Reaction: F1 Australian GP 2012

It was an enjoyable first race of the year, though perhaps not as exciting as some people claimed. Though I enjoyed it I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. I am not sure if this was tired grumpiness after 3 hours sleep following Sebring, only to be confronted with ad-ridden dodgy internet feeds. I don’t think so because I watched the BBC recap and didn’t feel hugely different.

The Race

The DRS was used to good effect in Melbourne. Whilst I don’t agree with it being used at every race, it was clear there wouldn’t have been a lot of overtaking here without it. Most passes I saw involved DRS on the front straight or the run between turns 2 and 3. Mind you, turn 3 is traditionally the best passing place on the circuit so perhaps it is harder to tell than is apparent.

There was some great racing in the field. Sebastian Vettel was forced to race rather than drive off imperiously, despite his critics saying he can’t pass he did exactly that.

I like McLaren and both of their drivers so colour me happy they were fast and up front! It was also a really nice change from blue. Albert Park is a quirky circuit and McLaren are always quick there – the question is still open as to the real form on a wide open course as we’ll see at Sepang. I also have a feeling Mark Webber will again make life ‘interesting’ for Sebastian Vettel as he did in 2010. I don’t think we’ll see as much of a McLaren walkover this season as this GP suggested. Even if they do we’ll have a real fight between Jenson and Lewis. We’re in for a fun year.

I was impressed by the pace of Mercedes and I think they are going to have a very good year, the achilles heel seems to be reliability. That could be down to the decision to skip the first test, less time to iron out the bugs. If they can make the car last the distance they will be on the podium often this year and could well score a win or two.

All credit to Fernando Alonso for dragging what is reportedly a dog of a Ferrari to 5th place as if they were still as relatively good to the opposition as they were last year.

Positive Movement

I said it in my pre-race previews here and on the Sidepodcast megamix – the press may be all over Raikkonen, but watch Romain Grosjean this year. What a different driver he is nowadays. Despite being taken out of the race early he showed a lot of people his true talent right the way through last weekend.

Williams! Wow, I’d hoped they would improve from 18th or 20th but I expected something like 12th-14th,  not a solid points run! But then the curse of Maldonado struck and he crashed, on the last lap would you believe it. Senna fared even worse. That doesn’t really matter though – they demonstrated a major improvement and that is very, very promising. Thank you Renault.

Great to see attacking drives from both Sauber guys being rewarded with a deserved double points finish. The car seems upper-midfield in race pace, if not qualifying pace, which is nice to see.

Caterham. I expected more from them than to still be a few tenths off the bottom of the midfield. That said, the signs are that Petrov is already better at dealing with life back here than was Trulli.

Marussia, despite being last they were only lapped twice (including the lap they were gifted back thanks to the Lucky Pack of Dogs) which is a glimmer of an improvement in speed compared to 3+ laps of the last two years. The real improvement is in getting both cars home at the first attempt after doing no pre-season testing, I give them a lot of credit for that. HRT were in the same boat and didn’t even qualify. It was nice to see the stewards actually apply the 107% rule for a change.

Coverage

The BBC coverage of the weekend was excellent. I only have complaints about some action that was cut from the highlights but firstly I am a racing geek who wants to see it all, and secondly cuts were expected to happen. On the whole they showed a creditable amount of the race (and qualifying) for what are highlights shows.

The commentary line-up is already ahead of the terrestrial line-up of the past several years, Ben Edwards proving exactly why he should’ve been the one to pick up the baton from Murray Walker all those years ago. Fair enough he does dumb things down a little bit but that’s entirely due to the audience he is talking to – the casual, non-geek F1 fan. His predecessors did the same thing. What he adds is an extra level of excitement added to the gravitas of a professional play-by-play commentator. I prefer this to the conversational style of Brundle and DC last year. DC himself seems more at ease than I’ve ever heard him, partly I think due to the slightly more clear-cut analyst/colour role, and partly due to this being his 3rd season behind the mic and the growing confidence that brings.

The pre- and post-race segments weren’t long enough but there were never going to be in this format. The real test of how the BBC has changed its’ game in 2012 will be their first live race at the Chinese GP. As for their highlights shows, to attract viewers with this format they needed to produce some of the best quality content they’ve put together yet – so far, they’ve achieved it.

I do not have Sky Sports F1 and haven’t had the opportunity to see very much of it, so it would be unfair of me to comment on it. There is a chance I will find out for myself for the Malaysian GP.

Next Race

This weekend; Malaysian GP, Sepang, KL, Malaysia.

A very different prospect to Albert Park. Long, fast sweepers in high temperatures asking a lot of tyres, chassis, engine and aero performance. Add to this the potential for rain (even thunderstorms) and we have another hard-to-predict weekend!

Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012

The 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring promised much but only partly satisfied our need for answers. If anything it only got me looking forward even more to the coming season!

The Race

The first half of the race felt quite flat and I’m sure that’s as a result of the lack of action at the ultimate sharp end combined with the difficulties in actually trying to watch the race. I remember saying the race needed to improve.

The second half was much better, the coverage improved, and despite some big gaps the races tightened up as reliability struck. Could the repairs be made before the slower chasers made up the deficit? Could the fast delayed cars make up lost ground? Then you had both LMP2 and GT with cars on the same lap even after 11 hours! Aside from the outright win you couldn’t pick any class winner at any stage.

The race as a whole must have been a good one because the 12 hours flew by!

Continue reading “Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012”

A Close End to the 2012 Rolex Daytona 24

What a brilliant result at the Rolex 24 at Daytona!

A popular win in Justin Wilson in his first professional race since his injury last season in IndyCar. I don’t follow Grand-Am racing but I heard on the coverage that Michael Shank Racing are popular winners in the paddock. Wilson and his teammates including NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger and Grand-Am regulars Ozz Negri and John Pew put in solid drives all race long. Flawless.

They weren’t alone, the 2nd-placed car featuring sportscar legends Allan McNish and Lucas Luhr guesting alongside Ryan Dalziel, Alex Popow and Enzo Potolicchio racing for Starworks was equally as solid. It was a credit to everyone that they finished just five seconds behind the winners, a representative margin for such a close battle all race long. These two cars passed and repassed for hours and hours, outracing all of their competition.

The racing between McNish and Allmendinger was fantastic, save for a little bit too much wheel-banging. It was just as fraught as watching Allan vs the Peugeots at Le Mans. You can tell this mattered to him.

The fancied runners at the top Ganassi team fell by the wayside. Partly this was due to being slower on the fast banking, and partly through reliability. It was a real shame when the 01 car had a gearbox problem robbing us of a three-way fight for the lead in the final hour. Despite the problem they still made it home 6th, vital for the championship. You had to feel for the quick SunTrust team retiring after barely an hour. However I didn’t at all mind the favourites dropping back – it allowed the underdogs through!

Whilst I kept an eye on it I didn’t follow GT class as closely as I do at Le Mans or Sebring. It featured a lot of the same drivers and the racing was just as close, yet it didn’t grab me for some reason. I can’t explain why because it should’ve done. Perhaps it was the knowledge the cars were little faster than ALMS GTC or Porsche Supercup which are usually embarrassed by GT2/GTE cars. I was impressed by both Magnus and Brumos teams, especially Magnus because Brumos had led for so many hours. (TRG finished between them but I already knew their class.)

Resurgence

On the whole though I was impressed with the race and the organisation from Grand-Am. It’s a much-criticised series and I think they’ve done a lot to address those criticisms, with better-looking prototype cars and new cars coming into GT (even if the Audis made a complete mess of it).

It was great to see so many drivers and teams guesting in the race who normally race elsewhere. After a while of being demoted almost to national status, the Daytona 24 Hours is certainly regaining its rightful place on the world stage. Just witness the much-improved race coverage both within the US on SPEED and elsewhere from Radio Show Ltd (Radio Le Mans), MotorsTV, Eurosport and others. It was great to have the RLM crew live on site, it made the race so much easier to follow.

Will I follow any more Grand-Am races this season? Probably not, but I’m certainly more open to the idea than I was before so don’t be surprised if I do. It would help if they offered online streaming the way the ALMS does, because although both series have a European TV deal now, I don’t have MotorsTV.

Finally a thanks and a shout to the two places I spent the race aside from Twitter or my bed, and the race wouldn’t be the same without them:
Sidepodcast for the live commenting;
Grab Bag Sports for the 4th annual Blogathon & Mario Kart tourney;

Following the hors d’oeuvres of Dakar and Dubai, Daytona is a brilliant way to kick off the major international racing season.

The next live race is a month from now. A month!! That week you’ll have the pick of the Bathurst 12 Hours and the Daytona 500 and all its support races. In the meantime, you can enjoy Rally Sweden.

I’m off to rest my eyes.

2012 Race Schedules

For the last two seasons I’ve created race schedules for use in Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook and any other compatible diary system. 2012 is no exception and I can now announce the calendars for the year ahead are now, mostly, complete!

IWTMR Motorsport Calendar for May 2012 (click for Large)

If you want to track some of your favourite series and events, just load your selection of racing categories into your calendar so that you can make plans to watch live or set the DVR – and hopefully never miss another race!

Please go to the Calendar page for futher details and updates.

Further Thoughts on BBC and Sky in 2012

The changes to the UK’s F1 TV coverage in 2012 were announced back in August. This week both the BBC and Sky firmed up their plans by announcing which races they have chosen as well as the level of coverage they will make available.

I wrote my initial reaction shortly afterwards – a good deal if you already have Sky, a poor deal for the rest of us. Following these announcements that’s pretty much my position now, the only difference being that now you can watch without the expensive Sports option.

Summary

There are due to be 20 races in 2012. This may change at December’s FIA World Motorsport Council meeting which could rule on Bahrain, Texas and Korea, but for the moment there are 20 races.

BBC

The current sole provider will drop from live coverage of all rounds to live coverage of 10 rounds. Those weekends will feature their usual service as in 2011:

  • live practice on the interactive ‘red button’ channel and website;
  • live qualifying on BBC1/online;
  • live race on BBC1/online;
  • post-race “Forum” on interactive/online;

The other 10 rounds will not be live but will have “extended highlights”. This, I think, is basically a tape-delay with a few edits for time constraints.

– “extended highlights” on BBC1: races in the Far East get a 2-hour show at 2pm and European races get a 90-minute show at 5.30pm;
– no ‘Forum’, no practice or qualifying*;
– the speculation of the race being live on interactive/red button was wrong, that will not be happening;

* I speculate there will be qualifying highlightsat the beginning of these shows, much like Ted Kravitz does before the races now but maybe longer.

I’d feared these highlights could be as little as 30 minutes, so 90 minutes isn’t the end of the world. If they wanted to they could almost fit the whole race in or only chop out short bits to make room for a bit of pre- and post-race. The key here are the words, “if they wanted to”.

I cross fingers they only cut a handful of laps, no more than we lost in the ITV days or if you watch any American racing today – that’s my hope. If they had not been landed with Valencia and Abu Dhabi as live races, this kind of treatment would’ve been ideal for those tedious events.
HOWEVER I mistrust any TV producer/editor and can already picture chunks cut out so they can have another long interview with Christian Horner or Martin Whitmarsh! Those are infuriating enough without having to watch at the expense of cars on track. I can also picture having to rush to YouTube after the coverage to catch a crucial moment an editor had to chop due to time constraints.

The other problem is that if you don’t want to be spoiled you have to avoid Twitter, Facebook, G+, live commenting sites, news websites, news channels, perhaps TV and radio entirely – and all the while you must not speak to anybody you know just in case they tell you.
With a European race finishing at 3pm you can just about manage 2.5 hours I’m sure. With an Eastern race finishing at about 8 or 9am, waiting until 2pm is going to become very tedious and is actually unfeasible I think.
We already face this problem if we sleep through the races in Japan or China or Australia and watch them later so we all know how much of a pain in the arse it is, having to do that for 10 races is not appealing, I don’t like that the choice of whether or not to get up early has been taken from me.

It isn’t ideal for us petrolheads without Sky, not by a long shot, but perhaps okay for those people who just want to plonk on the sofa and see who wins the race. Will that be enough and will the favourable timeslots be good enough to keep the ratings good, or will the lack of live seriously drop the numbers?

(NB: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra will continue with all 20 rounds as per 2011 – radio falls under a separate contract.)

Sky

For those of you with a Sky subscription or who can afford to get one, you’re actually getting a pretty sweet deal out of this. Sky will have all 20 races completely live and uninterrupted.

  • a dedicated “Sky Sports F1 HD” channel for all sessions;
  • live practice;
  • live qualifying;
  • live race;
  • if you subscribe to Sports 1 and 2 or Sky HD this channel is free;
  • SSF1 available online and compatible with Sky Go, the mobile service;
  • they say there will be magazine/analysis shows;

There is also talk of different on-board angles and a data channel, which sounds like the F1 Digital+ of several years ago. In effect if you are a petrolhead this is the channel you are looking for – they are able to do things the BBC can’t do either because they can’t justify it for license fee, or because they have to cross to other progamming. It really does sound great.

The problem? The cost! Here are the options:

  • If you are a Sky Sports subscriber this is not a problem – you pay it already, great for you and I’m very jealous!
  • If you have Sky with HD but not Sports, great you get this channel at no charge, no need to add Sports.
  • If you have Sky in SD it’ll cost you an extra £10.25 per month (£123 per year) for the HD pack. Potentially add a new TV if you don’t have one capable of taking HD signal.
  • If you do not have Sky at all, this is going to sting you. The absolute cheapest way to get this channel is to pay the basic subscription (“Entertainment pack”) of £20pm and add the £10.25pm HD pack. £30.25 per month is £363 per year – and perhaps you’ll need a new TV.
  • Optional extras for other motorsport:  if you add Sky Sports to the above because you want to watch IndyCar on Sky Sports 4, that’ll cost you another £20pm to take you to £50.25pm (they have a lot of sport which pushes up the price). Add another £5pm to take “Entertainment extra pack” which includes Eurosport to see Le Mans, WEC, WTCC, IRC. Add another £10pm for ESPN to see DTM, FIA GT and WRC. And then you’ve got Premier Sports at £7.99 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. You could spend over £70pm if you wanted.

(Technical note – this is not Pay Per View. Sky Box Office with the rented movies and boxing and wrestling, that’s PPV. This here is a pay-monthly subscription.)

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t have the £30pm to spend right now on the basic Sky subscription. Thus I will not be watching every F1 race live in 2012. F1 feels like one of the UK’s national sports alongside football and cricket and rugby. With the recent successes of Hamilton and Button it isn’t as marginal as it used to be so this is very disappointing. Of course those other sports took the money as well, for the most part, and now F1 has done the same.

I tell you if I had the money to subscribe to everything I guarantee I would do it. I could fill up the Sky+ PVR in no time and spend every free hour watching it. As it is I manage to find other ways to watch things. I would prefer to do it properly on a huge shiny TV in HD, I really would.

The only way I could afford this is if I were to give up actually attending races. In 2011 I went to Goodwood (twice), Donington Historic, and Silverstone for the 6 Hours and the FRenault 3.5. I had too much fun at those events to give them up, so I won’t do it. Or I would have to give up golf which would drive me insane, I’m no good at golf but I enjoy the quiet walk, the challenge of the game, and the time away from real life.

Then there’s the problem of being allowed to put up a satellite dish if you live in rented accomodation. I might be able to.. will you?

The other problem many have is an ethical one. Sky is a Murdoch property and with the News of the World scandal, among many other things over the last decade or two, people have perfectly legitimate reasons to not take Sky. It isn’t a position I take, as I make a distinction between the news organisations and the TV platform.

Incidentally, there is not yet any word on whether Virgin Media will include SSF1 within their cable line-up. However I think it safe to say it won’t be on Freeview or Freesat.

Races

Date Race Sky BBC
18-Mar Australia Live Highlights
25-Mar Malaysia Live Highlights
15-Apr China Live Live
22-Apr Bahrain Live Highlights
13-May Spain Live Live
27-May Monaco Live Live
10-Jun Canada Live Highlights
24-Jun Valencia Live Live
08-Jul Britain Live Live
22-Jul Germany Live Highlights
29-Jul Hungary Live Highlights
02-Sep Belgium Live Live
09-Sep Italy Live Highlights
23-Sep Singapore Live Live
07-Oct Japan Live Highlights
14-Oct Korea Live Live
28-Oct India Live Highlights
04-Nov Abu Dhabi Live Live
18-Nov United States Live Highlights
25-Nov Brazil Live Live

Some odd choices. BBC could choose 10 they wanted live and Sky could choose 10 they wanted exclusively, starting with 3 from the BBC and 3 from Sky before alternating picks. Apparently they couldn’t choose 3 consecutive races. Even with those considerations if I were the BBC I’d have tried to get Canada and the US for the evening ratings bonanza!

Conclusion

My position remains mostly unchanged. This is a bad deal for most F1 fans who won’t be able to see all the races. It could seriously harm ratings and popularity in this country. On the other side, great if you can get this stuff because purely in technical terms it could move F1 coverage to another level.

Oh, and I still don’t really understand the sense of entitlement many people think they have. It is just a sport. It doesn’t have a divine right to be on the BBC all the time. It sucks that it won’t be, but sadly that’s commercial life I’m afraid.

Tony Cotman Talk About the 2012 IndyCar

The sanctioning body INDYCAR and their IZOD IndyCar Series are becoming one of the most open championships in the world in terms of fan access, both at the track and in terms of changing the product based on fan feedback, and explaining their thought processes, although clearly the recent fracas over decisions in race control shows there is still a long way to go.

This is a remarkable cultural shift if you think about the introverted nature of all flavours of North American open-wheel racing over the previous 15 years or more. That’s not to say others aren’t open, the ALMS and the BTCC are pretty good at it too, and so it is nice to see a topline open-wheel series following suit.

Noted motorsport bods NZR Consulting are also good at fan availability, just this week their people have been tweeting from Sao Paulo about the build-up of that street venue and the changes made there since 2010, a job tasked to NZR. Their most pubically-visible ‘name’ is Tony Cotman, who works with the IndyCar Series in race control and is also in charge of stewarding the Indy Lights series. He used to perform a similar function with Champ Car and whilst there he oversaw the transition from the then-old Lolas to the new Panoz DP01.

Cotman and NZR are now in charge of overseeing the IndyCar Series transition from the old Dallara IR7 to the new Dallara IndyCar body with “aero kit” add-ons provided by other makers, as well as the change from a sole supplier (Honda) to competition between 3 makes (Honda, Chevy, Lotus), all  under the direction of the INDYCAR ICONIC Committee.

In this short video made publically available via the official IndyCar YouTube channel, Cotman explains the progress they have made to date and lets us know the timescale they are working toward.

I must say I was very sceptical when I first heard this plan which seemed like a letdown over full chassis competition, and it is still disappointing they didn’t take that route, but now I’m very excited to see how this turns out because it is far better than a single-spec series. The new car with engine competition is something really to look forward to, and the added extra of what should hopefully be a variety of aero kits adds an interesting dimension to the mix. Let’s hope those designs don’t converge over the following years to all look the same.

I’ve not asked IndyCar or NZR, but I assume as it on an open channel with a ‘share’ option that I’m allowed to repost the video. Thanks to the @Newman_Haas team for tweeting the original link and do also follow NZR Consulting and IndyCar if you don’t already.