Formula One Could Learn From The BTCC

Yet again we have been given a stark warning of the grave health that Formula One is in with news that we could be left with just SEVEN teams for 2015 as Marussia, Caterham, Sauber and Lotus all struggle to get enough finance to see themselves over to next year. Gene Haas’ F1 team will not be ready until 2016, whilst the Stefan Grand Prix team entry has gone eerily quiet.

Contrast that to the British Touring Car Championship. This is a race series in the form of its life, with over 30 entries per race meeting coupled with record crowd numbers. The BTCC is fast becoming the racing format of choice for your average British motorsport fan. And there are a number of factors for this.

Firstly, the management of the BTCC is much better than the often chaotic mess we’re served up with by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone. Alan Gow is a racing man. He knows what will put bums on seats with the BTCC, and there is no way he is in it for the money. You cannot say the same of Ecclestone or the FIA, with those two combined making billions of pounds at the expense of F1’s health. Sadly, that money doesn’t trickle down to Formula One teams.

Prior to the 2014 season, the FIA actually increased the entry fee from $10m to $40m (according to the Guardian). Don’t adjust your screen. You read that right. At a time when the Power Units brought in for 2014 cost upwards of 20% more than the V8s of 2013, that is as baffling as employing George Michael as your chauffeur. Another baffling decision was the decision not to award the last placed Constructor any prize money at all. Who on earth does that benefit in the long run? The sad fact is that they are not interested in whether Formula One prospers. They only care about their wallet.

The same can be said of Ecclestone. It’s all well and good securing these lucrative new deals in all the glitzy and glamourous locations such as Abu Dhabi and Singapore, but what’s the point if they continue to line the pockets of one man instead of getting to the bread and butter of the Formula One paddock?

Some have suggested running three car teams. But that would have a similar effect on F1 as dynamite would on a small house. Who would want to see a race where only one Formula One team made the podium, and where only four teams score points? The only small team left in F1 were all of the above scenarios to come true, Force India, would stand no chance at all post-Silverstone. Where would the interest be? Where would the unpredictability (That despite Mercedes’ dominance, we do still have) be? Do we want that for F1?

Contrast that with the BTCC again. Twice in the last 15 years the organisers have introduced cost-cutting measures, with the Super Touring era being brought to an end in 2000, when they realised it was becoming unsustainable. After a couple of years the BTCC was almost as exciting as before, and the sport’s popularity went from strength to strength as the unpredictability grew and grew. Again in 2010, they brought in the cheaper ‘Next Generation Touring Car’, and the results speak for themselves. The BTCC is as popular as ever, with fans being able to go to watch for a not extortionate amount of money as more and more drivers enter. The accessibility for drivers and fans alike is magnificent.

The hierarchy have propelled the BTCC to what it is today by putting the fans first. And it’s about time Formula One did likewise.


Enough is enough

The Buxton Blog

Sergio Canamasas c/o GP2 Media Service Sergio Canamasas
c/o GP2 Media Service

Motorsport is dangerous. These words are printed on the back of every race ticket. They are written on every credential I’ve ever held as a journalist and broadcaster.

The possibility of a large, potentially life threatening accident is an ever present reality in motor racing. Perhaps that’s what gives the sport its edge. Perhaps that’s what makes these racers so heroic. Perhaps that’s why some people watch.

Every weekend I arrive at the track and go into the commentary box knowing that at any point any one of these brilliantly talented men and women, whose stories and racing exploits it is my honour to narrate, may be taken from us. But because of the actions of one man, that possibility becomes ever more real. That fear of the unlikely becomes increasingly likely. The concept of “if” is replaced by the knowledge of “when.”


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F1 – Boo Boys Need To Get Some Respect

The Italian Grand Prix passed off with little in the way of childish incident between the two major title protagonists, either on or off the track. It was your typical Italian Grand Prix, full of high-speed shenanigans and action through the field. You would think then that the fans would all go home happy, contented with what they had seen and not harbour any bad feelings from the hangover of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Sadly, you’d be wrong.

For reasons known only to themselves, a large number decided to boo Nico Rosberg again. This is much more baffling than in Belgium, where it was possible to understand the angst towards the German from fans, who had no doubt been expecting to see a battle between the two drivers in a class of their own this year. Rightly or wrongly they blamed Rosberg for cutting that battle short. Some believed it to have been sinister, whereas knowledgeable race fans have quickly forgiven and forgotten for what was little more than an error of judgement.

Some of the idiots who made themselves heard really don’t know what they’re talking about. They might go to the races, but really, all they see is cars going round a circuit with little idea of what is actually unfolding before their eyes. Which makes the booing at the Italian Grand Prix more lamentable.

What some people fail to realise is that whether or not you disagree with someone’s actions on the circuit, these drivers risk their lives so that you can have a fun fay out watching some nice cars go fast. So to boo one of them for little reason at all, as was the case with the Italian Grand Prix, is very poor indeed. It does absolutely nothing constructive, and has failed to really ruffle the target. So all round, it’s about as useful as trying to get from Cornwall to America via a donkey.

It comes to something when the driver whom Nico wronged at Spa has spoken against them. Lewis Hamilton deserves a lot of credit for asking the boo boys to wind it in, whilst another driver in Jenson Button has also hit out at them. It doesn’t look good.

I’m all for the paying public having a right to voice an opinion, but it has to stay respectful. That is what sets motorsport fans aside from any other sports fans. That is what’s unique about motorsports fans. Everyone should have some respect for some of the most skilled men on earth. If you could do better, then you have more right to boo. Not that any of the hecklers.

So, let’s keep this unique feature running and get on with it.

Mercedes Are Missing Brawn’s Brain

The fallout from the Mercedes meltdown at Spa has continued all week and culminated in Nico Rosberg apologising via social media for his part in the melee. I await Lewis Hamilton’s apology for his conduct in the interview tat has led it to come to this, although I am very likely to be disappointed.

As the Brackley-based soap opera has played out, I like a small number of people in the F1 community have began wonder how much a certain Ross Brawn, who left Mercedes at the end of last year, would have been able to stop this mess becoming what it is today.

Brawn is a man who is no stranger to dealing with the sharp end of Formula One, having done so at Brawn, Benetton and Ferrari. That career has seen him oversee a staggering eight World Drivers’ Championships and a further eight World Constructors’ Championships. A man qualified to deal with the situations that Mercedes currently find themselves in, even if like the current Mercedes management he and his decisions have come under intense scrutiny in the past.

Take the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. He and Jean Todt instructed Rubens Barrichello to move over and allow Michael Schumacher win the race, something the Brazilian eventually did. Brawn’s expert management ensured that whilst there was still controversy over the team order, neither Barrichello nor Michael Schumacher engaged in any sort of public spat, clash of opinion or any real dissent. Schumacher even showed gratitude, and whilst Rubens was visibly angry he remained in a calm state. It’s the same with team orders at Malaysia last year, when a clearly faster Rosberg obeyed them to stay behind Lewis whilst Sebastian Vettel caused a stir by ignoring them, something that again was badly mismanaged.

Hell, Brawn even managed to Schumacher to co-operate with Eddie Irvine in 1999.

What has unfurled over the past two races has been something of a disaster for Paddy Lowe, Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, the current top brass at the Silver Arrows. Mercedes, despite being the runaway leaders in both Championships, are now floundering.

Brawn left Mercedes in 2013, only officially retiring from F1 earlier this year. That suggests it wasn’t solely his decision to leave in the first place. If my instincts are correct, then this was extremely foolish.

Under the management of Brawn, Nico Rosberg would not have attempted to pass Lewis in the clumsy manner he did. Lewis would probably have obeyed the team orders at Hungary and he certainly would not have potentially leaked details of team meeting whilst making those absolutely pathetic, attention-seeking comments claiming Rosberg ‘basically admitted to doing it on purpose’.

Wolff has been an excellent link between the media and Mercedes and has in the main managed to halt a lot of driver tension with his down-the-middle answers at media briefings and in interviews. He expertly handled the team orders saga at Hungary when dealing with the media, who made less fuss than I expected. I put that down to Wolff, who did not choose sides.

So I was surprised when he did publicly blame Rosberg. I am aware that Lauda did too, but let’s be honest, Hamilton has been the apple of Lauda’s eye dating back to the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix, when he called the (Correct) decision to impose a time penalty on Hamilton for overtaking after cutting the final chicane ‘The worst in the history of F1’. Wolff, until Spa, had not put a foot wrong when dealing with the media, but his comments about Nico being directly at fault were poorly judged, even if they were correct. It is very difficult to imagine Brawn acting with such recklessness.

It is my belief that Brawn would have been able to put out the pan fire relatively quickly after the race, whereas Wolff, Lauda and to a lesser extent Lowe have allowed the pan fire to engulf the kitchen. Despite Rosberg’s apology and punishment, this fire has began to burn out of control.

Lauda and Wolff have failed to learn from Brawn and they have suffered the consequences. Their mis-management has caused this to explode.

The Fire Brigade are too late to salvage this house.

Does Hamilton Really Speak The Truth?

Over the last 24 hours Mercedes AMG F1 has moved from choppy waters to a hurricane, through the fault of their two drivers and their inability to control themselves on the track, and in the case of Lewis Hamilton, in the Press.

Hamilton has been very vocal all season about Rosberg, claiming he (Hamilton) ‘Never wanted it easy’ and that the year will be difficult every so often. However, since Hungary, a competitive rivalry has descended into a personal one. There were instances of argument in previous races never anything as heated as what we saw in the aftermath, with a possible exception of Monaco. But it has never descended into the chaos that it has now. And the fault of that lies mostly at the feet of Lewis.

The reason for this is simple. Whilst it was Nico’s fault that Lewis ended up with the puncture, what he said afterwards was extremely poor. To say that Nico Rosberg admitted to deliberately caused that, especially when it was shown to be false, shows an extreme lack of professionalism. And I’m putting that nicely.

The press appear to have only taken Lewis’ side on the matter and Nico was roundly hammered by most in the Formula One community and indeed the press. But why, when Lewis has history for misleading and throwing toys out of the pram? Nico doesn’t have such history, so why is it then that Lewis is perceived to be the most credible and why is it that nobody appears to have either noticed the development after Lewis’ interview or to not take it into account?

The simple answer is that we should take everything Hamilton says with a pinch of salt. Here’s why.

Hamilton has a history of lying or petulance. Exhibit A comes from the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, when after Jarno Trulli went off behind the Safety Car, Hamilton slowed down and Trulli re-passed. Hamilton told the media that this was intentional, however he then told the race stewards that he had not intentionally let Trulli pass. What followed was an initial time penalty relegating Trulli to 12th from 3rd, with it taking almost two weeks to uncover that Hamilton had orders to allow Trulli to pass, something he had denied. Hamilton was eventually disqualified for misleading the stewards.

The second instance comes from the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix. Hamilton claimed that his frequent visits to the stewards offic was ‘an absolute joke’ before stating that ‘maybe it’s because I’m black’ after he had been given two penalties over the weekend. I understand he would have been annoyed, but surely it’s a bit far to accuse the FIA of racism no matter how much you mean it? It would hamper apparently the credibility of many a driver, but, seemingly not so with Lewis.

Then we get to the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, where he openly criticised his team for the car set-up before tweeting a picture of telemetry showing where Button was faster. In Formula One terms, that is a huge deal. That provides so much help to other teams and once again shows a distinct lack of discipline. On that occasion, he apologised to the team and driver and went from there until 2014 with little in the way of a tantrum.

At Spa on Sunday, things came to a head. Now, whilst Nico was probably in the wrong at Spa it was just a racing accident. Proving a point and ‘basically admitting to deliberately causing that puncture’ are two completely different things. Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes operations, worked very hard to try and smooth things over but by then the damage was done. The press were having a field day and Rosberg’s reputation amongst a lot of the Formula One paddock was completely ruined. I would ordinarily feel fine about this if it wasn’t so soon after a race and the comments were found to have substance. Wolff’s comments about Lewis ‘Misconstruing Nico’s words’ suggest that there is little of that. What would Nico gain from certainly damaging his front wing, where it was not guaranteed Lewis would get the puncture?

But in an instant, Nico became the bad guy. For an accident akin to that of Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi, where Grosjean has not had his head ripped off. The only title fight that has seen a scapegoat such as this was Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, with that, according to the Frenchman, all starting from him being misquoted by a French journalist. Hamilton was never misquoted.

Those comments therefore smack of a need to be loved, of a need to have a cult following and of a desperation to put a target on Rosberg’s back.

And they also have a waft of deceit behind them.

Youth Is No Barrier In F1

The announcement by Toro Rosso of the decision to hire Max Verstappen for 2015 has understandably caused some stir in the F1 paddock and wider community. Verstappen will be 17 in September and whilst most people his age will be contemplating buying a car similar to a Citroen Saxo, he will be stepping into one of the most expensive vehicles ever made. 

At 16, Verstappen is not legally allowed to drive in most countries around the world. Yet, he will be driving something seen on many a boy his age’s bedroom wall next year. Fans have been extremely divided about his appointment, with some claiming he’s too young and immature with a lack of experience, and some claiming it to be too early to judge the decision by Red Bull’s junior team.

Well, a lot of things go in favour of the young Dutch sensation. A lack of senior racing experience proved to be of no harm to Kimi Raikkonen, who joined Sauber in 2001 off the back of just two years and around 20 races of senior motorsport in British Formula Renault. His career wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan, was it? Verstappen will have completed his first season in senior racing by the time he makes the jump to F1, as he lies second in the European F3 series and joins a team of a similar standing to the one a fresh-faced Finn walked into 13 years ago. 

As a 17-year-old, very little will be expected of Verstappen. The experts will write him off as a rough diamond in the early season and this may prove to be a great help to Verstappen. He will be given time to adjust to his new surroundings, and big results will not be expected of him straight away. 

If he does hit the ground running, then he’ll have effectively bought himself another two years with the team, where he will be able to develop both as a driver and as man, meaning that he will be able to deal with the media attention a lot better and without the advice of his dad Jos, also a successful F1 driver. 

If 2015 does not work out, then there’s no reason why could not go down the Romain Grosjean/Tai Woffinden route of taking a step back and competing further down the ladder before resurfacing to ultimately much greater success. In the case of Grosjean, a disastrous 2009 debut was followed up by a largely successful, if quite erratic, return to the elite. Woffinden had much the same in the Speedway Grand Prix series, with a dreadful debut series when he himself has since admitted he was too young and not ready for. He took two years out, and made the most triumphant return possible by winning on his comeback last year. 

This leads me nicely on to the potential drawbacks. 

The lack of racing experience may hinder him throughout his early career, and in certain situations throughout qualifying and the race he may compromise the weekend of other drivers. He will not have experienced blue flags before, something he quite likely will experience throughout next year. At circuits such as Spa and Monza, this will not be much of a problem. However, at Monaco and the Red Bull Ring track space will be limited, and scenarios like these may prove to be his undoing in his earlier career.

Verstappen’s youth and probable exuberance may earn him a reputation that he may have to work hard to shake off. He will have to learn about the opening laps of an F1 race, and will no doubt have endless briefing and coaching right up until they hurtle into the fearsome first chicane at Albert Park next year. However, as Grosjean will testify, that counts for little in the hustle and bustle that is the first lap of a Formula One race. Verstappen would do very well to curb his enthusiasm and nerves in the fledgling races of his career.

The stresses of Formula One may prove to be too much for someone of his age. He will lose certain aspects of his adolescence and will not be doing the leisure activities that some of his friends will be doing. This may end up having an effect on him, as the business and commitments of Formula One is one of the more tedious and demanding aspects of one of the most commercialised sports in the world. A boy/man of his age could find that side very tough if he isn’t managed properly and exposes himself to too many media commitments too soon. 

It is unquestionable that Verstappen oozes talent, and if that is harnessed correctly we could be looking at a future World Champion. There appears to be an unnecessary haste to judge Red Bull’s decision to hire Verstappen, with the judgments being based solely on his tender years. The truth is that it will be some time before we see whether Red Bull have made the right decision in trying to polish the rough diamond that Verstappen undoubtedly is. But as the old adage goes, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.  

F1 – Just How Good Is Daniel Ricciardo?

Much has been made of the meteoric rise of young Daniel Ricciardo this year, with Red Bull’s hottest of hot properties lighting up a Formula One World Championship dominated by Mercedes thus far.

Ricciardo is the only man to win a race, or two of them, this season with the exception of the two Mercedes drivers of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The affable Australian has won the hearts of many in 2014 by outperforming his car in performances not unlike what we have become accustomed to seeing from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Red Bull this season have been a shadow of what they were in previous years, mostly down to the slow, unreliable Renault Power Unit giving away 50 bhp.

And yet, if Ricciardo had kept his second place in Australia and had things gone smoothly in Malaysia, where he had been fifth, he would be 44 points behind Rosberg. Or, in simpler terms, 2 race wins. He has comfortably beaten Sebastian Vettel when both have made it to the chequered flag in a large portion of races, and whilst Vettel has bore the brunt of Red Bull’s reliability issues he has simply been little match for the man from Perth. And when you consider just how easily Vettel dominated Mark Webber, you start to see just how well Ricciardo has been driving.

In what appears to have been a whirlwind of large smiles and youthful enthusiasm, Ricciardo has taken 2014 by storm after two solid years with Red Bull’s B team, Toro Rosso. There he was always a notoriously strong qualifier, whilst falling away in races often because of a poor start or the strategy constraints starting so high up put on a traditional midfield team such as the Faenza squad. Nevertheless, Red Bull knew that they had unearthed a star, and when Mark Webber passed on the mantle at the end of 2013, Ricciardo was always the likely choice over teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.

And boy weren’t Red Bull vindicated?

Ricciardo has made the transition as naturally as a caterpillar to a butterfly. A series of strong performances post-Malaysia showed the viewing public fragments of what we were going to get from him, before that elusive, if somewhat inherited win, came in Canada. He backed this up with a podium at Silverstone and an excellent recovery in Germany to finish fifth, before that breathtaking victory in Hungary in which he showed true guts and determination to pass the wily old fox of Fernando Alonso in the dying embers. Hamilton, in a much powerful Mercedes, could not do likewise. And that’s a credit to Daniel, rather than a criticism of Lewis.

Ricciardo has stated that whilst the maths says he can win the title he will do his utmost, and whilst it looks more than unlikely that he will actually take the World Championship he has certainly done his stock no harm at all. Of all the drivers this year it is he who has performed the best comparative to his car, and he who has therefore been the best pound for pound driver this year. His performances coupled with the sackfuls of honours Vettel has have made the Red Bull driver pairing the strongest, on talent alone, on this year’s Formula One grid.

The question remains, can he show the type of consistency that matches the performances of Alonso and Vettel over the last four years. If he can, then given the right car he will go on to conquer all before as Vettel and Schumacher have done before him, and we may just be witnessing the beginning of something very special indeed.