Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

It seems that every day there are stories on the web quoting Adrian Newey saying something about the situation with F1 engines. The sport, he argues, should not be dominated by horsepower, but rather focus all of its efforts on aerodynamics, an area of the sport which has little or no value to anyone other than the F1 teams. That would not be so bad if he was proposing no more wind tunnels, so that F1 could focus all of its mighty resources on the development of CFD, a technology which could be used in all manner of industries and other walks of life. Now he is saying that the end of the F1 token system could lead to a spending war. Perhaps it could. This is why the token system existed. But that is probably not very healthy for Red Bull because if there is a spending hike, it makes it less likely that another car manufacturer will decide to enter F1 to take on Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda. And that means that Red Bull is likely to suffer because the factory teams have a competitive advantage because the chassis and engine design need to be closely coordinated these days, and customer teams just have to accept what they get, even if it is the same spec of engine. There are compromises that cost tenths of seconds.

It is hard to imagine that no other F1 team is looking at Newey’s situation and wondering whether it might not be a good idea to offer him the world to get him. He has done well with Red Bull, but then before that he did well with McLaren and before that with Williams. He’s a clever man and he is not afraid to jump ship and do it all again somewhere else. There have been signs that his interest in F1 was waning, but I hear his input in the yachting project is less than might be imagined and that the road car he has designed (for Aston Martin) has yet to go into production. He has his own racing cars and his son’s career as a driver is obviously a matter of interest to him, but might his talents not be better used elsewhere? One might imagine Renault, for example, looking at him and thinking: “No harm in asking”, Ferrari and Mercedes don’t really need him and a return to McLaren is not awfully likely. But what about Williams, where he started his F1 success? The team cannot afford the same kind of salary as Red Bull could offer, but it has a technology division doing all kinds of stuff. It has infrastructure and connections in the road car world. And it can offer shares… 

Newey is now 57 and he has maybe one more five to eight-year cycle left in his F1 career. He shouldn’t need money. It’s hard to spend what he has earned in his career. He is still fascinated by the sport, despite his gripes, and one can imagine that he might perhaps consider that a change would be a good thing, if the right opportunity were to come along. Maybe not, but there has been a pattern in his career to date. He doesn’t need to prove anything else, but that doesn’t mean he would not want to…

One can argue that without Newey Red Bull would be in trouble, but there are other arguments too: some say that the sport has grown so much in recent years that the big teams no longer need individuals with exceptional talent, they needs to put together groups of exceptional people, and that tends to drive down the price of the biggest names.

Red Bull has to be aware that Newey will likely be the target of offers from elsewhere, but it has got itself into an unfortunate mess in that it doesn’t have an engine manufacturer behind it, and it may not get one. Red Bull’s F1 involvement is a marketing exercise, designed to sell fizzy drink, so a manufacturer looking to sell cars might not see the logic of an alliance (as happened with Renault). It does not help that Red Bull folk have a habit of bad-mouthing their suppliers when things go wrong, which is never smart in a small industry.

On the face of it, therefore, Red Bull has two choices: doubling or quitting. It wants the amazing publicity that F1 brings and it is hard to replace at the same level of cost. 

But to make an F1 programme work properly does Red Bull need to become an engine manufacturer? 

Logically, the answer is no, but Red Bull these days is more than just a drink company. It owns a media company, creating its own content and running its own TV channel, it owns racing circuits, it owns sports teams and stadiums in which they play, it owns entire sport franchises, such as the Red Bull Air Race. If he wanted to, Dietrich Mateschitz could go into the engine business, which at a time when the automobile industry is in a state of flux, with new ideas coming every day, might not be such a daft idea. Apple, remember, started out making computers and is now working on cars. Google is a search engine, but it is building cars. The amusing thing is that there is also a market for such engines, as Red Bull itself knows. F1 needs an independent engine supplier, to help keep small teams alive and manufacturer power in check…

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Tunnel vision

People who say that the Renault launch in Paris today was a sham are looking at the situation with their telescopes the wrong way round. Yes, for F1 junkies, there was little to reveal apart from the new driver and the new team structure – which is plenty. The car was not a new car. How could it be? The new car is still being built and it is on a very tight schedule if it is to be ready in the time available. The decision to switch engines was taken so late in the day, that this was inevitable. The livery shown was different, but it seems that it probably won’t be the definitive look for the season. Again, why should it be? Renault needs to make sure that it has the right look for the years ahead, rather than for a rainy day in Guyancourt. The thing that the junkies forget is that there is a bigger picture here. Today was big news for F1. It was the confirmation that a major car manufacturer has decided to wade into the sport. That is great news. It confirms that F1 remains an impressive way for car manufacturers to market themselves.

“For over a century Renault’s company strategy has centred on motorsport and harnessing its benefits for increased road car sales,” says Jérome Stoll, the Chief Performance Officer of Renault and President of Renault Sport Racing. “The decision to return to team ownership is based on a solid, well-considered business strategy that we firmly believe will bring long term gains to Renault and other members of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The benefits of F1 are undeniable: access to a large, worldwide TV and online audience, huge growth potential, access to developing markets and fast-paced, dynamic competition with some of the world’s leading manufacturers. Equally there is a real opportunity to showcase French creative technical excellence while testing avant-garde new innovations in the toughest arenas. Through our competitive activities, millions of Renault road users are already enjoying the benefits of turbocharging, greater fuel economy and highly sophisticated electrical vehicles that include improved powertrain architecture definition for efficiency optimization. Now, through Renault Sport Racing, we can go beyond and harness areas such as aerodynamics, driver response and improved suspension. The opportunities are almost endless and will serve as a great motivator for the technical teams across Renault Sport Cars and the Renault brand.

“On the other side, F1 is a powerful marketing tool and one each of our markets will be able to dial into. The announcement was greeted with huge enthusiasm internally and I am very much looking forward to a range of innovative campaigns around our equally exciting new products.”

So, yes folks, there was a message today. A good message. Be positive. There is life in the old dog yet…



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Token efforts

The Formula 1 engine manufacturers have agreed to get rid of engine tokens, as part of the plan to improve the show. The change will come in 2017, if all goes to plan. The system of tokens was introduced in an effort to stop manufacturers spending daft amounts of money on development, although it did not actually stop the spending but rather only what they were allowed to put on the cars. They could spend any sum of money they wanted to spend, but could not use all the knowledge at the same time. The theory behind the change is that with a limit on the number of engines and big penalties for using new versions, there is no need for the tokens any longer because the track penalties will do the same job. The hope is that the removal of the token system will give new manufacturers impetus to get involved. We will have to see if that happens…

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Someone said to me at the Renault launch that they did not think I was very enthusiastic about Jolyon Palmer. I was truly surprised. I have been impressed by Jolyon in 2014 and 2015, but it seems that this enthusiasm has not come across in print, even if I think it has.

It got me thinking. Formula 1 is a lot to do with hype and momentum. If drivers are seen to be the rising stars, they become the rising stars. Prophecies can become self-fulfilling… If their progress is solid but unspectacular, their reputation is unspectacular. They can only really be compared to their team-mates, but drivers are often team-mates when one has more experience than the other, so it is not always a fair comparison.

How much does this hype affect the way in which one reports on drivers? And is that something conscious or sub-conscious? Drivers who produce spectacular results in the junior formulae often enjoy momentum but then fail deliver in F1. No-one really knows why. Others, who did nothing much on the ladder to F1, flourish and score results far better than people expect.

Right now, people are excited about Max Verstappen and Stoffel Vandoorne. You can understand why. They have done great things and this seems to make them cooler than a driver who has worked his way up with solid progress. People who take multiple seasons to win titles are clearly less newsworthy than the instant heroes. But does that make them worse drivers? It is a complex thing to judge and often it boils down to opinions. Yes, there are statistics that provide a solid guide, but data does not always tell the full story.

Palmer is in F1 and I think he deserves to be there. To my mind, if you are good enough to be a GP2 champion, you ought to be good enough to race strongly in Formula 1. The list of champions says it all: Rosberg, Hamilton, Hülkenberg, Grosjean… and Pastor Maldonado. But then there are the Glocks, Pantanos, Leimers and Valsecchis, who never quite broke through in F1.

So let’s look at Jolyon.

He started out with all the advantages and disadvantages that having a famous father creates. It opens doors for any young driver, but at the same time, there is an assumption in racing circles that the son of a famous father is unlikely to be as good, and so they have more to prove. That is a common problem whether you are a Hill, a Villeneuve or a Rosberg. In Palmer’s case the situation was probably made worse because his early achievements were in series that were run by his father: Formula Palmer Audi and then Formula 2. The natural cynical F1 assumption is that the son of the series owner might be getting an advantage. That does not always happen. Sometimes it is the opposite. If Palmer had gone through a different route: Formula Renault, Formula 3 and so on, would he have created a better reputation? Probably he would have done…

So when he arrived in GP2 in 2011, it was without much hype. This had one important effect: the top GP2 teams were not really interested and that meant that he would have to work his way through the ranks, proving himself and thus getting into better teams. In the first year there were few major results. A change of team to iSport International in 2012, as team-mate to Marcus Ericsson, led to his first win, in the Sprint race at Monaco. That was good, but in the tough world of F1, a GP2 sprint race is a sprint race, the top eight on the grid are reversed. It undermines the success.

In 2013 he moved on to Carlin and was team-mate to Felipe Nasr. He won feature races in Hungary and Singapore. He finished seventh in the championship. That was good enough to attract the attention of DAMS and he joined the team in 2014, as a championship hopeful. And he delivered. He won four victories and took the title. You don’t do that if you’re not a good driver. Seven wins in GP2 is a better record than quite a few others who have arrived in F1.

Last year he did a decent job up against Pastor Maldonado in practice sessions for Lotus in F1. But that was Pastor. The good news (or bad news depending on what happens) is that in 2016 Jolyon will be up against Kevin Magnussen, who is deemed to have a special talent. If Jolyon beats him or matches him, he will suddenly be a star in the making. Can he do it?

I don’t know. This is one of the joys about motor racing, you never know what will happen, who will rise to a challenge and who will fade when you don’t expect it. It could be that Palmer will be the revelation of the season ahead, leaping out of the shadows and making people take notice.

I am keen to see what happens. I don’t believe, and never have believed, in cheering for a driver of one’s own nationality, unless there is good reason to do it, but I think Jolyon has done more than enough to be worth a promising write-up.

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We are delighted to announce that the winner of the GP+ Lifetime Subscription competition is Luke Freeman, who comes from a small town in Kent, in England, not far from the Brands Hatch racing circuit. Congratulations to him…

Luke seems quite excited by the result and says that it is “fantastic news”, which isn’t really a surprise considering that he not only gets a free lifetime subscription to his favourite F1 e-magazine, but he also gets this year for free, as we will be sending back his 2016 subscription payment.

If there are sore losers out there, we thought we would tell you exactly how the draw was made, to ensure complete transparency. In the old days, we would have written out names on bits of paper and shoved them in a big hat and then asked someone with impeccable credentials (a judge, policeman, vicar’s wife etc) to pick a piece of paper (without looking, of course). As we did not have a hat big enough, nor a spare policeman, we decided to use modern technology instead. In order to make sure that the draw was fair, and that the timing of the purchase was not a factor in the result, the people who qualified for the draw, by buying a GP+ subscription within the time limits announced, had their names put on a list, which was in alphabetical order, to ensure that the timing of their purchase was not a factor. Each name was given a number that corresponded to their position on the list and then the winner was chosen using the simple device of a Random Number Generator on the Internet.

Congratulations, Lucky Luke.

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Kevin Magnussen has been confirmed as a Renault driver in F1, alongside Jolyon Palmer, with Esteban Ocon, who was under contract to Mercedes, joint the team as the third driver. The new car is black and silver…  


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At Guyancourt

Carlos Ghosn, the boss of the Renault company says that Renault is back in F1 because “racing is an important part of our heritage” but primarily it is to boost awareness of the company, its brand and its technologies in new markets, notably China. The company has restructured its entire sporting departments with the Renault  Sport performance range of products being separated from the actual competition activities. Ghosn says he wants the F1 team fighting for victories within two or three years.

The team will be led by Racing Director Frederic Vasseur and Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell, reporting to CEO Cyril Abiteboul and President Jerome Stoll.

The team has backing from Total, EMC, Microsoft, Jack&Jones and Infiniti.

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