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Max and the Future of F1

There is only one item of news of any importance today but it’s a doozey: Mighty Max Mosley’s proposals for rule changes in 2011. I won’t detail them here as there are plenty of sites that give the whole press release (Pitpass dot com has the best article so far, I think) but essentially, you can look foward to an F1 world of 2.2 liter turbo-diesels with traction control and standardized bodies.

Max

Max Mosley

Before I begin, let me say that I resent being forced into the position of appearing to be an extreme anti-environmentalist. When the lunacies of the greenies begin to affect the sport I love, however, I have no option but to emerge from my preferred stance of keeping my own counsel to call for a brake on this drive back to the caves. Regular readers will have read me on the subject before and I have already had a good rant on the forum I use, but it is not enough; I apologize, but I have to raise my voice once again in the cause of balance and common sense.

Surely every F1 fan must be horrified by Max’s proposals. Already the calls for his resignation are rising from the ranks of those who truly care about the sport. This is not sufficient, however, as there is no guarantee of who would succeed him in that unlikely event; we need to attack this disease at its root, not its effect.

For F1, that root is the surrender of the FIA to the car manufacturers. That results in the two motivating factors behind Max’s brave new world: that F1 must become relevant to the advance of road car technology and that the sport must be seen as being eco-friendly. Both motivations are diametrically opposed to the prime reason for the existence of F1 – fun, entertainment, a sport indeed.

Those involved in F1 do so because we are a competitive species and love to pit our wits and skills against each other – there is no great benefit to humanity in ascertaining who is the fastest, the cleverest or the best; it’s fun and interesting, that’s all. The fans watch because they too are competitive and want to see humanity’s finest competing against each other and to root for their heroes; it is entertainment, no more and no less.

This is what we call sport and, naturally, F1 fans feel that it is the best sport there is. Take away that reason for doing it and suddenly F1 becomes meaningless beyond an extension of the motor industry’s R&D departments. Watching it would be like taking a tour of a car factory – interesting for the technically-minded but deathly boring for anyone who wants to become involved in a competition to see who is the best. It is the human factor that is being excised from F1 and with it will go all reason for watching it.

I have pointed out before that the manufacturers do not need F1 as a test bed – they have plenty of such facilities already. They should recognize that, if they insist on being involved, they are there only to provide the machinery that enables drivers to compete. Somehow F1 must be wrested from the grasp of the manufacturers and placed back in the hands of those who understand that it is a sport and therefore has nothing to do with practical, everyday things – it is about competition between flesh and blood above anything else.

What really galls me about all this is that Max is doing it in lip service to a theory that is fundamentally flawed and exposed several times over as just plain wrong: the idea that mankind is causing the warming of the atmosphere and that this will soon make the planet uninhabitable. This is not the place to enter the debate that rages over the theory; if you are interested, my website, Global Warming Latest is a quick and easy introduction to the arguments against the theory. But anyone as old as I am must surely remember that, before the global warming hysteria, we were subjected to assurances that we were causing the onset of another Ice Age and, before that, we were confidently advised that overpopulation would bring on worldwide famine before the year 2000.

These are fads picked up by politicians and exaggerated for their own nefarious purposes. Even those scientists who think that global warming is taking place admit that it will have no discernible effect on climate for another hundred years at least. There is no mad hurry to reduce society to some sort of hunter/gatherer paradise just yet, even in the worst scenarios imaginable. The haste is caused because the politicians who encourage the hysteria cannot afford to wait a hundred years – they want power now.

And for this mess of potage, Max wants to destroy F1 as a sport. How dare he propose such ridiculous changes to something that belongs to us, the fans who ensure that F1 continues? It is no longer sufficient for us to bow to the diktats of the greenies by some humble admission that we should be more eco-friendly, as is done by those who want to avoid a fight. The fight is upon us and it is time for us to stand up and demand that our sport remain as such.

I know that attempting to get some sense into the minds of the money men who run the FIA has as much hope of success as starting a search for the fountain of youth. But I have to try. If F1 fans do not raise a shout of protest that is heard even in the hallowed corridors of the FIA, we will see our sport reduced to ruins. We stop the rot now or never.

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On Giving the Drivers a Break

I have written before about the pressure the arrival of new and talented young drivers puts on the old guard of F1. Even recent arrivals like Mark Webber must be looking at the hype surrounding such hotshoes as Kubica, Kovalainen, Sutil and Hamilton and wondering where their next drive is coming from.

Lewis

Lewis Hamilton

The first few races have put some of this into perspective, with Kovalainen and Kubica struggling to make an impact at first, but Hamilton’s amazing form has upped the ante for everyone, including the young ones. Suddenly every team owner wants another Hamilton and the pressure transfers to the new arrivals to prove that they, too, can work miracles.

No doubt reality will break through eventually and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief as Hamilton makes the occasional mistake or suffers a run of bad luck (he had both in GP2 – it will happen in F1 too). But the benchmark for new drivers has moved higher than ever before and will stay there.

Like him or loathe him, Michael Schumacher has become the model for drivers to be measured against now. The extreme levels of fitness, commitment, technical ability, tactical astuteness, public persona and speed he demonstrated are now expected of all drivers and we may have seen the last of the drivers who rely only on a God-given talent to see them through.

Hence the pressure on Raikkonen at the moment; he is seen as supremely talented but uncommitted to his task and his early departure from the Barcelona GP is cited as evidence of this. Rumors abound that Scott Speed is about to be replaced at Toro Rosso (by Vettel, of all people) and the denials by Berger and Tost do little to quell speculation. The pressure on drivers mounts to the point where the message becomes “deliver the goods by mid-season or you’re history”.

It is all faintly ridiculous and ignores the fact that many champions have taken time to find their feet in F1. Nigel Mansell was one and it took Keke Rosberg years to be offered a competitive drive. We need to face the fact that not every potential champion is a Schumacher, that many great talents of the future will have other approaches to their task.

All of which is leading up to another plea for Speed not to be dismissed. I have already pointed out his excellent performance at Barcelona, in spite of bad luck preventing any fulfillment of the promise. Here now are the midday practice times from today’s testing session at Paul Ricard:

1. Webber – Red Bull – 1:29.687
2. Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:30.051
3. Speed – Toro Rosso – 1:30.053
4. Barrichello – Honda – 1:30.108
5. de la Rosa – McLaren – 1:30.457
6. Montagny – Toyota – 1:30.478
7. Rossiter – Super Aguri – 1:30.575
8. Kovalainen – Renault – 1:30.917
9. Kubica – BMW – 1:30.931
10. Wurz – Williams – 1:31.324
11. Winkelhock – Spyker – 1:32.756
12. Albers – Spyker – 1:32.960

Enough said.

Update – Final Times from Paul Ricard, 3rd Day:

Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1:28.833
Speed, Toro Rosso – 1:29.039
Kovalainen, Renault – 1:29.070
Kubica, BMW – 1:29.157
Webber, Red Bull – 1:29.179
Montagny, Toyota – 1:29.205
Wurz, Williams – 1:29.359
de la Rosa, McLaren – 1:29.528
Barrichello, Honda – 1:30.108
Klien, Honda – 1:30.235
Rossiter, Super Aguri – 1:30.286
Albers, Spyker – 1:32.245
Winkelhock, Spyker – 1:32.756

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Avanti Minardi!

Stuart Garlick has written the definitive article about “Minardi-cool” – it’s over on PitPass dot com and thoroughly recommended for its insight into the heart and soul of the diehard F1 fan.

Martini

The quintessential Minardi driver, Pierluigi Martini, Detroit 1988

I have been thinking about Minardi-cool and its importance for the sport. There was a time when I was a Ferrari fan, way back in the sixties, but that was largely because John Surtees was driving for them at the time; when he left, I moved on too. Even then, however, I had a soft spot for the no-hopers, those small teams who stood no real chance of success but stayed in the game because they loved motor racing. Hence my support for ATS, both the Italian Automobili Turismo e Sport and the later German team with the same initials, Osella and anything remotely connected with Lola.

It’s the “support for the underdog” thing, I suppose, and certainly that has a lot to do with it. But that is not all or I would be mourning the disappearance of teams like Parnelli, Coloni and Pacific (which I’m not). No, there has to be more than the David/Goliath factor or I can remain merely an interested spectator.

And Minardi, especially in the early years, had it all. Not only did they compete on the smallest budget of all the teams but they enjoyed every moment. They could not afford the latest technology and anything other than a customer engine but, without fail, they designed the prettiest car in the field. And often they produced a chassis that could surprise much wealthier teams, making up for their lack of muscle with balance and handling.

I was a Minardi supporter from the first and imagined myself to be the only one. Much later I discovered that the team had worked its magic on many others and there was a large fanbase out there. There is hope for the human race yet.

You see, what motivated Minardi and kept them going all those years was pure love of F1 racing; they were delighted to be in the sport and never became jaded or disillusioned. That takes some doing when you’re a team running on a shoestring budget – F1 regulations are conspicuously mean to the poorly-funded. Minardi was a constant reminder of what the sport is really all about.

Now they have gone forever and Stuart Garlick is not the only one who searches for a replacement, finding some hope in Spyker, but it’s really not quite the same. He is right that the FIA should ease the passage of new entrants into F1 but at the moment that seems as likely as Max Mosley admitting that his tenure has been a disaster for the sport. We have little option but to hang on grimly and wait for a miracle.

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The Excitement of Traction Control

Autosport dot com has a good article on the techies’ view of the ban on traction control from 2008 onwards. It means a lot of re-design work for them but generally they seem content with the decision.

They do not think that the racing will be more “exciting” as a result, however. That may be true but I don’t think that was the FIA’s intention anyway – the idea was surely to allow the drivers’ skills a bit more influence on the race results. Everyone is agreed that the ban will help with that, Williams technical director, Sam Michael, admitting that “those who can feel the rear tyres and the throttle will shine.”

Prost

Alain Prost

Well, yeah. Which means that those who can save their tires by more skillful driving will benefit. Years ago Alain Prost was legendary for being able to take care of his tires and then to challenge strongly at the end of the race when everyone else’s tires were shot. In fact, without that ability, it is doubtful that he could have been quite as strong a teammate to Senna when they were both at McLaren. And it is drivers with the smooth, economical style of a Prost who will gain most from the ban, while the more spectacular but abrasive drivers will have to be more careful.

Certainly, it won’t be more exciting – but we might find the usual order shuffled a bit. Just as an instance, Kimi Raikkonen is rumored to be quite hard on his car and that means tires too. If he has to curb his instincts somewhat, that could put him in range of a lot of pretenders to his crown as one of the three quickest drivers. And they do say that Jenson Button is one of the smoothest drivers around…

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