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

Thursday 11 June 2015

Competition - Win one of FIVE pairs of tickets for Race Week London

Race Week London is to take place again year. In the build up to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Race Week brings motorsport to the heart of London. It's a great event for any F1 fan, with various goings-on, and F1 cars, drivers, and teams all joining in on the action.

It takes place on Tuesday 30th June (i.e. in the Tuesday before Silverstone's British Grand Prix) at the Honourable Artillery Company's stunning grounds in the City Of London.

And thanks to the kind people at GP Management who run Race Week London I have FIVE pairs of tickets for this year's Race Week London to be won. To have a chance of winning you just have to answer the simple question in the box below along with giving your name and email address.

Race Week London includes:
  • A concourse of classic and modern F1 cars - including Jenson Button's current 2015 McLaren Honda  right back to James Hunt's iconic McLaren M23;
  • A revival of the historic 1974 F1 drivers cricket match set up by James Hunt and Niki Lauda, featuring family, friends and relatives of the original 11;
  • Q&As from F1 team bosses and drivers that will take place throughout the day;
  • The Black Book Race Forum, with Motorsport industry leaders attending;
  • Auctions and fundraising for the leading disability sports charity, The Lord's Taverners;
  • A chance to test your skills by trying out the F1 simulators and pit yourself against times set by F1 drivers;
  • Memorabilia and other luxury brands on display.
To enter the competition to win one of five pairs of tickets please give your email address (so we know who to send the tickets to!) and answer the very simple question.


For more information about Race Week London do check out its website here.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Mercedes Should Reconsider Nico Rosberg For 2016, by Kunal Shah

Before you get your daggers out, let me tell you that I am a Nico Rosberg fan. And I know that there are few of us compared to the millions who support and cheer for Lewis Hamilton. Maybe this is why there's a gap of millions when it comes to their pay as well, but that post is for another day. (Read: Formula 1 Is Cruel)

Is it time for Mercedes to replace Nico Rosberg?
Photo: Octane Photography
I have been a Rosberg fan before he jumped into the cockpit of a Mercedes racing car. And when he did, he showed the world that he was better than Michael Schumacher 2.0! He clinched Mercedes's first pole position and race win after its return to Formula 1, but that historic feat is now history too. (Read: Give Everyone Mercedes Engines)

If you've been reading my blog and listening to my podcast often, you'd know that when we witnessed Rosberg vs. Hamilton in the 2014 Formula 1 Season, my support was skewed towards Rosberg. Don't ask me why though! But you could ask me that despite being a Rosberg fan why I would support Mercedes's decision to replace him in the 2016 Formula 1 Season.

Canadian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Hamilton in Cruise Control

Photo: Octane Photography
The latest of my regular Motor Verso Grand Prix reviews is now published for your reading pleasure. This time it's for the surprisingly-tame Canadian round, wherein challenge to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, and the expected Montreal frolics, didn't materialise.

You can have a read of my review here: http://www.motorverso.com/canadian-grand-prix-hamilton-cruise-control/

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.

Monday 8 June 2015

Canadian GP Report: Dogs that didn't bark

And so the Montreal dog didn't bark.

It may have threatened to - glared menacing; perhaps growled under its breath. But at no point did it do its notorious worst. As Montreal races go this was rather a calm one.

Lewis Hamilton won in Canada yet again
Photo: Octane Photography
But it did hold true to one habitual local factor, that Lewis Hamilton won. It was his fourth triumph at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve place indeed.

His team mate Nico Rosberg was close for the whole way; even looked threatening at certain stages. But the victor insisted that he had matters well under control. "I didn't feel happy or the most comfortable" said Lewis afterwards, "I generally had a lot of understeer but I never really felt too much under pressure. Nico was quick but I felt like I always had it under control, I had a bit of time in my pocket to be able to pull it out when I needed to, so it was never too serious." It looked that way.

And Lewis was one at least who got something out of it: "It was a great race. I don't know how it was to watch but it felt like it was intense and I really enjoyed it."

It was a couple of less well-documented Montreal factors that ensured the slightly tepid fare - that it's a track tough on fuel and on brakes. Perhaps two factors exacerbated by the current set of regulations. And the first factor at least was sent well into marginal territory by that for the first time in a long time the Canadian race featured no safety car.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Montreal Qualifying: No alarms and no surprises

He said he was surprised. But possibly he was the only one.

Lewis Hamilton won yet another pole position
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton claimed a decisive pole position for today's Canadian Grand Prix and at no point did it feel like a shock. Almost from the first moment wheels turned on the Île Notre-Dame this weekend it was clear that the Mercedes power unit was the thing to have. And of course chief among them were those in the works cars.

Then we have Lewis himself, for whom the Montreal track is the happiest of hunting grounds.

It all had a nice symmetry to it also. It was pole number 44 of Lewis's career for car number 44, also here where in addition to his strong record he also took his first F1 pole and win eight years ago. It's pole number six for him from seven rounds this season too. Some things just seem to have their own inevitability.

Saturday 6 June 2015

New Vital F1 article: Why customer cars are not against F1’s DNA

Photo: Octane Photography
The possibility - you might even say threat - of customer cars being part of F1's near future has lingered for a while now. And following the latest notorious Strategy Group meeting they appear to have got more likely as a 'solution' to the sport's cost crisis (though some have more cynical reasons for why it's being pushed forward...).

Many have pointed out the problems with customer cars; many of these complaints have a solid and honourable basis too. But chief among them it seems is the argument that customer cars are somehow not in F1's DNA.

I can understand why some think this, but the trouble is that it's not entirely true. In my latest article for Vital F1 I explain why.

You can have a read of the article here: http://vitalf1.com/sitepage.asp?a=2989

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Formula One and Alcohol by Kunal Shah, plus the latest Inside Line F1 podcast

The equation 'alcohol = celebration' was planted in my head by Formula 1. And no, it wasn't the alcohol sponsorship in the sport, but the post-race podium ceremony. If Formula 1 bans alcohol sponsorship, will this lead to an automatic ban on champagne celebrations on the podium? Raikkonen's eagerness to race to the podium will only drop further! (Yes, I know that Bahrain and Abu Dhabi already use 'rose water' as a substitute). (Read: Helmet Ban(ter))

Photo: Octane Photography
The alcohol ban should then extend to the team's hospitality areas and the Paddock Club - in which case, I can already tell you that the ban won't come into effect! Imagine telling a 70 year old Rolex wearing Formula 1 fan (Bernie's friends?) to shell out a few thousand dollars for 'five star' hospitality at the races but without alcohol! The funnier part is that Bernie would still believe that thousands will willingly pay those thousands! Sigh! (Read: Blame It On Bernie?)

In a world (Formula 1) where revenue sources are limited, I wonder why Formula 1 would even think of a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship. Currently, this ban is exercised by the host country and its regulations and I believe this is where it should be left. (Read: A Strategy Of Errors)

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Montreal Preview - In the spirit of Gilles

You've probably noticed by now that the folks in and around F1 don't agree on everything. More accurately, they're rather a quarrelsome bunch.

The Montreal track is inimitable
Photo: Octane Photography
But despite appearances there are some things about the sport that you'll find close to unanimity among them on. And one such thing is that its annual visit to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix, the latest of which is this weekend, is one to relish.

There are many reasons for this. One is that it is genuinely hard to cite a tepid Grand Prix to have ever taken place at the Montreal venue; it's harder still to imagine one.

The layout ensures plenty of overtaking opportunities - captivating drama and action are positive expectations here. The nearby walls - the track being in large part a street circuit without the buildings - can and frequently have punished even small errors. It even has its own 'Wall of Champions' which as its name suggests has ensnared a few of the best of them. Even over and above all of this the venue has that intangible attribute as being where things happen.

Adding to the theatre the weather here can be anywhere on the range between hot and humid and cool and wet, and long range weather forecasts have rain around this time. And if rain does arrive then all bets are off - see the 2011 race as some sort of guide. Safety cars and carbon shards are rarely far away in races here whatever the weather. We were reminded last year too that the track has a reputation as a car breaker, especially if the temperature gets up.