Category Archives: Racing

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” »

F1 In Crisis – 2015 Season Preview

2015 Red Bull RB11 cars.

2015 Red Bull RB11 race car ready for testing…

Let’s not beat around the bush. Formula 1 is in crisis. One reason this season preview is so last minute is because there are so many stories of ongoing problems. I wanted to capture as much of it as possible.

F1 is becoming a less attractive business proposition for sponsors because they are not getting the ROI that they expect. Simply put the exposure F1 provides is declining while the costs continue to rise (alarmingly).

Not only are costs continuing to spiral out of control, the audience is decreasing. Part of the reason is because of pay TV. If people have to pay to watch it on television there will be fewer watching than if it were free. Since branding and exposure is the name of the game for sponsors, this is a worrying trend.

As a result we have more and more crises as more teams struggle to survive and have to take on pay drivers able to bring ridiculous amounts of money. There may be more driver contract disputes now than cars on the grid. Moreover the caliber of skill is not as high as it could be, with many underfunded yet exceptionally talented drivers not getting a shot at the sport. It’s sad.

The grid is also made up of less reliable, ugly, poor sounding cars. And they are slower than before. I believe this is all the result of greenwashing with hybrid technology and it has done nothing to improve the sport. Plus the environmental benefits are questionable at best.

Continue reading “F1 In Crisis – 2015 Season Preview” »

2014 F1 Season Review

Red Bull Formula 1 in Singapore GP

Red Bulls in Singapore F1 race

Okay so I’m a bit behind on this recap but I did watch the race the same day it took place. Not that that makes this post any more current.

Mercedes duly clinched the Constructors’ Championship in Russia, the 16th of 19 races – their first ever as a constructor – but not without a season full of drama. It was inevitable because they let their two drivers race each other and stuck by that policy, even when it seemed to go pear shaped after they collided on track at the start of the Belgian grand prix at Spa. So kudos to them for doing so.

Lewis Hamilton won the race and his second World Championship while teammate Nico Rosberg finished 14th in the race and second in the championship in what could only be described as a letdown in the final race at Abu Dhabi due to Rosberg’s KERS system failing.

However, that doesn’t take away from Hamilton’s 11 victories out of 19 races. He finally earned his second title, though he almost certainly would have won more titles by now had he been less of a celebrity prima donna earlier in his career.

Since his 2007 F1 debut he has become more focused and mature. But he some times still displays appallingly petulant behavior as during the Monaco race weekend when he refused to acknowledge his teammate on the podium after Rosberg’s victory. (Hamilton had accused Rosberg of cheating in qualifying by backing up the escape road during his best lap, causing the session to be red flagged and nullifying Hamilton’s best lap time.)

Continue reading “2014 F1 Season Review” »

First Ever Formula E Race

Takuma Sato driving in Formula E

Takuma Sato at the wheel of the Amlin Aguri Formula E car

The inaugural Formula E race took place in Beijing this past weekend. A few short years ago it was just an idea. Now it has opened an exciting new chapter in the world of racing bringing a fresh approach and solid talent pool to the mix.

Electric Racing

The main idea behind Formula E is that of a global electric racing championship focused on high performance and energy efficiency, which are really two sides of the same coin (though performance is much more exciting to watch than efficiency). By using quiet electric race cars and packing all the sessions into one day, the organizers are able to bring the action and the glamour to the masses in ten urban centers around the world in this season’s championship.

While it is said to have cost $100m to launch the series, that’s comparatively inexpensive considering it costs more each year to run a mid-field Formula 1 (F1) team. Though racing is not inexpensive, this could well turn out to be a great investment for founder Alejandro Agag and his backers.

Cars By Consortium

The cars are all-electric and built by Spark Racing Technology, incorporating components and systems from big names such as Dallara, McLaren, Williams, Renault and Michelin. Powered by 150 kilowatt (kW) motors (201 hp), they can reach modest top speeds of about 140 mph.

While power is nominal, torque is undoubtedly prodigious and instantaneous. Acceleration is quick. Battery capacity is still very limited, so the races are a brief 45 minutes, with each driver using two cars. Even then getting to the finish is really tight; drivers eke across the finish line with barely any charge left.

The cars use fairly flat, low downforce front and rear wings because there isn’t enough energy available to overcome the extra aerodynamic drag of high downforce wings commonly seen on cars on street circuits.

Compared to F1 cars the relatively low speed and low drag/downforce design makes the Formula E cars less aerodynamically sensitive. Because of that they should be able to race much closer together.

The big concern about the lack of loud engine noise is, in my opinion, unfounded. While certainly less noisy, electric cars at speed are not silent simply because there are other sounds present such as tire and wind noise. At speed they emit a pleasant high-pitched whir. Somewhat surprisingly, the Formula E car uses treaded tires that are closer in size to those of street cars. This is likely to negate the need for rain tires.

Despite its modest performance and somewhat odd appearance, particularly due to the fairings in front of each tire, the Formula E car is a great platform from which to develop further technology. There is little doubt it will continue to improve in performance in the coming seasons.

Continue reading “First Ever Formula E Race” »

Anatomy of Great Races

BMW Z4 race car at Virginia International Raceway (VIR)

BMW Z4 racing in the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship

Many elements play a part in the making of a classic race. Since the beginning of auto racing, the great races tend to contain a number of common traits. First and foremost, racing is a battle of drivers. The cars, teams, series and tracks are there to provide the platform upon which drivers compete.

High tech for its own sake isn’t of much entertainment value. Racing is a human contest, not a science fair. So let’s not get all geeked out on technical minutia and rules that may or may not improve performance, probably won’t appreciably improve the show, will likely stir up controversies and penalties and definitely drive up costs.

A race can be viewed as the sum of three distinct phases. Similar to chess it can be viewed as having opening, middle and end stages – mixed in with a high rate of speed.

Most races have exciting opening phases. That’s often the best part of an event because all the cars are close together and anything can happen, good…

Continue reading “Anatomy of Great Races” »