Zurich Gnome

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

Monday, February 27, 2006

The fun of qualifying

Hmmm. You may have noticed that I wrote a full blown article about qualifying for pitpass. Chris, the editor, wanted a rant, but I couldnt quite run to that. Chris is renowned for his fake graphics, whether it's Eddie Jordan with a begging bowl or Antonio Pizzonia in the jungle, so I assumed he'd knock something up for my Qualifying for Dummies piece.

The graphic is more or less what I thought he'd do, except for giving the impression that I think the new qualifying system is "crap". Actually, I think it'll be miles better than last year's system, and most fans will probably tune in for the full hour of TV coverage.

The point I was trying to make though, is that the system is too complex. It's like an income tax system that has so many rules and regulations designed to be "fair" to everyone, but only tax lawyers can understand it. I don't think we need that in F1, especially when a simple solution is clearly available. I consider the changes to be progress, but a missed opportunity. At least I've learned how easy it is to give the wrong impression!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Was it worth it?

So Max. Despite several changes in the regulations, including a substantial reduction in engine capacity, and a drop from 10 cylinders to 8, this year's F1 cars are no slower than last year's.

Yesterday Jenson Button posted a 1:13.9 lap at Barcelona, which is faster than any time set in qualifying at the grand prix last year, and compares with the best testing time last year of 1:13.5.

The way I see it, you've failed. You have caused a lot of people to do a lot of unnecessary work, and required companies to invest huge amounts of money when you claim to be cutting costs. I'm sure you will claim, that without the regulation changes the cars would have been even quicker this year, and that is true. But your aim was to slow the cars and cut costs and you have failed in both of these.

Can we expect your resignation? Thought not.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Just what we need

Remember those discussions a few weeks ago where people were saying we don't need two GPs in Germany or Italy?

As an aside, I always include France in this list too, because think of Monaco as being part of France. But that's heresy, especially as that's the race that most sponsors want to be invited to. Invited in the sense of "I'll give you a few million quid with the strong expectation that there'll be a private jet around to fly me out to that mega yacht of yours".

Anyway, two GPs in a country is clearly excessive when so many new countries are queueing up to give Bernie hundreds of millions of dollars to secure a race and promote their nation. In the last decade we've had Malaysia, China and Turkey, with rumours of Russia and India. So what do we see now? Mr E in talks with the local government in Valencia, which would be fine if the Spanish GP in Barcelona wasn't such an established race on the calendar. Furthermore, unlike Silverstone, Barcelona is continually extending its facilities. It is getting more and more spectators at the race each year and already has a contract to hold the race until 2010.

So why have the talks at all? Spend the time sorting out the core business Bernie!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Rain in Spain

Doesn't appear to stick to the plain. Unless that is, if the Barcelona circuit is located on a plain. Yesterday afternoon's testing seems to have been hampered by precipitation (it was lovely here in Switzerland) and also Squadra Toro Rossos's test in Imola was restricted to wet running.

Teams always make the most of these problems, giving drivers the opportunity to try wet tyres etc, but it really isn't the reason they go testing. Super Aguri will have suffered most though, with Sato only completing only 8 laps before spinning at the hairpin.

Hopefully today's weather will be more clement.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Aguri On Track

As announced, the Super Aguri team have managed to get their car on track in Barcelona.

So far, the car has only completed three laps, but that's more than some teams have managed in the past. Anyone remember Andrea Moda's efforts in the hands of Perry McCarthy? If you don't, you should think about reading his book for an explanation of why he was never allowed out in the car.

I've said before that all the team need to do is turn up in Bahrain, but it actually looks like some of the detail work on the car is quite promising. The SA05 is only an interim car to help the team start functioning together but clearly any team worth their salt will want it to be as good as possible.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Rules and Tank Tape

You have to hand it to the FIA. They've apparently fixed the loophole in the new qualifying regulations. In an article I wrote at the beginning of November, I hypothesized that the FIA would have to make a change, and I'm impressed to say that they've done it before the season, rather than after the first GP.

But their "solution" has all the style and elegance of National Health glasses held together with sticking plaster. Of course, this is motor racing, so I should say tank (or gaffer) tape, but you know what I mean. Patching up bad regulations with more bad regulations is not the way to go. It makes it so much harder for the casual spectator to understand, and the commentator's job that much harder. "Villeneuve's just gone off at the last corner and got dirt on his tyres, not only has it screwed his lap time for this and the next lap, it could well cost him 4.5 litres fuel credit". Do you want to hear that kind of thing? I don't.

By adding a new regulation, it gives the teams something else to exploit. Hopefully the new regulation (which allows teams to add a fixed amount of fuel for each lap that they complete within 110% of their best lap) refers to the entire qualifying, and not just the last session. Otherwise we might see a team that believes that tenth is likely to be its best position driving round consistently slowly to gain fuel credits for the race.

But the main sufferers may be the poor software engineers. They now have to produce a new simulation program to calculate how the drivers should drive in the highest gear possible to save fuel, without exceeding the simulated best time on full fuel. And as the time taken to complete a lap is highly dependent on the exit speed of corners (and Max knows this) we'll see people on the ragged edge of corners and then tootling down the straights in top gear. Other drivers on hot laps won't know what to expect. Engineers will have to consider whether it's worth risking running the engine lean in qualifying. I'm sure there will be other options. None of them will cut costs.

For God's sake! Twelve lap qualifying, fastest time counts. Choose the fuel afterwards. If the FIA wants to ensure that all of qualifying is watched on TV, then split it into two 30 minute sessions, with the top ten finishers from the previous race running in the second session. If you put all the F1 fans in the world into a room (admittedly a very, very big one) and asked for a show of hands, you'd get a better than 90% acceptance with that. So why not give us what we want? Please.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Testing Times

I know it comes up every year, but I never cease to be amazed by the fascination I have with the times set during testing. Yesterday you could be excused for thinking that Williams are about to set the world alight. Today, I'm thinking that Renault are still there or thereabouts.

Rumours of problems with the Mercedes engines in the McLaren are rife, and Ferrari are still setting their fastest times with the V10 powered 2004 car. Red Bull seem to have miraculously fixed their chassis problems (I can't believe it's that simple) and Toyota and making comforting noises about their performance.

The trouble is that we really have no idea what configuration cars are being run in. Even if they do a race simulation, they may be running with more (or less) ballast than they would for a race. Nobody really wants to show their hand, but still it's necessary to find out where you are.

Ferrari often test alone, and in some way I can understand that. A team has to have the mentality that it needs to improve, regardless of what the opposition are doing. You shouldn't really be any more motivated by knowing that you are a second off the pace.

But it's human nature to work harder when you know you are behind. And you can also see what other times are trying with their aero packages, and get an idea of works. But it's getting much closer to the real thing now. Just three weeks until the first practice session of the season, so not much time for any team to make big changes. Roll on Bahrain.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ups and Downs

Max Mosley and the FIA are apparently in favour of introducing the concept of promotion and relegation to motorsport. Are they mad?

Now I'm not against the idea of relegation and promotion. In fact, I've suggested it myself as a solution to the question of which circuits should be able to host Grands Prix. But given that racing teams run as businesses, one only has to look at the business model to see that it would not work.

F1 teams operate with budgets way in excess of GP2 teams, and have to manufacture their own cars. Can you imagine any company moving from a budget of, lets be generous, $3 million, to $100 million? In four months? And how about the other way around? A team would have to start the season thinking, "Hmmm, we're not looking too good, so we'd better give everybody notice and sell the factory" and hey presto, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

F1 and GP2 are different sports. It's fair enough to have relegation and promotion between leagues when the rules are the same, like football or cricket. But F1 and GP2? You may as well tell a team that wins the local cricket cup that they've just qualified for the America's Cup.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jo Siffert

We went to the cinema on Saturday evening and saw the Johnny Cash film, Walking the line. It was very good, but not the film I personally would have chosen.

For there is a film on release in Switzerland, about the life of Jo Siffert. It has the disadvantage for most Europeans that it's presented in the original language, which means Swiss German. And even most Germans struggle to understand that. Either way, it'll be out on DVD soon with subtitles so we can all understand it, and it'll be the film footage from old private super 8 cameras that will be most interesting.

I was a young teenager at Brands Hatch on the day that Jo Siffert was killed. That was the first time I'd been at a circuit when a driver died, sadly there have been more, and the pall of black smoke rising above the trees will stay with me forever. It's a reminder that we shouldn't forget about safety in racing. We shouldn't remove the element of danger completely, or racing becomes a pointless exercise, and "Seppi" wouldn't have wanted that.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Third Man

With Steve Ryder going to ITV to cover the F1 season instead of previous linkman Jim Rosenthal, the news comes that Tony Jardine is also superfluous to requirements.

Now, Jardine has never been a favourite of mine but he's OK. The question is, are they going to do anything about James Allen? He is simply the most irritating commentator there is. I hate watching GPs in the UK and would happily tune to an Italian channel to watch instead even though I only understand 10% of it. I'm fortunate that I can watch the Austrian coverage from Switzerland (it has no advert breaks) as Heinz PrĂ¼ller just keeps quiet if there's not much to say.

But James Allen rabbits like an idiot. ITV really need to replace him. I'm available and believe me I spend all my time shouting at the TV when the commentating is wrong or slow, so it should at least be entertaining. Why not drop the folks at www.itv-f1.com a line and tell them? We should rest until James Allen's "Go, go, go" has become "James, Allen is gone, gone, gone"

Friday, February 10, 2006

Restrictions and Limitations

The new Minardi (sorry, Squadra Toro Rosso) appeared at Jerez yesterday. It seems to be fairly heavily influenced by its sister car the RB1, which is fair enough, but what concerns me is the engine.

The FIA are allowing any team that does not have access to a competitive 2.4 litre V8, to use a 3 litre V10 with a rev-limit that may be changed "from time to time". Minardi, being a financially-constrained team, fell into this category. STR, in my opinion, do not. They certainly have the ability to go to Cosworth, their current V10 supplier, and ask for a supply of V8s. Cosworth are now independent and I imagine they are keen to sell their engines to anyone with a suitable supply of cash. Given the share swapping going on between Gerhard Berger and Dieter Mateschitz, it's surely safe to assume that this is the case at STR.

The FIA are now in the position of being able to control the speed of one team; namely STR. What happens if Tonio Liuzzi manages to qualify 4th in Bahrain? Or finish on the podium? I imagine there'll be an uproar and the rev-limit will be reduced. But by how much? And what if STR finish 7th or 11th?

And if the FIA have set the limit too low, will it be increased if both STR cars are miles off the pace? In which case it would be worth STR sandbagging for a couple of races and then, when the limit is raised, blitzing the opposition. What great publicity for Red Bull that would be. Surely teams like MF1 and Williams have a right to be competing on equal terms?

The FIA must inform STR that a competitive engine is available, and that the team has until the start of the European season to comply with article 5.1 of the Technical Regulations. Otherwise there'll be tantrums, and we can do without any more of those.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Madder than Hell

Well, I know I've been saying that the FIA et al should really be capable of making a decision on the Belgian GP, but I didn't think they'd all make the wrong one.

It's a black day for Formula One when the authorities allow stupid things like the cancellation to happen. Spa is undoubtedly the best circuit on the calendar (in the world?) and any nobody should care that the "facilities" need a bit of improvement.

The FIA and the commercial rights holder must take the responsibility for not having a backup solution in place, but no doubt they will simply claim that there was a contract in place and it was broken. They simply do not understand their responsibility to the millions of fans that think of F1 as a sport, not a business.

Stop fiddling with the distribution of money to manufacturers and concentrate on the core business. Getting cars racing on tracks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Crash Test Dummies

No, not the band, I was never really into them. But Super Aguri (and I'm sorry but I still think it's a daft name) have had some good news, as they've passed the FIA crash tests with the old Arrows FA23, suitably modified for the new regulations.

Somehow, this conjures up an image of the old Arrows car, with welded on roll hoops like the stock cars I used to watch as a youth back in the 70s. But I guess it's tricky to weld carbon fibre and metal, so it's probably a much more professional job. That seems to be a major hurdle out of the way though, and as I've said before, the cars don't actually need to run in Bahrain...

Well done boys.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Commercial Rights

There's been a bit of fuss over whether the FIA should get involved with the commercial side of the sport recently (there's an EI anti-trust case ongoing). And now Max is saying that manufacturer based teams shouldn't get any revenue from the sport. Instead it should go to smaller independent teams so that they can compete against the big budget teams.

Now given that a team, once it becomes successful, tends to attract manufacturer support, that appears to me to mean that the teams that don't do well in races would be subsidised in future, whereas ones that do well, won't.

The question I keep asking myself, is why does Mosley get involved with these things? If he wants to keep money in the sport, he shouldn't go around selling the commercial rights for paltry sums. And he should insist that only a percentage of the income for the commercial rights holder can be paid out. The British Government is not renowned for its skill in organising privatisations, but Camelot, the company that runs the UK national lottery has a fixed percentage profit and is doing very nicely thank you.

The FIA is by nature a political organisation. But they should at least allow natural competiveness to be rewarded in a competetive sport.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Miss You

Just like pitpass, Zurich Gnome will be down for the next couple of days as I'm going back to the UK for my Father's funeral.

Normal service (whatver that is) should be resumed on Monday.