Archive: Honda

It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.

Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.

Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.

Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.

Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.

Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.

It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.

The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.

Thanks for entertaining us, Marco Simoncelli.

It is a given that I love motorsport. But there is also no doubting that my interest is primarily in cars, especially single-seaters. Over the past ten or so years I have always kept an eye on MotoGP, but it is a relationship that blows hot and cold.

Last year in particular was a pretty poor year for MotoGP in my view. It was all too predictable. Even the prospect of someone other than Valentino Rossi winning the World Championship was not enough to reel me in. The reality was that Rossi’s mid-season injury made the championship a shoo-in for Jorge Lorenzo.

It had all just become a bit boring and predictable. But I hadn’t even realised that was the problem — until this year.

2011’s big MotoGP shakeup

MotoGP in 2011 has a very different feel to it. The pecking order is very definitely different. Valentino Rossi has switched to the temperamental Ducati bike. Casey Stoner has moved to Honda, who have stepped up to the plate. Meanwhile, Jorge Lorenzo has become the definitive team leader at Yamaha. This has all given MotoGP a fresher feel.

Last weekend’s MotoGP race at Jerez was an absolute sizzler that had it all. In damp conditions, there was more action in that race than the whole of last season. Everything that MotoGP has been lacking recently was here.

An amazing race

Valentino Rossi, struggling on his Ducati, started from the middle of the grid, and slowly worked his way up. Out front, Stoner was struggling more than form would suggest.

Sensationally, Marco Simoncelli took the lead on the satellite Gresini Honda. The fancied youngster has a great record from the more junior categories, but up to this point his best race finish had been fourth. I am a Simoncelli fan, and I was personally getting quite excited at the prospect of a race victory for him.

This has got to be one of the best pics I've seen for a ... on Twitpic

Stoner had dropped to second, and Rossi was up to third. In an audacious move, Rossi overtook Stoner — but fell off his bike, taking out Stoner in the process. Rossi rode on, but needless to say, Stoner was not too impressed.

This was a moment of high drama that only the likes of Rossi can produce. I probably haven’t been so excited about a moment of MotoGP since Rossi’s incredible last-corner move on Lorenzo at Catalunya in 2009.

From there it should have been easy for Simoncelli, but he fell off his bike of his own accord in the damp conditions.

This allowed Lorenzo, who had been unspectacular for the whole race up to this point, to breeze by into the lead. The race became a Lorenzo masterclass. A study in precise riding — reaching the edge while never exceeding it.

It could even have been a Yamaha 1-2, as Ben Spies was also able to capitalise on all the mayhem, as well as passing Dani Pedrosa, to run in second. That was until he, too, fell off his bike. Colin Edwards was then running in third when he beached it in the gravel.

All the while, there were developing issues with Pedrosa’s pace dropping off as he continues to struggle with arm issues from a crash at Motegi last year. It was the opposite story for Rossi, who, despite the big accident earlier on in the race, managed to fight his way back up to fifth again.

I concur with Pat Wotton. If you haven’t seen this race, you really ought to watch it. It is up on iPlayer.

MotoGP has all the ingredients for great racing

I loved the race not just because of the madness or the wet weather. I was hooked even before riders started falling off left, right and centre.

What struck me was that I was watching racing. It wasn’t a procession by any stretch. But nor was it an overload of devalued overtaking that bike racing sometimes seems like to me.

I saw riders fade in and out of contention. They slipped away because of fatigue. They fought through in inspired bursts. They defied the odds. They raced tactically, and with no mandatory pitstops in sight.

And there was no need for an “overtaking working group” to come up with half-baked and ill thought-through ideas like F1’s DRS. There was no contrived nonsense about tyre compounds. No flexi-wing controversies. No stewards’ decisions.

I love Formula 1. But right now it looks like MotoGP has the right recipe for racing excitement. And what is most promising about it all is that it is not contrived. It is so free of gimmicks. It is pure racing, and I am looking forward to taking it all in this year.

Because even when everyone was getting excited about the magical combination of Casey Stoner and Honda dominating rather than the Yamaha routs we had become accustomed to, Jerez showed that the reality is much more complicated than that — and more exciting too.

This is a post that I should have written at the end of last season, but didn’t get round to before deciding to go on hiatus. Many of these points will have been made before, and it may be a bit past its sell-by date — but here it is anyway.

I am in awe of what Red Bull Racing achieved last season. In one sense, it should all be so easy. They have the best designer in Adrian Newey. And they have one of the best drivers in Sebastian Vettel — and Mark Webber is pretty handy too.

But those elements were in place in previous years too. Plus, it is easy to forget that Adrian Newey has not been involved in a championship victory since 1999.

Vettel, too, was by no means a shoo-in for the championship. It took a fairly bizarre set of circumstances for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to go his way. And it was a tall order for him to become the youngest ever world champion.

The truth is that the achievements of Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel are massive. Red Bull is a soft drink company. Yet they have shown world-class car manufacturers and experienced grand prix teams how to do it.

When I grew up watching Formula 1 in the 1990s, the talk was of F1’s “big four”. These were the dominant teams: Benetton, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Between 1979 and 2008, no-one outside of the big four won the Constructors’ Championship (if you account for the fact that Benetton became Renault).

In the past two years, there has been a breakthrough. The stranglehold was broken, first by the Brawn team in its first — and only — year in F1; an unprecedented achievement. But, impressive though its achievements were, the Brawn team could trace its history in F1 back to Tyrrell’s first grand prix in 1968.

In a way, therefore, Red Bull’s achievements are even more extraordinary. Although Red Bull (much like the Brackley-based Tyrrell-BAR-Honda-Brawn-Mercedes squad), bought an existing team, this team in much younger. Originally set up as Stewart Grand Prix in 1997, it took 14 years for this team to win a Championship having been set up from scratch.

Red Bull truly is part of a new generation of championship winners. The next-youngest championship-winning team is Benetton / Renault, originally set up as Toleman in 1981.

A hat must go off to Paul and Jackie Stewart for their roles in this. I have heard it mentioned in passing once or twice, but I am surprised that more has not been made of it.

The Stewarts expended great efforts to set up their grand prix team, and against all the odds they achieved great things in the short three year lifespan of the team. Despite the best efforts of Ford to run the team into the ground with its misguided Jaguar Racing venture, the team has since gone on to achieve even greater things as Red Bull.

So hats off to Paul and Jackie Stewart. And hats off to Dietrich Mateschitz, Adrian Newey, Christian Horner, Sebastian Vettel and everyone else inolved in Red Bull Racing’s amazing achievement.

I’ll be upfront here. While many like Williams, with their “plucky underdog” status and stridently independent approach, they have never been my among my favourite teams. To the extent that I have ever liked them, it has been as the anti-Ferrari. In other words, I like them about as much as I like McLaren, which is not very much — but hey, at least they can beat Ferrari.

Today, Williams can’t beat Ferrari, so I am rather indifferent about them. But at a time where the majority of the grid is made up of manufacturers — of cars and drinks — even I can see that there is something romantic about Williams. I think it would be good to see them at the front again.

But if I was a fan of the team, I would probably have well and truly lost patience by now. Every year the team says, “just wait — next year we’ll be back”. They spend all winter making positive noises. And then when it comes to the big day itself? They are even slower than they were before.

One of the most successful teams in history

When they last won a Constructors’ Championship in 1997, Williams had won more of them than Ferrari. The record was staggering — nine Constructors’ and seven Drivers’ Championships in just 20 seasons. It was an utterly fearsome record.

At that stage, Williams had won races in all but two of its seasons — its very first in 1978, and a brief drought in 1988 when the team had to make do with inferior Judd engines after Honda jumped ship to McLaren. Even then, Nigel Mansell managed to wring a couple of second place finishes out of it, which is more than can be said for what came after 1997.

Once again, Williams was left in the lurch after the departure of the front-running engine manufacturer — this time Renault. To make matters worse, chief designer Adrian Newey left Williams to join McLaren. 1998 was a year of continuity for Williams, in all the wrong ways — using what were effectively year-old Renault engines and what some said was the 1997 chassis adapted for 1998 regulations.

In 1999 the team faced further difficulties with Alex Zanardi struggling to adapt to F1 after a successful time in ChampCars. While the wins dried up, this difficult spell was thankfully short lived, as in 2000 Williams forged a new partnership with BMW.

2000 was a learning year for all concerned, but successes came between 2001 and 2003, when Williams returned to winning ways. Williams were even strong title contenders in 2003, with four victories and nine podiums, Williams were a strong player in a tight three-way battle for the championship. As unlikely as it seems today, Juan Pablo Montoya was almost a World Champion!

The slide from the top

Unfortunately, things started to go pear-shaped again in 2004. A radical “walrus nose” concept brought little in the way of performance, and a more conventional design was brought out midway through the season. Montoya managed to win the final race in Brazil, but this race remains the team’s last taste of success.

Almost every year since then has seemingly seen Williams slip back a bit further, with the successes of the old days becoming an ever more distant memory. In the past five years, the team has had just four podium finishes. (Barring success in Turkey, that number will reduce to three this weekend!)

The brightest spot has been 2007, when a consistent set of results from Nico Rosberg helped the team bag a commendable fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship (although that was after McLaren’s disqualification from the Championship). Apart from that, Williams have become a fixture at the back of the midfield — if you can call 8th out of 10 teams the “midfield”.

Arrogant enough to believe their own excuses

All the while, the excuses came, and fans were reassured: “next year is our year”. And next year comes and everything is all the same. Even if they trick people into thinking they’re fast by topping Friday Practice times, as Williams did in the first half of last season, people soon become wise to the fact that the car is not truly capable of it.

Before, there was always a positive spin to put on the situation. In 2009, Williams were bad — but at least Renault were worse and BMW weren’t much better. In 2008 people were more concerned with the alarming lack of pace in the Honda. 2006 was regarded as a tough deal for Williams, struggling with apparently sluggish and unreliable Cosworth engines.

It’s difficult to sugar-coat this year’s results in the same way. Although seventh doesn’t sound too bad, in effect the only teams that are behind them are either new (in the case of Virgin, Hispania and Lotus), facing hugely difficult political and financial constraints (Sauber) or have designed their own car for the first time (Toro Rosso). The shocker is that Williams are even being compared to teams like this.

Meanwhile, Force India look a great deal more convincing, and Renault have again leapfrogged Williams and look like potential challengers to the top four teams. Indeed, Toro Rosso even look like they can realistically challenge Williams on the racetrack, particularly with a couple of feisty young drivers who are stepping up to the plate in style, particularly in the case of Jaime Alguersuari. Meanwhile, in China Nico Hülkenberg finished behind the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen.

It seems as though Williams allowed arrogance to get the better of them. It was always someone else’s fault. But increasingly, Williams have been made to eat humble pie.

Williams lay the blame for their early-2000s dip at the door of BMW. This ended in an acrimonious split in 2005, by which time each party had become convinced that the other side was not pulling its weight. But BMW did a pretty good job when they joined forces with Sauber, the disappointment of 2009 notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Williams became inert — a permanent fixture of the midfield.

Of course, if it wasn’t the engine’s fault, it was the drivers’ fault. I was very interested to see Frank Williams admitting that, in the light of Mark Webber’s recent successes, the team was too hasty to lay the blame at the door of its driver for their average spell in 2005 and 2006.

When we had him obviously our car was a disappointment and we felt he was part of the problem. He probably wasn’t actually, with hindsight. The major point was that the car had problems.

Is there a way back?

I think the Williams of today is a great deal less arrogant than the Williams of four or five years ago. But now the damage has been done. Is there a way back to the top for this proud team? 13 years on from its last Championship success, it’s difficult to see.

Already, there are rumours that Williams are unhappy with Cosworth (just like in 2006). Rumours are linking them to a partnership with Renault. Williams were linked to Renault last year too, and Frank Williams confessed that the prospect of “Williams Renault”, a reminder of the team’s most dominant period in the 1990s, was exciting.

Other rumours link Williams to a partnership with Porsche, with whom they have collaborated on kers. But the problems run deeper than the matter of their engine supply, as surely the lessons of the BMW split show.

Two proud championshipsDespite all of its history and past successes, Williams have tried and failed to recover for too long now. Sadly, it seems as though this year Williams have to make do with racing against the likes of Sauber, a zombie team that is on emergency life support, and Lotus, a team that didn’t even exist a few months ago.

I hope they can make it. I was privileged enough to be invited to the Williams factory and museum last year. The museum is a wonderful place, brimful of some of the most successful grand prix cars there have ever been. The team only goes back just over 30 years, but it is such a huge part of Formula 1’s history. It would be such a shame if Williams were stuck at the back of the grid forever.

Yesterday, I began looking at this year’s new F1 teams. This was following Ferrari’s controversial blog post and the news surrounding some of the new teams that has dominated the F1 news websites.

Yesterday I looked at the good aspect of the process — the relative success of Lotus and Virgin. Today, I turn my attention to the bad and ugly sides.

The bad side of the process

Campos’s fall from grace

It is unfortunate for Campos. At first they were regarded as among the most credible of the new teams. But unfortunately the money seems not to have been coming in. It looks as though the team has been saved. This week, as part of the process, its name was changed to Hispania. And today the car was finally launched.

But the car won’t get any proper running until it arrives in Bahrain for the first race, which doesn’t bode well. The last time a Formula 1 team turned up to a race without having tested was Lola in 1997. Running up to six seconds off the pace, the Lola remains one of the worst F1 cars of recent years.

Campos had previously run a successful GP2 team, and had signed a big name driver in the shape of Bruno Senna. For whatever reason, though, the prospect hasn’t brought in the sponsors.

Up until very recently, the driver line-up was still uncertain. For a period, it seemed as though Bruno Senna wasn’t safe. I do wonder if, counter-intuitively, Bruno Senna has been hindered by his name.

I have an immense amount of admiration for Bruno Senna. For my money, he was the class of the GP2 field in 2008. Yet, look at the other GP2 drivers from that season who have made the transition to F1 on more solid foundations: Lucas di Grassi, Romain Grosjean, Sébastien Buemi, Vitaly Petrov. Now you can add Karun Chandhok to that list.

I guess teams avoided hiring Bruno Senna for fear of being accused of only signing him up because of his name. So instead, shaky drivers like Jaime Alguersuari get parachuted in.

Hopefully Bruno Senna will be able to make something out of this mess. Considering he was unable to race for ten years in his youth due to his family’s wishes, he has done an amazing job to become as good as he is.

The situation at Campos / Hispania has been messy, and it’s clear that the team almost failed to make it. But it looks as though things are coming together. The new team principal Colin Kolles has experience in running a lean team from his Midland / Spyker / Force India days. Meanwhile, former Red Bull and BAR / Honda technical director Geoff Willis is also linked to the team.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Dallara chassis is any good. But while Campos were unable to pay the bills, there can’t have been too much work being done on it.

USF1: Another kick in the teeth for American F1 fans

The situation is even worse for USF1. Regarded very early on as a clown-like team, things have gone from bad to worse. It has to be said that Peter Windsor often comes across as someone with a rather child-like over-enthusiasm. Apparently we can add child-like naivety to his list of qualities too.

It seems as though Peter Windsor was genuinely the last person in the world to twig that USF1 wouldn’t arrive in Bahrain with a car. Stories from disgruntled USF1 employees have been leaking out for weeks now. The verdict on his management of the team, along with that of his business partner Ken Anderson, is damning.

With just weeks to go until the first race in Bahrain, USF1 was left with no car, and having done no testing. Peter Windsor was allegedly in tears when he broke the news to its sole announced driver, José María López (a driver who, incidentally, has not raced an open-wheel single-seater in anger for four years). He has apparently been lying low, having not been seen at the factory recently.

This week, when USF1’s employees were finally put out of their misery and told that the game was up, neither Peter Windsor nor Ken Anderson were present. When considering also the news that USF1 apparently had offers to save the team, but the shareholders rebuffed all of these efforts, I begin to assume that this entire exercise was all about ego, and nothing to do with any of the patriotic clap-trap they came out with.

Yesterday, the FIA finally kicked them out of the championship, too late for a more credible team such as Lola or Prodrive to be brought in. That didn’t stop one shady outfit from sniffing around though…

The ugly side of the process

Second hand car business Stefan GP

Serbian outfit Stefan, led by Zoran Stefanović, originally attempted to enter F1 along with the other teams last summer. It was not viewed as credible by anyone. It was noted that the way Stefan went about securing an entry was rather unconventional. For instance, they did their best to upset the FIA by complaining about the entry process itself — which won’t exactly get you in the FIA’s good books.

However, fast forward to this winter. Quietly, Stefan has secured the intellectual property to Toyota’s car, with the manufacturer having recently pulled out. Clearly, actually having a car is a fairly good weapon in an F1 team’s arsenal, particularly considering that certain teams (not naming any names, but I’m talking about USF1) did not even have a car, despite having been preparing for at least a year.

With the shit hitting the fan at USF1’s factory in Charlotte, Bernie Ecclestone was apparently trying to help Stefan make it onto the grid in an attempt to keep the field full. The trouble was that, despite having a car, Stefan still wasn’t terribly credible.

Their preferred form of communication was by bizarre press releases bemoaning everyone and everything in broken English. And when they attempted to test their car a couple of weeks ago, everything was all set, apart from the minor fact that they forgot to arrange a tyre supply!

And I hardly know where to begin with the drivers Stefan are rumoured to have been talking to — the likes of Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher. Michael Schumacher’s comeback is cynical enough, but at least he is talented and has the ability to come back after a few years away. Jacques Villeneuve couldn’t even spend half a season away in 2004 without coming back even worse than normal.

All-in-all, this entire process hasn’t been F1’s proudest moment. And Formula 1 in recent years is littered with bad news. Here is hoping that Jean Todt will manage to bring some sense into the FIA’s processes. I won’t hold my breath though.

Update: Read more about the dodgy Stefan operation.

After weeks of speculation, it is set to be revealed today that Michael Schumacher has signed a three year deal with for Mercedes. The rumour first surfaced when Eddie Jordan opened his notoriously big mouth. Everyone laughed at the time, but as the weeks went on it became clearer that the prospect was serious.

By my reckoning, this is the first major decision taken by Mercedes since they bought the Brawn team. I feel that it is very revealing about the way a manufacturer approaches Formula 1, as opposed to a privateer team that is in it for the racing. While the lure of attracting the sport’s biggest name must surely attract any team owner, only a manufacturer would set their sights so firmly on the notion.

After all, aside from his reputation, there does not seem to be much going for Schumacher. At 41, he will be the oldest F1 driver since Nigel Mansell in 1995 — and we all know how that went. And it is difficult to think of someone who has taken a sabbatical of three years and made a successful return to F1.

Furthermore, I would have thought that after the embarrassing spectacle of the summer, when Schumacher threatened to return to race for Ferrari before deciding he wasn’t up to the task, he everyone concerned would have learnt their lesson. Michael Schumacher is struggling with what are now quite well-documented fitness problems.

His neck issues are now well publicised. James Allen revealed earlier this year that Schumacher also had problems with his back towards the end of his career in 2005.

With so many question marks surrounding his abilities, I find it difficult to see the justification for expecting Michael Schumacher to be truly competitive. There is no doubt that Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver of all time, certainly as far as statistics go. But the conditions surely just aren’t right for him to make a competitive return.

Yet, as we can all see, the prospect of Michael Schumacher returning to F1 generates a tremendous amount of publicity. It makes little sense in terms of racing, but in terms of marketing the possibility is apparently irresistible.

In other words, Schumacher is coming back to F1 for all the wrong reasons. And Mercedes have signed him for all the wrong reasons.

This move seems to be little more than a crass marketing stunt by Mercedes. Brawn would not have made this decision. Nor would any team other than Ferrari. Even Ferrari went off the idea after this year’s shenanigans.

I must say that I am disappointed in Mercedes. Throughout their involvement in F1 in the past couple of decades, they have seemed to be a very sensible operation indeed. They were a world away from the attention-seeking but ultimately hollow nature of other manufacturers, notably Toyota and Honda.

But as soon as they have been released from the leash of McLaren, Mercedes have revealed their mad side. This is a decision made by money-men, and I would be amazed if this approach doesn’t end in tears like it has done for Toyota and Honda.

I am also stunned at Michael Schumacher’s decision to bite. Just a few months ago he was talking about his flirtation with replacing Felipe Massa as though it was a moment of madness. Now he has let the blood rush to his head again and is putting his considerable reputation on the line.

It also reveals his supposed passion and love for Ferrari to be just as shallow as his sportsmanship. As soon as another company will promise to stuff more money into his wallet, he will move like a shot. Very passionate, very romantic!

This whole thing comes across to me as the world’s most public mid-life crisis.

Belated congratulations to Jenson Button for becoming the 2009 World Champion. I know it’s long overdue, but hey — that’s what happens when real life takes over (more on that real life stuff can be found here).

I have not always been convinced that Jenson Button is a good driver. In fact, the only times he has impressed me before were his début season in 2000, and 2007 when he did an admirable job in what was by all accounts a horrendous car. In 2008 he was, oddly, not so impressive. Perhaps he had lost motivation after being let down by Honda for too many years, but the fact is that Rubens Barrichello did a better job in 2008.

The Brazilian had his moments in 2009, but it is difficult to argue that he was better than Jenson Button throughout the season. While Button’s sudden rise to the sharp end of the grid at the start of 2009 got many people asking whether it was all down to the car, Barrichello was often to be found scrapping around in the lower end of the points positions.

There is no doubt about the fact that this year’s Brawn car was much better than last year’s Honda car was a major contributory factor towards Jenson Button’s Championship victory. And it is true that Rubens Barrichello performed better than Button in the second half of the season. And, yes, without Barrichello’s vital set-up data, Jenson Button would probably have been nowhere.

But while Jenson Button was pounding in the wins, taking full advantage of the Brawn’s superiority while it was still there, Rubens Barrichello took too long to get up to speed with it. Let us also not forget that Jenson Button was seriously impressive during the first half of the season, putting in some of the best overtaking moves there have been all year.

It is certainly the case that this sort of aggressive form was not much in evidence during the second half of the season. After gaining victory in Turkey, it seems as though Jenson Button tensed up, not returning to form until Brazil.

For a lot of people, this was turning out to be a real damp squib. People do not like to see a driver winning a championship by merely bagging points rather than taking impressive victories. However, Button earned the right to be given this leeway, so impressive he was at the start of the season.

I would have said after Turkey that Jenson Button would have to have been really bad in the second half of the season to not deserve the title. But while he may have been slightly disappointing, he wasn’t really bad. He only failed to score once all year, in Belgium when he was crashed into on lap one. That is a pretty intimidating achievement.

Now it is no secret that Jenson Button suffered under the stress of defending his championship lead. Simply looking at his results for the season tells its own story. He was dominant in the first seven races, but occupied the lower end of the points for the rest of the season.

While some were critical of this drop in form, the fact is that almost all championship leaders do this. In fact, it would be completely foolish to any driver with a massive championship lead at the mid-way point to tackle the second half of the season in the same manner. As Ross Brawn said, if a football team is leading 3-0 at half time, they don’t play the second half in the same style as the first.

Looking back over the years, this is a pattern that is repeated time after time. The driver who leads at the halfway point of the season almost always scores fewer points in the second half of the season. Looking at the past ten seasons, the leader at the halfway point has always turned down the wick, with the exception of Fernando Alonso in 2005. The drop in performance has been particularly marked since the points system was changed for 2003, which shifted the balance towards consistency and conservatism over aggression.

(In seasons with an odd number of races, the middle race has been removed from the calculation.)

Year Leader at halfway point First half points Second half points Difference
2009 Jenson Button 69 27 42
2008 Lewis Hamilton 48 40 8
2007 Lewis Hamilton 64 39 25
2006 Fernando Alonso 84 50 34
2005 Fernando Alonso 59 74 -15
2004 Michael Schumacher 80 68 18
2003 Michael Schumacher 54 39 15
2002 Michael Schumacher 70 68 2
2001 Michael Schumacher 58 55 3
2000 Michael Schumacher 56 52 4

Clearly, Button’s drop-off was particularly extreme. However, it was not that much more extreme than Alonso’s in 2006. Alonso is rightly lauded for being conservative when he needs to be. Button should be too. Even though the drop-off seemed alarming, the fact is that he had made himself more than enough room to get away with it, and still secure the championship with one race to spare. Why expend more energy by taking the more risky strategy of going all-out for wins when you can achieve it in the way Jenson Button did?

Nonetheless, it is difficult to deny that the way Jenson Button won the championship was slightly underwhelming. It certainly wouldn’t have been very satisfying were it not for his scintillating performance in Brazil. Of course, he did indeed pull that performance out of the bag just when he needed it, so it is slightly academic now.

But by almost any measure you can conceive of, Jenson Button was the most deserving person to win the championship. I have had a look at different scoring systems that would reward more consistent performances throughout the season. Although it is always a spurious exercise to impose different scoring systems on a set of races that have already taken place (remembering that altering the incentives inevitably affects behaviour), it is interesting to look at systems that may have punished Jenson Button for not performing so well towards the end of the season.

One such system would be to split the season into, say, four sections, with drivers dropping their worst score from each quarter of the season. What with there being an odd number of races in 2009, this is affected by where you decide to place the splits. But with three sections of four races, and a final section with the final four races, this cuts Jenson Button’s lead down to just three points over Sebastian Vettel. However, Button would still win under this system.

Splitting the season into two halves and making drivers drop two scores, Button’s victory margin can be cut down to two points. However, Button still wins the championship.

The only vaguely sensible system I have been able to come up with is making drivers drop six scores from the whole season. This puts Button and Vettel level on points, although of course Button would still win the championship because he has won more races.

Only by splitting the season into two and making drivers drop three scores from each half does Vettel score more points than Button. Whether it would be desirable to have a system where six races from each driver’s season do not count towards the championship is debatable.

Looking at the results of the season, it is striking just how superior Jenson Button was to everyone else. Jenson Button only failed to score once. His nearest challenger, Vettel, chalked up five zeros. Mark Webber failed to score seven times, while Hamilton finished pointless nine times.

Button also won two more races than anyone else. To Button’s six, Vettel took the chequered flag four times, while Barrichello, Webber and Hamilton each took it twice.

In terms of the results, the clear closest challenger to Button has been Vettel. No doubt there would have been complaints about his championship too, due to his tendency still to make mistakes, and his alarming inability to overtake. And speaking of overtaking, who could deny that Button pulled off some of the best overtaking moves of the season?

Is Jenson Button a deserving champion? I can hardly imagine what more you could ask for.

Okay, so Brawn may only have been in Formula 1 for less than one year. But undoubtedly it is a name and a team that will go down in history.

There was a magnetic attraction to the Cinderella story that was the life of Brawn GP. Until March, the existence of the former Honda team hung in the balance. A last-minute lifeline and some punchy Mercedes engines (which required the incredible generosity of McLaren) saved the day for the employees at Brackley.

The car turned out to be devastatingly quick. In its short life, the Brawn team achieved some juicy records. This made it, by many measures, the most successful new team there has ever been in F1. Today it secures a status as the only team ever to have a 100% championship-winning record.

The shortest-lived legendary team

Despite a lifespan of less than a year, Brawn will go down in legend. Its rapid success ensured that it had become a household name. And its livery — with the distinctive chartreuse swooshes highlighted by bold, black borders — will surely become as iconic as a JPS livery, a Marlboro livery or a Gulf livery.

People quickly became attached to the Brawn colours. Just look at how many of this year’s F1 books are decked out in a snot green that tries to replicate the fluorescence of the car itself. It is such a strong image.

A livery change was widely expected as soon as Brawn started to get more sponsors. But a livery change never happened. Despite the fact that most of Brawn’s sponsors over the 2009 season actually had red logos, thereby clashing awkwardly with the neon yellow, Brawn stuck with the original livery because it worked so well.

Mercedes to ignore Brawn heritage?

Maybe I am over-egging the pudding a little. But I genuinely think the sport has lost an icon. Today’s announcement that the Brawn team will be bought by Mercedes brings to an end this incredible story of the plucky underdogs who won against all odds.

It is yet another stage in the rollercoaster existence of the Brackley-based team whose history can be traced back to Tyrrell. In the past five years alone, the team has been owned by British American Tobacco, Honda and Brawn. The Mercedes era should finally bring some stability to this team.

Mercedes Grand Prix possible livery

In its press release today, Mercedes has included a mock-up of the sort of livery it presumably wants to run with next season. All trace of the Brawn heritage has apparently vanished.

Maybe I am just too romantic for my own good. But I would like to see the splashes of Brawn chartreuse remain, with the rest of the car remaining silver. After all, the current McLaren livery has “Rocket Red” in more or less the same places as Brawn’s chartreuse.

There is much talk about how the “return” Mercedes to F1 as a works team will mean a return of the legendary “Silver Arrows”. That’s funny, because I seem to remember everyone saying the same thing when McLaren switched to a silver livery in 1997. Maybe it doesn’t count any more.

McLaren’s colours: If not silver, what?

Speaking of McLaren’s silver livery, their press release today says that it will remain the same. Against expectations, McLaren have extended their engine deal with Mercedes to now last until 2015. But Daimler AG will be selling back the bit of McLaren that they own, and McLaren will become a Mercedes customer team rather than the pseudo-works team they had become.

As speculation increased over the past week or so, I began to wonder what colour scheme McLaren would adopt were they to part ways with Mercedes. Obviously that is a bit academic now, but it’s interesting to think about.

Nowadays most people think of McLaren as a silver (or, for the less charitable among us, grey) team. But it is probably more accurate to think of McLaren’s main colour as being red.

Red is the most prominent colour of the most evocative McLaren livery — the famous Marlboro scheme it ran in its 1980s heyday. Historically, McLaren ran with an orange livery.

The team describes the red colour that features in today’s livery as “Rocket Red”. It is not a scarlet or a Ferrari red. It is rather orangey, perhaps in a nod to the team’s history running in orange.

In recent years, McLaren have been known to run test cars in an orange livery from time to time. It would be really neat if McLaren toned down the “Rocket Red” a notch or two, and made its colour orange once again.

Or am I just being too romantic again? Maybe not. It is a good sign that McLaren Automotive use orange prominently in their marketing.

On top of the exits of Bridgestone and Toyota came news that Renault had held an emergency board meeting to discuss their future in Formula 1. According to Andrew Benson at the BBC:

The French car company was considering whether to remain in the sport with its own team, switch to simply being an engine supplier or quit altogether.

Were Renault to pull out, it would conclude the removal of all of the major manufacturer teams in F1. Honda, BMW and Toyota have all gone in the past year. Renault are now seriously considering leaving.

In terms of manufacturer involvement, that would leave engine suppliers Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari. Both Mercedes and Ferrari are as close to being permanent fixtures as it comes in F1. Mercedes have been involved in F1 uninterrupted since 1993. With their increased involvement in Brawn, they look set to stick around. Ferrari have been in F1 since the beginning in 1950 and were they to leave it would be the end of F1. As such, you can more-or-less exclude both Mercedes and Ferrari from the list of manufacturers at risk of leaving F1.

I have to admit that I am wary of what Renault might do. I always suspected that Renault would be the first manufacturer to leave, certainly since Carlos Ghosn took over there. Now they are effectively the last one remaining. That is a surprise. Does it make it more likely for them to stay in the long run? Or is this the opportunity to join the queue of companies leaving the sport without looking a bit silly like Honda did?

There are more questions. Was Max Mosley right all along to push forward with his anti-manufacturer proposals? His justification was that manufacturers might leave with no warning, so it was wise to slash costs, freeze engines and neuter the sport in all sorts of ways. Now that manufacturers are leaving in droves, it looks like he may have been right.

The alternative possibility is that the changes he has forced through, along with the screeds of bad publicity it caused, have fundamentally made the sport less attractive. The manufacturers could well have preferred a breakaway than live with the FIA’s vision. But the FIA’s vision is what we’ve got. Ferrari certainly have their own views.

The thing is, manufacturers are always fickle. They always have been, and always will be. They will leave at the drop of a hat if it no longer forms part of their marketing strategy. Motorsport is not their core business. At the end of the day, if they won’t sell on Monday, why should they bother trying to win on Sunday?

But it was Max Mosley who originally moulded F1 into a sport dominated by manufacturers. He said that teams like Williams were not his vision of F1’s future. Now Williams is the model of the sort of team that will occupy around half of the grid next year.

In a sense, you can see this current phase as the F1 equivalent of a market correction. The bubble has burst. But while it seems painful now, this process paves the way for a more stable situation.

Throughout its history, Formula 1 has had a healthy mixture of manufacturer involvement and privateer passion. In recent years, the scales had tipped a bit too far towards the manufacturers, which drowned out the privateers to an almost dangerous extent.

F1 had become the plaything of manufacturers and multi-trillionaires. Let us not forget that alongside the likes of Honda and Toyota, businessmen such as Dietrich Mateschitz and Vijay Mallya — who have more money than they know what to do with — have bankrolled F1 teams to success. You will notice that, ignoring the ‘For Sale’ sign outside Toro Rosso (which isn’t very prominent), these teams have remained in F1, unlike the manufacturers.

They are a bit more like privateers in the traditional sense. They don’t want to sell cars, though they may want to sell drinks. But in a way they are in F1 because they are attracted to it as a sport, just as people like Frank Williams and Ken Tyrrell were. Manufacturers just do it because they feel like they should.

Next year there might be too few manufacturers. For there to be just three companies supplying engines would be a situation almost as unsustainable as what has happened up to this year. Cosworth may be crossing their fingers though. Their business model might work if they supply more teams.

But I can see Renault playing a happy role as an engine supplier, even if the Renault F1 team is put up for sale. I am certain that there would be a lot of interest from serious people wanting to buy the team. Despite the turmoil of this year’s scandal, and the fact that the team has gone off the boil for the past few years, this is a team that has the facilities and the capabilities to win World Championships.

I would be upset to see Renault leave the sport. I have a bit of a soft spot for them. Toyota were cold and clinical, on top of being comically bad considering their budgets.

Honda were always a bit of a fairweather presence. They took over BAR more-or-less because there was no-one else to do it after tobacco companies left the sport. Then they set up Super Aguri because they were scared to sack Takuma Sato properly. While many were attracted to Super Aguri for their pluck and while struggling at the back in difficult circumstances, it should never be forgotten that Super Aguri was always a crass and expensive publicity stunt.

Renault, though, have real heritage. They have a history in the shape of their involvement in the sport in the 1970s and 1980s. And the current incarnation of the team has been notably successful, mostly for being the one team that has been able to put up a sustained fight against Ferrari in this decade by beating the Scuderia two years in a row.

Here’s hoping that Renault don’t decide to depart. I am especially hopeful for Robert Kubica, a hugely talented driver who after being put through the wringer at BMW this year does not need this again. But, unlike the other teams, I have a feeling that the future of the Enstone-based squad will be perfectly safe no matter who owns it.

The day after Bridgestone announced that they would be leaving Formula 1, it emerged that Toyota were poised to do the same. This was not as much of a shock as Bridgestone’s exit, but it is nonetheless major news.

Toyota are the third major manufacturer to leave F1 in just twelve months, and now rumours furiously swirl around Renault as well. But, as you may have gathered from the tone of my last article about Toyota, I find it too difficult to get upset about them leaving.

Today, Toyota company president Akio Toyoda apologised for Toyota’s inability to win a race in its eight season long campaign. It was noted that Toyota probably needed a win in order to secure their future in F1. Had a Toyota taken a chequered flag this year, may they have been given a reprieve?

I was intrigued also by Akio Toyoda’s words: “I offer my deepest apologies to Toyota’s many fans.” Which Toyota fans? I have never met one. They have been easily the least attractive team for their entire existence. Their policy of designing their car by committee was wholly unsuited to F1, and their strategy of employing mediocre drivers was not at all endearing.

How ironic that the cold and calculating Toyota F1 project should show some emotion when it is carrying out its most calculating move yet, to place the jobs of all of its workers under immediate threat. Akio Toyoda was tearful while mentioning the workers during the announcement of the company’s withdrawal.

You have to feel sorry for the staff at the team’s base in Cologne. While any F1 team finding itself in trouble is bad news for that team’s workers, those based in Britain are insulated somewhat by the fact that there are always a few other teams just down the road.

Those who have families in Germany will not find it so easy to turn to another team in motorsport to help them pay their mortgage. The closest conceivable option for those wanting to remain in F1 is the Hinwil, Switzerland-based team formerly known as BMW Sauber. But of course the future of that team is also on a knife-edge. They probably have all the staff they need anyway.

Many are also sympathising with Kamui Kobayashi, the rookie Toyota protégé who had a spirited two races at the tail end of the 2009 season. Alan Henry even went as far as to say that Kobayashi is, “the very best Japanese driver I have ever seen.”

Steady on there! Yes, Kobayashi was very impressive in his two F1 races. But he was, after all, racing for his career. He didn’t have the funds to do yet another GP2 season, and he was lucky to get his F1 break. But if he didn’t succeed in his stint, he was going back to work in a sushi restaurant.

As such, Kobayashi was highly-motivated, and took the risks he needed to take to stand out. Would he be like this in normal circumstances? It is impossible to tell. But his GP2 form was not exactly exciting. And let us not forget that he arguably caused a big accident when he moved across on Kazuki Nakajima at Interlagos.

Now Toyota have left F1, thereby leaving Kobayashi without a drive. Now he is a hero; a martyr. I am not terribly sure that status is deserved. Nonetheless, I hope he doesn’t have to put his sushi preparation skills to use for a while yet.

Toyota’s sharp exit from F1 does perhaps explain their odd behaviour surrounding drivers towards the tail end of this season. Timo Glock suffered from mysterious illnesses and injuries which paved the way for Kobayashi to get a drive.

Perhaps Glock was asked nicely to stand aside for two races so that the team could give Kobayashi a “sorry” present. “Sorry for not finding that seat in F1 for you after all your years of hard work in our young driver programme. Here are a couple of consolation races.”

Perhaps the biggest point to chew over is what this means for motorsport in Japan. Axis of Oversteer notes:

Toyota and Honda left F1 as has Bridgestone. Kawasaki dropped out of MotoGP. Suzuki and Subaru quit the WRC and Mitsubishi has called off its Dakar efforts.

I find it unimaginable that Japan might not be represented at all in F1. For there to be an exodus across top-line motorsport is seriously worrying. Here is hoping that it is just a blip as the Japanese motor industry goes through a particularly tough time.