Nothing Lasts Forever

Marussia V Caterham Italian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Marussia V Caterham
Italian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The plight of the Caterham and Marussia F1 teams is a sorry state of affairs. That two teams should reportedly be placed into administration within a month of each other is deeply troubling even if it is not, in all honesty, a tremendous surprise. It is very sad for the team’s hard working employees and for their many fans. But for anyone to pretend that this is some new phenomenon and that it should not be permitted to happen is utterly absurd. If success is the barometer against which all racing entities are judged, then failure is inherent in the very DNA of the sport.

In the 64 year history of Formula 1, 164 teams have existed. Today, including Caterham and Marussia, 11 survive. 153 teams have thus failed within that time period. That’s an average of a little over two teams (2.390) failing each season. While unfortunate, the demise of the sport’s two slowest and most poorly funded teams is well within acceptable and statistical, if slightly Darwinian, limits.

Only one team, Scuderia Ferrari, has competed in every year of the championship. Even looking back a decade to the grid of 2004 highlights the fact that just four teams survived to take their place on the grid in 2014. That’s 60% of the 2004 grid that either withdrew, folded, or sold up and shipped out over the last decade.

There are no guarantees in this sport. There never have been and there never will be. For the uncompetitive, both sportingly and financially, life in Formula 1’s state of nature has always fallen under Thomas Hobbes’ most famed principle of social contract theory. Namely, that it is nasty, brutish and short.

Back in 2003, I remember well a conversation I had with then Minardi boss Paul Stoddart at European Aviation’s base just outside Ledbury, England. Stoddy was a battler, and either a bastard or a hero depending on which side of the fence one wished to sit. Constantly at loggerheads with fellow team owners and the FIA, he preached that without the small teams Formula 1 would die. His reasoning was simple. Without a Minardi or a Jordan occupying the final rows of the grid, those final positions would be taken by a major motor manufacturer. Said manufacturer would then have to explain to the board why hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent on this folly, only to be seen as slow and weak. The manufacturer would thus pull out, leaving another manufacturer on the back row. And so the unravelling effect would build speed until just one manufacturer was left and the sport was dead.

But while Stoddy sold up to Red Bull, turning Minardi into Scuderia Toro Rosso, and while teams folded all around, the sport didn’t die. It evolved. The Ferrari empire collapsed and the Red Bull empire was built. The great garagistes peaked and troughed. Big manufacturers withdrew. And in 2010, three new teams were welcomed into the fold.

Today, it is this process to which one must now give serious attention if we are to truly understand the situation the sport now finds itself in. Questions have always been asked but now answers must be given as to the true story behind a selection process that saw the seemingly worthy applications of Epsilon Euskadi, N Technology, Prodrive and Lola, amongst others, overlooked in favour of Campos (which became HRT), Lightspeed (which became Lotus/Caterham), USF1 (which never even made a race), and Manor Racing (which became Virgin and then Marussia.)

Each entry was sold on the promise of a budget cap which was never realised. Not one made the first race of the 2010 F1 season in the guise in which it had applied for and been awarded an entry. Only one scored an F1 point, and all four have now failed.

With the exception of Manor, a team with tremendous junior formula pedigree, and to a lesser extent Campos which itself had success at sub-F1 levels, answers must be given by the FIA as to how and why the teams were chosen in the 2010 process. As maligned as they now are in F1 circles, without the likes of Branson and Fernandes, and one must not forget Kolles’ role for HRT, the Lightspeed, Manor and Campos projects might well have proven to be as stillborn as was USF1. That they survived as long as they did is testament to the tenacity and hard work of those that will be hit hardest by all this – the staff.

Graeme Lowdon and Bernie Ecclestone Russian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Graeme Lowdon and Bernie Ecclestone
Russian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

So how do we progress? And can the teams be saved? Quite simply, in the cases of Caterham and Marussia, while administration will allow a chance for a buyer to be found, one would now sadly not place any serious amount of money on seeing either team on the grid in Melbourne next season. But while their demise is a perfectly natural part of the dog-eat-dog world of Formula 1, it does not mean that one should not learn from the problems the teams have encountered, and strive to find solutions for the future.

Bernie Ecclestone has today reignited the debate on the potential for teams to run third cars in Formula 1. But rather than the top teams running their own third cars, he has suggested something altogether different…

“They would supply a third car to someone else so if, for example, Sauber disappeared, a team could do a deal with Sauber. Ferrari could say, ”we will give you a car, all that goes with it, and we want you to put this sponsor on it. You have your own sponsors but we want you to include this one as well and we want you to take this driver”. The team wouldn’t have to go under then would they? If Red Bull decided they would give a car to Caterham for example that could solve their problem,” he told The Mail in an article written by Christian Sylt.

The issue with this is that it doesn’t solve the issue. Not for anyone. Except perhaps Ecclestone himself.

In order to qualify for payments as a Formula 1 constructor a team must be a bona fide “constructor.” As such, running another team’s third car would mean that it was, in effect, running a customer car and would thus forfeit its rights, rewards and obligations under Concorde. Let’s not even get into the concept of a team simply “giving” a car away to another squad and the cost implications implicit in this. At its very base, the idea negates a team’s position as a constructor and far from saving it, would merely condemn it.

What it does do, however, is keep the grid filled. And this, as the sport’s Commercial Rights Holder, is Ecclestone’s only real concern. Bernie has created deals with racing circuits, promoters and the world’s television networks worth hundreds of millions of dollars per annum on the basis that he and CVC will provide a Formula 1 World Championship… that means every driver and, of course, every team. Crucially, there is understood to be a clause in these contracts which designates a full grid as being composed of 16 cars. Austin will feature just two above this number. Should Sauber, which is also believed to be in financial peril, fold, Ecclestone has a real problem on his hands.

Ecclestone’s concept of third cars run by smaller teams is a short term stop gap, seemingly to save CVC and the sport from defaulting on its contracts promising full grids of a certain size. What it will not do is save the teams under pressure, let alone those who have already placed themselves in administration.

Would Gene Haas benefit from Customer Cars? c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

Would Gene Haas benefit from Customer Cars?
c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

I have long argued the benefits of customer cars and today, as the last of the 2010 entrants admits defeat and enters its final weeks, I feel its potential importance to be greater than ever. It will not help those who are already failing, but it could be a solution for the future. Those who are regular readers of my blog will know my concept. For those that are new I will outline it in very simple terms.

Any new team entering Formula 1 may purchase and use an old (previous year or older) customer chassis for the first two years of competition in the sport. It is permitted to make its own upgrades to this car and to develop it up to the point where, starting at the first race of the third year of competition, it must field a car of its own design. A budget for the chassis of each team will be set by the FIA on a sliding scale whereby the bottom ranked team’s car is the cheapest up to the champion’s being the most expensive. As such, there is a higher chance of mid-grid to lower ranked teams receiving the benefit of a cash injection from the new squads, at a sensible level of affordability for the new entrant.

It is the principle which Super Aguri ran in its short F1 lifetime, and used to such effect to take a knackered Honda and start taking the fight not only to its big sister team, but to the established order on occasion. The car that Aguri would have fielded for the 2009 season it never saw, the first of its own design, actually went on to form the basis of the Brawn BGP001 which won the championship. Had Aguri had better financing, there is every reason to suspect that in just its third year of competition, it could have truly been a contender.

It is a simple concept, and one which I believe would help new teams. It gives them a step up to be able to compete, but it doesn’t hand them success on a plate. It must still be achieved by hard work and ingenuity.

What the last four years has taught us, however, is that talent alone is not enough. The teams can do their very best Emperor Nero impersonation, but if they want the sport to survive and if they want new blood to stand a chance, as they proclaim they do, then this small allowance must be permitted. I still find it beyond reason that Williams should be one of the chief voices against the return of customer cars, when Sir Frank himself began his F1 team running Piers Courage in a purchased Brabham in 1969. But that’s by the by.

Because, at the root of much of the discontent in the sport, is the simple fact that the teams have too much power. You want to blame someone for double points? Blame the Strategy Group. Engine Unfreeze? Strategy Group. That initial Team radio ban? Strategy Group.

I’ve said it once and I will say it again. You cannot expect competing entities to legislate for the furtherance of the sport. They will always be driven by their own agendas, be they sporting or financial. The teams will sit and crow that the demise of Caterham and Marussia is terribly sad and something should have been done to save them, but the truth of the matter is that the sport exists today in a political mess where only the teams have the ability to truly save themselves. That they have let two of their own destroy themselves is their responsibility. But it is a responsibility they should not have.

Time for the President to step up c/o James Moy Photography

Time for the President to step up
c/o James Moy Photography

It has been reported that Jean Todt became so incensed with the teams’ inability to agree on something as simple as the enlargement of driver numbers that he realised early in his tenure that an agreement on a budget cap would be impossible. If that truly is the case then it is up to the President of this sport’s Governing Body to do what his job entails and to actually govern. If he cannot then he should move aside and an election should be held to find a leader of suitable conviction to take this sport by the neck and save it from itself.

The financial structure of the sport is also in desperate need of an overhaul. The very concept that certain teams should be given windfalls purely for being part of the sport, coupled with the unjust structuring of payments from top to bottom, would make any sane businessman walk away from the sport before he even began due diligence into the project. For while in principle all teams are equal, Formula 1 falls only too easily into the Orwellian nightmare that some are more equal than others.

That Gene Haas believes he can make a success of the sport, without the promise of a budget cap or customer cars, is bold. Some might say it is brave. Some might say it’s bloody stupid. One thing, however, seems certain. As things stand, his team might well be assured a top 10 constructors’ position in its debut season. And that, in itself, is why the sport must get on top of its issues. If there is no pressure to perform, no carrot of payments to dangle, then there is no need to develop and advance. While the financial structure does at least have this element correct, the precise payments and the structure of percentage increases per position is in need of a serious overhaul.

33 years ago, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley led a revolution in the sport. The Concorde Agreement, which signaled the end of hostilities, remains today in a fairly similar form to the treaty that was drawn up more than three decades ago. The world has changed. The sport has changed. But its governance has altered little.

The time has come to rewrite this ageing document and reform our sport’s constitution. I do not have the answers as to what the solution should be, but one cannot operate a sport where competing entities have the absolute say on regulation, where the governing body sits impotent to the desires of those over which it was elected to govern, and where the finances of the operation and restrictions of regulation for the newcomers make it impossible to nurture the green shoots of a promising newcomer.

Caterham and Marussia will be missed. Their names will be logged alongside the other 153, many of whom achieved far more than 2010’s minnows. Race winners. Championship takers. No team is impervious to failure. None must ever become so.

But all should be given a fair chance to succeed. Sadly Caterham and Marussia, like HRT and USF1 before them, were seemingly doomed from the start.

Sunday in Suzuka…

Jules Bianchi c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Singapore GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

Sunday in Suzuka was one of those days you always have in the back of your mind as a motor racing journalist. The danger, the risk… it’s why the thrill is so high. It’s why the rewards are so great. It’s why the fear is so real.

You are always aware that something can go wrong. You just have to live in the hope that it doesn’t.

But when it does, and it will, there is a responsibility incumbent upon those with the privilege and distinction of being granted access to the paddock, and credentials to report on such a situation, to do so carefully and diligently. For the most part, it was an honour to class myself an F1 journalist alongside my colleagues on Sunday. For the most part.

The circumstances surrounding Jules Bianchi’s accident were confusing on the ground. We’d seen Adrian Sutil’s accident and knew that he was out of the car and safe. But then the safety and medical cars both emerged and concern began to creep in. It was the announce crew on NBCSN who, in my immediate arena, picked it up first, suggesting that it appeared something was underneath the crane carrying Sutil’s stricken Sauber. At first I worried we had a repeat of Canada 2013 on our hands.

But then came the realisation. Bianchi’s timing data showed he had stopped in the same sector as Sutil. The glimpses of red and black livery against the crane, the frantic reaction of the marshals and the refusal of the cameras to zoom in tight on the scene started to give clarity to suggestion.

I moved towards the Marussia hospitality unit, from whence worried faces emerged, just as the images of the ashen faces of their colleagues on the pitwall were broadcast to a global audience. But nobody could or would tell us anything.

The combination of these factors allows you the information you require. My producer, Jason, and I discussed it and drew the only conclusion we could at this point. It was something gravely serious.

You speak to who you can. You find your trusted sources. You find someone who you know, knows. But in a situation like this, until it is official you cannot state the things you know to be true, as fact.

The words you use when reporting must be chosen carefully. “I understand,” “I believe,” “it appears.” In truth, you can only really deal in fact as it has been officially transmitted through official channels. The rest is supposition and in cases like this, immensely dangerous.

And so the pieces of the puzzle are built, and the full picture starts to emerge.

The TV pen was moved inside for the typhoon c/o James Moy Photography

The TV pen was moved inside for the typhoon
c/o James Moy Photography

I have no idea how other broadcasters handled the situation, but I was incredibly proud of the way NBCSN reacted on Sunday. In the post-race interview pen, which had been moved inside the FIA hospitality unit on account of the weather, I was also tremendously proud of my fellow TV crews from around the world. Every now and then, in search of the all important quotes, it can become a brawl. Elbows out, animal instincts setting in, only the need to be first with the words that will form the headlines the next day.

But pretty much all of those inside that media pen have been around a while. We all knew what we were looking at. Despite its smaller than usual nature, I’ve never seen an interview pen conducted with more respect. There was no jostling. Room was made for everyone. There was no crowding. Questions to drivers were kept to a minimum. Speculation had no place. There were no inappropriate enquiries. Certainly, that was true of the group in which I placed myself.

Perhaps it is because we look these guys in the eye everyday. We have one on one access to each of them four times a weekend. With some of them, you could see it in their eyes. You could hear it in their voices. Regardless of professionalism, regardless of consideration for the incident, as a compassionate human being you should be able to recognise a person’s emotions and act accordingly. I hope we did so.

Matteo Bonciani FIA Head of Communications and F1 Media Delegate c/o James Moy Photography

Matteo Bonciani
FIA Head of Communications and F1 Media Delegate
c/o James Moy Photography

The FIA’s Head of Communications and F1 Media Delegate Matteo Bonciani entered the room and gave us a short statement. We repeated it on-air verbatim.

Jules Bianchi had been taken, unconscious, to the local Mie University Hospital by ambulance, as the weather conditions were considered too poor for the helicopter to take off.

In situations such as this where information is so limited, it is critical that whatever official information is given is completely accurate. In this case there were two small but, given the importance placed on every word when so few have been given, crucial inaccuracies.

The first was the hospital itself, as Bianchi had in fact been taken to Mie General Hospital / Medical Centre in Yokkaichi. The second, and of vital importance, was the reason for the use of the ambulance. As Bonciani gave the statement, the medical helicopter was taking off behind him, thus immediately calling into question the very statement given.

In actual fact the ambulance, we now understand, had been used for medical reasons rather than for any meteorological factor. Had this one simple fact been corrected immediately, a lot of the confusion and fallout post race would have been eliminated. The press who chose to dwell on the use or otherwise of the helicopter might instead have been lauding the fact that the time between the point of impact and Bianchi’s admission to hospital was, I believe, less than 45 minutes.

As we went off air, the paddock had one of the strangest vibes I’ve ever experienced. The pack-up was in full swing as the expectation that the typhoon would hit remained in clear focus. With no news on the condition of their beloved Jules, the Marussia boys walked around trance-like. TV crews tried to make sense of the situation. Interviews were conducted.

There was no hysteria. Just shock. And hugs.

I walked around the paddock, bumping into people who seemed to just want to talk. Drivers, ex and current. Officials. Team members. Everyone was numb and yet needed to talk, compartmentalising the many aspects, trying to make sense of it all. Eventually we went back to the media centre. What more could we do? Some, at the behest of their editors, had the unenviable task of acting as ambulance chasers and were already en-route to Yokkaichi to sit and wait for news outside the hospital. But we sat tight and waited at the track.

Night falls in Suzuka c/o James Moy Photography

Night falls in Suzuka
c/o James Moy Photography

Eventually the news came in the form of a statement, carefully worded by Bonciani and Marussia’s Head of Communications Tracy Novak who stood, staring straight ahead, her mind no doubt cast back to Duxford and poor Maria. It was read out once for print media and once for television crews. It stated Bianchi had suffered a serious head injury and was undergoing surgery before he would be moved to intensive care. All further updates would come from the team.

But already voices were being raised. A small group at the back of the media centre rounded on Bonciani demanding Race Director Charlie Whiting give a press conference. There were questions that needed answering, they jabbed. There was responsibility to be apportioned. And when would they be allowed to see the incident? When would a replay be shown? It was vital that they see it. Their haughty tones wafted down from their ivory towers, built upon the sandy pillars of arrogance and inexperience. Care and compassion in the search of the truth had been replaced for the vocal, selfish few with sensationalism and ego.

Those of us who have been in this game for more than two minutes are only too aware of the reason replays are not shown of incidents such as this. More pressingly, at this juncture, we are also only too aware that the issue of responsibility comes later. Much later. After detailed analysis. This was the wrong time to be picking this particular fight. And all for a small number of outlets who, given the time difference, weren’t even on deadline.

So why the urgency? Why the need for answers?

To assuage the thirst to be first. To please their twitter followers. To get that scoop on social media and claim the plaudits for the counting seconds until the next shred of information is released. It’s something of which I sit here and admit with deep embarrassment I have been guilty myself in the past. Sometimes, we just need to take a step back.

Sunday was a lesson in the responsibility inherent in being one of the lucky few to be granted a credential to report on this sport. It is a privilege, not a right. And the onus should be on the search of truth. Because, particularly in moments such as we experienced on Sunday, and despite living in a modern world where social media has led to an overwhelming clamour for news NOW… being right is more important than being first.

Could the media management have been handled better? Of course. And lessons will have been learned. But when you are a team of one man, responsible for communicating to print, web, TV and radio, perhaps the FIA should permit their Head of Communications a larger team.

With time, the clamour for answers over the incident itself will become more appropriate than it was on Sunday night. Indeed, it is understood that Charlie Whiting has been tasked to conduct a thorough investigation by FIA President Jean Todt. We must allow him to do his work.

For the here and now, because I know I will be asked, I must say I side with Lauda and Mosley in their belief that procedures were followed correctly. But as Jacques Villeneuve argued, that does not mean that those procedures do not need to be looked into and that the sport must make itself open and amenable to change. Full course yellows, safety cars for every incident… there is now a very clear argument for this to become the norm, as it is in many other forms of motorsport. Do I think a canopy would have helped? No I do not. In fact, in this instance, and from what I have seen and been told, it might even have hindered Bianchi’s extraction.

These arguments will come and they will be heard… in time.

Answers are being sought and answers will be given.

But right now, the only people with any right to ask for them are the family of Jules Bianchi.

#ForzaJules

#ForzaJules

Garlic Bread

Prost drives through the shadows c/o FIA Formula E

Prost drives through the shadows
c/o FIA Formula E

So, the inaugural Formula E e-prix has been and gone. I’d expected to hate every cringe-worthy second of it. That high-pitched shriek of the car, setting my teeth on edge and forcing my spine to contort at acute angles in a reaction normally reserved for the sound of nails scraping down a chalkboard. I was prepared to despise the hastily planned and built street track that wouldn’t allow any overtaking, if the cars even got that close given the disparity expected between racing machines. And I didn’t expect more than a handful to limp over the finish line with the dregs of battery left in them, the Duracell bunny doing his very best to keep running inside that wheel that powered the engine, or however the hell they worked.

In short, ever since that video of Lucas di Grassi pulling “donuts” in a Las Vegas carpark emerged however long ago it was, I expected complete and utter farce.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I saw today in Beijing got me massively excited for the future of our sport. Was it perfect? No. But was it racing? Was it wheel to wheel, was it gutsy, did I jump out of my seat shouting at the TV? To every question, a resounding YES. It surprised me. And I’m so glad it did.

Are there issues, well yes of course, but what I think is vitally important to take into consideration is the fact that this was the first weekend of a new championship that has been rushed into existence by a governing body and President determined to show it is aware of the need for the sport to show its 21st Century credentials and to prove that it can remain relevant into the modern era and long after we have run out of dinosaur gloop to power our cars.

In Alejandro (Oui Monsieur President, Alejandro, not Alessandro as you managed to call him on the grid) Agag, Formula E has at its helm a businessman, politician and race team owner who isn’t used to failure. What he has achieved in even getting this championship to its first race must be commended because, if we are being brutally honest, this technology is nowhere near ready to be able to showcase what the future really could be.

I have long believed that until such a time as future tech can do the job of current tech, it simply isn’t a viable alternative let alone replacement. As such, seeing the test times come in from Donington had many in the motorsport community scoffing. The Formula E cars were barely over Formula Ford pace and were losing about 10% of their power per lap, meaning with in and out laps included, drivers would only get about 8 timed laps. They were never going to last a full race distance.

And so to the biggest issue the championship has: that of swapping cars mid-race. I don’t think it matters if you are a motorsport purist, a fan of 50 years, a fan of 5 years or someone whose first experience of a motor race was today in Beijing… it just doesn’t work. We are supposed to be living in economical times. The keyword is Austerity. And yet here we are, looking at a situation in which when a car runs out of power, rather than filling it up, we’re told it’s fine to just unbuckle and jump into a new one. It doesn’t and it can’t sit well with… well, frankly, anyone.

Factor in also the green credentials. Forget, for the moment, the fact that it is quite possible the worst advertisement for electric cars that the industry could possibly hope for and let’s instead focus on the bizarre situation in which each team has to double their freight in order to take two cars per driver to every single race. Cars which are flown internationally by DHL. In big, gas guzzling, airplanes.

The concept of the stops themselves are scrappy and ill thought through. They occur in individual garages which are relatively private and almost impossible to cover successfully on television without 20 unique RF cameras and multi split-screen. A minimum time erases some advantage a quick stop holds, and is too arbitrary in a closely fought race as we saw today when mere tenths split the top 6 coming in for their first stops.

I’ve got to say though, that overall I felt this was the only real major issue with the championship. It was rather nice to be sat at home watching from afar, and so half as a fan and half watching on with a critical eye, here are my takes on a few of what will no doubt be talking points over the coming days and weeks.

The inaugural race mid-flow c/o FIA Formula E

The inaugural race mid-flow
c/o FIA Formula E

Sound

Thought I’d hate it, actually really liked it. The only problem for me was it wasn’t loud enough. Those at the track say they’re actually far louder in real life than on TV. Ring any bells, F1 fans? The Formula E car sounds like something out of an early 2000s sci-fi futuristic racing game. At least it would if they positioned the mics better and pumped up the volume. I tweeted during the race, and in hinsight it is the one thing that has stuck with me throughout the day, but there were times when I was transported back to playing F-Zero X on the Nintendo N64, or Wipeout on the Playstation. It was high pitched whooshes and whirrs, chattering around corners… with added tyre squeal. I loved it!

Ahhh yes, many of you will say, but what about that god awful music? Again… and perhaps I’ve played too many computer games in my life, but I enjoyed this aspect of the product too. The musical selection was in the hands of the, let’s say interestingly dubbed “EJ” instead of DJ. You can insert your own witty line about controversial noise here. Suffice to say there weren’t any coloured shirts and wild theories on display, just a dude at some decks wearing a helmet that made him look like the bastard lovechild of Dedmau5 and Daft Punk, trying to find the right tunes to suit the mood.

The music was used sparingly and, at least on the ITV4 broadcast we had in the UK, was at the right level in the mix so as not to drown out the cars nor the great commentary team of Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti. We had a nice build of musical anticipation from the grid all around the formation lap to a crescendo at lights out. Then we had nothing but race sound until the safety car came out, at which point the music returned. And I’ve got to say that, from my perspective, it really worked. The safety car periods are a moment at which the race is effectively paused, and as such it did feel like we were going back to a menu screen or hitting that pause button on a computer game. Then back to the racing and the sound of the cars until, with two laps to go, in crept that music again. And as the music built over those last two laps, so did the anticipation right to the flag.

It was a great idea and, for this championship at least, I felt it worked really well.

Speed

Cars that don’t sound fast don’t look fast. It is a very simple equation. This equation does, however, have factors that can influence the result. And they’re all to do with camerawork. The long, wide shots of the cars, the overhead down the start-finish stretch, all played out to show the real speed of the cars. And they looked as slow as they are.

But sitting onboard on a street track (as all the circuits will be), using the trackside cams either on a static or quickly panning with the cars, gave an increased sensitivity and an exaggerated feeling of speed.

The solution to this is quite simple. Improve the sound of the cars via better positioning of microphones and simply making them louder in the mix on the world feed and then again in comparative levels to commentators and, when it is used, the music. Cut down the number of wide angle long shots, and keep the action close and engaging.

No, on the straights they didn’t look great. But in the corners and under braking, they looked mega. Particularly side by side, engaged in battle.

As the technology improves so will energy storage capacity, so will speed. If and when this championship takes off, one hopes the regs will be opened up and car manufacturers will enter to showcase their electric credentials, and then we will see the real development race and the true advancement of this technology.

A huge achievement c/o FIA Formula E

A huge achievement
c/o FIA Formula E

Circuit

It reminded me tremendously of an Indycar style street circuit. I didn’t think we would see any overtaking, and yet we did on almost every lap. It might not have been for the lead (until the very end) but Montagny’s incredible ascent through the field and Piquet and Sato’s many dices were just a few of the fights that kept us enthralled and entertained. When those first damned stops arrived, the top six were split by a handful of car lengths… on a street track! It was incredibly close.

Bear in mind also that this was a brand new championship at its first event. Not only did the organisers have the running of 20 cars to contend with and a global audience ready to mock a single failure, they also had responsibility for the complete infrastructure of the track. That means facilities (from media centre to medical centre, pitlane buildings to toilets, fencing and safety barriers, timing loops, television cables, satellites. This was an absolutely massive effort.

When the lights went out I was reminded of my own nerves as Press Officer at the very first GP2 race at Imola in 2005. It was bedlam. The electronics had all gone to hell on the cars in practice. Our pole sitter’s engine had gone on the way to the grid for the first race. And then everyone’s brakes started exploding. And that was just the car. The organisation had its own issues, but we had just simply turned up and tagged onto the side of an F1 weekend. It was, comparatively, easy.

Formula E ran its own weekend. Everything that is taken for granted at a race weekend had to be done from scratch by an organization that, while all experienced in their own fields, had never worked together and had no idea if this concept would work. They were trying to do it all in a country that isn’t the easiest to work in, and for a championship that relies on social media they were making their debut in a country where Twitter is outlawed.

The safety car seemed incredibly slow as did the reaction to Heidfeld’s crash. Marshals need to be aware of what they can and can’t do in terms of touching these incredibly dangerous cars in the event of an accident, and if they can’t go near the things then safety crews need to be more numerous and dotted around the track to be on the scene faster, with someone trained in earthing these things in every car.

Overall, Formula E did an unbelievable job. If this was the start, the following rounds should be incredible.

Lucas di Grassi celebrates his win c/o FIA Formula E

Lucas di Grassi celebrates his win
c/o FIA Formula E

Drivers

If the script had landed on a Hollywood director’s desk, he’d have laughed and thrown it in the bin.

Son of one of the all-time greats of Formula 1 is leading the first race of the championship of the future from pole position. On his tail, the perennial underdog, the nearly man, at the wheel of a car owned by a Hollywood megastar, himself the nearly man of the Oscars. They are team-mates in a separate championship, and friends. On the final corner of the final lap they collide, ending both their races in a massive accident.

Pulling through the carnage to win is the driver in whose hands as test driver the championship was taken from concept to reality and without whom the cars would likely not have been close to being race ready. Behind him, the car run by the most famous name in American racing, Andretti. And completing the podium, after a post race penalty nonetheless, the car owned by Sir Richard Branson.

If you were a cynic you’d say it was all scripted. But the quality of the field and the interest in the championship that has led so many interesting people to enter teams has led to such stories simply occurring no matter what result Formula E ends up with. For the most part the racing was hard and fair, and surprisingly so on such a tight track.

Prost was handed a ten-place grid-penalty for the next race for his moment of utter madness with Heidfeld. Frankly, he’s got off lightly. His move was idiotic at best, callous and downright life-threatening at worst. The angle Heidfeld went into the barrier left me with one of those thankfully all too rare lump-in-your-throat moments where everything goes very quiet until you see that movement that lets you know the guy is OK. That Prost didn’t even go and check on his “friend” spoke volumes, and his immediate comments left a sour taste. His later contrition may well have something to do with the fact that, having written as its mantra its social media engagement, Formula E’s new fans had already judged and sentenced the Frenchman before he’d returned to the pits.

Fans are engaged. Their continued faith in the series is crucial. I’m still no fan of the “fan boost” system, particularly if there is no way of showing the folks at home when it is being used, but if it gets people invested in the championship then so be it.

What that crash gave Formula E however was a calling card. That incident has got it onto every news bulletin and every newspaper in the world today. A simple electric race wouldn’t have done that. It’s brilliant publicity!

The Future

Just how far could this go? Screengrab - Wipeout HD

Just how far could this go?
Screengrab – Wipeout HD

The thing I’ve kept thinking about today, is just how good this could be. This championship should never have started in 2014. The technology is not ready. But the fact that it has started, and the fact it has started so positively is a tremendous achievement and must make us incredibly excited for the future. The racing of cars utilizing the internal combustion engine did not become what it is overnight. It took over a century. Formula E has taken the first very small step of what could be an amazing future for electric racing.

There is already talk that in the future, tracks will feature charging lanes so as to completely eradicate the need for the car swap mid race. Indeed, Formula E’s safety car is already fitted with wireless charging capabilities thanks to series partner Qualcomm. On hearing that, my thoughts again fly back to those computer games. Those futuristic vehicles, flying through high-tech cities, picking up extra power, using it to boost. I used to love those games. They seemed so fantastic. Totally at odds to the clunky, blocky graphics of the F1 games of the time, Wipeout and F-Zero X were a vision of the future.

And today, perhaps, we took the first step towards that. If that sounds stupid, do you really think those crazy folks who raced those early motorcars from Paris to Rouen in 1894 ever imagined that over 100 years later there would exist the sheer number of car racing championships in the world, from Formula 1 to NASCAR, from WEC to karting, the WRC to Indycar. Why then, is it so silly to think that in 100 years time, those fantastical computer games of my youth might not become reality? And all because of what we saw today.

Electric racing. I’ve tasted it. And it might just be the future.

Georges Lemaître (peugeot 3hp) Winner of the Paris-Rouen 1894

Georges Lemaître (peugeot 3hp)
Winner of the Paris-Rouen 1894

Radio Ga Ga

Has it all got a bit much? Image c/o James Moy Photography

Has it all got a bit much?
Image c/o James Moy Photography

The FIA has moved to ban, with immediate effect, radio communication between pitwall and driver during a Grand Prix which is “related to the performance of the car or driver.”

This is a fairly substantial shift in regulation, and comes in the midst of the first year of an era of total re-education for the modern Formula 1 driver, as issues such as driving within a fuel flow limit and “coasting” have led to an increasing stream of information from team to driver over the manner in which the car should be driven.

As broken this morning by my colleague Adam Cooper, the teams have been informed of the following by FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting:

“In order to ensure that the requirements [sic] of Article 20.1 of the F1 Sporting Regulations is respected at all times we intend to rigorously enforce this regulation with immediate effect. Therefore no radio conversation from pit to driver may include any information that is related to the performance of the car or driver.”



Article 20.1 states that “The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.”

As such, the recent flow of radio messages detailing when a driver should brake, what gear he should be in and when and to what extent he should be using the throttle, had been called into question. Quite apart from seemingly being at odds with Article 20.1, from the perspective of external impressions of the sport, these messages were seemingly starting to give over the view that the drivers were simply puppets being told how to drive fast, rather than the gladiatorial beacons of Derring Do which their predecessors, all arms and elbows, had been.

Whiting also confirmed that teams would not simply be able to get around the issue by sending information electronically to the driver, one must imagine via messages to the steering wheel screen.

“We should also remind you that data transmission from pit to car is specifically prohibited by Article 8.5.2 of the F1 Technical Regulations.”

It remains to be seen exactly how the FIA will police this new regulation, or indeed how deep it will run. Pitstop strategy and safety issues will still, we believe, be permitted to be broadcast, and if so this in itself leaves open interesting avenues.

For while one imagines it will now be illegal to tell a racer how he should be driving the car, will it also be illegal to broadcast information over tyre temperature, brake temperature or any number of other variables brought to light by the many Terabytes of telemetry gathered in each Grand Prix? Afterall, such information is key to race strategy. Such information may also be born of safety.

If a driver may not be told how to drive the car, then perhaps it will be legal to deliver this type of information, but without the requisite advice on how the driver might wish to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, due to the wording of the regulation change, it is open to tremendous interpretation. What does this directive cover? Surely any and all pit to driver communication concerns performance. Does that mean that all radio communication is outlawed? If strategy and safety is permitted, then what will that cover? No matter what is resolved in the meetings which will have to take place in Singapore before the five red lights go out, debate will no doubt rage over what is and is not permissible and how one gets around the concept of coded messages. It seems almost ridiculous to ask, but will it now be illegal for Mercedes to tell Lewis that “It’s Hammer Time”?

While mid-season rule changes are never advisable, in this case I think that, in its intention at least, it’s a good idea. For while strategy is a key part of modern day Formula 1, and radio communication now a key tool in the narrative of any F1 broadcast, the idea that racing drivers are being instructed how to drive on a corner by corner basis can only take away from the belief that these men are the best of the best.

David Beckham never wore an earpiece, for Sir Alex Fergusson to tell him when Ryan Giggs was open and unmarked on the opposite flank and to advise on the exact moment to execute a 35 yard floating cross-pitch pass to him. Johnny Wilkinson had to rely on picking grass and watching how it floated in the air to determine wind direction and velocity when he was taking his trademark rugby kicks.

It should be left to a racer’s instinct to know how to drive.

To paraphrase a world champion who despises the over-use of modern day radio in Formula 1… leave them alone. They should know what they’re doing.

UPDATE: Since writing this piece the FIA has clarified what is and is not permitted and it seems as though the only messages now held as legal are those regarding traffic, pit stop timing and team orders.

Frankly, this seems akin to using a sledgehammer to remove a tooth. For while the concept of putting the driver back into focus may have been the objective, the outcome will be tantamount chaos created by a hastily and ill-conceived cover-all solution to a complex issue.

The directive covers all sessions, not just the race. So we must now assume that even using the radio to talk to the driver while he’s in car in between runs in practice is now prohibited. Any and all information regarding the operation of the car and of how a driver might improve his or his car’s performance is off limits by radio. Pitboards will come back into favour, and one would imagine, a complex system of hand signals or perhaps some quick sign language lessons for the relaying of information in the pits during practice and qualifying.

What is more likely is a ridiculous and convoluted system of coded messages, thus putting the sport and it’s drivers even further out of touch with reality. Something this change was supposed to resolve for the better.

If this directive simply covered the issuing of driving instructions such as when to brake and what gear to use, as it seemed at the outset, it would be a tremendous positive. What we’ve got instead puts Formula 1 in the dark ages, and behind even it’s most grass roots and basic entry level feeder series.

The Road to… Luca

Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

Last year, NBCSN and Silent Crow Arts afforded my F1 producer Jason Swales and I an incredible opportunity, when we embarked upon the making of a television show which would become known as “The Road to Ferrari.”

After a week on the road driving a Ferrari FF from the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest to Maranello, the culmination of the experience was a rare, private audience with Luca di Montezemolo. I’ve rarely been more nervous for an interview. We had so much ground to cover and so little time. Known as a brilliant speaker, an incredible politician, and given the sheer honour of the opportunity it was one I didn’t want to ruin.

I have never seen the transcript back, until today.

All the talk in Monza had been that di Montezemolo was days away from being forced out of those large red gates at Maranello. Today, he fell on his sword as Fiat moves towards flotation and the man who has given his life to Ferrari became ever marginalised within an ever growing corporation.

With thanks to NBCSN for permission to publish the interview in full, and to Silent Crow for digging the transcript out of their archive, I hope you enjoy my full interview with one of the most incredible businessmen, politicians and sporting managers of our time…

———————————————–

WB: I think, although we’ve been here a day and a half… not long we’ve only just scratched the surface… I finally understand what makes Ferrari so special. But what makes it so special for you?

LdiM: Well, as you can imagine, this is a good question. That is a question that I’ve received many times in the past years, because I think it’s a key question.

Well, Ferrari’s a mix of different ingredients, different elements; very complementary of each other, but crucial to give you the idea. First of all, history. History means a car with heritage, with tradition; in competition, on the tracks. It means that these, again, are very complementary traditions. And on the other hand, looking ahead, innovation—new technology; extreme technology. You have driven the FF; that has been the first Ferrari four- wheel drive. It’s the first Ferrari with four seats, but 660 horsepower.

If you go in the other room, you see LaFerrari, the first hybrid. So it means that in this is an example of the last two years we have very innovative technology. It means competition. We are the only one in Formula One since 63 years. In the good moments, in the bad moments, all our competitors [have] been back and out and back in, out. And anyway, we are there since 63 years. It means beautiful design. I always think that Ferrari has to be, first of all, good-looking; beautiful. With innovative design, but to the classic approach. So I want a design that can survive for many years. And this is one of the many reasons of the success of so many cars in the international auctions.

It means exclusivity. I say that Ferrari is like a woman. You have to desire her. You have to wait months… years… and this is the reason why we have decided, a few months ago, I told to my people, “We have to produce less cars, to maintain the value on the used cars market.”

And last, but not least, emotional driving. All these ingredients means emotional driving. And it’s easy to say, difficult to explain, unless you drive the car and you feel something in the car; the music of the engine. I remember, very important… one of the most important… a classic music director came here. We deliver the car to him, directly to him. And he was driving the car to Salzburg in Austria, for a very important reason. I want to drive alone, this car. Because when I drive, the music of the engine is for me the inspiration, the best inspiration for my job. So, you know, these are the Ferrari ingredients.

WB: Those are the Ferrari ingredients, but what does it mean inside you, in your heart? When you think of Ferrari and the number of years you’ve been here, when you see a Ferrari road car, when you see the Scuderia win, what does it mean in your heart?

LdiM: Well, Ferrari is a part of my life. I have to say that immediately after my family, there is Ferrari. I’ve been here as a chairman since 23 years. My age is exactly the same age of the Ferrari company, because the company was born 65 years ago. I’ve been here as a young team manager of competition. And I’m looking forward to see this movie, Rush, because this is when I was here with Niki Lauda, at the time mid 70s, I was lucky enough to win– three world championships. I was the personal assistant at the beginning for Enzo Ferrari. And then team manager. So for me, in my life, Ferrari is important. It means to have a responsibility, to have a fantastic relationship with my people. I always repeat that behind the fantastic car, there are fantastic people. And I am proud when we have received the prize of The best place to work in Europe.

Because my biggest patrimony are the women and the men that work in the company. It means to be strong enough in the difficult moments. We have got difficult moments. 1993, one year after I arrived; there was the biggest work for a car market in crisis. We have got difficult moments in competition. But we have to be cold, from one side; to control your passion. But also to have the possibility, to have the capability to look ahead.

For me, my main job is to look ahead. To have what we call continuous improvement. Look at the details. The details are very, very important for us. And also I am happy enough and I thank God, because every single year, every single day, when I’m entering my office, I have motivation, ideas, and this is very, very important.

Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

WB: You entered Ferrari as chairman at a very difficult time, as you say, it was terrible for the car market. Ferrari, in competition, was not doing so well. The car company was in difficult times. How did you turn things around to create the Ferrari of today? And how did you, as a businessman, but also as a passionate man, manage to allow your heart not to rule your head?

LdiM: That was a really, for me, one of the more difficult moments of my life. Because I came back, as chairman and CEO, after 17 years. In Formula One, 17 years means 100 years in the normal activities. [LAUGHS] And we were a little bit too much in the prison of the past, in term of organization, mentality, typology of products. I used to say, “I don’t want to do a gadget for rich people. I want to do fantastic cars that you can enjoy with, drive, emotion.” And I was very lucky to have worked for a few years with Enzo Ferrari.

And from him I took a very important lesson; to look ahead.

I didn’t want to be in the prison of the past and the prison of too much, how can I say, tradition. I want to maintain tradition, but looking ahead. So, first of all, I tried to vocalize few but important priorities.

Number one, complete innovation the way of work; organization. Second, to have a clear view of what kind of products I want. And I wanted to start to do different Ferraris for different cars complement each other, cars very innovative, cars with a lot of new technology, coming from Formula One; the gearbox, the aerodynamics, the electronics. A lot of technology.

Then to renew completely the organization in the team. We’re talking about Formula One. Because when I arrived, it was 1991. And since 1979 we hadn’t won any championship.

And Enzo Ferrari died in ’88, very sad, without a win for the last ten years. So it was important to be very vocal on the priority but on the same time, at the same time, I was worried because this doesn’t mean to solve the problem in a few months. It means medium-term.

So it was tough work, but now I’m very, very pleased. Also because Ferrari is a strong brand; Ferrari is present in 62 markets in the world. We have won a lot of championship title for drivers. Now it is time to win again. But this is the first step anyway.

We have won a lot of titles with Michael Schumacher, with Kimi Raikkonen. I want Ferrari always in the top. I want to win, but the sport is unpredictable.

WB: The future of the sport. How positive or negative are you about the future of Formula One?

LdiM: Well, Formula One is in our blood, in our D.N.A. I told you before, 63 years in Formula One. For me, Formula One, today and tomorrow, is important as an advanced research center. And this is something crucial for us. If this will not be the case, there is no reason for us to be in Formula One. Because I am in Formula One for new technology, for extreme technology.

If I see all the cars together, the same engine, or as today (2013) in which aerodynamic means 90% of competition. I don’t do satellite, I don’t do airplanes; I do cars. So aerodynamic is important. But for me is important electronic, gearbox, engine, suspension.

And today this is not the case. I hope next year (2014) something will change. Today, it is a tyres competition, it is aerodynamic competition; okay. But this is not exactly what we are looking for.

So I think that we have to push the rules that can give you the possibility to have more advanced technology for cars; not for airplanes. And second, a loyal championship. In the last years, I’ve seen something that I didn’t like, in which somebody’s cheated and in which the federation sometime was not strong enough to maintain a loyal approach to the racers. So I hope that Formula One will improve the technology research for us. Also with less cost. But less cost doesn’t mean to not have the possibility to have research and to have loyal approach of the competition.

WB: You know Jean very well…

LdiM: Total.

WB: Of course. When you talk about the F.I.A. and the president, and the F.I.A. not standing for, as you said, the correct approach, why do you think Jean hasn’t done that? Because you know him. He’s a strong individual.

LdiM: I don’t think so. I think that there was something not clear what happened with the Mercedes [tyre] test. Because this is very clear. In the rules it’s written you are not allowed to test with the car of the year. So it was very clear. And I haven’t seen any strong position on this.

I’ve seen that an external tribunal asked to the F.I.A. to pay some of the cost. So if I’m in this position, I will say, “No.” I’m not in to do so. I do appeal because it means that there is something that maybe was not 100% perfect in the F.I.A. approach.

So I’m not happy for what happened. Because I think that the solution was gray; I prefer white on black. And that case was very clear, in which it’s impossible to have gray because the rules are very clear. And I expect far more decision from F.I.A. Having said that, Todt is a person that knows and is a loyal person. He’s a hard worker, and he’s a person that knows very well Formula One.

And I expect and I’m looking for a strong F.I.A. in which we share, as I’m sure we will do, as we have already done, more possibility to test. Because Formula One is the only one professional sport in which you are not allowed to exercise, like in the tennis, in the soccer, in the basketball… everywhere. You are not allowed to give the possibility to young driver to be familiar with Formula One.

This could be very important for the future. And also testing means promotion, means the possibility to do events for us, for sponsor, for everything.

And Todt… I think, I trust him at the end. Even if I didn’t, I was not happy for what happened. And I’m sure that in the future we will have a more clear approach in these matters.

Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

WB: From a commercial perspective… CVC, Bernie Ecclestone, the relationship will not last forever. We know this. Bernie won’t be around forever. What do you see in the future without Bernie? Because there was talk that you might have taken over at some point. But now CVC says it’s going to be somebody from outside motorsport.

Motorsport’s a very intricate world. Do you think somebody from outside can ever truly feel… or can ever truly be loyal and understand the sport?

LdiM: I think that, as in every business in every sport, when a very important cycle would finish, and this would be, for me, here. For Bernie, in Formula One. I hope I can arrive at the same his age (LAUGH) in some good condition.

I think you have to change completely the page. I think that Formula One has unbelievable potential all over the world. But I think that you need to approach Formula One even in a far [more] modern way in the future, in term of many things.

WB: Talk to me about the emotion of Monza.

LdiM: The great moment of my life was in 1975, September, when after 12 years [without a title] I was a young team manager. I was responsible of the team. We won the race in Monza with Clay Regazzoni, and Niki… Niki Lauda arrived third, and he became automatically, in Monza, the champion of the world, after 12 years. That was, for me, unbelievable emotion.

If I remember… now, I’ve got emotion.

Monza is history. Monza is Italian crowd. Monza is passion. Monza is, for us, big pressure and big (LAUGH) responsibility. Since now I already started to tell my people, “Listen, you have to prepare Monza in the proper way. We have to be concentrated.” And Monza, the atmosphere is unique. This is the reason why, when we talk about the future Formula One we have to protect something important; that is history.

I’m in favor to race in Korea, in India, but I don’t want to lose Monza. I don’t want to lose Spa. I don’t want to lose fantastic tracks like Interlagos, in Brazil. We have to maintain something important. And I’m looking for one more race in United States, because this is important. The last year in Austin was a very good success.

WB: I’ve got to wrap it up now, I’ve been told. But I just want to ask one final question.

There’s always talk that you’re going to go into Italian politics, (LAUGH) and– and one day leave Ferrari. Would you ever leave this company, knowing, I guess, in one way, you have a 100% approval rating, when you are chairman of Ferrari. And in politics you’ll never have a 100% approval rating.

LdiM: You [want to] know the answer?

Thank you very much, [but] no. (LAUGHTER)

And yet today, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, did just that. He left the company he said he never would. The company which just three days ago he had pledged his future to. He had dedicated his life to Ferrari, to the men and women employed at Maranello, to the racing exploits of the Scuderia and to the millions of tifosi around the world.

In reading back through the transcript of an interview I have not seen or heard in over a year, it is interesting that some of the very reasons we believe he has reached an impasse with the FCA bosses seem to be included within the answers he gave me that August afternoon.

Yet also in clear evidence is that passion. And whatever Sergio Marchionne brings to the table, it is that passion that will be almost impossible to replicate.

“His leaving is for me the same as Mr Enzo dying.” Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters today. “He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari. You don’t see anything else. You don’t see Luca.”

Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

“Road to Ferrari” is next re-broadcast on NBCSN on November 6 at 7pm Eastern

Enough is enough

Sergio Canamasas c/o GP2 Media Service

Sergio Canamasas
c/o GP2 Media Service

Motorsport is dangerous. These words are printed on the back of every race ticket. They are written on every credential I’ve ever held as a journalist and broadcaster.

The possibility of a large, potentially life threatening accident is an ever present reality in motor racing. Perhaps that’s what gives the sport its edge. Perhaps that’s what makes these racers so heroic. Perhaps that’s why some people watch.

Every weekend I arrive at the track and go into the commentary box knowing that at any point any one of these brilliantly talented men and women, whose stories and racing exploits it is my honour to narrate, may be taken from us. But because of the actions of one man, that possibility becomes ever more real. That fear of the unlikely becomes increasingly likely. The concept of “if” is replaced by the knowledge of “when.”

For more than two years, Sergio Canamasas has raced in the GP2 Series without an apparent care or consideration for the morality or regulation of the sport in which he is engaged and with a seeming disregard for his own safety and that of those with whom he shares a track. He is irresponsible. He is reckless. And he should not be racing.

His actions over the past two weekends in Spa and Monza have seen a return of the driver who cast himself into the role of arch villain in his first season and a half in the championship. He has been kicked out of qualifying sessions for using his car as a weapon. He has driven competitors off track and pushed them into walls at 200mph. He has been disqualified and then ignored his removal from competition. He offends time and again. He does not change. He does not learn.

When it was announced that he would be lining up alongside Johnny Cecotto at Trident this season, many (including this author) predicted disaster. Cecotto, much as Canamasas, had marked himself out as a liability in the 2013 season. But Trident had an ace up their sleeve, and in their new team-manager Giacomo Ricci, himself a GP2 race winner, they have found a man who has played a tremendous role in turning the fast but erratic Cecotto into a complete and rounded racer. Gone is the temper, gone the propensity towards stupidity, replaced by an inner calm which has been at the root of one of the most impressive racers of the season.

But for all of Ricci’s achievements with Cecotto, he has been unable to turn the tide with Canamasas.

GP2 implemented penalty points this season. They have been handed out reluctantly and ineffectively. Canamasas received his first points of the season in Monza… two on Saturday and five for his idiocy on Sunday. He sits a further five from a race ban, but he should not be given the opportunity to amass any more.

Sergio Canamasas displayed to the world on Sunday in Monza that he should not be allowed on a race track. At all. His blatant disregard for track limits, his appalling awareness of his own actions and his utter incomprehension of their consequences resulted in multiple accidents, retirements and his eventual disqualification.

But, having been disqualified from the race itself, it seems the GP2 stewards once again will fail to act accordingly and hand down the race suspension that his so called racecraft requires.

The most dangerous aspect of this young man is not just that he does not learn from his mistakes and his reprehensible actions. It is that he fails to comprehend what he has done wrong. He genuinely believes that it is those around him that are at fault and that he is the innocent party. Far from failing to grasp the reality of his own inadequacies as a racer, he believes that he is of a higher level than those whose lives he places at constant risk.

It has reached a point where, unless the GP2 stewards take decisive action against him, I question for how much longer I will be involved in any capacity with a championship into which I have invested my heart and soul for over a decade. I do not wish to watch on and commentate the death of a racing driver. And for as long as Sergio Canamasas takes the start of a motor race, I fear that I will have to.

The men with whom he shares a track feel the same.

Many have taken to social media to express their upset with him after Monza. Behind the scenes, more still are discussing the possibility of filing a petition, signed by every driver of the GP2 Series, which they will hand to Charlie Whiting in Sochi detailing their insistence that they will not drive for as long as he is permitted on track.

The time has come. Enough is enough.

Philippe Gurdjian – F1’s Willy Wonka

Philippe Gurdjian c/o @carl_phg

Philippe Gurdjian
c/o @carl_phg

I first met Philippe Gurdjian 11 years ago. The two days I spent with him, at the incredible facility he had created in the South of France, remain 48 of the most memorable and happy hours of my 13 years in motor racing.

His obituaries will speak of a circuit promoter for Paul Ricard and Magny Cours, organiser of the Spanish Grand Prix and latterly the man who helped create Sepang and Yas Marina. Few will talk of the man himself. Brightly coloured sweater draped over his shoulders, atop his immaculately fitted grey suit. That voice, gravelly and ever so French, yet warm and somehow familiar. That quiffed, slicked back head of grey hair. Standing before you with the stature of a man of tremendous importance and yet beholden of the humility of one on the bottom rung of a seemingly never ending ladder. And that smile and humour… so full of silliness, naughtiness and childish, impish innocence. A man so full of joy.

My first meeting with Philippe was on my first visit to Circuit Paul Ricard for an article I was writing for F1 Magazine. He was the first person I met, in the reception area of the Hotel du Castellet. He would become my personal tour guide over the next two days. Over the following years, he would become someone I got to know well. And came to like immensely.

In my article I described him as a Willy Wonka character, and the more I think of the man, the more I think that comparison to be a fair and accurate comparison. With each passing room on the tour his excitement grew along with his pride in what he had created. On arrival at the restaurant, I genuinely half expected him to announce he’d developed lickable wallpaper. With Philippe, anything and everything seemed possible.

He worked 20 hour days at Ricard to ensure everything was perfect. From the hotel to the airport to the go kart track to the circuit itself… everything HAD to be right. The pitlane featured strips of grass, pulled from the lawns at Biggin Hill. Those pink and blue lines were his idea, drawing from a passion and a talent for art. From the manner in which the trees were trimmed to the menu in the restaurant, Philippe oversaw everything.

He seemed to have an almost overwhelming need to find perfection. Was it obsession or simply passion? Perhaps it was a bit of both. His eccentricity was what made him so loveable, for without that mild tinge of madness, that beautiful creative element, he might have seemed a ruthless and relentless taskmaster rather than the glorious, visionary artist he truly was.

What he created in Malaysia set the tone for every new racing circuit we have seen in the last 15 years. What he went on to build at Circuit Paul Ricard pushed those boundaries further still. When he was called in to ensure that those on the ground in Abu Dhabi didn’t ruin the opportunity afforded to them, you could be in no doubt that what would be created would set that bar yet higher. When first we arrived at Yas Marina, one learned colleague wrote that Formula 1 would not see a more incredible facility until it raced on the moon.

That was Philippe’s gift. That will be his legacy.

I saw him last in Barcelona. His slicked back hair gone, his body frail, his walking stick now no longer for show but a necessity. I was rushing off, late for commentary of a championship that had taken me time and again to his beautiful creation in the South of France. A place I had come to call my second home. My happy place.

I wish, so dearly, I had just stopped even for a minute to embrace him and wish him well, as he always had done with me, through my days in GP2 and Formula 1, whenever we had seen each other. I promised myself that I would stop for a proper catch up when next I saw him.

I will never now have that chance.

Formula 1 lost one of its great architects today. More than that, it lost one of its great men. Aged just 69.

I liked Philippe Gurdjian very much. And I will miss him dearly.