might just consider splitting away from Williams, should they acquire Peter Sauber's team. Ai caramba! Does this surprise me? Well yes and no. Yes, because BMW and Williams have such close technical ties nowadays including the use of manufacturing facilities and there was talk of BMW taking over Williams eventually when old Frank retires. No, because after 6 years together, Williams have yet to produce a car worthy of that enormously powerful Munchen powerplant.

Mercedes were with McLaren for 3 seasons with McLaren before taking their first title. Renaults partnership with Williams bore fruit in roughly the same time. Granted that Mercedes have not exactly set the world alight since Mika Hakkinen's 1999 triumph but nevertheless they do have championship trophies in the cabinet. BMW and Mercedes are arch rivals in the luxo car market and neither wants to be seen to lose out to the other. So after 5 seasons, BMW are getting rather nervous over the lack of silverware. Oh and it seems that in this year them boys at Mercedes have got a faster car.

Not exactly good news for the boys in Grove. The form book over the winter and the first race in Australia suggests another year of catch up for the Williams team. The car simply lacks pace despite the team's promises to deliver the goods this year. I mean, let's face it, one could understand if McLaren, Ferrari and Renault outpace them but a Red Bull? No doubt Coulthard has a good car but I think BMW expected a challenger that would dominate or at least be strongly competitve. Think McLaren MP4/14 or Williams FW14B. I think thats what they wanted.

At best Williams are going down the road of the FW24, taking the better part of a third of a season before finally showing promise. BMW want titles not excuses. I'm sure Mario Thiessen prefers to throw press conferences on Formula 1 victories to talking up Touring Car titles.

If BMW severe ties with Williams, what engine would they use? Frank is no fool. He's always managed to tie up works deals in the past. It would be interesting to see with whom though.

The season is still young. Eighteen. Eighteen???!!!... races more to run. Lets see what happens.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Now For Something Different

Almost every blogger and website owner has some idea of his/her readers. Website owners usually know where their users come from, at what time, who referred them to their site and a wealth of other information. I love seeing the referrers. By far, this Blog gets lots of referrals from other Blogs, Blog directories and of course search engines such as MSN, Yahoo and Google.

Google's indexing of Motor Racing Journal is rather erratic. Ironic, given that Blogspot, the host of this Blog, is owned by Google. You would have thought that this entire Blog is indexed but apparently not. Ever since Google went public I noticed their indexing has dropped in quality. Maybe they're too busy with other projects like indexing books and stuff. Yahoo and MSN's index is more stable. I especially like the fact that if you searched for "gpwc championship" in Yahoo you'd get a link to the GPWC as the first entry and this Blog as the second. Yee ha.

No matter because Yahoo and MSN still drives a lot of traffic to Motor Racing Journal. From my website statistics, I also know what search query the user performs to get a link to this Blog. Up until very recently, search term most often used was "illegal racing in Malaysia." Apparently, this Blog appears on Yahoo if you use this search term. But you'd have to go very deep into the results. You'd have to go to Page 9 or 10 before you find a link to Motor Racing Journal.

Now I noticed that the link has been removed from Yahoo. But whats interesting is, someone or perhaps a group of people regularly search for "illegal racing in Malaysia." And the fact that they are willing to go to Page 10 of the results indicates to me a high level of dedication. They really want to search for such things. Hmmm.... The authorities perhaps? It does happen quite frequently I must say.

If you regularly read this Blog, you will know that I think racing on the streets is highly dangerous and should be strongly discouraged. Racing is best done on a proper racing circuit. Having been quite a regular at Sepang's Sunday track day in the past, I know that only a racing circuit will really test your skills and abilities. To drive fast on a circuit is enormously satisfying. Besides that, driving on a circuit is safe as well. Sepang boasts vast tracts of run off areas should you be over enthusiastic. Lots of first timers off the streets usually are. But so safe is the circuit environment that when I get off the circuit and drive on normal public roads, I actually feel the streets are a lot more dangerous. Even driving at normal speeds.

So, you may ask how is it that Yahoo managed to list this Blog in the infamous query? Well, its because of the article on Haves and Have Nots that I wrote a couple of months back. It had the misfortune of having the words "illegal" "racing" and "Malaysia" all in the same article.

Well, to whomever is looking for illegal racing in Malaysia literally, I must say you are using the wrong search term to find it. No street racer is going to call his nefarious activity as illegal racing. Its just racing to them. Or drag racing. Or running. Or whatever other term those guys use these days.

To the Establishment. If you want to keep racing off the streets then make your racing circuits as accessible to the boy racer as possible. Organize more and better events they can participate in. Look at the Saturday night Shah Alam races in the 90s as an example. That kept kids off the street. Racer dudes would either be watching or caning their road cars on the circuit. Put it this way, if anything went wrong then it would be in a very safe environment away from the general public.

And for god sakes, don't use Saturday night events as an excuse for the Road Transport Department to conduct road blocks to inspect the legality of their cars. That is just plain silly. Kids would stay away and you would put them back to racing on the streets.

Lastly, some blokes don't really want to go through the hassle of obtaining a proper racing license from the AA. They just want to go in, get a quick blast of adrenaline and get out again. If they objective is to keep racers off the streets then why don't you just make it simple for them to do it on the circuits. Insisting on racing licenses and the like just drives them away.

Lets strive to keep racing where it belongs, at a proper racing circuit. Then you wouldn't need to search Yahoo for illegal racing.

Lastly, what about illegal racing that happens on circuits?? There have been known cases. These blokes should know since they do it all the time. Catch them, lone ranger!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Bridgestone Want New Friends reports that Bridgestone is on a lookout for a new team to use its products. Hah. I'm sure they have no regrets in pouring their attentions almost exclusively to Ferrari's needs but now its beginning to bite them.

Well, if you read this Blog often, you'd know I'm not a huge fan of the Japanese concern. I think their treatment of McLaren, a team that gave them their first world championship was despicable. Its also unsurprising that BAR and now Sauber chose to ditch them as well. Take the 2003 specification tyre. Ross Brawn, post 2003 Hungarian GP, explained that Bridgestone constructed its narrow tyres to conform to "the spirit of the rules." That's bollocks. Bridgestone made those tyres to complement Ferrari's aerodynamics.

Teams like BAR quite naturally had quite enough of this. Even Ferrari's closest allies, Sauber, decided that enough is enough, they were better off with a tyre manufacturer who gave equal attention to all its teams.

So now they are finding it hard. And last weekend they found it even harder, when Minardi's inclusion in the race was under threat. At the insistence of their main client at that.

Bridgestone deserves all the hardship they get. It would be pretty hard to trust them now. There were rumours about Toyota or maybe even BAR Honda switching back to Bridgestone in the past but I'm sure they would need assurances that no preferential treatment is given Maranello.

McLaren Off Day

Reasons for McLaren's lack of pace over the weekend is starting to emerge. Ron Dennis asserts that Montoya had a moment in the scenery that cost him at least second spot on the podium. Apparently, having an off these days is quite a disaster. Montoya might have recovered from the spin but his tyres had picked up gravel in the incident and started to cool off. This in turn meant that Montoya suffered a lack of grip.

Ron Dennis is apparently quite frustrated about the incident and who would blame him. His cars were quick all winter and I'm sure he, like most of us, quite relished his chances against those French and Italian blokes down the pitlane. Maybe I wasn't paying too close attention, but I never did see Montoya's incidents on TV.

Kimi's car was obviously affected aerodynamically after an incident which cost him his bargeboard. Or was it a deflector? I'm not entirely sure. But it did slow him down very visibly. Ron Dennis also apparently livid that the young Finn stalled his car at the start.

Well, even if you doubt Ron Dennis' explanations for such a lacklustre performance last Sunday, I think we ought to wait a few more races before writing off the McLarens. I still believe that ultimate pace still belongs to them with Renault having the edge on tyres, at least until the F2005 Ferrari makes it race debut.

WTF Paul Stoddart?

"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." -- Stephen Stills

The Independent newspaper in London is reporting that Paul Stoddart has called for the resignation of FIA president Max Mosley as a consequence of events in the Australian Grand Prix.

What the f$@#? Don't know about you but I'm on the Establishment's side on this one. Let's look at the chain of events. Paul Stoddart sought an injunction from the Australian courts to grant them leave to compete in the race. This is addition to a legal threat to the FIA to sue them on some force majeur grounds in the same said court. His reason? The rules were finalized too late for him to make his cars legal.

However, it emerged that Minardi had at the last moment, altered their cars to comply to the 2005 aerodynamic regulations. The cars thus altered were allowed to participate in qualifying and the race proper.

Now, I could understand if Minardi really had insufficient resources to produce fully legal cars. But it doesn't seem to be so in this case. Paul Stoddart could have made his cars legal for the entire event. He just chose not too. Instead he made a big fuss of it in the media and dragged the issue to court instead.

If I were the president of the FIA, I think I would charge Stoddart for bringing disrepute to the sport as whole. What the Minardi team has done amounts to gamesmanship.

Of course, Paul Stoddart defends it all by blaming rule instabilities and improper management of the Formula 1 championship. As I said before, this is true. However, making a scene at a Grand Prix is hardly the place to drive home that point. The other teams are all in agreement on the need for change. Paul Stoddart didn't need to do what he did to make any point. Its just plain silly. Even Bernie Ecclestone, a major investor in the Minardi team, has called upon the Austrlian principle as a nuisance. Minardi's own investor, mind you.

So exactly what went on in Paul Stoddart's mind remains a mystery. In addition, he did his drivers absolutely no good at all but slapping on the 2005 alterations at the last minute. Clearly, by the looks of the Minardis during the race, the cars were pure evil to drive. Both drivers looked like they were having a tough time even on the straights. This made it difficult for some of the front runners to lap them. And the Minardis were what 7, 8 seconds off the pace? That is just plain dangerous.

Yes, I do support Paul Stoddart and the GPWC in their crusade against the Establishment. However, Stoddart's own conduct is an absolute disgrace to the sport.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

2005 Formula 1 Races

As I said in my previous post, this year's regulations have created a tyre economy Formula, that parallels the fuel economy formula in the 1980s. Back in the 1980s, the FIA banned refuelling and slapped fuel tank limits on the cars. In 1984-85, the limit was 220 litres I believe and this dropped to 195 litres in 1987 and an unbelievable 150 litres in 1988. 150 litres for the whole race! Today I saw Klien put in 88 litres in his tank during a refuelling stop which according to the TV predictions equates to only 21 laps.

In the 1980s, Honda developed an engine that was powerful and fuel economical. It wasn't the most powerful on the grid. That honour falls to the 4 cylinder BMW engines utilizing a turbocharger sourced from 18 wheelers. However, Honda's engine was sufficiently powerful and most important of all, it was very economical, so it could run higher turbo boosts during the race. Thus, Williams and later McLaren, benefitted from this and were nigh unbeatable on race day.

In today's Formula 1 the tyres are the crucial factor. A car that is both fast and economical on its tyre usage will take the spoils. Tyre wear determines the strategy you run on. Today I saw evidence that Renault will be a significant force for the rest of the season. Their tyres wear extremely well and they clearly could turn on the pace whenever they wished. Once he settled into a rythm, Fisichella kept on cranking fastest lap after fastest lap. Towards the end, Alonso too, managed to set some extremely fast laps, clearly catching Barrichello's Ferrari. And yet, their tyres looked remarkably fresh at the end. I believe they had pace to spare.

Michelin too should be congratulated for producing what seems to be an excellent tyre. But of course, they have more top teams on their side, so you could say they do have that advantage over Bridgestone. Nevertheless, given where Barrichello finished, I'd say Bridgestone haven't exactly messed up their latest offerings. Though it was Melbourne and historically, its cool tempratures favour Bridgestone.

With all this talk about tyres, what can be said about fuel strategy? On today's evidence I think fuel strategy remains the same as last year. We see lots of teams on 2 stop strategies. We also see cars starting from the back of the grid, filled to the brim with fuel to run longer, as in Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. Incidentally the new F2005 will be fitted with bigger fuel tanks so that they can run even longer and have the option of a one stop race strategy. So there will still be some "sprint" element to races as fuel loads go down and cars get relatively faster during stints. All relative of course, they still can't go as flat out as before to conserve the rubber.

The next round in Sepang is said to be very hard on tyres, given the extreme track tempratures. But I think Renault will find the conditions easier for them than all the rest. Despite Michael Schumacher's dismal race today, I believe the Ferrari team are still very dangerous and they have proven that even with last year's car they must still be reckoned with.

McLaren too should not be discounted just yet. Them boys from Woking have not showed their true hand in Melbourne I don't think. According to Ron Dennis, their Michelins were in fine form today. That they didn't do better he put down to Raikkonen and Montoya getting into one incident or another. So we shall see. I still have this suspicion that they aren't using their tyres as well as the Renaults but I'm not entirely sure.

As I said previously, watching the race at Melbourne reminded me of watching an 80s race. Lots of rythmic conservative running before a massive final push towards the end of the race. I believe this is how races will be run from now on until such time as the tyre rules change in the future.

Whatever it is, Renault and McLaren must take this opportunity to distance themselves out from Ferrari. The F2004 may be slighly off pace but with the F2005 in development and apparently imminent for Bahrain, the rest of the season is going to be a lot more competitive. But that's fine by me. So long as we don't see another scarlet runaway.

Notes from Melbourne

An open goal was the term used by the ITV F1 commentators to describe Giancarlo Fisichella's fortune during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. Whilst the rest of the top runners found themselves unlucky to be placed way below their expectations, Giancarlo was blessed with a gap in the rain. He took advantage of it to take the second pole position of his career. Take nothing from him, that Renault looks mighty good.

ITV showed highlights of the second qualifying prior to the race. This year, the starting grid is decided by totalling up the times in both qualifying sessions. It was quite strange to look at the timings and see cars doing 3 minutes. The runners who did poorly yesterday such as Michael Schumacher took the opportunity to do a single lap during the session session before promptly diving into the pits. In the days of old, a second qualifying session would simply be another opportunity to grab pole position. Now, if you know you haven't got a chance, you just use it for an installation lap. All in all, I think its a bit better than last year, this aggregate system. However, its still a pale shadow of previous years before this silly one lap qualifying business came to being.

If the intention of this new system is to mix up the grid, it certainly worked here in Melbourne. Giancarlo and Webber being the only top runners in the top 5 of the grid. Montoya, Raikkonen, Barrichello and Alonso starting from 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th on the grid respectively. Michael Schumacher started in 18th, penalized due to an engine change. Some screws loose in the sump according to Michael, necessitating in a fresh engine. I suppose so, Michael.

The race itself was like a throwback to the 80s. See, back in those days, refuelling was banned and FISA slapped a limit on the capacity of the fuel tanks. If the 80s was all about conserving fuel, so now its about conserving tyres. Tyres must last a whole race, subject to certain conditions like rain, or a big huge spin or it is in a "dangerous" condition.

During the race, I believe some of the runners like Trulli for instance, who shined during the early stages of the race running in second, simply did not wear their tyres properly. McLaren, is another team whom I believe experienced tyre problems. Raikkonen for instance was unbelivable at the start of the race, with a visibly quick car but fizzled out as the race progressed. If in the 80s, it was all about having a powerful engine with good fuel economy, today it is all about having a fast car that at the same time conserved its tyres well. As it was, McLaren who was everybody's tip for this race, simply could not keep up their sparkling pace during the race.

So as it was in the 80s, drivers seemed to make a huge dash at the start, with constant jostling for positions, then settled into a rythm to conserve the tyres. Only towards the end, did things start to heat up again. Whereas in previous years, we would have seen the race progress in 15-20 lap sets of sprints. Not less exciting I think, but just different.

David Coulthard was in fine form today, managing to keep ahead of Mark Webber throughout the entire race, although not without some close attention from the Australian in the Williams. David essentially replaced Webber in the Red Bull nee Jaguar, so that must have been quite cool for him. Even more satisfying for David was finishing ahead of both Montoya and Raikkonen. Hah. If I were him, I'd give Ron the two fingered salute for that. Coulthard finished a fine 4th.

Mark Webber once again drove a solid race but simply didn't have the raw pace if measured against the likes of Renault. The folks at Grove have a lot of work left to do, Sam Michael promising some aerodynamic tweaks from their shiny new wind tunnel. His team mate Heidfeld was involved in an accident with Michael Schumacher. Heidfeld was coming up to pass Michael. Side by side into a right hander, Michael I thought was late in trying to close the door on Nick. Heidfeld, having to take avoiding action drove on to the grass. Under braking with insufficient grip, he lost it and clipped Michael was turning in. Both of them ending up in the gravel.

What happened next was to me quite disgusting. Only Michael in a Ferrari would get away with things like this. Michael, who I believe was not in any dangerous position, beckoned the marshalls to push him out. That's simply unbelievable. Senna did it once in 1989 Suzuka after coming together with Prost and he got disqualified for it. But a Ferrari driver? No he can bloody well do what he wants. In the end, after receiving that push Michael drove his Ferrari into the pits to retire. That's even more bullshit.

His teammate Barrichello, to me, drove a great race. He started out 11th behind Raikkonen and Montoya and in the end managed to outpace them both and with some consistent and smooth driving ended second in the race. The likes of Alonso, Coulthard and Webber must have been quite bemused by that. Ferrari it seems are by no means dead in the water, even if Michael Schumacher looked comprehensively outpaced. Perhaps Ross Brawn and Barrichello has a point when he says that his smoother driving style better suits this new tyre economy formula.

So what the hell happened to McLaren? Raikkonen, for a long time behind Michael Schumacher during the fuel stops managed to damage his bargeboard after an off on the grass. He managed to get ahead of the Ferrari after the fuel stops but that incident put him under pressure from Michael. After Raikkonen's second stop the barge board, still stuck in front of his sidepods was removed but clearly it affected his pace and hence his race. Montoya after being ahead of Barrichello and pulling away during the early part of the race completely fizzled out in the end. I somehow do not believe the McLarens lack any pace at all. Starting from 9th and 10th is no excuse. After all, Barrichello started from 11th and managed to finish 2nd. I think McLaren are facing some serious tyre wear problems.

The team not facing any such problems is Renault. Did you see the condition of their tyres at the parc ferme? They look fresh. Not a single blister or grain on the tyres on both Fisichella and Alonso's cars. They have the raw pace and it looks like they are making the best use of those Michelin tyres. Their winter testing form is spot on the money I believe.

I was really glad that Fisichella won today's race. Not only is he not a Ferrari driver but I think he deserves all the good fortune and success he got. He is extremely talented and if you look at his debut season in 1997, you would have thought that he is Alonso's equal. He's always managed to outpace all his teammates including that lemon, Ralf Schumacher. Alonso is going to be an extremely hard nut to crack but I think he's going to manage just fine.

Talking about the battle of the teammates, I have this sneaky feeling that the Iceman is starting to feel some heat from his Colombian teammate. Throughout winter, there were times when The Monster, had bested our man Kimi. Today in qualifying, he did the same as well as finishing ahead of his teammate. Although bad luck to Kimi. He stalled his engine and had to start from the pits.

Alonso was for a lot of people the man of the race. Had he started from a higher grid position and had he not been stuck behind Villenueve for almost a third of the race, I think second or even a win was on the cards. Having said that I believe Fisichella was simply taking it really easy towards the end and simply controlling the race. Still, take nothing from Alonso. A storming drive through the field saw him finish third, completing an all Latin podium.

Speaking of Jacques, he was quite recalcitrant today. I mean, getting in people's way in the end. Didn't help that the marshalls seem to be asleep and not waving blue flags to him to get out of the leaders' way. He held up Fisichella in such a way as to lose the Italian three seconds on one lap, incurring the wrath of the Roman. In another interesting incident, he held up Coulthard who was coming up to lap him for a whole lap. Coulthard at the same time was under intense pressure from Webber close behind him. Could the marshalls have intentionally avoided waving the blue flags to aid the Australian to get close to the Red Bull RB1? Heh heh.

Its been a long boring winter filled with political intrigue. It was a breath of fresh air to see a race once more. I always get this feeling at the start of a season. And what a start it has been. Fisichella and Renault lead the drivers and constructors championships after what looked to be an easy victory. This season is long and may it have more victories like this one.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Minardi Update

Whilst Minardi made it to qualifying for tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix, it seems that it was only possible after an interim injuntcion was granted by the Australian courts. This application for this injunction was made at the courts in the absence of the FIA and the race stewards. This prompted Paul Stoddart to drop his legal threats against the race organizers. Paul Stoddart then also dropped the injunction and fixed his cars to conform to regulations. Which is to me rather crazy. Why couldn't he have done it prior to the race? So now it seems his cars conform to the 2005 aerodynamic regulations in addition to the safety regulations.

Nevertheless, this has incurred the wrath of the establishment. In the FIA's view: "If Australian laws and procedures do indeed allow a judge to act in this way, it will be for the World Motorsport Council to decide if a World Championship motorsport event of any kind can ever again be held in Australia."

Bernie Ecclestone was moved to add: "Paul’s been a bit of a nuisance since day one, but we have protected him. Regretfully, there is now no place in Formula 1 for someone like him. If you can’t sustain running a team then you should get out. That’s precisely what dear old Eddie Jordan did, and that’s what Paul should be doing. This is an expensive game to be sitting in on and if you can’t afford the ante you shouldn’t take part in the school." Err yeah Bernie. Eddie Jordan can't do anything wrong can he? He's your boy after all and he's about to be your deputy.

Yikes! Its one thing to threaten the Minardi team. Its quite another thing to decide to permanently exclude Australia from FIA sanctioned events. Ironically, this is the very thing that Paul Stoddart wanted to avoid.

But if I think about it, sportsmanship or not, we have seen other teams fall by the wayside due to a lack of funding to continue on in the sport. Teams such as Leyton House, Lotus, Brabham (Bernie's own) and Arrows all hit funding problems and were forced out of the sport. Paul Stoddart wants to keep competing but without the resources to produce a legal car. Why should he be given special consideration when other teams were never so lucky? In the case of Lotus and Brabham, far more illustrious and historic teams at that.

As I said, its a difficult issue. On the other hand, Paul Stoddart, like many of the other team bosses, stresses that: "we need better governance and stable regulations." True, we need that. In the meantime, your cars must be legal, Paul. Harsh. But c'est la vie.

Its a mess and it will get messier.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sportsmanship vs Letter Of The Law

Paul Stoddart's Minardi team have found themselves in a fix. This story on reports that the team have been barred from participating in today's practice session.

According to Max Mosley, three teams have protested against Minardi's inclusion in the Grand Prix, as the Minardis do not comply with the new 2005 technical regulations. There is no information as to which teams lodged the protest but Ferrari is of course one of them. ITV-F1 reports that apparently, Red Bull were also planning to protest but Stoddart has managed to persuade team chief Christian Horner to withdraw Red Bull's objections. In exchange, should a Minardi finish ahead of a Red Bull, Minardi would give up its position and points, thereby promoting Red Bull.

Max Mosley goes further in saying that Minardi had ample time to comply with the technical regulations, since they were finalised in September. Well, that maybe true but I doubt if Minardi had the money. All of the teams have had to abandon their 2005 designs because of delays in confirming the 2005 regulations. Even though the top teams have the resources to redeploy and redesign, nevertheless, they too have felt the pinch. All of which cost them an enormous amount of money. Money, the Minardi team simply do not have. Just to digress a little, this is one of the biggest bone of contention of the GPWC. That, the rules are changed arbitrarily, with little consultation and within very little notice. This instability carries with it enormous costs. All this from Max Mosley, who claims he wants to reduce costs.

Returning to the subject at hand, Paul Stoddart claims that this is Ferrari's retribution for his past actions. He is quoted as saying: "I think everyone knows it is payback for me being the spokesman for the other teams against the deal that Ferrari made with Bernie and the FIA. If anybody thinks that’s not the case, then they haven’t been following Formula 1 very closely over the winter." If you read the ITV-F1 report, you'd find allegations that Ferrari and the FIA are giving the Australian the run around and they look very determined to stop him from entering his cars.

Strictly speaking though and according to the letter of the law, Minardi should be prohibited from racing. After all, their cars simply do not comply with the regulations. It could set a very dangerous precedent here if they were allowed to race under these special conditions. After all, the law must applied evenly to all teams. And by and large all teams have responded and made their cars legal. That Minardi do not have the resources to ensure legality are none of anyone's concern except themselves.

The counterpoint is that well, you have teams like Ferrari who do break rules anyway. Like the bargeboard incident of the Malaysian Grand Prix circa 1999. Also recently, they have openly broken testing agreements in order to develop their F2005. So, one might argue, how come they can get away with it?

Also, one might argue that from the perspective of sportsmanship, the little team from Faenza, with limited resources to give any trouble to the top teams should be allowed to race. After all, what harm can they do? Their cars at least comply with the 2005 safety regulations. Ferrari et al will be lapping them after a handful of laps. Surely, some leniency can be shown and at least allow their participation for the sake of the sport.

Its a very difficult issue. Max Mosley calls Paul Stoddart naive and accuses McLaren and Williams of using the Australian to their purpose. After they are done with him, Max says, they will turn on him in a flash. Well, I think Max is in open warfare with McLaren, Williams and the GPWC, and he's just making quips.

Well, in the end I'd argue for sportsmanship. Which is something that Max and Ferrari have no understanding of, argues (quite rightly) the folks at Formula 1 blog. Having said that, at this time of writing, Paul Stoddart indicates that Ferrari might relent.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Sauber Takeover?

Found this story on via the Formula 1 blog. A German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, claims that BMW and Sauber are discussing not just a supply of engines for next year but the takeover of Sauber team entire.

This seemingly, flies in the face of Peter Sauber's proclamation that Sauber is not for sale. Sauber was responding to a hint by Max Mosley that another independent team might be up for grabs. If the story in Welt am Sonntag is true then the reprecussions are huge.

Among other things, where would this place Williams? If I'm not mistaken they have just signed a new contract with BMW last year for continued supply of powerplants. Also, its been known for some time now that Frank is "fattening up" the team for BMWs expected takeover of the team, should Frank and Patrick decide go to greener pastures. One must also remember the close relationship between these two parties. BMW gives more than just power units, it lends a wealth of resources to Grove. Williams' gearboxes for instance are made in a BMW foundry.

Having said that, Sauber too have been doing some weight gaining of their own, adding among other things state of the art supercomputing facilites and wind tunnels. And as people have pointed out, Williams have thus far disappointed BMW. This year is meant to be a make or break. As things stand and by Mark Webber's admission here and here, Williams have not a stonking chassis to go with that magnificent BMW engine.

Asides Williams, how would this affect Petronas` role in Sauber? Petronas have stationed a number of engineers under their employ to Hinwil. Would BMW terminate this working relationship? Would Petronas continue their affiliation with Sauber, post BMW? I've already speculated before that I think BMW would want their own names on the engines, not the name of a sponsor.

But all in all, given the costs already sunk by BMW into Williams, its hard to imagine them simply abandoning the Grove based team and concentrating all their efforts on a new team. However, stranger things have happened.

F1 Media and The Sport

An editorial on PlanetF1 had this to say:

"Now your full-time professional news journalist is going to ask a lot harder, more searching questions than the F1 media pack who are continually fearful of losing their FIA pass, their regular seat in the media centre and their place in the “claret club”."

I have it on good authority that this statement is entirely true. And you thought they only control the press in crony economies? Let's consider some facts.

To get an FIA pit pass you need to be an accredited member of the press corp. You need to apply to the FIA submitting your name, photo and publication details. Should you produce an FIA pit pass during a Formula 1 event, you may enter the paddock area and have close access to the teams. This does not mean that you are allowed to write a race report. To be able to do that, you need to pay the FIA/FOM (I can't remember which one) for the "right" to produce your own race reports. Otherwise, you pick up a copy of the official race results plus the press releases from the teams and you can stick that in your publication. If I'm not mistaken, the same applies for pictures.

Ever wonder why a lot of race reports in a lot of publications all look the same? The rights to report on a race carries with it a huge cost, that of course is paid to Bernie. Now, these rights as I have mentioned are really privileges because the FIA/FOM have the right to rescind such privileges, leaving the journalist and his / her journal with bugger all.

Publications such as F1 Racing, have great access to drivers, teams and the establishment. Lately, I've noticed that they take great care not to offend any of these parties. After all, some choice words, harsh or otherwise, may lead to any one of those parties never ever speaking to them again. That would be bad for the publication's economic health. Write a scathing report about Bernie and Max for instance, you can probably expect your pitpass to be taken away. Especially if you're a small publication or are an up and coming.

Despite all this, some publications like F1 Racing continue to be an excellent source of information, packed with stuff you'd be hard pressed to find in a lot of other magazines and in newspapers. It being affiliated with one of the oldest motorsport journals in the world, Autosport, means that they can put the players under scrutiny more than the other journals can.

And yet I think, the fans does deserve to know more about the inside stuff. After all, what goes on in there inevitably spills on to the track and can determine whether we're in for a great season or if we're better off doing better things with our time. There has to be some balance between public opinion and the sport's establishment (the FIA / FOM / teams). After all, its the fans who pay to watch the sport and sponsors are there to get their attention. So, I believe the fans should have a say on what they want to see.

The fans cannot form an opinion, unless all the facts are made public and counterpoints to the views of the establishment are made known. However, these facts are not fully made known and the counterpoints and comments on the establishment are supressed.

In the larger scheme of things, one must remember that Formula 1 as a sport and as a whole economic entity encompasses a lot of stakeholders the teams, the governing body, sponsors, circuit owners and these days, governments and therefore taxpayers. A lot of cash sloshes in and around the whole circus. Taxpayers for instance, ought to know what their tax money is being put to us for. Are these being put to good use or is the money being used to feed the pockets of the greedy few. Hard questions need to be asked by the public and the media, even the F1 media.

Sponsors also should have an interest to know more behind the scenes. Their sponsorship dollars and euros are at stake. Its one thing to hear a marketing presentation from the establishment, its another hearing a counterpoint from a independent party.

Bernie and Max I suppose still live in that era, where the establishment judged what is good for everyone. In this day and age of information especially, they realise the need to control access to information, for them to maintain the status quo. Their status quo that is. This leads to corruption as we can see in the sport today and inevitably this short changes the fans.

Whether you are a Ferrari fan or not, you can't help but feel that gone are the good old days, when there was less greed, better action on the track and the fans had a great time. A good, fair and unabashed media, can help to ensure the continuation of those good times. That the sport has degraded to the level that it has, inevitably means a failure of the F1 media corp.