Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Front Jack Man – Formula One Has Become Too Much About Location

Formula One’s biggest provisional calendar was released towards the tail end of the 2013 season, with a possible 22 races included. It was in the end cut down to 19 as Korea disappeared, India delayed and the New Jersey circuit yet again ‘would be ready for next year’. Russia has come in to make its debut on the F1 scene whilst the popular Red Bull Ring returns after a hiatus of 11 years. As well as this, Mexico is likely to make an appearance in either 2015 or 2016.

However, in recent times there has been a great turnover of circuits as controversial F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has taken the F1 circus to destinations such as Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bahrain, India and Korea. He has also elected to go to the street circuit in Valencia for the European Grand Prix rather than stay in Germany for the race, again for more money whilst dropping largely more popular circuits such as Magny-Cours. The decision to incorporate Valencia into the calendar proved to be a terrible one for all parties except the accountants. Valencia saw many processions excluding 2012, before it was dropped for last year. 

Magny-Cours was largely popular because of it's fast-flowing nature

Magny-Cours was largely popular because of it’s fast-flowing nature

Whilst we’re on the subject of processions, the decision to have a night race in Singapore is another for the bank balance rather than the motorsports fan. Singapore is famed for being almost impossible to overtake on, with it being nicknamed ‘Singabore’ by some fans. The drivers largely like driving on the track, but have complained of the lack of overtaking opportunities. That was brought in for 2008 and remains on the calendar for the foreseeable future. This means a likely two hour procession will remain for years to come because it is in one of the richest areas of the globe. Is this really for racing reasons?

Abu Dhabi is another race that pleases the bank manager rather than the fans. It does have long straights that should in theory lend themselves to overtaking, but the array of 90 degree corners in the final sector mean that only a good DRS system will get you past the car in front. Granted, it does see a lot more action than Singapore and Valencia, but that’s like saying Usain Bolt can beat your ten-year-old sister over a 100m sprint. The track could be improved heavily by removing some of the frankly needless right-angled corners. 

The three examples listed above do not include Monaco. This is because of the history and soul that Monaco has. Drivers love the circuit and respect Monaco immensely, as you do not get a rest and one moment of ill-concentration sees you pay a visit to the barrier. Around a lot of the aforementioned circuits, there are run-offs to make sure this doesn’t happen. These circuits do not have the soul that Monaco has, nor the fear factor, nor the respect. This is what sets them apart from principality.

Monaco's proximity to the barriers make this a universal favourite

Monaco’s proximity to the barriers make this a universal favourite

And what of the circuits that have fallen foul of this? Well, Magny-Cours in France is a real racers track. A fast circuit that does lend itself to overtaking, particularly with a tight, sharp hairpin at the end of an extremely long straight. It could be argued that the French Grand Prix lost it’s place to Singapore as France disappeared the year after Singapore appeared on the calendar. And we all know that Valencia was the reason that the Nurburgring and Hockenheim have to share the German Grand Prix, as the former hosted the European Grand Prix. Now though, Europe doesn’t have designated race. So why not take the opportunity to give both of them an annual race and give the fans something to cheer about? And Imola, which has modernised as Ecclestone asked it to, has not returned either. It makes you wonder as to what Ecclestone’s motives are.

Ecclestone is currently in trouble anyway in Germany, where he faces charges of corruption having won a damages case against him in the High Court. Giving his verdict, the judge branded him ‘unreliable’ and concluded that he had paid a bribe to a German banker. He could well topple from his position, meaning that Formula One could take on a new direction. Locations might not be the determining factor when the CEO of a circuit discusses with the FIA and FOM. Perhaps then, glitz and glamour could be matched by the shining lights on the track.

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Minardi – Everyone’s second favourite

For F1 fans over the age of 16, the name Minardi brings back fond memories of a small Italian based team lacking in funds and overall speed but more than making up for this in spirit. It is for this spirit that they became well respected by the whole paddock and fans alike, and in the end they gained many fans for their determination if not their pace. Fans were somewhat saddened when they were sold to Red Bull to become Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006.

Minardi started out in 1979 in various formulae until 1985, when they first made their move into the F1 circus. During their first season, the Faenza team ran the just the one car having elected to use the V8 from Alfa Romeo. The season was not a success with Pierluigi Martini failing to score a point and only being a classified finisher thrice. Over the next seven years, their fortunes picked up and they were a mildly successful mid-grid team. In 1990 they secured their only front row start at the US Grand Prix with Martini taking second on the grid. This came a year after Minardi’s first race of leading a lap, an honour again bestowed upon Martini. Minardi’s best finishes of fourth place were taken by Martini, twice in 1991. Christian Fittipaldi also took a fourth place in 1993, before Minardi’s fortunes took a turn for the worse as the number of small Formula 1 teams started to decline. As a result, they quickly fell to the back of the grid.

Pierluigi Martini's 1985 Minardi. This was Minardi's first season in Formula 1

Pierluigi Martini’s 1985 Minardi. This was Minardi’s first season in Formula 1

In 1994, Minardi faced a battle to survive with owner Giancarlo Minardi selling over 85% of his stake in the team to keep them afloat. Their money woes hit performance on the track, and their points return slowly declined. They got five points in 1994, with Martini scoring four points with two fifth places and Michele Alboreto taking sixth at Monaco. Pedro Lamy scored a point in Australia of 1995, before the team went on a four year lean spell ended by Spaniard Marc Gene in 1999 Luca Badoer was running inside the points in the same race but retired with a broken gearbox. Minardi slowly regressed further, and off track problems including owner Gabriele Rumi getting cancer during a troubled 2000 season.

Minardi's signing of Gaston Mazzacane was an indication of their financial struggles at the turn of the millenium

Minardi’s signing of Gaston Mazzacane was an indication of their financial struggles at the turn of the millenium

Minardi had by this time started using pay drivers such as Gaston Mazzacane, who had connections with big business in his native Argentina. Mazzacane was never really on the pace and was dropped for 2001, with the team having been bought by charismatic Australian businessman Paul Stoddard. Alex Yoong signed for 2001 on the back of heavy sponsorship, if not being signed for his talent. Yoong was often over a second off the pace set by teammate Alonso or Mark Webber during his one and a half year tenure at Minardi, before being replaced by Anthony Davidson. The 2002 Australian Grand Prix played host to one of F1’s greatest fairytales, as Mark Webber profited from a first corner pile up to take fifth on his debut in F1, sparking jubilant scenes at the blunt end of the pit lane. Throughout 2002 Webber continued to mix it with bigger teams in qualifying whilst Alex Young was dismally off the pace. Webber left to join Jaguar for 2003, whilst Dutchman Jos Verstappen and British prospect Justin Wilson took over the mantle.

Both drivers performed admirably but failed to score points in a car that was well off the pace. Neither driver came close to scoring points although a mistake at the rain-soaked Brazilian Grand Prix blew Verstappen’s best chance of points. Both drivers left for 2004, and Minardi did pick up another fortuitous point as Zsolt Baumgartner profited from crashes during the US Grand Priz including the one that broke Ralf Schumacher’s back. Baumgartner took a solitary point to outscore teammate Gianmaria Bruni. Minardi’s final season saw them pick up seven points, all coming during the infamous US Grand Prix where only the six Bridgestone-shod cars were able to take the start after a row about the safety of Michelin’s tyres.

Mark Webber was a success story for Minardi, with the Australian going on to notch 9 wins.

Mark Webber was a success story for Minardi, with the Australian going on to notch 9 wins.

 

Energy drinks tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz then bought the team to run as the sister team to Red Bull Racing, themselves only formed in 2005. It marked the end of a 26 year era that saw the spirited squad produce drivers such as Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella. Over the years they scored 38 points from 345 races. Minardi were a team with unrivalled character, and represent one of Formula One’s success stories. Both the paddock and the fans have missed them ever since they disappeared.

 

 

 

The Front Jack Man – Is Motorsport Just A Rich Man’s Sport?

The importance of pay drivers to teams in all forms of motorsport has never been more apparent than now. Every year you hear more stories of drivers failing to get a drive because their sponsorship agreement has fallen through. In harsh economic times and with the cost of taking part in motorsport largely on the rise, is motorsport now becoming a sport for the rich?

Well, let’s start at the top and the plentiful examples that can be seen in Formula One. Recently we have heard of even the top drives going to drivers who have financial backing. For example, Pastor Maldonado has in excess of £40m per year of sponsorship from Venezuela’s state oil company PDSVA. This first managed to land him a drive at Williams, now a privateer team, where it was hoped he would blossom into a world class driver. Despite a win at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, if we’re being brutally honest this has not happened. From that win he only scored once more, and that was in 2013. Here, he was outperformed by his rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas and finished only ahead of the Caterhams and Marussias in the championship. Still, with £40m per year from his sponsor he landed a seat at Lotus ahead of the arguably more talented, more consistent but less funded Nico Hulkenberg. He eventually ended up back at Force India alongside another pay driver Sergio Perez.

Perez has backed up his sponsorship with results

Perez has backed up his sponsorship with results

In fairness to Perez, he has matched his funding with results despite an ordinary season at McLaren last season, although that was the fault of the car and not the driver. Perez is backed by the world’s richest man Carlos Slim, and has huge amounts of money behind him. At Sauber, he managed to earn a drive at McLaren as a result of his excellent drives whilst at Hinwil. You do have to wonder whether he would have got there if he did not have the backing of Mr Slim however. He is at Force India at Paul Di Resta’s expense, another man with more talent than money. He’s gone back to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) for another tilt at the title but hopes to be confirmed as a reserve driver for 2014.

The teams at the back of the grid also have a heavy reliance on pay drivers, and that is just so their very existence is preserved. Max Chilton has eight figures behind him per year, largely through his dad and Jules Bianchi is there on loan from Ferrari. Had Luiz Razia managed to get his sponsorship together though, Bianchi would not be there either. Caterham have in recent times dropped Heikki Kovalainen for two arguably less competent drivers in Giedo Van Der Garde and Charles Pic. The Finn has not found a full time drive since.

Because of a lack of sponsorship Kovalainen has been left without a drive.

Because of a lack of sponsorship Kovalainen has been left without a drive.

The story is the same throughout. In British junior formulae we often do see parents who have either re-mortgaged or sold their homes just to fund their son/daughter’s racing career. In Britain especially, little has been done to fund future stars. Jonathon Palmer’s ‘Racing Steps’ foundation has gone some way to funding some British drivers, but this is simply not enough for the tens of hundreds of young people who will struggle to make the cut because they cannot fund their career anymore.

Some countries such as Germany have started funding their future champions. Look at the results they’re achieving in almost all forms of four-wheel motorsport. The German authorities have made it more affordable to participate in, same as the MSA for the British Touring Cars. But, on the British side, that is almost a one-off.

This is the case for two wheels as well as four. There is a reason that the MotoGP series is dominated by Spaniards. That is because Spanish authorities fund their future stars so that they don’t have to re-mortgage their house or live in a motorhome. There is a reason as to why Poland, Denmark and Australia are dominant forces in Speedway. They’re funded by their respective authorities.

The only country where paying to fund the habit is not a controversial topic is America, where pay drivers can prosper massively. They can prosper because of the amount of commercialization in the States, and the almost bottomless pit of companies desperate to get their name on TV.

JJ

In spite of what is happening in the USA, the state of motorsport is financially dire. Drivers and teams are relying far too much on wealthy businessmen rather than talent. If the talent warrants the businessmen, then so be it and the money is an extra bonus. However, it is the case that often the talent and consistency doesn’t match the plum seat the wealthy driver gets. Unless authorities, both nationally and internationally, start amending this quickly then the health of motorsport from grassroots to the global stage will deteriorate further.