Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Barrichello goes fastest in Barcelona

March 12th, 2009 No comments

Rubens Barrichello testing at BarcelonaWow.

Only days after the new Brawn GP car’s first shakedown at Silverstone, Rubens Barrichello set the fastest time on the final day of testing in Barcelona on Thursday.

His lap time of 1:18.926 was nearly a second faster than Nico Rosberg’s Williams FW31 and Lewis Hamilton was almost two seconds slower in his MP4-24 despite being powered by the same Mercedes-Benz engine.  The other Mercedes powered car, Fisichella’s Force India VJM02, finished in tenth place.

Not only was the BGP 001 fast it was reliable too, completing 110 laps.

I said last week that I thought Brawn GP could do alright this year but I didn’t really expect it to look so strong so soon.

Team owner Ross Brawn said:

The team made a very late start to our pre-season testing programme, with only seven days in which to run the car before the first race in Melbourne; therefore our focus has been on reliability and achieving as much mileage as possible. Both of these aims have been successfully achieved this week.

There has been loads of speculation about what the times we’ve seen in winter testing mean.  Does the fact that the Brawn went quickest mean it is really the fastest car or are McLaren sandbagging?  We won’t really know until the lights go out in Melbourne but even if Rubens set that time running on fumes, comments from the other drivers suggest they are impressed by the car’s speed.  Ferrari’s Felipe Massa said:

No one can do the same times [as Brawn GP]. Everyone was using less fuel, not only them.  But their times were much faster than those that anyone else could do.

McLaren’s performance is also very puzzling.  There have been comments from Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug suggesting that they don’t have the speed they want yet but I get the feeling they aren’t trying for raw pace.  With the ban on testing this year I think McLaren are being very methodical in correlating what they see on the track with what their computer simulations tell them.  If they can accurately simulate the real world using CFD and racks of computers then they will have an easier time developing their car ‘virtually’, as it were, throughout the year.

They may also be playing their cards close to their chest, not wanting to give any advantage away that could be copied by other teams.  As Ron Dennis said:

We had a strategy for this year to leave it to the last possible moment to produce our aerodynamic package for the Australian Grand Prix.  That in itself gave us some production challenges, and we have really only started to run the car in the last day with the Australian aero package. It doesn’t mean you are lost or that you don’t know what you are doing.

So that was why they were running the 2008-spec rear wing?

It’s all very exciting and who will be on the podium at the Australian Grand Prix at the end of the month is anyone’s guess but after Ross Brawn previously downplayed his team’s chances and suggesting that 2009 will be another transitional year it looks like Brawn GP could be serious championship contenders.

Thursday was the final day of testing for Ferrari, BMW, Toyota, Force India and the two Red Bull teams before the season opener in Melbourne but Brawn GP and McLaren will grab a few final days in Jerez next week.

David Coulthard said that “Force India could be the shock of the season”,  but if Brawn GP carry their testing pace through to Australia it could be the Mercedes-Benz powered BGP 001 that is the real shock.

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Formula One on the BBC

March 8th, 2009 No comments

In a few weeks time Formula One will return to the screen on BBC after twelve years at ITV and in preparation for this the BBC have been developing their new Formula One website.  Its importance to the BBC is reflected in the fact that the Formula One link comes right after football in the main navigation.

There’s some good content on the site already and this video in particular of ‘F1’s greatest hits’ has some of the greatest moments in Formula One of the last twenty years.  There are crashes (Mansell’s tyre exploding at Adelaide in 1986, Schumacher taking out Damon Hill in 1994), amazing passes (Hakkinen’s pass of Schumacher in Belgium in 2000, Alonso passing Schumacher on the outside of 130R at Suzuka in 2005) and things we just don’t see any more (wingtip vortices and drivers leaping out of their cars for a punchup.)

The BBC have announced that they will use The Chain by Fleetwood Mac as the music for the intro to their Formula One footage when they take over the broadcast rights this year.  This should please a lot of fans, particularly these guys at the TopGear website.  It seems nostalgia and a twelve-year gap has elevated the old BBC intro music into some kind of hymn to F1.  Murray Walker is clearly delighted as, according to the Telegraph‘s Andrew Baker, when he found out the BBC was going to use the old tune the 85-year-old presenter raised his hands and started to clap in time with Fleetwood Mac’s beat, exclaiming “Yes, yes, yes!”

I admit, it is a good tune. Here’s a video of the original BBC intro from the 1988 Australian Grand Prix:

I was in Australia when the BBC was broadcasting F1 so I never developed the same attachment to The Chain. I do however have memories of Channel 9’s Wide World of Sports (or was it Sports Sunday) playing short video segments featuring super slow motion shots of Formula One cars set to classical music. I used to love watching these so I turned to Google to see if I could find something on YouTube. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything which means either no-one has a copy of these little videos or I imagined the whole thing.

Either way I thought I would have a go at making my own version. So here is what you get when you take a nice YouTube ‘Tribute to active suspension era video‘ and mash it with Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue. I think it works but I’d love to hear what you think in the comments:

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Teixeira: F1 is copying A1GP

February 22nd, 2009 No comments

Tony Teixeira and Felipe Massa at Kyalami The South African round of A1GP was held at the former F1 venue of Kyalami on Sunday.  The last Formula One race to be held there was in 1993 when Alain Prost won in torrential conditions ahead of Ayrton Senna and Mark Blundell.  Only five cars made it to the chequered flag that day and Rubens Barrichello made his F1 debut.

Sixteen years later, Alain Prost’s son, Nicolas, could only manage 18th and Sunday’s feature race was won by Switzerland’s Neel Jani.

Felipe Massa was there to promote the new A1GP Powered by Ferrari car but this didn’t stop the chairman of A1GP, Tony Teixeira, accusing Formula One of stealing all the good ideas from A1GP.

Speaking to the South African Times newspaper Teixeira said that F1 is blatantly copying the ideas introduced by A1GP such as a single tyre supplier and a standard engine performance and even comparing Force India to the “World Cup of Motorsport” that A1 aims to be:

Everything we are is what Formula 1 is trying to be

He also predicts Toyota, Renault and BMW all widthdrawing from F1 in the near future.

While this is all just a bit of bluster from Teixeira, perhaps trying to deflect attention from the state of A1GP’s finances, it does provide a cautionary note.   The FIA needs to tread a fine line between cutting costs and turning Formula One into a spec-series.

Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s Chief Technical Officer, has already said the new restrictions in F1 have forced him to rethink his future in the sport and Sir Frank Williams has warned that any moves towards a spec-series could cost Formula One its drivers and fans:

If it’s to be spec cars, why not just go and buy some IndyCars? Then I think you’d find all the talent and interest would pretty quickly drift away

But I’m pretty optimistic that won’t happen.  It’s not something the team principles want and even Max Mosley seems to realise they may be taking things too far:

It’s a fault with the regulations.  They have constricted the areas where they can work to keep speeds and costs under control to the point where you get the best returns by endlessly refining every single component of the car.

It will be interesting to hear FOTA‘s view when they reveal their plans for the sport at a press conference in Geneva on March 5.

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USF1: Wild speculation!

February 12th, 2009 No comments

Danica PatrickA formal announcement from the rumoured new Formula One team, USF1, is expected later this month according to the Charlotte Observer.  The two principals behind USF1 are Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor and they plan to promote the team as “Made in USA.”  The car will be US-built and be driven by American drivers.  According to Anderson, the team is already close to signing one driver.

The fact that there is very little information about USF1 (the official website has just a logo and an email address) naturally leads to speculation.  Is now the best time to be starting a new team?  Why start from scratch when you can have Honda for £1?  Why limit yourself to only using American drivers?  And do Americans even care about Formula One?

Assuming the team is on the grid in 2010 what kind of car might we see and who could be piloting it?

The car

The team will be based in Charlotte, North Carolina which has a big NASCAR industry and, according to Anderson, “90 percent of the technology that exists in F1 comes from the U.S. anyway.”  But what about the engine?  I suppose Cosworth would be the most likely choice, possibly badged as Ford.  I can’t see any of the US car manufacturers wanting to develop a new F1 engine in the current economic climate and while Cosworth was originally a British company, it is now owned by the Champ Car World Series owners Gerald Forsythe and Kevin Kalkhoven so it would probably satisfy the “Made in America” requirement.  A Cosworth V10 powered Ford’s Jaguar team before it was sold to Red Bull in 2004.

The Driver

The choice of driver could be controversial.  Americans haven’t made much impact in Formula One since Mario Andretti won the 1978 Championship.  Scott Speed had a largely unsuccessful time at Toro Rosso but he would have to be considered as he is the only American driver with recent F1 experience.

There are other young drivers in the American open-wheel series that are possibilities: Graham Rahal, son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and Marco Andretti, son of 1991 IndyCar World Series champion Michael Andretti and the grandson of  Mario Andretti.  Andretti finished second in the 2006 Indianapolis 500 in the second closest finish in the race’s history.

But a more interesting choice could be Danica Patrick.  Patrick was named the Rookie of the Year for both the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and the 2005 IndyCar Series season and she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi in 2008.

Patrick has had some criticism of her driving ability and the fact that, like other female athletes, she has been willing to be marketed on her looks.  But Former IRL Champion Tony Stewart thinks she’s got talent.  She can obviously win races and was actually scheduled to test with Honda at the end of last year.   She has said she is keen to move to F1 and after those superbowl ads no team should have trouble attracting sponsorship with her on-board.

Will it happen?

A lot of people doubt whether anything will come of the rumours but I think there’s a good chance the team could be on the grid in 2010 although, if they are,  I’m not so sure whether they will keep the “Made in America” theme for more than the first year.

Image: Sports Illustrated

Categories: Opinion, Teams Tags: ,

The F1 tyre monopoly

February 3rd, 2009 No comments

Bridgestone slicksIn 2006 the FIA decided to select a single tyre manufacturer that would supply all Formula One teams from 2008. Previously, there had been two tyre manufacturers in F1; Michelin and Bridgestone, but after Michelin ruled itself out of the bidding process the contract was awarded to Bridgestone.

Without the variance of different tyre manufacturers the FIA introduced a rule in an attempt to encourage overtaking whereby in every race each driver must use both compounds chosen by Bridgestone. Now FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting, says the difference in compounds isn’t great enough:

This year, once again, each driver will have to use two different types of slick tyres during the race. We wanted to have a bigger difference between them. Sometimes, in 2008, this gap was a matter of one or two tenths. We thought it would be better if it was bigger. The Bridgestone engineers are working on that. Sometimes, in 2008, the difference between the two types of tyres was negligible wasn’t it? One couldn’t see the difference between the two, really.

In a 2005 interview, Michelin’s Competitions Director Pierre Dupasquier explained why he thought the tyre monopoly was a bad idea:

As we see it, the major inconvenience is twofold; You reduce the technological showcase that is F1 to the level of a single-make formula and you would lose the interest of making new discoveries and innovating in a competitive environment.

I’ve got an idea. Instead of coming up with contrived rules so that drivers will always be on the ‘wrong’ tyre at some point in the race, why not open Formula One up to all tyre manufacturers. This would encourage competition and development and would also provide the difference in tyre performance that is enforced artificially now.

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