Long Read: Thoughts on Fernando Alonso entering the Indianapolis 500

Wow.

That’s all I could think when I saw the news. Wow.

This never happens any more! It is a big enough story when a former Formula 1 driver contests the Indianapolis 500 or IndyCar Series. It is a huge story when an active F1 driver competes in another series in the same year. It is incredible that two-time champion Fernando Alonso, widely regarded as one of the best drivers in the world, let alone on the F1 grid, a man many say is ‘owed’ three more championship titles, would choose to do this while still racing in F1.

Crossovers

F1 drivers are supposed to be ‘out of touch corporate machines’ with bland personalities. They aren’t ‘supposed’ to race in anything else, the thinking goes, there are untouchable.

This is why I love crossovers. Through the 1990s and 2000s it was rare to see. It was a big deal when Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon did their ‘Tradin Paint’ car swap and that was a sponsor promotion. Same for Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart.

In the 2010s the trend changed. Kimi Raikkönen tried NASCAR and Rally during a F1 sabbatical, Robert Kubica famously injured himself in a lesser-ranked rally, Kurt Busch raced the Indy 500, Jeff Gordon the Daytona 24 Hours, Nico Hulkenberg won the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an active F1 driver. Now it is common for half the Formula E field to also compete in World Endurance. It seems the restrictions of the last 20 years are melting away.

Triple Crown

Fernando Alonso is a racer. He just wants to win. He also has an appreciation for the sport. He waved the French tricolore to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I thought he might take the start the following year with Porsche. I never thought he’d try Indy.

It is Juan Pablo Montoya I thought would be the next to attempt the Triple Crown, of Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24. He has already won Indy and Monaco, the only still-active driver to have won two legs of the three. He has won the 24 Hours of Daytona three times and the buzz ramped up when he tested a Porsche LMP1 in 2015. Surely he would be the next to attempt it? Perhaps the chase of Alonso will spur him on!

The Triple Crown is an unofficial honour, there are no prizes. It is a mark of talent to take on three specialist disciplines and win. Few even attempt it. The events have been run for decades (Indy 1911, Le Mans 1923, Monaco 1929) yet only Graham Hill has won the Triple Crown. Only seven drivers, including Hill, have even won two of the three – Montoya was the first since the 1970s to get that far.

Some definitions replace Monaco with the World Drivers’ / F1 Championship, but I don’t buy that, you can’t mix events with championships in that way, to my mind.

Boat Anchor

There is context of course. The F1 Honda engine is visibly slower than the competition. At first it seems fine but you only need to watch a long straight to see the hybrid deployment runs out 300 metres before the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. It is like Fernando threw an anchor over the side.

The car doesn’t seem bad, in the twisty bits at Bahrain Alonso was more than able to hold his own against the Toro Rosso and the Renault yet two laps later they were ahead again.

The irony is at Monaco top end power is less relevant. No long straights here. A well-driven lower-powered car is able to hang on at this track. Ask Enrique Bernoldi and David Coulthard. If they can nurse the powertrain home, Monaco may present McLaren-Honda with their best opportunity for points so far this season.

Yet there is nothing to lose. Alonso is not throwing away a potential win. He might at best be throwing away points for 7th place. Fernando Alonso is a championship contender, he does not care about being 7th or 13th.

More likely, he is throwing away the opportunity to drive near the back for half the race before something breaks.

Going to Indy will be much more fun.

Super-Sub

From the team side, they DO care about being 7th or 13th because they badly need those points. The difference in Constructors’ Championship positions is worth millions of dollars. Thankfully they have Jenson Button, a hell of a super-sub. The sticking point – he will not drive before FP1 other than in the simulator. His first real world experience of wide-track 2017 F1 cars will be in free practice in Monaco. Yikes. Don’t be too harsh on him if he hits the wall in practice. Despite how cool the ’17 machines are, I don’t think JB wanted to race this particular car. I can’t say I blame him.

And obviously they have another entry, not that we’ve seen a lot of it. Poor Stoffel Vandoorne. Highly talented, McLaren was meant to be his big break. It could ruin his career. At the time of writing, after Bahrain but before Russia, he’d recorded one finish (2 laps down), one Did Not Finish (after 17 laps), and one Did Not Start. He is owed better.

How Does This Benefit IndyCar?

It cements IndyCar as being back on the map, or more exactly, the Indy 500.

The sport of IndyCar racing was dying a decade ago. ChampCar, itself a rescue of the old CART, folded after the 2007 season. The rival IRL, of which the Indy 500 was part, was propped up by handouts. In 2008 teams and drivers merged into the IRL, rebranded later to what we now call the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The echoes of the poisonous CART/IRL war lingered for years after. It has only been in last 3 or 4 years we’ve seen some real positivity. The poison is now gone. Everyone is looking forward. Growth, momentum, new talent, retained talent, increased viewership, events with date equity and an end to the line of badly-executed street races. The series itself really is on an upswing.

As for the Indy 500, in the early 2000s it was a faded star. Internationally it was nothing. Domestically it was struggling. That’s now changed. The merger and growth in IndyCar has prompted a resurgence in the great race. The 100th Edition last year saw full stands and a buzz like I’ve never seen, the sort of buzz the old timers always said the race used to have. It is now a landmark event, like it always was.

Landmark events draw big name drivers. And now a globally-recognised superstar! This is the biggest news on an international level, for IndyCar, since Nigel Mansell. A big NASCAR star would bring attention in the US and the US alone. A global star like Alonso may have less effect within the US, but it’ll be huge outside it. This is what the Indy 500 needs now.

Juan Pablo Montoya helped get them there. His rejoining the series helped boost the profile massively. To some extent Rubens Barrichello and Takuma Sato also played their roles, but only a little. Getting Fernando Alonso, Formula 1 World Champion and ex-Ferrari F1 driver, now that’s a big one.

IndyCar fans are divided. Some love the attention. Others say the series should worry instead about promoting the other races and promoting internal talent from the ladder series, such as Stefan Wilson, who’s seat Alonso has taken. I agree, they should do these things. But that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to push the profile of the biggest race ever forward. There’s been enough inward consolidation, now is the time to look outward.

North American fans can be fooled into thinking the 500 is as big outside the US as it is inside. This is not true. Most of the world doesn’t give two shits about the Indy 500 any more, hasn’t for a long time. This is gradually changing again. It needed a shock to push it along. It got one.

This isn’t aimed at the domestic audience. This will put this race back where it once was, as one of the pillars of world motor sport, a place where drivers from around the world aspire to race.

And in doing so it might even raise the level of the whole series.

The Right People

The Andretti Curse. Mario raced at Indy for eons and only won once. Michael raced several times, won championships, and is regarded as one of the best to have raced at the venue, but he never won it. And Marco, well his debut was fantastic but he can’t seem to get there either – even though Indy is his forté.

Andretti Autosport therefore is built around winning this damned race. They have four cars for the full season and routinely enter a 5th or 6th at Indy. This is a huge commitment but they’ve been doing it for over a decade either in current name or as Andretti-Green. And it works.

And they are a true team, evolved from the buddy club of Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan who were the teams’ quartet in the mid-2000s. A true collegiate atmosphere where all data is shared, all help one another.

Herta went on to form his own team, a giant-killing one-car entry, which has since merged with Andretti Autosport and together last year it was his car which won the Indy 500. Herta may not have the most famous name, but you never counted him out as a driver, nor owner.

In 2016 all Andretti/Herta cars were fast and ran up front. Only pit fumbles sent some of them a couple of laps down, but those ran race-leading pace afterwards. And at the end the race came down to two team cars running different strategies:  Rossi on a fuel save, Munoz going full power trying to catch him.

AA has won the 500 on four occasions, including two with the current specification of car:  2005, 2007, 2014, 2016. As a car owner, Michael Andretti smashed The Curse to pieces.

NASCAR star Kurt Busch raced for Andretti in 2014 and finished 6th. They may race the same ovals but the difference between NASCAR and IndyCar is huge. This will be a tremendous confidence boost to Alonso, to Zak Brown, and to the Andretti Autosport team. These are the right people.

Alonso’s team-mates will be de facto team leader, 2012 series champion & 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Marco Andretti, whose head has been down for a few years but is a talented driver rebooting his career this season. Former F1 driver Takuma Sato is new to the team, fiendishly fast at the 500 and nearly finished 2nd had he not crashed trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the last lap. Alexander Rossi had enough of standing at the back of F1 garages and went and won the Indy 500 last year. And rookie Jack Harvey drives the Michael Shank Racing car, after finishing 2nd in Indy Lights points for two consecutive years. This is a high calibre squad.

Chances?
Honestly Alonso does have a great chance to win. Realistically I would expect a top ten. Equally I wouldn’t be surprised to see him a lap down or in the wall. For Alonso, a top ten on debut in a new discipline would be a great result, much better than the equivalent placing in Monaco.

The Challenge

200 laps of a 2.5 mile oval at speeds of 240mph on the straights and 200+ through the four turns, with 32 other drivers.

The race can be between 2hrs30mins and 3 hours long. The sun and the crosswinds change the track. The draft (slipstream) is strong in traffic and you need to be able to read it well, an art honed by practice.

And qualifying means running negative rear wing, making the car skittish and nervy and very, very fast. Ranked by a four-lap average based on speed, if there are enough entries you might not even make the race.

Indianapolis is not a high-banked oval such as Daytona. It doesn’t offer multiple lines. The four corners really are four distinct unique corners. You can’t cruise around turning left. You have to drive this course.

Turn 1 follows a blast through the canyon between grandstands and pitlane, you can only see a concrete wall ahead of you, have to turn in before you see the exit and trust the track will be there. Requires commitment.

Turn 2 should be easy as it opens out on to the back straight, but coming off the banking the crosswinds easily send the tail into a spin. Careful, steady hands, no heroics here.

Turn 3 is the opposite of 2, a fast run into a gradually tightening turn.

Turn 4 tightens some more, the sheer speeds dictating a single line. Get off ‘the groove’, the darker rubbered-in track, and you’ll find yourself heading to the outside wall.

This place is fearsome. It must be shown respect at all times.

Don’t be too harsh on him if he hits the wall in practice.

Greatest Spectacle In Racing

That’s what they call it. For the longest while I didn’t believe them. The old cars promoted single-file racing, waiting for pitstops which were often under Safety Car conditions. Familiar? It led some to say it is a ‘road course oval’, ‘like an F1 race’. A big event, a great sight, but not a spectacle. I would always argue 55 cars on the Mulsanne Straight was the greater spectacle.

That changed in 2012 with the Dallara DW12. The drivers now race incredibly hard. There is an art to it. Not just passing for the sake of it, but judging when to go and when to hold back, using the draft, knowing when to go inside to defend. This car makes it all possible. It certainly isn’t single file any more!

The first 150 laps is about positioning and fuel strategy, working the yellows, climbing through the field, tailoring your car to the conditions or to work in traffic or not. The last 20 or 30 laps it all goes haywire, the elbows go out and you fight. Some years it is a fuel mileage race, some years it is a flat out thrash. You have to be ready for anything.

In my opinion the Indy 500 now genuinely is the greatest race on the planet. Here’s why:

2014 Race Finish

A crash near the end caused officials to throw a red flag race suspension. At the restart with 6 laps to go, Helio Castroneves (Penske) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) and team-mate Marco Andretti fight it out. This is real edge-of-your-seat racing. Worth watching on to see the traditional celebration.

2015 Race Finish

Two years ago it was a straight battle between Penske team-mates Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, with two chasing Ganassi drivers Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon on their tails.

2016 Race Finish

And of course last year. This was a nail-biter for very different reasons. The timing of previous stops meant teams were trying to get the cars to last 4 or 5 laps longer than their fuel stint, it was never going to work, so they all started to pit. All except one man. Surely he would come in? Surely he would run out of fuel?

 

Remember, you do not go out and win the Indianapolis 500, you can only do your best to put yourself in position.

The Speedway, she chooses who wins.

What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!

 

2016 Formula 1 Preview – Team By Team

Team By Team

Let’s get straight into it! These are just my general impressions. If you would like a detailed rundown there are plenty of professional journalists offering their own previews!

Mercedes AMG:

My pick for the Constructors’ Championship and again easily so. I’m less sure about the Drivers’ Championship. I will pick Hamilton, though I have a feeling Ferrari might be close enough to challenge that Hamilton and Rosberg will be so busy taking points from one another, Vettel might sneak it. I also wonder if Merc have been complacent – in testing they somewhat arrogantly only really used the Medium tyres. They did though do a LOT of laps, so the car is bulletproof. Ferrari won’t be able to count on silver unreliability.

Scuderia Ferrari:

My hope is they are closer to Mercedes. They seem to be throwing everything at it and I’d like to see a hint of a title challenge. (I’m not as anti-Ferrari as some think, especially since the management of 2000-2004 is gone). Kimi now has a front end he should be able to get on with but Vettel will still outscore him. Seb needs this to prove he can win titles with two teams, Kimi needs to prolong his career. Podiums galore and the odd win through the year.

Williams – Mercedes:

I predict 3rd once again. They will have to be a bit more adventurous. The new car looks exactly like the old one. (As does most of the field!) Over the next few years with Renault restructuring and RBR likely to come forward, Williams are going to have to keep on their toes to stay ahead. I hope in ’16 they show evidence of that else they won’t be 3rd for much longer. Massa and Bottas are solid but not particularly spectacular. Very ‘Williams’, in other words! Hard to see them improving on 3rd, which is less about Williams, because the team is in a no-mans land. As a customer team they’re unlikely to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari, but as the frontline Merc customer team they’re ahead of the lesser-funded Force India and Manor or anyone with a Renault or a Honda. I see many podiums.

Red Bull – TAG Heuer (Renault):

Ought to run like clockwork.. The team reckoned to have the best aerodynamic department in the business (as proven in the V8 era) haven’t lost that touch, but they’re heavily reliant on the fortunes of Renault. Relations with Renault have broken down so much RBR can’t even mention them by name any more! Hence the engine-badging deal. Yet this year with token restrictions lessened, the power units should improve all the time. But Red Bull are no longer the factory Renault team, they are but a customer.. They should still get the top upgrades but will it be enough? At least with Ricciardo and Kvyat, we know the car will be running as fast as it can go. They’ll beat the works Renault team probably quite easily.

Force India – Mercedes:

It’s easy to assume FIF1 were 5th purely down to the Mercedes engine and I don’t argue the efficacy of that engine, but don’t also count out how good the guys at Silverstone are. They do a heck of a lot with (relatively) not very much. There’s a lot of spark and agility in this team, a culture developed way back in the Jordan days I’m heartened to see still exists. My real concern is with the funding and ownership. Sahara is in jail and Mallya has his troubles. I just hope it doesn’t impact the team. If it doesn’t, expect them along with Perez and Hulkenberg to do another excellent job to race against and beat teams with more resources. Their fight will perhaps be against the resurgent McLaren. FIF1 may also be able to score well in the early races to pull a gap over Red Bull, for a while.

McLaren – Honda:

I’m going to put McLaren 6th but really nobody knows where they will be! My guess is once again they’ll start the year slow and work hard to pull themselves up the order as the year goes on. But they won’t start as far back as last year, perhaps they might start in the lower midfield and work their way up. McLaren usually improves through the year, even in their good years. Button and Alonso will no doubt be frustrated, but with LMP1 drives closed off it’s hard to see where else they’d go. Meanwhile, Stoffel Vandoorne waits and Ron’s patience runs ever lower.. As indicated by my positioning I do think they’ll get solidly into he midfield in the points standings.

Renault:

A transitional year for the former Lotus team. Renault bought their team back! It’ll take a while for the organisational changes to shake out, and they had to adapt their car back from Mercedes. Last year’s car was pretty good but the team lacked the money to use it and develop it. Development won’t be a problem this year but with the likelihood of new rules for 2017 it may be better to focus wholesale on next season. Magnussen has a point to prove, to Ron Dennis in particular, while Palmer will want to show he’s there on talent and not just because of his dad. More treading water then, but hopefully we’ll see many points finishes.

Toro Rosso – Ferrari (2015):

The new car looks dynamite, better even than the Red Bull. Unlike the parent team they’ve extracted themselves from Renault but only with year-old Ferraris. This gives them a bit more grunt but no power unit development whatsoever, so I expect them to start strongly and gradually drift backwards through the year as everyone else works on their engines and recovery systems. So their new car had better not break down in the first few races, which represent their best chance to build points while everyone else irons out bugs in their 2016 PUs. Sainz and Verstappen were both mightily impressive last year, expect that to continue and Kvyat to sweat heavily.

Manor – Mercedes:

The installation of Mercs should provide an immediate boost. It all depends on the cars now. Manor should finally be able to race with the established teams on merit, or at least the Saubers and STRs. No more excuses. There’s this inescapable feeling though that the new owner has some other motive, is he looking to sell it for profit? Two rookies is an.. interesting choice and not one I would’ve made. Wehrlein did preseason testing a year ago though and as DTM champion should be a solid hire. Haryanto I know less about, he’s spent 4 years in GP2 and for 3 of them was nowhere. If the drivers and cars are up to it, Manor have the real opportunity to out-score both Sauber and Haas, and to worry the Toro Rossos – maybe even get among Renault and McLaren.

Haas – Ferrari:

The new boys are no fools. They’re a professional outfit in NASCAR and they know how to race. They’re also an engineering-led company, the whole point of the team is to promote their engineering machinery to prospective buyers. They elected to defer their entry by a year to prepare and wow has that paid off, immediately setting representative times in testing. They have had help from Ferrari and Dallara of course, quite a lot of it too. Smart thinking. They will be near the back but they possibly won’t be at the very back all of the time, if they are they won’t be the 3 or 4 seconds behind that were the last new entrants. The bigger time losses will come from operational reasons, look for fluffed pit stops and weird pit stop strategies as the team gets used to the ways of F1. Grosjean and Gutierrez are both good drivers needing to get on with their careers, Romain especially, both with an eye on any potential Ferrari drive that might currently be occupied by a Finn. Will they score in year one? With a bit of help from attrition maybe, otherwise not. But there’s plenty of potential here.

Sauber – Ferrari:

Sadly the Swiss team still seems to have money trouble. A late car and stories of late payments to staff are not good signs at any time let alone when about to embark upon a season. When they revealed their new car for the 2nd test it looked so similar to the ’15 car they tested the week before, I wondered if they’d brought the wrong one. I think it is very likely they’ll be last at several GPs and I have a feeling they’ll be last in the points standings, which would be disastrous for their cash supply. That said, Nasr is a hot talent and Ericsson should bring the car home, but both should be in a better car and I wish Sauber could provide it.

 

2016 Formula 1 Preview

In some ways the 2016 F1 season is for me a sort of season-long referendum. You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been bored. And I’m not alone.

Engines

Not because of the engines. Hybrids are essential for relevance, for technological development and yes, for PR. If anything the hybrid rules aren’t open enough – despite being more advanced than most championships, F1 is currently 2nd to the WEC on both hybrid technology and raceability.

Drivers

Not because of the drivers. The drivers are as good as any set of drivers in history. Not better, not worse. Would I change some? Yes. But ultimately this isn’t like the days of absolute no-hopers, running massively off the pace and/or crashing all the time. Given the opportunity, these drivers would be just as racy and just as exciting as those in any other era. They don’t have that opportunity and probably won’t this year either. Let’s hope they do in 2017. It would be nice if they could say what they think a bit more, but fans have been asking for that for a long time – and actually in the last few months the likes of Alonso, Button and Vettel have been more outspoken.

Teams

I’m a little bored of the teams but they are only playing to the rules of the game.

I’m not even bored by domination. It happens. And dammit I sat through the Ferrari years 2000-2004 so I’ll bloody well sit through this! What I learned in the Ferrari years was to watch the midfield because the midfield is fascinating. Plus any fan who watches sportscar racing should be adept at watching the entire field, the entire story, not just at who is going to win overall. Mercedes or Red Bull or Ferrari running away with it isn’t fun, we’d all like more competition, but ultimately they’ve done the better job and any frustrations should be directed at the other teams for not being as good.

Tyres

I’ve been bored by the tyres. F1 shouldn’t be about conserving tyres. Even 24-hour endurance racing isn’t about conserving tyres these days, they go hell-for-leather the whole way, so why is F1? It would be okay if they were designed to the limit and the drivers were pushing to the edge. But they aren’t. The current F1 tyres are designed to be artificially bad in the hope of improving ‘The Show’. But it doesn’t work. Teams always push the limit, so instead of burning through the tyres and pitting several times, the drivers now cruise to the next stop, well below their own performance and that of the car, to make the tyres last as long as possible and reduce the number of pit stops – this is faster over a race distance. The Bridgestones and Michelins of 10 years ago would run rings around them.

Leadership

I’ve also been bored by the appalling way F1 is being run. Grands Prix in authoritarian dictatorship states. A fundamental lack of marketing from Bernie & FOM, quite the opposite actually when the promoter actively talks the sport down. A terrible financial model which, despite making tens of millions, leaves some teams struggling and circuits making considerable losses even though they have to charge fans hundreds of pounds, euros or dollars just for basic seats.

Oh and DRS, just.. no.

If this carries on, I don’t know how much longer I can keep watching. It would be a tremendously hard wrench to stop watching entirely, but I’m already at the stage where F1 Grands Prix are no longer ‘must-see TV’. Right now I don’t mind whether I miss a race live and watch it later. There are races on the calendar I don’t care if I miss entirely. I never, ever thought I’d get to that stage, let alone contemplate giving up.

Upsides!

Think positively. What has kept me going has been the pure sport. It is still there, if you dig hard enough. The stories. The improvements team to team. The way drivers tackle the races. The new drivers coming through (and sadly the unfortunate talented drivers getting shafted by teams desperate for cash). The differences between teams and cars even if those are ever-shrinking. Despite all the problems, somewhere underneath it all a version of the sport still exists.

2016 is interesting. There’s the very real possibility Mercedes will be challenged by Ferrari. There’s disruption in the midfield among Red Bull, McLaren, Renault (ex-Lotus) which will really mix things up, if not in 1st and 2nd in the race result then certainly from 3rd to 18th.
There are new tyres rules, complicated ones, which should add a variable without affecting things too greatly.
There’s also this weird new qualifying system, I won’t dwell on it but let’s say firstly I’m not (yet) a fan, on paper not at all, but also let’s say we should see it before judging. I’m keeping an open mind.

There are signs things are changing. The sport is finally listening to the fans – for better or for worse. Changes to the cars are coming in 2017 or 2018, they may not be the right changes, it certainly doesn’t look like it, but we’ll find out in due course. At least by then F1 cars ought to be jaw-dropping fast again!

Even Pirelli seems to be getting the message – make better tyres.

TV Deal

The UK has an exciting new TV deal with Channel 4 taking over. I’ll miss the BBC coverage but most of that team has landed at C4 and the number of hours seems about the same as the recent BBC deal, and I’m used to that now. Let’s face it, even hardcore fans don’t need live coverage of 21 races worth of practice sessions. And the highlights give me a chance to do other things in the day before settling in to watch – just as long as I avoid social media (spoilers!). I’m really intrigued to see what C4 can bring to the experience.

Team By Team

My team-by-team preview follows in the next post.

Conclusion

Whilst I agree with the need to go for the hybrid formula, I think it has been done the wrong way, and with the wrong tyres. But the competitiveness side of things should even itself out if the rules remain fairly stable and others catch up, and I hope that’ll show signs of happening this year.

Will 2016 be ‘The Best Year Ever’? No, of course not. But it could be the best year of the 1.6 litre hybrid era, and that’ll be good enough for me.

Quote of the Day: A Classic Piece of Ronspeak

“You’ll notice that we have optimised the lateral optical interface of this building.”
I turned to McLaren’s then PR lady Ellen Kolby, and asked nervously:
“Er, does that mean it has a lot of windows?”

“You’ll notice that we have optimised the lateral optical interface of this building.”
I turned to McLaren’s then PR lady Ellen Kolby, and asked nervously:
“Er, does that mean it has a lot of windows?”

Alan Henry being given a tour of ‘Paragon’, later to be renamed the McLaren Technology Centre, by Ron Dennis in the later phases of construction.

For the last couple of years the respected and long-standing motor sport journalist Alan Henry has been writing blogs for McLaren and they are well worth going back through and reading.

This quote is from “In search of McLaren’s true roots” from August 2014, which runs through the team’s moves from factory to factory before settling in the MTC. It becomes even more interesting if you open up Google Maps and Streetview!

2016 Motorsport Calendars

2016’s calendars are now available!

Each year I produce motorsport calendars for use within Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook and many other apps.

I have now added as many 2016 motorsport dates as I can find and they are available to use!

Just go to:   www.toomuchracing.com/calendar

There are a few notes on my methodology followed by a table showing each racing series:  F1, MotoGP, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA, NASCAR, WTCC, BTCC, DTM and many more. Just click the links on the right hand side of the table.

There are a couple of options, try each to find the one that works the way you want it.

If you subscribed to these feeds in 2015, or before, and have not removed them, you do not need to add them again. Just scroll forwards and the dates will be there. This obviously doesn’t apply if you took it as a download!

Thanks everybody for your continued support of this project. Do keep pointing out errors and omissions. And share with anybody who may be interested!

This Blog

A quick note on the blog:  I apologise for not posting more frequently. The last couple of years have been quite tiring. I keep meaning to return with lots of small posts and observations rather than the occasional long-read. I do miss the long posts as well.

I’m also considering a Facebook page. On Twitter I share or retweet lots of stories I think are interesting or funny and it might be useful to have a place on FB to do the same. Let me know your thoughts.

For F1’s Sake Podcast

I used to listen to ‘Another F1 Podcast’ until they stopped making them. A podcast of frank opinions from a couple of guys on the state of F1, on teams and on how much of a **** Alonso may or may not be.

Now one of the two has moved on to a new monthly podcast along with two new co-hosts. Loose F1 chat in a ‘mates in the pub’ style. I don’t always agree though I do quite a bit and its all good fun – and nice to hear real opinions rather than a by-the-numbers field rundown or the details of what one of the Toro Rosso guys had for breakfast.

A little bit sweary in places, though not as much as in AF1P, so maybe not for the little ones!

It actually started 3 weeks ago, which I knew but then forgot because I’m stupid and can’t remember things.

For F1’s Sake (Soundcloud)

July’s podcast (36 minutes), recorded after the Hungarian GP:

No behind-the-scenes PR going on here, this is just an old-school ‘I found this and wanted to share it’ post. They haven’t paid me for this. Bastards.

[Edit – Updated links]