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Pirelli: Have they gone too far?

After the first four flyaway races, we’ve had four different winners, some excellent races and a high level of competition, but currently within F1 there seems to be a bubbling undercurrent of gripes and grumbles about the present state of the sport. Some drivers are making it publicly known (the two Mercedes drivers being the major ones) that they are not entirely happy with the way they are going racing on the tyres that Pirelli are providing to them, Michael Schumacher even comparing them to ‘raw eggs’. His teammate Nico Rosberg, despite becoming a Grand Prix winner for the first time using these same tyres, has noted that F1 is a somewhat different sport now to what it classically has been.

What is interesting about these remarks, and the other negative mentions that the drivers are sending the Italian firm’s way, is that it is probably the first instance in the near 18 months of the ‘Pirelli era’ that there is the potential for a large outcry against the intergrity of the tyres that Pirelli are producing. The main aspect that is under question is that many drivers, engineers, fans and journalists feel that the 24 F1 drivers are not able to push to their own or their car’s limits at any point during a race, as doing so will adversely affect the tyres and by default their race. They are living in fear of the tyres ‘falling off the cliff’, rather than being in control of it.

Now to my eye, putting the drivers in control of tyre wear and making teams work their strategies around their particular flaws or strengths was Pirelli’s own remit when building the control tyres for F1. We all saw how good the Canadian Grand Prix was in 2010, where Bridgestone’s normally more conservative compounds were replaced with a softer set that when combined with the more abrasive tarmac at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, made for more ‘edgy’ tyre wear and accentuated differences between drivers in how they used their tyres and the strategies that were borne out of that. However, drivers were still able to push hard in the race, knowing that the tyre itself was still sturdy enough to withstand some quicker laps at the expense of ultimate grip later in the stint. Pirelli saw that race and stated they wanted to emulate that in their own compounds. The 2011 season showed that quite well. The Pirelli P-Zero’s were different in style to the Bridgestone Potenza’s they replaced, but achieved similar results to the Canada-spec tyres from 2010. Pirelli achieved this by making the tyre wear more mechanically, meaning that there was less of a chemical reaction between the rubber and the road. This also meant that the track would not ‘rubber in’ as much as before, so tyre wear would not improve as the race went on, save for the improvements that a car with less fuel than at the start would naturally have. The tyres seemed a little peaky in the first couple of races, but largely by the time the circus moved on to Europe the teams had mostly got on top of any problems they were having.

By the end of the season tyre wear and ‘the cliff’ were for the most part non-issues, and Pirelli said that this had to be addressed for the next season, despite the fact that we had still seen excellent racing in the latter half of the year when tyre wear and management was not as crucial as in the first half. This was not on, said Pirelli and they sought to make the tyres even more ‘edgy’.

We have now arrived at a point where aerodynamically, smaller diffusers and overtaking aids like KERS and DRS have made racing in close company much more attainable (I shan’t say easy as following each other at F1 speeds is something beyond most of us). This was evident through 2009 when the massive double diffusers were not fully omnipresent on the grid, and in 2011 as well when drivers were in similar phases of tyre life. So why won’t Pirelli make a tyre that is easier to lean on, that gives drivers a chance to push during a stint, like for example Michael Schumacher’s own wunder-stint of qualifying laps in Hungary 1998? Or even Mark Webber’s excellent work to secure his first win at the Nurburgring in 2009, overcoming a drive-through penalty with some incredible laps.

Lewis Hamilton’s race in Bahrain is an interesting place to look at why Pirelli should look at tougher tyres. After having two nightmare pitstops, Hamilton was further back in the top 10 that his car and pace throughout the weekend should’ve had him, but he had no chance to regain any of that lost time, because if he were to essentially go too fast, his tyres would shred to bits and he’d have to pit again. Now this ‘too fast’ is not way over the limits of either Hamilton’s talent, or his car. Both can go quicker. The tyres can’t. The tyres are now a limiting factor in a race, where they should be a liberating one. A liberating tyre allows for both good and bad usage of the tyre. A driver is able to push his car and tyres to the limits in order to exact a particular strategy or idea (ala Schumacher all those years ago at the Hungaroring), or he gets too heavy on his pedals and wears them out through driving too hard. That is down to the driver, not the tyre. The tyre is a tool for expression, whereas these current Pirelli’s are oppressive.

We may very well have visually exciting races, but under the veneer of ‘classic Grand Prix racing’ is something that’s very… deceitful. On these Pirelli tyres you will never see a classic charge from the back/from an error. You will never see a driver hounding another for lap after lap (just look at how Raikkonen only got one real shot at overtaking Vettel, because he was then forced to look after his tyres… after one chance!). You will never see a driver truly flex his muscles and go on a super stint of 110% pace and effort. But you will see pass after pass purely because the driver ahead has reached the point on the tyre where the grip just fades… just like that. Why put the effort in on Saturday for qualifying when you can aim to start 11th and get some extra sets of fresh tyres?

None of what we have currently is truly exciting. It may seem like it, but to me there’s no lasting joy after a 2012 F1 race, whatever my driver and team allegiances. And to have a tyre company have an entire championship in it’s palm like that is just plain wrong to me. There are drivers becoming gradually disillusioned because they are unable to do what they have been training to do practically their entire lives… drive at the limit.

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F1 2012 – First Launches and thoughts…

So as of me writing this, we’ve seen 2 of the cars that will be competing in the 2012 F1 season launched, each from teams looking to make a step up in the competitive order from last season, though they are of different ambitions. The first car we saw was the Caterham (neé Team Lotus) CT-01, ‘launched’ via the pages of F1 Racing magazine on the 26th January. The car is meant to be the final step up to points-scoring contention that the ambitious Caterham team have been looking for the last two seasons. It’s development has been aided by lots of appointments to the team, notably some from Force India including Mark Smith the new Technical Director.

The uncompromising looks of the new Caterham F1 challenger.

Now as we can see in the picture above, the new car has taken the amendments to the regulations quite literally, in that they have lowered the nose of the car to it’s 550mm limit, but kept the bulkhead of the chassis at 625mm, incorporating a large step in the nose with some sculpted ‘horns’ (seen before on previous Red Bull cars, but not with the step in the chassis/nose join). The intention of this is to retain the maximum amount of space under the nose, to allow as much airflow as possible to flow underneath and to the splitter where it then gets forced under and around the rest of the car. What the step will or won’t do for over-body aero though is not sure, though it has been commented by many that the solution looks a more CFD-based idea than a traditionally drawn-out one. Having said that this step in the nose is expected to be seen on most of the 2012 cars, as that space under the nose is highly prized by all but a few design heads within the teams. It may look disjointed at first, but I personally don’t find the renders that flattering anyway, so it may look better ‘in the flesh’.

The side profile of the new CT-01

The side profile of the car also shows the other main feature of the Regulation tweaks for the new season, which is to try and eliminate the exhaust-blown diffusers that were becoming a budget-dependent element of the car design. The new regulations mandate certain horizontal and vertical angles for the exhausts, and Caterham have chosen what could be described as a conventional approach to this. We can also see that the car ‘seems’ longer in relation to it’s predecessor the Lotus T128, but of course that’s merely conjecture. Also note how steep the step in the nose actually is, the Caterham car giving a very good example of the literal implications of the FIA’s tweaks. The aesthetes do not approve, and it’s likely to be an issue that gets further amendment in line for 2013 (most likely will be mandating a lower chassis to the same height as the nose). Everything else on the car is just what is needed for this team, further development, but along conventional F1 lines. They can’t afford to take a big risk and create a radical design when they know what works on the other cars.

One point I’d like to make though about this car (and others who follow the similar trend ) is the steep angle of the front suspension. I’m not an engineer by any stretch of the imagination, but to me this set-up leads to an aerodynamically and mechanically understeery car (hear me out….). My thinking is that both the aim of the high chassis (to steer air under the car and to the rear) and the steep suspension make this a car that is naturally going to have more grip at the back. The suspension itself is incredibly steeply angled, and that can mean having to run a softer/compromised spring/damper setup to avoid slippage when riding bumps etc. as the suspension arms have a very narrow (even for F1 cars) range of travel before the tyre is then being pushed outwards by the suspension moving up. It’s a point I’ll come back to when looking at the next car to launch, as it follows a very different design path to this one…

Otherwise I’m quietly confident about this car. I’ve got the general feeling that this is a proper contemporary F1 car built by the wonderful people at Hingham, and scoring not just one but several points should be on the agenda for this year.

The second car I’ll be looking at is the always much-anticipated new McLaren. The MP4-27 is aiming to be the car to break the Red Bull stranglehold on the F1 titles, and to bring it’s drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton up to the top step of the podium a lot more than the 6 times they achieved this last year.

The new McLaren is revealed

We can see already that this is a tightly packaged and aggressive looking car, as has been the case with the last two McLaren cars also. Notably there is no step in the chassis/nose join as seen on the Caterham and expected on many other cars, as McLaren have followed their own concept and stuck with a lower chassis, enabling them to utilise a much cleaner over-body aero shape. McLaren have bucked the trend for maximum under-nose airflow, instead pursuing a concept that uses the ‘snowplough’ turning vane at the front of the nose, along with some other vanes and bits underneath, that pushes the air where they want it to go, also producing a few points of downforce itself along with it. This also ties in with what I was referring to with the suspension geometry of the Caterham compared to this car. The McLaren features visibly lower and flatter suspension arms, which allow for much more useable travel, but also allow the team to run the car a lot stiffer overall to the benefit of mechanical grip at the front. Many times over the last two seasons we’ve seen the McLaren skipping over bumps and kerbs, but the car simply doesn’t need to run as soft as the others in order to hold the road. It also creates a much more stable platform for the aerodynamics to work with, rather than having a car that rises and falls considerably depending on what corner they’re in.

Another visible feature of the MP4-27 is the return to conventional sidepods, coming from last year’s ‘U-pods’ on the -26. This was expected as the return to ‘periscope’ exhausts rather than running them along the floor of the car means that the U-shape was not as feasible as last year. This will be mainly for internal packaging reasons to do with relocating the exhausts, coupled with revised aero concepts.

Of course with every McLaren there’s inevitably some ‘out-there’ feature that generates a lot of interest. Last year it was the U-pods and the invisible exhausts (the infamous Octopus design…), this year it’s the rather bulbous exhaust outlet.

The 'interesting' exhaust outlets on the new McLaren

As we can see it’s a rather ungainly appendage, that at first glance almost looks like an afterthough that was grafted on (you never know with McLaren, of course this could be a dummy as per last years launch). It’s seated quite low on the sidepod, but is angled towards the rear wing with the presumable intention of creating a blowing effect on the rear wing similar to the effect of the exhausts on the diffuser in the last two seasons. McLaren did say in the launch Q&A that they would be testing a number of different options, so we will look with great interest as to what they will roll out with at Jerez next week!

Of course, like 2011 I will be attending the tests in Jerez next week, and will be attempting to take many pictures and videos of the action, and hope to give a daily update of goings-on, with perhaps a few surprises thrown in as well!

 

Credit for the photos should go to http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk, they always have the best high-res photos for us geeks to look at in the tiniest of detail!

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Christmas Treats…

Rather than the usual diet of Christmas TV specials and other stuff that gets rolled out every year, why not have a trip through YouTube and find some classic F1 and other motorsport videos?

I’ve chosen some good starters for you to have a good YouTube session!…

To start with, I’ve chosen the final laps of this year’s Bathurst 1000km, a fantastic touring car race that winds it way around the picturesque Mount Panorama in Australia. There have been many epic battles over the many years of racing here, but this years final tussle between the leading car of Garth Tander (sharing the car with rookie Nick Percat) and the closing Craig Lowndes, who was sharing his car with multiple Bathurst winner Mark Skaife. The tyres on the leading car are clearly fading, and Lowndes can smell blood…

Sticking with the hardtop theme, this is a highlights video from the Sugo round of the 2010 Japanese Super GT series. Again it involves a last lap battle, but there is also plenty action throughout the race to keep you happy. These cars are probably the fastest GT cars in the world, with massive downforce levels and 500bhp on tap, plus national pride at stake as the main contenders are the 3 big domestic car companies; Toyota (through Lexus), Nissan and Honda.

A collection of some of my favourite online videos wouldn’t be complete without at least one Ayrton Senna offering. Here is a tour of Suzuka Circuit with commentary from the equally missed James Hunt;

Going back to Tintops, a great childhood memory of mine is watching the 1998 BTCC round at Donington, featuring a certain Nigel Mansell in a special appearance for Ford. Nigel certainly has no qualms about getting stuck into the action with the series regulars, and classic racing ensues…

One of the best races this year (and any year come to think of it) was the Canadian Grand Prix, with the torrential rain, the (admittedly boring) red flag period, and the adventures of one Jenson Button, who after a few scrapes with his teammate and Fernando Alonso found himself at the very back of the field. Come the last lap and it becomes a very different story, as Button has charged his way up (overtaking everyone in sight and at times lapping 3-4 seconds faster than anyone) to a few tenths behind leader Sebastian Vettel. Vettel is getting scruffy with his lines, dipping his Red Bull off the ribbon of dry tarmac and onto the wet stuff….

Apologies for the music etc. on this video, it’s so hard to find F1 videos as Bernie likes to get them taken down…

Whilst it may be lacking in works LMP representation aside from the big events like Petite Le Mans and the 12hrs of Sebring, the American Le Mans Series is always good value for it’s battles in the GT category. Porsche, Chevrolet, Ferrari and BMW are all represented by works or semi-works outfits, and the racing is often quite intense, as this battle at the end of the 6 hour race at Laguna Seca shows;

Whilst it’s not every Yooropeen’s cup of tea, NASCAR can be rather good viewing, and even better when they make their visits to the ‘proper’ road circuits. Here is Aussie V8 convert Marcos Ambrose winning his first Sprint Cup race amidst some chaos further back. Boogity, boogity, boogity….

This is just a taster of what you can find out there, so if you’re bored on a weekend sometime next year, just remember that there’s any number of racing series out there that are just as exciting as each other!

Grand Prix Heroes: Damon Hill

As a 22 year old man I grew up watching Formula 1 in the early 90’s, with great drivers like Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and many more being the shining lights of the sport. I admire these drivers immensely, because of their skill and determination and rivalries amongst each other, but despite all this my favourite driver of all time is 1996 Champion Damon Hill. He is a driver who is vastly underrated by the modern F1 audience, most of whom have their memories of the 90’s coloured by pictures of Mansellmania at Silverstone 92, Senna’s bright yellow helmet darting between corners, thoroughly in control of a car that at times hardly looked like it, and Schumacher’s intensity and amazing speed. They brush off Hill’s achievements, suggesting it was purely the work of the excellent Williams cars he was afforded from his first full-time drive in 1993, and suggest that he was not a true rival to Schumacher, the leading driver after the loss of Senna in 94.

But still when you look at the all-time wins list, you will see that Damon is the 11th most-winning driver of all-time with 22 victories (granted that’s going to be beaten soon by the likes of Vettel and Hamilton), more than Mika Hakkinen (the man lauded as Schumacher’s greatest rival), more than other greats such as Mario Andretti, Alberto Ascari, his own father Graham Hill, and plenty others. He won one world title, and could’ve won another if not for a controversial incident at the last race of 1994 that still can rankour. He wowed fans in later seasons with performances in cars that were not meant to be that quick, and he did all this despite only starting car racing full-time in 1985 at 25 years old, an age where Ayrton Senna was already a race winner in F1, and where most of today’s field have already amassed a similar number of starts as Damon’s own record.

In the same way the F1 media melt over how smooth Jenson Button’s driving style is, you can look to Damon Hill for an earlier reference to that. Every steering motion was a simple arc, only adding as much lock as would get the car round the corner, minimising energy and momentum lost through extraneous steering movements. Similarly he was kind to his car, being able to get around problems by adapting in the cockpit (something admittedly other drivers might’ve been better at, Schumacher being an prime example) and most of the time he was just plain fast.

And here is my write-up of my favourite Damon Hill race (and it’s not even one he won!!):

Hungarian Grand Prix 1997

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adZD6xAFM0U

For UK readers, you can watch short highlights of the race on the BBC website here:

The drive that (nearly) surprised the world.

Hill scythes past Schumacher to take the lead on lap 11

Damon Hill, after his title winning year in 1996, had left Williams and taken what was viewed as a rather odd decision to join the midfield Arrows team. It was rumoured that he had had offers from both McLaren and possibly Ferrari, as well as interest from up-and-coming Jordan, but he took the number 1 to the Leafield team, who only scored one point the year before and had never won a race in their 20 year F1 history. The season started embarassingly for Damon and the team when he had to retire on the parade lap, having qualified a lowly 20th, some 5 seconds off his former Williams teammate Jacques Villeneuve. More reliability woes hampered Damon’s season until a breakthrough in his home race saw him take the Arrows to 6th place and a very popular point for the home crowd. It was the Hungarian race a few weeks later that really summed up Damon as a driver and put a nice bit of glory on his otherwise disappointing season.

In 1997, for the first time since 1991, there were two tyre suppliers in Formula 1. Bridgestone were the newcomers, and there were certain tracks over the course of the year that really suited the Japanese rubber over it’s American Goodyear rivals. Hungary was one of those and the weekend saw the Bridgestone-shod teams display an increase in competitiveness relative to the previous order of the grid. Hill had always been particularly good at this circuit, a slow winding track that masks deficits in horsepower and requires a smooth driving style for the constant weight transfer going on between the seemingly endless stream of corners. Aside from his debut year in the awful Brabham, Damon had never been off the podium in Hungary, and he went about keeping that record up in the best possible way in qualifying by planting his A18 Arrows-Yamaha 3rd on the grid, just 3 tenths off pole position. The next Bridgestone runner in comparison was Rubens Barrichello in 11th, and he was 2 seconds faster than his teammate Pedro Diniz. Come race day, and a hot Grand Prix beckoned.

Damon got a good start and assumed 2nd, benefitting from Villeneuve’s poor getaway from 2nd and falling to 5th. It looked like the Arrows was going to do the leading Ferrari of Schumacher a favour, holding up the cars behind on a circuit notorious of lack of overtaking opportunities, save for a chance going into Turn 1. The Ferrari was particularly heavy on it’s Goodyear tyres in the heat, and the Arrows inbetween Schumacher and his title pursuers would do him no end of good. But as the race settled, it seemed like Hill was actually catching Michael, and by lap 11 the Arrows was close enough behind going down the pit straight for the Brit to dive down the inside of the Ferrari and snatch the lead going through turn 1! Incredible!

The race then became a matter of Hill vs. the hard tyre compound-shod Williams Frentzen, whose gamble was paying off in the hot conditions. However, a broken fuel valve caused the German to retire, and left Damon with a comfortable lead over his ex-teammate Villeneuve. Schumacher was now struggling with the tyre-hungry Ferrari and had fallen back into a fight between himself, his younger brother Ralf in the Jordan, and Johnny Herbert having a great race in the Sauber. All looked very comfortable for Damon to take his first victory since Japan 1996, and the Arrows team’s first win ever. He was driving as smoothly, yet quickly, as he had done in the supreme Williams’ the previous years.

But luck wasn’t on his side. After driving serenely and pulling away from the following cars, on lap 75, with 2 to go, Damon was seen to be weaving his car erratically down straight sections, and pulling very slowing away from corners. He was losing momentum, and it was obvious that some mechanical problem had intervened and was threatening his race. There was a leak in the hydraulic system, which was now causing problems with the throttle and gearbox, both operated hydraulically. The Arrows was now crawling as it came into the last lap, and it was just a case of if Villeneuve could catch Hill before the race finished, if the Arrows could even make it that far. Villeneuve’s Williams did get past him quite early in the lap, and such was the gap to Herbert’s Sauber behind that Damon could crawl across the finish line 9 seconds adrift of the winning Williams and 11 ahead of the following Sauber. It was a very cruel end to what looked for most of the race like one of the great wins of the modern F1 era, but alas it was merely to be one of the great drives of both Hill’s career and that decade, fortune just falling short of letting Arrows win. It showed that Damon was still one of the world’s top drivers, regardless of what car he was in.

Keeping it old school…

We all know that Formula 1 is a breeding ground for new ideas and new thinking, and over it’s history we have seen many individual breakthroughs that have then quickly become the norm within the sport. Trying to find that extra edge and speed is something all F1 engineers thrive on, but some teams and cars are notable for bucking the trend and keeping old ideas around much longer than they should be. Here are just a selection:

Forti Corse FG01 – The manual gearbox

Amongst the many ‘here-today gone-tomorrow’ teams that appeared in the late 80’s and early 90’s were Forti Corse. A good F3000 (the rung below F1) squad who had aspirations to more, they secured a budget to build and race an F1 car through the wealthy father of F3000 driver Pedro Diniz, who would drive for the new team in 1995.

Now despite being effectively underwritten by Diniz Sr., the team was not as monied as it’s future rivals, and couldn’t afford to hire the top engineers or designers. In search for a chassis to use, they approached Sergio Rinland, an experienced designer, to consult their team on how to go about making their car. Rinland’s last F1 design had been the neat, if underdeveloped, Fondmetal car used in 1992, and this was reputedly the base for the FG01. A 3 year old blueprint was hastily reworked to incorporate some of the more modern trends in F1 design, such as a raised nose and updated sidepods, but there wasn’t time or money to work on having some brand new kit inside the car itself. The engine was an old Ford unit, several rungs below the standard of the equipment afforded to Sauber (the works Ford squad for that year), the monocoque was bulky and overweight, and the roll-hoop was just that, rather than including an airbox as well as per all other teams.

The frankly awful and ancient Forti FG01

But the most ‘ancient’ bit of kit on the car was the gearbox. Mated to the Ford engine because of it’s relative age (the ED Ford V8 was old back in 1992!), it was a Hewland 6-speed manual gearbox, which was completely out of touch with the modern semi-automatic paddle-shift gearboxes commonplace throughout the grid, big-budget frontrunner or not. The first semi-automatic gearbox had been introduced to F1 by Ferrari in 1989, allowing the driver clutchless shifting and removing the need to take one’s hands off the steering wheel to change gear. At first it was unreliable, though famously in it’s first race Nigel Mansell won over 61 laps when the car had previously only completed a few at a time before the gearbox expired. Mansell had booked a flight home that was due to take off in the middle of the race, though he wasn’ too sad to have missed having won the race instead… Over the next few years the technology was refined, and the systemwas now available to even the most frugal teams, for whom it was necessary just to keep up with the relentless pace of development in F1.

Forti could not afford that luxury until the middle of the 1995 season, and they had unfortunately already set the tone for their stay in F1. They were to bow out through lack of finances in mid-1996.

 

Minardi 2002-2005 – Same Chassis

Minardi were always the plucky underdog team, a team that lived at the back of the grid but were a proving ground for those destined for greater things. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber were all given their first F1 drives by the little team from Faenza. Many top technical staff who flourished at bigger teams also started their work at Minardi, who had a knack for always turning a neat handling car, despite it’s lack of downforce and development compared to the big spending leading teams. Living hand to mouth was part and parcel of Minardi’s existence, with pay drivers filling the seats so the young stars could race and cut-price engines not providing the kind of power needed to compete at the front, but by 2001 the team were in real trouble. Only a last minute deal cut with Australian aviation entrepeneur Paul Stoddart in early 2001 saved the team from closing down. However, Stoddart himself was a hand-to-mouth kind of guy too, and the team saw no leap in competitiveness under his stewardship. Gustav Brunner had designed the neat 2001 car, but had defected to Toyota in the middle of the 2001 season, leaving the relatively inexperience Gabriele Tredozi as lead designer. Tredozi created 2002’s PS02 car, again a neat effort from the Faenza boys, which in debutant Mark Webber’s hands scored a famous 5th place at his home Australian Grand Prix, a race of high attrition. The team would not score any other points that year, and went into 2003 with a lack of funds again.

Tredozi could do nothing but update the aerodynamics and other upgrade work to the basic monocoque of the PS02, which would be rehomologated for 2003 as the PS03. Stoddart was hoping the that revised car would be able to break into the points and become a regular scorer, but in reality with only 12 days windtunnel testing, and a row with tyre supplier Bridgestone that had left the team testing on F3000-spec Avon tyres for several days, it was going to be an uphill struggle for the team. Despite some encouraging pace at some events from drivers Justin Wilson (who left to join Jaguar mid-season, replaced by Nicolas Kiesa) and Jos Verstappen, no points were scored again.

2004’s F1 regulations were essentially static from the previous year, so again in order to reduce costs, Technical Director Tredozi used the same basic tub as he had the two years before in creating the PS04. Cosworth were now providing the team with year-old Jaguar works engines, so the power output was only moderately behind the manufacturer teams, and reliability had been improved from the 2003 car as well, which had failed several times on Wilson and Verstappen that season. The new drivers (both bringing budgets with them in order to support the team) were Italian Gianmaria Bruni (now a top GT racer for Ferrari) and Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner, who had moved from Jordan that winter. With the newer engines and improved reliability, Minardi were able to score their first championship point since Australia 2002 when Baumgartner finished 8th in the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. In fact, the team was not all that far off the pace of the now similarly cash-strapped Jordan team (5 points), but also the megabucks Toyota squad (9 points), who were rumoured to be spending almost as much as Ferrari. However, the regulations were changing for 2005 and Minardi would have to find some money in order to modify their cars to comply. By the opening of the season they were still using the PS04 from last year, with Stoddart threatening to withdraw the cars if they were forced to comply with the new aerodynamic regulations, something he said the team could not afford to do. The cars were eventually hastily revised in order to compete, but the chassis and basic car layout still remained the same as the one that rolled out in Melbourne 3 years earlier. A new car was to be made for the rest of the season, and Tredozi, although still working around the initial chassis layout from 3 years earlier, was able to turn out the first ‘all-new’ Minardi in several years in order to race the rest of the season. Minardi were to score their final points finishes in the controversial 2005 US Grand Prix, a race only started by 6 cars (all on Bridgestone tyres) as the Michelin-shod runners withdrew after safety issues with the french supplier’s rubber. In late 2005 the team was sold by Paul Stoddart to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who renamed the team Scuderia Toro Rosso (to the dismay of many F1 fans who wanted the Minardi name to stay) but kept the team based at Faenza. In 2008 at the Italian Grand Prix, the team formerly known as Minardi were to score their first Grand Prix victory with Sebastian Vettel winning at a wet Monza to the shock and delight of F1 fans around the world.

The first Tredozi-designed Minardi, note the shape of the nose and chassis around the driver...

The final Minardi, the PS05... this car was brand new, but the chassis lines still look rather familiar...

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HRT – Really that bad?

We see all over the internet and on TV fans, commentators, media etc. that there isn’t much love or respect for the poor old HRT team. Scraping their way onto the grid in 2010 with an underdeveloped Dallara car, no resources and inexperienced drivers, they were expected to shuffle off the F1 mortal coil by the end of the season at least.

It certainly wasn’t a standout season for Colin Kolles’ boys, but there were a few highlights, such as the 2nd race of the season, where inexplicably even by the team, who were expecting an early car failure seeing as they had run the car so little in the previous sessions, Karun Chandhok managed to complete the tricky wet-dry race in 14th place. This and a similar result for Bruno Senna in Korea would give the HRT team 11th place in the constructors championship, ahead of the much more respected Virgin Racing team, run by experienced F3 outfit Manor Motorsport. There was Senna’s qualifying performances at Monaco and Turkey, putting his car inbetween the much faster, but less reliable Virgin cars, and leaving a considerable gap to his teammate. The season began the fall away from the team towards the back end, as their minute development schedule had meant they were losing ground on the leading pack. It seemed like they were saving their money on what was a lost cause, in order to best prepare for the next season, where they would be producing their own car for the first time.

Coming into the 2011 season, again there were rumours of the team’s demise. They were late in starting the design and build of the F111 car, not beginning these processes until late December under the guidance of Geoff Willis, a former Williams and Red Bull designer who’s reputation up and down the paddock was taking a hit by joining the beleaguered Spanish outfit. They tested with the old F110 whilst preparing the new cars, and had signed Narain Karthikeyan as their first driver for 2011. This caused a fair bit of surprise, as Narain had not driven in F1 competitively since his only season with Jordan in 2005, and hadn’t tested since 2007. He’d even spent the last season driving NASCAR Trucks in the USA! Karthikeyan would test the old car on the new Pirelli tyres to still allow the team to gather important data.

Tonio Liuzzi was present as their 2nd driver along with the launch of the new F111, the shakedown of which was postponed embarrassingly because the car’s new dampers were held in Spanish Customs after being sent from America (perhaps a lie, thought some of the more cynical observers). Further embarrassment was to come when the team failed to qualify for the revised first Grand Prix of the season in Australia, despite being given a ‘free’ extra two weeks after the Bahrain postponment. Kolles maintained the team would’ve been prepared for Sakhir, but the DNQ in Australia suggested otherwise. Still, once they got to Malaysia a week later, even with it being a fly-away race, they managed to clear the 107% barrier and got to race for the first time in 2011, with some encouraging pace being shown by Liuzzi.

Steady progress has been made over the course of this season, and it’s now generally accepted that both Liuzzi, Karthikeyan and now Daniel Ricciardo are comfortably on the pace of the Marussia Virgin team, and can give them a good race on Sundays. Doing this with a car that’s still carrying very little in the way of sponsorship is commendable, and is a big step forward from the stasis they seemed to be in with development in 2010.

Now you look at this overview of their history, and you wouldn’t think they were really deserving of half the stick they get from most of the F1 circus and audience. If you put it into context of similar derided teams before them, HRT seem a much more professional and competitive outfit than some of the team they have been compared to (even if only fleetingly in some cases. Andrea Moda, Forti, EuroBrun and other 90’s no-hopers were just that because they were badly run, penniless teams that even at the back of the grid had to compete with more professional outfits like Minardi, Jordan, Brabham and Tyrrell. HRT are more in line with a Minardi or Scuderia Italia (Dallara)… the plucky underdogs who scrape by financially but are serious about their racing. Colin Kolles runs a tight ship, Geoff Willis is one of the smartest guys in F1, and the whole team is a tight-knit group who work really hard on their cars and their racing. The ownership of the team has recently changed, and though it’s not quite sure what the future of the team will be just yet, I’m pretty sure they’ll try their best to be around as long as possible.

All Images sourced from www.hispaniaracing.com

F1 on BBC + Sky

So we’ve all heard the news that F1 TV coverage in the United Kingdom is now going to be split from the 2012 season between the BBC and Sky.

Sky are showing every session of the season live, whereas the Beeb will only show 10 races live (including Monaco, Britain and Abu Dhabi at the moment) with ‘extended highlights’ of the non-live races, still shown on race day.

Now, on paper, that doesn’t look too bad in all honesty. The extra financial burden is merely a bridge to be crossed, something I’m really going to have to do, as there’s no way I’m missing live races, especially with the explosion of social media and also the whole F1 world’s contributions to that. So that becomes an extra £20 a month on top of my £25 current subscription. Fine. £20 isn’t that much of a burden, and I’m sure Sky Sports will do justice to F1, and probably will seek out the best of the BBC production team, who it has to be said provide great programming for us fans. We’ll get it in crystal clear HD, and we might even get extra feeds through the red button services, such as onboards, timing screens etc. It might also mean I get to watch an F1 race at a pub for a change as well!

What really irks me about the whole thing is that the BBC has really shown itself to be almost ignorant of it’s licence-fee paying audience. Ok, they have committed to showing F1 in some form until 2018, but if it’s only 10 races, then you might as well watch every one on Sky, because you’re paying for it and they’re the ones who’ll be there at every race. Picking and choosing races to show doesn’t give those who enjoyed the BBC shows 1. any say on what races they’d like to see, and 2. Takes away the whole ‘Championship’ aspect of F1, as it’s a 20-race series and not just a collection of one-off Grand Prix. Again, ok, the BBC does have to make cuts after coming under pressure from the Government to do so. We’re all having to do that in some form, so that’s not a problem to me. It does become a problem though when us licence-payers seem to be disregarded. BBC4’s budget is similar to the present F1 budget, and although it produces quality programming, it gets nowhere near enough viewers to warrant, in my opinion, a whole channel.

F1 does get those viewers, all of whom are paying the BBC via the licence fee to watch it. It’s basic supply-and-demand, and in a non-commercially driven institution like the BBC, one that has a duty to it’s viewers, surely they could see the merits of keeping the rights to a series that attracts 6-7 millions viewers every other weekend? They do, but they don’t realise that the only reason there’s 6-7 million every fortnight is because they are both the only station showing it, and also they are showing each race after another. This is the same for any series… people will keeping watching because they feel there’s an arc to what’s going on, even in factual programs like Top Gear where there isn’t a strict story arc, but interesting stories within shows, and presenters that the viewers warm to.

Viewers get that feeling with F1, because the same ‘cast’ is there every week, unlike a football match where it’ll be a different set of teams playing, with changes within those teams from weeks gone by. You can pick and choose football matches because of this, it’s not the same with Formula 1. There’s always the same (thereabouts) 24 drivers, same teams etc. and that’s the attraction.

I am glad though that someone has picked up the full season rights, even if it a pay-tv channel. Hopefully they’ll use my £20 a month wisely and to my benefit, and hopefully the BBC can learn from these developments and make better informed decisions about such matters, that are clearly sensitive to the public, in the future.

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I’m back baby: Fresh start!

With the F1 ‘Summer Hols’ upon us, and frankly not much for me to do in the interim(!), I’ve dusted off my post-testing blog project and have been thinking of slightly different things to do with it.

I’m looking at doing some Classic Race reports, though that’ll involve trying to find enough ones on Youtube for me to watch the whole thing. If not that then certainly some Top 10’s and lists are always good discussion points.

I’ve also thought about giving ‘Idiot’s driving guides’ to some of the upcoming tracks, using F1 2010 and my unmatched talent. Certainly pictures, maybe video of laps and a guide to them would be interesting, and would give a good comparison to how the layman goes about driving an F1 car, albeit virtually.

The F1 season always seems to go so quickly, but with this break there’s a real chance for drivers and teams to take stock of their work so far and see where they can improve in the latter half of the year. I do feel McLaren are emerging as the leading team, but perhaps at too late a point to do anything about Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead. The fact they’ve got both Button and Hamilton racing at the front is both a positive and negative for them. The team letting two highly rated (and frantically discussed and compared) drivers race wheel-to-wheel is commendable, but it has caused both drivers to drop points at the expense of a growing championship lead by Vettel. Seb is the Red Bull driver taking the lion’s share of points, podiums and wins, and that puts him in a better position immediately for the 2nd half of the year, as the calling rank on Mark Webber by the team in Silverstone showed was evident already.

I’ve got a feeling Vettel’s title will be wrapped up by Japan, if not at Suzuka itself where Red Bull are pretty much guaranteed to win.

Away from the track, the break also sees all the rumours and initial deals start to emerge about driver contracts, and the whole ‘Silly Season’ gets going in earnest not long after Spa. Again my initial reaction is that this year will not see much movement, partly because it’s so competitive at the moment, and also because for part of it we’re relying on an ‘external influence’ in the shape of Kubica. If he is going to race again, we’re not going to know for a while, and all that time there’s a potential Renault seat that’s had all sorts of names linked to it. We’ve had Webber to Ferrari, Button to Ferrari, Kobayashi to Red Bull, Grosjean to Renault as a mid-season replacement for Heidfeld (like that went well last time!?!) and countless others. Most of these are just bored journos and internet junkies trying to twist people’s words in something they can talk about. It’s fun but all speculation, at least until the summer break is over. After then, if something does come out, at least it’s been mentioned in a relevant time, and thus might have a smidgen of truth to it (despite the Silly Season moniker).

Both Sauber drivers are staying put for next year, but that’s about all we know ‘for sure’. I may do a piece on what I think the 2012 grid will look like, but only based on my own thoughts and preferences.

Anyway I think I’ve rambled on enough… I’ll start thinking of new things to put up and once I’ve done that… well… they’ll start appearing here!

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Why testing doesn’t mean much to me…

The last month and a half in F1 has been filled with media outlets and fans pulling their hair out trying to decifer who might be the pacesetters come the first race in Australia. I like to keep an eye on testing because I like to see the new cars and what new parts get fitted over the course of the pre-season. What I don’t like however is pouring into minute details over potential fuel loads, test programs and guessing what certain teams are doing with upgrades etc. I don’t like doing this because I don’t feel like I have an authoritative say on the matter. My view is that with all the different test programs and checks a team can do in a day, there is too far a range of variables to make a decision on who is ahead of who.

At the Jerez test which I attended there were cars that looked very good through certain sections, but that wasn’t replicated in the times they did, be it ‘headline’ or during a longer stint. The McLaren, for seemingly all it’s issues and problems, looked quite comfortable in the faster sections of the circuit, as did the Red Bull and Ferrari. The Toro Rosso was incredibly stable on the brakes into Dry Sac, consistently hitting the apex no matter what length of stint they were on. The Renault was incredibly twitchy in the chicane, along with the Lotus.

These are the things the media and anoraks should be looking for, a visual impression of the car round a corner. Looking at how the car handles a corner, regardless of fuel load, to my view gives a good idea of how that car handles full stop. If the car is light and looks good round a corner, it would be safe to assume that it is quite quick, especially if some other cars attempt the corner at the same speed and attack, but look less stable. If a car happens to be quite heavy, and takes the same corner slightly slower, but still quite aggressively, then again it would safe to assume that this car is also good when it is fuelled up.

Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault looked good in Jerez. Force India and Virgin didn’t. That’s all I know from that point in time, because that’s the only constant I can rely on… my own impressions.

Virgin Racing losing ground to Lotus?

Marussia Virgin Racing driver Timo Glock has recently stated in an interview that the team’s new MVR-02 car is suffering from an aero problem that has lead them to believe they have lost ground to their ‘newer team’ rivals Team Lotus, to the tune of around a second. He stated in an interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport that:

“It’s on the aerodynamic side,”
“We believe we have found it. Now we have to make sure we can resolve it.”

Glock still believes the team has made significant progress to 2010, especially regarding the reliability of the car, but thinks they are quite a way behind Team Lotus,

“”The gap to Lotus is already pretty big. On Sunday (at Barcelona) they were a second ahead of us. We know we have a problem and we need to solve it.

“So we just need Nick Wirth to build some new wings and we can move forwards.”

This is a big year for Virgin, who need to vindicate their staunch belief in their CFD-only design and development method. Whether they can remedy this first problem will be a good sign of that ability.