Saturday, 30 June 2012
Seven different winners from the first seven grands prix, an intensely competitive and wide-open championship battle, unpredictable races. On the surface, all is well with Formula 1. Behind the scenes, though, there is ferment.
At its heart is the planned introduction in 2014 of new rules, including new, energy-efficient, turbo-charged engines. The debate about whether this is wise or even possible in the current global financial climate has the potential to tear Formula 1 apart.
The new engines are being pushed strongly by governing body the FIA and have the support of the key manufacturers in Formula 1. But there are fears they will be much more expensive than the current 2.4-litre V8s and that the teams - the engine manufacturers' customers to a large degree - will not be able to afford them.
The engines have a powerful enemy - F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been against them from the start. He describes the arguments behind adopting them - which can be read in detail here - as "PR" and thinks they should be dropped.
He lost the first battle - they were formally adopted last year as part of the 2014 technical regulations, which also feature major chassis changes - but is still fighting to kill them off.
In that context, the recent formation of a group representing the interests of the F1 circuits should be seen as a transparent attempt by Ecclestone to bring more weight to the argument to scrap the engines.
What has developed is a classic impasse.
Bernie Ecclestone is working away behind the scenes to stop the new engines. Photo: Getty
F1 is in theory committed to the new engines. Renault and Mercedes want them to happen, and Ferrari dismiss rumours they would prefer them to be dropped by saying they will happen. Whether independent Cosworth, which supplies lowly Marussia and HRT, will be able to afford to build one is unclear.
But the teams not directly supported by engine manufacturers have not yet been told how much the new engines will cost, and fear it will be much more than the five million euros they currently pay annually.
Meanwhile, Ecclestone is working away behind the scenes to stop them. He has got former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore to come up with a 'GP1' set of rules, which include - among other things - continuing with the current engines.
The threat, clearly, is that he will take the commercial rights holders and the circuits with him (and possibly many of the teams), giving the FIA the choice to drop the engines or lose the substance of its championship.
But if that happened, Renault, for one, would almost certainly drop F1, and so might well Mercedes. So who would supply the engines to the new championship? And it would take a brave team to join any breakaway series.
On the other hand, if the FIA presses ahead and the teams cannot afford the new engines - there are rumours they could be as much as four times the price of the current V8s - where will all the cars come from in the FIA F1 world championship?
As the chief executive of the Sauber team, Monisha Kaltenborn, puts it: "If we go back to the days when engines were so much more expensive, I wonder how many teams could afford that. And F1 with four teams wouldn't be very exciting."
The manufacturers, though, believe dropping the new engines would be a mistake - as would delaying them by a further year (their introduction was already pushed back from 2013 as part of negotiations last year).
For them - and particularly for Mercedes and Renault - the new small-capacity turbos with significant energy recovery systems are in line with the way the road-car business is going. Without them, there would be no justification for a continued involvement in F1.
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn says: "We're committed to a new engine programme, it's progressing, we've been able to justify the budgets to our board and we don't want to see a deferment or a delay in that new engine.
"It sends a very bad message back if Formula 1 keeps changing its direction on things that are so fundamental, which need so much investment to make work. I think the new engine is very exciting."
Brawn adds that the future sustainability of the sport depends on moving with the times.
"We're going to be running around on two-thirds of the fuel that we're running on now with, we think, comparable power outputs," he says.
"We've got to change the engine at some stage. We will become irrelevant with the engine if we don't look to change.
"The world's changing and I think the new engine is a far more relevant engine for F1 for the future.
"If we're going to get new manufacturers into F1, which I think is a good thing, then why will they come in to build an antique V8 engine? They won't.
"They will only come in with this new engine, so we want to attract manufacturers back into F1 and this new engine is very important (in doing that)."
But the sustainability argument has a counter-point, as detailed by Marussia chief executive officer Graeme Lowdon.
"The teams do understand the direction the FIA is going with the new engines and people do generally support it," he says.
"We're happy to see technology go in that direction, but that has to be secondary to the sustainability of the sport."
The backdrop to that statement is that times are tough for all but the very biggest teams in F1. While the top four are all pretty much financially secure, there are concerns to one degree or another for the other eight.
The latest development in the saga came at last weekend's Canadian GP, when Mercedes vice-president of motorsport Norbert Haug said: "It's absolutely clear if you introduce a new engine that it will cost more in the beginning but I think we can achieve comparable spending over a five-year period and that has to be the target."
This was news to most customer teams - but even that might not be enough to end the argument. As Lowdon puts it: "The challenge for most businesses is cash-flow." In other words, many teams don't have the money to pay higher up-front costs, even if they come down later.
Talks are continuing behind the scenes, but as for what the solution to the conundrum might be, Lowdon voices the current situation best: "I have absolutely no idea."
There are some records that you wouldn’t even think existed were it not for great marketing from those that are trying to set it.
One of those records is the recent one set by MINI earlier this month; you remember that as the parallel parking record they attempted to promote the special edition Chinese Job MINI Cooper. Well, despite their penchant for quirkiness, attempting to set the record was no small feat - even with a professional driver like Han Yue behind the wheel.
In this video, MINI takes us on a behind-the-scenes look on the preparations and hours of practice that went behind the attempts. In the end, Yue managed to squeeze in his MINI with only 5.9" of real estate separating the MINI from hitting the cars.
Check out the video and see how everything went down; it’s certainly worth your time to see how somebody is capable of doing something as cool as that when a lot of us can’t even grasp the concept of parallel parking.
Dozens of different F1 Lotuses, some of the most successful and unusual F1 cars ever raced, are on display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
It's not often Fernando Alonso is overcome with emotion, but he only just managed to hold it together as he stood on the podium after a quite stunning victory in the European Grand Prix.
His voice had already cracked as he giggled his delight on the team radio on his slowing-down lap - and in the pits Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali was in the same state as he praised a "fantastic" drive by the Spaniard.
But listening to the Spanish and Italian national anthems, the magnitude of the moment almost got the better of Alonso. He choked a bit, grinned, almost cried, gritted his teeth and then collected himself.
No wonder he was so emotional - in the previous half an hour or so, it had all come together to create a perfect weekend for him.
Fernando Alonso (centre) celebrates winning the European GP with second place Kimi Raikkonen (left) and third place Michael Schumacher (right). Photo: Getty
Alonso has driven some outstanding races in his career - he is generally regarded within F1 as the finest driver in the world - but this one has to be right up there with the very best.
Fighting up from 11th place on the grid, he pulled off some quite brilliant overtaking moves to make his way up into contention, the opportunism and skill never better than when he separated Lotus's Romain Grosjean from second place immediately after a restart following a safety car period.
That move meant Alonso inherited the lead when Sebastian Vettel's dominant Red Bull retired further around the same lap. Then, as he completed a spectacular victory, his day was made perfect when the man he regards as his main title rival, Lewis Hamilton, retired with two laps to go.
Both his main rivals out of the race, a momentous win in his home grand prix and less than 24 hours after Spain's football team made it into the semi-finals of Euro 2012. No wonder he was close to tears.
Of course, luck was involved in Alonso's win. He was not going to beat Vettel before the German's retirement - no one was - and he would not have been in a position to challenge Grosjean at the re-start had it not been for yet another pit-stop problem for McLaren.
But Alonso put himself in the position to gain from others' misfortune, and all the other positions he gained he worked for and won in a style befitting one of the greatest racing drivers the world has seen.
Ferrari's superbly quick pit crew played a part, too - one rival engineer said this weekend that they had moved the goalposts for pit stops this year.
But the fact remains that Alonso would not have had to do what he did had Ferrari's strategists not made the error that left him down in 11th on the grid - a decision for which the driver must share some blame.
Ferrari failed to realise that Alonso would need to fit a second set of the 'soft' tyres in second qualifying to be sure of progressing into the top 10 shoot-out.
Lotus had also planned to follow Ferrari's strategy of running a set of 'medium' tyres in Q2 followed by a set of 'softs'.
But when the English team saw how close it was in Q1, they realised they could not afford to take the risk, and switched to running two sets of 'softs' in Q2 and only one in the top 10 shoot-out.
It's impossible to know where Alonso would have ended up on the grid had he made it through.
Fortunately for Ferrari, their blushes were spared by his stellar performance on Sunday - on a track where it had previously been almost impossible to overtake but which came alive this year with the combination of degrading tyres and a DRS overtaking zone judged exactly right.
Ferrari took a fair bit of stick for the decision - and rightly so. It would be dangerous of them not to learn from it for this is not the first time this season that their strategy has been found wanting.
Alonso might have won in Barcelona had Ferrari not allowed Williams to get Pastor Maldonado ahead of him by making their second stop earlier.
As Alonso admitted himself, a win was also on the cards in Monaco had Ferrari reacted more quickly to his blistering pace on his in-lap and left him out to do a couple more.
And in Canada, where he fell back to fifth, he should have finished at least second - and could possibly have won - but the team failed to react to his tyres losing grip dramatically in the closing stages.
Had Ferrari got those calls right, Alonso could have been heading into the Valencia weekend on the back of two wins and a second place, rather than a second, a third and a fifth.
That's 27 points thrown away even before the error in qualifying this weekend. In a season as close as this, even if Alonso wins the title it is unlikely to be by that much.
In each case, the error has been a result of apparently not being reactive enough - being either too fixed on a specific, pre-ordained strategy, and/or too focused on one specific rival and not looking at the bigger picture.
That was exactly what happened in Abu Dhabi in 2010, when another strategy error handed the title on a plate to Vettel.
Ferrari have now got back many of those points thanks to the problems suffered by Vettel and Hamilton.
Despite Vettel's retirement, the Red Bull showed frightening pace in Valencia following the introduction of a major upgrade, as BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson detailed on Friday.
Vettel would have walked the race had his alternator not failed on lap 34 and the pace shown by Red Bull this weekend will have set alarm bells ringing in Maranello and McLaren's factory in Woking.
At McLaren, though, they have other things to worry about after yet another pit-stop problem for Hamilton.
This time it was a failure of one of the new Ferrari-style angled jacks the team designed as part of a wholesale restructure of their pit-stop operation following problems in Malaysia, China and Bahrain earlier this year.
It lost Hamilton a place to Alonso when the leaders pitted during the mid-race safety-car period - and that of course would have meant he was leading following the retirements of Vettel and Lotus's Grosjean.
Given the tyre problems Hamilton found himself in during the closing laps, it seems unlikely that he would have been able to hold off Alonso for the victory, but it would have meant he was clear of Pastor Maldonado, and therefore the incident that took him out of the race, for which Hamilton was blameless.
Interestingly, if you look back at how many points Hamilton had lost to various operational issues at McLaren this year before Valencia, it was 27 - exactly the same number as Alonso.
Add the 18 or 15 he would have got for either second or third place in Valencia (depending on whether Kimi Raikkonen would have caught him) and that is more than 40.
After Valencia, he is now 23 points behind Alonso. The McLaren has been on balance the fastest car this year, but Ferrari's form is getting better and better and, after Valencia, Red Bull look more formidable than at any time this year.
There are still 12 races to go in an already extraordinary season that clearly has many more twists and turns to come. But Hamilton should be comfortably leading the championship. Have McLaren already thrown it away?
Friday, 29 June 2012
Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel celebrate with Red Bull boss Christian Horner on the podium
Kimi Raikkonen says he's disappointed not to have won a race yet after finishing on the podium three times so far this year.
I am going to begin this kit next weekend. It will be my 5th build.
Up until now I have built kits straight from the box as stock versions using spray cans to paint the body and brush for trim and detail.
This time I am going to use the build to try some new techniques.I am intending getting an airbrush to paint the body and am also intending trying to use Bare metal foil and Alclad for the chrome
Finally I am going to attempt wiring the engine.
Should be a good learning project..
I'm working on a project to make a replica of my wife's 94 Z28. I need long tube headers for a regular small block Chevy engine. All I'm finding my stash are shortys, Nascar-type headers or street rod headers (that exit out the side). I'd like to find a set of regular long tube headers that one would install in a street car.
Does anyone know of any kits that are available these days that might have such an animal? I'll be happy to buy a kit to use for spares. I have a pretty decent stash, and have looked at all the ones I think might have something, but I'm having no luck.
Anyone have any spares? Thanks for looking.
Thursday, 28 June 2012
Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel celebrate with Red Bull boss Christian Horner on the podium
The incredibly close 2012 championship continues to make life difficult in the Predictions Championship. Find out how you did in Valencia.
Between F1 and INDYCAR, we are unsure which of the open-wheeled racing conglomerates are in worse shape. INDYCAR gets bumped by a beer festival, then can?t find a location quick enough to replace it, so cancels the race altogether. Then again, F1 has its head honcho, Bernie Ecclestone, in hot water for bribing various banking officials. Both circuits, F1 more than INDYCAR, are constantly under fire for their lack of parity, as the same drivers/teams win over and over again. We don?t have an issue with the lack of parity, we say let the best driver and car win, but the public tends to get bored by it.
Now F1 is joining INDYCAR in the cancelling of races, as after saying that the New Jersey leg of its U.S. tour may be pushed back to 2014. Now Ecclestone is saying ?No. Definitely no,? that the race will not happen in 2013. This all comes following Sebastian Vettel?s test drive of the course and him saying that the track is ?nowhere near ready.?
Following his pretty definitive statement, Ecclestone backed up and reworded his statement by saying that if organizers get the NJ track ready, it will be added to the 2013 calendar.
This is obviously one gigantic mess, as even the event organizers in NJ are saying that they are ahead of schedule and have not hit any of the snags that the other American leg, Austin, Texas, hit. So, maybe Ecclestone is jumping the gun a little on this one, so we will have to keep an eye one what?s going on here.
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Emerson Fittipaldi in his heyday