Thursday, 31 July 2014

Dear Sir, Am I Alone in Thinking? - Buxton gets it bang on

It was a lot like reading one of those letters to a newspaper that starts 'Dear Sir, Am I alone in thinking....?'. And upon reading it concluding no, you're not alone. I think exactly the same.

An article written by F1 journalist and NBC's pit lane reporter (as well as he of the GP2 and GP3 commentary and podium interviews) Will Buxton, cryptically titled 'New Coke', I'm talking about. My reading it gave that rarest of sensations, that of viewing the thoughts of another yet rather feeling you are having your mind read. You can have a scan of it yourself here: I strongly suggest that you do.

Will Buxton (left) - got it spot on
Photo: Octane Photography
F1 on track fare is definitely boring right now. It's letting everyone down. People keep telling us this, after all. And demonstrating as much crisis meetings are being held in response. There was one among the teams and Bernie in Hungary last weekend; another today apparently. Yet another awaits around Monza time as proposed by Ferrari Chairman Luca Montezemolo.

To back it all up this year's TV viewing numbers have been disappointing reportedly, the latest step in a long-term decline on that front. Plus much of the recent German Grand Prix was conducted in front of vast numbers of those disguised convincingly as empty grandstand seats. All pretty irrefutable then? Well, as Buxton points out, no.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

New article: It’s right to object to Azerbaijan, but some are for the wrong reasons

A view to Baku and it's Boulevard.JPG
"A view to Baku and its Boulevard" by Okinawa - Own work.
Licensed under 
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Over the last weekend it was announced that as of 2016 there is to be a new addition to the F1 calendar, a 'European Grand Prix' in Baku, Azerbaijan.

This incited some derision; that it wasn't a 'classic' venue, that it won't get a crowd, some even complained on the grounds that they didn't know where Azerbaijan was.

In my latest article for, I argue that while people are right to oppose the new race, many are doing it for the wrong reasons.

You can have a read here:

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mercedes too clever by half with team orders

The Lewis Hamilton vs. Nico Rosberg fight for 2014 F1 supremacy is the gift that keeps on giving. And even though the goings-on of the Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session couldn't have done more to keep the pair apart for last Sunday's race, it still managed to provide another dollop of intrigue. But it wasn't really either driver at fault this time, rather Mercedes the team - which has spent just about the entire season making all the right moves on letting the drivers race and stressing equity, despite facing on occasion rather lurid claims to the contrary - in Hungary rather blew a giant hole in its own foot.

In Hungary last Sunday it was Lewis Hamilton,
not Nico Rosberg, on the podium
Photo: Octane Photography
Why? Well the team that doesn't do team orders, did team orders. And rather clumsily. At around two-thirds distance as Nico got up somewhere near Lewis's tail - either on divergent strategies - the Merc pit wall told Lewis to let Nico through. Lewis didn't, and the consensus was that he was absolutely right in his stance. In the end he finished third to Nico's fourth, and Lewis's bewilderment at the matter afterwards was tangible. Merc boss Toto Wolff gently stoked matters by saying something not long after the chequered flag to the effect that Nico could have won had Lewis complied. But the management backtracked eventually.

So, how exactly did the previously imperious Merc get into such a fine mess? For me the most likely explanation is that Mercedes got too clever by half. We still these days often hear talk of strategy being decided by 'the guy on the pit wall', but these times are in fact long gone. Now it's churned out by vast armies equipped with all sorts of extrapolations, algorithms and game theory, many of them back at the factory. But sometimes it can be a curse as much as a blessing, as we on occasion witness times on which its outputs have been rather over-used, perhaps at the expense of what might loosely be termed as human savvy. A little reminiscent of the Little Britain 'computer says no' sketch. Indeed, we saw something in a similar ilk in last Sunday's race with McLaren at the first safety car; the team deciding to take on more inters for both cars when all others were putting on slicks, as a radar of its said some rain was on the way (wrongly). Human savvy might have told them they should have waited for an umbrella or two to go up at least before making that call...

Monday, 28 July 2014

Hungarian GP Report: Ricciardo leads the three supremes

To think that in the day or two prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix the air was thick with wrestles of how to make F1 more entertaining. Some crisis meeting or other was being held among the teams; some action group or other was to be formed. As always seems to be the case at such moments, the suggestions floated were somewhere in the vicinity the absurd. Success ballast - F1 steps further away from being a sport and further towards being WWE - for one. Even more worryingly apparently rather a lot of team bosses liked the idea.

The smile of the victorious Daniel Ricciardo was
as wide as ever
Photo: Octane Photography
But on today's evidence any such think tank can now knock off early. Whatever this sport's problems are there is not a great deal wrong with what F1 serves up for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. In that regard you rather wonder what exactly it is that all these luminaries are worrying about.

To think too that - following the events of qualifying - this was supposed to be a Nico Rosberg benefit also. It did indeed look that way in the race for a while, but the thing rather pivoted against him partway through, meaning in the end he was but one of a number of stars of the show. Also - very much against expectations - his team mate and 'competitor number one' (Nico's words) Lewis Hamilton gained a bit of points ground on him.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hungaroing Qualifying: Déjà vu all over again

It couldn't happen, surely? Not again? Well, it did.

Another Grand Prix weekend, another Grand Prix weekend wherein something or other has compromised Lewis Hamilton. And while one or two of the ones before can be said to have been his own fault, most of them haven't. And it wasn't yesterday in the Hungaroring's qualifying session either.

Smoke turned into fire on Lewis Hamilton's W05 early
in Hungary qualifying
Photo: Octane Photography
Almost unbelievably no sooner had the hour started as Lewis - who'd been fastest in every session up until then - could be seen tooling down the pit lane, his W05 ablaze as a result of a fuel leak, his session over almost before it had begun. The gasp around the circuit almost was audible, followed by something of a silence consistent with people not quite comprehending just what it was they were witnessing.

Now, Lewis's last qualifying and race weekend not containing major problems or unusual occurrences was all the way back in Barcelona, in early May. Six rounds ago in other words. And for all that F1 is a precise game wherein everything and more is sought to be accounted for and controlled, it remains - perhaps increasingly - that the most credible explanation for it all is that he must have done something to grossly offend the Goddess Fortune.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Hungaroring Preview: A matter of halting Hamilton?

The Hungaroring is important. No, really.

Have you ever ruminated over the modern F1 calendar, and that sort of track that gets added to it almost exclusively these days it seems? That which is purpose built from ground up especially to hold an F1 event, is super safe, has gleaming facilities, and all is bankrolled by the national government keen to promote or 'brand' the country?

And have you in turn wondered which venue was the first of these? That set this trend in motion? Well, the most likely answer is Hungary's Hungaroring.

The Hungaroring now is a fixture on the calendar
Photo: Octane Photography
The Hungaroring made its bow as an F1 host in 1986, constructed in just the seven months prior to the event on a greenfield site not far outside the city of Budapest.

And 28 years on (gulp) it's easy to forget what a complete step into the unknown this represented for both the F1 circus and its hosts, stepping as the fraternity was behind the Iron Curtain into the 'Eastern Bloc', as Hungary was then part of. It may be difficult for us in the now to comprehend, but contact between East and West then was near non-existent. Without hyperbole, when F1 descended neither party had the first idea what to expect.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

New F1 Times article: Act in haste, repent at leisure – unsafe releases in F1

Photo: Octane Photography
Following an incident involving Mark Webber in last year's German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring a range of, rather tough, measures were introduced to seek to punish those who left the pits without all wheels attached.

By now almost exactly a year on there is talk that teams - dissatisfied with how it's all worked in practice - are gathering around a move to row back on some of it.

Over at The F1 Times I look at the whole issue such as why the system that we have now for unsafe releases isn't working as well as explore what the best way is to minimise such a danger.

You can have a read via this link:

Reflections on Hockenheim - missing Schu?

A German manufacturer dominating an F1 season, one of the dominant drivers is German, as is the world champion (of the last four years) in addition to two other drivers, and the German economy despite the calamity around it remains itself rather strong. This all should add up to a healthy turn out at the German Grand Prix?

Much of the Hockenheim running was in front of
sparsely-populated grandstands. Here's qualifying.
Photo: Octane Photography
Well, no actually. Apparently only somewhere in the region of 50,000 was in attendance for the race, way short of the Hockenheim's track's vast capacity of 120,000. Running on Friday, even on Saturday, had a grandstand backdrop that looked a lot like there'd been some kind of evacuation. Though F1's declining following ain't a new issue, this seemed to slide things over a cliff edge.

As intimated this isn't new, therefore plenty of theories as to what is driving it all didn't require much dusting down. High ticket prices, dissatisfaction with the regs and/or the sport's creeping gimmickry, the lack of competitive competition in turn related probably to the skewed financial distribution, the TV coverage disappearing behind paywalls, while some of course still haven't been able to resist bringing out what already seems like an old chestnut of engine noise.

Monday, 21 July 2014

German GP Report: Everything's coming up Rosberg

You are Nico Rosberg. You are young; handsome; devastatingly intelligent. You also are a very fine Grand Prix driver. You're sitting atop the Formula One World Drivers' Championship standings, driving a mighty fine - nay untouchable - car brought to you by a prestigious German marque. In the past two weeks you've got married, your country won the World Cup and the said prestigious German marque has extended its contract with you.

Once again it was Nico Rosberg spraying the
champagne as victor
Photo: Octane Photography
And yesterday you won your home Grand Prix, easily, from pole. This extending your title lead by ten and adding a little more to the creeping sense that these months we are living through are your time in the sun.

Yes Nico, life's pretty good for you right now.

Indeed, the German race at Hockenheim wasn't really a race; not for first place at least. It was a lot like qualifying the day before, with his one rival in team mate Lewis Hamilton well dealt with Nico had something of an open goal. But again he volleyed the thing straight into the back of the net with some elan to emerge in P1. Some (including Rosberg himself) thought in advance that the mighty Valtteri Bottas-Williams combination might give Nico something to think about. But no - Nico smoothly and almost quietly moved clear lap after lap so that by his first pit stop after 14 racing tours he was ten seconds up the road. And untouchable.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hockenheim Qualifying: Let's twist again

F1 in 2014 is the year of the plot twist it seems. Thought that Silverstone last time out had shifted the momentum? Wrong, as yesterday in Hockenheim's qualifying session it shifted back.

Nico Rosberg triumphed again in qualifying
Photo: Octane Photography
Whatever you may think of Lewis Hamilton, it's hard to deny that in the intra-Mercedes battle for the drivers' title this campaign he's had rather the bigger share of the bad luck. Two weeks ago, with Nico Rosberg dropping out in the Silverstone race leaving Lewis to help himself to a 25 point swing, seemed to go a long way to tilting the balance back.

But in Hockenheim qualifying the balance rebounded. There seemed little to choose between the two Merc pilots on pace for most of the weekend, and we all settled down for another close, edgy scrap for pole. But it ended quickly, as a racy looking Hamilton had a front brake disc fail on him at the Sachs Kurve in the first session, sending him into a violent smash in the barriers that left him sore in more than one sense. He already had a strong lap time but being unable to compete in Q2 or Q3 meant that P16 (which converted to P15 thanks to someone else's penalty) was his maximum.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

German GP Betting Preview - Nico to bounce back at his 'home' Grand Prix, by Andy Morgan

After fantastic results for @F1BetPreview, including four winners out of six this year, the teams head to Germany at the midpoint of the season with rivalries heating up throughout the leaderboard.

FRIC or no FRIC, Mercedes is set to dominate again
Photo: Octane Photography
In the constructors' order the two points gained by Jules Bianchi in Monaco for Marussia are still enough to hold Caterham and the disappointing Sauber off in ninth position. Lotus and Toro Rosso are fighting closely for seventh while a fascinating scrap for third continues: McLaren, Force India, Ferrari and Williams are within touching distance of each other and the difference in prize money between third and sixth will motivate the teams in their persistent development of their cars.

Red Bull is the only team, other than the dominant Mercedes, relatively on its own but in the drivers' fight the four time German world champion Sebastian Vettel will not want to be beaten by his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo who sits 28 points ahead.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Hockenheim Preview: Differences and similarities

Things change, clearly. Including stuff that's already happened.

If that sounds silly then I assure you history is a living thing; never is it settled. That's because it is dependent on interpretation, and the perspective of that interpretation, what it's compared with, can change as time passes. And so it is with the Hockenheimring, scene of this weekend's German Grand Prix.

We're very much in the era of Hockenheim mark two, and while it would have been an absurd thing to say for a long time the previously-used Hockenheim mark one layout is these days viewed with something resembling widespread affection. As an example, in 2012 I recall stumbling across one circuit guide describe the current version as 'scarcely a shadow of its former great self'.

Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg Luftbild.JPG
The revised Hockenheimring divides opinion
Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg Luftbild" by Schlurcher
talk) - Own work.
 Licensed under 
CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Modern day Hockenheim is quintessential Tilke, with short medium-to-low speed turns predominant, as well as a lengthy straight book-ended by slow turns, designed to promote overtaking (which it is often successful at, to be fair).

Yet the cuddly tenderness common now wasn't at all the prevailing view of Hockenheim mark one in its own time either. For much of then it was considered a circuit without a soul. Little on or off the track quickened the pulse. Nothing much seemed to happen there, least of all in the races. Its prized image is one that has grown almost entirely in hindsight.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Button's up?

Explaining F1's strange ways to the initiated often is a trying task. One such of F1's strange ways is that if a car is under-performing an incumbent driver who really should be getting our sympathy due to having to endure the thing often in fact finds their personal reputation suffer by association. It seems that many within the sport and looking on forget the one about the challenges of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Jenson Button had to bat away more questions
about his future at Silverstone
Photo: Octane Photography
And rather exacerbating the effect of it is that teams often after a difficult year are minded to replace a driver (or two) as part of its response, to aid the sense of a new dawn for the following campaign. As David Coulthard - perhaps thinking of close to home experience - noted towards the end of least year, McLaren is particularly prone to such behaviour.

And so the walls may now be closing in on Jenson Button. For the second year in a row McLaren is in the doldrums. More cruelly and unlike the obviously-disastrous-from-an-early-stage 2013 this season started with promise. The MP4-29 had an encouraging pre-season, featured the most interesting technical innovation in its rear suspension blockers, and of course had the apparent free pass of a Mercedes engine. Then a double podium in the first race meant things appeared firmly on the up; if the team didn't look like Mercedes it at least looked a lot more than it had in a while like McLaren.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Living an F1 less regulated

Most of us are aware of Gilles Villeneuve, Rene Arnoux, Dijon in 1979, and all that. Even if it was well before your time you've probably seen the footage. Even if you've not seen the footage you'll likely have heard it referred to. It has gone into folklore, the F1 standard bearer for a thrilling wheel-to-wheel scrap. Motor racing in its purest, and most scintillating, form (footage is below if you're one of the unfortunates who hasn't seen it, or for the rest of you who'll likely enjoy watching it again).

Then Gilles and Rene got out of their cars afterwards and fell into each other's arms. Heck, Rene had even ran off the track at one point of the battle - no one cared. But the world's changed clearly, as has F1.

EXTRAORDINAIRE duel - Villeneuve Arnoux - Dijon79 by PAUL1902

In last Sunday's British Grand Prix Fernando Alonso soared past Sebastian Vettel as the latter was on his out lap after his final stop, in a brave and spellbinding overtake that most of us will carry with us for a long time. And that was just the start as the pair then knuckled down to dispute the place. And keep disputing it. F1 was taken to its very edges of attack and defence.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why Niki Lauda was wrong on Silverstone's barrier delay

Niki Lauda has had a lot to say recently. Having adopted apparently the role of keeper of the F1 flame (I'm sure he won't mind the potentially touchy choice of phrase - or at least potentially touchy to those less resolute than he).

And this is no bad thing for the most part. Candid, brusque, firmly commonsensical. Often his contributions are welcome, such as his recent comments on the stewards' 'over-policing' of F1's on-track battles, or in his criticisms of Kimi Raikkonen 'balls out' return to the track last Sunday, which in both cases many thought were bang on. Sometimes his comments amuse, such as that drivers should sort out their disputes like Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar did. Which those who have long memories or else have seen the YouTube footage know means, um, via fisticuffs.

Niki Lauda - had plenty to say at Silverstone
Photo: Octane Photography
Following last Sunday's race at Silverstone in my view he got it wrong however. It was all to do with the extent of the delay before re-strating following the red flag brought about by Kimi's misadventure, resultant of the time taken fixing the resultant barrier damage. 'This over nursing of F1, being over cautious, over-controlling, drives me mad' Lauda said. 'And this little guardrail issue is another example.

'There are too many people involved in making F1 as safe as the roads, which is wrong. They should have fixed it quickly, do something instantly and then 10-15 minutes later the race would have gone on.'

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

British GP Report: What a difference a day makes

We really should learn, but we don't. No matter how often we are reminded.

Spot the difference from qualifying - Lewis Hamilton
celebrates victory
Photo: Octane Photography
Twenty-four hours - indeed the hour and a half of a race (though in this peculiar case you can add close to an hour's delay from a red flag on the top of it) - is a long time in F1. And another thing that we keep forgetting is that whatever happens in practice and qualifying - however extreme, whatever their apparent importance - exactly no points are handed out until the chequered flag falls.

And so it was at Silverstone. How different was the Lewis Hamilton of after qualifying and after the race. In the former, having thrown away what looked a pole position his by right through nothing other than a gross personal miscalculation, facing a seemingly decisive five-place starting deficit to his team mate and championship antagonist Nico Rosberg, seemingly extending a periodic spell wherein little would go right for him, he was bewildered, uncommunicative, almost shell-shocked. Aptly he noted later that his 'world was crumbling beneath' him.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

New F1 Times article: Games of chance - does lady luck play a role?

Photo: Octane Photography
In F1 we tend to assume that the points table at the end of the year, and the worthiness of the world champion on top of the pile, is irrefutable. We also often assume that foul luck - be it in mechanical unreliability or something else - is bound to even itself out over a season.

But is this all a fallacy? In my latest article for F1 Times I explain why we shouldn't forget that even in this precise game of F1 pure random chance has a say in who comes out on top.

You can have a read via this link:

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Silverstone Qualifying: Curiouser and curiouser

The plot gets thicker and thicker; perhaps curiouser and curiouser.

Of the intra-Mercedes battle for the 2014 World Drivers' Championship that is. Until the very last breath of yesterday's Silverstone qualifying session it looked certain that it was to be the starting point of Lewis Hamilton's long-awaited fightback; finally checking Nico Rosberg's creeping momentum. But no. To borrow the celebrated and possibly apocryphal "Yogi" Berra quote, 'it ain't over til it's over' (though Berra is also quoted as uttering 'I never said most of the things I said' - it's never easy to know for certain where myth starts and ends) at the very last split second - and utterly against anticipation - matters were picked up, turned and thrust back down onto their head.

Nico Rosberg continued his recent momentum with
a last gasp pole position
Photo: Octane Photography
It was a day for curiosity, with the Silverstone weather for qualifying the most curious thing of all. Even to those familiar with the habits of the British summertime elements.

Rain of Saturday morning had abated and the track looked to be drying, but then in the qualifying hour itself the rain sort of leaked at inopportune moments. Then stopped. Then started again. And not always all over the vast track either. This combined with a long, two minute, lap meant that being out on circuit with the right tyres and the right moment - always crucial on such days - was a perilous undertaking.

Indeed it had already taken some famous scalps, both Ferraris and Williams suffering the ignominy of a Q1 exit, all having missed the opportunity narrow window of running on slicks towards the end of that session by seconds before more rain arrived. All have a lot to do in the race.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

British GP Betting Preview - Must win for Hamilton on home soil

A year on from tyre drama at Silverstone and the Mercedes showdown should be the talking point from the famous British circuit as it reaches its 50th anniversary this weekend.

Is the smart money with Nico Rosberg this weekend?
Photo: Octane Photography
After Williams out-qualified the field in Austria, the championship leaders at Merc will be keen to assert their dominance once more and put in a strong performance throughout. Yet Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will only be thinking of one thing, beating each other.

The pendulum has swung in the direction of Rosberg who has beat his team mate in the last three races and still has yet to finish outside the top two this season, resulting in a 29 point championship advantage over his stable mate and the rest.

The pressure has been ramped up by the German, evident in qualifying as Hamilton has struggled on what normally is his advantage on team mates in years gone by. Lewis has to get back to what he does best and concentrate on delivering the perfect lap in qualifying. A pole position will completely change the mindset of Hamilton who thrives on feeling the best and the body language will flip in a heartbeat. Can he get that all important one lap under the weight of the British public? Difficult call...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Silverstone Preview: F1's home gig

Every year at around about this time I get a creeping sense of conflict. I'm not one driven by patriotism. Not when it comes to F1 anyway, wherein nationalities have never mattered a single jot to me. But even I readily acknowledge that there is something a bit special about the British Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix at Silverstone is unique. As a venue spread across a rather barren, windswept Northamptonshire plain it lacks the postcard scenery of Spa, the cooked intensity (in every sense) of Monza, certainly Monaco's glamour. But still it feels like it belongs right alongside those events mentioned as those that the sport can't do without, perhaps even belonging ahead of them. And this is for a number of reasons.

There's something special about Silverstone
Photo: Octane Photography
Chief among these is that it is F1's home gig. Eight of the 11 F1 teams are based in Britain, and seven of them are based almost within a stone's throw of this track, as are a myriad of companies that supply them in this sport's equivalent of silicon valley.

It's also in part because it was in Britain, and indeed at Silverstone, that it all started for F1 back in 1950. And the airfield track, despite inevitable changes in the meantime, retains much of its old character: rapid and challenging, with many long, fast and flowing turns, those that really challenge the drivers. That this weekend's Grand Prix is its fiftieth will only add to the conspicuous air of heritage that you breathe at this place. And such characteristics, and that they are increasingly rare ones, ensure its popularity among the drivers.