Archive for the ‘F1 Drivers’ Category

The history of the pit stop

Red Bull does some interesting work creating TV programming, with its own Red Bull Media House, and working in league with affiliates and with co-production partners such as David Coulthard’s Whisper Films. These are designed for the cinema and downstream channels such as DVD, VOD and TV. The latest offering is a 45 minute documentary entitled The History of the Pit Stop, which was first broadcast on Red Bull TV a few days ago. If you have the time available, it is worth watching. You can see it here.

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McLaren and BP

The giant oil company BP is to return to Formula 1 in 2017, and I now hear that the deal is definitely going to be with McLaren. Logically, we will see BP branding on the car and perhaps also some Castrol as well, as BP owns Castrol and a deal would normally include both fuel and lubricants. While the deal may be about branding and money, it is also about technology because fuel can make a big difference with the current F1 engine regulations. The key is energy
density because the teams want as little volume of fuel as possible, but the maximum amount of energy to be used to power the cars. Petronas have enjoyed much success with Mercedes in recent seasons with its Primax fuel which has a very high energy density. The deal may have been helped along by Honda’s lengthy relationship with Castrol, which dates back to motorcycle racing in 1959. In recent years Castrol has been the title sponsor of the Honda World Touring Car Team.

BP has had a long and very successful in motor sport but has not been present in
Formula 1 since 1994. It is believed that this is mainly because of a 10-year deal that BP had with BMW. However, this was not used during the BMW Sauber era because the team had a long-standing agreement at that point with Petronas. That deal ended at the start of last year and it is interesting to see that BMW has done a new unique global supplier deal with Shell, which explains why there was a Shell-sponsored BMW in the DTM. Shell has a special relationship with Ferrari in F1, but that deal is relatively small when one considers that production levels at Ferrari in comparison to other OEMs. Shell is linked to Ford in NASCAR and to Hyundai in the World Rally Championship. It is also the official supplier of fuel to the Automobile Club de l’Ouest for the World Endurance Championship.

BP is keen to drive more consumer sales, which have flagged in recent years in comparison to other companies. In part this is due to the reputational damage done to BP by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. That has cost the company billions in settlements and now BP wants to boost its image of having
advanced technology and proven expertise. It is still keen to push the idea of environmental responsibility but this can be achieved by getting involved in the sport and pushing more efficient engines, rather than staying away from motorsport, as was previously the case.

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IMG_0051When we go to Austin, we don’t go downtown much. It’s a great town, but the locals do have a taste for the dollar and that means it is rather expensive, particularly now that the Pound is at parity with the Ruritanian Ringgit. For the last two years I have tried to host an Audience in the city, but I cannot find a venue that is cost-effective because they all want too much money.

Out in the burbs things are a little more sensible and we don’t have to deal with traffic. The circuit is close to the city, but actually out in the country and if you go off the main roads, you end up in places that look amazingly like sets from the 1974 movie “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Interestingly, in the course of the weekend, I discovered that the movie was actually filmed in the area and used real houses because there was no budget for sets… Yes, folks, Austin is weird. We had a very weird experience on the Friday evening when we went out to dinner and were curious to see that waitress looked very familiar. In fact, she looked just like the waitress we had had the previous evening, at a completely different restaurant. In the end, we asked if perhaps she had a sister and she replied by explaining that she had two different jobs and we had miraculously managed to eat in two different restaurants on consecutive nights and yet be served by the same waitress…

Anyway, my notebook from Austin has a lot of jottings, including “Gordon Ramsay”, “Luc Besson” (who I spotted on the grid because he was dressed like a man who had just climbed out of a dustbin and was completely out of place) and “Jeff Gordon”. The race had a very high VIP count with film stars and sports people who had come to watch the fun. There were squillionaires aplenty but the only ones I noted down were “Michael Latifi”, one of the richest men in Canada, who was around the paddock a lot. His son races in GP2. There were some very strange absences as well. One would expect to see American wheeler-dealer Zak Brown, for example, and it was astonishing that there was no sign of the Stroll family. But I guess they probably wanted to lay low and not have to answer questions about the future. The word is that Lance Stroll will be confirmed as a Williams driver (alongside Valtteri Bottas) on November 3.

On the way over I spent most of the flight reading “Total Competition, Lessons in strategy from Formula 1”, a new book written by former Williams CEO Adam Parr, which is actually a conversation between Parr and Ross Brawn about strategic thinking. I am not sure I really understand the target audience because it’s not your average racing book, but then it’s not really a business book either. It was fascinating to read some of the insights about F1 but odd to waltz off from time to time into discussions about the philosophies of Sun Tzu, Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander Svechin. It was also interesting to see that Brawn’s assessment of the problems of Ferrari was almost exactly the same as the recent outburst by former chief engineer Luca Baldisserri who described the team as “a group of frightened people, afraid that they will lose their jobs”.

All the talk about strategy got me thinking about various F1 situations and there was one, in particular, which made no sense at all to me. I was so mystified that I even went to talk to Christian Horner on the subject. What is the strategy of Red Bull, I asked, because I don’t understand. If you want to win World Championships, you cannot easily do it with a customer engine, when there is a factory team among your rivals. It just makes no sense. Christian shrugged and said that there was really no other choice and that they had looked at every possible idea and concluded that they will be most competitive if they stay as a Renault customer until 2020, when there ought to be a rethink of F1 engines and therefore new opportunities. Despite this odd strategy, Red Bull still seems to be able to deliver the goods and indeed there is no-one else looking as thought they might beat Mercedes. Ferrari talks a good game, but never seems to deliver… Anyway, I did hear whispers that Red Bull will soon wow us all by announcing a major sponsorship deal with the US oil company ExxonMobil. This is currently a McLaren sponsor.

McLaren was very much in the gossip in Austin with stories floating around that Ron Dennis, who is chairman of McLaren and F1 team principal, may soon move out of that role. How that is presented to the world will be interesting because Ron deserves a huge amount of respect for what he has achieved. In many ways, McLaren is Ron Dennis, even if it all goes back to Bruce McLaren in the 1960s. Dennis has always argued that best leaders have succession plans and are happy to step back and leave their creations to new generations, but since the removal of Martin Whitmarsh, that has not really happened. Dennis wants to regain control of McLaren… Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened and it seems that the other shareholders are now doing the unthinkable. Dennis is a fighter, of course, and is still trying to find a way to buy out his partners, but at the moment it is not happening. McLaren is also in the rumour mill because there is believed to be a big BP deal up for grabs and McLaren and Renault seem to be scrapping for it. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

The driver market is also very interesting at the moment, not least because several drivers seem to think that they are going to get the second Force India drive. The team has been having a bit of a fashion parade since it became clear that Nico Hulkenberg would be moving on. I hear that a whole string of drivers have been spotted having meetings with Force India, including Magnussen, Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon and Felipe Nasr. What is really interesting is that this could end up being a test of clout between the Formula One group and Mercedes.

Let me explain, the choice will be made by team owner (for the moment) Vijay Mallya. But he has a number of problems to overcome. He has the makings of a decent budget for 2017 but more money will not hurt. Out in the market, there is a problem in that Formula 1 really needs a Brazilian driver because of the large TV audiences there and the fact that Felipe Massa is stopping. Brazil, it should be added, is in a bit of a mess at the moment with various scandals and economic trouble, but that is not something that Bernie Ecclestone cares about. His view, apparently, is that Nasr should be at Force India for the good of the sport. The team has enjoyed a great deal of support from Mr E (if you understand my inference there) and so Vijay ought to do what he is told to do. Nasr is a decent driver and has money behind him and Brazil is important. However, the other serious candidate appears to be Esteban Ocon, who is a Mercedes-contracted driver and the word is that Force India owes Mercedes rather a lot of money and it could solve the problem by taking Ocon and getting a discount on the engines (or running him to wipe out some debt). This means that Mallya may find himself caught in the crossfire and the result will indicate who is more powerful…

Drives are running out, of course, and there are more players than there are seats, so someone is going to suffer in the longer term. Danny Kvyat is delighted to have been retained by Red Bull, but right now drivers like Nasr, Palmer, Wehrlein and Magnussen are all feeling a little uncomfortable. I think we will see KMag staying where he is, alongside Hulkenberg at Renault. There is one Sauber that is open and a lot of drivers talking about it. Haas may also have one seat available as Romain Grosjean is staying, but no deal is yet done with Esteban Gutierrez. The team says that it wants the best drivers it can get, but no-one is quite sure who that could be. The word is that Wehrlein might be in the picture. He might also stay at Manor, but that team seems to need more money and so one should watch for Rio Haryanto, reserve driver Jordan King or a well-funded youngster looking to get his hands on a Mercedes engine.

Finally, the Austin weekend proved to be a big success, to a large extent thanks to Taylor Swift. I didn’t see her around the paddock but she held a concert on Saturday night inside the circuit and 83,000 people attended. Now, some of these were definitely race fans, taking advantage of the two-for-one event tickets that were on offer for $150 apiece. A lot of the others were Swift fans, who are largely young ladies and not a group who are overtly keen on F1 cars. Still, some brilliant thinking by the Circuit of the Americas figured out that if you get girls to see a concert, they will convince the menfolk in their lives to go along too, using the race as bait so that everyone will end up happy. The boys might not be too into Swift, and the girls might not be too into F1, but it’s a good compromise and a lot more tickets were sold as a result. The overall three-day crowd figure was up 43,000 on last year and even if some of them did not attend the race, it really does not matter that much because they paid and the fact they paid also means that the circuit can claim more money back from the state of Texas which is committed to funding the event on the basis that it drives economic activity. Clever. In any case, the F1 world will not complain if more young women attend races…

And finally, along similar lines, there are quite a lot of F1 projects on the go in the US at the moment, specifically in California, which is the obvious market for the sport (other than New York City). Chris Pook popped up as usual to see Mr E and he usually has at least two projects on the go at any one time. He is very discreet, but one gets the feeling that F1’s primary target at the moment is Long Beach, where the Indycar contract finishes after 2018. There was some utter fluff being talked elsewhere about Las Vegas (which is and always will be a waste of energy) until the day comes when someone builds a Nurburgring in the hills. That might work, but messing about in parking lots or trying to set up a temporary circuit on The Strip is a total waste on time. People go to Vegas to gamble, drink and get laid, not to watch Siegfried and Roy, Barry Manilow or an F1 race. And the casino owners know this…

There was a project until recently in the hills between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, to the south of San Francisco, but that seems to have run out of steam because of permit problems, while I hear whispers of a project out to the east of Los Angeles, in the desert, where there is a lot of Indian land, where permits are not essential and where the inhabitants are always looking for ways to bring people in so that they can build casino resorts and such things. Looking at a map and guessing where that might be is the best we can do at the moment, but I’d say Twenty-Nine Palms seems like a possible option…

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Five hours after the race…

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-00-11-13Our 200th edition of GrandPrix+ comes to you from Austin, Texas, where Lewis Hamilton did what he had to do to keep the World Championship alive. Lewis needs to win all the remaining races but even then if Nico Rosberg is second Lewis will miss out. Thus Hamilton needs the help of rivals Red Bull to push Rosberg back to third, or help from gremlins giving Nico some technical trouble. Red Bull was not really quick enough on the sweeps of the Circuit of the Americas, but the team hobbled itself by failing to pit Dan Ricciardo during a Virtual Safety Car period caused – would you believe – by the retirement of Max Verstappen with an engine problem. Max was already on the back foot at that point because of a messed up pit stop and a poor start. Ferrari was out of the game to all intents and purposes and Kimi Raikkonen dropped out when the Italian team messed up one of his pit stops. Force India’s chances of success ended at the first corner, with Nico Hulkenberg bumped out and Sergio Perez ending up at the back, a fate that also befell Valtteri Bottas in his Williams. This effectively wiped out half the challengers, leaving the way open for McLaren to pick up a good handful of points, while Carlos Sainz gave  Scuderia Toro Rosso its biggest haul of points since Spain. The local fans were able to cheer as Romain Grosjean came home in 10th to give the team its first point since Austria, back in June.

Also in GP+ this week…

– We look at Lewis’s adventures in life at the moment
– We talk to Nico Hulkenberg about his move to Renault
– We take a look at Zak Brown, a man with a big F1 future
– We remember Mario Andretti’s arrival in F1
– DT remembers Lon Bromley, a legend in US racing safety
– JS looks at the weird world of Austin
– The Hack ruminates on Lewis Hamilton…
– Plus the usual fabulous photography from Peter Nygaard

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between us.

GP+ is an amazing bargain – and it is designed to be, so that fans will sign up and share the passion that we have for the sport. We don’t want to exploit you, we want you to join the fun. You get 23 issues for £32.99, covering the entire 2016 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.

This is what Martin Brundle thinks of what we do…

MB's GP+ tweet.png

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Sainz and Kvyat remain at STR

Scuderia Toro Rosso has confirmed that it is to retain Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz in 2017.
“It’s great news!” said Kvyat. “I’d like to thank Red Bull, Dr. Marko and all the team for their support and the faith they have shown in me since I returned to the team earlier this year. I’m very happy to stay with a team that feels like home to me. I’m really looking forward to continuing the hard work together in 2017 and I’m really aiming high. I will always be fully dedicated, giving my 200%’, and I will be pushing as hard as I usually do, that’s for sure. I’m delighted!”
Team boss Franz Tost said that Kvyat has been retained because he is back at his best.
“In recent races, it has been clear that Daniil is back on top form,” he said. “I always told him that his future with us was in his hands and he has stepped up to the mark and delivered the sort of performances that have ensured his 2017 seat in the STR 12. We now have a very talented and strong driver pairing to tackle a season in which we expect to be very competitive.”
The news is bad for Pierre Gasly, who was hoping to step into F1 next year. The Frenchman recently did 277 laps of Abu Dhabi in a  modified 2015 Red Bull, doing work for Pirelli. This presumably was part of the decision-making process.

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Lon Bromley

Today, shortly before qualifying, the safety vehicles at the Circuit of the Americas are going to make a whole lot noise with their horns and sirens, as a “one minute of noise” salute to the track’s director of safety Lon Bromley, who drowned two weeks ago in a fishing accident in Oregon. Bromley was a celebrated worker in the field of motor racing safety and one the primary players in the US, alongside Terry Trammell and Steve Olvey.

From the late 1980s onwards Bromley was head of the Horton Safety Team at all CART and Champ Car races and he played an important role in saving a number of lives, notably that of Alex Zanardi after a crash at the Lausitzring in Germany in 2001.

Bromley and Dave Hollander were in charge of the two rapid intervention vehicles that would arrive at the scene of a big accident and would assist the doctors in the process of stabilising injured drivers and then extracting them from the wrecks. Trammell says that Bromley was the best “scene commander” he ever worked with. Bromley went on to a much bigger safety role and was seen as a safe and knowledgable pair of hands and a much-loved figure in the US racing fraternity.


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Ron Dennis and McLaren

There have been quiet whispers for months that Ron Dennis might be removed from his position at the head of what is now known as the McLaren Technology Group, the parent company of the McLaren F1 team. There has never been sufficient on-the-record evidence to justify writing a story, but the rumours have swirled nonetheless.

It is clear, if you look at the paperwork, that Dennis does not have control of the business, in terms of shareholdings, owning just 25 percent of the shares and so, logically, if the other owners combine and vote against him, he could be removed from his role, just as Martin Whitmarsh was when Dennis made his comeback after five years away, in January 2014. The deal at the time, so they say, was that Dennis would toughen up McLaren in F1 and would make it more competitive. He would also find backers to buy shares from his partners and retake control of the entire business. That hasn’t happened and it is said that various deadlines have come and gone.

Just to be clear, we are talking only of the racing team and associated companies, not the automobile manufacturing business, which is separate but has most of the same shareholders.

The parties involved, of course, are saying nothing publicly, although the official line is that there is no change planned. But does that mean no change in the future as well?

The question that the McLaren shareholders face is simple and yet complex at the same time. Will separating McLaren from Dennis cause the company any harm, or will it be able to work differently and achieve more success if he is no longer there? 

One cannot fault his record of success in the sport, McLaren won seven Constructors’ and 10 Drivers’ Championships during his reign as team principal between 1980 and 2009. Having said that it is quite astonishing to think that the team has not won the Constructors’ title since 1998, although it has been runner-up seven times since then. Dennis is not quite as integral to the team as, for example, Enzo Ferrari was with Ferrari, but the difference is only really the name. Dennis took over McLaren 36 years ago and built it into the empire it is today. It is a remarkable achievement and one which should be recognised as such.

Under Whitmarsh – between 2009 and 2013 – McLaren did not win the World Championship, but the team was at least winning races. The change of engine rules and the switch to Honda meant that it has done little since Whitmarsh departed.
Ron is 70 next year and has always been keen to promote the idea of handing the company on to younger men, but at the moment it seems that this ambition is less acute than once it was.

One way or another things seem to be coming to a head and we will see which way the wind blows.

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