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James Moy Photography

James Moy Photography

The Strategy Group has got it right. It’s taken the body a while, but the result of this week’s meeting in Biggin Hill is a workable set of suggestions which will benefit the sport and which should set it upon a positive future trajectory.

The measures that will be rushed in for this year will place the driver at greater control of the car, and remove the aids deemed to have taken some of the emphasis on skill away from the heroes in the cockpit. Radio chatter will be limited yet further and the onus placed back on drivers actually driving.

The overhauling of the ludicrous power unit penalty system was important so as to stop the entire concept appearing to be as farcical as it did in Austria, and the relaxation of engine allowances in the first season for a new manufacturer could make the sport a (slightly) more attractive proposition for any brands scared away by Honda’s struggles.

All of these proposals will be put to an F1 Commission fax vote in time for next week’s World Motor Sport Council for instant ratification. They should find no objection.

As for the future, Pirelli is finalising the method by which it will increase the freedom of tyre choice, and in all other areas things are still very much up for discussion.

The headline of cars which will be five to six seconds faster per lap remains, and I understand that increasing aerodynamic downforce by as much as 25% was discussed. Some of this would come from the floor and thus a tentative move towards utilising some sort of ground effect is on the cards. The cars themselves are intended to become wider, along with wider, stickier tyres from 2017 although, again, I understand that the 18 inch concept has been put on the backburner as they are considered too heavy. This will not go down well with Michelin, whose F1 pitch revolves around the 18 inch idea. Also removed from conversation has been the topic of the reintroduction of refuelling, despite the positive reaction its possible return mustered with those who filled out the GPDA survey.

In terms of engines, the biggest topic discussed was the removal of a fuel limit. This is not to be confused with fuel flow rates, but rather to allow teams to run as much fuel and as large a fuel tank as they wished, in order to remove the perception of fuel saving. The engine note will change, I believe predominantly through a change in regulations around the wastegate.

Race Start Spanish Grand Prix 2015 James Moy Photography

Race Start
Spanish Grand Prix 2015
James Moy Photography

It is the final line of the press release however, that seems to have caused the most debate. “Several exciting and innovative changes to the qualifying and race weekend formats have also been discussed and are being evaluated by FIA and FOM for a 2016 introduction.”

These vary from an extra race on Saturday using third cars and reserve drivers, to a wholesale change of the weekend format.

As I understand it, the leading suggestion discussed was to keep Friday as a practice day, but on Saturday to replace FP3 with a morning qualifying session. Qualifying would be run precisely as it is today, with the popular Q1, Q2, Q3 knockout format which has worked so well for so long. The results of qualifying would set the grid for a Saturday afternoon race.

This Saturday race would take the form of a no pitstop sprint, the results of which would set the grid for the Grand Prix proper on Sunday.

Personally, I think it is a great idea. Everyone wants to see these great drivers and great cars racing more. This potential format does just that. It’s an idea which has always worked very well at the Macau F3 Grand Prix. There is great risk and potentially huge reward in a qualifying race. Take a chance that comes off, and you get an improved starting position for the main event. Take a chance and end up in the barrier, and you start from the back.

DNF Saturday, start last Sunday James Moy Photography

DNF Saturday, start last Sunday
James Moy Photography

The importance of Friday’s practice sessions would be increased as the only occasions for the teams to hone set-ups and trial developments. This, in turn, should lead to more running during Friday FP1 and FP2.

For fans at the track, and at home, it increases the excitement and competition over the course of the weekend and puts way more value into a Saturday ticket.

The big knock-ons, however, would be to power unit usage and of course cost. The regulations over power units would have to be eased to allow such a format change to take place. But with these two exceptions I can see no real downside.

There is no falsity to the concept. We are not talking about reverse grids or qualifying races with grids decided by championship position. The competitive element is pure. It’s just a different way of deciding the Grand Prix grid, in a manner that adds value and excitement to a weekend. I’m a fan of the idea. I think it would be fabulous.

It must, of course, be remembered that these are at present merely suggestions and discussion points. There is no hard and fast decision as yet, and it is nowhere near the point of being put to the Commission or Council.

It could be that the format change has been mentioned in such vague terms to test the waters of fan reaction… but as we saw with the much maligned decision to award double points for the final race in 2014, the court of public opinion can hold little sway with the decision makers.

The one thing to take away from all of this is that the changes being pushed through for this season are positive. The suggested changes for 2016 are positive. And the targets for 2017 and beyond are all positive.

For once, the Strategy Group actually seems to have a strategy. And its a pretty good one.

Turn 1, Lap 1 Spanish Grand Prix 2015 James Moy Photography

Turn 1, Lap 1
Spanish Grand Prix 2015
James Moy Photography

Red Bull Ring c/o James Moy Photography

Red Bull Ring
c/o James Moy Photography

A few years ago I attended a wedding that included a speech so bad, it stays with me to this day. The Father of the Bride decided that he was going to try and crack some jokes. Unfortunately, they were all at his daughter’s expense. So, rather than telling the world how proud he was that his beautiful little girl was all grown up and getting married, it turned into a very public, horribly painful lampooning of the bride on what should have been the happiest day of her life.

Dietrich Mateschitz is a public hero in Austria. The Austrian Grand Prix, at the racetrack he owns, saved and regenerated into a beautiful and glorious theatre of speed, is supposed to be the centre-piece of his racing empire. And yet the week leading up to the race was filled with public admonishment of the team’s engine partner and a public berating of the product, the state of the sport and the strongest threat yet that Red Bull would quit. If it was a driver mouthing off so loudly, he’d be warned under Article 151c of the Sporting Code that he was bringing the sport into disrepute. That it was a stakeholder in the sport made it perhaps even less palatable.

What should have been a happy occasion became overtly awkward and uncomfortable.

It was that ill-fated wedding all over again.

Of course, Mateschitz and his deputy Helmut Marko’s words did not find much sympathy with the fanbase at large. Patience is running out fast for those who have followed the sport for longer than the recent few years, with a team which never saw fit to make such protestations of boredom with the singularity of team success when it was they who dominated the first four years of this decade. Comparisons are easily drawn with their rival teams who have endured years, and some of them decades without a championship triumph.

Lest we forget, these are regulations the teams, Red Bull amongst them, helped formulate. Everyone knew what they were getting into. Everyone signed up to them. Some win, some lose. But when those who fail to succeed decide to pick up their ball and threaten to go home unless they’re allowed to win it all becomes a bit whiney and pathetic.

Horner and Mateschitz Austrian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Horner and Mateschitz
Austrian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

And yet, just as with that ill-fated wedding speech all those years ago, you can find some sympathy in what the man was trying to do, and from where he’s coming. He is frustrated as hell that, under the current system, there is very little chance for success. To him, it probably seems as though he’s taken his ball for a kickabout with a few mates, and has ended up playing Real Madrid. He believed he was going into one situation but he’s found himself at the centre of one in which he can’t hope to compete.

That Renault has done a poor job this season cannot be denied. Far from taking a step forward from 2014, they’ve fallen backwards. But if Renault is to be maligned, what does one say of Honda? Their weekly failures are becoming an embarrassment. Yet McLaren refuses to throw their engine supplier under the bus. They are working together to resolve the issues, while the relationship between Red Bull and Renault slips ever further towards an inevitable and messy divorce. Ironically it is Ferrari, whom Red Bull left to switch to Renault engines, that now falls back in favour, with Sergio Marchionne stating in Spielberg that he would be “more than glad” to help Red Bull get back to winning ways.

Honda has tried to make light of its woes by humanising each power unit with its own twitter account and robot face. We joked over the weekend that one could imagine making a cartoon series about them, albeit a fairly depressing one. For just as you grew to love a character, it’d be killed off mid-episode. Sort of an anime, F1-themed Game of Thrones.

So if you’re Honda right now, what do you do? Do you spend your tokens, keep turning up with an engine that doesn’t work and hope that by tinkering with it, it’ll miraculously start working? Do you keep wasting money on a unit that may be fatally flawed? Do you say to hell with the penalties, and whatever fines the FIA is going to throw at you, and go back to the drawing board and come up with something fresh… something that won’t be an embarrassment? Or do you say that you made a mistake and pull out all together.

The fact that any of those could seem like a viable option should give us all food for thought.

Tough times for McLaren Alonso / Austrian GP 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Tough times for McLaren
Alonso / Austrian GP 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

One could forgive McLaren for venting their frustrations, as has Red Bull. And in many ways I can see where Red Bull is coming from. But if it is all Renault’s fault, then why is Toro Rosso, which also runs Renault engines, a far more dependable and often competitive prospect this season than Red Bull? Why is the RB11 so skittish through medium to high speed corners, when in years past it was precisely in these areas that the car was so strong? That has nothing to do with the engine and everything to do with aero. To blame, as Christian Horner did when I spoke to him on NBCSN during FP2 in Austria, 80% of the team’s woes this year on their engine supplier seems therefore, a touch extreme.

But I do see the frustration. I do see the mess. And it is one which could and should have been avoided.

Introducing a new engine formula at the same time as insisting on an engine freeze was bold at best from the FIA, and has resulted in the situation we have at the moment. For while one manufacturer has excelled in these tough conditions, all the others are suffering in their wake. Save for the use of a limited number of tokens, their opportunities of catching up grow ever smaller. And so the disparity is unlikely to be resolved.

I just don’t think that arguing about it from the perspective of it all being desperately unfair because you’re not competitive is the smartest idea. If Red Bull’s protestations are to be treated with the merit they perhaps deserve, perhaps suggesting a solution, rather than coming across as a bad sport, might be a better alternative.

Kvyat endured a race "like hell" Austrian Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Kvyat endured a race “like hell”
Austrian Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

To me, the best and only option right now would be to scrap the development freeze. Tell every engine manufacturer that they’ve got until the end of the calendar year to throw as much money, testing, and development work into their power units as they want in order to achieve a set parameter of performance. Make these things sing. Then, on January 1st 2016, the window closes. Keep tokens into the following years to allow gradual development and keep the interest in the engine formula, but given the current disparity perhaps we need an amnesty of sorts, to allow everyone to start from a relatively level position.

Spend what you want. Do what you want. Make as many changes as you want. But the sole caveat is that you do it off your own back. You don’t pass the cost onto your customers.

If a championship-winning team is so unhappy that it threatens to quit the sport, and one of the great motor makers in the world struggles so much through a weekend that the combined grid penalties it is handed total the equivalent of two and a half full F1 grids… something needs to be done.

Renault and Honda have not forgotten how to make engines. Their struggles however do show how great the technical challenges of these regulations are. But by forcing them to wallow in failure, you embarrass these great corporations and force them and their customers to the edge of desperation. You move them one step closer to the door.

The sport is not broken. And shouting that it is, just because you’re not winning, doesn’t help. But there is a way to improve the product and save the blushes of those who power the show.

For the greater good, the FIA, Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda need to agree to thaw the regulations, and go to town on technology.

The Marussia F1 Team celebrates its first points 2014 Monaco Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

The Marussia F1 Team celebrates its first points
2014 Monaco Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

Twelve months ago, the Marussia F1 team arrived in Monaco as one of just two of the four squads to have been given a license to start racing in Formula 1 back in 2010, still to be doing so. Until then, none had scored a world championship point. What unravelled that weekend, however, was more than a breakthrough to the top 10. The points Jules Bianchi brought home for his team at what was, being just down the coast from his birthplace of Nice, his home race did far more than simply put Marussia on the scoreboard. By putting the team ninth in the Constructors’ Championship, a position the team would hold to season’s end, it also ensured the squad’s future.

Marussia, now renamed Manor, will return to Monaco this weekend, one year on from a famous race which created such jubilation. The man who brought them the result, sadly, will not.

In Barcelona two weeks ago, Manor F1 Team CEO Graeme Lowdon sat down with me for a piece the US audience will be able to see on NBC this weekend, as we look back on that incredible Monaco Grand Prix 12 months ago and what the performance meant for the future of the team.

So important was that race and the circumstances around it, however, and so interesting that very story, that I felt the whole interview should be shared. With the kind permission of NBC, NBCSN, and the Manor F1 Team, this is the transcript…

Jules Bianchi Monaco Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Monaco Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

WB: If we go back 12 months it all started in Barcelona at testing, Max topping the first day. How much positivity did that bring to Monaco?

GL: It was a huge amount, actually. We tried a few things in that test and we had some things on the car and everything really started to come together. People sometimes look at tests like that and think we were on a glory run but we really weren’t focussed on anything at all other than putting set-ups on the car, trying things out, putting some tyres on and go… and we popped into P1. It was just a nice feeling for everybody at the team who had been working for years under difficult circumstances and it was just good to see some progress. I think it’s fair to say that after that test we couldn’t wait to get to Monaco because the only acid test is a Grand Prix weekend. Spirits were pretty high by the time we got to Monaco.

It ended up being a weekend we all remember for what Jules did on Sunday, but looking back over the weekend it was a pretty amazing progression for Jules. FP1 saw him P19 0.4 seconds off the Toro Rossos, FP2 P18 0.2 off Lotus, FP3 P17 right in between the Lotuses.

Thinking back, I seem to remember that in FP1 Jules had some really good feedback on what was happening with the car. It was at a time when we had really caught up with some of the teams, being only a few tenths off. Jules drove very well but there was that constant progression. FP2, I think, was wet and there was a drying track so car control really comes into it, and although you can look back on the timesheets and see progression I remember at the time we were very frustrated after the first free practices on Thursday because we hadn’t got all the running we wanted, which was a good sign because it showed the team was pushing and moving forward and we felt that there was some more to come. Looking back, the overriding emotion after those opening sessions was we just didn’t have enough data and we wanted more because as soon as we had more we could go quicker.

So after all of that work and progression, qualifying comes around and while the two Caterhams were on the last row, next were your two cars and all of that progression seemed not to have come good.

Yeah, I think the confidence was building and we felt that this was going to be a breakthrough qualifying and that we could get into Q2. Monaco is Monaco and qualifying is one of the most nerve-wracking things for anyone in a team, and it was that usual mix. Jules set a pretty good lap on his first set of tyres and I’m pretty sure there was a yellow flag on his second set, and we could see how much time he lost because he had to respect the yellow. It was substantial and without that I think we would have troubled the Saubers ahead. Whether it would have been enough to get into Q2 I don’t know, but again I remember the feeling of frustration that if it hadn’t been for the yellow we could have pushed a little bit further ahead. It was still a good result and it was still progress… but then we got the penalty for the gearbox.

Well, this is it. All of that hard work and at the end of it all Jules is going to line up P21 on the grid with a gearbox penalty. When you went to bed on Saturday night, could you have envisaged in any way what was going to happen in the next 24 hours?

I think as a race team you always have to be realistic, but you always have to take the optimistic view, you have to push and go for every opportunity. For me, there was this overriding feeling of slight frustration, particularly because in Monaco qualifying is so important and we had done all of this hard work, we’d had a successful test, we didn’t have all the data we wanted but we’d solved some problems, we’d improved the set-up, Jules had done a great job, we’d got closer… but it felt as though it had all been taken away with Jules starting last.

Ericsson had to start from the pitlane because he had some sort of infringement, so at least we had already got past one car before the start, but I remember thinking anything can happen on race day and I just hope that we are ready to take advantage of any opportunity: not just the drivers but everyone in the team. This is the greatest team game in the world and I remember thinking that I hoped we weren’t looking back at what could have been in qualifying because that was gone. That was the over-riding feeling for me.

Jules Bianchi Monaco - Saturday 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Monaco – Saturday 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

So you arrive at the track on Sunday, what was the vibe like in the team and how was Jules when he arrived?

For Jules, Monaco is kind of a home race and so the build up to the race had seen a big focus on him. Of course, he had a huge amount of support, and any team feeds off that when you have a home Grand Prix feeling. I love Monaco. It’s a historic circuit. All the greats have driven there. And if you ask the drivers, it’s the slowest Grand Prix of them all but it’s the one they all want to win. I love the fact that the crowd are so close. We take the train to get to work everyday and you’re going in with all the fans so you can talk to them.

I love that interaction, and so do all the guys. They’re working away in difficult conditions. Formula 1 is glamorous, but it is long hard hours for the boys and they love it when they can talk to fans. There’s that whole build up of getting off the train, walking down through the streets and the atmosphere builds the nearer you get to the circuit. Seeing it fill up with fans… Monaco has a constant build up of emotion on race day and if you can’t get the motivation to race there, then you’re in the wrong business.

And then you go onto the grid and in Monaco it feels like there are 10,000 people. It is packed. It is difficult enough to move TV cameras, let alone everything you need for the car. A Formula 1 grid is an incredibly tense, nervy, excited place. But in Monaco it is turned up even more. It’s that mixture of history and the challenge for everyone involved.

Then the formation lap happens, there’s no Pastor Maldonado, and Jules takes the wrong place on the grid. Were you aware of what had happened?

No. We have a lot of telemetry and feedback from the car itself but one of the most useful things we have is the GPS signal, but in Monaco the position of the cars meant we were in a blind spot. We weren’t aware there was a problem initially. And of course it wasn’t just Jules who was out of sequence, his team-mate Max Chilton and Gutierrez was too. So Jules was the last car, and as you can imagine these guys are sat down pretty low, so with hindsight you can see what happened as he was looking at his position relative to the other cars and from that perspective he was in the right place. But they were out of position and so he ended up out of position. There are numbers by the side of the track to avoid this, so it was a mistake and these things happen, but we weren’t initially aware.

Because you can look out over the track, one of our guys could see that Gutierrez was out of position and so we could hear some chatter and I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure how much more we could experience before this race actually got underway. What with qualifying and then penalties, this, that and the other… but it very quickly became clear that yes, indeed, all those cars had started out of position.

Jules Bianchi Monaco Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Monaco Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

So just about everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong, but then the race starts. At what point did you become aware of the kind of run that Jules was on?

It was a real rollercoaster, because the first lap in Monaco is very, very important. It’s incredibly difficult to overtake there. I’m pretty sure that Jules finished that first lap in 16th place having started 21st and last. As soon as you’re running 16th at Monaco you are properly in the race and so I remember the excitement level was immediately quite high. Then a few cars dropped out quite quickly, Vettel was one as I recall, and so all of a sudden we’d just got used to him being P16 and then he was P15 and then P14. Then Raikkonen had a problem and dropped behind him so we were P13.

So that initial period of the race showed real progress and yes, other drivers might have been dropping out but sometimes they’re dropping out because they’re hitting things. Running these cars in that environment is incredibly difficult, and in the back of your mind you’re always thinking that any moment we’re going to get a penalty for starting in the wrong place. And sure enough, just to temper our excitement, we saw penalties for Jules, Max and Gutierrez, and so you think OK this is going to be even more challenging.

Jules is a racer, a fabulous driver to work with, and he knew exactly what was going on and what was required in that race… instinctively.

He was given a five second penalty, and the rules were very clear as it was a brand new rule for last season, that you have to take that five second penalty at your next pitstop. Our pitstops were very clearly predetermined and cruelly for us, just as Jules was coming in, the Safety Car went out. And you can’t take a penalty under the Safety Car. All of a sudden we were in a grey area, and so we took the decision as a team to take the penalty under the Safety Car anyway as the downside was worse than not doing it.

So Jules took the penalty in the pits with the guys unable to work on the car for five seconds, then the guys changed the tyres and then Jules went back out. We were then informed that he had been given a further five second penalty for taking his original penalty under the Safety Car. We had to explain that to him because he was under the impression he’d already take his penalty so why did he have to do it again, but very quickly he understood what was required and from that point onwards we knew that, as we didn’t have to stop again, any car within five seconds of us would leapfrog a position.

Jules managed that whole situation very, very well. His next target was to actually try and go faster, overtake cars and he pulled off that fantastic move on Kobayashi which is one of the things we all remember. If that had been a move for the lead of the race, it would to this day have been one of the classic moments of Monaco. From our perspective it still is. It lifted Jules to 13th place, and as the race continued to unfold that was one of the pivotal moments.

Bianchi leads his rivals Monaco Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Bianchi leads his rivals
Monaco Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

At what point did it dawn on you that you were going to score points?

I mentioned before the rollercoaster of the race, but all of a sudden a few cars were out and we were in P10 with Grosjean catching up with a few laps left to go. I remember this awful feeling that we were so close but we could see from Grosjean’s laptimes that he was going to get into the five second window. So all of a sudden you have this massive sinking feeling.

For some reason I had to go down into the garage, and you have to remember that in Monaco it is very strange as we don’t have a pitwall where we sit to operate during the race. The garages are two stories high and all the equipment we usually have on the pitwall is upstairs, and for some reason I had to go downstairs to the garage. As I was climbing back up again, I heard this enormous cheer… Everywhere! And so I ran to my chair and I could see Kimi had come together with Magnussen at the hairpin and of course that elevated Jules to P8. All of a sudden, we knew Grosjean was catching us, but the worst case scenario was still a top 10 finish. It was still points.

I think that was only about six laps from the end, but they were the longest six laps that I have ever watched a racing car go round a track. It was so important for Jules, because he was going to get the recognition he deserved, and for the team who had worked so hard. It was a fantastic feeling.

And when the car crossed the line… that was just great. You allow yourself two or three seconds of emotion, but then your mind switches to questioning what could still go wrong. You have to make sure that every base is covered when it is something that is so important. But it felt great. And not just within the team. An awful lot of people from other teams, and team bosses and drivers, came down to congratulate our mechanics and our engineers and that was a really good feeling because you love to get the respect and support of fans, but respect from your peers in other teams, genuine heartfelt respect, was a brilliant feeling.

Bianchi takes the flag in P8 Monaco Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Bianchi takes the flag in P8
Monaco Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

Given where that result put the team at the end of the season, the finances that then flowed from that championship position, would it be an over-exaggeration to say that the result in Monaco is why we are sitting here now?

I think there are a lot of reasons, and that is one of the most important reasons. There are other reasons. We had to race hard. We had to maintain the position that we had got. But I think it really defined what this team is all about. Not just the result, but the nature of the result. It wasn’t a simple lights to flag race. It was hard, proper racing, taking opportunities when they arose and working really well as a team. And a race that was run not just from inside the cockpit where Jules had to make some critical decisions, but as a team because we were presented with so many key choices.

I mean, the whole gearbox issue, we changed out of precaution because we weren’t sure it would last the race. We agonised over it, and if we hadn’t have made that choice the chances are we might have had a DNF and no result at all. I think it is certainly a major reason of why we are still here, but the way in which the team went about that whole weekend characterized what life is like in Formula 1. When you get any kind of result as a team, you enjoy it because you know how hard this game is. And it makes it all the sweeter.

What will your emotions be on returning to Monaco?

Very mixed. I think its actually going to be quite difficult. Jules had his accident in Suzuka, but an awful lot of our memories of last season are based around Monaco. It’s a special place but it was made even more special by what he achieved there, and what the team achieved. We have faced some enormous problems since then, and it has been a huge setback for us as a team. We look at last year in Monaco and we talked about that constant progress, and that characterised where we were as a team. We’ve had to take such a step back. But hopefully we’ll turn the feelings into positive thoughts for the team.

I’m absolutely sure that for myself, and for all the team, we’ll have some very emotional moments in Monaco.




The Formula One Strategy Group was faced with a choice yesterday: confront the issues facing our sport, or stare meekly at their combined navel and plough forward on a road to ruin. It has been said by many, myself included, that the anti-democratic think tank is a scourge on this sport, its ranks filled overwhelmingly by the self-interested. Competing entities, it has been argued, will never vote for the greater good. There’s too much for them to lose. Turkeys, it has oft been said, don’t vote for Christmas.

They just have.

With an opportunity to debate meaningful steps and solutions to the cost of the sport and measures to attempt to ward off the financial failure of any more teams, it appears that the only meaningful agreement taken yesterday at Biggin Hill was to “improve the show” by actually raising costs via the reintroduction of refuelling.

Forget, for a moment, the bracketed minutiae that maximum fuel allowance will still be in place. For it follows that, unless that allowance increases, the ability for drivers to push beyond the levels at which they currently do will only marginally be increased as they will still have to conserve fuel to make it to the end of the race. Forget, for a moment, the boring races that were the norm under the past era of refuelling, where races were decided on strategy in the pits far more than they are today. Forget, for a moment, the safety implications that a return of refuelling creates.

And think instead about what the FIA and its President are supposed to be doing for the sport. Two bold headlines underwrite Jean Todt’s reign over Formula 1: Cost reduction and a move towards a more environmentally sound Formula via fuel management.

Indeed, when, in April 2009 and under the previous regime, refuelling was outlawed for 2010, the World Motor Sport Council gave its reasoning thus:

“It was confirmed that from 2010, refuelling during a race will be forbidden in order to save the costs of transporting refuelling equipment and increase the incentive for engine builders to improve fuel economy.”

By re-introducing refuelling, it therefore follows that neither of these objectives are any longer of importance to the sport or to the President.

Indeed, in his own 2013 re-election manifesto (if one forgets for a moment that in his original running for office Todt promised to only stand for one term), the President promised: “In the coming years our goal will be to continue to pursue this agenda of delivering stable, fair, safe and competitive championships, while at the same time enhancing the FIA’s position within those competitions in order to ensure best practice and standards.”

The return of refueling does none of these things.

Today’s release stated that tyre allocation for next season would be free for teams to choose their own compounds. But, from the objective of “improving the show” just as with the reintroduction of refuelling and the ability for teams to start with different weight cars, the introduction of yet another variable will not serve to close the field, merely to space it out even further. And Pirelli has already stated that such a freedom will not happen under its watch. Might we see a new tyre manufacturer having to enter the sport to make good on these plans?

From 2017, however, we are promised cars that will be faster. Much of this will come from weight, admittedly some from lower fuel loads but some from fatter tyres and some from aerodynamics which we have been promised will be “aggressive.” A typically vague assertion, if ever there was one. Are we to expect painted snarls on the front wings? Or, perhaps something akin to Ferrari’s mock-up. To be honest, I’m not terribly sure what constitutes an aggressive design, short of the Mad Max car Lotus rolled out in Spain.

What we are actually talking about here is an aerodynamics overhaul, a car with a smaller fuel-tank and thus a complete chassis redesign. This will, once again, only pull costs up, not reduce them as hoped.

Of course, teams will still be allowed to use wind-tunnels to design these new cars, something which had been on the table for being banned in order to… yep, save costs. So perhaps no surprise that this alteration didn’t get passed.

Power units will remain unchanged (thank heavens), however engines will rev higher and noise will be louder… but how many cars will even be on the grid?

The FIA finished their statement off with news that, “following a constructive exchange, a comprehensive proposal to ensure the sustainability of the sport has emerged.” It is expected that this will cover the issue of Customer Cars. And it will have to.

The potential cost hike for the teams could be catastrophic. Manor / Marussia is already on its uppers. Lotus, Force India and Sauber are doing OK for now, but financial bombs like this will send shockwaves throughout their boardrooms. How will this affect the new Haas F1 team, who never signed up for this Formula?

When the smaller teams are gone, the top teams will have to run third cars. When one manufacturer keeps finishing last, they will pull out, before the next one does, and the next, and the next, and all we are left with is a one-make series with one team. Either that or we will end up with a two-tier championship split between manufacturers and customers. Which nobody wants.

The clowns are running the circus. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. The Turkeys have buttered themselves up, coated themselves in bacon, cranked up the heat and thrown themselves into the oven. Pitch it however you want. There is no way in which these proposals, if implemented, end well. For the teams, for the sport or for the fans.

There was a chance to have a proper debate yesterday. A chance for real, meaningful change. But it went begging. Again.

Yes, these proposals must still be voted through by the F1 Commission, but the message the decision of the Strategy Group sends out could not be clearer. The future of Formula 1, as we know it, is in tremendous peril.

I don’t blame Bernie. He has a set vision for the way in which he believes the sport should be headed. I don’t blame the teams. For a start they shouldn’t even be making these decisions. Why? Because they’re all motivated by self-interest and so why should they, the majority of whom who could no doubt afford the changes, care about those who couldn’t? And besides, if Ecclestone and Todt really did reach an accord as expected, the teams couldn’t out-vote such an entene-cordiale anyway.

When Jean Todt was originally elected to the Presidency of the FIA he did so on the promise that he would appoint an F1 Commissioner, who would take responsibility for the sport so that the President could cast his net wider and be more effective in his role. Todt’s net has been flung wide. Wider than many realise. But he never did appoint that commissioner. He never did hand that responsibility over to anyone else. He abandoned the idea in 2011.

The culpability, then, lies with the President of the FIA. He has lost all control, all authority and all respect. It would be wonderful to ask him his views on the mess, but he rarely holds court… instead choosing to hide in his motorhome at the few races he attends, refusing to stand accountable for his inaction.

His was the power. His, the responsibility. His, thus, the blame.

Until our sport finds itself a leader who can lead, we should all fear for its future.

Gunther Steiner and Gene Haas Italian Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Gunther Steiner and Gene Haas
Italian Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

Gene Haas, it seems, is doing pretty much everything right. A methodical approach to entering the Piranha pool that is Formula 1 has seen him strike up key alliances and build the solid foundations upon which, finally and unlike the last four teams granted a license, we may see a new team enter the sport with a fighting chance of scoring points.

But all of this hard work and disciplined enterprise comes to naught without the soft fleshy bit of the equation between the pedals and the engine being as quick and reliable as the mechanical parts. So who will Gene Haas choose to drive his cars, and why won’t it be Danica Patrick?

Well, let’s start with Patrick. Haas has insinuated, again, that Patrick isn’t off the table for consideration but if we are being entirely realistic we have got to view this as simple marketing speak. Linking Patrick, who races for Gene Haas’ NASCAR team, with an F1 seat creates headlines and publicity. But that’s all it is. Patrick herself has ruled out making the switch, and at 33 years old she is well past the age at which an F1 debut would be competitively conceivable.

Many will argue that Danica Patrick proved she could hold her own against the boys when she raced single-seaters, her 115 races in IRL / Indycar netting her one pole position and seven podiums. But it is her sole victory at Motegi in 2008, which is raised aloft as the burning beacon of irrefutable evidence that she has, or at least had, what it takes to race alongside the Hamiltons, Alonsos and Vettels of this world. The reality, however, is that she does not.

Danica Patrick can be quick on her day, but her day doesn’t come around nearly often enough. Those inconsistent flashes of speed have at least provided some sporting foundation upon which to base her lucrative marketing deals… but an F1 driver she is not. She wouldn’t have stacked up a decade ago when, with age and momentum on her side, Honda was interested in testing her. A decade older and four years of being beaten up on a NASCAR track have not made her any more suitable for consideration among the world’s supposed best.

Haas himself, when asked by Reuters about the possibility, made it clear it was simply a case of not ruling anything out, and furthermore stated that any such move for Patrick away from his NASCAR team might only be considered “if the right sponsor came along.” The reason this is even a thought is because she has just been dropped by her long-time backer Go Daddy. Any positive Danica headlines are good headlines at the moment, as she aims to find herself a backer that will ensure she can continue racing something, somewhere.

Will Haas F1 give her a test in one of its cars? It’s not out of the realms of possibility and, again, would be a tremendous headline grabber. But Haas needs all the testing it can get, and wasting what little track time it will have to prepare for its debut Formula 1 campaign on a PR gimmick simply doesn’t fit in with the team’s thus far professional and careful approach. So I think we can rule out Danica Patrick. But who could we rule in? Back in September last year I spoke to Gene Haas on this very topic, and he had a few interesting suggestions on drivers.

“Everybody I talk to is interested,” he said. “I was talking to Kurt Busch last week. He was interested. He said if he wins the NASCAR championship, if could he have a ride in one. I said “For sure!” if he wins the championship.” “I said he can get in the car! I tell you, an American driver in a Formula 1 car in Europe, that would just knock it out of the ball park. I’ll give it to you: Kurt Busch could drive one of these cars.”

Of course Busch didn’t win the title and has had to move past his own personal demons over the past few months, and at 36 he’s even older than Patrick. While his run to sixth at the Indy 500 last year on that crazy day where he competed in the 500 and also the Coca Cola 600 where he suffered a blown engine, was impressive, a move to single seaters may be a little out of the question.

But, as Haas has stated time and again, the big story will of course come if the team signs an American driver.

But who could realistically step across? Tony Stewart runs a NASCAR team with Gene Haas. He conducted a seat swap with Lewis Hamilton in the Brit’s McLaren days via their mutual sponsorship at the time from ExxonMobil, and hugely enjoyed the experience. But hearing the jokes about how the McLaren boys had to fit him into the car with a crowbar and a tub of grease tells you all you need to know. He’s a mega talent. A huge star. But there’s just a bit too much of Tony Stewart for modern F1.

Oof. Jeff Gordon makes Brad Keselowski look like Sebastian Vettel

Oof. Jeff Gordon makes Brad Keselowski look like Sebastian Vettel

Here’s one from leftfield while we’re looking at NASCAR… Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champ and 2010 Nationwide champ. He’s fast, but possibly a bit too old. Plus he looks far too much like Sebastian Vettel when he’s being punched in the face.

Two NASCAR drivers who I think could cut the mustard, however, are Joey Logano and Kyle Larson. They’re both superbly quick and of a good age to make the jump, but the chances of either of these guys wanting to move are slim.

Looking away from NASCAR and to the more realistic potential avenue that is Indycar, two names immediately crop up.

Josef Newgarden c/o

Josef Newgarden

Currently seventh in the standings, 24 year old Josef Newgarden won his first Indycar race earlier this season with a tenacious drive at Barber Motorsports Park in the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, and is seen by many in Indycar as America’s great open-wheel hope. Young, fast and hugely likeable, Josef competed against the likes of Esteban Gutierrez back in the very first season of GP3 in 2010, taking a pole position (admittedly reverse grid) in a year where the Carlin team he drove for were nowhere near the powerhouse in the championship that they have become over recent years. He returned to America in 2011 and was duly crowned Indy Lights champion later that year, gaining promotion to Indycar in 2012.

I’ve got to say I like Josef and his prospects very much, and think he would be a great fit for both Haas and Formula 1.

Graham Rahal c/o

Graham Rahal

Then you’ve got 26 year old Graham Rahal who is seemingly in the form of his life right now, sitting fifth in the championship off the back of two podiums in the past two races. Rahal has sometimes struggled against the weight of expectation and is without an Indycar victory since his rookie season in 2008. But he is fast and he does hold that all important surname that so connects with open-wheel fans Stateside. And, let’s not forget, Bobby Rahal ran the Jaguar F1 team and Gunther Steiner worked there. Admittedly at different times. It’s at the very least a connection.

Given age and momentum, they’re the only Americans I could see wanting to make the move.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is an Indycar champion and an all-American posterboy. But would he want to risk his reputation on a switch? Would he want to uproot his young family? I can’t see it.

Conor Daly has all but given up on his F1 dream after budget shortfalls saw him race only part-time in GP2 last season after a great run to the top three in GP3 the year before. He has tested for Force India and is no slouch. Great fun and the kind of driver who just lights up when you put a camera on him, I feel his focus now however is on a career in America. Which is a shame.

I don’t see Marco Andretti moving across. His Grandfather Mario is still regarded by most as one of the greatest racing drivers who ever lived. Ironically, while seen as a flop in F1 terms, his son Michael is widely regarded as one of the greatest Indycar drivers of all time, certainly of his generation. But Michael was burnt by his F1 experience at McLaren in 1993 and Marco’s best opportunity to switch came a decade ago. I remember there was excited talk about him potentially testing GP2 back in 2005 / 2006 and possibly even running an F1 test for Honda, but that was quickly shot down by his father. Marco’s got it good in Indycar. He has no reason to move.

The Mayor of Hinchtown c/o

The Mayor of Hinchtown

James Hinchcliffe, while not American, would however be a great selection. His Canadian passport does at least give him points as a North American, and his racecraft, sublime talent and sparkling personality make him, to my mind, one of this generation’s greatest lost potential F1 talents. I’d love to see James make the move.

Other than that? Simona de Silvestro impressed Sauber when she tested for them at Fiorano, with mutterings from the boys at the time that they’d have replaced Sutil with her there and then. As one of six drivers promised the Sauber race seat for 2015, however, it was not to be. Although Swiss, she has a huge following Stateside and being female has kept her very much in the recent focus of conversation in the F1 paddock.

The issue, of course, comes down to the need for the chosen driver to have a Superlicense and the problems brought about by the recent shifting of the regulation and points system required to be granted one. Under the new system, and from our list, only Ryan Hunter-Reay would qualify but he would need to amass 30 FIA points this season to still qualify next year. There is no reasonable expectation for the FIA to make any concessions for this new team, so Haas and Steiner’s selection may be diminished before it has even been drawn up, thanks to this irksome and gratuitous regulatory amendment. One hopes the ludicrous system is abandoned post haste.

Alexander Rossi Belgian Grand Prix 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Alexander Rossi
Belgian Grand Prix 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

But there is an American who does currently hold a Superlicense: the only one to do so. He sits third in the GP2 Series standings with two podiums from the opening two weekends of the season. He is fast, dependable and with a dry-Californian wit that makes him instantly likeable and media-friendly. Alexander Rossi could be the best hope America has of one of their own landing a plum ride with Haas in 2016. He has tested for BMW Sauber, Caterham and Marussia, and came very close to making his F1 debut both in Belgium and Russia last season.

Bar none, Alexander Rossi is the best American hope and I believe he would do a great job for Haas F1. \

But that’s just one seat. What of the other? Gene Haas has spoken of his desire to have an experienced driver in one of the seats, and so that limits us to those racing today, or from the past few seasons.

Might Adrian Sutil be under consideration? Twiddling his thumbs at the back of the Williams hospitality unit is not Adrian’s idea of fun, but a move for Sutil would, for me, show no sign of ambition from Haas. It’s the equivalent of Caterham signing Jarno Trulli. His day is done and his star has waned.

Ricciardo and Bottas are both out of contract for 2016 c/o James Moy Photography

Ricciardo and Bottas are both out of contract for 2016
c/o James Moy Photography

If Haas wanted to make an immediate impact, it could go after a big name. And two of them are out of contract at the end of this year. Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo are both without a contract for 2016. Admittedly, stepping to Haas would require an unbelievably bold leap of faith, but might they be willing to do so for a longer-term objective? Would Bottas leave Williams and nigh on guaranteed points, potential podiums and possible wins, for a start-up? Would Ricciardo leave a four-time world championship winning team, admittedly one with a horrible engine and zero chance of winning a bake sale, let alone an F1 race in 2015, for a newcomer?

The answer, you’d have to assume for both drivers, would be no.

But what if the long term objective wasn’t Haas? What if the end game for a Bottas or a Ricciardo, was the biggest name in motorsport?

One of the key alignments that Gene Haas has made has been with Scuderia Ferrari. For the most part, whichever parts can be shared under the regulations, Haas will bring in from Maranello. This is a serious deal, and while not quite making Haas a Ferrari “B Team”, it is expected that it won’t be far off.

Bottas and Ricciardo are on the market, but if Ferrari sticks with Kimi Raikkonen for another season into 2016, it risks losing both of these massive talents. So could it sign one of them, and put them in a holding pattern at Haas? Might it sign both, and utilise its relationship with both Sauber and Haas to orchestrate an even larger holding pattern across the paddock? We know that Jules Bianchi had signed to race for Sauber in 2015, ironically and tragically on that very Japanese Grand Prix weekend that led to his horrific accident.
Ferrari’s use of affiliated teams to house its stable of drivers is nothing new.

Valtteri Bottas’ manager, Didier Cotton, told me in Spain that the Finn has signed no pre-contract with Ferrari, and that until the Scuderia decides what it is doing with Kimi Raikkonen, any talk about pre-contracts or anything else are premature. Ferrari doesn’t (yet) have a seat available. But, as is the way in Formula 1, everyone is always talking to everyone. Possibilities of seats opening up at any moment mean that managers have to be all eyes, all ears, and all knowing. If Bottas and Ricciardo truly are on the market, their signatures will be two of the most coveted in the sport.

Gutierrez in talks with Haas Spanish Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Gutierrez in talks with Haas
Spanish Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

What, we might also ask, of Ferrari’s two reserve / test drivers and young, recent F1 competitors Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez? While Vergne currently races in Formula E for Andretti Autosport and has expressed his desire to move Stateside and get a seat in Indycar, Gutierrez has a purely F1 focus. Ever since he signed for Ferrari, he has been very clear but also very cryptic in his reasons, stating time and again that he has a very clear objective and the team has given him assurances that they will be delivered upon. Gutierrez is a racer. In his junior career, I’d go as far as to say he was one of the most impressive I ever saw. I dubbed him “The Chosen One,” so breathtaking were his skills.

I wonder, and I have done ever since he signed the Ferrari deal, whether he will be farmed out to Haas in 2016, to help the team as an experienced F1 driver with Ferrari’s backing and blessing. It certainly stacks up far more convincingly than putting Valtteri Bottas at the team to keep him warm for a seat at the Scuderia.

Rossi and Gutierrez were team-mates at ART's GP3 team in 2010 c/o GP3 Series

Rossi and Gutierrez were team-mates at ART’s GP3 team in 2010
c/o GP3 Series

Could that, then, be the Haas F1 line-up? Esteban Gutierrez and Alexander Rossi. Both from the North American continent. Both fast. Both dependable.

And they both despise each other.

And not just a regular, faint dislike of the other. This is genuine, pure, unbridled hatred, stemming from a miserable year as GP3 team-mates in 2010.

Does Haas need that kind of aggravation? Or is it just the kind of thing that spurs two young charges on to produce the form of their lives?

The great thing about this is that, right now, nobody knows who is on Haas and Steiner’s list. As we reach the part of the season where contracts start to be negotiated, and the 2016 line-ups start to be debated, who races for F1’s newest outfit could be one of the most intriguing stories of all.

EDIT: I’m not going to pretend I originally included this, but I absolutely meant to… So as a post script…

Nico Hulkenberg. Might Haas wish to have a driver as highly regarded and experienced as the German? Might the motivation of a new team give Nico back an element of the spark that the Force India frustrations this year have taken away? Might taking on Hulkenberg, with his tall frame, also be perfect for the team owing to his similar height to Alexander Rossi?

Again… just a thought…

Race Start 2015 Spanish Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Race Start
2015 Spanish Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

Thursday’s Strategy Group Meeting could prove pivotal to the direction the sport takes when expected technical regulation changes come into effect in 2017. Discussion, provoked by an overtly negative media majority which has failed to understand and thus embrace the sport’s current regulations, is rampant over how Formula 1 cars need to be changed to ensure better, closer racing.

The disappointing reaction, a large proportion of the culpability for which can be laid at the door of the FIA for failing to publicise and properly explain the new regulations, coupled with the dominance of the Mercedes AMG team has been blamed for tumbling television figures in all but a few countries (the sport’s critically important market of North America being one of the few good news stories) and an ensuing panic amongst the decision makers that things need to change in order to stem the flow of fans away from the sport. The teams, via the Strategy Group, will once again be charged with the responsibility of discussing and agreeing the changes to be voted through by the F1 Commission and, in the run up to Thursday’s meeting at FOM’s Biggin Hill HQ, a worrying development has arisen.

It seems unlikely that there will be any real change to the power units used in the sport, the 1.6 litre V6 hybrid powerplants being widely agreed to be the direction in which the sport should be moving. What does seem likely is that the unpopular fuel flow limitations will be removed, allowing more power, more torque and, it is hoped, an end to the hated and much maligned need for drivers to coast during a race. On that topic, over the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix, the FIA sent a directive to all teams insisting on constant pressure over a flow rate of 90 kg/h, in order to ward teams away from using fluctuating pressure to create a sort of boost. Removing the current limitations on fuel flow and pressure from 2017 may thus allow development in this very area.

Renault was behind the original push for the current engine regs. c/o James Moy Photography

Renault was behind the original push for the current engine regs.
c/o James Moy Photography

The dangerous development, however, is that with the expected dropping of fuel flow limitations has come the suggestion that refuelling be brought back to the sport. It is considered that such a move would prove popular with fans from a strategic perspective, and may be necessary if the fuel tank size and amount of fuel permitted for use in the race remains restricted.

If it is voted through, then the lunatics truly will have taken over the asylum. For there is nothing more singularly guaranteed to kill the spectacle of modern Formula 1 than a return to refuelling.

The reasons are simple. The only way one will get the close racing the fanbase, which lest we forget has not actually been effectively asked for what it wants, so apparently desires is by making the cars as equal as possible. The best way to do this is to reduce the differences between them. I’m not advocating a 100% spec championship. We might as well just pack up and create GP1 if we wanted that. But if you reduce the number of variables, it follows that you create the circumstances in which equality can move closer to reality.

One of the greatest variables in racing is weight. By ensuring that everyone starts with the same weight of fuel, you take out this key variable. You remove one of the biggest potential differences between cars. And, in this era of hybrid engines and supposedly eco friendly racing, any car which is able to use its mandated weight of fuel more effectively than its rivals, is surely a more marketable product.

The return of refuelling would kill modern Formula 1 and any level of the excitement we currently have.

Of course the problem, if you can call it such, that we have right now is that one engine manufacturer and one team have done an outstanding job, and all the others are trying to catch up. So what should we do about it? Do we tear up the rulebook and start again? Some argue that we should. But if we do, what is there to stop the same outfit that has made the best use of its time, resources and employees’ brilliant minds to create a nigh on unbeatable package from doing exactly the same thing again? Throwing everything in the bin and starting again does not mean you will definitely get a different outcome. And it will cost everyone a fortune. Fortunes that only a few have.

Instead, there are small modifications that can be made which would, I believe, result in the type of change that the majority wish to see.

Mystery 18 inch Tyres for 2017? c/o James Moy Photography

Mystery 18 inch Tyres for 2017?
c/o James Moy Photography

We have already touched on removing fuel flow restrictions, and I think that this has to be priority number one.

After that, we need Pirelli to change the way in which it delivers its product. The 18 inch wheel debate still rages, and Pirelli will be testing their latest iteration on Thursday and Friday this week in Barcelona on the GP2 development car, to be driven by Luca Filippi. Pirelli itself is keen on 18 inch wheels, but it is also keen on throwing a curveball element into the mix. Pirelli is understood to have discussed the possibility of bringing a mystery selection of tyres to each race. Nobody would be notified of which compounds were being brought, with the two on offer simply being dubbed “Hard” and “Soft” (Pirelli HATES the use of the words “Prime” and “Option.”) The “Hard” might be Hard, Medium or Soft. The “Soft” could be any compound softer than the “Hard.” Nobody would know. Practice would be crucial for the teams to figure out what tyres they’ve got for the weekend.

Pirelli is also keen on bringing Qualifying tyres to the party, and I can’t think of anyone who would be unhappy with that. Two sets per driver, per qualifying session, so six in total if you made Q3… no complaints here.

Standard Diffuser and bring back Ground Effect c/o James Moy Photography

Standard Diffuser and bring back Ground Effect
c/o James Moy Photography

Finally you’ve got to look at aero. Hearing Lewis Hamilton complain he couldn’t get close enough to Sebastian Vettel in Barcelona, despite the half second and more pace advantage the lead Mercedes of Nico Rosberg held per lap, simply isn’t right. We need to reduce dirty air and we need cars to be able to follow each other.

With that in mind, I would advocate a standard diffuser, and either a standard or heavily regulated floor, utilising skirts and Venturi tunnels to create Ground Effect. Also at the rear, a heavily regulated, simpler rear wing and a removal of the Drag Reduction System.

At the front end, a simplification of the front wing and the number of planes permitted. When one looks at Red Bull’s latest front wing and that its crash testing procedure to get it race ready cost, according to some estimates, over $3 million, this is an area which simply has to be brought under control.

Worth the investment? c/o James Moy Photography

Worth the investment?
c/o James Moy Photography

The Formula, as it exists, is actually very good. All that is required to make it exceptional are a few tweaks to ensure that the cars are powerful and tough to drive, but also that they can follow each other and most importantly that they can race each other.

While some will bray that the use of standard parts is not Formula 1, the requirement to adapt to survive is overwhelming. We are not talking a spec series, and we never will be. But F1 designers will always want to create a car that cuts through the air as effectively as possible, while making it impossible for another car to get close to it. If we want to see close racing, it follows that teams must have this ability removed and so the standardisation of key elements that create dirty air must, to my mind, be seriously considered.

Let’s see how good F1’s designers truly are, when they’ve got one hand tied behind their backs.

I’m not on the Strategy Group… but if I was, come Thursday, that’s what I’d be arguing.

Sebastian Vettel Chinese Grand Prix 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Sebastian Vettel
Chinese Grand Prix 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

I wish I’d taken a look at Ferrari’s odds of winning the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship in late December last year. If only because it would have given me a better intro to this piece than to say I wished I had.

You see, there’s no way on earth I’d have wasted a penny on the bet back then. I don’t know of many inside the paddock who would have done either. Perhaps not even Sebastian Vettel. And yet here we sit, albeit after only three races, and regardless of the as-yet humble proclamations from Maranello that they’re a long way off fighting for the title… Ferrari might just have a genuine shot.

Continuity is key in sport. Especially in Formula 1. Upheaval can create power vacuums just as easily as power surges. Fragile egos get dented. Uncertainty prevails and confidence suffers. The key to success, so we are told, is consistency.

And so last December our focus rested on the Scuderia. Team boss Marco Mattiacci was gone, replaced by the Marlboro Man, Maurizio Arrivabene. Engineering chief Pat Fry had left the team along with engine boss Nicholas Tombazias, ex-Bridgestone supremo Hirohide Hamashima and chief strategist Neil Martin. Luca di Montezemolo, the highest profile link to the days of Enzo Ferrari, was no more. An earthquake was ripping through Maranello. And nobody saw how it could work out for the best.

Maurizio Arrivabene c/o James Moy Photography

Maurizio Arrivabene
c/o James Moy Photography

Yet it is working. And it is working fast.

Of course, the foundations for the revival were made well before the upheaval, but those putting it into effect today are a new breed at Ferrari. Such is the adoration placed upon the team by its religiously fanatical Tifosi, that its employees can become demi-Gods. But those Arrivabene has put into the critical roles of importance at his team are not big names. And under his watch, no egos are to be permitted to self-inflate. Not even his own.

When Sebastian Vettel took victory in Malaysia, it would have been only too easy for the charming silver-haired team boss to climb onto the podium. Instead, having been in place only four months, he looked along the line of colleagues and saw a man who had been with the Scuderia for 10 years. He sent Operations Director Diego Loverno in his place. In Arrivabene’s own words, “Diego represents all those not only with a beautiful mind but also with dirty hands here and in Maranello. He was up there because they represent the passion and the focus of the Ferrari team.”

It’s one of the reasons why Fernando Alonso has been so swiftly replaced in the hearts of all those in Maranello. While nobody at the team would ever doubt the Spaniard’s raw ability and pace, he was a divisive personality and one quick to pour scorn without suggestion of solution. Vettel is quite the opposite, so team members tell me, and his work ethic, while at polar opposites to Raikkonen, has immediately ingratiated him into the team. While Fernando the man is much missed by the many friends he made at Ferrari, Fernando the ego-driven racing driver is not.

Toni Cuquerella and James Allison c/o James Moy Photography

Toni Cuquerella and James Allison
c/o James Moy Photography

The quiet and unassuming James Allison has taken control of the ship from a technical perspective and has put in place a team of experienced, highly regarded but little-known names to the outside world. The re-appearance of Toni Cuquerella is one such example of Allison’s employment considerations. Cuquerella engineered the giant killing exploits of Super Aguri before moving to BMW Sauber where he formed a close relationship with Robert Kubica who spoke highly of the Spaniard to Allison during his time at Enstone. Allison, it seems, heeded the Pole’s words.

We are not talking about big name signings, just simple, effective appointments.

But a solid team is only half the battle. The fight then has to be mounted on track.

Following winter testing, Ferrari was convinced that it was the only team that could pose a realistic threat to Mercedes. But even Ferrari had not expected to snatch a victory from them so early in the season. The reason Ferrari already has a winners’ trophy in 2015, however, is that it is racing smart. The team has realised that if it applies pressure to the dominant force of 2014, then it can squeeze a mistake. Essentially, it’s involved in a high stakes game of chicken.

The team’s only disappointment in Australia was that it was as far behind Mercedes as it was at the flag. Note afterwards, the calm response from Arrivabene that the team knew what it needed to do and that it was ready to fight.

In Malaysia two weeks later, Ferrari may have made its tyres work better than Mercedes, but it also capitalised on the problematic running experienced by the champions to maximise its advantage and force the Silver Arrows into a catastrophic strategic failure. A pitwall renowned over the past years for its own strategic failings, Ferrari had found calm and forced Mercedes into a mistake.

The game is afoot c/o James Moy Photography

The game is afoot
c/o James Moy Photography

It was something the team attempted to do just this last weekend in China, too. With Mercedes holding a track position advantage, all Mercedes theoretically had to do to win the Grand Prix was to keep Ferrari behind, look after their tyres and react to Ferrari’s strategy, putting on exactly the same tyres as Vettel when he came in.

But Ferrari had figured out this was precisely Mercedes’ strategy, so they pitted Vettel earlier than they needed to. On his second set of softs, Vettel pushed hard and in so doing forced the issue with Rosberg. Rosberg, frustrated at being caught, tried to get Hamilton to speed up. Rosberg’s tyres were falling off and Ferrari knew it, so again they pitted early in the knowledge that their mediums would last longer than Mercedes and in the hope that Rosberg would have to stay out for a few more laps to make a stop for mediums viable.

Ultimately it didn’t work out quite as planned, as Rosberg and Mercedes reacted immediately, thus avoiding being leap-frogged by Vettel. As it panned out, the Ferrari’s pace on medium was not as competitive as expected and Mercedes’ durability far better than anticipated. But it wasn’t far off working.

Ferrari therefore knows it has to play smart in 2015 if it is going to have a chance at taking race wins and possibly even fighting for the title. And that extends to its drivers.

Vettel - a master at playing games c/o James Moy Photography

Vettel – a master at playing games
c/o James Moy Photography

I do wonder what happened between the end of the race and when the drivers spoke to the press. Was Rosberg always stewing? Or do we think one German had a word with another and asked why he had allowed his team-mate to hold him up when he was being caught? Sebastian Vettel is as shrewd and sneaky as they come. After Multi 21 I termed him the Smiling Assassin, and I’d be delighted if that version of Vettel is back. I can imagine Vettel seeing an opportunity to wind Rosberg up, and needling him at his most vulnerable.

Because a divided Mercedes is far easier to beat than one united. After just three races of 2015, the mental fragility which cost Nico Rosberg the championship lead and ultimately the 2014 world title, is in full evidence. Mercedes has already openly stated it will consider splitting strategies and that one of their drivers might have to bite the bullet and accept de facto number two status. And that won’t be Lewis Hamilton.

The world champion was effectively driving around in China with the top down, his arm up on the window, belting out power ballads. In practice he was missing his braking points, miles off apexes and was still comfortably fastest. When he needed to in the race, he turned on the kind of pace which would have put him half way to Bahrain by the chequered flag.

Right now, Lewis Hamilton isn’t Ferrari’s focus. Like any predator, Ferrari is focusing on the weakest member of the pack. They’re playing smart. Very smart.

It’s game on.

I wouldn’t have put money on me saying that last December.

Rosberg is in Ferrari's sights c/o James Moy Photography

Rosberg is in Ferrari’s sights
c/o James Moy Photography


Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is an organic acid widely distributed in animal tissues. It is a major constituent of bile and can be found in the large intestine.

It is also one of the main ingredients of Red Bull.

It might come as little shock to motorsport fans that the energy drink and bile should have such a chief component in common, so forthcoming has the bitterness spewed from the once all-conquering Formula 1 team been in the aftermath of the Australian Grand Prix. Down on power and down on luck, the target men of the opening half of the decade were lapped in the opening race of the 2015 season and could barely put up a fight to a team which had failed to score a single point the season before.

But the concept that anyone is to blame for the situation Red Bull finds itself in other than them is laughable.

Red Bull Racing opted to align itself with Renault some years ago. Once the engine manufacturer gave up its role as a Formula 1 constructor to focus on its primary function, Red Bull essentially became its factory team. It was a symbiotic relationship and yet not one without flaws. Red Bull took, as its title sponsor, Infiniti. Although owned by Nissan and thus part of the same family as Renault, it deflected attention away from the French company, which was vocal in its disappointment that more was not made of its input into Red Bull’s four consecutive World Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships.

Red Bull Racing pit gantry 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Red Bull Racing pit gantry 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

The discontent was only heightened last year when after four years of total domination, Red Bull willfully threw their engine partner under the bus once its hybrid power unit was seen not to be as reliable or competitive as had been expected or promised.

Had those at Red Bull held memories that went back further than their years of domination, they might well have remembered that the penultimate engine regulation change had left Renault floundering. And the one before that. If we recall, when the V8 engines were frozen back in 2007, it was Mercedes which proved to have the best unit while the other suppliers pleaded and were finally permitted to catch up. While Renault had been all conquering on the change from V10 to V8 for 2005 and 2006, it was under an engine freeze that the company struggled. As it does today.

Comments made by Cyril Abiteboul to the French press after Australia should leave Red Bull feeling chastened, as the Managing Director of Renault Sport F1 admitted that the power units used by Red Bull in Melbourne included components which had been rushed through against the advice and regular testing processes employed at Viry Chatillon. Abiteboul, far from admitting Mea Cupla, stood firmly in his employer’s corner and came out swinging. It was Red Bull which had ordered the rush. It was Red Bull which had insisted on running brand new parts. It was Red Bull which was the architect of its own downfall.

Abiteboul watches on Australian GP grid 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Abiteboul watches on
Australian GP grid 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

But the headlines remain, and the negativity sticks. Despite Christian Horner’s own pleas that the sport cease from airing its dirty laundry in public, it was he and Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko who made the loudest noises in the aftermath of the race that the formula was broken and that, if things didn’t change, Red Bull would consider quitting.

It’s a stunt Luca di Montezemolo used to employ at Ferrari. When things aren’t going your way, threaten to pull the most storied brand in the sport out of competition, and you’ll get your way. Only di Montezemolo stopped getting his way. And then he stopped getting the support of his bosses. And then he got replaced.

How different, how refreshing, to have Ferrari’s new guard come out after Melbourne and state categorically that Mercedes should not be pegged back. It is a challenge for Ferrari to rise up and face head on, they said. The bosses at Maranello finally understand that only by acting in such a virtuous fashion will they add value to their brand.

When have you heard McLaren threaten to quit? Even in Melbourne, running five seconds a lap off the pace, Ron Dennis was nothing but effervescent about the future possibilities of his team’s partnership with Honda. When have you heard Williams threaten to walk away? These two great, once dominant, multiple world championship winning teams are the epitome of racing resilience. Neither has taken a constructors’ crown in over a decade and a half. Yet where is the quit threat?

Red Bull might do well to remember the words of Ron Dennis: “Neither success nor failure is ever final.”

The garagistes of old are the grandees of today, now facing a new challenge fronted by marketeers determined to bend the sport around their every commercial whim. Like a plague… swarming, devouring all before it until there is nothing left upon which to feast and moving on. The life blood of a drinks company is not racing. Why then, should their every demand be met with deference and subservience by a governing body and commercial arm terrified of losing a brand which, in the grander scheme of things, is a Johnny Come Lately?

Red Bull is not Ferrari. Its threats to quit the sport should hold not nearly the same resonance or fear.

Alonso stunned with victory Spanish Grand Prix 2013 c/o James Moy Photography

Alonso stunned with victory
Spanish Grand Prix 2013
c/o James Moy Photography

The last time Red Bull got their sums wrong, really wrong, was Barcelona 2013. I remember the race so clearly. By the fifth lap, my producer Jason Swales and I had given each other a knowing smile and phoned through what we saw as their strategy to the NBC commentary team. In an era of Pirelli tyres which the world thought one had to preserve, Fernando Alonso was banging in quali laps on full fuel. He and Ferrari were flipping the script and would run the tyres off their rims. They were going to four stop.

By the time Red Bull, and most of the world, had figured out their ploy it was too late. Embarrassed by their own failings, Red Bull made the same grand statements they have been forced into making post Melbourne. That this isn’t racing. That this isn’t Formula 1. It’s too confusing. Too complicated. The variables are too diverse. And we are questioning whether we want to be a part of it.

Only Ferrari, Lotus and Force India had properly designed their cars around the tyres in 2013. The likes of Red Bull and Mercedes were chewing through them. For Mercedes, overworking the rears was a perennial issue. For Red Bull, Ferrari’s masterstroke in Barcelona had left them flat footed. Calls were made for changes to the tyres. They were calls which went, initially, unheeded.

And so extreme measures were employed: adverse and extreme camber, under inflation, and the switching of tyres to opposite sides of the car. Every team reacted, even Ferrari. It all combined to create the blowouts of the British Grand Prix. The teams could now claim Pirelli’s tyres were dangerous and needed redesigning. Pirelli came out strongly in its own defense, arguing that the tyres were being used by the teams against Pirelli’s own recommendations and in a manner which could, under certain circumstances, become dangerous.

But the teams, headed by Red Bull, got their way. More durable tyres were constructed. Ferrari, Lotus and Force India lost their advantage.

Mercedes had always suffered with rear deg British Grand Prix 2013 c/o James Moy Photography

Mercedes had always suffered with rear deg
British Grand Prix 2013
c/o James Moy Photography

It now must seem bitterly ironic that in that one move, Red Bull had led a charge which removed the one variable which Mercedes had been unable to resolve themselves, setting the foundations upon which, aligned to a magnificent power unit and beautifully designed car, the team would launch its dominant 2014 campaign.

A case of being careful for what one wishes for, perhaps.

Pirelli has been cast as the villain ever since for then becoming too conservative in its tyre allocations. With more durable rubber produced for 2015, already those same proclamations are being made for the current season. But we would do well to remember that all of this has its roots in 2013 and the very public, very damaging negative comments about the state of the sport and the publicly raised questions over the continued involvement of Red Bull.

How then, does Formula 1 react to its latest quit threat? Does it panic and set itself on a course towards further ruin? Or does it call Red Bull’s bluff? For never have the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few… or the one… more than they do in F1 today. No one team is bigger than the sport, and pandering to the whim of a single outfit has never resulted in a positive outcome for the furtherance of competition.

So Red Bull wants to quit. Let it. It is locked into the sport until 2020. The only way it is getting out is by selling up.

Renault is in talks to buy Toro Rosso. Strengthening paddock talk links Audi with an all-out take-over at Milton Keynes.

Perhaps it is time to leave racing to racers. And the bile for the fizzy drinks.

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.


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:

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

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

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.


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