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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Don't dismiss female racing drivers simply because they are good-looking

The title alone gives me a fabulous opportunity to plaster this post with photographs of female racing drivers in leathers and bikinis; an opportunity I will spurn due to the seriousness of the topic.

I am a big fan of Formula 1,

I am male, and

I am hetrosexual,

So sorry to all those gorgeous male F1 drivers out there (you know who you are [I don't]), but I simply don't find you particularly attractive, in that way.

Let's face it, F1 is a male dominated sport, which over the years has sought to allow a very select few females join the club, albeit for a relatively short period of time. Thankfully there have been moves in recent years to embrace a female presence with Monisha Kaltenborn taking over from the Great Peter Sauber and Claire Williams ramping up her presence alongside the Legend that is her father.

On the drivers side we have yet to see any impact on the Sunday Grid, but attempts have been made by Williams, Caterham and currently Renault to enhance female representation within the team.

I was very critical of Williams choice of Susie Wolff as team development driver back in 2012.  My criticism was twofold: firstly (and most obviously) she was the wife of Toto Wolff, who at the time was a major shareholder in Williams and sat on the Board of the company; secondly, I was pretty sure at the time that there was never any intention of actually letting her race nor of allowing her the significant Friday practice time to perfect her craft. When we did see her in the car on a Friday, like at Hockenheim in 2014, it was notable that she was not far off the pace.  In that session she finished only 0.22s off Felipe Massa.

Whether she would have been any good on race day is now academic, given she announced her retirement last November. It is unfortunate that in her four years at Williams we only saw her on track on 4 race weekends and even more unfortunate that her expectation that she would be Williams 2015 "Third Driver" was destroyed by the announcement in march that year that Sutil would be given that position.

Ultimately her time as an F1 driver will be remembered for her Hockenheim performance, and for her solid Friday performance in Barcelona 2015. Let's face it, all drivers look the same once they sit in the car.

So now we have Carmen Jorda getting into a fracas with Marco Sorenson over his claim that he left his position as Renault Reserve Driver because he felt he couldn't compete with his female co-driver - not on speed, but rather on gender and the fact that she is good-looking.

He claims she was 12 seconds off his pace on the simulator, she claims she was only 1 second off Romain Grosjean's best simulator time which, if true, would have made Sorenson 11 seconds faster that Grosjean. Then Sorenson came out to Danish publication "Ekstra Bladet" and said:

This is not that she is 1, 2, 3 or 12 seconds off; those in motorsport know what this is about. If you ask them they will say she should not be there because of her results. They know what it is about. I will not comment on it further"

Well we do know what it's about. Marco would appear to be a bit hacked off at the fact that he's competing with a female driver.  What's more, it also appears he's hacked off that he doesn't have the backing that Kevin Magnusson has. moaning that he doesn't have the kroner to get into a drive seat.

I'll say this, Magnusson has impressed me in his time at McLaren and it is really very unfortunate that, with Fernando Alonso coming in last year, he lost out to Jenson Button for the drive. He deserved more and so did Button.

Look, I admit that I knocked Susie Wolff when she came into the paddock, for the two reasons I outlined above.  The fact is that she hadn't the results behind her to justify her selection.  Her performance in the car showed that she could do the job and thus my fears were allayed; the team had seen her potential - even if they never did anything with it on-track.

If that's the case then we need to give Jorda the benefit of the doubt. She's had a year in the simulator now let's see her on-track in the car and judge her against her team-mates. If she's there on her potential it'll be pretty obvious. Anything under 1 second from her team-mate will do for the first couple of Friday free practices, but as she becomes more familiar with the physical machine and the tracks we'd want to see those times dropping to less than 0.5s pretty quickly.

You don't have to be pretty to drive an F1 car, just pretty quick!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's quite disappointing really...

Believe me when I say that I remain an avid fan of F1 no matter how much I complain about it.  I say this, of course, to preface some further remarks which will cast further aspersions on the sport and those involved in its day-to-day operation.

It seems to be okay for the likes of Bernie et al to voice their concerns about the direction in which the sport is moving but I've noticed that few, if any, of the reputable journalists deign to provide their own opinion on these matters.  What I read tends to parrot the comments of Bernie, Alonso, Kimi, etc. without ever straying into the realms of how they themselves might institute changes to improve the formula.

I understand that their fates and their futures are tied up in the sport and it is not therefore in their interests to be seen to be partisan towards one rule change or another.  It is also true that there is not much point in them being seen to criticise elements such as degrading tyres, fuel management, or DRS, as these things have now taken root in the sport and as such must only be reported upon.

Journalists would say that it is their job to report the news as it happens, to be impartial and that criticism of the sport is outside their purview, only relevant to the likes of columnists rather than serious journos, and technically, I guess they would be right, however wouldn't it be interesting were some of the journalists to mention, in their race reports, what percentage of overtaking was carried out under DRS or how many laps in the race were run by each team on "fuel-saving" mode?

Last weekend's race was a little more exciting than anything we've seen to date because there were quite a few non-DRS overtakes carried out, primarily on the final corner into the DRS zone.  So, whilst the overtakes were carried out without DRS they were completed with the DRS flap wide open and I wondered if that would be counted as a DRS assisted overtake?

I do note Joe Saward's position on giving time to the "new" formula and perhaps in another situation I would agree with that practice but it is my belief that if F1 is to retain its crown as the peak of motorsport it must be the situation that the drivers and cars are racing 100% of the time.  I believe that it is anathema to have a race situation where they must lift and coast in order to save fuel, except where in-race refuelling is allowed and the team are working to a particular strategy.

Racing at 100% tests the driver, tests the engines and tests the team and it is ridiculous to find a team in the situation where they are given a 25 place penalty on a grid of 20 cars because of engine changes.  I'm all for creating a robust engine that serves 3 race weekends at a time, but the sanctions imposed by a 4 engine rule are way out of proportion and serve only to penalise teams unfairly.  Do they not realise that such penalties could drive smaller teams into liquidation because it would impact upon their TV coverage and thus their advertising potential?

Of course those are other matters which you know I can gripe on about but this one is all about those professions that rely on the sport for their income.  It is vital that they start opining more if we are ever to see real improvement.  For the fans and for the good of the sport I formally request F1 journalists to publicly give their two cents to the ongoing discussion on the future of the sport.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I've been whittering on and on about the state of F1 for years now; the state of the tyres, the DRS, the reliance on artificial racing, gimmicks and gadgets and, for the last two years about how the sport has gone from hero to zero in terms of speed, physicality and pure racing.

At the same time I've talked about falling attendances at races, the introduction of ridiculous newly constructed tracks which do nothing for racing, the huge costs to the circuits and Fans of hosting and going to an F1 race and the fact that F1 is moving away from its European heartland in order to rake in extra cash.

Well it's time for it to stop!

Over the past three weeks we've been hearing Bernie bemoan the fact the sport is no longer attractive to fans, we've seen the teams and the heads of sport start talking about fundamental changes and now we have drivers and ex-drivers admitting that the sport has lost its way over the past 6 years and needs to get back to its prime function - racing and the love of racing.

It has seemed like a cry in the wilderness for the last few years, like nobody has been listening to the fans and have simply pressed ahead with their own agenda regardless  but now we have Alonso and Coulthard both admitting that they pretty much hate where F1 is  you can read their comments here and here.

Gods above I hope they get it right this time around!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"You're going to have to come up with another plan!"

Where would F1 be without the DRS system?

There is no question but that the vast majority of overtaking now relies on the Drag Reduction System zone to make a move stick.  It is my belief that the very fact that the system is in use has reduced the competitive nature of the drivers themselves.

This may well be happening unbeknownst to them.  How much easier is it when you're driving a better car to simply drive into the 1 second window and await the DRS deployment zone before dispatching the car in front.  There's no real impetus to overtake anywhere else on the track - unless you are recovering from a bad grid position or a spin.

Have you noticed how much overtaking a driver in one of the front-running cars can do when he's racing through the field to get into the points? They overtake everywhere and get away with it because they catch the guy in front by surprise. Nobody overtakes around the outside of the 130R! Nobody dares to overtake going into Eau Rouge! Who would overtake you in the twiddly section of Hockenheim? Nobody, that's who!


...if he started at the back of the grid and he's trying to chase down the top 6 cars you notice that the driver's racing abilities somehow come back to him; he chases, he feints, he brakes late, accelerates early, takes different lines through the corners, and...He Passes! And then he goes haring down the road looking for the next victim and does it all over again!

The more I think of it DRS is limiting F1 drivers because it is serving as a replacement to overtaking rather than as a aide to overtaking. It limits their natural racing instincts by providing a substitute which removes their natural desire to muscle their way past the guy in front.

I thought this was illustrated perfectly, once again, in Barcelona (a circuit on which it has always been difficult to overtake) when Lewis, having come out of the pits behind Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari was told on the radio that he'd have to pass him on the track:

Lewis Hamilton's race engineer: "We're going to have to this [overtake Vettel] on track, mate." Hamilton: "I can assure you that's pretty much impossible to do, so you're going to have to come up with another plan."

It turned out that they did come up with another way to get out ahead of Sebastian, but Lewis had simply stated the truth, there was no way he would be able to overtake the Ferrari ahead of him on the track!

It was a confession that copperfastenes my belief that the sport has lost its way and is now over-reliant on gimmicks to maintain its appeal.  It is the equivalent of putting sticky tape over a crack - it doesn't fix the crack, it just means you can't see it anymore.  Well, unless F1 exposes the cracks and tries to fix them the whole house is going to come down on their heads.

Its time to focus the sport on speed, agility and ingenuity. Its time to tear up the rulebook and give the designers and engineers carte blanche to produce cars that can live up to the title "The Pinnacle of Motorsport".

By way of an addendum, I note that the drivers are launching a fan based discussion on social media over the Monaco Weekend on how F1 could be improved. I look forward with interest to seeing how that will be presented and how much traction it will have with the FIA, the team owners, and the sport's governing body.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sparks Fly

I don't care whether one team dominates F1 for a long period of time. I've watched Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull dominate the sport without it ever affecting my enjoyment so Mercedes is welcome to control the sport for the next five years as far as I'm concerned, as long as there is a competitive grid behind them.

I say this because it is not the fact of Mercedes dominating that upsets me, it is that the powers that be have messed with the formula so much, in order to open it up to a wider audience, that what is left is no longer primarily about racing it is about "the spectacle"!

And this is exhibited nowhere better than the fact that sparks flying from beneath the cars at Bahrain seemed to attract more comment than the actual race itself.  The replacement of the old block undertray with a titanium one was nothing more than a cynical exercise to create a "spectacle" reminiscent of the late 1980's/90's.  It would appear to have achieved its stated intent.

It did not however improve the racing.  Watching the highlights programme last night left me in no doubt that there were very few highlights to watch.  I haven't watched the Bahrain GP for four years now because of the political situation in that country but I did watch the highlights last night simply because I wanted to see if the circuit provided a halfway decent race.  It would seem not.

But it did bring home to me exactly why the current formula isn't working for me.  In the old days the team strategies were simple to understand.  Apart from the obvious need to pass the person in front of you the strategies fell under one heading; fuel.

You set your car up to run light or heavy and you made your pit stops accordingly.  You either worked out that a three stop strategy, running on lighter fuel, would get you to the end faster than your opponents or you might gamble that a one stop would get you to the end in a better position than where you started.

It was simple and at the same time fascinating! You could see someone like de Cesaris in a Tyrell starting in 12th and trundling his way around to 5th/6th by doing only one stop.  The car would be out of position for most of the race whilst all those around it flew past time and again, on their three stop strategies, but after the third pitstop, when everyone was on equal fuel levels he'd be sitting pretty with a 10 second gap to the car behind and 12 laps remaining.

As a viewer I could grasp the different strategies and appreciate how they were implemented and I could also appreciate when one of the top teams changed their strategy mid-race.

Pit stops made sense when the cars were being refueled.  The difference in pitstop times between a three stop and a two stop were fundamental to the strategy because the amount of time the car was sitting in the pits was significant.  On some tracks the strategy would be clear because it was obvious that two stops would be 10 seconds faster overall, but on others it was muddled and teams would shift between two and three with the outright speed of the car being the only essential difference.

My point is that I could understand the strategies because I could see them being played out, because I could participate.  The current situation is such that we are not participants in the team strategies because we are not participants.  We are told that Hamilton is fuel-saving and we hear Rosberg being told to manage his tyres, but we are not actively engaged in the team strategies, we are passive, viewing it without really understanding why.

The problem, for me, would appear to be that I cannot engage with the idea of fuel saving in the middle of a motor race.  Fuel saving is anathema to racing, as is tyre management.  Motor racing shoujld be about getting out there and driving the car as fast as it is capable of going until it falls apart around you.  Push the machine over the line if you have to, but don't save fuel or tyres in the middle of a race.

The refueling era gave us the "splash and dash" of cars running to the fumes and then, right at the end, ducking into the pits for a three second splash of fuel to get around the last 5 laps. Fresh tyres on and 15 litres to burn the cars would then swoop out of the pits and hunt down everyone who had overtaken them.  On old rubber they were easy meat.  Their tyres weren't going to fall off a cliff, they were more than adequate to get them to the end of the race, but new rubber combined with a light fuel load was a deadly combination that lead to some spectacular racing: spectacular overtaking and defensive driving.

As Murray used to say - "it's one thing catching them, its another entirely to get by".

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

If I want to watch car, tyre and engine management I can film myself driving to work!

So far this season I have to admit that once again I am not enamoured by the way F1 is going.  To me the races seem very static and immensely boring and, unfortunately it was the same again in China.

You can always forgive Melbourne, because that's where the cars, drivers and engines get their first taste of racing and the cracks tend to show up - as they did again this year.

But when the only excitement - other than DRS enabled overtaking - is Jenson battling his way through the corners with numerous better cars, in a phenomenally bad McLaren Honda, for 14th position then you know that there is something seriously wrong.

One thing that certainly felt, and sounded, wrong was Nico's call to the pits around Lap 20 regarding a slowing Lewis Hamilton up ahead.  The real story for me was not the complaint that Lewis was slowing but rather that Rosberg started complaining that if he couldn't stay 2.5 seconds behind he would get into the dirty air and wreck his tyres!

Nico, leave the management of the car to the team and just go racing!
Photo courtesy of Mercedes AMG Petronas

Instead of complaining about his slowing team-mate why didn't Rosberg take the opportunity to attack and try to overtake? Isn't that what racing is all about? Have I lost something in translation?

And this is exactly what is wrong with F1.  Nico is meant to be a racing driver, not his team-mate's shadow and not a manager.  He's supposed to be trying to win the race ON THE TRACK, not on tyre strategy, not by the dreaded "undercut" but actually on the track.

The excitement of a Grand Prix is watching wheel-to-wheel battles on the track, sparks flying from the undercarriage of the cars as two racing drivers speed downhill into the corner each wondering who will be the last of the late brakers.

If I want to watch car, tyre and engine management I'll film myself driving to work and look at it later!

Formula 1 is meant to be the pinnacle of motorsport, not just the pinnacle of engineering.  It is meant to be a sport. The drivers must compete against each other on the track as well as in the expensive shacks out in the paddock.  It is their responsibility to provid us with an on-track spectacle, the sight of the worlds best drivers battling for position, fighting to achieve everything that can be achieved.

The best of these guys are paid very handsomely by the teams to wring the most out of the cars and we should be seeing that happen every racing weekend.  Instead we are being shortchanged.

We are being treated to the sight of drivers in "fuel-saving mode", drivers "harnessing Energy Recovery", and drivers "managing tyres". We have drivers unable to drive flat out because they have to manage their engines due to the fact they have been limited to 4 engines per season.  

What has any of this got to do with racing? Nothing

Do we remember the furore a couple of years ago that the engine manufacturers were going to quit F1 unless it was made more relevant to their road car business? Well this is the result.  F1 is now becoming nothing more than a test bed for road cars, rather than a motor-racing series.  They got relevance and we lost racing.

I hate to go all Jeremy Clarkson on it but motor-racing is supposed to be fun isn't it? It's not supposed to be about boring, everyday concerns like fuel saving, tyre conservation, or engine management.

I want drivers to drive to the limit. I want the cars to be set free from the artificially imposed shackles of a maximum fuel allowance. I want the teams to design cars that will set an unfettered fastest lap and I want drivers to be encouraged to beat that lap-time. I want Formula 1 to organise its race schedule to reduce its carbon footprint in a realistic way rather than impose pathetic power units on the cars as a public but ultimately pointless sop to the green brigade.

Let's face it, 18-24 cars doing 56 laps flat out around a circuit is having minimal impact on the environment when compared with 12 teams, numerous TV stations, etc, carting their staff and equipment from Billy to Jack by air without considering how they could do it better.

Take of the shackles, release the drivers and the cars and bring me some adrenalin-pumping, petrol-burning, ear-splitting, high-octane car racing.

How would I do it? Simple -

  • Keep the 1.6 turbo - get rid of the batteries!
  • Forget tyre compounds - one dry tyre, one intermediate and one wet.  The slick should be capable of lasting the entire race.
  • Bring back refueling and the option of not having to refuel. Choice is the essence of strategy.
  • Get rid of KERS and keep DRS.
  • Measure the wake of an F1 car at top speed and enable DRS once the following car is within that wake. Let the driver decide whether to open it or not.
  • Penalties must be taken on Raceday they do not carry over to the next race.  Penalties that are not taken on the track are punished financially.  The team pays for penalties relating to the car, the driver pays for driver error, and finally
  • Ban racing on most Tilke tracks - they are too wide, too boring, and do not seem to encourage good racing.

We can only hope that Europe saves F1 again this season, though with F1 failing to save Europe's best, historic racing tracks the days of F1 might well be numbered.