Archive: MotoGP

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.

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.

No-one can have failed to have spotted the irony. Giancarlo Fisichella has realised his childhood dream. Like any Italian driver, the opportunity to drive for Ferrari at all — never mind at Monza — is a real dream come true for Fisichella. But as with Luca Badoer, that dream has not quite gone to plan.

At least Badoer did not have a former team for him to compare. But Fisichella must have particularly mixed feelings as he struggles in his Ferrari while his former team Force India threatens to have the very fastest car in the pack.

A strong Force India showing at Monza was always on the cards. On the back of an excellent performance at Spa-Francorchamps, where Fisichella got pole position and finished 2nd, it was clear that Force India’s car was handy in a low downforce environment.

Force India were particularly bullish in the run-up to this race too. Knowing they may have had an advantage for Spa and Monza, Force India booked one of the few straight-line tests that are allowed per year for this week in order to maximise their advantage. It also gave their new race driver, Vitantonio Liuzzi, a chance to familiarise himself with the car (albeit not on a racetrack).

Liuzzi will probably be driving the very same car that Fisichella excelled in at Spa. It is little surprise that he has hit the ground running, qualifying a solid 7th for his first race since 2007. I have long felt that Liuzzi wasn’t given a proper chance in F1, and it delights me to see that he may now get a prolonged spell at a stable team. There have been strong rumours for a while that Liuzzi had a 2010 race contract with Force India in the bag already.

Meanwhile, Fisichella’s former team mate Adrian Sutil has his tail up, and appears to be adapting well to becoming Force India’s de facto team leader. He was probably fast enough to get pole position today but a mistake on his quick lap put paid to that notion. Nonetheless, Sutil must fancy his chances for a great result in the race, despite the fact that he is surrounded by kers-equipped cars on the grid.

Meanwhile, Fisichella, having chosen to move to Ferrari, is struggling to adapt to his new car and qualified 14th on the grid. He must be scratching his head a bit over the fact that his old car is seven places in front, and his former team mate is a massive 12 places in front. Fisichella says he is far from unhappy, and even takes pride from the fact that he helped develop that Force India to become a front-runner.

You certainly can’t blame him for deciding to move to Ferrari. Which would he prefer — a good result, or the chance to say he’s driven for Ferrari. He has three career wins already. Balancing the chance of getting a fourth victory in a Force India, or getting a moderate result for Ferrari, you can see even then why he might prefer the latter option.

What his performance so far this weekend shows you don’t have to have been out of racing for ten years to struggle to get to grips with the Ferrari F60. Yes, Badoer’s performances were not great, but I felt very sorry for him being expected to perform straight away in a car that is said to be difficult to drive.

Giancarlo Fisichella’s performance has not been quite as bad as Badoer’s. But given that he is fully race-fresh and fit, you would expect that. Fisichella will probably have expected to do better than this. It has been a slightly lacklustre weekend. He was 20th in both Friday Practice 2 and Saturday Practice. On Saturday he further underlined his difficulties by crashing at the Parabolica. Indeed, I found myself wondering what oh-so-hilarious nicknames the journalists might like to come up with now that a different Ferrari is struggling at the back.

Following Badoer’s struggles in Valencia, Ted Kravitz revealed that the F60 may be a particularly tricky car to master. The driver is required to do lots of hands-on switch-flicking and knob-twisting throughout the lap.

This is also Fisichella’s explanation for why switching to a Ferrari has not brought an immediate improvement in his pace as a driver.

It’s a different car so there is different reaction going into the corners. You work much more with the steering wheel and the switches compared to Force India. With Force India I was just concentrating on the driving, here I am quite busy.

As for his crash during Saturday Practice, that is said to be due to Fisichella adapting to the behaviour of the car under braking while it is harvesting its energy for kers. Kers was another worry that Fisichella did not have to deal with at Force India, but it is fundamental to the performance of the F60.

These insights about the Ferrari F60 remind me of the received wisdom about Ducati’s MotoGP bike. There are many parallels between Ferrari and Ducati, and this appears to be another one. The Ducati has long been famous for making previously-good riders look poor. Only Casey Stoner appears able to extract the full potential from it, while other Ducati riders tend to struggle to find any pace at all. The suggestion is that the Ducati is a very difficult bike to ride and that only Stoner has tamed it. Perhaps Felipe Massa had a similar magic with the Ferrari. (In yet another parallel, both Stoner and Massa are currently not racing in order to convalesce.)

The experience of watching drivers attempt to get to grips with a tricky car under the intense spotlight of a race weekend, rather than the relative privacy of a test session, has at least put a few myths to bed. Certainly, the idea that results are more down to the car than the driver was given a boost when Jenson Button seemed unable to stop winning at the beginning of this season. But it was dealt a blow when Luca Badoer stepped into the Ferrari, and finished last in Belgium when his team mate won.

Now we see Fisichella with his hands full and we are presented with a yet more complex picture. A driver needs to grow into his car. He needs to learn how to drive it and gain in confidence with it. It is also true that a car needs to suit a particular driver’s style. Arguably Badoer wasn’t given enough time to adapt, and Fisichella will need more leeway too. Here’s hoping the tifosi have patience with him if he is unable to score a good result during the race.

A deal has been struck between Max Mosley, Fota and Bernie Ecclestone, and the threat of a breakaway series has been averted. I think there were a lot of people out there who quite liked the idea of a breakaway series. Indeed, given the choice between Max Mosley’s rotten vision and a Fota-run series, I would have gone for the Fota series every time.

But a split would have been a calamitous situation. The new series, despite having all the big names and probably some decent circuits, would still have taken some time to find its feet. Plus, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Fota series would have got good television coverage. Don’t forget that for the vast majority of fans, television is the only way we can consume the sport that we love, so this is an essential element.

In a lot of ways, the roots of the current problem in Formula 1 lie with Bernie Ecclestone. Or, to be more precise, CVC. They are the ones who suck the money out of the sport in order to pay the interest on their debts. That is why F1 ends up visiting sterile circuits with minuscule crowds — because those governments will pay huge sums of money for the privilege of holding an F1 race. That is probably also the reason for the fervour over cost cutting. If the teams spend less, Bernie can get away with giving the teams less of the sport’s revenues, and giving CVC more of them.

But despite that problem with CVC, I can’t find it in myself to be too angry with Bernie Ecclestone. In truth, he has done a great job of promoting the sport, and F1 may never have appealed to me were it not for Bernie’s efforts. Sure, there are a lot of areas where he can improve, particularly on the dire online offering.

But under Bernie Ecclestone, the television coverage of Formula 1 has been revolutionised. He got his fingers burnt with the adventurous F1 Digital+ endeavour. But while those innovatory days may be no more (and it is notable that F1 is still not broadcast in HD), today’s FOM-produced World Feed (used for all races except Monaco and Japan) is based on many of those innovations and television coverage has improved immeasurably over the past fifteen or so years.

We seldom have to deal with relatively amateurish efforts from the host broadcasters. Just compare these two videos of the same incident as it unfolded live. One is from the FOM F1 Digital+ World Feed, and the other was from the host broadcaster. (To view them side-by-side ‘as live’, start the second video when the first video reaches 17 seconds.)

The difference in quality is massive. F1 Digital+ caught the accident live so viewers knew immediately what happened. This was no coincidence. It happened because a system of sensors around the circuit could detect when cars were running close together, and coverage automatically switched to those cars in the expectation of some kind of incident unfolding. Later, replays from multiple angles enhanced the viewer’s understanding of the incident.

Meanwhile, the host broadcaster cut to Ralf Schumacher climbing out of his car ten seconds after the incident originally started. And it was a long time until viewers found out that the accident also involved Jacques Villeneuve — and there was only one angle of the incident. Note also how Martin Brundle had to rely on the superior coverage which he could see outside his commentary box window to tell viewers that Villeneuve was unhurt.

The Australian host broadcasters were not dummies. They just did the best job they could with the resources they had at their disposal. “Bernievision” was only good because of heavy investment and years of experimentation.

Bernie’s television operation was pretty impressive even in 2001, though not all of the innovations remain in today’s coverage. But it is thanks to Bernie Ecclestone that today’s coverage is more like the first video than the second one. A Fota-run championship would not have had such a slick operation going from day one, and the fans would have been worse off for it.

(For more on the amazing “Bernievision”, check out these decade-old articles on Inside Bakersville and Inside the F1 digital television centre.)

Then there is the question of whether it would have had any coverage at all. The BBC would have been scared off, and television executives would have been confused. They want the World Championship, whether or not an alternative series is better in the eyes of the fans. Take, for instance, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which I hear is better than the FIA’s World Rally Championship. Not that I’d know, because the former is ghettoised on Eurosport while the FIA’s weak WRC gets terrestrial coverage.

No matter if it has all the current teams and good circuits — signing up to show a new series is a risk which television executives wouldn’t want to take. The prospect of the best F1 series being on some pay channel and having no terrestrial coverage was a real one. That aspect of the breakaway scared me.

On the other hand, the proposed breakaway presented the opportunity to create a great new version of Formula 1, unshackled from the financial needs of CVC or the warped politics of Max Mosley. Fota had some crazy ideas, but they carried out market research and were far more receptive to the views of fans than the FIA have ever been.

I particularly liked the idea that the new series could have been particularly focussed on attracting an American audience. The FIA Formula 1 Championship has dumped on US fans time and again, and today there is no race in North America even though it is a major market for the manufacturers.

There would also have been a careful look at ticket prices and the fees circuits have to pay to hold an F1 race. No-one (apart from Bernie apparently) likes to arrive at sterile circuits with a dozen people in the grandstand. It comes across on television too, whether or not FOM’s cameramen are instructed to avoid shots of empty grandstands.

I could feel the atmosphere of the passionate British crowd on the television. The difference could hardly be more stark from the previous race at Turkey, where the crowd was around 10% of the size. And Silverstone is a circuit that Bernie wants to move away from.

Even the little things that are wrong with F1 could have had the magnifying glass applied to them. Such as, why can’t a driver keep the same number for his whole career. In other categories such as Nascar or MotoGP, a driver’s number becomes part of his legend, every bit as important as, say, his helmet design. Even in the history of Formula 1, the number 27 car is almost synonymous with Gilles Villeneuve. Imagine the marketing potential too. But in the clinical world of Formula 1, driver numbers are determined by the positions of last year’s Constructors’ Championship.

In short, the breakaway could have been a great opportunity to fix everything that is broken with F1. I doubt the breakaway would have been a true ‘split’, and it probably wouldn’t have had the same consequences as the Cart / IRL split. It was pretty clear from the fact that the FIA never released a finalised 2010 entry list that the FIA didn’t have a 2010 F1 Championship to speak of, and Fota’s would have been the only show in town.

That, I think, is why the deal must be seen as a victory for Fota. It has turned out to be a powerful organisation that did after all have the ability to at last stand up to Max Mosley’s dictatorial authority.

There is a part of me that suspects that the FIA as an organisation simply isn’t fit for the purpose of overseeing motorsports. We will eventually see how things develop with Max Mosley’s successor. I think today is just the starting point though, and we will see some more loose ends being tied up in the coming months. There will be power struggles there too, I am sure.

It looks like these negotiations will in fact be handled by Michel Boeri. That in itself is interesting because he is the promoter of the Monaco Grand Prix. It was reported that he would take the Monaco GP with him to the Fota camp if the breakaway went ahead.

What we need now, most of all, is someone in charge of the FIA who is not a glorified politician, constantly interfering. I remember Maurice Hamilton making the point once that everyone knows who Max Mosley is, and many people can tell you that Jean-Marie Balestre was his predecessor. But not many can tell you who Balestre’s predecessor was (for you history buffs, on the Fisa side it was Pierre Ugeux, and in the FIA it was Paul Metternich). Yet the sport still ran.

It sounds like from now on there will be more checks and balances in place, with the F1 Commission being given more of a say from now on. No doubt Fota will continue to play its role too, and I think it would be best for everyone if Williams and Force India re-joined and USF1, Campos and Manor all joined too. That way the teams, who create the sport, can have a say in its governance too.

Speaking of the new teams, I think as we sit here today, with much of the damage repaired, the biggest shame of this episode is that two capable teams have been denied a place on the entry list as a result of Max Mosley’s petty politicking. I think many of us can’t wait to see Prodrive finally get a chance to enter F1, and Lola were a promising prospect too.

No doubt the FIA actually had a tough choice to make, as according to Joe Saward at least the Manor Grand Prix team is actually a seriously strong prospect. With costs set to be cut and a more stable future for F1 promised, and with that troublesome Max fellow out of the way, at least we know there are capable teams that are ready to fill any potential gaps that appear.

This morning Pitpass has a scoop that reveals details of the BBC’s team that will be covering Formula 1 next season.

The names mentioned are Martin Brundle (the only person to move from ITV), David Coulthard, Jonathan Legard, Lee McKenzie and Jake Humphrey. Some of the names are not connected to any roles, but it seems pretty clear who will be doing what.

Anchor: Jake Humphrey

Jake Humphrey’s name entered the frame in the rumour mill a few weeks ago, and the more you think about it the more he makes sense. He may not have any experience in F1 broadcasting, and frankly we don’t know if he actually likes F1. However, he is clearly a rising star and, moreover, a thoroughly competent presenter with a background in a diverse variety of sports.

Despite a background in children’s television, Jake Humphrey started climbing the BBC Sport ladder when he presented Sportsround, a children’s sports news programme. Since then he has become the youngest person ever to present Football Focus and Match of the Day. He also attracted widespread acclaim when he presented the BBC’s coverage of the NFL Superbowl earlier this year.

Pundit: David Coulthard

This has been widely expected for weeks, months, perhaps even years. As a highly experienced British Formula 1 driver, DC was always likely to start a career in broadcasting once he retired from driving.

Coulthard will not just bring his driving expertise to the role — he is also a very entertaining speaker and is not afraid to speak colourfully. Some have noted that the BBC may want to rein in DC because he is not the most politically correct person in the world. He notably exclaimed live on British breakfast television earlier this year that he wanted to kick “seven colours of shit out of the little bastard”, referring to Felipe Massa. I doubt DC will launch into such a tirade in the relaxed atmosphere of a studio in London, but his colourful style will entertain viewers.

Main commentator: Jonathan Legard

Perhaps at the different end of the scale to David Coulthard, Jonathan Legard is a conservative choice for the BBC to make for the role of main commentator. He is a safe pair of hands. Perhaps not the most entertaining of speakers. He is certainly not a Murray Walker. But nor does he have James Allen’s cringeworthy faux-excitement. Legard is a calm, analytical commentator.

A BBC man through and through, Legard used to commentate on Radio 5 Live’s F1 coverage before leaving to become the station’s football correspondent. I had read that Legard was reluctant to take on the role, having ruled himself out earlier. But this is an important one for the BBC to get right given the sticks and stones that have gone ITV’s way as a result of James Allen over the years.

Colour commentator: Martin Brundle

Despite the BBC wanting to put their own mark on F1 coverage next season (as is evident from the choices above), Brundle has become almost as indispensable as Murray Walker was when coverage moved from the BBC to ITV back in 1997. It was feared that Martin Brundle would not be a part of the BBC’s team, but he is simply too good for the BBC to ignore.

It would, in fact, have been a bit of a farce if they decided not to hire Martin Brundle. He has won an armful of awards for his commentary while at ITV. His ability to come up with witty, pithy quips on the spot has won him legions of fans. That’s not to say that Brundle is perfect, and mistakes seem to be creeping into his commentary more and more as time goes on. But this is clearly the right choice for the BBC to make.

Pitlane reporter: Lee McKenzie

Lee McKenzie is the daughter of F1 journalist Bob McKenzie and has previous experience presenting motor sport highlights on ITV. More recently she has presented Sky’s A1GP coverage.

I was just recently wondering whatever happened to Lee McKenzie (I don’t have Sky) so it was a pleasant surprise to see her name in the Pitpass report. I have no idea what she is like as a pitlane reporter, but she has been presenting motorsport coverage for some years now so this should work out fine.

Anyone else?

It would be interesting if this is the entire BBC team. ITV have had two pitlane reporters ever since they got F1 coverage, with one person chasing drivers for interviews while the other hunts out stories from the garages. If the BBC have only one pitlane reporter, this will be a big drawback of the coverage.

According to the Pitpass report, the BBC will be spending less on their F1 coverage than ITV. It seems highly likely that the coverage will be anchored from a London studio, although surely the commentary team in addition to the pitlane reporters at least will travel to the races. It would be quite strange, though, as MotoGP is always presented from the paddock just like ITV’s F1 coverage.

However, I personally wouldn’t mind the coverage being presented from London. I don’t see the big advantage of having Steve Rider and Mark Blundell standing in noisy garages with engines roaring so that you can barely hear them speak. Keeping the coverage in London is a sensible scheme that will save license payers’ money.

The names now out of the picture

The omission of Holly Samos is interesting, as I had earlier read that she was already privately confirmed as the pitlane reporter. Samos is okay, but she has made a few bad mistakes during her Radio 5 Live coverage this season, completely ruining my understanding of the race on at least one occasion.

As for the main commentator, if Jonathan Legard had decided to rule himself out, David Croft would probably have been in line to take the job. I am slightly relieved that he hasn’t got the job. While I think he is a competent commentator, he does make mistakes and he has a bit of a James Allen thing going on.

My preferred choice for the role would have been Ben Edwards. However, I have heard that it is a precondition of being part of the BBC’s F1 coverage that presenters will not work for any other broadcaster. Given that Ben Edwards has his fingers in many pies, this will have ruled him out.

What is really interesting is that no-one from the current BBC Radio 5 Live team has made the jump to the corporation’s television coverage. This is not entirely unexpected. When it was originally announced back in March that the BBC had acquired the rights to broadcast F1 on television, I suggested that the BBC might keep the current team on Radio 5 Live.

Even this is not confirmed however, as the contract to produce Radio 5 Live’s F1 coverage, currently held by USP Content, is up for renewal for 2009. It could be a case of so near yet so far for the 5 Live team. Both Holly Samos and David Croft were strongly linked to roles on BBC television, yet according to Pitpass neither has got the nod. Might they even be absent from next year’s radio coverage as well?

Update: Here is more opinion on the news from Keith at F1 Fanatic.

This is the second part of my two-part series looking at other motor racing series. Read the first part here.

Routes to F1

Entry-level series (yellow boxes)

These series are — as the heading suggests — ideal for those drivers who have just finished karting and are racing cars for the first time.

Formula Renault 2.0

The most popular entry-level series at the moment is Formula Renault. There are a number of major Formula Renault championships.

Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 is the most major of the Formula Renault 2.0 competitions, racing at a number of circuits around Europe. Robert Kubica, Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa (who won the series) all competed in this championship. Other winners of the series include Scott Speed and Pedro de la Rosa. 2005 victor Kamui Kobayashi is currently on the up in GP2.

Formula Renault 2.0 UK is another high-profile competition. Kimi Räikkönen was at the centre of a controversy when he — uniquely — made the leap from this competition directly to an F1 race seat! There was a debate as to whether or not he should have been awarded an FIA Super License. In the end the F1 Commission was convinced by his form, and it turned out to be the right decision.

A few years later Lewis Hamilton won this series, though he took a more conventional route to F1. Other notable names to have graduated from Formula Renault UK include Heikki Kovalainen and Pedro de la Rosa. British viewers can catch Formula Renault UK races on ITV4 as part of the channel’s BTCC coverage.

Formula Renault 2.0 Italia was a breeding ground for Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa. Other recent winners include Finnish promise Mika Mäki (currently doing well in F3 Euroseries), Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado and Kamui Kobayashi (who both currently compete in GP2).

Formula Renault 2.0 West European Cup is brand new for this season, but replaces the well-established Championnat de France Formula Renault 2.0, the history of which stretches back to 1971. The French series was graced by the presence of then-future French F1 drivers Alain Prost, Jacques Laffite, René Arnoux, Didier Pironi, Sébastien Bourdais, Olivier Panis and Franck Montagny.

However, the championship was highly France-centric. It is replaced by a more internationally-flavoured series encompassing Spain, Portugal and Belgium.

Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup replaced the old German and Dutch championships. Recent F1 drivers to have competed in German Formula Renault include Vitantonio Liuzzi, Chrisitan Klien, Scott Speed and Markus Winkelhock.

Formul’Academy Euro Series is a Formula Renault 1.6 championship, unlike the championships listed above which are all Formula Renault 2.0. Formerly known as Formule Campus Renault, this is, unsurprisingly, an entry-level series for those not quite ready to make the leap to 2.0. Sébastien Bourdais and Franck Montagny are among this competition’s former drivers.

Formula Ford

Formula Ford used to be a highly popular entry-level category but has been usurped somewhat in recent years. Formula Renault, Formula BMW and the relatively cost-effective Formula First / Formula Vee (no relation) are now more attractive for today’s entry-level drivers. However, many of today’s F1 drivers competed in Formula Ford in the past.

The Formula Ford Festival is an annual event where entrants from Formula Ford competitions around the world compete together. Among them were Kimi Räikkönen, Mark Webber and David Coulthard. But entry levels have declined sharply in recent years.

British Formula Ford is a good entry-level series for Brits. F1 drivers including David Coulthard, Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button (who was British Formula Ford champion in 1998) all took part. Non-Brits Mark Webber and Pedro de la Rosa also competed in this series.

Formula BMW

Formula BMW is a relatively recent invention, having been created by BMW in 2001. But it has quickly become a popular entry-level series. The German series, Formula BMW ADAC, has been particularly successful in cultivating German talent — Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Sebastian Vettel, Adrian Sutil and Christian Klien all raced in the series. Hopefuls Nico Hülkenberg and Christian Vietoris (who subsequently helped the German A1GP team to Championship victory) are also notable graduates.

However, the German series is no more as it has now merged with Formula BMW UK. The new series is called Formula BMW Europe. Most of these races are F1 support races this season.

Sports cars and touring cars (green boxes)

Drivers taking a detour from the established route to F1 are often to be found racing sports cars of some form or another. In fact, almost half of the F1 drivers of the past five years have raced sports cars at some point during their careers.

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (merged from Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft and the International Touring Car Championship) is a popular touring car championship centred around Germany. Giancarlo Fisichella, Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya all competed in DTM in its former guise prior to competing in F1.

Nowadays DTM is more commonly a destination for former F1 drivers such as Ralf Schumacher, Jean Alesi and Mika Häkkinen. However, the odd youngster has been known still to use DTM as a stepping stone towards a higher category — most notably Christijan Albers (who has since returned to DTM).

The World Touring Car Championship is another common patch for former F1 drivers. A notable driver to recently take this path is Tiago Montiero. Felipe Massa competed in the WTCC’s predecessor, the European Touring Car Championship, on his way to F1.

The British Touring Car Championship is hugely popular among viewers in the UK, but is far removed from the flow of talent to and from F1.

The annual 24 Hours of Le Mans event is considered to be one of motor racing’s crown jewels along with the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. Many future and former F1 drivers compete in the event. The competition has inspired the successful American Le Mans Series which in turn inspired the European-based Le Mans Series.

The FIA GT Championship was a stepping stone in Mark Webber’s career towards F1, but is more likely to be inhabited by former F1 drivers. Super GT is a GT series based in Japan. Kazuki Nakajima and Adrian Sutil both raced in this championship prior to F1. Porsche Supercup races are often F1 support races. Timo Glock and Nelsinho Piquet have competed in this series in the past.

Nascar (purple box)

Although F1 may be considered to be the highest level of motor racing in the world, this may not be the case in the USA. There, the most popular form of motor sport is Nascar, a stock car series. Some ex-F1 drivers and former hopefuls currently race there.

There are three major levels of Nascar: the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. Former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya currently races in the Sprint Cup. But thanks to the wide differences between Nascar and F1, and the sniffy attitude the F1 community takes towards Nascar, the chances of any Nascar drivers making the leap to F1 are very slim.

IndyCar (cyan box)

Closer to F1 is IndyCar (which this year merged with the troubled Champ Car). Like F1, this is an open-wheel, open-cockpit series that to the untrained eye may look very similar to Formula 1. Many drivers have made the transition from IndyCar / Champ Car to F1 over the years (as you can see in Keith’s comprehensive series).

However, in recent years the American open-wheel scene became less competitive due to the IRL / Cart split (hence the two names for the sport) and drivers making the leap from there to F1 has become less common. However, current Toro Rosso driver Sébastien Bourdais used to race in Champ Car. An IndyCar grid can often contain many former F1 drivers.

Other major motor racing series (not on the diagram)

The series mentioned so far in this article cover all of the major series that are closely related to F1. Of course, there are other major disciplines that have only the most tangential of relationships to F1.


MotoGP is the premier motorcycle racing championship. It is the motorcycle equivalent of F1. Superbikes are more like the two-wheeled equivalent of touring cars, as the bikes are tuned versions of road-legal bikes.

It goes without saying that the skills needed for success on two wheels are vastly different to those needed on four. However, this doesn’t stop the more excitable journalists from imagining MotoGP riders making the switch to F1. From time to time MotoGP riders test Formula 1 cars, but this is for publicity reasons more than anything else.


Rally cars are modified road-legal vehicles that typically run on point-to-point stages rather than circuits. The biggest rally series is the World Rally Championship. Due to the variety and difficulty of the conditions that rally drivers have to face, they can arguably claim to be the best drivers in the world. WRC is currently dominated by Sébastien Loeb who has won the WRC championship for four years running.

Again, the skills required are vastly different to F1. I can think of only one F1–WRC crossover in recent years. Stéphane Sarrazin competed in one F1 race in 1999 and has entered some WRC events as a tarmac specialist.

I’ll come straight out with it here: I don’t care where the British Grand Prix is held. I can well understand if people have a particular attachment to Silverstone. But I just don’t have it.

The thing is that, even though I am in Britain, I live a long way away from Silverstone. I don’t exactly live in the sticks, but the central belt of Scotland where I reside is hundreds of miles away from Silverstone. The British Grand Prix is not my grand prix. I’ve never been in a position to attend it. And I doubt I would be in the future. It simply involves too much upheaval.

Of course I would one day love to attend a Grand Prix and would pull out all the stops when I decide to do so. But would Silverstone be my first choice? Probably not. Travelling all the way to Silverstone would only be marginally more convenient than travelling to, say, Magny-Cours, Catalunya or Hockenheim.

Once I decide to spend such a significant amount of time travelling somewhere, I really may as well make a holiday of it or something rather than going along just to spend a blustery weekend in a crumbling, roofless Silverstone grandstand. It is notable that the one grand prix I have actually seriously considered attending is the Hungarian Grand Prix. I’ve never looked into travelling to Silverstone.

So my “home” grand prix means very little to me. When home is hundreds of miles away it ceases to have any meaning. My affinity with Silverstone is zilch. Of course I appreciate it as a circuit, just as I appreciate any other circuit. But I wouldn’t shed any more tears for the British Grand Prix’s loss than I would for the removal of, for instance, the Belgian Grand Prix.

As such, I can only shrug my shoulders for the prospect that the British Grand Prix is under serious threat. So I am not particularly bothered about the proposed move to Donington. I suspect most people are apprehensive about it because they suspect that Donington will never be ready in time for 2010 and therefore the announced move is little more than a proxy for the removal of the British GP.

Clearly Donington needs a lot of work to be brought up to the standards expected of a modern F1 circuit. But it is a nice circuit with plenty of history. People talk about Silverstone’s history as though it’s the only place that has history. But Donington has it as well.

People talk about Donington as though it is a pigsty. But in recent years it has been the venue for the British MotoGP. MotoGP is not Formula 1, of course, but it’s not that much smaller. Of course Donington needs work, but as I pointed out in my previous post so does Silverstone (certainly in the eyes of Bernie Ecclestone).

Access is also said to be a problem. But it handles MotoGP okay (though I’ve heard the traffic was pretty bad this year). It also plays host to the rather large Download music festival. And it’s not as though Silverstone has been free of traffic problems over the years.

There are many who also point out that Silverstone is by no means the F1 circuit with the worst facilities, with Interlagos frequently being cited as a terrible venue. However, this ignores the reality that Formula 1 simply needs a venue in South America even if that venue has to be a total dump. If F1 is to have any pretence of being a World Championship, it can’t afford to ignore this part of the world, especially as it has brought us so many great drivers over the decades. Europe, meanwhile, has grands prix falling out of its pockets. F1 can probably afford to lose the British Grand Prix. It certainly can’t afford to lose the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Where the Donington story gets fishy is the idea that the upgrades will be finished within two years. And that £100 million will somehow be raised by a fan-powered debenture scheme. Then again, you could just as easily ask where Silverstone would get the money it needs to make its improvements.

I think the harsh reality is that Britain now has no venue that is capable of holding an F1 grand prix. That certainly seems to be the view of Bernie Ecclestone. If the best hope of retaining the British Grand Prix is to throw our weight behind Donington, it might be the only way to go. Whether fans will feel this way to the extent of £100 million collectively remains to be seen.

These are good times to be a shallow-pocketed motor racing fan. There is one good side-effect to the Lewis Hamilton hype-fest. As far as I can tell, there is more motor racing on terrestrial television now than there ever has been. For those of us who don’t want to fork out the cash on a Sky subscription, ITV4 is a godsend.

For the first time ever, GP2 is being shown live on terrestrial television. Straight after qualifying has finished on ITV1, you can turn over to ITV4 to watch the feature race live. Then on Sunday morning the sprint race is also live. That does mean an early start to your Sunday, but man — this is live GP2! It’s worth getting up for. For the first time, I can truly get into GP2.

ITV4 is also showing the FIA GT Championship. I’ve watched a couple of those races and I have to say I’m not really a convert. To think that those races used to last three hours… Who can be bothered?

More impressive, though, is ITV4’s commitment to show BTCC. In the past BTCC was shown on ITV1, so this might actually be seen as a step down for the championship. But ITV4’s coverage is incredibly generous in the amount of time it gives over to BTCC. Most of the programmes last for an incredible five hours!

In addition to showing at BTCC races in full, usually (perhaps even always) live, ITV4 also shows the support races in full. I am just amazed that quite minor events such as the Renault Clio Cup and the Seat Cupra Championship get so much airtime on ITV4 now.

Best of all for an F1 fan like me, one of the BTCC’s support races is Formula Renault UK. This is quite a good championship that can be an enjoyable watch. Among its graduates are names such as Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Mike Conway and Kimi Räikkönen (who amazingly — controversially — made the leap all the way from Formula Renault UK to F1 with nothing in between!). It’s a great place to look for tomorrow’s F1 stars.

I’m a bit so-so about BTCC — I can take it or leave it. But if I have nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon I’ll happily put my feet up and watch it, keeping an eye out for the Formula Renault UK race. You really have to take your hat off to ITV for putting so much faith in the BTCC and its support races.

It’s not just ITV who are impressing with their commitment to motor racing this year. UKTV’s Dave channel has given WRC more coverage than it’s had in the UK for a few years now. ITV4’s old highlights programme was pretty dodgy and was often on at a strange time. On Dave, WRC now has a regular weekly slot. So in addition to coverage of the rallies themselves, there is also an ‘access all areas’ programme. It’s not always the greatest television (think of ITV’s pre-race F1 show), but it’s impressive that it even exists given that WRC has been in the doldrums of late.

All this is in addition to the motor racing coverage we already got, which includes of course F1 and MotoGP. If you keep your eye on the schedules you can also catch highlights of British Formula 3, British Superbikes and the British GT Championship.

All that is required now is some better coverage of A1GP. I used to hate the idea of that series, but when I caught some of the highlights on Channel Five this year I was really impressed at the good racing that was going on. Let’s hope it isn’t just stuck on Sky in future. And let’s hope the highlights aren’t buried away in the middle of the night on Channel Five.

I have written before about the stick the Australian Grand Prix bosses are getting from all angles. Even since I wrote that post, Bernie Ecclestone’s demands have become ever more extreme. In particular, Mr Ecclestone’s current obsession with night races appears to have deepened. His comments suggest that he very much wants to have his cake and eat it. For me, the logic behind night races is muddled and confused.

We know that Bernie Ecclestone wants Formula 1 to expand its reach throughout the globe, particularly into Asia. The motivation behind this approach is fairly sound. Take F1 to the people of Asia, and the people of Asia will come to F1, building on the sport’s strong fanbase in Europe and expanding it eastward.

However, I wonder if Bernie Ecclestone’s motives are really as noble and simple as that. The more this project continues, the more it begins to look like Bernie Ecclestone is simply out to persuade gullible governments of developing countries to pay through the nose for the privilege of having an F1 race. Many of these governments will do anything to feel like members of the western club of developed nations, and where better to start than that most global — yet still quintessentially western — of sports, motor racing?

Yet, you have to wonder if these governments are really getting value for money. I think not. How long will it take before the good people of Bahrain, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, et al. realise they are being swindled?

Until that happens, it is by exploiting this situation that Bernie Ecclestone is able to pull the same trick on not-so-gullible western governments. “Look at all these other Grands Prix that are subsidised,” he says. “Why can’t you do the same?” This is the heart of Ecclestone’s demands to the organisers of the British, French and Australian Grands Prix among others that have the Sword of Damocles dangling above them.

The demands for a night race show up Ecclestone’s muddled thinking and hypocrisy. The idea behind night races is so that the ‘flyaway’ races can be broadcast on prime time television in Europe, where F1’s strongest base of support is. But this completely contradicts the supposed big idea behind hosting races in places like Asia in the first place.

Why take F1 to Asia then make the residents of these places get up in the middle of the night to watch them? Why, indeed, should the residents of Melbourne — or, indeed, Singapore City — be asked to put up with wailing F1 engines at 3am?

Meanwhile, the fact that the time difference means that European F1 fans have to get up in the middle of the night to watch the Australian Grand Prix is one of the things that defines us as F1 fans. We like to get up at silly o’clock to watch F1 — it is part of the quaint charm of the Australian and Japanese Grands Prix. Perhaps, like Ollie, I might not even be interested in F1 today had I not viewed Formula 1 as a cheeky opportunity to stay up late at night as a youngster.

Okay, so not all fans will be bothered to get up at 3am to watch this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix. But there will be a damn sight more Europeans than Asians willing to get up at 3am for F1. The big idea behind night races has now unravelled.

The only other thing a night race has going for it is the pure spectacle of seeing F1 cars racing under floodlights. I am sorry, but I just can’t get excited about that.

I watched last weekend’s Qatar MotoGP, the first race to be held under floodlights. But it was clear that the night time conditions added little to the spectacle. The only time it looked much different was from the overhead helicopter view of the circuit. Apart from that, the only difference was a few funny shadows. Big whoop!

By the end of the race, the BBC’s excellent commentators Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish (take note ITV — the Beeb know how to cover a motor race properly!), were just asking themselves, “Why a night race?” The best answer was, because we can. Is that reason enough?

The commentators also touched on the environmental impact. When Formula 1 is supposedly trying to become a greener sport, it is now asking race organisers to generate ridiculously huge amounts of electricity.

Many of the big ideas that Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley propose contradict each other in fundamental ways. The lack of joined-up thinking in Ecclestone’s current demands for night races, Asian venues and street circuits astonishes me.