Oh what a lovely war

Barcelona testing paddock c/o James Moy Photography

Barcelona testing paddock
c/o James Moy Photography

A cold February in Barcelona and a fifth espresso by 10am can mean only one thing… pre-season testing. The winter war.

This time last year we were in Bahrain as the F1 teams struggled to make five minutes without a red flag as the all-new for 2014 power units went through their first baby steps on track. Fast forward to 2015 and it was like a different sport had arrived in Spain. The number of session cessations per day last week amassed those more likely to be seen in an hour in 2014. Indeed, but for McLaren and Honda, running into triple digit lap counts seemed not to be too arduous an ask for anyone.

The headlines, of course, were made by the now Mercedes-powered Lotus team, which took over from Ferrari in Jerez as the squad which most regularly topped the timesheets, and by the still confusing final day incident involving Fernando Alonso which may yet see him miss the final test this week.

That final test will be key in the teams’ preparations for Australia with many bringing major upgrades and all hoping to begin honing qualifying and race set-ups. Of course it will only be on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne that our questions are answered, but thus far, here’s what I made of the week in Spain.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

A championship to defend c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

A championship to defend
c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

Even with one driver nursing a cricked neck and the other bogged down with a high fever, the pace of the car was breathtaking. It was the sheer effortlessness that driving it seemed to require, coupled with how bolted to the track it appeared, that was impressive. When one then factors in the laptimes it was running under such apparent ease, one can only draw the conclusion that Mercedes has not simply maintained its advantage but increased it.

On day two, Lewis Hamilton began a race sim at the same time as Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was on the medium tyres, with Hamilton on the hard. The world champion’s laptimes were consistently a second a lap faster, although both pitted at around the 20 lap mark to change rubber, suggesting that the Mercedes would be more than a match for the Red Bull if pacing a run to ensure their tyres go longer.

On the final day Nico Rosberg’s best lap was around a quarter of a second shy of the best time of the day set by Romain Grosjean. Where everyone has reason for concern, however, is that Grosjean’s lap was set on the supersofts and Rosberg’s on the medium. With an estimated delta of anywhere up to two seconds between the medium and the supersoft, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Mercedes holds a clear advantage.

One wonders how great that advantage could be, if and when they finally crank it up.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing

Positive noises from Red Bull c/o James Moy Photography

Positive noises from Red Bull
c/o James Moy Photography

When one considers that this time last year Red Bull and Renault were struggling to get three laps out of the RB10, their 2015 pre-season schedule has given them far fewer headaches. That’s not to say it’s been plain sailing, far from it, but the issues which so blighted their 2014 preparations have been nowhere near as evident.

With race sims already in the bag, Chrsitain Horner’s trainers were seen tapping his stool rest not once on the pitwall… a clear sign that all is well. Ricciardo seemed confident but not overly so, due more in part to the pace of Ferrari and Lotus than over any undue negativity as to the job done by his own outfit.

When one considers the woeful position Red Bull was in this time last year, and the season they ended up pulling out of the bag, it would be foolish indeed to overlook the importance of a promising pre-season programme on the team’s chances in 2015.

Martini Williams Racing

Winning mentality c/o James Moy Photography

Winning mentality
c/o James Moy Photography

Day three in Barcelona was spent doing, as Alex deLarge in A Clockwork Orange might well have described it, a bit of the old In-Out, In-Out. Williams dedicated an entire day to pitstop practice with both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas taking half a day to do nothing but perfect stopping on their marks. It was pitstops which often let Williams down in 2014 so it was good to see them taking the time to regiment the crew. But it was desperately impressive that they should give over one whole day of the middle test to it, and a reflection of how far the team has come.

Speaking to Bottas, I asked about his initial impression on driving the car for the first time in Jerez. Valterri gives away little, but his excitement was instantly evident. A wide smile cracked his face. “It’s good,” he beamed. About as close to punching the air and giving you a hug as you’ll get from the Finn. And it looks great on track too. Assured.

Williams wasn’t ready to win last season, with both the squad and the drivers admitting that they were, at times, overly cautious. Austria was a win for that went begging, but the mentality at the time wasn’t right. They weren’t going for the win.

All of that is different in 2015. Of all the teams on the grid other than the world champions, Williams is the one which at this stage perhaps feels the most confident. It has consistency from 2014 and a car which is a logical development from the season before. For the first time in a decade it is going into the season with a winning mentality, where success is not simply hoped for, but realistically expected.

Scuderia Ferrari

False dawn or true revival? c/o James Moy Photography

False dawn or true revival?
c/o James Moy Photography

It’s all change at Ferrari, and from the Marlboro smoking, scarf wearing charisma bomb that is Maurice ArriveWell to the four time German world champion at the wheel of his cars, there’s a renewed vibe of positivity at the Scuderia.

Jerez shocked the form book, but we all know times don’t mean a thing in the winter world championship. It’s the level of consistency, reliability and the positive noises coming out of every other team on the grid about the scarlet cars, however, that writes the true story. The SF15-T is poised and purposeful and looks phenomenal on track, particularly in the corners and on application of throttle. Even Raikkonen, who so struggled with last year’s charge, looks at home.

For Raikkonen 2014 was about a lack of confidence on the brakes. For Vettel, it was uncertainty on the throttle. The SF15-T appears to have both areas nicely tidied up. On the design side, Simone Resta will have the benefit of a legendary mentor in the shape of Rory Byrne, whom Arrivabene has convinced to return to the fold.

Could it be that this is finally the year that Ferrari turns things around? If you’re Fernando Alonso you’d be spitting…

McLaren Honda

Running before you can walk c/o James Moy Photography

Running before you can walk
c/o James Moy Photography

Which brings us to McLaren.

The team may be trying to put a positive spin on things, but if we are being honest, Jenson Button’s suggestion that the team could potentially win a race in 2015 seems, on present form, to be fanciful at best.

The thing is, when the car is working it’s not all that bad. On soft tyres it can set the pace of those on track at the same time. But for one lap. Its inconsistency in reaching that target however is staggering. One lap on, one lap way off, then one back towards competitiveness, then in. The car never ran, at least on my count, into double digits on a single run in Barcelona.

There is a very long way to go until the team will be anywhere near able to run a race distance. Let alone at a competitive pace. But this should come as no surprise. Think about the problems everyone had this time last year… Honda are at that stage of their development and understanding. But while the likes of Mercedes and Renault had four teams with whom to discover issues and iron them out, Honda has just one. Its chances of getting on top of its problems is thus only 25% of that afforded to its big rivals one year ago. It was always going to take time.

Then there was Sunday’s incident with Fernando Alonso. Rumourmongers and conspiracy theorists are having a field day with talk of noxious fumes from batteries, an electric shock in the cockpit… yet all at a point on the track where we have seen other drivers lose it and end up in the inside wall. Just last year Maldonado did exactly the same thing. Only the team and Fernando know what happened, so for the moment all we can do is wish the Spaniard well and take the team on its word.

Losing Alonso for the last four days of the testing programme will hurt the team if it happens, but in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne they have two more than capable deputies. Jenson Button, however, will be eager to drive every day. His feedback on engines and his ability to draw out drivability has always been one of his strongest assets. Never has it been needed more.

Sahara Force India

Back to the Future c/o James Moy Photography

Back to the Future
c/o James Moy Photography

Two tests down and we are yet to see Force India’s 2015 car. It’s not easy to put a positive spin on that.

Things had all seemed so good just a few weeks ago at the team’s launch in Mexico. New sponsors, new confidence, a lovely new livery… it would just have been nice to see it on the new car.

But speak to either driver and you get genuine positivity. Even away from the track, away from the press officer’s dictaphone and the PR speak, the boys feel good and will tell you that this is the kind of hurdle that the team can overcome.

Force India pounded around Barcelona last week with their old car. And with due purpose. Tyres have changed once again in 2015, and Force India took the opportunity to make the most of using a car with which they had reams of data on the old tyres. By running direct comparisons between the data gathered last year and that gathered last week, Force India thus may well enter the season with perhaps the best understanding of Pirelli’s 2015 rubber. For a team which has so often taken an alternate race strategy to success, such an understanding could form the basis of even bolder strategic calls in 2015.

The team can ill afford a further delay on running its new car, and will have to hope that the confidence of its drivers in its ability to turn things around is not misplaced.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Dark Horses? c/o James Moy Photography

Dark Horses?
c/o James Moy Photography

The youngest driver line-up in the sport has started with absolute purpose and determination. The focus possessed by both Sainz and Verstappen is desperately impressive, as has been their fitness and ability to stick to the programme and get the job done. Only an off on Sunday blotted Sainz’s copybook, but other than that it was another positive week in Spain for the team.

Drawing focus onto just the Red Bull teams seems to have done Renault a power of good, and the Toro Rosso ran with little trouble. It’s another one of those cars that looks solid and has taken a great step forward from last year. How true its pace is will be the ultimate question.

But what of the biggest question, Max Verstappen? There are very rare occasions in this life when your brain consciously tells you to remember the moment you are in. I have that almost every time I speak to him. Watching him drive sends shivers up my spine and makes me grin like a child.

The fact is this guy is either going to be on his arse by the age of 20, or he’s going to change everything.

I firmly believe it will be the latter.

Lotus F1 Team

Out of the shadows c/o James Moy Photography

Out of the shadows
c/o James Moy Photography

The shift from Renault to Mercedes power has paid immediate dividends for Lotus. Reliable, consistent and fast, almost every driver you speak to in the paddock will tell you that the Enstone team is going to be a challenger this year.

Seeing the team so far off the pace in 2014 was an undeniable disappointment after their 2013 campaign and the rate of development and exceptional promise shown by Romain Grosjean. Alternating success with failure seems to be the Frenchman’s tour de force in motorsport, however. F1 debut in 2009, kicked out in 2010. GP2 Champion in 2011, chastised in F1 as a danger in 2012. Lauded in 2013, nowhere in 2014. As such, 2015 has got his name written all over it.

Maldonado will have to iron out his wild sides which all too often can hold the team back when it should be pushing forward, but the basis seems good. With the world championship-winning power unit in the back of their cars, there can be little excuse, and they know it.

The E23 looks so much better than its predecessor on track, and that is reflected in the skip in the step of its drivers off track. While nobody is getting ahead of themselves, there’s a good vibe down at Lotus.

Sauber

Proving a point c/o James Moy Photography

Proving a point
c/o James Moy Photography

After the worst season in the team’s history, things can only get better for Sauber in 2015. And with a much improved Ferrari engine in the back of the car, testing has started off well.

Again, the car looks quite together with minimal fuss and, just as with the big sister team, affords confidence to the drivers through the corners. The times look good and both Nasr and Ericsson insist Sauber are not going on glory runs in a bid to land sponsors.

On paper the team has the most underwhelming driver line-up in the field. That both are confident points are possible is thus a positive for the team in a season when it needs to rebuild on all levels for the future.

Lay of the land

As I see it, this is where we are:

Mercedes
Williams marginally ahead of Red Bull / Ferrari
Lotus
Toro Rosso / Sauber
McLaren
Force India???

Give it two weeks and I’ll be proved spectacularly wrong.

Getting Stuffed

Max Chilton Marussia F1 Team - Sochi 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Max Chilton
Marussia F1 Team – Sochi 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The Strategy Group. Three little words that are killing Formula 1.

The bitterly ironic thing is that everybody saw this coming. Ever since it was created as a replacement for the Sporting and Technical Working Groups back in 2013, there have been questions over its composition, its fairness and even its legality.

The Strategy Group, for those unaware of the complex political structure of Formula 1, is a body whose purpose is to debate and propose regulatory amendments, which are then passed to the F1 Commission for ratification. The Strategy Group is composed of 18 voting parties – six for FOM, six for the FIA and six for the F1 teams. Those six F1 representatives are Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and the next best team in Formula 1, which after the 2014 season saw Sahara Force India replace Lotus.

In the year and a half of its existence, the Strategy Group has been responsible for some of the most maligned proposals and decisions I can recall in a decade and a half of working in the sport.

But perhaps its nadir came just yesterday. Given the opportunity to potentially save one of its own, the teams instead essentially condemned the Manor F1 entry, hitherto the team known as Marussia, to death. The squad was seeking an exemption to allow it to start the 2015 season with a 2014 chassis. The request required unanimous approval. It failed to receive it.

Just how great is Ecclestone's headache? c/o James Moy Photography

Just how great is Ecclestone’s headache?
c/o James Moy Photography

“They wanted to come in with last year’s car and it didn’t get accepted,” F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said. “It needed all the teams to agree and there were three or four of them that didn’t agree.”

As we understand it, Force India’s Bob Fernley was the first to vote against the proposal. As such, no further votes were cast as unanimity had failed. Ecclestone’s comments that “three or four” of the six teams represented had intended to vote against the proposal however suggests to this writer that the scorn being thrown at Fernley and Force India is overly harsh. If over half of the F1 teams on the Strategy Group were going to vote against it anyway, it is pot luck as to who the first dissenting vote would fall to. Russian roulette, if you will.

Fernley has, today, thus been forced to explain his reasoning for denying Marussia’s application. And he has done so.

“The strategy group was faced with an application for Marussia’s 2014 cars to compete in the 2015 championship,” he said.

“During the meeting it emerged that there were compliance issues and that the application lacked substance. Equally, the speculative application submitted contained no supporting documentation to reinforce the case for offering special dispensation.

“For example, no details were supplied of who the new owners would be or the operational structures that would be put in place. Given the lack of information, uncertain guarantees, and the speculative nature of the application, the decision was taken that it is better to focus on ensuring the continued participation of the remaining independent teams.”

These are valid points, but surely due diligence into the team’s new ownership is something with which the FIA should be concerned, rather than rival team bosses. If the question was whether to allow Marussia / Manor dispensation to compete using a previous year’s chassis, what does the nature of the team’s application or ownership have to do with the question being asked?

The true irony, however, is that Fernley himself is one of the most strategic and long term thinking team chiefs in F1. Indeed, when the Strategy Group was first created, Fernley made headlines in his vehemently negative stance towards the group, opinions which directly contradicted those of his own team owner, Vijay Mallya.

Vijay Mallya and Bob Fernley c/o James Moy Photography

Vijay Mallya and Bob Fernley
c/o James Moy Photography

Back in 2013, Fernley described the Strategy Group as “unethical and undemocratic” given that the sport’s smallest teams would be denied a vote on any proposals.

“All teams basically pay the same amount to go racing,” he said at the time. “The only differentials are in drivers’ salaries and hospitality. And yet some teams have no say in how the sport is run. It could certainly be deemed abuse of a dominant position.”

“There is genuine concern among some of the teams on the Strategy Group, particularly the ones who are public companies. This is not ethical governance.”

It is this very governance which Fernley’s own vote has now thrust into stark contrast.

But I do not believe for a moment it is a vote which he will have taken lightly or easily. As I said, Fernley is a smart man and one with a wider view of the sport. But if reports are to be believed, his team is not in the strongest financial health. Force India sat out the first test in Jerez and may not see its 2015 car run in Barcelona later this month. There are widespread reports of unpaid bills and delays in chassis construction.

The team’s title sponsor, Sahara, is in financially questionable times as its founder Subrata Roy has been imprisoned since March 2014. Vijay Mallya himself was declared a “willful defaulter” by the United Bank of India in August 2014, with his now insolvent Kingfisher Airlines owing over $1 billion in bank loans.

It seems only logical that Mallya might order Fernley to vote against Marussia’s request for leniency, thus freeing up the estimated £34 million which would have gone to Marussia / Manor for their ninth place finish in the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship, to be divided amongst the remaining teams.

“The money that they should have got gets distributed amongst the teams that are racing. That’s a pretty good reason I suppose,” Ecclestone added after yesterday’s meeting.

Ultimately then, this all seems to boil down to the question of just under £4 million… that’s all that is left when one divides the £34 million between the nine teams remaining.

It was hoped, in the run up to yesterday’s meeting, that the Formula 1 teams would recognise the importance of maintaining a full grid. After all, if grid numbers are depleted further, we fall into a situation where Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren are under a contractual obligation to run third cars. At this point, far from safeguarding the future of the sport and the smaller teams, one will see F1’s minnows further marginalised.

Two dominant Mercedes, two speedy Williams and nine cars from Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren… how will Lotus, Force India or Sauber enter the frame? How long then will they survive? How long can they survive?

How long then before they too are forced to withdraw? How long then before a manufacturer is left in last place and they too pull out?

The refusal to give Marussia a sporting chance, in return for a quick but in the grand scheme incredibly small injection of cash, is one of the most short sighted decisions I’ve witnessed. It is at times like this that one must question where the strong leadership this sport so desperately needs and always used to have, has gone.

We used to decry the political games of Mosley and Ecclestone but, my God, at least they got the job done.

What we have now is a feckless and impotent President of a governing body being run roughshod by a group of self-interested businessmen with no long-term strategic plan.

It’s an often-used phrase that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

These turkeys seem insistent on stuffing themselves.

Top teams not behind Marussia salvation

Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari MR03

Jules Bianchi
Marussia Ferrari MR03

McLaren and Ferrari are not behind attempts to save the Marussia F1 Team, as news surfaced today that the squad, which had been placed into administration, intends to be in Melbourne for the start of the 2015 season.

Geoff Rowley, joint administrator, and partner at FRP Advisory, said in a press release issued this morning, that “it is envisaged that, prior to the commencement of the first race of the 2015 season, investment into the business will be made upon the Company exiting from administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (“CVA”), which is planned for 19 February 2015. A CVA is a restructuring process agreed with the Company’s creditors which allows for a turnaround of the business and the creation of a longer term viable solution for the team.

“Given the confidential nature of the negotiations underway we are unable to provide further details.

“The joint administrators would like on behalf of Marussia F1 Team to thank all involved with the team for their support during this process.”

Talk is that members of the team have already been called in to the factory to begin work on the 2015 project, but naturally questions have immediately surfaced as to who is behind the efforts to keep Marussia, or if we are to be precise as to the name assigned to its official F1 entry, “Manor,” afloat.

John Booth and Graeme Lowdon Australian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

John Booth and Graeme Lowdon
Australian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The immediate reaction from some quarters was that McLaren, a partner of the Marussia F1 team dating back to its days as Virgin, was behind the move. The chips all stacked up, so the thought process went. Honda could use Marussia / Manor as an additional development resource for its new engine and the team has two highly regarded youngsters in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings who would be more than capable of competing at the highest level.

Quite before one started to even consider chassis / engine compatibility, however, came word from McLaren itself. When asked about the suggestions by this blog, a McLaren spokesman replied, “This rumour is totally without foundation.”

And we shouldn’t be surprised.

Just two months ago, at the unveiling of McLaren’s 2015 driver line-up, the subject of a McLaren B Team as a home for young drivers and a developmental platform for Honda was a topic I broached with Ron Dennis.

Ron Dennis c/o James Moy Photography

Ron Dennis
c/o James Moy Photography

“Dealing with a B Team… if under the existing agreements with FOM we are obliged to run a third car we will almost definitely run it ourselves, no question. If anything, it would make the challenge even bigger. Certainly, the concept of more than one car, ie, choosing to run 2 cars, I absolutely believe that the fastest way to eliminate back of the grid teams is to run three cars. You can’t possibly have three McLarens, three Ferraris and three Red Bulls, maybe three Mercedes, the contract by the way being between Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull… we have obligations. Queuing nine cars up and then the next car being whatever it was, clearly doesn’t allow that team to say I’m in Formula 1 if its not fighting on a level playing field.

“If you run three cars you would absolutely try to optimise the experience. The third car would have a lot more function to it than just fulfilling the contract. You’ve then got to try and use it as a development tool et cetera, et cetera, so you’d only get stronger from the process in all areas expect one which is that it would cost us money, no question. So as it’s going to cost us money, that’s a high incentive to avoid that cost by trying to help those small teams to survive.

“If a third car is 50% wrong then two cars would be 100% wrong. You do not want to run a B Team. It is not what Formula 1 is about and it’s certainly not what we are about.”

So that’s categorical. The salvation of Manor is not in McLaren’s interests and never has been.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF15-T Winter Testing 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF15-T
Winter Testing 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Attention thus switches to Ferrari. Manor / Marussia had been a favoured squad for the team to place their youth, with Jules Bianchi taking Marussia to the ninth place in Monaco which secured the outfit’s ninth position in the 2014 Constructors’ championship. Bianchi’s positioning at the team also led to the Ferrari engine deal which began in 2014. With a large sum of money believed to be outstanding for that supply, rumours thus circulated that it was Ferrari itself which was behind the push to save the team, again to set it up as a junior “B” team, a la Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing.

Again, the link makes sense. The engine partnership already exists and the team has in Esteban Gutierrez and Jean Eric Vergne, two test and development drivers with 2014 F1 experience who could easily and happily step into the breach as race drivers. With young talents Raffaele Marciello and Antonio Fuoco waiting in the wings, there is a talented line of accession. But with Haas F1 waiting to enter the sport in 2016, and rumours already stating the American outfit will become a de facto junior team to Ferrari, is there scope for Manor to also fulfill this position?

The simple answer is no. Sources have informed this writer that Scuderia Ferrari is not behind the latest attempt to keep Manor afloat. Indeed, Ferrari has long attempted to maintain an independent position as a supplier to its engine partners and as such even talk of Haas becoming a junior team would seem to be wide of the mark. With the arrival of Sebastian Vettel and a wholesale change in management team at the Scuderia, Maranello it seems already has enough on its plate.

As such, it appears that neither McLaren nor Ferrari are behind the latest deal to try to save Manor.

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

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

But that does not mean that the attempt to rescue the team is without merit or hope. While Manor is known to have various bills outstanding, its ninth place finishing position in the 2014 Constructors’ World Championship ensures it will be granted a larger slice of the financial pie than at anytime in its short history. Crucially, however, one must recognise that this payout does not occur in one lump at the start of the season. Rather, it is paid out in installments over the course of the following year and, as such, the team’s continued presence is essential to it receiving its full entitlement.

Questions remain over exactly what chassis the team would use in 2015, with the most likely route expected to be that it will run its 2014 MR03. The team would need special dispensation to do so, although with F1 desperate to not see grids shrink any further, it is believed that rival teams will not place any obstacles in the squad’s way should the use of a year old chassis be the only way they can make it to Melbourne. Indeed, a forthcoming meeting of The Strategy Group is expected to ratify such an exemption.

With the car sitting an average of three to four seconds off the pace in 2014, however, even an upgraded 2015 engine may not be enough to keep the team within 107%. The Ferrari engine has changed much over the winter, too, and one wonders how much of the redesign will affect its integration into the 2014 chassis.

There is also the subject of where the team will be based. News broke in December that Haas F1 had bought Manor / Marussia’s base in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK. As such, it is unclear whether those members of staff believed to have been called back to work this week are operating out of Banbury, or Manor’s traditional HQ in Dinnington, Yorkshire, where the F1 team was based when it was known as Virgin.

The final piece of the puzzle would then be over the team’s drivers. Max Chilton has already confirmed that he is to move Stateside to pursue an Indycar career with Carlin, and it is unlikely that he and his backers would stump up the money to make an 11th hour return to Formula 1. As such, Marussia’s third driver Alexander Rossi must be considered to be a serious consideration for a seat, should the team be saved. While Rossi lacks budget, he has experience of the car and the team and would be a neat and popular appointment.

The next few weeks will be fascinating, with the vast majority of the sport united in hope that the popular British team will see the lights go out in Melbourne in just two months’ time.

Update: SKYF1 – Ex-Sainsbury Boss behind bid to save Marussia?

The Art of Being Boring

I will not make any more boring art by John Baldessari

I will not make any more boring art
by John Baldessari

A few weeks ago, Edd Straw wrote a wonderful piece over on Autosport.com about lacklustre Formula 1 liveries. At the start of every year, we hope that such fears and pessimism will be misplaced. At the start of every year, we hope that the Formula 1 teams, whose offices are filled with visionary designers and excessively paid graphic designers, will create a colour scheme that marks them out from the fold. Something that will make them distinctive. And every year we’re disappointed.

But perhaps never have I been more disappointed than this year.

The sheer lack of imagination from Formula 1’s artistic brain trusts is as bewildering as it is frustrating. With a blank canvas and the ability to go anywhere most have gone down the most unimaginative paths. Others have strayed from the norm, but in such a sterile fashion as to have made the majority of us wish they’d just left well alone.

I have no issue with liveries staying the same year on year. Red Bull has a clear brand and their car livery evolution over the years has stayed true to that. One cannot expect their livery this year to be much different to that of 2014, and that’s no bad thing. It is recognisable, bold and colourful. It has remained relatively unchanged for so long because it works. The same, of course, is true of Ferrari.

Ferrari SF15-T c/o Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari SF15-T
c/o Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari’s red stems from the old school, when racing cars were painted in national colours. Red was the national colour of Italy, Green for Britain, Yellow for Belgium, Blue for France, White for Germany and so on. Changing from Red for Ferrari would be like Manchester United moving away from a Red home kit, or Chelsea switching from a Blue home shirt. Unthinkable.

In modern day Formula 1, other than Red Bull and to a lesser extent Toro Rosso’s corporate identity, there isn’t a team other than Ferrari with such an entrenched connection to a set colour scheme.

Which is why, I think, the liveries we’ve seen so far leave a lot to be desired.

I’m going to leave Williams out of the discussion. Yes, more could be made out of the Martini stripes, but in just one short year that livery has marked itself out as instantly recognisable, strong and emotionally invested. It’s mega.

As for the others…

McLaren teed us up for their launch with a fun “Back to the Future” inspired clip. Indeed, the launch movie itself began with beautiful images of those classic McLaren Hondas and their evocative white and red liveries. Marlboro has gone, never to return of course, but those colours remain as emotive as ever. Could it be that McLaren had done what everyone had been praying for? Could it be that they’d realised the historical and passionate draw of that iconic livery? With no title sponsor that we knew of, there would be little restriction for them to create pretty much whatever they wanted. Could it actually be?

No. It couldn’t.

The McLaren MP4-30 c/o McLaren F1

The McLaren MP4-30
c/o McLaren F1

What was launched was a mess. Silver, black and a red glossy line that loops around the nose and ends at the red wing mirrors. If the intention was to hark back to the West / Vodafone liveries of silver, black and red… then it is a poor rendition at best. Weak. Meek. Indeed, the Force India launched one week before harkened back to those halcyon McLaren days of the 2000s more than McLaren’s own effort.

VJM08 c/o Sahara Force India

VJM08
c/o Sahara Force India

The VJM08 is, thus far, the car that surprised the most with its launch design. On first look it’s yet another underwhelming silver and black creation, but the flowing orange highlight pulls the car together. It was a shame not to see the lime green alongside the orange and one hopes that it can be incorporated into the design before Melbourne to really make the car feel like a Force India, but in the flesh it already looks gorgeous. Yes, it could be a 2010 Coloni GP2 car or a McLaren MP4-20, but it’s a cohesive and pretty design that works well.

Coloni's 2010 GP2/08 car c/o GP2 Media Service

Coloni’s 2010 GP2/08 car
c/o GP2 Media Service

The new McLaren MP4-30 lacks that cohesive feel. There are already whispers that it isn’t the final design, thus allowing McLaren a new livery launch before Melbourne and the associated PR boost that would allow, but why not just launch it in plain black or silver? Why bother launching with a design which, arguably, looks a little bit careless and more like a half-arsed HRT than a stunning McLaren Honda? One of my favourite online mock-ups is a metallic black and orange… surely a perfect testing if not race livery.

via Reddit / Formula 1

By Antonio Franco
via Reddit / Formula 1

Indeed, the sheer number of fan designs cropping up online gives a hint of what might have been and the potential that exists in the renewal of one of the most successful and iconic partnerships in F1 history. If McLaren really was going “Back to the Future” it could have chosen to take influence from any one of the beautiful designs you can find with the click of a button online. It could have employed any one of the budding online designers to throw their efforts into it. It could have taken inspiration from Autosport’s front cover a year and a half ago. It could have taken influence from its own driver’s GP2 car.

Created by G0DJESUS Via Reddit / Formula 1

Created by G0DJESUS
Via Reddit / Formula 1

Autosport July 18, 2013

Autosport July 18, 2013

Stoffel Vandoorne / ART Grand Prix c/o GP2 Series

Stoffel Vandoorne / ART Grand Prix
c/o GP2 Series

What we got wasn’t even slightly “Back to the Future.” It was drab and boring. A nigh-on sponsorless car with a livery that reflected more of a need for going to back to basics than back to the future.

So with two almost identical looking cars in Force India and McLaren, one eagerly awaited the uninspiring grey of Sauber to be thrust upon us. But with Test and Reserve driver Raffaele Marciello already having tweeted a photo of his helmet, the visor strip in the yellow and blue of Banco do Brasil had already given a hint that we could expect something a bit different to the drab designs of recent years.

Sauber's C34 c/o Sauber F1 Team

Sauber’s C34
c/o Sauber F1 Team

So while we can praise the Lord than the team launched in colours other then gun metal grey, one can find little reasoning for a livery apparently designed on Microsoft Paint. In 1998. So much for the potentially lovely blue and yellow livery. From the side, and when compared with last year’s car, however, it all becomes a little more clear. The design is almost identical. They’ve just replaced grey, white and red with blue, white and yellow. Once again, ten out of ten for imagination. (Sarcasm font)

2014 Carlin GP2 c/o GP2 Series

2014 Carlin GP2
c/o GP2 Series

It’s a little bit embarrassing when a look at junior formulae shows what can be done with a comparatively miniscule budget and a little bit of imagination. Carlin’s 2013 and 2014 GP2 liveries both pulled deference to the same sponsor that now adorns the Sauber. Both liveries were cohesive and strong, with flow and intrigue. They looked great on track and made the car instantly recognisable. Honestly, it’s really not that difficult. Again, there are enough mock ups online of what could have been done.

By Patrick Voila via Reddit / Formula 1

By Patrick Voila
via Reddit / Formula 1

Ultimately you may ask why it all matters. This isn’t some fashion parade. In years to come, these cars aren’t going to adorn art galleries.

But a strong livery is a calling card, a coat of arms… a badge of honour. From a practical perspective they mark the team out in terms of marketing and merchandising. For television commentators, that livery makes the car and the driver instantly recognisable.

If I say Ferrari you think Red.

If I say Ligier you think Blue.

If I say Leyton House you think Turquoise.

If I say Jordan you either think 7up Green or Yellow and Black with a hornet or a snake on the nose.

The thing is, it does actually matter. It matters because Formula 1 is supposed to be inspirational. It is supposed to be visceral and enthralling. The cars are supposed to smash their way into your hearts, burn their way into your subconscious and stay there forever. They should take your breath away.

But these… they just don’t.

Missing The Point

Max Verstappen c/o James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
c/o James Moy Photography

The FIA today announced new regulations relating to the issuing of a Formula 1 Super License. Our sport’s governing body has got itself into something of a flap over the fact that, in Max Verstappen, F1 will have its youngest ever driver in 2015 at the age of 17. While it can do nothing to stop the prodigious and, I must say from my own personal perspective, tremendously exciting Dutchman from being granted his license for competition next season, it has taken its time and thought long and hard about how best to deal with the situation.

And in typical FIA style, it has managed to contrive a system which would have excluded three of the world champions who will line up on this year’s F1 grid, half of the 2015 Red Bull Racing line-up, and both Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna from making their F1 debuts.

The system works on the basis of a points allocation per finishing position in sub-F1 categories. In order to qualify for a Super License, a driver must have amassed 40 points over his or her past three years of competition and must have spent at least two seasons racing single-seaters. I say “her” lightly, however, as there is not a single female racing driver to my knowledge who would, at present, qualify for a Super License.

The structure of the championships top to bottom weighs heavily in favour of its own categories, placing the FIA F3 European Championship on the same footing as FIA WEC and Indycar. It serves Formula Renault 3.5 a tremendous disservice by placing it both below Euro F3 and on the same level as GP3. But the actual cherry on top of this cake is that the championship which merits the most points (more than GP2, Indycar or WEC) is a “Future FIA F2 Championship.” So an event that doesn’t even exist, then. And one which, until today, nobody outside 8 Place de la Concorde, Paris, and I’d wager a fair few inside, even knew was going to exist.

There is no mention of Formula E, the FIA’s own flagship green “future” of racing. There is no mention of NASCAR. And only LMP1 drivers in WEC qualify for points.

The system’s intentions are good. It has clearly been brought in to try and stop drivers from either being rushed into F1 or from simply buying their way in. To that end it’s worth noting that Max Verstappen would have amassed just half the points required in his first and thus far sole season of single-seater racing and Marcus Ericsson would have fallen 26 points under the total required from his three years of GP2 results and would thus not have qualified to make his debut last season.

But, as is the increasing norm for a body which seemingly struggles to write its own name without getting one of the letters wrong or simply missing one out entirely, it is in the execution that the FIA hasn’t really thought it through.

Not one of them would have made their debuts under the new regulations. c/o James Moy Photography

Not one of them would have made their debuts under the new regulations.
c/o James Moy Photography

Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button would both have fallen 35 points short of the 40 point requirement. Sebastien Vettel would have been just two points shy of the tally at the time of his USGP debut in 2007 if we use just his 04-06 results. On the basis of his 2007 WSR results, however, he’d have qualified for his Toro Rosso drive in 2008. Just the six world championships between them.

Daniel Ricciardo, voted by many as the F1 driver of 2014 would not have qualified for his debut either so that’s Red Bull Racing’s lead man out of luck.

Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, two of the finest drivers to ever grace the planet, would not have been granted a Super License under this system. Neither would Mika Hakkinen. Neither Gilles Villeneuve. Jim Clark’s tractor definitely wouldn’t have given him the points. Not entirely sure racing a Model A Ford taxi would have done Fangio much good either.

Drivers are rarely rushed into the sport if they’re not good enough. Those that are, tend to be the exceptions. And exceptional. The new regulations, as such, are an overblown and ineffectual reaction to a rarity.

Almost every driver that is currently maligned in Formula 1 would have qualified under this system had it been in place at the time of their debuts while, ironically, the majority of those that wouldn’t have been granted their licenses are either now Formula 1 World Champions, or driving for the team that has won the most world championships this decade.

Not to worry. On traditional form I’m sure there’s a loophole in there somewhere.

Jean Todt c/o James Moy Photography

Jean Todt
c/o James Moy Photography

Hope

Jules Bianchi Singapore GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Singapore GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

Last night I received a comment to this blog which I found so moving and so full of hope, I wanted to share it with you. With its author’s permission, here it is:

Dear Will

I think of Jules nearly every day and pray for his full recovery. My first introduction to Jules was your excellent interview with him that aired the evening before the Japanese Grand Prix. I was very impressed with Jules character and humility, and of course his skill and promising future as an F1 racing driver. Because of your connection with Jules and his Family, I thought of sharing this information with you, and you may choose, if you feel it provides relevant encouragement, to share this with Jules family. They need positive encouragement to keep the faith and continue to believe in the possibility of a full recovery for Jules.

Our story is a long and painful one, as with Jules, our son Mike (age 26 at the time of his injuries) was seriously injured (nearly fatal) in a car wreck. His diagnosis was Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), specifically Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI). Mike’s prognosis was 90% death or if he survived then his medical prognosis was life in a Permanent Vegetative State.

I am writing to you because, for our family, among the most encouraging times during Mike’s recovery was first hand news and knowledge of others who survived the dreaded DAI diagnosis. I realize from firsthand experience that every TBI is different and the miraculous recovery for our son Mike may be an exception to the “rule”. But the encouragement of this possibility is what Jules’ family needs to persist through Jules long recovery process.

Mike’s story, 6 years post injury now, has evolved into a beautiful story of full recovery, marriage on the one year anniversary of the accident, his graduation with a Master’s degree in business (MBA) two years after the wreck, and a wonderfully productive life now that defies the original dreaded DAI – Permanent Vegetative State prognosis.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, November 27th in the US, and our family is celebrating our thankful blessings. Top on our list is Mike’s full recovery, and our family prays for Jules and his family, and most importantly for Jules full and complete recovery.

Respectfully,

Mike’s dad,

Michael Marion

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For a glimpse into the public view of Mike’s recovery, visit this website: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mikemarion