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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.
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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.

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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” »

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.
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Ferrari California Dreamin’

Ferrari California. Photo courtesy Ferrari

Ferrari California

Whether through foresight or serendipity, the introduction of the Ferrari California – the Prancing Horse’s least expensive model – at the 2008 Paris auto show coincided with the start of the Great Recession.

What better way for the exotic car maker to expand its business than to launch an entry level model when most people were losing (or worried about losing) their shirt? Actually, the target market was certainly more likely people who weren’t worried about said shirt loss, but perhaps may not have wanted to rub it (as much) into the faces of those who were.

So it was that more than 50 years after the original Italian sports car named after a U.S. state arrived on our shores, the 2009 model followed, value-priced and packed with Maranello’s latest technology. Whereas the Ferrari lineup had previously consisted of front engine V12 Gran Turismo (GT) and mid-engine V8 sports cars, with a flagship supercar thrown in every seven to 10 years (e.g. F40, F50, Enzo), the California was the first ever front engine V8 Ferrari.

Described as a retractable hardtop two seat GT with optional 2+2 seating – the rear two passengers usually preferring the seats of the front two – it became one of the company’s volume models.

V12 x 2/3 = Engine

At the heart of it lay a variant of the Ferrari F430 engine, an aluminum 4.3 liter V8. But this was the first Ferrari to have direct injection. Churning out 453 hp, it produced less power than the unit in the F430 but more torque on its way to a redline near 8,000 rpm.

Power was directed to a rear mounted dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission featuring seven speeds. This partly explains why only 46% of the car’s hefty 3,900 lb. mass rides on the front wheels. Later an optional six speed manual version became available. But rumor has it that pretty much none were sold, making it nearly as rare as unicorns.

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