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Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 13.15.29The Silverstone “Wing” has suffered significant damage during last night’s storms in the United Kingdom. While much of the damage will, no doubt, be covered by insurance, it will nonetheless be an additional problem that the circuit can do without this year, as it prepares for the British GP in June.

On with the show

Racing people are fighters. They don’t shrug their shoulders and say “we did our best”. They say “we failed” and look at the reasons why and try to fix them. They might say that they have a disadvantage if they are fighting teams with three times their budget, but they will fight nonetheless in the knowledge (or at least the belief) that one day, they will be in a position to win. They will show the world they are the best. The big budget Johnny-come-lately teams – the Red Bulls and Mercedes – forget that part of the success in F1 is failure. It drives the hungry onwards, perhaps it creates dysfunction as well, but then part of the charm of the sport is that the people who run things and win are not normal people. They are extreme individuals. I’m not saying that F1 people are better than folk in the real world, they just have different priorities and different energy levels. F1 is a sieve that separates the wheat from the chaff and leaves the hot air behind. Never forget that Frank Williams spent nearly 10 years known as “Wanker” Williams before the team broke through; never forget that there is a reason that McLarens are called MP4 – because Ron Dennis had three projects that failed before Project 4 took over the McLaren team. Never forget also that Ferrari had times when things were dire and the racing team nearly died. They did not whinge nor pull out, they battened down the hatches, survived and worked hard and their opportunities eventually came along. Sauber has been doing that, Force India too, even Manor. Lotus seems a team that is a little lost at the moment, being not one thing or the other but the signs are that the engineers will put them back on the straight and narrow. These teams are the lifeblood of the sport, the people who are still there when the going is tough. There are many others that folded up along the way, the team bosses giving up because they realized that they had bitten off more than they could chew, or because they had got rich, or had bigger ambitions: the list includes the likes of Eddie Jordan, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley and many many more. So to hear Red Bull whingeing about losing and threatening to pull out simply shows that they are still neophytes in this great game. Perhaps it has been too easy for them…

The view in the paddock is very clear, if they cannot dig deeper to win some more then they can go and no one will give a monkeys. Benetton did that, British American Tobacco did it and a raft of car companies as well. These are the users of F1, the people who come and go, not the hard core. Sadly Ecclestone gave the current generation of users more power than they should have, at the expense of the hard core, and the sport is now suffering as a result. The FIA failed the sport by selling its power to keep things sensible. That is unforgivable. 

It will all change in the fullness of time, but racing people don’t want to wait, which is why they are fighting for change right now. One way or another the system will change and we can only hope that the next generation is wiser and builds a structure that looks after the sport, not just the people running it. In the meantime, may the best team win. It would be good if the playing field was a little more level but equality in all things is impossible. 

In the meantime I note with interest that someone unknown has started a grassroots campaign to knock some sense into the sport. Grassroots campaigns usually have a face so the fact that this one doesn’t makes it more interesting, someone wants to give the fans a voice…http://www.saveourformula.com

Just walked in the door from Sepang and have been considering the events over the weekend. Bernie was busy trying to stir up stories but he did not really have a lot to say and I didn’t even bother reporting on his all-girl F1 idea. There are not sufficient women racers with the speed and experience to create a championship worth watching. And you can be sure that Bernie and his besuited friends won’t bankroll anything, so it is not going to happen. The other ideas about giving the same points for qualifying as for races and reversed grids are not much value, just gimmicks. F1 is still a great show if it is properly televised and well-commentated. I cannot say I’ve been overly impressed with the TV direction this year. One gets the feeling there are some new fingers pressing buttons in Bernie TV land. Anyway I thought Malaysia was a great race with plenty of interest and tension all the way through the field. The result was not at all expected, even by Ferrari, but they knew there was a chance if they could make their tyres last longer than Mercedes could do. Sebastian Vettel drive a brilliant race and it was a proper win, with no real luck involved. The key question for me is what will happen in cooler Shanghai and other such places. Will Ferrari be able to get sufficient heat into the tyres to get them singly sweetly again? Or will Mercedes be back with a vengeance. It is still pretty clear that the Merc is a faster car, but the team is beatable in the right circumstances. There’s not much to worry about this year from Red Bull, if they are getting beaten by Toro Rosso it is fairly clear that there is a car problem as well as engine troubles. That need fixing… McLaren and Honda still have a way to go, while we should see more from Williams and Lotus as well. All good stuff, next stop Chinese Consulate for the visa…

Malay15coverJust when we thought it was all over and Formula 1 was degenerating into more whinging and griping about the future, the World Championship lit up in Malaysia as Ferrari came from the shadows and beat Mercedes fair and square. It was all down to temperature and how the tyres worked on the different cars, but there was no disputing the fact that Ferrari got it right and Sebastian Vettel drove to an emotional first victory with Ferrari, lapping his old team’s cars a few laps from the finish. It was a terrific race, filled with excitement and interest and produced a totally unexpected result. And Max Verstappen blew the record for the youngest ever points scorer into little pieces, taking more than two years off the mark set last year by Daniil Kvyat…

In GP+ this week…

– We talk to Bernie Ecclestone about what F1 needs
– We wonder if there are better options
– We look at the demise of the German GP
– Niki Lauda tells it as it is
– Fernando Alonso doesn’t…
– DT tells the F1 losers to stop whinging
– JS looks at F1’s love affair with Malaysia
– …and The Hack tours Australia
– Peter Nygaard was busy snapping on track and in the paddock.

GP+ is the fastest magazine in the Formula 1 world. It is published as the mechanics are still wiping down the cars after each and every race. It appears in PDF format so that you can read it on your computer, your tablet and even on your smartphone, but it’s an old style racing magazine in a modern format. It goes right to the heart of the sport, inside the F1 Paddock. We are there at every race and we get to the people that matter. We are also passionate about the history of the sport and love to share it with our readers.

GP+ is an amazing bargain. You get 21 issues for £29.99, covering the entire 2015 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

Relationships

A good relationship is based on trust and so the stories suggesting that Renault is accusing Red Bull’s Adrian Newey of lying is a pretty good illustration of where that relationship is currently headed. Or to put it another way. This is a disaster. Considering that the two parties shared four consecutive World Championships between 2010 and 2013, one has to say that this smacks of fair weather friends turning on one another when the storm clouds gather. And I’m not sure I see how they are going to live happily ever after again.

Renault is working hard on its engine but seems to be planning a future with its own team to get more coverage. At the same time Red Bull is rumoured to be working with Ilmor Engineering to try to improve the existing Renault power units. It all sounds like a divorce in the making with Red Bull heading off to pastures new. But where? And how? The only way one can see the team getting a new manufacturer engine deal at the moment would be to build an engine itself and then convince a car company to badge it, a trick that Roger Penske pulled off years ago with the original Ilmor when he wanted to get GM into IndyCar racing with the Chevrolet brand. Give a car company a cheap deal to get into F1 and you may end up with a suitable partner, willing to pay in the future. It will be interesting to watch…

Alonso to return

Good news for all the Star Trek fans out there, Fernando Alonso is back from his period of being a hostage with the Evil Empire (or whatever else caused his recent crash in Barcelona) and will be driving for McLaren in Sepang. Thus, it is safe to say that most of the stories written about him and his condition after the incident were in fact utter tosh.

According to the team, “since his Barcelona testing accident, Fernando has followed a rigorous, specialised training programme, designed and closely monitored by leading sports scientists, to ensure his safe and timely return to racing. Fernando met with his engineers and drove the simulator, to bring him up to date with the latest developments on the MP4-30 chassis and power unit. As part of that process he spent time with senior engineers, discussing the accident and reviewing the comprehensive data and analysis, all of which has been shared with the FIA. While there was nothing evident in the extensive car telemetry data, nor anything abnormal in the subsequent reconstructions and laboratory tests, Fernando recalls a sense of “heavy” steering prior to the accident. Consequently, the team has fitted an additional sensor to the car, to increase the data capture.

Looking for fixes

The post-Melbourne stories have focussed on how F1 can be fixed. This, of course, assumes that it is broken, which is an interesting discussion. My view is that the sport is OK in terms of its ability to deliver messages to the world, but it is playing with fire by heading towards pay-TV only. The other point is that it needs to rethink how it deals with its followers.

Pay-TV is probably inevitable given the economics of the sports industry, but there are different ways to switch over. Going for premium pricing is not smart and cheaper bundling deals might be wiser. But the financial people don’t care about anything but short-term gain so the sport is stuck. What is also required with pay-TV is an active and integrated social media programme to attract new viewers, but F1 is still in the Neolithic Age when it comes to electronic media and – more importantly – the art of engagement. That latest Stone Age act is to switch much of the f1.com content to pay-per-view, which I fear will result in some disappointment at Princes Gate when the numbers start coming in… 

The sport needs to understand how to make its fans feel loved, which assuredly it does not do at the moment. The problem, of course, is the philosophy of screwing every buck from every possible source. The suits may be happy, but the fans assuredly are not and with pay-TV now the big thing, they are truly fed up. The big  teams are squared away and not troublesome because they have had some whacking great pay-offs. However, this has created a situation in which the have-nots are skating on very thin ice, not only because of the unfair distribution of prize money but also because of unsustainable engine bills. This is the primary problem in F1 today. The engine suppliers must be forced to lower their prices. This is essential for the health of the sport. The manufacturers could afford to do it, but no one has the oomph to tell them that this must be done, in case they walk away. The only people likely to quit are the losers, as the sport is too valuable for the winners. It would be useful now to have a Cosworth-like company to provide solid cost-effective power units if the big players will not play ball.

If the teams had cheaper engines, the budgetary problems would ease. The secondary step would be a different distribution of prize money, but that is not going to be an easy fight.

The other thing that would really help the sport is to become more user-friendly. The teams are struggling more than ever with tougher pass restrictions which are aimed, it seems, on driving sponsors into VIP hospitality. But the actual result seems to be that more sponsors are responding by having off-car deals and hosting their own events away from the Grands Prix, which allows them freedom to do what they want to do, which is not the case at races.

In terms of spending, the teams have pretty basic fixed costs, which can be reduced with some gentle weeding of the regulations. If the engine problem is gone the budgets are much more manageable. The big teams spend vast amounts on research and development in technology that has no great value outside F1. This makes no sense. The idea of banning wind tunnels is an interesting approach as it would put the emphasis on CFD and better simulation tools, which might be more useful technology as it can be applied in other fields beyond racing.

The decision-making structures as they are today make it hard to get anything done but there are still some questions about whether it not the current arrangements are in line with competition rules. It would be good for this to be sorted out quickly. In truth, it would have been much smarter for the racing authorities to have asked about the arrangements before they were put in place and then all would be clear. As they chose not do this, then they must face any challenges if they come. That will make it harder for the finance people to sell the business but that might be a good thing. There may be worse jackals out there…

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