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Archive for May, 2013

Red Bull Racing has not been entirely complimentary about Pirelli in recent weeks, with Dietrich Mateschitz railing about the tyres after the Spanish GP. Now it looks like team boss Christian Horner is soft-pedalling a little bit more, presumably in an effort to stay sweet with the Italian tyre manufacturer. One can only assume that he feels that the team’s criticism of Pirelli could end up doing more harm than good.

If Pirelli does want other teams to test tyres in the months ahead, Red Bull is hardly likely to be top of the list at the moment (even if there is no advantage to be gained) and perhaps this explains why Horner has written to rival teams saying that “our protest is not against any third party supplier” and blaming Mercedes for having enjoyed “an enormous and unfair advantage for both performance and reliability” by testing.

This seems to be stretching the point somewhat as all the cars these days are incredibly reliable and for several years now track testing has not been necessary to achieve this. In terms of performance, it is arguable, but many in F1 believe that Mercedes was always going to be strong in Monaco.

Fernando Alonso said after the Spanish GP that: “They will arrive as favourites for Monaco. They’ve been on pole position for the last three races, they were on pole last year with Michael [Schumacher]’s lap, so it would be a surprise if they weren’t on pole position in Monaco. And as you said, it’s more difficult to overtake in Monaco, so maybe they can keep good positions for longer.”

This was backed up Kimi Raikkonen, not one known for his propaganda skills, who said: “I think Mercedes will unfortunately be pretty quick there and after that it’s difficult to overtake. The only difference that they have made against most of us is in the last sector [in Spain] where it’s tight, so you can really expect, from what they did last year and what they did here, that they should be pretty fast there.”

Red Bull fanboys will argue that the team does not need to make a fuss as it is leading the World Championships.

True, but the F1 cynic would say that perhaps it is because they realise that they should not be in that position and if Ferrari had not made mistakes (or been unlucky with the front wing breakage in Malaysia and the DRS problem in China) the situation might be very different and it is quite possible that in the next few races Ferrari will get things right and close the gap…

Fixing problems in modern F1 is not an easy thing to do and much of it is tyre-related. If the tyres are not changed then it is quite possible that teams that have not got it right will have to spend considerable time and money to solve very specific problems. The key to the Pirelli tyres is to get them operating at the right temperature, front and rear. Some cars do this well in qualifying, but not so much in the races. Others are the opposite. If the rears are too hot in a race, for example, then the tyres will degrade faster. One or two of the teams are believed to have trouble with hot rear ends, because of the braking systems. Temperature from the brakes soaking through the wheel rims and heating the tyres is not necessarily a bad thing if it is at the right level. This is why some of the teams have been looking at ducted hubs. However, if the air flows are such that they cannot solve the problem without major parts being changed one can see why teams might start arguing about the need to change the tyres.

The more noise made, the less likely people are to spot the truth… which (and I am only half-joking) might also, of course, solve the James Allison mystery as well.

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It remains to be seen whether the FIA has a case to successfully take Mercedes and/or Pirelli and/or Ferrari to the new International Tribunal. Mercedes and Pirelli say (and apparently believe) that the FIA gave them permission to go testing, after discussions with legal counsel. It follows that if the FIA legal counsel gave the wrong advice then the teams are not liable; if the legal counsel gave the right advice the teams are off the hook.

The matter rests therefore on whether there is sufficient paperwork to justify the team’s claims. Even if there is not, they will argue with conviction that there was no intention to gain an advantage and will seek to prove that the tests were meaningless in terms of improving the cars for 2013, which most sensible people in F1 seem to think they were. There is no question that testing took place, but proving that there was intent to break the rules is not going to be easy in front of an independent judicial body.

There is one other thought. All of this will take time and time is what Pirelli does not have as it comes to the decision-making process about 2014-2015-2016. Does it really want to stay on in a sport that might bash it over the head and embarrass it even more than some of the teams already have? Can Pirelli justify to its board and shareholders that F1 is a good idea when it is getting so much flak?

Another thought, specially for the conspiracy theorists: going to the International Tribunal and losing might be a great way for the FIA to show the independence of the new judicial structures. That might be a momentary embarrassment, but it would prove that the new system works – in case it is needed again in the near-future.

You never know.

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The FIA has announced that it has asked Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari “which have taken part in tyre tests in the 2013 season” to reply to a disciplinary inquiry, in pursuance of the FIA Judicial and Disciplinary Rules. This follows the Stewards’ Report from the Monaco Grand Prix and represents supplementary information required by the FIA in the light of the replies received from Pirelli, who were asked for clarifications on Tuesday May 28.

A disciplinary inquiry is the new FIA judicial process under which “the prosecuting body” (the FIA President, unless he is the subject of an investigation by the Ethics Committee) conducts an inquiry into any actions or conduct of a person under the jurisdiction of the FIA who is suspected of having committed an offence.

Those under the FIA jurisdiction include FIA Members, the officers or members of the clubs, officials, organisers, drivers, competitors and licence-holders, those who have access to premises hosting any event that is subject to the regulations and decisions of the FIA, people who are subject to or have agreed to be bound by the International Sporting Code and the other regulations and decisions of the FIA plus anyone who benefits from an authorisation or approval issued on behalf of or by the FIA and their “employees, representatives, agents and service providers”.

The International Tribunal can impose on the above fines, bans and other the sanctions provided for in the FIA International Sporting Code, including exclusions. Attempts to commit infringements are also punishable.

If the FIA President decides to bring a case to the International Tribunal he will notify the party being prosecuted of the charges brought against them. They have 15 days to respond and there will be a minimum of 15 days between that response and the hearing.

The International Tribunal is made up of 6 to 12 members. It operates totally independently from the other bodies of the FIA and the members of the FIA. For each case, the President of the International Tribunal appoints a judging panel of a minimum of three of the 12 members, one of whom he appoints as President of the Hearing. No member of the judging panel may be of the same nationality as one of the main parties to the case, the nationality being determined by the nationality of the ASN which issued its licence, or if the person or entity is not licenced, the nationality of the passport of a person, or the place of incorporation ofn persons or entities. The current President of the International Tribunal is Britain’s Edwin Glasgow, the VP is Monaco’s Laurent Anselmi and the 10 other members are: Didier Bollecker (France), Chris Harris (USA), Riccardo La Cognata (Italy), Jean-Christophe Leroy (France), Dirk-Reiner Martens (Germany), Gérard Martin (Belgium), Patrick Raedersdorf (Switzerland), David Rivkin (USA), Tony Scott Andrews (UK) and Waltraud Wunsch (Germany).

The parties in the hearing will set out their arguments without witnesses. Witnesses and experts may be called and all parties have the right to question them. Other parties may be admitted if they are deemed to be directly and significantly affected by the decision to be taken. After this process and closing statements the judging panel will deliberate in camera to reach its decision, which will be reached by a simple majority. The President of the Hearing has the casting vote. The deliberation is secret but the decision is public. The reasons for the decision will be given. They can appeal a decision to the International Court of Appeal.

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In an effort to cut through the considerable “noise” going on in the media world, Pirelli has hosted a press conference today in Milan to underline that it has not favoured any teams and, as always, has “acted professionally, with transparency and in absolute good faith”.

The company said that the tyres used in the Mercedes test in Barcelona were not from the current championship but belonged to a range of products still being developed in view of an eventual renewal of the supply contract. It added that “none of the tests were carried for the purpose of enhancing specific cars, but only to test tyre solutions for future championships”.

Pirelli added: “This test, as always, carried out with a single compound never used in a championship, regarded structures not in use in the current season and not destined to be used later during the 2013 season. The tyre tests were conducted ‘in the dark’, which means that the teams had no information on which specifications were being tested or about the goal of the testing; nor did they receive any type of information afterwards. Further, the tests did not regard delamination in any way, as that problem was dealt with and resolved by Pirelli’s technicians through laboratory tests, with the support of data gathered during the first races of the season. Pirelli always asked for representative cars, that is, with performances comparable to those of the cars being used in the championship underway, without ever referring to those effectively used in the 2013 races.”

Pirelli added that the trials were done “with a base compound, not in use this year, and 12 different structures which had never been used in 2013”.

Pirelli argues that the team “did not obtain any advantage with regard to knowledge of the behaviour of the tyres in use in the current championship”.

Pirelli said that “the use of the car utilized by Mercedes, in particular, was the result of direct communication between FIA and the team itself. Pirelli did not ask in any way that a 2013 car be used: not of Mercedes nor the FIA nor the teams which, during the year, were offered the opportunity of participating in tests for the development of tyres for 2014″.

Pirelli says that Mercedes informed them that its 2011 car could not be used and that it had contacted the FIA regarding the use of the 2013 car. There is no doubt that the questions relating to the vehicle were the exclusive domain of the team and that Pirelli was excluded from these questions. Pirelli made no specific requests about the drivers or about the type of Mercedes staff that would be present during the tests.”

Pirelli added that “the tyres that will be tested by the teams in the free practice at the Montreal Grand Prix have never been used by the teams before. With regard to the new tyres, the problem of delamination has been solved by Pirelli’s technicians exclusively through laboratory testing. Delamination, which only occurred on four occasions and always because of on-track detritus, has never put the drivers’ safety at risk, but does risk harming Pirelli’s image. This is why the company decided to intervene”.

The teams will be given new tyres, with Kevlar structures, for the free practice at the Montreal Grand Prix. This will be the first time that these have been tested on a race track. Pirelli added that the no modifications that effect the duration of the tyres has been made and, consequently, there will be no impact on the number of pit stops during the race.

Pirelli added that “the company has always respected the contractual limits which bind it to the FIA, teams and championship’s organizers, and has always respected the principles of sporting loyalty”. However it is clear that the company wants to get across the point that testing is necessary.

“Pirelli feels the need to reaffirm the indisputable need to carry out tests for the development of tyres which are adequate and regulated by rules which are clear and shared by all the interested parties,” the firm said. “The company confirms its availability, as communicated to the teams many times in the past, to organize tests for the development of tyres for 2014 with all the teams in the championship”.

Pirelli says it has promptly provided the FIA with the answers needed to clarify what happened at the tests, as far as its own responsibilities went.

“The tests were conducted in observance of the contract between Pirelli and FIA, which gives the supplier the possibility of carrying out tests for the development of tyres with each team of up to 1,000 kilometres, without specifying the type of car to be used, nor sanctioning the simultaneous presence of all the teams for the running of the tests,” the statement said. “In this regard, Pirelli has since 2010 made it clear that it is neither possible nor useful to carry out this type of test with all the teams simultaneously. In fact, this type of testing aimed at technological development and researching new solutions, involves many tyres of different types which must be tested with a single car at a time. Testing for championship specifications is different, as occurs in winter testing which require the participation of all the teams, so as to find the most satisfying solutions for all the cars in the competition. For this reason, Pirelli insists on the need for winter testing under conditions which are truly representative of the situations which will be met during the championship.”

Pirelli said that in March 2012 it sent an email to all the teams, the FIA and FOM, inviting the teams to indicate their availability for testing for the development of tyres for 2013. Further, the company explained that it was necessary to conduct the tests with the teams’ cars because it did not have a suitable one of its own. Pirelli had previously used an adapted 2010 Renault and prior to that a 2009 Toyota.

The firm said that “the invitation was subsequently repeated in various official contexts and repeated to some teams last March for the development of tyres for 2014”.

Taking all this into consideration, it is fair to say that much of the noise about the tyre test has been blown out of proportion.

There remains the question of whether the FIA agrees with the various paperwork elements in the case.

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There are reports in the Canadian press that the future of the Grand Prix du Canada may be in doubt. A deal was agreed earlier this year by the federal, regional and local governments to find the money to extend the current contract to 2024. The current contract ends after next year’s race

At the moment the authorities are reckoned to be paying only $15.00 million per year, the sum being made up of $5 million from the Federal government, $4 million from the regional government of Quebec and $1 million from the City of Montreal, although this organisation is believed to pay a lot of the costs. There is an additional $5 million that comes from the private non-profit organisation called Tourisme Montreal, which is similar to a chamber of commerce in that it has 750 members, although most of its $30 million a year budget comes from a hotel tax in the city. The aim is to increase tourism from the current figure of around 8.5 million visitors a year. This generates around $2.5 billion in revenues for the city, which works out at just $300 a head. The reason for this is that about 4.3 million of the visitors come from the Quebec province, 1.6 million from the rest of Canada, around one million from the US and only around 850,000 from abroad. The Grand Prix plays a major role in the city’s tourism as visitors during the F1 weekend pay considerably more than the average. To make the race attractive to the Formula One group, it receives around 70 percent of the ticket revenues, which bumps up the numbers to an acceptable level of probably $35 million. The ticket prices range from general admission on Sunday at $100 to $560 for the best grandstand seats. It is reckoned that the race generates around $18 million in direct taxes and economic benefits of probably $100 million, so it makes sense for the city as it creates profits, employment and provides international promotion at effectively no cost. The glitch in the negotiations appears to be over the question of a five percent per year fee increase which the Formula One group would like to see (at most races it is 10 percent). It seems, however, that the federal government is not keen as this will increase its contribution by $250,000 in the first year of the new deal and by $12 million over the 10-year term of the contract, taking its annual contribution up to $7.2 million.

The key point to remember is that the Formula One group is not about to give away Montreal over a few million. The race is of key importance as F1 builds interest in the sport in the United States, with the plan being to have six races in the US time zones by 2015.

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Williams confirms Merc

Williams and Mercedes-Benz have announced that they have agreed a long-term engine partnership from the start of the 2014. Williams wil design and manufacture its own transmission.

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I guess those who have shouted loudest about Pirelli in recent weeks will be less than happy with the news that the Italian tyre firm has decided not to use the latest spec tyres in Canada. It might have been better to have kept their mouths shut… Still, keeping the tyres as they have been all year is a much fairer way of doing business, rather than being pressured into making changes to please the whingeing teams.

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In the modern era the engineering challenge in Formula 1 is to micro-engineer racing cars over and over again. The sport used to be about making the fastest car without any major restrictions but since the widespread application of ground-effect aerodynamics to F1 cars in the early 1980s, the art of design has been continually frustrated by the rules, which are designed to slow the cars down.

“I suppose it probably started at the end of 1982,” Patrick Head said to me about 10 years. “If we were running unrestricted rules, we would probably have to spend two hours getting the driver into his G-suit or something before qualifying. So I don’t find it surprising. The only thing is the point at which it is felt the cars get excessively emasculated in order to maintain lap times.”

If you give engineers money they will find ways to spend that money. And they will ask for more. It is in their nature to do so. Even if innovation is nigh on impossible, it is winning that is important. Having said that, the smart F1 engineers still argue for cost-control.

“Engineering is all about resource management,” says Geoff Willis, with the Mercedes AMG Petronas. “If you remember the old definition of an engineer: he is the person who can do for a pound what any fool can do for 10. We have always had resource limitations, whether it is money, time, material properties, whatever. So it doesn’t really matter what the regulations are, there is still an engineering challenge. You are competing against others in an arbitrary set of regulations. So I don’t really mind what regulations we have. We have got to get the balance between technological interest and competition and television spectacle. The only problem we have is trying to come up with a set of technical regulations that avoids typecasting the cars. If you painted all the cars exactly the same colour and you all asked yourselves, honestly, could you actually recognise which car was which?”

Some argue that a budget cap is the answer. Some say that F1 should move to standard chassis; others that a standard rear wings would be a good halfway house. But such things will never be decided upon because teams are always looking to gain an advantage if they have more money than the others.You can argue that it is crazy to waste huge sums of money on research and development programmes which deliver a tenth of a second per lap but have no relevance to the real world outside racing – but no-one listens. The big teams spend, the small teams complain that they cannot spend. Usually it is the automobile manufacturers who outspend everyone else, but in this day and age even they are baulking at the costs and the spending spree is being led by Red Bull. The involvement of the automobile manufacturers in motorsport has always been a balancing act between the need for the car manufacturers to achieve clearly-defined marketing objectives and what is best for the sport. The most successful forms of racing involving manufacturers have been when there are very tight controls, such as NASCAR-style rule-making or homologation quotas that have to be met. The problem with this is that an escalation of costs or domination of one or two manufacturers drives out the smaller operations. Inevitably this leads to the collapse of a series when the last manufacturers withdraw. The result is that in many series where big spenders are involved there tend to be clear boom and bust cycles.

In the early years France dominated the industry but the spending quickly got out of control and in 1909 Grand Prix racing actually stopped because there were not enough competitors left. It did not revive until a new wave of car builders emerged in voiturette racing. By the mid-1920s the manufacturers were back in the sport but there was then a good illustration of the danger of relying on them when Alfa Romeo, Delage and Talbot all withdrew because of the economic climate leaving only Bugatti and a few Maserati customers. Ettore Bugatti for a while abandoned running his own teams and let his customers do the racing and the sport recovered.

The manufacturers returned in the 1930s but very quickly there developed utter domination from the German government-funded Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion teams which pushed all other competitors out of the sport. Alfa Romeo survived the longest but Bugatti gave up the fight and smaller firms like ERA never had a chance.

The war ended that phase but only Alfa Romeo was left in the immediate post-war period until Ferrari got up to speed, at which point Alfa Romeo quit. The result was that the World Championship collapsed and had to be held for Formula 2 cars. That led to the growth of the British teams and the successes of the 1960s and 1970s and the status quo remained fundamentally unchanged until the turbocharged era of the 1980s although other manufacturers came and went without much success: notably Aston Martin, Porsche, Honda and Matra.

The turbo boom of the 1980s allowed small teams to invest and grow but as costs increased so the manufacturers began to drop out again. As development costs increased so those without engine deals fell by the wayside. The response of the FIA was a change of rules to normally-aspirated engines and this opened the way for new engine manufacturers, new specialist engine-builders and more new teams, but gradually the costs increased as the competition became more and more intense and manufacturers began to buy into teams to protect their investments in the sport. They then upped and left in 2009 when the global economy went wrong.

Cost control is at least in its infancy but it needs to be extended not just to save the small teams, but also to make sure the manufacturers come back again.

Action is required to stop the next bust cycle. If only Red Bull is standing in the way of such a change then the sport must accept that Red Bull must go, although that is not likely as it could still gain just as much exposure from the sport at a much lower price.

It is just a question of resource management…

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NBC’s coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix was watched by nearly 1.5 million viewers in the United States, making it the most watched Formula 1 race in the US for six years. According to the Nielsen Company, the live coverage of the race (the first time that the race has been aired live) was watched by 1.456 million viewers. The last race to get that kind of coverage was Fox’s 2007 coverage of the United States GP. This was an increase of 241 percent compared to last year’s coverage on Speed. The F1 races that have been shown on the NBC Sports cable network have not rated as highly, with viewers numbers at around 400,000. In 10 days NBC will air the Canadian GP live.

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Williams has announced that Mike O’Driscoll will become Group CEO with immediate effect. This is a new position which will see O’Driscoll overseeing both Williams F1 and Williams Advanced Engineering, with the two companies united under one management. Alex Burns will leave the company. The announcement makes no mention of Burns beyond this, which suggests that there is some bad blood in the affair. We hear that it is almost certainly related to the question of Paddy Lowe joining the team, which was on the cards late last year but evaporated soon afterwards. Lowe later signed for Mercedes.

Mike O’Driscoll, who was formerly managing director of Jaguar Cars from 2007 to 2011 and prior to that the head of Aston Martin Jaguar Land Rover in North America from 2001 to 2007.

“Mike has been a valued member of our Board since 2011 as a Non-Executive Director and I am delighted that his day to day involvement in the company is to significantly increase,” said Frank Williams. “This new role strengthens the company and will help us achieve our goals both on the race track and in diversification. Mike brings with him significant skills and a wealth of experience. Working with Claire, I am in no doubt that the future of Williams is in safe hands.”

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