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Joining the Club – Super Aguri

Against all expectations, Super Aguri survived their first year rather well, developing an ancient Arrows chassis into something like a modern GP car and finishing the last race of 2006 in tenth place. This season they have a development of last year’s Honda, a car that won in Hungary, and have taken a leap forward in performance as a result.

Davidson

Anthony Davidson in the Super Aguri SA07

The big question is: can they maintain the pace of development and consolidate their position in the midfield? Although they are currently embarrassing their parent team, Honda, I feel that sooner or later the car will reach the limit of possible tweaks and adjustments and will begin to slip towards the back of the grid again. This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with the team (indeed, they have done wonders so far); they are working with last year’s product, that’s all.

Super Aguri provide us with a glimpse of the customer teams that are likely in the future, much more so than Toro Rosso which is more like a B team to Red Bull. They are enthusiastic, dedicated and ecstatic over each small success that comes their way. And they have shown that it is not absolutely necessary to have the latest equipment to compete in F1. They might never win races but points are not completely out of the question.

The team’s choice of drivers is not bad, too. Takuma Sato is no slouch and, on occasions can be very fast indeed. And Anthony Davidson is talented and quick. Although he has taken time to get into his stride, he out-qualified Sato in Bahrain and may be about to show us how good he really is.

Treated as something of a joke last year, Super Aguri have earned their spurs and it is hard not to wish them well. If nothing else, they reflect the overwhelming enthusiasm of the Japanese for motor racing, F1 in particular.

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A Few Malaysian Points

Apart from the first lap, there was not a great deal of overtaking in this Grand Prix. And yet it was very interesting. Perhaps most importantly, it illustrated that McLaren have closed the gap to Ferrari. Even had the McLarens not got the jump on Massa and Raikkonen at the start, they clearly were as quick and would not have been left behind if the Ferraris had grabbed the lead. When the Italian cars had nothing in front of them, they went no faster than they had been going behind Alonso and Hamilton.

Alonso

Alonso’s race

Naturally, Jean Todt denied that this had anything to do with the tightening of the test for flexible floors, that it was merely that McLaren had found more improvements since Melbourne than Ferrari had, but I think there is more to it than that. The BMWs were able to run at Ferrari pace, as shown by Heidfeld keeping Massa at bay, and there was a string of cars just behind this pair; did everyone improve more than Ferrari?

Some of the loss of Ferrari’s advantage can be explained by Kimi’s reliability worries. He was obviously content to hold station rather than risk the engine and would have been better advised to take the penalty and show us the true pace of the Ferrari with a fresh engine, I think. In spite of his determination to pamper the engine for points rather than a win, he was able to stay with the McLarens; with a new engine, he could have bullied his way through to fight for the lead.

The Finn’s face in the post race press conference spoke volumes – he is with Ferrari to win the championship and, if that means sometimes he has to go a little slower and let Massa have the glory, he is prepared to do it. And the glow around Felipe is beginning to fade; this was a race that he expected to win but threw away in frustration when he lost his lead at the first corner. It is Raikkonen, not Massa, that Alonso will have to fight for his third championship in a row.

A little further back, Williams entertained us with a great drive from Rosberg that deserved better than retirement and a charge through the field from Wurz. Hopefully, the car will get even better and we can enjoy the sight of a Williams battling for the lead again.

The performance of the Renaults and Hondas was interesting, both racing much better than they qualified. This would indicate that their main problem is in adjusting to the Bridgestones, rather than fundamental flaws in the design of the cars. If they can get on top of the tire problem, they will leapfrog into the top ten, I think.

And give Fisichella his due: he is doing a far better job than his much-hyped Finnish teammate, driving the car as fast as it will go without drama and taking the points on offer.

Toyota performed their usual disappearing act, Trulli circulating anonymously in the final points positions while Ralf managed to find his way back to keep the tailenders company. If anyone drives like Fisichella’s reputation, it is the Toyota team!

Note that Super Aguri were not so impressive in Malaysia – they have slipped a little and now run with their natural competitors, the Toro Rossos. This is a trend that is likely to continue, since their car becomes ever more out of date as others develop their later designs and get them to work with the tires. Expect Toro Rosso to get better and better, however, as Red Bull get the RB3 sorted out and drop a few hints to their second team.

Finally, I have to say it: Scott Speed finished well ahead of Liuzzi. Yes, tell me that Vitantonio had a little argument with Sato that spoiled his race – the point is, Scott didn’t. He ran consistently with a gaggle of allegedly better cars throughout the race and brought it home in the end. Staying out of trouble is part of racecraft too, Gerhard…

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Spyker Pays the Piper

I see that Spyker’s protest against the legality of the Toro Rosso cost the team $2,000. That seems a bit steep for saying, “Oi, we don’t think that’s legal!” and makes me wonder about the wisdom of Spyker making a fuss about the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri cars at all. No wonder Williams is sitting quietly at the moment, allowing Spyker to shoulder the burden of the costs involved.

Spyker

Once they get to arbitration, the price to be paid will increase dramatically, of course – lawyers don’t come cheap these days. And what will Spyker gain, even if they win the case? TR and SA would have to stop using their 2007 models and that could easily mean they have to drop out of racing, at least for a time. Which would leave Spyker still at the back of the grid but with a bigger gap to bridge to the teams above them – at least TR are within reach at the moment.

It seems to me that Spyker would be wiser to spend the money on development rather than legal fees. Neither SA nor TR are going to get anywhere near the Constructor’s Championship this year, so it seems pointless to mutter about it being for constructors only. Customer cars will be legal next year anyway and any victories in court achieved this season will become meaningless. By then, Colin Kolles might well wish he had the money rather than a judgment in his pocket.

Okay, you can say it’s a matter of principle – TR and SA are probably breaking the terms of the Concorde Agreement for 2007. But the FIA aren’t interested, understandably since they ignore the agreement anytime they want to, and the other teams are only prepared to shake their heads and give Spyker moral support. The principle could cost Spyker a lot of money and distracts them from the main task, which is getting their car competitive with the others. Consider how much good it did Shadow in winning their case against Arrows in 1978; by the time the judgment came through, Arrows had another design ready and Shadow had dropped to the tail end of the field.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that Spyker have nothing to gain and a lot to lose in this whole business. Ultimately, their aim has to be to build a car that can beat all comers, so what does it matter if TR and SA have stolen a temporary advantage by bending the rules? In the long run they will have to compete with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren if they don’t want to remain as perennial also-rans. And a season or two at the back of the grid is part of the apprenticeship that has to be served if they are going to learn enough to move upwards.

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All Quiet on the F1 Front

Okay, I admit it, I do like a bit of controversy, something that I can throw a few ill-chosen words at to get everyone even more outraged. And F1 has let me down badly this morning, having apparently fixed the flexi-floor debate and the customer car row waiting for arbitration. The only thing happening seems to be testing in Malaysia with times that are all over the place, confirming the old adage that testing proves nothing.

Sato

Sato in the Super Aguri

Silverstone is threatened with a buy-out by a shadowy group called Spectre, prompting PitPass to speculate on a return of James Bond’s old enemy, Ernst Blofeld, but Damon Hill has denied that the circuit is up for sale. So much for any fun with that one.

Even F1 Fanatic is reduced to a post on a Formula 1 photograph exhibition in London. Definitely a day with no pots to stir and no fur to ruffle.

Which leaves me writing what I refer to on my personal blog as “a nothing post”. I am expert on these, having resorted to them often in moments of desperation. Mention of my personal blog reminds me that there are a few motor sport posts on it, however, and it occurs to me that I could duck this one by sending you over there to read them. They’re hugely out of date but might at least assuage my pangs of guilt at not being able to think of anything to write about today.

The Indianapolis Grand Farce

The Other Italian

Motor Racing Memories

Okay, there are only three but I do have other interests, you know…

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