News and views on motorsports

Monday, December 18, 2006


Granted, I have not read the F1-Racing article on which this article is based on, but nevertheless, I detect a little irony here. Yes, may Ron Dennis has a point and perhaps Mr Robertson did misrepresent his client's disposition.

But I say Mr Dennis, I'm sure all these years you also promised young Kimi a championship winning car. And yet again, for the umpteenth time, you and your German friends have failed to deliver. Last year, not only did Kimi not had a championship winning car, he didn't even get a car capable of taking a single race.

With that in mind, can you blame your former charge of wanting to switch to a different team? Even if you do build a car to take the rest of the field to the cleaners, I cannot blame Mr Raikkonen of being just a little bit sick of things at Woking and seek a breath of fresh air.

Stop grumbling Mr Dennis. At least you will be gaining a world champion behind the wheel of your car once more. And that young eager beaver Hamilton looks to be shaping up nicely so far and the fans seem to be pleased. Now if you could only build a proper car for the two of them that would be splendid. Because as far as a lot of people are concerned, you aren't doing your job very well, sir. And I'm sure Kimi would feel a little deceived himself after all these years.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

At Jerez 10 Seasons Ago

Murray Walker : “Case of champagne from Ferrari to Sauber, because the Argentinian newcomer Norberto Fontana, up from Formula Three, really, really, helped Michael Schumacher on his way there."

Martin Brundle : “What engine have they got in that Sauber, Murray? Isn't it a Ferrari?”

Murray Walker : “Well, it is, yes. Martin you are a cynical chap.”

At Jerez in October of 1997, something sinister was afoot. That Michael Schumacher attempted to punt Jacques Villeneuve off the road that day is plain to see. But less obvious was the collusion between the Ferrari and Sauber teams. Ferrari have often denied any unsporting behaviour and they continue to do so. Recently, Jean Todt was heard denying that there ever was a number one driver at Ferrari. Which we all know is complete rubbish.

I had just spotted this new article by that man of controversy, Tom Rubython, which was published in F1i a few days ago. And it sheds light onto events of that day. Now, collusion between teams to my mind should be allowed and it is all part of the game. But as the article explains, this was a case of colluding to force a back marker to delay the progress of Jacques Villeneuve. Not a front runner fighting for the lead of the race but a back marker under blue flags. All because that back marker was in a car powered by a Ferrari engine and with it came certain obligations.

Well, Michael would be paid back 2 years later at Suzuka when David Coulthard delayed his progress during the race when David was about to be lapped. But the funny things was, Michael the cheek to complain about it in the post race interview. Takes one to know one eh Michael?

In any case the events that day forever destroyed the career of the back marker in question, not that he was especially brilliant in a Formula 1 car that day. However romantic the story of Ferrari's success in later years with their string of championships, at the heart of it all was a team that had very little moral principles about them.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Something Interesting

Whenever I'm bored nowadays (like now when I'm in the midst of a major recursive portupgrade) I kinda like to click on the Stumble Button on the Firefox Stumble Upon toolbar. This time, this quite fabulous add-on brought me to this site: Basically, the authors of the site claim to have created a new form of 4 stroke engine that basically replaces the old valve running gear.

I'm no mechanical engineer (my comment above should tell you the industry I work in) but this invention looks interesting (if it is indeed theirs). I have no idea if it is even theoretically possible but for a guy who's spent a lot of his life looking at various people taking engines apart and fixing them up again, this idea seems brilliant.

The engine utilizes a basic 4 stroke engine block. In the case of the "inventors" an old Fiat short block was used. Then, the cylinder heads are replaced with their invention. Now instead of having the intake and exhaust cycles controlled by cams and valves, the new heads have a single crankshaft. Yes, you read correctly. The heads have a crank. Attached to this overhead crank (??!!) are two pistons per cylinder. One piston is tasked with the air/fuel intake and the other lets exhaust gases out. The pistons move in a reciprocating manner but is pushed by the overhead crankshaft. This in turn in chain driven by the bottom end crank (at least it seems so in the gallery pictures).

Too complicated to explain further, you should have a look for yourself on the website in the How It Works section. Then the mechanical engineers among you can perhaps tell me if this engine should work or not. More importantly, can it burn hydrogen? All I know is right now, this type of engine is automatically banned by the current Formula 1 rules.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Toyota Way

Last night I watched a repeat of the documentary called Anatomy Of A Formula 1 Team that was shown on Discovery channel. The documentary featured the Toyota F1 team and highlighted various aspects of the operations of a modern grand prix racing team. Track testing, design, manufacturing and logistics were some of the topics covered on it. The documentary featured events prior to the 2006 Canadian Grand Prix.

One thing that was repeatedly emphasized was the Toyota Way embodied by the Toyota Production System (TPS). This incorporate the Kaizen philosophy, which is Toyota's process of continuous evolution and improvement. The idea being taken from management guru W Edward Demming. At the time the documentary was made Mike Gascoyne had already been sacked (oops, I should say voluntarily parted company) and replaced by Pascal Vesselon, formerly of Michelin.

You get the impression that the whole Toyota F1 team is organised using the TPS principles, which had been proven successful in the design and manufacture of Toyota road cars. One gets the impression that the team exists to validate Toyota's methodologies. As Patrick had pointed out, the whole project seems like some sort of corporate flagship exercise. A big promotion exercise if you will with the Toyota Way being the product ultimately on display. Success in grand prix racing if achieved, would serve as a parade of its superiority both on the track and on the road.

So, the question is after billions spent and some 5 years in grand prix racing, why hasn't it worked out? Never mind championships, even a grand prix win has not been achieved. Although the team has come close. There is very little doubt that the Toyota way has been very successful in producing road cars. To some, the Toyota production line is among the very best in the world, if not the best. Cars are produced efficiently, cheaply and comes built in with very high quality and reliability. All the things you need to produce some of the most boring vehicles on the planet. But then Toyota knows that the average joe on the street is just looking for some boring, reliable car with huge space to stuff his shopping, the grandparents and the rugrats into. And therefore, its methodologies work there.

But could it be that the Toyota way is simply the wrong way when it comes to racing? Essentially the TPS is a design by committee methodology where everyone focuses upon his domain but with emphasis on open communication among the various groups and team members. Theoretically, why shouldn't this philosophy work? After all it had worked for Ferrari. Up until the new aero rules introduced in 2005, Formula 1 Ferraris have been constantly evolving a basic design reaching back, oh I don't know, perhaps to 1998. Some innovations were introduced here and there but it was a work of evolution rather than revolution. So why hasn't it produced magic in Toyota?

Perhaps magic is indeed the missing ingredient in the form of an excellent technical director. I hear howls of protest but bear with me a moment. The 2005 Toyota challenger was the first car under the Mike Gascoyne. It had to be all new. For with the new aero rules, a revolution was indeed the right step. I mean look at Ferrari. Whilst Luca di Montezemolo lay blame on tyres but Ross Brawn was more forthcoming. The basic design itself was wrong. It evolved the F2004 into the F2005 but the basic DNA was all wrong for survival in the new aero environment, no matter how much it was mutated. A revolutionary leap in the basic design was needed. Gascoyne produced it with Toyota, the Ferrari F2005 was basically an extinct dinosaur.

For a brief moment, the 2005 Toyota was the only match for the Renault R25 until McLaren's MP4/20 hit form. If Ferrari hadn't stolen victory at Indianapolis and if Toyota hadn't screwed up Ralf Schumacher at Spa, then for sure the team would have had their maiden win and in turn would have beaten Ferrari to third in the constructors.

So what the hell happened in 2006? Well, thats what happens when marketing idiots tamper with racing objectives. And marketing of course, is a huge thing in a road car company like Toyota. Some clever genius decided that it would be good for the team to use Bridgestone tyres for 2006, since that is the brand that is used on all Toyota road cars. The decision of course came late in the day after plans for the TF106 had already been in place and the car optimized for use with Michelin rubber. Do not underestimate the effect this had. It was enormous and no matter what Gascoyne attempted to do, it was to no avail. The car was simply unsuited to its rubber. Whatever is said of Gascoyne, I think he was made the scapegoat for the debacle.

And now the team lumbers on. Like McLaren, that other ailing Formula 1 team, the principals at Toyota believe a team approach, a design by committee arrangement is the best way and of course would fit in that holy of holies, the TPS. Now I realise, no one can do everything these days. Even 20 years ago, the thought of one superstar designer doing everything had long been banished. Gordon Murray, the man in charge of the mighty McLaren MP4/4 pointed out way back then that he never drew up the detailed blueprints of the car. At most, he sketched a few lines on a piece of paper. But I still feel a strong technical director, that is able to aggregate all the minute detailed work of others, with a clear understanding on the application of various technologies and able to provide strong design direction is still needed.

Of course, all Formula 1 teams have extremely clever people working for them. Its just that some are brighter still than the others. In the book, the Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki, the best results are apparently obtained when a group contains people of many different backgrounds, experiences and even intelligence. A group of similar minded people rarely produces the best results mainly because points of view are the same. In a group of the extremely talented then, everyone is useful from the merely smart to the Einsteins of the team.

That is the ideal situation but in small groups, it has been found that force of personality can dominate and set the direction of the group, whether it be right or wrong. The guy who talks first and most often usually drowns out everyone else, even those who may have had better answers. Situations like these have led to disasters like the NASA Columbia accident. If this is so and groups will be dominated by forceful individuals or leaders, then risky as it may be, you may just as well put the most clever person in charge of the whole group. Like a superstar designer for instance. Constant evolution is also a Ferrari philosophy but just look at the people at the helm of the technical team. Would anyone argue that Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne were key ingredients to Ferrari's unprecedented success?

Watching the documentary, I have no doubt that the Kaizen methodology at Toyota works beautifully on the production side. Once designs are approved, I wager the Toyota team can then produce a component faster, more efficiently and cheaper than any other team in the paddock. But in racing and in Formula 1 especially, speed and lap times are the ultimate priority. The design team led by a genius is key to such objectives. The Toyota Way I feel is unlikely to achieve that performance leap required by the team to be "the best ever team in Formula 1." Great at pumping out cars in volume but hey, in Formula 1 you only need two.

Toyota must break away from their current thinking. Showcasing corporate philosophies and marketing are really not the point of racing. Racing should be done for racing's sake alone with winning being the only objective. Toyota would be best served by looking at the way Renault organise. Just let the team get on with the business and stay out of their way. Thats how you win.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Revolutionary Brabham BT55

The following video shows us some footage from testing at the Jacarapagua circuit in Rio de Jeneiro.

The Brabham BT55 was a very revolutionary car. Designed by Gordon Murray, it was the first ever Formula 1 car to feature a "flat-iron" design. This meant a very low profile that theoretically produced aerodynamic advantages, not least reducing drag through a lower frontal area. Up until the BT55 and later the McLaren MP4/4 of 1988 (also by Gordon Murray), cars were relatively tall, with drivers sitting upright in the seats. The Brabham was so low that drivers Riccardo Patrese and the late Elio de Angelis had to literally lie down in the cockpit. The low line design also necessitated in a lie-flat BMW turbo engine. Normally installed upright, the 4 cylinder engine had to be installed tilted to one side.

Whilst the car was revolutionary, it did have a host of problems. Transmissions being just one of them. Again, because it had such a low profile, it necessitated a new transmission design from transmission specialists Weismann. As with many technical innovations, the transmission kept breaking. Also, the car experienced cooling problems which necessitated bigger and repositioned radiators and additional vents which in turn increased drag and reduced downforce and because of the repositioning altered the weight balance. The resulting plumbing modifications also affected the turbo pipes which further reduced horsepower. All that theoretical aero advantage simply went out the window as a result.

In the end, the BT55 can be considered a failure and it was perhaps the last contribution of the once famous Brabham team to Formula 1. After that, team owner Bernie Ecclestone (yes him!) was too busy with FOCA to give a damn I suppose. But Gordon Murray would give the design concept another try at McLaren. The lessons learned from the BT55 would be applied to the all conquering McLaren MP4/4 of 1988 that took 15 out of 16 races that year. Significantly, Honda had produced a much lower RA168E turbo engine that didn't require any lying down design. But then again it was a V6 and that made things a lot easier.

After the MP4/4 everyone else would be using the low line concept and this continues till this day. For more info on the BT55, visit: and

Enough about the Brabham, watching the video one notices a few amusing things. Gordon Murray being interviewed in the pits half naked for instance. And so were the rest of the Brabham boys. My god, such things would never be allowed these days. Especially if it was Bernie who owned the bloody team.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Look Back At Super Touring

One for the Super Touring fan. This video below is vintage BTCC from the days when it was still running to the Class 2 Super Touring rules. I found it thanks to the folks at Chequered Flag Motorsport. This one features former grand prix runners "Our Nige" and Derek Warwick.

Here's another one from the 1992 season, which in the end was won by Tim Harvey in the BMW 318is. The video features that demon wheelman, Steve Soper in an infamous incident with John Cleland. Listen to the cars. You can hardly hear the exhausts, the dominant sound being the induction roar from those individual throttle bodies. Brilliant.

No thoughts of political correctness over here. John Cleland making his feelings known in no uncertain terms, whilst Murray Walker exclaims "I'm going for first!" Classic. Racing should always be like this.

For more on Super Touring you can also visit the Super Touring Register. Though I am a little disappointed that it only goes back to the 1995 season.

Lewis Hamilton

Over the last week much has been said about the bright eyed young McLaren protege, Lewis Hamilton. I've only ever seen him race twice on the telly. Once at Macau, which I must admit I've totally forgotten about. The other time was during the Turkish round of GP2 this year where he demonstrated some breathtaking pace and some superb racecraft. But then again, its easy to demonstrate such things when your lap times are at least a second faster than anyone else. Some, like old David Coulthard thinks he's been thrown into the deep end too early. Ron Dennis justifies the selection by saying that there was no one else better currently.

Its hard to say. Kimi Raikkonen for instance, competed in just 23 car races before landing a Sauber drive in Formula 1. A year after and McLaren was his destination. Could he have handled a McLaren on his debut year? Sure, he did well in the Sauber. But the pressure must have been a lot less for him than if he had driven for Woking in 2001. Fernando Alonso spent a year at Minardi and a year of testing before landing a Renault drive. Ayrton Senna could have had a drive with Williams, McLaren and Brabham for 1984 but chose up and coming Toleman instead. Michael Schumacher too had his debut in a Jordan, albeit for just a single race before being snapped up by Benetton. But having said that, Benetton was not yet at the time, the force it would be 3 years later and the force that it is now in the guise of Renault F1 but boy did that Schuey learn quick. He didn't so much learn. More like slipping into a pair of custom made John Lobbs. All so natural. Alain Prost made his debut in a McLaren in 1980 but in those were the days before the mighty MP4.

The point is, I think Hamilton could have been placed elsewhere to learn his craft. If he is truly the business then his speed and talent would immediately be apparent. Much like Alonso's was when he drove for Minardi. Who could miss the fact that the Spaniard could mix it with Arrows and Jordans in the lorry like Minardi? If Hamilton's talent is made of such stuff then he too would be driving the car beyond its natural limits. But that is secondary to the main point of the exercise, which is to get him used to the whole grand prix environment without so much pressure. Pressure that could otherwise break him.

Hamilton will be compared and often so to a double world champion whose pace and intelligence is beyond question. A teammate destroyer in the mould of Schumacher and Senna. If this weren't enough then of course there's the expectation of the media. The English media in particular. The ruthlessness of the British press is something I have witnessed first hand having spent many years over there. Jenson Button I bet just luurrves the attention.

Yet another challenge to Hamilton is the McLaren team itself. After a dismal 2006, I think it will be hard for McLaren to be challenging for world titles next year. I just don't see it what with the loss of so many key technical personnel. Hamilton is used to winning. He's used to dominating. I doubt if McLaren can give him a car to do this. Lets hope this will not become a source of frustration for him.

If Hamilton does succeed despite the many challenges then it will be to his credit. There will be very little doubt about his championship credentials. And we'll all know it immediately. Perhaps thats what Ron Dennis had in mind. Quickly give the lad a shot at it so that there will be no guessng by the end of next year. See, after all these years of supporting him, whether he sinks or swims at the deep end.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Macau Grand Prix Roundup

Its a testament to Lewis Hamilton's blinding speed to find that his lap record of the 6.1 km Guia circuit has stood since 2002 and has only been beaten today by Robert Streit. But once again, the Macau Grand Prix has proven to be a hard test for the grand prix stars of tomorrow. Of course, far be it for bloody Star Sports to carry the qualifying race held yesterday so I missed out on a lot of the action. Big name casualty during race 1 was one Sebastien Vettel, who had to start this race from the back.

Formula 3 Euro Series runner Kamui Kobayashi started from pole ahead of Marko Asmer and Kohei Hirate. All of these guys running in Dallara Mercedes run by ASM, Hitech and Manor respectively. But the one everyone had their eye on was Paul di Resta who started fourth is the second ASM Dallara-Merc. Having beaten Vettel in the Euro Series and taken the Masters at Zandvoort, he was in with a chance to do the triple grand slam by taking the Macau Grand Prix.

As ever, the race itself proved highly unpredictable. Going into Lisboa on the opening lap, we were treated to a highly amusing incident involving Kobayashi (favourite for the race after a storming qualifying), di Resta and Asmer. Kobayashi tried to go on the outside of Asmer, who himself was just simply too late on the brakes and simply went straight ahead. I'm not sure if di Resta was concentrating too hard on the car ahead of him, but he too went straight ahead after punting Asmer. In all the confusion, British Formula 3 champion, 22 year old Mike Conway found himself in the lead ahead of Hirate, newly signed Williams F1 tester Kazuki Nakajima, Andre Sutil (another highly rated runner) and Richard Antinucci.

Paul di Resta would restart but would crash at the end of that lap, prompting the deployment of the safety car. After the restart Sutil would pass Nakajima who attempted a fightback only to outbrake himself into Lisboa and letting through Sutil and Antinucci.

Of all the runners today, I was quite impressed by Antinucci's pace and consistency. Of course Conway was running away in front after a good restart but Antinucci seemd to have the fighting spirit in him today. The 25 year old Roman born and resident American pulling out some really quick laps and putting a really solid drive. His moves against both the highly rated Sutil and later on Hirate were particularly sweet and decisive. I think he's a little too old now to enter Formula 1 and certainly his past record hasn't been too good but today he seemed on form. I think he must have taken second fastest lap of the race and also beating Lewis Hamilton's 4 year old record.

This year's Formula 3 race must have been the best I've seen in a while at Macau. I just wished Vettel could have been up front with the leaders and I had fancied him to win. But the challenge of Macau's bumps and demanding turns is to keep it on the island in the first place. This he failed to do although it must be said he had problems with his brakes in the qualification race. However, Mike Conway is a worthy winner of this race. He had a stunning mid season in British Formula 3 with KKR beating much fancied Bruno Senna with a good string of victories. Now he's won Formula 3's premier event. Hard luck if he doesn't get a GP2 drive next year but with this victory I'm sure he will.

Macau Guia And BTCC Note

I was very upset that for the first time in years, the Macau Grand Prix was not shown live on Star Sports. They obviously thought that the premier Formula 3 event of the year and the championship finale of the World Touring Car Championship was not worthy to be up against some stupid ATP Masters Tennis tournament. I can understand a grand slam tennis tournament taking precedence but this???

Anyway, thankfully it was shown as a delayed telecast and as usual Macau never fails to serve up some good racing. Like that other famous street circuit at Monte Carlo, its hard to overtake in Macau but the circuit itself is so good and incredibly demanding. Like Monaco, it has some incredibly tight corners and hairpins but it has also a damn fine waterfront section that includes that incredible flat out Mandarin bend before hard braking into the tight and accident prone Lisboa.

If you're going to win in the Guia race then pole position is an absolute must. Just like Monte Carlo. And once again, its that man Andy Priaulx who took pole ahead of (ugh!) Dirk Muller in the BMW Team Deutschland, Yvan Muller in the SEAT Leon and Duncan Huisman. I'll never understand why BMW are keeping this overrated Dutchman. Championship leader Augusto Farfus Jr started from seventh and carrying the maximum weight handicap of 80 kilos. As Priaulx himself mentioned 80 kilos is a helluva lot of weight to bear and its just as well he came into this race with only 45 kilos of handicap, else that pole would not have been possible.

In the first rce it was Andy for lights to flag and ably backed up by Duncan Huisman who held off Yvan Muller right till the end. Fabrizio Giovanardi in the semi works JAS Honda kept these two in close contact throughout the entire race. The weight laden Farfus I thought did admirably well to take fifth spot.

In the second race, Jorg Muller made a stunning start to pass both Peter Terting and Tom Coronel off the grid. 75 kilos handicap or not, that rear drive BMW is quite a demon at the lights. And just as in the first race, the infamous Lisboa had a opening lap incident. If the first race took a number of Chevrolets, this second race proved hard on the SEAT runners. A few folks did not start this race and among them was Alex Zanardi who suffered terminal damage to his car in the first race. Andy Priaulx held off Fabrizio Giovanardi to take fifth and win the world championship. This is his third touring car title in a row and I wouldn't bet against him taking it again next year.

Of couse, Mario Thiessen had to force a smile on the podium. Whilst Jorg Muller won the race, he could not take the championship. In the end the gap between him and Andy was a mere one point. But I bet Mario is seething that yet again, his German drivers were beaten by a Brit. I do have to say that Jorg was pretty lucky at the restart of the second race because Peter Terting basically held everyone back with a broken gearbox. Else I thought the two SEATs of Coronel and Muller would have been a lot closer to him.

In a weight handicapped series like the WTCC, its hard to tell who drove well and who didn't. Giovanardi in the JAS Honda looked impressive to me hassling the works cars but then of course he would since he carried no handicap at all. I felt sorry for Farfus though as he crashed on the opening lap of the second race. Despite his 80 kilos he had done a bloody good job. Much as I hate to admit it but Jorg Muller did drive well despite that 75 kilos, though luck was on his side.

As ever on this demanding circuit the attrition rate was very high with half the field failing to finish. Famous casualties include Rickard Rydell, Peter Terting, Jan Magnussen, Gabriele Tarquini and Nicola Larini. The latter three all ex Formula 1 folks as well.

Congratulations again to Andy Priaulx. In modern touring cars, he's proving to be the class of the field. And if Thiessen wants a German win he's going to have to hire some better Germans to do it. And also a job well done to Racing Bart Mampaey who yet again despite being a lot smaller than the Schnitzer team has beaten them again. D0n't you just love it when the little guy wins?

Speaking about little people, congratulations also to Matt Neal for retaining the British Touring Car Championship in the independently entered Halfords Honda Integra. In the process taking both drivers and team titles in the BTCC and the independents trophies as well. This year, Matt was up against incredibly strong opposition from the likes of Jason Plato, Gavin Smith and Fabrizio Giovanardi who all had the full weight of the Volkswagen Audi Group behind them in the SEAT Sport UK Leons. Goes to show that there is a spot for independents in this increasingly manufacturer obsessed world. I guess if the base machinery is an excellent one as you have with the Integra beating works SEATs and Vauxhalls is not a problem.

Finally, I hope this circuit makes it into Gran Turismo 5. Its an absolute cracker.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

FIA / GPMA And Rule Making

Two articles ago, I stated that a specialist engine maker like Cosworth would not be able to effectively compete in grand prix racing's new future due to the technical challenges. Having read the Mosley/Goschel Q & A in full, I think I was completely wrong on that one. The way it looks, I think they would be able to do so on technical grounds. The difficulty for a company like Cosworth would be mainly financial and political.

In future, the manufacturers will be dominant and together with the FIA will set the technical direction and rules of the sport. Lets not underestimate what the consequences. The technical agenda for all future rules will be driven by the needs of the manufacturers and in relation to developments in road cars.

In the past it was the teams that made the rules and this was not lost in the Q & A. Repeatedly, references were made to how the teams never got anything done and how the rule making process frequently degraded into argument and shouting. Again, this is slightly deceitful. For the rule making process is defined in the Concorde Agreement, a document that Max Mosley himself helped in its formation. According to the Concorde, rules can only be made with a unanimous decision among the teams and frequently, one or two interlopers could simply raise objections and kill a particular rule. Some red coloured team apparently was quite famous for doing this.

To address this problem, the FIA itself formed a Sporting Working Group in addition to the Technical Working Group whose members include the teams, the FIA, CVC and other representatives. These working groups required only simple majority to push through a piece of regulation. And yet, wasn't it Max Mosley who recently vetoed (and in contrary to the FIA's own regulations) a motion to scrap the engine homologation rules in May of this year? And yet he says that all the teams do is bicker. Oh the duplicity of this man.

And wasn't it Max who once said that manufacturers come and go but it is the independents who soldier on in the sport and their welfare should therefore be protected? And yet here we are now, power is given to these manufacturers, all of whom have only in recently times become team owners themselves. From the Q & A, we learn that in future "we now have a mechanism for sitting down with the manufacturers at board level to agree on objectives... That is the most important point, that discussion takes place at board level and not at team level."

In future rules would be made using a "three stage process." At the first stage is to define objectives at the board level. Now this means exactly as it says. The decisions are made by the FIA and the board of directors of the manufacturers. Then at the second stage "technical experts from the major manufacturers... will flesh that policy out." At the final stage, "you would have input from the technical experts at the teams on the details of the rules.. work[ing] out how to achieve the predefined objectives." After being pressed, Goschel admitted that "if this means we bypass Ron Dennis, then so be it." Meaning to say, tough luck to the teams.

Regular meetings are planned to define future rules and objectives and "to define the next areas we should look to introduce into F1 which are relevant to the car industry." But this "has to be driven from the manufacturer level alongside the FIA, not from the teams. It will be a common working group made up of GPMA and FIA members."

So you might ask, what's the problem? Especially since teams these days are all owned by or closely associated with the manufacturers. I can't quite explain it but I always thought there was something wrong with Max ramming regulations down the throat of the teams. An FIA/GPMA board of directors alliance setting the agenda doesn't make it any better if you ask me. The teams should be the ones to come up with the rules. Again, this is back to the overall point of grand prix racing. I think it ought to be purely sport and speed but these people think there should be industrial and social relevance. And so, it is industrial captains that now set the pace.

The only good thing about this is that it should lead to better governance. The keyword is "should." One of the bones of contention in the past between the FIA and the GPMA was a lack of transparency in the rule and decision making process. The GPMA then argued that the sport was poorly governed on all fronts be it technical, sporting or commercial. This was not good for their collective image but was also costing them billions because some rules were arbitrarily decided by Max and cohorts with apparently no consideration to the costs of compliance and to the objectives of the car makers. And not to mention, rules or decisions made in favour of certain teams, which was my personal gripe. The latest developments will hopefully result in a more balanced governance.

Still I cannot help but feel that the sport has been usurped from the independent teams. I bet Ferrari would want to call themselves a manufacturer now after years of insisting that they are independents. But teams like Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Williams will not be represented at the "board level." This simply wrong, for they too should have a say in how they will compete in the future.

If one wanted to change the rules of football, shouldn't the football clubs be consulted? And of course the players themselves? If Nike, Reebok or Adidas in their capacity as equipment makers and sponsors, made the rules, you know there would be an uproar worldwide. Why should motor racing be any different? The manufacturers say that the environment are at the forefront their concerns these days. Puh-lease. This is only insofar as it projects a better image to their customers and helps them sell cars. At the end of the day, money is the real objective. And sport of Formula 1 has been truly raped and turned into a marketing tool for the manufacturers own purposes. We have forgotten that it is a sport.

Back to Cosworth and their like, I can imagine it could get quite frustrating for them if they had no say in the future direction of the sport. And would they even be allowed to compete should someone want their engines in the future?

FIA / GPMA And Future Technology

I kinda screwed up my last post. Serves me right for not reading the Financial Times. But then, I have no online FT subscription and I refuse to pay 7 bloody ringgit for a copy at my local newstand. By now of course, everyone should have seen the official Q & A (Max just loves these) with the FIA president and Herr Goschel.

In my defence I assumed that when Max spoke of green technologies and new directions, he would be introducing measures that he spoke of earlier on in the year and which I had mentioned in my last posting. But happily the official Q & A now gives us clearer indication of the direction the FIA / GPMA intend on taking.

In the short term it seems they speak of energy recovery and reuse. In broad terms this means recovering lost heat energy and reusing it to produce additional power. Of course, one would naturally assume turbocharging would make a return and in fact, the use of turbochargers had been mentioned several times in the Q & A. This is being looked at for introduction sometime in 2011. The size of the engine would be determined by taking into account power gains by recovering and reusing braking energy and the type of fuel being used. In this case, bio-fuels had been mentioned. The idea is to produce an engine size and formula that would yield similar levels of horsepower to the current generation. To this end, fuel flow restrictions have been mooted and rev limits in the 18000 - 19000 RPM range. Although no engine size had been finalized, Mosley did mention of "a 2 litre engine" giving "650 horsepower, but the other 150 horsepower comes from ... reusing the heat from the engines and turning it into propulsive energy."

In the short term, Max has spoken about the "2009 device." This is a device that recovers energy from braking and reuses it for acceleration. This is envisioned as a "very small, very light, very efficient" device that "would revolutionize the way hybrid cars are made." A device "cost efficient" enough which "the manufacturer can put on a road car." This has been mentioned in the past so no surprises here.

Massive research into aerodynamics will face a massive chop in this new future. This according to Mosley is "manifestly irrelevant to road cars" and "is a complete waste." Far better according to Max, to promote "things to do with chassis dynamics and the interactions between different systems on the car and the most efficient way of running the drivetrain." In effect, what seems to be the point here is to reduce aero dependency and recover resultant lost grip with mechanical means.

Goschel pointed out that the latest BMW X5 comes with "integrated chassis management", "combining active steering with electronic micro systems and anti-rollbars to a new functionality." And therefore, "electronics and software technology will play a major role in car technology in future." Doubtless to say that this is the direction that the FIA and GPMA are headed towards.

You would be forgiven to think that all this flies in the face of safety and cost cutting, an idea championed by Max repeatedly. Actually none of the ideas above are anything new of revolutionary. Turbochargers have been used once but was banned because of the astronomical power outputs and safety. Drivetrain developments like regenerative braking had been in development by McLaren in 1998 but was stopped on grounds of safety and cost. CVT transmission had been tested by Williams but was also banned. Active suspension as developed originally by Lotus and then Williams and McLaren went out the window as well. So did active four wheel steering. I read somewhere that way back in the eighties, turbo diesel had been suggested by none other than John Barnard (formerly of McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton).

All the technologies above had already been in development by the teams. Or more accurately the independents. All of them banned either on safety grounds or cost and because some of them took away from the skill of the drivers and therefore reduced the spectacle of "the show." It seems hypocritical to me that when it is now suggested by the manufacturers it is suddenly alright because now it is "done in a way that has an effect on our normal technology of our core business." On cost, Max Mosley said that "research on the energy recovery and regenerative braking is already happening in the car industry, so there will only be a marginal difference between that and what will be needed in F1. All in all you don't have to make enormous changes, there will be less expenditure and it will be industry relevant." Goschel added that "the main point is that this kind of research is not a waste. It is in our main research budget anyway."

I reiterate the point that some of these technologies were already under development by the teams. But it seems that now, the manufacturers want to bring them back in and claim all the credit for it. All the better for their marketing purposes I suppose.

But no matter. I'm all for technology. But up to a limit. We cannot forget that main component in any racing car. And that is the driver. The skill of the driver must be showcased for it is after it is meant to be sport. When Goschel talks about increasing electronics and software with new found functionality in chassis dynamics, I cannot help but feel that it will increasingly diminish the spectacle of that most wonderous form of traction control, the driver's hands and feet. Lets hope not.

As for aero, I'm actually one of these people who are absolutely fascinated by anything that flies. Or applies the same technology to keep cars on the ground. Max mentioned that aero development is irrelevant to road cars. Well Max, if it is so, you helped make it that way. Look at the current aero regulations. They are unbelievably restrictive. Such restrictions merely send the teams to look for ever marginal gains in aero efficiency. And also because of the way the rules are written, the aero on a modern Formula 1 car is absolutely bastardized. Given more leeway, thats not the best way to make an upside down aerofoil. Engineers are forced into such designs by the regulations. And any attempt to make a new step is banned. And also because of the current regulations, the cars are enormously sensitive to aero turbulence. But unfortunately there are no better ways to do it. What suffers is the entertainment factor.

All very well if they shift emphasis to chassis and mechanical grip. Hopefully, the racing will improve. But to claim that Formula 1 aero is irrelevant is deceitful since the FIA made it that way. Just as calling reuse and recovery systems "the future" is shifty for there's nothing really new about it.

I still stand by my original position made several months ago. And that is Formula 1 should be about the pinnacle of racing technology. Its concern should be the science of speed and the sport of driving. Road car, social and other such concerns merely corrupt that pursuit and really should be handled elsewhere. I am glad to find that some others do share this opinion.

Tomorrow is the 53rd edition of the Macau Grand Prix, and one of the highlights is the Formula 3 race. Look at the cars competing. Do you think that it makes any road car industry, social or environmental sense? Should it? I don't think so. And neither should things like Formula Ford/Renault/BMW or even that most pure of driving machines, the kart. They all exist for sport and nothing else. Formula 1 you see, is the final progression up the scale that contains these junior formulae as its base. A base of sporting machines that are irrelevant except for its sole purpose of competition. Formula 1 should hold true to these roots.

The test now is to see how exciting the racing becomes as a result of these new measures. After all, a racing driver will race with whatever car is given to him or her. The main worry is that some of these technologies will diminish the importance of driver skills but lets hope it doesn't come to that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Latest News From The Frontlines

In the battle for the future of grand prix racing, peace seems such an overused word. Seen it too many times in the past so naturally, I'll take the latest peace declaration with a large grain of salt. Having come to terms with commercial arrangements, the GPMA have finally (or so it seems) kissed and made up with the FIA and Max Mosley. In a meeting in Munich which up until now had been kept under wraps, some significant details emerged.

Social relevance, green technologies, road car relevance were all hailed as the major objectives for the future. All very nice but significantly, the governance of the sport and decisions over the rules will be made by the FIA and the manufacturers, which indeed bypasses the teams. Of course, many teams now are owned by the manufacturers but this really puts folks like Frank Williams in a spot.

Of course they FIA and the manufacturers say they will make decisions in consultation with the teams. But then Max Mosley has rammed down things people's throats in the past in direct contradiction to clauses in the Concorde, so I doubt if teams like Williams will take it too kindly. And really, for a person who supposedly was championing the cause of the independent teams, this latest development seems like a big discrepancy. From this article in ITV-F1 :

"In future individual teams’ management will relinquish their involvement and instead be represented by the manufacturers themselves, who will discuss prospective rules with the FIA at main board level."

Though the teams may hate this but they brought it upon themselves by not uniting strongly against Bernie, Max and indeed, even the manufacturers. Though indeed many team bosses have already cashed out and made lots of money in the process. And it seems increasingly likely that Ron Dennis will be making even more money than all of them when he and Ojjeh finally sells out to Mercedes.

But there are some good points about this latest development. One of Max Mosley's plans was to see a return to the old fuel consumption formula of the eighties but with a significant twist. Consumption of fuel would be defined in terms of energy content rather than volume of a specific fuel type. Instead of limiting fuel to say 150 litres of pump petrol for the duration of a race, it would be defined as limited to say xxx Kilojoules of energy for the race. This is significant for it means that alternative fuels could be used.

Also, the engine type and configuration would be free. And this means the possibility of vastly different types of engines and of course technical innovation and most of all, variety. There would no longer be just V8s or V10s in the field. There could be a methane powered turbocharged V16 and it wouldn't matter. But of course, in focusing on energy consumption, it is the manufacturers who have the advantage. They have been researching these technologies for decades now. At the beginning, I foresee many technologies introduced will not be new ones but simply redeveloped and redeployed for racing purposes. And in the broader scheme of things, as marketing tools.

There are many factors involved with Cosworth's departure from grand prix racing but I wonder if this new future is not one of them. Though they have built alternative fuel powerplants in the shape of methanol Indy race engines, I wonder how their comparatively meager budget could cope with the full weight of different technologies from manufacturer labs, already in advanced state of development. The effort required by the likes of Cosworth to catch up would I think be too much for them.

Change can create new opportunities. There are literally dozens of small, highly innovative companies out there whose main purpose is to develop alternative powerplants. Perhaps from these companies will emerge the new Cosworths and Ilmors of the future. Personally I feel that they should simply specify a simple hydrogen internal combustion (IC) engine formula. It is far easier to adapt your road car to burn hydrogen than it is to say, methanol. In fact, BMW themselves have made significant research into this and if I'm not mistaken, some buses in Los Angeles already use hydrogen IC. Fuel cell technology is expensive so why not use a cheaper, proven technology instead? Hydrogen combustion is clean and the technology is already in use everyday by you and me. This would have been better for it meant that companies like Cosworth could still be relevant to grand prix racing.

So much for Cosworth but what of Ferrari? I mean, they are a manufacturer of road cars as well to be sure. But theirs are high performance road cars. I mean, I love Ferrari road cars (in stark contrast to the racing team) but try defining the social relevance of a Ferrari 599 GTB. Ferrari are in many ways are in the same boat as Cosworth. Though their business be highly profitable and thus affords them a larger R & D budget but how will they steal an edge over the manufacturers who, as I said, already have alternative technologies long in development. That will be interesting. And as far as governance in the sport is concerned, it will be interesting to see how they plan to get their way what with the GPMA scoring such a significant victory by being at the "board level" in future decision making.

It seems slightly sinister then that the sport will effectively become a manufacturer testing facility. What started as a championship to find the world's best driver and racing team have now been infused with new objectives of road, social and industry relevance. In the past, I have condemned this as an unnecessary corruption of what is racing's pinnacle. But I am in the minority I know. Predicting the future one way or another is often foolish, so I'll just hope that at least the (new) Establishment will form detailed regulations that bring about more spectator excitement, such as measures to improve overtaking.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Living Fast

Strange to hear drivers talk these days. Take Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Fernando recently claimed that three world titles would be enough for him before retiring from the sport. And in this story on ITV-F1, Kimi says that his three year contract with Ferrari may be his last. One could contrast this with Senna and Schumacher. Both loved racing and in particular, winning. During their time in Formula 1, both frequently made statements that they would continue doing so until the day came when they were no longer quick enough. Who knows how long Senna would have lasted had he not had that fatal accident? And of course, Michael as everyone knows lasted a mammoth 15 full seasons in Formula 1.

One would think that Kimi at 27 and Fernando at 25 years of age, still have the best part of at least 8 - 10 years left in the sport. But it seems that it is not in their plans to remain that long. Although it must be said that at the end of Kimi's Ferrari contract, he would have competed in 9 full seasons. In Fernando's case and the way he is going right now, he should not have to wait that long for a third world title. Although if one remembers correctly, it took a while before Michael won his third. Say that Fernando does take at a least 3 seasons to win his next (assuming McLaren doesn't recover its form), he would have only done 8 seasons.

Perhaps its not just the age that matters. In 2009 Fernando and Kimi would be 28 and 30 years old respectively. Relative toddlers compared to Coulthard and de la Rosa today. I'm sure they would still have the speed and if we remember Michael, would still be at the top of their game. Perhaps the constant pressure to perform on and off the track are the major factors. Michael made his name and came to prominence at a time when commercial pressures were not quite what it is today. Kimi and Alonso on the other hand have had to deal with it throughout their careers.

One could argue that had Ferrari not enjoyed their superiority in the new millenium, Michael would probably have retired a lot earlier than he did. I don't believe him for one moment that he had Massa's career in mind when he took the decision to retire. I believe the 2005 season did have an effect on him. As Giorgio Ascanelli once said of Senna, a world champion doesn't fight for fourth place. And in 2006, I'm sure the effort it took to try and catch Alonso (which ended in failure) also must have weighed deeply in his mind. Never mind the Spaniard, there were days when even Filipe Massa could easily match and beat him. As was for Senna, I firmly believe that winning was Michael's narcotic. If the events of the past couple of years had happened sooner, I think 2003 or 2004 would have been his last year.

Michael had felt the pressure from younger rivals and I'm sure both Kimi and Fernando are aware of the new breed of drivers coming in. This year itself has seen Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica make an immediate impact. Next year, we'll probably have Lewis Hamilton and sooner or later Sebastien Vettel will surely replace Heidfeld just as Nelson Piquet Jr. seems destined to take a Renault seat once Enstone has had enough of Fisichella. All these new drivers are terribly quick and will exert even more pressure on both Kimi and Fernando. Sentiments? Bah. It all flies out the window these days (and in the pinnacle of sport, why shouldn't it?). I think Michael (but only through his speed and greatness) could command sentiment from the likes of Ferrari and he will be the last. With more young pups so eager to break in to the sport and prepared to do anything to please (and in the case of Hamilton, with the full support of the media), its only a matter of time before an increasingly critical eye is cast on the likes of Kimi and Fernando.

Hopefully, McLaren and Ferrari can both give proper machinery to Fernando and Kimi for it would be a shame to lose either of them to retirement so soon. If despite being in the position they are in, both are already thinking ahead to retirement, I wonder how a certain Jenson Button must feel? I'm quite certain with all the trouble he has caused with contractual obligations etc and with the relative lack of results, the pressure must mount on him as well.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sanctions and Licenses

Interesting story on caught my eye today. To summarize, the Toro Rosso drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed have been prohibited from taking part in the forthcoming Supernationals X kart race in Las Vegas. The organisers of the race Superkarts USA have been advised by the FIA that both Liuzzi and Speed would stand to lose their superlicenses if they proceed with participation.

Wow. The similarities between the FIA and their worldwide affiliates, specifically their Malaysian ASN, are indeed striking. Allow me to elaborate further. You see, Superkarts USA are not affiliated with the FIA. This means that races organised by Superkarts USA are not sanctioned by the FIA. And the FIA it would seem frowns upon drivers competing in these non-sanctioned events. In this case, both Liuzzi and Speed who do hold FIA licenses have been told that their licenses would be docked if they did.

The question is, why should the FIA prohibit drivers from other motorsports competition? Even ones that do not fall under their jurisdiction. In Malaysia, we have had extensive experience of this type of phenomenon. The local ASN in Malaysia is the Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM). Competitors (both the rich and well connected and the poor and anonymous), race organisers and though they would surely deny it, even the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) management are united in their hatred for the AAM. Just like its international parent, this is a very closed, autocratic and very domineering organisation run by the very egotistical. Curiously, their tagline is "Your No. 1 Motoring Friend in Malaysia." Uhuh.

But unlike the FIA, the AAM have been accused of doing very little to champion the cause of motorsports in the country. But if you run any motoring event, then they love to make it their business to take part in it, under the guise of safety (but in actual fact contributing very little to this). Oh and of course, not forgetting charging exorbitant sanction fees which they insist on doing whether you like it or not. Many a race organiser have felt their heavy handedness. And that ladies and gents, includes the SIC. Heh heh.

Even when a race organiser has obtained proper permits from local authorities and in some cases, even encouraged to do so by the local authorities, the AAM insist on stepping in. In some cases, they have even attempted to totally stop the event from taking place. AAM officials have been known to attend these events and attempted to lay down the law and in the most overbearing manner you could think of. I think that that is a little more than arrogant on their part. But thankfully, most events do manage to happen despite their best efforts to put an end to it.

On the flip side, drivers who do hold AAM (FIA) competition licenses are afraid of competing in these non-sanctioned events. The AAM, just like the FIA, have been known to issue threats to these drivers. Compete and you will stand to lose your licenses. And this happens to the dismay of many competitors. Racers being racers, any form of motorsport competition is good. Even drag and drift events. No harm in participating and its all good fun. The effect of these prohibitions are that most of these smaller events are missing the top drivers.

I say "smaller" because of the size and budgets of the organisers. But in actual fact, attendances at these local events far outstrip any AAM sanctioned race bar the Malaysian Grand Prix and the Cub Prix. Just check out the Saturday night drift events at the Elite Karting circuit and you'll know why. The MME organisers would kill for crowds like that.

The big question is why? Why should the FIA and its affiliates stop licensed competitors from competing in non-sanctioned events? Of course, they have the power to do so and its within their rights as license issuers. But is it fair? Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to their reasons. The official line from the AAM is on the grounds of safety. The AAM ensures the proper safety of competitors and spectators. Hmmm..... I should like to ask Eric Yeo (a local racer) whether he thought the Jugra event at Shah Alam was... "safe" what with that misplaced pole lying about on the circuit making a hole on his windscreen and poking right through the passenger side?

I should think the average drift or drag event is no more dangerous than say rallying, which is sanctioned. So why the big fuss? We could test it on the assumption of legal liability. The FIA and affiliates are recognised as the authorities on motorsports and motoring in general. One could, not unreasonably then, that legal indemnity and insurance is easier to obtain should a race be sanctioned by them. However, any event organiser worth his two cents would remember to paste disclaimers on tickets and signboards. And so far, no local race organiser I know of has failed to obtain insurance cover for their events, whether these be sanctioned or not. Especially since all organisers obtain permits from the police and local councils and have firemen and ambulances on standby.

Whilst insurance and indemnities do cover financial liability, there is also the question of possible criminal liability due to negligence. There really hasn't been a case as yet in Malaysia and none that I can think of world wide but to cover such cases, it is perhaps wiser for organisers to have their events sanctioned and then if anything went wrong, the FIA can and must step in for it would be their responsibility already. But surely an organisation such as Superkarts USA would already have thought about this. And surely any number of insurance companies who have provided cover for non-sanctioned events are also aware of these risks.

As for the driver's safety... well, motorsport in any form and in any event is inherently a dangerous activity. Any competitors knows this and deals with it appropriately. But really, even the London Marathon has been know to suffer fatalities.

At the end of the day, I know Max Mosley is incredibly obsessed with safety and that is a good thing. I'm not sure if the FIA affiliates are quite so passionate. To the cynics, affiliates such the AAM are only interested in the enormous sanctioning fees. You may ask, why not simply pay them? Well, with the prices they charge most organisers simply could not afford it, particularly since these organisers charge very little entrance fees. Such fees would then need to be covered by higher entrance charges that in the end keep the crowds away.

In the case of Superkarts USA, they did attempt to make their Las Vegas event sanctioned by the CIK but this, for whatever reason, simply did not happen. And as such the two Toro Rosso drivers have been forced to exclude themselves. But this is a pity for fans in the USA. And I'm sure Liuzzi and Speed would have welcomed the opportunity for a little bit of fun.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Goodbye Jimmy

I guess from this day forth, those of us in and around the little Malaysian racing community will always remember All Hallows' Eve as the day a Malaysian racing legend passed on. At around 2 p.m. today, Jimmy Low (left in picture) was lost to the world, suffering from a heart attack.

The news spread quickly within the community via phone calls and text messages and as befitting a man we all have come to respect and cherish, there was an outpour of grief. Some drivers were reportedly close to tears, voices choked with emotion. In general, there was a sense of great loss. Even among those who counted as his deadliest rivals on the race track.

I never knew him personally but I did meet Jimmy Low a couple of times. I remember watching him in the Asian Touring Car Championship in his 1.6 litre Amoil Honda Civic keeping the works BMWs in close check at the old Shah Alam circuit. And who could forget his battles with perhaps his biggest rival, Eddie Lew. Everytime those two took to the track, there was certain to be some argy bargy as you do in saloon cars.

My fondest memory of Jimmy Low though happened at Shah Alam on the Batu Tiga circuit. I was being coached by a racing driver friend of mine in preparation for an upcoming endurance race. My friend was at the wheel at the time showing me the right way to do things. On track at the same time was Jimmy Low, who was also coaching another driver. Whilst we were in my daily driver, Jimmy and student was in a race prepared Proton Putra.

In the turns Jimmy was tremendous as you would expect. The roll caged and semi slick shod Putra simply eating up the distance between him and ourselves. But on the straight the MIVEC engine on my car could hold its own. Or so I'd like to think. I think maybe Jimmy was taking it easy. He didn't even have a helmet on. But still it was fun and exciting as we diced for 5 laps or so. The most vivid image in my mind was on the Shell straight going into the flat out right hander before the loop. We had the inside line and I remember hearing an absolutely deafening noise, so I looked left and there he was. Jimmy was on the outside, racing muffler blaring out loud. There was nothing to fear for the man was a pro.

After 5 laps or so, my engine blew up having been pushed to its absolute limits but luckily we managed to get back to the pits. Jimmy came in as well and came to speak to us. A very nice person, he inquired about my engine and expressed sympathy for the broken motor. I didn't have my own ride for 5 weeks after that.

By all accounts, Jimmy was a very generous competitor, never hesitating to offer advice on both driving and car setup. In fact, during my race, he even shared some setup information with us, which thanks to him, we managed to use to very good effect and we ended up on the podium. Thanks for tip Jimmy! This incident wasn't unique though and plenty of drivers (even his rivals) owe him a debt of gratitude.

And I know of some ( famous and internationally renowned) Malaysian racing drivers who would kill for the kind of respect commanded by veteran Jimmy. I remember during a practice day at Sepang a few years ago. We were all hanging out and as usual among lads, talking loud and mucking about waiting to go out on to the track again. In walked Jimmy into our pits and I remember everyone just fell silent. A mark of respect for the sifu.

Jimmy Low started racing in the most unlikely of places, in motor-cross back in the 80s. By all accounts, he was up and coming in the sport before objections from his parents put paid to his plans. If racing was what he wanted to do, then it would have to be in cars. He made his name racing in numerous events in Johor and at Shah Alam. His prowess at the wheel ensured that despite not being fabulously wealthy, he was offered drives by many a team including the works Petronas Eon Racing Team with whom he won the first ever Merdeka Mellenium Endurance race. And of course there were drives with the BSA team in Porsches and Radicals. And not forgetting of course, the one team that I always like to associate him with, Amoil.

Despite having a cabinet creaking under the weight of numerous winner's trophies, Jimmy was hardly recognised outside the Malaysian racing community and I think that is most unfair. For he had the ability to take on and beat any of driver on his day and most of 'em on his off day. Including those drivers that had a went on to race in single seaters. Perhaps the greatest injustice of all was not to have won any accolades or awards for driver of the year. The award as usual went to the fabulously rich but utterly talentless businessman.

But in the end, it matters not, for Jimmy will live on in our thoughts. A unassuming and genuinely nice fellow is lost to us in Malaysia. Not even fifty years of age, I should think it would be appropriate to say that he went before it was time. But as Iron Maiden put it; Only the good die young. Rest easy Jimmy Low. It has been a privilege to watch you race and to have shared the same piece of tarmac with you in a race.

Friday, October 27, 2006

On Michael Schumacher

Statistically the greatest but I think one of Michael Schumacher's greatest achievement was to stick around for as long as he has. I watched his debut at Spa in 1991 and now thankfully, he has safely left the sport with his life intact after 15 and a bit seasons. If I think about it, I've only watched 8 full seasons without him being present in the world championship. In the time that he's been in Formula 1, I graduated from university, completed my professional exams and have gone through some pretty interesting times in my life. All the while, the spectre of Michael Schumacher has been ever present. When Michael announced his departure, I looked back at his career and how far it has come and because of the sheer length of time he's been around, I couldn't help but look back at my own. Unfortunately, it has not been anywhere near his level of success but this article is about him and thankfully, not about me.

For sure, I'm not a fan of his by any means. But then he's quite a paradox, this German. On one hand we see the charitable and great human being who was kind enough to donate 20 of his untold millions in aid of anonymous victims of the tsunami. And yet, on the other hand, he has in him the demon who has stooped down to the base level of a cheat. A wonderful family man and father and yet within him lies a certain ruthlessness and selfishness that has characterised his time in the sport.

I like him not for his on track cheating and self centeredness but there's the thing isn't it? Would it better for him to be like Alain Prost, ever the gentleman on the track (barring Suzuka 1989) but faced with an absolute horror of a private life? I am sure to Corinna and his kids Michael is perfect as he is. An angel in his personal life but ruthless and deadly to his rivals.

Nevertheless, those on "his" side, his family and his team, notably Ferrari, receive unquestionably good treatment. Other drivers have been seen thanking the team after victory and even in defeat but never a bad word from Michael about his team even going through some pretty rough times in 1996 and 2005. Other drivers would have no hesitation slagging off but Michael maintains infinite patience with his squad. At least in public. I'm sure at the factory he can be (and by some accounts is) as demanding as the rest of them.

One could say that as far as determination and focus on winning, there hasn't been anyone to match him and thats probably why he wins as often as he does. In order to win, Michael understands that all the conditions have to be right. The team needs motivating and at the same time forgiveness and understanding when things do not go as planned. Ferrari have always had the best of resources to go for the championship but this needs to be shaped and moulded in a proper manner to extract the very best. Add a touch of technical savvy to the mix and the resulting cocktail is a military elite squad designed to win world championships. Sure, I would say that Alonso, Senna, Hakkinen, Raikkonen and maybe Prost are a match for him for blinding speed on the circuit but at the factory I think no one works harder and smarter than Michael. And that really is the key to all his successes.

Of course Michael does not stop at the factory for the work on Sunday rests firmly on his shoulders. After all the development, the practice, the strategies, the driving too must be impeccable. Like Martin Brundle, I too have a hard time recalling Michael's greatest overtaking moves. I'm sure die hard fans will want to fill me in on that but I have a much easier time recalling overtaking moves done upon him. Villeneuve's move on the outside at Estoril in 1996, Hakkinen's excellent move at Spa in 2000 and of course Alonso's ballsy and sheer brilliance at Suzuka last year rates as the best. But you see, the way Michael works he doesn't need to pull off these sorts of moves.

I don't recall many great overtaking moves but I'm sure we all remember Michael's ruthless and inexorable drives prior to pitstops. His fitness ensures that he is able to deliver quick lap after quick lap race after race. And at no point during the race is this better demonstrated than prior to the round of stops. Michael more often than not was fuelled heavier and ran longer than his rivals and yet all the while keeping apace with them. When they dive in, he turns up the wick and goes on a charge leaving those behind him in the dirt and pass those in front of him. In short, he relies on consistently blinding speed and avoids the need for risking a potentially hazardous move on the track.

Michael does make mistakes. This was usually so when he is put under pressure. But more often than not, he is never under pressure thanks to having a brilliant car underneath him. But even with superb machinery he can wilt under pressure and it usually happens when he's chasing someone in front of him.

So indeed, Michael is a true professional. Perhaps the most professional driver I have borne witness to. But is he too professional? After great success with Benetton, his decision to move to Ferrari was questionable to many people, not least to me. Some say, he needed a new challenge. Some might say he wanted to leave his mark with Maranello. Could it be simply for the money? No doubt Maranello was prepared to and could afford to pay far more for his services than Enstone. And of course, the slimy Willi Webber no doubt had a hand in convincing him that Ferrari would be a good move (especially for Willi himself). But once in Ferrari, Michael began to forge a team around him. No big deal, its been done before in the past. But what I was so against was the fact that his teammate would have to be a subordinate to him.

Consider some comparisons. Ayrton Senna comes to mind. I know the English never forgave Senna for vetoing the choice of Derek Warwick as his teammate at Lotus. Because of Senna, the choice instead went to the Earl of Dumfries, a bloke named Johnny. But to my mind this was only because Senna knew that Lotus did not have the resources to devote to two equal drivers. Even back in 1986, Lotus was not the team it was in the early seventies. Knowing this, Senna made the choice to be clear number one. When Lotus could not deliver a championship winning car, Senna had no reservations about moving to McLaren, even if a certain Alain Prost was incumbent and de facto number one at Woking. Senna knew he would beat the Frenchman or anybody else for that matter and he wasn't afraid to take up the challenge.

But Ferrari is no Lotus. For ages now and even today, the team with the best and most resources, Ferrari did not and doesn't need to resort to such clear distinction in the status of its drivers. And yet, this was their modus operandi throughout the entire reign of Michael at the team. And if anyone thinks that this has always been Ferrari's standard practice, I beg to differ, for in the past old man Enzo had no reservations in letting his drivers battle it out so long as they brought home the constructors trophy.

But as I said earlier, Michael is a professional winning machine. Driving is a means but driving alone isn't enough for him. He enjoys the driving and probably would love to drive some more. But the man needs to win. And why risk having an equal teammate who could potentially take race wins away from himself? Even if he were 100% certain he could beat his teammate, why risk it?

Its not sporting but Michael is designed to win. Being a sportsman is secondary and as some cases in his career have demonstrated, entirely optional. Adelaide in 1994, Jerez in 1997 and Monaco this year are some instances that come to mind. In addition, I've always found his angled starts pretty distasteful as well. I agree that Ayrton Senna was also guilty of argy bargy. But as Martin Brundle so nicely put it, Ayrton was in most times caught up with emotion, a product of what he saw as blatant biasness and unfairness in certain decisions made by the governing body. At Suzuka, he lashed out against decisions made against him at the same venue the previous year and by the stewards' decision to inexplicably switch the starting positions of the grid. A decision he thought unfairly put him at a disadvantage and many sympathized his plight. Being of fiery latin temprament, Ayrton lashed out. He would tell all that he would do it, he then did it and once done, he would admit to it.

Not so Michael. Neither Damon Hill (in 1994) nor Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 had done anything to him to justify barging them off the track (or at least attempt to do so). There were no unfair stewards decisions that worked against him. It was simply cold and calculating. But as I say, Michael is a professional winner. Sportsmanship is optional. Taking out his rivals is simply the professional thing to do. All in the name of winning. See the difference? Ayrton was being emotional not professional. Michael was simply being a professional. The world cup winning Argentinian captain Daniel Pasarella used to say that given the choice of going for the ball or Maradona, he would simply go for Maradona every single time. And why shouldn't he, argued the great man. There's no chance of taking the ball away from Maradona so simply take him out. That attitude wins matches. And when the occassion called for it, it was something Michael Schumacher had no reservations in employing.

To this I would add the ocassional screwing your team mate events that crop up time and again. As happened to Rubens Barrichello in Austria 2002. Rubens was clearly faster all weekend. It doesn't happen very often but on that occassion Michael had no answers to Rubens pace. The best man deserved to win but Michael thought otherwise. Had the crowd not voiced their displeasure at the result you can bet that Michael would happily accept the result as graciously as with any of his other victories.

Then of course, there's the outright cheating. Monaco this year being the classic example and has already been thoroughly discussed. But I would like to touch upon the Benetton years. In 1994, many observers and even fellow drivers commented on how they felt that illegal traction control devices were being employed on the Benettons. In fact traction control was found by the FIA the following year but no action was taken. The official explanation given by Benetton was that whilst the software codes for traction control were contained in the black boxes, they were not used during the race. They remained in the ECU because it was too difficult to remove. I'll bet. Whilst some may use this as evidence against Michael but I think that would be unfair. It was the team that placed the traction control. It was the entire team that cheated and I would bet that it is something any team would do if they knew they could get away with it. Promptly after being found, the Benetton team removed the traction control codes immediately. So much for being difficult to remove.

Outright cheating is difficult to prove especially if you only read the mainstream press. Even then there are only hints and innuendos to the point. But nevertheless, the rumours and Michael's own gamesmanship taints the otherwise his otherwise proud and unbeatable achievements. I would like to recall Silverstone in 1998 as one example. Michael had to serve a stop and go penalty. This he did on the very final lap of the race. On that lap he entered the pits and in doing so had already crossed the line and taken the flag. He stopped and then drove off again for what was the warming down lap.

Is Michael the most talented driver in history? I have my doubts. Jochen Mass, the senior driver at the Sauber Mercedes team that Michael once drove for, once said that he thought that Heinz Harald Frentzen was the more talented of his two best known junior drivers. Of course that is not to deny Michael's talent but he simply is not the most talented. Ayrton Senna is thought by many to be the most talented of all and I agree. But talent only gets you so far. Physical fitness is supremely important in grand prix racing and Michael rewrote the rule book in that department. With physical fitness, Michael is able to go flat out all the time instead of merely some of the time. As Ayrton used to say, any guy can go fast on a single lap but champions can do it for lap after lap for the entire race. This Michael was able to do better than anyone. I still think that as far as fitness is concerned, even at this advanced age his is in better shape than the rest of the field.

The other question that is often asked is whether or not Michael is the fastest one of all? No, I don't think so. So why does he win so often? Well, Michael is the most complete driver of all time. Whatever he lacks in natural talent or speed (and this is all relative, any difference in speed between Michael and say, Hakkinen, being absolutely microscopic), he more than makes up for with fitness, attention to detail, tchnical ability and knowledge and the fact that the team not only rallies with him through his motivation but designs whole cars to suit him. All these factors combine together to make up his 91 grand prix victories.

But racing being a team sport, Michael has as much to thank Ferrari for all his successes as the other way around. Specifically, Michael has behind him, two men who have been there throughout all his championships. Namely, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. Both were with him during the Benetton years and they were right there for all of Michael's five titles with Ferrari. The professional winning machine you see could not have done it without these men. Every win Michael has had save 3 can be attributed to them. No other driver has managed to have such great rapport with the technical director and chief designer. And that is why the cars are always built to his specifications and requirements further guaranteeing success. And quite clearly another factor that makes up for any weaknesses that Michael may have.

The German football team may not always be the most talented of individuals but bloody hell, they do not lack for any fighting spirit. How many times have we seen the Germans behind but fighting their way back to level the score? It must be sequenced in their genetic codes or something. And so it is with Michael. His drive in Brazil was characterized by that never say die attitude that has been ever present throughout his entire career. I think if he has many fans it must be because of this factor alone. Michael is similar to Mansell in that sense. While he lacks the Englishman's flair for overtaking, he matches him in fighting spirit. Its like watching an inevitable heat seeking missile. It cannot be stopped.

I still think that Michael's best years were during his time at Benetton. I think his best championship was in fact 1995 for Benetton Renault. On the surface, some would say that he did not have the best car, that advantage belonging to Williams Renault and Damon Hill. The car was undrivable to all but Michael. The back end it was said was too eager to step out. But I would say that it was exactly how Michael liked it although we have not seen many wild Ferraris. But sometimes I think that his driving was more exciting to watch during his Benetton years. Recall how he would lock up at least on wheel going into a turn lap after lap. Whilst this does not adhere to the smooth is best school of driving but even Jackie Stewart, who along with Prost must rate as the smoothest drivers ever, had to admit that those lockups meant speed for it ensured a greater overall stopping power. And somehow I have to agree with Michael on one aspect of driving. Michael used to say that he didn't really care what the car did when he turned the wheel but he certainly was concerned about its braking and what it would do in that state. And somehow I think he also likes a car with fantastically quick turn in. Just like the Benetton B195.

Especially after the events in Suzuka and Interlagos this year, I cannot for the life of me recall the details but the fates have mostly seemed to be on Michael's side. Not for nothing was he once been deemed by Martin Brundle to be the luckiest grand prix driver ever. How many times have we seen a blown engine from his rivals hand him the victory? How many times have conditions simply favoured him? And lets not forget the FIA who are always behind the team he drives for, namely Ferrari.

But to Michael, the manner of victory is secondary. The win is all that counts. But there are plenty who do care about the means to victory and I am one of them. Michael has had plenty of great moments. And I will admit, he is the most complete of all drivers and therefore deserves his success. He's just a little too cold and calculating for comfort and there's just one too many cases of crafty and underhanded gamesmanship for my liking. Added to the fact that for some reason (and I think its also due to Michael himself) the two teams he has had his successes with (Benetton under Briatore and Ferrari and Todt), are also the most political in the sport, I will continue to admire him but like him I do not. He shall not be missed the way Ayrton Senna is.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Last Of The Specialists

The irony was that the new regulations were meant to protect the independent teams and by extension, the specialist engine manufacturers. Alas with Cosworth now set to depart Formula 1, all that remains are the manufacturers. Once upon a time, it was Cosworth who was perhaps the largest of the engine suppliers. Back in the 70s, they supplied powerplants to nearly every single car on the grid bar of course Ferrari and one or two odd units.

With the WSMC's decision to allow Ferrari to supply more than a couple of teams from next year (the other two being Spyker and Toro Rosso), it is now Ferrari that is the largest of the suppliers. Quite why one would choose Ferrari is beyond me since they would never allow the customers to win.

Interestingly, there is a plaque at the Cosworth factory, given by one Enzo Ferrari. The old man you see, might have been dirty but the man had some honour in him, unlike his successors today. It was a salute from Il Commendatore to the engine manufacturer who had beaten him too many times for (his) comfort. A great man recognizing greatness in Costin and Duckworth.

I suppose Cosworth's last real chance to stay was with Williams but with Grove seemingly unsatisfied with reliability they have chosen Toyota power for next year. Could Cosworth in this modern age still have a reasonable chance to produce championship winning engines? I would like to think so but then one could argue that perhaps if they really did have any chance at all, Williams might have stayed with them. Still, I think Williams were motivated by factors beyond simply competitiveness. With the Toyota brand riding on their cars, there are better chances of gaining much needed sponsors. It is no secret after all, that the split from BMW lost them more than one multinational sponsorship. Sponsors want to be associated with brand names rather than racing teams. To the causal fans, Williams was BMW. And to be associated with BMW was great exposure for other big names.

I suppose if Ford wanted to make a comeback to grand prix racing, they would be knocking on Cosworth's factory gates. But Ford is a company in financial difficulty and companies in dire straits are really run by the Chief Financial Officer, not the marketing guy or even the CEO. Formula 1 is therefore a frivolous pursuit to a company like Ford. In fact the relationship with Ford has always been one sided. Sure, Ford supplied funding and I suppose other technical facilities but the saying was that if the car won, then it was called a Ford engine. If it didn't then it was a Cosworth. Big corporations, huh?

Ideally of course the sport would have a large number of competitors powered by a mix of engine suppliers as it did when the normally aspirated formula began in 1989. Remember, Judd, Hart or even crazy loonies like Yamaha? In fact, even Ilmor could be counted as a specialist once, in the mould of Cosworth. Now of course, Ilmor's Formila 1 operations has been taken over by Mercedes in its entirety. I've always fancied Hart as a good power unit if only someone were to properly fund it. Unfortunately we don't see any other Mansour Ojjehs anywhere. Again, I think this has as much to do with commercial associations as much as technical ability.

Apparently the Koreans are looking to launch a team. Hyundai for one have been mentioned several times by as a possibility for entry using Hyundai badged Cosworth engines. Volkswagen is another name that has been mentioned before as well. But frankly these are cases of wishful thinking.

The Cosworth name still lives on in Indycars and long may it continue. But from a historical and sentimental standpoint, it is sad to see it leave Formula 1, for it has contributed much to the sport. Perhaps it is apt that its departure coincides with that of Michael Schumacher, the last person to give Cosworth a world championship. Some might try to correct me and say that it was a Benetton Ford that won the 1994 driver's title. Only in name for it really was a Cosworth. 10 drivers title, 13 constructors championships and god knows how many victories.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Watch Alonso

With Michael needing Fernando to finish outside the top eight, if at all, there have been suggestions in the press that perhaps some argy bargy would transpire at this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix. Others suggest that perhaps we should be watching the teammates instead. Filipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella are themselves in a battle for the second runner up spot but perhaps it is not unthinkable that they may be called upon to help settle the issue. Perhaps Filipe could "accidentally" run into Fernando at the start. Or indeed Fisi could do the same to Michael. Though I do have my doubts about Fisi wanting to do such things.

All these speculation are purely conspiracy theories you understand. Although I should point out that the three most successfuly drivers of the modern era Prost, Senna and Schumacher have all at one point or another resorted to questionable tactics to win the world title. I can hear the Prost fans howling in protest but lets be realisitic shall we. If you believe that Prost did not know that Senna was side by side with him going into the final chicane at Suzuka in 1989 then you simply must be blind. He knew Senna was coming and bloody hell anyone, least of all a double world champion would notice the red and white nose cone to his right. After all the chicane begins with a right hander and as everyone who has ever driven on a circuit knows you look to where you want the car placed next. And the next corner is a right hander and thats where Senna was incidentally, to Prost's right. That Frog knew he was there and took the line in any case. Of course Nigel Roebuck would never agree with you because he and Prost are such good pals.

Anyway back to 2006 and we ask the question: will Fernando Alonso join the ranks of these greats? Will he simply settle the score and put the game beyond a shadow of a doubt. Why risk engine blow outs, tyre troubles, accidents with drivers and not simply end it right there and then? Its a tight first corner at Interlagos. He can drive straight into Schumi ala Senna or attempt a more subtle but clumsy approach ala Prost and Michael Schumacher circa 1994.

Perhaps Vince McMann... oops sorry, Bernie Ecclestone, will have a hand in this, as alleged by Nigel Mansell, as he did on that fateful day in Adelaide in 1994. Its not beyond shorty.

Whatever it is, I think I will watch Fernando very closely on Sunday. It would be ironic if Michael were to be taken out the way he has taken out others (or attempted to) in the past. Perhaps we need just a little bit more of that good old "natural justice." That would be nice but even better would be for Fernando to win in style as did Mika Hakkinen in 1998.

Monday, October 09, 2006


From's Japanese Grand Prix race report:

"One day perhaps some worthy sociologist will write a dissertation to explain what happened in the Media Centre at Suzuka when Michael Schumacher's Ferrari blew its engine during the Japanese Grand Prix of 2006. There was a roar of approval. A loud roar. The F1 Media - the representatives of the fans (in theory at least) - did not want Michael to win this one. Why did they react as they reacted? Here was a great champion coming to the end of his era and the chroniclers of F1 history were cheering his demise.

Yes, Michael has always been a controversial soul but this seemed to be more than that. This was about natural justice - the phrase even came up in the press conference. It was about overturning the advantage that Michael had gained from the mass damper decision and the penalty against Fernando Alonso at Monza. Alonso talked about God. The non-believers talked about Fate. The ever-efficient Jean Todt talked about failure."

God, fate, the universe, whatever you want to call it, but I have a feeling the divine powers must have been pretty sick of the FIA and Ferrari and decided to give Fernando Alonso a helping hand. It could not have come at a better time. Now its all up to the Spaniard and Renault to collect. Whats most ironic, is that the Ferrari team are the ones blessed by the pontiff but I shall say no more on this....

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Team Orders II

In the wake of the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend, there seems to have been some discontent especially among the tifosi. The source of that discontent being Renault's own team orders during the race.

I've never been against team orders. I think thats just part and parcel of racing for the longest time. But I'm very much against unsporting behaviour and therein lies the difference between Ferrari and Renault (and pretty much everyone else). Other teams at least give both their drivers an equal shot at the championship. Team orders come into play only when one of the drivers no longer has any chance of winning the title. At which point, that driver, not unreasonably, will be asked to lend a hand to his teammate.

At Ferrari, all drivers at any time during the championship will be asked to subsume themselves to Michael Schumacher. The most blatant occurrence of that happened at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when Rubens Barrichello, despite being quicker than Michael all weekend was asked to move over by the Ferrari management. At that point of the season, Michael had already built up such a lead in the championship that such actions were simply uncalled for.

The F2002 was such a vastly superior car that the rest of the field had simply no chance. Why not then, let the Ferrari drivers sort themselves out? As for the FIA, I think they were very much concerned that Ferrari's action had "brought the sport into disrepute." But in this case, they had a point. It was completely unsporting and the fans in Austria let it be known by jeering the Ferrari team during the podium ceremonies.

Its hard to regulate against team orders because for one, teams will find a way round it. But the criteria to be applied, and this is by no means easy, is whether such team orders consistutes unsporting behaviour. In many cases its very hard to tell. The criteria for judging unsporting behaviour is itself undefined. One cannot simply apply the "disrepute" criteria that the FIA loves so much. Disrepute in whose eyes?

However, its easy to see that in the case of the Scuderia, anyone else except Michael has simply no chance at their own ambitions. I find that aspect very repulsive though I suspect that that is Michael's requirements and not necessarily that of Ferrari.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Safety and Gravel Traps

Several years ago, a friend of mine was practising for a saloon car race at Sepang. Rain was pouring down that day and of course he wanted to have a go and get the feel of the car in the wet. Now, my friend has been accused of dubious sanity at times and so it was that day. Coming into turn 12, normally one would stay in third and power out of the turn in the wet. But not he. He decided it to try it in fourth and hope for the best. Well, the tail went and went really fast and he sat there hapless in the driver's seat whilst the car decided it was time to say hello to the gravel.

Now, anyone who's ever built sandcastles would know that a little moisture on the sand will compact the stuff. Well, the gravel on the run off for turn 12 was very wet which made it pretty firm. The car hit the gravel which then sent it rolling over. Thankfully, the roll cage did its job and he was able to walk out and back home to him pregnant wife. No sign of distress or shock, his only complaint was the roof had caved a little and touched his helmet. Incidentally, my friend holds the dubious honour of being the first ever driver to roll over his car at Sepang. Way to go mate! But the point is gravel can indeed be a little dangerous in the wet.

In the dry, it stops a saloon car dead in its tracks with no way out. And formula one cars as well. But sometimes its not unknown for a smooth and relatively flat bottomed single seater to skip over the gravel and plunge directly into the wall. Flipping over can also happen. Wings can break send shards into the cockpit and god knows what other effects incidental to the laws of physics. Which was the argument made by the driver's represented by the Grand Prix Drivers Association for Sunday's race at Monza.

The Monza officials, the FIA and even Bernie jumped in and argued that the high speed safety barriers were state of the art being able to absorb the impact of a Formula 1 travelling at 125mph and yet still be able to keep deceleration forces to tolerable levels for the driver. The Monza officials said that they had no duty to the drivers and only to the FIA. The FIA concurred and said that local officials were under orders to ignore everyone else (including the drivers) when it came to matters of safety. The FIA statement read:

"The owners of circuits licensed for Formula 1 are required not to discuss safety measures with third parties (including drivers)." Pompous arrogant shits. Howzabout they strap themselves into a single seater and crash test the barriers and see if it is a pleasant experience. The GPDA argued that high friction asphalt as used in places like Istanbul was far safer and they would have liked to see them in use in Monza.

But of course that makes sense for given even the slightest whiff of grip and a grand prix car will slow right down to a halt. But if its skipping over gravel (not an unknown occurrence) then no AP Racing calipers and pads will be able to stop a nasty smack in the barriers, which can be a very painful experience. Even crashing into unsecured polystyrene foam can hurt a driver travelling at very high speeds. I've seen that happen at Hockenheim back in the late 80s.

Whatever the case may be I think its one helluva way to treat drivers who are risking their lives out there. Yes, safety improvements have grown leaps and bounds since the 70s but no one wants to be in pain unnecessarily. I think the drivers have legitimate concerns and the FIA and circuit officials need to listen to them. Or at least give some respect to them and meet up as they had agreed at Monza that weekend. The drivers were simply ignored and thats simply not right. Remember it was drivers that started this crusade of safety that the FIA likes to take full credit for in the first place.