A New Year

Happy New Year!

I am looking forward to the 2010 racing season, it’ll be a good one.

F1 has the return of Schumacher, the uniting of the last two World Champions at McLaren and Alonso moving to Ferrari, with the added interest of Sauber’s return to independent status, Toro Rosso building their own car, the addition of the new teams and drivers, and watching to see if Williams and Force India can capitalise on all of these things.

IndyCar has a new title sponsor which should really help the series grow domestically, which in turn should help it internationally. Ganassi and Penske will be the teams to beat again and it’ll be interesting to follow the Andretti team’s progress after their restructuring, can they challenge as they once did?

Sportscars features the new Intercontinental Cup and I hope we’ll see several teams attempt all of those rounds despite the economic downturn. It could be the prelude to something big and that should excite us all greatly!

It looks like rallying is on the road to recovery now that the FIA is starting to realise it was killing WRC, and along with the IRC we should see some good competition this year.

Touring cars… is shot to pieces, sorry. Manufacturers pulling out and fields of independent teams, not really a great selling point. I’m sure it’ll be bumper-to-bumper as always, but will anybody care?

I don’t know what’s going on in MotoGP, WSBK, NASCAR or DTM, I’ve fallen behind on news. Then there’s the new GT1 World Championship, which might be good or it might not be. We’ll see.

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Moving on to this blog, I’d like to thank everybody who reads and comments here, it really does mean a lot and I hope you stick around into 2010. I plan to blog even more during this season!

I am planning to spend January reviewing the 2009 IndyCar and GP2 seasons race by race as part of the ‘Race Review’ feature. These entries are heavily delayed, initially by studying preventing me from watching them and then by other work or racing news getting in the way, however I should now have time to complete these posts albeit probably in a shortened form. I may well throw some other races in from time to time although we are quickly running out of off-season!

I am persisting with these despite the delay because I would like to refine them into a workable format ready for the coming season, and the best way to do that is to just keep knocking them out. Eventually they will be at the sort of length to get across the information without being overly long which they have been in the past, this in turn will mean I can cover more races.

Towards the end of the month and into February I will move into ‘Preview’ mode and cover the F1 car launches and tests, as well as any other interesting car launches and team news from elsewhere in racing.

I hope you join me on the journey of the 2010 season!

Happy Christmas

Have you ever known an off-season as busy as this? I haven’t! A plea to all the racing people: if you could just hold any more news until Jan 4th, that really would be appreciated.. It isn’t that I don’t love it, I do, I just think we all just need a rest! Since the season ended the news has been relentless.

I am going to be busy enjoying much turkey, presents and alcohol I’m sure. While I may be a godless heathen and as cynical as the next person I do enjoy Christmas for the family aspect and all that it brings, and it is a national and family tradition, after all. While that may make me a slight hypocrite at least I don’t go around calling it ‘Winterval’ as one city council attempted to do a few years ago!

Have a good Christmas everyone, should you celebrate it, and I’ll see you in a couple of days.

An Aside With Joe #16

Today the latest ‘An Aside With Joe’ podcast was released and amazingly they are up to no.16 already. It doesn’t seem long since the first one.

These chats with journalist and author Joe Saward are always very revealing and in this edition you can find out about:

  • making Grands Prix green;
  • a Grand Prix for electric cars;
  • Silverstone’s deal;
  • an update on the Motorsport Business Forum, not the Monaco one like much of the F1 media but the Orlando event (and the reasons why he went there);
  • hydroplanes – yes, really;

I’ve said it before and it is ever true – after listening to Joe speak for just under an hour you come away feeling a lot wiser about motorsport and you look at it through different eyes – plus you can impress your friends with the knowledge. Of course, your friends don’t care about motorsport and they still think Button is called Jason, hah, what do they know, nothing.

Thanks to Sidepodcast and especially to Joe for making the time to produce these, and particularly this episode which was an unexpected addition.

I know it is Christmas but you should make time for this one, LISTEN HERE.

Schumacher’s Return Isn’t So Bad

It became official this morning: Michael Schumacher has departed his advisory role with Ferrari to take a race seat at Mercedes GP, where he will be reunited with Ross Brawn.

I’m surprised at this news, in the beginning I thought it was a ploy by Mercedes to extract a better deal first from Jenson Button, and then Kimi Raikkonen. It looks like they were serious all along!

I am not a fan of Michael Schumacher. He has a known history of “bending the rules” (I’m being charitable, it is Christmas) at both Benetton and Ferrari and the FIA consistently let him off with weak penalties or none at all. He is the man who took Senna’s swerving and weaving to a new level, to the extent that all the young drivers in lower formulae starting doing it, thinking it was normal. Yet I find myself excited at his return. Why?

You have to say this wouldn’t have happened had Ross Brawn not been involved with the team. The two have enjoyed a lot of success together and I for one am not looking forward to the kind of dominance they so frequently displayed. Schumacher and Brawn’s unique combined skill was to do things with fuel strategy that no other driver/strategist combination could. Schumacher has the ability to drive the car to a target laptime, relentlessly. It was this ability that allowed Brawn’s to put into play fuel strategies that just wouldn’t have otherwise worked. The combination of the two was dominating.

The rules have changed now. There is no more in-race refuelling, so this advantage no longer applies. The most they can do is be creative with tyre strategies while managing the weight of the car. It will be very interesting to see how this pairing copes under the new rules, probably more so than anyone else.

We have a level playing field again and one in which the driver has more say – and we know Schumacher prefers an open track to wheel-to-wheel racing. Over a lap he is better than nobody but he doesn’t like the wheel-to-wheel, where he panics. This is where Alonso beat him before, and I believe will again – even better, he’ll be driving Michael’s red car! Then there’s Hamilton and we know he’s not scared of a fight either, with Button, Vettel and hopefully Massa making life interesting too.

2010 will feature one of the strongest grids in years among the ‘regular’ runners, then add in the new teams who will almost certainly be getting in the way for much of the year as an added distraction (and possible Safety Car enabler) and we have the recipe for an amazing season. It was shaping up to be so anyway, and now everybody will have just one man in their sights.

I am looking forward to Schumacher attempting to best this new generation of racers, many of whom have never raced him in F1 – and the ‘new Button’, the champion Button, could surprise him too.

I feel relieved for Rubens Barrichello who could easily have played the role of Schumi’s Lapdog once again, Williams may be a step down but he is team-leader at last and it’ll suit him well, and he can now play a role similar to that of his good friend Tony Kanaan.

I feel bad for Nico Rosberg who may have expected to be sitting alongside Nick Heidfeld next year and now faces the inevitibility of being No.2 in a team revolving around Schumacher, for it is clear even before it has been mentioned that MS will be the de facto Number One.

I even feel bad for Heidfeld who is probably going to be stuck with Sauber again, the Merc seat was probably his last shot at a race-winning drive.

In summary then, I fully expect Schumacher to play his old tricks again but the other aspects of his return outweigh that for the short term at least, and the sudden jump in media coverage and internet discussion is testament to ability to draw fans back to F1 – perhaps his return will see a rise in TV ratings and race attendances once more, after 2009’s dip.

The thing I’m really not looking forward to is dealing with the pro/anti MS arguments again, the bane of internet discussion for the bulk of this decade. Twitter is going to be a nightmare.

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I promised to update my entry list after every driver annoucement, here is the first update:

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
McLaren Mercedes MP4-25
1. Jenson Button 2. Lewis Hamilton T: tbc
Mercedes GP Petronas
Mercedes Mercedes tbc
3. Michael Schumacher 4. Nico Rosberg T: tbc
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Renault RB6
5. Sebastian Vettel 6. Mark Webber T: tbc
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
Ferrari Ferrari tbc
7. Felipe Massa 8. Fernando Alonso T: G.Fisichella
AT&T Williams
Williams Cosworth FW32
9. Rubens Barrichello 10. Nico Hülkenberg T: tbc
Renault F1 Team
Renault Renault R30
11. Robert Kubica 12. tbc T: tbc
Force India F1 Team
Force India Mercedes VJM03
14. Adrian Sutil 15. Vitantonio Liuzzi T: tbc
Scuderia Toro Rosso
STR Ferrari STR5
16. Sebastien Buemi 17. tbc T: tbc
Lotus F1 Racing
Lotus Cosworth tbc
18. Jarno Trulli 19. Heikki Kovalainen T: F.Fauzy
Campos Meta 1
Campos Dallara Cosworth tbc
20. tbc 21. Bruno Senna T: tbc
US F1 Team
US F1 Cosworth tbc
22. tbc 23. tbc T: tbc
Virgin Racing
Virgin Cosworth VR-01
24. Timo Glock 25. Lucas di Grassi T: A.Parente
T: L.Razia
Sauber
Sauber Ferrari C29
26. Kamui Kobayashi 27. tbc T: tbc

There is also the Stefan GP team waiting in the wings to get an entry either in 2010 or 2011, they say they have signed drivers already, the buzz says one of those drivers is likely to be Vitaly Petrov.

2010 F1 Entry List Roundup

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of announcements of driver movements and other changes within teams for the 2010 Formula 1 season, including the first real presentations from some of the new teams.

I thought it would be a good idea to keep a note of what has been announced up to the Christmas break. For the moment I am assuming the Mercedes / Petronas deal (and wow where did that come from?) is the last announcement for 2009. The best format for this seems to be a table rather than a really long write-up, so I’ll list the entrant name, then the constructor, engine and chassis, followed by the race and test drivers.


Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
McLaren Mercedes MP4-25
1. Jenson Button 2. Lewis Hamilton T: tbc
Mercedes GP
Mercedes Mercedes tbc
3. Nico Rosberg 4. tbc T: tbc
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Renault RB6
5. Sebastian Vettel 6. Mark Webber T: tbc
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
Ferrari Ferrari tbc
7. Felipe Massa 8. Fernando Alonso T: G.Fisichella
AT&T Williams
Williams Cosworth FW32
9. Rubens Barrichello 10. Nico Hülkenberg T: tbc
Renault F1 Team
Renault Renault R30
11. Robert Kubica 12. tbc T: tbc
Force India F1 Team
Force India Mercedes VJM03
14. Adrian Sutil 15. Vitantonio Liuzzi T: tbc
Scuderia Toro Rosso
STR Ferrari STR5
16. Sebastien Buemi 17. tbc T: tbc
Lotus F1 Racing
Lotus Cosworth tbc
18. Jarno Trulli 19. Heikki Kovalainen T: F.Fauzy
Campos Meta 1
Campos Dallara Cosworth tbc
20. tbc 21. Bruno Senna T: tbc
US F1 Team
US F1 Cosworth tbc
22. tbc 23. tbc T: tbc
Virgin Racing
Virgin Cosworth VR-01
24. Timo Glock 25. Lucas di Grassi T: A.Parente, L.Razia
Sauber
Sauber Ferrari C29
26. Kamui Kobayashi 27. tbc T: tbc

Notes:
- This only covers what has been announced not what has been rumoured, nor deals with conditions (such as Lopez at USF1 which depends on raising a budget).
- Jaime Alguersuari is likely to retain the STR seat.
- Lotus F1 Racing is operated by 1Malaysia F1 Team.
- The Renault team is now 75%-owned by Genii Capital.
- Car number allocations remain fluid until March. #13 is not used.
- For the first time in years we have the return of the famous 26 and 27!

I’m really pleased to see Sauber back in their original guise, complete with ‘C’ designation for the chassis. I’m also pleased to see Cosworth on the grid again! Let’s hope they can regroup, and the new teams can do a respectable job over the coming years.

Here is the 2010 Calendar:

14-Mar Sakhir, Bahrain
28-Mar Melbourne, Australia
04-Apr Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
18-Apr Shanghai, China
09-May Barcelona, Spain
16-May Monaco
30-May Istanbul, Turkey
13-Jun Montreal, Canada
27-Jun Valencia, Spain (European GP)
11-Jul Silverstone, Britain
25-Jul Hockenheim, Germany
01-Aug Budapest, Hungary
29-Aug Spa, Belgium
12-Sep Monza, Italy
26-Sep Singapore
10-Oct Suzuka, Japan
24-Oct Korea*
07-Nov Sao Paulo, Brazil
14-Nov Abu Dhabi

* pending circuit homologation

I will post updated lists throughout January and February as more is released. I am tempted to do the same for IndyCar and GP2, would that be interesting to people? I am much less sure what has been completely confirmed in either of those but I am willing to try and find out.

Belated Thursday Thoughts: An F1 Christmas

I have been offline for a few days after my computer’s power supply decided to fail, I am glad to say I’m back now and here is my belated response to the most recent Thursday Thoughts question, this time posed by Gavin from Making Up The Numbers.

What do you want to get F1 for Christmas and why?

The first thing I would get is clip ’round the ear for Michael Schumacher for considering a return to racing. I can see that it’ll be really interesting to see how he’ll get on after some time away and with a new team, albeit still working with Ross Brawn. I just don’t want him back, we’ve moved on from that era. Still, I suppose it prevents him from being Todt’s F1 Commissioner so that’s one positive.

I would buy a new online timing/telemetry system for Formula1.com and it would include video options. And it would work.

I’d buy Peter Sauber a huge thank you present for saving the team he created so long ago. Anything he wants. I had a soft-spot for that team during the late 90s, despite their Ferrari-leanings and my bias against Ferrari in that era. Peter is one of the good guys and I’m so glad he’s still in F1.

I’d get the four new teams some good-luck charms. Horse’s shoes, four-leaf clovers, that sort of thing because frankly they need it. I wish them well and will give them the benefit of the doubt – for a little while anyway. They’ve got a difficult year ahead.

Finally, if I had the money I would give every motorsport blogger and podcaster (and regular commenters) free tickets to an event – the same event, so that we could have one mega-big meetup. It could be Goodwood, or an F1 GP, or Le Mans.
I’ve really enjoyed this new world of blogging get even bigger in 2009 than it was in 2008, reading and hearing what everyone has to say, and even more than that I’ve enjoyed the meetups held during the year and this would be my way of saying thanks to you all.

Thursday Thoughts: The Future of F1 Content

Thursday Thoughts visits different blogs and is hosted here this week, so it is my turn to ask the question. Here is my response.

- What innovations would you like to see in F1 content delivery?

I think most of us by now are aware how far F1 lags behind other motorsports, even other sports entirely when it comes to delivering their product to the end user, the customer, the fan. It is quite frustrating to be told repeatedly how F1 teams use the most advanced technology to create these fantastically fast cars and yet the rights-holders are in some cases years behind the game in introducing the technology needed to provide real insight to the fan.

The rights-holders to Formula 1 are the collection of companies owned by CVC and controlled on their behalf by Bernie Ecclestone, I am not sure which company controls which element but I think FOA runs the races or at least the bits the FIA don’t run, and FOM handles the TV and online offering. For the sake of argument I’ll use FOM.

FOM seems insistent on relying on traditional avenues to get their message across, whether it be TV, magazines or newspapers. They seemingly reluctantly got themselves involved with the web business with www.formula1.com but they only did so in 2002 or thereabouts. Given the web recently celebrated 25 years of existence and most forward-thinking companies have been on it in some for or another since the mid-90s it was a curious oversight.

Why is it that F1 keeps talking about “embracing the internet” as if it’s 1994 and it’s a clever idea? Perhaps get on with it?

Ed Straw, F1 Editor of Autosport, via Twitter yesterday

Two major gaffes have appeared on Formula1.com. There may have been more.

One was the SMS text service. This was a great idea in principle: sign up to the service and you would receive a text message after every session informing you of the fastest drivers, and the points positions after races. The problem was they introduced it with the pricing structure of a decade earlier and the world had moved on, at least in the more developed mobile phone markets.
While I forget the specifics, the prices would have looked reasonable in 1997 when the mobile market was enjoying rapid growth and a plethora of new applications but in 2007 they looked utterly ridiculous and far too high. I would like to see this adjusted so that the more casual fan who isn’t able to watch all the sessions or even all the races can receive updates at reasonable rates. My Dad gets a text message whenever his football team scores a goal. It can’t be that hard.

The other was the web shop, again a good idea in principle – yet the original version was stocked with the wrong goods. Like so much in F1 it was pitched towards the premium customer, the more affluent fan who wants something special. Only in F1 could you buy an official carbon-fibre mouse mat, replete with F1 logo, for £200. Which is fine – I actually like the fact these items are there because I appreciate it helps position the brand of F1 – they just forgot to include things mere mortals could afford, a position they have gone some way to correcting in 2009.

Another aspect website is the live timing. When it works it is very informative, unfortunately it has a lot of glitches. It has been used ever since the site went live and is probably due a rethink. It could be bigger and contain more information. F1 is full of data, let’s make use of it. Again, this year they’ve gone some way to making the info they offer open to more fans by creating the iPhone app which I’ve heard is tremendously useful, if pricey (there seems to be a theme here).

While I’m on the subject of timing, the TV coverage desperately needs to cut back on the “1-stop” graphic and tell us how far apart the cars are! Of course if they borrowed from DTM they could just mark a little ‘1’ on the vertical position graphic that appears to the left of screen from time to time. If I don’t have an iPhone or can’t get near a computer to access live timing, I shouldn’t be deprived of the basic car-to-car gaps, these should be available to all on the main feed and if I want the extra info like sector times then that’s when I should look it up elsewhere. With any luck this data will be rolled out to further mobile platforms in future.

I must admit, other than the iPhone timing app I don’t know what else is offered officially for mobile devices because I don’t own a modern smartphone – but soon I and most others will do, I suspect I am already in the minority among mobile-owners.

I see no reason why FOM cannot offer an app offering short video clips to mobile devices, for a small fee. I see no reason why they cannot offer those same videos on their website, although I think most of us expect web video to be free unless it is of some length. On the website I would therefore offer short, free videos to anyone who visits. I would also offer a premium subscription (‘premium’ in name only, priced at a level we can afford!) where you can watch entire races, let’s say until Jan 1st. They could expand that to show classic races and send FOM TV to each test session to provide us with reports from winter testing.

FOM claim they don’t offer these because the commentary and ownership is specific to particular broadcasters, yet the broadcasters claim they can’t provide online coverage because the video is owned by FOM. The only notable exception seems to be the BBC’s iPlayer (an excellent service) and the FP sessions trialled last year by ITV. At the end of every session aired on the BBC there is a particularly large copyright notice stating that the production is copyright of FOM. If FOM owns the video,can they not put it online, even a version with no commentary? Even better, work with each broadcaster to offer the same footage with different reactions. It would fascinating in the week after a race incident to go to Formula1.com and compare the reactions of crews from BBC, SPEED, Globo, RAI, RTL, etc, etc. They could make a montage and sell it for money.

They also need to bring in High-Def coverage to those who will take it and offer that as a quality option for the downloads. There are HD channels in more and more countries and even the little devices support it now. They’ve been using HD cameras for a year or so now but they still won’t release a true HD feed for broadcast or sale, which is crazy, why invest in the technology if you aren’t going to use it?
This is the most technologically advanced sport in the world and it is still in fuzzy-vision. NASCAR has 36 races per year and most, if not all of them, are available in HD in the US (and sometimes in the UK). It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an HD TV or monitor, you still notice a difference. I think Abu Dhabi was in HD and it looked fantastic on my SD TV on the SD digital broadcast.

Conclusion: FOM are applying 20th Century solutions to 21st Century fans. They need to change. Fast.

There are signs that they are changing slowly. The iPhone app. The F1 2009 Wii and PSP games, and the 2010 PC, Xbox and PS3 games. These should be released annually in the way that the FIFA, Madden and other licensed games are, there is a demand for it.

Perhaps they are starting to wake up?

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You can read the Thursday Thoughts of my fellow bloggers by following the links in the Question post!