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Carlos Sainz Scuderia Toro Rosso James Moy Photography

Carlos Sainz
Scuderia Toro Rosso
James Moy Photography

5. Carlos Sainz

The Spaniard’s sophomore year in Formula 1 was desperately impressive. Consider for a moment that he and Toro Rosso entered the season with few expectations, running as they were a year-old Ferrari Power Unit which would receive no updates between lights out in Australia and chequered flag in Abu Dhabi. As such it was the early races of the season in which the team hoped to make its biggest push for points and yet Sainz consistently put his car in places it had no right to be, putting in performances that promoted his team to seventh in the Constructors’ Championship, just 11 points shy of McLaren Honda.

Factor in also the emotional gut punch that the promotion of Max Verstappen to Red Bull Racing created, and the realisation that a seat at the top team now could not be his for the foreseeable future, and the youngster’s ability to compose himself and carry on in the manner he did is all the more impressive.

He had nine Q3 appearances in 2016, which by all accounts should have been 10 save for the technical failure which put him out of Q2 in Austria, and despite the severe power deficit of his car leaving him with a target on his back in almost every race, he was able to bring it home in the points on ten occasions.

Canada (11 positions from start), Austria (7), America (4) and Brazil (9) stand out as exquisite drives, and one wonders what he might have achieved in Singapore were it not for the first lap contact with Nico Hulkenberg which saw him pick up damage and receive a meatball flag that relegated him out of points contention. But for me, one of the races which stood out the most was Japan. He qualified 14th and finished 17th. He was all over the place. But when the flag fell he attempted to make not one excuse. He merely apologised for his driving and said he hoped he hadn’t spoiled anyone’s race.

A driver who is so readily willing to accept when he is not as his best, seek to put no blame on anyone but himself, and use that introspection to further his racecraft is a rare thing indeed in the supposed pinnacle of open wheel racing. Not only is he critically aware however, he is quickly maturing into one of the most tenacious and impressive drivers in the sport. If I was Toto Wolff, I’d have no hesitation in putting in the call and paying whatever Helmut Marko asked to break him away from a Toro Rosso squad from which the Spaniard knows he has little chance of progressing within the Red Bull family. Carlos Sainz is a champion in waiting.

Nico Rosberg Mercedes Petronas AMG James Moy Photography

Nico Rosberg
Mercedes Petronas AMG
James Moy Photography

4. Nico Rosberg

The 2016 Formula 1 World Champion did everything he needed to do to wrap up the biggest prize in open wheel racing. And yet, for all his moments of brilliance, there will forever be question marks over the manner in which Nico Rosberg became champion. Even as the champagne was drying into the fibres of his race suit in Abu Dhabi, articles were penned and the debate initiated as to whether he was deserving of his place in the pantheon of the all-time greats.

Make no mistake about it, Nico Rosberg is a fine driver. His ability to put a car through its paces with metronomic efficiency, think around problems, extract the maximum from his equipment whilst also being kind to it, should be applauded. But with the finest car in the field at his disposal there were many who wanted to see more from the German in the year that he finally put it all together. There were many who left 2016 feeling deflated.

Rosberg worked harder than ever in 2016 to get on top of the niggles that had let him down in his previous two championship fights with Lewis Hamilton. It is inarguable that he started the season as by far the more prepared driver. He had spent the winter redoubling his efforts to understand both himself and his car, to use everything in his armoury to unsettle his now three-time world champion stablemate. Those in Hamilton’s corner will forever use either the shifting of mechanics at the start of the season or the Briton’s misfortune with car reliability as the reason for Rosberg’s successes in 2016, but the fact that these issues riled Lewis so much, the fact he allowed them to permeate his confidence, has everything to do with the fact that Rosberg in himself presented a more difficult prospect to beat than he ever had before. We should not forget that in their entire careers, Nico Rosberg had never beaten Lewis Hamilton to a championship. But 2016 spec Nico Rosberg was a different prospect to the boy and latterly the man whom Lewis Hamilton had taken it for granted he could not just match, but defeat.

Rosberg’s start to the season was sensational. And, after Hamilton’s incredible run of form which saw his comeback reignite the championship fight, Rosberg found it within him to pull another, previously undiscovered level. His race weekends in Singapore and Japan were nigh-on perfect.

But, and there is a but, Rosberg lacked in one key area. His racecraft. Be it in his defensive driving or his attacking acumen, he at all times appeared clunky. Spain, Germany and Austria proved he lacked the requisite ability to keep a driver behind him cleanly. His attempts at passing were all too often born of the same problems. He was penalised on multiple occasions for attempting to edge a driver beyond the limits of acceptable racing in situations which, frankly, should never have required such actions. It was as if he was overthinking his moves, and with that came an overall feeling that his racecraft lacked finesse and quality. His move on Verstappen in Abu Dhabi, even with the Red Bull on older tyres, was a heart in the mouth moment not just because of its audaciousness, but because it was the kind of thing we’d seen go wrong in races earlier in the season.

It’s all well and good having the fastest car and taking it to the top step, but when he was pulled into the fight, all too often one was left with the impression that he had been found wanting. In three years as team-mates he never once put a move on Hamilton and made it stick (no, race starts don’t count). In his entire Formula 1 career he never once won a wet race. And so the questions from the doubters will always remain as to whether he truly had the ability to fight in all situations, or whether he simply played the smart game by the numbers.

But such small trifles will matter not to him. With his retirement announced, his place is assured. Personally, I think it is a great shame we will never get to see what Nico Rosberg could have become, how he might have raced and how his mettle might have hardened without the pressurised constraints of the effort required to win that all important first title. But he’s done what he always set out to do. And for him that is enough, and all that matters. Nico Rosberg is the Formula 1 World Champion.

Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
Red Bull Racing
James Moy Photography

3. Max Verstappen

If Max Verstappen rocked the establishment in his rookie season, he began to completely take it apart in his follow up year. Many will name him their driver of the season, such was his impact and so large does his ability rest in the focus, but to do so would be to overlook the rough edges which still exist, and which we must expect to exist, in a racer who is still so young and still so comparatively inexperienced.

Nobody could fail to have been impressed by Verstappen’s ascent to the top, nor his stunning debut for Red Bull Racing in Barcelona. Of course, one could argue that the strategy that day was played out by the team to give their new charge a better chance of winning than that afforded to his team leader Daniel Ricciardo, but Verstappen still had to make it work. The way he toyed with Raikkonen in the closing laps, the manner in which he looked after his tyres and pulled away from the final chicane to leave the Finn just metres behind a realistic pass attempt and his ability to soak up the pressure was phenomenal. That the race itself was just the fifth time he had been strapped into the Red Bull RB12 after three practice sessions and one quali, makes the achievement all the more incredible.

Of course, Verstappen courted controversy in 2016 too. His defensive tactics were deemed to be highly questionable, with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari leading the vocal minority who had an issue with his allegedly late moves. Verstappen’s methods led to the rule of what was and was not permitted under the auspices of defensive driving to be clarified under what became, slightly unfairly, to be known as “The Verstappen Rule.” I say unfairly, because the rule wasn’t actually changed, merely clarified. It also seems slightly unfair to have dubbed it as such as Verstappen himself was never found guilty of exceeding the legalities of the rule, while other far more experienced drivers were.

Verstappen was able to frustrate his rivals so much due to a deft feel for the brakes. That, combined with the aerodynamic efficiency of the RB12 and its ability to be stopped and turned on its nose, made the Dutchman an almost impassable prospect. But his audacious attacking abilities are what marked him out in equal measure. I’ve explained already why Brazil was a great drive but in reality nothing earth shattering, but the fact that he was the only driver willing or able, apart from Esteban Ocon, to try those lines is something we should all applaud. If there is a downside it is in qualifying. He has the pace, but too infrequently does he put it all together.

He is still rough around the edges. In contrast to the likes of Carlos Sainz, Verstappen’s ego-driven confidence makes one question whether he holds the ability to be self-critical. If not, he will find it harder to learn and to develop if he has to be told by either his bosses or his father when he needs to analyse what he is doing, than in being able to do so of his own volition. He’s also needlessly thrown away potentially great results. Monaco was a horrible weekend, and his spin at the start in Abu Dhabi was born of the youthful desire to get everything done on the first lap.

He will learn, one hopes. And when he does, he will become an incredible prospect. For now, he seems to be on the verge of true greatness. A sensational racer, with talent oozing from every pore. He can pass, he can defend, he can rile his opponents and dance around them in almost every weather condition. And he’s still so young.

When those rusty edges get cleaned up, he’s going to be ridiculous.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas James Moy Photography

Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes AMG Petronas
James Moy Photography

2. Lewis Hamilton

The most poles and the most wins of 2016, yet Lewis Hamilton saw the world championship slip from his grasp and into the hands of his team-mate. Was that the fault of his team or does he need to take this one on the chin and admit that he was, in equal measure, responsible for letting it get away?

There is no way of getting around the fact that Nico Rosberg entered 2016 as the better prepared of the Mercedes drivers. With a tricky clutch on the W07 Hybrid, it was the German who had gone to great lengths to understand its intricacies in pre-season, while Hamilton took time to get to grips with it once the season had started. The lost positions he suffered at race starts throughout the year is thus on him. Some will argue that Hamilton’s focus wasn’t fully committed to the sport in the early part of the season either, with so much time being spent Stateside playing at being a model or a musician.

From early on, though, something changed in Lewis Hamilton. Looking at the opposite side of the garage he could barely have recognised the man in the other silver car. This was not the Nico Rosberg of old. He was more focussed, more composed and more complete than ever before and Hamilton quickly realised he would have to bring everything he had to F1 2016 if he was to beat him and hang on to his title.

But with technical gremlins hitting seemingly only Hamilton’s car, the frustrations started to show themselves. The Briton regularly and publically questioned the shifting of his mechanics onto Rosberg’s car at the start of the season. The cryptic “Someone doesn’t want me to win this” quote, after yet another mechanical failure, resonated. To the outside world Lewis was either throwing his team under the bus or venting his annoyances at factors outside his control. Or, perhaps, they were the only way he could exhale the frustrations he felt in himself for either not being completely on it from day one or for allowing Rosberg to get under his skin.

Spain was, for me, the turning point. When Rosberg ran Hamilton off the road, I have little doubt that Hamilton’s mindset ran that if he wasn’t finishing the race he’d be damned if Rosberg wasn’t coming with him. From that point on he redoubled, and put in a quite magnificent run of form which lasted the remainder of the season. He overturned a 43 point deficit to lead the championship going into the summer break by an incredible 19, despite an off colour weekend in Azerbaijan.

He continued to drive quite brilliantly, but still lost out to Rosberg in the four races immediately following the summer holiday. Rosberg would put in another blinder in Japan, usually one of Hamilton’s happier hunting grounds, before the Brit went on to take the final four races of the season, eventually losing the title by five points. The engine failure in Malaysia, while leading, and the 28 point shift that put into play will be seen as the real nail in the coffin for Hamilton’s season. But, if we are being honest, it came far earlier.

Nico, Max and Lewis could have been put into any one of the positions from four to two on this list. There are positives and negatives in each of their seasons and finding the right order in which to place them has not been an easy task. For the simple fact that he overcame such a huge deficit and would, but for Malaysia, have entered that final weekend leading the championship, Hamilton thus nudges his way to the top of the pile of three.

He drove wonderfully for three quarters of the season. And while reliability woes of course played their part, one feels if he’d just been on it from day one, he might have finished a place higher. On this list, and the one that really matters.

Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing James Moy Photography

Daniel Ricciardo
Red Bull Racing
James Moy Photography

1. Daniel Ricciardo

There isn’t a more rounded driver in modern day Formula 1 than Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian cemented himself as the sport’s leading light both on and off track in 2016 after a season born in equal part of frustration and fortitude.

“In the way he approaches racing he’s always very committed to everything he does. On the track you cannot see any mistakes when you are together with him. In the overtaking manoeuvres probably he is the best out there. When he commits to one movement, 99 per cent he will achieve the result that he wanted.”

These are the words of Fernando Alonso about a man whose approach to the sport and to racing commands the respect and admiration not just of the two-time champion, but of every other driver on track and of team bosses the length of the pitlane. Ricciardo is fast and fair, determined and dignified, and in 2016 took his racecraft and reputation to the very top level.

It is difficult to think of a single mistake that he made this year. He swallowed the strategy that put Verstappen onto the top step of the podium in Spain, and was even magnanimous two weeks later when a bungled pitstop in Monaco denied him a shot at victory. Too often in 2016, Red Bull’s strategy let him down on a weekend when he might have fought for the win, but as ever he kept smiling, kept plugging away and kept pushing with every sinew of his being. It’s his never-say-die attitude, combined with a racing style that is as tough as it is graceful, that has made him a firm fan favourite and unquestionably the driver of 2016.

He was honest enough mid-season to admit that Max Verstappen’s speed had caught him off guard, and he wasn’t too big to state on the record that he’d actually learned a few things from his new team-mate. His win in Malaysia was rich reward for the efforts he put in, and his consistent pace and relentless enthusiasm pushed Red Bull Racing into a position which was only a dream when the year began.

With Formula 1 moving back to an aero Formula from 2017, Red Bull Racing could find themselves back in the ascendency. And with Daniel Ricciardo not just at the top of his game but at the summit of the mountain of the current F1 crop, next season already feels like a tantalising prospect.

Daniel Ricciardo is the personification of the joy of motor racing. But behind the smile and the sparkling childlike eyes, lies a steely determination and an awe-inspiring talent. If he goes as well in 2017 as he did in 2016, he’ll start the year in his home nation as champion-elect.

Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team James Moy Photography

Romain Grosjean
Haas F1 Team
James Moy Photography

10. Romain Grosjean

A podium finisher who had for years stood on the verge of a breakthrough first F1 win, the Frenchman’s decision to move from his longtime home in Enstone to the all-new Haas F1 Team for 2016 was seen in many quarters as the biggest gamble of his career. But with Renault in a period of rebuilding, the top three teams bereft of free seats and with Grosjean entering his thirties, it was a gamble he felt he had to take. And in the short term, it appeared inspired. Aided by as close to a customer car as the sport had seen in almost a decade and the steely nerves of a brilliant strategist, Haas and Grosjean scored points on debut. Indeed, they would score three times in the first four races to shake the established midfield to its core.

But that was as good as it was to get. Even if the team had already switched focus to its 2017 contender, as it claimed, it appeared that the daily necessities of a racing team were slipping below expectation. The pitfalls that can affect all new teams seemed to take hold. Petty squabbles and empire building saw staff members leave. Inexperience in vital areas led to basic mistakes. A brake problem which first reared its head in Bahrain took until Mexico for a solution to be trialled. The car appeared, at times, to be undrivable.

But while Esteban Gutierrez allowed the frustrations to bubble over into public denigration of his team, Grosjean tried at all times to pull the squad together. His radio messages couldn’t hide his regular disappointment, but he recognised how the making public of his comments was affecting morale and vowed to keep calm. He would score points twice more, in Austria and fittingly in the USA, amassing each of the 29 points that took Haas to an incredible eighth place finish in their rookie F1 season.

Romain Grosjean took the gamble and did everything to make it work, carrying the heavy burden of the team’s hopes on his shoulders alone. While not his most successful season in terms of outright results, 2016 was one which showed how far he has come, how well he has matured, and how boldly he can lead a team to achieve more than it ever believed it could.

Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari James Moy Photography

Sebastian Vettel
Scuderia Ferrari
James Moy Photography

9. Sebastian Vettel

For the second time in three years, Sebastian Vettel has gone a whole F1 season without a win to his name. Seb’s detractors like to point out he’s never won a race from lower than third on the grid, and given he only managed to start a race that high five times in 2016, one perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that he failed to reach the top step. But, if we’re being fair to him, that he was able to get the SF-16H that high up the grid speaks volumes of what he was actually able to drag out of it. It also fails to recognise the fact that on at least two occasions this season, Ferrari threw away an almost certain race victory by gambling on an alternate strategy when they had absolutely no need to.

If one thing confused about Ferrari in 2016 it was that they genuinely didn’t seem to understand when they had true pace and when they’d lucked into the position they were in. This confusion was reflected in almost every facet of the team’s operation. They appear lost, their leadership not coming from the General in the field but from the Monarch on his throne in the safety and comfort of his palace. Ferrari has gone back to the way it was in the 80s and early 90s, run from the boardroom by a businessman rather than from the track by pragmatic racers who delegated responsibilities and got the job done with ruthless efficiency. They have, for want of a better phrase, become Italian again. And, much like the Italian football team, at times they seem so scared of defeat that it seems they’ve forgotten how to win.

Sebastian Vettel could and should have been the focal point around which the team rallied. At a time of apparent chaos they looked to him to steady the ship. But with James Allison’s departure mid-season, the German’s veil of positivity slipped and never returned. His frustrations boiled over, not only in the radio messages broadcast around the world, but inside the team and the garage. His words of optimism became forced, the same lines trotted out ad infinitum.

And his race performances suffered as a result. Despite a return to form in Abu Dhabi this was, without doubt, Sebastian Vettel’s most disappointing season in Formula 1. No, the car was not what he wanted or needed. No, the team was not operating as he wanted or needed. But, as a four time champion, one should have expected more from him than the often petulant feet stamping he displayed all too often. Sebastian’s own disappointment in his season will be dwarfed only by his team’s own disappointment in him as their leader. For while he outscored his team-mate and came fourth in the championship, he will be only too aware that he let them, and himself, down in 2016.

Kimi Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari James Moy Photography

Kimi Raikkonen
Scuderia Ferrari
James Moy Photography

8. Kimi Raikkonen

The Finn has never warmed to the cars of the hybrid era. Their first iterations in 2014 left him scrabbling to get on top of brakes that lacked the feel he had become used to in the decade plus of his career in the sport. Lacking confidence in brakes takes its toll on a driver, even one disposed of Raikkonen’s apparent cool, calm and unflappable bravery. It has taken him time to grow accustomed to these new cars, at the same time learning to deal with one of the sternest challenges he has ever faced on the opposite side of the garage. For not only is Sebastian Vettel one of the finest racers of his generation, there is little question over his number one status at Ferrari.

But Kimi has never been one to dwell on such matters. He simply gets his head down and goes racing. And in the chaos that became Ferrari in 2016, as detailed above in talking about Vettel’s own season, never before had Kimi’s “Iceman’ moniker been so vital. Raikkonen’s qualifying pace excelled, and in race trim he looked better than I’d seen him since his return to the scarlet cars that brought him the 2007 world championship.

Kimi relaxed into himself again, allowing humour and smiles to ring out as he spoke. There was a joy present in him this season, an enjoyment of his racing and a love of his craft. While his team-mate lost his cool, it was the Finn who stayed dependable and calm.

With big tyres and mid 2000s levels of aero back on the cars in 2017, Kimi should be back in his element. And on the basis of 2016, he goes into the winter as by far the better performing and more at ease Ferrari driver. If Ferrari gets its sums right for 2017, a happy Raikkonen should make everyone fearful.

Sergio Perez Sahara Force India James Moy Photography

Sergio Perez
Sahara Force India
James Moy Photography

7. Sergio Perez

It was another astonishing season for Sahara Force India and the man who has scored every podium the team has achieved in its history, bar one. But while they and he had to make do with just the sole rostrum finish in 2014 and 2015, in 2016 they took two, one after an utterly incredible drive in Azerbaijan and one at the sport’s most famous race, on the streets of Monte Carlo.

The spectre of his failed season at McLaren still hangs heavy in the Mexican’s mind, not because he was disappointed in the way that he drove, but because he is so concerned that his career will forever be judged on the fact that he was let go by such a successful team after just one season. But since joining Force India, Perez has turned himself into one of the sport’s genuine stand-out drivers. His team-mate for the past seasons, Nico Hulkenberg, is widely regarded as one of the best in the sport and the one most deserving of a top-line seat. And yet he has not one F1 podium to his name. Perez has seven. Four in the past three years.

He has become the absolute master of the current regulations and managing Pirelli’s tyres. He has driven with maturity and intelligence, combining with Force India’s excellent strategist to concoct bold race plays that only he could make work. Behind Mercedes, if either Red Bull or Ferrari had a slip up you could have put your house on it being Perez standing by to pick up the pieces.

If one thing showed just how well Sergio Perez has done at Force India this season, it was Nico Hulkenberg’s announcement that he was leaving the team to join Renault. Sure, it was a good move for the German and a chance to join a factory team, but the bottom line was that he simply couldn’t afford another season of being shown up by the Mexican. Rather than wait for a big team to come calling, Sergio Perez has been the momentum behind turning Force India into one of the big teams on their own merit. Truly an incredible season for both driver and team.

Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda James Moy Photography

Fernando Alonso
McLaren Honda
James Moy Photography

6. Fernando Alonso

If 2015 was a season of abject frustration for Fernando Alonso, with his radio messages often providing the few moments of comic relief in a season which merited few smiles in Woking, then 2016 saw the green shoots of recovery from which McLaren should feel not only proud but hugely positive as they aim for the new start that 2017 represents. But while McLaren itself made huge steps forward this season, watching Fernando Alonso back to his bull-fighting best was perhaps an even greater delight.

For while the car still struggled for pace all too often, the drives the Spaniard put in were regularly mesmerising. In particular his race starts were things of beauty. Watching his on-board replays as he scythed through the field in the opening corners of a race, that champion’s brain constantly two steps ahead of the pack, was a joy.

When points became the expectation, that look of disappointment returned to him as the hunger burned for more. Next step podiums. Next step race wins. The fevered desire that had seemingly alluded him in the gut-wrenching toil of one year before was evident for all to see. Fernando Alonso was back.

The season hadn’t started at all well, of course, lest we forget that huge accident in Australia and the resultant damage it did to the driver that put him out of the next race in Bahrain. That his replacement should step in and score points in a car whose user manual he’d only read on the flight to Bahrain should tell Fernando Alonso everything he needs to know about the challenge he’ll face next season. He’s had a young GP2 champion to deal with before in the opposite side of the garage, but a decade older and wiser from the man who locked horns with Hamilton in 2007, one feels that Vandoorne and Alonso could form a potent mixture in 2017.

Certainly if the Spaniard is racing the way he was in 2016, McLaren Honda will have only the car to blame if results are not forthcoming. Alonso was a joy to watch this season. Not quite back to his best, but with fire back in his heart and determination in his soul, not far off it either.

Tomorrow: Positions 5-1

Max Verstappen 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

The 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix ended up being a wonderful race. It’ll be one of those events that I was proud to say I witnessed first-hand, one of those contests that I am sure will come to define not just the season but perhaps this generation and, in particular, its stand-out driver.

I’ve been fully signed up to the Max Verstappen fanclub for a good few years. I’ve never made any bones about it nor attempted to hide my genuine excitement over his talent and potential. But even I had to take a small step back from Brazil. Because while his drive was outstanding, it was also born of the simplicity of common sense. What was surprising to me was not so much what Max was doing, but more what his rivals were not.

It’s something I’ve become used to calling in races as a live report from the track, but when the heavens open Max Verstappen and, if we are to be fair, those of his age group such as Esteban Ocon, tend to prefer to use what I have come to refer to as the wet “karting” lines.

You see, when it rains, the irony is that the last place you really want to be is on the traditional racing line. In dry conditions the racing line is that which becomes “rubbered in,” and thus provides the greatest level of grip. However in the wet this very same line of rubber that provides grip in the dry becomes slippery. As such, the racing line is really the last place you want to be. Yes, it is the shortest route around the track, but in the wet the racing line can also be the trickiest path to tread.

The highest levels of grip in the wet both cornering and under braking can therefore be off the traditional line. Not only does taking these lines thus offer you a better shot at getting the car stopped or putting the power down, but also, as they are off the traditional line, a clearer scope of vision as you pull out of the spray of those ahead.

It really isn’t rocket science. Go to any kart track and watch any competitive kart meet in the rain and you will witness exactly those lines and precisely that technique. It is something you learn from your earliest days in racing. It is something you make use of throughout junior formulae. And yet it is an art that apparently most of the Formula 1 fraternity has forgotten.

Raikkonen retires 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Raikkonen retires
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

In my opinion this has, in no small part, been down to the ease with which racing in the rain became over the past few decades. High levels of downforce combined with incredibly efficient rain tyres allowed Formula 1 drivers the ability to stay on the racing line in the wet with only a limited reduction in overall pace due to the grip afforded by these two crucial factors. Today however, those benefits do not exist. Formula 1 cars have but a fraction of the aerodynamic grip of their forerunners and Pirelli’s wet tyres are, to put it politely, less than exquisite.

Sebastian Vettel has labelled Pirelli’s Full Wet tyre the “safety car tyre,” as its only real use in his eyes is to run behind the pace car. It’s why so many drivers risked switching to the Intermediate in the hideous conditions on Sunday. The half-way house tyre provides almost the same level of grip at racing speeds as the Full Wet, which is in itself a damning state of affairs.

Of course the Full Wet is not helped by being run for so long behind the Safety Car. Temperatures and operating pressures drop at such low speeds, meaning the tyre can rarely do its job of dissipating water from the racing line and is then less than at its optimum when racing finally commences. Even at full speed and peak operating conditions, however, the Full Wet tyre seems woefully inadequate for the job at hand.

But, as we regular road users are constantly told, one must drive to the conditions. If the tyres available only offer a small amount of grip, then as the alleged best drivers in the world it is a Formula 1 racer’s job to get the maximum performance from those very same tyres. It is worthy of note that both red flags came about as a result of drivers running on the Full Wet, the first for debris strewn across the track from the wet-shod Raikkonen’s shunt and the second because it was believed that the Full Wets could not handle the weather as it was at the time, despite numerous protestations to the contrary from drivers who understood the mantra of racing to the conditions.

What can we draw from Verstappen’s fine racecraft in Brazil, then? Have Formula 1 drivers, as a collective, forgotten the very basics of driving in the wet? Have they become lazy, expecting to be able to simply forge the simplest, fastest route at all times and in all conditions? Are they so uncertain of their cars or their tyres that they dare not deviate from the racing line?

Or is Max Verstappen a straight up genius?

Esteban Ocon2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Esteban Ocon2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

Again, it has gone relatively unnoticed that Esteban Ocon was taking the same lines as Verstappen. This practice frustrated many of those trying to pass his comparatively uncompetitive Manor, but showed again the benefit of attempting either the different or the sensible. For whichever argument you wish to take, the end result is the same.

I am, of course, doing both Verstappen, Ocon and those who attempted those lines and those moves a disservice. We all know that it isn’t as simple as just sticking your car on a different part of the track and suddenly finding grip, speed and a few seconds a lap. If you are going to drive your car off the racing line at 300kph, you need to have bravery, skill, confidence, and not a small amount of luck. You are going to hit standing water. You are not going to find that dry line. You are going to experience far more squeaky bum moments.

Which, I suppose, makes these stand-out drives all the more impressive. For as much as they are born of the application of one of the most basic of racing maxims, they still require a high level of risk and a huge amount of skill to pull off. Even more so to make it look so effortless.

Whether the majority of F1 drivers have become lazy, timid or simply forgetful, thank heavens there remain the extraordinary few who, in their racing adolescence, still remember and still attempt the basics.

Max Verstappen 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

Sergio Perez Sahara Force India - Mexican GP 2016 James Moy Photography

Sergio Perez
Sahara Force India – Mexican GP 2016
James Moy Photography

If the Mexican Grand Prix showed us one thing, it is that as we approach the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season and prepare to shoot the supposed silver bullet of a technical regulation overhaul designed, as always, to “improve the show,” the sport finds itself at a moral and regulatory crossroads.

The fight is one between over regulation and a laissez-faire attitude towards the rules of racing, and falls particularly into two categories: track limits and what Mercedes earlier this season termed “the rules of engagement.” There is no easy answer to the question of how one deals with either, for both sides of both arguments have merit. But choose the sport must. And choose it must soon.

Track Detail Budpaest 2016 James Moy Photography

Track Detail
Budpaest 2016
James Moy Photography

Track limits has been a bugbear of the sport for many years. Of course, it is a problem which never used to exist. You had a racetrack, you had a painted white line on the side of it and then you had grass. Or dirt. In some places you had kerbs but they tended to knock your fillings out or be so high that they’d rip your suspension off so driving on them wasn’t advisable.

Gravel traps came and disappeared, at first deemed to be a safety measure and then too dangerous in places. In a bid to make the sport ever safer, run off became de rigeur. Get it wrong and you can still get it back seemed to be the overarching philosophy. Fans want to see their heroes competing, after all, not finishing a race in the kitty litter. Kerbs were flattened.

Run off became an extension of the track. Rules about having “all four off” had to be invented. Because racing drivers will take the shortest and fastest route possible.

Bernie Ecclestone hit the headlines in Mexico for claiming that we should put walls up around the tracks. While the safety lobby got up in arms, nobody with any common sense could take the suggestion at all seriously. But the intention behind Bernie’s comments was and is sound and is agreed upon by every driver I’ve ever met. There needs to be a punishment for going off track. Be it losing time or going home, exceeding track limits requires a punishment.

These are, as we keep being told, the best drivers in the world. Part of the allure is watching them dance a car around a complex racetrack. Straight lining corners does not a hero make.

Lap 1, Turn 1 Mexican GP 2016 James Moy Photography

Lap 1, Turn 1
Mexican GP 2016
James Moy Photography

Case in point was Turns 1 and 2, lap 1 in Mexico. If you have a gravel trap in that vast swathe of grass at Turn 1, neither Mercedes makes it to Turn 3.

Hamilton was too late on the brakes, had to get off them to avoid a flatspot, but rather than attempting to make the corner simply playstationed it across the grass. Rosberg makes the corner but in a side-by-side with Verstappen bangs wheels and is knocked off track. The overhead then showed us something a bit naughty. He goes to return to the track, turning right towards the asphalt. Knowing at this point that he will likely have to pull in behind Verstappen and likely also be overtaken by Hulkenberg, instead he makes no effort to make T2, instead turning left, gunning the throttle and maintaining his position.

It was all too easy to say that he was banged off track by Verstappen and thus shouldn’t have been penalised. The reality is that he was moving back to the track, but decided better of it in order to keep position.

That’s both Mercedes drivers opting to take to the grass. That’s the first two guys on the grid deciding that their race is better suited by avoiding a corner than actually taking it.

That the Safety Car came out and bunched the field, thus negating any “lasting advantage,” critically the words within the regulations that must be fulfilled in order for exceeding track limits to be punished, means both Hamilton and Rosberg got away with cutting a corner. But should they have been able to?

Track Detail Budapest 2016 James Moy Photography

Track Detail
Budapest 2016
James Moy Photography

Of course the same thing happened with Verstappen later in the race. He’d got it wrong in his attempted pass on Rosberg earlier in the race and his sideways moment trying to keep the car on track was the sort of thing we all want to see. Him cutting the corner to keep position in his fight with Vettel was not. And the call for him to give the place back is something that has become a necessary evil.

Earlier this season there was a suggestion from the likes of Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, men whose judgements I usually admire and agree with, that we simply do away with track limits and let the drivers go to town. But then, what is the point in marking out a racing circuit?

The sweepers at Austin? Screw it, just straight line them. St Devote at Monaco? Well actually if you double back there, then you hit the access road that takes you to Tabac so you might as well just do the Formula E track. Imagine if we were still racing at Indianapolis. No track limits? Sod the infield guys, I’m just going to drive the oval.

Yes that’s extreme and of course not at all realistic, but the idea of getting rid of track limits just doesn’t sit well with me.

But then we have a problem. Because while I want to see track limits enforced, what do we do about truly great overtaking battles, drivers on the limit, where one is edged a touch wide but makes the move stick despite having all four off? Verstappen on Nasr in Spa last year was, to the letter of the law, illegal. But it was a damn fine move.

That’s your problem. Because if you want to be a stickler for the rules, you can’t then just let them go when it suits you.

If running one wheel, let alone four, off track is punishment in itself due to the potential to lose time, then one does not need to regulate for exceeding track limits. And so the only solution here seems to be to completely change the current trend of creating run off and kerbing around every corner of every track. Asphalt, a white painted line and grass / dirt is all you need. But the cost of retrograding every F1 circuit would be vast. And therefore unlikely.

And so we will have to come up with a stringent set of rules and stick to them.

Verstappen vs Raikkonen Hungarian Grand Prix 2016 James Moy Photography

Verstappen vs Raikkonen
Hungarian Grand Prix 2016
James Moy Photography

The same seems to be true in the art of racing and defending, or what Mercedes referred to as “the rules of engagement.”

Max Verstappen has been much maligned this season for the tactics he employs in his defense of position. Made possible by his deft touch on the brakes and a car in the Red Bull which you can stick on its nose and stop on a dime, I’ve been in Verstappen’s corner for the vast majority of what have been seen as questionable manoeuvres. For the most part of the season, so were many of the drivers. The trick was that Verstappen wasn’t actually doing anything illegal. But it was a bit naughty.

That the FIA clarified (and it’s crucial here we note it was a clarification rather than an actual new rule) the regulation for acceptable driving in the braking zone in defense of a position, came after much lobbying from, amongst others, Sebastian Vettel. Nobody had much of an issue with the clarification because, of course, the rules hadn’t actually changed. But it meant that defensive driving was now a hot topic and flashing bright and clear on race stewards’ radars. Ironically it would be Vettel himself who would be the first driver to suffer under the new hard line policies his own lobbying had created.

He and Ferrari cried foul, a race result taken away from them by bureaucracy. Of course it was that very same bureaucracy over track limits which had handed them a podium in the first place. The same bureaucracy over the strict regulation of racing etiquette which they had pushed for in the wake of the “Verstappen chop.” Ironic, yes, but as a purist it is immensely sad, too.

Be careful what you wish for... Sebastian Vettel - Mexican Grand Prix 2016 James Moy Photography

Be careful what you wish for…
Sebastian Vettel – Mexican Grand Prix 2016
James Moy Photography

How hard can a driver defend? How hard can a driver attack? How much of the trailing car needs to be alongside the leading car in order for the car behind to have a right to be given space? And how much space? Precisely what percentage of a car needs to be alongside for a door to be left open? And when we say open do we mean wide open or just ajar? If a driver makes the move stick but has all four wheels off the track does he have to give the position back? And if so should it be done immediately? What if it the position is given back before a DRS detection point, meaning the driver then has an advantage to take the position straight back again under DRS?

It’s all become so clinical and methodical and cold. Where’s the excitement in coming up with a scientific formula as to what creates an acceptable overtaking move?

The sport needs to think long and hard over the winter about how it deals with these problems. In over regulating the means by which a driver can race, you threaten to neuter the sport. In investigating every overtaking move you take away the joy and the excitement. Racing should be hard, it should be on the edge. No it shouldn’t be dangerous, but it shouldn’t be easy either. Why can’t drivers bang wheels? Why can’t bargeboards go flying? Why can’t a driver overtake another on the grass, where he should theoretically be losing time and going slower?

But then by that same token, if you under regulate the sport, you threaten to create chaos. Why can’t the best of the best stay within the lines? Why can’t they ply their trade and play their sport within the confines of the playable surface? Why can’t the best of the best execute a move for position without reverting to knocking the other guy off the track?

There is no easy solution because you can see the arguments from both sides. And both have merit.

Ultimately the key here is consistency, clarity and certainty.

The overriding feeling after the Mexican Grand Prix was one of disappointment. It was all just such a messy, unsatisfactory end.

Nobody wants to see races decided in the stewards’ office. Nobody wants to see great racing penalised. But nobody wants to see rules flouted and liberties taken.

Is this Formula 1’s impossible question? I hope not. Because the ramifications for our enjoyment of the sport are vast.

Dany Kvyat Russian Grand Prix 2016 James Moy Photography

Dany Kvyat
Russian Grand Prix 2016
James Moy Photography

Dany Kvyat received a time penalty and license points for his first lap misdemeanours at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix. But should it have been more? Some are calling for the Red Bull Driver to be parked. Some are calling him reckless whilst holding firm in the belief that Sunday’s mistakes could cost him his place at the team, and ultimately could spell the end of his F1 career.

But Kvyat’s own instincts and personal recollection of the first three corners of Sunday’s contest, and his role in the incident which ultimately brought an early end to Sebastian Vettel’s race, do hold merit. The evidence, while not removing the burden of responsibility from Kvyat entirely, does throw up some interesting and mitigating circumstances. With a calm head and the benefit of hindsight we will look at why.

First, though, I want to start in China. Dany Kvyat made a brilliant start, shot up the inside of Sebastian Vettel and made a clean, gutsy pass for position. The Chinese Grand Prix should not even enter this conversation and yet it has already been brought up in some quarters as evidence of his supposedly reckless abandon on the opening laps of a Grand Prix. It was a great move, complained about only by those who’d failed to defend against it. End of story.

And so to Russia. I am going to break this down piece by piece so that we can see exactly what went on and how each part of the puzzle was formed.

S1

The overhead shot of the run down to Turn 2 shows the funnelling effect of the track. Kvyat is boxed in but in a perfectly good position. He brakes late, and admitted locking his rears to such an extent it felt as though he was being pushed from behind. Replays show, of course, that he flew into T2 under his own steam. A small lock up of the front right, and he punts the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.

S3

As Vettel’s car is pitched sideways it makes contact with Daniel Ricciardo, who himself is then pushed into Sergio Perez. Although we don’t know this at the time, the damage to Perez will play a significant role, as the contact has been with his rear right tyre which will soon let go.

S4

Ricciardo runs wide, at T2, as does Lewis Hamilton who, seeing Kvyat, Vettel, Ricciardo and Perez all make contact to his right, has no option but to take avoiding action, miss the T2 apex and head for the re-entry point determined by Charlie Whiting on the left of the polystyrene bollard on entry to T3.

1

DK5

Vettel by now is slow on exit of T2, fumbling the wheel he bounces over the left hand kerbing, which almost catches out Kvyat again with the two narrowly avoiding contact.

4

His slow exit from T2 means that there is by now a sizeable gap between the Ferrari of Vettel and the Force India of Sergio Perez. But as Vettel enters T3, Hamilton appears on his left, re-entering the track. Vettel gives him space but is swiftly around him.

DK6

Moving back to Kvyat, this is where his suggestions that Vettel slowed, and in so doing caused the collision, hold merit.

Turn 3 begins with the exit of T2, usually at around 155kph in 3rd gear. It seems Vettel has already had to snatch 2nd after being hit, thus helping create the less than optimal getaway. Putting the power down we hear his rear wheels spin, which at the time caused some audible suggestion of a problem at the rear and potential puncture. The video from fans in the grandstands appear to show Vettel’s car in adequate health and certainly there are no signs from Kvyat’s onboard of a problem with Vettel’s rear tyres. Indeed, Vettel quickly tempers the throttle and accelerates into the corner.

The first turn in at 3 is invariably carried at over 250kph in 6th gear, before accelerating to 7th and a top speed of 290kph before the braking zone at T4. It is a constant radius, constant acceleration zone.

8

Yet no sooner has Vettel cleared Hamilton’s Mercedes on his left, than the closing speed on Perez increases rapidly. The Force India twitches markedly and Vettel not only lifts but downshifts twice as he feels the Force India coming closer. Of course we now know that Perez was struggling with a rear right which was about to let go. This is what caused his twitch, his sudden loss of speed and in turn caused Vettel to back off.

DK10

Kvyat is still passing Hamilton at this point, and as the Ferrari slows suddenly ahead, the Russian tags his rear and spins him around.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 13.04.40

Hamilton is fortunate not to be collected by the spinning Ferrari, as is the rest of the field who pass by as Vettel ends up in the barriers and on the radio to the team to vent his anger.

(EDIT: Something that struck me last night when re-watching this video, look at the positioning of the Toro Rosso cars. If Kvyat slams on his brakes, he gets a Toro Rosso flying over him. If he moves to the right to avoid Vettel, he takes out the other Toro Rosso. The onboard video shows the gap between the slowing Vettel and Hamilton decreasing. If he moves left, chances are he takes them both out. With Vettel slowing rapidly ahead of him, he is essentially boxed in.)

The point in all this is that Kvyat’s hit on Vettel does not come out of some reckless decision to nerf him out of the way. Vettel is caught out by the twitch of the Force India and his own closing speed on a car which had, moments before, held at least three car lengths advantage over him. Running in close quarters behind, Kvyat has no time to react to Vettel’s sudden slowing and the result is the four-time champion’s exit.

In some ways, then, I can understand Dany Kvyat’s defense of his actions on Sunday. His mistake at Turn 2 was silly but we’ve seen far more grave mistakes at the first braking zone on the first lap of a Grand Prix. In the greater spectrum of driver errors, it really wasn’t huge. The knock on effects however combined quickly. The Perez puncture, the sudden need for Vettel to slow, and the karmaic positioning of Kvyat to be the one that collected him.

There’s a great line in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket – “Private Joker is silly and he’s ignorant but he’s got guts… and guts is enough.”

The same could be said of Dany Kvyat.

The moment that sparked it all T2, Lap 1, Russian GP 2016 James Moy Photography

The moment that sparked it all
T2, Lap 1, Russian GP 2016
James Moy Photography

His move in T2 was silly. No more than that. But he wasn’t ignorant to that and accepted his mistake. His refusal to accept the blame for T3 however did seem, at the time, to be somewhat silly and ignorant. But my word does he have guts. And guts often is enough. He had guts to keep his nose in, but also, as it turns out, guts to stand up for himself after the race and say what he did about the circumstances of T3

Because he was right! Vettel did slow dramatically. And he was caught out by it. There is simply no way that a driver, on the first lap of the race, in the middle of a corner taken at over 260kph and under constant acceleration could have anticipated the sudden slowing of the car ahead. It is the close quarters racing of an opening lap which so often creates contact. Thus has it ever been so.

Dany Kvyat made contact with Sebastian Vettel at Turn 3 on the first lap of the Russian Grand Prix in an incident which ultimately caused the Ferrari driver’s retirement. But there were mitigating factors.

That Kvyat was the architect of those factors is hard to argue. But it’s not the simple nerfing that many are trying to claim.

  • For video analysis of the incident please see this excellent piece put together by FOM using my NBCSN interviews with both Dany and Seb here
Neville Chamberlain Heston Aerodrome, 30th September 1938

Neville Chamberlain
Heston Aerodrome, 30th September 1938

In 1938, on his return to England from crisis talks in Germany, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaimed “Peace for our time,” as he waved aloft a piece of paper which contained a signature from the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, “symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.”

“Go home and get a nice quiet sleep,” he willed his people.

Less than a year later, the world was at war.

Chamberlain’s speech has since become one of the most studied and infamous pieces of political naivety. In over-estimating his counterpart’s good will and similarly under-estimating his counterpart’s political savvy, Chamberlain’s promise of peace wasn’t worth the paper upon which it was written. A lesson for all. And a lesson for us.

Anyone who believes that the recent capitulation of Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone is a sign of the ending of hostilities in the fractured world of Formula 1 politics is gravely mistaken.

The qualifying argument was never supposed to get this big. I firmly believe that the resolve of the teams to stay united took everyone by surprise. Perhaps even the teams themselves. But they must be careful neither to judge this success too positively nor to take from it excessive confidence or bravado. It was simply one small battle at the start of a far larger war.

What we must never lose sight of, is that Bernie doesn’t give up a fight when he already has the advantage of the political high ground. Not without a damn good reason. Not without an alternative advantage being won by doing so. And so I simply can’t bring myself to believe that Todt and Ecclestone backing down on this subject can be viewed in the simplistic narrative of an overwhelming victory for the teams. Indeed, in the long run the supposed weakness of Ecclestone and Todt and their apparent capitulation could come to be seen as a quite brilliant masterstroke of political manoeuvring.

The stakes have not changed. This is still about the controlling rights of the governance of the sport. The teams want a greater say and after this success will feel emboldened. But by showing their strength and playing their hand so strongly and so soon, there is a bitterly ironic twist that they may just have laid the foundations for their own defeat.

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt Monaco Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt
Monaco Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

To find out why, we must start in the South East of England. It is this part of the world that Anneliese Dodds, a British Labour politician, represents at the European Parliament. Having received representations over anti-competition from numerous engineering firms within her constituency, she made a complaint to the European Union Commission (EC) over the governance structure of Formula 1, the position and authority of the Strategy Group, and the role of the FIA.

The roots of Europe’s involvement in Formula 1 go back a decade and a half. In 2001, an EC investigation into the dual regulatory and commercial role of the FIA concluded that the FIA had abused its position and had acted in an anti-competitive manner. A resulting EU Directive meant the FIA had to modify its position within the sport to become concerned solely with a role “limited to that of a sports regulator, with no commercial conflicts of interest.”

As such, the commercial rights of the sport were sold by Max Mosley’s FIA to a Commercial Rights Holder, Bernie Ecclestone, for a period of 100 years. The payment was a one-off figure of $313 million. The FIA thus withdrew from the business side of the sport in order to ensure its own independence from any commercial aspects of Formula 1. At the same time Ecclestone, as the Commercial Rights Holder, had to give up any positions he held at the FIA.

In short, the Directive forced upon Formula 1’s governance a complete Separation of Powers. Today, however, the governance structure of Formula 1 lies in a convoluted mess. The clear lines prescribed by European law have been blurred. The Separation of Powers has turned into a Fusion of Powers.

If one starts with the Strategy Group, Ecclestone as Commercial Rights Holder holds six votes, the same number as the FIA President, with a further six votes divided between the represented Formula 1 teams. The F1 Commission then sees every Formula 1 team represented, along with some circuit promoters, sponsors and suppliers. Bernie Ecclestone sits on the World Motor Sport Council, the most powerful rule-making body in the FIA’s system of governance.

The current Concorde Agreement lasts until 2020. Ecclestone has individual contracts with the teams, as part of Concorde, that last until then. Contracts with which he is no longer pleased. A Concorde Agreement with which Todt is also unhappy.

Three years ago, in a move to ensure a new Concorde Agreement was signed, the FIA accepted a yearly payment from the Commercial Rights Holder of $40m. It is said this is why the teams were invited to the table through the Strategy Group. At the same time, the FIA was offered a 1% equity stake in Formula 1 on the occasion of its flotation on the stock market. But while that flotation did not take place, the 1% equity shareholding did go ahead as the FIA purchased the stake for a reported $400,000. This 1% of F1 adds an estimated $120 million per annum to the governing body’s coffers.

As Dodds has argued to the EC, “It is very unusual for a regulator to have a financial stake in what it is regulating. Recent developments are akin to the Food Standards Authority taking a stake in McDonalds.”

A tangled web indeed.

A new Concorde Agreement Hungaroring, Budapest, 2013 c/o James Moy Photography

A new Concorde Agreement
Hungaroring, Budapest, 2013
c/o James Moy Photography

And so we move to the complaint raised at the EC. In the first instance it was responded to with a letter tantamount to a brush off, but last year Force India, Lotus (now Renault) and Sauber followed up Dodds’ complaint with one of their own.

“We submitted our complaint,” Force India’s Bob Fernley recently told Reuters. “The complaint has then gone to CVC. CVC have responded back, which we have a copy of, and then we have to reply again to that final part of it. Then they’ll look at it. It’s going through the process.”

In the meantime, the Sauber Formula 1 team lies in desperate financial straights. With question marks over its continued participation in the sport, one might assume Formula 1 would leap to the aid of a team which had asked the EC to investigate anti-competitive practices within the sport, a distribution of funds it claimed was unfair, and a cartel-style system of governance in which the richest teams had all the power. And at any other point it might have done.

But what if Formula 1 does not come to the aid of Sauber? What if allowing the team to fail promotes the EC to look far deeper into the manner in which Formula 1 is run? What if that’s precisely what those we think have lost the qualifying battle want the EC to do?

Because if the EC takes even a cursory glance at the events of the last few weeks it will see that the supposed “sole regulator” of the sport has been over-ruled by its own competitors. It will find a sport in which the governing body with which it imbued the sole responsibility of governance, cannot govern. It will find a system of law making in which the commercial interests it decreed must be separated from governance have become inextricably entwined.

Dodds has already requested that the EC front a deep and thorough investigation into the governance structure of Formula 1, calling on Europe to not allow itself to be left behind as it was by Switzerland and the USA in their investigations of FIFA.

Given the EU Directive, it seems entirely possible that the result of a new European investigation could be for the EC to tear up every shred of the governance structure that we know and force the sport to rewrite it all. Bernie would get to erase the deals he’s done with the teams and come up with new, more favourable terms under a new Concorde. The FIA would have to give up its $40 million sweetener and 1% equity stake, thus putting $160 million a year back in the pockets of the Commercial Rights Holder and CVC. Little wonder Ecclestone has always stated he has no issues with the EC taking a deeper look at the sport’s governance.

While financially the FIA would take a hit, procedurally an EC investigation might also benefit the governing body. Because if the decisions taken 15 years ago are upheld, the FIA would once again become sole regulator and absolute authority in the sport. All legislative power would return to the Place de la Concorde.

What happens to Todt would be less clear. While there is no suggestion of any FIFA-style misdemeanour in terms of personal financial gain, the two deals that most brazenly contravened the EU Directive, in that they merged commercial and governing interests in F1 bringing $160 million to the FIA annually along with them, were both signed by the FIA President. While Max Mosley wasn’t forced to stand aside after the last investigation, any suggestion of the incumbent FIA President essentially selling the independent status of the Association might not play out so well for a man with ambitions of landing a prominent role at the UN.

When it comes down to basics, an EC investigation could see the sport forced to return to a point at which the FIA concerns itself solely with making the rules, the teams bite their lips and go racing, and the Commercial Rights Holder promotes the product and makes the money. As was ever the case in Formula 1 politics, when the guns stop firing and the smoke clears the air, it is Ecclestone who is left standing. It is Bernie who wins.

Far from the teams holding the balance of political power their small victory might suggest, their very show of strength in recent weeks might yet come to form the basis from which they have it all taken away.

This fight was always about far more than just qualifying.

The teams might have won the battle. But did they just lose the war?

Felipe Massa Vs Dany Kvyat 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Felipe Massa Vs Dany Kvyat
2016 Bahrain Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

It is quite the shame that two of the best season-opening races of a Formula 1 season in recent memory have been overshadowed by an argument over how the sport came to set the very grids from which they began. While some may wish to argue otherwise, it is the sad reality that to view either contest as having been created purely from the make-up of the field at lights-out would be utterly false.

The extra permutations created by the addition of a third compound of tyre for race weekends has opened up a new edge to Formula 1 strategic thinking. It is this competitive facet, allied to a race stoppage in Australia and a first corner bottleneck in Bahrain that gifted us compelling races. Qualifying, I think we can all agree, has been a disaster.

But what became incredibly clear over the course of the last weekend was that the argument over 2016’s qualifying procedure has got absolutely nothing to do with the manner in which the sport goes about setting a grid. It’s not about ensuring an exciting show on Saturday. And it’s not about jumbling up the order of the grid to give us an exciting race on Sunday.

It’s about power, who holds it, and how it is exercised. How foolish of us all to have believed otherwise.

Team bosses walk to their meeting with FIA & FOM 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Team bosses walk to their meeting with FIA & FOM
2016 Bahrain Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

The rarest thing in the Formula 1 Paddock is unanimity between the teams. If we decry the Strategy Group and the current state of Formula 1 politics, it is because the pseudo-democratisation of the system, and the inclusion of a select group of teams to the decision making process, comes with the knowledge that competing entities will rarely reach consensus. Finding an advantage, be it on track or in the boardroom, is the primary function in the business of racing.

The notion of self-interested racing teams acting in “the interest of the sport” simply does not exist. At least, it rarely used to.

Those charged with the governance of the sport and its promotion were those whose responsibility it was to concern themselves with “the interest of the sport.” But then those same governors started selling or simply handing away that right, and those whose job it was to simply race found themselves in a sport drifting further away from the core principles upon which they believed it had been established.

On Sunday, in Australia, for one of the first times in recent memory, the Formula 1 teams reached a unanimous agreement. And yet, when the subject upon which they agreed was put to a vote later that week, the path down which they had agreed to tread was not offered. Two weeks later in Bahrain, their resolve remained. A simple switch back to 2015 qualifying was a simple enough request. After a 90 minute meeting in which all that was agreed was to hold another meeting, one thing became clear. The solution upon which every team was agreed would not be offered up for the next vote either. Instead, only a vote for an even more ludicrous system than that currently in place would be granted.

Don’t worry about whether and how aggregate qualifying would work. Don’t worry about the irony in the fact that the last time Formula 1 changed its qualifying procedure mid-season, it did so in 2005 to GET RID of aggregate qualifying. Because aggregate qualifying isn’t and wasn’t ever supposed to be a serious idea. It is a “Sophie’s Choice,” designed to show the teams who is in charge.

A united group of 11 teams is a powerful, and to some a dangerous, concept in the current political make-up of the sport. Even in the days of FOTA, there were teams who failed to join. The body itself soon fell apart after Bernie Ecclestone started doing individual deals with members, who then dropped out and weakened the body irreversibly. A united body of teams is rare indeed.

The qualifying argument exists to weaken the teams’ resolve and to drive wedges back between them. To divide the unity which so threatens the other power players.

It is important to remember that the change to qualifying came in a meeting at which the threat of Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt taking absolute authority to change regulations, without any say from the teams, hung over proceedings. If teams did not reach agreement, these Executive Powers would be implemented. And so it follows that if the teams are allowed to push through their solution to this qualifying debacle, it shows not only that the ultimate powers of the sport were wrong in the first place to force through a change nobody wanted, but that it is the teams themselves who now hold the balance of power in the sport. It emboldens the teams and makes a mockery of the governing bodies.

And that’s why heels are being dug in.

Don’t think for a moment that the alliance between the FIA and FOM won’t fracture in a heartbeat, the second that a coalition with the teams for either body would best suit their political desires. We have gone far beyond the concept of what is best for the sport, into a quagmire of brinksmanship and power politics.

Jean Todt's Press Call Bahrain Grand Prix Personal Photograph

Jean Todt’s Press Call
Bahrain Grand Prix
Personal Photograph

Jean Todt held court on Saturday in Bahrain. He reclined slovenly in his chair, a bodyguard on each shoulder, attempting to joke his way through the tough questions, relying on the worn out line that the system over which he presides is one he had inherited. The responsibility for the mess, he argued, was not his.

There were some moments of mirth, but the sad reality of the press conference and of his situation was not lost on a single person in that room. He finds himself powerless to govern.

Almost a decade previously, Bahrain had been the scene of the beginning of the fall of his predecessor. I spent much of that weekend trawling through FIA statutes, and what became both fascinating and deeply troubling was just how powerful the FIA President truly was at that time. Those with the power to impeach him relied on his patronage for their very positions. The system was set up to protect the power of the President, and to ensure the strength of the body over which he presided in all matters, both touring and sporting. It was, it could be argued, utterly dictatorial in nature.

How different a role the FIA President now holds, forced to admit that he could effect no meaningful change until 2020 at the earliest with the writing of a new Concorde Agreement. Todt’s desire to move his position away from the dictatorial stance of those who went before has seen his role become, arguably, little more than that of a figurehead. For while the complex system of F1 Commissions and World Motor Sport Councils may have existed for decades, the weakening of the FIA and its President’s own position within those groups is an entirely new phenomenon.

Now, however, Todt finally admits that he would like to see the FIA as the sole regulatory body in the sport, something that Bernie Ecclestone too is once again advocating.

“Maybe what we should do is that the FIA should write the regulations and ask the teams if they want to enter the championship. We shouldn’t ask their opinion; just ask them if they want to enter,” Ecclestone told the British press in Bahrain.

He has often argued that democracy has no place in the sport.

The events of the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend may have finally proved to the teams that if they genuinely believed they were part of a democratic process, they were desperately mistaken.

Bernie Ecclestone 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Bernie Ecclestone
2016 Bahrain Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

But Ecclestone himself has also taken a slightly different stance to usual. He has always played a Machiavellian role in Formula 1 politics, at all times being both the lion and the fox. Allied to his extreme political aptitude however, has been a devilishly mischievous side in which one could sense a deep joy in his unique style of dividing to conquer.

As such, his comments in the aftermath of the open letter from the GPDA after the Australian Grand Prix should be noted. At first he dismissed the drivers’ comments with a jibe. In recent days his indignation has proven more resolute. His reasons are born in a history he created.

Cast your minds back to the late 70s and early 80s and what was known as the FISA / FOCA war. The politicisation of the drivers, allied to a unified front from a section of teams, was at the heart of Ecclestone’s own coup. If today the teams are united, and can bring the drivers along with them, then it follows that those who create the show could once again rise up against those who run the show. Ecclestone knows the tactic well. Because he invented it.

The last time the teams were actually taken seriously was when they threatened to form a breakaway championship in 2009. Indeed, when one looks at the history of this sport, it is only when the teams have held a united position and threatened to walk away and do their own thing that true, genuine and meaningful political change has occurred.

This time around, there is no FOTA as there was a decade ago. There is no FOCA as there was 30 years ago. But the discontent with the manner in which the sport is being run appears far deeper, far more desperate, and with no easy solution in sight, far more depressing.

Be under no illusions, this isn’t a war over qualifying. It’s a war for political control.

One only wonders what will be left of the sport, when the fighting finally ends.

The sun sets in Bahrain c/o James Moy Photography

The sun sets in Bahrain
c/o James Moy Photography

Drivers line up at the start of Q1 in Melbourne c/o James Moy Photography

Drivers line up at the start of Q1 in Melbourne
c/o James Moy Photography

I think we can all agree that the new qualifying format didn’t exactly work brilliantly in Australia. While most would sooner throw the whole system in the bin and simply go back to what we knew before rather than give it the second chance it has been afforded in Bahrain, I have tried to argue there are some merits to the new way which, if given the right environment to flourish, could actually work rather well. But I’m beginning to doubt that there are.

I spoke strongly in favour of giving this new system a fair crack when it was first announced. I’ve taken a fair hit for that and an onslaught of pessimism, but to my mind it was worth giving it a go. Its intentions were solid. Shake up qualifying, shake up the grid, create a more exciting race on Sunday. But while the theory was sound(ish), there are some key, ground level issues which have stopped and will sadly continue to stop qualifying being quite as good as it might have been.

The first issue is straight up negativity. There were a lot of “I told you so” sentiments on Saturday evening in Melbourne. We should take no pride in the farce that was played out in Q3. It was an embarrassment. Attempting to make personal gain with a sneering and lofty attitude is unbecoming. Indeed, so negative was the general consensus that I would argue the system had no option other than to fail. It was doomed before it had even started. The same will be true in Bahrain, where the sentiment will be “Why is this still here?”

Secondly, the TV graphics also let it down. The countdown clock should have started at 90 and should have been in place from the very first knockout, rather than only showing up after a few drivers had already been booted out. Greying out a name also did not work. Perhaps a chequered flag by each man knocked out would have proved a more obvious means of showing who was in and who was out. There was enough confusion going into qualifying. Had the graphics made things clearer, it might have translated to a more enjoyable experience.

But these are small issues and easy to fix. The most important hurdles are somewhat harder to leap.

Esteban Gutierrez was a victim of the countdown clock c/o James Moy Photography

Esteban Gutierrez was a victim of the countdown clock
c/o James Moy Photography

The big problem (issue three) that many people had was in not allowing drivers to finish a lap if time ran out. Personally, I liked that. It reminded me of the 1980s computer game Out Run, or indeed any one of those racing games where you had a giant timer at the top of the screen. When you ran out of time it was Game Over, whether you were an inch from the checkpoint or a mile.

The fact is, if you allowed every driver to finish a lap that had been started within the 90 seconds allotted under F1’s new qualifying system, then you would have bedlam. The simple rule that if you are bottom of the pile when 90 seconds rings out may seem unfair, but it is the same for everyone. It is very harsh, but that is why it works. It forces drivers and teams to get their sums right and to ensure that they get their flying lap done at the right time.

Haas lost out by less than half a minute for both of their drivers, leaving them way out of position. But it was the saga of Valtteri Bottas that I enjoyed the most. He was looking safe to go through to Q3 until all of a sudden a great pair of laps from Sainz and Ricciardo left the Finn out of the top 8, with a countdown clock against his name and no time to respond. Frankly I thought that was brilliant. Was it harsh? Yes. Was it fair? You could argue not. Or you could argue he should have set a better time earlier.

Therein lies what I like about the system. These are the moments at which you will find drivers out of position. That is when you shake up the grid. And that’s why the system was brought in.

Drivers are pushed back into their garages in qualifying in Melbourne. c/o James Moy Photography

Drivers are pushed back into their garages in qualifying in Melbourne.
c/o James Moy Photography

The major difficulty with all of this, however, and this is issue four, is refuelling. Modern Formula 1 cars are not quick and easy to refuel. So if you send a driver out on low fuel for his first run, it follows that you have to bring him back into the garage, unlock the fuel cap, plug in the fuel machine, refuel and send him back out again. We don’t live in an era of quick and easy refuelling. It isn’t possible to pit, change tyres, splash and dash. That is why so many drivers were sat in their garages. And that is why the likes of Haas missed the cut off.

The biggest problem with this new system is that nobody on the Strategy Group thought about refuelling.

Pirelli's 2016 tyre allocation c/o James Moy Photography

Pirelli’s 2016 tyre allocation
c/o James Moy Photography

The other big setback that we have is tyres. I’m going to call this issue number five. There aren’t enough. If you are expecting drivers to do two runs per session then really, we need to be making more tyres available for qualifying. It’s a simple flick of a pen and a ticking of a box for the FIA to make it happen, which is why it won’t. I’d argue for two sets of super softs for each driver in Q1, Q2 and Q3, and then a super pole shootout between the top two on ultra softs.

As is becoming worryingly clear however, these issues are not simple to rectify in the politicised world of Formula 1. While tyres could be freed up, they won’t be. And the issue of fuelling means that we either have to make the intervals at which drivers are knocked out larger, or teams will start taking unnecessary risks with quicker refuelling.

Or neither of those things will happen and drivers will end up sitting in the garage and qualifying will be a failure. Again. Even bringing in an old style Q3 doesn’t alter the fact that the cars can’t refuel fast enough and there aren’t enough tyres.

So while I was all in favour of giving the system a go, and while I do think that in theory it wasn’t the worst idea, the practicalities of it in the sport today mean that it sadly will not work. Bahrain will be just as bad as Australia. It’s a shame, but it’s the cold reality. Great in theory, pretty rubbish in practice.

So what do we do? Well, Pandora’s box is open and with nobody able to agree on anything, it seems unlikely we will go back to what we had.

So I’d like to propose something completely different.

The FA Cup Draw  c/o The FA

The FA Cup Draw
c/o The FA

Here’s the setup and the influence on my thinking… Oval qualifying in Indycar. It’s a system that works, it is TV friendly, it ensures coverage for every driver, every team and every sponsor, it is exciting, it allows for absolutely no mistakes, it’s a proper driving challenge and it might just give us those jumbled up grids we’ve held up as the Holy Grail.

So how would it work?

Either Friday afternoon immediately after FP2 or Saturday lunchtime in the run up to qualifying, Formula 1 holds a televised draw. All 22 drivers are present and pull a number out of a trophy / helmet / large Perspex ball. That number determines the running order for a one lap qualifying shoot-out.

For TV, you’ve got all 22 drivers in one place at one time having a bit of banter and a laugh. Jenson gets 13 for the fourth race in a row, Lewis is drawn as the second driver to go out, Pascal is number 22. Brilliant. So many possibilities. It wouldn’t be like the old days when the running order for one lap qualifying was determined by an actual competitive session. It would be completely random. Completely fair.

Qualifying begins, and each driver has one lap to set his time. Each driver starts his outlap as the one preceding him starts his flyer, and so on, until we have a grid. If it rains, tough. If you lock up, spin, miss an apex, tough. You’ve got one shot, make it count. High pressure, high intensity, from first driver to the last.

Every mistake counts Fernando Alonso - 2016 Australian Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Every mistake counts
Fernando Alonso – 2016 Australian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

Every driver and every team has guaranteed TV time. It’s constant action from start to finish. The chances are you’ll have at least one driver who gets it wrong, and given track evolution you might even see some surprises on the front row.

Give every driver a set of ultra soft tyres. Heck, why not remove the fuel flow limit and try and push these things properly hard?

It’d be sticky tyres, 1000+hp, gutsy, high stakes qualifying. Isn’t that what we all want to see?

When it comes down to it, yes we can try and make it convoluted and complicated and try to shake up the grid in any number of ways, but surely the trick here is to make it exciting but crucially to keep it simple.

So that’s my idea. When we get back to discussing qualifying again after a second shambles in Bahrain, if I was sitting on the Strategy Group, I’d be proposing this.

With yesterday’s Pirelli announcement of the individual tyre choices for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, I wanted to take a few minutes to try and simplify and explain the 2016 tyre regulations, and how they might play out at the first race weekend.

Using chocolate and colouring pens.

F1 Technical Delegate Press Conference Belgian GP 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

F1 Technical Delegate Press Conference
Belgian GP 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Today, at Heathrow, the FIA and technical representatives of the teams of the Formula 1 World Championship are meeting to debate next year’s regulations. Among the topics for discussion is the concept of increased driver safety, with the FIA believed to be keen to push through the much reported “Halo” concept as a legal requirement from next season.

Driver protection in the sport is a controversial and complex issue. Many self-proclaimed purists fear that the greater the increase in head protection, the further away from the notion of an “open-cockpit” formula the sport becomes. Others argue that enough is enough, and that racing cannot come at the cost of mortal risk, when steps are available to limit the danger.

A vision of the future?  Image used with kind permission of Chris Beatty

A vision of the future?
Image used with kind permission of Chris Beatty

In almost every concept of Formula 1’s future, from the renders released to the public by the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull, to those drawn up from outside the F1 paddock such as the design released today by Chris Beatty, closed cockpits and canopies feature heavily.

Following the tragic deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, the push to implement better driver protection has doubled in pace, with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association placing itself this week behind calls for the “Halo” concept to be brought forward for implementation from 2017.

Anthony Davidson has raced in both open-cockpit Formula 1, and the closed cockpit World Endurance Championship LMP1 class, taking the Drivers’ Championship in 2014. Crucially, he has also tested the Halo design of driver protection making him one of very few drivers to have experience of all three.

This afternoon, as the future of Halo is debated, he shared with me his thoughts on the concept, the knock on effects of its potential implementation, its potential effectiveness, and the need for better driver protection in Formula 1.

Anthony Davidson c/o James Moy Photography

Anthony Davidson
c/o James Moy Photography

WB: You have tested the Formula 1 Halo concept. What can you tell us about visibility for a driver?

AD: Basically, side vision doesn’t seem to be too different at all compared to what the drivers would be used to, but the version that I tried had a central fin or post. I think a lot of the teams have been working on that [design] in conjunction with the FIA to come up with the best solution. It’s not ideal. It really is not an ideal solution and it’s never going to be.

As I’ve said before, the more you try and increase protection for the safety of drivers, the flipside is you suffer with visibility and the central post is, honestly, like a big aerial sticking up in many ways which the drivers already have to deal with. It is a distraction.

I’d say it’s quite a big distraction, but I only drove it for a couple of laps and that was on a simulator and not in the real world. It might be easier in the real world. Visibility is quite difficult at the best of times in a simulator compared to reality. Hopefully it’s not as difficult when they start running them in anger. But it’s never going to be as good as not having one for visibility.

You say side vision isn’t too different, but the height of the cockpit sides is going to increase in 2016.

Yeah, I wasn’t actually aware of that until recently. I’ve driven F1 cars in the days when you had hardly any head protection at all. They were visibly quite a bit different to how they look today. It’s funny because you sit in one of those cars today, like in a run up Goodwood or something, you feel so exposed and I wouldn’t say it necessarily feels dangerous but you do feel exposed and that was only back in 2002 / 2003. There was a lot more protection than in the 80s or 90s but it shows how much things move on all the time.

With that progression in safety, the flipside was that you lost a bit of visibility to the point where if you were the car being overtaken you had to make sure that you actually had to make a concerted effort to look around and see your surroundings rather than judging things by your peripheral vision because you’d lost a bit of that from the shrouding.

How much does the current cockpit protection affect your peripheral vision?

A lot. It definitely does. It’s one of the things where you have to take it into consideration when you are making a quick judgement in an overtaking situation, if there’s a crash between two cars. People always forget how limited the visibility is in cars today because of that reason. It’s a necessity to have it though. But I always try and give drivers the benefit of the doubt in terms of when a car comes up and one of them turns in, you’ll never appreciate how hard it is in terms of a lack of visibility from inside the car and you almost have to rely on a sixth sense around you to feel where the car is that’s overtaking you, rather than actually seeing it sometimes. And then, of course, in sportscars that is tenfold. It’s even worse.

Moving back to the Halo, you said the central post is an issue. When does that come into play the most?

I found that actually in cornering, that was the one time you could forget about it. It was on the straights and looking at things on the horizon straight ahead of you, like trying to pick out an early braking marker board, I found that it sometimes would obscure the view. Actually in the corner, in the apex, looking for the kerbs and picking out the details you normally look for, that didn’t change at all. I was quite relieved about that. It was more just straight ahead. Obviously one thing you can’t account for in the virtual world is what it’s going to be like in close combat with another car, when you’re completely behind them. I don’t know. But that’s going to be another challenge I think.

Things might have moved on since I last had a go. I’m sure a lot more work has been done. Maybe they can make the central pillar thinner, and the thinner you go obviously it might be weaker in a side impact but every step you can go in terms of thinness will help the driver see more clearly.

What about looking up, start lights and track undulation?

It didn’t seem to be that bad. The only thing was the central post that obscured your view. It was quite a neat design actually. I haven’t seen all the iterations from different teams, but you can really see that every effort has been made to make them look aesthetically pleasing and for them to perform well in terms of impact from a wheel or a big piece of debris. They’re trying to tick all the boxes.

From a drivers’ point of view, even getting in and out of the car, it didn’t seem to make much difference but then again I’m used to climbing inside the tiny cockpit of a sportscar. I still felt a lot more free and it still felt like you’re in a proper open cockpit car. It was nowhere near like a closed canopy, and when you’ve got the helmet on and visor down and the big visor strip, that really does limit your view anyway in terms of what you see in terms of height through undulation. The letterbox that you look through is actually a really small aperture anyway. The one thing standing in your way was the central post.

Anthony Davidson Toyota Racing TS040  c/o James Moy Photography

Anthony Davidson
Toyota Racing TS040
c/o James Moy Photography

You’re used to LMP1, how would you say it compares to the feeling of being in an enclosed cockpit?

The big “A Pillars” on the sportscar are your worst enemy really. They’re the thing that really limits your peripheral vision. They’re part of the car’s rigidity and they have to be quite big, like on a road car really, as they add to the structure of the car. They have to be there. That, combined with the big wheel arches, really compromises your ability to see the apex massively compared to an open cockpit car. So in a sportscar, the first time you drive an LMP, it does take a bit of time to get used to the fact that you can’t see the wheels so that makes braking really hard, it makes judging where you place the wheels in relation to kerbs really hard.

The wraparound screen kind of distorts your view as well. You have a central wiper that is a bit of a distraction. It moves slightly as well so that’s tough. And obviously when the screen gets dirty there is no way of physically cleaning it until you come to the pits which can be horrendous at Le Mans when the sun is rising or setting. You’re praying to be called into the pits. It’s like when you run out of windscreen washer in your road car. It’s a nightmare.

Compared to that… it’s not an issue at all.

That is quite a big difference. The Halo isn’t a screen, it’s an open space. With that in mind, how much protection do you think it would afford in the case of debris coming towards a driver at head height?

I think in terms of it making an object deflect and bounce away, it is always going to do a better job than being there in an open cockpit car with just your helmet. I can see why they are making steps to try and solve that problem. In trying to keep it in keeping with an open cockpit solution. They’re trying to tick every box and in a way it is an impossible task to please everyone.

Aesthetically it’s not going to look as pretty as an open cockpit car, visibility is not going to be as good as not having one in the first place, but the argument against it doesn’t really hold, I think. You have to accept it because it can’t carry on the way it has been with drivers dying because of a blow to the head.

Would it have saved [the driver] in every single scenario? It’s yet to be seen, but in the same way that we wear the HANS device now it is accepted. It’s still uncomfortable at times, I find, but I’m glad it is there. I’ve had big crashes with it, and it’s hard to say whether I’d have been OK without it. The fact it is there and so many tests have been done with it is a good thing. You have to embrace [improved safety] because it is good that things are done to stop the issues that we’ve had in the past.

I’ve really thought long and hard about it, and I think it is the best solution for now. I don’t think full closed canopies in Formula 1 are necessarily the right way. If you had a wheel hit a sportscar canopy, I don’t know if it would bounce off or come through. I’ve seen them break in the past. I don’t think that a full canopy necessarily gives you full protection.

Anthony Davidson c/o James Moy Photography

Anthony Davidson
c/o James Moy Photography

You say it’s the best solution for now, but also not an ideal solution. So how do you weigh those two against each other? Some of the designs appear as though it would be retro-fitted to an open-cockpit design. In order to work most effectively, should it not be integral to the design philosophy?

It’s not going to be an add-on I don’t think, from what I’ve seen so far. It won’t be just bolted on to an existing open cockpit. It has to be and it will be integrated into the whole design of the car, in the same way that a sportscar is formed around the concept of being an enclosed car with closed wheels, so the teams will try everything they can to make sure it does not just look aesthetically pleasing but also that it does its job. Just like a helmet. It has to look good as well as do its job.

It will be designed from the ground up, with that concept in mind as a basis of design. I don’t think it’s going to be like bolting a roll cage into a road car to turn it into a racing car.

You tested it some months ago now. How many drivers have been consulted?

I’m obviously not the only driver who has tested it. [I’m sure] every driver would have been consulted and every driver has been trying to come up with ideas, surely, to try and make them safe but also not getting in the way in terms of visibility.

No one person has got an ideal solution to the problem. All I know is that the argument for not having one doesn’t hold. “It doesn’t look very good.” “F1 cars have always been open cockpit.” I’m sorry but that’s not enough for me, for things to carry on this way.

Alex Wurz today heads up the GPDA c/o James Moy Photography

Alex Wurz today heads up the GPDA
c/o James Moy Photography

Alex Wurz is pushing very strongly for the Halo concept. As, until very recently, your team-mate at Toyota, have the two of you discussed it?

We have discussed it quite a lot. It’s been an on-going discussion for the last few years. Actually what kick-started it was the incident involving Henry Surtees. We were driving sportscars at the time and I think that is where it all stemmed from. Alex has always been a thinker and an analytical guy, and he and I have really talked it over in regards to how would you make a Formula 1 car, an open cockpit car, safer but without losing its looks, losing its appeal, and without upsetting the drivers.

Really was a closed canopy the right idea? What were the drawbacks based on our experience in sportscars, and also bigger picture in terms of helping out the marshals coming to the aid of the driver who might have been hurt or if the car has landed upside down, extraction, all these things were taken into consideration.

Through lots of thought you come to a conclusion that there is no easy solution. But for now, this seems to be the best compromise.