McLaren’s 2015 Line-Up

2015 already promised to be an intriguing Formula 1 season for McLaren and is even more so now they have confirmed their driver line-up.


www.sidepodcast.com

This post is in part a response to Sidepodcast’s recent F1 Debrief podcast on the subject which you can listen to here.
They wanted to hear everyone’s opinions and I thought it would be a good opportunity to use this space here. Let them know your thoughts, too.


Honda Are Back

Until now the return of Honda was clearly the major talking point for the team. Not only are Honda back in F1 but they are exclusively supplying McLaren in a works deal. McLaren are accustomed to being the lead partner with an engine supplier, getting all the good parts first and dictating the direction of development.

The team being knocked down to customer status, funnily enough because Mercedes bought the ex-Honda team, wasn’t a situation that was going to last especially once Ron Dennis got back in control. Now their works status is restored. I’m sure Honda will pick up customer teams later but even if they do their focus will surely be on McLaren.

The lack of other teams is a short-term problem of course. Not only are Honda 12 months behind Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari but with only one team Honda will have fewer cars to test with than their rivals, less mileage in the ‘Winter Grand Prix’ on the Spanish and Bahraini test tracks. The already tough challenge is a lot harder in that situation.

It isn’t a given that Honda will immediately produce a good power unit, remember the troubles in 2007/2008 before they pulled out. Then for 2009 they piled a ton of money and development into the car before pulling out and leaving the great car to BrawnGP to reap the rewards… with the help of a Mercedes engine which was more powerful. Had Honda stayed in 2009 with the same good car but the less good Honda engine would the team have won the title? That is one of the great imponderables of motor racing.

I certainly hope the Honda that turns up this time is the one pushing to win.

Head To Head – The Incumbent

I’m very relieved Jenson Button has another year or two with the team and I hope the time isn’t squandered waiting for Honda and McLaren to gel. Hopefully his time with Honda in the past will help, it surely must?

JB has always had his doubters and in my view has always been underrated. He may not be the ultimate best but he is not far off it. Most agree the fastest in F1 is Lewis Hamilton, across their three years together at McLaren Button outscored him. Now admittedly Hamilton was struggling with his head towards the end of his McLaren stint but it is still an accomplishment.

How will he handle Alonso? I don’t think it’ll be as some are suggesting. I think Alonso will have the edge but I don’t think it will be a walkover by any means.

Mark Hughes of Motor Sport, formerly of Autosport and one of the finest F1 writers, wrote this must-read piece analysing the strengths and weaknesses of Button’s game.

Interestingly, perhaps tellingly, he says Button doesn’t focus on erasing his weaknesses or manhandling a car he doesn’t like, as Alonso might. Instead he develops his strengths so they are even stronger and works with the team to remove weaknesses from the car, rather than himself. When it comes to the car he’s a perfectionist so you can see why McLaren like him!

Anyway it is a brilliant piece of explanation and you should read it.

Head To Head – The Returnee

Fernando Alonso is the best all-round racer in F1. On the track it is as if he has no weaknesses, even on a bad day he is still at his top level and drags the best out of any bad car.

Surely this will be a tougher challenge for Button than even Hamilton, because Alonso isn’t merely fast he’s uncompromising, he never gives up and can drive almost anything. You rarely go head to head with Alonso in the same team and come out on the other side looking good.

He is also decidedly fed up with not winning Championships. An interesting statistic from Mark Hughes, this time in the current edition of Motor Sport magazine, is that had Alonso scored just 8 more points in his career, at the right times, he’d be a 5-time champion not a 2-time one. And he’d be worthy of it. Trouble is… he knows it!

It is slightly different behind the scenes, he does like to get his own way and isn’t the best at pulling a team together. If the car isn’t up to scratch he’ll get frustrated and when he’s frustrated he runs his mouth to the press or to Twitter.

Alonso has seen off Kimi Raikkonen, albeit a Kimi who just can not get on with the cars Ferrari are producing. I have to imagine if the Ferrari wasn’t so recalcitrant, if the traits of it were more to Kimi’s liking, then the fierce battle between the two we were all expecting would’ve materialised. Will the same happen at McLaren?

He gambled on spaces opening up elsewhere but found none, so now he has done the unthinkable and rejoined McLaren of all places! Not only that but a McLaren run by Ron Dennis. You can imagine if Martin Whitmarsh were still there that’s one thing, but Ron? After the failed blackmail attempt, the loss of the Constructors’ points, the $100m fine, the espionage case..? Remarkable.

That’s why I think Fernando 2015 may not be the same as the Fernando throwing his weight around inside the team, demanding his own way. He could be a much more humble, docile creature. For a year, anyway.

My bet? Alonso will find his feet, Button will match or even surpass him. Alonso will ultimately score more points.. but not that many more. Year 2, that might be different.

The Best Drivers In F1?

Equally as fascinating will be the Kimi vs Seb match-up at Ferrari. Kimi has the chance to get his head back in the game after a beating from Alonso. Vettel can say the exact same thing after meeting Ricciardo. Both have a point to prove.

Then of course there’s the bunfight at Mercedes, round two!

The resurgent Williams pair. You don’t take a title run against Hamilton to the final round if are a fool, Massa is no fool he’s underated too. That Bottas had such a year against him was as much a reflection of his talent.

Red Bull have the excellent Ricciardo and the promising Kvyat.. but is it too soon for him?

I think McLaren just about shades it. On the whole, over a season I’d pick a combo of Alonso and Button.

We’re already in for a hell of a year and we aren’t even close to testing starting yet to know who might be quick. Yet you have people saying F1 is boring..!

Links

F1 Debrief / Sidepodcast

Mark Hughes / Motor Sport

Video – Drone Racing!

Got to love the French. They invented Grand Prix racing, practically invented endurance racing at Le Mans, made cycling big with le Tour de France, organise and run the Dakar rally. The French just like anyone else will basically race anything.

Now they are racing drones… with lights on the back to make them look like Star Wars speeders or pod racers!

Event:  NCS Challenge, NoComp Stadium, Argonay, near Annecy, France

Video:  Herve Pellarin of Airgonay / www.airgonay.com

Extra points for the Argonay/Airgonay pun!

Formula E – The Beginning Of Electric Racing?

The inaugural FIA Formula E Championship begins Saturday, September 13th in Beijing. It’ll be the first of what should be ten rounds spread across the world between now and mid-2015.

Electric Racing?

Formula E is the first big global push to race electric cars, full-scale cars not models, with the aim of helping accelerate the technical development of the cars, motors and battery technologies, as well as promoting the benefits of electric cars to the public. To aid the latter goal the series will race primarily on street circuits in major cities, though there are some exceptions.

Street races they may be but these are not some poky little city cars. These are proper racing cars.

Development

The first season is the proof of concept. Can a capable electric power unit with all the necessary batteries and paraphernalia be successfully fitted to a traditional single-seater open-wheel formula car? Can 10 teams come along and race that car with two drivers in cities around the world? Can the batteries and all the tech be shipped around the world with all the regulations on battery transportation? Can you easily bring together so many big-name partners?

That’s why in the first season the car is standard. It features a lot of new technology, but it’ll be the same car and power system for everyone. In later years, maybe as soon as next year, the rules will be opened up and development will really begin.

This first-year car is built by Spark Racing Technology with some pretty hefty partners. The chassis is from renowned single-seater specialists Dallara. The electric motor is from a sister company to the McLaren F1 team (Wikipedia suggests it is the system from the McLaren P1 road car). The batteries are from Williams Advanced Engineering, a sister company to the Williams F1 team. Renault.. seem to be badging it! I’m not sure what else Renault do here. And finally, the tyres are from Michelin, uniquely for open wheel racing they are 18″ treaded tyres not racing slicks.

So far, so good. The cars have all been fitted together, they’ve been run by the ten teams at Donington Park in several test sessions. The next stage is to run a racing season. That begins tomorrow.

In the second and third seasons the rules are scheduled to be opened up. Teams will be allowed to develop the motor, the batteries, the electronics and bring in other suppliers. This is when it gets interesting! Expect the likes of Mahindra and Venturi to build their own engines and batteries. This is when everyone hopes the real technological push will come. The cars should end up getting faster, run for longer, be recharged more quickly.

The Future

In year one the cars can only race for 25 minutes before needing a recharge, yet the races are 45 minutes long. So they need a pit stop. But obviously it isn’t (yet) possible to simply recharge a battery in 10 seconds as you would at a pit stop for fuel. The cumbersome solution is to have two cars per driver, and the driver will jump into another car! It isn’t an elegant solution but it is a necessary one (mind you, they could have 2x 25 minute races..).

The idea behind this is to demonstrate the progress. This season establishes a baseline for the technology as it stands today. After the rules are opened up, perhaps by year three or four, the cars might be capable of doing the full 45 minutes without a recharge or a pit stop. Perhaps the speeds will increase, and perhaps the technology will get smaller so the cars aren’t as rear-heavy as they are this year (think of the weight of the batteries!).

So don’t be put off by the car-hopping madness. It is done deliberately. In 5 years’ time when Formula E is doing hour-long races with no stopping we’ll look back at 2014 and laugh at how ridiculously primitive the technology was that drivers had to change cars after 20 minutes. That is the whole point of Formula E, to prove how rapidly this stuff is improving.

Who’s In?

For full line-ups and bios have a read of links I’ll share later on. The teams include:

Amlin Aguri – from the remnants of former F1 team Super Aguri;
Andretti Autosport – top IndyCar team, formerly into sportscars and used to run the US A1GP team;
Audi Sport Abt – run by Abt Sportsline of the DTM;
China Racing – the former A1GP and FIA GT team, who have a bit of help from Adrian Campos who has tons of experience in GP2 and is now in WTCC;
Dragon Racing – IndyCar team;
e.dams-Renault – an arm of the crack DAMS outfit which have won practically everything there is to win in European open wheel feeder and development series. Alain Prost involved too;
Mahindra Racing – Indian team from the manufacturer which is into electric tech. I think they’re being assisted by Carlin Motorsport which is another top team in GP2, WSR and F3;
TrulliGP – Jarno Trulli of all people is running a team as well as driving for it. Has assistance from Super Nova (GP2, etc) as well as Drayson Racing from whom he bought the team;
Venturi – electric car manfucturer, backed by Leonardo di Caprio;
Virgin Racing – Richard Branson just had to get involved, and seems to include some of those who set up the Virgin F1 team (the team that became Marussia);

Drivers include:
Jarno Trulli, Katherine Legge, Antonio Felix da Costa, Sebastien Buemi, Nicolas Prost, Franck Montagny, Lucas di Grassi, Nelson Piquet Jr., Oriol Servia, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld, Stephane Sarrazin, Jaime Algesuari, Sam Bird;
Sadly not present is Mike Conway who is a demon on street courses. Also not present at Beijing is da Costa busy on DTM duty, Takuma Sato acts as super-sub.

My Tips?

Teams championship:  e.dams

On driver line-up I’d say e.dams with Prost & Buemi, Virgin with Alguersuari & Bird, and Venturi with Heidfeld & Sarrazin are my favourites for the teams titles in that order (though I could easily swap Venturi and Virgin). I’m tipping e.dams for the teams title.

Drivers championship:  Lucas di Grassi (Abt)

It is impossible to call a champion driver at the moment but I do think it’ll be one of this six or Abt’s Lucas di Grassi, and Lucas has done prior work on these cars and knows all about energy usage from his job driving Audi’s Le Mans cars. Mixing it with them for wins and podiums will be Mahindra’s Senna & Chandhok, Aguri’s Katherine Legge and Andretti’s Franck Montagny. The others are either not good enough or drive for teams I don’t particularly rate.

Future of the series:

It looks very promising. It seems more organised than even A1GP when that started and that did look good, I was a fan, until it ran out of money and it all unravelled. That’s the real danger, running out of money after a promising start. Even if that does happen it will have made a difference, Formula E is making a contribution to automotive technology and not just running around in Lolas with flags on. I really do think the main reason people are sceptical of FE is less because of the tech and more because of the failure of A1GP, of Superleague Formula, of the Superfund series that never got going, even of FIA GT1. Starting and maintaining a global or continental racing series is very, very difficult.

When & Where?

Race 1 is at 8am UK time on ITV4, Saturday 13th September.

Other rounds:

22 November:  Putrajaya, Malaysia;
13 December:  Punta del Este, Uruguay;
10 January 2015:  Buenos Aires, Argentina;
14 February:  TBC;
14 March:  Miami, Florida, USA;
4 April:  Long Beach, California, USA; (1 week before IndyCar)
9 May:  Monaco; (2 weeks before F1)
30 May:  Berlin, Germany;
27 June:  London, England;

Practice, qualifying and race all happen in a single day. The series has chosen to race exclusively on Saturdays for some reason.

I Need More Info!

You’re in luck, the excellent Marshall Pruett of the also excellent Racer.com has put together a trio of previews.

- Firstly you need the Formula E “101”.

- Then ask Katherine Legge how it is drive it.

- Finally, Pruett and FE’s TV expert and IndyCar legend Dario Franchitti take a look at the entrants.

You can also read the previews at NBC Motorsports Talk:

- Chris Estrada’s basic guide to Formula E.

- Tony DiZinno’s driver and team breakdown.

EDIT – I also recommend BadgerGP’s 50 Things You Probably DIdn’t Know About Formula E.

And of course the site that has been tracking the series for the longest is Current E who have a ton of features and is the go-to place for information.

Anything else?

Well there’s the FanBoost concept, where you go to a website and vote for a driver to have an overtake assist for a few seconds. (Voting closes before the race starts.) I’m not voting because sport should be about talent and work, and fans’ involvement should be restricted to cheering from the sidelines.

How To Watch

In the UK all the races are live on ITV4. Please remember the races are held on Saturdays, it’ll be easy for that to catch us out. ITV4 will have highlights if you miss the races and I’m sure they’ll be on ITV Player. Highlights will also be on BT Sport.

In the USA the races will be on the FOX Sports channels.

The world feed will feature Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary with Nicki Shields in the pits. Additonally, ITV4 will have Jennie Gow presenting and Marc Priestley as analyst.

The Ridiculous Price of F1 Tickets

Formula 1 tickets are too expensive. There is nothing new in this, it has been the case for a while. That said, I’d blithely assumed they’d remained fairly static in recent years. It seems I might be wrong.

I buy my WEC tickets via Silverstone’s website so I receive emails from them. This week’s email says they are ‘offering’ the chance of a 0% interest loan, payable in 9 monthly instalments, to cover the cost of two weekend grandstand tickets for the 2015 British Grand Prix. Details here.

That cost? £755. Or to put it another way, for anyone reading in the US, that’s $1215.

Utter lunacy.

You shouldn’t need a loan to buy tickets! They should be a tenth of the price.

The parking pass alone makes up £65 of this. I didn’t know they charged for parking. As far as I am aware they don’t at any other race meeting.

Don’t misunderstand my point here. This isn’t an attack on Silverstone or the BRDC. None of this is the fault of Silverstone, nor any of the other circuits charging extortionate prices. They themselves have been charged eye-watering amounts for the privilege of hosting a Formula 1 race and the only way they can recoup this cost is through ticket sales; their other avenues of revenue – trackside signage, paddock hospitality, TV rights – having long since been redirected towards the F1 empire rather than the host circuit.

Honestly if they had chosen not to renew the British GP I wouldn’t have blamed them, the business model is crazy. They believe, perhaps rightly, that it is unthinkable to not have a British GP at all. And the only option is Silverstone, no other viable option exists without a serious upgrade (ask Donington Park how that went). So the BRDC are stuck in a bind; either lose the prestige of hosting this big halo event promoting and supporting the vast motorsport industry in this country, or keep it and force people to pay ridiculous prices to go and watch.

Somehow, Silverstone still managed to host a full crowd this year. This is more than can be said for Hockenheim, the Hungaroring, and even Monza. Throughout the F1 calendar fan attendances are declining almost across the board.

For a lot of GPs it doesn’t matter, the crowd is an afterthought, just as long as the rich countries in the Middle East and elsewhere continue to stump up their even-larger race hosting fees it doesn’t matter that nobody goes to Abu Dhabi, or that white elephant tracks are springing up in places like Korea and India only to be abandoned when the locals realise they are getting screwed.

The people to blame are the people running F1, the investment group which owns the F1 group who are maximising profit by selling races at ever-increasing fees and selling TV rights to broadcasters that charge people a fortune to watch the races (that’s a post for another day).

Surely the aim must be to make a Grand Prix the place to be. To fill the place with people who look like they want to be there. Silverstone, Melbourne, Montreal and Austin do this well.. at the moment. Price the seats to the market, fill the place, make it look like somewhere sponsors want to be seen. Keep the costs high for either the tickets or the TV package and fans might change their minds, the stands may empty, the sponsors might wonder why they are being invoiced so much for so little an audience.

It is a terrible thing for the world’s biggest and most popular racing series to race in front of empty grandstands. It is even worse to deliberately keep willing people from attending because they can’t afford to go, or under some pretence of ‘exclusivity’.

Anyway, I’ve only ever been to two Grands Prix and neither were at Silverstone. If I’m paying £400 I might as well travel, see other countries, it is more easily justified that way rather than paying £400 to see an airfield outside Northampton.

And I say that as someone who quite likes Silverstone. I go there every year for the WEC and the odd other things and plan to do so for a long time to come.

Spa-Francorchamps – A Fans Perspective

This is a tremendous short video by Will Hussey from this year’s Belgian GP at the fantastic Spa-Francorchamps.

This video captures the crowd, the atmosphere, the feel of the event just perfectly. I attended in 2010 and it was just like this except then it rained heavily, constantly. The only other things missing here are the waffles, the frites et mayo, and the selection of local beers in town. I think it is time to go back.

Author:  Will Hussey @racinghumour

Found via: Will Buxton

Something of a Return

2014 ELMS start

The first lap of the 2014 European Le Mans Series race at Silverstone. (Photo by P.Wotton)

Apologies for the long periods of silence. I’ve only written sporadically since last summer. Real life intervened. Work became stressful for multiple reasons, then some different reasons. Glad that’s all sorted. At about the same time, and more excitingly, I bought a house. Yay for me. Now all of those stresses are over I can relax and get back to what I enjoy.

August represents the 6th anniversary of this blog and it seems the turn of the month is a good time of the year to start it again.

For those who follow me on Twitter I never really went away. In fact I rarely shut up or stop retweeting. I aim to reduce frequency there and channel more thoughts here, sometimes a 5-tweet string is more appropriately hosted on a blog. And I miss blogs. Nobody blogs any more.

A refreshed blog theme (this one is even mobile-friendly), a different way of doing things compared to recent times and get back to the way it was in 2008 and 2009. No schedules. No weekly commitments. Occasionally long form, mostly shorter, snappier, more frequent. Finding and sharing things. Yes, I know, everyone else is doing the sharing thing now but many are just content aggregators and a few have a problem with source attribution. Tut, tut. I was doing this stuff years ago. Time to stick those elbows out like Marc Marquez and claim some space back.

In the meantime my eyes are going square (or should that be racetrack-shaped) from all the racing I’m watching, magazines and websites and blogs I’m reading, podcasts I’m hearing.

I’m watching too much racing, again

Are you?

Le Mans 2014

Although I didn’t post anything here I did do some Le Mans preview posts for Sidepodcast:

Le Mans Recharged – I did a bit of reading around to explain about the new rules and very different hybrid systems in the top LMP1 class.

Floating Points – the World Endurance Championship points situation before the race.

There is also a live thread here.

It has been a good race so far, lots of incidents and great racing. Let’s hope the rest of the race is just as good!