2013 FIA WEC Schedule

I took a look at the F1 and IndyCar schedules the other week, I meant to follow them up straight away with this post but it slipped back.

On the same day the F1 calendar was announced the FIA World Motorsport Council also confirmed the schedule for the 2013 World Endurance Championship.

The 2012 season has proven to be a good start for the new series, taking the ILMC concept and expanding it with a proper identity and FIA backing. It is good to see the ACO and FIA working closely together and I hope it continues like this.

Good

- Stability. Any new championship with a successful start will find it very tempting to add races here, there and everywhere in the 2nd and 3rd years. The FIA and ACO have avoided this temptation in order to continue to build the existing races and keep costs reigned in during the current economic climate. Choosing not to add races helps the teams and hopefully attracts some new ones, both of which have to be priorities right now. Sensible choice.

- Rearranged race order. Silverstone becomes the opening round, Sao Paulo moves a month earlier to August, Bahrain becomes the final round. This is all part and parcel of a series finding a footing and trying events at different times. Some will work and some won’t. The race order has also been arranged such that the travel costs for the teams is a lot lower and sea freight can be utilised for some journeys, compared with using air freight all this year. The season is arranged into three blocks: Europe, the Americas, Asia.

- US round retained. Keeping the merged ALMS/GrandAm racing with the WEC at the 12 Hours of Sebring was never going to work, so WEC had to look elsewhere. The one new event on the 2013 calendar is the 6 Hours of Austin at the Circuit of the Americas. I do think it is a positive for the WEC to have its own branded event in the US. That brings us on to a related point.

- Double-headers. The WEC will tie-up with related series twice in the year. The opening round will see the ELMS race on Saturday at Silverstone with WEC on Sunday. Then in September, the ALMS will race on Saturday in Austin with the WEC following up the next day.
From a fan perspective this is a great idea to bring together the local flavours of LM racing with the world championship. While ELMS/ALMS race lengths aren’t confirmed, the WEC will race for 6 hours at each. Two days of racing for two sets of the most die-hard sportscar fans.

- Race dates are more spread out. This year saw a lot of gaps until September when a long run of events began. This works in other series but you just can’t run 6-hour races on a week on / week off format, which we’re pretty much in the middle of right now. Teams don’t have the budget of F1 teams who do it for shorter races (remember these are Asian flyaways and most WEC teams are still European for now). Next year we will see one race per month, skipping July to recover from the 24 Hour, and finishing with two in November which are 20 days apart. Good scheduling.

Bad

- Sebring. No getting around the loss of Sebring, even though it was for perfectly understandable reasons. Clearly combining the WEC and ALMS grids into one race was never going to be a long-term option, especially when the unified North American series begins in 2014 and their resulting changes to class structure. Even without that factor, the grid sizes and complexities of running two distinct races in one were too difficult to maintain. (Personally I’d have dropped the PC and GTC classes for that race.) But with the GrandAm/ALMS merger including ownership of Sebring it will clearly be a key race on their calendar from 2014 onwards.
There is an agreement between ALMS and WEC to allow a month before the first WEC round, to allow any WEC teams to compete at Sebring. Unsure how many will take up this offer as they won’t be scoring any points but some might like to go pot-hunting – I hope so.

- Double-headers. I don’t know how likely it would’ve been, but running ALMS and ELMS at the same events as the WEC prevents the teams from those series entering as ‘wildcards’ into the WEC race. As negatives go it isn’t a big one as it would only affect one or two cars, but it did occur to me.
Actually on a personal level the only downside is having to find a hotel near Silverstone or having to do the 3 hour each way journey twice in two days. I may end up skipping ELMS but we’ll see what the entry list is like.
Oh and I don’t like the name ‘Super Endurance Weekend’. Hm. But this is something in common with the WEC which needs to have Le Mans in the title so people realise it isn’t Ironman triathlon or something.

- Silverstone in April. As much as I love that the UK gets the first round, this is possibly the rainiest month in a country that gets a hell of a lot of rain. F1 raced at Silverstone in April one year and the place got waterlogged. Besides that I really enjoyed the warmth of a race into an August evening, can we do that every year instead?

Summary

A good solid progression from the first year of the WEC and the preliminary ILMC which preceded it. Spreading the series across a race per month is a great idea which walks the line between keeping it in the public eye against the needs of the teams to recover and repair after each round. I think it’ll work really well.

2013 World Endurance Championship Schedule

14 April – Silverstone, UK  [6 Hours] (with ELMS on Sat)
4 May – Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium [6 Hours] (Saturday)
22-23 June – Le Mans, France [24 Hours]
24 August – Sao Paulo, Brazil [6 Hours] (Saturday)
22 September – Austin, USA [6 Hours] (with ALMS on Sat)
20 October – Mt.Fuji, Japan [6 Hours]
10 November – Shanghai, China [6 Hours]
30 November – Bahrain [6 Hours] (Saturday)

Le Mans will offer double-points.

Next year the drivers in each class will be awarded titles. This year only overall results counted for the Drivers Championship so it was effectively an LMP1-only title. GTE Pro drivers will get a World Cup, LMP2 and GTE Am drivers will get a FIA Endurance Trophy. Personally I feel each class should win a World Championship, to do otherwise is confusing.

I’ve added these dates to my TMR Google/iCal calendars which you can import for your own use. If you subscribed earlier in the year these should be visible to you already.

2013 F1 Schedule Switches Valencia for New York

The 2013 F1 Series schedule was announced at the FIA World Motorsport Council last Friday. It features mostly minor tweaks to the pattern we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the last five years or so.

I’ll take the same format as yesterday’s IndyCar post, albeit it’ll be a little shorter as there are fewer changes.

Good

- 20 races. This is arguably too many and I’m sure the teams think it is. These days I’ve taken the view that if I miss some it isn’t the end of the world, and I can watch them later at at time of my choosing. When there were fewer races they were all unmissable. Now you have to pick and choose to protect some semblance of life. I do think 20 is the most any major series needs, anything from 17-20 is ideal for me.

- Valencia gone. I know Valencia is a fantastic place to visit, I’ve not been but I know people who have and the place even looks great on TV (away from the back half of the track). The problem is the races are horribly bad. This year was an exception. There are no guarantees they’d all be good from now. Add to that the cost of attending the GP there, you’re better off going a week earlier or later when it is much cheaper. Valencia is a place to go as a tourist and lounge on the beach, not to see a race. It’s possible Valencia may alternate seasons with Barcelona.

- New Jersey in. As expected. This may be marked a TBC and we may have seen reports of contract difficulties, but the latter came from Bernie’s pet leak so I don’t give it much creedence. I think he’s trying to test how serious they are. Ask yourself, after 25 years of trying to get a race opposite the New York skyline why would he jeapordise the best chance he’ll ever have? No this race will happen. Whether it’ll be a good race is an unknown. It’ll look fantastic. This is also good because it creates a fourth race in the Americas after Sao Paulo, Montreal and Austin. It’s about time F1 headed West again.

- The Cool Factor. Remove the track or place names and list the nearest cities instead. Suddenly, you have one of the coolest schedules in all of sport let alone all of racing:  Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Barcelona, Monaco, Montreal, New York, Budapest, Milan, Singapore, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi, Austin, Sao Paulo. Sprinkle in some classic racing names: Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Nurburgring. From a PR standpoint that’s unbeatable and F1 should be doing a LOT more than it is to promote the fact.

- Continuity. Multiple returning races in pretty much the same slots they’ve occupied for many years.

- Australia still first. Albert Park in Melbourne is the perfect season-opener.

- Brazil still last. What a great track to end the season with, such fun especially if the title fight makes it to the last round. Even if it doesn’t, great venue. Bit dangerous in terms of crime but they’ve put up with it for 20 years so another won’t hurt.

- Belgium is still there. Everyone loves the race at Spa-Francorchamps. It’s always in danger of being cancelled so it is good to see it still running on.

Bad

- Some poor race venues are still there. Whatever the positive commercial implications of racing in India, Korea, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, even Barcelona, the races there have been dire. I have nothing against visiting these countries I just wish they’d come up with better tracks! Some are also quite empty of fans. Not to mention the political dimension with Bahrain although that has been improving. Many dislike Singapore but I quite like it, it’s unique, and in any case they’re talking seriously about making upgrades to their track.

- Back-to-backs. There are a lot of back-to-back consecutive races just a week apart, just like this year. The killer for the teams and mechanics will be the run from September to November – just like this season there’s a stretch of races bunched close together. Great for momentum for fans not losing interest, not so great for the teams flying around the world. At least with European back-to-backs they don’t have jet-lag! I suppose this is all the price of having the long summer break which is essential.

- 2 weeks between Spa and Monza. Happy they are both on but I’ll be slightly hypocritcal and complain they aren’t on back-to-back weeks. Only because there was a chance of doing a road trip from one to the other and now it can’t happen! Plus I really liked these classics scheduled up next to each other.

- Slightly late end. Okay a crazy complaint from someone who loves racing, but March to late November is a pretty long season to follow especially including the ‘Winter Grand Prix’ of pre-season testing. An old off-season was too long though, so could we strike a balance and end in early November?

- New Jersey. Despite questionable sources we can usually ignore there are still those niggling doubts that it may get cancelled.

Summary

This calendar like most recent F1 seasons is a small evolutionary change. That’s a good thing, wholesale changes cause instability.

Other notable points include the moving of Silverstone from early July to the last weekend in June. I’m not sure why this was done, effectively it has meant the British GP and the Goodwood Festival of Speed have traded weekends. Perhaps that is a good thing, perhaps it isn’t relevant.

2013 Formula 1 World Championship Schedule

17 March – Melbourne, Australia
24 March – Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
14 April – Shanghai, China
21 April – Sakhir, Bahrain
12 May – Barcelona, Spain
26 May – Monaco
9 June – Montreal, Canada
16 June – West New York, New Jersey, USA
30 June – Silverstone, UK
14 July – Nurburgring, Germany
28 July – Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary
25 August – Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
8 September – Monza, Milan, Italy
22 September – Marina Bay, Singapore
6 October – Yeongam, South Korea
13 October – Suzuka, Japan
27 October – New Delhi, India
3 November – Abu Dhabi, UAE
17 November – Austin, Texas, USA
24 November – Sao Paulo, Brazil

I’ve added these dates to my TMR Google/iCal calendars which you can import for your own use. If you subscribed earlier in the year these should be visible to you already.

The Situation With Bahrain

I genuinely hope the positive reports emanating from the F1 crowd of a quiet Bahrain are true, and not because the population has been suppressed by local or Saudi or Pakistani security forces. Sadly that is not the picture emerging from at least some sections of the small country.

We’re being told via Twitter that teams and journos alike are seeing little action on the run from Manama to Sakhir and back save for the odd small fire (and obviously that Force India team incident the other day). However you can expect that road to be heavily protected by the authorities, indeed some journalists counted at least 70 police vehicles along the route.

The reports I’ve seen suggest they are mostly in out-of-the-way villages, journalists had to go and find them, which doesn’t make them any less important but it disproves the theory the country is in chaos. That they are taking place at all disproves the alternative theory that everything is just fine and dandy and nothing is going on. Some protests in the last couple of days have got a bit closer and there’s always a danger there will be a concerted effort to reach the track on race day. The flashpoint was always going to come when the cars took to the track, either on the now-traditional Friday ‘Day of Rage’ or on Sunday’s race day, or both. Thankfully Friday didn’t seem as bad as I feared it might’ve been, even with the sad fatality of a protestor (for whatever reason). I honestly expected worse than that.

Not knowing the specifics of the locality, although I’ve been trying to read up on it a lot in the past week (and indeed 12 months ago), I don’t know if these protests show a sample of a much broader picture. The protesters say the vast majority of the populace supports them. The government says the vast majority of the populace supports the race going ahead, though they have yet to claim the majority supports the government.  I tend to believe the protestors, I can easily believe more people support them than are willing to says so when the government is tear gassing them and firing rubber bullets, this being the same government which a year ago fired live rounds into a crowd armed only with flags, the same government which attacked a hospital.

If the dispute stays within these factions it would remain an internal matter, a desperately sad one with terrible acts committed by individuals on each side of the divide – the official forces have done some horrific things but the protestors are not as innocent as they may like to portray themselves either, the injuries to police show that. If it is self-defence against unprovoked attacks from forces then fine, I agree, do what you can to defend yourselves. But if not? Unacceptable. Regardless, it is a scenario which others shouldn’t be walking into.

It isn’t the fullscale rioting some media outlets are portraying, but neither is it safe, especially when you have a trigger-happy police and army force around. People who beat people to a pulp just because they’ve been arrested.

As a racing fan, my primary concern is the safety and security of the ‘travelling circus’ of F1, GP2 and Supercup teams, drivers and sports media personnel. Quite honestly, if I were a team owner and any single member of my staff were injured as a result of protest action or government response, no matter how indirectly, whether they were the intended target or not, I would take the FIA, FOM, Todt, Ecclestone and whomever else to the courts. There is no way any of them should be in the country right now.

As a private individual, I genuinely hope the Bahrainis work through their problems and in a peaceful manner. Further discussions should be held to progress reform.

After Tianenman Square China went through a long healing process and a period of opening up to the world, there are still huge problems but they are making progress and I am convinced the Olympics played a big part in that. There is the chance the Grand Prix could do something similar for Bahrain and the government seems to be banking on that – but this is much too early. Bahrain has not had that healing period. Another 12 months should pass before a Grand Prix should be held. Sadly it is too late for that now, this race is going to go ahead. I fear for potential lives lost tomorrow.

Positive Thinking

The protest movement is already doing well out of this. The government looks weak, foolish and stupid. Sadly, so does F1 and more specifically Bernie Eccelstone, Jean Todt and the FIA. The teams can (just about) get away with saying they are contracted to be there and would lose millions, potentially their entry to the Championship and thus their jobs, they have no choice.

They protestors now have the eyes of the world upon them. Everyone knows their cause. They have been silenced in the world media by Syria and before it Libya. Now they are front and centre on the world stage – this would not have happened without Formula 1. For better, for worse. They will continue to make the rulers of Bahrain look foolish and careless. This despite the best efforts of Bahrain Government to stop independent news reporters visiting the country.

I am glad some of the F1 contingent remembered they are journalists first and foremost and not press release recyclers, and went out to look for the protests themselves. It was a dangerous move. It paid off.

Will I watch the race? Probably. My feeling is if some protest happens during the race I will be more informed if I watch it rather than if I read about it later. I will better be able to form my own opinions and conclusions. I don’t feel comfortable though and I am fully expecting to switch off – or not switch on at all.

I don’t know that I’ll be paying very close attention to tyre strategies and positions through the field. I may be too busy looking at the corners of TV pictures to see if the cameraman/director is trying to crop something out, the way they do at quiet events when they try to avoid showing empty grandstands.

If I do watch I may elect to withold my usual Twitter interaction and opinion unless a protest does take place, or I may make it exclusively about the situation rather than anything in sporting terms. In terms of racing and sport I am honestly more interested in the London Marathon than I am the result of this Bahrain GP. Even if it does take place in the most exciting F1 season we’ve seen in years.

 

How Would You Change the Public Perception of F1?

This post is part of Thursday Thoughts which this week is hosted by Gridwalk Talk. You can see the full set of responses in this Bit.ly bundle.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?

In many respects I think what poor perceptions F1 does have is down to the FIA as much as Bernie and FOM. The two go hand-in-hand. The poor stewards decisions of the last several years have had a bad effect on the perception of the series, particularly outside of what you might call the ‘heartlands’ here in Europe, I’ve noticed many IndyCar fans in particular have been quite negative towards it (though you may rightly argue those in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones).

Jean Todt’s FIA Presidency has taken large strides towards fixing one half of the image problem and I intend to write a post soon about the recent World Council decisions and not just those relating to F1. I really do think F1 is moving in the right direction in terms of the officialdom and stewardship by the FIA. Now it is time for the commercial arm to catch up.

One of the things which makes F1 different to other championships is that it is quite exclusive, in some ways I agree with it yet it doesn’t need to be taken to the extremes that have existed for a few years now. It isn’t necessary to have the whole paddock fenced off is it? Teams like Virgin and Lotus have done well to break down these barriers with paddock tours, while McLaren, Red Bull and others offer similar although I think maybe only to fan club members. I am sure there are areas which can be opened up a little.

The driver signing sessions at each GP have helped fan-access too and more of this sort of thing is to be encouraged.

I would also make sure the KangarooTV units were readily available at every race. I attended the Belgian GP and it was very useful indeed, I have no idea how I’d have kept track of the race otherwise because you can’t hear the circuit tannoy over the engines (and the circuit feed is available on it too, so the locals can stay informed too).

Online

Speaking both as a fan and as someone with a blog, the decision not to make better use of YouTube is frustrating. The ‘race edits’ and single-lap onboards at F1.com could easily be re-blogged by many a site with all the promotion that would bring, yet they’ve chosen to keep it locked to their own format complete with threatening copyright notice. There is the danger it could be used by every F1 fan site out there, but isn’t that better than denying the use of any F1 video at all? Many sites often resort to using ‘unofficial’ video, because there are times when you can’t get away with just not including what you are talking about. There should be a means of fans being able to locate and watch clips of moments in history, and for bloggers to be able to use them.

This is already happening elsewhere, all sorts of series, teams, drivers, and even race track owners are getting in on the action but their F1 equivalents have to navigate the minefield of what FOM will let them use. The same for TV companies who don’t have the rights to the coverage but wish to report on the latest happenings, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen reference to current F1 in some documentary or other – even reputable ones – yet they are using stock footage from 30 years ago, from before the restrictions came in. You have people making positive content showing F1 in a good light and they can’t use footage to showcase it. This is absolutely crazy.

The website itself is okay as a structure, could probably use a bit of work here and there. What it really needs is far more video. It should be possible to either watch the race live online or at least on a delayed basis, without commentary if that is a sticking point contractually (I am sure someone can provide it). If there is anything at all that is controversial a replay should be online within 24 hours for fans to review and form their own opinion, or even non-controversial things which are notable, at a director’s discretion. Get people talking about it – even more than they already do – without the need for those pesky unofficial YouTube videos. And upload them to YouTube officially.

Locations

Many complain about the ‘new’ venues in F1. While I am one of them I do like to give circuits more of a chance than some people do. It is worth trying to go to Korea because that is a big tech market, and while I’m sure it is little secret the race only exists because of a major sponsor of the series there is no reason why the Koreans can’t be big F1 fans in time. I have a gut feeling they’ll take to it better than the Chinese, who haven’t.

Ultimately every venue should be given the opportunity to grow and develop. If it doesn’t, it is time to move on.

The cost of race tickets needs urgent attention. F1 is seen as being far too expensive to follow in person. The sole cause of these costs are the fees charged to the circuits, who can only recoup that loss through ticket sales (trackside advertising revenue goes to the F1 Group). Lower the fees to a respectable level, allow the circuits to make a viable profit – even only a minor one – and the ticket prices will fall and the stands will fill once again. It doesn’t look good when even the most well-attended races have gaps in the stands.

I’d also have a word with the teams to get them to stop selling such extortionate merchandise. Who’s going to pay £75 for a fleece or £40 for a polo shirt? Particularly if you can’t wear the thing because it is plastered in bright logos? I’m not saying devalue the F1 association, just allow people to actually buy the stuff.

Other

‘Casual fans’ and non-fans complain F1 is too boring. This is potentially being addressed by almost-annual major rule changes. They didn’t necessarily work in 2010 when many races were pretty much just as unexciting as 2009 (interesting in their own way, just not exciting), although this year the championship battle was among the best there has ever been. Again, for 2011 there are some major rule changes – we all await the outcome of those. That’s mainly an FIA decision mind you.

I do think the new-for-2010 teams have done a lot to breathe fresh air into F1 in their approach to fans and this has helped F1′s perception as a whole. If the other teams take this lesson on board, and if FOM/FIA do too (which would be a minor miracle), I can see an even brighter future ahead.

It is amazing that F1 has enjoyed such phenomenal growth without such concessions to fans. Imagine what it could’ve done with more openness.

If you succeeded Bernie Ecclestone with controlling and owning Formula 1, how would you change the public perception of F1?

FIA Presidency

Jean Todt won the FIA Presidential Election.

I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. He made many fans’ lives a misery for years at Ferrari with his sniping and bending of the rules.

It sucks that a) he had the better ideas and manifesto, and b) won.
Such a shame Vatanen came over as just a bit too clueless.

We’ll wait and see if this new era brings us the promised changes or if he’ll ‘forget’. His first act appears to be to make Michael Schumacher his F1 Commissioner. I have no idea how true that is. Let’s hope not at all.

On the plus side… he’s gotta be better than Max.

FIA Release Audio of Renault/Piquet Hearing

In a first for the FIA in this new post-McLaren penalty transparency, they have released an audio recording of the World Motorsport Council meeting in which Nelson Piquet Jr and the Renault F1 team were called to answer charges of race-fixing.

You can listen to the near 77-minute hearing and the 7 minute conclusions, as well as read the 91-page dossier of evidence and the 20-page WSMC decision, on the following link:

http://fia.com/en-GB/mediacentre/pressreleases/wmsc/2009/Pages/wmsc_220909_docs.aspx

The Passing of Henry Surtees

I am sure readers of this blog will know by now that Henry Surtees died yesterday from injuries sustained during a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch, he was 18.

Will Buxton reminds us of Mario Andretti’s words upon the death of his Lotus team-mate Ronnie Peterson in an accident at Monza.
“Unfortunately, motor racing is also this.”

Despite all of the great strides forward in motor racing safety over the last thirty or more years, it unfortunately remains the case.

These cars are compliant to 2005 F1 safety regulations, including wheel tethers. No doubt there will be an investigation, hopefully the cause of the apparent tether failure will be found and rectified. I have now seen footage of the incident. That wheel should not have come off.

As for the wheel assembly striking the car, this was nothing more than a freak accident and there is no way anybody can legislate for that, freak accidents will always happen.

The driver is as safely cocooned within the bodyshell as is possible without enclosing him – some are suggesting the latter should be the next move, but in my opinion this would bring about other problems, such as extrication from the car in an emergency. Given the very low number of times an accident such as this happens it would seem counterproductive to run closed-top formula cars.

Henry Surtees

Anybody who attended a BTCC meeting in recent times and stayed trackside for the support series will have seen Henry Surtees race, even if they didn’t realise it at the time. He competed in Formula BMW in 2007 and Formula Renault in 2008, both on the BTCC support package. (Ginetta Juniors was not yet on the package when he ran in it, and FBMW has since merged to become pan-European). His name was known to most who follow the junior ladder in this country and perhaps further afield.

On a personal level, I was at a wet and windy Silverstone last year when he took a podium finish in the afternoon race. I don’t recall much of the race apart from a few spinners and a driver who lost a wing and kept driving (not Surtees), and I didn’t watch him specifically though I was very much aware he was there and I remember being pleased that he scored a good result because it confirmed he was more than just a ‘name’ driver, more than just the son of someone famous.

**
It should be noted that Sunday also saw the death of co-driver Flavio Guglielmini on the Rally Bulgaria, while driver Brain Lavio is in a ‘stable’ condition. Rally Bulgaria has been on the FIA European Rally Championship schedule for 20 years and this year was a Candidate Rally for the 2010 WRC, for which a decision will be made in September.

Also on this dark weekend, Ricardo Londono was shot and killed in Colombia. Londono was entered for the Brazilian GP some 28 years ago but was not able to qualify despite reportedly setting some good times earlier that week.

My thoughts go to the families and friends of each of them.