Ten Years Of Too Much Racing

On August 5th, 2018, I reached a milestone:  10 years of blogging!

There have been periods of downtime along the way. On and off, I have been writing words about motor sport for a decade. And soon it’ll be 20 years since I first joined a Formula 1 newsgroup, at age 18 at the end of December 1998, which is where it all began. Now I am 38 and I feel very old.

The Changes Over A Decade

A lot has happened in the last decade. The blog was set up to look at F1, IndyCar, Le Mans and other endurance races, plus whatever else took my fancy.

For one thing the original version was on Blogspot and is still there.

First Blog

In 2008’s Formula 1 season, on the face of it it looks familiar:  the young upstart Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes-powered McLaren racing the Ferraris of defending champion Kimi Räikkönen and his team-mate Felipe Massa. It would be Hamilton’s first title – and Massa who would take it to the last race and win a legion of fans for his sportsmanship in defeat.

There the similarities end. It was the era of multiple manufacturers:  BMW were still with Sauber with Robert Kubica finishing 4th in points (including a race win). Honda and Toyota both still had their own full F1 teams. Fernando Alonso had gone back to the works Renault team after the “spygate” scandal – and this was the year the “crashgate” scandal would unfold. Tyres were grooved and V8 engines screamed and a lot of us complained it wasn’t as good as slick tyres and V10s.

In IndyCar the reset button had just been pressed. “The Split” of the CART/IRL war was over, the two factions had come together for the 2008 season. As it happened late in pre-season with very little time to prepare, the Champ Car teams had to adapt to the IRL cars in less than a month. They looked hopeless at Homestead-Miami as the IRL teams dominated, then just a week later Graham Rahal won at St Petersburg for Newman/Haas, giving hope to those of us who were on the Champ Car side of the fence.

It was a long road to recovery for IndyCar racing after that and it took a lot longer than I think anybody expected. They’re still travelling that road today. It took arguably until 2016 to really make traction. Now though, you have to say that after 10 years the series is in excellent health and has a bright future. The peak of quality was never in question all along, what’s changed is the depth of quality of both drivers and teams is the highest seen in 20 years. In some neat symmetry, Scott Dixon won the 2008 and 2018 titles. Dare I say this year he’s driving better than I’ve ever seen him. And the current cars are cool too, which wasn’t the case in 2008.

In sports car racing, the continual cycle of boom and bust is never far away from throwing in a curve ball.

In Europe we had the Le Mans Series, five races of 1000km with the Le Mans 24 Hours itself being a non-championship race. Audi and Peugeot went toe to toe in LMP1, a healthy field of privateers scoring podium finishes all year long when any of the lead quartet fell off. LMP2 was dominated by the Porsche Spyder which brought LMP1 engineering and reliability to a class previously renowned for cars breaking down.
We still had the glorious GT1s, Corvette C6 vs Aston Martin DBR9 vs Saleen S7-R. And GT2 was the Pro/Am Porsche vs Ferrari class with cars that were much closer to road-relevance than today’s GTs.

There was a defined route from ‘upgraded road car’ to ‘really mega road car on steroids’ to ‘baby prototype’ to ‘fast prototype’. Today we have ‘a prototype that looks like a GT’, then ‘fast prototype’ to ‘even faster really expensive prototype’. It feels like we’ve lost something along the way. I suppose that’s why LMP3 and GT4 now exist.

The good thing is we now have a World Championship – and we kept the European LMS underneath it so we’ve gained a load of racing. We had a great mini-era of LMP1 Hybrid in the WEC which was a joy to watch. The new era though, it all still needs work. Whatever happens to the WEC and LMP1, down at continental level, I’d argue the ELMS should adopt IMSA’s DPi as its top class.

Over in the US, the IMSA American Le Mans Series was at the height of the battle between a nearly equalised Audi LMP1 and Porsche LMP2. It had a strong GT2 field. And yet a rival series in Grand-Am with its own bespoke cars and NASCAR backing. Peaks and troughs in both series led to a merger for 2014. Lessons were learned from the bumpy and rushed IndyCar merger and the new-era IMSA has worked very hard to solve some tricky problems. That 2014 season was itself bumpy. But the recovery is happening very quickly, aided by the DPi concept of upgrading LMP2 cars and tapping into GTE and GT3 resources.

There is still a risk IMSA will take the backward step of having its own rules, Grand-Am style. They should avoid this and work to share platform with the ACO – even if it means running a “dumbed-down” version of the cars. Maybe it would work as a base platform for IMSA and ELMS, then if you want to go to WEC P1 you add a Special Nifty Widget that makes the car faster. (I specialise in these highly technical solutions.)

And then a wildcard. Formula E was launched. Like a cross between A1GP and Scalextric and the Toronto IndyCar track and a good dose of FIA weirdness. I’ve loved it since it started. Not necessarily for the same reasons as everyone else. I think the eco message has a problem when you jet the cars around the world and power them with generators. The tracks need a bit more space. But the racing is fun and frantic, the talent level is top notch and the future of cars is electric so you might as well have a championship for them now. Though I can’t help feeling it should’ve been a touring car or GT series, maybe a silhouette series with a spec chassis underneath and a manufacturers’ bodyshell to make it look like their road cars.

I don’t even have space to talk about the globalisation of LMP3, GT3, GT4 – and the remarkable TCR. All this has made previously national or regional events accessible to others around the world.

I haven’t even touched on MotoGP which year after year is the best racing around.

There’s an obsession with nostalgia in racing. I happen to think we’re in a golden era right now.

The Future

I know in my head what I want the blog to be. The same as it was in 2008 – short pieces of snippets every few days, intermingled with a lengthy weekly or fortnighly column. The problem is finding the time or the motivation in the depths of the season. You’ll have noticed I stopped the latest project back in July when the summer got too hot!

The goal is to get people to pay attention outside their own bubble, be that the F1 bubble, or the IndyCar bubble, or the sportscar bubble, or even the Formula E bubble these days.

I’ve tried various formats of race report, showing points progression and including race video, but few people read race reports, and I’m wary of video now due to copyright rules. I think the future of this site is in personal comment and reflection.

The racing e-calendars for iCal and Google Calendar will continue. They are laborious at times, yet very popular and a focal point of the blog. I even considered flipping it, so the calendars are front and centre and you had to hunt to find the blog posts.

As for the future of racing? We are in interesting times. We’re going back to the future.

IndyCar has shown the way. The nail-biting close finishes are gone. Instead we have cars visibly difficult to drive. They may not set lap records compared to last year’s very-high-downforce kits, but they do allow a difference between nailing the setup and missing it. Between top driver/team and those further back. And reducing the wake so cars can get close.

F1 needs to follow suit. It can find a way to do this while retaining the fastest cars. It also needs to go back to tyres that allow drivers to go flat out in a race. Cruising around to save super-ultra-hyper-soft tyres isn’t good enough and makes a mockery of changing the cars themselves to be faster.

Sports cars among GT racing is in rude health. They just need to be careful not to spend GT3 out of existence. In the prototypes there’s a golden opportunity lying just ahead, in blending LMP1 with DPi. If they get it right… well, special things could happen.

And Formula E will be the first of many series with what we presently call ‘alternative fuels’. Fast-charging electric cars are coming. Longer-range batteries are already here, with no need to swap cars in the 2019 season. Other electric series are coming. And elsewhere, hydrogen cars are coming.

The rest of the motor sport world needs to pay attention. If Governments are banning cars powered by fossil fuels from sale, how long will it be before they ban racing other than anything emission-free? 40 years? 30? 20?

The change over the next five years could be bigger than the whole of the last ten.

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COMMENT: 14 & 15 July 2018 – Toronto IndyCar & New York Formula E

Street racing single seaters.

  • Formula E – New York double-header season finale;
  • IndyCar – Toronto GP;

Between the World Cup and getting out and about at weekends I’ve fallen behind on MotoGP, when there is a clear weekend with not much else happening I’ll catch up.

I also want to get caught up with ITV’s nightly highlights of the Tour de France!

Continue reading “COMMENT: 14 & 15 July 2018 – Toronto IndyCar & New York Formula E”

COMMENT: 9/10 June 2018 Canada, Texas & Switzerland

Some of the races I’ve been watching.

  • IndyCar – DXC Technology 600, Fort Worth, Texas;
  • FE – Zürich ePrix, Switzerland;
  • F1 – Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada;

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 9/10 June 2018 Canada, Texas & Switzerland”

I’m Watching… (28/29 April 2018)

These are some of the things that I’ve been watching.

  • F1: Baku
  • FE: Paris
  • IndyCar: Barber

F1:  Grand Prix of Azerbaijan

Baku, Azerbaijan

Wow, what a dramatic race! I can’t do a blow by recap, seek out the race, seriously.

Close racing through the field, very close combat between the Red Bull drivers which looked like ending in tears and eventually did, different strategies among the front-runners, a driver in the wall (when behind the Safety Car!), a puncture for the leader, the points leader locking up allowing his main rival through, a Force India driver on the podium, and countless recovery drives.

Street racing is a lottery in any category, they punish errors more severely than most tracks. After the car park runoff areas elsewhere this is a welcome change. At Bahrain you go off line and you lose half a second, at Baku if you go the same margin outside the line you hit the wall and are out of the race. Benefits to both approaches: at Bahrain they go can flat out, at Baku they need to be more measured and disciplined.

I thought the racing between Verstappen and Ricciardo was fantastic. It was just on the right side of acceptability, each giving barely a millimetre. They even banged wheels once. Ricciardo eventually made a pass stick, immediately losing it in the pit stops. Even early in the race it looked like they might take each other out, that the team should let the faster driver go. Just when you thought they’d found the limit, Ricciardo ran into the back of Verstappen taking both cars out.
At first I blamed both: Max moved in a braking zone, Daniel went for a closing gap. Watching again now, there is no gap. This one is 80% Ricciardo. I’ll say 20% Verstappen for not letting it go, for moving on the line. The team blamed neither and while Christian Horner looked livid on the Channel 4 post-race show, his comments were measured, saying both knew where the team stood and both should be contrite and apologetic. They were.

That threatened to overshadow everything else. All drivers seemed to adapt to strong wind gusts, struggling more with tyre temperatures. Up front, Vettel had the measure of everyone with Hamilton just 4 seconds back. The midfield was tremendous fun and TV focused on that: a lot of overtaking attempts, cars running out of their usual position, action throughout.

While Bottas got lucky with the timing of the Safety Car caused by the Red Bulls, falling after Vettel and Hamilton pitted but before he’d stopped himself, those two then changed tyres when he did anyway – having learned from the last race in China to take new rubber. Vettel tried to pass him but locked up, looked like Bottas had it sealed. You had to feel sorry for the guy when he got the puncture. He’s shown excellent pace in Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan, could’ve been in the title hunt yet has little to show for it.

Further back, Alonso – the magician – got a car with two punctured right-side tyres to the pits at the opening lap Safety Car, restarted last and passed 4 or 5 other cars (including his team-mate) within a few laps. He was one place behind Charles Leclerc, who raced well, even overtaking some cars in a Sauber. Both drivers helped by DNFs of course, but good nonetheless.

I haven’t even had space to mention Raikkonen vs Ocon (Kimi’s lucky escape), Perez, Sainz, Stroll or Hartley.

As a race track, removing political concerns, Baku is a winner for me.

Result
1st  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 25 points;
2nd  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 18 pts;
3rd  Sergio Perez (Force India) 15 pts;
4th  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 12 pts;
5th  Carlos Sainz (Renault) 10 pts;
6th  Charles Leclerc (Sauber) 8 pts;
7th  Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 6 pts;
8th  Lance Stroll (Williams) 4 pts;
9th  Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) 2 pts;
10th Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) 1 pt;

Just 13 cars finished. You want uncertainty, unreliability and random top tens? Race at Baku. Well done, Baku.

Points
Drivers:
70  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) [+1];
66  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) [-1];
48  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) [+2];
40  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes) [-1];
37  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) [-1];

Alonso 6th after consistent scoring. Verstappen only 8th. Perez jumps from 0 into 9th. Hartley’s 10th gets him on the board, leaving just Grosjean and Sirotkin with no points.

Constructors:
114  Scuderia Ferrari [+1];
110  Mercedes AMG [-1];
55  Red Bull Racing;
36  McLaren Renault;
35  Renault F1;

Force India 6th. Williams get off the board, still last but good pace this race will give them hope.

Next round:  Spanish Grand Prix, May 13th.


Formula E:  Paris ePrix

Paris, France

Points leader Vergne on pole at a track where there is only one slightly sketchy passing spot. An early Safety Car for Ma Qing Hua not getting going off the line, plus contact elsewhere which broke various wings for Tom Blomqvist and Mitch Evans, while Nico Prost decided to keep going with no rear wing for 13 laps until he got the meatball flag.

It got incredibly tense with Vergne, Bird and Lotterer running nose to tail for lap after lap, inches apart, cars sliding! Back in the field there was some passing, the only way to do it was to dive-bomb in that sketchy spot and hope the other guy leaves you space. Daniel Abt was on a mission, starting way down and making pass after pass.

The leaders pitted at half distance, with di Grassi and Buemi staying out a few short laps longer, helping di Grassi to jump Engel. Mortara went even longer, leaving him a way down but with plenty more battery power which he used well to work through the field, until he and JM Lopez made contact. Edo was out on the spot.

Lotterer eventually passed Bird as did di Grassi, but would cause chaos on the last lap in the narrow final section when he ran out of useable energy. Di Grassi got by, Bird was nearly through but they hit which broke his suspension – luckily it was close to the finish line, Bird dragged it to 3rd on 3 wheels.

Result
1st  Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah) 28 pts (win + pole);
2nd  Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt) 19 pts (2nd + FL);
3rd  Sam Bird (DS Virgin) 15 pts;
4th  Maro Engel (Venturi) 12 pts;
5th  Sebastien Buemi (Renault DAMS) 10 pts;
6th  Andre Lotterer (Techeetah) 8 pts;

Rosenqvist would only finish 8th.

Points
Drivers:
147  Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah);
116  Sam Bird (DS Virgin);
86  Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra);
70  Sebastien Buemi (Renault DAMS);
58  Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport Abt) [+3];
56  Daniel Abt (Audi Sport Abt) [-1];

Teams:
185  Techeetah;
134  DS Virgin Racing;
113  Audi Sport ABT [+1];
107  Mahindra Racing [-1];
88  Panasonic Jaguar Racing;

JEV and Techeetah are looking very good indeed. Bird is a threat though, and di Grassi and Audi are coming up fast!

Next round:  Berlin ePrix, Saturday, May 19th.


IndyCar:  Grand Prix of Alabama
(from last week)

Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

A wet IndyCar race on a road course promised much and delivered until a red flag lead to an overnight delay. As I couldn’t record Monday’s segment and couldn’t see a replay on BT Sport, I waited for it to appear on the IndyCar YouTube channel – they upload all of the races in full! So I watched this Friday night.

Sunday

A single-file start helped the field get away cleanly and we had 10 laps of good racing with no trouble. I was surprised, IndyCar doesn’t race in the rain often and this was particularly heavy. There was even overtaking through heavy spray.

Andretti spun, then Jones tagged Kimball into the wall. Safety Car out. Slower cars didn’t kick up spray to clear the water, add a heavier spell of rain, so they lost the track. After 6 SC laps they went green anyway and immediately Power hit the pit wall, out on the spot. Race leader Newgarden nearly did the same and he could see where he was going! Immediate SC before a red flag on lap 19. They tried again 40 minutes later with 3 slow laps behind the Safety Car (during which Rahal spun) after which it was stopped.

Monday

A timed race resuming where they left off yesterday, except everyone was allowed to fill up with fuel and switch to slicks.

Josef Newgarden drove away to a huge lead over Seb Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, in turn miles ahead of the rest. Zach Veach became a bottleneck, struggling on red tyres I think, he slowly sank down the order but had impressed in the wet on Sunday.

Zach Claman de Melo got a 2-lap penalty yesterday but that didn’t deter him from overtaking his way through the field – until Pigot tried to repass him and tagged him sideways, both resumed.

Newgarden pitted first with spent tyres where he’d been pushing on, whereas Bourdais and Dixon stayed out much later aiming to go for one stop versus everyone else’s two. After they came in, remarkably Newgarden’s lead was up to 20 seconds. And then it got fun!

Light rain arrived with 22 minutes to go. At 14 minutes, Newgarden was the first driver to pit for wets. Rain would mess up the one-stoppers if they couldn’t hang on to slicks. Bourdais stayed out lap after lap, it looked like it was working while he was much faster than Newgarden, but the rain intensified and with 7 minutes remaining he said enough, took wets and dropped to 5th.

Result
1st  Josef Newgarden (Penske) 54 points;
2nd  Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) 40 pts;
3rd  James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson) 35 pts;
4th  Robert Wickens (Schmidt Peterson) 32 pts;
5th  Sebastien Bourdais (Coyne) 31 pts;

Points
158  Josef Newgarden (Team Penske / Chevrolet) [+1];
145  Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport / Honda) [-1];
119  Sebastian Bourdais (Dale Coyne / Honda) [+1];
119  Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman / Honda) [-1];
118  James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson / Honda);

Next round:  Indianapolis Grand Prix, Saturday, 12th May.


 

Coming Up

MotoGP at Jerez, WEC season-opener at Spa, IMSA with a welcome return to Mid-Ohio.

It is a Bank Holiday in the UK and I have a weekend of other plans, all weather-dependent. This year I’m trying to get out more at weekends to offset being cooped up in the office all week, especially after being stuck inside during a dismal wet Spring. So I’ll be watching a lot of things delayed this year.

Weekend Preview (28/29 April 2018)

Some of things happening this weekend that I’ll be watching.

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.


Formula E:  Paris ePrix
(Saturday, 2:30pm 5Spike)

Circuit des Invalides, Esplanade des Invalides, Paris, France.
Race starts at 4pm local, 3pm UK.
1.93km (1.2 miles)
Race lap record:  1:02.323
Qualifying record:  1:01.616

Round 8 of a scheduled 12 this year, this is series’ 3rd visit to Paris. The previous winners were Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi.

Jean-Eric Vergne holds an 18 point lead over Sam Bird. Felix Rosenqvist dominated the Rome race until he hit the kerb. All three drivers have 2 wins this season. JEV has finished every race 5th or better, every other driver in the field has at least one non-points finish or DNF.

If Jaguar can get their energy management sorted they are very close to scoring a podium result, maybe even a win. Andre Lotterer seems to be improving at every round. And last season’s champ Lucas di Grassi finally has points on the board, look for him to score well again and move up the standings.

Due to live rugby coverage on Channel 5, this race will air live on 5Spike at 2:30pm and delayed on Channel 5 at 11:40am Sunday.
Due to live snooker and cycling on British Eurosport, this race will air delayed at 4:35pm Saturday on BE1.

Points after 7 races:
Drivers:
119  Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah);
101  Sam Bird (DS Virgin);
82  Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra);
60  Sebastien Buemi (Renault DAMS);
50  Daniel Abt (Audi Sport Abt);

Teams:
152  Techeetah;
118  DS Virgin Racing;
103  Mahindra Racing;
89  Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler;
88  Panasonic Jaguar Racing;


Formula 1:  Azerbaijan GP
(Channel 4 & Sky Sports F1)

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan
Race starts at 1:10pm UK.
6.0km (3.7 miles)
Race lap record:  1:43.441
Qualifying record:  1:40.592

The 3rd F1 GP at Baku, though only the second under this name, moves earlier in the year from June to April. The previous winners were Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo. One race was turgidly dull, one race was fantastic! Let’s hope we get another good one.

This is the track with the ridiculously long and undulating front straight into a 90 degree left-hander, it was almost purpose-designed for Daniel Ricciardo and he made great use of it last year despite being a little down on power versus other teams.

It was of course the setting for Vettel banging wheels with Hamilton before a restart, I’m still astonished he didn’t get more of a penalty for that one.

Points after 3 races:
Drivers:
54  Sebastien Vettel (Ferrari);
45  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes);
40  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes);
37  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull);
30  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari);

Constructors:
85  Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport;
84  Scuderia Ferrari;
55  Aston Martin Red Bull Racing;
28  McLaren F1 Team;
25  Renault Sport F1 Team;


Elsewhere

Other things happening this weekend.

Formula 2 at Baku;
WTCR at the Hungaroring;
BTCC at Donington Park;
British GT at Rockingham;
Pirelli World Challenge at VIR;
ADAC GT at Most;
NASCAR Talledega;
WRC Argentina;
WRX Portugal;

I plan to catch up with WTCR, BTCC and British GT at a later date. Maybe even Formula 2 but I’m about 5 years behind on that.