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Rosberg leads Hamilton Brazilian Grand Prix 2014 James Moy Photography

Rosberg leads Hamilton
Brazilian Grand Prix 2014
James Moy Photography

There is an element of destiny about the 2014 Formula 1 world championship and that it should have come to be decided at the final round of the season, this weekend in Abu Dhabi. Ever since that first pre-season test and we were first given concrete evidence to support the rumours of the brilliance of the W05 hybrid’s package, through the ups and downs of reliability and team politics, somehow its always seemed likely to come to this.

Forget double points. When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Had the gap been 26 points or more, then yes one might have reason to argue that it was all desperately unfair. But if you think about it, double points hasn’t really done a thing… yet. The championship would always have gone to the final race. The grand plan to keep the interest of the viewing public piqued until the last race has been accomplished more by the 2014 technical regulations and the Mercedes Petronas AMG team’s decision to allow its drivers to race, than by a ridiculous gimmick dreamt up in a boardroom.

From a personal perspective, that it should all come down to Abu Dhabi creates something of a perfect exclamation point for me, too. This weekend will be my last as GP2 commentator, and at the conclusion of the championship’s tenth season of competition it seems appropriate that one of its first two champions will be crowned Formula 1 champion on Sunday. I PRd them both. I have no favourite. I believe there have been virtues and accomplishments in both of their 2014 seasons.

At the base of it, we have two of the most gifted drivers of their generation gunning for a world title in the very best car of the year. It is absolutely as it should be. Both have transformed themselves remarkably since those formative years. And yet neither seems to have changed at all from the slightly awkward young men I first met 10 years ago.

So here are some personal recollections of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and why, to my mind, either man would be a worthy world champion come Sunday.

Nico

Nico Rosberg ART Grand Prix 2005 GP2 Media Service

Nico Rosberg
ART Grand Prix 2005
GP2 Media Service

I can’t recall the first time I met Nico Rosberg. All I remember is that I despised him, everything he was and all he represented: the cock-sure, entitled, bolshy son of a world champion. No grace, no humility. Wafting in, a blur of blonde hair and arrogance. A Formula BMW champion yes, but only a few F3 wins and just three years in single seaters gave what I held to be little foundation for such seeming conceit. I disliked him intensely. It got to the point where I held such disdain for him that I would actively seek for our paths to not cross… which was fairly hard given I was PRing the championship in which he was racing. I’d simply ask someone else to grab his quotes for me. They always seemed to be able to pull more out of him anyway.

But after a slow start his major results started to come, fittingly enough beginning at his “home” race of Monaco. In 2005 we only ran one race in the Principality, and he ended up on the podium. It gave him the confidence he needed. His first win wasn’t far away and as soon as it came, the championship charge really began. While the early pace-setters and championship favourites Heikki Kovalainen and Arden plateaued, Rosberg and ART improved with each passing race.

I never lost sight of the irony, however, that ART had never been the first option for him. On the basis of the 2004 F3000 season, the most coveted seats were at Arden and BCN. BCN had been Rosberg’s preferred and hoped-for destination, until a perfect sales pitch by Nicolas Todt and Fred Vasseur saw them lure the German to their new outfit. How fortuitous for Rosberg, that while BCN floundered and eventually folded, ART should become, on the back of the tremendous foundation laid in the guise as ASM, the class of junior series racing over that year and the following decade.

Nico Rosberg had been quick from the outset, and watching his racecraft develop as the season went on became a growing point of emotional turmoil for me. He was so impressive; seemingly effortlessly rapid and blessed with a precision that was metronomic. But I just couldn’t like him. I wished he’d been a good guy, one I could get excited about. But instead I felt huge sadness that such a wonderful talent had been given to a guy who was apparently such a Class A prat.

Nico speaks with his ART engineer Gaetan Bahrain 2005 GP2 Media Service

Nico speaks with his ART engineer Gaetan
Bahrain 2005
GP2 Media Service

I recall the low point only too well. He was breezing past on his way to dinner. His team-mate Alexandre Premat had topped qualifying, and I’d used the staggeringly unoriginal press release headline of “Premat Powers to Pole.”

“Why don’t I ever “power” to anything?” he pointedly sneered as he walked past.

I looked up, trying to figure out what he was talking about. Then it hit, and I wondered why he was being so petty. The headline was simple alliteration. I had probably or would probably use “Rosberg Reigns” at some point of the season on the back of one of his wins. It was just Nico being typical Nico.

“Dick!” I whispered under my breath, just loud enough for him to hear.

Later that night, I needed to talk to his then-PR guy Karsten Streng and hopped into the ART truck to find him.

“Karsten, can we have a chat?”

Out from behind his race overalls jumped Nico.

“Oh, so you don’t want to speak to me then? Huh? What’s that all about? You’d rather speak to Karsten than to me?”

I turned on my heels and walked out.

Karsten ran after me.

“Will, man, you can’t let that get to you. You know he’s only joking, right? Just fire it straight back at him. He’ll love it. He’s really a fun guy… honestly. But if you don’t give it back to him he’ll think he’s got the high ground. He loves a challenge.”

The next day Nico sent some pithy comment my way, so I turned around, flipped him the bird and winked. “Fuck you Rosberg.”

He looked taken aback. I broke out in a cold sweat. This was not behavior becoming of the championship’s press officer. Had I just managed to ruin any relationship I might have had with the man destined to be our first champion?

A smile broke across his face, and we never had a cross word again. Indeed, we started to get on really well. At the end of the season I received a package to my home, from Monaco. In it was an ART team shirt, signed by Nico, thanking me for my support. I had it framed, and it remains one of my most treasured pieces of memorabilia from my career in racing.

GP2 Series Champion 2005 GP2 Media Service

GP2 Series Champion 2005
GP2 Media Service

Nico was the most savvy driver I ever worked with. Stepping down from the podium after winning the GP2 title, he spoke to the awaiting press in turn, each in their own language. I’d only ever seen him in individual language press briefings, and to see him utilise such cool and calm intelligence so soon after the elation of what was at the time the most meaningful moment of his career left me astounded.

But therein lies the deepest issue with Nico Rosberg. He isn’t just smart. He’s the sort of smart that makes the rest of us question if we’re quite as clever as we thought we were. And at times it can be his undoing.

I’d seen his intelligence and need for the high ground cause him trouble time and time again in interviews, even in the GP2 days. The interviewer would sit down, all smiles, ready to start the conversation. But Nico, fearful of being on the back foot, would fire retorts and wrestle control of the interview back into his own hands. He would put the interviewer at ill ease in order to make himself feel more comfortable with the situation. What resulted was a terrible interview, and the prevailing opinion of Rosberg being precisely the one I’d drawn when first we met: that he was cocky and arrogant. When I came back to journalism in 2008 I had booked a sit down with him at Williams and for the first 2 minutes of the interview, that’s exactly how he was: back against the wall, stand-offish, arrogant, unlikable. I switched off the Dictaphone and asked him if he was going to carry on being a prick or if we could do this properly. He looked sheepish, apologised, and we picked back up with what ended up being a great interview.

But his pace… his pace has always been undeniable. In his debut F1 race, at the scene of his GP2 title win, he had to take a new front wing at the end of the first lap but fought through the field in an unfancied Williams and scored points. He sat on the second row in only his second F1 weekend in Malaysia. But after a while, all of that burgeoning incredible pace and talent seemed to stagnate. Folk within Williams would talk about Nico “switching off” or “going to sleep” in the middle of races. Just when they needed him to be on it, he wouldn’t be. That infamous moment in Singapore 2008 when he crossed the pit exit line denied him and the team a possible win. But his pace that weekend had already caused many to ask if the German hadn’t indeed been holding back all season, and that it was only there in Singapore, when he allowed that veil to slip, that we’d seen the real pace of the car. Of course, he’d already been on the podium with his old karting team-mate and soon-to-be F1 team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the season opener in Melbourne. Their embrace still sticks in the memory. But then the pace of the car just disappeared. Why?

When Rosberg joined Mercedes, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that the regular gaps Nico stood ahead of his new team-mate, statistically the greatest driver who ever lived, were not so different to the advantage he held over his one-time Williams co-pilot Kazuki Nakajima. Are we to infer from that the seemingly incongruous suggestion that Kazuki Nakajima was as fast as Michael Schumacher? Or do we draw what can surely be the only realistic conclusion? Namely, that Rosberg was holding back in the Williams in an attempt to display to the world a huge talent going to waste in an under-par car.

Nico leads Michael... as he often did Korea 2012 James Moy Photography

Nico leads Michael… as he often did
Korea 2012
James Moy Photography

All of which led to a question often asked: is Nico Rosberg too smart for his own good?

It’s a question that has come back again this year.

Many will point to Monaco as a stand-out point of the season. I always felt Rosberg was smart enough to pull off that stunt in qualifying, but I never believed he was that cynical or cold. To be a world champion takes more than intelligence and speed. As I argued over Multi-21 last year, while we may hate to admit it, what marks the champions out from the also-rans is the ability to be a complete bastard when the moment arrives. In Monaco, Nico was the bastard and turned that qualifying controversy into a race win that had the ability to completely shift the tide of the season.

That it didn’t, however, is his own doing.

Lewis Hamilton is widely regarded as one of the best qualifiers in modern Formula 1. And yet, with a dominantly fast car at his disposal, he has lost the Pole Trophy to Nico Rosberg, the German amassing 10 poles to Hamilton’s seven. That metronomic precision has played into the Rosberg’s hands on many occasions this season, and more often than not it has given him the upper hand going into the race. On Saturdays at least, Rosberg has proved beyond doubt that he has the pace. But he hasn’t turned that Saturday pace on regularly enough in Sunday’s race.

Mentally, what happened in Budapest was also a tremendous shock. Hungary should never have affected him as much as it did. Perhaps it all comes down to how much brain capacity we consider Nico Rosberg as having, but that August break should have been used to move on from what he perceived as injustice, and start the second half of the season fresh and with total clarity of mind. Rosberg used all of that mindfulness, however, to focus on the negatives and came back to Spa with it still playing on his mind.

Lap 2, Belgian GP 2014 James Moy Photography

Lap 2, Belgian GP 2014
James Moy Photography

That incident on lap 2 of the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix has been poured over to frankly ridiculous degrees. To me, it was a nothing moment. Rosberg could have backed out, Hamilton could have given more room. That both went into it so pathetically ultimately resulted in the damage it did. If Rosberg had truly wanted to teach Hamilton a lesson then he should have gone in hard. That he didn’t is the only reason that Hamilton’s tyre was sliced. Any intent, and Rosberg would have snapped his front wing, bouncing it off the side of the Briton’s tyre. Hamilton would have stormed off into the distance while Rosberg was forced to switch his wing.

I argued at the time that Rosberg needed to embrace one side or the other. He needed to be a hero or a villain, because if he was neither, he risked becoming nothing. And so it emerged after the race that he had told Hamiton he had allowed the impact to happen. A step towards becoming that villain? Perhaps, but it wasn’t enough. And that’s the big sadness of his season. He has been so fast and so consistent, but his inability to pick a side and his attempts at being all things to all people has led to him being left wide open to attack from all sides.

Rosberg talks to the Press James Moy Photography

Rosberg talks to the Press
James Moy Photography

The way he interacts with broadcast crews is an incredible illustration of this. In Monza, in speaking with me on American television he spoke in confident and unashamed tones despite his apparent dressing down by the team over Spa. With the Germans he was the same… almost bullish. And then to the British TV and radio crews, his shoulders slumped forward, his head bowed down, his tone was full of contrition and regret. What he was saying was no different to what he had told the German or international crews, but the way it was said was at total odds with how he had been just 10 seconds before.

Just as in Bahrain at that GP2 finale 10 years ago, I stood in awe. So savvy, so intelligent to his audience… but perhaps, in this instance, a reflection of him trying to be just that little bit too smart.

The thing is, he can be so charming too. He has a dry and sarcastic wit, which can sometimes be played out with a deft finesse. In America and Brazil, he started to have a very subtle jab at his championship rival by adopting Lewis Hamilton’s apparent mot du jour. In almost every interview, Rosberg would drop in a little comment about how “blessed” he felt. Shrewd. Subtle. At times, however, he can be a total child. In Hungary this year I was running from my commentary position to the GP3 podium to conduct the post race interviews. Time is tight at the best of times, but when I arrived at the swipe gates I felt an arm around my waist pulling me back. At first I thought it was an over-zealous security guard. But no. It was Nico, giggling away with a huge grin plastered across his face.

Playing the fool Hungary 2014

Playing the fool
Hungary 2014

Nico Rosberg’s victories have been well won in 2014, Brazil standing as a perfect example of just how wonderfully he can put a weekend together when he puts his mind to it. I would put his ability to nurse his car home in Canada as one of his stand-out moments of the season. But they have been too infrequent. Just five wins from ten pole positions does not reflect well on the German. In wheel to wheel combat with his team-mate, he is yet to come out on top. He was roundly beaten in Bahrain when it was he that was on the optimal strategy and on the better tyres. He choked in Monza. He choked in Russia. He claimed that in Austin he just “wasn’t on it,” which I still hold to be one of the most shocking admissions I’ve ever heard from a man in the midst of the fight for something to which he has dedicated his entire life.

Overall, there have been times this year when it has seemed that the Nico Rosberg of 2014 has been that same Nico Rosberg of the Williams years… doing just enough, perhaps hoping that consistency will hand him the title in the event that the unreliability which took the very first race away from his team-mate and placed it before him, may just repeat at the very final race to put that world championship into his hands. As many have pointed out, given that his old man managed to win the crown with just one race win to his name why should Nico regard winning a championship via consistency to be anything other than virtuous? It’s a fair question.

Should he be crowned 2014 Formula 1 world champion, be it through double points or, let’s hope, a barn-storming wheel-to-wheel thriller, some will still argue that Nico Rosberg does not deserve to be world champion. With them, however, I would disagree. Lest we forget, this is the only man who, over the course of a full Formula 1 season, finished ahead of Michael Schumacher as a team-mate. As if to reinforce the point, Rosberg achieved this giant toppling feat not once, but thrice.

His out-and-out pace in qualifying this year has been insurmountable. That he has won the inaugural Pole Trophy is evidence of that. So we know he has the pace, we know he has the temperament to win races, and we know that on occasion he can embrace his inner bastard and drive with the ruthlessness that sets world champions apart.

Nico Rosberg has shown repeatedly in 2014 that he possesses the attributes shared by the best of the best. We should not deny him his glory should he be confirmed as such on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg 2014 Formula 1 World Champion? James Moy Photography

Nico Rosberg
2014 Formula 1 World Champion?
James Moy Photography

Tomorrow… Lewis Hamilton.

Pre-season testing 2005, with Hiroki Yoshimoto

Pre-season testing 2005, with Hiroki Yoshimoto

Ten years ago, I was given an opportunity that completely transformed my career and my life. Joining the GP2 Series at its birth as Press Officer, and later becoming Director of Communications, I spent three of my happiest years in motorsport living and working in Switzerland for Bruno Michel, Laurence Eckle and with the wonderful Marco Codello and Didier Perrin, Philippe and Riton, the engineering genius of Bernard Dudot and ably assisted on weekends by the sanity-ensuring calmness of David Cameron.

After those first three years I found myself in a position of having to make a tough choice, but ultimately followed my passion for journalism and stepped back to the other side of the fence. GP2 stayed in my heart, the press office now run by the brilliant Alexa Quintin, and I began covering the series alongside F1 until one day a phonecall from FOM saw me pick up a microphone and begin a television career that I never dared to dream I would have.

Learning on the job... Portimao 2009.

Learning on the job… Portimao 2009.

It has been a joy to be a part of the series, to get to know the drivers and teams and to publicise, report on, and eventually commentate the incredible races GP2 has always created.

But after dedicating a decade of my life to GP2 and latterly also to GP3, racing championships which I will always adore, I feel the time is right to bring an end to my active participation and to pass on the microphone. Abu Dhabi will be my last race weekend as world feed commentator for the championships I love.

Just as every GP2 and GP3 driver hopes that his or her exploits in the championships will lead to a full-time ride in F1, so my commentary in the feeder series led to my being picked up as a Formula 1 pit reporter, first for SPEED in the USA and now with NBCSN. My work in America has increased over the years to the point where I feel I am no longer able to divide my time effectively between three championships. By concentrating solely on Formula 1, I hope that I will be able to improve the quality of the content I bring to the burgeoning American audience, and help to grow the sport Stateside.

It is a decision with which I have toiled and has been one of the hardest of my professional career to make.

But all things must pass, and I feel that now is the right time to move on.

Spa podium, 2012

Spa podium, 2012

I still believe that GP2 is the best one-make championship in the world. And there is little chance I won’t be glued to the television watching every lap of the 2015 championship. It just won’t be my voice getting excited over the top of it.

I want to thank Stephane Samson for believing in me at the outset, to Bruno Michel for giving me the shot and a job when I had absolutely nothing a decade ago and to all the drivers, teams and individuals I’ve worked with in the series over the years. I will never be able to properly thank FOM and Jonathan Nicholas for giving me the chance to hold a microphone and go crazy about the sport and the series I love, nor to explain how in awe I am of the amazing job that everyone behind the scenes of the production does… from the cameramen trackside to Dean, Phil, Paul and everyone in “Bakersville”.

My many co-commentators over the years have provided insight, humour and tremendous friendship. To Karun, Jerome, Dani, Alexander, Alex, Antonio, Davide, Gary and Luca, I extend my unending gratitude and will forever cherish the sharing of so many happy memories.

I never received or asked for any training. What you got was me… pure and unadulterated. Every word I broadcast was spoken from my heart. Sometimes it got me into trouble. But it was always honest. It was always me.

It has been the greatest honour and privilege. But it is one I must now, with a heavy heart, pass on.

Thank you all.

And a very warm goodbye

GP2 grid, Monza 2007

GP2 grid, Monza 2007

Marussia V Caterham Italian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Marussia V Caterham
Italian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The plight of the Caterham and Marussia F1 teams is a sorry state of affairs. That two teams should reportedly be placed into administration within a month of each other is deeply troubling even if it is not, in all honesty, a tremendous surprise. It is very sad for the team’s hard working employees and for their many fans. But for anyone to pretend that this is some new phenomenon and that it should not be permitted to happen is utterly absurd. If success is the barometer against which all racing entities are judged, then failure is inherent in the very DNA of the sport.

In the 64 year history of Formula 1, 164 teams have existed. Today, including Caterham and Marussia, 11 survive. 153 teams have thus failed within that time period. That’s an average of a little over two teams (2.390) failing each season. While unfortunate, the demise of the sport’s two slowest and most poorly funded teams is well within acceptable and statistical, if slightly Darwinian, limits.

Only one team, Scuderia Ferrari, has competed in every year of the championship. Even looking back a decade to the grid of 2004 highlights the fact that just four teams survived to take their place on the grid in 2014. That’s 60% of the 2004 grid that either withdrew, folded, or sold up and shipped out over the last decade.

There are no guarantees in this sport. There never have been and there never will be. For the uncompetitive, both sportingly and financially, life in Formula 1’s state of nature has always fallen under Thomas Hobbes’ most famed principle of social contract theory. Namely, that it is nasty, brutish and short.

Back in 2003, I remember well a conversation I had with then Minardi boss Paul Stoddart at European Aviation’s base just outside Ledbury, England. Stoddy was a battler, and either a bastard or a hero depending on which side of the fence one wished to sit. Constantly at loggerheads with fellow team owners and the FIA, he preached that without the small teams Formula 1 would die. His reasoning was simple. Without a Minardi or a Jordan occupying the final rows of the grid, those final positions would be taken by a major motor manufacturer. Said manufacturer would then have to explain to the board why hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent on this folly, only to be seen as slow and weak. The manufacturer would thus pull out, leaving another manufacturer on the back row. And so the unravelling effect would build speed until just one manufacturer was left and the sport was dead.

But while Stoddy sold up to Red Bull, turning Minardi into Scuderia Toro Rosso, and while teams folded all around, the sport didn’t die. It evolved. The Ferrari empire collapsed and the Red Bull empire was built. The great garagistes peaked and troughed. Big manufacturers withdrew. And in 2010, three new teams were welcomed into the fold.

Today, it is this process to which one must now give serious attention if we are to truly understand the situation the sport now finds itself in. Questions have always been asked but now answers must be given as to the true story behind a selection process that saw the seemingly worthy applications of Epsilon Euskadi, N Technology, Prodrive and Lola, amongst others, overlooked in favour of Campos (which became HRT), Lightspeed (which became Lotus/Caterham), USF1 (which never even made a race), and Manor Racing (which became Virgin and then Marussia.)

Each entry was sold on the promise of a budget cap which was never realised. Not one made the first race of the 2010 F1 season in the guise in which it had applied for and been awarded an entry. Only one scored an F1 point, and all four have now failed.

With the exception of Manor, a team with tremendous junior formula pedigree, and to a lesser extent Campos which itself had success at sub-F1 levels, answers must be given by the FIA as to how and why the teams were chosen in the 2010 process. As maligned as they now are in F1 circles, without the likes of Branson and Fernandes, and one must not forget Kolles’ role for HRT, the Lightspeed, Manor and Campos projects might well have proven to be as stillborn as was USF1. That they survived as long as they did is testament to the tenacity and hard work of those that will be hit hardest by all this – the staff.

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

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

So how do we progress? And can the teams be saved? Quite simply, in the cases of Caterham and Marussia, while administration will allow a chance for a buyer to be found, one would now sadly not place any serious amount of money on seeing either team on the grid in Melbourne next season. But while their demise is a perfectly natural part of the dog-eat-dog world of Formula 1, it does not mean that one should not learn from the problems the teams have encountered, and strive to find solutions for the future.

Bernie Ecclestone has today reignited the debate on the potential for teams to run third cars in Formula 1. But rather than the top teams running their own third cars, he has suggested something altogether different…

“They would supply a third car to someone else so if, for example, Sauber disappeared, a team could do a deal with Sauber. Ferrari could say, ”we will give you a car, all that goes with it, and we want you to put this sponsor on it. You have your own sponsors but we want you to include this one as well and we want you to take this driver”. The team wouldn’t have to go under then would they? If Red Bull decided they would give a car to Caterham for example that could solve their problem,” he told The Mail in an article written by Christian Sylt.

The issue with this is that it doesn’t solve the issue. Not for anyone. Except perhaps Ecclestone himself.

In order to qualify for payments as a Formula 1 constructor a team must be a bona fide “constructor.” As such, running another team’s third car would mean that it was, in effect, running a customer car and would thus forfeit its rights, rewards and obligations under Concorde. Let’s not even get into the concept of a team simply “giving” a car away to another squad and the cost implications implicit in this. At its very base, the idea negates a team’s position as a constructor and far from saving it, would merely condemn it.

What it does do, however, is keep the grid filled. And this, as the sport’s Commercial Rights Holder, is Ecclestone’s only real concern. Bernie has created deals with racing circuits, promoters and the world’s television networks worth hundreds of millions of dollars per annum on the basis that he and CVC will provide a Formula 1 World Championship… that means every driver and, of course, every team. Crucially, there is understood to be a clause in these contracts which designates a full grid as being composed of 16 cars. Austin will feature just two above this number. Should Sauber, which is also believed to be in financial peril, fold, Ecclestone has a real problem on his hands.

Ecclestone’s concept of third cars run by smaller teams is a short term stop gap, seemingly to save CVC and the sport from defaulting on its contracts promising full grids of a certain size. What it will not do is save the teams under pressure, let alone those who have already placed themselves in administration.

Would Gene Haas benefit from Customer Cars? c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

Would Gene Haas benefit from Customer Cars?
c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

I have long argued the benefits of customer cars and today, as the last of the 2010 entrants admits defeat and enters its final weeks, I feel its potential importance to be greater than ever. It will not help those who are already failing, but it could be a solution for the future. Those who are regular readers of my blog will know my concept. For those that are new I will outline it in very simple terms.

Any new team entering Formula 1 may purchase and use an old (previous year or older) customer chassis for the first two years of competition in the sport. It is permitted to make its own upgrades to this car and to develop it up to the point where, starting at the first race of the third year of competition, it must field a car of its own design. A budget for the chassis of each team will be set by the FIA on a sliding scale whereby the bottom ranked team’s car is the cheapest up to the champion’s being the most expensive. As such, there is a higher chance of mid-grid to lower ranked teams receiving the benefit of a cash injection from the new squads, at a sensible level of affordability for the new entrant.

It is the principle which Super Aguri ran in its short F1 lifetime, and used to such effect to take a knackered Honda and start taking the fight not only to its big sister team, but to the established order on occasion. The car that Aguri would have fielded for the 2009 season it never saw, the first of its own design, actually went on to form the basis of the Brawn BGP001 which won the championship. Had Aguri had better financing, there is every reason to suspect that in just its third year of competition, it could have truly been a contender.

It is a simple concept, and one which I believe would help new teams. It gives them a step up to be able to compete, but it doesn’t hand them success on a plate. It must still be achieved by hard work and ingenuity.

What the last four years has taught us, however, is that talent alone is not enough. The teams can do their very best Emperor Nero impersonation, but if they want the sport to survive and if they want new blood to stand a chance, as they proclaim they do, then this small allowance must be permitted. I still find it beyond reason that Williams should be one of the chief voices against the return of customer cars, when Sir Frank himself began his F1 team running Piers Courage in a purchased Brabham in 1969. But that’s by the by.

Because, at the root of much of the discontent in the sport, is the simple fact that the teams have too much power. You want to blame someone for double points? Blame the Strategy Group. Engine Unfreeze? Strategy Group. That initial Team radio ban? Strategy Group.

I’ve said it once and I will say it again. You cannot expect competing entities to legislate for the furtherance of the sport. They will always be driven by their own agendas, be they sporting or financial. The teams will sit and crow that the demise of Caterham and Marussia is terribly sad and something should have been done to save them, but the truth of the matter is that the sport exists today in a political mess where only the teams have the ability to truly save themselves. That they have let two of their own destroy themselves is their responsibility. But it is a responsibility they should not have.

Time for the President to step up c/o James Moy Photography

Time for the President to step up
c/o James Moy Photography

It has been reported that Jean Todt became so incensed with the teams’ inability to agree on something as simple as the enlargement of driver numbers that he realised early in his tenure that an agreement on a budget cap would be impossible. If that truly is the case then it is up to the President of this sport’s Governing Body to do what his job entails and to actually govern. If he cannot then he should move aside and an election should be held to find a leader of suitable conviction to take this sport by the neck and save it from itself.

The financial structure of the sport is also in desperate need of an overhaul. The very concept that certain teams should be given windfalls purely for being part of the sport, coupled with the unjust structuring of payments from top to bottom, would make any sane businessman walk away from the sport before he even began due diligence into the project. For while in principle all teams are equal, Formula 1 falls only too easily into the Orwellian nightmare that some are more equal than others.

That Gene Haas believes he can make a success of the sport, without the promise of a budget cap or customer cars, is bold. Some might say it is brave. Some might say it’s bloody stupid. One thing, however, seems certain. As things stand, his team might well be assured a top 10 constructors’ position in its debut season. And that, in itself, is why the sport must get on top of its issues. If there is no pressure to perform, no carrot of payments to dangle, then there is no need to develop and advance. While the financial structure does at least have this element correct, the precise payments and the structure of percentage increases per position is in need of a serious overhaul.

33 years ago, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley led a revolution in the sport. The Concorde Agreement, which signaled the end of hostilities, remains today in a fairly similar form to the treaty that was drawn up more than three decades ago. The world has changed. The sport has changed. But its governance has altered little.

The time has come to rewrite this ageing document and reform our sport’s constitution. I do not have the answers as to what the solution should be, but one cannot operate a sport where competing entities have the absolute say on regulation, where the governing body sits impotent to the desires of those over which it was elected to govern, and where the finances of the operation and restrictions of regulation for the newcomers make it impossible to nurture the green shoots of a promising newcomer.

Caterham and Marussia will be missed. Their names will be logged alongside the other 153, many of whom achieved far more than 2010’s minnows. Race winners. Championship takers. No team is impervious to failure. None must ever become so.

But all should be given a fair chance to succeed. Sadly Caterham and Marussia, like HRT and USF1 before them, were seemingly doomed from the start.

Jules Bianchi c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Singapore GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

Sunday in Suzuka was one of those days you always have in the back of your mind as a motor racing journalist. The danger, the risk… it’s why the thrill is so high. It’s why the rewards are so great. It’s why the fear is so real.

You are always aware that something can go wrong. You just have to live in the hope that it doesn’t.

But when it does, and it will, there is a responsibility incumbent upon those with the privilege and distinction of being granted access to the paddock, and credentials to report on such a situation, to do so carefully and diligently. For the most part, it was an honour to class myself an F1 journalist alongside my colleagues on Sunday. For the most part.

The circumstances surrounding Jules Bianchi’s accident were confusing on the ground. We’d seen Adrian Sutil’s accident and knew that he was out of the car and safe. But then the safety and medical cars both emerged and concern began to creep in. It was the announce crew on NBCSN who, in my immediate arena, picked it up first, suggesting that it appeared something was underneath the crane carrying Sutil’s stricken Sauber. At first I worried we had a repeat of Canada 2013 on our hands.

But then came the realisation. Bianchi’s timing data showed he had stopped in the same sector as Sutil. The glimpses of red and black livery against the crane, the frantic reaction of the marshals and the refusal of the cameras to zoom in tight on the scene started to give clarity to suggestion.

I moved towards the Marussia hospitality unit, from whence worried faces emerged, just as the images of the ashen faces of their colleagues on the pitwall were broadcast to a global audience. But nobody could or would tell us anything.

The combination of these factors allows you the information you require. My producer, Jason, and I discussed it and drew the only conclusion we could at this point. It was something gravely serious.

You speak to who you can. You find your trusted sources. You find someone who you know, knows. But in a situation like this, until it is official you cannot state the things you know to be true, as fact.

The words you use when reporting must be chosen carefully. “I understand,” “I believe,” “it appears.” In truth, you can only really deal in fact as it has been officially transmitted through official channels. The rest is supposition and in cases like this, immensely dangerous.

And so the pieces of the puzzle are built, and the full picture starts to emerge.

The TV pen was moved inside for the typhoon c/o James Moy Photography

The TV pen was moved inside for the typhoon
c/o James Moy Photography

I have no idea how other broadcasters handled the situation, but I was incredibly proud of the way NBCSN reacted on Sunday. In the post-race interview pen, which had been moved inside the FIA hospitality unit on account of the weather, I was also tremendously proud of my fellow TV crews from around the world. Every now and then, in search of the all important quotes, it can become a brawl. Elbows out, animal instincts setting in, only the need to be first with the words that will form the headlines the next day.

But pretty much all of those inside that media pen have been around a while. We all knew what we were looking at. Despite its smaller than usual nature, I’ve never seen an interview pen conducted with more respect. There was no jostling. Room was made for everyone. There was no crowding. Questions to drivers were kept to a minimum. Speculation had no place. There were no inappropriate enquiries. Certainly, that was true of the group in which I placed myself.

Perhaps it is because we look these guys in the eye everyday. We have one on one access to each of them four times a weekend. With some of them, you could see it in their eyes. You could hear it in their voices. Regardless of professionalism, regardless of consideration for the incident, as a compassionate human being you should be able to recognise a person’s emotions and act accordingly. I hope we did so.

Matteo Bonciani FIA Head of Communications and F1 Media Delegate c/o James Moy Photography

Matteo Bonciani
FIA Head of Communications and F1 Media Delegate
c/o James Moy Photography

The FIA’s Head of Communications and F1 Media Delegate Matteo Bonciani entered the room and gave us a short statement. We repeated it on-air verbatim.

Jules Bianchi had been taken, unconscious, to the local Mie University Hospital by ambulance, as the weather conditions were considered too poor for the helicopter to take off.

In situations such as this where information is so limited, it is critical that whatever official information is given is completely accurate. In this case there were two small but, given the importance placed on every word when so few have been given, crucial inaccuracies.

The first was the hospital itself, as Bianchi had in fact been taken to Mie General Hospital / Medical Centre in Yokkaichi. The second, and of vital importance, was the reason for the use of the ambulance. As Bonciani gave the statement, the medical helicopter was taking off behind him, thus immediately calling into question the very statement given.

In actual fact the ambulance, we now understand, had been used for medical reasons rather than for any meteorological factor. Had this one simple fact been corrected immediately, a lot of the confusion and fallout post race would have been eliminated. The press who chose to dwell on the use or otherwise of the helicopter might instead have been lauding the fact that the time between the point of impact and Bianchi’s admission to hospital was, I believe, less than 45 minutes.

As we went off air, the paddock had one of the strangest vibes I’ve ever experienced. The pack-up was in full swing as the expectation that the typhoon would hit remained in clear focus. With no news on the condition of their beloved Jules, the Marussia boys walked around trance-like. TV crews tried to make sense of the situation. Interviews were conducted.

There was no hysteria. Just shock. And hugs.

I walked around the paddock, bumping into people who seemed to just want to talk. Drivers, ex and current. Officials. Team members. Everyone was numb and yet needed to talk, compartmentalising the many aspects, trying to make sense of it all. Eventually we went back to the media centre. What more could we do? Some, at the behest of their editors, had the unenviable task of acting as ambulance chasers and were already en-route to Yokkaichi to sit and wait for news outside the hospital. But we sat tight and waited at the track.

Night falls in Suzuka c/o James Moy Photography

Night falls in Suzuka
c/o James Moy Photography

Eventually the news came in the form of a statement, carefully worded by Bonciani and Marussia’s Head of Communications Tracy Novak who stood, staring straight ahead, her mind no doubt cast back to Duxford and poor Maria. It was read out once for print media and once for television crews. It stated Bianchi had suffered a serious head injury and was undergoing surgery before he would be moved to intensive care. All further updates would come from the team.

But already voices were being raised. A small group at the back of the media centre rounded on Bonciani demanding Race Director Charlie Whiting give a press conference. There were questions that needed answering, they jabbed. There was responsibility to be apportioned. And when would they be allowed to see the incident? When would a replay be shown? It was vital that they see it. Their haughty tones wafted down from their ivory towers, built upon the sandy pillars of arrogance and inexperience. Care and compassion in the search of the truth had been replaced for the vocal, selfish few with sensationalism and ego.

Those of us who have been in this game for more than two minutes are only too aware of the reason replays are not shown of incidents such as this. More pressingly, at this juncture, we are also only too aware that the issue of responsibility comes later. Much later. After detailed analysis. This was the wrong time to be picking this particular fight. And all for a small number of outlets who, given the time difference, weren’t even on deadline.

So why the urgency? Why the need for answers?

To assuage the thirst to be first. To please their twitter followers. To get that scoop on social media and claim the plaudits for the counting seconds until the next shred of information is released. It’s something of which I sit here and admit with deep embarrassment I have been guilty myself in the past. Sometimes, we just need to take a step back.

Sunday was a lesson in the responsibility inherent in being one of the lucky few to be granted a credential to report on this sport. It is a privilege, not a right. And the onus should be on the search of truth. Because, particularly in moments such as we experienced on Sunday, and despite living in a modern world where social media has led to an overwhelming clamour for news NOW… being right is more important than being first.

Could the media management have been handled better? Of course. And lessons will have been learned. But when you are a team of one man, responsible for communicating to print, web, TV and radio, perhaps the FIA should permit their Head of Communications a larger team.

With time, the clamour for answers over the incident itself will become more appropriate than it was on Sunday night. Indeed, it is understood that Charlie Whiting has been tasked to conduct a thorough investigation by FIA President Jean Todt. We must allow him to do his work.

For the here and now, because I know I will be asked, I must say I side with Lauda and Mosley in their belief that procedures were followed correctly. But as Jacques Villeneuve argued, that does not mean that those procedures do not need to be looked into and that the sport must make itself open and amenable to change. Full course yellows, safety cars for every incident… there is now a very clear argument for this to become the norm, as it is in many other forms of motorsport. Do I think a canopy would have helped? No I do not. In fact, in this instance, and from what I have seen and been told, it might even have hindered Bianchi’s extraction.

These arguments will come and they will be heard… in time.

Answers are being sought and answers will be given.

But right now, the only people with any right to ask for them are the family of Jules Bianchi.

#ForzaJules

#ForzaJules

Prost drives through the shadows c/o FIA Formula E

Prost drives through the shadows
c/o FIA Formula E

So, the inaugural Formula E e-prix has been and gone. I’d expected to hate every cringe-worthy second of it. That high-pitched shriek of the car, setting my teeth on edge and forcing my spine to contort at acute angles in a reaction normally reserved for the sound of nails scraping down a chalkboard. I was prepared to despise the hastily planned and built street track that wouldn’t allow any overtaking, if the cars even got that close given the disparity expected between racing machines. And I didn’t expect more than a handful to limp over the finish line with the dregs of battery left in them, the Duracell bunny doing his very best to keep running inside that wheel that powered the engine, or however the hell they worked.

In short, ever since that video of Lucas di Grassi pulling “donuts” in a Las Vegas carpark emerged however long ago it was, I expected complete and utter farce.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I saw today in Beijing got me massively excited for the future of our sport. Was it perfect? No. But was it racing? Was it wheel to wheel, was it gutsy, did I jump out of my seat shouting at the TV? To every question, a resounding YES. It surprised me. And I’m so glad it did.

Are there issues, well yes of course, but what I think is vitally important to take into consideration is the fact that this was the first weekend of a new championship that has been rushed into existence by a governing body and President determined to show it is aware of the need for the sport to show its 21st Century credentials and to prove that it can remain relevant into the modern era and long after we have run out of dinosaur gloop to power our cars.

In Alejandro (Oui Monsieur President, Alejandro, not Alessandro as you managed to call him on the grid) Agag, Formula E has at its helm a businessman, politician and race team owner who isn’t used to failure. What he has achieved in even getting this championship to its first race must be commended because, if we are being brutally honest, this technology is nowhere near ready to be able to showcase what the future really could be.

I have long believed that until such a time as future tech can do the job of current tech, it simply isn’t a viable alternative let alone replacement. As such, seeing the test times come in from Donington had many in the motorsport community scoffing. The Formula E cars were barely over Formula Ford pace and were losing about 10% of their power per lap, meaning with in and out laps included, drivers would only get about 8 timed laps. They were never going to last a full race distance.

And so to the biggest issue the championship has: that of swapping cars mid-race. I don’t think it matters if you are a motorsport purist, a fan of 50 years, a fan of 5 years or someone whose first experience of a motor race was today in Beijing… it just doesn’t work. We are supposed to be living in economical times. The keyword is Austerity. And yet here we are, looking at a situation in which when a car runs out of power, rather than filling it up, we’re told it’s fine to just unbuckle and jump into a new one. It doesn’t and it can’t sit well with… well, frankly, anyone.

Factor in also the green credentials. Forget, for the moment, the fact that it is quite possible the worst advertisement for electric cars that the industry could possibly hope for and let’s instead focus on the bizarre situation in which each team has to double their freight in order to take two cars per driver to every single race. Cars which are flown internationally by DHL. In big, gas guzzling, airplanes.

The concept of the stops themselves are scrappy and ill thought through. They occur in individual garages which are relatively private and almost impossible to cover successfully on television without 20 unique RF cameras and multi split-screen. A minimum time erases some advantage a quick stop holds, and is too arbitrary in a closely fought race as we saw today when mere tenths split the top 6 coming in for their first stops.

I’ve got to say though, that overall I felt this was the only real major issue with the championship. It was rather nice to be sat at home watching from afar, and so half as a fan and half watching on with a critical eye, here are my takes on a few of what will no doubt be talking points over the coming days and weeks.

The inaugural race mid-flow c/o FIA Formula E

The inaugural race mid-flow
c/o FIA Formula E

Sound

Thought I’d hate it, actually really liked it. The only problem for me was it wasn’t loud enough. Those at the track say they’re actually far louder in real life than on TV. Ring any bells, F1 fans? The Formula E car sounds like something out of an early 2000s sci-fi futuristic racing game. At least it would if they positioned the mics better and pumped up the volume. I tweeted during the race, and in hinsight it is the one thing that has stuck with me throughout the day, but there were times when I was transported back to playing F-Zero X on the Nintendo N64, or Wipeout on the Playstation. It was high pitched whooshes and whirrs, chattering around corners… with added tyre squeal. I loved it!

Ahhh yes, many of you will say, but what about that god awful music? Again… and perhaps I’ve played too many computer games in my life, but I enjoyed this aspect of the product too. The musical selection was in the hands of the, let’s say interestingly dubbed “EJ” instead of DJ. You can insert your own witty line about controversial noise here. Suffice to say there weren’t any coloured shirts and wild theories on display, just a dude at some decks wearing a helmet that made him look like the bastard lovechild of Dedmau5 and Daft Punk, trying to find the right tunes to suit the mood.

The music was used sparingly and, at least on the ITV4 broadcast we had in the UK, was at the right level in the mix so as not to drown out the cars nor the great commentary team of Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti. We had a nice build of musical anticipation from the grid all around the formation lap to a crescendo at lights out. Then we had nothing but race sound until the safety car came out, at which point the music returned. And I’ve got to say that, from my perspective, it really worked. The safety car periods are a moment at which the race is effectively paused, and as such it did feel like we were going back to a menu screen or hitting that pause button on a computer game. Then back to the racing and the sound of the cars until, with two laps to go, in crept that music again. And as the music built over those last two laps, so did the anticipation right to the flag.

It was a great idea and, for this championship at least, I felt it worked really well.

Speed

Cars that don’t sound fast don’t look fast. It is a very simple equation. This equation does, however, have factors that can influence the result. And they’re all to do with camerawork. The long, wide shots of the cars, the overhead down the start-finish stretch, all played out to show the real speed of the cars. And they looked as slow as they are.

But sitting onboard on a street track (as all the circuits will be), using the trackside cams either on a static or quickly panning with the cars, gave an increased sensitivity and an exaggerated feeling of speed.

The solution to this is quite simple. Improve the sound of the cars via better positioning of microphones and simply making them louder in the mix on the world feed and then again in comparative levels to commentators and, when it is used, the music. Cut down the number of wide angle long shots, and keep the action close and engaging.

No, on the straights they didn’t look great. But in the corners and under braking, they looked mega. Particularly side by side, engaged in battle.

As the technology improves so will energy storage capacity, so will speed. If and when this championship takes off, one hopes the regs will be opened up and car manufacturers will enter to showcase their electric credentials, and then we will see the real development race and the true advancement of this technology.

A huge achievement c/o FIA Formula E

A huge achievement
c/o FIA Formula E

Circuit

It reminded me tremendously of an Indycar style street circuit. I didn’t think we would see any overtaking, and yet we did on almost every lap. It might not have been for the lead (until the very end) but Montagny’s incredible ascent through the field and Piquet and Sato’s many dices were just a few of the fights that kept us enthralled and entertained. When those first damned stops arrived, the top six were split by a handful of car lengths… on a street track! It was incredibly close.

Bear in mind also that this was a brand new championship at its first event. Not only did the organisers have the running of 20 cars to contend with and a global audience ready to mock a single failure, they also had responsibility for the complete infrastructure of the track. That means facilities (from media centre to medical centre, pitlane buildings to toilets, fencing and safety barriers, timing loops, television cables, satellites. This was an absolutely massive effort.

When the lights went out I was reminded of my own nerves as Press Officer at the very first GP2 race at Imola in 2005. It was bedlam. The electronics had all gone to hell on the cars in practice. Our pole sitter’s engine had gone on the way to the grid for the first race. And then everyone’s brakes started exploding. And that was just the car. The organisation had its own issues, but we had just simply turned up and tagged onto the side of an F1 weekend. It was, comparatively, easy.

Formula E ran its own weekend. Everything that is taken for granted at a race weekend had to be done from scratch by an organization that, while all experienced in their own fields, had never worked together and had no idea if this concept would work. They were trying to do it all in a country that isn’t the easiest to work in, and for a championship that relies on social media they were making their debut in a country where Twitter is outlawed.

The safety car seemed incredibly slow as did the reaction to Heidfeld’s crash. Marshals need to be aware of what they can and can’t do in terms of touching these incredibly dangerous cars in the event of an accident, and if they can’t go near the things then safety crews need to be more numerous and dotted around the track to be on the scene faster, with someone trained in earthing these things in every car.

Overall, Formula E did an unbelievable job. If this was the start, the following rounds should be incredible.

Lucas di Grassi celebrates his win c/o FIA Formula E

Lucas di Grassi celebrates his win
c/o FIA Formula E

Drivers

If the script had landed on a Hollywood director’s desk, he’d have laughed and thrown it in the bin.

Son of one of the all-time greats of Formula 1 is leading the first race of the championship of the future from pole position. On his tail, the perennial underdog, the nearly man, at the wheel of a car owned by a Hollywood megastar, himself the nearly man of the Oscars. They are team-mates in a separate championship, and friends. On the final corner of the final lap they collide, ending both their races in a massive accident.

Pulling through the carnage to win is the driver in whose hands as test driver the championship was taken from concept to reality and without whom the cars would likely not have been close to being race ready. Behind him, the car run by the most famous name in American racing, Andretti. And completing the podium, after a post race penalty nonetheless, the car owned by Sir Richard Branson.

If you were a cynic you’d say it was all scripted. But the quality of the field and the interest in the championship that has led so many interesting people to enter teams has led to such stories simply occurring no matter what result Formula E ends up with. For the most part the racing was hard and fair, and surprisingly so on such a tight track.

Prost was handed a ten-place grid-penalty for the next race for his moment of utter madness with Heidfeld. Frankly, he’s got off lightly. His move was idiotic at best, callous and downright life-threatening at worst. The angle Heidfeld went into the barrier left me with one of those thankfully all too rare lump-in-your-throat moments where everything goes very quiet until you see that movement that lets you know the guy is OK. That Prost didn’t even go and check on his “friend” spoke volumes, and his immediate comments left a sour taste. His later contrition may well have something to do with the fact that, having written as its mantra its social media engagement, Formula E’s new fans had already judged and sentenced the Frenchman before he’d returned to the pits.

Fans are engaged. Their continued faith in the series is crucial. I’m still no fan of the “fan boost” system, particularly if there is no way of showing the folks at home when it is being used, but if it gets people invested in the championship then so be it.

What that crash gave Formula E however was a calling card. That incident has got it onto every news bulletin and every newspaper in the world today. A simple electric race wouldn’t have done that. It’s brilliant publicity!

The Future

Just how far could this go? Screengrab - Wipeout HD

Just how far could this go?
Screengrab – Wipeout HD

The thing I’ve kept thinking about today, is just how good this could be. This championship should never have started in 2014. The technology is not ready. But the fact that it has started, and the fact it has started so positively is a tremendous achievement and must make us incredibly excited for the future. The racing of cars utilizing the internal combustion engine did not become what it is overnight. It took over a century. Formula E has taken the first very small step of what could be an amazing future for electric racing.

There is already talk that in the future, tracks will feature charging lanes so as to completely eradicate the need for the car swap mid race. Indeed, Formula E’s safety car is already fitted with wireless charging capabilities thanks to series partner Qualcomm. On hearing that, my thoughts again fly back to those computer games. Those futuristic vehicles, flying through high-tech cities, picking up extra power, using it to boost. I used to love those games. They seemed so fantastic. Totally at odds to the clunky, blocky graphics of the F1 games of the time, Wipeout and F-Zero X were a vision of the future.

And today, perhaps, we took the first step towards that. If that sounds stupid, do you really think those crazy folks who raced those early motorcars from Paris to Rouen in 1894 ever imagined that over 100 years later there would exist the sheer number of car racing championships in the world, from Formula 1 to NASCAR, from WEC to karting, the WRC to Indycar. Why then, is it so silly to think that in 100 years time, those fantastical computer games of my youth might not become reality? And all because of what we saw today.

Electric racing. I’ve tasted it. And it might just be the future.

Georges Lemaître (peugeot 3hp) Winner of the Paris-Rouen 1894

Georges Lemaître (peugeot 3hp)
Winner of the Paris-Rouen 1894

Has it all got a bit much? Image c/o James Moy Photography

Has it all got a bit much?
Image c/o James Moy Photography

The FIA has moved to ban, with immediate effect, radio communication between pitwall and driver during a Grand Prix which is “related to the performance of the car or driver.”

This is a fairly substantial shift in regulation, and comes in the midst of the first year of an era of total re-education for the modern Formula 1 driver, as issues such as driving within a fuel flow limit and “coasting” have led to an increasing stream of information from team to driver over the manner in which the car should be driven.

As broken this morning by my colleague Adam Cooper, the teams have been informed of the following by FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting:

“In order to ensure that the requirements [sic] of Article 20.1 of the F1 Sporting Regulations is respected at all times we intend to rigorously enforce this regulation with immediate effect. Therefore no radio conversation from pit to driver may include any information that is related to the performance of the car or driver.”



Article 20.1 states that “The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.”

As such, the recent flow of radio messages detailing when a driver should brake, what gear he should be in and when and to what extent he should be using the throttle, had been called into question. Quite apart from seemingly being at odds with Article 20.1, from the perspective of external impressions of the sport, these messages were seemingly starting to give over the view that the drivers were simply puppets being told how to drive fast, rather than the gladiatorial beacons of Derring Do which their predecessors, all arms and elbows, had been.

Whiting also confirmed that teams would not simply be able to get around the issue by sending information electronically to the driver, one must imagine via messages to the steering wheel screen.

“We should also remind you that data transmission from pit to car is specifically prohibited by Article 8.5.2 of the F1 Technical Regulations.”

It remains to be seen exactly how the FIA will police this new regulation, or indeed how deep it will run. Pitstop strategy and safety issues will still, we believe, be permitted to be broadcast, and if so this in itself leaves open interesting avenues.

For while one imagines it will now be illegal to tell a racer how he should be driving the car, will it also be illegal to broadcast information over tyre temperature, brake temperature or any number of other variables brought to light by the many Terabytes of telemetry gathered in each Grand Prix? Afterall, such information is key to race strategy. Such information may also be born of safety.

If a driver may not be told how to drive the car, then perhaps it will be legal to deliver this type of information, but without the requisite advice on how the driver might wish to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, due to the wording of the regulation change, it is open to tremendous interpretation. What does this directive cover? Surely any and all pit to driver communication concerns performance. Does that mean that all radio communication is outlawed? If strategy and safety is permitted, then what will that cover? No matter what is resolved in the meetings which will have to take place in Singapore before the five red lights go out, debate will no doubt rage over what is and is not permissible and how one gets around the concept of coded messages. It seems almost ridiculous to ask, but will it now be illegal for Mercedes to tell Lewis that “It’s Hammer Time”?

While mid-season rule changes are never advisable, in this case I think that, in its intention at least, it’s a good idea. For while strategy is a key part of modern day Formula 1, and radio communication now a key tool in the narrative of any F1 broadcast, the idea that racing drivers are being instructed how to drive on a corner by corner basis can only take away from the belief that these men are the best of the best.

David Beckham never wore an earpiece, for Sir Alex Fergusson to tell him when Ryan Giggs was open and unmarked on the opposite flank and to advise on the exact moment to execute a 35 yard floating cross-pitch pass to him. Johnny Wilkinson had to rely on picking grass and watching how it floated in the air to determine wind direction and velocity when he was taking his trademark rugby kicks.

It should be left to a racer’s instinct to know how to drive.

To paraphrase a world champion who despises the over-use of modern day radio in Formula 1… leave them alone. They should know what they’re doing.

UPDATE: Since writing this piece the FIA has clarified what is and is not permitted and it seems as though the only messages now held as legal are those regarding traffic, pit stop timing and team orders.

Frankly, this seems akin to using a sledgehammer to remove a tooth. For while the concept of putting the driver back into focus may have been the objective, the outcome will be tantamount chaos created by a hastily and ill-conceived cover-all solution to a complex issue.

The directive covers all sessions, not just the race. So we must now assume that even using the radio to talk to the driver while he’s in car in between runs in practice is now prohibited. Any and all information regarding the operation of the car and of how a driver might improve his or his car’s performance is off limits by radio. Pitboards will come back into favour, and one would imagine, a complex system of hand signals or perhaps some quick sign language lessons for the relaying of information in the pits during practice and qualifying.

What is more likely is a ridiculous and convoluted system of coded messages, thus putting the sport and it’s drivers even further out of touch with reality. Something this change was supposed to resolve for the better.

If this directive simply covered the issuing of driving instructions such as when to brake and what gear to use, as it seemed at the outset, it would be a tremendous positive. What we’ve got instead puts Formula 1 in the dark ages, and behind even it’s most grass roots and basic entry level feeder series.

Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

Last year, NBCSN and Silent Crow Arts afforded my F1 producer Jason Swales and I an incredible opportunity, when we embarked upon the making of a television show which would become known as “The Road to Ferrari.”

After a week on the road driving a Ferrari FF from the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest to Maranello, the culmination of the experience was a rare, private audience with Luca di Montezemolo. I’ve rarely been more nervous for an interview. We had so much ground to cover and so little time. Known as a brilliant speaker, an incredible politician, and given the sheer honour of the opportunity it was one I didn’t want to ruin.

I have never seen the transcript back, until today.

All the talk in Monza had been that di Montezemolo was days away from being forced out of those large red gates at Maranello. Today, he fell on his sword as Fiat moves towards flotation and the man who has given his life to Ferrari became ever marginalised within an ever growing corporation.

With thanks to NBCSN for permission to publish the interview in full, and to Silent Crow for digging the transcript out of their archive, I hope you enjoy my full interview with one of the most incredible businessmen, politicians and sporting managers of our time…

———————————————–

WB: I think, although we’ve been here a day and a half… not long we’ve only just scratched the surface… I finally understand what makes Ferrari so special. But what makes it so special for you?

LdiM: Well, as you can imagine, this is a good question. That is a question that I’ve received many times in the past years, because I think it’s a key question.

Well, Ferrari’s a mix of different ingredients, different elements; very complementary of each other, but crucial to give you the idea. First of all, history. History means a car with heritage, with tradition; in competition, on the tracks. It means that these, again, are very complementary traditions. And on the other hand, looking ahead, innovation—new technology; extreme technology. You have driven the FF; that has been the first Ferrari four- wheel drive. It’s the first Ferrari with four seats, but 660 horsepower.

If you go in the other room, you see LaFerrari, the first hybrid. So it means that in this is an example of the last two years we have very innovative technology. It means competition. We are the only one in Formula One since 63 years. In the good moments, in the bad moments, all our competitors [have] been back and out and back in, out. And anyway, we are there since 63 years. It means beautiful design. I always think that Ferrari has to be, first of all, good-looking; beautiful. With innovative design, but to the classic approach. So I want a design that can survive for many years. And this is one of the many reasons of the success of so many cars in the international auctions.

It means exclusivity. I say that Ferrari is like a woman. You have to desire her. You have to wait months… years… and this is the reason why we have decided, a few months ago, I told to my people, “We have to produce less cars, to maintain the value on the used cars market.”

And last, but not least, emotional driving. All these ingredients means emotional driving. And it’s easy to say, difficult to explain, unless you drive the car and you feel something in the car; the music of the engine. I remember, very important… one of the most important… a classic music director came here. We deliver the car to him, directly to him. And he was driving the car to Salzburg in Austria, for a very important reason. I want to drive alone, this car. Because when I drive, the music of the engine is for me the inspiration, the best inspiration for my job. So, you know, these are the Ferrari ingredients.

WB: Those are the Ferrari ingredients, but what does it mean inside you, in your heart? When you think of Ferrari and the number of years you’ve been here, when you see a Ferrari road car, when you see the Scuderia win, what does it mean in your heart?

LdiM: Well, Ferrari is a part of my life. I have to say that immediately after my family, there is Ferrari. I’ve been here as a chairman since 23 years. My age is exactly the same age of the Ferrari company, because the company was born 65 years ago. I’ve been here as a young team manager of competition. And I’m looking forward to see this movie, Rush, because this is when I was here with Niki Lauda, at the time mid 70s, I was lucky enough to win– three world championships. I was the personal assistant at the beginning for Enzo Ferrari. And then team manager. So for me, in my life, Ferrari is important. It means to have a responsibility, to have a fantastic relationship with my people. I always repeat that behind the fantastic car, there are fantastic people. And I am proud when we have received the prize of The best place to work in Europe.

Because my biggest patrimony are the women and the men that work in the company. It means to be strong enough in the difficult moments. We have got difficult moments. 1993, one year after I arrived; there was the biggest work for a car market in crisis. We have got difficult moments in competition. But we have to be cold, from one side; to control your passion. But also to have the possibility, to have the capability to look ahead.

For me, my main job is to look ahead. To have what we call continuous improvement. Look at the details. The details are very, very important for us. And also I am happy enough and I thank God, because every single year, every single day, when I’m entering my office, I have motivation, ideas, and this is very, very important.

Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

WB: You entered Ferrari as chairman at a very difficult time, as you say, it was terrible for the car market. Ferrari, in competition, was not doing so well. The car company was in difficult times. How did you turn things around to create the Ferrari of today? And how did you, as a businessman, but also as a passionate man, manage to allow your heart not to rule your head?

LdiM: That was a really, for me, one of the more difficult moments of my life. Because I came back, as chairman and CEO, after 17 years. In Formula One, 17 years means 100 years in the normal activities. [LAUGHS] And we were a little bit too much in the prison of the past, in term of organization, mentality, typology of products. I used to say, “I don’t want to do a gadget for rich people. I want to do fantastic cars that you can enjoy with, drive, emotion.” And I was very lucky to have worked for a few years with Enzo Ferrari.

And from him I took a very important lesson; to look ahead.

I didn’t want to be in the prison of the past and the prison of too much, how can I say, tradition. I want to maintain tradition, but looking ahead. So, first of all, I tried to vocalize few but important priorities.

Number one, complete innovation the way of work; organization. Second, to have a clear view of what kind of products I want. And I wanted to start to do different Ferraris for different cars complement each other, cars very innovative, cars with a lot of new technology, coming from Formula One; the gearbox, the aerodynamics, the electronics. A lot of technology.

Then to renew completely the organization in the team. We’re talking about Formula One. Because when I arrived, it was 1991. And since 1979 we hadn’t won any championship.

And Enzo Ferrari died in ’88, very sad, without a win for the last ten years. So it was important to be very vocal on the priority but on the same time, at the same time, I was worried because this doesn’t mean to solve the problem in a few months. It means medium-term.

So it was tough work, but now I’m very, very pleased. Also because Ferrari is a strong brand; Ferrari is present in 62 markets in the world. We have won a lot of championship title for drivers. Now it is time to win again. But this is the first step anyway.

We have won a lot of titles with Michael Schumacher, with Kimi Raikkonen. I want Ferrari always in the top. I want to win, but the sport is unpredictable.

WB: The future of the sport. How positive or negative are you about the future of Formula One?

LdiM: Well, Formula One is in our blood, in our D.N.A. I told you before, 63 years in Formula One. For me, Formula One, today and tomorrow, is important as an advanced research center. And this is something crucial for us. If this will not be the case, there is no reason for us to be in Formula One. Because I am in Formula One for new technology, for extreme technology.

If I see all the cars together, the same engine, or as today (2013) in which aerodynamic means 90% of competition. I don’t do satellite, I don’t do airplanes; I do cars. So aerodynamic is important. But for me is important electronic, gearbox, engine, suspension.

And today this is not the case. I hope next year (2014) something will change. Today, it is a tyres competition, it is aerodynamic competition; okay. But this is not exactly what we are looking for.

So I think that we have to push the rules that can give you the possibility to have more advanced technology for cars; not for airplanes. And second, a loyal championship. In the last years, I’ve seen something that I didn’t like, in which somebody’s cheated and in which the federation sometime was not strong enough to maintain a loyal approach to the racers. So I hope that Formula One will improve the technology research for us. Also with less cost. But less cost doesn’t mean to not have the possibility to have research and to have loyal approach of the competition.

WB: You know Jean very well…

LdiM: Total.

WB: Of course. When you talk about the F.I.A. and the president, and the F.I.A. not standing for, as you said, the correct approach, why do you think Jean hasn’t done that? Because you know him. He’s a strong individual.

LdiM: I don’t think so. I think that there was something not clear what happened with the Mercedes [tyre] test. Because this is very clear. In the rules it’s written you are not allowed to test with the car of the year. So it was very clear. And I haven’t seen any strong position on this.

I’ve seen that an external tribunal asked to the F.I.A. to pay some of the cost. So if I’m in this position, I will say, “No.” I’m not in to do so. I do appeal because it means that there is something that maybe was not 100% perfect in the F.I.A. approach.

So I’m not happy for what happened. Because I think that the solution was gray; I prefer white on black. And that case was very clear, in which it’s impossible to have gray because the rules are very clear. And I expect far more decision from F.I.A. Having said that, Todt is a person that knows and is a loyal person. He’s a hard worker, and he’s a person that knows very well Formula One.

And I expect and I’m looking for a strong F.I.A. in which we share, as I’m sure we will do, as we have already done, more possibility to test. Because Formula One is the only one professional sport in which you are not allowed to exercise, like in the tennis, in the soccer, in the basketball… everywhere. You are not allowed to give the possibility to young driver to be familiar with Formula One.

This could be very important for the future. And also testing means promotion, means the possibility to do events for us, for sponsor, for everything.

And Todt… I think, I trust him at the end. Even if I didn’t, I was not happy for what happened. And I’m sure that in the future we will have a more clear approach in these matters.

Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

WB: From a commercial perspective… CVC, Bernie Ecclestone, the relationship will not last forever. We know this. Bernie won’t be around forever. What do you see in the future without Bernie? Because there was talk that you might have taken over at some point. But now CVC says it’s going to be somebody from outside motorsport.

Motorsport’s a very intricate world. Do you think somebody from outside can ever truly feel… or can ever truly be loyal and understand the sport?

LdiM: I think that, as in every business in every sport, when a very important cycle would finish, and this would be, for me, here. For Bernie, in Formula One. I hope I can arrive at the same his age (LAUGH) in some good condition.

I think you have to change completely the page. I think that Formula One has unbelievable potential all over the world. But I think that you need to approach Formula One even in a far [more] modern way in the future, in term of many things.

WB: Talk to me about the emotion of Monza.

LdiM: The great moment of my life was in 1975, September, when after 12 years [without a title] I was a young team manager. I was responsible of the team. We won the race in Monza with Clay Regazzoni, and Niki… Niki Lauda arrived third, and he became automatically, in Monza, the champion of the world, after 12 years. That was, for me, unbelievable emotion.

If I remember… now, I’ve got emotion.

Monza is history. Monza is Italian crowd. Monza is passion. Monza is, for us, big pressure and big (LAUGH) responsibility. Since now I already started to tell my people, “Listen, you have to prepare Monza in the proper way. We have to be concentrated.” And Monza, the atmosphere is unique. This is the reason why, when we talk about the future Formula One we have to protect something important; that is history.

I’m in favor to race in Korea, in India, but I don’t want to lose Monza. I don’t want to lose Spa. I don’t want to lose fantastic tracks like Interlagos, in Brazil. We have to maintain something important. And I’m looking for one more race in United States, because this is important. The last year in Austin was a very good success.

WB: I’ve got to wrap it up now, I’ve been told. But I just want to ask one final question.

There’s always talk that you’re going to go into Italian politics, (LAUGH) and– and one day leave Ferrari. Would you ever leave this company, knowing, I guess, in one way, you have a 100% approval rating, when you are chairman of Ferrari. And in politics you’ll never have a 100% approval rating.

LdiM: You [want to] know the answer?

Thank you very much, [but] no. (LAUGHTER)

And yet today, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, did just that. He left the company he said he never would. The company which just three days ago he had pledged his future to. He had dedicated his life to Ferrari, to the men and women employed at Maranello, to the racing exploits of the Scuderia and to the millions of tifosi around the world.

In reading back through the transcript of an interview I have not seen or heard in over a year, it is interesting that some of the very reasons we believe he has reached an impasse with the FCA bosses seem to be included within the answers he gave me that August afternoon.

Yet also in clear evidence is that passion. And whatever Sergio Marchionne brings to the table, it is that passion that will be almost impossible to replicate.

“His leaving is for me the same as Mr Enzo dying.” Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters today. “He has become Ferrari. You see him, you see Ferrari. You don’t see anything else. You don’t see Luca.”

Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo c/o James Moy Photography

Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo
c/o James Moy Photography

“Road to Ferrari” is next re-broadcast on NBCSN on November 6 at 7pm Eastern

Sergio Canamasas c/o GP2 Media Service

Sergio Canamasas
c/o GP2 Media Service

Motorsport is dangerous. These words are printed on the back of every race ticket. They are written on every credential I’ve ever held as a journalist and broadcaster.

The possibility of a large, potentially life threatening accident is an ever present reality in motor racing. Perhaps that’s what gives the sport its edge. Perhaps that’s what makes these racers so heroic. Perhaps that’s why some people watch.

Every weekend I arrive at the track and go into the commentary box knowing that at any point any one of these brilliantly talented men and women, whose stories and racing exploits it is my honour to narrate, may be taken from us. But because of the actions of one man, that possibility becomes ever more real. That fear of the unlikely becomes increasingly likely. The concept of “if” is replaced by the knowledge of “when.”

For more than two years, Sergio Canamasas has raced in the GP2 Series without an apparent care or consideration for the morality or regulation of the sport in which he is engaged and with a seeming disregard for his own safety and that of those with whom he shares a track. He is irresponsible. He is reckless. And he should not be racing.

His actions over the past two weekends in Spa and Monza have seen a return of the driver who cast himself into the role of arch villain in his first season and a half in the championship. He has been kicked out of qualifying sessions for using his car as a weapon. He has driven competitors off track and pushed them into walls at 200mph. He has been disqualified and then ignored his removal from competition. He offends time and again. He does not change. He does not learn.

When it was announced that he would be lining up alongside Johnny Cecotto at Trident this season, many (including this author) predicted disaster. Cecotto, much as Canamasas, had marked himself out as a liability in the 2013 season. But Trident had an ace up their sleeve, and in their new team-manager Giacomo Ricci, himself a GP2 race winner, they have found a man who has played a tremendous role in turning the fast but erratic Cecotto into a complete and rounded racer. Gone is the temper, gone the propensity towards stupidity, replaced by an inner calm which has been at the root of one of the most impressive racers of the season.

But for all of Ricci’s achievements with Cecotto, he has been unable to turn the tide with Canamasas.

GP2 implemented penalty points this season. They have been handed out reluctantly and ineffectively. Canamasas received his first points of the season in Monza… two on Saturday and five for his idiocy on Sunday. He sits a further five from a race ban, but he should not be given the opportunity to amass any more.

Sergio Canamasas displayed to the world on Sunday in Monza that he should not be allowed on a race track. At all. His blatant disregard for track limits, his appalling awareness of his own actions and his utter incomprehension of their consequences resulted in multiple accidents, retirements and his eventual disqualification.

But, having been disqualified from the race itself, it seems the GP2 stewards once again will fail to act accordingly and hand down the race suspension that his so called racecraft requires.

The most dangerous aspect of this young man is not just that he does not learn from his mistakes and his reprehensible actions. It is that he fails to comprehend what he has done wrong. He genuinely believes that it is those around him that are at fault and that he is the innocent party. Far from failing to grasp the reality of his own inadequacies as a racer, he believes that he is of a higher level than those whose lives he places at constant risk.

It has reached a point where, unless the GP2 stewards take decisive action against him, I question for how much longer I will be involved in any capacity with a championship into which I have invested my heart and soul for over a decade. I do not wish to watch on and commentate the death of a racing driver. And for as long as Sergio Canamasas takes the start of a motor race, I fear that I will have to.

The men with whom he shares a track feel the same.

Many have taken to social media to express their upset with him after Monza. Behind the scenes, more still are discussing the possibility of filing a petition, signed by every driver of the GP2 Series, which they will hand to Charlie Whiting in Sochi detailing their insistence that they will not drive for as long as he is permitted on track.

The time has come. Enough is enough.

Philippe Gurdjian c/o @carl_phg

Philippe Gurdjian
c/o @carl_phg

I first met Philippe Gurdjian 11 years ago. The two days I spent with him, at the incredible facility he had created in the South of France, remain 48 of the most memorable and happy hours of my 13 years in motor racing.

His obituaries will speak of a circuit promoter for Paul Ricard and Magny Cours, organiser of the Spanish Grand Prix and latterly the man who helped create Sepang and Yas Marina. Few will talk of the man himself. Brightly coloured sweater draped over his shoulders, atop his immaculately fitted grey suit. That voice, gravelly and ever so French, yet warm and somehow familiar. That quiffed, slicked back head of grey hair. Standing before you with the stature of a man of tremendous importance and yet beholden of the humility of one on the bottom rung of a seemingly never ending ladder. And that smile and humour… so full of silliness, naughtiness and childish, impish innocence. A man so full of joy.

My first meeting with Philippe was on my first visit to Circuit Paul Ricard for an article I was writing for F1 Magazine. He was the first person I met, in the reception area of the Hotel du Castellet. He would become my personal tour guide over the next two days. Over the following years, he would become someone I got to know well. And came to like immensely.

In my article I described him as a Willy Wonka character, and the more I think of the man, the more I think that comparison to be a fair and accurate comparison. With each passing room on the tour his excitement grew along with his pride in what he had created. On arrival at the restaurant, I genuinely half expected him to announce he’d developed lickable wallpaper. With Philippe, anything and everything seemed possible.

He worked 20 hour days at Ricard to ensure everything was perfect. From the hotel to the airport to the go kart track to the circuit itself… everything HAD to be right. The pitlane featured strips of grass, pulled from the lawns at Biggin Hill. Those pink and blue lines were his idea, drawing from a passion and a talent for art. From the manner in which the trees were trimmed to the menu in the restaurant, Philippe oversaw everything.

He seemed to have an almost overwhelming need to find perfection. Was it obsession or simply passion? Perhaps it was a bit of both. His eccentricity was what made him so loveable, for without that mild tinge of madness, that beautiful creative element, he might have seemed a ruthless and relentless taskmaster rather than the glorious, visionary artist he truly was.

What he created in Malaysia set the tone for every new racing circuit we have seen in the last 15 years. What he went on to build at Circuit Paul Ricard pushed those boundaries further still. When he was called in to ensure that those on the ground in Abu Dhabi didn’t ruin the opportunity afforded to them, you could be in no doubt that what would be created would set that bar yet higher. When first we arrived at Yas Marina, one learned colleague wrote that Formula 1 would not see a more incredible facility until it raced on the moon.

That was Philippe’s gift. That will be his legacy.

I saw him last in Barcelona. His slicked back hair gone, his body frail, his walking stick now no longer for show but a necessity. I was rushing off, late for commentary of a championship that had taken me time and again to his beautiful creation in the South of France. A place I had come to call my second home. My happy place.

I wish, so dearly, I had just stopped even for a minute to embrace him and wish him well, as he always had done with me, through my days in GP2 and Formula 1, whenever we had seen each other. I promised myself that I would stop for a proper catch up when next I saw him.

I will never now have that chance.

Formula 1 lost one of its great architects today. More than that, it lost one of its great men. Aged just 69.

I liked Philippe Gurdjian very much. And I will miss him dearly.

The GP2-05 c/o GP2 Media Service

The GP2-05
c/o GP2 Media Service

Ten years ago, the path to Formula 1 for young drivers was crowded and confused. The FIA International Formula 3000 championship was supposed to be the final rung on the ladder, but with an ageing car that sat way off the pace of the F1 cars of the time, lacked the technology of the main championship and had lost its lustre and marketability, the time had come for a change.

In the January of 2004, the death of F3000 was heralded by the announcement of the formation of the GP2 Series. By July of that year, the technical details of the first GP2 car had been made public, and series boss Bruno Michel outlined his hopes for the new championship.

“Our ambition is to create a compelling single-seater series that is the final stepping stone to Formula 1. We want on-track action, talented drivers and close competition. In order to achieve this, we launched an ambitious technical programme that has produced an extremely fast car. Our initial simulations indicate that a GP2 series car should be capable of running roughly six seconds slower than
a mid-grid 2003 Formula 1 car.

“The investment required for a start-up season is not insignificant, but we have made a three-year commitment and will guarantee minimal operating costs. Close attention will be paid to costs and the quantities of spare parts ordered by the participating teams.”

Looking back, ten years on, the GP2 Series can rightly consider itself a success. Its first two champions Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sit first and second in the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship. It has launched the Formula 1 careers of numerous talented, Grand Prix winning and podium finishing drivers, and today GP2 stands on its own feet as one of the most exciting single make championships in the world.

Hamilton and Rosberg Mercedes AMG Petronas c/o James Moy Photography

Hamilton and Rosberg
Mercedes AMG Petronas
c/o James Moy Photography

Over the pond, GP2’s American cousin Indy Lights today finds itself in a similar spot to the F3000 of old. The current Indy Lights car is in its 12th season of service. Grids are not what they once were, the level of competition has slipped and the championship’s relevance and ability to promote talent to the main Indycar Series lies in serious doubt.

Just as the route to Formula 1 was given a major, meaningful and lasting shakeup a decade ago, so the Road to Indy now faces a revolution at year’s end. Indy Lights will premiere a brand new car, the IL-15, and its introduction to the championship next season is set to breathe new life not only into Indy Lights, but to Indycar itself.

The Dallara IL-15 will feature a carbon composite chassis, constructed to the latest FIA and IndyCar safety standards and will be powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged AER engine producing 450 HP. Additional features include a six-speed, paddle-shift transmission, a 50 HP push-to-pass feature, drive-by-wire throttle and advanced engine management electronics. Initial targets were to be able to hit speeds of 200 mph. And, bravely, the car’s development is being conducted in full public view.

The Dallara IL-15

The Dallara IL-15

Conor Daly is an Indy Lights race winner. He’s a Star Mazda champion. Last season he drove almost every single seater you could imagine. He won races in GP3 and scored points on his GP2 debut. He raced the Indy 500. He tested a Formula 1 car. It should come as little surprise, then, that Indy Lights have put their faith in him, alongside 2012 Lights champion Tristan Vautier, to conduct the initial testing of IL-15 before handing it over to Indycar stars James Hinchcliffe and reigning champion Scott Dixon.

“It’s definitely powerful and its got a good technology package with Cosworth and the guys from AER,”
Daly told me in Spa.

“I think they’ve done a really good job to prepare the engine. We did a lot of miles and considering it was the first time the car had run, it was impressive how much we were able to run. I did the first day at Putnam Park but that was mostly just trouble shooting, so the first real day I did was on the oval. It was pretty sketchy at first with not a lot of rear grip, but the front was very positive. We took the full day to sort that out, which we did. And that in itself was also very positive. Every change we made was good. We went in the right direction and by the end of the day we ran our fastest lap on the last run so that showed good progress. It was quicker than the pole speed from this year and there is still so much time to be found in gear ratios, trimming the car out… a lot of stuff. I saw 199mph legitimately on the wheel entering Turn 1, and that’s without trimming it out or using sixth gear so I think it has the potential to be really fast.

“That was the oval… but it was a really different story on the road course. We spent a whole day unable to get much grip into it. That was a bit of a struggle. But we did a lot of miles and so we got a lot of data on what worked and what didn’t. Testing is carrying on as we speak and they’re finding more and more grip. And you know, even though I say we had trouble finding grip, we were still faster than the pole this year so that’s really positive.”

So where would Daly say it sits in the pantheon of the cars he’s driven in the last 12 months?

Tristan Vautier takes IL-15 out for a spin Photo c/o Marshall Pruett

Tristan Vautier takes IL-15 out for a spin
Photo c/o Marshall Pruett

“I think it will slot right in between GP3 and GP2. It doesn’t have enough power to compete with GP2 but it definitely has more power than GP3. And it’s got the fancy bits and bobs that produce downforce! The brakes are nice too. Performance friction has done a really nice job of putting a package together specifically for that car. They’re not carbon brakes but they are really good and that’s cool to see how much work they have put in just for that car.

“As for the engine, GP3’s single turbo was terrible. But this? People LOVE the sound of this thing. It is loud, it screams, it’s got turbo whizzes and all sorts and it really pulls. I think it should provide great racing. I think there is a very high probability of that. When the boost comes on there’s a kick, but AER has done a really good job to mask it. I ran an anti-lag system on the road course and it was really interesting. It’s something that we had to fine tune. Also there’s push to pass which will be awesome. Overall, everything is good.”

The IL-15 is the car Indy Lights desperately needs. But more than that, it could yet be that IL-15 proves itself to be the car that global motorsport needs.

The Indy Lights field is notably dated c/o Indy Lights

The Indy Lights field is notably dated
c/o Indy Lights

Ten years on from GP2’s launch, promotion to the top tier as a result of success in F1’s feeder category is no longer a certainty. Talent alone is not enough. Budget in the tens of millions of dollars is an increasing requirement to oil the cogs for even the most talented GP2 driver to gain his place at the top table. The promotion of Max Verstappen from Formula 3 to Formula 1 is the exception, not the rule, but even so the promotion of Bottas and Kvyat from GP3 and the likes of Vergne and Bianchi from WSR show that GP2 no longer holds the position of absolute arbiter of F1 merit that it once did.

Regardless of GP2’s position, it is clear that chances in the F1 paddock are few and far between. More and more of Europe’s most talented young drivers are thus shifting their attention away from Formula 1 and towards alternate championships. Formula E is flooded with talent, many of whom never got that F1 shot. Endurance racing is benefitting from the roster of talent left on the sidelines. But it is Stateside and towards Indycar that the focus of many young racers is now switching.

Talented GP3 racer Jack Harvey realised the futility of following the ladder to F1 and switched to Indy Lights this season, as did long time GP2 racer Luiz Razia. They have blazed a trail which others look set to follow. And IL-15 could be the deal-breaker.

With few routes out of GP3, WSR and GP2 into F1, Indycar is becoming a focus, not a fallback. This weekend, many of GP2 and GP3’s star drivers have been locked in discussions over the best route to fly to Fontana in the week between Spa and Monza. They want to visit the Indycar paddock at its championship finale, show their faces, talk to the influential and make their intentions known. Just as the launch of GP2 in 2005 gave the path to F1 a much needed revamp, so the birth of IL-15 could mark Indy Lights out as a genuine feeder category of choice for aspiring racers the world over.

Vautier in IL-15 c/o Marshall Pruett

Vautier in IL-15
c/o Marshall Pruett

“The launch of IL-15 is important because the series is struggling right now and what it needs is something new,” Daly confirms. “There’s only really three teams that you can run with in Lights at the moment and have a chance of winning. That limits you immediately. I think now if you get an even playing field with a new car, then you’ll have more interest from teams and drivers because it opens things up again. Everyone will have a chance. That’s why you go to GP3 and GP2, because theoretically you have the same chance as everyone else. That’s what Indy Lights needs.”

In order to do that, however, Indy Lights needs the one thing that GP2 lacks. And that is a guaranteed route via established top tier teams. Yes, the Indy Lights champion will be guaranteed three races including the Indy 500 as a prize for taking the crown, but what the series desperately requires is existing Indycar teams to become involved, be it via an official association with a Lights team or by running their own squad.

Andretti has already shown the benefit of such a system, when it took a gamble on young Carlos Munoz and ran their Indy Lights star at last season’s Indy500. Few rookies have made such a sensational debut at the Brickyard, with Munoz’s style, speed and bravery calling to mind another young Colombian on his IMS debut, Juan Pablo Montoya. It came as little surprise that Munoz was plucked from the Lights team and moved up to Indycar by Andretti for 2014. But Munoz is the exception.

Of course, IL-15 as a new car will not be cheap. But with seasonal budgets expected to top out at between $900,000 and $1.1m the required finances for a prospective 2015 Indy Lights driver are not so different to current levels and are still highly favourable when compared to the money required to run in GP3, WSR or GP2.

IL-15 c/o Indy Lights

IL-15
c/o Indy Lights

Series boss Dan Andersen has said he already has nine teams committed for 2015. “They’ve signed on and paid their registration fees. And we have more that I expect to sign up in coming days, including two of the top current Indy Lights teams. Plus, we have IndyCar teams, such as Rahal and Foyt who are seriously considering it, along with some former Atlantic teams that are pretty far down the road in making a decision. A lot of credit goes to Dallara and AER for producing something here that everyone wants to play with.”

For Daly, the inclusion in the championship of existing Indycar teams is vital.

“I think in America, if an Indycar team really embraces the junior team and sees a driver that has done well and hasn’t just brought money, then there’s more of a chance that they will take a chance on youth. Certainly more than in F1. I’ve seen so many young drivers in the F1 world not get that chance, but I think that in the Indycar world, embracing Indy Lights and the new IL-15 should allow talented racers more of a chance.”

As young drivers across the world allow their frustrations to fester and begin to question how realistic their F1 dream truly is as the European feeder championships bottleneck at the F1 gates, IL-15 could be the spark for Indy Lights which the launch of GP2 gave F1 hopefuls a decade ago. Time will tell, but Andersen and Indy Lights may be embarking upon a path that leads not only to the rejuvenation of their own championship but which may also, by attracting the greatest young talent from around the world to a more open and accessible ladder to the top table, form the basis of a new golden era for Indycar itself.

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