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Embassies etc…

Sorry not to have written anything, but life has been hectic since Melbourne. Monday was spent writing. Tuesday was spent doing other work and then I was on planes. To make matters more complicated my iPhone disappeared somewhere between Australia and Paris and so I could not work on the hoof, which meant that when I did have time, I didn’t have the equipment!

So, I will bring you a Notebook from Melbourne later today, once I have been to the Chinese visa department… and the mobile phone company.

Never a dull life…

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 19.26.52.pngThe Australian Grand Prix was the first chance to see the state of play in Formula 1 in 2017, with Mercedes and Ferrari emerging in a close fight after qualifying. Lewis Hamilton was on pole, but Sebastian Vettel was close. In the race itself, these were the men to beat with Lewis leading the way and then Sebastian getting ahead when the Mercedes pitted. Lewis encountered traffic and when Vettel pitted, he was ahead and there was nothing Hamilton could do. Valtteri Bottas shadowed them home with a lacklustre Kimi Raikkonen fourth, waking up at the end of the race to set the fastest lap. We have a full analysis of the qualifying and the race.

– We talk to Fernando Alonso

– We look at Formula 2

– We look back at Sebring 1967

– We remember the Crystal Palace racing circuit, Patrick Neve and Sir Clive Bossom

– DT discusses driving rules and regulations

– JS thinks about lateral thinking

– The Hack ruminates on cheating in F1

– Plus we have the fabulous photography of Peter Nygaard and his fellow light-capturers

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the F1 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 has attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between them. We’ve been around the block a few times and we know the history of the sport and we love to share it all with out readers at a price that is a real bargain. We believe that by attracting more people at a sensible price we can achieve so much more than all those who exploit the fans. In 2017 you’ll get 22 fabulous issues for £32.99, plus the 2016 season review completely free of charge.

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

In Melbourne…

I arrived in Melbourne this morning at some fairly ungodly hour, in pouring rain, but the taxi driver explained that it would be gone by tomorrow and all will be lovely at the weekend. I hope so. There is no major news in the run-up to the first event, except that the FIA is trialling some new press conference ideas, which means that the media gets to talk to eight drivers, rather than sixth and they get a shorter time under the spotlight. This will be popular for both sides, but what is really needed is to reduce the influence of the teams on the drivers’ willingness to say interesting things. I’ll ge off soon to do all the pre-season stuff, picking up passes, going to promotional events etc. Today, we have the McLaren film. On the flight over I noticed there was an interesting-looking documentary about Zandvoort, fronted by Jan Lammers, which I found only at the end of the journey (so I’ll have to watch that one on the way home). Still, at this time of year we have plenty of time to see all the movies that are on the planes. I think I watched seven on the way over. Still, I’ll avoid going into film critic mode lest someone suggest that I should only write about F1…

Could McLaren switch to Mercedes engines in 2017? There is an awful lot of noise in the media in the last few hours that this could happen, based on some supposed conversations between McLaren and Mercedes. There are lots of elements to be addressed in this story but my sense is that it just will not happen. McLaren has lain down with Honda and it will have to stay with the Japanese firm until the end of the season – at least.

The rules state that “a competitor may change the make of engine at any time during the championship” but this fails to look at the contractual, practical and political elements involved.

The contracts between McLaren and Honda are worth a fortune to McLaren. Not only are the engines free, but Honda also pays a fairly massive amount in sponsorship, so much so that the team does not seem to need many other sponsorships. If the contract is broken, the team will need to find the money from somewhere else (and we’re talking hundreds of millions here), not to mention potential damages if a divorce is against Honda’s will because such a move would damage Honda’s reputation.

In practical terms, there are also huge problems. Cars are designed with a specific engine in mind and trying to slot in a different one may not even be possible without a substantial redesign of the rear end of the car – and a lot of compromises. Yes, you can say that Brawn GP slotted in a Mercedes in 2009 and won the World Championship, but this was very specifically due to the double diffuser and without that things would have been very different. Switching engines in the midseason would set the team back significantly because rather than working to catch up, it would be working to get to the starting point as the other teams accelerate away in the course of the season. Mercedes did provide a fourth engine supply last year (to Manor), but is it still geared up to provide four? It has been clear since December that Manor was not going anywhere, and owed Mercedes money and so it is doubtful that the programme was continued. The worst case scenario is that McLaren could finish 10th this year. With only 10 teams competing the team is therefore guaranteed money from both of the main prize funds, whether it is sixth or 10th. The difference between sixth and 10th is reckoned to be around $13 million, and the team would have to spend a great deal more than that to switch engines. So it would not be worth it. It is better to keep trying with Honda and see what comes of it. If things are still bad six races into the season then perhaps it is time to discuss an end-of-season divorce.

The political questions are also important. One has to ask whether returning to being a Mercedes customer is the right thing for McLaren to do. Accepting the status of a customer team would effectively end any real chance the team has of winning any races in the short- to mid- term. The designers in factory teams collaborate and the engine designers produce what the chassis engineers want. They do not do this with customer teams, so the customers are always at a disadvantage.

Since the new 1.6-litre V6 Formula 1 engine rules began we have seen Mercedes win 51 of the 59 Grands Prix. Its customers have won 0 victories. Even when the Mercedes team has messed up, others have beaten the customer Mercedes teams.

It is also a question of status. McLaren is a successful road car company that thrives on partnership status with its suppliers. Being a mere customer, even in an emergency, is not something that the company will want to do. Similarly, Mercedes will not want to be seen to be taking McLaren away from Honda, effectively pushing Honda out of F1. That would not be good for the folk in Stuttgart.

Those who have visited Honda’s F1 facilities in Japan say that they are mind-blowing, in terms of the technology available, but for reasons that are not clear this is not translating into engine performance on the track. Yes, in testing the Hondas were 20mph slower on the straights than their rivals, which sounds dramatic, but look at that in percentage terms and it doesn’t sound anywhere near as bad. At the launch of the new car, Yusuke Hasegawa said that the company had had a busy winter as a result of the removal of the token system in F1, which allows for much more rapid engine development.

“That meant we could implement every idea for the engine, which was restricted in previous years,” Hasegawa explained. “Obviously the car was changing dramatically, so we wanted to redesign our engine to fit the car and behave with the car much better. So we have modified our engine with a much lower centre of gravity and lighter weight. However, it means we have a great challenge for the development. We are not making any promises for this season, but our aim is to make the progress and catch up the frontrunners so that we keep pushing to make more progress.”

Hasegawa said that the engine was 90 percent new and felt it was not going to be too far behind the Mercedes.

“I think we will catch up with them at the beginning of the season,” he said.

Mr Hasegawa is not a fool and he said what he said for a reason. He had data to back up his statements. He wasn’t making it up as he went along.

In testing, however, things did not go well and from what I hear the problems relate to vibrations which are shaking the engine badly and affecting the electronic and electrical systems, causing a number of failures and power losses. What we do not know is whether there have been any structural problems with the ICE, or whether the problems have been largely with the vibration of the hybrid peripherals. It is, to some extent, logical, for the engines to be lacking horsepower because if Honda cannot run them at full tilt because of the vibration they will have turned them down, in an effort to give the team much-needed mileage. They did not achieve as much as they wanted to achieve, but they still managed 1,200 miles, despite the technical dramas.

So the big question is not whether the team is going to leap into the water and swim for Mercedes, but how long the ship can stay afloat, giving Honda time to fix the problems. Once the vibration is under control, Mr Hasegawa’s data may be able to kick in. You can be sure that the people at Honda in Japan are not going to be sitting on their thumbs right now. Honda has had a pretty poor record in F1 in its last two attempts and some argue that this is because it tends to work in its own way and not bring in outside experts, although I am quite sure that in the course of the last two years, the company has been quietly using consultants to try to find solutions. If they have not been doing that, then they deserve little sympathy because you cannot hope to compete with the best in the world when only looking at the problem with Japanese engineers.

Public criticism of Honda by McLaren is not really going to help, except that it may worry the Japanese sufficiently to accept that things must be done differently. McLaren people know this as well. However, it is a dangerous game because while the Japanese are generally polite and gracious they can become less so when their partners don’t say the right things. As Red Bull has found out in the last couple of seasons, it is best to adopt the “we win together and lose together” approach, rather than ripping into an engine supplier who is not delivering the goods.

Better an engine that is down-on-power than no engine at all…

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The GP+ seasonal preview is now ready for subscribers to download. The magazine is 104 pages in which we look back at the winter months and ahead to the Formula 1 season which kicks off in Melbourne in eight days from now. We have assessments of how each team will do, plus a run down on new rules and regulations. And we don’t hold back on our opinions.

On top of that…

– We look back at Bernie Ecclestone’s often controversial career

– We talk to Chase Carey, the new boss of Formula One

– We chat to the new Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas

– We remember John Surtees and Tom Pryce

– We listen to the views of Jorg Zander, the new technical boss of Sauber

– DT talks of John Surtees

– JS mulls over a fascinating off-season

– The Hack ruminates on Monza 1988

– Plus we have the fabulous photography of Peter Nygaard and his fellow light-capturers

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the F1 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 has attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between them. We’ve been around the block a few times and we know the history of the sport and we love to share it all with out readers at a price that is a real bargain. We believe that by attracting more people at a sensible price we can achieve so much more than all those who exploit the fans. In 2017 you’ll get 22 fabulous issues for £32.99, plus the 2016 season review completely free of charge.

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

Well folks, this is the end of the series, which began at the end of last year – 100 days ag0, apparently. Soon I will be off on my way to Australia to start the new Formula 1 season. I hope that the series has helped to fill the winter months. I have been asked to compile these vignettes into a book – and I will be doing so shortly… But, how does one finish such a run? Looking forwards and back at the same time. The answer, I concluded, was to be found in Australia, the next step in F1 history, where the on March 26 the 957th World Championship Grandes Épreuves will take place…

I guess with 20 races this year and with, let’s say, 22 next year Liberty Media can start planning for some real hoopla at the first race of 2019, as this will be the 1000th World Championship event. God willing, it will be my 543rd. And perhaps when we head to Australia in two years from now, I will be finishing off Fascinating F1 Facts, Volume III…

In the meantime, let us look backwards to the start of the story because the Australian GP is one of the oldest races to carry the title Grand Prix, although for much of its history it never had a proper home: it was the Walkabout Grand Prix, forever on the move, forever changing.

Italy has had a Grand Prix since 1921, Germany since 1926 and Australia since 1928, a year before the first Monaco GP.

Racing on the roads in Australia was forbidden, just as it was in Great Britain, but the Australians were a little less rigid and when the people of Phillip Island voted to create their own shire in 1927, it opened the way for racing on the island. The Victorian Motor Cycle Union and the Light Car Club of Victoria of Victoria proposed a race and the President of the shire’s new council, Albert Sambell, a local land owner and entrepreneur, saw the benefit of the idea and the council voted to ignore the law and hold a race in March 1928. It was basically a club race on a 6.5-mile road circuit on dirt and gravel. In those days there was no bridge to the island so one had to go by ferry, but despite this 10,000 spectators arrived for the first event, a complicated handicap affair. It was won by Captain Arthur Waite, who had been wounded at Gallipoli and hospitalised. He soon met a young woman called Irene Austin and they were married and the gallant officer then began racing his father-in-law Herbert Austin’s automobiles at Brooklands. He would later take his wife to Australia, where they established the first Austin dealership. The race was won in an Austin Seven.

The event stayed on Phillip Island until 1935, but remained a club event, won by local heroes with imported Bugattis, Rileys and MGs. There were some serious accidents and gradually pressure grew for change, although Phillip Island would later build a permanent circuit. The Australian GP, however, moved on, first to Victor Harbor, a seaside resort 30 miles south of Adelaide in South Australia and then on to a series of other road circuits, including an unsealed “Scenic Drive” at Mount Panorama in Bathurst (NSW) in 1938.

The race stopped during the war but was revived at Bathurst in 1947, the road having by then been surfaced and then it moved on to airfield circuits at Point Cook (Vic) and Leyburn (Qld) and road courses at Nuriootpa (SA) and Narrogin (WA). After another visit to Bathurst, the event moved to Albert Park in Melbourne in 1953 and 1956 and the first international drivers were invited to take part. The pattern of road and airfield courses continued with visits to Southport (Qld), Port Wakefield (SA) and Caversham (WA) before a return to Bathurst in 1958. The Tasmanians were keen to get involved as well and a fearsome road course was devised at Longford, but then it was on again to Lowood (Qld) and Mallala (SA). Lex Davison was the big winner in this era with four AGP victories.

By the 1960s, an increasing number of proper racing circuits emerged, including Warwick Farm, Sandown Park and Lakeside. The first AGP at ‘The Farm’ was in 1963 and was won by World Champion Jack Brabham and the race then became part of the Tasman Series, with visiting F1 stars taking on the locals during the European winter. The winners included Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart,  Jim Clark and Chris Amon.

The F1 schedule was growing, however, and so the numbers of visitors reduced and Tasman turned to Formula 5000, with the likes of Frank Matich and Graham McRae being multiple winners of the event, but in the 1970s the growth of touring car racing pushed the single-seaters into the background. The Australian Drivers’ Championship was run to Australian Formula 2 rules and the race was held at new circuits such as Oran Park (NSW) and Wanneroo (WA). Bob Jane, a celebrated racer and entrepreneur wanted to get in on the act with his Calder track near Melbourne and tried to host an F1 race in 1980. Alan Jones appeared in a Williams FW07 and an old Alfa was sent for Bruno Giacomelli while Didier Pironi was persuaded to take part in a locally-built Elfin. It was not a great success but Jane then opted for Formula Pacific rules in 1981 and paid F1 drivers to compete. These included Nelson Piquet, Jacques Lafitte and Alain Prost. They took on the best locals but the big winner in the era was Brazil’s Roberto Moreno, who won three Australian GP victories. But by then plans were being laid for a World Championship F1 race in Adelaide – and the modern story of the Australian GP began on the streets of Adelaide in 1985. The race stayed for 11 years before moving to Albert Park 21 years ago.

Williams Grand Prix Holdings PLC has appointed Paddy Lowe as its new Chief Technical Officer for the Williams Group. He starts work today and will take over the management responsibility for all engineering operations at Grove. He will also join the company’s board of directors and take a shareholding in the company. It is not yet clear what percentage that will be, nor where it will come from, but this will need to be made public soon as the company is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Lowe moves to Williams from Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, where he was Executive Director (Technical) from June 2013 until a few weeks ago.

For Lowe it is a return to where his Formula 1 career began 30 years ago, as a control systems engineer, working with Sir Patrick Head and Adrian Newey. He stayed with the team for six years and played an important role in developing the active suspension system which took Nigel Mansell to the 1992 World Championship. He was then poached by McLaren, where he stayed until joining Mercedes, although in 2013 there was a plan for him to join Williams, but when shareholder Toto Wolff moved to Mercedes, he convinced Lowe to go with him.

“I‘ve always had a deep respect for Williams – my first team in Formula 1,” Lowe said. “It is a huge honour to return in this leadership position and to have the opportunity to become a shareholder. I am extremely motivated to play my part in bringing success back to the team. The vision for the future set out by the Williams board is powerful and has compelled me to join an organisation committed to building on its unique legacy and to reaching the pinnacle of Formula 1 once again. I’m looking forward to this exciting new phase to my career.”

Williams chairman Nick Rose said: “Paddy will be a great addition to our board, bringing his deep technical expertise and overall business knowledge and management skills. Alongside Claire and Mike, he will be one of the three key executive directors running our business day-to-day.”