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Coulthard Speaks Out

David Coulthard has been talking about the unreasonable attitude of the FIA towards F1 drivers’ opinions, although he specifically identifies Max Mosley as the main culprit. He refers to the Monza circuit where the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association) expressed their concerns over safety at the track.

David

David Coulthard

“Instead of real answers we got a letter from Max saying we were speaking out of turn and that the terms of our superlicenses include a clause that says we aren’t allowed to speak out of turn or against the governing body, etc,” he said.

As I pointed out in my post, Formula One Shows the Way, the FIA seem to be deliberately ignoring any input from the drivers and have even referred to them as “self-appointed experts”. I cannot think of any other sport that is governed in as high-handed a manner as the FIA run F1.

Years ago, in the midst of the fuss over whether rugby should become a professional sport, I recall the then England rugby captain, Will Carling, getting into trouble for referring to the sport’s governing body as a bunch of old farts. But that is slightly different – as an old fart myself, I have no objection to others pointing out the fact but I do understand that some might feel their dignity deflated by such a term. The GPDA have hurled no insults and merely want their views to be known. When the FIA react by making it a part of the regulations that the drivers have no say in safety matters, I have to think that something is wrong.

Either the “old farts” running F1 have become so obsessed with their own importance that they cannot bear to hear any disagreement with their decisions or there is much more at stake than either we or the drivers understand. And, knowing how the FIA decide these things, I would have to guess that the second option means money. It might be interesting to find out just who will be making the wonderful new barriers touted by the FIA as such a significant breakthrough in safety.

So I sympathize with Coulthard’s mystification at the FIA’s attitude. As he says, it seems to go directly against all their claims to openness:

“The FIA recently commissioned a survey to find out what F1 fans think of the sport – and rightly so.

“I’m all for the fans expressing their views; I’m all for everyone involved in the sport expressing their views; why, then, must we drivers not express ours?”

But not that anything will be done, of course. Just as Will Carling was forced to eat humble pie all those years ago, so will David and the rest of the drivers be told to “Shut up and prepare for blast off.”

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The Best Car of 2006

It seems to be the general opinion that the best car in 2006 was the Ferrari 248 F1, at least in the second half of the season. Yet we should not forget the huge influence on performance of the tires; when Bridgestone was on top and the track dry, the Ferraris were good but so were the Toyotas and Williams. And they all suffered in the wet. Take out the influence of the tires and it is much more difficult to say which was the best car.

Autosport magazine has a brief interview with Bob Bell, Renault’s technical director, in which he mentions the effect of the tuned damper ban on the R26. It is clear that the ban had some effect on the performance of the Renault, even if only marginally (and F1 is a sport of small margins), but Bob says that the whole affair just made the team that much more determined to win the championship.

R26

Renault R26

Until the Indianapolis Grand Prix, the Renault and Michelin had an advantage over the Ferrari, as demonstrated by their results. But Bridgestone made a big leap forward with their tires at that time, an improvement that was masked to some extent by expectations that the Ferraris would be particularly good in the USA; no-one was surprised when the Renaults were unable to win there. The Bridgestone advantage was confirmed at the French GP, however, and from then on they retained a lead in the dry.

So Renault were already battling against a car on superior tires when the damper ban occurred. That extra little degradation in performance was enough to make the R26 look less effective a design than the Ferrari and it was only the occasional wet race, where the Michelins were better than Bridgestone’s equivalent, that enabled Renault to remain ahead on points.

But this is all about tires – is it possible to say which car was better if all other factors had been equal? It’s a matter of opinion in the end and we can never know for sure. But the fact remains that the R26 was competitive even when the Michelins were not the best tires. It was always in with a chance, regardless of the type of circuit, and looked well-balanced and quick at all times.

And that was the strength of the Renault, that it was so adaptable to circumstances. The Ferrari was very good when it was good but there were a couple of tracks where it performed below par. And, for my money, that makes the R26 the better design.

Another Spanish double champion, Carlos Sainz of rallying fame, has been trying out last year’s Renault, the R25. You can read what he has to say on its merits as opposed to a rally car in this F1 Racing-live report.

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Ross Brawn Rumors Start

The Italian press does not hang about when it comes to rumors – already the whisper is that Ross Brawn may move to another team, rather than take a genuine break from F1. Hardly had Ross finished his farewell speech than this one hit the ground running.

Ross

Ross Brawn

Ah well, that’s the Italian press for you, we think. And I would agree that there is very little likelihood of the story having any foundation in fact at all – just some journalist dreaming up a good story. Why would Ross leave a team that has enjoyed so much success over the years unless he genuinely wants to spend more time with his family, as stated?

And yet. Ross was brought to Ferrari at Michael Schumacher’s request and they, with Jean Todt, formed a triumvirate that led the team to such astounding success. Now that Michael is retiring and Todt is promoted to Ferrari President, what is there left for Brawn? He would have to start again, building a new team without the help of those he has worked with so well. That would mean staying in Italy and seeing his family only when the pressures of the job allow it.

So it makes sense that he would call it a day at this point in time. But most of the F1 teams are based in England. How long will it be before it occurs to Ross that so-and-so’s factory is only just down the road and, if he were to work for that outfit, he could be home every night? It would mean starting again to build a team but that was going to happen anyway.

Ross is only 51 years old and, like Michael, does not have the temperament to stay out of some all-consuming job for long. F1 is in his blood and his thoughts could easily turn to repeating his achievements at Benetton and Ferrari with some other team, if only to prove that he can still do it.

So there may be some sense in the Italian report after all. Which is not to say I believe it – I don’t. It’s just that it might be how things turn out in the future. And, if it does happen, Ross will want good material to work with, a driver who can deliver the goods and a team that has all it needs for success.

Which means McLaren, of course…

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And What Of Williams?

While all eyes are focused on Ferrari as they begin their re-organization of the team after the departure of Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn, Williams are quietly undergoing a revolution too. With new financial backing from AT&T, the communications giant, and new employees pouring into the factory, the possibility of a Williams revival presents itself.

Williams

Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head

That is the thing with Williams: you just cannot write them off. They have proved too often in the past that they can compete at the highest level and their dissatisfaction with their results this year, plainly spoken of by Sir Frank and Patrick Head, has increased their determination to make a come-back. Add everything together and you have a team with enormous potential: good finance, fresh blood, Toyota engines and long experience.

The traditional Williams weaknesses remain, however, the most obvious one being their attitude to drivers. Sir Frank has always regarded the driver as just another component to be slotted in and out at will and his replacement of Mark Webber with the much cheaper Alex Wurz is just another example of this. Had the AT&T deal come along sooner, the team might have retained Webber; as it is, their driver line-up for next year looks a little frail.

Yes, Nico Rosberg seems quick, honest and professional. But he is still young and prone to occasional mistakes. So the experience will have to be supplied by Alex and he’s had plenty of it. He is competent and sometimes quick but somehow that extra spark of determination is lacking. What the team needs for next year is a star and I don’t think they have one.

Perhaps the most important part of the equation is the Toyota engine deal. As I have said previously, this may be the first step in a process that results in a Toyota/Williams merger in the future. Toyota is hungry for success and isn’t getting it; Williams miss past glories and want them back. If the two teams can combine their talents, they might both achieve their ambitions.

Looking into my crystal ball, I see 2007 as an important year for Williams. Never mind the championships, constructor’s or driver’s; their aim must be to beat the Toyotas. If they can do that, their future is assured.

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