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Gary Paffett for Next Year?

Rumor has it that one of Prodrive’s drivers in 2008 will be Gary Paffett, presently a test driver for McLaren. Although there are a lot of young drivers around at the moment who look like future GP winners, Gary is one that I reckon you can bank on. Take a look at his career on Wikipedia and you’ll see what I mean.

Gary

Gary Paffett

The man was Schumacher-esque in the lesser formulas – wins the Formula Vauxhall Junior Class B Championship with 13 fastest laps, 13 poles, 13 races out of 13 races (how’s that for boring monotony?). Not content with that, he does it again in the Scholarship class of F3 – 13 wins, 13 fastest laps, 13 pole positions.

It gets a bit confused after that but it does seem that, whatever car you put him in, he’ll drive the wheels off it. Competition for Lewis Hamilton perhaps?

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Decisions From the FIA

The good news is that the FIA has been able to ban traction control in F1 from 2008, thanks to the introduction of the standardized Microsoft/McLaren ECU. Anything that removes driver aids from the cars and puts more emphasis on the skill of the driver has to be applauded; it remains to be seen whether the ECU will have other unexpected effects such as our screens suddenly freezing with 404 errors and teams having to phone Redmond to register their software after an engine change.

Tyre

To prevent us getting too excited, however, the FIA has balanced this by not approving other proposed rule changes – slick tyres will remain a no-no, the width of the cars will not be increased and there will be no reduction in the minimum weight limit. Ah well, I guess we’d become spoiled if allowed to have everything we wanted.

Some surprise has been expressed amongst F1 watchers at the failure to implement these changes. It all makes perfect sense if you look at it from the FIA’s point of view, however. Take the survival of the awful grooved tires, for instance – now that Bridgestone seems to have settled for using one of the grooves for its painted indication of the softer tire, it would be unfair to take that away from them so soon. They might have to do the obvious and paint a ring around the sidewall otherwise and that would be following the lead of Champ Cars (oh, horrors!).

But seriously, there is one thing all the rejected proposals have in common – they would make the cars faster in the corners. And we know that is anathema to the FIA with their determination to keep speeds within manageable limits. After all, we all know (don’t we?) that speed is what causes accidents. Perhaps we could end up with a scenario rather like California’s car chases, where the cops follow dutifully along behind the getaway car as it cruises the freeway at the speed limit. Now there would be a spectacle to delight nannies all around the world!

Formula 1 is a sport of balances – balance between car performance and driver skill, balance between technological advance and spectacle, balance between speed and safety. Concentrate too much on one aspect and another will suffer. And safety needs to be put in its rightful place – important but not the be-all and end-all.

The current generation of cars is about as safe as it is possible to make them but there will always be a chance of something completely unexpected happening (like David Coulthard deciding to park his RB3 on your head). That is the definition of accident – something occurring that has not been foreseen and therefore not guarded against. We can chase our tails for eternity trying to think of the most unlikely events and then making sure that cars have defenses against such things, but we will never beat Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

It is time to accept the very high standard of safety already achieved and allow racing to have its turn. Give us back the slicks and let the cars be wider and lighter – let’s see some racing, for Pete’s sake!

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More on Night Races

Or should that be Moron Night Races? Never mind, Bernie wants them, so it is bound to happen. It is good to see that others are at last noticing the way in which the idea conflicts with other stated aims of the FIA, however. Far be it from me to say, “I told You So.”

Daytona

Daytona chicane at night

In previous posts I have made my position on the Great Global Warming Scare quite clear – in a nutshell, I believe it to be unsupported by the evidence and a deliberate political scam instituted by unscrupulous people hungry for power. But that does not mean that I think efforts to make cars more environment-friendly are wasted. It makes good sense to look for alternative power sources since, sooner or later, the oil will run out.

So I was heartened to read Pitpass’ article about a new and more efficient solar power cell invented in Australia. It does sound as though this is a huge breakthrough and could make the use of solar power more practicable and widespread. Bonza, Australia!

It is not the whole answer, however. There remains the problem of where the power comes from in countries where the sun does not shine as much as it does in Australia. Batteries can store power from the sunny days for a while but there will always be the risk of it running low through a prolonged overcast spell. But be of good cheer, fellow Brits – our cousins across the pond have demonstrated what may well be the ultimate alternative power source for the automotive industry.

It is called the GM Hy-Wire and, having already written about it in another of my sites, I am going to take the lazy route and suggest you click on this link to see what the future holds. This, surely, is the future of both motoring in general and F1.

HyWire

GM Hy-Wire

You know, if we could all drive one of those, Bernie’s night races might even become feasible…

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How Many Races Makes a Season?

Over at F1-Fanatic, Keith Collantine has asked the question, How many races does F1 need?, and thereby saved you from my proposed rant about Honda’s new colours. I feel inspired to be awkward, irascible and downright objectionable over the idea of increasing the number of GPs and, as usual, I cannot resist an opportunity to play devil’s advocate. So here we go.

Rouge

Will the added circuits have corners as good as this?

It is easy for us to say, “Yes, give us more races,” when it costs us nothing and adds to the entertainment we crave. But the teams have a point when they say that more races means more expense for them – and this at a time when the FIA is trying to reduce costs. Even Bernie’s upper limit of twenty races may be pushing the envelope too far for some of the teams involved – and that means the little ones that tend to be more popular (Williams, for instance).

Before we shout too loudly for more races, we should consider carefully what effect this might have. It is not just a matter of expense; there is quality to be considered too.

Some will remember the days before the advent of cable and satellite television in Britain. Believe it or not, there was a choice between five channels, take it or leave it. With the arrival of new TV technology, suddenly we were presented with hundreds of channels and we thought we’d entered a brave new world of unlimited entertainment.

The reality turned out to be very different. Sure we had choice as never before, but what was worth choosing? From having a limited TV service that we continually assured ourselves was the best in the world (and it was – remember the annoyance of having two great programmes on at the same time?), we progressed to limitless choice between channel after channel of pure tripe.

The lesson is that there is only so much quality in the world; you can concentrate it or spread it thinly but nothing will increase the amount you started with. I will admit that, with perseverance, it is possible to find one or two channels on satellite TV that are pretty good but are you not then right back where you started? So quality collects into little bundles while the dross spreads out, offering no real choice at all.

This has some relevance for F1, believe it or not. If we increase the number of races, we also increase costs and cut down the amount of time and money that can be spent on developing and testing the cars. Yes, NASCAR has 40 races in a year but they are racing primitive machines that could never be regarded as the pinnacle of technology. And the danger is that allowing more races will lower the pace of development in F1 cars.

Look at this off season that is now drawing to a close. Cars that were designed at the beginning of last year are only now hitting the tracks in test sessions and the teams are struggling to get them fully prepared before the first race of 2007. Some will not be ready. And the result of less testing time is more failures and underperformance.

Does anyone remember how frustrating it is to see a talented driver lose race after race because of breakages on his car? Go back thirty years and you will find countless races in which the driver who deserved most to win was sidelined through mechanical failure. We are spoiled in this age of almost perfect reliability and have become used to seeing the best driver in the best car win with regularity.

There is the matter of familiarity breeding contempt to be considered too. Increase the number of races too much and they will begin to look the same, especially as the new ones added will inevitably be the anodyne, squeaky-clean chicane fests that are designed these days. Boredom will creep in as we realize that the circuits all look the same and they might as well hold all the races in one place. I would rather have a season of ten races on the great circuits of old than thirty held on brand new featureless tracks that provide no challenge at all.

So let us think carefully before providing a knee-jerk response of “Yes, yes, more races, always more races.” If we are talking about additions that are genuinely interesting tracks that provide a real spectacle, then yes, perhaps we could have a few more. But I think twenty must always remain the upper limit – any more than that and the quality will begin to decline.

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