Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Silverstone Preview: All the comforts of home

Every year at around about this time I get a sense of conflict. I'm not one driven by patriotism. Indeed I'm often suspicious of it. And this applies especially to my views of F1, wherein nationalities have never mattered a single jot to me. But even I can't credibly deny that there is something special about the British Grand Prix.

There is something special about the British Grand Prix
Photo: Octane Photography
Its appeal, certainly that of its hardy venue of Silverstone, isn't universal either. In contrast to many great circuits which seem to fit quintessentially into their surroundings, Silverstone even all these decades on retains a feel of being rather imposed on a barren, windswept wartime airfield plain. Further it lacks the postcard scenery and undulations of Spa, the cooked intensity of Monza and certainly Monaco's glamour. The late Christopher Hilton once noted, possibly harshly, that "people get emotional at Silverstone but not emotional about Silverstone. Even when they're trying to save it, they're doing it because they want the British Grand Prix to survive, not because emotion dictates Silverstone."

Yet still few refute the notion that it belongs right alongside those events mentioned that seem part of F1 furniture, perhaps even deserving to be prioritised ahead of them. And this is for a number of reasons.

Chief among these is that it is F1's home town gig. Eight of the 11 F1 teams are based in Britain, and seven of them are based within a few miles of the Silverstone track, as are a myriad of companies that supply them in this sport's equivalent of silicon valley. Most of their staff will be present at the circuit this weekend.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Latest episode of A Racer's Experience - the Austrian Grand Prix

In the latest A Racer's Experience episode there is a treat for you as with Matt Nicholas and me talking about last Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix we're joined by NBC's F1 producer and co-host of much of their racing coverage Jason Swales.

As you'd imagine his contributions to the discussion are excellent. We talk about among other things the Styrian race, the discussions about F1 penalties and the power unit regulations, Kimi Raikkonen's future as well as what is special about the British Grand Prix that awaits us next.

You can have a watch below, our slot begins at about 27:30.

The episode also features Zak Caban talking about the V8 Supercars Races 13-15 in the Hidden Valley, and to David Addison about Formula 3 and his weekend in Croft for the British Touring Car Championship.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Red Bull and equalisation - the wrong people but the right idea?

It wasn't the greatest surprise in the world. But it still had its intended jarring effect.

Yes, Red Bull didn't miss the opportunity of hosting (and funding) its own F1 event at the track it lends its name to in Austria to step into the pulpit.

Dietrich Mateschitz (left) had a lot to say around the
 Austrian race
Photo: Octane Photography
And even though the broad thrust of what it said was long since familiar the fact that it was this time delivered with such blunt aggression meant that its reverberations were a great as, perhaps greater than, ever. As all gathered for the Austrian weekend the Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz fired a grand opening salvo, mainly against its beleaguered power unit supplier Renault, in the Red Bull-owned publication SpeedWeek: "Besides taking our time and money they [Renault] have destroyed our enjoyment and motivation. No driver and no chassis in this world can compensate for this horsepower deficit. How many more things have to happen before we lose all enjoyment?" Crikey.

Then its Red Bulletin Austrian race weekend freesheet followed up with some fire of its own, with 'What's wrong with Formula 1?' emblazoned across its front page early in the weekend (albeit contrary to common assumption it was related to the views of Niki Lauda on what F1 needs to change rather than those of a Red Bull figure). Come race morning too presumably in an attempt to make a point about what it viewed as the sport's predictability that front page declared Lewis Hamilton already the winner of the Spielberg race, along with a few other future ones besides. The irony wasn't lost on Nico Rosberg afterwards.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

What’s In A Name by Kunal Shah, plus the latest Inside Line F1 podcast


Why in heaven's name would the Formula One Management call the Austrian Grand Prix by this name? In a world where the cars, technology, terminology and even Kimi Raikkonen's opening lap crash in Austria is complex to comprehend, why refer to a Grand Prix by a name which one would struggle to spell and pronounce. And on the same note, why discriminate against the Malaysian Grand Prix where Malay isn't used at all? And I won't be surprised if the Govt. of India opts for 'Bharatiya Gaadi ki Daud' once the Indian Grand Prix makes its hopeful return in the next decade. (Read: Bernie Ecclestone Checkmates The Indian Grand Prix)

Nico Rosberg's Austria win caught a few out
Photo: Octane Photography
The sport could benefit if they were to globalise local race names across all communication in English. I would add this 'rule change' to the list of many small but crucial changes the sport needs to make to appeal to new fans. I wouldn't know how many new fans the sport would've missed adding due to the different terms being used across new media. This is also where I see new age media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) governing how event names would be established in the coming future. And I say this because the Austrian Grand Prix was a fun race. McLaren's multiple grid penalties notwithstanding, we had a race where there was overtaking for the lead and places in the top ten. Wouldn't it be awesome to have Austrian GP or Austrian Grand Prix used consistently to enable online search to sync with #AustrianGP? (Read: Formula One Needs To Market Itself Better)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Austrian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Rosberg Makes a Fight of it

Photo: Octane Photography
The latest of my regular Motor Verso Grand Prix reviews is now with us. This time for the Austrian race just passed, that while it may have appeared tame on the face of it actually had a lot new. And, you know what, it might also be the prelude to a gripping drivers' championship battle.

You can have a read of my review here: http://www.motorverso.com/austrian-grand-prix-2015-rosberg-makes-fight/

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, 21 June 2015

Austrian GP Report: Rosberg's reminder

We know that F1 is rather big on nostalgia these days. And the response to the parade of mainly 1980s machines brought out prior to today's Austrian Grand Prix was its latest manifestation. No doubt too the self-disgust that pervades the sport at the moment encourages the nagging sense that things aren't what they once were.

Today it was Nico Rosberg that won out
Photo: Octane Photography
And yet to borrow from a line of football journalist Raphael Honigstein while modern F1 is drenched in nostalgia it also has no memory seemingly. And not merely because of the base irony of yearning after a turbo era with a strict in-race fuel limit, much brake and tyre nursing and one or two teams miles ahead of the rest.

We had another memory failure relating to the more immediate matter of who won today's race around the Red Bull Ring. Lewis Hamilton on pole was bound to win, right? Track position means a lot, particularly in his intra-Mercedes fight with Nico Rosberg, and particularly here? Well, no. Not entirely anyway.

We forgot a crucial part. And a perennial one. That whatever is the case in qualifying matters can looks very different very quickly at the get-go of an F1 race. Due to that wonderful thing called the standing start. Today Nico Rosberg got a better launch than Lewis and led immediately - Lewis grumbled later about his clutch while the Merc tech boss Paddy Lowe said "there were some issues with the initiation" - then was able to rebuff him at the next two corners too. Nico's lead then was firmed up by an almost immediate safety car appearance brought about by a lap one smash between Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. Things indeed all of a sudden looked very different.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Red Bull Ring Qualifying: In spite of themselves

This one was supposed to be different. And, you know, in plenty of ways it was. But even with it the end result nevertheless drips with familiarity.

Lewis Hamilton, almost in spite of himself, claimed pole
Photo: Octane Photography
In more ways than one. As not only for tomorrow's Austrian Grand Prix has the Mercedes pair got the front row of the grid all to itself yet again of them Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position, his seventh in eight rounds this campaign. Yet under the bonnet so much was not of the standard this time. Seemingly such is Mercedes's pomp right now that even when they mis-kick the ball it bobbles into the net somehow. That's what we got today.

First off Lewis for the most part looked well short of his imperious best so habitual in 2015. His practice running especially on the supersoft tyre required for qualifying was scrappy, all tank slappers and explorations of the track's run-off. In the wet-but-drying first quali session he scraped through in thirteenth place after his final lap was spoiled by a wandering Jenson Button. Then after that with the surface by now properly dry things didn't entirely improve for him as a yawning circa four tenths separated him from team mate Nico Rosberg out front every time it seemed, much of the deficit laying in the middle sector. We all recalled too that it was at this track last year where he got things wrong on the Saturday.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

New Motor Verso article: Hard times at Honda

Photo: Octane Photography
In Canada McLaren and Honda didn't have their troubles to seek. Aside from the season-opener in Australia it probably was its most trying weekend of the season, with engine changes required for both cars on Saturday and the unit showing itself to be both short on power and extremely fuel-thirsty on Sunday.

All the while however optimistic noises continued to emanate from Honda motorsport boss Yasuhisa Arai last weekend. In my latest article for Motor Verso I reflect on it all as well as what might lay next for Honda.

You can have a read here: http://www.motorverso.com/hard-times-honda-f1-still-committed-ambitious/

On Motor Verso you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out weeklong test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Red Bull Ring Preview: The changing world

Judging the Red Bull Ring, as with most things in life, is a matter of perspective.

Of course, many of those of a certain age (which sadly I just sneak into) struggled for a time to forgive the place that hosts this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix. Not so much for what it was, but for what it replaced. That being the magnificent, undulating and fearsome Österreichring that graced the F1 calendar between 1970 and 1987. The A1-Ring - as it was called when the sport returned in 1997 - built over the top of it by contrast was an achingly up-to-date collection of straights and mainly second and third gear turns. If only they'd built the new track somewhere else, we thought, perhaps up the hillside as ironically they did when the Österreichring itself was created in the stead of the old Zeltweg venue.

The Red Bull Ring may be growing on us
Photo: Octane Photography
But still when all returned initially to the ersatz circuit rapidly it established popularity. It retained a few of the good things about the old venue, not least stunning Styrian hillside scenery and the (even then) increasingly rare use of gradient. Also with its straights followed by heavy braking zones, and that it was a short lap that rewards mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip, it tended to provide close grids, entertaining races as well as the odd surprise. Not least on F1's first time at the revised track when the unlikely contender of Jarno Trulli's Prost led the first half of the race in fine style. Even last year times were conspicuously more clustered in Austria than they were pretty much anywhere else.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

What was the matter in Montreal?

Since last Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix there has only been one discussion point really. And not a pleasant one for F1. That even at Montreal of all places the sport was not delivering entertainment for those watching on.

Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa's drive through the field
were worthy
Photo: Octane Photography
Plenty too have sought to give a diagnosis for it all. Not all of it has been coherent necessarily. No doubt the odd hobby horse has been mounted. But what was actually wrong last Sunday?

For starters I'm going to go against the grain a little and say that I didn't think the race in Canada was too terrible. It was no thriller I grant you, particularly by local standards, but I didn't think it in itself was worthy entirely of the hysteria that has followed it. It had a reasonably tight fight for the win, and at least for a time mid-race the chasing Nico Rosberg looked to have Lewis Hamilton's lead under credible threat. There also was a decent amount of action further back, not least two good drives through the pack providing diverting wheel-to-wheel action. Felipe Massa's pass on Marcus Ericsson from the on-board shots thrilled, as did Sebastian Vettel's two no-holds-barred scraps with Fernando Alonso (still a lot of feeling there clearly) as well as with Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado and others.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Latest episode of A Racer's Experience - the Canadian Grand Prix

In the latest A Racer's Experience episode I chat with Matt Nicholas about last Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix. We discuss various things that went on in Montreal including Lewis Hamilton's drive, Ferrari's (relative) flop, Honda's woes and of course groundhogs. You can have a watch below.

The episode also features former Indycar racer and current broadcaster Jon Beekhuis talking about last weekend's Firestone 600.

New Grand Prix Times article: Montoya and F1 – did it have to end that way?

Photo: Octane Photography
The rather exclusive list of multiple Indy 500 winners was added to recently by a certain Juan Pablo Montoya. And in so doing he set a record all of his own, of the biggest gap - some 15 years - between two triumphs in that event.

And the gap tells us something, as it includes a spell in F1, that lasted a mere five-and-a-half seasons, and arguably a time of F1 rebound too. Following Montoya's recent Indy 500 win I look back to his time in F1 and ask why he had to leave so soon? It was to F1's great loss. And the explanation lies both with Montoya himself and with the sport more widely.

You can have a read here: http://www.grandprixtimes.com/news/display/10365