News and views on motorsports

Thursday, June 30, 2005

More On The Verdict

Excellent editorial at PlanetF1 commenting on the World Motorsport Council Verdict. Read it here.

I think everyone's just about picked up the huge mistake made by the FIA in their judgement. (See my previous post.) But I like the comment on the PlanetF1 editorial and I quote:

"By finding them guilty of a charge that wasn’t levelled against them the FIA have broken a simple legal principle; if someone’s being tried for stealing a sheep, they can’t be found guilty of stealing the sheepdog."

And Mad Max is a lawyer to boot!

But another interesting comment on the editorial is this: "Basically, this great safety organisation was suggesting that the 14 Michelin runners should use the pitlane every lap. Though Indy has a wide one, the pitlane is still a place where the refuelling equipment is kept and there are no barriers separating the pit crews working on cars from cars who would have been racing for position."

Too right, mate. But most importantly, what kind of a race would that be if on every lap cars are driving through the pitlane? I'm sure the fans would have found it absolutely ridiculous.

And yet again I'll say this, it was never discussed before the race and furthermore, it was not in the list of charges brought against the teams. Well done Max. Another nail in your coffin I hope.

Who Cares?

Grand Prix Diary latest issue is titled "French Grand Prix To Be Axed On Cost Issue?" Catch it here. Below the article is this note which I quote:

"IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTE : We know the FIA can be a bit touchy about this sort of thing so we will just state the obvious in that this is a made up story. We are sure Mr Mosley would never contemplate such a thing...."

Frankly speaking Rob, who gives a shit what the FIA thinks? The way he's going, I wouldn't put it past Mad Max to suggest such a thing.

Back in the day, I thought I really hated Jean Marie Balestre. Only because he was so biased in favour of countryman Alain Prost. But thats nothing compared to the contempt that many people have including myself for the current FIA incumbent.

After The Verdict

Did anyone expect it to be any different? No matter whether you're behind the Michelin 7 or against them, the verdict was always going to be guilty. Officially, the teams were found guilty on 2 out of 5 charges laid against them by the FIA. Pitpass summary here. Jay Steele has a few good comments here.

On the actual issue, note that all the drivers of the affected teams have issued a joint statement basically calling the FIA's proposals prior to Indianpolis as "unworkable, unpoliceable and unsafe." Whilst I've struggled to put down my thoughts on it before I think I completely agree with these blokes. The FIA's idea of asking these drivers to voluntarily reduce speed significantly in that very fast turn is perposterous and simply shows how little the Establishment knows about racing and racing drivers. And they want to make the rules?

All other issues are well commented on elsewhere including the recent Michelin refunds so I won't touch that here except to say that its probably a good PR exercise by Michelin but I somehow think it won't satisfy all the aggrieved fans. Nevertheless, good move, something you'd expect from that company.

What I do want to touch on however, is the independence of any FIA councils and appelate courts. In a recent poll in the pitlane, 9 out of 10 people do not agree that the council is an independent entity. As the Steeles put it, how can the FIA rule against itself. But in such a high stake sport like motor racing, there really needs to be an independent body trusted by everyone to do the right thing. But the will of the Motorsport Council is really a political one and has nothing to do with justice. It exists solely for the benefit of the FIA.

Even if the Council or FIA appeals courts are in truth independent, they simply cannot do their task any longer. Such councils and courts must be seen to be independent. And frankly no one sees them as such. They have no credibility.

As this article in and this statement from the teams point out, the judgement is inconsistent. First the FIA says that the teams were not guilty of wrongfully refusing to race under speed restriction, but then concludes that the teams were guilty of wrongfully refusing to race "having regard to their right to use the pit lane on each lap." But as the teams have quite rightly pointed out, no such charge was in the first place levelled on the teams. How could they find them guilty of such charges?

All you FIA sympathizers don't believe me? Then have a look at their very own letter to the teams that contained the charges brought against them. Where does it say anything about diving into the pitlane? Crap!

In any case, diving into the pitlane was never suggested by the FIA at Indianapolis prior to the race. The only one I heard of suggesting such a thing was Rubens Barrichello in the post race press conference. A Ferrari driver mind you.

It all reeks of cattle manure. Especially this suspended sentence thing. The FIA have delayed any sentencing until September. Obviously because it is to their benefit or otherwise to their detriment if the sentencing caused the teams to stage a mass walkout. The FIA have not got the interests of the sport in mind but namely their own interests. And its plain and clear to see.

And I take issue with the FIA's demands that Michelin should hand over their tyre data to the FIA for inspection by "independent technical experts." And who might these experts be? Ferrari? Bridgestone? You may accuse me of trying to hatch a conspiracy theory but given the behaviour of the FIA, Ferrari and Bridgestone in the past, I wouldn't bet against it.

This is truly sad. Formula 1 has the best drivers competing in it with some of the best racing organizations on the planet. It is the ultimate, the pinnacle of motor racing. With all due respect to fans, nothing, not NASCAR, Indycar, Champcars, Touring cars or any other racing series you can think of, comes close to it. I may be a huge touring car fan but it will never grab my attention like Formula 1.

Formula 1 may have the best of everything else but it hasn't got the best governance, an incredibly essential component of any racing series.

On a sepearate but related issue, tts sad when you have stupid articles like this one on suggesting that some silly gimmick movie about a stupid Volkswagen Beetle promoting NASCAR being something for Formula 1 to think about.

The FIA are a legacy of the twentieth century when gentlemen cronies ruled the sport and the motoring world in general. It survives to this modern age. Far more than just calling for the resignation of its incompetent and corrupt president, the entire FIA organisation needs to be overhauled. And they can start with some national affiliates I know of that follow the same modus operandi.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More Indy Comments

Clearly, the Formula 1 world right now and its fans are polarized into two camps. Following the debacle that was the US Grand Prix, there are those who say that it was entirely Michelin's fault and no one elses. And then there those like our friends at the Formula 1 blog who like me, think the blame lies on the FIA.

Yes, clearly Michelin brought shame upon themselves and the sport by not supplying the correct tyre to their teams. But as I and many others have tried to argue those who run the sport also had a duty to see that the fans get to see a motor race. Personally, I was shocked and lost for words when I saw those six cars on the grid. Surely, I thought, something would have been done to see a full grid.

Frank Williams in this article claimed that the Michelin teams were "desperate to race, to put on a show." And as he quite rightly points out that the North American market is an important one commercially not just for Williams Grand Prix Engineering but for sponsors like HP as well. Of course, BMW themselves sell more cars in America than in any other part of the world. I simply cannot imagine them deliberately committing commercial and public relations suicide.

Of all people, Sir Frank would know the personal horror of losing a driver to a fatal accident. And I'm sure this was a chief concern in his mind. The team bosses may be called piranhas but surely they cannot be so inhumane as to put a driver's life at risk.

The FIA may have their own position regarding this, but surely if one had some sense, they could also see the teams' point of view. The FIA makes the case again and again that Michelin failed to bring a backup. But then, neither did Bridgestone in the Brazilian Grand Prix 2003. But Mr Whiting did declare a delayed start under safety car due to unsafe conditions.

The FIA made Indianapolis a performance issue. The team bosses argued it was safety issue. But if that is so, then in Brazil of 2003, Michelin clearly had a tyre that performed well in the conditions when Bridgestone did not. It was turned on its head by the FIA into a safety issue. Which none of the Michelin teams objected to. Even though starting in torrential rain would have been advantageous to them because they had a proper wet tyre.

But see, at least in Brazil, a race did happen. Some sort of solution was found and the Brazilian fans did get to see a race. No solution was found in Indianapolis. And the job of ensuring that fans get to see the race belongs to the FIA. As even Jean Todt would admit the decision lies in their hands. They failed. And they won't even admit it, whilst to me, culpable though they are, at least Michelin and the teams did.

Meanwhile, the lawsuits have begun. A certain Mr Larry Bowers of Colorado filing in a class action lawsuit suing for the cost of tickets and other incurred expenses. I'm sure in a litiguous society there will be more. Which is nice to see in my view. At least there is some recourse for the fans in the States. Had it happened in Malaysia, I'm sure the powers that be at Sepang would have simply laughed away the complaint and hid behind their politician masters. But let's not get started on Sepang else we'd be here forever.

More importantly, the FIA have recently summoned the Michelin Seven to appear before them to face some serious charges. Furthermore, in this article on speculates that the exclusion of the seven teams from the world championship is a possibility.

Apparently, Michelin are asked to provide details of all previous tyre failures and an "independent" (uhuh) panel of technical experts will determine whether the Michelin tyres are inherently unsafe. If found to be so, Michelin faces exclusion. And, argues GrandPrix, since the seven teams design their cars specifically to run on Michelin tyres, they would face exclusion by default. That is trully nutters!

The issue at hand may be tyres but I'm sure the GPWC aligned teams out of the seven will bring up the larger issue of the sport's governance. In the recent FIA proposals for new rules in 2008, clearly, the FIA's position is that technical directors are no longer seen fit to draft the rules up on their own. The FIA feels that costs need to be reduced and therefore the FIA must step in. Or at least Max feels so. But it is for this reason, this meddling into the rules arbitrarily resulting in a tumultous and sudden changes is the reason why costs keep climbing. Rule stability is needed for cost stability if not reduction and most importantly for a competitive championship.

I'm digressing but there are many, many people, team bosses and fans alike, not too mention the Steeles at Formula 1 blog who feel that the current FIA president should simply step down.

I think he wouldn't go quietly into the night. But as a long time fan of Grand Prix racing I think the current rules are rubbish. Both the two race engine rule and the stupid one tyre per race rule are absolutely horrible and artificial and I believe was Max's idea. He points out that these rules have made this year's championship exciting as a result. I argue that even if last year's tyre rules were followed, Michelin, Renault and McLaren would have kicked Ferrari arses in to touch anyway. These tyre rules are dangerous, clearly upsets the team bosses and rather than reduce costs have actually increased them.

Max Mosley meddles in areas he shouldn't meddle in but where he clearly has a responsibility to do so (like at Indianapolis), he doesn't do the right thing. Max is incompetent and he should bloody well leave. And he has gone a long way to damage the credibility of the FIA itself.

Otherwise, I think the GPWC should go ahead as planned and perhaps if teams are excluded from the world championship, then perhaps thats a good thing. Two weekends ago, we were treated to a four car battle for the lead of the Canadian Grand Prix. Two Renaults vs two McLarens. Formula 1 was fun again. And it didn't need a Ferrari to be in the mix of things. Just a good decent fight for the lead. It was great anyway even with Ferrari languishing in the mid field, proving that no single team is larger than the championship. Despite what Luca di Motezemolo believes.

As far as I'm concerned, one way or another let the fighting stop as soon as possible. If there is no way for everyone to compromise, then let there be a split. Because, lets be clear. Had the FIA been on good terms with the teams, then I believe there would have been a race last Sunday. The fact that the debacle was allowed to continue is a sign of underlying discontent and infighting spilling on to the track.

The fans paid for it. So lets hope the fighting ends between the factions. If each has to go their own way, then so be it. At least, the racing will continue. Let the fans decide which championship they wish to watch. But give us something to watch instead of this utter madness.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Post Farce: Let Battle Commence

Well, the arguments have started already. In this post by a fellow Malaysian, he clearly sides with the FIA on this one. He's also left a message on my previous posting to which I've responded.

Clearly, one also needs to look at the big picture. Our friend argues that Michelin deliberately caused this mess in the first place. He cites that the Michelin tyres were plainly unsafe (true!) and that Michelin knew they would embarrasingly lose the race. From this the argument follows that they deliberately created this comical situation.

Now, I don't think a global company like Michelin are quite so petty in their thinking as that. They have won every race so far this year. And quite frankly, its beyond all their expectations. In competition you'd win some and lose some. But to argue that they couldn't take losing in the chin is just plain silly. I think they've demonstrated up to now a level of sportsmanship and class for at least owning up to their mistake. Even though such an admission is a massive blow to their image.

And even if they did lose badly here, there's still 10 races left in the championship to give it to Bridgestone and Ferrari a good thumping, which I fully expect they will. Magny Cours is up next, then Silverstone and dearth of Tilke designed tracks at which the French concern has proven itself superior.

But I think one must look at this argument put forward by PlanetF1 which I quote:

"Ross Brawn’s drinking buddy released a letter that he got from Michelin with some smart answers as to why they couldn’t use different tyres on Sunday.

But he’s changed the rules for Bridgestone prior to a race so we’ve been here before. It's surprising nobody’s questioned why Whiting changed the tyre rules at the beginning of the 2003 Brazilian GP.

Back in 2003 you were only allowed to take one wet tyre to races, so you had to make your mind up before the event. Bridgestone arrived at Interlagos with their legendary intermediate tyre that was quite good in wet and mixed conditions. Michelin had a full wet that could run in more rain.

When the heavens opened before the race, Whiting delayed the start because the Bridgestone runners wouldn’t have been able to make it round safely. It was clearly Bridgestone’s fault for not bringing a full wet tyre, but as the argument has gone this weekend – they knew the situation…

After delaying the start the field was then sent round Interlagos behind the Safety Car until enough water was taken off the circuit. Had they released the field when it was suitable for the Michelins on full wets, then Fisichella would never have won the race in his Jordan and Kimi Raikkonen may well have got the win.

Nobody complained because it was a safety issue. Fast forward two years and Whiting is not prepared to compromise in another safety situation. This interpretation of the rules when it suits them makes F1 fans deeply suspicius - it's like there was an agenda here from the FIA.

Of course Charlie Whiting would change the rules for Bridgestone. Because its Ferrari's tyre! Had the situation been in the reverse in Indianapolis, dear CCCP, you can very well expect that Charlie Whiting would have accomodated the Bridgestone runners and Ferrari quite well thank you very much.

My fellow Malaysian makes the claim that the Michelin runners were playing politics. Perhaps. But at the beginning 9 teams out of 10 were in agreement regarding the need for the FIA to take safety precautions. All of them except for Ferrari.

The choice, dear sir, as I said in my reply belonged to the FIA. And as I said in my previous post, what were the Michelin teams supposed to do? You make the argument yourself that the Michelin tyres were unsafe. Were they supposed to run in such unsafe conditions and risk fatalities? More than the embarassment of losing a race, if such a thing had come to pass, would be devastating to Michelin and for the teams.

Yet, the FIA had a choice. Having known the situation, they could have played it smart for the sake of the fans. Yet they chose not too. This is the point that you have quite a difficult time understanding. The FIA stuck to their guns instead of compromising with the MAJORITY of the teams.

And quite frankly, just what the hell big deal would it have been to stick one lousy chicane in Turn 13? Especially when the Michelin teams were ready to concede their points in the race and even promote the Bridgestone teams at the head of the field. After Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in 1994 the FIA readily stuck chicanes at Barcelona and god help us, at Eau Rouge at Spa for the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix. For the sake of safety. But not in Indianapolis. Why?

Would you sir, have preferred to see another Ralf Schumacher incident instead? Or perhaps the Senna incident would have been to more to sir's liking? Let me say it again, the Michelin runners were willing to CONCEDE POINTS and their world championship standings for the sake of running. Yes, quite frankly they were willing to be embarassed by the whole thing. Just as they are right now. What the hell did the FIA concede? Just who the hell is playing politics here?

I'll tell you who. The people who invented motor racing politics that is Ferrari. And that dumb ass FIA president bitch of theirs. And his good buddy Bernie.

The Indianapolis Debacle

I've actually been meaning to write a piece about tyres following Kimi's Nuburgring tyre problems but just haven't had the time to do so. But here this weekend we have a situation that I've never seen in my 22 years of watching the world championship.

I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about. The Michelin runners, having been advised by the French tyre supplier not to run because their tyres were unsafe, drove into the pits en masse during the warm up lap to retire from the US Grand Prix.

There are angry words everywhere. The ITV coverage featured some interviews with the American fans and there's a very obvious disgust and quite rightly so. The biggest losers are the definitely the fans.

So who's fault is this? In some sense its quite simple. Michelin declared their tyres unsafe. What were they expected to do? Send the cars out? And if that lead to another serious or even fatal accident, what then? Obviously, Michelin would not want to bear that responsibility and neither would the teams themselves. There was controversy enough in the Raikkonen case with many arguing he should have come in. But quite frankly, I wouldn't have in his position. He's there to win the race. And similarly, if Michelin let the teams run today, they would have pushed for all their worth. Screw the safety, winning comes first.

So, better be safe than sorry. Simply withdraw from the race. Obviously, a compromise solution would have been in the greatest interest of providing a show to the fans. A suggestion floated by Michelin and their respective teams for a chicane on the banking. But the FIA refused. They do have a point strictly speaking. Michelin didn't bring a tyre spec suitable for this race and racing on new tyres would be in contravention of the FIA rules.

But was anyone thinking of the fans in Indianapolis and across the world? Michelin were thinking of safety with its withdrawal. But surely the FIA could have accepted the situation and thought more about the fans then. As one American fan pointed out, this would not have happened in Indycars or NASCAR. Surely some sort of compromise would have been reached.

In any case, all this bullshit about tyres in this race and at the Nurburgring only came about because of all this silly one tyre regulation. If it were a fuel consumption Formula as in the 80s then if the car ran out of fuel, the driver would simply coast to safety. But today, its a tyre formula. And bloody hell, if you're a real race driver, you wouldn't stop until your tyres blew up. Limiting tyres like this was is as David Coulthard and many drivers have pointed out, is just plain dangerous. If last year's tyre regulation were still in force, I bet the Michelins would arguably have been just fine today.

Pitpass was absolutely livid in its comments regarding the race. You can read about it here. In its report, apparently many of the teams initially agreed to the Michelin proposals. All of course save the Ferrari team. Paul Stoddart reporting during the race here, that he only ran in the end because Jordan broke their agreement and chose to run. Blah, blah, blah.

This has been a year of excitement in the championship and certainly one with the highest level of controversy for some time. Sure, I'm angry that I didn't get to see a proper race. But more importantly, I bet Ferrari didn't want to compromise anymore than the FIA did. And today it was a cake walk for them to a 1-2 result and massive points gained in the championship. Raikkonen's lead over Schumacher has been whittled away enormously and suddenly, he's back in the hunt again. Not only that suddenly, Ferrari are points level with McLaren in the constructor's title. Bugger that!

This issue will be argued long and hard on many different mediums. I'm going to watch and see all the arguments before making a definitive stand on this. Besides, I'm too tired right now to keep my eyes open. Watch this space.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Have You Seen This Boy?

Couldn't resist posting this notice up

Friday, June 17, 2005

Major Changes By The FIA

My first post in quite a while now. As is the case every year, as winter turns to summer so the Formula 1 teams get busy. And so am I with professional commitments that have taken up the vast majority of my time at the expense of this blog. Alas much as I wish there was a direct chain of causality between the level of activity of Formula 1 teams and my professional obligations, this is not so.

Nevertheless, I've been reading the news daily and yesterday the FIA made this press release outlining proposed changes to the 2008 Formula 1 regulations. In the statement, the FIA proposes to follow their previously outlined timetable for the approval of the regulations.

In any case, there are some very interesting proposals in the FIA press release. In it the FIA gives the objectives of the regulation changes are safety, fairness, keeping the current six major car manufacturers involved, preserving the independent teams and ensuring that the public continue to enjoy Formula One.

Another interesting point is that whilst in the past, only team technical directors are allowed to write the technical regulations, the FIA no longer considers this to be the best approach. It seems the FIA are really taking things into their own hands here. The engineers are being subsumed to a consultative role.

Let's go directly to the some of the rule changes starting with engines. The FIA proposes standard ECUs for all engines manufactured by a single specified manufacturer. This is extended to include standard wiring, sensor suites and controllers. All very good I think to stop all the gizmos but here's where the FIA goes even further, they propose that the software for the ECUs be FIA approved! Now, that's a bit over the top I would have thought since the hardware is fixed. Lastly, the materials used in engine construction will also be controlled by the FIA to reduce expenditure into exotic alloys.

I suppose that's also the reason why even gear ratios and differential ratios will be controlled by the FIA and sourced from a single supplier. Hmmm..... I'm not so sure I like that very much. However, the FIA has also specified only manual gearboxes with mechanical linkages together with foot operated clutches. This doesn't bode well to the current crop of Formula 1 drivers save a handful who haven't shifted gears in years. In some cases like Vitantonio Liuzzi, some drivers have never ever operated a foot clutch in their racing careers. Good luck to them, because they'll need to master the heel and toe method of gear changes soon enough. Bravo! I like this one. Shifting gears and balancing revs on downshifts should be in every racing driver's repetoire and it should be utilized in a world championship.

In the area of bodywork, the FIA will take measures to see the end of aero features like barge boards, flip ups, winglets and other small add on parts. I bet this'll please our friend Michel. But generally I agree as well. The latest Renault and Ferrari may look good, but I prefer the clean look ala McLaren MP4/4 and Ferrari 640. In any case, the FIA are looking to reduce the levels of downforce significantly whilst maintaining current drag levels. Well, they're in for a tough time I think given the gains made by teams in this year's championship after. Those engineers will be clawing it back in no time no matter what the FIA come up with.

As many have expected and wished for, the FIA will appoint a single tyre supplier for the championship. Mainly this has got to do with cost cutting. But frankly, I do enjoy tyre wars. Back in the day, they had special qualy tyres. And I do enjoy Ferrari's run of bad fortune after being buggered with lousy Bridgestones. But Formula 1 went a long time running on Goodyears alone back in the 80s and 90s and the racing still remained good. However, everyone would agree that there can be no favours to certain scarlet clad teams who demand special treatment. In which case, I hope they appoint Michelin (or Goodyear?) for the job. At least we know that they'll be impartial. Unlike those ghastly Japanese blokes who clearly just want the marketing association with the glamorous brand. Screw em.

As I feared the FIA will be mandating a single specification brake pad, discs and callipers from a single appointed vendor. Bah! I'll bet they'll want to appoint Brembo. They might stop a Ferrari Formula 1 car well enough but the Brembos fitted in road cars are pieces of shit. Their kart brakes are nothing to shout about as well, nearly costing me my life once. Oh well, aside from that personal issue I have, objectively of course one manufacturer is just as good as another. But I think AP Racing make excellent brakes.

Since many control components will be used, significantly the tyres, the FIA will impose a 30000km limit on testing for all teams. Yeah, if Ferrari wants to agree to that of course.

There are miscellenous other regulations relating to safety and other stuff but the biggest and best change I think is the changes to car acquisition. Finally, these blokes are starting to see the light. Teams will be allowed to purchase chassis as well as engines to compete in the world championship. Back to the 70s we will go! But this out of everything else should ensure the survival of the independent teams. This will also I'm sure raise the interests of racing manufacturers Lola, Swift, Dallara and many others. Could I even imagine Penske Racing who manufacture their own Indycar chassis (do they still do it?), producing Formula 1 chassis again? These guys make a living selling racing cars and with a large potential customer base, they will again come calling into the sport.

The FIA cite cost cutting as a major driving force behind these regulations. They argue with some merit that if the championship becomes a spending championship, inevitably independent teams will be driven away. Eventually even the manufacturers who don't win will be driven away resulting in a collapse of the championship. I think lessons can be learned by looking at the history of the British Touring Car Championship. The series, so successful in the 90s, in the end became a contest of which manufacturer / works team could spend the most. He who spends the most wins. After a while the manufacturers dropped out one by one and today's BTCC is a ghost. Vauxhall, makers of despicable and boring repmobiles are still there dominating a grid of only 12 cars! Whether Formula 1 would degenerate into that is arguable but you must admit the possibility does exist with an even probability.

Many will argue that all these changes mean a dumbing down of Formula 1 making it less hi-tech. That's true to a certain extent. But remember that innovation doesn't have to be all about electronics and aerodynamics. There are mechanical innovations that can be promoted, like suspension systems for instance. Cars are still using the pull rod system for decades now. With the emphasis being less on aero, engineers will be forced to look into other areas of development.

In any case, I believe that so long as those cars go faster than anything else on road racing tracks, then things'll still be alright. Remember that the objective is still primarily, to find the best driver in the world.

Another effect of these proposals I think would be increased support for the FIA by the independent teams. And also, for new entrants into the sport. It should be interesting how the manufacturers and the former GPWC responds to these proposals. These technical regulations are good in many ways but there are commercial aspects to look at like the division of revenues and bullshit special treatment to a certain Italian team with some dubious claim on historic contribution.