Archive: aerodynamics

There is a surfeit of motor racing championships that aim to usher in the next generation of Formula 1 stars. But only a few are worth paying serious attention to.

GP2 — the ‘official’ way to progress to F1

The most well-known by a long way is GP2. Backed by Bernie Ecclestone, GP2 is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ feeder series to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Since its inception in 2005, GP2 has been a stepping stone for some of F1’s biggest names. With a solid F1-style car and a unique status as the support race to almost every European grand prix (thereby giving drivers vital experience at many F1 circuits), there is no doubt that GP2 is a strong category.

The main alternative: World Series by Renault

World Series by Renault logo

But beyond the ‘official’ routes to F1, World Series by Renault (sometimes known as Formula Renault 3.5) has established itself as a series to take seriously.

No fewer than 18 F1 drivers have raced in World Series by Renault or one of its earlier incarnations. Among them are Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi. In 1999, World Champion Fernando Alonso also won what was then the Euro Open by Nissan series.

Most impressively, in 2007 Sebastian Vettel was leading the championship when he became an F1 driver mid-season. We all know how that story ends.

Strong drivers in World Series by Renault

This year’s World Series by Renault field has some very strong drivers in the field. Two of the favourites for the championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Wickens, are currently already F1 test drivers, for Toro Rosso and Virgin respectively. These drivers are so hotly tipped that both have been rumoured to become race drivers before this season is even finished. I will certainly eat my hat if they are not racing in F1 in 2012.

The pair put on a wet weather masterclass in Race 1 at the Nürburgring two weekends ago. In changeable conditions, they had the measure of the rest of the field while engaging in a tense battle for the lead.

The talent doesn’t end there. Other current F1 test drivers participating in World Series by Renault include Fairuz Fauzy and Jan Charouz (both for Renault F1).

Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne is next in the queue behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Young Driver sausage factory, and rightly so. His performances at Spa-Francorchamps were at times jaw-dropping.

Young Estonian Kevin Korjus (Race 2 winner at the Nürburgring) has also turned heads in his rookie World Series by Renault season.

Scrappy driving in GP2

When you compare it with this year’s GP2 field, the ‘official’ feeder series seems to lack that edge slightly. No driver has managed to take full control of the championship — nor has anyone shown signs that they deserve to.

Romain Grosjean has come the closest. But you could argue that he ought to be. He is highly experienced compared to most of his competitors, and even has some F1 races under his belt. He is this year’s Giorgio Pantano. He has been involved in some questionable incidents. He managed to crash into his teammate at Barcelona. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then climbed all over him as part of the truly farcical scenes in the qualifying session at Monaco.

Meanwhile, the hotly-tipped Jules Bianchi (who is a Ferrari test driver) has been surprisingly clumsy, lurching from needless crash to avoidable gaffe. After a promising (albiet curtailed) GP2 Asia campaign last winter, Bianchi currently languishes in 15th in the championship, having managed to score points in just two of the eight races so far.

Giedo van der Garde has arguably been the most consistent, but still manages to make needless errors. In Valencia, he was penalised for overtaking under yellow flags.

Beyond this, it is difficult to see where the F1 stars of the future are in this year’s GP2 field.

A good alternative for both viewers and drivers

Moreover, the World Series by Renault season has been more action-packed for my money. This season’s calendar visits seven current Formula 1 venues, including some of the best circuits in the world. Spa, Monza, Silverstone and even Monaco all have slots in World Series by Renault. The calendar is refreshingly light on Tilke designs.

The Formula Renault 3.5 cars themselves are impressive, providing an ideal bridge between the well-established Formula Renault 2.0 cars. They typically run just a few seconds a lap slower than GP2 cars.

From next season, the car will step up a gear with a more powerful engine and greater downforce. But most eye-catching is the introduction DRS-style moveable aerodynamics. It could well be that the new Formula Renault 3.5 cars will prepare drivers for F1 better than a GP2 car can.

The combination of superb F1-style cars, excellent circuits and promising drivers is creating great entertainment. For me, it is the feeder series to watch.

It has to be said that the writing was on the wall for the Bahrain Grand Prix before the teams even arrived there. And it’s not due to the refuelling ban. There are arguments for and against refuelling, but on balance I think banning refuelling is a good idea.

The legacy of refuelling

Some people had decided in advance that scrapping it was a bad idea, and have used the relatively pedestrian Bahrain Grand Prix as definitive evidence that they’re right. But one race is far too soon to judge. And as I pointed out in the previous article, there was actually more overtaking than normal.

It is no secret that F1 has a bit of an overtaking problem. The amount of overtaking has declined steadily throughout its history, and nose-dived in 1994 when refuelling was introduced in the modern era. In the intervening decade-and-a-half, the amount of overtaking has been relatively stable at this low level.

For me, the biggest legacy of refuelling has been to gift seven World Championships to a driver who isn’t particularly good at wheel-to-wheel racing, but transformed “overtaking into the pit lane” (i.e. gaining positions just by being in the pit lane at the right time) into the most important aspect of modern-day grand prix racing.

It is often argued that this “strategy” element adds an important dimension to the racing. The argument goes that what is lost in terms of on-track action is gained in terms of strategic intrigue.

This may have been true in the early days of refuelling, when strategists were still finding their feet with the new rules. But over time, it became clear what worked and what didn’t.

Armed with 15 years’ worth of data, teams had their strategies worked out by computers to the extent that there was one clear optimal strategy, and the race was won or lost on whether your first stop was made on lap 17 or made on lap 18. More often than not, after the first stop, it was clear how the rest of the race would play out, and the whole spectacle usually settled down.

The powers that be concocted increasingly contrived ways to re-inject a strategic element into the racing, but it stopped working. We reached the ridiculous situation where cars were qualifying on race fuel loads, which still did little to avoid the harsh reality that there is one optimal strategy.

How to re-introduce strategy while keeping purists happy

For me, there is far too much talk about “the show”. F1 is not a show. It is a sport. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to see a show, you should go to the pantomime. Todd on the latest Formula 1 Blog podcast said it best: “Jim Clark didn’t take part in a show. He took part in a race.”

Yet, with the obsession with making F1 more entertaining, the rules have constantly been tinkered with. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and the powers that be have to tread a fine line. They must make the sport more appealing to people who, truth be told, aren’t really interested in F1, while keeping the purists happy.

F1 is special because it is, at its core, about finding the fastest driver in the fastest car. Everything else is tinsel. Some of the new rules actively go against this attempt to find the fastest.

Look at the obsession with strategy. Look at attempts at mixing up the grid. The current tyre rules are among the most unpure in F1 today.

Forcing drivers to use two different types of compounds achieves nothing for anyone except Bridgestone. And I am yet to work out what is achieved by the new rule forcing drivers to start the race on the same tyres they qualified on. What does it prove? Do we tie one hand behind the back of footballers to “spice up the show” there? It is ridiculous.

Yet, all the talk is to introduce a mandatory two stops. That is certainly what Martin Whitmarsh implied on the BBC’s coverage last weekend. The idea sends a shiver down my spine. And quite how it is supposed to spice up the action is beyond me. Just now the optimal strategy appears to be a one-stop. Now they want to enforce a two-stop strategy? It’s difficult to see the scope for spiced-up strategy action here.

But I can think of a way of re-introducing the strategy element while keeping the purists happy: get rid of the mandatory tyre change. This would blow wide open the possibility of a no-stop strategy, thereby potentially reducing the predictability of the current situation. Sure, Bridgestone will be unhappy — but they are leaving the sport anyway so there is no point in making them happy.

Aerodynamics

The decline in overtaking pre-dates 1994. It has been clear for years that it is not as easy for F1 drivers in F1 cars to overtake as it perhaps should be. There are plenty of pet theories as to why this might be. The ones that get the most attention are the ones that are put forward by Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, as they are the most powerful people in F1. But of course, they have their own agendas.

The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have long blamed modern aerodynamics for the lack of overtaking. The received wisdom has become that aerodynamic grip is bad news if you want overtaking, and that the emphasis should be more on mechanical grip.

I was very interested to see James Allen write about what Frank Dernie thinks about this — that’s it’s a load of old cobblers. I have felt for a while that the argument that aerodynamics damage the racing does not hold water. On a Renault podcast a couple of years ago, Pat Symonds pointed out that the races that have the most overtaking, as everyone knows, are wet races. In the wet, aerodynamic grip is ramped up, and mechanical grip plummets.

When you think about it, it’s so right. It does amaze me that, in the face of so much hard evidence to the contrary, people still blame aerodynamics for the poor racing. I have come to the conclusion that many people’s views on the overtaking problem are shaped largely by fashion and spin rather than the evidence.

Speaking personally, I love seeing what sorts of devices teams come up with. We have all been fascinated by McLaren’s “F-duct” (even though it seems to have done them “F-all” good). Neutering these sorts of areas is the first step on the slippery slope towards spec chassis. And then it just wouldn’t be F1 any more.

I am not totally averse to restricting the cars though. Formula 1 is, after all, a formula — it always has been.

I am no engineer, but it strikes me that F1 cars are simply too fast to allow for much overtaking. In particular, the brakes on F1 cars are so good today that there is little opportunity for a driver to perform an outbraking manoeuvre. With such small braking zones, the scope just isn’t there in the same way it might have been in the past. Is somehow reducing the power of the brakes a viable option?

The points system

Bernie Ecclestone has also sought to blame the points system for the lack of overtaking, and the system has accordingly been tweaked. I personally think there is something in this. The points system rewards conservatism.

Think about instances where a driver attempting to overtake faces a 50-50 situation (or, more accurately, a ⅓-⅓-⅓ situation). By this I mean that there is a ⅓ chance that a clean pass will be made and a position will be gained, a ⅓ chance that an attempt will be made but will fail, and a ⅓ that the move will go wrong and end in a crash. (Obviously this is a major simplification of the real-life scenario, but I think this “50-50″ thought experiment still underlines an interesting point.)

Under last year’s scoring system, for a driver in second place trying to overtake the leader, this “⅓-⅓-⅓” situation would lead to an expected gain of… -2 points. Under the new points system, the expectation is -3⅔ (although as a percentage of the winner’s points haul, this is better). No wonder drivers can’t overtake. It’s not in their interests to even try unless they are practically left an open door.

This was the core reason why I was in fact, contrary to the fashion, in favour of Bernie’s proposed “medals” system. Then, attempting to gain a position would be unambiguously advantageous.

The circuits

However, I think there would be much more to be gained in ensuring that circuits are more challenging and provide more in the way of opportunities to overtake. Nothing is certain. After all, Suzuka is normally entertaining, but produced a bit of a stinker last year. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

But we all know that certain circuits, in general, produce better racing than others. I really do struggle to think of any grand prix held at Interlagos that was boring. But I know not to expect much action at, say, Valencia or Shanghai. Or Bahrain for that matter.

We know this because teams and drivers will often turn up a circuit and say, “there is only a certain place you can overtake, and it’s here”. Adrian Newey, Sam Michael and Martin Whitmarsh are all in agreement. As the Williams technical director said:

You’ve got to ask yourself, why do you go to a race such as Barcelona where no one overtakes, and then take exactly the same cars to Monza, Montreal or Hockenheim and you get lots of overtaking.

And the McLaren team principal said:

You only need to do simple statistical analysis and look at where the overtaking moves are If, say, we race on 18 circuits with 350 corners, then 90 per cent of overtaking moves in a year would happen at just 10 corners… The fact that overtaking is focused on such a small number of corners clearly demonstrates that it’s circuit-dependent.

Ferrari and Renault went to Valencia in 2008 proclaiming that they know from their simulators that there would be little in the way of overtaking. Ferrari even based a fundamental decision about their engine on this prediction. And they were right.

But Bernie will not entertain the suggestion that the circuits are to blame. This is because, unlike the effort made by drivers or the aerodynamics or the strategy, this is the area that he is responsible for. And he doesn’t want to take responsibility for it.

The effect of adding a new slow, narrow, bumpy, twisty section that looks as though it was almost designed to prevent overtaking was predicted before the race began. Quite why the organisers of the grand prix thought it would be a good idea is beyond me.

GP2 world feed commentator Will Buxton saw the writing on the wall, and was left exasperated by the negative effect this different circuit configuration had on the GP2 racing. He predicted a similar negative effect on F1, and it transpired that he was right.

What else is Bernie to blame for?

While I confess that it is a bit too easy to lay the blame on Bernie Ecclestone for the boring race in Bahrain, there is another core part of F1 that he is responsible for, which led to a dull spectacle being played out in our living rooms last Sunday. But that is what I will deal with in another article in the near future.

The final part of the factory tour was the chance to see the simulator. It is an impressive piece of kit. The driver sits in a cockpit, surrounded by a massive screen that curves round to take up his entire field of vision.

Little wonder it has been known to induce sickness. Drivers are advised that they may want to close eyes if they spin in order to avoid reacquainting themselves with their lunch. Apparently drivers have been known to be sick all over the place while driving the simulator. Come to think of it, I’m slightly suspicious because I remember that the cleaner was leaving the room just as we were entering it. We were told, though, that Kazuki Nakajima is amazing in the simulator and can spend all day in it with no ill effects.

The circuit models are said to be very accurate indeed, albeit some more accurate than others. For instance, someone else has exclusive rights to the best map of the Nürburgring. The maps are constructed using lasers. A van drives slowly around the circuit emitting laser beams at multiple angles, creating a map of millions of dots. This means that every bump on the circuit is accounted for.

An aerial image of the circuit is then overlaid on top of these dots to create the environment. But if you look at the circuit, some of the landmarks are not very accurately reproduced. In fact, some of it looks like bad virtual reality graphics. The idea is to reduce any confusion that might be caused by too many cues. If they don’t think something will give a driver an accurate cue, they won’t implement it.

Some teams have more sophisticated simulators. In some simulators the car will be on a moving platform to give the impression of movement — something clearly lacking from the still Williams cockpit. It is said that some simulators even have belts that tighten up to give you some impression of g-forces. Williams shun such devices, which they regard as off-putting.

I have to confess that I have been slightly sceptical about the Williams simulator in the past. McLaren’s is said to be amazing, but it is jealously kept under wraps from outsiders. Williams have no such qualms however. It is the only simulator that I have seen on television. See, for instance, this ITV video with Mark Blundell and this BBC video.

We were lucky enough to be in the room when occasional Williams tester Daniel Clos was driving it. He was there to acquaint himself with the Hungaroring in preparation for the GP2 races which were being held just a few days later. I have to say he didn’t look very good while we were there, and he even spun at one point. But those must have been his very first laps round the circuit and of course I am in no position to pass comment. In the real thing, he finished 11th in both races.

It is presumably a service that Williams are happy to offer young drivers in the hope of developing them into a Formula 1 star of the future. Whether Daniel Clos is one remains to be seen. But surely on his way to F1 stardom is another Williams tester, Nico Hülkenberg. Simulator Engineer Jeff Calam is adamant that the simulator is a worthwhile piece of equipment to invest in, pointing at Hülkenberg’s highly impressive GP2 results at circuits he hasn’t driven at before. This fact puts to bed my doubts about the quality of the Williams simulator.

Once the factory tour was over, we had a Q&A with Sam Michael. He was largely very open in his responses, and came across very well to me. I was impressed that he took the time out of his schedule to talk to a bunch of bloggers. You can hear audio of the Q&A session over at Brits on Pole once again.

After that, we went for a tour of the fabulous Williams museum. Here, we were expertly guided by Scott Garrett from Synergy, the company that arranged our visit on behalf of Philips. Although he now works for Synergy, he was previously Head of Marketing at Williams and now has links with a number of F1 teams. This makes him a highly knowledgeable speaker on Formula 1, and Williams in particular. It was a real pleasure to have this sort of insight.

For obvious reasons, photography was strictly forbidden in the factory, but we were free to take as many photographs as we wanted in the museum. And boy did we take the opportunity!

Early Williams cars The museum is impressive, with a range of cars from the full history of the Williams team’s existence. The first car you see is Alan Jones’s FW06 with its Ford Cosworth engine peering out the back. Cars are displayed, more or less a car for every year, right up to 2007’s FW29 — the very car that the competition winner will be driving.

All-in-all, the museum contains over forty cars. We are told that Frank Williams is a hoarder. The team still owns 106 chassis, while it only makes around six per year. Most of these cars are well looked after and can theoretically still be driven. The main exception is the Honda-powered cars, because they asked for the engines back!

For the most part, the cars are laid out in chronological order, and as you make your way through the museum videos are played telling us about Williams during the period of the cars in the vicinity. The relevant cars are lit up while the video is playing.

Unfortunately, this means that they are plunged into darkness once the video is finished, and you are supposed to move along to the next section. It is a pretty clever device to get us to keep moving and get rid of us quickly, but quite annoying for those of us who would have liked to have done it at our own pace. One person sarcastically remarked under his breath, “you have a lot of great cars, then put them in the dark.” It is for this reason that the lighting is not very good in some of the photographs.

Despite the chronological layout of the museum, there is still a fairly clear centrepiece. Two cars in particular are displayed on a higher plinth — the FW18 and the FW19, the team’s latest two championship-winning cars from 1996 and 1997 driven by Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

FW19 and FW18

A great moment of F1 geekery occurred when Mr Garrett pointed out that the FW19 on display is the actual car which Michael Schumacher famously crashed into at Jerez in 1997. Everyone went “oooh” and inquisitively gathered to look at this particularly historic Williams F1 car. The damage is still evident. I had heard that Patrick Head liked the car to be displayed with the tyre mark still there, but it has since been restored and now just looks like a couple of holes have been punched in the corner of the sidepod.

“We never got on very well with Michael Schumacher,” Scott Garrett noted, just in case we didn’t get the clue. This prompted a cheeky question from someone else, “How did you get on with Ralf?”

There is a notable omission. The most distinctive F1 car in the team’s history, the FW26 with the “walrus nose” is nowhere to be seen. It is perhaps not the team’s proudest design.

One unusual design does proudly feature though. Williams were never able to race with their FW08B six-wheeler. It was banned by the FIA before the season started over fears that it would be too dominant.

FW08B - the unraced Williams six-wheeler

Keke Rosberg's record-breaking FW10 Go up the stairs, and you will see two cars that are clearly very special to the team. One is Ayrton Senna’s test car from 1994. The other is the record-breaking FW10, in which Keke Rosberg was the first person ever to set a lap at a speed of 160mph in 1985. The record was set at Silverstone and remarkably stayed in place until 2002!

All-in-all, it was an absolutely fantastic day. Although Williams are not among my favourite teams, they have got to be admired for being so accommodating to us. If you ever get the chance to attend such an event, I would highly recommend it. A massive thank you to those who organised it and invited me.

Below is the full slideshow of photographs from my visit to Williams.

One news story that began to develop late on Saturday night in Melbourne was that Williams had lodged a protest against Ferrari and Red Bull. Nothing appears to have happened on that front yet, so I assume that everyone has gone to bed and it will be sorted in the morning.

There isn’t a lot of information out there about the protest. Grandprix.com suggests that the protests surround aerodynamics around the sidepods. By this, I assume we are talking about the strange structures that have sprouted up just in front of the sidepods. Ferrari use them as an elaborate mirror stand, but it’s clear they serve an aerodynamic purpose.

These strange structures were noted at the time. But it was pointed out that they were perfectly within the rules, even if they went against the “spirit” of the rules, which was to get rid of such weird and wonderful aerodynamic devices. This leads me to wonder if Williams are simply being a bit mischievous in their protest against Ferrari and Red Bull.

The recent fuss kicked up by Ferrari and Red Bull (and Renault and BMW) about the “diffuser three” is similarly contrived. I don’t understand the technical regulations all that well, but everything I have read suggests that the controversial diffusers are perfectly within the letter of the law. What is at question is whether they are within the “spirit” of the law.

Are Williams simply sending out a message to the complaining teams — giving them a taste of their own medicine? “We can play this game as well. Your cars aren’t within the spirit of the law either.”

Update: I had missed that Williams had withdrawn their protest just before midnight. There is still no explanation, but the fact that they have withdrawn the protest make it all the more likely that Williams were just being a bit cheeky.

Update 2: Interesting quote:

Williams recognises the possibility that in this area there could be more than one interpretation of the rules and therefore does not feel it appropriate to continue with the protests.

Continuing my look at how I think the teams line up going into the new season.

5. McLaren-Mercedes

There has been lots of speculation over McLaren’s position throughout the winter. In the past month or so it has emerged that McLaren appear to have major problems finding grip at the rear. The McLaren has scarcely been able to set a semi-respectable time all winter, and ended up doing loads of straight line testing with yellow paint smeared all over the car in an attempt to understand the airflow.

In the cynical world of F1, many observers pointed out that this could just be the ultimate form of sandbagging. James Allen alerted us to the theory that McLaren are simply approaching testing in a different way as a result of the new testing restrictions. Yet more (such as Mr C on Sidepodcast) suggest that it may be a publicity start.

I don’t buy any of it. Sandbagging is all very well, but they have to turn up the wick at some point to make sure that everything behaves as expected at full speed. And I doubt it’s a publicity stunt, because I can’t imagine that Vodafone are too pleased about having their logo smeared with yellow day-glo goo in quite a high-profile way.

It’s worth remembering that McLaren have produced a dud of a car before in recent years — the MP4-18, which was so bad it never raced, and its offspring the MP4-19. Mind you, these problems were largely down to reliability rather than aerodynamic issues. That year, McLaren still managed to win a race.

My guess is that if McLaren manage to find a fix for their aerodynamic problems, they will turn out to have a decent season. But it will have proved a distraction, having used up resources and time which could have been spent on improving the car rather than fixing it.

4. Brawn-Mercedes

Brawn have been the surprise of the off-season. After a troubled winter which saw the team put up for sale without warning, and a protracted rescue, the team looked set to have a poor season. Yet the Brawn has easily been the most impressive of the cars, setting blistering times during practice.

It could all be an attempt to attract attention and gain sponsors. But the team is still getting a nice amount of funding from Honda. Also, Mercedes said they wouldn’t supply an engine until funding was fully in place, so presumably it is in place. I’m sure Brawn wouldn’t say no to a bit of extra funding though.

In a way, it makes sense that the Brawn is a fast car. Let’s not forget that Honda basically gave up on 2008 in order to focus on 2009. Before the team was put up for sale, I thought Honda were going to be the team to watch in 2009. Expectations only dropped after the tumultuous events of the winter.

Of course, this is irrational because it is still the same car. Only the engine is different. While this would normally lead to reliability problems, the Brawn car has been surprisingly reliable during testing. Whether or not you think Brawn were running light during the test sessions, the reliability of the car cannot be denied. Indeed, it may be the fact that Brawn are actually in a better position. Judging by Jenson Button’s comments, the Mercedes engine has more grunt that Honda’s.

My gut feeling is that Brawn will be in contention to win a few races, particularly at the start of the season. They may not have the resources to develop the car as intensively as other teams throughout the season, so their performance may drop off later on in the season.

3. Toyota

Immediately after Toyota’s launch, I pooh-poohed their chances. But their testing form seems remarkably solid. The TF109 has been among the fastest cars, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toyota win a race or two. But there is still something inside me that refuses to see them as genuine championship contenders.

2. BMW

This is an important year for BMW. For many, they unforgivably gave up on the championship battle last season. A certain Polish driver was particularly peeved. If BMW don’t perform really well this season, history will view their 2008 strategy as a mistake.

Fortunately for BMW, their pre-season form seems pretty solid. They have done nothing spectacular, but this is part of the BMW way. Last year they seemed in the doldrums going by their testing form, but they had no problems at all once the actual racing was under way. BMW are not a showy team, and it is their methodical and sober approach that makes them winners.

BMW seem poised to take advantage of the ability to use kers. The team has always seemed the most confident of everyone over their kers system. But could it be a disadvantage to their star driver Robert Kubica? The Pole is tall (and therefore heavy) for an F1 driver, and the added weight of kers is one particular area where BMW appear to have a weakness.

1. Ferrari

Ferrari were the first to launch their car, and at first I felt like Ferrari were going to have a moderate season. For some reason, the early testing form suggested that to me. Of course, the idea behind the early launch was to enable Ferrari to debug and perfect the car. So the car’s more recent performances has been pretty tasty.

If there is one thing that will be a cause for concern to the Scuderia it will be reliability. They seem to have been suffering from a few gremlins over the winter. This will be especially worrying since Ferrari’s reliability left a lot to be desired last year as well.

All-in-all, though, I can’t help feeling that Ferrari are going to be leading the way this season.

The beginning of last week saw the launches of three more 2009 Formula 1 cars.

Williams FW31

Wow, 31. Williams have been around for a long time now, but while their heritage can almost match that of Ferrari or McLaren, their results of late have been massively disappointing. Could 2009 be the year they make a comeback?

In one sense, it is feasible that Williams will have a strong season. They have taken a radical route with KERS, and are the only team to have opted for a flywheel-based KERS rather than an electrical KERS. Their system sounds mightily impressive, as Grandprix.com outlined last week. If it works, Williams could be onto something here. But is there a reason why the other teams have avoided the flywheel route?

Chassis-wise, the general consensus appears to be that the Williams is a good-looking car. I am not so sure. I think the dark colour scheme means that some of the uglier elements are well-hidden. Of course, the Williams won’t be racing in the “interim” livery which was revealed last week, so we’ll have to wait and see on that front.

To me, the sidepods look rather bulky. Meanwhile, Williams have a big and chunky front nose. Despite the weird and wonderful shapes exhibited by the FW31, nothing could have prepared us for the…

Renault R29

There is no getting away from it: the Renault’s nose cone is certainly an interesting shape. At last, Robert Kubica has a rival in the “biggest nose in F1″ competition. It is not so much the width or size of the nose which is intriguing. The almost dogmatically straight edges are almost the polar opposite of what we have come to expect from a super-sculpted F1 chassis. It’s less of a nose cone and more of a nose breeze block.

The front wing is disappointingly plain looking. But this is made up by the endplates, which are purposeful-looking scoops which I find visually pleasing. Equally intriguing is the way the rear suspension appears to be completely engulfed by the chassis. I don’t think I’ve seen something like that before. Is this to accommodate the KERS, or is it for aerodynamic reasons?

Livery-wise, the fact that blue has taken a back seat is a relief, but there is no doubt that the designers have gone totally overboard on the orange. Red, orange and yellow ought to be complementary colours, but the designers have arranged them in a stripy cacophony. It is a brash and noisy scheme the like of which is normally only seen on a Matt Bishop shirt.

I suppose that is at least one good side of ING’s woes — Renault won’t have to shoehorn the ING corporate colours onto their livery. Mind you, Renault might not even be around by then if the rumour mill is anything to go by.

BMW F1.09

The BMW F1.09 has been widely derided for its ugliness. It is true to say that it is not the nicest-looking car to have been unveiled this year.

Much of that is down to the boxy front wing, which does not look much better since it was originally tested all those months ago. As for the rest of the chassis, everything from the sidepods back looks like it has been crumpled up a bit. Are the FIA sure the crash test went okay?

To my untrained eye, it looks as though the philosophy of the BMW car has been to not even bother with any fancy flick-ups (note the absence of anything like the elaborate wing mirror stands, and not even a token bargeboard). Instead, the chassis is now littered with alien-looking indents, rivulets, lumps and bumps.

Even though at eye level there is no doubt the F1.09 has been hit with the ugly stick, this BMW car looks absolutely stunning from above in my view. Simple, slender beauty.

The most interesting thing about the BMW launch, however, was the revelation that they might not run with KERS at Melbourne. It was widely thought that BMW had progressed very well with their KERS and that the team was confident in its system. Not so, it seems. They may be further forward than other teams, but it is still very much up in the air.

Now serious questions must be asked about the FIA’s management of the introduction of KERS. This has been a complete hash-up from beginning to end.

Overall

We have now seen six of the 2009 Formula 1 cars. Of the teams still to launch, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso will both use the same chassis. Apparently it’s radical, and won’t launch until late February. Force India are busy connecting square-shaped McLaren parts into round Force India holes. And Honda are still trying to find someone to buy them.

It is apparent that big, chunky noses are in. All three of the cars launched this week sport wide and square-ish noses. And come to think of it, the Ferrari and McLaren noses are pretty wide too. Only Toyota have retained a 2008-style narrow nose, and I have to say the more I think about it the more Toyota seem doomed. I could be wrong though! I’m no aero expert…

Apologies for the lack of posts here recently. I have been occupied by other things, and the fact that it is the off-season in F1 at the moment makes it easy to choose this blog to put on the back burner.

I did not even get round to writing everything I wanted to write about the 2008 season. But it looks like the 2009 season has already begun as we have had three car launches already, so there is no point in looking back now. Instead, I will post some brief thoughts on the new cars which have been launched so far.

Ferrari F60

First out of the box was Ferrari. My initial impression was that the F60 is a much better-looking car than I had anticipated. It is certainly much more attractive than the interim BMW car we had already seen.

The car appears to have an elongated front nose, particularly when compared with the Toyota TF109, as this picture on the Sidepodcast drop.io site demonstrates. What’s also notable is the way the sidepod appears to have been moved back in order to create a “blind spot” where aerodynamic devices can go. Ferrari have constructed a convoluted-looking rear view mirror stand, no doubt to maximise the aerodynamic benefits.

A head-on view of the car most clearly demonstrates how radical the changes to the front and rear wings are. The F60’s front wing is a rather brutish looking thing, although it was a bit more refined than I was expecting it to be.

Of note is the fact that the F60 failed on its first outing. Apparently a part fell off the car. The car was fitted with KERS, but it’s pretty clear the team feel they’re behind on development and are none-too-happy on BMW’s insistence to run with KERS. Launching early gives the Ferrari team more time to “debug”, but it’s an inauspicious start.

The F60’s dedicated website has plenty of pictures and video.

Toyota TF109

Next up was Toyota, whose TF109 is pretty basic-looking compared to the Ferrari. The nose cone appears to sit rather high up compared to the Ferrari’s, giving the Toyota a gappy look from the front. On a side-on view, the Toyota is disappointingly basic-looking. Clive over at F1 Insight said, “If there is going to be a norm for the look of this season’s cars, the Toyota must surely be it.” It must be said, it really looks like they didn’t try very hard, and there is nothing novel here — certainly not on the level of Ferrari’s wing mirrors for instance.

Toyota do not even have KERS up their sleeve. They are even more ambivalent about it than Ferrari are, and will not even attempt to race with it until midway through the season. They are even talking about it being an advantage to run without KERS. We will see about that. But the reluctance to even investigate it puzzles me. This smacks of a total lack of ambition, especially for a group of people who are supposed to like an engineering challenge and who are meant to be looking to maximise every opportunity.

It almost goes to prove Max Mosley’s point that F1 teams have become obsessed with things like trimming weight off their cars rather than genuinely innovating. Whether you agree with the implementation of KERS or not, it must be said that Toyota’s approach is totally baffling and defeatist. It demonstrates a deep-rooted conservatism of the sort we have come to expect from Toyota. I may have to eat humble pie later on, but I suspect Toyota are doomed this season.

At least they gave us a laugh with their really odd “trailer”. Someone really should have pointed out that drivers do not make good actors. I’m still recovering from the way Jarno Trulli says “YEAH”. If you can bear to see more, here is the website dedicated to the TF109 “premiere”.

McLaren MP4-24

The third car to launch was the new McLaren. I greatly anticipated this as it is very rare for McLaren to produce an ugly-looking car. They have come up with the goods as always, and I love the look of it already.

What strikes me the most about the McLaren MP4-24 is the nose cone, which is rather rounded, almost cylindrical-looking. It’s almost like the kind of nose cone which would have been commonplace on F1 cars in the mid-1990s, but the like of which hasn’t been seen on an F1 car for a while. When people talked about the new aerodynamics bringing back the look of the 1990s, I don’t think people anticipated it spilling over from the wings onto the rest of the bodywork like this.

The front wing also looks very well refined already. It looks like the team has given a lot of attention to the front end of the car, with the other teams having brought out rather more conservative-looking efforts. Images can be found on the McLaren website.

The big news of the event was Ron Dennis’s announcement that he would be standing down as McLaren CEO to take on another role. Inevitably, Martin Whitmarsh takes his place.

But although certain MSM outlets have made this out to be a bombshell, and even that it might be a blow to Lewis Hamilton (as if Martin Whitmarsh hates him?!), it has to be said that it wasn’t exactly completely unexpected news. It’s been an open secret for a long time that Ron Dennis has been planning on moving aside for at least a few years now. If anything, the surprise is that he did not stand down sooner, but perhaps he feared that announcing it sooner would have dampened Lewis Hamilton’s championship celebrations.

Nevertheless, one should pay tribute to Ron Dennis, who has been an immensely successful leader of the McLaren Formula 1 team. I am sure that, with Martin Whitmarsh in charge, McLaren is in safe hands for the future.

Final thoughts

One thing that intrigues me about all of these launches is that we have seen hardly images of the rear of the cars. Are they that ugly-looking that none of the teams want them in their publicity shots?

What surprises me the most about the new cars is that they don’t actually look all that different to what we’ve come to expect an F1 car to look like. Sure, the rear wing looks odd, but I have got used to it already. But we don’t have anything that looks like a lower-formula car — these cars still look like Formula 1, which is good.

This week we’ve got launches from Williams, Renault and BMW to look forward to. It will be interesting to see if these teams have any surprises in store.

For those of you who were celebrating, I hope you all had a great Christmas. I had a great time and a number of Formula 1-based gifts were involved. Keith at F1Fanatic wrote a series of posts outlining F1 gift ideas, but none of the gifts I received were featured by Keith.

Firstly I got a model car. I used to collect diecast models in 1:43 scale, and at one point I wanted to collect all of the Drivers’ Championship winning cars in 1:43 scale. I got bored of that after the third Schumacher Ferrari in a row in 2002.

Graham Hill Lotus 49B (1968) 1:18 scale model

Recently, my father came across a small selection of inexpensive 1:18 scale models in our local TK Maxx. He decided to get me Graham Hill’s Lotus 49B, which the side of the box informs me finished 2nd in the 1968 US Grand Prix.

Manufactured by Sun Star Models under the Quartzo brand, it is nice enough. But in all honesty it is not the highest quality model I have ever set my eyes upon. For instance, the rear wing is made of plastic, it comes separately and you have to attach it yourself. The engine is also made of plastic and is rather wonky-looking. It is also far from the best presentation I have seen. However, the majority of the model is diecast and looks great. For the money, it’s a pretty good buy.

Bernie's belt The most surprising gift I got was this official Formula 1 belt, which I got from my brother (who sometimes writes here as Onebrow) and his girlfriend. It was surprising not just because I didn’t expect it, but because I didn’t even know you could buy an official Formula 1 belt!

I’ve never been one for official Formula 1 merchandise. I feel little loyalty to Formula 1 — I will follow any great grand prix racing. Plus, the thought of adding more money to Bernie’s pockets doesn’t fill me with total joy.

Nonetheless, this is a classy little belt. The Formula 1 logo looks quite good on the buckle. The ‘F’ in the logo is actually transparent, thereby only turning black when you do the belt up. I don’t exactly see myself going around the place wearing it, but I did wear it for all of Christmas Day and it certainly brought a smirk to my face when I unwrapped it. I wasn’t expecting to get Bernie’s belt for Christmas. I’m just glad it wasn’t Max’s whip!

For those interested in it, for some reason the product is not available on the official Formula 1 store, but the belt was bought from Tesco!

But my favourite present was the one that I bought for myself! It is a Mega Bloks McLaren F1 Racer. It is a McLaren Mercedes MP4/22, the 2007 car driven by Fernando Alonso, in 1:12 scale. For the uninitiated, Mega Bloks is like Lego, but less Danish. This McLaren model clearly takes its cue from Ferrari Lego.

Given that the McLaren–Alonso combination didn’t exactly work out, it may not be the most sought-after of gifts. But as I quite like both McLaren and Fernando Alonso, I have no problem whatsoever with it.

I got this out of my workplace, Woolworths. The original price of this was north of £20, which I think is quite a lot. But thanks to the fact that Woolies has been holding a closing down sale, I got an extra 20% off this on top of my normal colleague discount, which made it much better value for money.

McLaren Mega Bloks tin I was, in fact, lucky to get it. We had sold out of it long ago, but a customer returned one and I put it aside so that I could buy it myself. It originally caught my eye partly because it was F1-related, but also because it is beautifully presented in a gorgeous tin, which this photograph does no justice to.

Christine and Me at Sidepodcast had a similar idea, although Christine got the smaller pit stop version.

Mega Bloks McLaren-Mercedes MP4/22 1:12 scale

And here is the finished article! I didn’t time myself, but I reckon all-in-all I probably spent about three hours on it. When I first opened the tin and saw the number of pieces (455, but it felt like about a thousand) and the size of the instruction manual it looked quite daunting. But once I got stuck into it, it became difficult for me to tear myself away from it. In the end, I was quite upset when I came to the final few blocks, despite the sense of accomplishment.

In fact, by far the most difficult aspect was putting the stickers on at the end. I think I did a pretty good job of it though. I think it looks absolutely great. Being made of Lego-style building blocks, it doesn’t exactly have the sleek look of an actual McLaren F1 car. But it is still gorgeous, and I can hardly stop examining it.

Mega Bloks McLaren-Mercedes MP4/22 1:12 scale sans engine cover In parts it is very blocky, but in other areas the detail is suprisingly good. The frong wing has a curvaceous look to it, and additions such as the T-cam, the ‘horns’ and even a couple of aerodynamic flick-ups are all present and correct. Be careful not to lift the car by the engine cover (the natural place to pick it up, I think) because it is not attached. It comes straight off so that you can examine the engine!

The tin and the instruction manual appear to promise a “building challenge”. It appears to be another model — some kind of fantasy futuristic vehicle, WipEout-style — that you can build with the same pieces, but there are no instructions for it. However, having completed the McLaren model, complete with stickers, I don’t think I can actually do this. Taking the McLaren apart, having basically stuck many of the bits together with sponsor stickers, will be near impossible. This seems to be an oversight on the part of the manufacturers.

Mind you, it looks so gorgeous that I probably wouldn’t be able to bring myself to take it apart anyway.

Meanwhile, I got my brother a 1:43 scale model of Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri SA03. It may only have competed in four races, but that makes the model all the more special if you ask me. My brother is fond of Takuma Sato and Super Aguri, so it felt right to get him it!

Did anyone else receive F1-related gifts for their Christmas? If so, what did you make of them?

I’ve been a bit busy lately so I’ve been falling behind a bit on the posting front. I’ve not even got all of my 2008 season review posts out of the way, and before I knew it the 2009 season had begun in the form of testing at Barcelona! But there is plenty of time in the off-season for me to discuss these things. Here are just a handful of bits and bobs to bridge the gap until my next post here.


If you follow me on Twitter you may know that I have found myself bombarded with emails from PR companies who are trying to get me to include stuff in my blogs that I have absolutely no interest in. And sometimes the tone of the emails are slightly hectoring, which doesn’t exactly make me any more inclined to feature their “story”. Well, at long last, one of these pitches has actually appealed to me and I’ve decided to include it in this blog.

Unfortunately it requires me to embed some javascript and I don’t think WordPress lets you place javascript in the posts, so I’ve positioned it at the top of the sidebar for the time being. It is quite an amusing video though, showing that McLaren do have a sense of humour after all.

Okay, so it’s a Vodafone video rather than McLaren, but it comes just a couple of months after McLaren went viral with their humorous video previewing the Singapore Grand Prix. For a team with such a grey image, it’s good to see.


It looks like the BBC’s plans for next season are finally taking shape. David Coulthard’s involvement in next season’s coverage have been confirmed through a semi-official source. Yesterday Martin Brundle revealed for himself that he will be involved.

I have also heard that USP Content have retained the contract to produce coverage for BBC Radio 5 Live. That’s good news, because I think they’ve done a great job for the past few years. I often chose to listen to the Radio 5 Live commentary rather than James Allen, even enduring a two second delay between hearing something happen and seeing it (at least it meant I didn’t miss seeing something when it did happen!).

I’m looking forward to seeing what the television and radio teams can put together for next season. Personally, I’d love to hear Martin Brundle and David Coulthard making an appearance on the Chequered Flag podcast.

Rumour has it that the BBC will be announcing something to coincide with the Sports Personality of the Year award bash, where Lewis Hamilton is expected to win.


BMW have given us a taste of what 2009 will look like. I will probably post a more in-depth article about my thoughts on testing later on in the winter. But for the time being, all I will say is: yuk!

I was originally quite pleased when I heard earlier this year that the Formula 1 teams had finally decided to put their differences aside and join together as the Formula One Teams Association. At last, someone with teeth who can stand up the Max Mosley and the FIA.

That’s all well and good if FOTA turns out to be half-decent and come up with good solutions. Unfortunately, the signs are now that the teams’ ideas for the future of Formula 1 are every bit as barmy as Mad Max’s.

Take a paragraph buried in Pitpass’s story on Luca di Montezemolo’s whines about the Singapore Grand Prix earlier this week. As it happens, I kind of agree with most of what di Montezemolo had to say, although that is for a different post. But as though the shock of agreeing with the execrable Ferrari President (who also happens to be President of FOTA) wasn’t enough, what Pitpass revealed about FOTA’s early ideas literally left me open-mouthed in shock and disillusionment.

We hear that at last week’s meeting a number of issues which could result in a seismic change to the sport were discussed, including standard transmissions, standard wheels, standard brakes and standard rear wings.

We hear there may even be a vote on whether F1 should have a weight handicap system!

Excuse me for swearing, but what the very fuck?! What is this pish? Standard transmissions, wheels, brakes and even aero? Why not go the whole hog and throw in standard drivers as well? We might as well pay to watch a glorified Scalextric race.

This is beginning to look like a complete stitch-up. I know the teams desperately want to cut costs, but this is just extreme. With practically spec cars, the only competition left in F1 will be over who has the biggest motorhome and the best catering.

Lest the powers-that-be forget, Formula 1 is supposed to be all about watching the best drivers in the best cars, and that means teams constantly innovating in as many areas as possible. F1 is supposed to be about technological excellence. FOTA’s plan sounds like a watered-down European version of IndyCar — and there is a reason why so few people watch those lorries tootling round the place.

If you want to watch a spec series, you can take your pick. There is GP2, A1GP (if they can ever get round to actually building the blasted cars), World Series by Renault and now even Max Mosley’s sorry Formula Two scheme. That is not to mention the literally countless spec series that operate lower down the chain.

If even Formula 1 becomes a spec series with standard this, that and the other, what is left? Please. We have to have at least one motor racing category that is dedicated to technological advancement. The world is already over-populated with spec series that there would simply be no point in F1 transforming into one.

I haven’t even gone into the weight handicap system. Needless to say, this would be a total disaster for F1. We want to see the best drivers and the best cars win. That is what sport is supposed to be about. Why should people be punished for being fast? What a load of nonsense. Remember, BTCC’s figures went off a cliff when they introduced their ludicrous ballast system. Why do they think we want to see fast cars going slowly? Keith skewers weight handicap systems here as well.

Meanwhile, Martin Whitmarsh has unveiled FOTA’s big plan for spicing up the Grand Prix weekend. But it doesn’t sound very spicy to me. Apparently, the biggest problem with Formula 1 is Fridays! Silly me for not noticing! And what is the great thing that is going to solve this ill? A mickey mouse time trial with a cash prize!

WTF?! First of all, Fridays are the one bit of F1 that are more-or-less perfect if you ask me. They are called practice sessions, I get to watch the cars practicing. For me, that is a win. There is a certain pleasure to be derived from watching F1 cars do their thing at high speed but without necessarily competing with one another.

Why does this — of all aspects of the F1 weekend — need to be tampered with? Why does there need to be competitive action on a Friday? As far as I’m concerned, Friday is for practicing. Competitive action is for a Sunday.

Don’t forget that no-one will watch anything if it happens on a Friday. People are at work. They’re doing other things. Remember the doomed experiment with spreading qualifying over two days. That was pretty hastily dropped because they realised that no-one could be bothered watching the Sunday morning session — and that was a Sunday, never mind a Friday!

As for having a cash prize, I mean please. This isn’t a game show — it’s Formula 1. Besides, do they really think fans will be that bothered to watch mega-rich drivers getting even richer? No thanks.

See more on this from Clive at F1 Insight, with whom I totally agree on this.

I think I preferred the chaos and deadlock of old over these hare-brained schemes of FOTA.