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.
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.
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.