A return to the glory days? Don’t bet on it.

I’m willing to bet that when Mclaren announced that they were rekindling their relationship with Honda most people were like me. All I could think of was the red and white machines driven by Senna laping Monaco 1.5 seconds faster than anyone else. Those were the days and the cars that turned me into an F1 fan and I couldn’t wait for them to return.
But let’s take off the rose-tinted glasses. Before Honda left F1 they were,frankly, a laughing stock. The BAR Honda was slow. Really slow. And unreliable. 
All that was meant to change when Honda took over the team completely. It didn’t. The works Honda was even slower. And even less reliable. And ugly.
The “earth car” was an embarrassment. For those of us who remember the Mastercard Lola the performance was about the same.

Honda spent hundreds of millions of dollars and achieved one win, which was far more down to Jenson Button and the weather than anything Honda did.

In fact, the more I think of it the more I realise that the last success Honda had was during the late 90s with the Jordan Mugen-Honda.

And this got me thinking.

Why? Why are Honda not at the forefront of F1 technology. 

The answer is ironically the very reason that Honda have returned.

Other manufacturers enter F1 to win, pure and simple. They bring in the expertise and experience from outside their organisation that they need in order to win.

Honda are different. They are in F1 to learn. 

Honda will use Honda engineers and Honda designers. If they don’t have the necessary expertise then they will learn rather than bring the expertise in from outside. The new hybrid technology in F1 is important to Honda. They are using it in their new NSX supercar, but at the moment what they have is very basic compared to Porsche , Ferrari and, ironically, Mclaren.

F1 gives them the opportunity to improve their technology which will allow them to improve not just the NSX but the next generation of Honda hybrid roadcars.

That is why they are in F1 and once they gain the necessary expertise they will leave again.

And this is why the Mclaren Honda glory days won’t return.

Crisis? What crisis? Part 2

Last year I examined the state of F1 and I concluded that the sport needed to start digging itself out of the hole it was creating for itself.

A year on and I have to say that not even in my most pessimistic moments could I have imagined how much worse things would get.

Caterham gone, Marrusia gone then back as Manor but with no factory(sold to Haas) and a year old car that’s slower than a GP2 car, Sauber taken to court by a driver whose sponsors paid for his seat but who, after the money was spent, was replaced by another driver with a bigger budget. Oh and another driver who also had a signed contract and who also paid the money up front and was also replaced when that money had been spent is sueing them too.

The gap between the haves and have nots is wider than ever, both in financial and performance terms(see Renault engine).

The German Grand Prix has been cancelled due to financial problems at the Nurburgring, but that’s ok apparently because we have the watered down, sanitised, Tilke-destroyed Mexican race to be bored by instead.

The W.E.C is growing in popularity by the event, Formula E is proving to be much better than most people thought it would be and all over the world touring car racing is becoming more and more popular. However, F1 sticks its head in the sand, sticks its middle finger up to its fans and goes on its merry way. 

A matter of perspective

This weekend F1 will arrive in Austin for the American Grand Prix at COTA.
Actually that’s not entirely accurate.
9 of the 11 current teams will be there.
Caterham and Marrusia will not be taking part after both teams went ino administration.

Since the news broke social media has been going mental, blame has been cast on everybody from Bernie Ecclestone and CVC to the team owners and the FIA.

I’m going to try and offer some perspective by equating F1 to a different sport to try and show the parallels. Randomly I’ve chosen tennis.

F1 teams receive prize money each year based on their position in the previous years constructors championship. This prize money is weighted from the top down ie the championship winning team gets the most, 2nd place the next highest amount and so on.
Many people are saying that this prize money should be equally distributed between the teams but there’s a problem with that.
In my tennis analogy the winner of a tournament gets the largest amount of prize money, the runner up gets the next highest and so on. Nobody would expect a player getting knocked out of Wimbledon in the 1st round to receive the same as the champion so why should the last placed team in F1 get the same as the champion team.

The top teams have also negotiated with FOM additional payments over and above their share of the proze fund. Is this a shocking abuse of position? Well, no.
Again, in tennis, the top ranked players receive additional payments or appearance fees from tournament organisers. These payments are made because promoters know that having Federer, Nadal, Sharapova etc at their tournament will guarantee much higher ticket sales, more publicity and will allow them to negotiate higher payments from tournament sponsors.
F1 fans support their teams and the vast majority support the big teams like Ferrari, Mclaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. Most fans will attend a race to watch their team first and foremost.

Sponsorship is much harder to come by at the back of the grid. This is because sponsors want to maximise their brand exposure and the leaders will invariably get more tv exposure than the back markers.
Back to tennis where the top players receive millions of dollars from companies like Nike and Adidas to promote their brands while the guy at number 145 in the rankings struggles to afford to attend tournaments. Sponsors both demand and reward success it’s a fact of life.

The top teams have budgets 4-5 times larger than the smaller teams and this is unfair. Its always been this way and always will be for the reasons listed above. The top teams also have 4-5 times the number of employees that have to be paid, more vips to schmooze etc.
The leading tennis players have staffs consisting of coached, physios, nutritionists, chefs etc, which mean they are far better prepared for tournaments that poor number 145 who travels economy class instead of private jet with just himself, his partner and a part-time coach.

Finally, who remembers names such as Tyrrel, Legier, Brabham, Wolf, Lola, Simtek etc.
All of the above teams joined F1 and ultimately failed.
Since the inception of the F1 World Championship there have been more than 140 teams that have taken part. Only 1, Ferrari, has been there since the very beginning.
F1 is, and always has been, a cut-throat business where the strongest survive and the rest fade into obscurity.
Anyone for tennis?

Insert next gimmick here

So at the Hungarian Grand Prix we discovered that Bernie has put together a working group to “spice up the show”.
This comes at a time of falling attendances at races and dwindling tv ratings.Teams are finding it harder than ever to find sponsorship and even the fabled Paddock Club is no longer selling out.
Shall we tell Bernie the truth-its all your fault!
Attendances are falling because ticket prices are rising to a level that many fans simply cannot afford.Ticket prices are rising because FOM hosting fees charged to the circuits are rising as well as more and more expensive upgrades and revisions being demanded.
Tv ratings are falling because the broadcast rights are being sold to pay tv broadcasters instead of free to air broadcasters.Many fans cannot afford the subscriptions.
Teams are finding it difficult to attract sponsorship for 3 reasons:-
1-the global economy has still not fully recovered from the longest recession in history.
2-falling attendances and tv ratings have made F1 a less attractive proposition to firms deciding how to spend their advertising budgets.
3-F1 is perceived as aloof and cold unlike other forms of motorsport such as NASCAR and WEC.
F1s regulations are written in such a way that overtaking became so difficult a solution had to be found.However,instead of removing the reliance on aero efficiency, the powers that be decided to introduce DRS which a large ammount of fans consider too artificial.
This season we had the horrendous so-called “anteater noses” which repaced the equally awful “platypus noses” plus,of course the v6 hybrid “power units” which make the cars sound like vacuum cleaners.
F1s European heartland has lost more and more races from the classic circuits to soulless tilkedromes wit empty grandstands in one oil rich desert after another-see the Abu Dhabi rant.
Oh and how could I forget double points at the final race and the possibility of standing restarts after safety cars.

F1 has a business model that was written before the global financial crisis and is now out of date.Chasing the almighty oil dollar,don’t get me started on Russia and Azerbaijahn being granted races,has left the sport on the brink.
So when this working group sits down to decide how to spice up the show fingers crossed they’ll forget about success ballast and realise that all the sport needs is a return to its core values.

Who the hell am I kidding!!!

Mexico’s back so who’s out?

So it’s official-Mexico is returning to F1 in 2015 for the first time since 1992.
This is good news as Mexico was always a great venue for F1 with enthusiastic crowds and a great circuit.
I just have 1 question-which european circuit is going to be dropped to make room for it?
We all know that Bernie and CVC would never drop the incredibly lucrative venues like Bahrain Abu Dhabi Singapore, etc plus Australia and Brazil are safe so it has to be a european race that loses out.
Austria has a solid contract as does Silverstone.
Germany has an alternating contract with Hockenheim and Nurburgring taking turns to host the race.
Given some of Bernie’s recent comments it seems like the main candidate for replacement is,unfortunately,Monza.
The curcuit owners are unwilling to pay the kind of hosting fee demanded for continuing and Bernie seems unwilling to drop his demands so, unfortunately, we could be paying farewell to the grand old lady this season.

What price morality?

This is the second blog I’ve written on this subject,but given recent events,I thought it was necessary.
The apparent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has thrown the Russian Grand Prix into the spotlight once again.
Many people including fans and politicians are calling on F1 to cancel the forthcoming race at Sochi and I wholeheartedly agree with them.
The Russian policy regarding homosexuality meant that this event was always going to be controversial but this latest attrocity has made the event untenable.
At the moment Bernie is supporting President Putin and claiming that F1 is non-political and that the race will go ahead as planned.
I’m sorry to have to say this,but he’s finally lost it this time.
Let’s look at this logically shall we.
The airliner was,alledgedly at the moment, shot down over Ukraine by pro-russian seperatists in a conflict fuelled by Russia and in particular Putin himself.
The championship leading team,Mercedes-Benz,are sponsored by Petronas who are the Malaysian state oil company. Petronas would not want their logos on the cars at this event,however,as title sponsors they are contractually obliged to do so if the event goes ahead. Even worse, if a mercedes driver were to win the event,which is highly likely, the winning driver would be presented with his trophy by Putin himself. This would be considered an insult to the memory of the dead by most Malaysians.
There is also the question of the event being in breach of EU sanctions by providing an economic boost to an area of Russia.
If I could talk to Bernie I would plead with him to realise that going to Russia is now unfeasible and that, by doing so,he is bringing F1 not just into the political arena but into disrepute.
All for a hosting fee.

Woe is me

How many times have I,and people like me, said that F1 is fast becoming a laughing stock?
I’ve lost count, to be honest, but this week its been said on social media more times than I can count.
Once again we have Bernie saying that teams that are struggling financially should leave the sport and,if this happens,that the grid will be bolstered by the top teams each running 3 cars.
Call it deja-vu but I remember this being said 20 years ago, coincidentally also at around the same time that smaller teams were complaining about costs.
Now I’m no expert but I believe that the minimum number of cars required on an F1 grid is 20 and,of course, F1s sponsors sign up to this. So, if it looks like the grid could drop below this number, Bernie trots out the 3 cars line to prevent these sponsors getting nervous and jumping ship.
In addition, he’s also been pipping up regarding the engine noise again.
And in the stupidest move ever seen by a sanctioning body, from next season F1 will employ standing restarts. Can somebody tell me what the hell they were smoking when they approved that?
We also have the news that Monza may be dropped from the calendar from 2016.
The cynical amongst us believe that Bernie is simply trying to drive down the value of F1 in order to buy it back because, if not, the alternative is that the FIA and FOM have totally lost the plot.
While this sounds funny, the truth is that F1 is standing at the brink.
Worldwide viewing figures are down, teams incomes are down and even us long-suffering fans are starting to say enough is enough. Something needs to change and soon or the sport we love is in real danger of disappearing and that is really not funny.

There’s no i in team

Malaysia has been and gone and reams and reams have already been written so I’m gonna have a look at something else. The “team.”
F1 is a multi-million dollar international business, this is true, but at its heart it is, and always has been, a team sport.
It takes a team of hundreds of people working 24/7 to put 2 cars on the grid every other sunday but this fact is sometimes forgotten in the hoo-hah regarding a favourite drivers “unfair” treatment.
For instance, Daniel Ricciardo has been given a double penalty for the unsafe release during todays race. This seems incredibly harsh as not only was Ricciardo himself not responsible for the error but also it totally ruined his race. Many people will argue that the 10 second stop/go penalty he served was punishment enough, but I actually agree with the decision to impose the grid drop in Bahrain and here’s why.
F1 is a team sport. The penalty system exists to punish the team as a whole, not just the man in the cockpit. Did the stop and go penalise the team given that, because of the unsafe release, Ricciardo’s car was already well out of the points with little or no chance of recovering back into them? No it didn’t. The penalty had absolutely no effect. So the grid drop effects the penalty on the team.
Another thing that somehow crops up in Malaysia regularly is team orders.
Last year it was “multi 21” and this year it was Massa ignoring the order to let Bottas through.
After the race Massa said that he would fight for his career his way. Nice sentiment and it would be believable if not for the years he spent being no 2 at Ferrari.
The team obviously could see that Bottas was quicker and it was their opinion that he could catch and challenge Button far more effectively then Massa. When you bear in mind the amounts of money involved at the end of the season for points standings, the potential few extra points far outweigh the temporary bruising of Massa’s ego. Also, Massa is as much an employee of Williams as the factories toilet cleaner. If that person refused an order from management a p45 would soon be on its way, but Massa thought it was ok for him to behave the same way.
In the post race interviews Claire Williams played it all down, but you can bet that, when he next goes to Grove, Sir Frank will have more than just a few words to say on the subject.
As I said there’s no i in team, which is a fact F1 needs to remember.

Young guns go for it

Melbourne has been and gone and one thing is certain-the established drivers need to be looking over their shoulders because the youngsters are on the rise.

Kevin Magnussen drove a great race, after a moment at the start, and thoroughly deserved his debut podium.

Daniel Kvyat shocked many people, myself included, and drove a faultless race to replace Sebastian Vettel as the youngest points scorer in F1 history.

Marcus Erricsson was halted by car problems but showed well up untill then.

The real star though was, without a doubt, Valterri Bottas.Barring the small mistake that saw him break a wheel rim on the outside wall at turn 4 he would almost certainly have ended up in a podium position.

As it was, he fought back from 16th to 5th with a drive that combined bravery, skill and patience in equal measure. His overtake of Kimi Raikkonen at turn 3 will take some beating for move of the season.

The youngsters have served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with and a lot of more experienced drivers should be very nervous about their futures right about now.

Here we go

Melbourne, oh how we love Melbourne.
A great city, a great venue a unique circuit with a great atmosphere and our first chance to see F1 cars in anger every season.
This year, of course, we have all kinds of changes to the cars and this makes Melbourne even more important than usual.
After testing there seemed to be a pecking order emerging and after friday practice this order would appear to have been confirmed.
Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari and Mclaren are where we all expected them to be but the suprise of the day were Red Bull.
Testing for the defending champions was such a disaster that most people, myself included, feared the worst for them. Instead, they lapped reliably at a good pace albeit around a second behind.
Lotus had a nightmare doing very few laps and having Maldonado’s car catch fire in FP1 and Grosjean hitting the wall in FP2.
But , by far, the worst performing team were Caterham who , I believe, managed 4 laps in total all day.
So F1 2014 is back on, the teams are working their collective nuts off and the fans are hoping for another great race weekend.
And so say all of us.