In the 1950s, the Maserati brothers fielded a team in opposition to Maserati, having started a rival engineering company called OSCA.
The FIA Prizegiving Gala has witnessed five Finns presented with the Formula One Drivers’ Championship trophy. Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen are the obvious ones, but there was also Nico Rosberg (who has a Finnish passport) and fashion model Nina Rindt (née Lincoln), Jochen Rindt’s widow, who received the trophy on behalf of her late husband, the sport’s only posthumous World Champion.
The Coventry Climax Formula 1 engine was based on a fire-pump, designed in 1950, in response to a British Government call for engineering firms to create a new generation fire-fighting device that could pump 350 gallons of water a minute at 100 psi and at the same time be carried easily by two men. The pump was designed by Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy, both of whom had worked in the automobile industry. Their Feather Weight Pump (FWP) won Coventry Climax a large government contract. Racers, who were always looking for engines with a good power-to-weight ratios, spotted the new pumps and convinced the company to enlarge them to 1100cc. These were called Feather Weight Automotive (FWA) and were first used in Kieft sports cars at Le Mans in 1954. Stretched to 1.5-litres they became the dominant engines in Formula 2 and it was not long before the first Coventry Climaxes began appearing in F1, powering Coopers. Stirling Moss won the first F1 victory in a 2-litre Cooper-Climax in Argentina in 1958.
To keep us all amused in the wintry days ahead, I have decided that I will start every day (apart from the Christmas week off) with a Fascinating F1 Fact (FFF), which will give readers some extraordinary insights into the rich history of the sport. I have already tweeted the fact that “in 1952 Richard Kuchen built a V8 for the AFM team. In German “kuchen” means cake – so we have had a Cake F1 engine, but as this is the start of the series, I figured that you might like a bonus FFF, so here it is: In 1967 Formula 2 team owner Ron Harris commissioned Frank Costin to design him a car. The result was the Protos chassis, which was made from wood. That year the German GP was run concurrently with the F2 race and so a wooden car competed in F1 – driven by Brian Hart.
FFF will be back tomorrow…
When I saw the headline: “Mallya deserves credit”, I must admit that my first reaction was to wonder what the banks he owes money to must think of that idea, but I soon realised that it was a rah-rah story quoting Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley, arguing that Vijay Mallya should get more recognition for the achievements of Force India in Formula 1. I have to say that I agree with that, even if Mallya is definitely not my cup of tea, with his bling-bling ways, his insufferable smugness and his ducking and weaving business tactics.
But, when all is said and done, it is Vijay who has moved Force India up the racing ladder to take fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship – and that really is some achievement. He has achieved this by hiring the right people and listening to them, buying in all the technology that can be bought and working hard on aerodynamic development, notably by striking a deal to use one of the Toyota wind tunnels in Cologne.
The theory is very simple: if you cannot outspend the big boys, you have to outsmart them. You can come up with explanations about how Williams, McLaren, Renault and so on have done a poor job, but that’s really irrelevant: Mallya’s people have done a super job. They have built a great chassis, hired good drivers, done a deal with Mercedes to use its complete power unit, transmission and ancillaries. A competitive engine and technical stability have allowed the team under COO Otmar Szafnauer to develop steadily. Andy Green’s technical team have worked wonders, while Sporting Director Andy Stevenson and chief race engineer Tom McCulloch have all played important roles. And behind them there is a team, many of whom have worked with the organisation since Jordan days, people like chief designer Ian Hall, head of aerodynamics Simon Philips, head of structures Simon Gardner, head of R&D Andrew Brown, head of mechanical engineering Dan Carpenter, head of vehicle science Jonathan Marshall and head of composite design Bruce Eddington. All of them, and many others, have played their roles well.
The team knows that it will be harder next year, but still has the attitude that it is best to focus on the job and not on the opposition and is always looking for ways to improve. Financially, it has not been easy and compromises have had to be made, but Mallya has kept the balls in the air. Despite Vijay’s troubles, which might easily damage the motivation of some of those involved, the team has kept its head down and delivered. Climbing higher up the F1 ladder will not be easy without landing manufacturer support, but as an object lesson in how to manage a team with limited resources, this is it.
It’s exhausting just trying to keep up with all the latest daft theories about who will drive the second Mercedes next year, and it seems to me that the choices are becoming fewer with each passing day. Valtteri Bottas was the obvious candidate, for me at least, but it seems that it would be rather complicated to extract him from Williams, not just in terms of funding, but also because of other contracts that the team has, which require him (or someone similar) to be there next year.
So why all the fuss about Mercedes and Fernando Alonso? Well, Toto Wolff was not lying when he said that one must consider a driver like Alonso. Of course you must. So, let’s consider him: great driver, under contract to McLaren. End of story. It doesn’t hurt Fernando to be seen as the target and Mercedes has nothing to lose from a bunch of screaming headlines. The underlying message here is “Fernando wants to drive our car” which is a positive message for Mercedes. When he isn’t allowed to, then it will be those mean spoil sports at McLaren and Honda who have stopped it happening…
But, figure this as well. If Fernando Alonso were to have a pixie with magic dust to sprinkle on the right people and make them release him, what would be the message next year were he to drive around in a Mercedes and win some races? The message would be: Fernando Alonso is brilliant. If a relative nobody gets into the second Mercedes and does well, the message is “Mercedes Benz gives you wings” (to borrow a phrase from another sponsor). Which story will sell more Mercedes road cars?
This means that the focus now seems to have switched to the question of whether Pascal Wehrlein is ready to do the job. We know that Pascal is quick, but he is obviously not yet perfect or else Force India would have gone for him, rather than Esteban Ocon. He’s a good qualifier and does great work at the start of races but he has tended to do less well in terms of race strategies. This is pretty normal for a youngster and it takes time to learn. Does he suit what Mercedes really wants for 2017? It needs a driver who can deliver solid results, so that it can maintain a strong challenge in the Constructors’ Chanpionship which, of course, is what pays the bills. This year the team collected an impressive 765 points, almost 300 more than runner-up Red Bull Racing. There were 19 wins in 21 races. It was a steamroller. One assumes that the team will still be pretty competitive next year but there is no doubt that Ferrari and Renault have been working hard on engine development in order to push up the number of horses they have available. This is logical. If they can get closer to the Mercs in terms of oomph, then the aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics can then kick in. Without the horsepower, nothing is going to happen…
So, what Mercedes probably needs is not two stars fighting each other, but rather one star being supported by a solid driver so that the team will be in the fight if the others do catch up. It is a risk whatever happens, but I am beginning to feel that the drive will end up with Wehrlein because the team will save a lot of money on salaries and if it does not give the youngster the chance, it will also undermine the young driver programme, which is designed to create cheap replacements for the stars of today. With an opportunity to use a youngster, and a German one at that, Mercedes may simply conclude that Wehrlein has to be the right choice.
Time will tell, but I think this is what will now happen. That might pop a few balloons in the weird world of fan speculation, but it will probably tick the right boxes in Stuttgart. The worst case scenario is that Wehrlein will be beaten by others. The best case is that he will sometimes beat Lewis Hamilton. The middle assessment is that he will finish second to Hamilton a lot. Who could really expect more of him than that? The money saved on Rosberg’s contract will be useful one way or another.
So let’s see, but don’t get too excited about Alonso and Uncle Tom Cobbly. This may end up being an internal promotion.