Matters of the moment in F1

The F1 media (or what passes for it) is running slightly wild at the moment. Wander around the paddock and have a few chats with the people who know these things and one gets a very different picture of things, compared to what you can read on the Internet. It might be amusing for those who are reading it, but many of the team people find it irritating that they have to deny stories that make no sense at all, and have no basis in reality. The story of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari is one such story. Try as I might, I have been unable to find a single shred of evidence to back this up. It could be that someone picked up a story of a Red Bull driver talking to Ferrari and jumped to the wrong conclusion. Mark Webber is a man who Ferrari would like to see alongside Fernando Alonso, but Sebastian Vettel is not on the radar at Maranello. Perhaps one day he will be, in a post-Alonso era, but that is not likely to be for a few years yet. Sebastian might have an ambition to one day be a Ferrari driver – most racing drivers do – but he is in a great position where he is now – and has no need to move. He has won two titles in his current role and looks to be on the way to a third… He is sitting pretty.

Elsewhere, there is talk of Nico Hulkenberg at Sauber. Conversely, this idea makes perfect sense. Nico is quick and experienced. He is just what Sauber needs. The real question therefore, pending an announcement, is who will be his Sauber team-mate in 2013? With Sergio Perez moving to McLaren, the Swiss team has to decide whether to keep Kamui Kobayashi, or whether to replace him. The argument for keeping him is that he would provide technical stability for the engineers to work around; the counter-argument is that Kamui is very quick, but not necessarily the most technical of drivers. The option would be to go for test driver Esteban Gutierrez. He is a new boy, but such a move would keep the team’s Mexican sponsors happy, which might not be a bad idea. There are other possible choices, depending on the team’s need for funding, but Sauber is in a good place to pick up sponsors – if indeed there are any out there at the moment. From what I hear the team has yet to decide what to do. Given that Holland’s Robin Frijns is getting a test with Sauber, it is safe to assume that he has signed some kind of option deal and would be a good third driver.

The suggestion that McLaren is on the verge of a deal with Honda is one of those rumours which is very difficult to assess. It is certainly a good moment for McLaren to be looking for a new engine partner, if it cannot afford to invest to build its own engines. Having to pay for engines is not something that McLaren wants to do for long. In recent days the head of Honda R&D Yoshiharu Yamamoto said that he would like to see the firm back in F1, but made it very clear that this was a personal point of view, rather than a company view. Yamamoto has been in the job for just over a year.

Honda R&D is an interesting organisation because it can propose technical ideas – such as an F1 project – and the main board will then decide whether or not it is a strategy that the company wants to adopt. In Detroit at the start of the year the company unveiled an NSX hybrid supercar and the word is that this will go into production much sooner than expected, at the same time, the recently passed one million hybrid vehicle sales worldwide, after nearly 13 years selling such machinery. The firm would like to accelerate the sales of such vehicles. The company quit F1 back in 2008 as car sales slumped and following years of failure with its own F1 team. The firm has since stayed away, but the rule changes in 2014 make F1 more attractive. Financially, the project is possible as the firm recently reported quarterly net profits of $1.7 billion, four times the figure a year earlier when the company was hit by the earthquake in Japan.

Honda is forecasting profits of $6 billion for the fiscal year ending in March 2013, so money is not the issue. Having burned its fingers with its own F1 team, Honda might decide to return as an engine supplier, but there is little point in trying to double-guess decisions in Japan before they are made.

The subject of customer cars has popped up again, albeit in passing in the Paris meeting last week. There is no serious thought that this will ever happen. However there are also suggestions that Bernie Ecclestone may be pushing for an equivalency formula between the new generation engines and the current old machinery, to help the smaller teams pay for engines in in 2014. The key question with such an idea would be to work out how best to equalise the engines so that the backmarkers and old technology does not outperform the new machinery.

42 thoughts on “Matters of the moment in F1

  1. Hi Joe,
    What do you think about this?

    State-owned Bavarian bank BayernLB is demanding over $400 million from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone – the amount it says it lost when one of its employees was bribed into selling its stake in the sport to him in 2005.

    Found on a German website.

  2. The Honda story was run by the Sun in the Uk – says it all. It was in the context of McLaren are having to pay £8m for Mercedes engines next year after having them for free as part of their buy back deal of Mercedes previous 40% stake in McLaren. http://wp.me/p2HWOP-dT.

    Seeing as Renault have been releasing details of the 2014 engine testing this week – they say they’ve been working on physical units for over a year – one would suspect Honda would already be late to the races to produce an engine for 2014.

    1. Honda are a brilliant company. Remember they are the world’s largest ‘engine’ producer; in the mid-eighties they were dominant with turbo tech; they used F1 to train engineers; they have passion. In the 2008 economic crisis they panicked but my impression was they left F1 with a fair degree of honour under the circumstances – allowed the team to be bought out for £1 by management and had consideration over ensuring this was as painless as possible. They have a desire to compete and as engine supplier to Mclaren it would fit perfectly.
      The preferred engine for Gordon Murray when designing the F1 roadcar of the day was a Honda. Senna won ALL of his championships with Honda.
      I drive an S2000 with an engine that was designed by the F1 engineers that competed in the mid 90’s.
      Honda deserve consideration amongst the sport’s elite manufacturers. F1 and fans alike should respect and encourage their participation.
      The S2000 is FANTASTIC by the way!

    2. Honda would show up later then 2014, something I think Caubet already voiced his concern about, because Honda could avoid the difficult initial stage of turbo development. But rumour is that an engine is already conceived; now it´s WTCC and then F1 or WEC should follow…

  3. I like the idea of Honda coming back into the fray. They had some tough years as a team, but very good ones as engine suppliers to McLaren.

    Would also be a great marketing platform for the NSX powerplant, although I wonder if someone sees that as competition for McLaren’s new breed of ((seemingly excellent) supercars.

    1. The guys on Top Gear said it best r.e. the old NSX; “It’s a great supercar, but at the end of the day, you’ve still just got a Honda.” Don’t think it will be much competition for the McLaren MP4 12C. Maybe Lotus might be afraid.
      I think it would be great to see Honda back with McLaren, just like Williams Renault.

      1. I’ve always found that to be a shame really. The NSX was a fantastic car for its time, up there with the posh brands’ offerings. And it looked good too, especially after the update.

  4. Scarbs relayed a good write up on engine torque mapping by Renault sport, still on the front page there. So equivalence does seem possible to me. Anyone got a non layman’s take on that?

  5. Would be just a policy of small steps from Ecclestone using the financial troubles of the small teams for his purposes. He can´t stop the V6 turbos because of the manufacturers, now he attacks from the other side of the starting grid to keep the V8 question on board.

    Not very attractive scenery for possible new manufacturers like Honda…

    Meanwhile, schematic pictures of the new Renault V6 turbo were published on http://www.racecar-engineering.com/news/renault-reveals-2014-f1-engine/ .

  6. Joe, has there been any leak, confirmation, or denial of the new inflated team entry fees, the dissolution of the working groups, or anything concrete from the Paris meeting?
    The fees are supposed to be paid by 1st November for next year, mind you the entries had to be confirmed by 15th July so all that has gone by the board. (If I remember rightly, the FIA offered an extension for entries, but Red Bull did not agree.

    We had a similar equivalency after the last engine spec change, together with the result that some were more equal than others.

    1. You seem to know so much more than the rest if us. The teams are going to have to pay. They will all get votes.

      1. “You seem to know so much more than the rest if us.” No, that’s why I was asking. But since then the F1 Strategy group has been described and that both explains a lot and raises more questions.

  7. I don’t understand why an equivalency formula would be better than customer cars. I realize the mid-field teams will always oppose the idea, but in a limited way it would be fantastic to see what some of the minnows could do with better machinery.

  8. Do you ever consider driver management as a career? Seems like a few of the boys on the grid could benefit from some circumspect advice (like how to be a champion instead of a rich backmarker).

      1. Indeed. Of course, Honda were usually content to let the second string team have the Japanese driver, and I daresay they’ll be looking to provide at least two teams in the current environment. Perhaps even Sauber…

  9. Nice article, Joe. Stories from the ridiculous(Vettel/Ferrari) to the sublime
    (McLaren/Honda). Lots of food for thought.
    I remember someone else’s comment that Kobayashi’s best quality was ability and willingness to overtake, and that now with KERS and DRS this is much easier for any driver to accomplish…meaning he has less of an advantage.
    Really like that McLaren/Honda story. Ron D’s forte is putting together deals like this.

  10. Joe – whilst the Honda group is doing well, the car business is bleeding money. I would suggest the board invest money in their declining product range rather than reapproach F1.

      1. LOL, I transpose a lot of earlier racing back into my childhood which I was reading about as a little boy. Silly thing, I reckon it has something to do with a human wish to make one’s childhood nicer, cooler, more romantic that is could be! I do notice when I do this, though . .

  11. Good article as always Joe.

    With reference to the rumour concerning Vettel to Ferrari, the BBC cited ‘an impeccable source’. Could they really be so bold and so far off the mark? They have recent form breaking Hamilton to Mercedes – a story which you failed to see the logic in.

  12. Did the team really tell Kobayashi during the race weekend in Korea that he needed to find backing to keep his drive? (After having been paid a salary for three years — and a week after achieving Sauber’s strongest independent finish (ie without wet weather, lucky tyre strategies, or BMW) in about 15 years.)

    If so, it’s hardly surprising that he was a little reckless going into the first few corners — reaches a new pinnacle in his career, and the team rewards him with a sharp kick in the goolies.

  13. Equivalency sounds like a sensible proposal. It also shows that Ecclestone has probably come off his quest to stop the turbo engines. I have thought several times about a suitable equivalence formula. In principle it sounds very easy to give the V8 teams a higher fuel allowance than the V6 teams but not enough to challenge the new engines. In reality you would also have to think about the energy recovery systems which will see a massive change. I would think it best to leave the whole 2013 package of engines and KERS the same and restrict the V8 power by a suitable fuel restriction. The back markers would still be on push to pass and the mid fielders not. It would be an easy way to avoid a ton of modifications and further development cost to the old engines. Perhaps Cosworth would want to pick up the job because all the engine manufacturers will be busy with the V6 power trains and have no mind to adapt the V8s to fuel flow control.

  14. I didn’t know Kobayashi’s contract was up. McLaren should have picked him up over Perez. This could of had massive marketing potential between Britain-Japan with Button(plus his half JapaneseGirlFriend) and Kamui.

    Can you imagine the fan’s cheering on a JapaneseDriver – Kamui, driving a legendary McLarenHonda at Suzuka?!

      1. If I was a outside company needing to cut profile in Japan, though, Kobayashi would be on my RADAR to sponsor, or at very least talk to. Thinking of the mild insult to rock bands “Big In Japan”, i,e, they can’t make it in the UK and US. But if you ever made inroads into the Japanese market, from the outside, that’s not just a big thing, it would get you everyone in your market listening to ask you how you did it. Not claiming the foggiest about the details, but one of the best oblique criticisms of how they miss out thinking how we market, is Thom Hogan’s amazing website on mostly Nikon cameras. He was in charge of marketing for the Osbourne computer, before it self immolated. A top read, regardless your interest in photography, if you are in sales or marketing.

        Incidentally, when SONY gave up on really high end HiFi, they sold the designs to a company called Accuphase. Accuphase kit costs untold money, but you can get virtually the same SONY kit off eBay for a couple hundred.

        1. Poignancy I omitted for brevity, but just kicked me in the ankle: the high price markets of Japan for consumer consumption are gone, two generations have exited the classical modes of growing up, marrying, buying a home, car and nice stereo system. The first time I – with hindsight – recognised the sea change in habits towards frivolity, personal indulgence over engineered objects, and outward avatar like disassociation of personal image, was when my late partner and I tried to study the Tamagotchi craze. This may have done nothing bad at all to F1 in Japan, as the pace of the event and the tenterhook near ephemeral results from driver ability, the do or die criticality that still exists, I reckon resonates very well with a culture increasingly privately fractured from long term personal goals. I spent some time working to sell Royal Warranted goods of old line English companies to Japan, but I cannot claim any special insight, that would take dedication, language, and years. Buyers for these expensive – I would say overpriced – lines, were not young.

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