Dear Readers,

With the new season fast-approaching, it is time to do a little Spring cleaning. This blog has been the same for years and the time has come to improve and move on. Don’t worry I am still going to be blogging away as always, but I am moving the whole thing to a new website. So if you have this WordPress site bookmarked, all you need to do is to change it to  www.joeblogsf1.com. I won’t be posting blog updates on this WordPress site any longer, but it will remain in place as an archive, should you wish to revisit old posts and comments, although the new site’s archive goes back 12 months.

Don’t worry, you will still be able to enjoy the same free content and I will continue to engage with my readers, although it will be through an all new comments section. Old comments will remain on this WordPress site, but the focus will switch to the new JoeBlogsF1.com site. Everyone who has previously signed up to receive e-mail or Twitter alerts, when I post a new article on the blog, will still receive them as usual. If you have not taken advantage of this free service you can do so on the new homepage. Simply look in the right-hand column, fill in your email address (please check it is correct) and click on the Subscribe button.

The new website is being managed for me by Motorsport Media Services (which publishes Motorsport Monday, of which some of you may know as I am a regular contributor). This will allow me to focus my time on blog content, the GP+ e-magazine, my weekly insider newsletter (click here to find out more), my Audience With Joe events, my podcasts and, hopefully, some more books in the not too distant future.

Please bookmark the new address while you think about it.

Joe Saward

These ugly things…

It is, of course, a matter of opinion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say, but I really don’t like the Formula 1 halo. I know a lot of people are saying the same thing and others are saying that we should stop whingeing and get on with it, but I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree with Toto Wolff’s view that he would get rid of them.

“If you give me a chainsaw I would take it off,” he said. “I think we need to look after the driver’s safety but what we have implemented is aesthetically not appealing.  We need to come up with a solution that simply looks better. It’s a massive weight on the top of the car, you screw up the centre of gravity massively.”

We all understand what the halo is supposed to do but this is not sleek, its not sexy and it ruins the elegant lines of F1 cars. The haloes look like afterthoughts. They are ugly.

But it is more than that. Formula 1 is supposed to be about heroes. The men driving the cars are meant to be skilled and brave, the best of the best. Top guns. Risk is key to the popularity of motorsport and so removing all danger is dangerous for the future of the sport. Having said that real racing drivers will drive anything to the limit and the more protection there is, the more risks they will take, so perhaps that will translate into the spectacle I am talking about. We can hope…

If it is only about driving talent then perhaps we could all be happy with e-races, but for me these are seriously underwhelming. Yes, the people driving are obviously skilful, but the courage they require is 100 percent virtual. The worst that can happen to them is that they might stub a toe when getting into their seat. I am not inspired by it at all. Heroes have the courage to do dangerous things and if what they do is no longer dangerous, then they tend to lose their glamour. It is a little like trying to compare the Dambusters with drone operators, sitting in air bases in Nevada.

I struggle to understand how an event like the Isle of Man TT can continue each year, killing people at a regular rate and providing fans with something to marvel at. How can that survive in its current form while F1 has to be mollycoddled with these mechanical aberrations? Is it simply because the bikers look differently at their own sport and anyone professing to be a lawyer is impolitely shown the door? I suspect that this is the answer.

The reality now is that the only way that F1 can rid itself of the halo is by finding something better that does the same job. If one listens to lawyers then one is told that if one knows that something related to safety could be better and something goes wrong, the fact that one knew there was a better option but did nothing about it, is deemed to be negligence. Drivers can sign any release they like, but their families can still take legal action on the basis that the FIA would be negligent not to have had head protection in place.

The best solution from the point of view of spectacle is to work on the concept of a fighter canopy. A windscreen is probably not better than a halo. It is just a parallel choice. I’d love to see canopies and drivers inside without helmets (why do you need them any longer?) but the truth is that head and neck devices require the head to be restrained by some means and the helmet does that job, so we cannot really do that, although I’d love to be able to see the faces of the drivers. It would add to the charisma of the sport…

The new Ferrari



The new Mercedes

Staying ahead of the game

The Mercedes F1 team has achieved remarkable success in recent years, not just by building fast racing cars, but also by holding together and not getting caught up in politics that can fragment even the best teams. Success is great “glue” to hold things together, but ego is still ego and ambitious people tend to get into self-created messes over who is responsible for success. Toto Wolff must be given a great deal of credit for creating an atmosphere in which friction is kept to a minimum.

And while it may all look like a swan, gliding along with ease and grace, under the water there is a lot of effort going on at Mercedes – and there are definitely things that create friction. Last year, for example, one can argue that the Mercedes was not the best chassis. The engine was strong and reliable, but at times the car was not as good as the Ferrari or the Red Bull, and one can even argue the case that the McLaren was probably a better chassis. So the main thrust of improvement this winter will have been at Brackley, while Brixworth will have continued on its way, driving engine development forwards, while making sure that the power units stay reliable.

The word from inside the empire is that the various parties are much happier with the results coming out of the simulation tests and so they are confident that the car will be competitive again and nothing seen so far at the other launches has raised any concerns.

Of course, they are waiting to see what Ferrari comes up with and one has to say that things have been very quiet down Maranello way, with little in the way of leaks and the focus looking inwards, getting the job done. There was a little gossip a week or so ago about plans for a major change in the engine in the midseason, with work that has been going on for more than a year now deemed to be reliable enough to be used. So watch out for a jump forward in the middle of the year.

Having said that, Ferrari’s chief engineer of its power units Lorenzo Sassi left the team last summer and will soon join Mercedes and his input can only help the folk at Brixworth find new solutions, knowing what Ferrari knows and integrating that into its engines in the months ahead. The Mercedes folk are also keen to see how Red Bull and McLaren do this year, as there is a lot of respect for both organisations, which is sensible given their histories.

In the meantime, the team continues to work on securing Lewis Hamilton beyond the end of 2017. There is believed to be a three-year deal on the table and there are no signs that Lewis has any desire to go elsewhere, despite press reports. The key issue is how long Lewis wants to go on racing at this level and this will largely be about performance. At this stage of his career Hamilton does not really want to go into another cycle of building up to success with a new team and as he clearly has other ambitions outside F1, it is really about how he feels about the car. Thus if the new car is competitive, I expect Lewis will sign a new deal.

The team needs his commitment but a three year deal is still a lo for him to accept. In the interim the team needs to be suitably prepared from the future and it has Valtteri Bottas, of course, and Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings. It also probably has access to Daniel Ricciardo, as he cannot want to stay on at Red Bull forever as Max Verstappen has his feet firmly under the desk at Milton Keynes. Daniel is almost a match for Max in most situations and so would be a good bet for Mercedes in the future if it needs another driver.

The same, however, can be said for Ferrari which cannot forever hang on to Kimi Raikkonen. If the team’s financial advantages are to be reduced (which looks likely) Ferrari needs to get more more from the prize money and mounting a proper two-car attack on Mercedes is the way to do it. Raikkonen is the weak link and so one can imagine that Ricciardo will be the Italian shopping list as well. Charles Leclerc is currently the man surrounded by Ferrari hype but in a few months that may have reduced a little depending on how things go with Sauber. Marcus Ericsson is no slouch but Leclerc needs to be beating him all the time if he is to avoid the fate of Pascal Wehrlein, a talented guy who is out of F1 when perhaps he should not be…

Fascinating F1 Fact: 87

Formula 1 is keen to get into the New York area – under its new and ambitious management. But trying to get racing into the Big Apple, or at least somewhere close, is not new at all, going right back to the end of 1903, when William K Vanderbilt decided to give up being a Grand Prix driver in Europe. He headed home to try to get the Americans up to speed in racing terms, because he felt that the French had things much better organised. He offered the American Automobile Association (AAA) the fancy Vanderbilt Cup, and got permission to run a race on the public roads of Nassau County, on Long Island, just outside New York City.

The first Vanderbilt Cup was held in October 1904 on a course that ran from Westbury to Jericho and then south to Hicksville and what is now Levittown and from there to Hempstead and Queens Village, before returning to Westbury on the Jericho Turnpike. It was 30 miles in length. Huge crowds appeared to watch the race which was won by Paris-based American national Georges Heath at the wheel of a Panhard. The race was repeated the following year with a slightly modified course and once again the Europeans dominated with Victor Hemery winning for Darracq. The race became so popular that it is reckoned that in 1906 the event drew a quarter of a million spectators. There were some nasty accidents and so no race was possible in 1907. Vanderbilt hoped to build a proper speedway on private land a few miles further east but that failed and so Willy K began construction of a completely different idea: he built his own road, buying ;and wherever it was needed to create the Long Island Motor Parkway. By 1908 the first 10 miles of concrete road was finished and, combined with sections of public road created a new course 23.46 miles in length. But the AAA decided to ignore the Automobile Club de France rules and so the rival Automobile Club of America decided to take advantage and hosted the American Grand Prize using ACF rules. The Vanderbilt Cup entry was thus restricted to Americans only and was won by George Robertson driving a Locomobile. In the years that followed the race was held to different and on different courses and in 1910 the crowd was reckoned to be close to half a million. The policing failed, four people were killed and New York State decided to ban all road racing. The Vanderbilt Cup started to move around the country but died out in 1916. After that racing in New York was largely restricted to the wooden board track at Sheepshead Bay, down near Coney Island. After that closed down there was nothing until the 1930s when Roosevelt Raceway was inaugurated, after a group of Wall Street financiers and well-known sports figures such as Eddie Rickenbacker, former racer, WW1 Flying ace and owner of the Indianapolis Speedway established Motor Development Corporation (MDT) and hired Robertson as general manager. They built a twisty four mile track hard-packed dirt track at Westbury, overlooked by a huge grandstand. It was modelled on a racecourse. A huge prize fund attracted a number of European entrants and victory went to Tazio Nuvolari, but the race was a financial disaster as the predicted crowds did not appear. The circuit would serve as the basis of the design for Interlagos circuit in Brazil, but Roosevelt Raceway soon disappeared.

Racing went back to New York to talk to the city authorities in 1982, when Bernie Ecclestone announced that a Formula 1 race would take place in New York the following year. The New York Grand Prix Corporation was headed by Dan Koren with backing from construction barons Douglas and John Rosart. The contract was for seven years but the sites being discussed were not downtown but rather out in the suburbs: at Flushing Meadow in Queens, at Roosevelt Field and at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The site chosen was Flushing Meadow and an event was planned for September 1983 but it soon became clear that there were legal issues which would delay matters and in the end Ecclestone decided not to risk a last-minute injunction and so the race was cancelled. The next move came from the Americans with a company called Motor Marketing International Inc. which issued a press release in March 1992 announcing plans for the Marlboro Grand Prix of New York, which claimed that it would be the first automobile race to be held on the streets of New York City. The plan was for a 1.14-mile street circuit around the base of the World Trade Center. The organisers predicted that the IndyCar race would generate $56m for the city. The date was set for July 11 1993 and even Mayor David Dinkins declared himself to be behind the event, although he was opposed to tobacco sponsorship… The people behind Motor Marketing International Inc, was a young fellow called Floyd “Chip” Ganassi and the renowned International Management Group (IMG). Six months later the event was cancelled, officially because the track was going to be too expensive to build. IndyCar retired to Meadowlands, where it took place from 1984 until 1991. After that there were periodic rumours of Ecclestone and his men looking at dockyards, islands, parks and anywhere where there might be the possibility of an F1 race, which ended up with an announcement in 2011 that there were plans for a race called the Grand Prix of America on a street circuit around Port Imperial and Weehawken. It never happened… More recently, the electric Formula E championship hosted a race in the Brooklyn docks last year, but F1 remains keen to break open the Big Apple…

The new Toro Rosso