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 H├╝lkenberg 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.

Catching up on some news

Check out Pressdog, MyNameIsIRL and other bloggers (as well as Sarah Fisher) on Trackside with Kevin & Cavin which is a weekly IndyCar radio show in the Indianapolis area and online. Proviso: I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m currently listening to Live Fast Racing podcast 18 which I know is a few weeks old now but also features Bill and Jeff and is really very good indeed.
Lots of chat about IRL, a little about F1, all good.

A busy week in the world F1 in this first week of the off-season. I’d intended to do smaller updates during the week but my accounts studies got in the way so I hope this works as a summary.

Force India
A big reshuffle in progress at the team formerly known as Jordan, with Colin Kolles (the dentist) and Mike Gascoyne (the rottweiler) both leaving at the behest of Vijay Mallya, a guy who makes Flavio Briatore look modest, but I like him. You gotta like a guy who owns a beer company and an airline. Force India will announce a new management structure on Monday.

Probably bigger news is that they have parted ways with Ferrari. Unannounced but expected is a switch to Mercedes engines and gearbox. Some sites suggest they’ll also take McLaren customer chassis. I don’t buy that because this team has been against customer cars for years regardless of what name was above the door.

Driver Update
Toro Rosso will be testing Takuma Sato again this month and it could be that he is being lined up to replace Sebastian Vettel.
Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi will both test for Honda which may lead to Barrichello losing his drive. This has led to suggestions of Rubens Barrichello moving to Toro Rosso. Sebastien Bourdais’ place isn’t necessarily fixed so they could take Sato AND Barrichello.
Nobody seems to be rumouring anything about Sutil’s seat at Force India which I’m sure is still available. I’m pretty sure Fisichella is locked in. Up and coming team (since 1991!) so it’s a seat that may just prove useful to someone.

TMR Rocks
So I rule all and that’s official. I mean what did I say the other day?
Check it out:

I propose a Superlicence for race stewards. I want these people to have had experience officiating F1 Grands Prix, or have performed a similar role in another top line or feeder championship for at least a year. I want there to be a permanent steward who attends every GP and chairs the stewards’ meetings, as Tony Scott-Andrews did.

Aaand what did the FIA announce this week?

The FIA also announced that trainee stewards – nominated by their nation’s governing body and selected by the FIA – will attend five grands prix next season in an observation role. Any national stewards officiating on a Formula One race for the first time must have observed at least one grand prix in this way to obtain their stewards’ super licence. A short CV of all trainee stewards will also be posted on the FIA website. The FIA also confirmed that ex-racers are eligible to obtain their national stewarding licence and graduate to the super licence.

So yeah, listen to me, I’m a pompous F1 fan who knows it all! Yeah. Or…not.

New Deputy
The FIA has appointed Nick Craw as Deputy President for Sport, replacing Marco Piccinini. Craw is the president of ACCUS, the American national sporting representative at the FIA (on behalf of NASCAR, IRL, ALMS, etc). This is a good thing for me because Piccinini is ex-Ferrari so to my mind that removes a layer of perceived bias. And there is again an American that has something to do with F1!

Yet Another Schedule
The FIA has released yet another version of the F1 calendar for ’09. I can’t remember the last time they’ve released so many of them. This time they’ve shunted China to April to fall between Malaysia and Bahrain. Everything at the end of the year moves up 2 weeks to fill in the gap.
There is no news regarding Canada, the last I heard a deal could still be done if the money can be found.

EDIT
I was playing around with Feedburner last night after I posted this. Let me know if it causes any problems as I’m not sure what I’m doing..