Archive: Pedro de la Rosa

I can hardly believe we are already more than halfway through the Formula 1 season. It has gone by so quickly. Normally I look at the performances of the drivers at the halfway point. But this year I haven’t felt as able to keep on top of everything, so instead I will look at the constructors.

12. Hispania

Of the three new teams, Hispania have probably had the hardest job after taking over the Campos entry at the eleventh hour after it hit severe financial difficulties. Although their car is probably the slowest, it does not have the poorest reliability record, and as such the team currently sits ahead of Virgin in the Constructors’ Championship. Hispania have also acted quickly to sort out the problems with the Dallara chassis, and have hired big name designer Geoff Willis to sort out the mess for next season.

However, recent musical chairs involving their drivers have left a sour taste in the mouth. Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok are both well-liked drivers who have done an admirable job in hugely difficult circumstances, even though you might say neither is a potential future World Champion. Sakon Yamamoto is not liked very much, and is not terribly good as demonstrated in his previous two stints in F1. But the team appear to be desperate to get him into the car nevertheless. The process has been handled appallingly.

11. Virgin

On the track, Virgin is probably the least exciting of the new teams. Their reliability record is poor, and the speed is not particularly impressive, even if they occasionally manage to beat a Lotus every once in a while.

On the plus side, their controversial approach to design the car without the use of a wind tunnel has proved the doubters wrong, as the car has not been disastrously off the pace.

Both drivers have shown flashes of brilliance. But you sense that Timo Glock in particular would be capable of more if only he had decent equipment.

10. Lotus

Lotus have very quickly established themselves as the fastest of the new teams. But it has not all been plain sailing for them, and their reliability record needs improvement. I also wonder how much better they would be doing if they had two better race drivers than Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, although the experienced line-up is probably ideal in a development sense.

The next target for Lotus is to start beating the established teams on a regular basis. But with Williams and Sauber both having made significant improvements recently, it is difficult to see how they can make much headway beyond battling with Toro Rosso. Whatever, next year will be important for Lotus — anything below ninth in the 2011 Constructors’ Championship would surely be a disappointment. But that just shows how far they have come already.

9. Williams

Although they have begun to make strides up the grid in the past few races, the fact remains that this has been another disastrous year for Williams. They have spent much of the season battling at the wrong end of the grid, counting Sauber and Toro Rosso among their rivals.

Perhaps the most worrying thing is that when you hear the likes of Patrick Head and Sam Michael try to explain the team’s performance over the past few years, they seem to be at a loss, except for vaguely talking about money being an issue. Williams lack answers.

Rubens Barrichello has been doing more or less the sort of job you would expect him to do. Meanwhile, promising rookie Nico Hülkenberg has not shown as much promise as you might have hoped. This has been coupled with a heavy dose of bad luck. I hope the second half of the season is better for Hülkenberg, of whom I am a fan.

8. Toro Rosso

I am finding it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about Toro Rosso yet. They have had some very poor showings indeed. But on the plus side, you must remember that this is their first year as a ‘proper’ constructor, designing their own chassis. On this basis, this season must be regarded as a success, even if they have not always been as quick as they may have liked.

Both Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi are continuing to improve. Alguersuari has shown some real flashes of brilliance, and has impressed me a lot this season — particularly in a couple of battles with Michael Schumacher!

But with a more anonymous season, Buemi has been keeping his nose clean and has picked up the majority of the team’s points haul so far. That is mainly due to his assured performance at Canada, where he did well standing his ground as he briefly led the race as the pitstop phase was shaking itself out.

7. Sauber

After a promising winter testing season, the start of the actual season itself was deeply embarrassing for Sauber as they totally failed to convert pre-season promise into real race results. The car was not only frightfully slow, but it was also horrendously unreliable, making Sauber easily the worst of the established teams.

A question mark also hung over the choice of drivers, probably the riskiest on the grid. The decision to opt for Pedro de la Rosa, who had not raced since 2006, was bizarre — and I am a fan of de la Rosa! Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi was a man whose entire reputation was built on two races in odd circumstances.

The good news is that Sauber have turned the corner. de la Rosa is not making a fool of himself, and only needs more luck now in order to start scoring points. Meanwhile, Kobayashi looks set to become a points-scoring regular now. His performance in Valencia was absolutely superb, and he backed this up with another solid performance at Silverstone.

Sauber have also acted quickly to improve the car, making the decision to hire James Key early on as the car’s deficiencies became clear. The improvements he has made since joining the team can be seen vividly in the results.

Wow, a day certainly is a long time in F1. I am not sure when I will get round to actually writing about the Hungarian GP, though at least there is a long break until the next race.

But the big news this evening is that the next race will feature Michael Schumacher on the grid. He has been announced as the replacement for Felipe Massa while the Brazilian makes his recovery.

A lot of names have been bandied around over the past few days, and none of them seemed terribly lucky. Optimists suggested that Fernando Alonso or Robert Kubica might be able to get out of their current contracts to move to Ferrari mid-season.

Mirko Bortolotti was another driver on the radar. Last year’s Italian F3 champion has impressed in previous tests with Ferrari. He is currently building up his skills in Formula Two is widely tipped to have a bright future. But it is near enough unheard-of for Ferrari to hire a young rookie.

Some talked up the chances of David Coulthard or Anthony Davidson getting the role. That seemed a bit like pie in the sky thinking though.

The other drivers who currently have relationships with Ferrari are the team’s official test and reserve drivers, Marc Gené and Luca Badoer. But they were unlikely to step in for a whole host of reasons. Neither has a particularly strong track record as a race driver, although you can argue that neither ever had a decent opportunity to show their skills.

But their lack of fresh experience will have seriously counted against them. Gené last raced five years ago for Williams, and faced the ignominy of being replaced by Antônio Pizzonia for being too slow! Meanwhile, Luca Badoer hasn’t raced in F1 for ten years.

The last time Ferrari had to replace a driver midway through a season was when Michael Schumacher broke his legs at the 1999 British Grand Prix. Then, it was widely expected that Luca Badoer, as Ferrari’s test driver, would take his place. Instead, the Scuderia controversially overlooked him and hired Mika Salo.

It was a bad year for Badoer, who came close to finishing 4th for Minardi in that season’s European Grand Prix before his car broke down. He has never had an opportunity to score a World Championship point since.

Luca Badoer has held the test role at Ferrari for a staggering thirteen years without there ever being a sniff of a race drive. If he was overlooked in 1999, he was going to be overlooked today.

Now that testing is banned, it makes you wonder just what the point of a test driver is any more. I recently read that neither Marc Gené nor Luca Badoer have had any mileage whatsoever in this season’s Ferrari F60, in which case the advantage of selecting them over Michael Schumacher — who has loads more talent and, perhaps even more importantly, ocean loads of PR value — is non-existent.

This comes mere weeks after an elaborate re-arranging of deckchairs at Red Bull, as they apparently sought ways to replace Sébastien Bourdais at Toro Rosso without putting Brendon Hartley in the car. Up until the mid-season point, Hartley had been the official Red Bull reserve driver. But mere days before the reserve driver would actually be needed, he was replaced by Jaime Alguersuari.

Other drivers left twiddling their thumbs this year include: Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett, Christian Klien, Romain Grosjean (though perhaps not for long), Adam Khan, Kamui Kobayashi, Nicolas Hülkenberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz.

If a team had to bring in a replacement driver, how many of these would be considered ready and able to race? Not many of them have much in the way of decent mileage of 2009′s cars. Who is to say, for instance, that McLaren would not rather stick Paul di Resta in their car over Pedro de la Rosa? Would Toyota happily give Kobayashi a seat, or would they prefer to take Nakajima?

Just a few years ago it looked like drivers could make a decent living out of being a test driver. Now they never get to test, and they’ll be lucky to get to race.

It has to be said, unintended consequences are never far away in the world of F1 rule changes. For just one example, take a look at how quickly aerodynamic flick-ups have resurfaced, despite their supposed banning. Skate fins? What on earth?

Now we are presented with a number of oddities that have come about as a result of this season’s new testing restrictions. In-season testing is banned completely. Each team is limited to 15,000km, but according to James Allen it looks as though no teams will top 10,000km, because this year’s testing events have been so heavily disrupted. Teams that go to Portugal and Spain get relentlessly rained on. Those that go to Bahrain are treated to sandstorms.

Moreover, what little testing time there is has been eaten into by the need to test 2010-spec tyres. The bans in refuelling and tyre warmers coming into effect next season will put different demands on the tyres. As such, Bridgestone need to get data so that they don’t end up barking up the wrong tree as they develop the new tyres. But with no opportunity to do this later on in the season, some teams (McLaren and BMW) have had to sacrifice some time from their already tight pre-season test schedule.

Now McLaren’s test driver Pedro de la Rosa has expressed concerns that the lack of test time is actually dangerous for reserve drivers. Should a reserve have to come in for some reason, he will be thrown into the deep end, straight into the action having had little experience of the car. That would be bad enough in a normal year, but with the radical rule changes that have come into force this season you can expect out-of-practice drivers to be even rustier.

Now it is becoming obvious that the testing restrictions are damaging the careers of young drivers. All winter, it had looked as though Rubens Barrichello’s chances of retaining his seat at Honda / Brawn were close to zero. Reading some reports, you’d believe that Bruno Senna was practically a shoo-in.

Now it looks as though Barrichello has been given the nod, leaving Senna with nowhere to go. The ever-excellent Grandprix.com trailed the possibility a few days ago, noting that “Barrichello is a better bet [than Senna] as his experience will be useful in a year when there is little opportunity for young drivers to learn how to drive F1 cars.”

From this perspective, it looks like Honda / Brawn have made the right decision here. Moreover, Barrichello outperformed Button last season, and it would have been a real shame if Barrichello’s career ended with a snub. Mind you, there is the risk that Barrichello will have a David Coulthard-style final season of doom, and we wouldn’t really want that.

But what now for Bruno Senna? Holding out for an F1 seat, he has more or less ruled out staying in GP2 for a third season. Indeed, it is difficult to see what he could achieve with another year in GP2. Drivers who spend too long in a category like GP2 tend to have their potential stunted.

In a sense, this is a predicament which is yet another symptom of the serial mismanagement at Honda which has deteriorated this winter to extreme levels for obvious reasons. Senna sounds pretty frustrated over this situation, and wouldn’t you be?

But any other year it would be no big deal. Senna could sign as a test driver for one year, as countless other drivers have done before, and spend the season racking up the miles on the test track in preparation for his first full season. And should he needed to replace another driver mid-season, he would have experience required of him.

Failing that, he could have gone on to make a decent career as a test driver. It may not have the glamour of a race role, and you can bet your bottom dollar that all test drivers yearn to race. But it is, at least, a decent income earned from driving cars — and they can always hope. People like Luca Badoer, Marc Gené, Anthony Davidson, Alexander Wurz and, yes, Pedro de la Rosa, have all made a decent living out of testing F1 cars. Felipe Massa started out at Ferrari as a test driver, and today he challenges for Championships.

Now what? All Bruno Senna can do is twiddle his thumbs. He can always suffer the humiliation of going back cap in hand to a GP2 seat. But this could backfire on him, and all the best seats have already been filled.

Could this be one reason why there is only going to be one rookie this season? Sébastien Buemi is the only newcomer to F1 this season, but he has done plenty of testing for the Red Bull teams and he is filling a vacancy that David Coulthard voluntarily left behind.

Remember when everyone was certain that Renault were not going to re-sign Nelsinho Piquet? Then, out of nowhere, they signed him for another season. Is that because, for all his faults, he at least has experience that the likes of Romain Grosjean and Lucas Di Grassi now cannot hope to attain?

Let us not forget another major FIA-instituted change for 2009, which is yet another instance revealing the lack of joined-up thinking inside the FIA. This season sees the inauguration of Max Mosley’s Formula Two project. Remember, this new feeder series was supposedly invented specifically to make it easier for young drivers to reach F1.

Well, it’s all very well adding yet another “second-top” rung in an already-cluttered world that contains GP2, A1GP and World Series by Renault among others. But the top rung now has a fundamental crack that will cause the ladder collapse when a driver reaches it, sending him — and his career — crashing to the floor.

There might be an allowance in F1 for “young driver training”, but this is no more than a fig leaf. A “young driver” is someone who has not tested on more than four days in the past 24 months. How is a young driver supposed to progress with such scant “training”?

Max Mosley likes to use F2 to make out that he is opening doors for young drivers. The reality is that this door leads drivers up the garden path. There have seldom, if ever, been as many feeder series as there are today. An F1 team can take their pick from 20+ GP2 drivers, countless A1GP drivers, anyone from WSR who takes their fancy and goodness knows how many F3 drivers. F2 isn’t needed, especially now that young drivers will find the welcome mat at F1′s door cruelly swiped from their feet.

Following the controversy of the Belgian Grand Prix, they needed to do it. And thankfully they have — the FIA have finally clarified once and for all exactly what they expect a driver to do if he needs to use an escape road.

During the drivers’ regular meeting with Race Director Charlie Whiting, it was made clear that drivers who cut a corner will not be allowed to challenge at the following corner as Hamilton did to Räikkönen at La Source in Belgium. This will come as a relief to fans and drivers alike who were previously left in the dark as to what the precise limit is.

On Thursday David Coulthard called for clarification in the rule. Meanwhile yesterday his Red Bull team mate Mark Webber expressed his relief saying, “generally, it is pretty clear for people to probably not attack immediately again, which wasn’t mega, mega clear in the past.”

Moreover, the solution is a broadly sensible one as it is relatively easily defined and fans and drivers will now know more clearly when a driver has pushed the rules too far. For this, the FIA should be applauded.

However, Charlie Whiting apparently raised eyebrows as during the meeting by revealing that this rule has actually been in place for two years! According to Ian Phillips (Director of Business Affairs at Force India) commentating during Friday Practice 2 on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra yesterday, Mr Whiting was adamant that the rule was originally clarified two weeks ago — but team principals could find no written record of the rule. It has already been established that neither the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations nor the International Sporting Code mention what a driver is expected to do after cutting a chicane.

Given Charlie Whiting’s apparent certainty of the rule, it does raise the question: why did he initially give the Hamilton move the “okay” in Belgium? Ian Phillips speculated that Charlie Whiting was only saying some things during the meeting because an FIA bod was also present in the room at the time. Whatever, it is another interesting twist in the story of Charlie Whiting’s behaviour surrounding the infamous incident in Belgium.

After this news emerged, we were discussing in the liveblog the implications of the new rule. Robert McKay made a very good point (at 1:25 during Friday Practice 2).

it’s also an interesting “rule” because there are some tracks where the definition of a “corner” is not clear – when Brundle says “some teams call this turn 5, some 6″ or whatever.

This was a particular issue at Valencia, where some small kinks in straights were given a turn number. Take a look at the map. Let us say, for the sake of argument, a driver cuts the chicane at turn 5. Can he scream up behind a driver through turn 6 then go on the attack at turn 7? Or should he wait until turn 8? I know which would seem fairer — waiting until turn 8. But under the strange definition of a “corner” applied to the Valencia Street Circuit, it’s not exactly clear cut.

Also, Charlie Whiting’s “clarification” only appears to clarify what should happen when a driver is on the attack. What about a driver who is defending, such as Michael Schumacher was during the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006? Should a driver in this situation let the driver behind by? Because Schumacher didn’t — and he didn’t get punished for it.

Today’s clarification makes the situation with cutting chicanes much clearer. But even under the new situation, there is still scope for another controversial incident to occur one day.

I have some concluding thoughts about the incident which I have gathered after seeing how the debate has unfolded on blogs and forums. Basically, the problem boils down to the lack of clarity in the regulations.

First of all, I notice that people keep on referring to what the rules are. “The rules say he needs to let him past”, “The rules say he needs to lose any momentum he gained”, blah, blah, blah. What is interesting is that no-one can ever actually find these rules. That is because they don’t exist.

In comments sections I have referred several times to the wording of the stewards’ decision and the rules that it cites. I will do that here so that you can see what I am talking about.

The stewards, having receieved a report from the Race Director and having met with the drivers and team managers involved, have considered the following matter, determine a breach of the regulations has been committed by the competitor named below and impose the penalty referred to…

Facts: Cut the chicane and gained an advantage
Offence: Breach of Article 30.3 (a) of the 2008 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations and Appendix L chapter 4 Article 2 (g) of the International Sporting Code
Penalty: Drive-through penalty (Article 16.3(a)), since this is being applied at the end of the Race, 25 seconds will be added to the drivers’ elapsed race time

Article 30.3 (a) of the Sporting Regulations (available from this page) says:

During practice and the race, drivers may use only the track and must at all times observe the provisions of the Code relating to driving behaviour on circuits.

Appendix L chapter 4 Article 2 (g) of the International Sporting Code (available from this page) says:

The race track alone shall be used by the drivers during the race.

Note that the regulations and the Code say absolutely nothing about gaining an advantage. If the stewards are to apply the letter of the law, every driver who ever ran wide or cut a chicane whether or not he gave any gained positions or momentum back would be penalised. That would have probably meant almost every driver in the Belgian Grand Prix getting penalised.

Clearly, this would be a farcical situation and it is right that the FIA exercises caution when it comes to enforcing these rules. Over time it has become a convention that a driver who is perceived to have gained track position by going off the race track should give back any positions that he gained.

The problems with this are obvious though. It is almost impossible to measure what gains a driver made by going off the circuit. For instance, where does the Bus Stop begin? Is it when Kimi Räikkönen brakes? Is it the first apex? Is it when Lewis Hamilton brakes. We just don’t know — there is no set definition. This is where the arguments stem from.

So, you can argue, as Clive has done, that Lewis Hamilton was ahead of Räikkönen going into the corner. Certainly, Hamilton had the edge during the braking zone of the first apex. It is also clear that Hamilton was catching Räikkönen very quickly for a long period running up to the chicane.

But you can also argue that Hamilton braked later than Räikkönen knowing that the escape road was an option that he could take. Conversely, you can argue that Räikkönen braked earlier than Hamilton simply because he was not coping well in the wet conditions, as is evident from his sector times leading up to the incident.

The problem is that we don’t know how the stewards came to their decision. Presumably they think that under any other circumstances, there is no possibility that Hamilton would have been as close to Räikkönen coming towards La Source unless he took the escape road. This is what the argument that Hamilton should have been penalised boils down to.

But the rationale for how the stewards reached this decision is shrouded in mystery. The convention, as I mentioned before, is that a driver who gains a position by using an escape road must give it back. That is what I understood it to be.

Now all of a sudden other people are saying other things such as, “the convention is that a driver must give back a position then not attempt to overtake for another corner (or two).” Or, “the convention is that a driver must give back a position then get back into the dirty air of the other driver” (how this is supposed to happen when F1 is supposedly getting rid of dirty air next year, I don’t know). Or, “the convention is that a driver must give back a position and any other distance he gained” (how this is supposed to be measured by anyone, as I have pointed out before, I don’t know). I saw another person say that he should have given a “courtesy pause”.

I have to confess that these “conventions” are all news to me. Given this myriad of “conventions” that people have come up with, it is clear that there actually is no convention. And let me just reiterate that anyone who says that any of the above are rules is simply lying. The regulations say absolutely nothing about giving back a position or anything. It is quite clear that the rules state that anyone who goes off the race track — whether they gain from it or not — should be penalised.

The problem is when it comes to asking: where do you draw the line? The debates have shown that there is no agreed point at which the line should be drawn. And here is the problem with the FIA as many fans see it at the moment. This is where the perceived inconsistencies come from. When there is no set convention, there are bound to be inconsistencies.

When there are three different stewards at every race, this only compounds the situation. When the stewards are assisted by a man, Alan Donnelly, who is perceived to be politically close to Max Mosley and who until he was appointed in the post listed Ferrari among the clients of his company, that is when things start to become really bad. Whether the fans are right or not, they perceive there to be a pro-Ferrari bias within the FIA. You can’t really blame them.

It is legitimate to ask why Lewis Hamilton got penalised in Belgium when Michael Schumacher was not even investigated for cutting the same chicane in two consecutive laps while trying to defend his position (first at 4:20 then at 5:50).

Was that permissible because Schumacher was ahead and defending his position? Or was it permissible because his car was red? Is it a coincidence that the other car is silver?

Perhaps a better video to use is the instance where Felipe Massa didn’t get penalised last year in Fuji for this driving, when in dangerous conditions he barged Robert Kubica off the road twice before taking a wide line onto the run-off area coming towards the finish line, which gave him the speed to beat Kubica. (Before anyone starts, I was highly critical of Hamilton’s driving at Fuji last year — check the archives of my other blog.)

Was Massa given the benefit of the doubt because of the torrential conditions? Or was it because his car was red?

At the time, Martin Brundle commentating on ITV said that it looked “50:50″ between Massa and Kubica for naughty driving. It is true that Kubica cuts a chicane a couple of times as well, although he never gained anything like the sort of advantage Massa got coming out of the final corner.

I use this clip because it is an instance where both drivers were a bit naughty. This is just like what happened in Belgium. Hamilton was a bit naughty by cutting the chicane. But when he gave back the position, Räikkönen was a bit naughty by making two moves going towards La Source. Then Räikkönen was a bit naughty by crashing into Hamilton at La Source.

Then Räikkönen was a bit naughty by running wide at Pouhon (Hamilton ran wide at Pouhon as well, but Hamilton re-joined the track much earlier than Räikkönen did. Räikkönen just carried on taking the wider line through the run-off area and this gave him the momentum to catch right up to Hamilton again). Then Räikkönen was a bit naughty by overtaking under a yellow flag (understandably, given the situation).

My point is not that Räikkönen should have been punished for anything he did in that hectic lap. As far as I am concerned, this was just tough racing. It wasn’t completely clean from either driver. Both drivers were pushing it to the limit in all senses. But not in any case was there a clear instance of a driver deliberately setting out to gain an unfair advantage at any point, nor do I think either driver ever seriously endangered anyone’s safety.

For me, this is just the sort of instance where you have to say to yourself, “these things happen in racing”. For me, it was an example of what good racing is all about. Watching the onboard video is an absolute joy for me. I think it is excellent edge-of-your-seat tension. I feel bad that it has been ruined in a way by the overly-officious stewards who somehow managed to overlook all of Räikkönen’s transgressions yet punish Hamilton’s transgression.

It’s great racing, and Hamilton got punished for it. My worry is that a driver who is 50:50 about whether he can make an overtaking move without having to take the escape road will now be more likely to hold back and settle for second. As BBC commentator David Croft and none other that Renault’s director of engineering Pat Symonds have pointed out, this penalty distorts the incentives that an F1 driver has to overtake. When F1 is supposed to be encouraging more overtaking and more great racing, this is a major retrograde step.

If anything is clear, it is that the regulations in this area are clear as mud. Since tarmac run-off areas came into vogue, this has slowly become a greater and greater problem for Formula 1. It was inevitable that sooner or later there was going to be a big controversy over the interpretation of the rules about using run-off areas.

My problem is that now too many rules in F1 are down to interpretation. The vagueness of the rules demands that this be so. But that leaves it wide open to corruption, or allegations of bias. Given the inconsistencies, it is highly possible that the drivers do not know how far they can push it. And the fans certainly don’t know. That is not acceptable.

I don’t think there is a single race that goes by when there is not some pathetic person who says things like, “driver X cut the chicane, driver Y crossed the white line, driver Z farted in the wrong place, therefore they should all be penalised so that my favourite driver can win the race.” With F1′s rules as vague and flexible as they are today, fans can craft a race result that suits them. So can the stewards.

My problem with the Hamilton penalty is that I cannot feel confident that the stewards would have penalised a Ferrari driver for doing the same thing. Many other people feel the same way. At worst, the system is open to corruption. At best, Formula 1 has become a judged competition. Slowly but surely, Formula 1 is changing from a sport where the winner is the person who crosses the line first into a sport where the winner is whoever the stewards thought did the best job. Figure skating on wheels.

Perhaps the FIA really likes that idea. But I don’t. What the FIA needs to do is sort this mess out once and for all. If there really is a need to rotate the stewards, at least have one or two permanent stewards — and make them credible. Also, make the rules on using run-off areas and escape roads much, much clearer so that drivers, stewards and fans alike know where the line is drawn. Because just now we are all guessing, and that is where the debates are coming from and that is why Formula 1 keeps on having these controversial situations.

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.

Motorcycles

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.

Rallying

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.

As outlined in a previous bluffer’s guide, there is no promotion or relegation and the decision for teams and drivers to enter F1 is essentially a business decision. But of course drivers (and sometimes teams) do not just appear out of thin air. There are countless other categories of motor racing that drivers also compete in. There is no set route towards Formula 1, nor do all paths necessarily lead to F1. But Formula 1 is generally regarded to be ‘top of the tree’ that most drivers aspire to compete in.

However, a cursory glance at the various championships organised by the FIA alone (never mind non-FIA championships) reveals that motor racing is a hugely diverse category of sports. The skills needed to be a top F1 driver are very different to the skills required to succeed in rallying, drag racing and hill climbing!

The next two bluffer’s guides will cover those categories where you should look out for future (and sometimes past) F1 stars. I have done research on the careers of every driver that has entered a Formula 1 race in the past five seasons. This has revealed which junior formulae are the most common early destinations for future F1 stars. This post will cover the major series from GP2 to Formula 3 and everything in between.

The following diagram shows the links between categories en route to F1. Any moves made by two or more drivers are represented in the diagram. Down the centre column is by far the most common route: Formula Renault / BMW / Ford → Formula 3 → GP2 → Formula 1. Other links show more unorthodox but nevertheless common routes to and from F1. The area of the boxes denote the number of F1 drivers that have raced in that category.

Routes to F1

Tier two (maroon boxes)

GP2

The most conventional entry point to F1 is GP2. This was designed specifically as an F1 “feeder” series in 2005. The cars are similar to, but less sophisticated than, F1 cars. GP2 is a spec series (meaning that all of the cars are the same). GP2 replaced Formula 3000, which in turn replaced Formula 2 in 1985.

Current F1 drivers Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock and Nelsinho Piquet all graduated from GP2. Every year in GP2′s short history, the GP2 Champion has been offered an F1 drive for the following year so it is the place to look for up-and-coming talent. Look out for Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna (Ayrton’s nephew) and Sébastien Buemi who could be on their way to becoming F1 drivers in the near future.

Occasionally, but not so often, former F1 drivers compete in GP2. Timo Glock entered GP2 after a fleeting appearance in F1 and after a few years he got another drive in the top category. Giorgio Pantano is another former F1 driver currently competing in GP2, but although he is relatively successful in GP2 he is getting on now and there is little interest in him from F1 teams.

The main GP2 series is a ‘support’ race at most European F1 events, so GP2 drivers get the opportunity to learn many F1 tracks. Interestingly, Giancarlo Fisichella can be seen casting a watchful eye over proceedings when he has finished his F1 sessions — he owns a GP2 team, Fisichella Motor Sport.

GP2 Asia

GP2 also has a spin-off series called GP2 Asia which runs during winter. Two events — Malaysia and Bahrain — are also F1 support races. As the name suggests, this is focussed on Asian circuits where there is an emerging interest in motor racing, though many of the teams and drivers are the same as the main GP2 Series.

Formula Nippon

Formula Nippon is the Japanese equivalent of GP2 / Formula 3000. In the past a few drivers have graduated from Formula Nippon. These include Ralf Schumacher and Pedro de la Rosa. Michael Schumacher also drove for one race in Formula Nippon prior to racing in F1.

However, the talent available in Formula Nippon not generally up to the standards of F1. The series is more likely to supply under-performing Japanese drivers such as Yuji Ide and Sakon Yamamoto. The best Japanese drivers are more likely to prove their worth in a European category, with Formula Nippon remaining primarily a Japan-centric series.

Tier 2.5 (red boxes)

I have invented ‘tier 2.5′ for the purposes of this post. It represents categories that are not as major as GP2, but are arguably more important than Formula 3.

World Series by Renault

This is a relatively new — and rapidly growing — series of motor racing. Part of Renault’s massive motor racing programme, this is also known as Formula Renault 3.5. It is designed to slot in between Formula 3 and GP2.

The series can be traced back to its roots as the Open Fortuna by Nissan in 1998. Back then it was a particularly Spanish motor racing series. But it quickly gained a reputation as a stamping ground for hot new talent. Almost every winner of the series has gone on to make a name for himself in F1 including Fernando Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica.

Over the years the series has cultivated a more international feel with races in nine different countries. The most recent winner of the series is Álvaro Parente who is currently racing in GP2. Part of the prize drivers get by winning the World Series by Renault is a test drive with the Renault F1 team.

A1GP

The self-styled “World Cup of Motorsport” likes to think of itself as a major rival to F1, though in reality it is quite a minor championship. Running in winter to avoid clashing with F1, A1GP is an unusual concept in that the focus of the championship is not on drivers or teams but on nationalities.

Like GP2, A1GP is a spec series. A1GP pulled off a major coup by persuading Ferrari to design and manufacture the A1GP chassis and engine which will be used for four seasons from 2008-2009.

In its favour, A1GP has attracted entries from a number of countries which do not have a strong tradition in motor racing. This may help bring motor racing to new audiences. However, the drivers are often treated as disposable commodities, with teams swapping drivers about all season.

A1GP has not proved to be a good feeder series, with only relatively poor drivers Scott Speed and Nelsinho Piquet having graduated from A1GP to F1. Former F1 drivers can be found racing in A1GP. Ex F1 drivers to have taken part in A1GP include Jos Verstappen, Narain Karthikeyan and Franck Montagny.

Superleague Formula

Superleague Formula is, like A1GP, a slightly eccentric idea for a racing series — but might just work. It is new, hence the uncertainty. Instead of teams as we know them, drivers will be representing football clubs on the racing circuit with the spec cars decked out in each football team’s colours.

One British club — Rangers FC — is involved, along with a number of other major football clubs from around the world. The only notable driver confirmed for Superleague Formula so far is ex-F1 driver Robert Doornbos.

Formula 3 (orange box)

Formula 3 is a very important category for F1. All but four of the 45 drivers who have raced in F1 in the past five years raced in F3 along the way. As such, F3 is a great category to keep an eye on for those interested in F1′s future talent. Six recent F1 drivers including Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella all made the jump directly from F3 to F1. However, success in F3 could just as easily spell a career in another category such as touring cars.

The champions of five F3 series are each eligible for an FIA Super License for 12 months. The five series are Formula 3 Euroseries, British F3 International, Italian Formula 3, Formel 3 Cup and Japanese Formula 3.

F3 is not actually a single championship. Rather, there are several championships which are part of the F3 category.

Formula 3 Euroseries

A very new series but already arguably the most important is the F3 Euroseries. As the name suggests, circuits from all around Europe are used. F3 Euroseries was originally intended to replace the separate French and German F3 championships. The French F3 series ended, but German F3 continues in a different form to this day.

Lewis Hamilton won the F3 Euroseries championship in utterly dominant fashion in 2005, the year before he entered GP2. Other notable F3 Euroseries graduates include Robert Kubica, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Those still to make it to F1 but making waves nonetheless include Romain Grosjean and Sébastien Buemi. One name to watch out for among the current F3 Euroseries drivers is Nico Hülkenberg who already has a relationship with the Williams F1 team.

Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix

The Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix is an annual event that brings together many of the top F3 drivers from the various F3 competitions around the world. The Macau street circuit is a challenging racetrack. As such, drivers who excel in Macau often do well in higher categories. 13 of this year’s 22 F1 drivers have competed in this event.

Famous winners include Ayrton Senna, David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher. Recent winners include Lucas di Grassi and Mike Conway, both currently making waves in GP2.

Masters of Formula 3

Another major international F3 event, this is Europe’s most important F3 race. Like Macau, 13 of this year’s F1 drivers have competed in this event. Recent winners include Lewis Hamilton, Christian Klien and Nico Hülkenberg.

British F3 International

The F3 championship with the longest history is British F3 (now known as British F3 International). The ‘British’ in British F3 refers only to the circuits that are used. The championship itself is open to drivers of all nationalities, but all of the races are held in Britain.

The list of British F3 champions includes many familiar names that went on to make a name for themselves in F1. Most notable in recent years is perhaps Mika Häkkinen who won the 1990 British F3 championship and went on to become a double F1 World Champion in 1998 and 1999. In 2000, Jenson Button caused a stir by leaping straight from F3 to F1, even though he only finished third in the British British F3 championship! But the British F3 roll of honour also contains a number of promising youngsters whose stars faded before they could reach the top category.

Seven of this season’s F1 drivers competed in British F3. Additionally, several test drivers honed their skills in this series. F1 takes a great deal of interest in British F3 and Kimi Räikkönen co-owns a British F3 team, Räikkönen Robertson Racing. Recent British F3 drivers to look out for in future include Mike Conway, Álvaro Parente and Marko Asmer.

Other F3 series

Other F3 series include the Formel 3 Cup (originally German F3, which Michael Schumacher won in 1990 and several other F1 drivers competed in their youth), Japanese F3 (which Adrian Sutil won in 2006) and Italian F3 (whose biggest name has been Giancarlo Fisichella). Drivers from Latin America including Rubens Barrichello and Nelsinho Piquet have competed in Formula 3 Sudamericana.

Keep an eye out for the next bluffer’s guide which will look at entry-level series and non-open wheel series.

At last, bluffer’s guide makes its return. For the past couple of months I’ve been too busy to continue the series, but now I have some more free time. Previous bluffer’s guides have looked at the rules and aspects of strategy. This guide will look at issues around teams and drivers: how they enter, why they enter and what their job is.

Entry requirements

At present there are ten constructors (the posh word for teams) in Formula 1. Each team enters two cars, meaning that 20 cars are entered into each event. There is nothing set in stone about these numbers. It is thought that according to the Concorde Agreement (which will be covered in a future bluffer’s guide) a minimum of 20 may enter. According to the FIA Sporting Regulations, a maximum of 24 cars may start a race.

Teams normally stick with the same two drivers throughout the season. However they may use up to four different drivers in one season, or more at the FIA’s approval.

In addition to the two race drivers, every team employs test drivers. These test drivers may be used during the Friday Practice sessions, although each team is still limited to running two cars. For this reason, teams tend to use their race drivers anyway.

A driver must be awarded an FIA Super License before he may compete in Formula 1. To achieve this, a driver must show consistent form in a lower category. Failing that, a driver may get a Super License with the unanimous approval of… whoever makes that decision — provided he has tested for at least 300km at racing speeds in a current car.

This is basically to prevent rubbish but rich drivers from paying loads of money to achieve his childhood dream of entering a Grand Prix. However, it hasn’t stopped the occasional bad egg from slipping through the net!

The decision to enter

Unlike some other sports, there is no promotion or relegation in F1. The decision to enter Formula 1 is essentially little more than a business decision. Once a team has met the FIA’s requirements, all a team has to do is be able to fund itself in order to keep going.

The huge costs involved in running an F1 team are enough to keep the list of potential entrants low. There is space for 12 teams in the Championship and only ten of them are taken. One of those teams is currently up for sale. There is little point in setting up a new team if you can easily buy an existing one.

This season began with 11 constructors. But when Super Aguri ran out of funding it had to pull out.

Similarly, drivers have few requirements to meet. They must have a Super License (as outlined in the section above). But apart from that, all they have to do to get a drive is basically to persuade a team to give them a drive.

This does not depend on talent alone, although that is of course a huge factor. Many drivers get a slot at a poorly-funded team by bringing sponsorship money. Such drivers are known as ‘pay drivers’ because they effectively pay for their drive at a team.

Some pay drivers have gone down in history as being notoriously awful. Ricardo Rosset had lots of cash as he was the heir to an underwear business. Fittingly enough, his performances in F1 were, indeed, pants.

The 2008 season is said to be the first year for a very long time (perhaps ever) when the grid did not contain any pay drivers. However, it is also thought that Nelsinho Piquet and Adrian Sutil bring substantial sponsorship moneys to their respective teams.

A team sport or an individual sport?

Formula 1 (along with most other forms of motor racing) is rather unique among sports because it is both a team sport and an individual sport. A good driver would be nowhere were it not for a team of hundreds working tirelessly to provide him with a good car. On the day of the race, an army of people analyse the race as it happens to try and come up with the best strategy for the conditions. And the efforts of the pit crew cannot go unnoticed, as they must be relied upon to ensure that pitstops are carried out smoothly.

In this sense, you can say that Formula 1 is a team sport, but one that places a huge amount of the responsibility on one individual. Once the driver is on the track, there is not much more the team can do to help him, and it is up to the driver not to make a mistake. For this reason, there are two championships in F1 — one for drivers and one for constructors.

Each team enters two drivers and these are often referred to as “team mates”. However, often there is nothing “matey” about the relationship between these two individuals. Indeed, they might hate each other because the one person they want to beat more than anyone else is their team mate, who is usually racing with equal equipment. Comparing team mates with each other is an important barometer of a driver’s skill, so it is usually in a driver’s interest to undermine his team mate.

However, pragmatically a driver has to remember that he is an employee of his team. If a team decides that it is in their best interests to help one driver more than another, they are within their rights to do this. This is known as “team orders” and is part of racing. (Team orders will be discussed in more detail in a future bluffer’s guide.)

Testing

Teams spend a lot of time testing their cars to make sure that their developments work properly before racing with them. Such tests must be held at an FIA-sanctioned circuit. Testing is limited to 30,000km per team per calendar year. This limit excludes promotional events and young driver training. A young driver is defined as a driver who has not competed in a Formula 1 event for 24 months or has not tested an F1 car for more than four days in the past 24 months.

Teams often employ test drivers whose specific job is to test the car. Often race drivers are used at test sessions in addition to test drivers. Some drivers become highly regarded for their ability to give feedback to their engineers and for their knowledge of how to set up a car. Examples of such drivers include Pedro de la Rosa, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson. These drivers are all highly regarded as test drivers but struggle to get a race drive.

Car development

F1 teams do not just launch a car at the beginning of the season and race with it all year. Teams work throughout the year to improve their performance and developments are made to the cars several times per year as the teams see fit. In most cases, the car at the end of the season is completely different to the car that began the season. Check out Formula1.com’s excellent technical section to keep up with the main car developments throughout the year.

Logically, though, the largest leaps are made over the winter when there is no racing going on. Usually each car is an evolution of the previous year’s car. Sometimes cars are re-designed almost from the ground up each year. This used to happen fairly often, but is increasingly rare these days — unless a team hires a new chief aerodynamicist or some other radical team structural change.

Every time there is a major change to a chassis, its name changes. Usually the name changes in a predictable way for the start of each season. For instance, in 2007 Ferrari’s chassis was the F2007 and McLaren’s was the MP4-22. This year those teams’ chassis are the F2008 and the MP4-23 respectively.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop a team from using the same chassis for two years in a row (although this usually doesn’t happen because the pace of development is such that running a two year old chassis would be a serious disadvantage to any team) or from running two different chassis in one season — just as long, of course, as the chassis met the technical regulations. It is quite common for a team to use their old chassis for the first few races of the year if the development of the new car has been delayed for some reason. This happened to Toro Rosso this year, whose new STR3 was not used until the Monaco Grand Prix, six races into the season.

Liveries

Historically, teams ran traditional liveries with each nationality having a traditional colour. Britain, of course, had British Racing Green, and Italian cars ran in the deep scarlet colour (‘Rosso Corsa’) made so famous by Ferrari. Of course, with the introduction of sponsorship in the late 1960s, this was never going to last and now teams appear in whatever colours take their fancy. But is it true that F1 cars are “glorified cigarette packets”?

The arrival of sponsorship does not mean that the history has gone forever. McLaren (Mercedes) run with a predominantly silver livery and red car numbers, a reflection of the Silver Arrows’ history. BMW run with their corporate colours of navy blue, though the majority of the car is white, Germany’s traditional racing colour.

Honda and Toyota have also run in Japan’s traditional white and red (although today Honda runs in a white, green and blue ‘Earth’ car to highlight environmental concerns). When tobacco sponsorship was still allowed in F1, Honda cleverly used the Lucky Strike logo to double up as the traditional ‘red sun’. Ferrari, of course, are famous for running their traditional ‘Rosso Corsa’ colour. However, in recent years this shade has become lighter, more similar to the shade of red used in Marlboro packets (Phillip Morris still heavily fund Ferrari even though tobacco sponsorship technically does not exist in F1).

Ligier / Prost used blue until the team’s demise in 2002. When Jaguar briefly participated in F1 at the start of this decade, it ran in a deep green. However, it was slightly lighter than British Racing Green, apparently to make sponsor logos stand out better on television. The team that Jaguar bought, the (Ford-powered) Stewart team ran in white and blue, the American racing colours.

Of course, there is nothing in F1′s rules that dictates that teams should use traditional colours. These rules were relaxed in 1970. But clearly many F1 teams still value their heritage enough to run colour schemes that are inspired by history.

Some aspects of the livery are restricted though. The two cars of each team must look “substantially” similar at every event in a year. In 1999, the new BAR team (owned by British American Tobacco) wanted to advertise two of its cigarette brands, one on each car. However, the FIA would not be moved. BAR’s compromise was to advertise one brand along the left side of the car and a different brand on the right. The resulting livery was a real mess and widely derided. From 2000 onwards, BAR’s ditched the ‘dual livery’ scheme.

Each car must display the badge of the car make on the front of the car. The name and national flag of the driver should be displayed on the side (usually just behind the driver’s helmet on the engine cover). The car number should also be visible from the front and the side. However, many spectators complain that the numbers are so small that you cannot see them.

Nowadays, a different way of telling apart the two cars of each team is to look at the ‘T-cam’ (the onboard camera that appears on top of the rollover structure just above and behind the driver’s head). For the lead driver, this is a fluorescent red. For a team’s second driver, it is fluorescent yellow.

Of course, another way to tell drivers apart is to look at their helmets. Traditionally, drivers design their own helmets although these days they are covered in sponsor logos just like the cars are. A good helmet design can become as famous as a historic car livery. Just think of Ayrton Senna’s yellow helmet, Graham Hill’s deep blue helmet with white tabs around the top (an adaptation of a London Rowing Club design, and also used by Graham’s son Damon) or Jackie Stewart’s white helmet with a tartan band around the top.

Car numbers

A minor, but interesting, point is how car numbers are allocated. Car numbers are published by the FIA before the start of each season and remain the same all season.

The current World Champion always races with the number 1. His team mate is allocated number 2. In instances when the World Champion is not participating in the race, it is probable that the Constructors Champion would use the numbers 0 and 2.

Under the old system of allocating car numbers (which ran until 1995), this happened in 1993 and 1994 when Damon Hill ran with the number 0 for two years running. The first time was because of the retirement of Nigel Mansell and the second time was due to the retirement of Alain Prost.

After the numbers 1 (or 0) and 2 are allocated, the following numbers are allocated according to the finishing position in the previous year’s Constructors Championship. So, ignoring the Constructor bearing numbers 1 (or 0) and 2, the highest-scoring constructor will carry the numbers 3 and 4, the next highest-scoring will carry the numbers 5 and 6, and so on. The number 13 is skipped for unclear reasons, though it’s safe to assume that this is due to superstition.

Not all superstitious numbers are removed though. In 2005 Japanese driver Takuma Sato was allocated the number 4 which is an unlucky number in Japanese culture (ominously being closely associated with death). True enough, his season was riddled with bad luck and strange mistakes.

This season McLaren are racing with the numbers 22 and 23 because they were excluded from last year’s Constructors Championship. Super Aguri were allocated numbers 20 and 21. Although Super Aguri no longer participates in F1, McLaren’s numbers remain 22 and 23 for consistency throughout the season.

I have written before about the dangerously partisan, disgracefully nationalistic coverage of Formula 1. There is only one logical conclusion to taking a nationalistic angle in coverage of sports that have nothing to do with nationality.

Some British media outlets are guilty of putting an anti-Spanish angle into elements of their F1 coverage last year. It reached an all-time low when some papers insinuated that McLaren’s Spanish drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa were “at the centre” of the Stepneygate scandal. This completely ignored the fact that the real protagonists of the scandal — Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan — are both British!

Now Pitpass is reporting that the partisan crowd during testing in Spain has taken a nastier turn:

Yesterday, according [to] the Spanish newspaper Marca, shouts of “puto negro” (fucking black) and “negro de mierda” (black shit) were clearly heard, and that large sections of the crowd were involved.

Pitpass also has photographs of a group of people tastelessly “blacking up”, wearing t-shirts bearing the words “Hamilton’s Familly [sic]”. This is absolutely disgusting. A lot of people find it far too easy to pluck out an accusation of racism whenever it is suggested that Hamilton might not be the messiah, but there can be no doubt about the nature of these people’s demonstrations.

The article also notes that “such insidious behaviour has never been part of Formula One” — although a cynic could say that this was because of the paucity of nonwhite drivers in F1 historically.

There have been growing concerns about the nature of the “supporters” who have been turning up to test sessions in Valencia, Barcelona and Jerez. For instance, yesterday Keith Collantine wrote:

But what I do find odd is that there are some Alonso fans who got up this morning, and decided to make a banner because they were going to an F1 test. But instead of making a banner supporting Alonso, they made one attacking Hamilton.

There are a billion reasons to like F1. I don’t like the thought that some people who buy Grand Prix tickets are in it for the hate.

There have also been reports that some people have been throwing missiles at the McLaren cars. This is totally unacceptable in Formula 1 for obvious reasons.

I don’t necessarily mind some of the more humorous anti-Hamilton banners that have been on display. My personal favourite read “Lewis, have you learnt to pee by yourself, or does daddy still help you?” — mocking the overbearing presence of Lewis Hamilton’s father which has seen Anthony Hamilton become a minor celebrity in his own right.

But there is a difference between this kind of teasing and the kind of outright racism that is beginning to be reported. Pitpass calls on Fernando Alonso “to publicly distance himself from these so-called fans”. But this isn’t Fernando Alonso’s fault. He has nothing to do with these racists, and has never spoken about Hamilton in terms of his race.

But the media should immediately stop its disgustingly debased coverage of Formula 1 — in the UK as well as in Spain.

Fernando Alonso’s departure from McLaren is kind of old news now. But Ponzonha asked me to write about it, and I still have some views on it, so here they are.

I guess the first thing to point out is that Alonso’s departure from McLaren is not much of a surprise. There was still a cheeky part of my brain that was saying, “maybe Alonso can stay at McLaren after all.” But clearly the relationship between Alonso and the team had broken down irreparably. Despite a contract that said Alonso was going to be around for two more years, there was no way that was in the interests of either Alonso or McLaren.

The question then turns to what actually happened in the negotiations. Given that a contract existed, there must have been some kind of deal. Of course, McLaren and Alonso are trying to give the impression that they just discussed it and mutually decided to part ways. But few seem to believe that.

I doubt, however, that any deal involved money. A common theory is that Alonso is either not allowed to move to a “competitive” team or not allowed to move to a manufacturer team. I suppose another possibility is that Alonso will go on gardening leave for the two years until his McLaren contract runs out. But I doubt Alonso would want to sit out for two seasons.

Fernando Alonso’s difficult decision

Of course, the most obvious team for Alonso to go to is Renault — assuming this hasn’t been ruled out by Ron Dennis. He has reportedly already been offered a seat there, but seemingly Alonso has not (yet) accepted it.

One possibility for this is that Alonso does not see Renault as a competitive enough proposition. But what other options are there? BMW and Ferrari are both locked out. No-one else is as competitive, except (arguably) for Red Bull.

Another theory that I have heard is that there is “something up” between Alonso and Renault. Perhaps they had some kind of falling-out and they were just much more successful at keeping it a secret than McLaren were. Don’t forget that towards the end of the 2006 season Alonso was talking about how lonely he felt in the team. I had always thought of Alonso as a real Renault guy. But putting the pieces together, it seems to make sense that he perhaps fell out with the team.

The next most popular rumour is a move to Toyota. This has a lot going for it in one respect. There is a big Ralf Schumacher-sized vacancy and Toyota is probably the only team with the willingness and ability to pay the big bucks that Alonso no doubt demands.

Alonso is also good friends with Toyota driver Jarno Trulli. Also, if Alonso really has the ability to give six tenths to a team, who better to give it to than Toyota? This would allow them to mix with the front runners more regularly.

But I just don’t see it. Firstly, the rumours linking Alonso and Ross Brawn with a joint move to Toyota (or any team for that matter) seem too far fetched to me. Why would they join forces like that?

Also, the Toyota team is a disaster. I doubt even Alonso could make the team competitive — the bureaucracy is too overwhelming. Maybe he would want to do what Michael Schumacher did in 1996 and move to a mediocre team and “build” it into something much more successful. But it is one thing to resurrect a team as romantic as Ferrari. Toyota? It has no history, no passion, no tifosi… Just nothing going for it.

This all appears to pave the way to Red Bull. Firstly, they will have enough money to pay for Alonso. Secondly, they have the potential to become a front-running team. Geoff Willis and Adrian Newey are more than capable of building a seriously fast car. As long as they can get the reliability sorted, Red Bull ought to be a serious proposition. Also, it is not a manufacturer team, so if Alonso is forbidden to join one then Red Bull by default becomes obvious choice.

The only thing is that Red Bull already has two drivers for next season. However, it is not totally inconceivable that Red Bull could pay one of them off.

For me, the Red Bull rumour seems to stack up the most. It is not a manufacturer team, so it does not seem to be obvious at first. But there aren’t any major obstacles to the idea. But even if I was a gambler, I would not put any money on it. Everything is too uncertain.

Fernando Alonso seems to have a difficult choice ahead of him. But it looks easy in comparison to the awful choice McLaren has to take! Who shall they choose to replace Fernando Alonso?

McLaren’s difficult decision

McLaren have a really difficult juggling act to perform here. First of all, I imagine that McLaren would be wary of hiring anyone who is remotely as talented as Lewis Hamilton in an attempt to avoid the awful events of the past six months or so.

But they also want to hire somebody who has some experience. As awesome as Lewis Hamilton is, he does not have the same kind of experience that is required in terms of car set-up and whatnot. Teams tend to want to balance fresh talent with experience.

Also, they won’t want to hire another Brit. The media keeps on suggesting that Jenson Button is a possibility, but this is arrant nonsense. It doesn’t make commercial sense for them, because having drivers of two different nationalities encourages sponsors from both of those countries. McLaren is a British team with a British driver. It certainly doesn’t need another one. There is also the fact that Button just isn’t talented enough to driver for a team as good as McLaren.

All in all, it’s difficult to see who could be suitable for the McLaren drive. It is not just the three problems I have outlined above. The fact is that all of the feasible options are either inexperienced or past it.

So, who are the options? Up until today I would have said Nico Rosberg was a possibility. But today he was confirmed as a Williams driver for 2009.

Who else? Heikki Kovalainen appears to be the most obvious candidate. If Alonso moves to Renault, it would be a straight swap. Kovalainen has been quite competent at Renault this year.

I do remember once reading someone say that Kovalainen is an obvious choice for McLaren. Why? A Brit and a Finn — how could Ron Dennis resist?

It is potentially dangerous for Kovalainen though. His reputation has been built on the line that if he was in the McLaren and Hamilton was in the Renault, then everybody would be talking about Kovalainen and not Hamilton. That reputation could be lost if he turns out not to be so hot! However, I don’t imagine Kovalainen would turn down a drive at McLaren, especially with his future at Renault looking (inexplicably) so uncertain.

Lewis Hamilton himself has said he wants his team mate to be either Rosberg (now out of the question), Kovalainen or Adrian Sutil. Hamilton was team mates with Sutil in GP2 and seems to get along well with him. Hamilton has also been favourable about Sutil’s driving ability this season. Many people do think that Sutil is due a drive at a better team. But is he really McLaren material? I doubt it.

Patrick Head has cheekily suggested that it could be Michael Schumacher. This is obviously just Patrick Head being a little bit playful, so shouldn’t be considered too seriously. However, I wouldn’t rule out a Schumacher comeback in the future.

People say that Schumacher is a Ferrari guy through and through. I am not so sure about that. Ferrari post-2006 is a very different beast, and we’ve seen that partly with the whole Stepneygate issue. There is some nasty politics in that team, and a lot of senior figures seem very disgruntled.

I think that rather than being a Ferrari man, Michael Schumacher is a Ross Brawn / Rory Byrne / Jean Todt / etc man. As such, I don’t think it’s unthinkable that Schumacher could make a comeback in a non-Ferrari for a one-off season. Of course, Mercedes would probably love that!

Who are the other options? Ralf Schumacher is so bad that he has already been ruled out by McLaren, even though they won’t say another word on the driver issue at the moment. Giancarlo Fisichella is similarly falling out of favour, and is starting to look very past it.

Pedro de la Rosa is another possibility, and he seems to be advertising himself a bit. He clearly wants the drive. He is trusty, but also rusty. De la Rosa knows his stuff and is an excellent test driver for McLaren, but his occasional race performances haven’t set the world alight (except for Bahrain 2005 — wow!). There also may be a question mark in Ron Dennis’s mind due to de la Rosa’s apparently heavy involvement in the row concerning Ferrari documents this year.

Another test driver is Gary Paffett. He is held in high regard, but is effectively ruled out because he is British.

Perhaps not quite over the hill yet are Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard. Honda have been saying some astonishing things about Barrichello since Brazil, and the sword of Damocles seemingly hangs over him. Coulthard, meanwhile, may well get the heave-ho should Alonso join Red Bull.

It’s a bit of a shame really. There has been a bit of hype about Barrichello and Coulthard both surpassing Ricardo Patrese’s record as the most experienced F1 driver ever if they complete the 2009 season. All of a sudden, by the looks of things, it seems as though neither of them might make it!

But are they possibilities for the McLaren drive? David Coulthard has already driven for McLaren, and he’s not always spoken about them in glowing terms since he left. But it would make the transition smooth and everyone will know where they stand. Coulthard would surely also be an excellent mentor for Lewis Hamilton.

Similarly for Barrichello. He has not driven for McLaren in the past, but I don’t think he is quite that rusty yet.

All-in-all, McLaren really have a tough choice. They either choose somebody who is not experienced enough, or they hire someone who is on the last legs of their F1 career. I’m glad I’m not responsible for making that decision.