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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

Tatiana Calderon

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


Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 17.47.49



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!

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 17.58.37

McDonalds Yokkaichi via

McDonalds Yokkaichi

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


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”

Lewis Hamilton 2015 Italian Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Lewis Hamilton
2015 Italian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

I’m getting a little tired of this.

It’s hard enough to escape it on twitter, but then it starts to permeate one’s facebook feed, posted and pushed by those you’d considered might have a slightly better handle on reality.

Another week, another witty article, hilarious meme, wistful video of halcyon days past. Oh it was so much better in the 80s. The 90s too. Don’t forget 2004. That was the best. Scary fast cars. Scary sounding cars. Not like today. Today’s crap.

The latest video to do the rounds hit social media and the nadir of reasoned debate on Friday afternoon and soon after had permeated almost every stream of online motorsport-based consciousness. If you haven’t seen it already, and I doubt very much that if you’re reading this you haven’t, it was a side by side “comparison” video of Juan Pablo Montoya lapping Monza in 2004 in the Williams BMW FW26, and Lewis Hamilton taking to the same track in his Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid this very year.

Oh how people sneered. Montoya had long since passed the line to close his lap by the time Hamilton exited Parabolica to complete his own tour. “What is happening to our beloved sport?”, people asked. Where did we go so wrong? Won’t somebody think of the children!!???

Let’s start with a dose of reality. The lap chosen to highlight those apparently flawless days of the mid 2000s was, of course, the fastest lap recorded in Formula 1 history. Set in pre-qualifying and averaging almost 163mph, it remains one of the most viscerally staggering sights in Formula 1 history.

The lap chosen for the “comparison” was from this season’s Free Practice 2. Lewis Hamilton was bedding in a brand new development of his Mercedes power unit in a session regularly used to conduct race runs on heavy fuel. The majority of drivers improved their FP1 to FP2 best laptimes by over a second in Monza this year. Hamilton, under half a second. We commented at the time on the NBCSN broadcast, Mercedes never looked as though they were pushing.

So we’ve got a car bedding in a new engine, with brand new tyre camber and pressure parameters meaning the teams are still trying to get a handle on changed grip levels, on heavy fuel, in a session where they’re not pushing. And this is the lap chosen as a fair comparison with the fastest lap in the history of Formula 1?

It’s very difficult to paint an accurate picture when you’re working with a pallet of limited colours.

Nico Rosberg 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Nico Rosberg
2014 Brazilian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

How about we take the 2004 pole lap at Interlagos set by Rubens Barrichello, riding high on the emotion of the adoring crowd and at the wheel of the all-conquering Ferrari F2004, the car seemingly of choice in many people’s “Dream Team” as per’s recent poll. Widely regarded, along with the McLaren MP4-4, as the greatest F1 car of all time, it still holds the track and pole position record at the majority of circuits raced in that season.

Barrichello was on pole by 0.204 from Montoya, with the Brazilian setting an unbeatable lap of 1:10.646. Unbeatable in 2004. And a record that stood for a decade.

Finally beaten last season by Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid with a time, over half a second faster. 1:10.023.

Where’s that comparison video? It doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t fit the lazy narrative that the sport is a woeful shadow of its former self.

I’ve got no issue with a debate over whether the current regulations are the right path for the sport. I think it is fairly obvious that some changes need to be made. But the overwhelming negativity towards today’s cars and the narrative that things were so much better in past eras is growing tired and dull. Particularly when the examples used to highlight the apparent disparity between what was and what is, are drawn from such selective grounds as to make them pointless and risible.

You want a direct comparison between the early 2000s and 2015? In 2002 Michael Schumacher had sewn up the title two calendar months ago. In July. At Magny Cours.

Montoya’s 2004 Monza lap was good, but it meant nothing. Barrichello still took pole and won the race. Trotting the lap out as an example of how great the sport used to be, merely highlights that even in a car that fast over one lap, he had no means of competing. Faster lap times don’t necessarily equate to better racing. Formula 1 back then had far more competitive issues than it does today.

But hey, let’s just keep on banging that old tired drum shall we?

Lewis Hamilton in Parc Ferme 2015 Italian Grand Prix  c/o James Moy Photography

Lewis Hamilton in Parc Ferme
2015 Italian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

The fallout from the Italian Grand Prix will likely continue to make headlines until we next convene for racing in Singapore. The focus will, quite naturally, be on the procedural grey areas around the taking of tyre pressures, the definition of what constitutes the “race start” and the manner in which the increasingly convoluted set of technical and sporting regulations are written.

Of course, this all stems back to Spa a fortnight ago and the tyre failures which befell Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Pirelli blamed debris on track and called for a universal method of track cleaning. Positive meetings were conducted in Monza between the drivers, teams and Pirelli in which a greater understanding was reached between all parties on expectations and solutions for the future. The most likely thing we will see is the return of tyre testing in 2016, to be conducted by today’s actual race drivers and today’s actual cars.

With Pirelli still experiencing a mysterious increase in the level of cuts and debris on their tyres in Monza, and with tyre safety in sharp focus throughout the weekend, the moveable feast that was the company’s recommended parameters of camber and pressure was a talking point throughout the Italian Grand Prix. These guidelines are and were enforceable by the FIA on the grounds of safety.

Some have said that rules are rules and as such Mercedes should have been thrown out of the Italian Grand Prix. Others, that the timing of the checks and the circumstances surrounding those checks were inconsistent with procedural regulation and open to question. This, as stated, will likely be the focus of changes going forward and, one hopes, the start of a clearer routine for these type of examinations.

Pirelli was again under the spotlight 2015 Italian Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Pirelli was again under the spotlight
2015 Italian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

On Sunday afternoon there were debates over the differences between regulations and directives, suggestions and recommendations, the enforceable and the unenforceable. For example, the regulations themselves have upwards of eight different Articles and Appendices referencing race starts and each has a distinctive definition and purpose. But it must be noted that in Monza the Stewards sided with Mercedes in the debate over the FIA’s own procedural inconsistencies and regulatory vagaries.

The Stewards come in for a lot of stick, but there is a deep-seated frustration within their ranks over the wording of the regulations they are tasked with enforcing (both technical and sporting) and the wide array of interpretations possible within their application. Not only that, but it is impossible for them to act without first being called to action by a referral either from the Race Director or Technical Delegate.

Whether Mercedes was guilty of a breach of regulation or whether the FIA’s procedures were incorrect and need amending, however, misses what to me is a far greater issue.

The tyre pressure parameters were put in place for the Italian Grand Prix by Pirelli in the interests of safety following the fallout from the Belgian Grand Prix and two catastrophic tyre failures.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the manner and the timing of the checks made to the tyres, the FIA found both Mercedes cars to have tyres which were, according to Pirelli’s enforceable guidelines, outside an operating window mandated on the grounds of safety. And yet the FIA’s Technical Delegate Jo Bauer failed to notify Mercedes that their cars were running tyres which were, according to his examination, unsafe.

FIA F1 Technical Delegate - Jo Bauer c/o James Moy Photography

FIA F1 Technical Delegate – Jo Bauer
c/o James Moy Photography

We’re not talking about finding a wing is a centimetre too wide. We’re not talking about potentially increased performance. We are talking about the only part of the racing car which is in contact with the racing surface, and a mandated minimum tyre pressure required on the grounds of safety.

Whether the reading was erroneous or taken at such a time as to be unrepresentative, why was the team not informed immediately that their tyres had, in the FIA’s view, fallen below the minimum safe pressure? If the FIA believed these tyres to be unsafe, as is evidenced by the subsequent reporting of the team to the stewards on the grounds of being outside the mandated limits, why did it take over an hour for this report to reach the stewards?

The reality is startling clear. The FIA allowed the Italian Grand Prix to start with two cars on the grid which it (rightly or wrongly) believed, due to information it had gathered and held privately in its possession, were running tyres that fell below the minimum safety requirements.

What if the FIA had been correct? What if those tyres had fallen below the minimum safe pressure and Mercedes had been unaware of this? Imagine, for a moment, that one of the Mercedes rear left tyres had suddenly lost pressure and let go in the opening laps of the race, resulting in an accident.

The parameters were put in place on the grounds of safety, not performance. As such, the FIA’s failure to inform the team of their discovery on the grid could arguably be seen as a breach of the duty of care that it holds towards not only Mercedes, but every team and driver on the grid, the circuit workers trackside and the paying public in the grandstands.

Lewis Hamilton 2015 Italian Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Lewis Hamilton
2015 Italian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

All it would have taken was for an FIA representative to have spoken with Paddy Lowe, Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda or any team member for that matter on the grid and informed them that their cars’ rear lefts were under the limit and could they please just ensure all was OK. The tests were done over five minutes before the start of the formation lap, leaving ample time to make any amendments if deemed necessary. But instead the information was withheld, taken away and then slowly and slovenly written into an accusation of wrong doing. Over an issue, I repeat, not of performance but of safety.

It’s akin to seeing someone walking down the street with their shoe laces undone only to pull out your phone and start filming them in expectation of the inevitable moment when they fall over, rather than tapping them on the shoulder and letting them know they might be about to hurt themselves.

It smacks of irresponsibility.

Spa and Monza have shown the world that the FIA faces an urgent need to get its house in order as regards its governance of Formula 1. Its own Stewards have been forced to side against it due to an inability to uphold and enforce poorly written regulations. Its own procedures have been proven to be confused and inconsistent. Priorities have become misplaced.

Because in Monza, it appears that an attempt to punish was placed before the thought to protect.

Fans pack the grandstands Belgian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Fans pack the grandstands
Belgian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Since uploading my piece yesterday about track limits, I’ve seen and received many responses regarding the wording of the actual regulation.

Article 20.2 of the 2015 Formula 1 Sporting Regulations reads as follows:

20.2 Drivers must use the track at all times. For the avoidance of doubt the white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track but the kerbs are not. 

A driver will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track. 

Should a car leave the track the driver may re-join, however, this may only be done when it is safe to do so and without gaining any lasting advantage. At the absolute discretion of the race director a driver may be given the opportunity to give back the whole of any advantage he gained by leaving the track. 

A driver may not deliberately leave the track without justifiable reason.

I felt the need to go back and write today’s article because there exists a justifiable confusion over what is written and what is enforceable.

Daniel Ricciardo Belgian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Daniel Ricciardo
Belgian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

If we take the regulation to the letter, then it stands that track limits are strictly confined to the area within the painted white lines at the edge of the circuit. This is an area which does not include the kerbs.

As written, the only time a driver will be considered to have left the track, and thus be outside or to have exceeded track limits, is when “no part of the car remains in contact with the track.” In other words, all four off.

The problem for the stewards, as I see it, is that in the wording of the regulation there is no guidance provided for when such an infringement becomes punishable.

Indeed, and as highlighted in yesterday’s piece, only in the third paragraph is there any mention of what might occur in the instance of somebody flouting the regulation although, again, this is dealt with in an overwhelmingly vague fashion.

The wording essentially states that should a driver break the regulation by exceeding the limits of the track, all they have to do is return to the confines of the track in a safe manner and without gaining “any lasting advantage.” It is at the “absolute discretion” of the race director as to whether or not to give a driver the opportunity to hand this advantage back, should they be deemed to have gained such a benefit and not handed it back of their own volition.

There is, therefore, absolutely no explicitly defined offense in exceeding track limits. For while the regulation is worded that a driver must use the marked track at all times, the only time at which he will be adjudged worthy of punishment is in the event that he has done so, gained an advantage, and not rescinded the unfairly gained benefit.

As such, it is easy to see how both the stewards are hamstrung and the fans frustrated by a poorly worded regulation.

Felipe Massa Practice - Hungarian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Felipe Massa
Practice – Hungarian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Were we to take the wording of this rule and attempt to apply it to other sports, we would immediately see its core problem.

Let’s take tennis as an example. Like Formula 1, we are looking at a playable surface within clearly marked boundaries. If a ball bounces outside those lines it is judged to be “out” and the competitor who played that ball loses the point. Simple. The advent of “Hawkeye” allows greater precision in the adjudication of which balls are within the limits, as being even slightly on the line counts as being “in.” Just as in F1, then, 100% of the ball just as 100% of the car needs to have exceeded the playable surface.

But if we were to apply Formula 1’s Article 20.2, then one could conceivably argue that so long as the opponent of the competitor who had played the foul ball was able to return said ball, then the initial competitor would have done nothing wrong as he or she had gained no advantage from exceeding the outer extremities of the marked court. Play would continue. Only in winning the point via a ball being played outside the legal limitations of the court and the opponent being unable to return it, would the advantage be “lasting” and thus the competitor lose the point for playing a foul ball.

If that seems ridiculous, it’s because it is. And yet it follows the very same logic which is at the basis of Article 20.2.

So how do we proceed?

Yesterday we talked of the possibility of a grass strip either side of the track, preceding as wide an asphalt run off as the governing body deemed safe before the barrier. It’s cheap, environmentally sound and would do the job.

Astroturf still catches drivers out Marcus Ericsson - Belgium 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Astroturf still catches drivers out
Marcus Ericsson – Belgium 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Another option might be to place astroturf behind the kerbs and white lines. This should be a natural deterrent, as evidenced when Marcus Ericsson put his rear right onto the plastic grass at Pouhon during practice at Spa and was promptly spat out into the barriers. Then again, it didn’t stop drivers exceeding track limits at Turns 3 and 4 in Hungary this year, and it didn’t stop drivers exceeding track limits at Stavelot or, indeed, on the exit of Blanchimont.

What about the high abrasion run off we see at Circuit Paul Ricard? Run over that too many times and your tyres will get chewed right through. It would be an effective deterrent, but if it chews up tyres then it follows that it would also chew up bike leathers and human flesh in the event of an incident in two-wheeled competition and as such would be a hard sell to most multi-purpose circuits.

If determining the correct type of run-off is so hard, then perhaps it simply falls down to policing track limits effectively. Some have called for Formula 1 to embrace Britain’s strict MSA rules. Introduced in 2014 in direct conflict to the FIA’s own regulations, the MSA stipulated the following:

Regulation Q14.4.2: Drivers must use the track at all times and may not leave the track without a justifiable reason.

Q14.4.2.a The white lines defining the track edges are considered to be part of the track.

Q14.4.2.b A driver will be judged to have left the track if any wheel of the car either goes beyond the outer edge of any kerb or goes beyond the white line where there is no kerb.

Penalty System:

First offence: Reprieve
Second: Black-and-white warning flag
Third: Five-second penalty
Fourth: Drive-through penalty
Fifth: Black flag

MSA track limit guidelines

MSA track limit guidelines

This system is black and white. To many it is too extreme. To others, it is absolutely correct. And its intention is clear. Using the kerbs is acceptable to a point, but track limits must always be respected.

Ultimately Formula 1’s problem falls down to a number of factors, from the continual extension of drivable run-off in the pursuit of greater safety and a driver’s nature to use whatever advantage he or she can to drive faster, the failure in the first instance of Charlie Whiting and the FIA in clamping down on the excessive use of this run-off when it first became an issue, to the fine line one can draw between a black and white enforcement of principle and the grey area that exists in the excitement derived from those who go over the limits to pull off bold and brave overtaking moves.

But at the root of it all is the Sporting Regulations.

Until we have a better written set of rules, with clear parameters of acceptable driving, what constitutes the racing surface and what punishments will befall those who continually flout the rules, Article 20.2 and the concept of track limits will have absolutely no meaning in the so called pinnacle of motorsport.

Rosberg's tyre failed in FP2 Belgian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Rosberg’s tyre failed in FP2
Belgian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

The 2015 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps created much controversy, with both Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel suffering catastrophic tyre issues. Both experienced rear right failures at high speed, but it is here that I believe the similarities end.

Rosberg’s failure was one of the strangest I have ever seen in Formula 1, an opinion shared by Mercedes AMG Technical Director Paddy Lowe who confirmed to NBCSN on Friday afternoon that he had never seen a tyre failure like it. When the tyre let go, it did so almost perfectly along the centre, circumferential line. The carcass sheared nigh on precisely in half, with the inside half tearing itself off, leaving just the outside edge of the tyre on the rim. Pirelli believed that the failure was caused by a cut, picked up on track, and the cleanliness of the failure and what remained would give credence to this. Mercedes ran checks on its own floor to ensure that nothing could have rubbed the tyre and created the issue. Pirelli stated the team was running its tyres well within the prescribed camber and pressure recommendations. Indeed, their adherence to these parameters was described as “exemplary.”

The cause of Vettel's ire Belgian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

The cause of Vettel’s ire
Belgian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Vettel’s failure is the one which has now taken the focus of the story. His expletive-laden post race interview with the BBC could, one might argue, be excused given his disappointment in a potential lost podium. In truth, it was anything but a certainty given the freshness of Romain Grosjean’s tyres in comparison to his own. Yes, Vettel was still running competitive laptimes, but the overriding feeling is that Grosjean would have taken the position regardless.

Pirelli insists that a one-stop strategy at Spa was risky. But their post-race media strategy of releasing a statement highlighting that they had requested two years ago to have a mandated maximum percentage of a race run on each type of tyre, seemed an odd route to take. It took the focus of the story too far away from the case in point and that, in Pirelli’s opinion, Vettel’s failure was down the fact that the team had taken a gamble on tyre wear and it had not paid off. To pretend that this is somehow a new phenomenon or something unique to Pirelli would be disingenuous. Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen can tell him all about pushing tyres beyond their lifespan. His badly flat-spotted Michelin front right eventually lost pressure and caused suspension failure on the last lap of the 2005 European Grand Prix. A race he was leading. Just a few years ago one might remember only too well Bridgestone’s issues with tyre failures after they began “chunking” and the belts tore away from the carcass.

Sunday was not the first and won’t be the last time we see a tyre fail when pushed beyond its limits.

Ferrari insists their strategy was not risky. Vettel has now made his own statement to also say that his team’s strategy “was never risky, at any point. The Team is not to blame.” This, in spite of the fact that 13 laps before his tyre blew he had radioed the team and told them to think about making another stop.

But if we accept that the team is not to blame, and given that nobody else encountered a similar issue in the race, one might ascertain that the fault must therefore lie with Vettel himself. Because if it is not the tyres and it is not the team, the apportioning of blame has few other avenues.

Vettel repeatedly exceeded track limits at Raidillon, running all four wheels past the white line and pushing his tyres over the kerbing at the top of the hill. What can be in no question is that moments after running all four wheels off track, and his rear right riding the edge of the kerbs, the tyre surface began to let go on the precise outside section which moments earlier had been riding the angled top edge of the kerbs.

Within track limits? Belgain Grand Prix 2015

Within track limits?
Belgain Grand Prix 2015

Vettel insists he respected track limits. Visual evidence belies this.

Perhaps though it is not Vettel who should take the blame for the tyre failure. If we conclude that, while perhaps not being the sole cause of the failure, running over the kerbs and outside track limits did not help maintain the integrity of tyres that were 27 laps old, it follows that those who permitted Vettel to run outside track limits must also accept their share of culpability.

On arrival in Belgium for 2015, a new kerb had been placed on the inside of Raidillon. In Friday practice it was well respected by all the drivers as riding it would have caused massive instability precisely at the point where a driver needs the greatest control of his car. And yet on Saturday the kerb was removed, reportedly because of some incidents in which cars were launched in the GP3 practices session. But these incidents were caused by the white bump kerbs perpendicular to the track, not the orange sausage kerb that was removed. The kerb in question was, it now seems apparent, removed due to concerns that should anybody make a mistake through Eau Rouge and into Raidillon in the wet, the kerb could act as a launch pad.

And yet the weather forecast for the weekend was bright sunshine, with no chance of rain until 17:10 on Sunday. Ubimet was wrong. The rain arrived at 17:20.

So the kerb was removed and drivers’ lines through Raidillon instantly changed. An FIA statement was released on Saturday morning which said that track limits would still be monitored, but that “a report will only be made to the stewards if a driver has exceeded the track limits (principally but not limited to the areas behind the kerbs in Turns 4 [Eau Rouge] and 15 [Stavelot]), and is suspected of gaining an advantage.”

Yet what we saw through qualifying and repeatedly during the race was drivers seemingly cutting that very corner. Why, then, was nobody penalised? Why were drivers repeatedly allowed to exceed track limits without being taken to task for it?

Charlie Whiting c/o James Moy Photography

Charlie Whiting
c/o James Moy Photography

The problem lies in the fact that Charlie Whiting and the FIA have only one means of policing track limits, and that is via the third paragraph of Article 20.2 of the Sporting Regulations. That paragraph features the caveat that in order to be judged to have broken the rules for exceeding track limits, a “lasting advantage” needs to have been gained.

Kimi Raikkonen cut the very corner in question three years ago in qualifying, but the data as seen by the stewards said that no advantage had been gained. Indeed, it showed that running all four wheels off track had actually slowed him.

It is important to recognise that the stewards have far more information at their disposal than you or I. Our track timing is split into three sectors. The stewards have timing loops every 100 metres. They can trace velocity, entry and exit speed and are privy to enough real time information to make an instant and informed call. They saw no advantage had been gained.

In the race itself, again, no penalties were handed out and we only heard one warning message being broadcast, that to Dany Kvyat. But from a television perspective, we saw repeat offenders at Raidillon and, to a lesser extent, at Stavelot.

Why were they not punished? If one looks at the wording of the regulation it would follow that in all likelihood nobody was reported and no penalties were handed out because no “lasting advantage” was gained. But it is possible to argue that if the majority of drivers cut the corner in question, then each would have been advantaged or disadvantaged to the same extent and so it follows that no advantage would have been gained. But that doesn’t mean that exceeding the track limits is right.

Quite simply, it appears that the FIA has fallen back into the old argumentum ad populum which it employed in July of 2014 when it was widely understood that the reason Kimi Raikkonen had not been punished for his re-entry of the track on lap 1 at Silverstone was because the governing body believed that any other driver would have rejoined the track in the same manner. In other words, if everyone is doing something then it becomes acceptable.

And this is something I cannot and have never been able to accept.

To me, it falls down to the fact that Charlie and the FIA should have been far stronger, far earlier.

Of course, the great irony is that track limits are only able to be exceeded at all because of the sport’s constant drive towards greater safety. If gravel or grass still existed on either side of the track through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, nobody would dare to cut the corner. Were this so, the challenge of the corner might revert to its old majesty but then so too would its inherent specter of danger. It is thus a tough balancing act.

Verstappen on Nasr approaching Blanchimont

Verstappen on Nasr approaching Blanchimont

Would Max Verstappen have dared to put his wheels on the grass in passing Felipe Nasr around the outside of Blanchimont, or was that incredible move only possible because of the additional asphalt? He only had two wheels off at that point and so was theoretically “within” track limits, but on exit he placed all four over the white line to take to the kerbs. Indeed, did he only avoid punishment because the Sauber pitted at the end of the lap and thus any “lasting advantage” of the Dutchman’s move was impossible to verify?

Verstappen was, of course, reported to the stewards for his move on Valtteri Bottas at Les Combes given that, in the midst of his passing move, he slid wide and put all four wheels off track. But again, possibly because he was already past at his point of leaving the track, it was considered that no advantage had been gained. A few years ago in Hungary, Romain Grosjean was not so fortunate and was reported and penalised for passing Felipe Massa around the outside of Turn 4 because he had exceeded track limits on corner exit.

Grosjean’s move on Massa all those years ago in Hungary, just as Verstappen’s on Nasr at Blanichimont on Sunday, was one of the moves of the race. Gutsy as hell. But, if we are sticking to the letter of the law, it was only possible because he exceeded track limits.

Verstappen puts all four over the line on exit of Blanchimont in his battle with Nasr

Verstappen puts all four over the line on exit of Blanchimont in his battle with Nasr

As such the policing of track limits is a very difficult line to walk. Do we want to stop these kind of great, daring moves? Do we stand by the black and white position that track limits are track limits? For if we are dismayed by what the drivers were doing through Raidillon, how do we balance that with our excitement at what Verstappen did at Blanchimont?

Both current and former drivers have suggested that a few metres of grass either side of the track should be enough to keep drivers inside track limits. Put as many miles of asphalt as you want between that grass strip and the barriers. Perhaps this is something the FIA should start to give greater thought to. But the problem is that tracks cannot simply alter their run-off depending on which championship is racing that weekend, and two-wheeled racing these days requires the extensive run-off areas which have so blighted the challenge of the Eau Rouges and Parabolicas of the world.

A “Hawkeye” style system is one suggestion that has been raised, along with the concept of a three-strikes policy for drivers exceeding track limits. Note that there is no mention here of gaining an advantage. It would simply be for going all four over the white lines.

Lap 1 at Eau Rouge Belgian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Lap 1 at Eau Rouge
Belgian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

With Sebastian Vettel claiming his tyre failure could have led to a serious accident there is, perhaps, more at stake here than the simple concept of advantages and discipline. One can maintain the actual racing surface in adequate racing condition, but once one leaves the confines of the outlined racing track, one finds oneself in the unknown. We know that drivers will seek out any advantage they can. They’re racing drivers. But we saw in Belgium that drivers pushing outside the prescribed limits of the track could, arguably, add an unpredictable variable into the safety debate.

The track limits argument is one which requires resolution. The long and the short of it is that the regulation, as it stands, is unfit for purpose.

Formula 1 drivers are supposed to be the best in the world. They are supposed to set the example to junior formulae. And yet while junior drivers are penalised for exceeding track limits, F1 drivers are increasingly getting away with sloppy discipline because of the wording of a regulation.

Police it, or change it. Because if Spa showed us anything, it’s that it isn’t working.

This weekend changes have been made to the regulations regarding race starts. This clutch issue seems to have got everyone flummoxed, with any number of complicated engineering explanations of how the systems work and what is or is not permissible under the new regulations for this weekend.

As such, I thought a simple (or as simple as possible) explanation in layman’s terms might be appreciated. No doubt I’ll get pulled up by the engineers out there, but what the hell. I’ll give it a go…

Imagine you are in a manual road car. To pull away, you depress the clutch with your left foot, select first gear and depress the throttle with your right. You raise the revs and partially release the clutch until you feel engagement. This is the bite point. Thereafter you increase the revs gradually, whilst at the same time gradually releasing the clutch fully.

In a Formula 1 car the concept is precisely the same, only it happens in a much shorter space of time. The requirement is to send power to the rear wheels as quickly and efficiently as possible. The problem is that in a Formula 1 car there is no foot-operated clutch. Instead, two paddles exist on the rear of the steering wheel, both of which play a role in the engagement of the clutch.

Both paddles are engaged on the grid, with first gear selected, the driver’s right foot buried to the floor and revs at max. When the lights go out, the driver fully releases the left paddle. This is, in effect, what your left foot does in lifting back from your road car’s foot clutch up to the bite point. But rather than being the gradual movement that we make with our foot, the dropping of the left paddle engages the pre-set bite point in an instant. The driver then gradually releases the right paddle, which is in effect what your left and right feet do in your road car as you increase the revs and lift off the clutch.

The F1 team, over the course of the weekend and especially on Sunday afternoon via a practice start on the way to the grid and on leaving the dummy grid for the formation lap, will have sifted through reams of data pertaining to the clutch, the tyre and track temperatures etc to ascertain the perfect bite point setting, which the driver is (or was) able to select via a dial on his steering wheel. This bite point setting will ensure that the driver gets the best possible launch and engagement when the lights go out, so that he does not either bog down via revs set too low, or encounter wheelspin via torque being too high.

The only real difference is that, as of this weekend, when the driver leaves his garage on Sunday afternoon, he is no longer allowed to touch that dial and the team is no longer allowed to change the bite-point setting on the car. That’s it. If his practice start at the end of the pitlane isn’t fantastic, that’s as good as it is going to get.

The process of what the driver does when those five lights illuminate on Sunday afternoon, remains exactly the same.

The idea that the driver will, all of a sudden, be entirely responsible for the quality of his race start is false. The only control he has over the start remains over his control of the right paddle operating the final release of the clutch. The bite point remains preset and determined by the data amassed over the course of the weekend.

For many of the teams, the hardware and the operation of the 2015 clutches simply won’t allow such a complicated system to suddenly become entirely controlled by a human.

Some starts will be good, some will be poor, but none will be entirely due to a driver’s feel. For that, you’ll have to wait until 2016. Which is arguably when this regulation change would have been most effective.