Thursday, 29 January 2015

Non-championship F1 races - time to bring them back?

Recently for Grand Prix Times I wrote an article looking at the 1965 year of the late and very great Jim Clark (you can have a read of it here). Why that year in particular? Well, partly it was because we're now exactly 50 years on from it, but especially because without hyperbole it was likely the most astonishing calendar year of motorsport success undertaken by anyone ever.

To the modern eye his achievements read like something from fantasy - in addition to winning the F1 title in record time he also within those 12 months bagged the Indianapolis 500, two F2 championships as well as took a couple of race victories each in sports cars and in saloons.

Jim Clark's 1965 included as many as
12 non-championship F1 races.
"ClarkJim1965mitMechaniker".
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via
Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ClarkJim1965mit
Mechaniker.jpg#mediaviewer/
File:ClarkJim1965mitMechaniker.jpg
Of course your initial response to hearing this might be to point out that back then the F1 championship calendar was much more sparse, which left far greater time for other things, and that is true. In 1965 the offical itinerary consisted of ten races, around half of what we have in the modern era. But factor in that on the other hand travel and logistics is much easier now than it was then. More pointedly factor in too that in addition to his championship schedule Clark - as many of his contemporaries did and in every year - took part in a number of non-championship F1 races.

You may be wondering at this point what the heck I'm on about - but time was that the F1 annual schedule on top of the points-paying stuff had a handful, and sometimes a big handful, of Grands Prix that didn't count towards the title scoring. The non-championship races that I mentioned.

Britain was especially well-served by them, with the International Trophy at Silverstone taking place as an F1 event almost every year between 1949 and 1978, the Race of Champions (not to be confused with its current namesake) at Brands Hatch which was first held in 1965 and last happened in 1983, and the Oulton Park Gold Cup which existed as an F1 race on and off from 1954 to 1972. Therefore British fans of a certain vintage could have seen F1 cars racing on three separate occasions - and not one of them the British Grand Prix - before even the spring was out.

In 1965 in addition to everything else Clark took part in four non-championship F1 races; 12 if you include the Tasman Series, a succession of races in Australia and New Zealand for old-spec F1 cars. And he won seven of them, natch.

And why did they exist? For a variety of reasons. Sponsors would get an additional airing (which is why a lot of them were in Britain, as at the time many of the sponsors were British). Additionally they would be treated as de facto test sessions and shakedowns by the teams before the business part of the season in European summer kicked off - it wasn't coincidence that the bulk of these races were held in springtime. The rest of us outsiders looking in meanwhile had welcome extra opportunities to see the cars up close, as well as to get a few hints at the year's lay of the competitive land. Their more relaxed atmosphere relative to a championship race also added to the attraction.

Occasionally too the non-championship rounds acted as a dry run for new venues before they got onto the championship schedule proper, as was the case for Mexico City, Imola and Interlagos among others. But even over and above all of these reasons there were a few of the weird and wonderful among them - such as in 1974 when the fraternity was invited to remain in Brazil for an extra week after the points-paying Grand Prix at Interlagos to attend a street race in Brasilia, put on for a variety of political reasons by the country's then-President. He named the race after himself in case anyone didn't get the message. As it was only half of the field took up the offer and the race reportedly was tepid. The locals did get the consolation of home hero Emerson Fittipaldi winning, but F1 machines never laid rubber on the place again.

The Race of Champions at Brands Hatch was a fixture for a
long while. This is James Hunt in the 1976 version.
"Jame Hunt RoC 77" by Gillfoto - Own work. Licensed under
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.
wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jame_Hunt_RoC_77.
jpg#mediaviewer/File:Jame_Hunt_RoC_77.jpg
Of course, the quality of these events could vary. Some had paltry turnouts among the competitors - pity anyone who turned up to Vallelunga in mid 1972 for the Grand Prix of the Republic of Italy to find only seven cars to entertain them. But that wasn't the norm. Many of the greats took part in non-championship races. Many of them indeed excelled. Some of the races were thrilling. Jochen Rindt's 1969 Silverstone International Trophy effort for one is the stuff of legend.

The end of the non-championship Grand Prix was however sudden. As late as in 1972 there were as many as six non-championship races (four in Britain), but come 1976 only the hardy Silverstone and Brands events lived on. And the former race met its watery grave (literally, as the race was held in near flooded conditions) in 1978 while the latter disappeared in 1979. It was back in 1983, but slightly inauspiciously, and it proved a final, isolated, dead cat bounce, and the final non-championship F1 race to date. The growing F1 title itinerary, and its growing commercial rewards, was proving supreme. The age of the non-championship race was over.

But have matters turned back in recent times? Or rather should they? As while in the age of 24/7 testing one can understand why the non-championship round became extinct, in the current age of severe testing restrictions what exactly is stopping the resurrection of the non-championship F1 race?

As veteran journalist Alan Henry put it: 'We loved 'em! And just imagine how much you would still love 'em now if, as you read this on the sunny Sunday of the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, instead you were en route to Brands Hatch or Silverstone or indeed even Oulton Park to watch a Non-Championship Formula 1 race involving Jenson Button, Checo Perez, Fernando Alonso...'

And indeed when I raised the subject of Clark's decorated and choc-a-bloc 1965 year on Twitter, and its non-championship F1 rounds, I got into a pleasant conversation therein in which we spoke about these sort of races being brought back, and the many potential advantages of doing so.

Could Imola return via a non-championship race?
"GP Imola2005 SchumiAlonso" by http://formula1photos.tn38.
net - http://formula1photos.tn38.net/gallery/imola2005/31/.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:
GP_Imola2005_SchumiAlonso.jpg#mediaviewer/
File:GP_Imola2005_SchumiAlonso.jpg
Just like back in the day sponsors could get an additional airing. Just like back in the day too the race meetings could become de facto test sessions and shakedowns, surely which would be welcomed by the teams in an age wherein such opportunities are strictly rationed. They could also provide desperately-needed opportunities for third drivers and others who pace around in the wings waiting perhaps in vain for their chance - potentially a rule of the non-championship races could be that at least one nominal reserve or rookie pilot has to be raced.

And while the testing restriction of course has been been brought in to save costs, the ticket sales from having a race to offer to fans (surely which would far outstrip the attendance for a test session) could well make up for the greater running costs.

Just like back in the day new venues wanting onto the championship proper could be tried out too. Mooted changes such as to the weekend's running - such as two-day race weekends, or Formula E-style squeezing everything into a single day - could be experimented with. So could shortened races, or running things in heats.

Best of all classic and popular venues could be brought back, with a reduced hosting fee. Having the calendar peppered with F1 rounds at Imola, France, Estoril and elsewhere - that famous long list priced out of the current inflated market - is rather enticing even if they didn't count towards the title.

But herein lies a stumbling block; probably an insurmountable one, at least for now. Surely, and sadly, Bernie would not welcome being undercut. Having the option for a cheaper Grand Prix would have a downward impact on the hosting fees that could be demanded everywhere, as the negotiating circuit suddenly has a fall back, rather than facing the choice of a Grand Prix at top dollar or nothing. So non-championship rounds in these terms would undermine what is central to F1's financial model right now.

Therefore, regrettably, that while the non-championship round seems a good idea it's also one that will likely have to wait for the post-Bernie age, or else a revision to the fundamental of modern F1's revenue-raising. More's the pity.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

New Grand Prix Times article: Jim Clark and motorsport’s most astonishing year - 50 years on

"Jim Clark 1965" by NL-HaNA, ANEFO /
neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, item number
918-4009 - http://www.gahetna.nl/collectie/
afbeeldingen/fotocollectie/zoeken/weergave/
detail/q/id/aacbd150-d0b4-102d-bcf8-
003048976d84. Licensed under CC BY-SA
3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons -
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Jim_Clark_1965.jpg#mediaviewer/
File:Jim_Clark_1965.jpg
Imagine if someone in a single calendar year won the F1 world title and in record time, as well as few other F1 races not counting towards the championship. And that he also within those 12 months won the Indianapolis 500, the GP2 title as well as took a couple of wins each in the British Touring Car and the World Endurance Championships.

Sounds like something from outlandish fantasy, doesn't it? Well it's actually sane motorsport history. It's sort of what Jim Clark did in 1965.

In my latest Grand Prix Times (you'll notice the subtle website name change) article now that we've hit the fiftieth anniversary of Jim Clark's 1965 I look back on the most astonishing motorsport year ever.

You can have a read here: http://www.grandprixtimes.com/news/display/09777

Inside Line F1 Podcast: Gillette McLaren Honda

The latest Inside Line F1 podcast is among us. As ever Kunal Shah and Rishi Kapoor discuss a number of matters of F1 moment, this time including the new superlicence points system, the prospects for the 2015 season and McLaren's ongoing lack of a title sponsor (hence the episode title). You can have a listen below.



The regular Inside Line F1 podcast is produced and hosted by Kunal and Rishi, and is one of the most listened to podcasts in India and Asia, They are looking to expand elsewhere, and here on Talking about F1 I'm delighted to help share the podcast.

Kunal has been writing on F1 for eight seasons, you can visit Kunal's website at: http://www.kunalsf1blog.com/ and you also can follow him on Twitter here.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast: 2015 Inside Line F1 Podcast Awards

The latest Inside Line F1 podcast has now landed. Kunal Shah and Rishi Kapoor don their tuxedos and present the prestigious 2015 Inside Line F1 Podcast Awards, categories for which include Beard Of The Year and Physically Present, Mentally Absent Of The Year Award...

As you might appreciate from this the podcast's as lively as always and you can have a listen below.



The regular Inside Line F1 podcast is produced and hosted by Kunal and Rishi, is one of the most listened to podcasts in India and Asia, They are looking to expand elsewhere, and here on Talking about F1 I'm delighted to share the fruits of their labours.

Kunal has been writing on F1 for eight seasons, you can visit Kunal's website at: http://www.kunalsf1blog.com/ and you also can follow him on Twitter here.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Autosport International 2015 Photos

F1 Racing grid
I have just spent a couple of days at the Autosport International Show 2015, considered by many as the starting point of the motorsport calendar year, wherein many of the sport's figures and cars congregate in Birmingham's NEC.

The better products of my modest photographic abilities from the show are now up on my Facebook page here if you would like a look: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.880295141990742.1073741836.396515583702036&type=1

You'll see that there's plenty in there, such as F1 Racing magazine's by now famous F1 grid, with representation of all nine teams, as well as many historic F1 cars, BTCC machines, sports cars and rally cars. There are also a few of the luminaries that took part in Q&A sessions. Enjoy...


Friday, 9 January 2015

New F1 Times article: Hamilton - suffering from the English mistrust of talent

Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton for all of his talent and success remains one that divides opinion. Including in his home country. Perhaps especially in his home country.

In my latest article for F1 Times I'm the latest to explore Hamilton's love him or loathe him persona, and I ask if it reflects at least in part something deeper, that England mistrusts talent and not just in F1? That it much prefers the gritty triers to the prodigiously skilled?

You can have a read here: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09723

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Palmer: ‘I’m not ready to give up on the F1 dream’

Jolyon Palmer's fine GP2 championship win last year - in the series considered by many the main feeder for F1 - led naturally to speculation that he would be seen on the F1 grid in 2015.

Jolyon Palmer at Autosport International 2015
outlined his difficulties in finding an F1 drive 
But in the months since all of the possibilities disappeared one by one, and now with all F1 race seats for this year filled it meant Palmer became the third GP2 champion in a row - after Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer - to fail to be promoted to the sport’s highest rank.

At the same moment Palmer became additionally just the latest young up-and-comer to discover the sport's warped ways in (not) rewarding talent. That breaking into F1 is harder than likely it has ever been, due to a dwindling number of race seats combined with that many teams' financial plights ensure that driving pedigree is prioritised well behind the ability to bring money in who they select. And speaking at Autosport International 2015 today Palmer was frank about his situation.

'It does (concern) but I just know that’s the reality' Palmer said. 'So there's nothing I can do about it. I do my best on the track, and I think I did as good a year as I ever could have ever hoped for, winning the championship with two races to spare, which is something that neither of them (Valsecchi and Leimer) did.

'Conservative' approach works for Pirelli and Hembery

The 2014 F1 season just passed was a relatively quiet one for the sport's tyre supplier Pirelli. Indeed a repeat of the raucous 2013 campaign for it doesn't bear thinking about, given therein the Italian company became something of a bete noire - accused of being too much of a factor in Grands Prix with their product's deliberately gumball characteristics, and exploding literally to the forefront with a series of spectacular blowouts in the Silverstone race mid-season.

Pirelli's Paul Hembery spoke at today's
Autosport International 2015
And as far Pirelli's Motorsport Director Paul Hembery was concerned at today's Autosport International 2015, this simmering down from boiling point in the latest F1 campaign was indeed welcome.

'There was a few people complaining (in 2014)...that's the nature of motorsport for a tyre maker! We have a little rule book, we say that when somebody's winning it's always down to the driver and the car, when they're losing it's always the fault of the tyres!

'It was a quieter year, still a very good year in terms of racing as we saw. We were going into a year with huge technology change so we had to make sure we took a slightly conservative approach to it. But I think sometimes that was taken as being an exceptionally conservative approach but you had to do it in the circumstances.

Hembery also insisted that the scaling back of the degradation of the 2014 tyres wasn't down to 2013 and all that. 'No, not at all. In reality it was really related to the change in regs and the need for different aspects of the sport to take centre stage; it was the year of technology with the power train in particular and quite rightly that took centre stage and we weren't needed to provide anything different, it was the racing based on different aspects of the sport.'

Symonds reflects on Williams' resurgence

One of the major, and most popular, stories of the 2014 F1 season was the long-overdue resurgence of the hardy Williams team. From a starting point of only beating the Marussias and Caterhams in 2013 the veteran squad in a single effort vaulted straight to third place in the constructors championship in 2014, shy only of Mercedes and Red Bull. Perhaps too the FW36 was the imperious Mercs' most consistent irritant on pure pace.

Pat Symonds spoke today at Autosport
International  2015 about Williams'
resurgence, among other subjects
Today at Autosport International 2015, considered widely as the starting point of the motorsport year, a man thought as important as anyone in the startling comeback, Williams' Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds, reflected on the shift in fortunes.

'It (the Williams 2014 season) was certainly a good news story I think' said Symonds, 'all the way from our partnership with Martini, bringing back those iconic colours, Felipe joining the team and then of course as we progressed through the season the results. Third in the championship is something everyone at Grove is extremely proud of.'

He outlined however that such is modern F1's way there was no single overarching explanation for the jump, things instead were more granular. 'There isn't a magic bullet, there never is...it really is getting everything working together. That's not just in a technical sense it's an operational sense.

'In the latter part of '13 I had a very careful look at what we'd got and saw that we've got some very good people but some of our processes weren't there so we weren't exploiting the performance of the car.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Inside Line F1 Podcast: Chequered Flag for 2014

The latest Inside Line F1 podcast is here for your listening pleasure. At the start of a new year Rishi Kapoor and Kunal Shah look ahead to 2015 and in particular to the prospects therein of the two famous names of Ferrari and McLaren. Including their respective tasty new driver line-ups. You can have a listen below.



The regular Inside Line F1 podcast is produced and hosted by Kunal and Rishi, is one of the most listened to podcasts in India and Asia, and they are looking to expand elsewhere.

Kunal has been writing on F1 for eight seasons, you can visit Kunal's website at: http://www.kunalsf1blog.com/ and you also can follow him on Twitter here.