Races Watched (2019 Week 11): Hong Kong, Melbourne & MotoGP

A comment on some of the races I’ve been watching. A return to an occasional and hopefully now regular series with the Calendars all updated.

I usually catch one or two live races per weekend and spend time in the week catching up on other things. This time I didn’t see anything live – I had other plans – but I did focus on two events. I’ll be catching up with “Super Sebring” WEC & IMSA another time.

Week 11:  11-17 March 2019

Formula E – R5 – Hong Kong ePrix

A lot of cars in a narrow, tight space led to contact and red flags and safety cars. It wasn’t the cleanest race in the world.

At least it was close for the race lead. Bird and Lotterer went flat out all the way. Bird made a lot of stout attacks, Lotterer repelled them with a lot of stout defences. For the most part this was close, hard street racing. Possibly an argument that FE ought to have been a silhouette touring car series so they could have a bit of contact! These two were the class of the field and pulled away from the rest.

Sadly right near the end there was contact between them, which put Lotterer out. He was angry, he was right to be angry. He even dragged the damage car around until it went no further. There was obviously no malice involved, Bird didn’t plan to drive Lotterer out of the race, he just misjudged his braking – or his aim – and his car’s nose punctured Lotterer’s tyre. It was marginal, very marginal. But he took out the race leader and that’s a penalty. Sure enough, though it took several hours, Bird was later penalised enough time to lose the win.

That gave the win to street-specialist Edo Mortara, which leaves him tied with Lucas di Grassi for 3rd in points with the top four covered by 2 points. It also gave the Venturi team their first ever FE win.

Must mention Oliver Rowland who took the lead at the start and was fast until he hit the FCY limiter button accidentally around the tight hairpin, losing him many places.

A heck of a lot else happened, a mix of contact retirements and good old-fashioned reliability problems knocked some out of the race too. Some tight battles at the hairpin. I don’t have space to mention it all.

Attack Mode didn’t seem to do anything at this track, perhaps drivers lost a lot of time activating it.

Next up is a new race in Sanya, China on 23rd March. You’ll have seen it by the time this piece is published.

Highlights are embedded above or you can watch the full race HERE on YouTube.

Points Car Name Team
54 2 Sam Bird Virgin
53 64 Jerome d’Ambrosio Mahindra
52 11 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport
52 48 Eduardo Mortara Venturi
47 28 Ant Felix da Costa BMW Andretti
43 4 Robin Frijns Virgin
34 66 Daniel Abt Audi Sport
34 20 Mitch Evans Jaguar
30 94 Pascal Wehrlein Mahindra
29 36 Andre Lotterer DS Techeetah

Formula 1 – R1 – Australian GP

As ever a promising build-up lead to a slightly underwhelming Australian Grand Prix. The track just isn’t very good for close racing with cars this fast. At least it was better than the turgid ‘race’ served up last year. The atmosphere looked as good as ever though and it seems a great relaxed place for a season opener.

Okay it was mostly because Giovanazzi stayed out on worn tyres too long, but passes were made. Like I said in the F1 Preview the middle of the pack is going to be something special this year, especially when we get to more open tracks. Norris in particular had a good debut though not the end result to show for it.

And Kvyat really showed up an underperforming Gasly, who shouldn’t have failed to make it out of Q1 qualifying thus totally screwing up his Sunday, at a track where you can hardly pass.

Bottas really laid down a marker, taking Hamilton at the first corner and going on to dominate the race. There was damage to Hamilton’s floor. But I got the feeling Hamilton, being older and wiser these days, decided to bank the points for 2nd. He still beat Vettel and Verstappen and he knows – he thinks – he can handle Bottas later. I also think this is the case, but I also think Bottas won’t quite be the pushover of last year.

Ricciardo screwed his day by driving on the grass and hitting an access road, very unlucky that was there, he’d probably have got away with it otherwise. I’m sure if he’d held to the edge of the tarmac Perez would’ve given him space but it’s all very tight.

I was surprised how seriously the teams took the new point for Fastest Lap. I thought the drivers would like it and the teams would reign them in, but Mercedes encouraged Bottas to go for it while leading. Interesting!

Summary:  Decent first third of the race, then fizzled out as the midfield traffic got in a line and couldn’t race, then it got a bit boring.

On to Bahrain on 31st March. It should be more representative for the rest of the year, both in pace and race-ability of the 2019 cars.

Points Car Driver Team
26 77 Valterri Bottas Mercedes
18 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
15 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull
12 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
10 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari
8 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas
6 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo
2 18 Lance Stroll Racing Point
1 26 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso

Catch-Up

MotoGP

I’ve been been binge-watching recordings of last year’s MotoGP. I did a terrible job keeping up with it. After Jerez I stopped. I’m not sure why, since it is one of my favourite series. Maybe just overwhelmed with live stuff.

Anyway I made the choice to drop BT TV in favour of Sky (see my previous post), partly because I wasn’t using it to watch MotoGP live any more, which means I need to delete everything on my BT Youview box before Monday 25th March.

Of course after I made that decision the highlights rights got moved. Instead of BT Sport’s excellent highlights on Channel 5, we now get generic Dorna highlights on Quest. I haven’t seen it yet but reports suggest it isn’t as good. I have feelings of regret. However there is talk of a BT Sport deal on Sky coming this summer.

Due to the box filling up – the stupid series link recorded endless hours of free practice and started deleting old stuff and I didn’t notice – I had to go to the YouTube highlights for Le Mans, Mugello and Catalunya.

During this week I watched the following:

Assen, Sachsenring, Brno, Spielberg.

Assen’s Dutch GP (July) was magic, such a great race, really close all the way between Lorenzo and Marquez and then Rossi and Dovizioso rode their way through and Rins got in there too. This lot battling was just outstanding.

Sachsenring’s German GP (July) a bit less interesting, Dovi dropped back leaving Marquez to win with a gap over Rossi and Vinales, a slightly better result for Yamaha this time.

Brno’s Czech GP (August) was all about saving your tyres until the last few laps. That meant a big group circulated together but they weren’t going flat out, although it still looked pretty quick to me. When they pulled the pin it was Dovizioso on the Ducati and Marquez on the Honda, with Lorenzo on Ducati close behind, who made the gap. It would be Dovi, Lorenzo, Marquez to give the red team their second 1-2 of the year, Dovi’s 2nd win.

Spielberg’s Austrian GP (August) had a fun start with a big pack. Marquez pulled into a lead with the Ducatis chasing. This is a power track and the Ducatis have it, but the Honda isn’t far off. The was a duel. Marquez and Lorenzo trading blows with Dovi not able to stay with them. Another outstanding battle! Lorenzo took his 3rd win of the year.

And of course Silverstone (August) was cancelled due to torrential rain and a track that didn’t clear water.

Check out these short highlights videos. They aren’t like the F1 and FE videos, they don’t cover as much on track and the edits are a bit jarring, but if racing is most of all about the people, these clips get that across really well.

Next Week

Monday 18th to Sunday 24th March, I’ll be watching the rest of last year’s MotoGP and the Sanya E-Prix.

My plan is to publish these weekly recaps every Tuesday so you can expect this on the 26th, but they may jump around until I find the right day.

Advertisements

2019 Formula 1 Preview

Charlie Whiting

This season preview is dedicated to Charlie Whiting who died in Melbourne just before the race weekend. The ultimate poacher-turned-gamekeeper, a genuine and generous individual who will be missed.

Formula 1 In 2019

I really don’t know how to feel about this year.

On the one hand I’m excited for the competition. During testing I watched Will Buxton’s videos on the F1 YouTube channel, Marc Priestley’s F1 Elvis channel too, I was getting really amped up for season 2019 looking very competitive.

On the other hand I’m disappointed at the loss of free-to-air TV in the UK. Restricting fandom is detrimental to the long-term health of the championship in this country. Okay yes, we still have same-day highlights and live British GP on C4, as well as live radio coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live and the F1 app. But it won’t be the same. Not only will existing fans be priced out but the chance to develop young fans will essentially be restricted to households with Sky Sports F1.

On their side Sky have worked to lower the barrier to entry. The first two races will be simulcast on Sky One. There are offers available for Sky Sports F1 or the Sky Sports package as a whole during March 2019 which run for up to 2 years. I’ve taken one of them and it’ll be installed on the 25th.

And also maybe I’m just a little tired? The season is so long now. 21 races feels like hard work for a fan let alone someone working in it. But that’s a topic for another day.

Questions

There seem to be more questions this year! And that’s a great thing. F1 is dull when it is predictable and I’ve had enough of predictable F1. Maybe that’s why I grew tired.

Let’s look at some storylines for the year ahead. There are a lot of them and that’s why I think 2019 will be a really interesting season.

Long-Term

Liberty are continuing to develop their vision for 2021. This coming season will be when the various strands and threads come together. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with.

F1 has a lot of structural problems, not least the vastly unfair payment structure which created the two-tier F1 we have today of manufacturers and B-teams (plus McLaren and Williams) and the loss of so many other teams. The technical regulations will probably get the most media focus but the commercial settlement needs even more work.

And more immediately, how will the new front wings and enormous DRS race. or affect future plans?

Mercedes v Ferrari … v Red Bull?

You have to take testing with a pinch of salt, or a bag of sand, however Ferrari genuinely look like having a serious shot. F1 needs at least two competitive teams every year.

Ferrari have had a quick car for a couple of years, only to throw away title chances during the season with operational errors, driver errors, or simply falling behind in the developmental race. Or simply that Hamilton & Mercedes did a better job and never relented.

Charles Leclerc ought to be a challenge for Sebastian Vettel. Perhaps not at every race in the first year, but most of them. Will he be a help or a headache?

At Mercedes, how does Valterri Bottas rebound from a bad 2018? Another year overrun by Lewis Hamilton will surely see his seat go to Esteban Ocon – unless Hamilton retires and Ocon takes that seat. It didn’t help him that Hamilton in 2018 was at peak form, probably driving better than ever. From no.44’s perspective that bodes well for yet more wins and another title.

What of Red Bull? The Honda looks considerably improved after the work they and Toro Rosso put in last year. I think they’ll be ahead of where they were last year but not quite on terms with the silver and red cars.

If Max Verstappen makes overtakes like nobody else and can be a joy to watch. But if he continues to expect the world to revolve around him he may again lose points and it isn’t an endearing character trait. I expect Pierre Gasly to run him close and might even outscore him if Max gets into scrapes.

Midfield Craziness

It’s hard to call it the midfield now. You have the front three. At the other end the only ‘tailender’ now is Williams. And the other 6 teams are the midfield. You see why some last year called it ‘Class B’.

Last year if you removed Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull from the race you could rarely guess who would “win”. Renault, Haas and Force India / Racing Point all had the edge at different times.

I always pick a Best Of The Rest. Who does the best job behind the leading teams?

My bet is Renault. Serious investment in facilities in 2017 will bear fruit this season, this’ll be the first car developed in the new environment. Then add Daniel Ricciardo alongside Nico Hulkenberg. Nico knows the team, Dan has a point to prove after the Red Bull relationship went sour and will only be encouraged by the team, with the Red Bull / Renault breakdown in relations still very sore.

And of course the works team now has the senior Renault supply, no need to bow to the demands of a faster outfit. At least, that’s unless McLaren leap forward. They’ll definitely be ahead of last year and could ‘win’ Class B in some races. Will they be consistent? I’m not sure, they seem to still struggle tactically and if their pace is the same I still think Renault will emerge ahead for that reason. Carlos Sainz we know, he’ll be on it. How fast can Lando Norris settle in? If the car is fast, will Fernando Alonso step back in by summer?

Sauber has rebranded as Alfa Romeo Racing, though to honour history it should rightly be named Alfa Corse. Names aside, Fred Vasseur is working wonders where others failed. He’s got Ferrari on board and investing, even if it is only branding, but I imagine there’s more to it. Hence the swap with Leclerc to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen as Alfa lead driver. I expect Alfa Romeo to be right up there challenging Renault and a half-step ahead of most of the rest. They are definitely a team to watch.

Kimi might’ve been in pre-retirement mode in past seasons but he came alive in 2018 and he lives for this breed of high-downforce car, expect the same again. Antonio Giovanazzi was hit or miss in sporadic outings in F1 but is worth watching, it’s interesting the media are talking about others and seemingly not Tonio. If F1 had a Rookie Of The Year I think he’d win it.

Toro Rosso is an interesting one. Fast car last year and more of the same will put them up there. Alex Albon is interesting rookie and the return of Dani Kvyat is incredible, I never thought he’d go near the Red Bull system ever again after last time.

I honestly don’t know where to place the next two.

Haas have potential yet keep making mistakes. Sometimes the team, sometimes the drivers. Often the drivers. They make a quick car – a lot of input from Ferrari, more than any other customer in F1 – but sometimes it looks hard to drive. Maybe the setup window was narrow, maybe that’s why they get into scrapes. If Grosjean and Magnussen can stay off the walls they should go well, but there’s a lot of competition, not scoring points will punish you harshly.

Racing Point (or SportPesa Racing) are obviously a quick outfit and they’ll be getting investment from Stroll Snr. It might not show until 2020, when factory upgrades take effect, but they’ll be able to continue developing the car this year. Sergio Perez arguably the senior driver but as he’s been outgunned financially by the Strolls, will his nose be put out of joint? He won’t be calling the shots. Lance Stroll continues to learn, still makes odd mistakes but he certainly has speed, I’m looking forward to seeing that speed unlocked.

Racing Point had a disruptive 2018 with the ownership change. That’s the only reason I’ve marked them down. I’ve marked them 9th in points but they are just as likely to finish 5th.

And finally Williams. And it will be Williams at the back unless something drastic changes. The car was late but that can be recoverable. Force India sometimes failed to arrive at testing, or ran a year-old car, yet were still competitive when they brought a new one. Williams ran just over half of testing and tailed the field throughout. The saving grace is they looked possibly closer than last year. But that’s no good when everyone else stepped forward as well and you’re 2 seconds off them.

I admire that they haven’t become a B-team the way Racing Point, Alfa, Toro Rosso and Haas are. Unfortunately those links with big-spending teams are why the B-teams are faster than Williams who don’t have the ability to spend to keep up.

In terms of management all is not well. Rumours of ongoing disagreements and emergence of a blame culture means the situation is very much not under control. A successful team is a happy team. A finger-pointing, back-biting team will always fail.

Robert Kubica is the comeback story of F1. To be able to race after suffering those injuries is a testament to his perseverance. I’m intrigued to find out whether he can manage a race distance competitively, something the car problems prevented him from doing in testing, which is a real worry. He’s always been tenacious and this year will be no different.

George Russell is the real deal. Even if he looks like an artificial life form, like Jude Law in the film AI: Artificial Intelligence. Once he adapts to life in F1 he’ll make the car go as fast as it will go. But how fast is that?

My Ranking

Mercedes
Ferrari
Red Bull Honda
Renault
Alfa Romeo
McLaren
Toro Rosso
Haas
Racing Point
Williams

Ten Years Of Too Much Racing

On August 5th, 2018, I reached a milestone:  10 years of blogging!

There have been periods of downtime along the way. On and off, I have been writing words about motor sport for a decade. And soon it’ll be 20 years since I first joined a Formula 1 newsgroup, at age 18 at the end of December 1998, which is where it all began. Now I am 38 and I feel very old.

The Changes Over A Decade

A lot has happened in the last decade. The blog was set up to look at F1, IndyCar, Le Mans and other endurance races, plus whatever else took my fancy.

For one thing the original version was on Blogspot and is still there.

First Blog

In 2008’s Formula 1 season, on the face of it it looks familiar:  the young upstart Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes-powered McLaren racing the Ferraris of defending champion Kimi Räikkönen and his team-mate Felipe Massa. It would be Hamilton’s first title – and Massa who would take it to the last race and win a legion of fans for his sportsmanship in defeat.

There the similarities end. It was the era of multiple manufacturers:  BMW were still with Sauber with Robert Kubica finishing 4th in points (including a race win). Honda and Toyota both still had their own full F1 teams. Fernando Alonso had gone back to the works Renault team after the “spygate” scandal – and this was the year the “crashgate” scandal would unfold. Tyres were grooved and V8 engines screamed and a lot of us complained it wasn’t as good as slick tyres and V10s.

In IndyCar the reset button had just been pressed. “The Split” of the CART/IRL war was over, the two factions had come together for the 2008 season. As it happened late in pre-season with very little time to prepare, the Champ Car teams had to adapt to the IRL cars in less than a month. They looked hopeless at Homestead-Miami as the IRL teams dominated, then just a week later Graham Rahal won at St Petersburg for Newman/Haas, giving hope to those of us who were on the Champ Car side of the fence.

It was a long road to recovery for IndyCar racing after that and it took a lot longer than I think anybody expected. They’re still travelling that road today. It took arguably until 2016 to really make traction. Now though, you have to say that after 10 years the series is in excellent health and has a bright future. The peak of quality was never in question all along, what’s changed is the depth of quality of both drivers and teams is the highest seen in 20 years. In some neat symmetry, Scott Dixon won the 2008 and 2018 titles. Dare I say this year he’s driving better than I’ve ever seen him. And the current cars are cool too, which wasn’t the case in 2008.

In sports car racing, the continual cycle of boom and bust is never far away from throwing in a curve ball.

In Europe we had the Le Mans Series, five races of 1000km with the Le Mans 24 Hours itself being a non-championship race. Audi and Peugeot went toe to toe in LMP1, a healthy field of privateers scoring podium finishes all year long when any of the lead quartet fell off. LMP2 was dominated by the Porsche Spyder which brought LMP1 engineering and reliability to a class previously renowned for cars breaking down.
We still had the glorious GT1s, Corvette C6 vs Aston Martin DBR9 vs Saleen S7-R. And GT2 was the Pro/Am Porsche vs Ferrari class with cars that were much closer to road-relevance than today’s GTs.

There was a defined route from ‘upgraded road car’ to ‘really mega road car on steroids’ to ‘baby prototype’ to ‘fast prototype’. Today we have ‘a prototype that looks like a GT’, then ‘fast prototype’ to ‘even faster really expensive prototype’. It feels like we’ve lost something along the way. I suppose that’s why LMP3 and GT4 now exist.

The good thing is we now have a World Championship – and we kept the European LMS underneath it so we’ve gained a load of racing. We had a great mini-era of LMP1 Hybrid in the WEC which was a joy to watch. The new era though, it all still needs work. Whatever happens to the WEC and LMP1, down at continental level, I’d argue the ELMS should adopt IMSA’s DPi as its top class.

Over in the US, the IMSA American Le Mans Series was at the height of the battle between a nearly equalised Audi LMP1 and Porsche LMP2. It had a strong GT2 field. And yet a rival series in Grand-Am with its own bespoke cars and NASCAR backing. Peaks and troughs in both series led to a merger for 2014. Lessons were learned from the bumpy and rushed IndyCar merger and the new-era IMSA has worked very hard to solve some tricky problems. That 2014 season was itself bumpy. But the recovery is happening very quickly, aided by the DPi concept of upgrading LMP2 cars and tapping into GTE and GT3 resources.

There is still a risk IMSA will take the backward step of having its own rules, Grand-Am style. They should avoid this and work to share platform with the ACO – even if it means running a “dumbed-down” version of the cars. Maybe it would work as a base platform for IMSA and ELMS, then if you want to go to WEC P1 you add a Special Nifty Widget that makes the car faster. (I specialise in these highly technical solutions.)

And then a wildcard. Formula E was launched. Like a cross between A1GP and Scalextric and the Toronto IndyCar track and a good dose of FIA weirdness. I’ve loved it since it started. Not necessarily for the same reasons as everyone else. I think the eco message has a problem when you jet the cars around the world and power them with generators. The tracks need a bit more space. But the racing is fun and frantic, the talent level is top notch and the future of cars is electric so you might as well have a championship for them now. Though I can’t help feeling it should’ve been a touring car or GT series, maybe a silhouette series with a spec chassis underneath and a manufacturers’ bodyshell to make it look like their road cars.

I don’t even have space to talk about the globalisation of LMP3, GT3, GT4 – and the remarkable TCR. All this has made previously national or regional events accessible to others around the world.

I haven’t even touched on MotoGP which year after year is the best racing around.

There’s an obsession with nostalgia in racing. I happen to think we’re in a golden era right now.

The Future

I know in my head what I want the blog to be. The same as it was in 2008 – short pieces of snippets every few days, intermingled with a lengthy weekly or fortnighly column. The problem is finding the time or the motivation in the depths of the season. You’ll have noticed I stopped the latest project back in July when the summer got too hot!

The goal is to get people to pay attention outside their own bubble, be that the F1 bubble, or the IndyCar bubble, or the sportscar bubble, or even the Formula E bubble these days.

I’ve tried various formats of race report, showing points progression and including race video, but few people read race reports, and I’m wary of video now due to copyright rules. I think the future of this site is in personal comment and reflection.

The racing e-calendars for iCal and Google Calendar will continue. They are laborious at times, yet very popular and a focal point of the blog. I even considered flipping it, so the calendars are front and centre and you had to hunt to find the blog posts.

As for the future of racing? We are in interesting times. We’re going back to the future.

IndyCar has shown the way. The nail-biting close finishes are gone. Instead we have cars visibly difficult to drive. They may not set lap records compared to last year’s very-high-downforce kits, but they do allow a difference between nailing the setup and missing it. Between top driver/team and those further back. And reducing the wake so cars can get close.

F1 needs to follow suit. It can find a way to do this while retaining the fastest cars. It also needs to go back to tyres that allow drivers to go flat out in a race. Cruising around to save super-ultra-hyper-soft tyres isn’t good enough and makes a mockery of changing the cars themselves to be faster.

Sports cars among GT racing is in rude health. They just need to be careful not to spend GT3 out of existence. In the prototypes there’s a golden opportunity lying just ahead, in blending LMP1 with DPi. If they get it right… well, special things could happen.

And Formula E will be the first of many series with what we presently call ‘alternative fuels’. Fast-charging electric cars are coming. Longer-range batteries are already here, with no need to swap cars in the 2019 season. Other electric series are coming. And elsewhere, hydrogen cars are coming.

The rest of the motor sport world needs to pay attention. If Governments are banning cars powered by fossil fuels from sale, how long will it be before they ban racing other than anything emission-free? 40 years? 30? 20?

The change over the next five years could be bigger than the whole of the last ten.

COMMENT: 7 & 8 July 2018 – British GP & Iowa IndyCar

A really good pair of races this week!

  • F1 – British GP, Silverstone;
  • Indycar – Iowa 300, Iowa Speedway;

I must admit, being tired from not sleeping due to the ongoing heat and humidity made it hard to concentrate at times.

This blog appears late courtesy of the World Cup! I don’t usually follow football other than international tournaments and this one swept me along.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 7 & 8 July 2018 – British GP & Iowa IndyCar”

COMMENT: 1 July 2018 – Austrian GP

With the ongoing World Cup and some quite oppressive humidity here in southern England I only caught one race this past weekend.

  • F1 – Austrian GP, Red Bull Ring;

To be honest after a long run of consecutive F1 and/or IndyCar races, plus Le Mans, I’m looking forward to the summer break now.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 1 July 2018 – Austrian GP”

COMMENT: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake

Last weekend I watched just the two races:

  • F1 – French GP, Paul Ricard, Le Castellet.
  • IndyCar – Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

I also caught the 3rd BTCC race at Croft, Dan Lloyd taking a maiden win from the reverse-grid race – and apparently some bones of contention through the day amongst title contenders.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake”