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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.

Ron Dennis c/o James Moy Photography

Ron Dennis
c/o James Moy Photography

There are few people I have encountered whom I could adequately compare with Ron Dennis. A pioneer, perfectionist, peerless visionary and a man whose influence on both motor racing and the automobile itself has been felt for decades and will resonate for many to come. His work, and his racing team, have redefined the very concept of what we understand Formula 1 to be. If Bernie Ecclestone is responsible for creating the commercial behemoth that is the Formula 1 World Championship, then Ron Dennis and his McLaren team are, by extension and in my opinion, responsible for launching the sport on a path to the engineering excellence which has become its global hallmark.

His commitment and loyalty to his sport but most of all to his team and his staff has been steadfast. For 2007 alone, I will forever be in awe of Ron. Had the Spygate scandal gone in front of any sensible Court of Law, it is fair to assume that the case would have been thrown out for a lack of any genuine substantive evidence. Which made the punishment all the more incredible. And created a feeling all the more incredulous. Going into the scandal, the largest fine ever handed down by the FIA was $5 million. McLaren’s penance was 20 times that figure.

Very few people know every detail of that season and the complex political machinations which unfolded. From the shards it is possible to piece together from the outside, however, a wholly unsavoury story emerges which would be fit for a Hollywood blockbuster, were the facts not so seemingly fanciful. One day the full story will emerge, and Ron’s falling on his sword will be seen in the true light it deserves.

I have the greatest of respect for Ron, for all he has achieved, all he has created, and all that he is.

But has the time come for him to stand aside?

Ron Dennis c/o James Moy Photography

Ron Dennis
c/o James Moy Photography

His presence at the helm and as Captain of a sinking ship, with him seemingly oblivious to the fact that the hull has been breached and is taking on water, is painful to watch. He stands ignorant to the fact that his is the burden and his the responsibility for the crippling damage besetting his team, and that it has the potential to destroy all he has created.

Over the past 12 months Ron Dennis has gone from being a figure of authority and respect, to one openly mocked. “Oh God, what’s he said / done now?” has become the accepted response when one brings up his name.

There was the interview with Danish television that he asked to start again after forgetting the name of the team’s young GP2 stand out Stoffel Vandoorne. They couldn’t of course. They were live. And so Ron compounded his error by talking up their other young prospect, Nick. Nick Heidfeld.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Even fun, though, seemingly has little place at Woking these days. When Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button dared to jump onto the podium in Brazil after their early qualifying exit, providing some much needed comic relief at the end of an arduous season, both were reportedly reprimanded by McLaren’s CEO. (* See Postscript)

Nearly two years into Ron’s return to the helm of the team, in a Night of the Long Knives which saw his able, loyal and long-term deputy Martin Whitmarsh farmed out on an incredibly expensive spell of gardening leave, McLaren is in the worst sporting health of its existence having endured its poorest Formula 1 season in three decades.

And yet still, Ron seems blind to the reality of his situation. As Lewis Hamilton wrapped up a third world championship in a season where he seemed to enjoy himself as much away from the track as he did on it, Ron couldn’t help but have his say, stating that “if he was at McLaren he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is because he wouldn’t be allowed to … He’s shaking off some chains he didn’t want to have.”

I’m sure Hamilton is losing little sleep over his former boss and financier’s words. After all, had he stayed at McLaren, bound by the very chains Ron mentions, there seems little hope, on current evidence, that Lewis Hamilton would be a three-time world champion.

Kevin Magnussen c/o James Moy Photography

Kevin Magnussen
c/o James Moy Photography

His comments on Hamilton were compounded by statements that he believed his star driver Fernando Alonso was on the verge of taking a sabbatical, something Alonso strenuously denied. At the same time, he claimed that Kevin Magnussen had been let go by McLaren for failing to achieve goals set out for him at the team. “He knows himself and, no question, he knew that he didn’t perform as he should have done this season,” Dennis stated at the final race of 2015.

Lest we forget, Magnussen scored a podium on his F1 debut in 2014 before being dropped for the 2015 season. He deputised for Fernando Alonso at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix after the Spaniard’s still mystifying testing crash (more on that later,) only for the car, or rather the Honda engine, to fail on the way to the grid. Thereafter he was left on the sidelines for the year. When asked what goals Magnussen had failed to achieve in 2015, Dennis would not be drawn. Presumably because Kevin Magnussen was tasked with just two things in 2015: 1.) Giving up an Indycar race seat with Andretti Autosport, and 2.) Sitting on his backside. Both of which he performed admirably and without complaint.

Ron Dennis today cuts an outdated and out of touch figure. Again, in Abu Dhabi, he said that he hated “tweeting and all the other social media. I think it’s not the way for the future.” As a wise Paddock sage noted, these words on the future seemed to have come from a man living in the past. One who, until very recently, did not really understand what an email was and told people he needed to contact that he would do so by sending them “an internet.”

And all this, just weeks before McLaren hosted a “Think Digital” summit of “digital and social media thought leadership” at the new McLaren Thought Leadership Centre.

Alonso and Dennis' relationship seems an uneasy one c/o James Moy Photography

Alonso and Dennis’ relationship seems an uneasy one
c/o James Moy Photography

One noted media colleague relayed after the interview from which all of those quotes emanated, that he’d never known a team boss implode so devastatingly in the space of an hour. McLaren’s media office was tasked, once again, with putting out fires started for seemingly no reason and with no foundation by the man at the top of the food chain. Just as they had been in Barcelona after Fernando Alonso’s mysterious crash.

The comments made by Dennis pre-season were completely contradictory to the medical reports coming from the hospital and ultimately from Alonso himself. “He was unconscious for a relatively short period of time,” Dennis told reporters at the time. “We could hear him breathing but no other sounds.” He went on to say Alonso had suffered “some loss of memory” and an “inability to recall.” In spite of this and the team having already stated Alonso had suffered concussion, Dennis continued that “the CTU and MRI scans were completely clear, no indication of any damage. There was no concussion detected in the scan and physically he is perfect.”

The job for the media department was thus complicated by contradictory comments which were not at all helpful at a time when the message should have been minimal, clear and concise.

Ron will be Ron.

But how much is Ron being Ron hurting the team in real terms?

Cara Delevingne joined the team as a TAG Hearer Ambassador in Monaco c/o James Moy Photography

Cara Delevingne joined the team as a TAG Heuer Ambassador in Monaco
c/o James Moy Photography

There has been an exodus of sponsors at McLaren. This season was embarrassing enough, with a car and overalls so devoid of sponsorship that even Manor looked flush in comparison. Long term clothing partner Hugo Boss has jumped ship to Mercedes. Santander have renewed but downsized their sponsorship of the team, continuing mainly due to the advertising opportunities surrounding Button and Alonso who are such huge stars in two of the bank’s key markets. The team has lost long-term partner Diageo and their Johnny Walker brand after a 10 year relationship. Ended, too, that seemingly most symbiotic of relationships with TAG Heuer. The watch brand and McLaren have had a 30 year history, but all of that is now in the past. Dennis himself seems unperturbed about the loss, stating that the departure of TAG Heuer comes just as the team has lined up a deal with the watch maker’s sister arm at Hennessy Chandon, and indeed Ron was happy to see the brand depart after its Monaco Grand Prix marketing exploits.

Monaco, allegedly, was the tipping point for Ron. So what did TAG Heuer do that left Dennis so aghast? It turned up with Cara Delevingne and put her in one of his cars. Yes they put her in a hideous outfit, but this is Cara Delevingne. Now I’m with Ron in that I genuinely don’t have a clue what she is famous for, but I do recognise that she is one of the biggest stars in the world at the moment. Four million twitter followers. Just shy of Twenty Four million (I’m going to write that out… 24,000,000) followers on Instagram. And having her sit in a McLaren was a bad thing?

Ron believes that social media isn’t the way of the future. Perhaps not. Who knows? But it’s the way of today. And in Monaco, that one person alone had a reach of almost 30 million sets of eyes. If that’s not considered good for business, it stands to reason that the person who holds that belief may, themselves, be bad for business.

And so the search continues for sponsorship with comments out of Dennis in the past few days, once again, that he will not drop the team’s rate card for title sponsorship. This, in the face of partners jumping ship either due to personal disagreements with Dennis himself, or simply not wishing to be associated with a team in the non-competitive state in which McLaren finds itself.

Another year without a title sponsor for McLaren in 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Another year without a title sponsor for McLaren in 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

“When you start to wrestle with competitiveness,” Dennis said this week, “people inevitably try to use that to optimise their commercial relationship with the team. I’m very robust on rate card so I have the overview as chief executive of the group where the revenue streams are, and it’s my job to predict where we’re going to go.

“You don’t need to be an Einstein to know that the climate for F1 and sports sponsorship overall is challenging – I don’t think you’ve seen a new sponsor at Ferrari in the last two years for example – and the worst thing you can do is get into a situation where you drop your rate card and everything spins out of control.”

So Dennis can see the challenge and yet is unwilling to react to it. Commercially, and competitively, his team IS spinning out of control. With him at the helm, the buck ultimately stops with him.

Of course, the great irony is that while McLaren struggles on track, its road car department is excelling. I had the pleasure myself of test driving the fabulous 650S earlier this year, and can say with all honesty I have never driven such a piece of automotive perfection. It has, for me, ruined driving forever because I now know what flawlessness feels like, and I will have to spend the rest of my life knowing that, unless I win the lottery and can afford one of my own, nothing I drive will feel so good.

McLaren 650S c/o McLaren Automotive

McLaren 650S
c/o McLaren Automotive

McLaren only started making cars again four years ago, and in that time has firmly established itself on the international scene, and filled a genuine niche in the marketplace. This was Ron’s baby. It is entirely independent of the Formula 1 team and, perhaps, should become Ron’s focus once more.

The fear that many will have, is that as Ron’s focus is drawn ever more towards the Formula 1 project, and should that project continue to fail, the falling reputation of the team on track could negatively impact sales of McLaren cars. You see, the whole McLaren concept is predicated on perfection and excellence.

The McLaren F1 team of 2015 does not reflect these ideals. And with Ron Dennis at its helm, there is a feeling that it may take longer than absolutely necessary to get back to the position it once held as the flag bearer for engineering and technical prowess in Formula 1. It is no longer the 1980s. Formula 1 has changed. The world has changed. Ron, seemingly, has not.

His team, to whom he has stayed loyal, for whom he has sacrificed so much, is beginning to lose faith. Its not just the big name departures we should note, of sponsors and staff, but those we don’t hear about. It’s the hidden genius that is plucked from a junior office that should have McLaren worried. Because the future needs to be built today. And there is a fear that for as long as Ron continues to plough forwards with his blinkers set firmly in place, the team will not lift itself from the doldrums in which it finds itself.

I read many years ago that one of Ron Dennis’ mottos is that “neither success nor failure is ever final.”

I’ve always liked that motto. I’ve always believed in it. I’ve always believed in Ron. But sometimes, we have to acknowledge when we do more harm than good.

And that sometimes to allow success to flourish, we must admit our own defeat.

Ron Dennis c/o James Moy Photography

Ron Dennis
c/o James Moy Photography

 

Postscript: This article makes reference to a report (originally in Marca) which stated that Ron Dennis had reprimanded his drivers following their antics at the Brazilian Grand Prix, however at the time of writing I was unaware that this story had in fact been refuted and clarified here. I’d like to thank the McLaren Spokesman who pointed me towards this article, and notified me of my oversight. The reason the paragraph in question remains as it did when published is that I have always believed the internet to be written in ink rather than pencil, and that any inaccuracies be dealt with individually and in this manner, rather than editing them out and pretending they never happened.

Susie Wolff c/o James Moy Photography

Susie Wolff
c/o James Moy Photography

Susie Wolff will retire at the end of the season. By the manner in which this news has been greeted, one would imagine the announcement had been made by one of the all-time greats. There has been an outpouring of emotion, of platitudes and sadness.

But to pretend Susie Wolff’s career has been anything but ordinary, would be to serve the very cause she champions a disservice.

Susie Wolff had a dream. That dream was to drive a Formula 1 car. It is a dream she has fulfilled, and there are not many of us on this earth who can be as content as to say that we have achieved our life’s ambition. For that, one can only be happy for her. Susie is an incredibly warm and likeable person. She is sincere and charming and I would hazard has not a bad bone in her body. How can one not be happy for such a person achieving their dream?

And she did so nobly, not simply driving a Formula 1 car but taking to the track competitively in timed practice sessions, comparing favourably with team-mate and multiple race-winner Felipe Massa. While we will never know the difference in their programmes, and thus fuel levels the two were running, the history books will forever show she lapped within 0.2 seconds of the man who, for half a minute, was the 2008 Formula 1 World Champion.

Susie and Toto Wolff c/o James Moy Photography

Susie and Toto Wolff
c/o James Moy Photography

Wolff’s very appointment, however, created controversy. When she first signed for Williams back in 2012, detractors of course pointed to the part ownership of the team of her husband Toto Wolff. Why else would a team with the competitive desires of Williams, employ the services of a driver who had, in seven years of competing in the DTM, finished in the points just twice, it was asked. Admittedly those two seventh place finishes left her ahead of Grand Prix winners David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher in the championship table, but her junior career in no way merited a promotion to an F1 development driver role on skill alone.

Of course, Williams went to great lengths to point out that the board had approved Susie’s appointment and that Toto Wolff had removed himself from that particular discussion and vote. But to those looking simply at performance, her appointment simply didn’t make any sense when so many talented junior series champions and race winners had been overlooked.

Her appointment came not long after Maria de Vilotta had been announced in a similar role at the Marussia F1 Team. Women drivers were back en vogue in the F1 paddock and so naturally Susie’s appointment was seen as a good news story. At the time, one could not have imagined that her many hours spent in the simulator would prove so worthy to the team and would result in her getting actual track time. Nor could anyone have foreseen what a fantastic ambassador she would become not only for Williams, but for Formula 1 as a whole.

At the same time, she worked incredibly hard with the FIA on its Women in Motorsport programme, becoming a mentor to young girls coming through the ranks and sitting on influential panels at the highest levels of the governance of our sport.

But her very position at the table due to her Formula 1 seat is something which, if I am honest, I cannot say sat easily with me. For me to do so would be disingenuous.

Wolff took part in 2 practice sessions in 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Wolff took part in 2 practice sessions in 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

She has been heralded as a ground-breaker, a pioneer and a role-model for women. A latter-day Nomex-clad Emmeline Pankhurst of sorts. But if one is to applaud her on track achievements so loftily, we must ask why we do so. We do not claim Channoch Nissany to be a pioneer of Israeli motorsport, nor Adderly Fong a champion for Hong Kong. Why then does Wolff deserve such praise? Like them, she achieved very little in an otherwise ordinary racing career, and yet had a light shone upon them when taking part in a practice session on a Grand Prix weekend.

If we laud her simply because she is a woman, is that not in itself incredibly sexist? Does that not defeat the entire purpose of the fight for equality? If we are ever to achieve a day in this sport where women compete on equal terms with men, then it follows that the barometer we use to judge success must also be equal.

Susie, whether we dare to admit it or not, formed one part of a triumvirate of women over the past 5 years who found a role in Formula 1 in spite of, not because of, the talent they had shown to that point in their careers. Maria de Vilotta, God rest her soul, should never have been put in a Formula 1 car. Carmen Jorda, after a year at Lotus, has thus far only been allowed to sit in a simulator.

If we take it back to a question of equality, would any young man with the racing pedigree of Maria, Susie or Carmen be looked at twice by a Formula 1 team? Our answer is clear. And is a definitive no. Unless, of course, they could bring either some form of substantial sponsorship or be commercially appealing to the squad in some other way.

Those who call for equality in Formula 1 and for women to be judged on equal terms as men decry the outdated use of promotional girls on the grid or the podium. But if someone like Carmen Jorda, with a pitiful junior racing CV, is appointed to a Formula 1 team to spend the majority of her time being filmed doing nothing in an F1 garage while wearing team kit, in between talking to sponsors in the Paddock Club, how far away is she from the promotional girls which those battling for equality in the sport wish to see removed?

Carmen Jorda c/o James Moy Photography

Carmen Jorda
c/o James Moy Photography

And so we must ask… Does, or has, the promotion of these women to official driving roles at Formula 1 teams, in spite of the fact that their talent level in no way merits such a position, actually detracted from the fight for women to be seen and to be judged as equals in the sport? Because if they truly were judged as equals, one could argue they wouldn’t be there.

The irony is that there are women out there who are good enough and who could and perhaps by now should have been given a chance not just to test, but to race in Formula 1. It is very easy to pour scorn on the idea, but Danica Patrick is an Indycar race winner, she led the Indy 500, and ten years ago would have been worth giving a shot. Simona de Silvestro is a Formula Atlantic Vice Champion and an Indycar podium finisher. Sadly, she became caught up in Monisha Kaltenbourn’s 2014/2015 driver pool of madness and lost out in the biggest possible way having put her Indy career on hold to follow her F1 dream.

Alice Powell is a multiple championship winning racing driver, who has, through lack of funding, had to turn her sporting attentions to hockey, whilst assuaging her thirst for speed with a Bob Skeleton.

But young women are coming through the junior formulae. Tatiana Calderon is just one name to keep your eye on. In Florida last year she took on the boys and won, in a field that comprised none other than F1’s man of the moment Max Verstappen. Just last weekend, she finished on the podium in three of the opening four races of the MRF championship in Abu Dhabi.

Tatiana Calderon c/o TatianaCalderon.com

Tatiana Calderon
c/o TatianaCalderon.com

These are the achievements and these are the kind of racers we should be championing. And it is worth pointing out that Tatiana Calderon is just one of the drivers to have benefitted from Susie Wolff’s commitment to the future of women racers through her work at the FIA.

Susie Wolff achieved her dream of driving a Formula 1 car. Her time at the Williams F1 team went far beyond the vast majority of expectations in the ultra-critical world of the Formula 1 paddock. I’d wager it probably exceeded hers, too. For the position in which she now finds herself, is a far more important one than the role of which she dreamed as a child.

And as such, we should perhaps hold back on lauding her career just yet.

For if we do so on the basis of her achievements as a driver, and we do so in glowing terms, we are being false to ourselves, false to you and potentially detrimental to the perception of women in motorsport and the pursuit of equality.

When we first see a woman climb to the top step of a Formula 1 podium, or clinch her first F1 world championship… and we will… and in her post race joy she talks about watching Susie Wolff at Williams and how it inspired her to follow her own dream, then we can praise her achievements with sincerity.

But not today.

Susie’s calling has only just begun.

Good luck Susie c/o James Moy Photography

Good luck Susie
c/o James Moy Photography

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BUXTON’S BIG TIME BASH PRESENTED BY THE AUSTIN GRAND PRIX

JOIN US ON THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22ND AT RATTLE INN TO KICK OFF YOUR GRAND PRIX WEEKEND WITH WILL BUXTON, MOTORSPORTS JOURNALIST AND FORMULA 1 PIT LANE REPORTER FOR NBC AND NBC SPORTS NETWORK.

Will Buxton will host a lively evening for fans: welcoming motorsport personalities, sharing stories and insight into the world of racing, and passing out exclusive racing memorabilia as coveted door prizes this year including signed memorabilia from Formula 1 teams and incredible and exclusive donations from Graham and Leigh, Paul Oz and more.

For our fourth annual event, we invite you to come enjoy the sights and sounds of Austin from one of the hippest rooftop patios on West 6th Street: Rattle Inn. This intimate, split-level venue has a little bit of something for everyone, with a side of Texas-kitsch to boot. Doors open at 19:00, and make sure you’re there early as the first special guests are due on stage at 19:30.

With Buxton on the mic, you never know who will drop by. In fact (humble brag), who remembers the call he took on stage from the one and only Mario Andretti before he stopped by and graced the stage? This year, a number of active F1 drivers have already confirmed their attendance.

Our always-entertaining, fan-oriented fundraising event benefits Meals on Wheels and More of Austin AND Justin Wilson’s Children’s Fund this year, so we are collecting a $10-$20 suggested donation at the door, however if you’re feeling generous you can donate however much you wish. Will and his crew put the $23,547.35 that YOU helped raise to work last year by delivering meals to clients on our weekly delivery route the Monday after the race! Over the past three years we have raised over $40,000 and every cent has gone to charity.

We can’t wait to see you at Rattle Inn to kick off Formula One racing’s fourth United States Grand Prix in Austin this October!

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McDonalds Yokkaichi via Tableog.com

McDonalds Yokkaichi
via Tableog.com

I love Japan. I love the culture, the people, the food, the countryside. Our annual trip to this seemingly magical place has become one of the highlights of my year. From the primary root of a language based upon an entirely different set of characters to those used in the West, to the intricate web of social hierarchy and interaction, from clothing styles to music, car design to self-opening and flushing toilets… Japan is perhaps the one place on earth that, despite over a decade of travel, still to me feels truly foreign. It is absolutely unique. Down to the smallest detail.

In Yokkaichi there is a small McDonalds at the train station. We make a point to visit at least once a year. You may ask why, when one finds oneself in a country responsible for some of the most beautiful, fresh and incredible tasting food in the world, we should choose to avail ourselves to this most Western of mass-produced muck. But the answer is that what is produced is, as far as I’ve experienced, the most beautifully crafted piece of muck on earth.

The concept of fast food simply doesn’t exist in a Japanese McDonalds. On opening the cardboard container you are met with a perfect likeness of the image of the burger that adorns the illuminated menu above the counter. Piping hot and meticulously prepared just for you, it’s a Big Mac. But it’s the best damn Big Mac you’ve ever tasted.

This pursuit of perfection, or Kaizen as it is referred to in Japan, lies at the very heart of the culture of this tremendous country. It is a guiding life principle. And it is as true in an individual’s personal pursuit of betterment as it is in business. In the workplace, Kaizen is about learning and using experience to continuously improve process and to strive for a never-ending stream of enhancement in the end product.

The concept, though, has major drawbacks. For to assume that one can continuously improve, suggests that one must constantly consider changing the very foundations of what is already established. Kaizen, as taught by Taiichi Ohno, is all about changing the way things are. So to do Kaizen continuously, one must set a standard, and then change the way in which one goes about achieving that standard in order to improve the end result.

Of course, this will lead to countless mistakes. It is a messy concept, because failure is integral to its path and every bit as important as success. For in failure one learns. Without failure one cannot understand and one cannot improve. As such, Kaizen rests hand in hand with another core Japanese life principle, that of Hansei – self reflection. Humility is key to the betterment of the ideal, as only through trial, error and self reflection can one truly find the path to perfection.

Jenson Button - McLaren Honda 2015 Japanese Grand Prix James Moy Photography

Jenson Button – McLaren Honda
2015 Japanese Grand Prix
James Moy Photography

As I took another bite of that beautifully prepared burger in Yokkaichi on the Monday after the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix, the ideas of Kaizen and Hansei played heavily on my mind after what had been an inglorious weekend suffered by Honda at what should have been their triumphant return to Formula 1 on home soil. The posters for the race had featured the RA272 in which Richie Ginther had won Honda’s first F1 race and the all-conquering McLaren Honda MP4/4 in which Senna and Prost had dominated the 1988 season. With such a past, Honda’s great return was the most almighty disappointment. That 12th and 14th on the grid seemed like a success was indicative of the trouble in which McLaren and Honda have found themselves this year. In the race itself, Jenson Button found himself being overtaken for position as though he was being lapped, and Fernando Alonso slammed his power unit as being like a “GP2 engine,” before letting out a pained, raw, animalistic scream.

It was an embarrassment.

The thing is, Honda will get it right. There is quite simply no way that it won’t. Honda has not simply forgotten how to make engines. And, due in equal part to Kaizen and Hansei, when Honda does get it right, because they will have failed so desperately along the way, they will perhaps understand the concept better than anyone, and produce a better end product than anyone. That same pursuit of perfection will, ultimately, produce the results they seek.

How long McLaren is willing to wait, or indeed how long their drivers will be prepared to wait, is another matter.

Thoughts of Kaizen and Hansei and the concept of success through failure, while noble, lies in direct contrast to the prevailing Western trend of immediate success. How different a world we live in where one’s sole focus is the end product, rather than the Japanese focus on the path to achieving said aim. How different, I thought, the approach from Honda to that of Red Bull. For the four-time champions there was no introspection, no decision to work with an engine partner through failure to find the path to perfection. Instead, the sole focus was on the end product. If that which they have was not good enough, it must be swapped for another. No effort to fix or improve what exists. Reflective perhaps of the throw-away nature of Western culture, replace what does not work with something new. Can this process ever lead to perfection? Perhaps not, according to Japanese culture.

Honda has a long road to tread to achieve success however. For at the heart of Japanese culture lies the concept of respect and hierarchy. Much was been made of the difference in methodology between East and West in the collapse of the works teams from both Honda and Toyota in Formula 1. And the same issues which stopped those teams from achieving success as manufacturers, may yet hamper Honda’s development.

Takahiro Hachigo, Honda CEO, with Fernando Alonso Japanese Grand Prix 2015 James Moy Photography

Takahiro Hachigo, Honda CEO, with Fernando Alonso
Japanese Grand Prix 2015
James Moy Photography

Harmony within a group, or Wa, relies upon the acceptance of co-operation and that each person within the infrastructure of a hierarchy understand their role and position. When this is achieved, the whole group benefits. Decisions take longer because consultation of all those within the group is an intrinsic part of Wa. That doesn’t mean that consensus requires unanimity, but consultative decision-making is deemed crucial in order to ensure effective information exchange, reinforcement of group-identity and thus a smoother implementation of the decision.

Much of this is due to the fact that the very concept of social order in Japan has, at its roots, the Confucian theory which became part of the prevailing Chinese influence on cultural changes that affected Japan in the sixth Century. Confucianism preaches harmony between heaven and earth, humans and nature, via an acceptance of one’s role within a given society and the promotion of social order by proper behavior. It’s why the Japanese find a lack of behavior or conduct unbecoming of someone’s position within a hierarchy to be so awkward.

In Japan, order within companies and organisations is often referred to as “diffuse order,” because responsibility is collective precisely due to this group decision making. The leader of the group is as much part of the group as his apparent subordinates and this is a key factor in weakening the concept of leadership as we might think of it. Leadership in this sense does not call for strong and forceful management and instinctive decision-making, but for tact and sensitivity. A mixture of Giri (duty) and Ninjo (compassion) are the hallmarks of a good leader in Japanese businesses.

And yet, in spite of the collective decision-making and diffuse order, leaders are still expected to assume responsibility for any shortfallings of the group. Even if they have had no direct involvement in the unfolding situation, they may still be required by convention to resign their position should the failure be great enough to merit such.

One wonders how long Arai-San can hold on.

But one must also question the actions of certain individuals within the hierarchy and the role they are playing. In particular, Fernando Alonso.

Alonso himself has claimed many times to be a student of Japanese teachings, in particular Bushido, the way of the warrior, and has stated that he is inspired by Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s 18th Century spiritual guide for the warrior.

Bushido itself is the code of the Samurai, and in the Western world is a concept we would most closely align, perhaps, with chivalry. “The way” originated from Samurai moral values and is an unwritten and unspoken code, which had to be mastered in order to become Samurai. It revolves around eight values: those of righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, honour, loyalty and self-control. At least three of which, the two-time world champion let slip during his outbursts in Suzuka.

Fernando Alonso's Samurai Tattoo c/o twitter @alo_oficial

Fernando Alonso’s Samurai Tattoo
c/o twitter @alo_oficial

Alonso has a tattoo on his back of an ancient Samurai, and after the Malaysian Grand Prix this year told Marca “My tattoo is a way for me to remember who I am, where I come from and the strength I possess. The Samurai take everything to another level: one must fight, things don’t just happen. It also reminds me of something important that happened to me: the Samurai in the drawing is kneeling, almost in defeat, but always looking up.”

The Hagakure, the teachings upon which Alonso claims his tattoo is based, provide many transferable passages which the Spaniard might do well to remember in his current difficulties. Maybe one of the most relevant is the following:

“There is something to be learned from the rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”

Walking through the rain Japanese Grand Prix 2015 James Moy Photography

Walking through the rain
Japanese Grand Prix 2015
James Moy Photography

Is Alonso, then, a Samurai as he might like to think? His public outbursts of late are not the actions of the chivalrous warrior under Bushido. What, then, is he? A Shinobi? Certainly his actions in the spygate scandal of 2007 would lend themselves to those of the covert assassins of Japan’s feudal age.

Perhaps, a Ronin. A Samurai with no lord or master. With Flavio Briatore banned from the sport, is Alonso a warrior forced to walk alone due to the shame placed upon his former master and as such, an aimless, wandering sword for hire? Is his path one of an avenger as the Japanese legend of the 47 Ronin? Or has his public admonishment of his superiors disgraced him enough to lead him to walk the path of the vagrant and become Ronin by his own actions?

The Hagakure states that “it is unthinkable to be disturbed at something like being a Ronin. People used to say, ‘If one has not been a Ronin at least seven times, he will not be a true retainer (Samurai.) Seven times down, eight times up.”

Perhaps this is the line Alonso cares to treat most favourably of the teachings contained within the pages of Hagakure. For that, he may like to think of himself as Samurai. But for his courage, he seemingly falls short.

Perhaps that’s why the team needed Jenson Button on board again in 2016. As the 2009 world champion stated after the Japanese Grand Prix, he felt “like a Samurai warrior without his armour and sword.”

Defenceless, perhaps. But honorable.

Jenson Button Japanese Grand Prix 2015 James Moy Photography

Jenson Button
Japanese Grand Prix 2015
James Moy Photography

Postscript:

The following was written as a comment on Reddit by Santiago Paz, who alerted me to his words via twitter. I really loved the continuation of the theme, and so I include them here for everyone to enjoy:

“I come from a city in Peru called Arequipa, which lies right next to a volcano. And we say “not in vain, we are born at the feet of a volcano”. We are strong headed and short tempered. And that costs us a lot, sometimes. Nando has the raw will to come through all dificulties. But his hot head plays against him sometimes. In this case I belive that he is voicing his thoughts on the radio to bring shame to Honda on purpose. Because he wants them to see that the current version of the approach is dead wrong. Because maybe he knows that the current management is doing things WRONG. And due to the corporate culture, no one below Arai can question that. So the only one who can stand up and fight for those unable to voice her concerns is NANDO. So he’s doing what we can, without angering Ron or his fans. The weak spot in this is that we all know that he only wants to win, as any other F1 driver. So thinking he’s being the defender of those who can’t talk is a bit romantic. But I like to think that, much like a certain type of Ronin, he brings shame to himself, in order to do right to others around him. Truly honorable”

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