Posts filed under Formula 1

Just Say No - To Bernie Ecclestone

While we've never really been big fans of Bernie Ecclestone's leadership of Formula 1 - just when we think that he's already hit the limit of ridiculousness we get news that he's found a way to go even further off the deep end.

You would think that with the anger qualifying in Melbourne generated in the fans, the press, the drivers and even the teams that Bernie would have realized that continuing to mess with qualifying isn't a popular idea.  But then again, Bernie has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue - it's been widely reported that he described Melbourne's qualifying as "pretty crap,"  and then in the days afterward pushing for the new knockout format to remain even in a potentially modified format.

But Bernie continues to show that he's learned absolutely nothing from opening weekend.  According to Motorsport, he isn't interested in returning to the qualification system that worked successfully for years, the system that teams, fans and drivers understood; a system that most importantly produced a lot of edge of your seat moments...

Instead, Bernie is now pushing two options, one we've heard of - Time Ballast or Qualifying Penalties which are added automatically to the qualifying time of the race or podium winners of the previous race.  The idea is that by forcing these drivers down the grid they would need to fight their way through the grid on race day and provide us all with better racing - see also reverse grids, or last week's podcast where we talked about The Big Book of Top Gear 2009...  The reality though is that in Melbourne we also saw first hand how such a strategy would work - because the current aero rules prevent close racing for long stretches and many tracks are extremely difficult to pass, successful drivers find themselves pinned behind slower cars, not because they don't have the skill or speed to pass, but because designing a successful modern F1 car doesn't allow for managing the turbulence generated by other cars on the track.  

But what's really more likely to happen is that teams will look at a driver's standings and decide to pull their cars back.  Opting for consistent second and third place finishes in order to minimize the time penalty on their qualifying for their next race quite possibly may be more attractive than being forced to take two steps back for every race win.  Fans already complain when drivers are told to conserve tires or fuel - imagine the furor when drivers start pulling back so that they avoid a qualifying penalty at their next race...

Arguably the whole purpose for monkeying with qualifying is to produce not just better action on raceday, but also better action on Saturdays as well, which makes Bernie's other proposal so mindblowing - basing grid positions on a vote.  Admittedly we don't have any detail on how this proposal would work - but one of the key reasons why Melbourne's qualifying was such a failure is because cars weren't on the track.  At first glance - determining grid position based on a vote would appear to eliminate the need for cars on the track on Saturday completely, and using this vote to impact drivers final position on the grid after running on Saturday doesn't sound like a great idea either.

But that gets us back to the headline.  Over the last two years its becoming more and more clear that just because something appears to be a monumentally stupid idea isn't a deterrent to Bernie.  In fact, the more gimmicky an idea appears to be (assuming it has nothing to do with the internet) the more likely it is now becoming that Bernie will latch on to it.

One of the arguments that has come forward in the last two weeks has been over the management and rule making structure of Formula 1.  Control has been taken away from Bernie's FOM and the FIA and instead the team's have the ability to influence the direction of the sport.  Many have called for a "benevolent dictator" to step up and take control, because the teams are looking only for an advantage for themselves and aren't thinking about the sport as a whole.  This is a role that Bernie held in the past, and arguably he brought the sport great success during that time.  But his recent initiatives - the high degradation tires, double points, qualifying revisions, exorbitant event fees, among others show that he's not the right person to pull the sport out of the tailspin it's currently in.  If anything, the blame for putting the sport into that tailspin rests largely with Bernie.

It's time for somebody to take control of F1 - but not Bernie Ecclestone.

Posted on April 1, 2016 and filed under Formula 1.

Red Bull Leaving F1 - Don't Bet On It

One of the things that has gotten many F1 pundits and lots of fans in a tizzy this past week are the comments by both Red Bull's Bearded Leader Christian Horner and Helmut Marco expressing disgust over the team's change in fortunes, going so far as to say that the team could leave F1 if team owner Dietrich Mateschitz "looses his passion for F1."  Words that were meant to capture attention, and they definitely did.

But how likely is Red Bull to leave F1?  Well, if you look a bit deeper than last week's performance in Australia you quickly discover that there are a few tethers the team have to Formula 1...  For example, just last year Formula 1 returned to Austria...  Specifically Formula 1 returned to the newly renovated Red Bull Ring.  The Red Bull Ring that Dietrich Mateschitz spent an estimated 70M Euros to renovate and attract Formula 1 and other race series back to the track.  It seems highly unlikely that after spending that much money to bring the track up to F1 standards and working to bring the series back to Austria that Mr Mateschitz would be quite so willing to walk away from the series.

But look even closer.  Red Bull is also a member of Formula 1's Strategy Group, they are entitled to participate in the Strategy Group for the same reason that Red Bull also received a greater share of the prize fund than several smaller teams - because they've committed to remain in the sport until 2020.  Red Bull's not going anywhere anytime soon, no matter what the Bearded Leader is saying.

And let's not forget, as a member of the F1 Strategy Group, Red Bull was involved in the drafting and adoption of the rules.  V6 Turbo Engines, fuel restrictions, 4 engines for the season, distribution of prize money, all of those things are determined by the Strategy Group.  Red Bull signed off on every one of these changes.  The Bearded Leader has admitted that he could have spoken up and blocked these rules - and decided not to.

It seems that this season Red Bull plans on playing the victim, and they're hoping that we'll all forget their role in putting Formula 1 into the state that it's in now.  They're also hoping that we'll all forget how tone deaf they were during their four years at the top and other teams were pushing for the changes that Red Bull is pushing for now.

Red Bull can toss their toys out of the crib, they can threaten to hold their breath until they pass out, they can even threaten to take their ball and go home...  But they played a big role in getting into this mess - and if they're not willing to put the effort into fixing the problem, they're going to be hard pressed to pack up and walk away.

Posted on March 18, 2015 and filed under Formula 1.

Domination is Ok, As Long as Its Us

Sometimes you have to wonder how F1 Team Principals keep a straight face when they talk to the media...

Whether it's Bob Fernley at Force India when he claims that the team's opposition to Manor/Marrusia's return isn't related to money, or any time anybody at Ferrari says pretty much anything about their performance...

But this week's (or at least today's) "Are you kidding me?" award  has to go to Red Bull's bearded leader Christian Horner...  To be more specific, FOUR TIME CONSTRUCTOR'S CHAMPIONSHIP WINNING Red Bull's bearded leader Christian Horner who in an interview stated that Mercedes current engine advantage is turning away fans...    This is the same team boss who in 2013 as the team and Sebastian Vettel were cruising to their 4th consecutive championships stated that he wasn't concerned by the "boring dominance."

As some point I'm sure that Ferrari is also going to chime in over how Mercedes is ruining the sport by continuing to be successful.  Why not, when they've done it before?  Besides, it makes perfect sense for a team that won 8 Constructors Championships in 10 years (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007,2008) to complain that it's boring when a single team is successful over a long period of time...

Posted on March 4, 2015 and filed under Formula 1.

Are The Buzzards Circling Force India?

Force India, while a strong mid-pack team hasn't traditionally been a financially strong team.  Much of the team's finances were based on the successes of team owner Vijay Mallya, and one of the big pieces of his fortune was the low cost airline Kingfisher Air.

Things looked dim for the team in late 2012 when Kingfisher went bust, but somehow the team struggled along.   Cracks started appearing again around Austin when team principal Bob Fernley threatened to boycott the race due to concerns over F1s distribution of funds to the teams.  Ultimately no boycott happened but grumbling continued.

Force India missed last week's testing.

As we mentioned last week, Force India vetoed Manor Racing's push to start this season with a 2014.  To date the team is the only one to come forward and admit to vetoing the entry, which they insist wasn't due to financial reasons even though they'll get more money from FOM if Marrusia's 2014 prize money is forfeit.

We also got word last week that even though Force India won't let Manor run with at 2014 car - Force India will be doing just that at this week's testing.  The reason for the 2014 car - because supposedly the failure of Caterham and Marussia delayed wind tunnel testing and suppliers now want cash up front.

But money is apparently so tight at Force India, that not only aren't they running their 2015 car at the second test - but Force India will be letting Mercedes development driver Pascal Wehrlein drive the first two days of this week's test...  It's doubtful that this isn't being done without Mercedes providing Force India with some "financial consideration"

But outside of Formual 1 it appears that there are further cracks in Vijay Mallya's empire.  The State Bank of India (SBI) is reportedly about to seize Kingfisher House home to key offices of the grounded airline.  Mallya's apparently been named a "Willful Defaulter" by the United Bank of India and SBI is preparing to do the same, for being able to pay back his debts, but refusing to do so.  

Kingfisher Airlines wasn't Mallya's only business, he has a minority stake in Diageo a major beverage company, and is the Chairman of United Beverages Group (which produces Kingfisher Beer), along with three Indian football teams.  None of these groups appear to be struggling, so the money may be there to feed to Force India - if Mallya is inclined to.  Right now, he seems to be willing to let the team flounder through the pre-season.


Posted on February 18, 2015 and filed under Formula 1.

First 2015 Winter Test Complete

Last week was the first test of the F1 season in Jerez, Spain, and here's some of what we know and don't know...

  1. Force India wasn't there - claiming everything from supplier issues, to cold temps, to an abrasive track surface, to Jerez just not being relevant, Force India was absent from last week's testing.  They admit that this year's car isn't ready yet, and won't be ready for the second test in about two weeks.  Rumors are circling that the team not only won't be ready to test at either session in Barcelona, but won't be ready to compete in Melbourne.
  2. Ferrari power was fastest in Jerez - On the plus side Ferrari powered cars were at the top of the time sheets every day of testing last week, with only Sauber taking the top spot from Ferrari one day of testing.  What we don't know, about Ferrari's performance - a lot.  For starters, was either team's speed due to better engine performance or a lower fuel load?  Was either Ferrari team running at full power?
  3. Mercedes ran a lot.  On the first day of testing they got in a staggering 157 laps, which may be a record for any day of testing.  Over the course of the entire test, Mercedes got in 516 laps - no other team ran more than 400 laps.  The one weakness of the team last year was reliability, and while the test wasn't trouble free for the team it looks like they've made progress on stamping out last year's bugs...  The question is - how much did they have their power unit turned down?
  4. McLaren Honda ran a little.  Much like last year's post season test in AbuDhabi, McLaren Honda is still struggling to get their program in gear. They did get in more running than Red Bull did last year, so I guess that's a plus.  At least Eric Boullier says it is...
  5. Red Bull is hiding something.  Red Bull's new car ran the test clad in swirly camouflage more commonly spotted on concept cars being tested by an auto maker and not typically found on a race car.  So the question is - what are they hiding?
  6. Caterham is done.  Probably.  Administrator Finbarr O'Connell says that the packages for the potential buyers weren't as advanced as he would have liked and now the team is up for liquidation.  Auctions are scheduled for March to sell off several of the remaining assets.  So it looks like the team is done.
  7. Marussia might not be done. Even though much of the team's assets were auctioned off in December, it's not all gone yet, and Graeme Lowdon, former team principal says that he has the money to resurrect the team now known as Manor Racing.  The problem is, they don't currently have a car that's compliant with the 2015 regulations.  The team got clearance from the FIA to run a modified 2014 car to start the season - but the teams get final approval of the plan and they needed to approve it unanimously.  Unfortunately Force India voted it down.  Now remember, in order for Marussia/Manor to collect their share of the 2014 prize fund that they're owed, they need to compete in 2015, if the team can't compete in 2015 that share of the prize money goes to the remaining teams...  Bob Fernley at Force India swears that his veto of Manor's application wasn't money related, Bob Fernley at Force India who tried to stage a boycott of last year's Grand Prix of America due how prize money is distributed.  Bob Fernley at Force India - who missed the first test of the season, will most likely miss the second test of the season and rumor has it, might not make it to the first race of the season...  As the saying goes - J'Accuse!!!
Posted on February 9, 2015 and filed under Formula 1.