Tag Archives: F1

Pit Stop – Small storie making waves in Motorsport – By Lewis Brearley

After the flurry of news regarding the first Formula One pre-season test in Jerez and the Sepang MotoGP test, the current absence of news seems rather dull. However, if you’ve been following closely you will have noticed a few intriguing stories.

The sponsor situation in Formula One has been pretty dire in recent years but recent news could be optimistically taken to mean that last year, when Williams, Sauber and Marussia all ran with almost bare liveries, thankfully may have been the nadir.

Williams recently announced a new sponsorship deal with Martini, meaning the legendary and iconic red, white and blue stripes of the 1970s should again be present in the new turbocharged era.

This, alongside further deals with Genworth Insurance and Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company surely attracted to the team by the team’s new Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, combined with the team’s new technical structure under Pat Symonds’ leadership and the promising pace shown at the Jerez test, all builds to a very positive vibe around the Grove team.

If the team delivers during the season then maybe the sleeping giant of Formula One can defy the doubters and once again compete to win races. If so, the sport will be all the healthier for it.

The arrival of any new sponsor into Formula One is a big story nowadays. Whereas in the early noughties even midfield teams had the logos of huge, blue chip companies painted onto their cars, things are much harder now.

The financial crash of 2008 led to the exits of many companies who had been supporting teams and five years later, for some reason, there hasn’t yet been a renaissance of corporate interest.

Even the mighty McLaren was trundling around Jerez without a title sponsor, after Vodafone decided to end their involvement at the end of 2013, reportedly due to the negative publicity furore surrounding the controversial Bahrain grand prix.

Former team principal Martin Whitmarsh had announced a sponsor unveiling for last December but worryingly, that was cancelled. This was one of the reasons why Ron Dennis took back control of the Formula One team, after becoming concerned about the team’s commercial business.

Rumours have grown that all will be well by the time of the Australian grand prix and that their car, now under the leadership of racing director Eric Boullier, will be adorned with a new, major sponsor. We shall see.

Another recent story is the successful first outing of the new Lotus E22. With the team having endured delays and their engine manufacturer, Renault, having serious problems at the Jerez test with their other teams, the fact that they ran a trouble-free 100km was a surprise to many.

In the past few years the Lotus team have shown to be one of the finest teams on the grid, and despite their huge financial troubles and loss of top-level engineers, could be on course for a stronger season than many suggested.

However, it seems highly unlikely that the team will replicate their recent race winning form of the past two years and a strong midfield campaign seems much more probable. But that’s just speculation, more evidence of where each team stands will be provided next week when the second Formula One test starts in Bahrain.

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Pit Stop – Turbo is back with a bang – By Lewis Brearley

Formula One testing gets underway only next week but until then there’s nothing really to except speculate. Who’s going to surprise? Who’s going to fail? How ugly exactly are the new cars?

However, all this is just an exercise in futility so until testing actually happens it’s worth looking back to Formula One’s previous turbo era: 1978 – 1988.

Renault was the very first team to race with a turbocharged engine, a 1.5 litre V6. While at first it was unanimously seen as a joke, slow and extremely unreliable, but by the end of the season the first signs of promise were visible.

The lack of reliability would plague the Renault throughout their span in the sport. Alain Prost had runs at the title in 1981, 1982 and 1983 but was always hampered by his car’s inability to finish.

All this disappointment and the loss of Prost to McLaren, caused Renault to withdraw from the sport at the end of 1985. However their turbo technology had revolutionised the sport.

By 1984 all the teams were using 1.5l turbocharged engines and the McLaren-TAG combination began to dominate despite impressive competition from Williams-Honda, taking three successive drivers’ championships from 1984-1986.

1987 saw the Williams-Honda finally take a driver’s championship with Nelson Piquet after his team mate, Nigel Mansell, severely injured his back which forced him to miss the final two races.

The year after was the final year for the turbos as they were banned for 1989 in a bid to slow the car’s down. But it was the final turbo year – 1988 – which came to define the era that preceded it.

McLaren procured the awesome Honda engine thanks to signing Ayrton Senna, who had built up a close relationship with the Japanese company in his time at Lotus. When combined with Alain Prost, then a double world champion, it delivered a championship double after winning an unprecedented and unbeaten 15 race wins out of 16 races.

The only thing that stopped McLaren taking a 100% sweep was the infamous incident at Monza, where Jean-Louis Schlesser turned in on Senna while being lapped, which cost McLaren the victory.

Despite the fact that the 2014 engines use turbos, the new and upcoming turbo era is going to be very different from the eighties. Whereas the old era was all about pure, awesome power with engines giving out more than 1000bhp when on maximum boost. This new era will be much more focused towards efficiency and refined power.

The turbo itself has a system where a large proportion of the waste heat from inside the turbo is stored and then utilised by the engine.

The style of racing will change for next year and whether it’s popular or not the technology inside the cars is an interesting and impressive step  up from the past few years.

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Pit Stop – Testing is close – By Lewis Brearley

It is now just one week until Formula One testing gets underway at Jerez and the hype is beginning to build.

Despite the confidence of the Lotus team that they wouldn’t be the only ones to miss the first test, they remain the only team to have announced that they won’t be there.

The effect this will have on Lotus’s preparations for the new season is as yet unknown and probably won’t be until the Australian grand prix on 16 March, but with the huge implications of the complex new regulations added to the negative stories around the finances of the team, it is generally expected to be a significant setback.

Yet, as the team and their fans will argue, setbacks during pre-season testing can be overcome. Lotus themselves lost two days of running last season when they found their new chassis was cracked and McLaren are infamous for their tendency to have poor starts to the season and often manage to overcome their problems by the time the season gets going.

Another big unknown is the driver situation at Caterham, who haven’t yet announced their partnering. Rumours gathered pace this week that one will be Kamui Kobayashi, the popular and exciting talent who has been out of the sport for a year.

When taken amid the current furore over the prevalence of pay drivers, if Caterham does decide to sign Kobayashi, it will be a real positive for the sport and certainly should give Paul di Resta confidence that it is possible to return to Formula One after being dropped.

His team mate is likely to be the young Marcus Ericsson, who has shown inconsistent flashes of speed in four seasons in GP2. He was often seen around the Caterham garage last season which backs up the rumours that he will be driving for them next year.

Regardless of who gets signed, the fact that Caterham haven’t yet announced their drivers raises eyebrows. With the competition to get seats being so high, perhaps they are just using the luxury of holding all the cards, and using all the time to make sure they get the best deal they possibly can.

Interesting things are also happening at McLaren. While they may have their driver line up of Jenson Button and the promising Kevin Magnussen sealed, they executive structure is set for a re shuffle.

Ron Dennis wrested back the controls of the team from his former trusted protégé, Martin Whitmarsh after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the team’s recent lack of success.

In his statement Dennis said to prepare for “changes to be made” and with Honda teaming up with McLaren next year, former Honda team principal and recently retired Ross Brawn is a possible new team principal.

McLaren really need a strong year, and next week at Jerez, Button will find out whether he has the car to be able to bid for his second world championship.

The teams are now almost ready but as of now it’s all unknowns.

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Pit Stop – Tough time at the bottom – By Lewis Brearley

It’s a tough time for Formula One’s smaller teams at the moment. Financial worries are causing ructions within all but the largest teams and disappointingly no action seems to be in the pipeline.

Force India replaced Paul di Resta with Sergio Perez this week and with it gained an estimated $10 million from his Mexican backers and sponsors.

Many fans decried the fact that a very talented driver had lost out to a guy with a fat wallet. Yet this is harsh on Perez, a man who gave a world champion, Jenson Button, a decent challenge in a tricky car.

Indeed it’s arguable that Perez and di Resta are on the same level, unlikely to be world champions but capable of winning races when given the machinery. It’s not Force India’s fault that they need all the money they can get and it’s certainly not Force India’s fault that no other team has picked him up.

However, this deal is yet another sign that Formula One’s financial model needs to change. Another driver who is supported by a large amount of corporate money and another good driver destined to spend the rest of his career in sportscar racing, IndyCar or the DTM.

The answer is simple but it will be a complicated political process to implement it. The owners of Formula One, a private equity named CVC Capital Partners. With over $46 billion in investments and no passion for motor sport, their number one priority is squeezing profit out of Formula One and they do this very successfully.

For example in 2012 Formula One revenues were estimated at around $1.5 billion and CVC took a colossal $865 million from that. From the remaining revenues, the FIA takes a small percentage and then the teams take their share, decided by the all-important Constructors’ Championship standings.

Hidden within this share is a hugely unfair element however. Recently the teams signed up to a new payment structure which gives bonuses to teams who have won championships in recent years – Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull – and also Mercedes thanks to an agreement between Bernie Ecclestone and the team that kept them in the sport.

So unfair is this structure that Ferrari could score zero points in next year’s championship and still receive more money than if Lotus managed to win the championship.

Why sign up to the thing then, you may ask? Well, it was forced upon them after Red Bull and Ferrari first signed it. Rumours swirled that the remaining teams had no other option than to sign up or else face watching a Ferrari Formula One World Championship sponsored by Red Bull with two constructors providing customer cars to the smaller teams.

Thanks to this unequal agreement and a bizarre lack of interest from sponsors, most teams are now struggling to stay afloat with soaring costs and declining revenues combining to crush their accounts.

If only there was a spare $800 million that could be shared between the grid. However, CVC will not give up this money easily. Aware of the financial difficulties they have an alternative answer: have five ‘constructors’ and five ‘customers’ which would sharply reduce costs for the smaller teams and allow CVC to keep even more of the revenues for themselves.

This isn’t an acceptable answer. It would reduce Formula One to a shadow of the fair, engineering battle that it is supposed to be and if one big team quit, the customer would be taken down with it.

The true answer as CVC are unlikely to be moved aside, is a budget cap. For this to happen Red Bull and Ferrari would have to accept that the good of the sport should be prioritised over the good of their teams.

Whether this will happen will be the background story throughout the 2014 season.

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Pit Stop – Vettel makes it nine in a row – By Lewis Brearley

So the 2013 Formula One season is now over. Sebastian Vettel equalled the ancient record of nine consecutive grand prix wins set by Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari across the 1952 and 1953 seasons.

The seasons themselves only contained six races back then and the fact it took 60 years for it to be repeated emphasizes just how big of an achievement it is.

Formula One has changed so much in between the ages of Ascari and Vettel. From races where half the grid would fail to reach the chequered flag due to mechanical gremlins and the racetracks were lined with unprotected trees and walls, to almost impeccable reliability and cars and tracks which have to pass strict safety tests before they see any action; yet one thing is constant – the fastest driver and car combination always wins.

The fastest combination by far this season has been Vettel and his Red Bull RB9. Using his superb feel for the delicate Pirelli tyres and the aerodynamic characteristics of 2013 Formula One cars, he has managed to harness phenomenal speed from Adrian Newey’s genius design.

The RB9 was the pick of the field in 2013, especially in the second half of the season post-Hungary. Newey and the Renault engineers managed to smooth the flow of the exhaust gases so that the diffuser was ‘sealed’ more often and more effectively.

This sealing means the disruptive wake caused by the rear wheels does not invade the air flowing through the diffuser, thereby decreasing the air pressure within it. The lower the air pressure, the faster the air can flow through the diffuser and the greater the downforce level produced.

However, harnessing the full benefits of this technology required a certain driving style. As the effect was lost when the driver took his foot of the accelerator, the driver had to cope with oversteer on corner entry. As the car got loose through the middle of the corner, the driver would have to have the confidence and balanced feel of the throttle, to re apply just the right amount of throttle to get the read end working fully again.

If the driver could react to this oversteer and had superb feel, then this combination of an early, sharp turn in and early acceleration led to amazing speed. As the season’s results show, Sebastian Vettel was much more adept at driving in this style than his team mate, Mark Webber.

Yet these characteristics are all gone now. Next year’s cars have a set place for their single exhausts, angled up towards the rear wing. It’s accepted that it will be impossible to redirect the flow towards the diffuser this time.

This all means Vettel’s advantage from the past three years will be wiped out. How he copes with this and how he adapts to the new cars will be his chance to get the last of those pesky critics of his back.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Mark Webber’s illustrious, 215 race long, career.

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Pit Stop – Sebastian Vettel – by Lewis Brearley

After a supremely impressive victory at the Singapore Grand Prix, it was disheartening to hear Sebastian Vettel receiving a round of boos from some of the watching fans.

If this had been the first occasion of booing, it would be easy to dismiss the matter as a freak group of local fans making their feelings felt. Mark Webber fans flying from nearby Australia perhaps.

But this wasn’t the first time that Vettel has been jeered while standing on the podium. It started back at the Canadian Grand Prix after Vettel had taken his third win of the season and has continued through the European rounds.

The Monza crowd was especially vociferous in their dislike of Vettel and this is the biggest reason why this issue isn’t as simple as it may first seem.

The popular opinion on the booing is that the majority of fans simply don’t like to see the same winner, week after week. They like competition and they like a close championship and the same person winning repeatedly takes away both.

If this was why the fans at Monza felt this way about Vettel, then they expressed a deep hypocrisy. These are the same fans which cheered Michael Schumacher as he stormed to five consecutive championships, using the best car and a contractual assistant team mate to pick up extra points.

In fact Schumacher, the man who dominated the sport unlike no one else in the modern era was rarely booed. Only when Ferrari’s team orders were so blatant and unsporting, such as the last corner pass by Schumacher at Austria in 2002, did the fans boo; and on those occasions such feelings were actually understandable.

So both Germans had the best car and use it to win often, yet only one is booed. What makes it even more confusing is that Vettel is arguably more likeable than Schumacher, who often came across as arrogant and serious and was actually caught seriously cheating on track several times, something Vettel never has.

Yet every time Schumacher turned up at Hockenheim or the Nurburgring, the audience was a sea of red caps and shirts and the crowd’s support was audible above the roar of his V10 at times. Vettel never gets such support, even from his home fans.

Vettel seems to be seen by many as a guy who got gifted the best car and is given whatever he wants by his management. But this is blatantly wrong. Vettel earned a Red Bull seat by performing well enough in junior racing to get a Toro Rosso seat, showed his worth by starring in his debut season which included a victory from pole at a soaking wet Monza, and hence was deservedly picked to replace David Coulthard for 2009.

From being fast but crash prone in his first two seasons, the following two and a half have been consistent and fast, and he seems to be showing constant improvement. A result of hard work and hours spent in simulators honing the car with his engineering team, not a gift.

He asks what he wants from his technical team, they give him it and he goes out and delivers. That isn’t wrong, that is what a successful driver does.

Vettel can do no more to get the respect he deserves. In time it will surely come as more and more people come to respect that his talent is one of the most brilliant ever.

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Pit Stop – Le Mans Takes The Limelight – By Lewis Brearley

This weekend will be the first for over two months where neither a MotoGP nor a Formula One race will happen.

But for many of the most die-hard motorsport fans, this is the biggest and most important weekend of the whole season, for this weekend sees the 81st running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

While tens of thousands of motorsport fans make the annual pilgrimage to watch the endurance classic first hand, thousands more can enjoy full live coverage courtesy of the Eurosport channel.

The build up to this year’s race has centred on the slow realisation that this could be an Audi walkover, due to the pace difference between Audi and their biggest rivals, Toyota which unexpectedly revealed itself at the Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps endurance races.

After last year’s event, which saw Toyota run stunning but short-lived pace in what was their first race with the new generation TS030 Hybrid car, the Japanese company were expected to battle Audi closely this year. However, the situation now clearly visible from results of both races already run this season combined with the Le Mans practice session times, is one of Toyota lagging behind Audi.

Yet the Audi team are not outwardly showing confidence. They claim that contrary to popular belief they do actually have a race on their hands thanks to the Toyota being able to run an average on two laps more per fuel load than Audi’s respective challenger.

This means the Audi would need a speed benefit of 1.2 seconds per laps according to the Audi team themselves.

The first practice session from the Le Mans weekend therefore looks extremely positive for Audi, after the fastest R18 e-tron posted a time four seconds faster than the highest placed TS030.

The battle for overall victory may therefore be without tension, but Le Mans is about way more than just that.  The LMP2 class nearly always provides an absorbing race, with around 20 entries this year all with a chance of victory. The class which is arguably the soul of the race sees passionate and experienced privateer racing teams race through the night and into the dawn.

Furthermore, there is the annual battle for GT class honours between Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Chevrolet and this year’s newbies SRT. In this race the form points towards an Aston-Ferrari battle for class victory but the hugely experienced Porsche outfit can never be discounted.

Le Mans always provides entertainment, and the more hours you commit to it, the greater its repayment. I understand if staying awake all weekend is too much for you though.

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Pit Stop – F1 in Texas – By Lewis Brearley

Formula 1 arrives in Texas for the first time this weekend and excitement about the championship duel is running high.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel will do battle around the brand new and high-spec Circuit of the Americas, just outside Austin, Texas.

Designed to be a fusion of some of the worlds most fabled sections of racetrack – like a sort of Franken-track; ‘COTA’ as it has been coined contains a copy of the Osterreichring steep and blind turn 1, Silverstone Maggott’s-Beckett’s complex, Hockenheim stadium section and Istanbul’s Turn 8.

As for the grand prix, qualifying will be vital. Red Bull relies on a high downforce/low top speed set-up which optimises the highly effective downforce qualities of the car. This approach means that Vettel must deliver in qualifying and set pole position.

The risk with this strategy is that if Vettel doesn’t deliver in qualifying and ends up in the pack, he will find it very difficult to overtake cars.

On the other hand, Ferrari are much stronger in terms of race pace than qualifying pace and run a lower downforce/higher top speed set-up than the Red Bulls. This means Alonso is likely to have to overtake a couple of cars in order to win the race.

This style of tactics requires quick thinking and precision from the driver and fortunately for Ferrari and Spanish F1 fans this is exactly what Alonso thrives at.

Whether Alonso can get a win or a podium and remain in the championship battle therefore heavily relies on whether the new Circuit of the Americas delivers on its potential and provides overtaking opportunities.

The ingredients are there, the long straight followed by a tight corner should provide plenty of overtakes, however as India and Bahrain show, tracks that look good on paper don’t always deliver the expected thrills.

Despite this, it is still looking like an uphill challenge for Alonso to go to the final race in Brazil closer in points to Vettel than he is now. The speed of the Red Bull since Suzuka has been awesome and Ferrari have struggled all year with the effectiveness of their upgrades and it isn’t realistic for that to change until next season.

Alonso does have one advantage on Vettel however – a compliant team-mate in Felipe Massa. If Massa ends up ahead of Alonso he will let him pass, which may provide a few vital points.

However, Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber, said before the Indian grand prix: “If I’m in the lead this weekend then I’m not pulling over for anyone. That’s it.” Whether this attitude has changed since Webber can now no longer win the championship remains to be seen but his relationship with Vettel isn’t exactly harmonious.

The other unknown factor of this weekend’s grand prix is how strong McLaren will be. If Lewis Hamilton is on Abu Dhabi form then he must go down as favourite for the victory, but McLaren’s speed has been very inconsistent all season.

Alonso will be hoping for the former to take points off Vettel and make his task a tad easier for the season finale in Brazil.

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Pit Stop – Season Climax Awaits – By Lewis Brearley

After 18 grand prix, just ten points separate the remaining two challengers for the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship as we await the final two race of the year in the unknown quantities of Austin, Texas and the legendary cauldron of Interlagos, Brazil.

However, as Formula 1 enters the Americas, the gulf in class between Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari means by the chequered flag next Sunday in Texas, we could already be crowning Vettel world champion for the third successive time.

It would be an immense achievement. He would become only the third driver in 60 years to do so, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in the pantheon of dominance.

Yet statistics are rarely the things that get F1 fans’ blood flowing. The gripping nature of this championship stems from a simple question, can Alonso possibly beat Vettel?

We all know what Alonso can do. He is the odds-beater, the magician, he is determination personified, with drives such as his victory from 11th on the grid in Valencia his speciality.

But the sheer speed of the Red Bull RB8 means Alonso will have to conjure up a Derren Brown size trick to overcome this one, with Adrian Newey’s technical genius combined with Vettel’s talented driving stacking the odds up against the talismanic leader of the Maranello squad.

Even if Alonso leaves Texas still in the championship hunt, his challenge won’t diminish, as a Red Bull has won in Brazil for the past three years. In fact the past two years have both been glorious Red Bull 1-2s.

The intensity of the duel for the title means it might be easy to overlook other significant stories of the next two weeks.

Lewis Hamilton is determined to take one last victory for his McLaren team, and with the speed he displayed at Abu Dhabi, that is definitely within his grasp. A Hamilton win at the very place where he took his dramatic World Championship four years ago in the most dramatic circumstances possible would surely be one of F1’s greatest stories.

Here we have great stories ready to climax on one of Formula 1’s greatest seasons. So there is only one thing to ask, Are you ready?

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Hamilton takes Pole

Lewis Hamilton dominated Qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with an absolutely blistering lap in his McLaren Mercedes.

The Brit had been on fire all weekend and took pole in a time of 1:40.630, finding the perfect balance of pace and cornering ability.

He will be joined on the front row by Mark Webber with championship leader Sebastian Vettel in third.

Back in the field it was a was tight affair with less than a few tenths between the cars in fourth to ninth.

One of those to lose out was Fernando Alonso who will start in seventh, but Pastor Maldonado will start fourth in his Williams.

It was not a good session for the Germans of Nico Hulkenburg and Michael Schumacher who both went out in Q2 and will start in 11th and 14th respectively.

It was the usual at the back of the field, but with the race starting in the light and ending in the dark, it could be a fantastic race.

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