Thursday, 8 October 2015

Tyre wars - such a good idea?

"Did tyres play an important part today?" asked a typically self-important Mark Thatcher - working for American television for some reason - of the victor of the 1981 Las Vegas Grand Prix just finished. That victor was Alan Jones, who couldn't believe his luck that Thatcher seemingly was unaware of the trap he had just laid before himself. "Oh, absolutely" replied Jones. "You see, they keep the wheels from touching the ground".

Alan Jones - knew the value of tyres
"Alan Jones 1980" by NL-HaNA, ANEFO
 / neg. stroken, 1945-1989,, item
number 930-9867 -
-102d-bcf8-003048976d84. Licensed
under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia
Commons -
Yet even Jones when not being facetious appreciated the real importance of tyres in F1. "Goodyear are letting us down" he said of his rubber to journalist Nigel Roebuck at the Austrian Grand Prix earlier that same season, "we need some proper qualifiers. If it was up to me, I'd go back to Michelin tomorrow". And when it was pointed out that such things often are preceded with 'don't quote me' or similar, Jones was resolute. "Write it" he said. "It might get someone angry - and then something might get done about it".

Yet for all that we scarcely seem to stop talking tyres in modern F1, specific talk as Jones' is now a relic of the past. Now we are in the age of the single tyre supplier supplying its product to any and all competitors. Many ages of F1 past have had but a sole supplier too but nowadays is different, as only one is allowed. Brought in as a cost control device from 2007 onwards tyre suppliers periodically tender to be the sport's solitary chosen one. While you or I might go to visit National Tyres and Autocare or Tyre Shopper to chose their road tyres, F1 teams do not have a say on their rubber.

A decision on the latest contract, for 2017-2019, is expected soon with the incumbent Pirelli and Michelin the two companies that have pitched. It's now in effect an arbitrary Bernie Ecclestone decision as the FIA has approved both tenderers and simply he now does the deal that he chooses. And even though reportedly teams have been putting pressure on to ditch the controversial Italian supplier, as well as that no one's got rich by second guessing BCE, the smart money remains on Pirelli hanging around. Bernie wants to continue to use the rubber as a means of spicing up the show via deliberate degradation it is thought; Michelin is more cool on the idea. So that presumably is that. His rather earnest defence of Pirelli in Monza seemed to rather cement the idea.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Daniil Kvyat - Hot or Not?‏

As we near the Russian GP, Mithila and I put the lesser spoken about Red Bull racer Daniil Kvyat through the 'hot or not' test. We tell you why despite being the ONLY Russian driver on the grid he will still be ONLY second most popular.

Apart from the Russian GP, we talk about how the fight now and in 2016 could be to stay off the back row of the grid and if Grosjean's signing up with Haas with Ferrari in sight for 2017 makes any sense.

We also tell you how and why Chandon signed up with McLaren before pointing out how a certain Mr. E has almost ruled out Hulkenberg winning any race next season. And if you're one of those who believe that Mercedes could struggle in Russia (given the tyre compounds are same as Singapore), think again and then tune in to the latest episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast! (Season 2015, Episode 34)

The Inside Line F1 Podcast is hosted by Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah. This Formula One podcast offers a unique humourous view on the sport. Follow us on Facebook and on Google+.

Follow on Twitter: Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Sochi Preview: Getting it right second time?

It was easy to miss, what with everything else, but the Russian Grand Prix 12 months ago was important.

Important, that is, at the sport's geo level. A Grand Prix in that vast country was upon us for the first time in exactly 100 years, and that country had for most of the intervening period represented an enticing yet always out of reach frontier for the sport to conquer.

Bernie signs the Russian Grand Prix deal, under 
the watchful eye of Vladimir Putin
"Russia Grand Prix sign" by -
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via
Wikimedia Commons -
Moreover it happened after upwards of three decades of trying on the part of Bernard Charles Ecclestone, who like a lot of people had long since identified the populous and expansive territory as a key strategic and potential growth market. Periodic talk of a Russian/Soviet race, even sometimes accompanied by Bernie visiting the country and resolutions drawn up apparently when he was there, persistently came to nought. Indeed a Grand Prix in the Soviet Union to be held on the streets of Moscow appeared on a provisional F1 calendar as long ago as that for the 1983 season, only to be scuppered by various bureaucratic machinations. As it was the first 'Eastern Bloc' visit by the circus was instead in Hungary in 1986, a country which had proved rather more accommodating.

In the time since prospects of a Russian F1 race came and went like the ocean tide, but in more recent years renewed momentum was found. Indeed a Herman Tilke-designed 'Moscow Raceway' (albeit some 80km from Moscow) was completed and following its opening in 2012 hosted Formula Renault 3.5 among other things. Then finally in late 2010 it was announced that a Russian Grand Prix was to happen. Not in Moscow but rather in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Monday, 5 October 2015

New Vital F1 article: How reliability reduces F1’s records

Just lately there has been a lot of focus on Ayrton Senna's total of 41 Grand Prix wins, and current drivers getting with it. Sebastian Vettel nosed ahead of Senna with his Singapore win, while Lewis Hamilton matched his late hero's mark in Japan.

Photo: Octane Photography
And yet there were plenty who reckoned not much could be read into these. That old mantra, that you can't compare the records of different F1 eras, was trotted out.

Those who say this have a point though, and among the many reasons for this a big one is the reliability of F1 cars, which is much stronger now than it was in Senna's day.

For Vital F1 I have analysed this and how Vettel and Hamilton compare with Senna taking this into account, with some F1 stats that I complied myself and you even get to see my PowerPoint skills in action...

You can read it all here:

Sunday, 4 October 2015

New Motor Verso article: Why Webber was wide of the mark on pay drivers

Photo: Octane Photography
Even though he departed the F1 stage at the end of the 2013 season Mark Webber has remained one with a lot to say about the contemporary sport. It tending not to be complimentary.

He was at it again recently talking about the depth of driving talent in current F1 as well a the number of pay drivers.

For all that it won the Australian applause from the gallery for Motor Verso I look at Webber's comments and outline why they're a little wide of the mark.

You can have a read of it via this link:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Friday, 2 October 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: Alonso, GP2 engines and all that – when did F1 get so precious?

Photo: Octane Photography
You'll no doubt be well aware of Fernando Alonso's comments over his team radio in the recent Japanese Grand Prix. Those with his, um, take on where his Honda power unit is currently in the competitive scheme of things. Probably too you'll be aware of the wider reaction to it all, with some predicting severe consequences for the Spaniard and his relationship with his team as well as with his engine supplier.

For me though it was rather a storm in a teacup, but the reaction described did bring renewed focus on a broader question that I've chewed over for a while. That of when exactly did F1 get this precious? After all, the apparently offended response doesn't appear to be in keeping with other aspects of how the sport likes to view itself. It certainly wasn't always this way either.

And I explored this matter in my latest article for Grand Prix Times. You can have a read here:

Formula One Teams, TV Black Outs And Bernie Ecclestone - by Kunal Shah

The controversial TV blackout for Mercedes during the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix saw Bernie Ecclestone deny (twice) that it was done deliberately. For those who know the sport and Ecclestone, this was yet another questionable answer and tactic. After all, how would Mercedes AMG Petronas justify to their board (Mercedes Benz - the car company) six minutes' coverage (out of a possible ninety!) on global television for a race where they scored yet another 1-2 - basically were unbeatable yet again? (Read: Hamilton's Bad Hair Days Are Here To Stay)

Should Bernie, and F1, have a more professional approach?
Photo: Octane Photography
Force India faced a similar issue at the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix when the team deemed the race 'unsafe' after a few team members were attacked. While reasons for the recent TV snub at Suzuka will never be clear, one could imagine that this was in some way linked to Mercedes refusing to supply their hybrid V6 power plants to rival team Red Bull Racing for the 2016 Formula 1 Season. (Read: Bernie I Shrunk The Grid)

If that's really the case, will Ferrari face a similar snub in the upcoming 2016 Russian Grand Prix? While Ferrari hasn't refused to supply engines to Red Bull Racing, they've reportedly offered their 2015-spec engines for use in 2016. While Ferrari's reasons seem obvious, it would be imperative to state here that it is Formula 1 that needs Red Bull Racing and not Ferrari. (Read: Help, Red Bull Needs Energy)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The hammer to break F1's deadlock? Thoughts on the F1 teams' complaint to the European Commission

We all know what the problems are now in F1. We know too that the solutions are usually obvious, but that also due to the sport's ways simultaneously can seem exasperatingly far from reach. Extended spells of mind-numbing frustration are quite the lot for observers of this game, those who instead wish to see the sport flourish.

Are Bernie's deals to be void?
Photo: Octane Photography
And for a good while now even among the other matters of contention there have been a few that have over-arched the rest. The first are the commercial deals in place for the period of 2013-2020 that the teams signed (a few say under duress). Those which skew revenue very heavily towards the few outfits at the top, as well as gives five teams money just for being them. In the cases of Ferrari and Red Bull rather vast sums of it. Underlining its absurd distortion the pair, despite severe underperformance on track in 2014, each got more significantly wedge for the year even than the dominant Mercedes.

Worse it leaves very little for those towards the back, and indeed such are the minimum costs just for turning up in F1 (which themselves have increased in recent years) this money distribution condemns most have-not teams to hand-to-mouth existences. For them competing at the front is an ambition in theory only. Sheer survival is the priority, and one not always achieved. Caterham indeed went bust last season while Manor (nee Marussia) very nearly went the same way.

Then we of course have the notorious Strategy Group, in place since late 2013, and you might say the governance equivalent of what's just been described. In it sits the governing body the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone's commercial lot FOM, as well as six teams - a 'big' five which are permanent: Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, Williams and McLaren, and whichever other one was highest in the previous year's constructors' standings (currently Force India). The other five (next year six) 'smaller' squads are not represented at all.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Fernando Alonso, The Unluckiest Double World Champion?

Fernando Alonso, what does he need to win to become a World Champion again? Leave Formula 1, say Mithila and Kunal in the latest episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast.

Tune in as they discuss Fernando Alonso's future in Formula 1, McLaren and Red Bull Racing's power issues, the controversial Mercedes black out and if Ferrari could be next (in Russia). They also applaud the efforts of the Lotus drivers in an otherwise grim Japanese Grand Prix for the team and finally, thank God for Max Verstappen.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Japanese Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Yin to Singapore's Yang

Here is the latest of my regular race reviews for Motor Verso, for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Photo: Octane Photography
In Singapore last week F1 was turned on its head; in Suzuka F1 turned all the way back. Things could scarcely have been more standard when Mercedes re-asserted its dominance. And the one minor and lingering departure from the usual script of Nico Rosberg claiming pole position was scrubbed in the blink of an eye once the race got going too.

You can have a read of my review here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Japanese GP Report: Normality restored - totally

Well you can say that scotched the doubts. It's hard to say how those said doubts could have been scotched more decisively indeed.

Lewis Hamilton swiftly established a clean set of heels today
Photo: Octane Photography
If yesterday was a nearly-total return to F1 normality then today was a totally-total one. Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix at a canter. It was his eighth triumph of the year and like just about all of the rest of them it was imperious from a few seconds in. Mercedes is firmly back in its untouchable groove. Those doubts aired during and after the Singapore weekend now seem risible.

Qualifying confirmed as much indeed yet it also gave the impression that it was to be Lewis's team mate Nico Rosberg to win out. He had pole position and track position means a lot here for a couple of reasons. Lewis certainly wasn't outwardly confident of reversing matters.

But in F1 we have that oft-disregarded thing called a standing start, and that changed everything. Lewis got the better launch, particularly at its second phase, and the Mercedes pair entered the first turn side by side. Crucially Lewis was the one on the inside line and claimed the high ground robustly at the second part of the turn, giving Nico nowhere to go - he had to lift off the gas as well as was largely off the track by this point. Even better from Lewis's perspective once Nico had gathered it all up again he was tucked up in fourth place in stark contrast to Lewis's commanding lead. Already the day looked very different. Already the day looked done.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Suzuka Qualifying: Normality restored - sort of

So today we had our answer. To that big question ringing in everyone's ears - not least of those down Brackley way - since all that went on in Singapore last weekend. And yesterday's wash out had given us no clues either way in advance.

Normal service was resumed - sort of. Rosberg took the pole
Photo: Octane Photography
Had F1 really stepped beyond the looking glass? Had the Mercedes suddenly lost whatever it was about them? No. Today in Suzuka normal service was resumed and the Mercs were well on top in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. Their strange no-show in Singapore was confirmed as just that. Granted there were plenty of reasons to think it would be a mere blip, but that the team at no point really understood what went wrong at the Marina Bay track meant that the relief emanating from its garage this time was tangible.

In a week that we lost the baseball legend Yogi Berra what we got in Suzuka's qualifying was, to take one of his famous Yogi-isms: "déjà vu all over again".

Or perhaps he didn't say that, given he once insisted: "I never said some of the things I said". Then again, perhaps he didn't say that either.