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Renault Show How It’s Done

When it comes to giving the fans what they want, some teams are better than others. Renault have long led the way in reaching F1 fanatics, with an active team club, excellent information on the website and an openness that puts other teams to shame.

Podcast

Now they have re-instated their podcast in a new format and it is well worth a listen. You can hear it by clicking on this link. This time round Pat Symonds, Steve Nielsen, the Sporting Manager, and Jeff Fullerton, Machine Shop Manager, are interviewed on such subjects as the car’s performance, the rise of young drivers in F1 and the quality of TV coverage. They pull no punches, giving their views frankly and without avoiding sensitive issues.

Full marks to Renault for such an excellent innovation.

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Compound Confusion

So far, I have said nothing about the plan to make Bridgestone identify the two tire compounds to be used in races this year by having a blob of paint smeared on one or other of them. This is mainly because I really don’t understand the whole business.

Buddies

Best of buddies – Mansell and Piquet

For a start, what is the point of forcing the teams to use both compounds in each race? Since everyone must do this, it seems like a pathetic attempt to introduce more artificial strategy into racing – as if we didn’t have enough already. And it will very quickly become clear whether it is best to use the soft tires at the beginning of the race or the end and all the teams will react accordingly. Not much room for nail-biting stuff there.

Then there is the silly business of whether there should be visual indication of which compound each car is using. I am told that this will make things more exciting for the fans since they will be able to see at a glance which cars are on softs and which on hards. And everyone seems to agree that this is a great idea – or it appeared so until until this morning, when I read a post on Formula 1 Linksheaven that questions the motivation behind the sorry business. I particularly liked the following statement:

The casual fan does not give a damn what compound a driver is using. The CASUAL fan can’t tell whether it’s Liuzzi or Speed gone by in the Toro Rosso. So this wont enhance their enjoyment of a race. And the hardcore fans will likely not want their beloved sport to take a further step away from being the cut-throat world that it is.

I would go even farther and suggest that the dedicated fans too will not care once it comes down to it. They understand that these things even themselves out in the race and that any excitement created by them is artificial and temporary only. What really matters to us is that there be as little interference by regulation in the races as possible – the attraction of F1 is competition between the best drivers and cars in the world and there is no need to “spice up” the show with idiotic and pointless requirements inserted by a governing body obsessed with TV ratings and convinced that we are all so moronic that only a circus will keep us amused.

As an example of just how much we care about tires, consider the British GP of 1987. Everyone remembers it as the race in which Nigel Mansell passed Nelson Piquet to win after having been twenty seconds down; some even consider it to be Mansell’s greatest race. The fact that Mansell was so far behind because he had changed his tires late in the race and that Piquet’s tires were shot is quietly forgotten. In fact, all that race proved was that a car on new tires is quicker than one on worn ones – big revelation.

No, we don’t care about tires and any attempt to re-introduce interest after having ensured that there will be no competition between tire manufacturers is a matter of wanting to have your cake and eat it. There are arguments for and against tire wars in F1 but, having decided to standardize on one manufacturer, the FIA should leave it at that, instead of monkeying about with details in the hope of preserving a vestigial interest in tires.

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The Fastest Of Them All

Whenever F1 fans get together, you can bet that the conversation will eventually turn to the subject of which driver was greatest of all. Years ago I read a short story that deals with this rather well and I am always reminded of it whenever such a discussion begins. I do not remember who wrote the story so I cannot give credit where it is due – but it was a long time ago so perhaps it will be sufficient that I put on record that the story isn’t mine. Anyway, here’s the basic outline of the tale:

It seems that there was a group of friends who were great fans of Grand Prix racing. They met often and enjoyed many long discussions on all aspects of the sport but things often became heated when the matter of the quickest driver arose – as it did often.

Nuvolari

The usual names were bandied about, Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Senna, Schumacher, but no final decision could ever be reached as each fan produced persuasive reasons as to why his choice must be the right one. Over the years, positions became entrenched and everyone knew the opinions and arguments of everyone else since they had heard them so often before. But nobody would concede defeat and the subject remained the one issue that was entirely deadlocked; yet they never gave up debating it, so determined were they that the matter be settled once and for all.

They were old men by the time they gathered together for the bus ride to Spa to see the Belgian Grand Prix. And, in a way, it was fitting that they should all be killed when the bus fell off a hillside in the Ardennes before they reached the circuit. Inseparable friends they had been in life and now, in death, the bond continued unbroken.

And so it was that they found themselves together again in heaven. St Peter had allowed them entry as a group and no-one was left behind. And, inevitably, the old subject came up again, undecided as it still was. Who was the fastest of all?

Even then, they were unable to reach agreement and things might have stayed that way for eternity if one of their number had not suggested settling the matter by asking the Boss, the Big G, who was reputed to know all things. Elated that they would finally know the truth and the controversy be settled forever, they proceeded to the Big House to ask their question.

The Boss was in residence and expressed Himself happy to answer anything they should ask. They explained the problem (not omitting mention of each one’s preference to ensure that he not be forgotten) and finished with the question that had dominated their lives – who was the fastest driver of all time?

The Boss smiled and answered immediately. “Heinz Hopflinger,” He announced with certainty.

The friends stared at Him and each other in complete perplexity. “Heinz Hopflinger?” ventured the bravest of them. “But I’ve never heard of him. How could that be?”

The Boss smiled again. “Oh, it was Heinz all right. I ought to know – I made him. He was a shepherd in Lichtenstein all his life and never actually saw a motor vehicle, let alone a racing car. But, if they had put him in one, he would have beaten all those you mentioned by a mile…”

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Say Buddy, Got a Match?

The big news today is that Lewis Hamilton grabbed the quickest time on the final day of the Valencia test sessions. This bodes well for the young driver’s future, showing that he has no problem getting back into the car after a big shunt. No doubt McLaren are heartened too to see the MP4-22 performing so well already.

We all know it’s meaningless, of course; off season testing is always an unreliable indicator of likely results in the races that follow. So why do we follow it so closely, poring over lap times and making guesses as to which teams will be the stars of the coming season?

Marlboro

It’s addiction, you know – so starved are we of action in the sport that we’ll read anything to get us through the lean period. These few months when nothing is happening but hype and hope are the real test of the F1 fan’s stamina. To outsiders it might seem that we should take a break and go off to watch football until the season opener (Melbourne, Australia, March 18, by the way) but they really don’t understand what drives us. We’re addicted and must have something to feed our habit.

So we read every scrap of info that comes our way, ponder arcane details of design in the new cars, compare testing times, listen to what even the lowliest F1 mechanic has to say. Without even noticing, we feed the habit, even stooping as low as to pick up stogies dropped by Bernie Ecclestone as he wanders the world, adding GPs here and cutting a few there.

It has to be said that there are benefits to this obsession too. Unlike the part-time F1 fan, we do not have to spend the entire Australian GP wondering who the heck that guy is in the Bloopmobile Special this year – not only do we know, we could tell you his age, his career history and what he had for breakfast this morning. To my shame, I have to admit to missing the occasional off season in the past and being very confused in the first few races as a result.

How fitting it is that F1 has been the last refuge of the tobacco advertisers for so long. Like nicotine addicts condemned to wear the patch for three months, we hang on grimly until we can once again light up the television for that first, so-satisfying hit of the year. Life is merely an annoying interlude between races.

As with the dwindling band of committed smokers, we are determined to hold on to our habit, too. To tell an F1 fan that “hey, there’s hockey on the TV” is like offering gum to a smoker – it just doesn’t cut it and he returns to reading the obscure article about Barrichello’s new helmet design that he found on the back page of the local rag this morning.

But hey, I don’t mind admitting it: my name is Clive and I’m an F1 fan. Try to convert me if you will, I won’t change. Fact is, I love this sport…

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