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Is F1 Still Epic? (Shh…)

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on March 14th, 2014 by glennm

jacques-villeneuve

Ever since he dyed his hair blonde on the way to winning the 1997 F1 World Championship, Canadian Jacques Villeneuve has been a non-conformist. He’s also always told it like it is. Jacques’ view of the radical new technical rule changes for 2014 thus deserves some serious reflection. (Listen below via the BBC.)
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Magical Monaco

postedPosted in Formula One on May 22nd, 2013 by glennm

Monaco is indeed special and unique. It’s the highlight of the Formula One calendar. Can’t wait until Sunday!

Monaco 2013 arial

Courtesy of Lotus_F1Team via Twitter.

 

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Ayrton Senna

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on May 1st, 2013 by glennm

It was 19 years ago today that the legendary Ayrton Senna was lost at Imola. RIP.

senna2

Aytron Senna | Formula One Art & Genius.

 

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Bring It On!

postedPosted in Formula One on March 16th, 2013 by glennm

Grosjean In FP3

Preseason testing in Formula One bears little resemblance to the season itself. Teams are so limited in track time by the current sporting regulations that “out of the box” performance is paramount. And with all the variables of tires, fuel loads, setup, etc., time comparisons among teams and drivers are misleading at best. (Seriously, Romain Grosjean — of Spa carnage and suspension fame — was fastest in the final free practice at Melbourne this afternoon!)

As even the official Formula1.com® site admits, actually somewhat proudly:

It doesn’t matter to whom you speak — representatives of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus or Mercedes — nobody really has an idea of what to expect at the 2013 Formula 1 Rolex Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend.

Formula 1® – The Official F1® Website.

Thank you, Bernie Ecclestone, for that trademarked introduction. But to tell the truth, the current rules are creating a wonderfully exciting F1 era, with tremendously close racing. You can analyze all you want and still not be able to predict what’s really going to happen. Starting in about 10 minutes for Q1 qualifying.

f1_animated

In the immortal words of the Pointer Sisters, which apply here after months of expectation, preparation, speculation and deprivation:

I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it
I’m about to lose control and I think I like it
I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it
And I know, I know, I know, I know
I know I want you, want you.

So bring it on, Melbourne! Let’s go racing boys.

 

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Passive Stalling Devices For 2013

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on March 12th, 2013 by glennm
Lotus rear wing 2013

Lotus prototype passive rear wing DDRS

F1 engineers are hard at work again exploiting gaps in the FIA technical regulations. Last season’s double DRS (DDRS) systems are banned, so designers like the famed Adrian Newey of Red Bull are developing “passive stalling devices,” not driver controlled, to stall rear wing downforce and increase straight-line speed. Very cool.

The importance of this system, if implemented correctly and a balance can be found is potentially huge. With limited DRS usage now in force throughout an entire Grand Prix weekend, a passive system that can stall the rear wing effectively will give any team a great advantage throughout an entire lap — not just in the DRS zones as the DDRS was solely being used for.

Key innovations for 2013 : F1plus.

But as the astute Craig Scarborough observes:

One issue facing the FIA and other teams is that the Mercedes DDRS solution will be banned in 2013, via wording to prevent secondary use of the DRS opening. But being passive, the Lotus system does not employ this solution to stall the wing. As it stand the Lotus will be legal for 2013, but the FIA are likely to find some wording to also outlaw this method of drag reduction.

Lotus: DRS Device Analysis | ScarbsF1.com.

This back and forth between designers and sanctioning bodies has been a part of Formula One for decades. Think back to Colin Chapman’s dual-chassis Lotus 88 or the infamous Brabham BT46B “fan car” from Gordon Murray. Both banned, of course. And the eiptome of all, the six-wheeled Tyrell P34. Formula One likes to say that it is the ultimate in technology and engineering. That’s not the case and never was. But the game is fun to watch.

 

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A Changing Formula One Balance Sheet

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on February 16th, 2013 by glennm

After three of the most exhilarating consecutive seasons in Grand Prix history — although some believe Red Bull’s utter dominance of 2011 was on the boring side — Formula One seems headed for changes this year. The biggest issue, as typical in today’s post-recession global economy, is money. F1 takes enormous amounts of capital and it’s just not around that much any more. Despite a resource restriction agreement that is designed to level the playing field and allow smaller teams to remain financially solvent (whether or not competitive), the gap between the sport’s leading organizations and grid backmarkers is as large as ever.

bernie_money

The signs of this situation are evident. Marussia, which started back in 2010 as Virgin, released Timo Glock in favor of yet another sponsored “pay driver,” who basically purchased the seat. Caterham let Heikki Kovalainen go in favor of a second paid seat alongside Charles Pic. Paying for F1 drives is not new, going all the way back to Juan Manuel Fangio’s backing by the Argentine government of Juan Péron in the 1950s. But this time it feels different. The difference is that the F1 grid is shrinking, looking today like a far cry from the halcyon era of the early 1990s, when “pre-qualifying” was required to whittle the field to a “mere” 26 cars for Saturday qualifications. Former Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari, yet another casualty of the paid driver trend, complains that ”F1 has become an auction.”

For some years now, there have been whispers in Formula 1 that all was not well financially with some of the teams. Finally, one of the most senior figures in the sport has put a public voice to them. McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh says “of the 11 teams, seven of them are in survival strategy.”

Formula 1 teams showing signs of money problems | BBC Sport.

This helps explain, in part, the relentless pursuit in recent seasons of new venues in developing nations (China, India, etc.) where government-subsidized circuits and rising consumer demand are hoped to help attract new commercial sponsors to the sport. But it is unsettling at best and scary at worst. With the advent of sporting regulation changes requiring engines, transmissions and other vital car parts to last for many races, the demise of special qualifying tires, spare cars and in-season testing, the basic parameters of F1 are shockingly different from its historical roots. Some see these as making competition better; others, like this author, see them as a threat to the fundamental nature of F1 as the epitome of automobile technology and engineering.

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IndyCar In Baltimore

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on September 3rd, 2012 by glennm

They call it the Grand Prix of Baltimore, but it’s really just an IZOD IndyCar race. With eight full-course caution periods — caused by some silly crashes in one tight chicane and after rain fell for about five minutes — it was an amateurish affair. Still fun to watch, nonetheless. Ryan Hunter-Reay won, with former F1 driver Rubens Barrichello 5th.

Baltimore Indy 2012

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Longer, Stronger But Better?

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on July 23rd, 2012 by glennm

Change epitomizes Formula One. Yet as the decades roll  by, incremental season-by-season changes have produced a sport that is different in fundamental ways from the one in which Juan Manuel Fangio competed in the 1960s, Jim Clark in the 1960s and Emerson Fittpaldi in the 1970s — even Niki Lauda and Aryton Senna in the 1980s and 1990s.

The differences are not hard to spot for the observant enthusiast. Most obvious is that F1 seasons today are very, very much longer than in seasons past. The reason is economics (money!) — the overarching goal of F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone — but the reality is that what was once a nine-race season in 1962, a 12-race season in 1968 and a 16-race season from 1976 through 1999 has grown to a 20-race season in 2012. As a consequence, modern F1 pilots routinely compete in more GP races in their first five years than three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart did in his entire Formula One career.  Nico Rosberg, still a relatively young driver, won his first GP in 2012 after 100 races. more than Stewart himself. Remember when the championship required drivers to drop race results because one could only count a certain number of races for purposes of the final standings? Few do, but that was the reality through the late 1980s.

Vettel—Korea 2010

As the F1 season has gotten longer, so too have the cars themselves gotten stronger, essentially insulating drivers from the unpredictable ignominy of mechanical retirement. DNFs are basically a thing of the past in modern Formula One. Once it  was routinely assumed that nearly half of the F1 starting grid would fail to finish, giving rise to the truism — only marginally relevant, if at all, today — that “To finish first, first one must finish.”  The 2011 European GP at Valencia, for instance, featured a race in which there were no retirements, the entire paddock making it to the checkered flag. Part of this has to do with carbon fiber monocoques, the space-age fabrication material that allows drivers to bang and barge in ways that old-timers like Sir Stirling Moss find unsporting. “In a modern racing car, as long as the driver is stuck inside it, he is as safe as houses.”  Yet this development has also yielded far closer, and way more aggressive, racing tactics than were possible throughout F1′s history, where colliding with another car risked mechanical failure or a shunt into the woods or hay bales, bereft of the moderns runoff areas that shelter drivers from their own mistakes.

Forget about the perversion of the F1 record book caused by the combination of long seasons and strong cars. This is a change that radically alters the sport itself. Even 20 years ago, Nigel Mansell had to be concerned when electronic gremlins disabled his “active” FW14 Williams after waving to the crowd at the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix. Except perhaps for Heikki Kovalainen at Singapore and Seb Vettel in Korea, both during the 2010 season, the cars continue to circle the circuits continuously. Coupled with new, cost-cutting rule changes requiring engines, gearboxes and the like to last for four or more races, with grid penalties for changing components early, and the result is a succession of F1 cars that no longer flirt with mechanical failure because designers, engineers and drivers are prohibited from pushing the performance envelope to and past its limit.

Legendary Colin Chapman of Lotus used to believe that if a Formula One car lasted one lap further than the race distance it was too solid and thus too heavy. We now live in a bizarro F1 world where the opposite tenet prevails. Does that make for a better sport? You decide.

 

 

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Oh Behave, Austin!

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on November 21st, 2011 by glennm

It had to come to this. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has told promoters for the inaugural US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas — scheduled for November 2012 — to pay up by next week or the race will be cancelled.

“It’s all very simple — they don’t have the money,” Ecclestone told The Associated Press. “We don’t have a contract. If they want to come back to us, if it’s not signed before the end of next week, I suppose it won’t be on the calendar next year.”

Texas Formula One Race in Peril | The Globe and Mail. The self-titled “commercial rights holder” for F1 said his patience with organizers of the race had run out and he was not prepared to wait beyond the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo on 27 November.

COTA

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, Hermann Tilke & Tavo Hellmund

Thus we have the sad end to a truly bizarre fiasco. Announced with much fanfare in May 2010, the USGP was to have been held at a new, purpose-built track designed by Hermann Tilke, dubbed Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Full Throttle Productions and CEO Tavo Hellmund assured they would finance all construction privately, but then turned around and demanded US$25M annually from state coffers to cover the licensing fee to Ecclestone’s Formula One Management Ltd. (FOM). That’s when things went astray, first with litigation and then — after dirt had been moved around and a Red Bull driven by David Coulthard navigated the still tarmac-less circuit — with push back from Texas state officials. So there won’t be $25M paid to FOM and there won’t be a USGP at Austin. Even the Web site formula1unitedstates.com has disappeared, redirected to the official F1 site.

We have not paid out any money for the Formula 1 event. The only dollars that can be spent on the United States Grand Prix are tax revenues attributable to the successful running of a race. The state of Texas will not be paying any funds in advance of the event.

Austin Formula 1 Falls Apart | CultureMap Austin.

While Hellmund had a contract with FOM, apparently that was quietly terminated some months ago due to breach. Reports suggest that there’s been a falling out between the COTA folks and Hellmund, but that it is Tavo who has “family ties” to Ecclestone. And without any publicity at all the organizers’ request for $25M from that special Texas state fund was inexplicably withdrawn in September, never re-submitted.

Coulthard At COTAAll of this speaks volumes about the current state of commercialism in Formula One. There is no way Western governments are going to foot the huge up-front payments Bernie demands for the privilege of hosting a GP race. This author never thought city or state officials would agree to cover the costs of staging a race. Who Wudda Thunk It? | Formula One Art & Genius. That is what has led to the demise of the Austrian, French, Dutch and other “traditional” European races. It’s also why F1 runs before empty stands in opulent, rich but nowhere places like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Even the Koreans, who gladly paid FOM’s admission price for their first GP in 2010, are already saying they can no longer afford to stage the race because they are losing money.

This season saw the spectacle of a new Grand Prix and circuit being unveiled in India and was the first year more GP races were held in Asia than Europe. But few if anyone cares about F1 in India and its economy is plainly unsuited to the interests of F1 sponsors. Circuits and host nations are increasingly becoming — if they are not already — just a big television studio for broadcasting F1 races around the globe. No one cares where they are held, so long as the couch potatoes get to watch and FOM gets paid.

That is terribly sad and quite unsustainable. But it reflects the reality of Formula One in the 21st century. Have money and the F1 circus will fall all over you. Wherever you are. But without the bucks, don’t even think about asking Ecclestone for as favor.

The worst part, of course, is that after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway built a great F1 circuit and hosted wonderful races for years, FOM drove the USGP away with these same sort of escalating licensing fee demands. Now it has done the same thing again. The U.S. Grand Prix has a long and colorful history in Formula One and it is a real shame that American F1 fans will, for the 5th year running, have no event to attend in America.

 

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Curva Grande Bravery

postedPosted in Formula One, The Sporting Life on September 26th, 2011 by glennm

curvagrande_bravery

Sebastian Vettel’s brilliant pass of Fernando Alonso on the outside of the Curva Grande during the 2011 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

 

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