Zurich Gnome

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

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Melbourne Forecast

At the beginning of the year, I sort of vowed to make forecasts of race results for each GP. I did it for Bahrain, and then forgot to do it for Malaysia. So I guess it might turn out to be a random thing.

For Melbourne, it'll pan out like this (at least in GnomeWorld):

Schumacher will start from Pole. Alonso will howl through from the third row of the grid and squeeze through on the first two corners. Fisi will go into the corner third. Rosberg will be in the gravel with Coulthard and Button, Klien will amazingly make it through, trying hard not to get a penalty like he should have done in Malaysia.

JPM will initially run fourth. Kimi will start 12th, having had an engine change. By the end of the first lap he's already seventh.

Webber will qualify well, and run fifth initially. Trulli will also surprise, running seventh behind Massa, but Toyota will screw the strategy leaving Jarno out of the points. Ralf won't have made the third qualifying session and will have a pale race, even further outside the points.

Michael will stop just before Alonso and Fisi, at which point the race is settled, until, shock horror, Alonso's car stops and Fisi inherits the race. Michael 2nd, Kimi 3rd but threatening near the end.

JPM will still be fourth, even though you didn't notice him all race. Webber will be fifth, because he always is in Australia. Massa seemed to lose time in the pits, which is why he was sixth, just ahead of Barrichello who finally seems to be getting used to the Honda. And the final point goes to one of the BMWs. Villeneuve I think.

Sato will finish, Ide will not. I'm not that fussed about the rest of the Red Bull and MF1 guys, so they didn't figure in my mental simulation.

Total fantasy of course, but good fun. Excuse me while I watch the re-run of the first corner..

Small World

Like the IT Industry in Switzerland, Motor Racing is a small world.

I've recently been reading Eoin Young's excellent book about Bruce McLaren; McLaren Memories.

Yesterday I got to the bit about Bruce's first exploits with his own team, involving two Cooper cars with which he was contesting the first Tasman series in 1963. His first team mate, Tim Mayer, was killed when his car left the road and hit a tree at the Longford circuit in Tasmania when Tim apparently failed to get the car in a straight line before braking for a corner.

When Bruce was killed at Goodwood in 1970, Tim's brother Teddy took over McLaren, taking it to two World Championships; with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976. Teddy later handed over the reins to Ron Dennis.

Today I read that Teddy's son, who he named in honour of his brother, has been made CEO of ALMS, the American Le Mans Series. I'd never really heard the name Tim Mayer before, and then uncle and nephew pop up the space of 24 hours. Small World.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Minardi is dead, long live Minardi!

Business never ceases to amaze me. Specifically when it comes to the names of car manufacturers.

I'm quite comfortable with Ford buying Jaguar, and Aston Martin. And I know that Ferrari were effectively bought by FIAT in the 60s/70s, although what the current ownership structure is escapes me, even though there is talk that Bernie Ecclestone wishes to invest.

Race teams have usually been pretty straightforward. Ownership tends to pass from one company or individual to another, but it appears that that isn't the case with Minardi. I'd thought that the company was bought by Red Bull and renamed Squadra Toro Rosso, end of story.

But the news that Paul Stoddart still owns European Minardi and wishes to enter the 2008 F1 championship, and has indeed made an official entry, surprised me. He still owns the facility at Ledbury and all of the two-seater Minardi cars, so it shouldn't be a surprise.

But when you think that the Minardi name has disappeared, and then less than two races later see it bounce back, it does make you think a bit.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


When I saw the post on pitpass about the US GP being included on the list of BAFTAs, I thought the editor had gone mad. But I had a look at the BAFTA site, and sure enough, the US GP is listed as one of the most, well I assume exciting, sports events of 2005.

The BAFTA site says only "Coverage of a sports programme as transmitted. In the event of being shortlisted, one hour only is permitted" Now I 'm sure I don 't need to remind you that the US GP was one of the most disgraceful moments in F1 history as 14 cars were withdrawn at the last minute because they were worried about having to go round corners (I apologise for phrasing it thus, but they really could have braked). So the race itself was for just six cars, and although there was a teeny bit of excitement when Rubens and Schuey nearly took each other out, that 's not great television.

What might have been great television though, and I didn 't see all of this, was the hour before the race, when several chickens were running round, looking for their heads and trying to work out how to get everyone to race. I can only conclude that 's the hour that will be selected, but if that 's the case, then it 's politics and not sport isn 't it? I remember spending about half of the race on the phone to my father and brother, so it definitely provoked a reaction - but to think it 's the best bit of sports television in a year seems wrong to me.

I also watched the Liverpool AC Milan match live. Unlike my friend Bill who gave up when Liverpool were 3-0 down at half time, that 's when I switched on. And sat riveted for the next hour and a bit as the scousers fought back to snatch victory. That 's great TV. And great Sport. The sort you want to ring your friends about and say "Did you see that? Wow!"

A bunch of millionaires preening themselves and ignoring the feelings of hundreds of thousands of American fans in the stadium, and hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide is not great, and it 's not sport.

So I guess it 'll win the award then

Monday, March 27, 2006


According to the BBC, the five GPMA teams have submitted entries for the 2008 championship and can thus take part in the rule making process.

But it is Max and Bernie's ball, and they will take it back if they don't want the other children to play. Who said bullying doesn't work?

Monza Safe?

News is coming through that the Italian GP at Monza has been saved. I've not seen it on Pitpass yet but apparently a judge has spoken to the three families involved and persuaded them it's not a good idea to protest, and the circuit will reduce the amount of unsilenced running and look at installin noise reducing walls.

That's great news. Not least because I now don't have to get in the car and drive to Milan in order to torch three houses...

And I'm only partially joking. Some things in life are serious!

Down Under

With the Australian GP coming up this weekend, I was reminded that in the early 1960s, racing teams used to spend a lot of the winter in New Zealand and Australia.

There wasn't really an off-season in those days, just racing in different countries. Six or eight races spread across the Antipodes over a period of a couple of months probably allowed teams like Cooper and Lotus to evaulate their new ideas. Of course, they wouldn't be able to change much being so far away from the factory, and that in itself tells us how much things have changed in forty years. No tyres to test, just bolt them on and drive. No wings or barge boards. A new engine perhaps, or a switch to injection from carburettors. A new chassis design. Those were the kind of things that were hot topics.

So I'm curious. Should F1 be about aerodynamics and tyres? Or drivers and engines? And how does traction control fit in? Personally, I'd like to see the order of priority like this:

  1. Driver
  2. Engine
  3. Tyres
  4. Traction Control
  5. Aerodynmaics

Although I know that traction control is very hard to police as teams will build "intelligent engines", so that might disappear from the list. But I really want to see a skilful driver being able to make the most of his/her talent. How about you?

Friday, March 24, 2006

More Testing

Interesting that the FIA want to restrict testing time to a limit of 30000km.

Last year, when a limit of 30 days was in place for all teams other than Ferrari, all the serious teams exceeded this amount. Six teams covered more than 40,000 km, but it has to be considered that a lot of testing would have been for tyre evaluation. At least half in fact, and probably more in the case of Ferrari, who were the only team running Bridgestones.

Next year, there will be a control tyre, and thus no reason to run race simulations with different types of tyre. So probably no team will need to run as much as 30,000. (And what incidentally would be the penalty if a team exceeds it by 1km? Exclusion for both drivers?).

So it's congratulations to the FIA for finally introducing a rule that won't adversely affect F1. Because it won't have any affect at all.

PS If teams have money, they could spend it on simulating testing with six-post rigs and windtunnels. So as a cost cutting measure it doesn't work either. I wonder how long they took to come up with the idea?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lighthearted relief

If you get bored at work, VisionF1 is a highly entertaining site that allows you to "watch" a replay of a Grand Prix without the hassle of leaving your desk.

It's quite clear from looking at the replay of Sepang, that Alonso really was holding up Webber, and that Sato in the Aguri, was an obstacle for the two MF1s. And the pit strategy for cars being blocked also becomes clearer. If, like Monteiro, you're being held up, you may as well come in and get back out again, hoping to regain the time with a lighter fuel load later on.

I'm not sure I'm going to invest in a bank of monitors to surround the TV with, as F1.com gives all the sector times during the race, but I must admit, I'm tempted.

Thanks to Clive for telling me about Vision F1 in the first place

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bending Wings

Are you following the saga of the deflecting wings? It would be quite fascinating if it wasn't so pathetic. In short, the problem appears to be that one (Ferrari) or more (Mclaren?) teams are using wings that do not conform to the regulations.

The rules are fairly clear, wings must not deform, well, not by much. Any engineer will tell you that if you hang a weight on a wing supported only at the other end, it will deflect downwards. But we're not talking about weight, we're talking about air pressure at high speed. The theory is that a wing will generate lots of downforce to help the car go round corners, but this in turn generates drag and slows the car on the straights. Ideally you'd have a system of flaps like you do on planes, you've all seen them change the section of the wing at low speeds to increase upforce (Is that a word? It must be if downforce is) for take off or landing. On a car you'd raise the flaps for the corners and put them flat for the straights. You may have seen pictures of the Mercedes Le Mans car in 1955 which used airbrakes in a similar manner.

But moveable aerodynamic devices (eg flaps) are not allowed. So an option is to make a bendy wing that generates lots of downforce until so much air is hitting it that it bends out of shape, typically making it flatter and thus generating less drag. So the car suddenly goes faster. I think that's quite clever, and given the number of pointless twiddly bits on the side of an F1 car these days, doesn't seem to present much of a problem. It might make it entertaining for the driver if halfway through a fast corner (accelerating out of 130R for example) downforce suddenly decreases, but entertainment is what we're after, isn't it?

But the FIA doesn't like that idea and so have the rule about deflection. And as it's difficult to measure deflection at high speed (difficult note, not impossible) we have a situation where we're not sure whether cars are legal.

So, congratulations to the FIA for yet another set of clear, enforceable rules.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A trip to Monaco

There's only so many times I can get excited (exasperated?) by the new qualifying rules. But Chris Balfe's piece on pitpass today made me laugh. I just hope the FIA read it. The idea that a major website can suggest running a competition to predict the starting grid for a race after all the qualifying times are known shows just what a state we are in.

But maybe we shouldn't worry about it. There are rules, and the FIA claim to understand them. The cars will still start the race and if one of the quick cars does get moved back then it should just make the race more interesting (unless Christian Klien gets carried away again). So from now on, I'm not going to complain any more, just sit back and accept the situation.

Unless I get really wound up, that is.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Malaysian GP

Yesterday's race wasn't dull by any means, but didn't quite deliver on the excitement front. There was some hectic racing at the beginning though, and there were certainly a number of passes we wouldn't have seen if it hadn't been for the various penalties applied to grid positions. Sometimes I think we may as well just go for a lottery on grid positions and have done with it.

Driver of the day? Well, Alonso certainly delivered again, and you have to think he would have won if it hadn't been for the extra fuel he was carrying because of the mix up on Saturday. Which brings me to something I really don't understand. Last week we saw Kimi start with full tanks and finish ahead of Montoya. This week Felipe finished in front of Schuey despite starting behind him. So at what point does a two stop strategy cease to be effective, with a single stop being better. And why doesn't it work higher up the grid. If Schuey had started with the same fuel as Felipe, surely he would have finished in front of Felipe? If you can explain, please let me know...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Effing and Blinding

Poor old Giancarlo Fisichella! Not only does he have to suffer with a down on power engine, in both qualifying and the race, but he also has to apologize for his reaction. With the current fashion of broadcasting radio conversations between pit and driver, Fisi was caught telling his engineer that the car was a piece of f****** s***.

Now, I think that's a reasonable reaction. Would I want a driver that says "Oh, the engine is broken, but never mind I quite fancied stopping early"? No, you need a driver with passion (and Fisi is Italian after all) one that really wants to win. Surely the problem lies with the broadcasters. And how do they know when to switch on the coverage anyway? And why does it always appear to be Renault? The issue is much larger than whether Fisi should apologise to the children that heard him swearing. It's about F1 getting the TV show sorted.

We've seen many times that the commercial rights holder makes an obscene amount of money from the sport. Is it unreasonable to ask him to come up with a 21st century television package, including time delayed comments from the teams? It may just be the Austrian coverage that I get, but the commentator seems to have no warning that the radio link is about to be turned, leading to two people speaking at once, in two different languages. Personally I find that hard to follow! It's messy and shouldn't happen when so much money is available to get it right.

The solution? Pay someone to spend a year watching NASCAR (me!) and then implement their recommendations. F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle. Not a pale imitation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Arriverderci Suzuka

Another great circuit bites the dust. No race at Spa this year and now comes the news that we are losing Suzuka after this year's race. Looking back to last year, the Japanese race was possibly the highlight of the season. Remember Alonso passing Schumacher round the outside of 130R? Kimi passing Ginacarlo on the first corner of the last lap?

Sunday's race at Bahrain was great. The track is really wide and seems to allow racing. But at the end Schuey admitted that there was no way he could get close to Alonso.Maybe that's a feature of the Ferrari but it seems a shame that one of the greatest tracks will be removed from the calendar.

Fuji has been rebuilt and I guess that the facilities there are up to Bernie's high standards. And I suspect Fuji might have better transportation links. Personally I don't turn on the TV to see really well turned out pit buildings. They're covered by ll the team paraphernalia anyway. Nor do I care about the time it takes the average Japanese fan to get to the circuit. But these are important issues for Bernie so the GP moves to Fuji. Let's hope the weather is better than when the World Championship was decided in 1976 on one of the two occasions the Japanese GP was held there. Four drivers refused to race if memory serves me, but then it's rained at Suzuka too. The 1994 race was particularly damp, and in 2004 qualifying was completely washed out. I suspect the circuit at Fuji will be fine, after all it's not designed by Hermann Tilke. But Suzuka is a classic and it's not right that we will lose it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

One Down...

With the first race of the season over, we now have a much better picture of where we are. And obviously the first observation must be that it was a very entertaining race. There was something going on all the time, with a lot of racing taking place. I don't subscribe to the view that what we want is more overtaking, what we want is more people trying to overtake. And yesterday there a lot of moves, some of which came off, some didn't.

First off, Alonso passing Massa was key to the race. It was effectively the key to the race. If Felipe had kept Fernando at bay, Michael would have won. As it was, the Spaniard was able to make the most of his slightly heavier fuel load and stay out those vital laps. And seeing the two World Champions going head to head into Turn One was worth watching the race for on ist own. Throw in all the racing with the two Hondas at the start (no team orders there then) and the various Williams and BMW sub-races and the crowd had a motor-race to watch.

The big disappointment has to be Toyota. Slow in qualifying and slow in the race. Can they really have got it so wrong? I hope not for Mike Gascoigne's sake, but they really need to do better in Malaysia.

Button was a star, and his clutch problem at the start caused him a probable podium position. I don't think he'd have won, but Honda are clearly in the hunt, much improved over last year. And Montoya must be gutted. In a year when McLaren will be losing one of their drivers, it doesn't do to finish behind your teammate, especially as Kimi started 18 grid positions behind him. And being passed by Jenson? Twice? Ever regret that statement you made JPM? The one where you said "Button can't overtake because he's too scared of the cars making contact"? Time to check the pension plan...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Qualifying Thoughts

So, what did we think about the new qualifying? Well, the first two knock-out sessions really weren't that exciting, other than wondering if the Renaults were leaving it a bit too late. If anything, it showed that if you give teams a time-limited session, teams will always leave it until the last minute before going out. This of course gave people like Ralf Schumacher problems when the sesson was red flagged after Kimi's accident.

But the real benefit from the new format came in the last session, with some real excitement towards the end while Button and Massa challenged Michael's record-equalling pole time. Even the first few laps looked quite interesting, with more overtaking going on than we normally see in a race. But as soon as Michael suddenly went 3 seconds quicker, it was apparent that the earlier laps were just exercises in using fuel. It's by no means perfect, and there's still the question of how much fuel each team is carrying. But it's definitely an improvement.

Friday, March 10, 2006

First day in the Desert

So it seems that my forecast might have been wide of the mark. Obviously we don't expect to see many of the quick guys pounding round and round today, as teams are heavily into engine conservation now that each motor has to last two races. But I really hadn't expected to see a BMW at the top of the time sheets. As I'm in Switzerland, I'll refer to it as a Sauber, but Messrs Heidfeld and Villeneuve must be looking forward tothe qualifying.

It's also interesting to see the news on pitpass that the FIA has added another sticking plaster to the gaping wound that is qualifying. Apparently if a car stops during any of the three sessions it will take no further part in qualifying and will be returned to parc ferme. I think I can see how this will work, but it would be nice to have rules that are obvious as well as fair. For example, if a car suffers a gearbox leak, spraying oil on the track, it would be beneficial for a driver to pull over and stop so as not to make the track dangerous. But now I guess a driver would be encouraged to drive back to the pits so the team has a few vital minutes to fix the problem.

Last minute changes are seldom well thought-out. Please stop!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Qualifying and Racing

I may have given the impression that I'm not looking forward to the new qualifying rules. In fact, the reverse is true. I love the idea, but think it's way too complex. And unnecessarily so.

But come Saturday, I'll be keen to see how it all works. Twenty-two cars on track at the same time for 15 minutes should prove exciting, and there are bound to be a few drivers that get caught up behind a Super Aguri and don't manage to set a blinding lap. But it shouldn't be too hard for most teams to easily outclass the MF1s and SAs, which just leaves the question of whether the STRs will make the first cut. (Interesting that I've just mentioned three teams, and even the most well-informed observer this team last year, would have had no idea who I'm talking about. Perhaps they don't now!).

STR are damned if they do get to the second session, and damned if they don't. If they do get through, demoting, say, a BMW to the final six, that V10 engine and the questionable parentage of the RB1 chassis (that's been cunningly repainted, but is still an RB1) will come back to haunt them. Would Ferrari be allowed to sell their last year's car to MF1? No. So how come Red Bull get away with it? And if they don't get through? How is it possible to be so slow with that budget? (Not that we know what it is of course)

But that's an aside. Last year I had no intention of watching the ludicrous farce that was two-day qualifying. This year I think it'll be more interesting than the race. Mind you, last year's races were made more exciting by the single set of tyres, isn't it a shame that the FIA can't get both right in one year. If the GPMA manufacturers do meet up with Max and Bernie in Bahrain, is it too much to hope that that's the direction they'll choose?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bahrain Predictions

It's always pointless trying to pick which teams will do well at a particular circuit. It's even more pointless at the start of a new season when every team has new cars. And when the regulations have changed, well, what chance does a pundit have? So on that basis, here's my thoughts on how the race will turn out.

Renault will be the strongest challengers. I'm backing Alonso to win, with Fisi not too far behind on pace. Schumacher senior will also be right up there, and I'm picking him to be second on the podium behind Fernando. Third will be between Fisi and Button. The McLarens will suffer with reliability, even though Kimi will have put his McLaren on the front row of the grid. Neither will finish.

Trulli will head Ralf in the second half of the fight for points, possibly split by Massa if he doesn't make fifth, with Webber picking up the last point for Williams. Rosberg will start well but suffer with lack of experience in racing with pitstops. Rubens will suffer some unexplained problem and not finish.

The BMWs will struggle, and not make the top ten shoot out, nor score points. Heidfeld will be quicker than Villeneuve. They will be beaten by DC in the RB2, but Klien won't make it to the finish. The STR boys will be quicker than Midland. Midland will get upset about the engines STR are using and whinge to the FIA.

The Super Aguris will start last on the grid, Ide significantly behind Sato. Neither car will complete more than 15 laps but the team will still be happy to have got there.

Pure fantasy of course. But I'm curious to see how it turns out. And surely at least one prediction will turn out right!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Future Days

It seems wrong that less than a week before the start of a new F1 season, much of the news at present is about 2008 and beyond. Rumours that F1 bosses are to be given representation on the board of FOA, the company that owns the commercial rights to F1, and discussions about two potential new teams.

Surely, with new qualifying rules and technical regulations, we should be so excited that we're all making wild predictions and forecasts. Will Alonso keep his title even though he's signed for a rival team next year? Can Fisichella re-invent himself. Will the new tyre rules favour Ferrari? Will Minardi's (sorry, STR's) different engine configuration give them an advantage.

Instead, we're fussing about whether Eddie Irvine will be able to enter the sport or if Prodrive are building a new F1 facility. I think that's wrong and I hope the people at the FIA do to.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mosley's way

I'm not sure I like what Max Mosley is up to. Bearing in mind who his father was it would be all too easy to suggest that his current tactics are dictatorial (and I guess I've just done that). It would be a cheap jibe though, so let's just say his current tactics, strategy even, appears to be based on bullying.

Presenting the teams and manufacturers with an ultimatum, dressed up even though it is, as a rational argument for sense, is not fair. Half of the teams believe that change is needed in the governance of the sport and it looks like Max is trying to force them to relinquish any rights they may have in return for an entry in the 2008 championship. To me it smacks of "It's my ball and if you don't like it you can find another playground".

You're better than that Max. Open a series of negotiations instead and come up with an agreed set of rules. Not something that nobody wants and we'll be forced to live with for years.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

An interesting choice

It's amazing what drivers will do to be in F1. Frank Montagny has just signed to be Super Aguri's third driver for the first three GPs.

Quite normal you might think, but the boys (and girls, I guess) only have two cars. So what's the point? I assume that Frank thinks that staying under the noses of the F1 team managers means that should a vacancy arise, which would probably mean avain flu wiping out half a dozen drivers, he would be on hand to step in.

Sad that he has to turn down a drive in the US, but that's the way it goes these days.