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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.

mechanics-tale-steve-matchett

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.

Wonderful.

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.

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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

Red Bull Ring c/o James Moy Photography

Red Bull Ring
c/o James Moy Photography

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

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

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

It was that ill-fated wedding all over again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will your emotions be on returning to Monaco?

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

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

#ForzaJules

#ForzaJules

laurel-and-hardy

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

They just have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The return of refueling does none of these things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oof. Jeff Gordon makes Brad Keselowski look like Sebastian Vettel www.twitter.com

Oof. Jeff Gordon makes Brad Keselowski look like Sebastian Vettel
http://www.twitter.com

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

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

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

Josef Newgarden c/o www.indycar.com

Josef Newgarden
c/o http://www.indycar.com

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

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

Graham Rahal c/o www.indycar.com

Graham Rahal
c/o http://www.indycar.com

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

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

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

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

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

The Mayor of Hinchtown c/o www.indycar.com

The Mayor of Hinchtown
c/o http://www.indycar.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they both despise each other.

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

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

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

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

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

Again… just a thought…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth the investment? c/o James Moy Photography

Worth the investment?
c/o James Moy Photography

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

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

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

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

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