Sunday 30 January 2011

A message to you, Schumi

The F1 cars of 2011 hit the track for the first time on Tuesday next week, at Valencia, with the Mercedes, like many cars, being launched that morning. It's very easy to forget in the passage of time that, winding back 12 months, the Merc squad were the centre of attention, and not just because they were a new team or (effectively) the defending world champion constructor. No, the attention was because Michael Schumacher, returning from a three-year 'retirement', was to be one of their pilots.

Such talk now seems a million miles away given how the year panned out, but the return of the seven-time champion was the talk of last year's season previews. As an example, Motor Sport magazine, with the front cover headline 'Return of the King', commented in their preview that: 'The big news, of course, is that he is back...Double World Champion Fernando Alonso moves to Ferrari, the two most recent champions are paired at the same team and still Michael sweeps the headlines just by turning up again'.

Furthermore, expectations (including mine) were high - how could they not be? Sure, he was 41, and had been away for three years, but we'd long since learned to write the guy off at your peril, such was his frightening competitiveness, supreme ability and aggression, and ability to overcome just about any obstacle in his way first time around. He always had and clearly continued to have super-human levels of fitness. Further, as Motor Sport outlined: 'In prospect it is a package that could, perhaps should, dominate: the mighty Michael, back in harness with the unassailable Ross Brawn, Mercedes cash and power, a tech team that (Honda-funded) produced last year's double-world-title-winning Brawn BGP001....Nico Rosberg, almost inevitably, will be expected to play wingman' (I don't quote this to criticise or embarrass Motor Sport, most others were talking the same way).

Saturday 22 January 2011

Two teams in the Lotus position

As I'm sure you're aware by now, this forthcoming F1 season will most probably have two separate Lotus-branded teams on the grid. One will be Team Lotus, with Renault engines, (Lotus Racing from last season), and the other, somewhat confusingly, will be Lotus Renault (nee Renault).

The Lotus naming row has been one of the the most persistent F1 stories of the off-season, and demonstrates F1's ability to shoot itself in the foot, just when you were thinking that the sport was getting to be refreshingly free of embarrassing internal politics, and gratuitously confusing its customers. Up until now I'd been keen to ignore the case, hoping against hope that it would go away by itself. Neither side seems to want to blink though, and the latest leg of this is a summary judgment into the rights surrounding the use of the Team Lotus name due to be heard in the High Court on Monday. I'm not a lawyer, but the smart money is on the stand-off rumbling on beyond that.

Lotus Racing from 2010, now Team Lotus
The reason this situation has come about is not straightforward, and I'll do my best not to detain (or bore) us with the details. Historically Team Lotus (the F1 team) and Group Lotus (who built the road cars) are separate entities, and have been ever since Colin Chapman (Lotus godfather) decided to split the two in 1958. When Team Lotus (that's the F1 team, do keep up) went belly-up at the end of 1994, it was acquired by a gentleman called David Hunt (James Hunt's brother, if you're interested). After Chapman's death in 1982 Group Lotus had several owners, before Proton bought them in 1996. Last year, the Lotus Racing F1 team used the Lotus name under licence from Group Lotus.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Back from the Autosport Show...

I was in Birmingham for the Autosport International Show on Saturday. Had a jolly good time thanks for asking.

I always see it as a good start to the motor sport calendar. Plenty of cars, old and new, F1 and non-F1, are on display. The F1 Racing display of the 2010 grid was, as usual, a highlight (though Ferrari were conspicuous by their absence), as was the historic display of McLarens (you sometimes have to remind yourself of McLaren's heritage, it never seems to come as easily as it does to the likes of Ferrari, Lotus, Williams etc). Drivers and others are in plentiful supply to talk and answer questions - this year included Martin Brundle, Jake Humphrey and Jody Scheckter, among others. It's difficult to think of another major sport that offers such access to some of the main protagonists.

It's also an opportunity to part with cash, with lots of merchandise and memorabilia on show. I managed to leave with a 1971 Autocourse, an F1 Racing magazine subscription, and a DVD of the 1964 British Grand Prix (really). The live action arena is also good value, though I've never mastered how to take a decent photo at it.

Saturday 8 January 2011

The 2011 F1 World Championship Calendar, if it was up to me

The quiet off season has left me with nothing better to do than play Bernie and attempt to construct my very own 'if it was up to me' 2011 F1 calendar.

I've tried to be realistic, and not included tracks that no longer exist (so no original Zandvoort), or can't realistically be resurrected (so no Montjuic), or clearly aren't suitable for modern F1 (so no Nordschleife). Obviously, commercial considerations (other than a base desire to take F1 to where the fans are) haven't entered things.

Just like reality there are 20 rounds, which is just as well as whittling the calendar down isn't easy. I actually now sympathise a little with Bernie.

Anyway, here goes (I've listed them in chronological order):

1: Argentina - Potrero de los Funes Circuit
A little bit of a left field choice for the first round, but such is the support for F1 in South America it really deserves a second race (after Brazil). This is a challenging and undulating semi-permanent track in San Luis, currently used in FIA GT.