Even more on the Mercedes wheel rims – update: LEGAL.

Faster than ever? Will Merc roll out new wheel rims in Malaysia pitstops?

Morning all.

I’ve just got into the track here in Malaysia, and the issue of those Mercedes wheel rims is something that is starting to get a bit of attention.

Yesterday we touched on the 2011 Formula 1 technical regulations and whether the use of an attached wheel nut on a wheel rim would be legal or not. The general feeling is that the regulations referred to yesterday were written primarily with the intention of removing wheel “spinners” from the sport.

However what it appears Mercedes have produced would, I and others believe, be within regulation. I am also aware, however, that it is something the FIA has its eye on.

Now we just need to keep a beady eye on those Merc pitstops to see if the system’s getting a roll out this weekend.

UPDATE: I have just had confirmation from the FIA that the system shown in the photo I displayed yesterday of the MercedesGP wheel rim with wheel nut apparently attached IS legal. Well done Mercedes, now lets see if they use it, how fast it is, and how long it takes the other teams to cotton on.

Those Mercedes wheel rims… an update

I’ve just been shown the FIA regulations regarding wheel rims and they make for interesting reading.

Here they are:

12.8.1 The only parts which may be physically attached to the wheel in addition to the tyre are surface treatments for appearance and protection, valves for filling and discharging the tyre, balance weights, drive pegs, tyre pressure and temperature monitoring devices and spacers on the inboard mounting face of identical specification on all wheels for the same axle.

12.8.2 The wheel must be attached to the car with a single fastener. The outer diameter of the fastener must not exceed 105mm and the axial length must not exceed 75mm. The wheel fastener may not attach or mount any part to the car except the wheel assembly described in Article 12.8.1.

What is interesting is that wheel fasteners / wheel nuts are not included in the list in 12.8.1 of things that are allowed to be attached to the wheel assembly / rim. And yet in Article 12.8.2 it states that a wheel fastener may not be attached to any part of the car other than those very same wheel assemblies.

So what does this mean?

Right now, not a lot as I don’t have clarification yet from Mercedes of what I saw. Similarly, we have no idea if what I saw will be or was ever intended to be raced.

It was pitstop practice. Just like in a practice match of soccer, you can play 16 men and use your hands if you really want to, so in a pitstop practice the team doesn’t have to use the very same devices it will use in race conditions.

But from the way the regulations are worded, could there be space for a loophole? And if so, could this be something Mercedes are thinking about exploiting? Because from the image above, it certainly looks that way.

Watch this space.

Mercedes to use NASCAR pitstop tech?

MercedesGP in the pits, Malaysia 2011.

I was walking the pitlane this morning while MercedesGP was conducting pitstop practice, and a photographer pointed something out to me that I had not seen before.

The tyres waiting to be changed onto the car already had what looked to be the wheel nuts attached to the wheel rims. Similarly, those that were taken off the car still appeared to have the nuts attached. The guns did not appear to pull a nut off nor put one on, merely to unscrew the existing one and then tighten the replacement.

This kind of technology is nothing new to fans of NASCAR. In that series, each wheel rim features five wheel nuts (or “lug nuts” as they are termed Stateside), which are attached to the rim with an adhesive. When a car comes into the box, those five nuts are loosened and the wheel removed with the nuts still attached, before the new wheel is placed on the car and the five attached nuts tightened.

The importance of this is that it speeds up the pitstop process and eliminates the chances of a wheel nut falling onto the floor or the thread becoming crossed.

In 2010 Mercedes topped the average pitstop time, recording the fastest stop in (if memory serves and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am wrong) eight races, although world champions Red Bull racing recorded the actual fastest stop of the season.

From what I could see this morning it did not appear that all spare tyres had the nuts already attached to the rims, but there could be two reasons for this. First, that the team is still experimenting with the system before rolling it out at a later date. Or secondly, that there are only so many of these new nuts to go around and that they have only been attached to the rims to be used in practice, before being switched onto the rims for the race.

Now I could be barking up completely the wrong tree, so I requested confirmation from the team once practice was over. I’ve also put in a quick request to the FIA just to double check there’s nothing prohibiting this kind of thing, as it seems like a fairly simple and obvious solution to the wheel nut issue and one which we surely would have seen by now unless it is banned. I’m not suggesting MercedesGP would be doing anything illegal, but as colleagues and I have agreed this morning, it seems like such a simple and effective idea that for only one team to have suddenly stumbled across it would seem odd.

As soon as I get word from either avenue, I will update.

If I’m right and this is what Mercedes are doing, and if it is a success, we could probably expect to see something similar appearing at the other teams over the next few races as I don’t believe, and again do correct me if I’m wrong, that any other team is doing something similar.

Rosberg to get new engineer

Nico Rosberg: Suzuka 2010 - © Sutton Images

Nico Rosberg is set to have a new (old) engineer in 2011.

The Mercedes driver commented in his media time yesterday afternoon that there would be some personnel changes at the team over the winter as the German manufacturer strives to move forwards and into a position to fight for race wins. When pressed on the matter, Rosberg defaulted to stating that he and the team had agreed not to discuss specifics at this time.

However, I understand that Nico will be reunited with his former Williams engineer Tony Ross next season, with the Englishman jumping ships from Williams to Mercedes.

Rosberg did say yesterday that “nobody is getting fired,” which has led myself and colleagues to speculate that his current engineer Jock Clear may move into a more general Director of Engineering style role next season.

A Mercedes spokesperson told me moments ago that the team would not be confirming names or changes in personnel for the moment but if my sources are correct, and I believe that they are, then it would appear that Rosberg is beginning to stamp his authority at the team and move it, or at the very least move his side of the garage, in a direction which better suits him.

Ross and Rosberg look set to be reunited in 2011 © Sutton Images

Woah, what’s going on?

Sorry for the lack of blogging of late. What with new job, new child and the start of the world cup, I have been somewhat busy. No excuse, I know.

Anyway, I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts that I’ve got running around my melon at the moment – as much to try and compartmentalise and make sense of them to myself, as much as to bring you some semblance of comment or opinion.

So, in the words of Marvin Gaye – Woah, what’s going on?

The issue of tyres in 2011 has become something of a mess. The basic synopsis is thus: The FIA and Michelin agreed terms, but the teams and Bernie weren’t happy that the deal had been done without consulting them. All of a sudden up crops Cooper/Avon and Pirelli with rival bids. Cooper/Avon is quickly dismissed despite the company’s links with Bernie, and Pirelli, new GP3 supplier in 2010, almost immediately appears to be the most likely choice. The tyres will be cheap, but the company won’t put as much into the sport in terms of trackside signage etc. Michelin’s bosses declare themselves somewhat upset that their sure deal has fallen through, and come back in at the eleventh hour in Turkey to try and salvage the deal. Their tyres will be more expensive, but they’ll provide more trackside signage of which the teams receive a cut.

Pirelli currently supplies the GP3 Series

Then there are the tech regs. We’re expecting tyres to stay at 18 inches for the next two years before switching to low profile tyres in 2013. Any new tyre deal will need to be run for a minimum of three seasons, meaning that whoever comes in will have to do so under an agreement that they will have to design two types of tyre. For Pirelli this will be something of an annoyance, but for Michelin it is all fairly simple as they still have the moulds for 18 inchers from their last F1 appearance, and they have low profile tyres in use in sportscars.

Then there’s the role of the FIA. It now seems clear that one of the reasons Jean Todt has been so quiet is that the role of the FIA President in Formula 1 has been enormously marginalised by the increased strength and power of FOTA. FOTA’s decision to wade into the tyre debate came after the teams felt the FIA President had overstepped his mark by as good as agreeing terms with Michelin before they’d even been consulted. Now there is the argument that the FIA should not be involved in the decision at all because with the teams paying for tyres this is a commercial issue. Not so, says the FIA, as the choice of tyres is a sporting a safety issue, and thus of course involves the FIA. But if it involves the FIA, then the FIA has broken its own rules as the supply deal was never officially put out to tender.

I asked Martin Whitmarsh, FOTA Chairman, in Canada whether this was all essentially politics, and the FIA President stamping his feet, Rumplestiltskin style, in order to get himself heard for the first time in his Presidency. He simply gave me one of those knowing looks, smiled, and laughed, before giving me a beautifully neutral answer.

Whatever the political factors behind the decision, we now understand that the deal will be announced with Pirelli shortly.

All of which leaves us with little time to develop the tyres before next year. There has been much talk that the work will be carried out by Nick Heidfeld in a Toyota F1 car, as this is the easiest way to avoid any conflict of interests and any team gaining an advantage.

Ah, but hold on a minute. Nick Heidfeld is Mercedes’ tester. So what you ask? Well for some, myself included, the last thing anybody wants is a return to the days when teams become so engrained with tyre companies that a certain type of tyre was designed almost exclusively for that one team. In the 2000s it was Bridgestone and Ferrari, and the Ross Brawn / Michael Schumacher / Ferrari / Bridgestone combo reaped massive rewards. Today, in a car designed for someone else and on tyres designed for the sport rather than for him, Michael Schumacher is struggling to show us any sign of his apparent genius. Sticking Heidfeld on tyre testing duties would, I feel, be a massive mistake and a big step back to the days of old as it would hand an advantage back to Mercedes.

You want a great tester, with a feel for tyres, no conflict of interest, and with relevant recent F1 experience, you call Anthony Davidson. Simple as.

And as for the Toyota… well here’s another interesting thing. Rumours in Canada were rife that one of the prospective new teams intend to use the 2010 Toyota which never saw the light of day as the basis for their 2011 car should they be given the entry. It’s a very sensible plan, and would allow the team in question to enter the sport with a firm foundation and what looks, from the photos we’ve seen, to be a very tidy car indeed. Simply take off the double diffuser, stick KERS back in, and you’re ready to run.

The team rumoured to be talking to Toyota about using their racer which never raced is ART, and it is just the kind of sensible decision I would expect to come from Nicolas Todt and Frederic Vasseur.

My one fear in all of this is how ART will be perceived if the team is given the nod for F1 in 2011. I fear that the media at large will come down hard on the FIA and on Jean Todt, claiming nepotism and a conflict of interests should his son’s team be granted a grid place in Formula 1. But any such suggestions will be made to score cheap political points. ART is, from what we know of the prospective entries, by far and away the strongest potential new F1 team. It has big funding in place, and in terms of class there is perhaps no other team at a sub-F1 level which has consistently proved itself to be so strong – be it GP2, F3 or GP3. There is no better team out there than ART.

But if ART end up using as a basis for their car, the very same car that was used to develop the new 2011 tyres, then again a conflict of interests will no doubt be called, and if it is overlooked then the relationship between Jean and Nicolas will again be questioned. It shouldn’t be so, but I fear it is just too easy for some to look at the shared surname and forget the individual achievements of each man on their own merits.

What of the other new teams, I hear you ask? From the entries we know have gone in, only Epsilon seems to stand any real shot at a grid space. But for a team determined to build its car from scratch at its fantastic facility in Spain, a decent lead time is running short.

The chance of an American team making the grid in 2011 is also not completely out of the realms of possibility. I had a great chat with Parris Mullins, one of the men behind the still-born USF1 project, and the good news is that he now represents a group of big investors who want to start an American F1 team. Following the USF1 mess, the even better news is they don’t want to do it from scratch. Instead, they want to buy an existing team and to turn it, piecemeal, into an American team – Force India style. Bring in the sponsors, and little by little, make it American. Win hearts and minds, to adopt a well-used Americanism.

The two teams that we know are on shaky ground right now are Sauber and Toro Rosso. Sure, HRT has its problems, but with Colin Kolles on board and rumours that Geoff Willis wants to do a Ross Brawn on the team, they are looking OK. Instead it is two former race-winning teams that look the most in danger.

On present form, you’d have to say that Toro Rosso is the better option of the two, but the infrastructure at Sauber is pretty impressive. A big investment may yet be the only thing to save Sauber. The team launched its C1 (Club One) initiative in Canada which is a project to bring in sponsors who do not wish to have big branding on the car, but to remain anonymous. While my colleague Dieter Rencken has written a fascinating piece on this subject on his Daily Grapevine column on autosport.com, I have my doubts over the scheme. Afterall, haven’t we seen this before? Isn’t this simply the Honda earthdreams concept under a different name? Sure, in today’s economic climate big business doesn’t want to be seen to be frittering its money away, but those companies are unlikely to be sponsoring anybody right now anyway – their boards simply wouldn’t allow it. The days of something for nothing just do not exist. If someone, anyone, is putting money into a project, I don’t think anybody can be naive enough to seriously believe that they wouldn’t want an increased public perception of their brand in return. It didn’t work for Honda, so why should it work for Sauber? Perhaps that makes me naive. It’s certainly an interesting debate.

But the Americans may not be the only saviours on the horizon. With Sergio Perez a leading light in GP2 and Esteban Guttierez leading the way in GP3, the racing prospects of the Mexican nation are looking very good indeed. And with one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim, known to be interested in F1, could we yet see one of the struggling teams take on a Mexican flavour?

When asked about this back in Turkey, the repeated word from a high level source at Sauber was, quite simply, “We have a very good relationship and dialogue with Carlos Slim.” Is this why Guttierez remains under the wing of the team? Could we see a Mexican investment in Sauber? “Sauber Slim” anyone?

The driver market may be pretty well sorted for next season, but that doesn’t mean the news has stopped in Formula 1. There are still a lot of fascinating stories bubbling under the surface, and the next few weeks look set to be really rather intriguing.

Merc’s Classy Attention to Historical Detail

There’s been a lot made about the return to F1 of Mercedes as a constructor in its own right this season for the first time since it pulled out of motorsport at the end of the 1955 season following the Le Mans tragedy earlier that year.

Of course everyone, including the team itself, is dubbing the former Tyrrell, former BAR, former Honda, former Brawn team “the Silver Arrows,” and the parrallel between the team line-up of that 1955 season and the 2010 campaign is a rather lovely hark back to the days of old: the legendary multiple world champion (Fangio / Schumacher) being linked up with a young buck with bucket loads of talent and potential (Moss / Rosberg Jr).

With the chat coming out of Norfolk suggesting to me that Lotus’ return to F1 will be marked with a classic livery of British Racing Green and a single yellow stripe down the centre with those thin accent lines in white running alongside the yellow, it is thus heartening to see that on the ultra sleek and very 21st Century Mercedes GP W01, the team has payed homage to its history and is continuing a design trait it carried on its cars 55 years ago.

A silver car, with its drivers’ numbers in a deep red, outlined in black, on a simple white circle.

Mercedes GP W01 c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Is it just me, or is that class in its simplest, purest form?

Hooray for Schu…Macca

Michael Schumacher in the MercedesGP wind tunnel © MercedesGP

It’s official, then. Michael Schumacher WILL be making his return to a Formula 1 cockpit in 2010 with MercedesGP. The nay-sayers believed, right up until the last minute, that it wasn’t going to happen but we’ve got the confirmation in black and white and with some pretty pictures from the good people at the team formerly known as Brawn, formerly known as Honda, formerly known as BAR, formerly known as British American Racing, formerly known as Tyrrell.

We’ve now got the opportunity to witness something truly incredible. We’ll have the very best of the new generation taking on the man who many consider to be one of, if not the single greatest driver of all time. Schumacher himself never really got to compete with the greats whom he’d watched race as a kid. OK he got a few seasons against Senna and Prost, but that was it. Prost retired at the end of 1993 and Senna was ripped away from the world early in the 1994 season, and so there was never really that passing down of the mantle.

Similarly, Schumacher’s retirement at the end of the 2006 season meant we never got to see him take on Hamilton or Vettel, or to compete against the Kubicas or Rosbergs of the world in decent cars and with sufficient experience under their belts. Now we have Alonso in a Ferrari, the youngsters with the benefit of experience and with decent cars, and the old master making a return to a championship-winning team. The ingredients are all there for an amazing 2010 season.

There are still those, however, who say it’s a bad idea, that he’s on a hiding to nothing, that he’s too old… that it’s all one horrible mistake.

I couldn’t disagree more, however. And I’ll tell you why.

Last night I got to witness something I never thought I would see. A Beatle, and not just any Beatle but my favourite Beatle, live, in concert. Sir Paul McCartney rocked out the O2 in London last night, and my wife and I had managed to get tickets. It was, without question, the best gig I have ever been to.

Me... at the gig... and very, very excited!

That McCartney would be so superb however was not a given. I may be an almighty fan, but I’m not naive enough to have gone along believing that time would not have taken its toll on the performance. But, incredibly, it really hadn’t. He didn’t miss a beat all night. His voice was clear and strong and he nailed every note… even the high ones. He turned his hand from his classic Hofner violin bass, to rhythm and lead guitar, ukulele, mandolin and piano. He looked amazing, bounced around the stage, and almost lifted the roof off the venue.

And here’s the thing. He’s 67 years old. He’s been writing and performing music pretty much constantly for the past 50 years. He, along with the Beatles, changed the face of modern music. They were the first band to break the mould of writing their own music rather than being given songs to sing. With their show at New York’s Shea Stadium they pretty much created the modern stadium gig, and when they realised they couldn’t be everywhere at once and started sending promotional videos to TV stations when they released songs, they pretty much invented MTV and the music video.

And there he was. On stage. Still giving it all he had. The old songs sounded amazing, but the new songs sounded just as incredible. He remains relevant (one of his new tunes has just been nominated for a Golden Globe) and at 3 hours in length his show put the likes of MUSE (90 minutes) and Kings of Leon (an hour) to shame. And they’re supposed to be the best live acts in the world right now!!! McCartney was called back on stage three times for encores. Three times. It blew me away.

Paul McCartney @ the O2

It’s funny though, because with today’s news that Mr Schumacher is making a comeback to F1, I see something of a parallel between the two.

Both have changed the way we view the worlds to which they have dedicated their lives. They’ve both been through the mill and done things that, in hindsight might be considered to have been ill thought through. For Michael there’s Adelaide ’94, Jerez ’97 and good old Rascasse in Monaco, while for McCartney there’s the Frog Chorus and a couple of dodgy duets with Michael Jackson. Neither one of them is as young as they used to be, or as young as the majority of people who now rule their industry.

But they’re both the very best at what they do. They are inspirations as much today as they ever have been, and their desire to keep working at the very top level only adds to their mystique and their legend.

For me, I’m just delighted however. I never thought I would get to see McCartney in concert, but I have. It was a truly awe-inspiring event and one I will remember for the rest of my life. Similarly, my journalistic career has been such that I never really got to sink my teeth too deeply into Formula 1 when Schumacher was around and racing. I was still very young, and very green. His comeback gives me an opportunity I thought had slipped away forever – to watch and write about one of the all-time greats.

I had waited 28 years for last night’s concert, and it could have been one almighty let down. But it wasn’t. It was completely the opposite. And that’s the barometer of class. That kind of talent never falters, never gives any less than 150%, and always leaves you wanting more.

I hope that when Schumacher comes back next year for his encore performance, we are left on our feet, applauding something tremendous. And something tells me he wouldn’t be coming back at all, if he didn’t have some great memories to leave us with.