Weekend Preview: 04-Jan-09

Welcome to the first in a new series of posts previewing the coming weekend’s racing. Yes, I know it is Saturday and the weekend already – I only thought of this idea this morning!

As you know in 2008 I posted a series of F1 race previews. To save repeating the same stuff before each race (and to shamelessly find a way to create more content) I thought it would be good to expand to cover more races and to write some very short comments about each of them. We’ll see how long this lasts shall we? Hah. The format will probably develop as more races take place per weekend from April. Okay, let’s begin:

Weekend Preview: 3rd & 4th January 2009

Dakar Rally: Today is Stage 1 of the 2009 Dakar, which this year takes place in Argentina and Chile. As usual hundreds of bikes, cars and a few trucks will be tackling the 9500kms over the coming fortnight including some drivers from other disciplines, such as Carlos Sainz (ex-WRC), Robby Gordon (NASCAR) and Ukyo Katayama (ex-F1). Stage 1 runs from Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa de la Pampa.
You can follow rally updates at www.dakar.com including live stage results.
TV coverage is on Eurosport in Europe, on Versus in North America, on Fox Sports Latin America in Central and South America and on ESPN Star Sports across Asia. I’m not sure how much is live and how much is daily highlights, take a look and find out! Other coverage partners can be found here. Unfortunately I can’t get any of the channels it’s on and I don’t want to be downloading updates every day. I miss having Eurosport, I want it back!

Message to IRL IndyCar fans in US/Canada: NOW would be a great time to check if you have the Versus channel. Go and have a look, watch some of their Dakar coverage and report back to: a) me because I’m curious, b) your favourite IRL blogs, and c) the likes of Cavin and Miller. Are they taking an official Dakar feed or a Eurosport feed, or are they providing their own content, commentary, etc? Is it any good?
The Dakar Rally is organised by the same people behind the Tour de France which is probably how this coverage deal came about.

Africa Race: Since the Dakar has moved out of Africa, for the time being at least, an alternative has been set up. It’s about the scale of the early Dakar rallies so there aren’t a huge number of competitors and the TV deals aren’t great (I can’t find where it will be shown). In any case, if you’re interested you can follow it at www.africarace.com and www.africarace-live.com.

That’s about the size of it for this weekend. Thanks for reading and I hope I’ll be able to continue this feature throughout the year. Feel free to include anything I’ve missed in the comments.

If anyone can tell me how to fix the mis-alignment in the footer of my posts please let me know. I was dicking about with the settings and it went out of line, I returned it to what it was and it didn’t fix itself.

This post was written with the aid of a Lemsip as I hate colds – at least I have Mario Kart!


Preview: 2008 Japanese Grand Prix

Preview: 2008 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix

This weekend sees the second visit to the revised Fuji Speedway (owned by Toyota) after many successful years at Suzuka (owned by Honda). I always enjoyed the racing at Suzuka. It was unique for being the only figure-of-8 layout in major motorsport as well as being a demanding circuit for the drivers. This was because it was designed as a test track for Honda in the 1960s by the same guy who did the original Zandvoort (not the current Zandvoort).

F1 visited Fuji twice before, in 1976 and 1977. These races I know very little about except that one of them was held in appallingly wet conditions and that one of them was a title decider between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It might have been the same race because I remember Lauda pulled out of the wet race saying it was too dangerous.

Fast forward to 2007 and the return to a massively redeveloped Fuji for a race held in appallingly wet conditions. Modern safety rules being what they are, the cars circulated behind the Safety Car for the first 19 laps (yes, 19 out of 67, not a typo!), and it was the right decision – the conditions were dreadful with almost zero visibility. If the 70s guys had the same stuff I don’t blame Lauda for stopping in those pre-Safety Car days.

The conditions were such that we didn’t actually see a lot of the circuit redevelopment on TV, there was just too much spray. I hope we’ll get to see it this time so that we can properly criticise it on Sunday. I mean really, ditching Suzuka? What were they thinking?

The distinguishing features of Fuji are that is has a 1.5km main straight, possibly the longest in F1? I’m not sure because next week we go to Shanghai which also has a ridiculously long straight. The rest of Fuji is made up of unremarkable corners with acres of run-off, from what I recall. To be fair to the designers they wanted to stay reasonably close to the original design, and the topography of the land didn’t offer many options. The track is very close to Mount Fuji so it is in a mountainous region. We didn’t see anything of the mountain last year because of the clouds blocking the view, I really hope we get to see the place at its best this year despite my reservations about the circuit layout.

We’ll see the cars back at Suzuka in 2009 as the two circuits have agreed to alternate, just as Hockenheim/Nurburging do in Germany. I hope this doesn’t set a trend where we’ll alternate the entire calendar in future!

The 2008 Japanese Grand Prix gets under way at 13.30 local time which is 05.30am here in the UK. At this time of year I have no idea what DST is doing around the world, I think that makes it 00:30 Eastern in the US but you should check.
Wherever you are * remember it starts on the half hour *.

Qualifying is at 14:00 local, 06:00 UK, and that is on the hour as usual.

F1 News
Bridgestone have added green grooves to all tyres this weekend to promote eco issues. That’ll work, well done boys. It won’t really mean the majority of fans asking “why is there green paint all over the tyres?”, and “isn’t all this extra paint very much eco-unfriendly?”.
The softer compound will continue to be marked with a white groove as well as the green. We can add this to the long list of reasons why I’ll be glad to see slicks again next season!

Just days after I was wistfully remembering the late 90s and the days of the rumoured engine deals among the mid- and back-field teams, Force India is rumoured to be switching from Ferrari to Mercedes engines! I swear I can see the future in my dreams. I AM Isaac off of Heroes, although I blog instead of paint. Painting with words.

Ferrari has announced they will no longer use their ‘traffic light’ pit signalling system for the remainder of the year – meanwhile Honda have erected a different design at their pit boxes in Fuji for use this weekend, I’m not sure if they are testing it in practice or if they intend to use it in the race too.

Blog News
Sorry for the delay in writing this preview, I was shattered yesterday after a long and boring day learning about tax and financial statements – I will attempt to do the Chinese preview on Wednesday unless I’m still doing homework by then!

I ditched the clock thing because it didn’t work well for this site, and I rewrote the bottom panel. I now have flags of my county, nation, country and continent because unlike most people in this country I am actually proud to represent all of those things rather than just one or two.

See you Sunday.

Preview: 2008 Singapore GP

Preview: 2008 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix

This is the inaugural Singapore GP, and also the first ever night race for F1. In order to light the 5km track to make it suitable for F1 cars, high-power lighting has been installed throughout. Some articles are quoting 1500 light projectors providing light which is four times brighter than your usual stadium lights, and equivalent to daylight. Check out the Autosport.com preview gallery of photos taken Wednesday/Thursday as the last details were being added, and you can well believe it.

So there are two bits of good news. First: the drivers WILL be able to see where they are going. Second: The track is actually quite wide and fast in places. This is good, the initial track maps indicated short straights and lots of slow turns. There are lots of slow turns except that now we can see there is enough width to encourage racing, at least in places.

Two problems have cropped up, these are the dusty track surface (which will hopefully rubber in a la Monaco or Melbourne by Sunday morning), and the other is the weather forecast which is suggesting storms. You don’t really want that in a night race!

The drivers, teams, journalists and seemingly everyone involved are apparently still operating on European time so that they are fully alert for the race and all the post-event paraphernalia which occurs (press interviews, team debriefs, etc.). Hamilton says their doctor told them not to acclimatise to the local timezone. They are getting up at lunchtime and going to bed at 3am, which isn’t too far from my normal weekend routine, I don’t know what they are complaining about…

The race gets under way at 8pm local time which just so happens to be 2pm Central European Time, 1pm in the UK, the time all European races start.* Big thanks to Bernie for burning all this extra carbon, running several massive generators lighting this long track, purely for my benefit. I get a nice lie-in. And it’ll look great on the telly.

As the times here are fuckoed, make sure you know when everything is happening. Your best bet is to go to Formula1.com and use the widget in the sidebar where it says ‘Convert to My Local Time’. If your computer clock is set correctly it should work. I say this because qualifying does NOT happen at the usual European time, it is a couple of hours later. I have no idea why this is because that’s 10pm local time, which is nuts.

Annoyingly I have to miss qualifying live as Dad decided to book a tee-off time midway through it, he didn’t know the Qual time had moved. If it rains it is a moot point as we won’t go.. I’ll set the VHS and make sure he’s got the radio turned off. Yes, I still use VHS – digital terrestrial hasn’t got here yet and I can’t afford satellite… I will of course watch the race live.

* bonus fact: if the race is held in Europe but outside of the CET area, it still starts at 2pm CET.

MotoGP – Motegi Japan: The two-wheel circus heads to Motegi. I can’t remember ever seeing an exciting race on the road course at Motegi. If you ever wondered why this is called ‘Twin Ring’, the bikes are on the ‘other ring’ to the oval. I’ll hopefully catch the BBC replay, not sure when it is on yet. I’m not getting up at 4am for bikes!

NASCAR – Kansas: I’m sure some people will watch this, I’m not one of them. I really don’t care.
World Series by Renault – Estoril, Portugal: Europeans stopped mocking the American baseball thing when this Europe-only series was introduced. I’ve never got into this series.
Errr, that’s it. The season is winding down and the busy weekends are becoming few and far between. Thankfully they invented A1GP and GP2 Asia, so no more hibernation!

Speaking of A1GP, the first event was postponed and the second event looks like becoming a non-points race because their equipment isn’t ready yet, so not all teams can take part. This doesn’t look good for A1 while Superleague is solving problems every week.

While I have your attention, you need to do yourself a favour. When you’re done here, click this link. Don’t worry it isn’t a scam, there’s no money involved. It’ll take you to Last.fm. There’s a big play button on the right. Press it. Turn up volume. Listen.

EDIT – Even better, check it live with Jools Holland at YouTube. This was aired live two days ago.

You’re welcome.

See you Sunday.

Preview: 2008 Belgian GP

Race Preview: 2008 ING Grand Prix of Belgium
Spa-Francorchamps, nr. Francorchamps, Belgium
Round 13 of 18

Formula 1 heads to Belgium for the classic circuit at Spa-Francorchamps (or just Spa- its easier). This just-over-7km circuit in the Ardennes hills is famed for the rolling up and down nature of the track, for the driving skill required, and for the rain. The unique microclimate means it can rain at one side of the track and be dry at another – leading to strange calls from the pits if the rain is there and the rest of the place is dry, or vice versa!

The circuit used to be all public roads at 14.9km in length, until it was revised in 1983 to roughly the current length for safety reasons. Unlike other redevelopments, Spa retained it’s character in the new section between Les Combes and Stavelot. Only within the last five years or so has it become a full-time race track with traffic permanently diverted around it, allowing safety upgrades and a complete reprofiling of the last corner, the Bus Stop chicane, so-called because it used to leave the road and rejoin in the shape of the perimeter of a bus stop..

The pit facilities were demolished and rebuilt in time for last year’s event, with the start/finish straight actually becoming straight at long last! It used to be the back of the grid couldn’t see the start lights up front.

If you get a chance to watch a full onboard lap of this place – do so. Hell I’ll even provide the link.
Check this out: Mika vs Michael, Spa, 2000
Michael blocks him and tries to run him into the grass (for which he was widely criticised). This makes Mika mad. Watch him at Eau Rouge next time through, he almost loses it he’s so fast. He tries again next time. Enjoy the lap and the sound of those glorious V10s. I miss those, and I miss Mika fighting Michael.

Ferrari often dominate this race, but unlike other circuits where this happens, nobody minds at Spa because hey, we’re at Spa! Equally, nobody seems to mind only seeing the cars 44 times and having no victory / cooldown lap after the race, the cars are stopped after La Source. A cooldown lap here would take too long for TV. 44 laps of 7km is 308km, which brings us over the 300km per race guidelines. Personally I would like to see it extended it a little now the cars are more reliable than ever before.

My tip for the podium: Raikkonen to find some form and win, Hamilton 2nd, Kubica 3rd.
My tip for the weather: Dry qualifying – Wet race.
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen: 1998 race start with the biggest accident seen in years, luckily the worst injuries were to Irvine’s knee and DC’s pride. This is why the medical car follows them around and had already done so for years. Back in ’98 the teams were allowed one spare car between both drivers. Now they can’t have any which is a crazy rule.

Anyway, enjoy the race and let’s hope for more of the Mika 2000 and less of the DC 1998!

Check http://www.formula1.com to find out when the race starts in your local time zone and for kickass live timing replete with live text comments (Java needed for the timing), essential during those commercial interruptions.