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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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Why Not a Flexible Calendar?

It looks as though Singapore have got their GP for next year. Valencia, too, is making a strong bid for a race and may be allowed as the “Mediterranean GP”. That would give the lie to Bernie’s stated aim not to let one country have more than one GP (which was always going to be overlooked in the case of a second US GP anyway) and should give Imola extra encouragement to get their alterations done quickly, if the organizers still want the circuit to return to the calendar.

Start

Then there is India waiting in the wings and rumors of a return to Mexico, not forgetting South Africa who want a race too. A quart of races and a pint pot of a calendar to squeeze them into. Add to that the reluctance of the teams to take on even more GPs and it seems an impossible situation. But there might be a way.

Suppose, for instance, the calendar were extended to include twenty-five GPs but teams could only take part in twenty of them. One could make fifteen of the races mandatory (preferably the old ones that no-one wants to lose) and then have a rota system for the remaining ten to ensure that the teams don’t all go for the same races. Numbers of competitors would be down in the “optional” races but this could be compensated for by allowing (or enforcing) new wannabe teams to participate in the extra races for their first year or two. They would be allowed to score points but barred from the mandatory races until they had proved their ability to compete at the level of F1. The sport would be spared the embarrassment of another farce like the Andrea Moda saga therefore.

The advantages of such a system are many. Great and time-honored circuits that are now under threat would gain some security while new races get the chance to prove themselves. Teams would not have the expense of participating in more races than logistics and economics allow but would still be on view everywhere at least once every two years. Every race venue could have a GP each year and we would no longer have to hear of possible “sharing” of GPs between Britain and France (okay, France has taken itself out of the equation for 2008 but I’m sure it will want to return thereafter). And the fans would get an increase in the number of races, something they all seem to want.

It would be similar to the occasionally-tried system of only permitting points scored in a number of races less than the total, except that the teams would not have to travel to the races where they were not going to score. The inclusion of new teams would increase the number of concerns willing to give F1 racing a try and sort out the wheat from the chaff at the same time. If they were to score a few points now and then, that could even spice up the battles between existing teams and make the championship a little less predictable. Plus it would be an excellent way for new drivers to gain a foothold in the sport and show their worth.

No doubt this idea would involve a lot of calculating to see which races should go where and how the teams are allocated optional races to ensure fairness. It might be necessary to make it slightly more complicated by shaking up the allocation every now and then to ensure that certain races do not become the domain of a team whose prime competitor does not race in those GPs in the same year – although the other team would presumably have a similar advantage in the GPs it was attending.

It seems to me that this might be a way of solving several problems at the same time so a little complication in designing it should not put us off. It might even work.

Of course, I’m sure Bernie and Max don’t read Formula 1 Latest so there’s no danger of them considering the matter. It’s okay, you can relax – just another of my wild ideas…

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Alex Wurz – The Forgotten One

There has been a lot of talk of who will be the quickest rookie this year, with Hamilton and Kovalainen emerging as the most likely candidates (a fair bet, since they’re in the quickest cars) and Adrian Sutil getting the occasional mention. Kubica gets honorary rookie status in view of his late addition to the ranks last year, as does Anthony Davidson since he had so few races and those so long ago.

But poor old Alexander Wurz never gets a look-in. Of course, with 53 GPs under his belt, he’s no rookie, but his race as stand-in for Montoya at Imola in 2005 was his only GP in seven years. That’s almost long enough to include him with the other newbies.

Alex

Alex Wurz

Alex’s curse has been that he’s the best test driver out there – hence his years of testing with McLaren and Williams. His racing reputation was severely mauled by his last year with Benetton when his teammate, Fisichella, proved quicker. So Alex is regarded as a known quantity, quick occasionally but inconsistent.

But I wonder. Part of his problem has been his height – on occasion he has had difficulty fitting into the car and this must surely make driving a bit more awkward. Look how Mark Webber has been griping about the Red Bull RB3 pinching his rear end.

Even so, Alex managed a third place in that lone race in 2005 – not bad for a guy making his comeback after a long break. There is just a chance that he might show up his young sidekick, Nico Rosberg, in the other Williams. And, if the Williams proves as quick in the races as it has been in testing, we could see Wurz appearing much closer to the front than anyone expects.

It is not that I am expecting any miracles from Alex this season; more that I hope he can get in there and mix things up even more than they are at present. F1 really needs a championship fought out between several drivers and the more wild cards added to the deck, the more likely it is that that will happen.

So I wish Alex the best of luck – may he puncture more than a few over-inflated egos this year. And let us see that great, beaming, goofy smile again as he tots up the points.

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Lewis Hamilton on Track

There is at least one thing that Lewis Hamilton, McLaren’s new hope for the future, is getting right already. His Q&A session reported on the McLaren website is a classic of the F1 driver’s accepted style. He never puts a foot wrong and it’s all there – the confidence, the refusal to compare himself with his teammate, the guarded optimism.

Of course, it was bound to be so having been put out by the company public relations department. But Hamilton could do this kind of thing standing on his head, I’m sure – he’s a smart cookie. Altogether he looks the complete package, intelligent, talented and realistic. If Michael Schumacher has an heir to his performance in F1, Hamilton would be a likely candidate.

Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton

His times in testing, although not necessarily a pointer to race speed, indicate that he is already at home in the car and learning at a remarkable rate. To be putting in quick times so soon, Lewis has demonstrated that he can make the jump to F1 with ease – and many drivers fail to surmount this final hurdle to the top rank.

In his answer to the final question in the session, Hamilton puts his finger on the next big step:

Is Fernando a good teacher for you?
“It is great to be in the same team as him as I can learn from him. When I look at the data I am able to see where I am losing and where I can gain and I think when we go to tracks like Australia and Malaysia where I have not been before, with his experience it is going to make it a lot easier for me to learn the circuit.”

Learning new circuits is always a big barrier to a rookie’s success. While the old hands know all the quirks and tricks of each GP, the newcomer has to begin yet another learning curve to stay competitive. F1 drivers don’t become champion in their first year, no matter how talented they are, and this is one of the reasons – almost all of the tracks are new to them.

But Hamilton learns very quickly. If the car remains as good as it has looked in testing, it will be no surprise to see him win a GP or two in the coming season. And next year we could see a fascinating duel between the McLaren drivers. Remember Prost and Senna in the same team…?

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