Barcelona testing paddock c/o James Moy Photography

Barcelona testing paddock
c/o James Moy Photography

A cold February in Barcelona and a fifth espresso by 10am can mean only one thing… pre-season testing. The winter war.

This time last year we were in Bahrain as the F1 teams struggled to make five minutes without a red flag as the all-new for 2014 power units went through their first baby steps on track. Fast forward to 2015 and it was like a different sport had arrived in Spain. The number of session cessations per day last week amassed those more likely to be seen in an hour in 2014. Indeed, but for McLaren and Honda, running into triple digit lap counts seemed not to be too arduous an ask for anyone.

The headlines, of course, were made by the now Mercedes-powered Lotus team, which took over from Ferrari in Jerez as the squad which most regularly topped the timesheets, and by the still confusing final day incident involving Fernando Alonso which may yet see him miss the final test this week.

That final test will be key in the teams’ preparations for Australia with many bringing major upgrades and all hoping to begin honing qualifying and race set-ups. Of course it will only be on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne that our questions are answered, but thus far, here’s what I made of the week in Spain.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

A championship to defend c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

A championship to defend
c/o James Moy Photogrpahy

Even with one driver nursing a cricked neck and the other bogged down with a high fever, the pace of the car was breathtaking. It was the sheer effortlessness that driving it seemed to require, coupled with how bolted to the track it appeared, that was impressive. When one then factors in the laptimes it was running under such apparent ease, one can only draw the conclusion that Mercedes has not simply maintained its advantage but increased it.

On day two, Lewis Hamilton began a race sim at the same time as Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was on the medium tyres, with Hamilton on the hard. The world champion’s laptimes were consistently a second a lap faster, although both pitted at around the 20 lap mark to change rubber, suggesting that the Mercedes would be more than a match for the Red Bull if pacing a run to ensure their tyres go longer.

On the final day Nico Rosberg’s best lap was around a quarter of a second shy of the best time of the day set by Romain Grosjean. Where everyone has reason for concern, however, is that Grosjean’s lap was set on the supersofts and Rosberg’s on the medium. With an estimated delta of anywhere up to two seconds between the medium and the supersoft, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Mercedes holds a clear advantage.

One wonders how great that advantage could be, if and when they finally crank it up.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing

Positive noises from Red Bull c/o James Moy Photography

Positive noises from Red Bull
c/o James Moy Photography

When one considers that this time last year Red Bull and Renault were struggling to get three laps out of the RB10, their 2015 pre-season schedule has given them far fewer headaches. That’s not to say it’s been plain sailing, far from it, but the issues which so blighted their 2014 preparations have been nowhere near as evident.

With race sims already in the bag, Chrsitain Horner’s trainers were seen tapping his stool rest not once on the pitwall… a clear sign that all is well. Ricciardo seemed confident but not overly so, due more in part to the pace of Ferrari and Lotus than over any undue negativity as to the job done by his own outfit.

When one considers the woeful position Red Bull was in this time last year, and the season they ended up pulling out of the bag, it would be foolish indeed to overlook the importance of a promising pre-season programme on the team’s chances in 2015.

Martini Williams Racing

Winning mentality c/o James Moy Photography

Winning mentality
c/o James Moy Photography

Day three in Barcelona was spent doing, as Alex deLarge in A Clockwork Orange might well have described it, a bit of the old In-Out, In-Out. Williams dedicated an entire day to pitstop practice with both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas taking half a day to do nothing but perfect stopping on their marks. It was pitstops which often let Williams down in 2014 so it was good to see them taking the time to regiment the crew. But it was desperately impressive that they should give over one whole day of the middle test to it, and a reflection of how far the team has come.

Speaking to Bottas, I asked about his initial impression on driving the car for the first time in Jerez. Valterri gives away little, but his excitement was instantly evident. A wide smile cracked his face. “It’s good,” he beamed. About as close to punching the air and giving you a hug as you’ll get from the Finn. And it looks great on track too. Assured.

Williams wasn’t ready to win last season, with both the squad and the drivers admitting that they were, at times, overly cautious. Austria was a win for that went begging, but the mentality at the time wasn’t right. They weren’t going for the win.

All of that is different in 2015. Of all the teams on the grid other than the world champions, Williams is the one which at this stage perhaps feels the most confident. It has consistency from 2014 and a car which is a logical development from the season before. For the first time in a decade it is going into the season with a winning mentality, where success is not simply hoped for, but realistically expected.

Scuderia Ferrari

False dawn or true revival? c/o James Moy Photography

False dawn or true revival?
c/o James Moy Photography

It’s all change at Ferrari, and from the Marlboro smoking, scarf wearing charisma bomb that is Maurice ArriveWell to the four time German world champion at the wheel of his cars, there’s a renewed vibe of positivity at the Scuderia.

Jerez shocked the form book, but we all know times don’t mean a thing in the winter world championship. It’s the level of consistency, reliability and the positive noises coming out of every other team on the grid about the scarlet cars, however, that writes the true story. The SF15-T is poised and purposeful and looks phenomenal on track, particularly in the corners and on application of throttle. Even Raikkonen, who so struggled with last year’s charge, looks at home.

For Raikkonen 2014 was about a lack of confidence on the brakes. For Vettel, it was uncertainty on the throttle. The SF15-T appears to have both areas nicely tidied up. On the design side, Simone Resta will have the benefit of a legendary mentor in the shape of Rory Byrne, whom Arrivabene has convinced to return to the fold.

Could it be that this is finally the year that Ferrari turns things around? If you’re Fernando Alonso you’d be spitting…

McLaren Honda

Running before you can walk c/o James Moy Photography

Running before you can walk
c/o James Moy Photography

Which brings us to McLaren.

The team may be trying to put a positive spin on things, but if we are being honest, Jenson Button’s suggestion that the team could potentially win a race in 2015 seems, on present form, to be fanciful at best.

The thing is, when the car is working it’s not all that bad. On soft tyres it can set the pace of those on track at the same time. But for one lap. Its inconsistency in reaching that target however is staggering. One lap on, one lap way off, then one back towards competitiveness, then in. The car never ran, at least on my count, into double digits on a single run in Barcelona.

There is a very long way to go until the team will be anywhere near able to run a race distance. Let alone at a competitive pace. But this should come as no surprise. Think about the problems everyone had this time last year… Honda are at that stage of their development and understanding. But while the likes of Mercedes and Renault had four teams with whom to discover issues and iron them out, Honda has just one. Its chances of getting on top of its problems is thus only 25% of that afforded to its big rivals one year ago. It was always going to take time.

Then there was Sunday’s incident with Fernando Alonso. Rumourmongers and conspiracy theorists are having a field day with talk of noxious fumes from batteries, an electric shock in the cockpit… yet all at a point on the track where we have seen other drivers lose it and end up in the inside wall. Just last year Maldonado did exactly the same thing. Only the team and Fernando know what happened, so for the moment all we can do is wish the Spaniard well and take the team on its word.

Losing Alonso for the last four days of the testing programme will hurt the team if it happens, but in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne they have two more than capable deputies. Jenson Button, however, will be eager to drive every day. His feedback on engines and his ability to draw out drivability has always been one of his strongest assets. Never has it been needed more.

Sahara Force India

Back to the Future c/o James Moy Photography

Back to the Future
c/o James Moy Photography

Two tests down and we are yet to see Force India’s 2015 car. It’s not easy to put a positive spin on that.

Things had all seemed so good just a few weeks ago at the team’s launch in Mexico. New sponsors, new confidence, a lovely new livery… it would just have been nice to see it on the new car.

But speak to either driver and you get genuine positivity. Even away from the track, away from the press officer’s dictaphone and the PR speak, the boys feel good and will tell you that this is the kind of hurdle that the team can overcome.

Force India pounded around Barcelona last week with their old car. And with due purpose. Tyres have changed once again in 2015, and Force India took the opportunity to make the most of using a car with which they had reams of data on the old tyres. By running direct comparisons between the data gathered last year and that gathered last week, Force India thus may well enter the season with perhaps the best understanding of Pirelli’s 2015 rubber. For a team which has so often taken an alternate race strategy to success, such an understanding could form the basis of even bolder strategic calls in 2015.

The team can ill afford a further delay on running its new car, and will have to hope that the confidence of its drivers in its ability to turn things around is not misplaced.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Dark Horses? c/o James Moy Photography

Dark Horses?
c/o James Moy Photography

The youngest driver line-up in the sport has started with absolute purpose and determination. The focus possessed by both Sainz and Verstappen is desperately impressive, as has been their fitness and ability to stick to the programme and get the job done. Only an off on Sunday blotted Sainz’s copybook, but other than that it was another positive week in Spain for the team.

Drawing focus onto just the Red Bull teams seems to have done Renault a power of good, and the Toro Rosso ran with little trouble. It’s another one of those cars that looks solid and has taken a great step forward from last year. How true its pace is will be the ultimate question.

But what of the biggest question, Max Verstappen? There are very rare occasions in this life when your brain consciously tells you to remember the moment you are in. I have that almost every time I speak to him. Watching him drive sends shivers up my spine and makes me grin like a child.

The fact is this guy is either going to be on his arse by the age of 20, or he’s going to change everything.

I firmly believe it will be the latter.

Lotus F1 Team

Out of the shadows c/o James Moy Photography

Out of the shadows
c/o James Moy Photography

The shift from Renault to Mercedes power has paid immediate dividends for Lotus. Reliable, consistent and fast, almost every driver you speak to in the paddock will tell you that the Enstone team is going to be a challenger this year.

Seeing the team so far off the pace in 2014 was an undeniable disappointment after their 2013 campaign and the rate of development and exceptional promise shown by Romain Grosjean. Alternating success with failure seems to be the Frenchman’s tour de force in motorsport, however. F1 debut in 2009, kicked out in 2010. GP2 Champion in 2011, chastised in F1 as a danger in 2012. Lauded in 2013, nowhere in 2014. As such, 2015 has got his name written all over it.

Maldonado will have to iron out his wild sides which all too often can hold the team back when it should be pushing forward, but the basis seems good. With the world championship-winning power unit in the back of their cars, there can be little excuse, and they know it.

The E23 looks so much better than its predecessor on track, and that is reflected in the skip in the step of its drivers off track. While nobody is getting ahead of themselves, there’s a good vibe down at Lotus.


Proving a point c/o James Moy Photography

Proving a point
c/o James Moy Photography

After the worst season in the team’s history, things can only get better for Sauber in 2015. And with a much improved Ferrari engine in the back of the car, testing has started off well.

Again, the car looks quite together with minimal fuss and, just as with the big sister team, affords confidence to the drivers through the corners. The times look good and both Nasr and Ericsson insist Sauber are not going on glory runs in a bid to land sponsors.

On paper the team has the most underwhelming driver line-up in the field. That both are confident points are possible is thus a positive for the team in a season when it needs to rebuild on all levels for the future.

Lay of the land

As I see it, this is where we are:

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

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

Max Chilton Marussia F1 Team - Sochi 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Max Chilton
Marussia F1 Team – Sochi 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The Strategy Group. Three little words that are killing Formula 1.

The bitterly ironic thing is that everybody saw this coming. Ever since it was created as a replacement for the Sporting and Technical Working Groups back in 2013, there have been questions over its composition, its fairness and even its legality.

The Strategy Group, for those unaware of the complex political structure of Formula 1, is a body whose purpose is to debate and propose regulatory amendments, which are then passed to the F1 Commission for ratification. The Strategy Group is composed of 18 voting parties – six for FOM, six for the FIA and six for the F1 teams. Those six F1 representatives are Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and the next best team in Formula 1, which after the 2014 season saw Sahara Force India replace Lotus.

In the year and a half of its existence, the Strategy Group has been responsible for some of the most maligned proposals and decisions I can recall in a decade and a half of working in the sport.

But perhaps its nadir came just yesterday. Given the opportunity to potentially save one of its own, the teams instead essentially condemned the Manor F1 entry, hitherto the team known as Marussia, to death. The squad was seeking an exemption to allow it to start the 2015 season with a 2014 chassis. The request required unanimous approval. It failed to receive it.

Just how great is Ecclestone's headache? c/o James Moy Photography

Just how great is Ecclestone’s headache?
c/o James Moy Photography

“They wanted to come in with last year’s car and it didn’t get accepted,” F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said. “It needed all the teams to agree and there were three or four of them that didn’t agree.”

As we understand it, Force India’s Bob Fernley was the first to vote against the proposal. As such, no further votes were cast as unanimity had failed. Ecclestone’s comments that “three or four” of the six teams represented had intended to vote against the proposal however suggests to this writer that the scorn being thrown at Fernley and Force India is overly harsh. If over half of the F1 teams on the Strategy Group were going to vote against it anyway, it is pot luck as to who the first dissenting vote would fall to. Russian roulette, if you will.

Fernley has, today, thus been forced to explain his reasoning for denying Marussia’s application. And he has done so.

“The strategy group was faced with an application for Marussia’s 2014 cars to compete in the 2015 championship,” he said.

“During the meeting it emerged that there were compliance issues and that the application lacked substance. Equally, the speculative application submitted contained no supporting documentation to reinforce the case for offering special dispensation.

“For example, no details were supplied of who the new owners would be or the operational structures that would be put in place. Given the lack of information, uncertain guarantees, and the speculative nature of the application, the decision was taken that it is better to focus on ensuring the continued participation of the remaining independent teams.”

These are valid points, but surely due diligence into the team’s new ownership is something with which the FIA should be concerned, rather than rival team bosses. If the question was whether to allow Marussia / Manor dispensation to compete using a previous year’s chassis, what does the nature of the team’s application or ownership have to do with the question being asked?

The true irony, however, is that Fernley himself is one of the most strategic and long term thinking team chiefs in F1. Indeed, when the Strategy Group was first created, Fernley made headlines in his vehemently negative stance towards the group, opinions which directly contradicted those of his own team owner, Vijay Mallya.

Vijay Mallya and Bob Fernley c/o James Moy Photography

Vijay Mallya and Bob Fernley
c/o James Moy Photography

Back in 2013, Fernley described the Strategy Group as “unethical and undemocratic” given that the sport’s smallest teams would be denied a vote on any proposals.

“All teams basically pay the same amount to go racing,” he said at the time. “The only differentials are in drivers’ salaries and hospitality. And yet some teams have no say in how the sport is run. It could certainly be deemed abuse of a dominant position.”

“There is genuine concern among some of the teams on the Strategy Group, particularly the ones who are public companies. This is not ethical governance.”

It is this very governance which Fernley’s own vote has now thrust into stark contrast.

But I do not believe for a moment it is a vote which he will have taken lightly or easily. As I said, Fernley is a smart man and one with a wider view of the sport. But if reports are to be believed, his team is not in the strongest financial health. Force India sat out the first test in Jerez and may not see its 2015 car run in Barcelona later this month. There are widespread reports of unpaid bills and delays in chassis construction.

The team’s title sponsor, Sahara, is in financially questionable times as its founder Subrata Roy has been imprisoned since March 2014. Vijay Mallya himself was declared a “willful defaulter” by the United Bank of India in August 2014, with his now insolvent Kingfisher Airlines owing over $1 billion in bank loans.

It seems only logical that Mallya might order Fernley to vote against Marussia’s request for leniency, thus freeing up the estimated £34 million which would have gone to Marussia / Manor for their ninth place finish in the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship, to be divided amongst the remaining teams.

“The money that they should have got gets distributed amongst the teams that are racing. That’s a pretty good reason I suppose,” Ecclestone added after yesterday’s meeting.

Ultimately then, this all seems to boil down to the question of just under £4 million… that’s all that is left when one divides the £34 million between the nine teams remaining.

It was hoped, in the run up to yesterday’s meeting, that the Formula 1 teams would recognise the importance of maintaining a full grid. After all, if grid numbers are depleted further, we fall into a situation where Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren are under a contractual obligation to run third cars. At this point, far from safeguarding the future of the sport and the smaller teams, one will see F1’s minnows further marginalised.

Two dominant Mercedes, two speedy Williams and nine cars from Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren… how will Lotus, Force India or Sauber enter the frame? How long then will they survive? How long can they survive?

How long then before they too are forced to withdraw? How long then before a manufacturer is left in last place and they too pull out?

The refusal to give Marussia a sporting chance, in return for a quick but in the grand scheme incredibly small injection of cash, is one of the most short sighted decisions I’ve witnessed. It is at times like this that one must question where the strong leadership this sport so desperately needs and always used to have, has gone.

We used to decry the political games of Mosley and Ecclestone but, my God, at least they got the job done.

What we have now is a feckless and impotent President of a governing body being run roughshod by a group of self-interested businessmen with no long-term strategic plan.

It’s an often-used phrase that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

These turkeys seem insistent on stuffing themselves.

Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari MR03

Jules Bianchi
Marussia Ferrari MR03

McLaren and Ferrari are not behind attempts to save the Marussia F1 Team, as news surfaced today that the squad, which had been placed into administration, intends to be in Melbourne for the start of the 2015 season.

Geoff Rowley, joint administrator, and partner at FRP Advisory, said in a press release issued this morning, that “it is envisaged that, prior to the commencement of the first race of the 2015 season, investment into the business will be made upon the Company exiting from administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (“CVA”), which is planned for 19 February 2015. A CVA is a restructuring process agreed with the Company’s creditors which allows for a turnaround of the business and the creation of a longer term viable solution for the team.

“Given the confidential nature of the negotiations underway we are unable to provide further details.

“The joint administrators would like on behalf of Marussia F1 Team to thank all involved with the team for their support during this process.”

Talk is that members of the team have already been called in to the factory to begin work on the 2015 project, but naturally questions have immediately surfaced as to who is behind the efforts to keep Marussia, or if we are to be precise as to the name assigned to its official F1 entry, “Manor,” afloat.

John Booth and Graeme Lowdon Australian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

John Booth and Graeme Lowdon
Australian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The immediate reaction from some quarters was that McLaren, a partner of the Marussia F1 team dating back to its days as Virgin, was behind the move. The chips all stacked up, so the thought process went. Honda could use Marussia / Manor as an additional development resource for its new engine and the team has two highly regarded youngsters in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings who would be more than capable of competing at the highest level.

Quite before one started to even consider chassis / engine compatibility, however, came word from McLaren itself. When asked about the suggestions by this blog, a McLaren spokesman replied, “This rumour is totally without foundation.”

And we shouldn’t be surprised.

Just two months ago, at the unveiling of McLaren’s 2015 driver line-up, the subject of a McLaren B Team as a home for young drivers and a developmental platform for Honda was a topic I broached with Ron Dennis.

Ron Dennis c/o James Moy Photography

Ron Dennis
c/o James Moy Photography

“Dealing with a B Team… if under the existing agreements with FOM we are obliged to run a third car we will almost definitely run it ourselves, no question. If anything, it would make the challenge even bigger. Certainly, the concept of more than one car, ie, choosing to run 2 cars, I absolutely believe that the fastest way to eliminate back of the grid teams is to run three cars. You can’t possibly have three McLarens, three Ferraris and three Red Bulls, maybe three Mercedes, the contract by the way being between Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull… we have obligations. Queuing nine cars up and then the next car being whatever it was, clearly doesn’t allow that team to say I’m in Formula 1 if its not fighting on a level playing field.

“If you run three cars you would absolutely try to optimise the experience. The third car would have a lot more function to it than just fulfilling the contract. You’ve then got to try and use it as a development tool et cetera, et cetera, so you’d only get stronger from the process in all areas expect one which is that it would cost us money, no question. So as it’s going to cost us money, that’s a high incentive to avoid that cost by trying to help those small teams to survive.

“If a third car is 50% wrong then two cars would be 100% wrong. You do not want to run a B Team. It is not what Formula 1 is about and it’s certainly not what we are about.”

So that’s categorical. The salvation of Manor is not in McLaren’s interests and never has been.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF15-T Winter Testing 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF15-T
Winter Testing 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Attention thus switches to Ferrari. Manor / Marussia had been a favoured squad for the team to place their youth, with Jules Bianchi taking Marussia to the ninth place in Monaco which secured the outfit’s ninth position in the 2014 Constructors’ championship. Bianchi’s positioning at the team also led to the Ferrari engine deal which began in 2014. With a large sum of money believed to be outstanding for that supply, rumours thus circulated that it was Ferrari itself which was behind the push to save the team, again to set it up as a junior “B” team, a la Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing.

Again, the link makes sense. The engine partnership already exists and the team has in Esteban Gutierrez and Jean Eric Vergne, two test and development drivers with 2014 F1 experience who could easily and happily step into the breach as race drivers. With young talents Raffaele Marciello and Antonio Fuoco waiting in the wings, there is a talented line of accession. But with Haas F1 waiting to enter the sport in 2016, and rumours already stating the American outfit will become a de facto junior team to Ferrari, is there scope for Manor to also fulfill this position?

The simple answer is no. Sources have informed this writer that Scuderia Ferrari is not behind the latest attempt to keep Manor afloat. Indeed, Ferrari has long attempted to maintain an independent position as a supplier to its engine partners and as such even talk of Haas becoming a junior team would seem to be wide of the mark. With the arrival of Sebastian Vettel and a wholesale change in management team at the Scuderia, Maranello it seems already has enough on its plate.

As such, it appears that neither McLaren nor Ferrari are behind the latest deal to try to save Manor.

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

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

But that does not mean that the attempt to rescue the team is without merit or hope. While Manor is known to have various bills outstanding, its ninth place finishing position in the 2014 Constructors’ World Championship ensures it will be granted a larger slice of the financial pie than at anytime in its short history. Crucially, however, one must recognise that this payout does not occur in one lump at the start of the season. Rather, it is paid out in installments over the course of the following year and, as such, the team’s continued presence is essential to it receiving its full entitlement.

Questions remain over exactly what chassis the team would use in 2015, with the most likely route expected to be that it will run its 2014 MR03. The team would need special dispensation to do so, although with F1 desperate to not see grids shrink any further, it is believed that rival teams will not place any obstacles in the squad’s way should the use of a year old chassis be the only way they can make it to Melbourne. Indeed, a forthcoming meeting of The Strategy Group is expected to ratify such an exemption.

With the car sitting an average of three to four seconds off the pace in 2014, however, even an upgraded 2015 engine may not be enough to keep the team within 107%. The Ferrari engine has changed much over the winter, too, and one wonders how much of the redesign will affect its integration into the 2014 chassis.

There is also the subject of where the team will be based. News broke in December that Haas F1 had bought Manor / Marussia’s base in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK. As such, it is unclear whether those members of staff believed to have been called back to work this week are operating out of Banbury, or Manor’s traditional HQ in Dinnington, Yorkshire, where the F1 team was based when it was known as Virgin.

The final piece of the puzzle would then be over the team’s drivers. Max Chilton has already confirmed that he is to move Stateside to pursue an Indycar career with Carlin, and it is unlikely that he and his backers would stump up the money to make an 11th hour return to Formula 1. As such, Marussia’s third driver Alexander Rossi must be considered to be a serious consideration for a seat, should the team be saved. While Rossi lacks budget, he has experience of the car and the team and would be a neat and popular appointment.

The next few weeks will be fascinating, with the vast majority of the sport united in hope that the popular British team will see the lights go out in Melbourne in just two months’ time.

Update: SKYF1 – Ex-Sainsbury Boss behind bid to save Marussia?

I will not make any more boring art by John Baldessari

I will not make any more boring art
by John Baldessari

A few weeks ago, Edd Straw wrote a wonderful piece over on about lacklustre Formula 1 liveries. At the start of every year, we hope that such fears and pessimism will be misplaced. At the start of every year, we hope that the Formula 1 teams, whose offices are filled with visionary designers and excessively paid graphic designers, will create a colour scheme that marks them out from the fold. Something that will make them distinctive. And every year we’re disappointed.

But perhaps never have I been more disappointed than this year.

The sheer lack of imagination from Formula 1’s artistic brain trusts is as bewildering as it is frustrating. With a blank canvas and the ability to go anywhere most have gone down the most unimaginative paths. Others have strayed from the norm, but in such a sterile fashion as to have made the majority of us wish they’d just left well alone.

I have no issue with liveries staying the same year on year. Red Bull has a clear brand and their car livery evolution over the years has stayed true to that. One cannot expect their livery this year to be much different to that of 2014, and that’s no bad thing. It is recognisable, bold and colourful. It has remained relatively unchanged for so long because it works. The same, of course, is true of Ferrari.

Ferrari SF15-T c/o Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari SF15-T
c/o Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari’s red stems from the old school, when racing cars were painted in national colours. Red was the national colour of Italy, Green for Britain, Yellow for Belgium, Blue for France, White for Germany and so on. Changing from Red for Ferrari would be like Manchester United moving away from a Red home kit, or Chelsea switching from a Blue home shirt. Unthinkable.

In modern day Formula 1, other than Red Bull and to a lesser extent Toro Rosso’s corporate identity, there isn’t a team other than Ferrari with such an entrenched connection to a set colour scheme.

Which is why, I think, the liveries we’ve seen so far leave a lot to be desired.

I’m going to leave Williams out of the discussion. Yes, more could be made out of the Martini stripes, but in just one short year that livery has marked itself out as instantly recognisable, strong and emotionally invested. It’s mega.

As for the others…

McLaren teed us up for their launch with a fun “Back to the Future” inspired clip. Indeed, the launch movie itself began with beautiful images of those classic McLaren Hondas and their evocative white and red liveries. Marlboro has gone, never to return of course, but those colours remain as emotive as ever. Could it be that McLaren had done what everyone had been praying for? Could it be that they’d realised the historical and passionate draw of that iconic livery? With no title sponsor that we knew of, there would be little restriction for them to create pretty much whatever they wanted. Could it actually be?

No. It couldn’t.

The McLaren MP4-30 c/o McLaren F1

The McLaren MP4-30
c/o McLaren F1

What was launched was a mess. Silver, black and a red glossy line that loops around the nose and ends at the red wing mirrors. If the intention was to hark back to the West / Vodafone liveries of silver, black and red… then it is a poor rendition at best. Weak. Meek. Indeed, the Force India launched one week before harkened back to those halcyon McLaren days of the 2000s more than McLaren’s own effort.

VJM08 c/o Sahara Force India

c/o Sahara Force India

The VJM08 is, thus far, the car that surprised the most with its launch design. On first look it’s yet another underwhelming silver and black creation, but the flowing orange highlight pulls the car together. It was a shame not to see the lime green alongside the orange and one hopes that it can be incorporated into the design before Melbourne to really make the car feel like a Force India, but in the flesh it already looks gorgeous. Yes, it could be a 2010 Coloni GP2 car or a McLaren MP4-20, but it’s a cohesive and pretty design that works well.

Coloni's 2010 GP2/08 car c/o GP2 Media Service

Coloni’s 2010 GP2/08 car
c/o GP2 Media Service

The new McLaren MP4-30 lacks that cohesive feel. There are already whispers that it isn’t the final design, thus allowing McLaren a new livery launch before Melbourne and the associated PR boost that would allow, but why not just launch it in plain black or silver? Why bother launching with a design which, arguably, looks a little bit careless and more like a half-arsed HRT than a stunning McLaren Honda? One of my favourite online mock-ups is a metallic black and orange… surely a perfect testing if not race livery.

via Reddit / Formula 1

By Antonio Franco
via Reddit / Formula 1

Indeed, the sheer number of fan designs cropping up online gives a hint of what might have been and the potential that exists in the renewal of one of the most successful and iconic partnerships in F1 history. If McLaren really was going “Back to the Future” it could have chosen to take influence from any one of the beautiful designs you can find with the click of a button online. It could have employed any one of the budding online designers to throw their efforts into it. It could have taken inspiration from Autosport’s front cover a year and a half ago. It could have taken influence from its own driver’s GP2 car.

Created by G0DJESUS Via Reddit / Formula 1

Created by G0DJESUS
Via Reddit / Formula 1

Autosport July 18, 2013

Autosport July 18, 2013

Stoffel Vandoorne / ART Grand Prix c/o GP2 Series

Stoffel Vandoorne / ART Grand Prix
c/o GP2 Series

What we got wasn’t even slightly “Back to the Future.” It was drab and boring. A nigh-on sponsorless car with a livery that reflected more of a need for going to back to basics than back to the future.

So with two almost identical looking cars in Force India and McLaren, one eagerly awaited the uninspiring grey of Sauber to be thrust upon us. But with Test and Reserve driver Raffaele Marciello already having tweeted a photo of his helmet, the visor strip in the yellow and blue of Banco do Brasil had already given a hint that we could expect something a bit different to the drab designs of recent years.

Sauber's C34 c/o Sauber F1 Team

Sauber’s C34
c/o Sauber F1 Team

So while we can praise the Lord than the team launched in colours other then gun metal grey, one can find little reasoning for a livery apparently designed on Microsoft Paint. In 1998. So much for the potentially lovely blue and yellow livery. From the side, and when compared with last year’s car, however, it all becomes a little more clear. The design is almost identical. They’ve just replaced grey, white and red with blue, white and yellow. Once again, ten out of ten for imagination. (Sarcasm font)

2014 Carlin GP2 c/o GP2 Series

2014 Carlin GP2
c/o GP2 Series

It’s a little bit embarrassing when a look at junior formulae shows what can be done with a comparatively miniscule budget and a little bit of imagination. Carlin’s 2013 and 2014 GP2 liveries both pulled deference to the same sponsor that now adorns the Sauber. Both liveries were cohesive and strong, with flow and intrigue. They looked great on track and made the car instantly recognisable. Honestly, it’s really not that difficult. Again, there are enough mock ups online of what could have been done.

By Patrick Voila via Reddit / Formula 1

By Patrick Voila
via Reddit / Formula 1

Ultimately you may ask why it all matters. This isn’t some fashion parade. In years to come, these cars aren’t going to adorn art galleries.

But a strong livery is a calling card, a coat of arms… a badge of honour. From a practical perspective they mark the team out in terms of marketing and merchandising. For television commentators, that livery makes the car and the driver instantly recognisable.

If I say Ferrari you think Red.

If I say Ligier you think Blue.

If I say Leyton House you think Turquoise.

If I say Jordan you either think 7up Green or Yellow and Black with a hornet or a snake on the nose.

The thing is, it does actually matter. It matters because Formula 1 is supposed to be inspirational. It is supposed to be visceral and enthralling. The cars are supposed to smash their way into your hearts, burn their way into your subconscious and stay there forever. They should take your breath away.

But these… they just don’t.

Max Verstappen c/o James Moy Photography

Max Verstappen
c/o James Moy Photography

The FIA today announced new regulations relating to the issuing of a Formula 1 Super License. Our sport’s governing body has got itself into something of a flap over the fact that, in Max Verstappen, F1 will have its youngest ever driver in 2015 at the age of 17. While it can do nothing to stop the prodigious and, I must say from my own personal perspective, tremendously exciting Dutchman from being granted his license for competition next season, it has taken its time and thought long and hard about how best to deal with the situation.

And in typical FIA style, it has managed to contrive a system which would have excluded three of the world champions who will line up on this year’s F1 grid, half of the 2015 Red Bull Racing line-up, and both Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna from making their F1 debuts.

The system works on the basis of a points allocation per finishing position in sub-F1 categories. In order to qualify for a Super License, a driver must have amassed 40 points over his or her past three years of competition and must have spent at least two seasons racing single-seaters. I say “her” lightly, however, as there is not a single female racing driver to my knowledge who would, at present, qualify for a Super License.

The structure of the championships top to bottom weighs heavily in favour of its own categories, placing the FIA F3 European Championship on the same footing as FIA WEC and Indycar. It serves Formula Renault 3.5 a tremendous disservice by placing it both below Euro F3 and on the same level as GP3. But the actual cherry on top of this cake is that the championship which merits the most points (more than GP2, Indycar or WEC) is a “Future FIA F2 Championship.” So an event that doesn’t even exist, then. And one which, until today, nobody outside 8 Place de la Concorde, Paris, and I’d wager a fair few inside, even knew was going to exist.

There is no mention of Formula E, the FIA’s own flagship green “future” of racing. There is no mention of NASCAR. And only LMP1 drivers in WEC qualify for points.

The system’s intentions are good. It has clearly been brought in to try and stop drivers from either being rushed into F1 or from simply buying their way in. To that end it’s worth noting that Max Verstappen would have amassed just half the points required in his first and thus far sole season of single-seater racing and Marcus Ericsson would have fallen 26 points under the total required from his three years of GP2 results and would thus not have qualified to make his debut last season.

But, as is the increasing norm for a body which seemingly struggles to write its own name without getting one of the letters wrong or simply missing one out entirely, it is in the execution that the FIA hasn’t really thought it through.

Not one of them would have made their debuts under the new regulations. c/o James Moy Photography

Not one of them would have made their debuts under the new regulations.
c/o James Moy Photography

Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button would both have fallen 35 points short of the 40 point requirement. Sebastien Vettel would have been just two points shy of the tally at the time of his USGP debut in 2007 if we use just his 04-06 results. On the basis of his 2007 WSR results, however, he’d have qualified for his Toro Rosso drive in 2008. Just the six world championships between them.

Daniel Ricciardo, voted by many as the F1 driver of 2014 would not have qualified for his debut either so that’s Red Bull Racing’s lead man out of luck.

Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, two of the finest drivers to ever grace the planet, would not have been granted a Super License under this system. Neither would Mika Hakkinen. Neither Gilles Villeneuve. Jim Clark’s tractor definitely wouldn’t have given him the points. Not entirely sure racing a Model A Ford taxi would have done Fangio much good either.

Drivers are rarely rushed into the sport if they’re not good enough. Those that are, tend to be the exceptions. And exceptional. The new regulations, as such, are an overblown and ineffectual reaction to a rarity.

Almost every driver that is currently maligned in Formula 1 would have qualified under this system had it been in place at the time of their debuts while, ironically, the majority of those that wouldn’t have been granted their licenses are either now Formula 1 World Champions, or driving for the team that has won the most world championships this decade.

Not to worry. On traditional form I’m sure there’s a loophole in there somewhere.

Jean Todt c/o James Moy Photography

Jean Todt
c/o James Moy Photography

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 490,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 21 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Jules Bianchi Singapore GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Jules Bianchi
Singapore GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

Last night I received a comment to this blog which I found so moving and so full of hope, I wanted to share it with you. With its author’s permission, here it is:

Dear Will

I think of Jules nearly every day and pray for his full recovery. My first introduction to Jules was your excellent interview with him that aired the evening before the Japanese Grand Prix. I was very impressed with Jules character and humility, and of course his skill and promising future as an F1 racing driver. Because of your connection with Jules and his Family, I thought of sharing this information with you, and you may choose, if you feel it provides relevant encouragement, to share this with Jules family. They need positive encouragement to keep the faith and continue to believe in the possibility of a full recovery for Jules.

Our story is a long and painful one, as with Jules, our son Mike (age 26 at the time of his injuries) was seriously injured (nearly fatal) in a car wreck. His diagnosis was Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), specifically Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI). Mike’s prognosis was 90% death or if he survived then his medical prognosis was life in a Permanent Vegetative State.

I am writing to you because, for our family, among the most encouraging times during Mike’s recovery was first hand news and knowledge of others who survived the dreaded DAI diagnosis. I realize from firsthand experience that every TBI is different and the miraculous recovery for our son Mike may be an exception to the “rule”. But the encouragement of this possibility is what Jules’ family needs to persist through Jules long recovery process.

Mike’s story, 6 years post injury now, has evolved into a beautiful story of full recovery, marriage on the one year anniversary of the accident, his graduation with a Master’s degree in business (MBA) two years after the wreck, and a wonderfully productive life now that defies the original dreaded DAI – Permanent Vegetative State prognosis.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, November 27th in the US, and our family is celebrating our thankful blessings. Top on our list is Mike’s full recovery, and our family prays for Jules and his family, and most importantly for Jules full and complete recovery.


Mike’s dad,

Michael Marion


For a glimpse into the public view of Mike’s recovery, visit this website:

GP2 Testing, February 2006 GP2 Media Service

GP2 Testing, February 2006
GP2 Media Service

I’d expected him to look older. I suppose its only natural with someone you’d been reading about for years, but he’d been such a constant part of the motorsport landscape for such a long time that I’d imagined he’d already be the finished article. He’d been a mini-megastar in England since his karting days. Even as a child I remember seeing his face on TV, on the news, on ITV’s karting show with DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen, Blue Peter, through the pages of Autosport and Motoring News. He was a future world champion. That’s what we’d always been told. That’s what we’d always believed. And here he was, this future F1 superstar. I’d expected him to be taller. I’d expected him to be broader… I’d expected him to look older.

But there he stood on the pitwall in his ASM F3 overalls, a black fleece three sizes too large wrapped around him, his curly mini-afro blowing in the wind. He walked back towards the garage, hunched over to hide from the cold Mistral wind. An acknowledgement of someone new, a hand outstretched, a warm shake, friendly smile, brief introduction, a nice to meet you, and he was off into the engineering room at the back of the impeccable facilities.

I first met Lewis Hamilton at a cold, wintery Circuit Paul Ricard shortly after his 21st birthday, on his testing debut for inaugural GP2 champions ART Grand Prix. The F3 Euro Series champion would be taking over the chassis which had taken Nico Rosberg to GP2’s first drivers’ title and already there was a buzz surrounding his arrival in the paddock. To anyone who followed junior series racing, there was a universal belief that the McLaren junior was going to be very special.

To be a member of an F1 team’s youth programme really meant something a decade ago. It wasn’t just about getting to wear a team shirt or getting to put the logo on your overalls, train in the team’s gym or jump on the simulator for a few laps every six months (decent sims were in their infancy back then)… if you were a McLaren junior, in the RDD, Honda Young Driver scheme, a Red Bull junior or in that Mercedes stable it meant you were going places. You had people behind you who believed in you and who would back you. And, most importantly, you had a real shot at making it into a Formula 1 seat. The young drivers on F1 programmes really were the chosen few. I think back to the Renault programme and the drivers it spawned: Kovalainen, Lopez, di Grassi, Maldonado, Kubica, van der Garde, Duval, d’Ambrosio, Grosjean… it was an astonishing pool of talent.

McLaren’s list was small by comparison. Hamilton was the team’s great, and only, hope. And yet there was no arrogance, no sense of self-importance to the man… the boy. He arrived at every test and race with his father Anthony, step-Mum Linda and little brother Nicholas. They were a tight family unit, not too dissimilar from how I imagine they were during the karting years. To them, it seemed, there was no need to change. This was how they’d always done things.

He was impressive from the off, although hot headed at times too. He was disqualified in Imola on his second weekend in the championship for overtaking the safety car, something he would go on to repeat four years later in F1 at the European Grand Prix in Valencia. But my God, he was fast. His racecraft was so beautiful that at times it seemed choreographed… pre-ordained.

His two races at Silverstone were outstanding. Passing both Piquet and Piccione at Maggotts remains one of the greatest overtaking moves in the history of GP2. But then his fight through the field on Sunday to take the win announced him to the British faithful. Passing the leading Campos of Felix Porteiro was the only time I ever heard 26 V8 GP2 engines drowned out by cheering. All weekend he’d been impossible to find in the paddock. As I later discovered, he’d been standing at the fence at the back of the GP2 enclosure signing autographs for everyone who passed. He hadn’t been asked to. He’d just wanted to.

Hamilton's season fell apart in Hungary GP2 Media Service

Hamilton’s season fell apart in Hungary
GP2 Media Service

For me, the Istanbul GP2 weekend will always be where Lewis Hamilton truly arrived to those in the F1 paddock who hadn’t yet figured out how brilliant he was. I remember it so vividly. The Turkey weekend came off the back of the Briton’s worst event of the whole season. His championship rival Nelson Piquet Jr had thrown down the first perfect weekend in GP2 history in Budapest, taking pole position, both race wins and both fastest laps. Istanbul was the penultimate race weekend of the championship. Hamilton had to take the initiative back. But it was Piquet who again took pole and again took the race win and fastest lap… by half a second.

Hamilton, for a moment, seemed lost. His emotions had got the better of him in Hungary, something which can still blight his momentum today, and in Turkey all those years ago it looked set to derail his championship charge.

He knew he had to do something and so, overnight, he asked ART to trim all the wing off the car they could and put it basically into Monza spec. The team thought he was crazy, warning him he’d spin without the downforce. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened at the start of Sunday’s sprint race, sending Hamilton out of the top 20 and leaving his championship hopes severely dented. What followed, however, was mesmerizing. I stood, alongside my girlfriend in the Super Aguri garage, watching in awe. One by one every engineer, every mechanic stopped what they were doing and stared at the screen agog. They applauded every lap that followed. It was a scene replicated up and down the F1 pitlane.

In spinning so early, Hamilton had learned where the limit of adhesion lay. It was a mark he would not overstep again. With substantially less downforce than his rivals, he blasted past them on the straights, and somehow held it all together through the corners. Time and again through the multi-apex Turn 8 he’d start to lose the rear but would emerge on opposite lock, almost drifting the ART through the corner. He made up every position bar the top step of the podium. In a 23-lap contest in a spec championship, without pitstops, he had overtaken almost the entire field. His fastest lap was set on the final lap and was 0.854 faster than any other driver had managed that day.

Many put that drive down to Lewis Hamilton’s guts. Most, put it down to his superior driving feel… that natural ability that had always set him out as a special and unique talent. But very few put it down his intelligence, first in going against the team in choosing the low downforce option and second in adapting his driving-style within a lap to suit a set-up he had not tested.

Turkey Race 2, 2006 GP2 Media Service

Turkey Race 2, 2006
GP2 Media Service

A lot has always been made of Hamilton’s “natural” gift and ability, and it is something that has stuck with him and formed the basis of his reputation throughout his career. But as a result of that, there’s a preconceived idea that he is a seat-of-the-pants racer who can wring the neck of a racing car like few other men on earth but who lacks any real ability to use his brain. It is a reputation that could not be further from the truth.

Early in his GP2 career, Lewis contacted me (via MySpace as I recall) and asked how I had learned to speak French. I told him it was a combination of living in Switzerland and watching Cartoon Network in French, and listening to the Michel Thomas educational CDs. He asked for a favour, and so I packed them up and sent them to him. Why? Because he felt it was important to learn the language in which his team and engineers spoke.

This, at the age of 21, was not a request born of someone without the mental capacity to deal with more than he was being given credit for. Yes, I had been in awe of the multi-lingual Nico Rosberg, but for someone of Hamilton’s age to want to learn a new language from scratch in the midst of what was to be one of the most intense seasons of competition of his life, I found a desperately impressive measure of the man.

Perhaps the “natural ability” angle is one Hamilton himself is perfectly fine with accepting. A huge Ayrton Senna fan, he revels in the comparisons to his hero. But deep down, I think there’s an underlying sub-plot in doing so. For to propagate the myth, to give it credence, only serves to draw attention away from the fact that his natural gift behind the wheel is just one of the weapons in his armory. To make people think he isn’t as smart as his rivals is to hide perhaps his greatest strength.

Hamilton Vs Rosberg has been billed as Senna Vs Prost II. But it’s not. These two drivers are completely unique and should take their own billing. Yes, there are shared similarities in personality and perceived strengths, but it isn’t as simple as all that. And yet, in simplifying it so much, the general opinion has been formed that Rosberg, as the Prost character, was always the more likely to prosper under the 2014 regulations. His superior intellect, so everyone had been led to believe, would carry him. His incredible mind would allow him to work with the complex cars, use the brakes, the energy harvesting, look after the tyres and moderate his fuel usage.

In The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint comes out with the immortal line: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” I think of this line every time I hear somebody tell me that Hamilton isn’t as intelligent as Rosberg, or doesn’t have the capability to understand the cars.

Because, for me, the greatest trick that Lewis Hamilton ever pulled, was convincing the world that he wasn’t smart.

Driving to victory in Sochi James Moy Photography

Driving to victory in Sochi
James Moy Photography

Think about it. His fuel usage has regularly been better than almost anyone in the field. Man to man versus Rosberg, I can’t recall a single race this year where in the same machinery Hamilton’s fuel usage has been higher. He has made his tyres last. He has had to fight from the back of the field time and again (think Germany, think Hungary) and yet he hasn’t overworked his tyres, he hasn’t used too much fuel. He has learned how to drive these new cars, and to extract the most from them using the least.

After the Brazilian Grand Prix, where he had made up the seven seconds he lost in his pre-pitstop slide, he commented to us on US television that he was proud of a race like the one he’d pulled in Interlagos, because it had shown, once again, that despite the prevailing conception, he could preserve his tyres, he could look after his fuel, and still be faster than his team-mate. Far from the unintelligent chancer many paint Hamilton to be, he is proving to be the intellectual match of his team-mate, and the better racer to boot.

Perceived wisdom stated that Lewis Hamilton, more than any other driver in Formula 1, would be asked the greatest questions by the new rules. His answer, has thus been an emphatic exclamation mark.

Very often this season, Hamilton has spoken about his desire for the title. He has stated time and again that for him 2014 feels like his first run in for a championship, so different a person is he to the driver who took the plaudits in 2008. And in so many aspects I can see why. The Lewis Hamilton of 2014 is so different to the man who ran in for his first title in 2007 and took the crown in 2008. In public, he is every bit the megastar. He has his own private jet, lives in Monaco and LA with his popstar girlfriend. He can call Will Smith when he’s in town to have dinner with the Fresh Prince.

We laughed about this earlier in the year. About the insanity of life, where the sport had taken him and what lay before him in his career and his ultimate destiny. It wasn’t real. He knew that. And because of it, he wanted to make the most of it all. Because beyond everything that you see, beyond the big pimpin, diamante encrusted bling wearing magazine cover star lies that very same kid I first met at a cold and windy Ricard, surrounded by his family. When I sat down to interview him last in a one-on-one situation in Hockenheim, his first question was not for me, my crew, what we were filming or why… it was for Sophie, my daughter; how she was doing, how old she was now, how school was going and his own desire for a family one day.

That’s the man he is. Thoughtful. Sincere. Genuine.

Those who choose to paint a picture of an artificial or conceited character do not see this side of Lewis Hamilton. They don’t see him out the front of the garage on pitlane walkabout, talking and actually listening to his fans. When he turned up in New York for a two minute appearance on the Today Show, he arrived two hours early and spent every spare moment engaged with his fans. Just as he had done that GP2 weekend at Silverstone.

Earlier in the season, in Monaco, we’d spent a morning driving around town filming an interview for NBC. We looked back to the GP2 days, a simpler time before money and fame. We spoke of when McLaren dropped him and he almost signed for BMW. We spoke of family, of friends, of fear and of pressure. Such overwhelming pressure.

This is a driver who has never had the opportunity to fail. He has never been able to be anything but the best. Imagine the pressure placed upon a child who at 11 years of age plucks up the courage to ask Ron Dennis for his patronage and is then tasked with fulfilling an almost impossible destiny each and every year. As I mentioned, and as Lewis and I discussed earlier this year, McLaren did actually drop Hamilton at the tail end of 2004. Lewis was on the verge of signing for BMW, but only Hamilton’s own result at the Bahrain Superprix subsequently renewed Dennis’ interest enough to bring him back onboard at McLaren.

The pressure, therefore, has rested on Hamilton’s shoulders since his first lap in an F1 car. He has been the poster boy and at the same time the dartboard for the British media ever since that day. A hero at his best, a villain at his worst, he has lived his entire Formula 1 career in the glare of the brightest spotlight.

It is probably worth remembering that Hamilton has done what few F1 drivers have achieved in their careers… if, and I’m not going to pretend that I know off hand how many, any have: he has won at least one race in every season of his F1 career.

But he has had to live and evolve in that spotlight. And his period of growth has been far from smooth.

Singapore, 2012 James Moy Photography

Singapore, 2012
James Moy Photography

The years following his title were ones of tremendous turmoil. He wrestled with the sport, with his team, but most of all with himself. He ditched his family, he brought in new management, he bounced from blissful happiness with his girlfriend to absolute solitary singledom. None of it made him happy. None of it gave the satisfaction he craved.

The tone had been set in the latter half of that 2006 season, as soon as it become clear that his future lay with McLaren in Formula 1 in 2007. Gone went the curly hair, replaced by a shaved head. It was a small thing at the time, but an outward signal of the beginning of a strict regime which would stifle Lewis Hamilton’s personality and ultimately lead to him needing to flee the team which had been responsible for taking him to the very top.

For me, 2011 was his lowest point. I remember seeing him in Korea. He cut a lonely figure. No team of family and friends around him like Jenson. Nobody to fall back to. Nobody to talk to. Nobody with whom to even take dinner. He’d never seemed more alone. Never seemed more lost. Bizarrely enough, that weekend I’d got into an email exchange with one of my own childhood heroes, the wrestler The Ultimate Warrior. A fairly controversial figure, in later life he had become a motivational speaker and artist and had sent me over some of his perceived words of wisdom, some self-penned, others taken from historical figures. I have one framed at home. One, however, I printed out and handed to Lewis that Saturday afternoon. I figured if anyone could use it, then it was him.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 04.55.24

It was the only non Red Bull pole position of the entire season. He walked out the back of the FIA garage, glanced up and caught my eye. He smiled for the briefest moment and gave a relieved thumbs up. We agreed we’d go for dinner later in the season. We never did, as life and work overtook us both.

Something changed in Lewis going into 2012, as the realisation dawned that if he was ever to emerge from his internal turmoil, he needed a change of environment. He needed to move away from a relationship which had gone toxic, and in 2013 his new home at Mercedes allowed Lewis the freedom to be the driver he had always wanted to be. Some say he has matured hugely over the past two seasons. I’d say that the freedom afforded to him by Mercedes has allowed him to get back to being who he truly is. In either case, what is undeniable is that the change in him is so marked that when he says this feels like the run in for his first world championship I truly believe him.

And yet, the misconceptions from his early years remain as true today as they ever were. Perhaps because he’s allowed them to fester. Perhaps because many don’t see the true man that exists behind the visor.

Lewis Hamilton is one of the most naturally gifted drivers of his generation. But he’s also one of the most intelligent, considered and thoughtful. A ruthless, aggressive, instinctive operator wheel-to-wheel, but mature, measured and mindful too, Lewis Hamilton is reaching the level of becoming the complete driver.

He has dropped his flashy management and surrounded himself once again with his family. His father attends races once more, his step-Mum Linda never far away. When he can drag himself away from his own racing exploits, Nic comes along too.

For all the trappings of fame, Lewis never looks anything but awkward posing in front of his jet, wearing the big gold chains or hanging with celeb friends. Its in family photos that he looks happiest and most content. Or shopping at Waitrose with his missus. Or relaxing at home with Roscoe.

Because deep down, he’s still that awkward kid from Stevenage, with a MySpace page and a profile photo with a fro-comb in his hair.

Like his one time karting team-mate and now F1 championship rival, Lewis Hamilton has changed so much over the past decade. But really, he hasn’t changed at all.

Lewis Hamilton 2014 Formula 1 World Champion? James Moy Photography

Lewis Hamilton
2014 Formula 1 World Champion?
James Moy Photography

Rosberg leads Hamilton Brazilian Grand Prix 2014 James Moy Photography

Rosberg leads Hamilton
Brazilian Grand Prix 2014
James Moy Photography

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

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

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

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

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


Nico Rosberg ART Grand Prix 2005 GP2 Media Service

Nico Rosberg
ART Grand Prix 2005
GP2 Media Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Karsten, can we have a chat?”

Out from behind his race overalls jumped Nico.

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

I turned on my heels and walked out.

Karsten ran after me.

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

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

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

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

GP2 Series Champion 2005 GP2 Media Service

GP2 Series Champion 2005
GP2 Media Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lap 2, Belgian GP 2014 James Moy Photography

Lap 2, Belgian GP 2014
James Moy Photography

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

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

Rosberg talks to the Press James Moy Photography

Rosberg talks to the Press
James Moy Photography

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

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

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

Playing the fool Hungary 2014

Playing the fool
Hungary 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Nico Rosberg 2014 Formula 1 World Champion? James Moy Photography

Nico Rosberg
2014 Formula 1 World Champion?
James Moy Photography

Tomorrow… Lewis Hamilton.

Pre-season testing 2005, with Hiroki Yoshimoto

Pre-season testing 2005, with Hiroki Yoshimoto

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

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

Learning on the job... Portimao 2009.

Learning on the job… Portimao 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

Spa podium, 2012

Spa podium, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all.

And a very warm goodbye

GP2 grid, Monza 2007

GP2 grid, Monza 2007


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