Zurich Gnome

The journal of a Swiss-based motor-racing enthusiast.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A deal has been done

Well it happened more quickly than I expected, but as predicted Super Aguri are still in with a chance of racing next year. It would appear that all teams now support Aguri's entry for the championship.

What does that mean? Firstly, money has changed hands. Sweeteners have been agreed, and MF1, the Turkey that Martin Whitmarsh talked about, has indeed voted for Christmas. Secondly, there will be a couple of mobile chicanes on track during practice for the first few races of the year. Assuming that Aguri has bought the rights to the old Arrows chassis, then the chassis will still have to be beefed up to pass the current impact tests. There will also be modifications so that the engine can be installed, and a number of detail changes so that the car complies with regulations.

But what Aguri won't be worrying about, is whether the car is quick. The only thing it has to do is be legal, and go round the track a few times. The team just needs to have a car so that they comply with the rule that insists that all teams turn up to all races. And since the demise of the 107% qualifying rule, they will probably be allowed to start the races as well, which will give the team a bit of experience.

In the meantime, work on the real car will be going on, and by mid-season, we can expect to see the first real SA chassis on the tracks and at which point MF1 can expect to have to fight not to be last on the grid. Producing an F1 car is a complex job, requiring a lot of time. The guys at Aguri have a massive amount of work ahead of them to get two chassis designs up and running. But it's motor racing, so everyone will buckle down and do it, and it could well become one of the legendary F1 stories, like when MARCH entered F1 in 1970.

Of course, the FIA still have to approve the entry, but let's hope that's just a rubber stamp away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Racing at Christmas

I mentioned the other day that we were about halfway through the close season before F1 racing starts again. This year we have a gap from October to the middle of March. It wasn't always the case though, back in 1962 and 1963 the season only finished at the end of December.

In both years, there were races in South Africa, a country that I now associate with golf more than racing. That was the time of the 1.5 litre formula, when the cars were very light and nimble, and probably not as powerful as they should have been. But those regulations did produce some of the prettiest (in my view) cars ever built. The Lotus 25/33 and BRM P261 stand out as examples, but I digress. I'm currently wondering whether I should work on 28th December or not. It's a week away, but we have guests so working seems like a bad idea. But for drivers in 1963 it was a case of packing up and heading off to South Africa for the last race of the season. No Christmas celebrations with family - unless they come with you, and in those days, travel wasn't so easy as it is now. And I suspect that mechanics had a worse deal, travelling early to be with the cars. I guess the current schedule is a lot more acceptable, even if it does have 19 races instead of 9!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Keith Duckworth

I guess most people, in Europe at least, will have heard of Cosworth. With the company's association with Ford, particularly for the high performance variants of the Escort and Sierra, Cosworth became a high street name. And yesterday, one of the founders of the company, Keith Duckworth, died.

For me of course, the DFV Formula 1 engine was the company's finest product. For an engine to win 155 Grands Prix, you know it's got to be great. And you can still see (and hear) it in action at the Thoroughbred Grand Prix events throughout Europe.

I have a particular memory of that engine, even though I've heard it running at many racetracks, it'll be Silverstone that stays with me for ever. In particular at Stowe corner, as the cars accelerate down towards Club. The DFV was never the best sounding engine, the V12 Matras, Ferraris and BRMs would win that title, but it did did sound great. As the cars accelerated away from the corner, particularly if there were two running close together, you'd hear the revs rise, drop as top gear was selected and again and then just before the next corner, a reverberating resonance would take over, hanging in the air for a split second before the corner was taken and the throttle was back on the floor.

Keith Duckworth retired a while back, and has been able to enjoy the fruits of his labours. My commiserations to his friends and family, he'll be sorely missed.

Monday, December 19, 2005

All Change

The silly season, when drivers start moving teams, gets ever earlier. It used to be the case that at around the time of the Italian GP in September, rumours would be rife about who was going where for the next year. But now, and it seems particularly where McLaren are concerned, changes are being made well in advance.

Juan Pablo Montoya signed with them for the 2005 season back in November 2003, and today McLaren have announced that Fernando Alonso will join them for the 2007 season. This opens up lots of speculation, as it means that either Kimi or JPM will be driving elsewhere. So speculation will no doubt mount that Kimi is off to Ferrari, which will only happen if Michael Schumacher leaves (retires?) at the end of next year.

And what about Renault? If Alonso is leaving, does that mean that the rumours about the French team quitting at the end of 2007 are true? Will Renault and McLaren have to restrict information that they give to the drivers that are leaving, and will that destabilize their title chances?

I guess that's why it's called the silly season. Personally I'm having enough trouble waiting for the 2006 season to start, without worrying about what's going to happen a year later.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Whatever happened to the Siracuse GP?

Ron Dennis has been saying that there are too many Grands Prix at the moment. And I happen to agree with him. People are also saying that there's too much testing, and there's no opportunity for new drivers to get into F1 now that the privateer teams, with the exception of MF1, have disappeared. Oh, and there are apparently countries like Russia that would like to host a GP but can't because we already have 19 each year. And by the way, why should Italy, France (if you include Monaco) and Germany each host two races?

What we need is some clever chap to come up with a blindingly simple idea that solves all these problems at a stroke. Step forward Zurich Gnome. In the dim and distant past, even before the Gnome family was blessed with a son called Zurich, there used to be lots of F1 races. Races that didn't count to the World Championship, but were run to F1 regulations. And there really were masses of them. In 1954, to pluck a year at random, there were more F1 races held in Britain than counted towards the World Championship. OK it's not a random year, I'm one of those sad people that happen to know that 1954 was a prime year for F1.

These races were held all over the place: Goodwood, Snetterton, Oulton Park, Castle Combe, Crystal Palace, Aintree, Silverstone and even a circuit called Davidstow in Cornwall. Around the world it was the same story. Sometimes there were two F1 races on the same day, either at the same circuit, or in different countries. It didn't matter. Some were quite short; the Lavant Cup at Goodwood, for example, barely troubled the scorers as it was run over seven laps, making a total of just under 17 miles. Others were even longer than today's GPs. The Siracuse GP in Sicily was 278 miles, which took Farina 2hours 51 minutes to complete but still netted him zero points.

Are you with me yet? Why not re-instate non-championship Grands Prix? Limit the number of counting rounds to 16, so that Ron and the other team managers are happy, but allow, nay insist that, other circuits hold races before being eligible to host a championship round. It works for everybody. The teams run race simulations anyway when they test. So why not race instead of testing? They test using drivers that don't normally get to race. So let the youngsters race and then their racing skills can be evaluated in an F1 car. The circuits are presumably making money out of renting their track to half a dozen F1 teams for a day, so they'd stand to make more if paying customers turn up to watch a race. It's great for the public because they can attend an F1 race and not have to pay an arm and a leg for it. And if a country like Russia really wants to get into F1, because they see it as beneficial, then make them prove they can do it. F1 is a valuable commodity, which is why Bernie trousers a fortune each time he signs up a new country, but the sport should benefit too.

Here's the plan. Make Nurburgring and Hockenheim hold the German GP in alternate years. Relegate San Marino, and Magny Cours to Non-Championship races. Let Russia build a circuit, pay the travel costs for the teams and hold a couple of races. Ditto for Mexico or any other country that is keen to get in on the act. Let the test tracks like Jerez and Vallelunga hold races instead of test days. Oh, and can I have the TV rights please? No, that would be unfair - the money should go to the teams and the circuits.

Except perhaps for the promoters of the three races that are relegated (and they could receive a compensation package) I really can't see who would lose from this. If you can, would you please tell me?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Talking Turkey

It appears that the fuss over Super Aguri continues. Having missed the deadline to put $48 million in Max Mosley's piggy bank (why didn't they ring and say the cheques was in the post?) Aguri now need the support of all ten teams to get an entry for 2006.

Understandably MF1 (née Jordan) aren't overkeen on the idea as a second Honda works team will undoubtedly outpace them and relegate MF1 to 11th in the championship. Which would mean the loss of the share of TV income and Travel support that Bernie doles out to the top ten teams. As Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren succinctly put it yesterday "If you are a turkey, you don't vote for Christmas".

So unless a deal is done (and this is F1, so deals may well be done) there will be no 11th team on the grid in March. And March is, let's face it, only two months away if you assume that racing people spend Christmas with their families. And Super Aguri have not yet, as far as we know, got a chassis, just a very powerful engine.

If Honda are serious about wanting Aguri to race, all they need to do is to agree to waive the TV and travel monies for two years. It might set Honda back a few quid (about $30 million) but when you consider that so far this year the Japanese company has spent over $550 million investing in F1 (including buying BAR shares) you have to assume it's achievable. The alternative is for Aguri to spend 2006 testing and playing at racing by themselves. This is what Toyota did when they started, but this has no PR benefit and costs almost as much as the real thing. If there is a chassis in the offing, a deal must be the way to go.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Load of Bull

One of the most fascinating statistics that I came across recently concerns Red Bull. Now we all know that certain items, like Rolex Watches, Prada bags and diamaonds cost significantly less to produce than they do to buy. Luxury goods are heavily marketed and people willingly pay a premium for them. And I guess we know that a can of sugary-flavoured water isn't exactly going to cost a fortune to produce either.

But I was still impressed to learn that on a can of Red Bull, the buyer pays a premium of about 1000%, as it costs approximately 14 cents to produce each can sold. And following on from that, it appears that in 2008, it is planned to spend more on running the Red Bull Racing team (this may also include Squadra Toro Rosso) than it costs to manufacture the entire year's output of Red Bull product.

So if you happen to be one of those people that go out clubbing a lot and rely on the well-known energy drink (with or without vodka) to keep you going, then thank you. Because without you, there would only be eight teams on the Formula One grid next year.

Now please excuse me while I go off to the lab with my collection of flavourings, sugar and pure Swiss water. I reckon that in a year or two, the Zurich Gnome drinks brand will be well enough known for me to be able to run an F1 team of my own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Last Friday, Fernando Alonso was officially crowned world champion. That's obviously a big thing for a sportsman (or woman) and I got round to thinking how many world champions have there been?

Well, the World Championship officially started in 1950, there had been other chmpionships, especially the pre-war European one, but that was the first time it was officially recognised. So, there have been 56 championships, but obviously (step forward Mr Schumacher) some drivers have won the championship more than once.

So I thought I'd have a go and try the list from memory:


Hill P
Hill G
Hill G



Hill D


I have to admit that's the corrected version. I got a bit lost around 1985 in the Piquet/Prost/Senna years, but 53 right out of 56 isn't too bad, I guess.

Anyway, it appears that the number of drivers ever to win the championship is 26. Which works out at an average of just over two each. Of course the great drivers have won more than their fair share; the drivers that have won three or more championships (seven drivers) have walked off with half off all the championships, leaving a further seven drivers to score a pair, and 19 to win just once.

So Fernando can be incredibly proud to have achieved what only 25 others have done before him. And if he can win again, it's an even more select band. But it really makes you think just how difficult it must be to become champion, and how amazing that drivers like Fangio and Schumacher managed to totally dominate for several years in a row.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Testing Time

Things are moving again. And by that I mean that most teams are out in the Spanish sun (and rain) testing the changes for next year. Yes, those changes that Mr Mosley thinks will reduce costs - despite the fact that the engine manufacturers have to build completely new engines at a cost estimated to be around $300 million dollars per team.

So, teams are testing with a variety of configurations. Some are running restricted V10s, others, like BMW and Ferrari are running V8s. And what's impressed me most is that the fastest V8 time has been set by none other than Jacques Villeneuve. Now I know that testing times aren't worth anything at all, but it's been a long time since I've seen Jacques' name at the top of any list, except perhaps most disappointing driver of 2005. But being quicker than the Ferrari, even at this stage? That's good.

I hope that Jacques has finally got to grips with my local team, and that come March, we'll see JV battling with teammate Quick Nick and getting regularly into the points. I don't like seeing ex-world champions running in the back of the pack and to see him running at his peak 1996/7 form would be welcomed by all.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Well Well Well

You may have spotted on Monday that I was backtracking. When I noticed that Bernie was buying into the new CVC F1 operation, it didn't seem so likely that he was pulling a fast one. However could I have thought that?

Now today comes the news that Williams has signed the Concorde agreement and is therefore aligned with the FIA and Ferrari. Williams and Ferrari together are important, as that is now half of the teams that have won World Championships. Since 1979, only Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault (nèe Benetton) have been victorious over a season. Ferrari and Williams being the two most successful teams in terms of championships won. So that means that the balance has now shifted significantly. Three months ago it was just Ferrari against nine teams. A bit like Indianapolis. But now the numbers are equal and the momentum is on the side of the FIA.

Not only that, the FIA seem to be making changes to the structure of the court of appeal. If Frank Williams has signed the Concorde agreement, then it must be a reasonable financial deal as there is no cannier operator in F1. The two goals of the GPMA were to obtain a fair distribution of the sport's cash and to achieve a degree of transparency in the governance of the sport. It looks like the first may have been achieved and progress is being made in the second. Step forward all of you that said it would end in a deal, not two separate series. I'm just surprised I lost faith in the Max and Bernie show for a couple of weeks. Shame on me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Access All Areas

The Gnome family have been on a bit of a roadtrip recently. Usually it's because Mr Gnome has to go to Monza or the Nürburgring, but this time it was Mrs Gnome calling the shots.

Mrs G is a Rufus Wainwright fan. Rufus, in case you don't know, is one of the hottest musical talents around. If you don't believe me, click on the link to his "Want" album on the right hand side of this blog and read the reviews. Anyway, Mrs G is enough of a Rufus fan to want to see him play live. Three times in the space of two weeks in fact. In three different countries. As I said, she's a fan. And to be honest I'm happy to go with her because I think he's great too.

He played at Brighton last week, and she decided she wanted to meet him. So after the show she waited with some other Rufanatics for him to appear at the stage door. And sure enough, after a while, he came out, talked to fans, signed autographs, kissed cheeks (she hasn't washed since) and was generally fabulous.

Why am I telling you this? Because when I went to Monza this year, on a test day, not a race day, it was impossible to get near any of the drivers unless you had a pass signed by, if not God, someone that thinks they are. And I find that very annoying. When I was a child, we could wander round the paddock at Brands Hatch or Silverstone, and my father would say "that's Jackie Stewart - get his autograph". And drivers were always happy to do sign and smile, so somewhere in the loft there's a book signed by three world champions and countless other F1 stars. Try that now. And it's not as if the crowds are any bigger - the audience at the British GP last year is probably lower than it was in 1965. So what's changed? I guess it's just about money, but if the people involved could relax just a little bit, they could bring a lot more joy into the hearts of race fans. And it wouldn't cost them anything.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Merchant Bankers

I make no apologies to those of you that understand Cockney Rhyming slang because, for once, the title of this piece seems to be justified. I wrote a short while ago about the sale of Bernie's shares in SLEC, the company that is the holding company for Formula One. Further details indicate that Bernie re-invested in the CVC company that bought the shares, so he's not getting out as I originally thought. But it also transpires that all is not well with the sale.

Apparently the two American banks that hold shares, but no voting rights, in SLEC are now complaining that they had a "first-refusal" option on some of the shares that were sold. Now, I might be being stupid here but it really seems that either CVC have paid a lot of money for something without going through an effective due-diligence process, or JP Morgan and Lehmann Brothers are making false claims. Given that these are all large, reputable companies, shouldn't this all be settled behind closed doors? It really doesn't help anyone to be squabbling in public. Unless, of course, that's what Mr Ecclestone wants. It seems unlikely that he's managed to get hold of the reporting rights to such squabbles and expects to make a killing, but you never can tell.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Out of the Office

I'm not sure what the blogging etiquette is when I'm not posting. Although it's almost certainly not what I've just done, which is to return from a short break to explain why there have been no posts. It's probably better to inform in advance, so that readers know what's going on, but I didn't think of that as I'm still new at this game. Please forgive me, and I'll be back with informed comment on Monday.