Wednesday, 9 December 2009

1 season in 10 minutes

How do you sum up a season’s racing in just 10 minutes? Like this. This is the official highlight reel of the 2009 DTM championship.

That’s all that needs to be said, really. Just watch, and you’ll see that it speaks more for itself than I could ever write about it. It is just simply stunning. Enjoy.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Thursday Thoughts – Is engine parity necessary for 2010?

Over at Sidepodcast, they have started an initiative called Thursday Thoughts, where someone poses a topic or a question for people to comment and blog about. This time the question is as it states in the title: is it necessary to have engine parity for the 2010 F1 season. Or for those who want it in simple terms – should all engines be equalised?

Personally, my response is a combination of yes and no. Yes, everyone wants close racing and yes, no-one wants to see one team or one car driving off into the distance and dominating all the time. But at the same time, no-one wants F1 to become just another spec series like GP2, A1GP or IndyCar. Therefore, I propose a solution that keeps all the engines relative of each other while still allowing the teams some freedom in development.

What I think could work is this – the FIA gives every team a base unit. Very basic, very simple but with plenty of customisation available. The teams are then given a set budget which can be spent on developing this engine. They are free to spend as much of this as they want and develop it how they wish, but still keeping within the regulations laid out by the FIA.

That way, these engines are still related to each other in their basic components but at the same time are independent of each other as the teams have done their own work with them. Whether it could work we don’t know since nothing like this has been suggested. The only thing that comes close is the Cosworth unit which has gone to the new teams and Williams.

It’s nice to see competition and competitiveness in F1, but as mentioned no-one wants to see a runaway domination of the championship. Equality in F1 is good to a certain extent. Sure, series like GP2 can provide good close racing at times but this sport is all about the pinnacle of engineering and technology and innovation. Without any of that, it’s just another form of motorsport.

The drive to survive

It’s interesting how a team’s fortunes can change so quickly. Renault are pretty much deciding their future in F1 as I write this, while Sauber’s is safe and secure. The long-awaiting announcement that they would take the 13th spot on the entry list for the 2010 F1 season was a big relief to all those concern with the Hinwil outfit’s future. After a false takeover from Qadbak, which turned out to be nothing but a plot to exploit the funding the team would receive from the FIA due to their championship position from 2009. But Peter Sauber rescued his team from the brink of extinction and now all is well.

Meanwhile over in France, there is talk that David Richards of Prodrive is looking to buy out Renault’s F1 team. There were rumours a few months ago that Richards would take over as team principal after Briatore and Symonds were both exiled from the team after the Crashgate scandal involving Piquet’s accident at Singapore last year. There was also talk of 4 times world champion Alain Prost would step in as a team advisor. But those rumours quickly faded into the background and into obscurity.

Now, however, Richards’ name has come back into the fray. If it does happen, I couldn't think of anyone better to take control of an F1 team. The man oversees proceedings for the WRC, has looked after Subaru’s World Rally Team, currently campaigns Aston Martin-Lola’s in the LMS and at Le Mans, not forgetting his past exploits with the team when it was Benetton and also with BAR. Oh, and he’s overseen Ford’s works effort in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship.

You can’t deny the guy’s done the rounds when it comes to looking after race teams. With him at the head of the team, should it be re-branded Prodrive, or Aston Martin as has been touted, it hopefully shouldn’t be too much of a task to help the Enstone outfit be on the pace of the frontrunners once again. But there is one question on people’s lips – what of Kubica.

Currently, he has a contract with Renault. But if they decide to sell up to Richards and it becomes Prodrive, where would they both stand regarding his position in the team? Would he still stay firm and race for them? Will he go to another team? It has been rumoured that Mercedes would be his best bet since the second seat alongside Rosberg is yet to be announced. There are many rumours flying around who is going to get that drive. So far, Kubica’s teammate from the past 3 and a bit seasons, Nick Heidfeld, has been tipped as favourite, although talk of Michael Schumacher making a surprise return with a manufacturer he once raced sportscars for has been rife, although it has trailed off recently.

Whatever happens, I’m sure it will all come good in the end. Just like Sauber, who have an engine supply from Ferrari and a team in charge by its namesake once again, things are getting back to how they used to be. Something I’m all for.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

They are the young ones

This week in Jerez, all 9 F1 teams are out testing potential up and coming talent in the FIA’s official Young Driver Days. To someone who solely focuses on F1, you won’t have heard of pretty much most if not all of them. But if you’re someone like me, who happens to have a broad spread of knowledge and following when it comes to motorsport, you will have. Below is a list of all the drivers participating, and alongside them in brackets is the series they come from:

Brawn/Mercedes: Mike Conway (IndyCar), Marcus Ericsson (F3)
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo (F3)
McLaren: Gary Paffett (DTM), Oliver Turvey (WSR/GP2)
Ferrari: Jules Bianchi (F3), Daniel Zampieri (F3), Marco Zipoli (F3), Pablo Sanchez Lopez (F3)
Renault: Bertrand Baguette (WSR), Ho Pin Tung (Superleague), Lucas di Grassi (GP2)
BMW: Alexander Rossi (Formula Master), Estiban Gutierrez (F3)
Williams: Andy Soucek (F2), Nico Hulkenberg (GP2/F1)
Force India Paul di Resta (DTM), JR Hildebrand (Indy Lights)
Toro Rosso: Brendon Hartley (WSR/F3), Mirko Bortolotti (F3)

Not all of them will test on the same day as each other. Driver rotation throughout the 3 days ensure everyone gets a fair turn behind the wheel of their respective machinery. Apart from the BMW guys, the 3 Italian F3 drivers for Ferrari, Ericsson and Hildebrand, I’ve heard of all of these guys in some shape or form.

I think testing session like this are a very good idea. In fact, I’m in favour of bringing in some form of in-season testing again, if only to give drivers who are stepping in to take over from existing ones a chance to get used to the car before the next race weekend. We saw this season that drivers like Badoer and Grosjean suffered badly. Sure, Luca got a run in the F60 at Fiorano before his debut in Valencia, but it was a promotional run on demonstration tyres. He had no opportunity whatsoever to get used to the car in a qualifying or race simulation and spent most of the two race weekends he participated in suffering as a result, both from criticism and in pace.

Of course, the reason why the FIA banned in-season testing was to reduce costs. They want to get the spending levels back to those of the early 90s. But think about it – back then teams were still able to go testing, even the smaller ones. Well OK, maybe not all the smaller teams but the majority of the grid were still able to run at Silverstone or Monza in the days and weeks leading up to the respective race weekends. Why not allow testing for replacement drivers so that they get a chance to get to know the machine they’re about to wrestle around whichever circuit the F1 circus stops at next. But to make sure there’s no testing or development of any new parts, have an FIA steward present in the garage at all times. That way it ensures any updates only get tested in practice, like they have had to have been this year.

It should be a good thing that Formula 1 teams need to encourage young, up and coming talent into the sport, and the FIA should wholeheartedly embrace that. These Young Driver days are just the start, and while they do still want to reduce costs, this would surely be an initiative well worth investing in. Heck, if they managed to find any gems, I’m sure their potential success would help bring in the returns the FIA would want.

Also, who out of that lot up there seems to be in the best shape to secure an F1 drive in the future? Well, Bianchi for one has got to be up there. Yes, his times haven’t been fantastic but Ferrari have signed him up for the long term, which means they must have some faith and insight into the F3 Euro Series champion’s ability. If they can develop and nurture it appropriately, I think it’ll pay dividends for them. Also, I reckon a couple others are F2 Champion Andy Soucek and Paul di Resta for Force India. Soucek’s abilities shone through yesterday when he finished the first day on top of the time sheets. Personally, I think Williams should secure him as their 3rd and test driver for 2010 and then try and groom him as a replacement for Barrichello as and when he decides to end his racing career. di Resta has also looked impressive, as he put himself in the top 3 both yesterday and today. The man has talent, no doubt about it. Just whether any F1 teams pick up on it also remains to be seen. As with Soucek, he deserves a 3rd and test driver role with Force India.

These teams have to try and make more of an effort to help develop and nurture this young talents so that they become the stars of the future. All they need is for the FIA to see this too and allow them to run in test sessions away from the race weekends so that when a scenario like Massa’s in Hungary or Glock’s in Japan occurs, they don’t take forever to get up to speed and can instantly run at the pace the usual driver was at. If not on par, then around that level. This not only benefits them, but also the team and everyone else on the grid, as these replacement drivers don’t pose so much of a threat as they would when driving without having gotten familiar with their machine.

Will anything like this happen? Who knows. With a new FIA president in place, let’s sure hope so.