Zurich Gnome

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

Friday, April 28, 2006

Testing at Paul Ricard

Following on from the previous post about testing at Silverstone, where I said that I would have opted to test in France, rather than rainy England, it transpires that there is another reason for testing near the Mediterranean.

Apparently Ferrari and Toyota are testing there at Bridgestone's request, as the tarmac surface most closely resembles that of Monaco. And because Monaco is a much slower race than any other, Bridgestone are producing special, softer, tyres for that race. And they need to be evaluated, hence the tests. It's still difficult to get meaningful results though, as the Ricard track has faster corners that generate more heat in the front tyres (and thus more rapid wear) but it's still considered worth the effort.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

What I'd like to see

I keep banging on about what I want the FIA to do, and that usually includes some kind of desire for a mission statement. Where they state what the reason behind F1 is. And while this is not a mission statement, here's where I'd see it going.

1. Unlimited engine development. No limit on number of cylinders, and no V-angle definition.

2. Cheap engine supply. By cheap I mean about $10 million dollars per year. And a manufacturer has to be prepared to sell engines to at least two teams that it does not have a financial interest in. So if Toyota want to invest $200 million building the best F1 engines, fine. It's a free market. But they could only charge a fixed amount for them. And manufacturers would have to deliver the engines to the FIA, and the FIA would deliver the engines to the teams at the track, to ensure that all teams get the same spec engines.

3. Manual gearboxes. CVT and smooth shift is fine. But I want to see the drivers work. It's important to understand that in the 50s, 60s and 70s a lot of passing was done when drivers missed a gear change, often as a result of being hassled by a following driver. I want a gearbox with no electronic or hydraulic input, just a shaft with a gear lever in the cockpit.

4. Limited aerodynamic effectiveness. Look at those pointless winglets and twiddly front wing end plates. Solution? Ban barge boards. Allow only flat end plates. Allow designers to choose from (say) six different aerofoil sections for the front and rear wings. Rear wings can remain in two sections (but still using the standard sections). Each team votes at the beginning of a year (eg (2006) for two sections, and the winning six sections (the FIA chooses in the event of a tie or not enough wings) can be used for the year following (2007 in this case).

5. Sensible wheel diameters. Nobody has a road car with 13 inch wheels these days. Increase it to 17 or 18 inches. The tyre manufacturers are spending a fortune on producing tyres that have nothing to do with road tyres because the major proble is in the compliance (flexibility) of the sidewalls.

6. Increased braking distances. When braking distances are so short, a driver has virtually no possibility to outbrake. limit the total contact area of the pads to increase braking distances by 50%.

There are more ideas, but this is a blog, so that's it for starters...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Testing again

As we're back in Europe now, it might seem reasonable that teams test more. But two things stand out. Most teams have a separate test team of mechanics and engineers that goes to the tests, so that the race team can concentrate on building race cars. And the weather in the UK in April is known for one thing - rain showers.

So the fact that most UK based teams were testing at Silverstone yesterday comes as a bit of a surprise. I'm not really sure what they expect to learn, because the British GP is not for another three months yet, and the changeable weather makes any results from testing a little ambiguous, surely. If they want to test rain tyres, why not go to the South of France and do the dry running, and then turn on the sprinklers at Le Castellet to get the track to the degree of wetness that you want to simulate? And put more cash in Bernie's pocket as he owns the superb test facility at the same time.

That approach made sense to me until I remembered where the next race is. The Nürburgring. And the 'ring in May is likely to have what sort of weather? You got it, showers. Those team bosses aren't daft you know...

Monday, April 24, 2006

After the Race

Well, my forecast wasn't as far out as I'd imagined, although I was surprised to see the McLarens struggle as much as they did. Mainly it comes down to the layout of the Imola track and the inability to overtake there. Various thoughts:

Honda: Bird, hand, bush - any of those words ring any bells? You haven't won a race yet, so just keep plugging away and score points when you can, not throwing them away ten metres short of the finish line. Put Davidson in the second Honda and run Rubens in the B-team. That would be a better use of his talents and give you an opportunity to evaluate Sato.

McLaren: Well done Monty. Still an anonymous performance, but you finished ahead of Kimi fair and square. OK, Raikonnen screwed qualifying but Montoya didn't put a foot wrong at all.

Ferrari: Did someone say Massa's race would be blown by slowing down Alonso? Well, Massa takes the Oscar for "Driver in a Supporting Role" and is another of those drivers that "could" have had a podium. Maybe we should ask the FIA to make bigger podiums? Oh, and a perfect race from Michael. I guess that's next year contract signed then.

BMW: Were you there?

Williams: Both cars finishing, and with only the Ferraris, McLarens and a Renault ahead of Webber, you can't expect much more than that.

Renault: How many races does Fisi have to do before we work out that the second Renault just isn't as quick as the other one? Cut your losses and give Kovalainen a go for a couple of races. Rosberg is already showing that experience isn't everything.

Toyota: Someone needs to understand that it's the end of the race that counts, not the start. Ralf seems to have the upper hand at the moment though, but sack the strategy man. Three stops on a circuit where you can't overtake? How often do you see that at Monaco? If you want to be radical, go for one stop.

Aguri: Good Bye Yuji. Please.

STR: What was expected. No more, no less.

Red Bull: Two retirements is just not acceptable.

Midland: At some point, someone has to ask what the point of this team is. Midland isn't a brand worth promoting and they always come last. But would I want to be on their pit wall? Of course. It's just that they really need to find a way to run a bit quicker, or show more passion, like Minardi used to. Currently, it's like Jordan without the humour and the parties.

Friday, April 21, 2006

San Marino GP

As is customary, here's my preview of how the race will pan out.

The two Ferraris will start from the front of the grid, Michael heading off into the lead, with Massa lagging behind. Alonso tries to pass Massa but is forced to slot in behind and then looks increasingly frustrated as Schuey pulls away and he's also being hassled by Kimi. Button is also up in the leading group (again, Rubens was disappointing in qualifying) and then there's a small gap to Fisichella, then Montoya being hounded by Webber, Trulli and Heidfeld. Ralf tangled with DC at the Tamburello chicane on the first lap, both are out.

Rosberg made a great start after a disastrous qualifying and heads Rubens,JV,Klien and the two STRs and Sato, again running well ahead of both Midlands. Ide managed to confuse himself on the first lap and span off, ending his race and F1 career.

Back at the front Massa stops first, with Schuey having built a ten second lead, which starts to come down as Fernando and Kimi are unleashed from behind the red mobile chicane. The Ferrari and Renault stop together, Schuey maintaing a narrow lead, but Kimi carries on for three vital laps, retaining the lead when he comes out. Ten laps later he's out though, with a pile of smoking German metal behind him.

So it's Schuey from Alonso, Fisichella, Button and Webber, who simply outdrove Montoya at Tosa. It's simply a question of whether Alonso will pass Schuey at the second stop, but the Ferrari's carrying more fuel and stays out two laps more than the Renault. Game over. But the Spaniard is happy to have eight more points in the bag and Fisichella can be happy with third, only a few seconds behind his team mate.

Webber makes it to the finish a fine fourth, having passed Jenson at the second stop, although Rosberg suffered engine failure stopping what would have been two Williams in the points. Montoya again disappoints, but at least finishes, as does Trulli, just behind Massa in seventh, his race screwed by the strategy of sacrificing his race for Michael.

Disappointment for Rubens, hydraulics being the reason for retirement, but he never looked like showing. Heidfeld and JV finish line astern just out of the points, BMW aren't up with the big boys yet amd they're still racing Klien, Speed and Liuzzi. Sato again finishes, showing how much he has matured, starting rumours that he will be back in the Honda A-team before the season is out. Albers and Monteiro also both finish, but frankly, nobody cares.

Schuey is delighted to be able to make his trademark jump on the podium, and has also taken Senna's pole record, almost 12 years after the Brazilian died at this very track. Very poignant.

Complete fiction of course. Or is it?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sport - what's that?

There's an interesting article on pitpass today, an interview with the new Renault F1 team president. Well, I say interesting, but frankly you'd need to be the sort of person that gets excited by the Financial Times to get any real enjoyment out of it.

It deals with cost reduction, benchmarking against competitors, brand awareness in emerging and existing markets, replacement of key personnel, keeping existing staff and other issues.

Does it mention sport, racing or passion? Of course not. I guess that says something.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Come on Boys

I sometimes wonder who reads this stuff, but unless they follow F1 very closely, they (and I guess I mean you) must wonder what the hell is going on.

For a start there aren't many sports where a fan won't know how many events make up the championship. But in F1 it seems to vary from year to year. And then there are issues that cause pundits like me to go into orbit about various rounds of the series. So far this year I've ranted about Japan, Belgium and Italy, with a nagging suspiscion that something should have been said about the US GP after the tyre farce last year.

And now the British Gp is under discussion again. So that's about a quarter of the races being fiddled about with. we appear to have a bunch of money obsessed idiots sqaubbling over what will happen to one of the most featureless bits of land in England. I guess that's the problem with having a racetrack owned by a committee.

I stopped feeling sentimental about Silverstone when they remodelled Becketts, Stowe and Club corners. For all I care they can build houses on it. But then, there have been a couple of outstanding races there recently. Anyone fancy setting up a fund raising committee so we can buy it and run it ourselves?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hear Hear

Good to read on pitpass that the GP at Monza is safe. Cars can run unsilenced for 37 days a year, which sounds like a lot to me. That's five three-day meetings, five two-day meetings and 12 test days.

What interested me was that F1 cars can make noise up to 130db, which is about 1000 times more intense than the noise a chainsaw makes, or 30 times more intense than a loud rock concert. I'm not surprised I've felt physical pain in the past. It's clear that one should wear ear protection in the vicinity of such noise sources, but I'm afraid I still can't bring myself to do it. I keep telling myself that's only when you're close, but the ears do ring for days afterwards.

As it's Easter, I won't be posting again until next Wednesday. by which time there may have been some occurences worthy of comment. Come back then!

Finally, I hope you have a happy Easter, or whatever it is you celebrate that allows you to eat more chocolate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Miles ahead

If you'd asked me at the beginning of the season which team would have completed most laps at race weekends after three races, there's one team I wouldn't have mentioned; Super Aguri. Aguri Honda, as they are listed by the FIA on the results sheets, have though achieved this astounding feat. Totting up more laps than even Renault, the boys from Leafield have done a fantastic job to get the cars to three flyaway races, let alone have them finish. It makes me wonder what might have been if the Arrows team had had a reasonable budget to run the cars in 2003. All credit to the designers.

Less welcoming news is that Fosters are withdrawing from F1. This may well be due to the fact that the famous brand has been sold to Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, but it's a big sponsor to lose and that is rarely good news. Mind you, considering that we always say that the only way to limit F1 spending is to restrict the cash available, it might just turn out to be a good thing.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Too late for Suzuka

If you were thinking of hopping on a plane later in the year and going to see F1 cars tackle 130R for the last time, you've left it too late.

At a time when many circuits are struggling to sell tickets, Suzuka has already sold out. That's six months before the race. So why do the powers that be feel that it's necessary to move the race to Fuji next year? Well, money, obviously. It certainly can't be that Suzuka is too hard to get to if 100,000 fans are so keen to get there they book this far in advance.

Another classic example of fixing something that isn't broken, when there's plenty of things that need doing.

Friday, April 07, 2006

It can't be right, can it?

A question I'm often asked is "what would you do to make F1 fairer/more interesting". On pitpass, Chris Balfe has opened up the site to a talking point session that let's readers give their opinions, and there is now page upon page of response. You can see that on most F1 site bulletin boards too.

Everybody has their own ideas, some similar, some not. But what is worrying is that everybody thinks something (and I don't mean one thing, I mean a lot of things) needs to be done.

Can you think of another sport where that's true? And it's not motor racing that's at fault. NASCAR is fine, CART /Champ Cars is fine. Nobody there is talking about changing the rules. Sure you might think that a particular driver is useless at road courses, or a particular team is struggling to get the most from a driver/car combination. But nothing major

What would I change in F1? Lets see, starting from the front of the car: Front wings, end plates, tyres, wheel size, brakes, barge boards and winglets, engine, gearbox, rear wing and the diffuser. And on the sporting side: refuelling and tyre changes, race length, point scoring system, qualifying format and the restriction on teams entering.

Ask a football fan what they'd change and they might want a new player for their team, but not an entirely new set of rules. How can it be so hard? I know I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, so sorry in advance. But not as sorry that I'll have to say it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gardening Leave

I'll admit to being curious about the Gascoyne saga. Why are Toyota getting rid of him just at the point that the team seems to be picking up? And of course, there's no guarantee in a competitive sport that a team can maintain progress.

Williams in particular seem to be doing a great job with Cosworth, although a bit of reliability wouldn't go amiss. But it's always said that it's easier to make a fast car reliable, than it is to make a reliable car go fast. So I'm sure Frank and co aren't too worried. And could Toyota expect to be ahead of Ferrari? Renault? McLaren? I'd say no to all three, their improvement in the last couple of years was due to Ferrari struggling with the changed tyre regs, and McLaren's appalling reliability. Which means that seventh place is as good as they can expect, if they are better than Williams, one of only four teams to have ever won the World Championship. So getting a podium is a pretty good achievement. Honda haven't done any better, and you'd have to say that they look more like winning a race than Toyota do.

But either way, it looks like at least six months of gardening leave for Mr G. If you're reading this Mike, and are feeling generous, there's quite a bit of weeding needs doing at my place.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Twenty Two Entries

I don't get this. This year we have 22 cars on the grid, but apparently we have entries for 22 teams in 2008. That's 44 cars. My first thought was that there was no way there's enough engineering experience to get 22 teams up and running, but of course, we're only talking about one team, as the total number of entries is limited to 12 teams.

So that means 12 potential entries scrabbling for one free slot. Aguri Suzuki clearly knew what he was doing when he bust a gut to get on the grid this year. Because an F1 entry is a potentially valuable resource. Which is why Paul Stoddart is keen to come back, and I'd be happy to see that. But as I'd also like to see David Richards back with a Prodrive entry, I'd have to choose.

Those of you that know the way I think might guess what I'd opt for. I'd thank all the teams for their entries. Tell them there's no need for the $48 million dollar bond (or however much it is these days). And if they'd care to have their cars ready for 2007, they can run in a brand new series. It'd be called F2. And it would be for cars complying to 2008 F1 Technical Regulations.

Because I'd organise a new series, probably just in Europe, because that's the kind of guy I am. And the team that wins the championship in 2007, gets an entry for the 2008 F1 championship. And I'd keep running it in 2008 and onwards, with relegation and promotion for the worst team in F1 and the best in F2. Only if they want to, of course, because it might be commercial suicide.

Seems logical to me. I don't see how the teams could object (they'll have to test anyway if they're serious). Spectators get more chances to see real F1 machinery in action, not stupid GP2 cars. Circuits get more revenue...

..and there's a new set of TV rights to be sold off. Can I have them please? It was my idea, after all...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Team Radio

I quite like some of the comments you get over the radio during races. My all-time favourite happened during the first year JPM was racing at Williams. In Austria they decided to red-flag a practice session because a deer had been spotted. The conversation went something like:

Engineer: Careful JP, there's reports of a deer on the course.
JPM: What's a deer?
Engineer: Er, it's like a horse. With horns on.

This weekend there were two snippets that made me think. One from Renault to Fisichella, telling him that there was no way he could be two seconds a lap slower than Alonso. The other was from Red Bull to Coulthard, informing him that he had to pass Scott Speed.

Now I might be a simpleton, but Formula One is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. The series where the best racing drivers get to show their talents. And the last time I looked, motor racing was all about driving faster than your opponents, and going past them if they are in front of you.

So how come two of the best racing drivers in the world have to be given such basic advice? Surely it would occur to Coulthard that overtaking a car in front was a good idea? It should be his entire purpose in life to get past that car. That's what it's about. And Fisichella? "Could you please drive a bit faster mate?". Well if he can, get him out of the car and fire him. I want someone in that car that drives it at its maximum without being told. And races. Not just drives in a race, races.

I used to think that the only thing wrong with F1 was that the cars made it impossible to overtake each other. If it's true that drivers aren't even thinking about it any more than maybe the rot is deeper than I thought.

Mine's a Point

So, how much is a point worth these days? The reason I ask is because Jenson Button stopped just before the finish line. I thought at the time that it might have something to do with avoiding the 10 slot penalty that he would have received at Imola, had he crossed the line. Honda's post-race press release seems to confirm that point: "As Jenson did not take the chequered flag in Melbourne today he escapes a 10-place grid penalty in the next race, which gives the team the opportunity to maximise the benefit of its testing developments."

Now Jenson could have scored three points if he'd rolled across the line. And as a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, that's like trading sixth place for third. So Honda appear to think that Jenson is in with a good chance of finishing higher than third in Imola. Granted, he came third last year (before the stupid exclusion) and ran well the year before, leading for part of the race and finishing second. So they may well view Imola as their best chance this year.

But it shows what a stupid rule this is. Jenson was actually classified in the results, which in my book means he was a finisher. So he might get the penalty anyway. And if Coulthard and Speed had been lapped by Alonso, Button could still have scored a point, but escaped the penalty. Doesn't sound right to me.

Either way, if Jenson wants to win in Imola, he needs to watch the race and learn from his mistakes. He was great at the first corner, holding Alonso off. But he was a complete idiot (I used a much stronger word when watching the race) at the restarts. It is unforgiveable to lose a place when you are controlling the pack. Button should know all about slowing and speeding up on the pre-restart lap. After all he went off the road at Monza a while back trying to avoid Schumacher. And even when Alonso was alongside I thought a quick lift to make Fernando pass before the finish line (and thus get a penalty) would have been worthwhile. Not gentlemanly, but this is racing. Which Jenson should also remember, because Kimi was allowed down the inside with no defence at all. It was like watching a goalkeeper just cover his eyes and hoping the striker missed. Kimi didn't.

All in all an incident packed race. But not that exciting, which is a shame, because it could have been.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fool

No, not my Melbourne Forecast from yesterday, although that's looking very wide of the mark! Just a piece I wrote for pitpass aboout qualifying changes.