Tag Archives: formula one

Forgotten success

Several motorsport titles were decided on Sunday

Reflecting on 2011 - titles were sadly overshadowed on Sunday. (Paz Chauhan)

The motorsport world was busy handing out trophies last Sunday before a lovely day of racing was cruelly ruined by the terrible events in Las Vegas. While I can’t quite bring myself to deliver a full review of each it is worth noting the titles won and lost over a packed yet bleak weekend for the sport.

Formula One saw another Sebastian Vettel victory at the somewhat sterile environment of Yeongam in South Korea. More importantly but no less inevitably Red Bull wrapped up the Constructors Championship with Mark Webber finishing third after a thrilling duel with Lewis Hamilton who came home second after starting on pole for the first time this year, a great effort from the 2008 champion.

Unfortunately Moto GP was a little disappointing for all but the Aussies as Casey Stoner romped to a home win at Phillip Island and clinched the final 800cc title in the process. Good on Casey and Honda who have been the class of the field in 2011, but the edge was taken off the race by the non-starts for Yamaha’s Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo, the latter’s hopes of defending his title were left in tatters after a very nasty finger injury on race morning.

Back home at Silverstone the BTCC boys had a refreshingly respectful end to the season despite heading into the final triple-header of the year with five still in title contention. Matt Neal’s win in race one set up an all-Honda duel between himself and Gordon Shedden as Plato and Jackson suffered punctures while Nash just didn’t quite have the ultimate pace although that didn’t stop him taking the indie trophy in his dated Vauxhall Vectra. Shedden seized the initiative with a win in the second race but it was Matt Neal who kept it cool to take his third title in the final race of the day as Tom Chilton won the reverse grid race.

Honda have fought against a competitive field, a certain moaning rival and even against themselves to take the crown with a rich variety of different machinery chasing them. I just wish the final rounds were held at Brands, Silverstone is too smooth and fast to lend itself to truly thrilling touring car racing in the modern era.

Then there is the crown that is destined to be forgotten; Dario Franchitti’s Indycar title. It is a trophy he will barely be able to look at, champagne will be toasted to the memory of a fallen comrade rather than sprayed in celebration. He is the Indy driver du jour, but this isn’t the moment to dwell on that. It was already a rough year for Indycar even before the horror of Sunday, let’s hope for a brighter 2012 for the fastest and friendliest racing series of them all.

Leave a comment

Filed under F1, Indycars, Moto GP, Touring Cars

Formula One in the wild

It is easy to forget just how impressive a Formula One car can be. Seeing the thoroughbred machines around a demanding section of circuit such as the slalom of Silverstone’s Becketts or the big dipper at Eau Rouge is one thing but taking them completely away from their comfort zone is the only way to truly appreciate how viciously fast and edgy a Grand Prix steed can be. The video above features David Coulthard taking a 2009 -vintage Red Bull around the ranches and the streets of Texas before heading to the forthcoming Circuit of the Americas of Texas, the pompously-titled track that will herald the comeback of Formula One to the USA. It currently only exists as a life-size outline in the dirt, who needs to see another F1 car on tarmac anyway? With all the Tilke-designed tracks dominating the Formula One decade we have become numb to the appeal of wide-expanses of flat grey roads, this is something a touch more exhilarating. The glorious slow motion shots convey the energy expended by a racing car even when the driver is being told to reign in the horses and temper the urge to tread the outer-limits of physics in the pursuit of speed.

OK, so driving on dirt, ice or on a beach is only done in an F1 car for show rather than sport, but there is the occasional circuit that takes Formula One into the unknown and gives us a glimpse of their fury, none more so than this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix. The track around Marina Bay is the video game made real, the kind of venue that F1’s futurist ethos and extreme excess deserves.

With the demise of true road racing the street circuit has been elevated to the ultimate challenge for man and machine. Walls reach out and touch the fleet cars, the usually unmoved suspension bucks on the drain covers that we barely notice in our daily existence; it is the morning commute on fast forward. Nelson Piquet once likened driving at Monaco to riding a bicycle around your living room. That must have been muttered by the Brazilian after a dry race, throw in some rain and it becomes even dafter than that. If the weather forecasts are to be believed then the Marina Bay track could become more trying due to the seasonal downpours in that part of the world. Greasy, bumpy city streets lined with solid walls are tough enough in the wet but Singapore’s joker is the fact it is run well into the night under powerful artificial illumination that threatens to dazzle the drivers as it reflects off standing water. The floodlights could very well live up to their name.

There are few scenarios short of Red Bull’s antics in Texas that will turn the F1 car into as much of a fish out of water as what awaits them this Sunday. Even without the added complication of rain the DRS system and Pirelli’s adventurous tyre compounds will provide extra excitement in a race that scarcely needs more livening up unlike the other modern cookie-cutter tracks.

Although Red Bull are due to wrap up the titles sooner or later, Sebastian Vettel is likely going to have to wait to be crowned for a second time. If Vettel wins then Alonso and the Mclarens will need to be on the podium with him to keep their slim hopes alive. There is a great chance of this; Fernando has been the driver to beat here with while Lewis Hamilton is the ultimate street-brawler who exhibited admirable restraint last time out at Monza when faced with Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes which failed to show up on the radar of race control. Whatever the result Singapore has fast become one of the truly great Grand Prix hosts, if nothing else it will be great to see the grid battling for glory in as unique a setting as any. There won’t be any cowboys or lassos, but if anything I think it will be more of a spectacle.

Leave a comment

Filed under F1

Hollywood’s rush to the racetrack

Niki Lauda at Watkins Glen 1976

Can Ron Howard's Rush do the 1976 Grand Prix year justice? (Steve1828)

So motorsport is the current topic du jour in cinematic circles. Three documentaries are currently stoking tinsel town’s interest; Senna has been a global hit, TT Closer to the Edge was a stunning insight into the mortally dangerous side of racing and the Moto GP movie sequel Fastest is opening tonight in London. Meanwhile both Ron Howard and Michael Mann are dipping into the history of the sport for their latest projects. Good times.

Of course we with petrol in our veins have long known of the allure and inherent drama of racing. I distinctly remember sitting with my parents as Ayrton Senna delivered his monologue after the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix and declaring that it was as if we were watching a movie. Little did I know that it would become a part of one. Hollywood hasn’t always done the sport justice; Grand Prix looked and sounded the business but lacked the script it deserved while Sylvester Stallone’s Driven was pure drivel. The recent spate of racing documentaries, including a quartet on the small screen courtesy of the BBC, has quenched the thirst for racing stories but now it is time for the auteurs to fictionalise some of the greatest battles from the annuls of motorsport.

First up will be Rush, Ron Howard’s movie based on the 1976 Grand Prix season. As a topic I could barely imagine a better one. The set up? The first of many edgy championships contested between Mclaren and Ferrari, the battle was as much a clash of ideologies as it was a sporting contest. James Hunt the playboy taking on Niki Lauda the savvy professional, the earnest Brits taking on the passionate Italians. The confrontation? A championship that appeared to be going the way of the red team was shattered by Niki Lauda’s horror crash that signaled the end of Grand Prix around the Nordschleife. The resolution? Lauda’s heroic comeback, Hunt’s memorable championship. Sorry for the spoiler, but there is your three acts – and what a movie it will make.

Rush is due to be an independent film, albeit one with a healthy budget and a heavyweight director. Nonetheless it may mean that Ron Howard and company will be mooching around looking for distribution as the cameras roll which is not something he is used to. Howard has made the odd trip to a modern Formula One race for research which is about as useful as a fact-finding mission to a modern day Afghanistan when attempting to write a war movie set 50 years ago. It is more likely that this was a courtesy call on Bernie Ecclestone who is clearly backing the movie as the first in-depth interview with Ron Howard about Rush was a feature on the Formula One website. His stash of historic Grand Prix machines will come in handy too. This endorsement shouldn’t be taken lightly – Ecclestone not only rebuffed Stallone in the 1990s, he also rejected David Cronenberg’s Grand Prix movie that was due to film in the late 1980s after the director was inspired by the brilliant 1986 season.

Last week the first shots were filmed on Rush, although these were merely tests for the shoot proper. This involved the Nurburgring and some historic cars which will have been a fun day out for all, including British Touring Car’s rising star Rob Austin who tweeted that he was a part of the crew. Let’s hope Plato and Neal aren’t the other drivers, I don’t remember Hunt and Lauda giving each other the finger or moaning about turbos, although Hunt the Shunt was known to throw a punch in his early days…

On writing duty is Frost/Nixon scribe Peter Morgan while the driving seats will be occupied by Thor star Chris Hemsworth and promising German actor Daniel Bruhl. Both exhibit a reasonable likeness for their characters, so that is reassuring. Ron Howard is adept at masculine emotion and has proven his salt by tackling real-life tales with no more embellishment than is needed.

I’m hoping that they look closely into James Hunt’s story, he fascinates me more than most racers. You often picture the hairy, lairy 1970s Formula One driver as being fearless but Hunt was not. While being the arch-party animal he was a man who would throw-up immediately before every race and quit the sport abruptly in the middle of the 1979 Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the Mclaren drivers of today, Hunt was permitted to meet the great and the good in t-shirt, jeans and not-uncommonly barefoot. We are all unique, some of us just break out of the mould a little more than others. A movie about James Hunt was touted by Dreamworks earlier this year, but Rush has beaten them to the punch so it is doubtful we’ll ever see the English world champ’s very full life told in its entirety on celluloid.

Meanwhile there is Michael Mann’s Go Like Hell which was originally rumoured to be a movie for 20th Century Fox but could now appear as a drama series for TV. Sharing its name with AJ Baime’s book about Ford and Ferrari’s high-stakes duel at Le Mans in 1966, Go Like Hell could be quite a treat if and when it appears. Mann has long looked at filming a motorsport movie, his name has been linked with an Enzo Ferrari picture for years now. Let us hope that it gets the green light soon.

2 Comments

Filed under F1, Moto GP, Sports Cars

Bernie gets something for nothing

Bahrain Grand Prix returns for 2012

A first - Bahrain pays out for having no Grand Prix. (LG)

Bernie Ecclestone could be the greatest salesman of all time. It could be said that this is a man who could sell sand to the Arabs, but he’s even smarter than that; it seems he has managed to sell nothing to them.

The canceled 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix still brought in more than twenty million dollars to FOM’s coffers, despite the F1 Czar claiming he offered to return the money. According to Bernie they just told him to hang on to it, like you would do if your mate borrowed a t-shirt off you. The likelihood is that there is much more to this story than meets the eye, like so many other seemingly simple arrangements at the highest echelon of our sport.

Anything that comes from the Ringmaster’s mouth needs to be treated with a pinch of salt; in the same interview Ecclestone dropped this gem, “Greece are also trying to do a Formula One race. The Germans will lend them some money” which I can only believe to be a joke for fellow billionaires to chuckle over while swigging port on their artificial island. Were he a comedian Bernie would need to work a little on his material, but this is a telling insight into how seriously he takes talking to the press. The quote has been reported by respected sources, sites and papers with all the deadpan seriousness that Bernie no doubt delivered it in. I sometimes wonder if they shouldn’t get somebody with a sense of humour and a little current affairs nous to duel with him. Paxman verses Ecclestone, now there’s a thought…

I look forward to hearing Bahrain’s take on the story. Perhaps they’ll say it was just a little goodwill for causing Formula One a political headache earlier in the year? Maybe they were contractually bound to pay it? They certainly aren’t in a position to mock Bernie so I doubt they’ll deny the story if asked. The fact is that rich folk don’t get that way by giving away a penny, let alone a few million pounds, without getting something in return.

The cynic within me can’t help but think this payment could be a sweetener ahead of the mooted return to Bahrain in 2012, assuming Ecclestone wasn’t yanking our chain. In that case the question has to be whether Formula One needs to expose itself to criticism from the wider world for effectively being paid double to go back to a place that we now know to have a shocking disregard for humanitarian principles. Of course there are other stops on the Grand Prix world tour that wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny of their government’s actions, though none have had their misdemeanours splashed around quite so publicly in recent times. Bernie also mentions Cancun in Mexico and Cape Town in South Africa as potential Grand Prix of the future, so why even bother with Bahrain when there are some tourist hotspots waiting in the wings? It’s not like the die-hard fans have missed Sakhir in 2011.

Although I look at motorsport through a rose-tinted visor there are many others who do not. Burning oil, spending tax dollars, involvement with court cases – there is enough ammo out there already without the Bahrain situation becoming any more debatable than it already is. I guess if FOM did genuinely offer to return the cash then they will take the view that their hands are clean, others may not see it the same way.

Leave a comment

Filed under F1

A tantalising taste of F1 on Channel 4

F1 puts on quite a show

F1 offers a lot, it seems Channel 4 would have treated it well. (Infiniti)

The emergence of Channel 4’s proposal for their Grand Prix coverage is intriguing, if you haven’t seen it then take a look for yourself here. Sharing a title with a BBC documentary on the history of racing (The Power and The Glory) made me groan, but from there on in it looks stunning thanks to Darren Heath’s perfect photography and some understated design. More on F1’s history sounds great too, the Senna movie proves that tales from the past can attract new interest in the future. Channel 4 have done a cracking job with cricket and cycling in the past, I would love to have seen what they could have done with Grand Prix racing. TV brings value to a sport, not just the other way round, so let’s hope that the BBC and Sky delivered a better product to the doors of FOM rather than just the extra £5 million they are rumoured to have stumped up.

There has been a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the new TV deal for F1 in the UK. Looking at the viewing figures for other sports that have shifted to Sky Sports does not make reassuring reading – even the national obsession of Premiership football does not have the viewing figures you would imagine – it is only the BBC’s Match of the Day highlights show in the evening that gathers comparable viewers to a Grand Prix here in the UK, the live matches are often seen by thousands rather than millions despite the total saturation of soccer in the media. There is an argument that putting a bitesize F1 programme early in the evening on the BBC could actually get new casual viewers on board rather than lose them, though it will also put F1 in the firing line of the X Factor and soaps.

Before dismissing Sky we should remember that they cover some sports very well, although motorsport is not currently one of them. While they may not have dedicated much production budget to them, Sky brought live coverage of the Indy 500 and Nascar to the UK, promoted Speedway and they popularised World Superbikes making Carl Fogarty into a star. Since the 1990s their motorsport coverage has stagnated badly, but don’t underestimate them.

The cost will naturally deter many fans and the BBC have done a near-perfect job since 2009 so it will require some serious commitment from Sky to encourage fans to shell out. I’m hoping that this rubs off on their Indycar coverage and encourages them to pick up other motorsports, but we’ll see.

My ideal would be for all the support races to be shown too, creating a complete race day like bikes on Eurosport or touring cars on ITV. Somebody needs to rescue the WRC too, but now I’m just getting greedy. Or I’m simply hoping that they justify the sacrifices many will need to make if they want to see all 20 races live in 2012. As many have pointed out you could go to all three days of a Grand Prix for less than it costs to get Sky Sports in HD…

Leave a comment

Filed under F1

Senna – more than PR gold

Bruno Senna in the Renault at Goodwood 2011

Burn-outs are fun, but racing for Renault would be better. (p_c_w)

Does a famous family name really make a driver’s life any easier? It certainly doesn’t make them any faster, that much has been proven many times. It can make them richer, but not always – Damon Hill would know all about that. Bruno Senna is both blessed and burdened by the most famous name in racing, a name that frankly nobody could live up to. Bruno has been granted a go in free practice this coming Friday at the Hungaroring while his Renault team are also making positive noises about their fellow reserve driver Romain Grosjean. It’s about time that Renault noticed the potential in its own reserve drivers.

Of course Renault will be hoping neither driver is needed to step into a race seat although they are facing the grim reality that team leader Robert Kubica has to overcome many hurdles before he can return to F1 and Nick Heidfeld is solid but not able to lift the car to the highest heights. Meanwhile Vitaly Petrov has gone against type and is within only two points of the veteran, which appears to have brought Eric Boullier and his merry men round to the idea of finally considering a youngster for Heidfeld’s role – 18 months ago the quiet Russian was a far bigger gamble than either Senna or Grosjean are right now.

Some forum warriors on t’internet have been quick to dismiss Bruno Senna, many before he had turned a wheel in a contemporary Grand Prix machine. I genuinely believe that Bruno has the talent, he just needs the chance to use it. He had barely begun in karting when his exploits were cut short by the loss of his uncle prompting his family to stop his career almost before it started. Damon Hill, another man who was the second generation of a driving dynasty, also skipped the karting step and he still did alright for himself. To my knowledge Senna and Petrov are the only drivers who came from a largely non-karting background to make it into F1 in recent years, an achievement that cannot be underestimated.

This lack of a childhood spent behind the wheel meant that Bruno Senna’s very first full season of racing was in British Formula 3, a crucial distinction in his career that is lost on many. Those drivers who are multiple karting and junior formula winners often fall at this hurdle; Bruno gamely went into F3 with only seven races to his famous name. After a solid debut year in 2005 with Raikkonen Robertson Racing he took things up a notch in 2006 by winning the first two rounds in style at a wet Oulton Park, not a bad way to begin only your second year of racing. He went on to win another three races to take third overall at the end of the year, a great achievement for any driver, let alone one with such little experience who carries such great expectations. I’m struggling to think of anybody from the current crop of Grand Prix stars who was winning such high-profile races within just over a year of starting out. Nope, can’t think of any – not even Vettel the wunderkid.

After Formula 3 Senna went on to impress in GP2; in 2008 he took second in the title race to the vastly more experienced Giorgio Pantano – a guy who had been at this level of competition or above for eight seasons, far before Senna had even started his career. Testing for Honda’s F1 outfit beckoned, their emotional link with the Senna name made a hook-up between them a no-brainer. Bruno looked set to hit the big time only four years after he started car racing. Then the Japanese manufacturer pulled the plug on F1, the team became Brawn GP and they plumped for their old pal Rubens Barrichello rather than his more youthful countryman. Senna was left to compete in sportscar racing where he struggled for the first time since his early days. Even harder lessons were learned by taking his F1 bow with the woeful HRT squad in 2010. The impressive momentum built up from 2005 to 2008 was broken and Senna was passed over for this year, winding up as one of Renault’s many testers. A shame in my view. Anybody who can drive the wrong way down Eau Rouge while filming on his phone is pretty handy in a race car!

While I don’t know for certain what Bruno could do with a decent F1 chance, there is no way we’ll ever find out unless he gets the time on track. Hopefully his practice run in Hungary is an audition for a proper go at Interlagos or even sooner.

In the same week that Senna gets his run with the team Eric Boullier has been extolling the virtues of Romain Grosjean. As much as he has been a delight to watch in GP2 this year, Romain has been racing for long enough to know how to win by now, anything less would be disappointing.

What needs to be remembered is that amongst the complex web of ownership at Renault is the Gravity driver management venture. Like Flavio Briatore before them, the current management are tied commercially to drivers so it is in their interest to talk them up, although Senna is not one of them. Grosjean is part of the Gravity stable, but they need to remember that throwing Grosjean into an F1 race seat too soon damaged his market value back in 2009. In my fantasy team manager role I would leave him to focus on winning GP2, he already has F1 on his CV.

Since its rebirth in 2002 the Renault team has never felt a compulsion to run a French driver, so that is not in Grosjean’s favour as Bourdais and Montagny will testify. These days the F1 effort isn’t an outpost of the French manufacturer anyway, indeed the team wouldn’t even be called Renault if the top brass had their way.  The chassis would most likely take the title of its sponsor – Lotus – if the team could find favour with enough of the F1 paddock to allow a name change. The car is already painted in black and gold, a yellow helmet would sit nicely in there and they know it.

Group Lotus have bold ambitions which thus far are mostly based around creating a PR buzz. Right now their game-plan is more about building the brand than the brand building thousands of supercars. For the most part their racing efforts involve putting stickers on established racing teams – Renault in F1, ART in GP2 and KV Racing over the pond in Indycar. They’ve badged Judd’s forthcoming Indy engine too, although interestingly there is increasing talk that Lotus-affiliated KV Racing are not interested in running their main sponsor’s motor.  With the PR push in full swing Danny Bahar and company must be itching to see Senna race, their marketing department wouldn’t miss Nick Heidfeld at the Brazilian Grand Prix even if his vast experience is valuable to the engineers at Renault.

I can’t stand to see talent go to waste, so I would unashamedly love to see Bruno Senna get a proper crack at driving in F1 again. Hungary is a start, but surely Renault could find a proper place for Senna come Interlagos? Despite the last three years being trying for Bruno, the previous three seasons showed that he is packing more talent than the doubters would have you think. Is it enough to make a real impact on F1? Well we won’t know until somebody gives him a half-decent car, will we? Come on Renault, roll the dice.

1 Comment

Filed under F1, Indycars, Junior Formulae

A chink in the armour

Sebastian Vettel

Still something to prove - Seb can't quite match Lewis' racecraft. (Infiniti)

After starring in qualifying Lewis Hamilton put in a spectacular drive to win a fine race this afternoon at the Nurburgring. The Mclaren star had to go wheel-to-wheel with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, while Sebastian Vettel took until the last lap to grab fourth from Felipe Massa in the pitlane and Adrian Sutil picked up a superb sixth for Force India in his home Grand Prix. Hamilton has rarely looked happier and rightly so. He had the pace all race and put in two very different but equally brave moves on Alonso and Webber, using his ability to strike hard when his rivals are vulnerable.

Despite a spot of wheelspin off the startline Lewis seized the top spot from polesitter Mark Webber, although at least the Australian finally led some laps in 2011. Mark fought back briefly as he passed Lewis for all of one corner but it wasn’t until the leader’s pitstops were completed on lap 17 when the Red Bull man assumed control, before dropping to third the next time he stopped for tyres on lap 30 on a day when the lead three cars were tightly matched. This time it was Alonso who emerged ahead of Hamilton out of the pits, though it was short-lived as the Mclaren driver powered his way around the outside of the Ferrari in turn two as the Spaniard emerged on colder rubber. Webber then lost touch on a rare day where the Red Bull looked like it was only the third quickest car on circuit leaving Lewis Hamilton to take his 16th Grand Prix victory.

Vettel was way out of sorts with a spin on lap 10 during a very difficult first half of the race for the world champion which left the homeboy locked into a battle with Massa for a distant fourth place. A last lap switch to the prime tyre for both of them came out in Sebastian’s favour but it took the pitcrew to make the pass for him. Sebastian is arguably the outright fastest driver but he still hasn’t quelled the doubts over his ability in traffic. There remains something to prove for the youngest ever champion of the world when it comes to racecraft.

Suffering far more than any other title contender was Jenson Button who not for the first time made a bad getaway before eventually succumbing to a hydraulic failure just after fighting his way past Rosberg into sixth place. Button was left down in the dumps while Hamilton was up in the clouds.

Within a week we will go from one ring to the other as the teams pack up their kit at the Nurburgring and drive to the Hungaroring where the heat will literally be on Mclaren and Ferrari to keep up their current run of form. The higher temperatures in Hungary should help Red Bull regain ground once more. For either Lewis or Fernando to overcome Sebastian’s 77 point lead in the championship it isn’t enough to just beat him into second, they need a day like today where both their teams are able to take points away from Red Bull. That is a tough ask but the German Grand Prix will give both squads real hope.

Leave a comment

Filed under F1