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

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

I’m getting a little tired of this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It smacks of irresponsibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we proceed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penalty System:

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

MSA track limit guidelines

MSA track limit guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within track limits? Belgain Grand Prix 2015

Within track limits?
Belgain Grand Prix 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Whiting c/o James Moy Photography

Charlie Whiting
c/o James Moy Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verstappen on Nasr approaching Blanchimont

Verstappen on Nasr approaching Blanchimont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The summer break granted me some much overdue reading time. You’d think with all the long haul travel involved in a season of Formula 1 that I’d be much better read, but I find it incredibly hard to focus on a book in the air. That, and who can resist watching Laurence of Arabia for the 17th time?

I took three books away with me, all with a work-related tone. And I devoured each one.

I began with two works by dear friends and colleagues. “Where the Writer Meets the Road,” is everything you would expect from the incomparable Sam Posey. His turn of phrase is nigh on poetic and his words flow as readily from the page as they do from his tongue. A collection of articles, profiles and familiar broadcast introductions, this book is a “Best of Posey” of sorts and a fabulous read in easily digestible chunks.


Next up I finally got round to reading Steve Matchett’s “The Mechanic’s Tale.” I must admit no small amount of embarrassment that I had never turned its pages before, as I feel I must be one of the only fans of this sport never to do so. But in a way I’m glad I waited as long as I did. For knowing Steve as well as I now do, it felt more like a conversation. I could sit and listen to Steve regale stories for days, and I found The Mechanics Tale to be one of the easiest and most joyous books to read.

It’s a fascinating, engaging account of how a road car mechanic with a dream ended up winning the Formula 1 world championship, all told in Steve’s inimitable style with great heart and humour. It doesn’t bog down in detail, allowing the narrative of the seasons to prevail. I could almost imagine each chapter in conversation over a pint in The Chequers in Chipping Norton, or a Martini in a Steak House in Austin.


So having waltzed joyfully through two books in two days, I opened my third and final work and one which would take me the rest of the week to complete.


Max Mosley: The Autobiography – Formula One and Beyond is not your regular Formula 1 book. If you want a race by race history of Formula 1 as seen through the eyes of a racer, team owner and eventually FIA President, then this is not the book for you. Weighing in at 481 pages, only the first 93 go into great depth from a racing perspective.

But that’s not what excites about Mosley’s story. Mosley was born into politics and has lived a life ruled by politics. As a student of the subject, I wrote to him when I decided to write my University thesis on The Politics of Formula 1 back at the start of the 2000s. He replied to every letter and answered every question. It impressed me at the time and does so even more today when I think back on it. If only I’d had this book 15 years ago. It would have filled in an awful lot of gaps.

From page 94, this thrilling book becomes an in depth and utterly compelling political history of Formula 1 from the very inside of the FISA-FOCA war. It charts the methods and strategy employed by Mosley and Ecclestone in wrestling control of the sport away from FISA and Balestre, how Mosley positioned himself within the FIA to take control of the body and the sport, and how Ecclestone leveraged his own position to not only place himself at the commercial heart of the sport, but how he turned Formula 1 from a sideline and niche motorsport into the most popular racing championship and one of the richest and most watched sports in the world.

The strategies employed and explained are fascinating. His awareness of which battles to fight, who to trust, when to hold and when to strike are utterly Machieavellian.

There is a lot of honesty contained within the pages of Mosley’s book, too. I found particular interest in his fears that Bernie Ecclestone would engage in a “scorched earth” policy at the end of one of the periods of agreement, in order to lower the bargaining price of the sport. Mosley’s suggestion of such a tactic of course holds particular relevance today when one questions the reasoning for the occasional negative comment on the state of the sport by the man charged with its promotion. Again, it’s the political machinations that one finds so intriguing.

Over your years in the sport, you hear a lot of rumours. Some of which have found their way into the book and I couldn’t help but smile and on a few occasions laugh out loud that there was truth behind some of the more outrageous stories that had become F1 folklore.

Mosley goes to great lengths to convince he has a good relationship with Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton (a case of the lady protesting too much?), especially in light of the Spygate scandal of 2007. Mosley clearly still holds great resentment that Dennis and McLaren stood by their insistence of innocence, but in his retelling of the story does amusingly confirm that it was Ecclestone, and not him as is often rumoured, who had jokingly uttered the immortal line that Ron had been “fined $5 million for the offence and $95 million for being a c**t.”

I know that there was much that Mosley had written which was taken out by the lawyers. Which is a shame. And as an autobiography, Mosley himself is always going to come out on top. While he does admit culpability and fault in some cases, one will never receive a totally rounded reflection of his successes and tenure in office from a self-penned work. It can feel self congratulatory in places, and at times it is difficult to reconcile Mosley’s fight against the teams when in a position of authority when one remembers that a decade or so earlier he had been in the polar opposite position. The anti-establishment hero had become the very establishment he sought to remove, a fact which at times seems lost on him.

The final chapters are spent detailing The News of The World’s campaign against Mosley and his waging of war against the paper and, latterly, his influence in initiating one of the greatest changes to the power of the press ever witnessed in the United Kingdom. It proves once again what a brilliant legal and political mind exists within Mosley, and from the perspective of British legal and political history, again provides an important account of a time of real change.

It made me wonder if I had been fair with Mosley at the time of the allegations, and forced me to go back through what I had written back in 2008. I believe I was. But with the aid of hindsight, and knowing what we now do about the case, one cannot help but feel a few pangs of guilt that one’s compassion over the breach of the man’s inalienable right to privacy was perhaps not as great as it should have been.

In conclusion, then, did the book make me reassess Mosley’s Presidency? Yes it did. Did it make me reassess Mosley the man? Undeniably. But always with the awareness that Mosley is, by training, by experience and by reputation a charming, persuasive and astute politician. There are great gaping holes in the story, and elements to many of the political scandals which rocked the sport under his watch that I wish had been delved into far deeper. Perhaps one day all those pages the lawyers thought should remain unprinted will see the light of day. I certainly hope so.

If you want a racing history of Formula 1, this isn’t the book for you. But if you, like me, are fascinated and excited by the thrill of politics, law and finance as the backstory to the creation and development of a sport you adore, then this is essential, if heavy, reading.

It’s not a racing book. It’s a political history. And a damned fine one.

As with the beautiful works of my dear friends Sam and Steve, it comes with the highest recommendation.

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

Happy Monday folks!

The F1 break is at an end, and in a few days we will be at one of the world’s greatest racing tracks to reconvene the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship.

It’s been a much needed and hugely enjoyable few weeks off. I’ve tried to resist looking at the papers or the twitter, but it’s fairly tough these days. However I made myself a promise that for as long as the teams were on an enforced break, I should do the same. Tweets to a minimum. No writing.

On returning to the keyboard, I was going to write a piece about how much I’m enjoying Lewis Hamilton’s 2015 instagram adventures, but apparently I’ve been well beaten to the punch on that one. It seems his Barbados exploits split opinion down the middle, from those like me who seemed to enjoy seeing him so at ease, to those aghast that he should dare to let his hair down, have a drink and dance with girls.

I landed in Barbados a few days before Lewis, for I imagine precisely the same reason as the world champion. The island is, as far as I’m concerned, the most relaxed and welcoming place on earth. And it was a happy coincidence that the weekend of arrival should fall not just over the island’s Emancipation Day celebration, but of Kadooment and the Crop Over street parade to celebrate the end of the sugar harvest, a tradition which extends back to the 1700s.

If you don’t have a plastic goblet in your hand filled high with either Mount Gay rum punch or the local Banks beer, and if you’re not jumping around to the Soca music blasting out of the lorries, I’d hazard you’re possibly not human. It’s impossible not to have a good time. That Lewis took a pasting in some elements of the press for inappropriately dancing with numerous women on the parade merely shows the preposterous levels some will stoop in order to have a dig. Taking a look at photos sent in by paps from the comfort of your London desk, it must be very easy to write a story. But if a picture can paint a thousand words, it can also be true that every one of those words is rubbish.

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

I can vouch first hand that as a man on Crop Over you have zero choice over being danced with. The Carribbean gave the world a dance known as the “Whine” or “Wine”, which I guess today we’d call “twerking.” Standing road side and watching the parade, women in grand costumes just run up to you and start jiggling away. An awkward glance across to your girlfriend, see that she’s in hysterics over the whole thing, and the wiggly woman in question has already danced off up the road.

It’s just a bit of fun. Some people really do need to calm down and find something a bit more important to write about.

Perhaps its merely a reflection of the fame of Lewis Hamilton that so much of what he does should be poured over not just by the sports editors but now by the society columns and The Daily Mail’s celebrity pages. Hanging out with his newest breed of celebrity friends does, however, seem to have shifted his social media strategy. He is far more engaged and being far more open, something of which the younger generation of celebrity seems to be at far greater ease than those, dare I say it, of Hamilton’s age.

The Gigi Hadid’s and Cara Delevingne’s of this world are almost a decade Lewis Hamilton’s junior, and are perhaps acutely aware that in today’s throw away society, Andy Warhol’s idiom that everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes has perhaps never been so true. It seems to me that fame, for today’s famous, has never been more fleeting. Making the most of it while you’ve got it and thrusting every element of your life into public view appears from the outside to be the manner by which these young celebs attempt to extend their tenure in high society.

Lewis Hamilton does not need to do this. His sporting prowess and success will more than account for his fame and ensure his longevity. However as a public figure, brand ambassador… celebrity… these are the people against whom he has to fight for column inches and shards of the spotlight.

If there is indeed a strategy behind his social media, it’s a smart one. And it is working.

Sitting on a little boat in Barbados with some other guests from the hotel we were staying at, en route to a bit of snorkelling, a British lad no more than 10 years old pulled my arm and pointed at a stunning house on the coast, no more than 100 metres up the beach from where we’d left.

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

“Lewis Hamilton’s staying there,” he grinned, apropos of nothing. He had no idea I worked in F1. Why would he?

“Wow, that’s so cool!” I smiled.

“Yeah. I can’t believe he’s so close. He’s amazing.”

Later in the week, two Jamaican women on holiday started talking to us about a photo of Lewis they’d seen on instagram and did we know he was staying around the corner. Again, apropos of nothing.

It really gives resonance to Bernie’s comments about Lewis Hamilton being the world champion that Formula 1 needs. He is a true global megastar.

There were also a few times in Barbados that some lovely folks came over to talk F1. I hadn’t realised it, but many Bajans get their F1 fix through NBCSN. It made me tremendously proud that their first words were ones of thanks to the entire crew for bringing them coverage of the sport they love.

And, with Lewis Hamilton probably off on a paddleboard with Roscoe and Coco, it reminded me once again how incredibly fortunate I am to call this sport, and my passion, a job. And how, from within the bubble of the paddock we can pour over the minutiae and pull the sport apart over what we think it should or shouldn’t be, but that outside the narrow confines and narrow mindsets of we, the “insiders,” the sport still resonates, it still excites. It stirs passion. It thrills. As it always has and always will.

So yeah, I’m gutted the holidays are over. But I cannot wait to get back to work. Because it’s the greatest job and the greatest sport in the world.

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

c/o @lewishamilton Instagram

Jules Bianchi c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
c/o James Moy Photography

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for three hours now. The clock ticks relentlessly, the marking of time with the movement of hands clunking louder and heavier and seemingly slower every second. The electrical whirr of the fridge freezer behind me, a low monotonous mechanical dirge. The creaks of the walls. The twisting of pipes as the boiler flickers on and the flame ignites. A roar in the corner. And all the while, the endless swirling of white noise in your mind, and the deep rhythmic thud of your heartbeat.

Silence isn’t really silent at all.

Focus blurs and vision glistens. The warm emotional relief as tears flow, punctuating the numbness if only for a moment.

I have tried, and failed, to put into words what and who Jules Bianchi was. While part of me made peace with this eventuality some time ago, it is only today as I sit here trying to explain why his loss is being felt so keenly, that I realise I’m only now coming to terms with what happened nine months ago and the incredible man we lost.

I could try and recall and recount the many wonderful displays in GP2 and GP2 Asia that I had the pleasure of commentating. The doubts I had over his temperament, not to mention peripheral vision, after numerous start accidents. I could tell you about the way he matured so brilliantly in World Series, and the deep feeling of injustice he felt at the culmination of that championship year. I could go back over an interview we conducted with him in Force India overalls at testing in early 2013 in case he got the nod, and how warmly he laughed at the silliness of having to pretend that he’d been given a seat he hadn’t and ultimately wouldn’t get. His embarrassment later that year when, now as a Marussia driver, I told him in an interview he was being compared to Fernando Alonso, so impressive were his performances for a backmarker team.

How by chance I ended up being paired with him in a kart race last year and for a few glorious laps ran in his wheeltracks. I could tell you how incredible he was on a squash court, his physical and mental agility proving an unbeatable combination. And how, for the past nine months, I always held out hope of a final rematch.

How he’d always stop and talk in the paddock. How he would always make time. How he’d always invite you over for a drink at a party, put his arm around you and smile that infectious smile.

I wanted to write something long form and expansive and detailed. But I can’t right now because the silence is deafening and this hurts more than I ever realised it would.

So instead, I hope you will forgive me for uploading something of which I was incredibly proud at the time. And am even more so today. And I hope it will give some insight into not just the talented racing driver, but the wonderful person that Jules Bianchi was and the life he led with “no regrets…”

I admired you so much. Sleep well my friend.

The British Grand Prix was a cracker c/o James Moy Photography

The British Grand Prix was a cracker
c/o James Moy Photography

The past week has seen Formula 1 finally set itself upon a path back towards a state of health which, I think, anyone involved in the sport either professionally or vicariously will admit was required. The grand sweeping changes many deemed necessary have, thankfully, been averted in favour of far more sensible, piecemeal, amendments to a show which is merely damaged and far from broken.

I’ve said it on air, and it’s an argument I stand by, but when one cuts one’s finger, one does not amputate one’s hand. Overreaction only serves to compound an issue.

With the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Mexico this week, I found the array of drivers and representatives of the sport gathered there to be in fine voice. Juan Pablo Montoya, for example, spoke eloquently, calmly and sensibly on the topic of Formula 1, something which has not always been the case. For many years JPM seemed to hold a bitterness towards the championship, but his words of caution this week held resonance at a time of soul searching for the sport.

The pursuit of faster cars, he claimed, was not the golden chalice that many believed it to be. Far from it. Faster cars merely highlight the differences between the teams and increase the disparity. So while the headline targets of the Strategy Group to increase F1 speeds by five or six seconds a lap may seem noble, they may also prove to be a false dawn.

I’ve often argued that it’s the same concept one uses when karting with friends. Sure, your bravado tells you that you all want the quickest karts you can lay your hands on, but the disparity between friends and the vast difference in experience and talent means you’ll never get a decent race. Put everyone in the slowest rental karts you can find, and the chances are you’ll have a hugely entertaining afternoon.

It’s a line Monisha Kaltenbourn also took. Because while faster cars are a great headline, who in the grandstands really cares about laptime? What they want is a race. And simply making the cars faster will not do that.

Verstappen Vs Bottas 2015 Austrian Grand Prix c/o James Moy Photography

Verstappen Vs Bottas
2015 Austrian Grand Prix
c/o James Moy Photography

The move towards putting the race back in the hands of a driver is something that will provide a greater show for the fans and something of which I’ve already stated I’m an advocate. And not just at the start. Once again, I refer you to the comments of Juan Pablo Montoya. Take away the data that tells a driver his tyre temperatures, and let him feel again. Take away the dashboard on his wheel. Take away the engineer in his ear telling him he’s critical on this or that.

When Max Verstappen tells the world he turns his dashboard off in races because he’s so sick of having to constantly refer to data and he just wants to listen to the car and feel it underneath him, I think it tells you something.

Perhaps we have moved too far away from the essence of what makes Formula 1, Formula 1.

Just yesterday I was having a chat with my girlfriend’s Father about the sport and he asked me to explain why people were making a fuss about the sound of modern engines. Did it really make a difference?

I played him a video of an onboard lap from 2015 with Jenson Button’s McLaren Honda, and then Jenson Button’s 2004 Imola pole lap in the BAR Honda. His face visibly lit up with the sound of that screaming V10.

“Oh,” he smiled. “Now I understand.”

At Silverstone I had a catch up with a friend and colleague, someone with whom I have worked in various guises over my time in Formula 1 and who now finds himself in a prominent position at the very heart of the sport. His candour and honesty is one of the things I like most about him. And last weekend he was on sparkling form.

“The thing is,” he imparted, “ When we were growing up, the one thing we all aspired towards was owning a sports car. A Ferrari, an Aston Martin… whatever. We wanted a sportscar. These days, kids just want a mobile phone. A sodding phone. How are we supposed to appeal to them?

“The problem as I see it is that we’re trying to sell ourselves to people that aren’t interested. Is a kid whose sole interest is the difference between an iPhone 5 and an iPhone 6 going to give a damn whether we’re running V8s or V6s? Maybe we’ve become so lost in trying to please everyone that we’re pleasing no-one. Do you remember what it was like a decade ago?

“It was girls, fags, booze, noise, speed, danger! That’s Formula 1. That’s what this is. That’s what it should be anyway. Yes it’s politically incorrect, but fuck it. That’s what this is!”

Alexander Rossi was on incredible form at Silverstone c/o GP2 Media Serice

Alexander Rossi was on incredible form at Silverstone
c/o GP2 Media Serice

As Charlie Whiting handed out his dictum that those caught crossing the white line at Copse would have their qualifying times taken away and Alexander Rossi was handed a five second time penalty in the Sunday morning GP2 race for pulling off one of the ballsiest passes you’ll see this year around the outside of Copse and putting his right front half an inch over the white line… I had to agree.

Where has the danger gone and that beautiful line to be run between risk and reward? Motorsport should be as nerve wracking and exhilarating as the thought of a slug trying to negotiate his way down a razorblade. That’s the perfect lap. On the edge. Where one wrong move is game over. 500 yards of asphalt run off does not a hero create.

“We’ve been telling that to the FIA for years,” said a dear friend and racer when we discussed the white line issue in Silverstone. “We’ve told them in WEC like we told them in F1, bring back the grass, bring back the gravel. Please. There has to be a penalty if you take it too far. Not a race ending penalty, but something that naturally deters you. Put a grass strip exactly one and a half times the width of an LMP1 car on the outside of every kerb, and you can put a mile of asphalt on the other side. Just give us that natural deterrent. And that’s the other thing. It’s natural. It’s grass for heaven’s sake. Digging it all up and covering it in tarmac isn’t exactly helping their green credentials is it?”

Perhaps we have lost our way. Perhaps we’ve tried so hard to please a public who might not even be interested in the product that we’ve lost sight of what we really are.

My daughter is five years old. She loves My Little Pony. She loves pretty much every Disney Princess you can name. Do they try and make their products appeal to me, a 34 year old man? No. And why? Because they know that I’m not their audience. Sure I can tell you the difference between Princess Twilight Sparkle, Rarity and AppleJack, and I can tell you why pretty much every Disney Princess would have got themselves in far less trouble if they’d just listened to their fathers, but only because my daughter is so engrossed in their worlds. They don’t try to sell to me because I’m not a five year old girl.

And that’s a really important lesson.

“Fuck, you get there and park behind George or Dave, what’s the point?” Vettel is a fan of grid girls c/o James Moy Photography

“Fuck, you get there and park behind George or Dave, what’s the point?”
Vettel is a fan of grid girls
c/o James Moy Photography

When Jeremy Clarkson was fired from Top Gear, his dismissal caused consternation around the world. Many people have tried to copy the Top Gear format, but nobody has or will ever be able to out-Clarkson Clarkson. Like him or loathe him, he was nothing but himself. And I always found it ironic that he chose to lambast Formula 1 so regularly. Because he and F1 were and are born of the same cloth.

Their popularity lies in the fact that they are, or at least were, so uncompromisingly themselves. Politically incorrect, fossil fuel burning, unapologetic. Speed. Power. Fags, booze, pretty girls in short skirts. Reckless, daring, nigh on crazy heroes who lived a life of excess.

People decry modern F1 drivers for not having the personalities of their forefathers in eras long gone, but when the sport represents such an apologetic façade, is it any wonder its protagonists are forced to do the same?

If these fan surveys tell us anything it is that the people who watch this sport want their sport back.

Perhaps its time to stop apologising for what we are and just embrace it. Warts and all and as unpopular to the politically correct majority as it may be.

Because deep down, in places some of us rarely admit… everyone loves a rebel. And there are far too few of them left.

Lewis does his best Helio impression c/o James Moy Photography

Lewis does his best Helio impression
c/o James Moy Photography

James Moy Photography

James Moy Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Start Spanish Grand Prix 2015 James Moy Photography

Race Start
Spanish Grand Prix 2015
James Moy Photography

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

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

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

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

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

DNF Saturday, start last Sunday James Moy Photography

DNF Saturday, start last Sunday
James Moy Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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