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.

 

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IndyCar – A New Hope

Wednesday evening saw the announcement of the car concept for the next era of the IZOD IndyCar Series starting in 2012, as decided after much deliberation by the ‘ICONIC’ committee.

Wednesday evening saw the announcement of the car concept for the next era of the IZOD IndyCar Series starting in 2012, as decided after much deliberation by the ‘ICONIC’ committee. This was a chassis announcement, engines were briefly discussed but they were not the focus of this decision.

The Committee

The qualifications of the committee seem to me to be unquestionable.

  • Gil de Ferran  – Indy 500 winner, IndyCar and (former ALMS) team owner, former sporting director of Honda F1;
  • Tony Cotman – among many other things the man responsible for the Panoz DP01 project at Champ Car, also the chief steward of Indy Lights I believe;
  • Brian Barnhart – President of Competition at IndyCar;
  • Tony Purnell – founder of Pi Research, formerly ran Jaguar F1 and Ford’s Premier Performance Division;
  • Neil Ressler – former Chief Technical Officer at Ford Motor Company;
  • Eddie Gossage – President of Texas Motor Speedway;
  • Rick Long – Speedway Engine Development;
  • and of course the new superstar CEO of IndyCar, Randy Bernard.

It was chaired by retired General Bill Looney, apparently he was responsible for a major engineering project in the US Air Force.

I can’t think of a better driver to consult than Gil de Ferran, he’s won races in the current cars and the CART Lolas, and has management experience in three major championships. Cotman was the last man to bring in a new car to a budget in North American Open Wheel racing and he and his group learned a lot, it is good to see that knowledge being called upon. Purnell and Ressler have a close working relationship from their time with Ford and Jaguar. Gossage is perhaps the most creative track owner/promoter in the series at the moment.
Continue reading “IndyCar – A New Hope”

Write to the Top

The new CEO of the Indy Racing League, Randy Bernard, will be taking his seat in his office on March 1st.

Let’s send him a letter.

This is the new era of fan interaction. Various different series and teams are paying attention to fans more than they ever have done before, whether by survey or direct interaction via Facebook or Twitter. What’ll get his attention on Day 1 better than a stack of letters from the fans? Okay so maybe they won’t reach him, maybe the PR or marketing people will get them – it doesn’t matter, they’ll note the increase in correspondence and hopefully someone will read some of them.

Bernard appears to have a proven record in growing a sporting property from absolutely nothing to something rather much bigger. The IRL/IndyCar needs those skills, badly. Okay, IndyCar has something of a fan base, it has a history and all the rest – but how much of that does he know? He openly admits he’s coming to this raw, no prior knowledge. Let’s tell him what we like about IndyCar, and what we think may need adjusting. We want to make sure he doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Before you go any further, be sure to remember to be courteous and polite, like not sniggering at his humourous name, nor ranting and raving like a blogger fool. Nobody wants to receive a note that reads like it comes from the middle of a flame war on a forum or a blog. Pressdog wrote some nice guidelines, let’s stick to those. We should welcome him.

Nothing works better than a bit of paper landing on your desk. It’s more personal.

Here’s his address:

Randy Bernard
CEO, Izod IndyCar Series
4790 W 16th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46222

Now, I’m in the UK and I’m not sure whether I’ll use traditional mail (I probably will). But if it doesn’t float your boat, you can always send an email via the website’s contact form:

http://www.indycar.com/contact/

Give it some thought and send him a note. I’m having a think and I will send something in shortly.

*

If after that you are still in a letter-writing mood, pop along to Vision Racing’s Facebook page to see how you can help them convince existing and potential sponsors to back them and resurrect the team for 2010, before it is stood down completely.

And finally, be sure to VOTE on the chassis proposal you favour. I hope to write about those proposals soon but I’ve found myself short on blogging time recently.

Remember, this is the new era of fans being heard, so make the most of it!

Thursday Thoughts: Borrowing Ideas

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from the intriguingly-named Turkey Machine:

What features or regulations from other racing series would benefit F1, and why?


Sounds like my kind of question! Generally-speaking F1 does a good job, yet there are areas from other series it can learn from.

Openness
F1 is notorious for its secrecy. On the one hand it has been an integral part of the game for many years. On the other, we are in a different era now and fans expect a certain degree of openness, and thankfully some F1 teams and drivers are responding, with Twitter accounts and roadshows and so forth. But what at a GP weekend? BMW had the Pitlane Park, and I think it was Indianapolis that pioneered the pitlane walkabout at an F1 race (it having being commonplace in US racing for years).

Other series are still far better at this than F1. I recognise this is semi-deliberate in order to retain F1’s percieved ‘superiority’ and ‘exclusivity’ compared to other series, yet I feel it can be more open while still remaining top of the pile. How?

Let’s have a pitlane walkabout at EVERY Grand Prix, and on EVERY DAY of that GP. There isn’t a packed race schedule at most events (exceptions I think being Albert Park and Silverstone) so time can be found. You can mandate that teams must leave their garage doors open and unobstructed during the walkabout – because as we already know from past walkabouts, some teams put up screens. Some time before an ALMS race starts they line the cars up on the pit straight and allow the fans to walk up and down the straight, taking photos and meeting team personnel and drivers. I’m not necessarily suggesting going that far, but it could be an option.

Then let’s bring in mandatory driver signing sessions in an area outside Bernie’s security wall, with a fine for those who don’t show. This seems to go down very well in IndyCar and NASCAR. I’ve read reports of murmurings from some drivers that ‘extras like this aren’t part of their job’. If any drivers still feel this way, they need to have their attitude adjusting. They are paid millions in order to show their teams and sponsors off to the paying fans, they should give an hour of their time on a Sunday morning to meet them and let the fans get to know them. I argue that if a fan gets to meet their favourite driver they are more likely to associate themselves with that driver’s sponsor/s, whereas if the driver brushes them off that fan may decide to lessen their support or even drop it completely.

Media
HD TV needs to come in and it needs to happen immediately, from Bahrain onwards. No more testing the systems or whatever they are doing. We’ve been promised it every year for the last three or four and the excuses are wearing thin. IndyCar, NASCAR and even World Touring Car are in HD. Admittedly the other series that have gone HD have close relationships with broadcast partners, and F1’s coverage is produced in-house by an subsidiary of FOM – yet surely FOM makes enough revenues to be able to make this investment. I know, because they’ve blogged and tweeted about it, that the broadcasters are pushing hard to have an HD feed released to them – they can’t show what isn’t there. HD channels are currently ‘upscaling’ the standard feed.

The F1.com website needs improving. It is getting there, yet other series sites have tons of photos and videos available, either free or paid-for. Live timing is reasonably good though there’s room to include more information as some other series do.

Consistency of Rulings
Okay, I know you’d be hard-pressed to find a series anywhere that has consistent decision-making when it comes to things like penalties for blocking or running someone off-track. Wishful thinking. It would be nice if they could keep the decisions consistent, whatever those decisions are.

Finally, I’d make the numbers on the cars bigger. Maybe take up the whole rear-wing endplate like in IndyCar. Have you tried identifying drivers by looking at helmets? It’s not always easy.

TM went on to expand to a further question, let’s see if we can answer that as well:

If you can’t think of any that way, what about vice-versa, i.e. what’s F1 got that would benefit other borefests (sorry, motor racing series) around the world?

Certainly with IndyCar and NASCAR I’d bring in the yellow flag rules – don’t throw a Safety Car out there just because a car slowed down for 10 or 20 seconds and cleared the track immediately. I can see why you would do this on ovals where the speeds are so high and laptimes are 25 seconds – on road courses you definitely shouldn’t be going to a full-course yellow unless there’s a car in a dangerous position. It seems both IRL and NASCAR apply their rules to both types of track rather than making adjustments for each, which is a mistake. On a road course you usually have a bit more time and a bit more leeway to let the incident develop and see if it clears itself.

I wouldn’t necessarily take F1’s safety car procedure though, F1 has never really got the hang of when to deploy the car, or run the wave-by.

The producers of the TV feed for most series could probably learn how to cover a race, certainly a road course race, from the FOM crew. The way F1 races are shot is generally very good these days, this has been one of the biggest improvements F1 has made over the last ten years I think and that’s all down to bringing it in-house, not relying on ‘host broadcasters’ as we used to.

Great question. There’s bound to be plenty of other suggestions, feel free to add them either here or in a blog post of your own.

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

Goodbye Flav

Monday saw the FIA World Council meet to hear the case of Renault, Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jr conspiring to fix the result of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix by Piquet crashing his car, guaranteeing a Safety Car period and thus giving Fernando Alonso the lead and the race win.

FIA statement:

Renault F1 stated at the meeting that it had conducted a detailed internal investigation, which found that: (i) Flavio Briatore, Pat Symonds and Nelson Piquet Jr. had conspired to cause the crash; and (ii) no other team member was involved in the conspiracy.
The FIA has conducted its own detailed investigation and its findings correspond with those of Renault F1.

Further, the FIA statement reveals Renault made the following points:

– it had accepted, at the earliest practicable opportunity, that it committed the offences with which it was charged and cooperated fully with the FIA’s investigation;
– it had confirmed that Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds were involved in the conspiracy and ensured that they left the team;
– it apologised unreservedly to the FIA and to the sport for the harm caused by its actions;
– it committed to paying the costs incurred by the FIA in its investigation; and
– Renault (the parent company, as opposed to Renault F1) committed to making a significant contribution to FIA safety-related projects.

Nelson Piquet Jr. also apologised unreservedly to the World Motor Sport Council for his part in the conspiracy.

The verdict is therefore unequivacal: guilty
What of the sentence?

The World Motor Sport Council considers that offences of this severity merit permanent disqualification from the FIA Formula One World Championship. However, having regard to the points in mitigation mentioned above and in particular the steps taken by Renault F1 to identify and address the failings within its team and condemn the actions of the individuals involved, the WMSC has decided to suspend Renault F1’s disqualification until the end of the 2011 season. The World Motor Sport Council will only activate this disqualification if Renault F1 is found guilty of a comparable breach during that time.

This is an interesting penalty. Renault last week removed Briatore and Symonds from the company and are very much distancing themselves from what happened, saying it was between Briatore, Symonds and Piquet Jr. This is believable. If you read the transcript of the radio calls during the race it seems even the race engineers did not know.

It should be noted that Renault (that is the parent company, not Renault F1) will be paying the FIA’s legal costs as well as making an unspecified contribution to the FIA’s safety work.

Flavio Briatore has not escaped so lightly. He is still maintaining his innocence despite all evidence to the contrary, of which the FIA takes a very dim view. Therefore he has been issued with a penalty I have never seen before – a total ban for an unlimited period. That’s not just from running a team, it extends to his driver management programme and his GP2/GP3 involvement as well!

I have never before seen the FIA make a statement like this:

As regards Mr. Briatore, the World Motor Sport Council declares that, for an unlimited period, the FIA does not intend to sanction any International Event, Championship, Cup, Trophy, Challenge or Series involving Mr. Briatore in any capacity whatsoever, or grant any license to any Team or other entity engaging Mr. Briatore in any capacity whatsoever. It also hereby instructs all officials present at FIA-sanctioned events not to permit Mr. Briatore access to any areas under the FIA’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, it does not intend to renew any Superlicence granted to any driver who is associated (through a management contract or otherwise) with Mr. Briatore, or any entity or individual associated with Mr. Briatore. In determining that such instructions should be applicable for an unlimited period, the World Motor Sport Council has had regard not only to the severity of the breach in which Mr. Briatore was complicit but also to his actions in continuing to deny his participation in the breach despite all the evidence.

Wow!! Flav’s a goner! Not only that, but all of the drivers he manages will be refused a licence until they change their representation. That means Webber, Alonso and I think Grosjean as well, and there are probably more. They have until the Singapore Grand Prix sessions begin on Friday..

Symonds gets a near-identical penalty to Briatore, the only difference being his is limited to 5 years and that was because he admitted guilt. He’s lucky not to have more, in fact given he’ll be in his 60s when this ban ends it could have ended his career so it could effectively be a life ban, too. Both men thoroughly deserve their penalties.

Piquet Jr was granted immunity by the FIA in exchange for his evidence, which is a shame because as far as I can see he should get a suspended ban, if not a full ban, for his part in all of this. Regardless of the pressure he was under he could have refused, or simply not done it when the time came.

Fernando Alonso has been “not in any way involved in Renault F1’s breach of the regulations” and was thanked for his cooperation. He surely must have thought something was up when he was put on a light fuel load, it can’t be proven that he knew or didn’t know what was going on. I’ll cautiously give him the benefit of the doubt but will remain sceptical.

Here is the FIA WMSC decision in full.

Hamilton’s Exclusion

The FIA race stewards in Malaysia have reopened last weekend’s issue of Jarno Trulli’s penalty for passing under Safety Car conditions. I can’t say I ever recall the stewards of one meeting ruling on the events of another, particularly as in F1 the three ruling stewards frequently change from race to race. They say this is to avoid accusations of bias but it leads to inconsistent decision making which makes the FIA look foolish and ineffective.

Of the three stewards in Australia two are present in Malaysia so they can be reasonably familiar with the circumstances.

In the initial stewards’ meeting last week both Hamilton and team manager Dave Ryan told the stewards (and Race Director Charlie Whiting) that no instruction had been given to Hamilton to let Trulli pass him, after Trulli had fallen off the racetrack and lost the position.
This being the case, the stewards gave Trulli the penalty for re-taking that position illegally under the Safety Car.

There was an instruction given over the radio. Lewis himself confirmed it to the media after the race, but before the stewards’ meeting. It now transpires that the stewards did not have access to McLaren team radio, else they would have heard the radio call giving Hamilton the instruction, hence Trulli’s penalty.

The decision this weekend is two-fold:
– cancel Trulli’s penalty, reinstating him to 3rd ahead of Hamilton;
– remove Hamilton from the results because he misled the stewards of the race meeting;

I agree with what has been done here. All too often in the past we have been left with decisions made in previous races which are later disproven when further evidence comes to light – and no correction is made. A lot of fuss was made about this last season and the FIA promised something would be done, and to their credit they have done it.

Perhaps they could now take another look at the Vettel/Kubica incident and cancel Seb’s penalty which seemed to be awarded based entirely on his admission of guilt rather than any examination of the evidence.

Revised results:
1. Button (Brawn) 58 laps
2. Barrichello (Brawn) +0.8s
3. Trulli (Toyota) +1.6s
4. Glock (Toyota) +4.4s
etc.
Excluded: Hamilton (McLaren)

Championship

Drivers (Revised)
10 Button
8 Barrichello
6 Trulli
5 Glock
4 Alonso
3 Rosberg
2 Buemi
1 Bourdais

Compared to the standings following Trulli’s penalty, this ‘correction’ simply deletes Hamilton and inserts Trulli in his place.

Constructors (Revised)
18 BrawnGP-Mercedes
11 Toyota
4 Renault
3 Williams-Toyota
3 Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Not only does this significantly change Toyota’s score, it means both McLaren and Ferrari have yet to score!