Friday 30 May 2014

New article: Are the F1 cars of 2014 too slow?

Photo: Octane Photography
Over at in my latest article there I explore the matter that kicked off in earnest over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend - namely are the F1 cars of the 2014 spec too slow?

I explore whether the matter is all that it seems on the face of the lap times.

You can have a read by clicking on this link:

Thursday 29 May 2014

Something positive to come out of Monaco

After all of the rancour of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend just passed, here's something positive to come from it. Perhaps an antidote to some extent of the various recriminations that dominated discussion and headlines.

Felipe Massa, among others, worried in advance
Photo: Octane Photography
Wind back a few days to before Monaco's Thursday practice start and a few were predicting carnage. And once again the doom-mongering was related to the new-for-2014 regulations. Around the circuit's notorious confines amid unforgiving nearby crash barriers the new power units with their greater torque would be harder to control under acceleration and the like. The revised Pirelli tyres for this year offer less grip, as do the cars generally with the new aero restrictions. All of this they said would ensure it would be much harder to keep the F1 cars away from the things to hit.

Felipe Massa for one looked ahead to the weekend with trepidation: 'I think Monaco will be a very, very difficult race,' said Massa, 'we drive with the car a lot more sideways. The torque we have from the engine is maybe double what we had last year, and the grip from the tyre is not very high, so Monaco will be a very easy race to crash. I think it will be the toughest race of the season.'

Wednesday 28 May 2014

The vision thing - the importance of eyesight to a racing driver

I'll admit it. When the words crackled across the airwaves my immediate thought was 'I've heard it all now'. But it was nothing new; such is the way of F1's past parallels almost always lay therein somewhere, pretty much no matter what you encounter.

There was some mirth around when in the late laps of the Monaco Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton was heard over the TV feed complaining on his team radio of having got some dirt in his left eye which was impairing his ability to see. Lewis - while afterwards keen not to make a big deal of it - reported that it rather restricted him, to the point that he needed to close that eye on low speed corners. 'I was driving with one eye which is virtually impossible to do' he said. It showed in his lap times too as he at the same moment fell away from his team mate's pace for the first time all afternoon.

Denis Jenkinson (right) - knew the importance of vision
By Gillfoto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
But we should have had more sympathy. The extent that your eyesight is functioning is no small matter for a racing driver.

Indeed the legendary motorsports scribe Denis Jenkinson in his book The Racing Driver - even now pushing half a century on from its first publication still considered the seminal work on analysing and categorising the attributes of a top level racing competitor - having observed many great drivers close at hand concluded that vision was the most important attribute of all. And it is the information acquired from the vision that a driver's brain transmitted to all the other faculties required for the task.

Jenks in his study noted the almost other-worldly eyesight capabilities of just about all of the top-level racing drivers that he knew. This included the ability to read small text that Jenks could only decipher with a magnifying glass, as well as Stirling Moss's superhuman skills in identifying several details of an opponent behind on the road from the tiniest speck in his rear-view mirror, when Jenks navigated for Stirling in the Mille Miglia.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Should Lewis have taken the Monaco pit call into his own hands?

One more thing on Nico vs. Lewis in Monaco. Then I promise to be quiet about it.

First off, let's go back a year-and-a-bit, to Melbourne for the opening race of the 2013 F1 season. Twenty laps in and things at the front were at an impasse seemingly. The nominal front-runners had made their first pit stops, but Sebastian Vettel, struggling with his tyres, had two Ferraris right on his tail, with Felipe Massa ahead having qualified marginally the quicker than Fernando Alonso in a wet-to-dry session. All however were stuck behind the unlikely leader of Adrian Sutil in the Force India, who'd started on the prime tyre and hadn't yet pitted. But meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus known for excellent tyre life lurked menacingly behind the lot of them.

Melbourne 2013 - Alonso was in traffic
so took matters into his own hands
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Fernando wanted to do something about it. His team was minded to wait until a more proportional stint length was completed, and with Massa as the lead driver on track ordinarily getting first shout on when to pit, Nando took matters into his own hands and issued a fait accompli. With the minimum number of seconds' warning that his team would require to get ready to service him, and by which time he'd already be motoring down the pit lane, he announced he was pitting.

In so doing it changed everything. Vettel, Sutil and eventually Massa pitted in response, and when they emerged Alonso had cleared them all. As it was, Kimi's tyre life was such that he was able to win nevertheless, but Alonso could claim a fine second place way ahead of the rest. It was a risk for Nando, but it did the trick for him.

Monday 26 May 2014

Digging in for trench warfare

Things change very quickly in F1. To think that earlier this season, just about right up until Monaco qualifying session indeed, many of us (including some that should know better) were talking about a new equilibrium of Lewis Hamilton. That the previous combustible nature, the capacity to find rancour, seemed shed.

The atmosphere between the two
Mercedes drivers in Monaco was obvious
Photo: Octane Photography
Well scratch a lot of that. There was plenty of rancour around, and no little combustion too, in the case of Lewis and his teammate Nico Rosberg in both Monaco's qualifying session and race just passed. Starting off with Nico's trip down the escape road at the end of Saturday's session earning him pole rather incongruously due to subsequent yellow flags requiring Lewis to slow on his own effort, and projecting itself from there. The main problem being that Lewis appears convinced that Nico did it deliberately.

Quite what makes Lewis so convinced of Nico's guilt isn't clear, what he's seen that the stewards didn't and also not apparently seen by the likes of Merc dual bosses Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff (though with those two there may be some desire to keep schtum in order to proetct Nico from penalties potentially), as well as that passed a lot of the rest of us by too. Yet even after reflection and a cooling off period Lewis remained resolute, noting on race day: 'I wish you could have seen the data. I saw something late on last night and all I could do was smile.' Others in the paddock, including some ex-drivers, took his side also.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Monaco GP Report: The same, only different

So it was just like last year. Only it could hardly have been more different.

Just like last year the Monaco Grand Prix was all about Mercedes. Just like last year Nico Rosberg led every lap and was immaculate in so doing on the way to victory. But perhaps beyond these bald facts the similarities end there. And do so rather abruptly.

This is how the Mercedes ran for much of the way
Photo: Octane Photography
Many of us had suspected it would happen at some point, but perhaps not even the greatest stirrer-of-the-pot would have predicted that it would have all kicked off this early. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, however far they go back, and having fought at the front for a mere six races, their relationship first simmered and now as a consequence of this Monaco weekend seemingly has reached full boiling point. The events of this round had a lot of the characteristics of a watershed; a departure point.

A night to sleep on matters since qualifying and all that as well as time to review the telemetry data didn't make Lewis Hamilton any happier with what Nico had done, and he said so. And his mood didn't improve over the 78 laps of the race either. Au contraire, it deteriorated rather further.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Monaco Qualifying - Escape road to victory

One way or another this Monaco weekend has been all about Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Talk of their relationship; talk (albeit slightly tenuous) of Lewis questioning Nico's 'hunger'; lots of perception that the previous amicability had been showing incremental strain in their head-to-head pursuit of supremacy. Some even talked of a burgeoning Senna-Prost like rivalry (not really helped by Merc reportedly getting Prost in to advise on how to handle the combustible situation).

Nico Rosberg has the pole - via some controversy
Photo: Octane Photography
But even with this no one could quite have predicted how it would all kick off in the Monaco qualifying session.

Given the adages we know about Monaco's capacity for lottery many foresaw that this would be the weekend in which the Mercs would be finally required to step down from the front. But Lewis and Nico even here continued 2014's way and were the quickest guys out there, and while as is often seen at Monaco the rest were closer this time, Daniel Ricciardo especially close, pole once again turned into a private battle between the two guys in silver.

It seems a few forgot perhaps the Principality's oldest adage of all. That even here, the quickest car remains the quickest car.

New F1 Times article: Trial of Lewis - my take on Hamilton’s talk of hunger

On Thursday you probably became aware of reports from Monaco on what Lewis Hamilton had to say on his 'hunger' and that of his team mate Nico Rosberg.

Over at The F1 Times in my latest article there published today I look at Lewis Hamilton's words, and ask if he has been harshly treated on this one.

You can have a read via this link:

Friday 23 May 2014

Monaco GP Betting Preview - Forget the rest - Nico is still the challenge to Lewis. By Andy Morgan

Round 6 of the Formula 1 2014 season takes us to Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand Prix, a track full of history and a race full of intrigue.

Can Nico Rosberg bounce back this time?
Photo: Octane Photography
This week Red Bull rightly claimed that the power unit driving Mercedes to a 2014 Constructors' Championship is the major difference between the two teams and that its drivers will not be too far behind the Silver Arrows in Monaco. Similar prophecies were made in Barcelona however and look how that panned out.

FP1 in Monaco proved that Red Bull is close, with Daniel Ricciardo's best coming up short of the Mercs by two and a half tenths. The gap may make Mercedes sweat a touch but it won't be needing buckets; it's all about intra-team battles again this weekend.

Sergio Perez has battled back against Nico Hulkenburg and I expect him to qualify quicker than his team mate, likewise Valtteri Bottas in the Williams who has proven his one lap pace is impressive. Fernando Alonso will continue his dominance of Kimi Raikkonen, while eyes will be on Sebastian Vettel as to whether he can bounce back against Ricciardo after the latter's debut podium in Barcelona. But the main focus continues up the front.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Monaco Preview: If not now, when?

Once upon a time, wit and Formula One fan Clive James noted dryly that 'it is said these days with increasing frequency that Monaco makes a nice change from Grand Prix racing'.

What is it with the fraternity's annual visits here, and their apparent 'jewel in the crown' status? Really, there are so many reasons to dislike Grands Prix around the Principality. If you're to be critical, the Monaco round is an anachronism. If you're to be very critical, it's an absurdity.

Monaco presents a challenge all of its own
Photo: Octane Photography
Tight, narrow, bumpy, sinewy. No-one can pass here. The cars never are allowed close to their full potential either in straight line speed or cornering abilities. The F1 machine outgrew the course's swingeing confines not so much years but decades ago. Had Monaco never existed not only would there be little need to invent it (in terms of its on-track offering at least) the concept would be laughed out of town, likely holding about the same credibility as that track around the centre of London that Santander came up with as a bit of fun not so long ago.

It doesn't get much better off the track either; all cramped and claustrophobic as well as attracts various ostentatious posers who in all probability don't care much for the sport other than in that one weekend of the year.

But perhaps, conversely, what it is about Monaco lays within all of this somewhere.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Review of the Ayrton Senna McLaren MP4/4 magazine and model assembly from De Agostini

Unless you've been in seclusion just lately you'll be well-aware of the round of commemoration and celebration of the life of the inimitable Ayrton Senna which accompanied the 20th anniversary of his sad, premature passing. As part of this De Agostini Publishing has recently released its Ayrton Senna McLaren MP4/4 magazine and model series.

For this each month subscribers receive parts to in time build a 1:8 scale model of Senna's iconic McLaren along with an accompanying monthly magazine about the late great Brazilian.

And for the model it has chosen, appropriately, Senna's most successful car of all, arguably the most successful F1 car of anyone's ever, in the MP4/4 used in the 1988 season.

Its attributes roll off the tongue. The beautiful, sleek, low-line car, with the gem of a Honda engine and an efficient one that could get the swingeing (at the time) 150 litres of fuel to the end, as well as benefiting from the driving genius of no less than Senna and Alain Prost. It won 15 rounds of the 16 rounds that campaign, coming within but two laps of a clean sweep, and in so doing took Senna to the first of his three drivers' world championship titles.

Thursday 15 May 2014

The biggest question: can Mercedes win every race in 2014?

It may be the biggest question that remains in the 2014 Formula One season. But five races in.

In 2014 the Mercedes have dominated the top places
Photo: Octane Photography
One-by-one all apparently are accepting the grimly inevitable that the 2014 titles are already effectively the property of Mercedes; their eventual destination are a matter of when rather than whether. Even its closest rivals have raised the white flag it seems. Fernando Alonso has declared the silver cars 'out of reach', as has Red Bull's big boss Dietrich Mateschitz who said his team 'probably cannot catch up the advantage that Mercedes has...I don't think we can challenge the points lead, even if we are winning (races) again'. And you'll do well to find anyone disagreeing with either. Even Lewis Hamilton let his guard down ever-so slightly after his outfit's latest decisive triumph in Spain, saying 'from them (Mercedes's rivals) to catch us up at the moment it looks like it's going to be tough for them'.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Silly season latest part 2 - Fernando Alonso to Mercedes rumour

The Spanish Grand Prix weekend's full silliness of the silly season wasn't finished with Adrian Newey to Ferrari. Another rumour doing the rounds was the novel and apparently much less likely concept even than that, of Fernando Alonso doing the opposite journey of checking out of Maranello. But in his case in order to join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes; Nico Rosberg presumably out on his ear.

Fernando Alonso - on the move?
Photo: Octane Photography
The story - including that the signing of a contract is imminent - seemed to originate from a Twitter account that I'm told, um, isn't always right. But still, such is the way of these things it sprouted legs. Before the weekend was out even Alonso himself was being asked to comment on it in front of TV cameras.

It's always difficult to know what to make of such shall we say rather outlandish suggestions. Of course one should never say never, particularly not in F1. By way of illustration certain rumours that transpired as correct seemed similarly outlandish and were met with similar incredulity when first aired; Lewis Hamilton to the same Mercedes team being the most obvious example. Kimi Raikkonen to call a truce with Luca Montezemolo and return to Maranello would have been considered about as (im)probable this time last year too. Plus it's tempting to think that anything this crazy being mooted must have some basis.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Silly season latest part 1 - Adrian Newey to Ferrari rumour

The world has changed. Not sure when or how, but it has.

As the name might suggest, 'silly season' in F1 used to actually be a season. Time was it used to start sometime around mid-summer and continue roughly to the campaign's end. Indeed the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim was once upon a time viewed as the traditional silly season starting gun; some said that in these pre Schumi-mania days the fact that this meeting, at a rather soulless venue given to tepid races, tended to give not much to talk about on-track so speculation about who was going where would fill the gap (the old Hockenheim seems to have established a curious popularity in hindsight which it never actually had at the time - though I digress).

Hockenheim - the former scene of the start of silly season
Credit: AnRo0002 / CC
Silly season was finite in other words. With a beginning and an end. Meaning we had some respite from it. But it is not a season any more, instead it seems a perpetual, 12 months of the year, presence.

Most likely this is down to the fact that the 'who goes where' activities of an F1 team - be it for drivers or for other staff - is now also a never-ending activity. These days those suggesting waiting until July to think about firming up your various contracts for the following year would be considered close to certifiable by any team principal. And to take an extreme example, Fernando Alonso's deal to take him to Ferrari, originally intended to come into force for the 2011 season, was thought to have been signed all the way back in the July of 2008.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Ferrari favouring Fernando or full fabrication?

It felt rather like a few people had been poised for this moment for a while. The moment where they could claim that intra-team/inter-driver relations at Ferrari were getting difficult. Perhaps worse that the team was doing the dirty on Kimi Raikkonen to the end of favouring Fernando Alonso. They'd been poised indeed since Kimi was confirmed for the 2014 Scuderia ride alongside Fernando late last summer.

Of course, in the opening four rounds of this campaign it never became an issue, given Kimi rarely was within range of Fernando's vapour trails. But in the Spanish race it was different, Kimi running ahead for much of the way, but with Nando for the most part staring intensely at his team mate's rear wing.

For much of the Spanish Grand Prix the Ferraris ran like this
Photo: Octane Photography
What first got everyone going was that at the end of the opening stint, perhaps unusually, it was the Ferrari behind that got to pit first, Alonso stopping on lap 16 and Raikkonen a lap later. This in the normal run of things would be an advantage though as it was Alonso hit traffic on his out lap and the Finn stayed ahead. But later the Ferrari pit wall split its ticket (some redolence of Suzuka last year at Red Bull with Webber and Vettel) - Kimi on a two-stopper; Fernando on a three. And in the late laps on fresher tyres Alonso was able to pass Raikkonen finally (in an ironic reverse of the Suzuka case) and prevail albeit in a gentleman's sixth place.

On the radio on the slowing-down lap however Raikkonen was not best pleased, asking 'who made these calls?' on the grounds that he felt he was getting 'second choice'. And after the race he was seen in a Sky interview answering only in a grunt and then walking off when the matter of strategies relative to the guy across the garage was raised. Later though the Finn did relent somewhat, commenting that 'Obviously there was not much between it (the two strategies)' and 'We still finished far away from the others. It did not make much difference to the result.'

Spanish GP Report: All's well that ends well

Perhaps today underlined that you should never give up on a Grand Prix.

You'd have been forgiven for so doing partway through today's Spanish race. It was rather tepid stuff for much of the way, in the worst Montmelo tradition. No one was passing anyone, and the broader story seemed merely a continuation of what he'd witnessed already in 2014. Lewis Hamilton with a clean pair of heels on his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, but both way ahead of everybody else. Yet, whaddaya know, it got rather fun by the end.

Lewis Hamilton - just - was the one smiling at the end
Photo: Octane Photography
The Mercedes of course remained well ahead of the rest; no need to be silly now. But beyond that there was plenty of tension of the unforeseen sort. This race can be filed under 'slow burner'.

But another thing that stayed the same was that Lewis indeed remained where he needed to be, in first place, when the chequered flag fell. But even in his case there was tension added; he was hanging on at the end. And in the non-Mercedes class there were plenty of intriguing battles going on too.

And how did this come about? Well, unpalatable though it may be to some (especially to Sergio Perez given his sentiments expressed earlier in the weekend), we can thank Pirelli. The Italian tyre company has consciously retracted its horns somewhat this year, but it's still left enough in the rubber to allow strategy variation, and the processional fare early on rather disguised the differences in such approaches that laid beneath the surface.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Barcelona Qualifying - Lewis delivers when it matters

In sport, what sorts the great from the very good? It might be a rather lengthy debate, resulting in an equally lengthy list of attributes. But likely the ability to deliver when it really counts would be close to the top of a few minds.

Lewis Hamilton was rightly pleased with yet another pole
Photo: Octane Photography
And it is this attribute that Lewis Hamilton, not for the first time perhaps, demonstrated that he has, and has over his Mercedes team mate, in today's qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix. In a rather scrappy hour disrupted by two red flags for much of the time it looked like it might be the day that Nico Rosberg struck back, as he consistently beat Lewis's times in the first two sessions. Lewis even in response had an off-track moment that seemed to indicate his being rattled at it all.

But we should have known better. It's Q3 that decides the order for those at the top, and it was then that Lewis stepped up. In a final part truncated in-effect by another red flag Lewis struck first; on used medium tyres beating Rosberg's mark by 0.273s.

Friday 9 May 2014

Spanish GP Betting Preview - Red Bull will be closer, but not close enough. By Andy Morgan

Round five of the Formula 1 2014 season takes us to the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain as the European stint kicks in and upgrades are expected up and down the paddock.

Red Bull and Ferrari may relish the opportunity to exploit their chassis in Spain, yet the huge gap between themselves and the dominant Mercedes duo is unlikely to be in major jeopardy this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton looks the man to beat once again
Photo: Octane Photography
The lead Mercedes has over second-placed Red Bull in the Constructors' Championship has increased to a staggering 97 points in just four races, while in the Drivers' Championship Lewis Hamilton has closed the gap to just four points to his team mate Nico Rosberg after three consecutive race victories.

For Red Bull to turn this season around they'll need to make imminent inroads into the Mercs' advantage, so news that updates to the Renault engine are planned up until the Canadian Grand Prix in June will give the team some cause for optimism, though it may also have preferred the improvements to be available sooner.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Barcelona Preview: Predictable to a point

Some tracks have a reputation for unpredictability. For the shock result. For dishing out the wild card.

Sadly though the Circuit de Cataluyna near Barcelona which hosts this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix is not one of them. I say sadly as the venue when it arrived in F1 in 1991 was the one that gave the Spanish Grand Prix a permanent home finally; that ended the event's nomadic and patchy presence on the calendar. Unlike Jarama and Jerez it attracted a crowd; unlike the previous Barcelona venues of Pedralbes and Montjuic it satisfied safety standards.

The start and opening corners at the
 Circuit de Cataluyna will likely be vital
Photo: Octane Photography
But I threaten to digress. The Montmelo venue whatever its virtues is the one arguably on the farthest end of the scale from the unpredictable. Instead it's been viewed as the sport's bellwether; F1's indicator of the pecking order all things being equal.

Why is this? Well as is usually the case it can be attributed to a few disparate things coming together.

With the track's layout featuring a succession of long medium-speed corners which require good aerodynamics it isn't one on which a car can be hauled around ahead of itself. If your machine isn't working you have little choice but to sit and wait on it. Inspired drives outperforming your wheels, at least in the absence of rain, are therefore unlikely. And while a horrid chicane was added to the end of the lap in 2007, which rather spoiled the circuit's character (to the point that the final sector is now considered a good indicator for Monaco pace) its status as a barometer of where your car really is at remains.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Slings and Silver Arrows: Thoughts on F1 in 2014

In F1 not much is new. In a sport that prides itself on never standing still that may seem a dubious claim. But such is the expanse of its past that usually some parallel can be found therein whatever happens now. Some things are new however. And it doesn't seem exaggeration to say that more so than at any other time in the sport's long history, F1 in 2014 hit the reset button.

We've had engine regulation changes before. We've also had chassis changes. But rarely have they arrived together. They certainly haven't to this seismic extent. Never before has there been such a leap between F1 seasons; such a leap into the unknown.

In effect all teams had a new and highly complex technology thrown at them - a 1.6 litre turbo internal combustion unit plus greatly increased energy recovery, combined with a 100kg fuel limit, as well as a limit to the flow - and were told curtly to get on with it. Moreover, as Adrian Newey pointed out to Gary Anderson, a new hybrid car on the road will have five years' testing and development behind it, and the F1 equivalent of now is 20 times more complicated than even the most complicated road hybrid. Those in this game had but 12 days of track testing to get it right.

F1 teams have had plenty to be getting on with in 2014
Credit:  J.H. Sohn / CC
And there was plenty of doom mongering in advance about what could be expected in F1 2014-style. The cars would be hideously slow (perhaps lap times would slip over those of GP2); the races would be conspicuous fuel economy cruises; someone even - and with a straight face - in the early part of the round one weekend in Melbourne asked Race Director Charlie Whiting what would happen if no one finished...

We should have known better - compared with such expectations things instead in the opening four rounds have gone rather swimmingly.