Driver by Driver – 2018 Formula E Edition

Formula E is growing. As we are about to launch into the 4th season, now with Renault/Nissan, DS/Citroen, Jaguar, Audi, BMW, Porsche and electric car makers such as NIO and Venturi, you can’t ignore it.

Many of these bring their own drivers, employed directly by manufacturers who place them with their partner teams. Some fell off the F1 conveyor belt and seemingly vanished, some made a name in sports cars which can be hard to keep up with, especially if your main focus is elsewhere. A lot of people won’t know their achievements, so who are they?

This is a shameful format theft of Christine’s post on Sidepodcast, where she looked at the line-up exclusively from a Formula 1 perspective, a useful resource, I had no idea so many of them used to test F1 cars for a living! Go read that then come back here. To complement this I’m looking from the other angle: What have these drivers achieved outside F1?

But really, blame Mr C.

Continue reading “Driver by Driver – 2018 Formula E Edition”

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British Grand Prix Heroes

It is the eve of the British Grand Prix.  Who is the best British F1 driver of all time? It is an oft-answered and much debated question, so when I and a load of other bloggers were asked by MoneySupermarket.com to rank our own top 3 and leave a few thoughts on each, I couldn’t turn them down!

I went for Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and John Surtees.

Here are the results along with comments from a whole collection of blogs – and there’s a surprise in there. If you click you’ll go through to their site where there’s a larger version.

British GP Heroes - Moneysupermarket

See, this is how you do it. I get a few content requests every now and then which I often just ignore. This was different, one of the few to approach in plain English, up front about who they are, and with a really good idea – rather than some awful PR-speak asking to ‘supply content’ and wanting me to link to a dodgy-looking casino site. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere.

Allan McNish chats with The Feeder Series

Jon from The Feeder Series has bagged a lengthy interview with the legend that is Allan McNish, two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Pretty good timing since the 2010 edition of the big race is next week and McNish is, as ever, expected to be at the forefront of the Audi attack.

Allan talks about his career to date and also his involvement in the Jim Russell driving school in the US, as well as one of the young drivers he’s starting to look after as he moves into driver development. Fascinating listen, as it always is with McNish.

Check it out RIGHT HERE.

Big props to friend-0f-the-blog Jon for securing the interview, and of course to Allan for giving up half an hour of his time to an up and coming site/podcast in the lead up to the biggest race of the year.

Thursday Thoughts: Borrowing Ideas

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from the intriguingly-named Turkey Machine:

What features or regulations from other racing series would benefit F1, and why?


Sounds like my kind of question! Generally-speaking F1 does a good job, yet there are areas from other series it can learn from.

Openness
F1 is notorious for its secrecy. On the one hand it has been an integral part of the game for many years. On the other, we are in a different era now and fans expect a certain degree of openness, and thankfully some F1 teams and drivers are responding, with Twitter accounts and roadshows and so forth. But what at a GP weekend? BMW had the Pitlane Park, and I think it was Indianapolis that pioneered the pitlane walkabout at an F1 race (it having being commonplace in US racing for years).

Other series are still far better at this than F1. I recognise this is semi-deliberate in order to retain F1’s percieved ‘superiority’ and ‘exclusivity’ compared to other series, yet I feel it can be more open while still remaining top of the pile. How?

Let’s have a pitlane walkabout at EVERY Grand Prix, and on EVERY DAY of that GP. There isn’t a packed race schedule at most events (exceptions I think being Albert Park and Silverstone) so time can be found. You can mandate that teams must leave their garage doors open and unobstructed during the walkabout – because as we already know from past walkabouts, some teams put up screens. Some time before an ALMS race starts they line the cars up on the pit straight and allow the fans to walk up and down the straight, taking photos and meeting team personnel and drivers. I’m not necessarily suggesting going that far, but it could be an option.

Then let’s bring in mandatory driver signing sessions in an area outside Bernie’s security wall, with a fine for those who don’t show. This seems to go down very well in IndyCar and NASCAR. I’ve read reports of murmurings from some drivers that ‘extras like this aren’t part of their job’. If any drivers still feel this way, they need to have their attitude adjusting. They are paid millions in order to show their teams and sponsors off to the paying fans, they should give an hour of their time on a Sunday morning to meet them and let the fans get to know them. I argue that if a fan gets to meet their favourite driver they are more likely to associate themselves with that driver’s sponsor/s, whereas if the driver brushes them off that fan may decide to lessen their support or even drop it completely.

Media
HD TV needs to come in and it needs to happen immediately, from Bahrain onwards. No more testing the systems or whatever they are doing. We’ve been promised it every year for the last three or four and the excuses are wearing thin. IndyCar, NASCAR and even World Touring Car are in HD. Admittedly the other series that have gone HD have close relationships with broadcast partners, and F1’s coverage is produced in-house by an subsidiary of FOM – yet surely FOM makes enough revenues to be able to make this investment. I know, because they’ve blogged and tweeted about it, that the broadcasters are pushing hard to have an HD feed released to them – they can’t show what isn’t there. HD channels are currently ‘upscaling’ the standard feed.

The F1.com website needs improving. It is getting there, yet other series sites have tons of photos and videos available, either free or paid-for. Live timing is reasonably good though there’s room to include more information as some other series do.

Consistency of Rulings
Okay, I know you’d be hard-pressed to find a series anywhere that has consistent decision-making when it comes to things like penalties for blocking or running someone off-track. Wishful thinking. It would be nice if they could keep the decisions consistent, whatever those decisions are.

Finally, I’d make the numbers on the cars bigger. Maybe take up the whole rear-wing endplate like in IndyCar. Have you tried identifying drivers by looking at helmets? It’s not always easy.

TM went on to expand to a further question, let’s see if we can answer that as well:

If you can’t think of any that way, what about vice-versa, i.e. what’s F1 got that would benefit other borefests (sorry, motor racing series) around the world?

Certainly with IndyCar and NASCAR I’d bring in the yellow flag rules – don’t throw a Safety Car out there just because a car slowed down for 10 or 20 seconds and cleared the track immediately. I can see why you would do this on ovals where the speeds are so high and laptimes are 25 seconds – on road courses you definitely shouldn’t be going to a full-course yellow unless there’s a car in a dangerous position. It seems both IRL and NASCAR apply their rules to both types of track rather than making adjustments for each, which is a mistake. On a road course you usually have a bit more time and a bit more leeway to let the incident develop and see if it clears itself.

I wouldn’t necessarily take F1’s safety car procedure though, F1 has never really got the hang of when to deploy the car, or run the wave-by.

The producers of the TV feed for most series could probably learn how to cover a race, certainly a road course race, from the FOM crew. The way F1 races are shot is generally very good these days, this has been one of the biggest improvements F1 has made over the last ten years I think and that’s all down to bringing it in-house, not relying on ‘host broadcasters’ as we used to.

Great question. There’s bound to be plenty of other suggestions, feel free to add them either here or in a blog post of your own.

Thursday Thoughts: Young Drivers

This week’s Thursday Thoughts question comes from RG of The Northern Waffler, who asks:

Which young driver, who is currently not in Formula 1, would you like to see in the series in the next few seasons?

This is a great question. When I’m asked about drivers who should be in F1, the default position is to look straight at GP2 – and if this had been asked three months ago it would have been a case of “well, pick one of these” from Lucas di Grassi, Nico Hülkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi (and he only on the strength of those stand-in drives at Toyota, his GP2 career was not great). Now each of those has been signed, to Virgin, Williams and Sauber respectively! So who’s left?

Frankly the remainder of the GP2 pack hasn’t yet impressed me enough, though I grant you I hadn’t kept up with GP2 very well in 2009. Paster Maldonado is fast and furious yet has apparently calmed down a bit, could he now be ready? What of Jerome D’Ambrosio and Giedo Van Der Garde? I like both of them and I would really like to see them in F1. Romain Grosjean was fantastic in GP2 but hopeless at Renault, does he deserve another shot in a different environment?

This question can’t pass without a nod to the oft-discussed Anthony Davidson and Paul di Resta, the Brits seemingly having lost their deserved F1 opportunities to an era when test drivers were ample and race drives were few. With the situation reversed they seem to have been passed over for drivers behind them on the escalator. The same could be said of Adam Carroll. I’d love to see Adam in a Formula 1 car. I think these are probably too old to be considered ‘young’ drivers now, but they should be there.

I was going to go for Ryan Hunter-Reay. The man is fast on the IndyCar road courses and is the perfect fit for F1 in terms of speed and image, and he should be in a McLaren or a MercedesGP (but not a USF1.. yet). Unfortunately at age 29, for the purposes of this question he is too old (as are some of the other names above).

Then there are the Red Bull proteges Daniel Ricciardo and Jules Bianchi, both are hotly tipped and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t make it to F1 eventually, Brendon Hartley could be another. I think they are a while away yet though and to be fair I don’t know enough about them.

So who do I pick?

After a lot of deliberating I’m going to go for Vitaly Petrov. I’ve been watching him for a while and I think it would be very interesting to see him in a Formula 1 race. He finished 2nd in the GP2 points last year and has scored some wins over the last couple of years, and while he may not be the out-and-out fastest driver around he is a fighter, and I do like to see a fighting racing driver – that’s something that seems to have been missing lately in F1 aside from Hamilton (no I’m not saying he’s as good as Lewis), look at Vettel who is a great lap-time driver yet seems to have an aversion to overtaking anybody. I think Vitaly is your classic underdog and I always love to root for that kind of driver, even if it rarely pays off.

Of course I could be proven wrong when I eventually get around to watching last year’s GP2..

Weekly Question – Foreign Drivers

UOWWBA asks:

Is the prominence of foreign drivers in the league hurting the IRL?

The answer to that depends on which drivers you’re talking about. If you’re referring to the highly successful championship winning drivers Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Cristiano da Matta and all the rest – then clearly you are insane if you think that somehow hurts IndyCar or any other series they’ve run in over the last decade. Joel at IRL-O-Rama wrote a good piece in answer to this same question, and I agree with him entirely.

On the flip side if you’re referring to the ride buyers which propped up the last few years of Champ Car then yeah, it does hurt. Several of those guys had no business being in a top line single-seater. But then you could say the same about the ride buying Americans which propped up the first years of the IRL.

Us hardcore fans of racing don’t give a monkey’s where the drivers come from if they are talented and are able to get a ride in a good team.
What I think the question is driving at is the appeal to the more casual fan. The guys who only watch when someone of their nationality is winning. We have the same in Britain, many more people watch F1, tennis, golf, etc. whenever a Brit is winning or competing for wins.

Those ‘fans’ will never change and that’s a shame because they are missing some great racing and great sport generally. They seem to miss the whole point of Indy-style (and sportscar) racing as opposed to NASCAR – bringing top drivers from around the world and racing them against the best America has to offer to see who’s best. And guess what guys: sometimes the Americans win!

From my limited knowledge of the beginnings of the Indianapolis 500 I seem to remember something about those first races consisting of drivers from everywhere racing cars from all over the place to see which combination was best over a distance. I’ll wager that’s one of many reasons why the 500 became so huge in the first place. Surely as the Speedway enters what it terms the ‘Centennial Era’, that’s the one thing it needs to hold on to?

Let me compare it to our little BTCC. Ten years ago it was at its height with big fields of British drivers alongside the cream of talent from all over Europe choosing to join them and race here. Result: big crowds at the circuits, good TV ratings, sponsorships, all the rest of it.
Nowadays we have smaller fields of British drivers and only one foreign driver, albeit he’s one of the best tintop drivers around. Result: far smaller crowds, relatively low TV ratings, and less sponsorships (and this was before the crunch).
OK the modern cars aren’t as good as those a decade ago and you didn’t have WTCC then, but still the point remains:
BTCC fans not only appreciate the foreign drivers racing here but consider it something to be proud of that some the best talent from across Europe chose to race here instead of DTM or any of the other national series. There really isn’t any reason why IRL fans can’t look at it the same way.

***
Speaking of non-Americans looking for IndyCar rides, check out Dan Clarke’s quotes when he was interviewed by Autosport.com prior to this weekend’s A1GP event.

“I’m still living in Indianapolis, and we’re still gearing up for a season in IndyCar. But if the opportunity arises to do more of these (A1GP) races then I will jump at them, of course. But after this race I will go back to Indianapolis and continue with the negotiations that we’re having there with the teams in IndyCar.”

More on Autosport.com.

Word-Butchering Talent Scouts

I’ve kindly been asked to join a co-operative of bloggers known as the United Open Wheel Word Butchers Association, which has been set up to cross-promote a selection of racing blogs to like-minded people.
After you’ve read this post take yourself over to the UOWWBA site and check out some of my colleagues’ blogs in the sidebar there, you might find some you’ve never seen before. I’d never seen Pit Out before and I’ve gone on to bookmark it (I also added it and Planet-IRL and Motorsports Ramblings to my sidebar). Pit Out is close to what this blog would be like if I could find the time / effort to update it as often.

Part of being with the UOWWBA is to answer a weekly question, in order to get our own individual take on any given burning issue. This week’s question is this:

“You have just been appointed to be the new “talent scout” for the IRL. Your first mission is to bring 5 drivers to the series. These can be former drivers from Indycar or from any other series. Which 5 would you pick and why?”

So here are my picks in no particular order:

1. Paul Tracy.
This might only be for the one season because let’s face it, even if Champ Car had continued Paul would be getting close to the end of his open-wheel career by now. His career should end the way it seems to have ended. He should go out fighting, that’s the Paul Tracy Way. I miss watching him race. I wish we could see him adapt to what he once called ‘those crapwagons’. When ‘unification’ was announced he was one of the first drivers I wanted to watch mix it among the IRL crowd, alongside Wilson, Servia and Power. He needs to be back. Just for one season. He just DOES dammit.

2. A J Allmendinger.
I don’t know much about this guy, but what I do know is that once he stepped up from a midfield team to Forsythe he completely killed the opposition. Then walked away. He shouldn’t be trolling around in back-of-the-field N-word teams. Even if Toyota plus Red Bull shouldn’t be back-of-the-field teams. Just like Toyota and Red Bull in F1, in fact.

3. Sam Hornish Jr.
Because he was getting better at road courses, wasn’t he? In any case we need drivers who are stronger on ovals than on road courses, as much as we need drivers who are stronger on road courses than on ovals. And we need flag-bearers from the ‘old’ IRL just as much we need those from the ‘old’ CART. Hornish is the best of that bunch. And the same applies to Hornish as it does to Allmendinger, vis a vis being in NASCAR.

4. Justin Wilson.
It looks like Justin is out of a ride so I’ll include him here, because he damn well shouldn’t be out of a ride. I hope N/H/L get some more funding and are able to run a second car with him in it. I’m sure he must be ‘first call’ in that instance. Look at his progress on road courses this year. He was one of the few to take it to Bourdais regularly in Champ Car. He dragged a half-assed Minardi around the F1 tracks to positions it should never have been, that car being the only one at the time without power steering.

5a. Robert Doornbos.
It looks like he may have signed for HVM, I’m not sure if that’s an announcement or just a rumour I’ve seen on websites. In any case he’s wasting his time in Superleague Formula. His sporadic F1 appearances showed potential, which he went on to prove in Champ Car before the series collapsed from under him. He was supposed to go into 2008 as a serious title contender against Wilson and Power. In reality he spent the year scratching around making a living in SF, A1GP and GT racing. He needs to be back in a top line open wheel car. I think he’d love ovals.

In case he’s signed already, an alternative no.5:
5b. Alex Lloyd.
He’s British, I’m British, and he’s a proven winner in that he’s the 2007 Indy Lights champ. The Indy Lights champ should always get at least few races in the main series during the following year or two. I know running the Indy 500 itself is a big deal, and if the winner of Lights always wins a prize drive at the 500 then that’s fantastic – but I don’t think they do. He needs a run with somebody who can give him a fair shot even if it is only half a season. Maybe he can run the road courses for Fisher (or a second car?).

For the last twelve months the automatic entry to this list was Dario Franchitti. Thankfully he’s back already!

Thanks again to Kohl for the invite to join the OWWBA.

To everyone else, I promise I *will* get the first of my Top Tens posted next weekend! I’ll probably start with the IndyCar one.