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The power of a driver

André Maes, the long time promoter of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, has told the national newspaper La Dernière Heure that the event has already sold 70,000 three-day tickets, something that he has not seen since the glory days of Michael Schumacher back in 2001 and 2002, when legions of German fans would stream across the border to Spa, following their hero, who had huge support in the region around Kerpen, the town where he grew up. This means that with sales in the days leading up to the race, plus all the other people associated with the event, there are likely to be in the region of 85,000 people brought to the region for the race. This will delight the regional government of Wallonia which has to support the event and cover its losses each year. It remains to be seen whether the event will actually make a profit, but that is still a possibility.

The reason for the hike in ticket sales is very clear: Max Verstappen. The recent German Grand Prix saw large numbers of Dutch fans in the grandstands at Hockenheim, having driven the 250 or so miles from their homeland to watch their hero in action. Spa is much closer to the Netherlands, the nearest point to Spa being only around 45 miles from Spa, meaning that some of the visitors will be able to return home each day. Many others will camp at the circuit, which is probably the best option for fans as there is a fairly limited supply of hotels in the immediate vicinity of the circuit, beyond the ones popular with F1 people in Spa, Malmédy and Stavelot. The organisers at Spa expect that there will be around 20,000 Dutch fans in the crowd this year and says that all the grandstands have been sold out and only general admission tickets remain. Spa is also a popular venue for British fans, who drive across from the UK for the event, which is held on a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, which means that they have Monday to return home.

 

Verstappen’s rise has led to interest in reviving the Dutch Grand Prix, which has not been held since 1985, but was a regular fixture on the F1 calendar for more than 30 years. It is clear that there are problems hosting such a big event at Zandvoort, the traditional home of the race, located in the sand dunes next to the North Sea, near Haarlem. The track would need considerable work and vehicular access would need to be restricted. Zandvoort is well-served by trains from Haarlem and Amsterdam, the latter being only half an hour away. However, the big problem is to find a way to raise the fees required to pay for such an event, with the circuit admitting that it cannot do much without government aid. The government has been pushing austerity measures in recent years, in an effort to improve public finances but for the last 18 months the economy has been growing as confidence returns. One alternative that has been put forward is to host a Grand Prix at the TT Circuit Assen, in the north of the country. The track, a shortened permanent version of a celebrated motorcycle road race circuit, hosts the Dutch round of the MotoGP series and has a contract to continue to do so until 2026. The track would need some modification for F1 but it would cost a great deal less than trying to revive Zandvoort. The Assen organisers say that they are interested if financial arrangements can be put in place.

The Belgian GP at Spa will,incidentally, have increased security with traffic and pedestrians no longer mixing in the area around La Source, as a precaution following the Nice attack in July. There will also be more bag inspections.

A near-miss in Pocono

There are many arguments in the discussions about head protection in top line motorsport, but the ABC 500 at Pocono, delayed until Monday because of rain, gave further evidence that it would be wise for the sport to find solutions as quickly as possible, lest more drivers are killed or injured.

Mass pit stops in IndyCar racing are usually fraught, with cars getting in and out of their boxes. There are often collisions, notably at Indianapolis this year when Andretti’s Townsend Bell pulled out of his pit and was hit by Penske’s Helio Castroneves and then collided with his own team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay. The same two teams were involved in the incident at Pocono. On lap 64 Alexander Rossi pitted from the lead. He was departing his pit in the slow lane when Charlie Kimball, who was further down the order, arrived in the fast lane for his stop. Kimball seems to have believed that he was clear of Rossi, and Rossi was either unsighted or believed that Kimball would duck behind him. In any event, the two cars were side-by-side and collided and Rossi’s front end went into the air. As it came back to earth Castroneves emerged from his pit and arrived beneath Rossi’s car, which then landed on the Penske car in the cockpit area. Fortunately the impact was just in front of Castroneves. Rossi then slid over the top of the Brazilian’s car .

Castroneves said later that his hand had been grazed by Rossi’s flying car.

Apportioning blame in such an incident is difficult. Rossi was penalized a nominal 20 seconds for avoidable contact, but it was clear that he did not see Kimball and had been relying on his pit crew to send him out in an orderly manner. Others felt that Kimball should not have turned in, but he appears to have thought that Rossi would pass behind him. There are also questions about whether Castroneves’s car should have been released into the path of the others.

“Everyone is going to have their own opinion, but I was staying in the slow lane,” Rossi said. “Kimball was obviously trying to come into his box, but then Helio was being released. So I don’t know. It’s very unfortunate.”

The former F1 driver was happy that Castroneves was not hurt, but felt that he had been robbed of a potential victory.

“We were at the front with relative ease and we were waiting for the end to go to the front for the final time,” he said.

The incident, which came a year after Justin Wilson was killed at the same venue, when he was hit on the head by flying wreckage, is a further sign that it would be wise to act sooner, rather than later to try to improve the protection around the drivers’ heads.

It is time to wind up things again, in preparation for the forthcoming Belgian Grand Prix, and after a solid three week break from the sport, F1 will be re-energised for the rush of races to come: we have seven races in 10 weeks between now and the end of October, which will keep us all busy… The World Championship is still wide open, between the two Mercedes drivers, although there is no doubt that before the break, Lewis Hamilton clearly had the upper hand. It will be interesting to see whether Red Bull or Ferrari has made any progress. Ferrari, remember, ended the first part of the year by dropping its technical director James Allison and there were signs that the team could go into one of its celebrated downward spirals. We will have to see whether Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne understands the importance of stability in an F1 team, or thinks – like most automobile industry executives – that the sport is easy and keeps making changes. Before the break began Pirelli began its 2017 tyre testing programme with Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Gutierrez doing a wet track test over two days at Fiorano with a modified 2015 car fitted with prototype 2017 tyres. Red Bull then took over with two days testing dry tyres at Mugello, with Sebastien Buemi doing the driving with a modified RB11, designed to simulate 2017 performance. Kimi Räikkönen used the summer break to take time to get married to Minttu Virtanen at a ceremony in Tuscany.

Beyond the various excitements at Maranello, there has been little news of any real interest over the break with the exception of the announcement that Manor F1 has replaced Rio Haryanto with Esteban Ocon. This was no great surprise, but it will be fascinating to see how the young Frenchman does alongside Pascal Wehrlein, another Mercedes-Benz protege. Wehrlein has looked good, but he was beaten matched quite often by Haryanto and so the contest between Ocon and Wehrlein could be of long-term interest as Mercedes looks for its own new stars.

The rest of the news that appeared in August appears to have been largely waffle and rehashes of earlier stories, presumably pumped out by scribblers trying to scrape a living in the quiet month. There is no sign of any immediate progress in the sale of the Formula One group; there is still no Grand Prix in Las Vegas and, while there has been some pushing and shoving at Silverstone, it is by no means clear whether the changes have been caused because of the planned sale of the circuit, or because the financial results of the British Grand Prix were not as good as they might have been. From what I hear the race made a financial loss despite being a sellout and that obviously means that there is some reflection needed on the strategic approach that was chosen by the management. Discounting is perhaps not the best answer if one has to raise very specific sums of money.

I have to admit that I find the constant politicking at Silverstone to be a complete waste of energy for all concerned. There is a contractual arrangement in place that runs until 2024 and it would not be wise for the Formula One group to terminate the current deal in an effort to get more. In such a scenario, one can imagine that Silverstone would simply walk away from the Grand Prix and spend a few years building up its financial strength and getting work done, leaving F1 without a home race. It is particularly frustrating for Britain because the government has been willing to spend huge sums of money on the Olympic Games, but refuses to help fund the Grand Prix. One can understand why politicians would not want to do anything to associate themselves with some of those involved in the Formula One group, but it is simply not right that Britain’s only F1 venue struggles to survive when Formula 1 is one of the country’s biggest success stories.

Consider this: in the last 10 seasons, British-based Formula 1 teams have won 145 of the 179 Grands Prix that have taken place, a success rate of 81 percent. That percentage will almost certainly go up by the end of the year. It is reckoned that each medal won by Britain in Rio (gold, silver or bronze) has cost the taxpayer £4.1 million. Now, that money is probably well-spent because it has made British people feel good about their country and perhaps a little more united. It has given Britain pride and sporting prestige.

UK Sport, the body which decides on these things, allocates government money to different sports, and it is focussed and ruthless. If a sport does not deliver, the money stops. However, it is happy to fund elite sport if there is a good chance of success. Elite sport is a specialist industry, and so even if the government does not consider F1 to be a sport, it should have the nous to throw some money at Silverstone, to help it do more than just build a museum. Is there another sport in which Britain wins as much as it does in Formula 1?

I cannot think of one.

If the track had the cash to complete its building projects, it could be much more sustainable, even allowing for the fees that the Formula One group demands. Instead the club spends its time quibbling over what should be sold and to whom. The latest twist is that the managing director of Silverstone Circuits Ltd, Patrick Allen, has been placed on leave of absence. Some suggest that this is because he is too close to Lawrence Tomlinson of Ginetta, who wants to buy the track, and wants to stop the sale to Jaguar Land Rover. Others think it may be to do with the ticket sales at the GP. The BRDC continues its discussions with JLR and with Porsche, which has some voice in what a new owner can do with the track, but thus far the German firm has made no public objections to the JLR plan and stories floating about seem to be designed to stir up trouble.

Elsewhere, it is worth mentioning that part of Britain’s sporting success in Rio is due to a former Formula 1 team boss, now a professor at Cambridge University. Tony Purnell has been British Cycling’s Head of Technical Development or the last three years, but prior to that had an impressive career in motorsport beginning when he was still at university with a dissertation in 1982 that included radical new ideas such as lap time simulation, computational fluid dynamics and highlighted the importance of software in the sport. Purnell was soon a consultant to Newman-Haas Racing and then built wind tunnel instrumentation for Lola and Carl Haas’s F1 team, working with a young Ross Brawn. This led to Purnell establishing PI Research to market his inventions and this quickly became a huge global business before being sold to the Ford Motor Company in 1999. It became part of what was known as the Premier Performance Division, which also included Jaguar Racing and Cosworth. In 2002 Purnell was put in charge of the whole division and remained so until Ford decided to sell the business at the end of 2004. Red Bull Racing grew from the foundations laid by Jaguar Racing. It is worth noting that Purnell was always a motorsport fan and, indeed, supported the careers of youngsters such as Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Davidson during their time in karts. He would later become a technology consultant for the FIA, helping Max Mosley formulate strategy in various championships. After Jean Todt arrived, Mosley’s people were weeded out to a large extent and so Purnell went off to the world of academia and ultimately to cycling, where he was able to apply many of the same ideas using computer modelling and analysis to provide Cycling GB with better equipment, better clothing and better biomechanical analysis of the riders themselves. It is reported that he worked with several F1 teams to develop better systems and coatings. Whatever the case, the low-profile Purnell deserves some of the credit for Britain’s success in the velodrome.

The other piece of news was the death of Chris Amon, at the age of 73. Amon was a remarkable racer in F1 between 1963 and 1976, competing with teams such as Ferrari, Matra, Cooper, Tyrrell, BRM and March. He was seen by many as a potential World Champion but fate dictated that he would never win a single World Championship Grand Prix, thus gaining a reputation for being the unluckiest driver in the history of the sport. He won several non-championship races, collected 11 podiums and won the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Daytona 24 Hours and the Tasman Series, but a Grand Prix victory eluded him. He even set up his own F1 team at one point but eventually decided that he no longer wanted to take the risks required and retired to New Zealand to run the family farm. He would later enjoy a career as a TV presenter in his home country, testing road cars and helping to promote the sport in New Zealand. He was awarded an MBE for services to motorsport in 1993.

IMG_0051The Formula 1 world is not one where there is much sympathy for the opposition and there was a lot of sniggering behind closed doors about the mess into which Ferrari has wandered in recent days, with the experienced old lags in other teams rejoicing that the Italian team has, in effect, set back its progress by three years. The first year will be spent looking for engineers to replace James Allison and his men (most of whom will have been receiving offers since the moment the announcement was made). There will be periods of gardening leave required before a new cohesive team gets together, which will take another year and then it will take a year to get their first proper design from the new crew.

In Hockenheim the process had already begun, with rumours that the team’s chief aerodynamicist Dirk de Beer has also departed. It will not be the last such rumour.

The whole problem appears to have been caused by two important things: firstly, automotive company executives often suffer from extreme arrogance when it comes to the sport, believing that they can swan into teams and make them successful. This almost always ends in disaster, because they underestimate how difficult it is to win in F1.

The second problem is that the Scuderia has no idea about how to manage the perceptions of the fans and created a rod for its own back by talking too positively about the 2016 project. Once the fans and media got it into their heads that the Ferrari would be a winner, the problem developed. The Ferrari was not a winner because other teams had done a better job and thus Ferrari’s efforts were deemed by all to be a disappointment. The Italian media, so influential in the panic attacks in Maranello, began taking pot shots at the team, people began to feel vulnerable and the politics ramped up. This is a pattern that has been repeated over and over in the history of the team. In reality, since the death of Enzo Ferrari in 1988, the team has only ever really had one truly successful period and that was when the management was taken over entirely  by outsiders.
The notebook from Hockenheim is filled with notes about the mess at Ferrari, but there was still a little room left to note rumours about Sergio Perez and Renault. These make a lot of sense as Perez wants to be in a factory team and has a sizeable chunk of money following him around (something which will help Renault). There is a lot of work going on at the moment at Enstone: recruiting, replacing old equipment and investing in new things, but the French ways are still fairly evident as the boss Cyril Abiteboul seems to have gone off for one of those long summer breaks that the French management classes so enjoy. This sort of thing may be the sign of good management, but it doesn’t go down awfully well in racing teams, in which people are working night and day to get the organisation more competitive. Frederic Vasseur still has his nose to the grindstone, but he is a racer and not a politician. Being in a corporate world is not something that he enjoys. One can say the same of Eric Boullier at McLaren, who is a racer through and through. The team is moving forwards but it is not without a certain amount of pushing and shoving behind the scenes and things are probably going to get a little more complicated after the summer break, when Jost Capito arrives on the scene, adding to the number of managers involved.

There was a daft rumour in Hockenheim, based on no evidence at all, that Mercedes will be quitting F1 after 2018, the logic (if you can call it that) being that the two driver contracts now end at that point. This magnificent piece of waffle was denied by all in sundry and the fact that Sunday saw a mass turn out of Mercedes Benz big cheeses suggests it should not be taken seriously at all. Not only was the celebrated Dr Zetsche present, his massive moustache glistening in the sunlight, but his heir apparent, Ola Källenius, was at his side, along with fellow board member Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber. Källenius is a sort of management version of Max Verstappen, having emerged from Sweden and joined Mercedes as a management trainee in 1993. If one studies the wunderkind’s biography one sees him emerge from procurement to become executive director of operations at McLaren Automotive in 2003 and then a couple of years as MD of Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth. Here is a man who understands the value of racing, so don’t take too many bets on Mercedes pulling out in 2018. I hear they are considering building a new factory in the Brackley area because the current facility is less than super-efficient…

There is a fair bit of head-scratching going on in relation to Canadian Lance Stroll (17), who is currently leading the European Formula 3 Championship. Stroll is also up to something with F1 cars but Williams are being rather coy on the subject and will not even say how many tests Lance is doing this year. The reason for this is that the tests are private and are taking place at race tracks all over the world, using a Williams-Mercedes 2014 car, in order for the teenager to get comfortable with modern machinery and learn circuits he has not yet visited. Blimey, you might think, this kid must be good if Williams is paying for all of this, but the word is that the team is its usual frugal self and that Stroll is being bankrolled by his larger-than-life father Lawrence Stroll, who is reckoned to be worth around $2.5 billion and is the kind of man who is willing (and able) to spend $25 million on an old Ferrari, or look in the corner of his wallet to find the small change needed to rebuild the Mont Tremblant racing circuit in Canada. There are rumours, inevitably, that if he is fast enough, young Stroll might be in line for a seat at Williams in the not too distant future if his dad is willing to stump up enough cash.

The only other rumour of note was that the German GP might move to the Sachsenring in 2017. This circuit is located not far from Poland and hosts the German motorcycle GP, although it is struggle to pay for that. It’s a nice rumour, presumably slipped out by someone trying to do a deal with Hockenheim, but there is no sense at all in any of it. The region is not going to pay, the ADAC car club that runs the track has no money but would like a race, because it cannot do anything with the Nurburgring and it is highly unlikely that anyone else will pay for a German GP way out east. The burghers of Hockenheim are unlikely to be much impressed by the “threat” of such a project.

The F1 world is off on holiday now, with the annual factory shut down at the end of the week. This means that for the next two weeks not much will happen. Everyone is tired after six races in eight weekends and teams are worrying that when they get a new calendar in December, they will all suffer a lot of resignations as their staff vote to spend more time with their families.
And that is what I am going to do for the next fortnight. The blog is shutting down and I am off to spend some peaceful days doing things completely unrelated to motorsport. I will be back in action (to some extent) after August 15 before the cylinders all start firing again in the run-up to the Belgian GP in Spa. Given the number of Dutch fans in Hockenheims, Spa is going to be sold out this year with an army of orange-clad Max fans…
gone-fishing-sign_1180559

Hearing that Bernie’s mother-in-law has been freed after major police operation in Brazil. Two arrested and kidnap victim freed unharmed.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.03.57.pngThe German Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton’s fourth consecutive victory, his sixth in seven races and it gives him an increased advantage in the World Championship over his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg. The German was on pole for his home race, but at the start he was left behind by Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. For the rest of the afternoon Rosberg was barely noticed. He put himself into the spotlight by pushing Verstappen off the track at that hairpin, after the Dutchman pitted and he duly received a five second penalty for a move that was pretty similar to the stunt he pulled on Hamilton in Austria a few weeks ago. When all is considered one has to say that Nico looks like a man on the run, rather than a World Championship contender…

Also in GP+ this week…

– The sale of Sauber
– Sergio Perez maturing well
– Is Ferrari in crisis?
– Lewis Hamilton’s future
– McLaren aims to inspire
– JS muses on the halo
– DT is happy with the Strategy Group
– The Hack muses on F1 rules and regulations
– Plus the usual fabulous photography from Peter and his team of snappers

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between us.

GP+ is an amazing bargain – and it is designed to be, so that fans will sign up and share the passion that we have for the sport. We don’t want to exploit you, we want you to join the fun. You get 23 issues for £32.99, covering the entire 2016 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.

Mattia Binotto is the new Chief Technical Officer of Ferrari F1. He is 45 years of age and comes from Lausanne, in Switzerland. He is a graduate of mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic of Lausanne in 1994, he then went on to study for a Masters in motor vehicle engineering at the University of Modena. He then joined Ferrari as a test engineer in 1995. He moved to the race team in 1997 and worked with Rubens Barrichello, in particular, before becoming chief engineer of race and assembly in the engine department in 2007. Two years later he became Head of Engine and KERS Operations and in October 2013 was named as Deputy Director, Engine and Electronics, taking on the role of Chief Operating Officer, Power Unit, the following year.

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