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…

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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.

Indy Lights and the future for young racing talent

The GP2-05 c/o GP2 Media Service

The GP2-05
c/o GP2 Media Service

Ten years ago, the path to Formula 1 for young drivers was crowded and confused. The FIA International Formula 3000 championship was supposed to be the final rung on the ladder, but with an ageing car that sat way off the pace of the F1 cars of the time, lacked the technology of the main championship and had lost its lustre and marketability, the time had come for a change.

In the January of 2004, the death of F3000 was heralded by the announcement of the formation of the GP2 Series. By July of that year, the technical details of the first GP2 car had been made public, and series boss Bruno Michel outlined his hopes for the new championship.

“Our ambition is to create a compelling single-seater series that is the final stepping stone to Formula 1. We want on-track action, talented drivers and close competition. In order to achieve this, we launched an ambitious technical programme that has produced an extremely fast car. Our initial simulations indicate that a GP2 series car should be capable of running roughly six seconds slower than
a mid-grid 2003 Formula 1 car.

“The investment required for a start-up season is not insignificant, but we have made a three-year commitment and will guarantee minimal operating costs. Close attention will be paid to costs and the quantities of spare parts ordered by the participating teams.”

Looking back, ten years on, the GP2 Series can rightly consider itself a success. Its first two champions Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sit first and second in the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship. It has launched the Formula 1 careers of numerous talented, Grand Prix winning and podium finishing drivers, and today GP2 stands on its own feet as one of the most exciting single make championships in the world.

Hamilton and Rosberg Mercedes AMG Petronas c/o James Moy Photography

Hamilton and Rosberg
Mercedes AMG Petronas
c/o James Moy Photography

Over the pond, GP2’s American cousin Indy Lights today finds itself in a similar spot to the F3000 of old. The current Indy Lights car is in its 12th season of service. Grids are not what they once were, the level of competition has slipped and the championship’s relevance and ability to promote talent to the main Indycar Series lies in serious doubt.

Just as the route to Formula 1 was given a major, meaningful and lasting shakeup a decade ago, so the Road to Indy now faces a revolution at year’s end. Indy Lights will premiere a brand new car, the IL-15, and its introduction to the championship next season is set to breathe new life not only into Indy Lights, but to Indycar itself.

The Dallara IL-15 will feature a carbon composite chassis, constructed to the latest FIA and IndyCar safety standards and will be powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged AER engine producing 450 HP. Additional features include a six-speed, paddle-shift transmission, a 50 HP push-to-pass feature, drive-by-wire throttle and advanced engine management electronics. Initial targets were to be able to hit speeds of 200 mph. And, bravely, the car’s development is being conducted in full public view.

The Dallara IL-15

The Dallara IL-15

Conor Daly is an Indy Lights race winner. He’s a Star Mazda champion. Last season he drove almost every single seater you could imagine. He won races in GP3 and scored points on his GP2 debut. He raced the Indy 500. He tested a Formula 1 car. It should come as little surprise, then, that Indy Lights have put their faith in him, alongside 2012 Lights champion Tristan Vautier, to conduct the initial testing of IL-15 before handing it over to Indycar stars James Hinchcliffe and reigning champion Scott Dixon.

“It’s definitely powerful and its got a good technology package with Cosworth and the guys from AER,”
Daly told me in Spa.

“I think they’ve done a really good job to prepare the engine. We did a lot of miles and considering it was the first time the car had run, it was impressive how much we were able to run. I did the first day at Putnam Park but that was mostly just trouble shooting, so the first real day I did was on the oval. It was pretty sketchy at first with not a lot of rear grip, but the front was very positive. We took the full day to sort that out, which we did. And that in itself was also very positive. Every change we made was good. We went in the right direction and by the end of the day we ran our fastest lap on the last run so that showed good progress. It was quicker than the pole speed from this year and there is still so much time to be found in gear ratios, trimming the car out… a lot of stuff. I saw 199mph legitimately on the wheel entering Turn 1, and that’s without trimming it out or using sixth gear so I think it has the potential to be really fast.

“That was the oval… but it was a really different story on the road course. We spent a whole day unable to get much grip into it. That was a bit of a struggle. But we did a lot of miles and so we got a lot of data on what worked and what didn’t. Testing is carrying on as we speak and they’re finding more and more grip. And you know, even though I say we had trouble finding grip, we were still faster than the pole this year so that’s really positive.”

So where would Daly say it sits in the pantheon of the cars he’s driven in the last 12 months?

Tristan Vautier takes IL-15 out for a spin Photo c/o Marshall Pruett

Tristan Vautier takes IL-15 out for a spin
Photo c/o Marshall Pruett

“I think it will slot right in between GP3 and GP2. It doesn’t have enough power to compete with GP2 but it definitely has more power than GP3. And it’s got the fancy bits and bobs that produce downforce! The brakes are nice too. Performance friction has done a really nice job of putting a package together specifically for that car. They’re not carbon brakes but they are really good and that’s cool to see how much work they have put in just for that car.

“As for the engine, GP3’s single turbo was terrible. But this? People LOVE the sound of this thing. It is loud, it screams, it’s got turbo whizzes and all sorts and it really pulls. I think it should provide great racing. I think there is a very high probability of that. When the boost comes on there’s a kick, but AER has done a really good job to mask it. I ran an anti-lag system on the road course and it was really interesting. It’s something that we had to fine tune. Also there’s push to pass which will be awesome. Overall, everything is good.”

The IL-15 is the car Indy Lights desperately needs. But more than that, it could yet be that IL-15 proves itself to be the car that global motorsport needs.

The Indy Lights field is notably dated c/o Indy Lights

The Indy Lights field is notably dated
c/o Indy Lights

Ten years on from GP2’s launch, promotion to the top tier as a result of success in F1’s feeder category is no longer a certainty. Talent alone is not enough. Budget in the tens of millions of dollars is an increasing requirement to oil the cogs for even the most talented GP2 driver to gain his place at the top table. The promotion of Max Verstappen from Formula 3 to Formula 1 is the exception, not the rule, but even so the promotion of Bottas and Kvyat from GP3 and the likes of Vergne and Bianchi from WSR show that GP2 no longer holds the position of absolute arbiter of F1 merit that it once did.

Regardless of GP2’s position, it is clear that chances in the F1 paddock are few and far between. More and more of Europe’s most talented young drivers are thus shifting their attention away from Formula 1 and towards alternate championships. Formula E is flooded with talent, many of whom never got that F1 shot. Endurance racing is benefitting from the roster of talent left on the sidelines. But it is Stateside and towards Indycar that the focus of many young racers is now switching.

Talented GP3 racer Jack Harvey realised the futility of following the ladder to F1 and switched to Indy Lights this season, as did long time GP2 racer Luiz Razia. They have blazed a trail which others look set to follow. And IL-15 could be the deal-breaker.

With few routes out of GP3, WSR and GP2 into F1, Indycar is becoming a focus, not a fallback. This weekend, many of GP2 and GP3’s star drivers have been locked in discussions over the best route to fly to Fontana in the week between Spa and Monza. They want to visit the Indycar paddock at its championship finale, show their faces, talk to the influential and make their intentions known. Just as the launch of GP2 in 2005 gave the path to F1 a much needed revamp, so the birth of IL-15 could mark Indy Lights out as a genuine feeder category of choice for aspiring racers the world over.

Vautier in IL-15 c/o Marshall Pruett

Vautier in IL-15
c/o Marshall Pruett

“The launch of IL-15 is important because the series is struggling right now and what it needs is something new,” Daly confirms. “There’s only really three teams that you can run with in Lights at the moment and have a chance of winning. That limits you immediately. I think now if you get an even playing field with a new car, then you’ll have more interest from teams and drivers because it opens things up again. Everyone will have a chance. That’s why you go to GP3 and GP2, because theoretically you have the same chance as everyone else. That’s what Indy Lights needs.”

In order to do that, however, Indy Lights needs the one thing that GP2 lacks. And that is a guaranteed route via established top tier teams. Yes, the Indy Lights champion will be guaranteed three races including the Indy 500 as a prize for taking the crown, but what the series desperately requires is existing Indycar teams to become involved, be it via an official association with a Lights team or by running their own squad.

Andretti has already shown the benefit of such a system, when it took a gamble on young Carlos Munoz and ran their Indy Lights star at last season’s Indy500. Few rookies have made such a sensational debut at the Brickyard, with Munoz’s style, speed and bravery calling to mind another young Colombian on his IMS debut, Juan Pablo Montoya. It came as little surprise that Munoz was plucked from the Lights team and moved up to Indycar by Andretti for 2014. But Munoz is the exception.

Of course, IL-15 as a new car will not be cheap. But with seasonal budgets expected to top out at between $900,000 and $1.1m the required finances for a prospective 2015 Indy Lights driver are not so different to current levels and are still highly favourable when compared to the money required to run in GP3, WSR or GP2.

IL-15 c/o Indy Lights

IL-15
c/o Indy Lights

Series boss Dan Andersen has said he already has nine teams committed for 2015. “They’ve signed on and paid their registration fees. And we have more that I expect to sign up in coming days, including two of the top current Indy Lights teams. Plus, we have IndyCar teams, such as Rahal and Foyt who are seriously considering it, along with some former Atlantic teams that are pretty far down the road in making a decision. A lot of credit goes to Dallara and AER for producing something here that everyone wants to play with.”

For Daly, the inclusion in the championship of existing Indycar teams is vital.

“I think in America, if an Indycar team really embraces the junior team and sees a driver that has done well and hasn’t just brought money, then there’s more of a chance that they will take a chance on youth. Certainly more than in F1. I’ve seen so many young drivers in the F1 world not get that chance, but I think that in the Indycar world, embracing Indy Lights and the new IL-15 should allow talented racers more of a chance.”

As young drivers across the world allow their frustrations to fester and begin to question how realistic their F1 dream truly is as the European feeder championships bottleneck at the F1 gates, IL-15 could be the spark for Indy Lights which the launch of GP2 gave F1 hopefuls a decade ago. Time will tell, but Andersen and Indy Lights may be embarking upon a path that leads not only to the rejuvenation of their own championship but which may also, by attracting the greatest young talent from around the world to a more open and accessible ladder to the top table, form the basis of a new golden era for Indycar itself.

Taking it to the Max

Palm Beach Race 1 Podium Florida Winter Series 2014

Palm Beach Race 1 Podium
Florida Winter Series 2014

Max Verstappen does not own the first trophy he won in single seaters. It sits, instead, in the trophy cabinet at Prema Powerteam, signed and dedicated to the boys who worked on his car in the Ferrari Florida Winter Series. A driver error had put him out of the second race of the opening weekend at Sebring, but his crew (of two) had worked tirelessly to repair the damage and get him back onto the grid for the final race later that day. A week later, in the first race at Palm Beach, Verstappen finished second. The 16 year old could think of no other meaningful way to repay his boys’ hard work than to hand over the glass vase, which represented so much for him as he took his first steps out of karts. But the day after handing over his first trophy, he would take his first ever single seater victory.

He stepped off the podium, smiled and said, “This one, I’ll keep.”

I know this because I had the honour of sharing the track with him for both landmarks.

c/o FIA.com

c/o FIA.com

It’s astonishing to think that just six months after his first win in single seaters, Max Verstappen has been confirmed as a Formula 1 driver for the 2015 season. But Max Verstappen is quite an astonishing talent. So astonishing in fact that a few poorly worded questions on my part to a few sources made me believe he’d actually got the jump on Vergne and would be replacing him from this weekend! To me, he’s that good that it actually seemed possible.

Even so, to many a debut for Verstappen even in 2015 seems premature. I’ve long been an advocate of taking time with drivers, putting them through various junior formulae and allowing the best to rise to the surface. Age, I always thought, was an advantage in this game as it came along with experience and having ironed out the creases one should not be wrestling with in the world’s highest perceived echelon of racing.

When Red Bull rushed Jaime Alguersuari into Formula 1 at the age of 19, straight out of World Series, he was unfairly dubbed “the most dangerous man in motor racing,” over his relative inexperience.

When Max Verstappen makes his Formula 1 debut, he will be too young to drive a car in his native Holland without someone over the age of 18 present, and too young to drink champagne outside the podium. Is he thus too young? Is he a danger? Is it too soon?

There is an old adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. And so in 2015, at the age of 17, Max Verstappen will become the youngest Formula 1 driver in the history of our sport. It is a decision which will polarise opinion.

That Verstappen is talented is in no doubt. From those early races in Florida he was getting up the noses of drivers far more experienced and established than himself. The likes of Antonio Fuoco, already part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, had beef with him by the time practice began in Palm Beach. This young hotshot was making immediate waves and putting noses out of joint.

He did it in Florida, and he’s done it all season in Formula 3. The decision to make his full competitive debut at that level was a surprise in itself as the standard route in would normally have been a few rungs further down the ladder. But as is becoming the way with young Verstappen, normal just doesn’t suffice.

c/o FIA.com

c/o FIA.com

At the time of writing this article Max Verstappen sits second in European F3 in his debut season with 8 wins, 13 podiums, 5 pole positions and 5 fastest laps. He won the F3 Masters at Zandvoort. Yes, fellow rookie Esteban Ocon is leading the title chase, but Ocon is part of the Lotus junior programme already. Up until seven days ago, Max Verstappen was a free agent.

Rumour was that Mercedes was interested in securing his services and indeed had made him a very nice offer. Mercedes no doubt would have taken their time with him, nurtured him through the ranks and prepared him for a Formula 1 seat… or DTM if the single seater route hadn’t worked out. It would have taken something massive to convince him not to sign with the manufacturer who is dominating modern Formula 1.

An immediate race seat in Formula 1 seems to have been that deal breaker.

Seven days ago he signed on with Red Bull. At last weekend’s Nurburgring round he romped to a Race 1 win, was leading Race 2 with ease when his engine let go and needed to be changed. He incurred a 10 place grid drop as a result (and will for the next two races), but having started 12th he avoided the melee at Turn 1 and was running 5th by the end of the first lap. He would finish third. It was a frankly brilliant drive and set up the platform from which he has been launched into F1.

Red Bull, however, is not known for its warm, nurturing environment. The tale of Formula 1’s last “youngest ever” is a cautionary one for Verstappen. If he is given as long to grow within the sport as was Alguersuari, he’ll be out of Formula 1 before he’s out of his teens. But Verstappen and Alguersuari are very different personalities.

Max and father Jos c/o James Moy Photography

Max and father Jos
c/o James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen isn’t the first driver to have made such a fast ascent to Formula 1 and I doubt he will be the last. His father ascended quickly, too. So quick will Verstappen’s rise be though, that he will even line up for his debut alongside drivers who raced against his father… Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.

Fascinatingly, both Raikkonen and Button had similarly quick climbs to Formula 1. For Raikkonen, it was such a quick climb that he opened his F1 career on a provisional Superlicense. As we know, however, both Raikkonen and Button went on to become champions, but while Raikkonen was nurtured first by Sauber and then by McLaren, Button was ejected from Williams after a year and then went through the school of hard knocks that was Benetton. In today’s Formula 1, one wonders if Button would have survived and given long enough to mature into the driver who won the 2009 world championship. Frankly, it is debateable.

As for Verstappen, jokes will be made about his age. People will say he’s not ready, that the sport needs to take a hard look at itself. What has it become etc? Justifiable questions will be asked of the Red Bull programme and what happens now to the likes of da Costa (already moved to DTM), WSR’s Sainz Jr and Gasly, and GP3’s mega talented Alex Lynn. Questions again will be asked of WSR and GP2. Questions will be asked of what happens to Vergne, but frankly when he was overlooked for Ricciardo at Red Bull, it was obvious he was on borrowed time.

c/o FIA.com

c/o FIA.com

I swore last year that Helmut Marko had made a mistake in promoting Dany Kvyat at such a young age. I have been proven spectacularly wrong and I am happy to admit it. As such, in this case, I am more than happy to stand back and watch with interest.

The arrival of a talent such as Verstappen to the sport at a remarkably tender age is the exception, not the norm. Such an exception should make us all stand back and watch. It should make us take enormous interest in how he fares. It should make us all incredibly excited. For the doom mongers and nay sayers, it won’t of course. It’ll just add to the impending sense of doom and pessimism.

But this news should get our juices flowing in anticipation of the debut of someone who could prove to be exceptional.

I like Max. I love watching him race. I loved trying to keep up with him on track.

And I can’t wait to see how long it takes before the established order in Formula 1 are left as awestruck as I was, staring at his gearbox.

1F4A0951

One More Lap

IMG_7078

Have you ever had a moment so vivid, so crystal clear, so colourful and bright, so stunningly perfect, a moment born of such passion, hope and expectation that as it unfolds before your eyes you are forced to question your very lucidity and thereafter to forever wonder if you really were dreaming all along?

Shifting into seventh gear, right foot planted to the floor, heading uphill on the back straight at Circuit Paul Ricard at the wheel of the Lotus E20, the Renault R31 V8 engine screaming behind me, its every vibration sending pins and needles through my fingertips, life flying past me at almost 300kph… I hold my breath.

This isn’t really real. Is it?

GROUPE_1

It had been quite a year since I first set foot inside a single seater, at the wheel of the MSV BRDC Formula 4 car at Snetterton on a cold and rainy British summer’s afternoon, to find myself in the sunny South of France about to drive a Formula 1 car, via Florida and the Ferrari Winter Series. But there was no way I felt anywhere near ready to drive something so fast and powerful… and expensive.

It’s not as though you’re thrown straight in though. We media types had been invited down to Ricard to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the iRace programme, run by the Lotus F1 Team. It was started back in the day when the team raced under the Renault banner, but the entire concept has been overseen by Frederic Garcia, whom I have known since my days in GP2. Our paths would often cross due to our Renault connection, and also in no small part to the amount of time we both used to spend at Circuit Paul Ricard.

I spent so much time at the circuit between 2004 and 2008 that Ricard became my one true happy place and to this day there are few parts of the world that fill me with as much joy. I’ve lost count of the number of track variations, days, laps and minutes I have seen pass by over the seasons at this place, and yet for the first time I was to get the chance to drive the track myself.

This is not going to go well...

This is not going to go well…

I’d be joined by colleagues David Croft (Sky Sports F1 HD), James Roberts (F1 Racing Magazine), Juan Fosarolli (Fox Sports South America) amongst others… oh, and ex F1 racer Taki Inoue. And our first task was of course to give the circuit a quick once over. We’d be driving formation 3D (my personal favourite from the GP2 days). From there, we’d get limbered up with some massages before taking a spin in a Formula Renault 2.0.

The cockpit felt familiar, and not overly dissimilar to the Formula Abarth I’d raced in Florida. The main difference was the simplicity of the wheel and the replacement of the sequential handle with wheel mounted paddle shift. In terms of aero, power and handling though, the two were very similar.

IMG_7085

The first half hour is spent behind a safety car, taking things easy. Too easy. In spite of the pace picking up a little towards the end, I held back to try and find some space but on somewhat cold tyres, spun on the exit of Turn 1. I kept the rears lit and spun around to pick up the back of the pack having left a nice big black donut mark down at the first turn.

Then we are released on our own. It felt good to be back at the wheel of a single seater, even more so with the complete lack of any pressure at all. The day exists for fun, to allow anyone the chance to experience something that few think they ever could, and over the last 10 years iRace has given hundreds the opportunity to live their dreams and drive an F1 car.

iRace FRen 4

I’m hitting the Formula Renault’s steel brakes at the marker points and they’re proving way too early, so I take larger and larger chunks out each lap through. A few laps in I go way too deep and lock the rears at Turn 1. I catch it… sort of… half spinning but not exactly making the corner either. I turn around and get going again, dialling the brake bias forward. The car feels better under braking, more on its nose, but as I exit the final turn I’m called into the pits.

“You’re braking too late and too aggressively,” I’m told. “You’re spinning under braking.”

“Only once,” I reply. “I just locked the rears for Turn 1 so I’ve dialled the bias forward a bit.”

“Oh… OK.” A knowing smile. “On your way.”

We are given our telemetry after the session. I’m happy with my braking shape and strength. The guys however say I’m braking too hard. At least I am for the steel brakes on the Formula Renault. Still, it puts a seed of doubt in my mind at precisely the time when I wanted my confidence to be up. But there’s a good reason for that. I’m about to be let loose in the car that won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We may be at Paul Ricard, one of the most advanced racetracks in the world with mile upon mile of run off, but sending out a relative novice high on confidence is a sure-fire way to a massive repair bill.

IMG_7098

Pastor Maldonado arrives to give us a few final words of advice before stepping into the car. He tells us of his first laps in an F1 car when he drove a Minardi back in November 2004. Even for the hugely experienced, race and championship winning Maldonado, the experience was one he recalls in acute detail and one which he assures us for which he was nowhere near ready.

Which means we’re definitely not.

Our briefing on driving the E20 passes by in a haze of nerves. All in all though, we’re told it is not going to be as tough as we think. Wing levels are cranked up, traction control is at its maximum, there’s the blown diffuser… drive it fast or the aero won’t work. High revs. Brake hard to keep the temperatures up. Enjoy it.

And as each colleague returns, that’s the repeated phrase.

“You can go so much faster than you think. Don’t hold back, just go for it.”

The same line, almost identically, is repeated by everyone who gets out.

And then it’s my turn.

iRace seat fit

I drop myself into the car, but in order to hit the pedals I’m perhaps a touch too low in the tub. There’s no time for bespoke seats to be made, of course, so it’s the best we can do. Belts strapped tight, I’m now exceptionally nervous. I feel so silly. Why the hell am I nervous? I know the track, I’ve got my license, I’ve been racing against Marciello and Fuoco and Verstappen this season… I’m not an idiot, and the car has been set up for absolute novices.

The engine is fired up and it roars. The whole car vibrates with a beautiful, warming hum. We roll forward into the pitlane. Visor down. Hand clutch in, engage first gear, slowly release the clutch and off we go.

The E20 gently eases forward as the revs and speed increase. I lower my right foot down and we rocket forward. It’s the kind of immense response you get from the throttle on a trials bike when you’re used to a Vespa. The slightest touch on the pedal and you are thrown back in your seat. And it feels glorious.

Out of the pits and already up to fourth gear before braking for turn one and shifting down to second. Back hard on the throttle and hold it in third through the right hander, shifting up to fourth before getting on the brakes and dropping down again through the gears for the uphill, down dale esses.

I’ll be honest. By this point I already dislike the carbon brakes. There is maybe an inch and a half of feel in them. That’s it. I’d got so used to steel brakes and the relatively long brake pedal one gets to play with to modulate braking and control brake shape in the other single seaters I’d driven, that to suddenly have it all occur in a few centimetres of movement is nigh on impossible to wrap your head around so quickly.

For now though, I don’t care. I hit the right hand apex on the S, and the track opens up ahead of me. I press my right foot to the floor and hold my breath. Third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh… it’s like being in control of your own rollercoaster.

iRace F1 2

My eyes stand out on stalks, as my brain struggles to keep up with the speed of what it is having to compute. Its cogs simply won’t turn fast enough, and so what stands in front of you is a blur of colour and light and noise, rushing towards you along a strip of grey rising uphill to a vanishing point. It is the most exhilarated and yet the most terrified I have ever been.

The brake marker appears and I lift, shifting down to fifth, setting myself up for the final third of the track, a sequence of tricky turns which require quite delicate placement of the car to ensure you’re pointing as straight as possible under braking in the midst of seemingly never ending corners.

I still can’t get the braking right, but as I round the final corner I floor the throttle, and am shifting from sixth to seventh as a I cross the start line. My one flying lap has started, but inside the first 100 metres I’ve ruined it. I squeeze the brakes and run deep into Turn one. I was nowhere near hard enough on the pedal, not even close. I double back to the track and trundle through the turn, getting back on it through the fast right hander and into the S.

Back into that glorious back section, I hit the throttle early and feel the back end step out. My own reaction tells me to correct and get back on it, but the car has already reacted before me and I can feel the TC controlling the rear and pushing me on, back up the hill. The radio beeps on.

“Use the brakes harder.”

I look down at the wheel. Its like a bag of pick n mix. I can’t remember which button does what. I find the radio button, shout “COPY THAT” and look up. I have travelled practically the entire straight. In the time it took me to find the radio button.

The right hander at Signes is next. My one true challenge. I thought I’d held it flat in the Formula Renault but the telemetry said I’d lifted just a touch. Not this time though. I was going in hard and I was going in fast. Easy flat. Easy.

My brain said yes. My balls said no. Not quite as big as I’d hoped.

Into the next right, turn in, straighten up and hit the brakes. Hard. Too hard.

Having not been warmed up with my pathetic excuse for braking on my formation lap and into my flyer, the temperature has dropped and I lock up and fly off track, flat spotting the front right a touch and running over the blue high abrasion run off strips.

The lap is ruined (it was rubbish from the first corner) and so I just decide to enjoy myself, blasting the throttle a few times and trying to sort out how in the hell to get a feel for the brakes. The in lap is a blast, flying once again down that glorious back straight, this time taking in the surroundings and the speed with which they fly past me, all under my control.

And in a flash, those three laps are over and I’m back in the pits.

iRace incar

I’m instantly thinking back over the laps, which now seem to have gone past so quickly they’ve all meshed into one. I could have braked harder and later. I could have carried more speed into the corners. I could have got on the power earlier. The fact the TC only kicked in once… the car would have forgiven my inadequacies. I shouldn’t have been so cautious.

I jump out of the car and utter those same words about not holding back to the next driver. I know he won’t listen. I know he, as I, and for that matter all of us before, will hold back and emerge from those laps utterly exhilarated… and yet just that little bit gutted.

You see, driving a Formula 1 car is a drug. It is the ultimate buzz, heightening every one of your senses to levels you never realised possible. Never have I felt so alive. Never have I felt so thrilled. Never have I felt so scared.

And at the end, all you want is just one more lap. Just one. One more hit of that speed, of that adrenalin, of that immense feeling of being so joyously alive. But deep down you know that won’t be enough to assuage your thirst, your desire… your absolute need to taste that thrill once more.

You’ll always want just one more lap.

Perhaps, then, its best that the experience felt surreal at the time and as the days and weeks have passed since, seems now to be even more of a dream. How it must feel for that thrill to become the norm. How it must feel to then have it taken away. Its no wonder a driver will do anything to get to and then stay in Formula 1. Regardless of whether they’re Romain Grosjean driving that E20 to podiums, or hauling the E22 by the scruff of its neck into Q2, that thrill is what keeps every racer pushing.

For just one more lap.

iRace hero

New Coke

Team Pack Up c/o James Moy Photography

Team Pack Up
c/o James Moy Photography

The arrival of August may mean an enforced break for most of the F1 world, but not it would seem for some of the sport’s key decision makers. It emerged over the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix that Bernie Ecclestone intends to hold a crisis summit over the sport’s popularity. Formula 1 team bosses were made aware of this on Saturday in Budapest, along with the shock news that alongside a hand-picked selection of team chiefs and Ecclestone himself, would be media representatives and disgraced former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore.

Although it has been claimed that the meeting should not be viewed as a negative, to many it can only be deemed thus. Coming at a time when the fans of this sport, along with a growing number of dissenting voices in the paddock, are having their say on double points, standing restarts and the concept of success ballast, the time has surely come to say enough is enough.

I have been in this game now for 13 years as a professional. I have been a fan all my life. And rarely can I recall a season I have enjoyed as much.

Where now are the dissenting voices over engine noise? Where now, those who decried the ugly look of the 2014 cars? Yes, these are areas that can be improved, but the doom-mongers of the early months of this year seem now to have been silenced by some sublime exhibitions of racing on track.

Budapest is a case in point. Yes, the weather played its part, but the tricky nature of the cars created by this season’s aero regulations, the power and torque of the new hybrid engines and the 2014 construction Pirelli tyres all combined to create the circumstances in which two safety cars were deployed and a thrilling race ensued. And it wasn’t the first brilliant race of the season.

We have had three, possibly four, maybe as many as five races that I would say rank as some of the finest of this generation. A few possibly of all time. It is very easy to look back at history and complain that things used to be so much better, but often those views are born of melodrama and passionate prejudice… a view through rose tinted glasses, if you will.

Alonso leads Hamilton and Ricciardo in Hungary c/o James Moy Photography

Alonso leads Hamilton and Ricciardo
c/o James Moy Photography

Let’s take a little look through history. At Budapest in 2014 we had a wet/dry race but still saw 16 finishers and seven different teams finish in the top ten. Yes, we had multiple safety cars, but the winning margin was just 5.225 seconds, with the top four split by just 6.361.

Let’s rewind a decade to 2004. 15 cars finished the race, with seven different teams finishing in the top ten. With the Ferrari chassis a class apart, the winning margin from Schumacher to Barrichello was 4.696 seconds, but the top four was split by over a minute.

In 1994 only 14 cars were classified but again, seven teams were classified in the top ten. Michael Schumacher’s winning margin was over 20 seconds and only three cars finished on the lead lap.

The very first Hungarian Grand Prix was held in 1986. Nelson Piquet won that race by 17.673 seconds. Only he and Ayrton Senna were on the lead lap. Ten cars finished the race.

It is easy to forget that there were days when F1 races would see five cars or fewer classified at the flag. It is easy to forget there was a time when the winning car lapped the field. It is easy to forget that ten years ago, Michael Schumacher had the championship sewn up two races before we even started the August break.

It is easy to overlook just how good we’ve got it right now.

Perhaps it is because we are being given exceptional contests almost every racing weekend that we lose sight of how good these races really are. It becomes easier to remember the great races of days past, when those races were rare highlights in otherwise predictable and often dull processions. When we have wonderful races as the norm, it becomes harder to determine the epic from the merely brilliant.

Hockenheim Grandstands c/o James Moy Photography

Hockenheim Grandstands
c/o James Moy Photography

The problem, however, is that grandstand seats sit empty. Television audiences in some territories are dropping. Paddock Club struggles to sell out and has had to change its outlook. Teams struggle to attract sponsors. It is perhaps unsurprising that some might ask whether people are falling out of love with the sport.

The problem, however, is that there seems to be a belief that it is the show itself that is to blame. Some seem to believe that the sport no longer grasps the imagination as it used to. They believe that the product has to change to adapt to a new generation.

They are wrong.

We exist at a time when Formula 1 teams are struggling for financial survival because of an unfair and unworkable payment structure, penned and conceived in and by a bygone and obsolete generation. Racing circuits are charged so much to host races, that those costs have to be passed onto a public crippled by a global recession and who would rather take their family on holiday than shell out the same figure on watching a motor race and camping in a muddy field. Free to air television networks are losing the rights to broadcast Formula 1 because the only networks who can afford the high figures being demanded are those who charge to view.

To anyone with even the scantest knowledge of this sport, it is abundantly clear that it is Formula 1’s business model which is broken, not the racing spectacle itself.

The sport has failed to keep pace with its audience by embracing new media, and yet is willing to impose contrived gimmicks into the purity of its product to try and make the show more appealing to a market it no longer understands. It remains blind to the fact that it will only lose dedicated followers by doing so, and gain no new interest from a generation who strive to find something real in a sea of commercial falsity.

New Coke

New Coke

Twenty Nine years ago, Coca Cola changed the recipe of its flagship brand, launching one of the greatest flops in modern commercial memory. “New Coke” replaced its original namesake in April 1985. By May, company directors were already pushing for a reversal to the original recipe after sales took a massive hit. It only took until July for Coca Cola executives to announce the return of the original Coke. The company’s President Donald Keough announced the return with words that Formula 1’s rulers would do well to dwell on over the coming weeks:

“The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”

The lesson is simple. Don’t mess with a product into which people have invested themselves emotionally. The public are not stupid. Don’t treat them like they are.

Formula 1 is in arguably the rudest racing health of its entire existence. I, as so many of my colleagues, and all the fans at home, pray that when the decisions are made that will shape the future of this sport, the decision makers keep this at the forefront of their minds. Because the only thing from which Formula 1 needs saving, is itself.