Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

The new Ferrari



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The new Mercedes

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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…

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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…

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The new Toro Rosso

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Nothing is impossible, but some things seem pretty unlikely, at least on the face of it. It is reported, clearly based on a leak, that a small British energy drink company called Rich Energy is in talks with Force India to buy the team from Vijay Mallya and his partners for a supposed $280 million.

It all sounds highly unlikely. But it all depends on a consortium which is said to be behind the bid, and where the money will be coming from. It may also be largely fictitious and designed to get someone else to pay a higher price for the team, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put these things into the public domain before a deal is done. However for a start-up drinks company with very little money showing in its published accounts, it is useful publicity.

According to the reports former soccer player Rob Lee is a shareholder. This is not reflected in Companies House records but does not need to be declared if one owns less than 25 percent of the shares. The person who controls the company is William Storey, a computer consultant who has dabbled in sports marketing with boxer Frank Buglioni.

Generally-speaking in successful F1 deals, the source of the money is relatively easy to trace and in cases where it is not easy to see where the finance is coming from, the deals don’t often come to fruition. If there is a wildly wealthy group behind the idea then all well and good, but none of Storey’s shareholdings suggest such an entity, at least not in the UK.

Force India is fairly precarious at the moment with Vijay Mallya still facing extradition to India and work going on all the time in India to deconstruct his empire to pay the money he owes. The next hearing is in mid-March. His partner Subrata Roy is having similar trouble in India with the authorities trying to recoup money he owes by selling parts of his Sahara empire.

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Fascinating F1 Fact: 86

Pierre Levegh will forever be remembered as the man who crashed at Le Mans in 1955, his Mercedes disintegrating into the crowd, killing at least 80 people. In truth, there was little he could have done to avoid the accident, triggered by Mike Hawthorn swerving towards his pit and braking heavily, leaving Lance Macklin with no choice but to brake in his Austin Healey. Levegh ran into the back of Macklin and flew over the top.

It is a harsh fate that Levegh is never remembered as an F1 driver. Today he is interred in the celebrated Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, although you won’t find him, unless you go looking for the name Velghe. Here is another case of two Grand Prix level racing drivers being buried in the same grave, as Levegh is to be found with his uncle Alfred Velghe, who was one of the top drivers in the early years of the sport. He used the name Levegh, an anagram of his name, and his nephew later adopted the same pseudonym, in his honour. Velghe died from tuberculosis the year before Pierre was born.

Pierre’s real name was Bouillin. His mother was Velghe’s sister. The youngster was a talented sportsman, a great tennis player and an ice skater of repute. He did not begin racing until the 1930s and his ambitions were, to a large extent, thwarted by the war. He lived in the village of Trie-Chateau, close to Gisors, in the Oise, to the north-west of Paris, where he ran a large brush-making factory called Maurey-Descamps. He did not become a top line driver until the early 1950s and being in his forties, rather bald and with an odd pseudonym, he soon acquired the nickname “L’Eveque”, or The Bishop in literal translation. He raced F1 cars for Gordini on six occasions, finishing sixth on his debut in Belgium in 1950. He finished three races, all in the top 10. But it was at Le Mans where he was first in the spotlight when he attempted to win the 24 Hours singlehandedly in 1952, racing a Talbot Lago. In the last hour, tired out, he missed a gear and the engine broke. He was good enough to win a place with the Mercedes factory team… and three years later found fame of sorts in a crash he could not avoid. Juan Manuel Fangio, his team-mate, always believed that Levegh’s last action was to signal to him to avoid Fangio also being involved in the crash…

Here is an article about the accident, published in GP+ is 2011. It was edition number 87, from the Hungarian GP.

Le Mans 1955

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