Mike Conway to IndyCar

In a surprise announcement about 24 hours ago, Dreyer & Reinbold announced Mike Conway as their first race driver of 2009. I’m guessing that wording means one or two drivers will be added to the programme, and that one of those is probably Milka Duno. It’ll be interesting to see if she does the full year this time.

I’d just like to say hi to anyone coming over here as a result of Jeff’s kind link at MyNameIsIRL.com. I commented over there about Mike Conway’s race history. MyNameIsIRL.com has been the source of most of my visitors for some time now, so thanks for coming!

Mike Conway is a fast driver who doesn’t seem to pull a decent year together. He’s one of those guys who you always think it’ll only be a matter of time before he does pull a good year together. A bit like Vitor Meira, he runs quickly but always seems to have a backmarker take him out or a little bit of mechanicals go wrong at just the wrong time. There’s never a right time, but mid-race when you’re running in the top three or four is particularly galling.

I commented on his test with Panther at the time and noted how that story seemed to come from nowhere – and this new announcement certainly did as well.
I wrote at the time:

Conway won a race at the Monte Carlo round of the GP2 Series, supporting the Monaco GP, and currently sits 11th in points. Not stellar, but respectable given the competitiveness of the midfield in GP2, and a win at Monaco is nothing to be disregarded. I saw that race and he was dominant, it was not a fluke.

Since then he put in some good performances but still only wound up 12th in points. Given his speed this is a bizarre finishing position to find himself and I struggle to explain it because he was a top 5 driver all season. Okay so his team did fade a little toward the end of the year, but not THAT badly!

I also noted how only autosport.com had the story. Clearly the ‘name’ US journos we all know and love (Miller, Cavin) must have known about the test – the guy was fastest – but I assume they didn’t take the prospect of him driving in 2009 too seriously. I didn’t either, I expected him to go for a full GP2 title assault with a top team!

I wish him well for 2009, it’ll be fascinating to see how he adapts. I have a feeling he’ll turn out to be a good oval racer but it might take him most of the year to get into it.

Advertisements

Launch Season: Renault R29

Renault R29

As mentioned in my previous post, the second launch in the Portimao pitlane on Monday was the colourful Renault R29.

Sporting a livery not unlike the Spanish flag (hmmm.. wonder why..!), noticeably larger branding from ING and new sponsorship from Elf’s sister (parent?) company Total, the 2009 Renault is certainly eye-catching. Last year’s livery design was a bit of a mish mash and didn’t really stick out, so although I’m not keen on these colours, at least they are distinctive!

The most noticeable feature of the car itself is the very wide nose, even wider than the widest seen so far on the Williams, yet the Renault version is much more blunt, more of a wedge-shape. Is this to punch a hole in the air? Is this to stow more ballast in the nose to counteract the weight of the KERS at the back? We’re not really sure at this stage but it is certainly a departure from their ultra-narrow noses of three and four years ago.

The front wing is relatively basic compared to the opposition, but you can expect developments before Melbourne. Remember that the front wing flaps are now adjustable by the driver, but only twice per lap. It seems Renault and Toyota have preferred to make this area uncomplicated aerodynamically for the time being.

Here is a launch pic:

This is a head-on view of the car in testing later on Monday, it really shows both the extent of the nose design and also just how far the new front wing regulations make the endplates stick out. There is a lot of potential for damaged wings this season, and you can imagine it’ll take a race or two for the guys to get used to how close they can race – they don’t run wheel-to-wheel in testing.

If I have time tomorrow I’ll post something on the BMW launched today, but I’ve a lot of college homework to get done first. I really shouldn’t have spent so long tonight watching Obama’s parade on the BBC News website stream!

By the way: Dreyer & Reinbold signing Mike Conway – excellent move for all concerned. My only regret is that they don’t appear to be replacing Milka Duno, instead Mike will take the car vacated by Buddy Rice. Let me tell you now, a Rice/Conway combination would be a great driver line-up. Don’t let his 12th place in ’08 GP2 points fool you into thinking he’s midfield, Conway is a good driver, he’s won in GP2 at Monaco and in F3 at Macau. He can push, he can overtake.

Launch Season: Williams FW31

Williams-Toyota FW31

AT&T WilliamsF1 launched their new FW31-Toyota today in the pitlane at the Portimao circuit in Portugal in a somewhat underwhelming and understated ceremony. I guess the dull and dreary weather conditions didn’t help matters, yet compare it to the Renault one held just a few yards up the road very shortly afterwards, which saw more team personnel, more media, and much more colour – although when you see the colours chosen you may wonder if this is such a good thing.

To be honest though, the big glitzy launch never suited this down-to-earth team who much prefer to get on with the business of testing and racing. I like that. Full disclosure here: Williams are my favourite team and have been since I was a kid in the late ’80s, watching Nigel Mansell do his stuff. It hurts to see this former championship team near the back of the field simply because they fell out with BMW and couldn’t hook up with another manufacturer (except in a customer deal).

Still, the launch pics do look a little… well.. pathetic. It just doesn’t look professional. Sorry guys.

This car was launched in an interim test livery which is nearly identical to the one used this time last year, the only real differences being the names on the car. Despite losing some major Iceland-based backing after that economy tanked, as well as Lenovo (which most of us know as Hewlett Packard) and the Petrobras oil company of Brazil, the team insists it is on a solid financial footing for the next two years at least, and has secured increased support from Philips. The Dutch electronics giant previously used only its’ shavers section to sponsor the team, this has now increased to cover their whole ‘Consumer Lifestyle’ division. Williams now feature the Philips logo more prominently on the sidepods and rear wing. Other partners have stepped up their involvement too.

You can read the full announcement here.

I can’t find a shot of the FW31 taken from the same angle as the Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren photos I’ve posted, which is annoying because I was going for the ‘comparison’ thing. Thankfully F1Fanatic.co.uk has done a much better job of the side-by-side comparisons!

As a fan of Williams I am slightly concerned that on the face of it this looks like an enhanced 2008 car with new-style wings, whereas the likes of McLaren and Ferrari seem to be developing in a new direction with ultra-tightly packaged rear ends. This car isn’t so tightly packaged. It is much more so than their ’08 car, but not to the extent of the leading teams. I wonder if this is a result of Williams locking their ’08 car and switching to the ’09 car early on.

The one thing I believe Williams as as an advantage is its KERS system, as the team are believed to be the only one using a mechanically-based flywheel system. This is said to already be capable of exceeding the levels allowed in the regulations. Other teams are developing chemical systems which are more expensive, heavier and with a lower potential development limit. F1 teams are not chemists, after all. There is also the matter of disposing of the batteries and flying them around the world.

Williams say they may not run KERS until the aero and tyre development is more complete, as these are each worth seconds of lap time – KERS is only worth a few tenths of seconds. It is the pragmatic approach but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to hit the ground running and have that few tenths anyway…

Launch Season: McLaren MP4-24

McLaren-Mercedes MP4-24
The 2009 McLaren was unveiled at the Woking factory earlier today, along with the announcement that Ron Dennis was moving out of his F1 role to concentrate on McLaren’s ever growing portfolio in other areas.

The McLaren group of companies is active in electronics, engineering and is currently designing and building it’s own road car, as well as many other things which I’m not quite sure about…

Martin Whitmarsh, Ron’s long-time Lieutenant, will take over the day-to-day running of the race team as well as being the Top Dog at the racetrack. Dennis will remain as Chief Exec and will still oversee the general running of the F1 operation.
This has been coming for a while and was maybe due a 12-18 months ago, but the whole Stepneygate affair seemed to galvanise Ron into staying longer than maybe he’d originally planned. Still, it wasn’t expected that he’d announce it at the ’09 car launch.

The car itself looks absolutely gorgeous, save for the stupid-ass rear wing. On the other hand, now that we’re seeing true designs the front wings are growing on me, and they are sure to become further refined before we reach Melbourne. The rear wings definitely do need more work. The MP4-24 overall though looks absolutely fantastic in this colour-scheme without all of the aerodynamic and cooling devices on the main bodywork. This is the third car which looks better than the ’08 cars, discounting the main wings, so I’m very quickly becoming a fan of this particular new regulation!

By the way, is anyone else absolutely loving the return of slick tyres? They look brilliant on these cars. Racing cars should always run on slick tyres except when it is raining.

Here’s a pic from McLaren.com:

This chassis is actually the second ’24 constructed, the first car is already at the Algarve circuit in Portimao for a shakedown on Saturday, where McLaren have booked an exclusive test day. Other teams will join McLaren at the same venue next week. Check the news sites for on-track photos!


Previous launches (now with photos):

Toyota
Ferrari

I will return on Sunday. I’m thinking of doing something on British coverage of motorsport now that some announcements are coming through, although I may hold it for a while. In the meantime it looks like A1GP is falling to pieces so that could be an interesting talking point. The Furious Wedge is keeping tabs on things and I tend to agree with his assessments when it comes to A1GP.
(I’m developing a habit of ending my blog posts on a tangent, maybe I should reign that in a bit..)

Weekend Preview: 18-Jan-09

Weekend Preview: 17th & 18th January 2009

Two posts in one day! I think that’s the first time I’ve done that.. On to this weekend’s preview, which is pretty light but I decided to go ahead and write it just for the hell of it. Look out for next week’s post which will be much more interesting.

Dakar Rally
The 2009 Dakar enters its final stages and concludes on Sunday. Shock today as the runaway leader crashed out! Who’s going to win the first Dakar outside of Africa?

Andros Trophy (Rnd 5 of 7)
Isola 2000 / Alpes-Martimes, France

Slip sliding away.

New Zealand V8 Supercar (Rnd 5 of 7)
Teretonga, New Zealand

Yeah I really know nothing about this series..

Blog Notes
– These listings primarily come from Autosport magazine, so thanks to them for compiling the original list. I will supplement this with info from other sources when we get nearer the time.

– I’ve decided to not annotate some listings for the sake of brevity and not at all to disguise my lack of knowledge in some areas.

– I have a new email address for the blog: toomuchracing at gmail dot com
I thought it best to split blog traffic out of my main personal account. Actually it is registered with the UK version ‘googlemail.com’ but ‘gmail.com’ also reaches me. Our version has a different name due to a copyright dispute. Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow when I’ll be hoping McLaren release some decent photos of the new car!

Launch Season: Toyota TF109

Toyota TF109

Today the 2009 Toyota F1 car was unveiled in a special ‘virtual launch’ online. This means the press have only seen what we’ve seen, they’ve not seen it ‘in the flesh’.

The car looks somewhat different to previous Toyota F1 cars, which always seemed a little bulkier than the competition. It has a higher and shorter nosecone section than both previous cars and those of other teams. I hope they’ve tested it and it won’t pierce sidepods of other cars in a crash.. It looks like a much improved car on the previous efforts, but we really can’t tell too much yet as Toyota have only released a small selection of photos.

***
EDIT – here’s a pic:

***

Motorsport.com and Autosport.com have the pics – although they are identical on all sites.

Unfortunately the recent trend among all teams is to ban photographers from these events in favour of a strictly controlled PR environment where they supply studio shots of the cars, where journalists are only allowed to ask banal questions and they only receive banal answers. This is the reason you will not find any team or driver quotes from the launches on this blog. There isn’t any point, you know what they are going to say before you read it. How things have changed since the late 90s! No dry ice and elaborate presentations these days.


Tomorrow sees the launch of the new McLaren, with Williams and Renault both launching on Monday, then BMW on Tuesday. This is followed immediately by the first ‘group test’ of the season, to be held at the new Portimao circuit in the Algarve, Portugal (although it seems BMW will be at Valencia). The F1 press will get some good photos next week. I really must investigate the rights and wrongs of posting other people’s photos here..

Launch Season: Ferrari F60 (w/video)

Ferrari F60
Today saw the first official new car of the 2009 Launch Season, which in the current economy is a little muted compared to normal. Even so, this year has the excitement of the new rules changing the look of the cars, making it much more interesting than any January/February for several years!

The first car to be unveiled was the Ferrari F60, the team breaking with recent naming tradition to mark the occasion of their 60th season of competition within Formula One.

Interestingly the car looks much like the F2008 but with the aero devices chopped off, the ugly new wings fitted, and the whole thing generally shrinkwrapped a bit. I’m pleasantly surprised because I was expecting something as ugly as the BMW test hack that has been running around since autumn.

The new rules make for a much cleaner car along the chassis, and you can really see how tightly packaged the rear bodywork is. (insert joke about team PR girl here) Still, that doesn’t mean the extended front wings and compressed rear wings are any easier to look at.

***
EDIT – here’s a pic from the official Ferrari website www.ferrariworld.com:


***

Here is an onboard from today’s installation lap at Mugello:

YouTube link found on the DigitalSpy F1 Broadcasting forum (posted by Fergie1).

For official videos and photos go to: http://f60.ferrariworld.com/ Also check out the galleries at the usual suspects.

Other Cars
Expect the remaining teams to launch their cars in this order:

Jan 15 – Toyota
Jan 16 – McLaren
Jan 19 – Renault & Williams
Jan 20 – BMW Sauber
Feb 6 – Red Bull
March – Toro Rosso & Force India
Will they make it?? – The Team Formerly Known As Honda

Entry List
In other news, the FIA has released the official entry list as it presently stands:

1. L.Hamilton – Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
2. H.Kovalainen – Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
3. K.Raikkonen – Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
4. F.Massa – Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
5. R.Kubica – BMW Sauber F1 Team
6. N.Heidfeld – BMW Sauber F1 Team
7. F.Alonso – ING Renault F1 Team
8. N.Piquet – ING Renault F1 Team
9. J.Trulli – Panasonic Toyota Racing
10. T.Glock – Panasonic Toyota Racing
11. S.Buemi – Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
12. ?? TBA ?? – Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
14. M.Webber – Red Bull Racing Renault
15. S.Vettel – Red Bull Racing Renault
16. N.Rosberg – AT&T Williams Toyota
17. K.Nakajima – AT&T Williams Toyota
18. ?? TBA ?? – Honda Racing F1 *
19. ?? TBA ?? – Honda Racing F1 *
20. A.Sutil – Force India F1 Mercedes
21. G.Fisichella – Force India F1 Mercedes

* To quote the FIA:

The Honda Motor Company announced their withdrawal from Formula One on December 5th, 2008. The Honda Racing team has not withdrawn its entry from the 2009 Formula One World Championship. The FIA understands the team is now for sale.

Car numbers are assigned by Driver’s Champion and team-mate first, followed by teams in Constructors’ Championship order, excluding #13 because these guys are superstitious!

Blog Note: I’ve ditched my planned entry about the FIA / FOTA goings on of last week because I got bored of it, as well as the entry about the Autosport International summary because you can find all that on Autosport.com. I should be back on Thursday for the Toyota launch!