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Archive for October, 2013

The kids these days…

You hear people complaining from time to time about the age at which youngsters are nowadays getting into Formula 1 racing. But is it really the case that F1 drivers, like policemen, are getting younger all the time? Are the times really any different and is it valid to worry that the youngsters might not be able to cope with all the stresses and strains of being a Grand Prix driver.

It is true that if Sergey Sirotkin gets a superlicence and makes his F1 debut with Sauber in March next year he will become the first 18-year-old Formula 1 driver ever. This will beat the current record, which is held by Jaime Alguersuari, who became the youngest F1 driver of all time in Hungary in 2009 at the age of 19 years and four months. That beat the controversial record, dating back to 1980, when Mike Thackwell (19 years and five months) took part in the the 1980 Canadian GP. The race was stopped after a first lap crash and a new race was declared, in which Thackwell did not take part because he had to hand his car over to a team-mate.

Prior to that the record stood to Ricardo Rodriguez, dating back to the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, when the Mexican was 19 years and sixth months of age.

Others such as Fernando Alonso, Esteban Tuero and Chris Amon have all raced F1 at the age of 19 and Danii Kvyat will join that group in March next year if all goes to plan with Scuderia Toro Rosso.

But is the impression true that F1 drivers are getting younger all the time? The best way to prove it one way or the other is to look at the statistics, although like most things statistical, such analysis is a little random. However, if one considers the ages of the drivers at the start of each F1 season (ie, in March) and compare the results to previous years, it is an interesting reflection on the situation.

Tens years ago the youngest driver in Formula 1 was a Spaniard called Fernando Alonso. He was 21. The oldest driver was France’s Olivier Panis, at the grand old age of 36. Compare that to this year and it does not seem to be very different. The youngest driver is Esteban Gutierrez, who started the season aged 21. The oldest is Mark Webber at 36. The difference between the two lists comes only in the average age. It was 27 and three-quarters in 2003 and today it has slipped down to 26 and a bit. That is not a huge jump.

It is more interesting to reflect on the situation 10 years before that. Back in 1993 there was a lot more turnover of drivers, with the total being 35 that year. Only 25 of them did the majority of the races, plus a couple who each did half the races. Of the group of regulars, the youngest was Rubens Barrichello at 21. What was different was that there were no fewer than four drivers aged 38. The average age was just over 30. But the trend does not continue if you leap back another 10 years. In 1983 the oldest driver was Jacques Laffite at 39; the youngest was Corrado Fabi at 21. The average age of the 27 regulars that year was 29 and a half years of age.

So, yes the average age has come down a little, but the basic patterns seem to remain pretty much the same…

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Sorry to have been a little quiet in recent days, but since the Indian GP weekend things have been a little busy. Having worked most of Saturday night and through Sunday, it was perhaps not the smartest thing to do to rush to the airport for a 04.10 plane on Monday morning. The Emirates flight to Dubai was jammed to the ailerons with F1 folk, which the Indians might like to consider when they ask themselves whether people really like going to their race. The airport had something of a Dunkirk Spirit to it, with everyone keen to take to the boats…

Getting there involved all the usual abnormalities of Indian roads, with drivers wombling about with no idea of anyone else on the roadway. Our trip involved a dead horse in the middle lane of the motorway, an overturned potato truck in the fast lane, a colossal bale of straw with wheels beneath it, trundling through the streets of the Edwin Lutyens’s colonial administrative area of New Delhi. There was also a completely naked man, which was rather odd.

But, by dawn, we were all disembarking in Dubai and looking forward to getting into hotel rooms for some real sleep. Basically, I have not left the hotel room since then, apart from one trip to The Mall of the Emirates to have dinner. It may seem crazy to travel the world and hole up in hotel rooms, but that is what we F1 writers have to do.

There were some nice stories after the race in Delhi, notably Sebastian Vettel helping the Red Bull Racing team pack up, so that they could all go and party more quickly. There were the amusing exchanges regarding the Lotus drivers with Kimi Raikkonen’s engineers getting rather hot under their collars and even Kimi’s ice melting just a little bit. We bumped into Eric Boullier at the airport and could not stop ourselves saying: “Get out of the f@*king way!”, which raised a resigned smile from the Lotus team principal.

For my money the best drive of the day was that of Romain Grosjean, who swept through from 17th on the grid to third. It was a really classy drive and Grosjean’s third podium in as many races. He started his career being viewed as rapid but rather hot-headed, (à la Maldonado), but he seems to have matured now into a serious and solid F1 player. He has had five third places this year and one can only wonder how far away he is from his first victory.

The other F1 news is less uplifting. The court case in London involving Bernie Ecclestone and Constantin Median has begun with the accusation of corruption being made against the F1 boss. This is not good for the image of the sport. It seems also that the Swiss authorities have decided to look into the same transactions with a view to criminal actions. All of this will make it impossible for CVC Capital Partners to float F1 in the short term. An IPO is probably not the best idea for the sport but, if nothing else, it would put some transparency into the business, which would be no bad thing. However, the basic premise of the deal is that the sport will continue to provide profits to investors, who have nothing to give to the sport. It would be far better if the money being raised were shared sensibly between the parties involved, to stop teams struggling financially and to create the possibility of some work at grassroots level.
Perhaps CVC will get smart and win some friends by offering to give a percentage of their profits to the FIA Foundation so that there can be some work done to grow the sport. Perhaps not. I fear that they are way too avaricious to even make a gesture in this direction.

F1 sails ever onward like the dysfunctional swan that it is. All may seem calm on the surface, but under the water, legs are kicking like crazy and some of those involved are really teetering on the brink these days. I hear that there is a serious chance that two teams will be facing winding-up petitions in the weeks ahead because they have not paid their bills.

The biggest teams continue to use their financial strength as a weapon in the World Championship and I think that the FIA needs to step in at some point and impose financial regulation before we start to lose teams that cannot keep up with the wild spending involved. However, nothing in going to happen until the FIA election is done and it is doubtful much will be done immediately afterwards. The key to imposing a budget cap is winning the support of Ferrari and that may not be as hard as it sounds because the Italians must wonder if they can go on in a spending war against Red Bull and Mercedes…

Elsewhere there continue to be rumours that Ross Brawn is leaving Mercedes at the end of the year. This is not yet confirmed, but it will be. As far as I understand it, Brawn will do what he did the last time he changed teams: he will take a year off to go fishing and relaxing and will then work out what he wants to do in the future. My feeling now is that he wants a rest.

Over in Germany there is some excitement as the administrator of the Nürburgring Thomas Schmidt says that he has had a number of non-binding bids for the various assets of the business, including the old circuit itself. It is not clear yet who these bidders are but it is possible that these could include car companies, automobile clubs and entrepreneurs. The Nürburgring may not be an easy busy to make profitable, but the brand has enormous value that has yet to be exploited.

And back in India, Force India shareholder Roy Sahara is back in the news again, with the Supreme Court of India having informed him that he needs to deposit $3.2 billion, or title deeds of properties to the same value, with the Securities and Exchange Commission of India. Until that happens Sahara and his colleagues cannot leave the country without the permission of the courts. One of the judges stated in the court that the company spent too much time playing “hide and seek” and that the court did not trust them any longer. There will be another hearing on November 20 to decide what to do if Sahara has not done as ordered.

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All Formula 1 fans want to feel a little closer to the action. An Audience with Joe gives you the opportunity to do exactly that. The next Audience will be held on Friday, November 15, at the Z’Tejas Restaurant in Austin, Texas, from 7.00pm-11.00pm. The restaurant is located at 1110 W 6th St, Austin. Entry is by ticket only.

The event costs $60 per person and tickets are limited… so book now. The evening will include a buffet dinner, while drinks will be available at normal bar rates.

The event will allow F1 fans to ask one of the sport’s most experienced journalists, who has not missed a race in 25 years, anything they like about the world of Grand Prix racing. There are only a limited number of tickets available in order to ensure that all the fans have the chance to get answers to their questions.

This is what the fans of previous Audiences with Joe have thought about the event:

“Just wanted to say that we all had a wonderful evening. If Spa is an option then I’d not think twice about doing it again. Great to meet you and I look forward to delving into The Grand Prix Saboteurs.” – Bassano.

“Just got back from the evening – which was absolutely excellent. Joe was on sparkling form and massively entertaining – and at nearly three hours of talking, you certainly got your money’s worth! Joe’s answers to the audience’s questions were always funny, insightful, and on many occasions highly revealing. There was time for a number of the people in the audience, including me, to ask multiple questions – which was wonderful. Whatever he was asked he had an entertaining view and, more to the point, a lot of insider evidence to support it.” – Bostonracing.

“Good fun. Very enjoyable evening indeed.” – Leigh O’Gorman.

“Great evening, thanks very much Joe for making my Dad’s 70th birthday present exactly what he wanted, a thoroughly engaging evening about F1.” – Roy Knaggs.

“A superb evening, with great stories and frank opinions. It just didn’t seem long enough.” – Gilles Villeneuve Fan.

For more information and to buy tickets, click here

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Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 13.55.47The Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit produce another stunning victory for Sebastian Vettel – his sixth consecutive win. And with it came his fourth World Championship, which propels Vettel into the realm of Formula 1 Greats, alongside Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher. He finished nearly half a minute clear of Nico Rosberg, after Mark Webber’s hopes came to an end with an alternator failure. Romain Grosjean drove a fabulous race to go from 17th on the grid to score his third consecutive podium.

Grand Prix+ e-magazine is a unique publication. It is written by professional F1 journalists, who have years of experience in the sport – and real access to the top people in the sport. We really can take you behind the scenes. We don’t have to pretend. The magazine is produced directly from the F1 Paddock at every Grand Prix, just hours after the race. It is old style reporting, making sure you know all the details about what happened, both in qualifying and in the race. GP+ provides an proper record of F1 and you can keep all the magazines inside your computer for years to come

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In this week’s issue:

– Sebastian Vettel – hero or villain?
– Antonio Lago – a would be Enzo Ferrari
– 50 years of Buckmore Park
– JS looks back at 25 years without missing a race.
– Mike Doodson remembers the Mansell-Piquet wars
– DT takes a look at the three Indian GPs. Was this the last?
– Peter Nygaard takes you to India with some his fantastic photography!

GP+ is a racing magazine like racing magazines used to be, but is published in electronic form in PDF format, so you can read it on a laptop or a tablet.

It’s a real bargain. You get 43 issues for £29.99, covering the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
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For more information, go to http://www.grandprixplus.com.

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Enter smog

The third practice session for the Indian GP has been delayed because of visibility problems that mean that the medical helicopter cannot operate. The primary discussion here in the Media Centre is whether one terms the problem: fog, smog or mist. It is not really fog and mists generally burn off during the day and this mist has been over the track for the whole time, so the conclusion is that one must call it smog. Whatever the case, the session is delayed.

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We hear that the next few weeks are going to be a busy time for Bernie Ecclestone and his legal teams. The High Court action in London between the boss of Formula One and the German media company Constantin Medien AG is due to kick off on Tuesday, October 29. The firm is suing for damages, claiming that BayernLB’s shares in the Formula One group were sold too cheaply because the bank’s representative Dr Gerhard Gribkowsky was paid $44 million, as an alleged bribe. Gribkowsky has been found guilty of accepting a bribe but Ecclestone denies this was the case.

Things could be quite complicated, however, as Bernie is now expected to be off to Germany on Wednesday, November 6, when a court in Munich wants to hear from him in relation to the same events. It was thought that the Munich situation would be delayed until the New Year, but it seems that the Bavarians have now fast-tracked it and it could (perhaps) leap-frog the UK case.

The initial phase of the process is to decide whether or not Ecclestone should be indicted. The judges in the case have read the response from Bernie’s lawyers to a bill of indictment and must first rule whether Ecclestone should stand trial. If that is deemed to be necessary, then a hearing could follow quite quickly, as both sides have already laid out their cases and so there may not be much time required for further preparation.

However, when it comes to legal matters, the devil is very often in the detail.

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The driver market

There are lots of rumours kicking around in India about who will be driving where next year. The basic situation has not changed. The circus is waiting for the next dominoes to fall: the McLaren drivers and confirmation of Nico Hulkenberg at Lotus. The McLaren question is fairly simple. Jenson Button has already re-signed but the deal is yet to be announced. Sergio Perez’s future is undecided for the moment and the pressure is on for the Mexican to deliver some results. However, the key question is whether or not it is wise for McLaren to change a driver in 2014 when there will be new regulations and a situation in which it would not be wise to introduce a new driver. There is also the question of whether or not Perez’s Mexican connections will help the team with B2B deals in its new commercial structure for 2014 and beyond. There is little doubt that the long-term goal is to bring Kevin Magnusson into F1 but it might be wiser to give him a learning year with Marussia and then bring him into McLaren in 2015. McLaren is under no real pressure to make a decision and so Perez’s future need not be resolved until after the season is over.

Over at Lotus, Hulkenberg remains the man in demand but this depends on the team landing the big sponsorship that has been promised. The team is confident that the cash will arrive but the contingency plan if that does not work would be to sign up Pastor Maldonado, with his PDVSA money, as long as a suitable release has been negotiated with Williams. Maldonado is also being muttered about as a possible Force India driver. Sauber will, of course, need a replacement for Hulkenberg but it is clear that Sergey Sirotkin will get one of the rides if he is deemed to be ready for the job. Esteban Gutierrez remains a good choice for the other car, although there are lot so rumours.

Williams is waiting to see what will happen with Maldonado but it is fairly clear that if he departs from Grove (which looks likely) the seat will go to Felipe Massa.

Further back on the grid, one can expect to see Heikki Kovalainen making a comeback in one of the Caterhams.

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