How About that F1 & Indy 500 Doubleheader?

2017 Monaco Grand Prix

Zak Mauger/LAT Images

Memorial Day weekend was one heck of a motorsports extravaganza for open wheel racing fans. There was the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500.

First, the Indy 500 was far and away the more exciting race. I rarely even pay attention to it but the fact that Fernando Alonso decided to give it a shot was huge news and generated a ton of additional interest for what is already a tremendous event.

The race itself had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Scott Dixon/Jay Howard crash, and Helio Castro-Neves barely avoiding getting caught up in it and driving through the grass at speed underneath Dixon’s somersaulting car resembled a Hollywood stunt scene more than a real race. I could have done without the crashes but I’m glad no one was seriously hurt.

Too bad Alonso’s Honda engine let go with only a few laps to go. He was in it with a chance to win and certainly acquitted himself well regardless. Honda, not so much.

Then Castro-Neves, a three-time Indy 500 winner, managed to get his car to the front with only a few laps to go. Mind you he had lost part of his rear wing dodging the Dixon/Howard crash. The racing back and forth with Takuma Sato and Ed Jones had me on the edge of my seat.

After Alonso was out I was hoping former F1 driver Sato could bring it home first, though – based on his erratic F1 record – I was nervous he’d manage to crash within sight of the checkered flag. I can’t remember the last time a race finish was this close in F1. This year’s Indy 500 was a fantastic event with lots of excitement, despite the fact I find the cars so ungainly.

The Big Picture

If I were to bet money I’d say that next year Alonso will be remain in F1 but he won’t be driving a Honda-powered car. His competitive situation is just dreadful and there are no signs of life Honda will get it for 2018.

On the other hand, maybe Zak Brown and McLaren are looking to expand the McLaren empire to other series and to keeping Alonso by dangling the prospect of winning the triple crown he wants by getting him rides at the Indy 500 in the future, and maybe even the top class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans if McLaren builds such a car?

Even more intriguing, are the owners of the Indy 500 looking to sell to Liberty Media and how much of an influence were they in bringing Alonso on board to show how much additional interest F1 participation could produce (and therefore bump up the value of the event)?

Liberty has been clear about looking to expand the calendar with more events in the U.S. Not only that but Jean Todt has been quoted as saying the FIA are looking at coordinating the schedules of F1, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Formula E to avoid conflicts.

Might the F1 calendar be able to make it so the Indy 500 becomes an event that more F1 drivers could participate in? And what if Liberty bought IndyCar? It’s possible they could then bring F1 to venues like Long Beach, California and St. Petersburg, Florida.

I’m pretty sure there was far more to Alonso at Indy than just him wanting to race there.

On To Monaco

The Monaco GP was pretty dull, with the most exciting on-track action happening when Pascal Wehrlein and Jenson Button (“I’ll pee in your seat!”), in a one-off appearance subbing for Alonso, collided. Poor Wehrlein ended up with his car on its side against the barrier. Again, glad no one was hurt.

The other exciting moments were the times Sergio Perez drove like a bull in a china shop in between telling off his team over the radio. Team player he wasn’t, and ultimately it was for naught as he scored exactly zero points.

With the Mercedes team struggling for pace and Lewis Hamilton uncharacteristically down and out in qualifying, the race was all about the Ferraris. They qualified 1-2 with Kimi Raikkonen on pole, and finished 1-2 with teammate Sebastian Vettel winning.

One has to wonder if the team quietly switched the order of the two drivers during the pitstops to give championship leader Vettel every advantage in the battle with Hamilton. Much has been said about how unhappy Raikkonen was with the result.

While I’m not sure it does seem odd that Ferrari would pit and release Raikkonen right into lapped traffic. There is no doubt though that Vettel had immense pace so if it was a strategic call to switch the drivers, Ferrari definitely made a good choice.

It’s just that it would have been so much more interesting to see the teammates battle it out, and a Raikkonen victory would have surely been immensely popular.

Other than that it was a snoozefest. Even the ever aggressive Max Verstappen, who had his own radio meltdown, couldn’t find any way to complete an on-track pass.

2017 F1 Season Preview

2017 Australian Grand Prix, Friday - Wolfgang Wilhelm

2017 Australian Grand Prix, Friday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Well, that didn’t seem to take long. Last season ended and this season is starting, and I haven’t posted anything in between. Not that I haven’t been writing, I just tend to forget to post things… some times for extended periods of time.

Anyway, Nico Rosberg took the F1 title on the last lap of the last race in Abu Dhabi last year. It was a real nailbiter. Then he promptly retired, surprising pretty much everyone including his own team. Continue reading “2017 F1 Season Preview” »

Abu Dhabi Do – The 2016 F1 Season Finale

Red Bull F1

Photo courtesy Red Bull

Here we are at the final round of another Formula One season where the title will be decided at the very end. After 20 rounds Nico Rosberg leads his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by 12 points setting up almost a story book situation.

While both drivers are fast, proven winners they are a study in contrasts. Hamilton has three World Championships under his belt, and is currently second on the all time wins/poles (52/61, respectively) lists. Rosberg is racing for his first, with a total of 23 wins and 30 poles. Of the two, Hamilton clearly is a more instinctual driver and has the edge in terms of raw speed and racecraft. He’s a natural.

Rosberg is more analytical and measured, a very intelligent team player. He’s put in a lot of work over the years and, if it weren’t Hamilton in the other car, he may well have already had a World Championship to his name.
Continue reading “Abu Dhabi Do – The 2016 F1 Season Finale” »

The Essence of Racing

Jenson Button, McLaren

Photo courtesy McLaren

At its core racing is a contest of speed over a fixed distance or for a period of time. The context I’m referring to here is circuit racing, where multiple cars are on a track at once. They’re not only competing for position by trying to go faster than one another, they’re also jockeying for the same physical space with each driver trying to pass the one ahead. This brings so much more than pure speed into the equation.

Test of Driver Skill

Driver control is a central tenet of the sport. On-track competition pushes drivers to each call on a full array of skills to maximize speed, including accelerating, changing gears, turning (in both directions I might add), and braking, while outmaneuvering opponents. While strategy is important, it should be secondary. The primary excitement is in the action on track. That is the purpose of racing and that is what gets the attention of the audience.

Qualifying

Before a race can begin the starting order must be determined. Each driver’s starting position for the race should be determined by his fastest lap in a qualifying session preceding the race. The fastest driver in qualifying starts the race in first place on pole position, followed by the second fastest qualifier, and so forth such that the driver that posts the slowest qualifying time starts the race in the last position, unless that driver does not qualify for the race at all, or another driver is penalized and is then moved to the back of the grid before the start.

Continue reading “The Essence of Racing” »

Max Verstappen: The Youngest Ever F1 Winner

2016 Spanish Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen in his Red Bull RB12

Max Verstappen, 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Courtesy Red Bull Racing.

The conclusion of the Spanish Grand Prix was a surprise for many. Jos Verstappen was sobbing – not a sight I ever thought I’d see – as he was being interviewed while walking down pitlane. His son Max Verstappen had just won his first ever Formula One race, and he did it in style by breaking the record for youngest ever F1 winner by a wide margin at 18 years and 227 days of age on his debut for the Red Bull team.

The previous recordholder, none other than four time world champion Sebastian Vettel, finished the race in third place in his Ferrari. Vettel scored his first win in 2008 for the sister team of Toro Rosso from where Max had just been promoted. Vettel was 21 years and 74 days of age at that time.

Not only has Max risen meteorically in his racing career, he seems to have been born with a horseshoe up his backside (the same can’t be said for his teammate Daniel Ricciardo) and to just the right father. Jos, a connected, experienced and competent former F1 driver who stood on the podium in his own right (though not the top step), is understood to be a stern taskmaster and has guided his son’s career from the beginning.

Continue reading “Max Verstappen: The Youngest Ever F1 Winner” »

F1 2016: Nevermind the Drawing Board

Pastor Maldonado crashes again

Who knew Pastor Maldonado crashed the Australian Grand Prix (again)? At least according to GrandPrix.com he did.

This was the first Formula One race of 2016. I’ll get to the race a little later. There’s no point in sugarcoating what I think of the new qualifying format: It was terrible.

Instead of the previous format of having three “knockout” sessions where a set number of the slowest drivers are eliminated after each of the first two sessions, F1 has kept the three session knockout format but made a confusing change where after a certain number of minutes into each session, the slowest driver gets knocked out every 90 seconds. This gets repeated until the requisite number of drivers is eliminated. The idea behind this was that somehow it would improve the show and mix up the field. It did neither.

F1 should immediately scrap the format and revert to the previous one. Don’t go back to the drawing board, don’t try to make more changes. Just drop it and we’ll all pretend it never happened. Of all the problems that F1 had leading up to this year, qualifying was not one of them. But now it is. Continue reading “F1 2016: Nevermind the Drawing Board” »

I Did No Better Than the Market

The years 2014 and 2015 were quite a time in the stock market. I cranked some numbers recently to review my market performance over the past two years and came to a certain realization about it, upon which I based the title of this post.

Prior to 2014 my portfolio mainly consisted of 401k mutual funds and I didn’t pay much attention. It would have been a good idea to do so as the market has had a great run beginning circa 2009, and I was a little more than fashionably late to the market as an active investor.

Appreciation vs. Total Return

To be clear, there are multiple ways that market numbers are often bandied about. Sometimes it’s the value of the stocks (or more accurately the price of the stocks). Other times it’s the value of stocks plus dividends received, and which are then reinvested. This is known as total return.

Those figures are theoretically possible to emulate if one is running a large portfolio such that transaction costs are so small a proportion of each trade as to be negligible. Certainly the latter case of total return sets a higher bar. It also reflects a more complete picture. Continue reading “I Did No Better Than the Market” »

Betting On A Red Horse

Ferrari 458 Speciale

Courtesy Ferrari N.A.

I’m not one to bet on horses. I never play the lotto (even with the record 10 figure jackpot currently in the headlines), and I have never even made it to a blackjack table in Vegas despite a few attempts. I didn’t even pay much attention to Williams Grand Prix, another stalwart of the Formula One (F1) circuit, when the company went public. But this time, it’s a little different. Ferrari is now a public company following a spin off from Fiat Chrysler (FCAU), and I have some shares of stock in the Prancing Horse.

The Legend

You might say I’m long on the legend of the Prancing Horse, which began with Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988) as a racing driver for Alfa Romeo in the early days of the automobile. Upon the birth of his son Alfredino (“Dino”), he retired from driving to concentrate on running Alfa’s F1 team, and then eventually setting up shop on his own.

In that bygone era of racing cars painted in national racing colors rather than adorned with sponsorship livery, road going Ferraris were sold to fund operations of the racing team. Ferrari has always been a company that sold cars to go racing, which is quite the opposite of most every manufacturer that has been involved with the sport before or since. It is also the one with the most wins and championships in F1, and the only one that has been part of the sport all through the post-WWII era, starting with the 1950 season.

Unsurprisingly in such a competitive business, the company’s fortunes ebbed and flowed over the years. Dino Ferrari, whom Enzo had likely been grooming to eventually takeover, tragically died of muscular dystrophy in 1956 at the age of 24. Then in the 1960s Ferrari almost sold the business to Ford but backed out. “The Deuce” (aka Henry Ford II) was incensed and commissioned the creation of the Ford GT40, which eventually ended Ferrari’s dominance of the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, by winning four times straight beginning in 1966.

Fiat, under the leadership of Gianni Agnelli, bought a stake in the company in 1969 and later became the controlling shareholder. The company went on to some of its greatest successes after Enzo’s death in 1988, launching a slew of critically acclaimed and commercially successful models beginning in the 1990s and returning to its winning ways on the F1 circuit with a combined 14 driver and constructor titles between 1999 and 2008.

Green Pastures

Ferrari is a solid, if expensive investment. It is a trophy property after all. In the short term the share price is subject to fall due to the initial hype surrounding its IPO and the high Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio. However, over the long term I can’t think of many more solid investments in the “automotive” sector. Here’s why.
Continue reading “Betting On A Red Horse” »

Happy New Year As Life Throws A (Virtual) Curve

Nurburgring Nordschleife

Track side a little way up the hill from the town of Adenau.

Happy New Year! It’s been entirely too long since my last entry. I can give you a bunch of reasons why, but it really only boils down to only one, which I’ll get to later.

After celebrating a little bit last night, I woke up this morning eager to come out of the gate strong. The first thing that happened? My computer, a virtual machine I’ll write about soon, was experiencing a glitch where the audio wasn’t working. It was fine last night and all of a sudden there was no sound, which is lame when you’re trying to listen to music.

Since it’s a virtual machine (VM) I decided to just revert to a previous instance. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a VM, just think of it as a computer within a computer. In other words, I don’t really use the main Windows environment in the computer. I use a Windows environment inside a virtual box inside the main Windows environment.

The environment I use is virtual. I can revert back to a previous “snapshot” any time, allowing me to quickly reset any time I have a problem. However, every file in the environment is also only in that environment. Because of that I use a separate external thumb drives to store my files other than pictures and videos, which take a lot more space. Being fairly new to this I forgot and reverted without creating a snapshot of the current environment.
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Lost My AC and Some Self-Esteem

Junk in the Frunk

AC junk in the SW20 frunk: (A) Low side port, (B) Refrigerant sightglass, and (C) High side port.

Around April I turned on the air conditioning for the first time this year in my Toyota MR2. Have you ever had that experience where the initial result was lukewarm airflow?  Then you’re in denial. You wait a little longer to let it “cool down” thinking maybe it will take a few minutes. Of course it doesn’t.

Then you’re kind of sweaty and feeling a tinge of guilt for not having paid more attention to maintenance. Guilt gives way to remorse, “Oh, I should have… turned it on more often. Or had it checked. Or…”. Then you think the worst, “It can’t be fixed. It will cost too much. Parts aren’t available and no one knows how to fix these old systems anymore. I’ll have to buy a new car.”

You start shopping in your mind and mourning the loss of your car while you’re still driving it, “If I had to buy another car it won’t be the same. I’ll never find another car like this one. It’s the only one in the world for me.”

Finally, despair sets in when you see even the sorry excuse of a new econobox with the too high seating position in the next lane at the stoplight has cold air conditioning. And a cupholder.

Continue reading “Lost My AC and Some Self-Esteem” »