Quote of the Day

Shamelessly ripping off Jeff’s long-running series of posts featuring quotes from IndyCar personalities (and sometimes others), I bring some interesting words from Martin Whitmarsh, CEO of McLaren and Chairman of the Formula One Teams Association, who was talking about the future of F1 to Autosport.com’s Dieter Rencken in a paywall article published Thursday. (While it may be from an F1 guy it touches on GP2 and NASCAR so that fits my vague cross-motorsport remit).

There’s this continual balance about it. If you’ve got the best drivers and best cars on the circuits that we’ve got, it’s going to be difficult to overtake. You can see it in GP2, you can see it in lots of formulae. If you’re a bunch of hooligans, and bad teams and hooligan drivers, then you get a lot of mistakes, overtaking and crashes and incidents.

With all due respect, it’s easy to say, ‘Right, where’s the spectacle?’ or whatever. Is the sport right at the end of the day? No, it can be better, yes, and we’ve just got to fine-tune it.

So, do we want to create NASCAR? NASCAR is a good product for that market, they do it well, [but] we ain’t NASCAR. Maybe I shouldn’t say it: NASCAR doesn’t do it for me in that there are three box cars overtaking. You talk about it, and say how many changes [of position] there are, but maybe there are, but an overtake takes three-and-a-half laps to pull off. It doesn’t have me holding my breath.

But they do many things [right], they are marketed much smarter than we are. I think they do the TV show better than we do, they’re commercially and in business better than we are. We can learn lots of things, and what they do is appealing to a certain demographics and a certain market. But that’s not where we are.

Martin Whitmarsh of Mclaren, in his role as Chairman of FOTA, talking to Dieter Rencken

The boss of one of the biggest F1 teams reckons GP2 drivers are hooligans. In fairness he’s quite right, many in the midfield are.. I just thought it odd he’d come out and say it, normally the F1 bosses are quite PC about GP2 as it is one of Bernie’s babies.

He does make some valid points about what F1 should be – I agree that it can and should learn from NASCAR’s marketing, to an extent (without going completely overboard).

If you subscribe to Autosport you should read the rest of the feature, there’s a lot more in there, and part 2 of the interview goes up next Thursday.

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I might continue with more in this series in future, not specifically on F1, whatever I stumble across really. Primarily because it is an easy way to get content out without writing a ton of words and I am inherently lazy.

Thursday Thoughts: F1 Launches

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question from Sidepodcast:

Should F1 teams launch 2010 cars in a single launch event?

When I first read the question I thought I would be in favour, but after considering the pros and cons I’ve turned out to be against the idea. Let’s run through them.

In favour of a group launch:

– It cuts costs for everyone. Perhaps they would each pay a flat rate to FOTA who would hire a venue, perhaps they could even get a neutral company (say a series sponsor like LG) to sponsor the event and make it break even.

– All of the world’s F1 media would be in the same place at once. Not only would this cut their costs but it would mean not having to choose between competing events held the same day.

– It would create a huge pre-season buzz with all the new cars appearing before the world at once, or in reality probably in stages through the day. The publicity would be huge! You could even set up a dummy grid, though I’m sure you’d have to draw lots for the order.

In favour of individual launches:

– ‘Launches’ these days aren’t the frivolous affairs of the late 90s with the Spice Girls and the dry ice. The cost of plonking a tarpaulin-covered car in the pitlane in Jerez really isn’t that high when it is there for testing anyway.

– If there are launches held on the same day in different countries, the bigger players tend to have enough staff or freelancers to be able to send one or two to each.

– We already have a huge pre-season buzz, it just isn’t concentrated into a focal point, it is spread over many weeks or even months. This for me as a fan is the clincher. The anticipation builds from late January as car after car is steadily launched right up until we can visualise the full grid in early March, just days before the real thing. No other form of motorsport can or does do this.

– If they launched at the same time only the specialist motorsport press will cover every team. At the moment the general media might have a larger story for McLaren and a smaller one for Force India, but they’d pretty much all get something, at least in newspapers. If they launched all at once the editors would have the same space to cram in 13 or 14 teams and it just isn’t going to happen, they’d pick Brawn, McLaren, Ferrari and maybe one other. This should be the clincher for the teams but they seem to have missed it.

The group shot idea I had above – it would look cool to have the cars lined up together but the team sponsors would probably prefer the focus to be on their car on that day. With an individual launch you get the focus on your team and your sponsors. For this reason alone I am amazed a team like McLaren, with their focus on “corporate partners” (never “sponsors” for McLaren) is prepared to even entertain the idea let alone consider it seriously.

In other responses I have seen it said the new teams would prefer individual launches to get the focus but actually I disagree with that. I think they are pushing for a group launch. Why? Because it legitimises them to be seen alongside Ferrari and McLaren and so forth. At this stage that is worth a considerable amount more to them than a single-focus launch – but that isn’t enough of a reason to go for it.

Then you have other issues such as the invited guests. Would you have one conference room, wheeling in each set of sponsor’s bigwigs before wheeling in the car? Then getting them all to leave in a timely manner before the next group, bearing in mind you have essentially 8am to 8pm to launch 13 teams?

I think the cons outweigh the pros on this one, not just in number but in gravity. It was a good idea and let’s not fault them for coming up with radical ideas for they are needed, but the execution of it is a logistical nightmare and the media benefits – which after all is the point of holding a launch – are diminished in my view.

BMW Announces F1 Withdrawal

The board at BMW has today announced the company’s withdrawal from Formula 1 racing, effective at the end of the season.

There have been rumours for some time now that this or that F1 team was withdrawing, most frequently about Renault and Toyota and consistently denied by all parties. Announcements may yet prove forthcoming from other teams.

It is a shame that BMW-Sauber is the next team to jump. Just one season ago they were leading the World Championship. Many observers, including myself, believed at the time that had they not dropped the development of the 2008 car (in favour of the 2009 model) they would have had a good shot at winning either title by the end of the year. As it was, the regulation changes were so great the decision was made to attempt to steal a march on the field by switching development early.

It didn’t work. The 2009 car has not been competitive since the early part of the season and doesn’t seem to be improving relative to the competition, even if it has done so relative to where it was before. You would think they’d switch focus to the 2010 car, as is usual when performance falls short of expectation. That they are bailing out and that it was announced by the higher-ups of the company suggest this one was out of Mario Theissen’s control.

I think this is bigger than one underwhelming season, there has to be more to it than that. The announcement talked about changing their focus towards “sustainability and environmental compatibility”. F1 is not embracing this as much as it should be, with even the token-effort KERS looking like being withdrawn next season under FOTA proposals.

I’m sure the global economy, slow car sales, and of course the whole Mosely affair and the Ecclestone/Hitler comments did not help sell F1 to the board of a German company.

A shame. I always thought BMW-Sauber should have achieved much more than they did, and 2008 should have been the beginning of a competitive phase. It was not to be. Let’s hope a buyout can be arranged, either internally a la Brawn, or from elsewhere.

Hinwil is a top notch facility and the engines were produced in Munich. This is ideal as Hinwil shouldn’t have to be downscaled for any prospective buyer, all they need do is slot in an engine of their choice. Perhaps BMW could even be persuaded to supply engines to the team in 2010. All of this has yet to be decided.

The War Ends Before It Begins

24 hours ago Max Mosely and Luca di Montezemelo were sat discussing the FIA/FOTA fiasco, with Bernie Ecclestone also present presumably as moderator as well as looking after his own interests. The trio reportedly discussed the issues for most of the night in order to strike a deal before Wednesday’s crucial FIA World Motorsport Council (WSMC) meeting, in which frankly anything could have happened.

Thankfully the time pressure of the deadline meant common sense broke out and the following agreements were announced:

– There will be no FOTA breakaway, instead they will report back tomorrow with cost-reduction proposals.
– Budgets are to be reduced to “early 1990s levels” within two years. Curiously the method for achieving this was not stated so the budget cap may not be the answer.
– The 1998 Concorde Agreement, which determines the distribution of revenues, methods for agreeing regulations, and more, has been amended and extended to 2012. This means all teams are committed to that date.
– There will be 13 teams in the 2010-2012 Formula One World Championship, this is the list per the press release:

SCUDERIA FERRARI MARLBORO
VODAFONE McLAREN MERCEDES
BMW SAUBER F1 TEAM
RENAULT F1 TEAM
PANASONIC TOYOTA RACING
SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO
RED BULL RACING
AT&T WILLIAMS
FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM
BRAWN GP FORMULA ONE TEAM
CAMPOS META TEAM
MANOR GRAND PRIX
TEAM US F1

The latter three operations will use the cheap Cosworth engines, it is currently unclear if those will be under 2006 regulations since 2006 was the last year Cosworth competed (as a nod to cost-saving). If so this would give them a 2000rpm advantage over the other teams, and not have to run to the multi-race engine rules. While this is clearly unfair, it could be the new teams’ chassis will be so far behind the established teams, for the first couple of years anyway, that it all balances out nicely – should the new teams catch up, they can expect these breaks to be lifted.

You can read the FIA press release on their own website.

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Within the press release were some other nuggets relating to other FIA series.

World Rally

– The new 1.6 litre turbo engine will be brought in ahead of schedule in 2011.
– Events can now be more flexible. Instead of running to a set 3-day timetable, they may run 2, 3 or 4 days as long as it finishes on a Saturday or Sunday. They may include different surfaces.
– The 2010 calendar is out and you can see it in the link. Looks like the move to a winter championship schedule has been quietly dropped.

World Touring

– Yokohama is the sole supplier for the next three years.
Autosport reported the 1.6 litre engine will be used in WTCC in 2011 as well, and that it’ll be a spec engine, but the release doesn’t mention this.
– The 2010 calendar is out, check it out in the link. Algarve and Zolder are in. Pau is out. Valencia and Imola move around, assuming Imola is the Italian round.

I find the whole idea of the top rally and touring car series running 1.6 litre engines to be laughable. At least the rally cars will be turbocharged.

World GT

– Stephane Ratel’s plan to expand FIA GT into a new FIA GT1 World Championship has been authorised. GT2 will split into a new European series of its own races, many of which will run on GT1 weekends alongside GT3 and GT4.
– GT1 will be for pro drivers, GT2 for pro-am, and GT3 for non-professionals.
– The Bucharest street race next year is out, instead they’ll go to Budapest (I’m assuming this means the Hungaroring).

It seems like a good idea and I really hope it works for them, despite my reservations at losing the element of class traffic from sportscar racing.

FOTA’s Proposals

The Formula One Teams Association (www.teamsassociation.org), the independent body made up of the 10 teams of F1, conducted a survey in 17 countries of both F1 fans and non-fans as well as those who follow casually. From the results of this survey they have made the following proposals, known as the ‘roadmap’ and classified as ‘sporting’, ‘technical’ and ‘commercial’ to match the working groups established some months ago.

I’ll list these in the order of the press release and include my own comments in each section.

Technical
For 2009:
– An engine life increase of over 100%.
– A reduction in the usage of wind tunnels and computational fluid dynamics (CFD).
– Engines to be supplied for €8 million per season per team.

These are expected to provide significant savings over 2008. In addition, these proposals were made for 2010:
– Engines to be supplied for €5 million per season per team.
– Gearboxes to be supplied for €1.5 million.
– Standard KERS system to be put to tender, target price €1 million to €2 million.
– 50% reduction on 2009 levels on the spend on aerodynamic development.
– Cap the number of chassis, bodywork and aero updates per season via homologation.
– Prohibit ‘exotic’ materials.
– Standard telemetry and radio systems.

My thoughts:
I agree with all of these moves, but one. They retain the uniqueness of F1 development, that the teams design their own cars, without needless aero updates for every race. The one I disagree with is standard KERS – the whole point of KERS being in F1 is that each team is developing their own systems, and some are radically different from others. Green tech should be the areas left open for development, not closed off!

Sporting
For 2009:
– A reduction in testing of 50%.
– Adjust the points system to 12 for a win, 9 for 2nd, 7 for 3rd. The remaining points to 8th remain as present. This is to further reward winners and podium finishers. (10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 would become 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1)
– Starting fuel loads and tyre selections to be made available to the public before the race.

For 2010:
– Recommend a new qualifying format.
– Radical new points-scoring opportunities (e.g. fastest pit stop).
– Further testing restrictions, to 4 x 4 day single car sessions, plus one single car shakedown.
– Reduce Grand Prix race distances to 250km max, or 1hr 40 mins. (presently 300km or 2 hours)

My thoughts:
I agree completely with the 2009 proposals, of which testing has already been reduced significantly. The points need adjusting and the race data should be available, as it is in MotoGP.
I don’t think we need a new qualifying format, the present one works very well indeed! I also disagree with reducing the race distance and the ‘new points opportunities’. F1 should be about going flat out for a couple of hours, not racing for trick points or becoming a sprint race.

Commerical
For 2009:
– Increase data provision for the media.
– Explore means to more dynamically present F1, to improve engagement with the public.
– Nominated senior team spokesman available during GP.
– Commitment to enhance consumer experience via team and FOTA websites.

For 2010:
– Commitment to enhance viewer experience through TV coverage.

My thoughts:
You can’t disagree with any of this. I would prefer to bring the TV coverage forward to this year but I understand if it’s now too late, although I’m sure some improvements can be filtered in in the latter half of the year. I’d also prefer F1.com to be the focal point, unfortunately Bernie won’t let that happen. I like the opening up of personnel during race, like they do on American coverage of IRL/NASCAR. I also like telling the drivers to show up at an appointed time to meet the fans.

Other Points To Note
FOTA noted several other findings.

1. F1 isn’t broken. The survey results clearly were against the mooted suggestions of splitting GPs into ‘sprint’ and ‘feature’ races, or reverse grids.

2. F1 needs to be consumer-friendly. Only devotees watch a race live outside of their peak viewing times. No shit, Sherlock!

3. Qualifying changes are not urgent. Fans like the meritocracy and don’t want luck to play a part of it. Fans are actually quite smart.

4. Revise the points scoring system. Fans want the winner to be more rewarded than at present. Good idea.

5. Evolution of pitstops and refuelling. It seems fans very much like tyre changes, but don’t really care about refuelling and strategy. This isn’t a surprise as strategies haven’t been explained well in the past, despite the best efforts of James Allen and Ted Kravitz (here at least), and they are quite hard to follow sometimes even for us smart fans. Sometimes they are only hard to follow because they are boring. I like the sound of the 80s, when cars would go full distance but some drivers would choose to stop for tyres and try to catch up the time lost by making full use of their fresh rubber. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

There are further details on these points in the press release which I urge you to read. We’ll shortly hear of the FIA’s own proposals I believe as soon as this coming week. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any convergence.