Formula 1

Manufacturers cold on F1, keen as mustard for Formula E

I guess Formula One isn't doing such a good job positioning itself as The Place To Be for manufacturers.

"Sources" inside Aston Martin claim they are rolling back their commitment to enter F1:

"There is a definite inclination not to do it - in 2016, at least. But it could certainly be revisited in future... We also have to figure out what our path forward in sportscar racing is, and where we go with that. We are not looking at F1 in isolation."

Meanwhile James Barclay, Jaguar Team Director is falling over himself to get into Formula E:

“We looked in detail at alternative ways of returning to motorsport. This was such an important decision for Jaguar and we wanted to get it right.  With our future EV plans Formula E was the obvious choice and we believe that the benefits are enormous”.

It's hard to argue, on the face of these quotes at least, that Formula One is "wrong" to bring road car technology to the sport, perhaps just that the promise of Formula E is coming to fruition.

Spanish GP 1998: In the red corner

Not every race on the calendar can be Monaco, or Suzuka or even Spa-Francorchamps. Some are the Circuit de Catalunya, and getting through these races makes the prestigious ones even more "prestigier". So it is that the cars lined up on the grid in a familiar fashion; Michael Schumacher could only manage third and, ominously, Hakkinen was almost seven tenths faster than teammate David Coulthard in the shoot out for pole.

Schumacher’s job was made all the more difficult off the line when he had his pants pulled down and bottom spanked by both Fisichella and teammate Eddie Irvine. Languishing in P5 he might have started to wonder whether his chance of getting on to the podium, let alone winning, had slipped away.

Irvine would have been thanking his lucky Irish armadillos (they exist, right?) for his rear-gunner Fisichella, at least until the first round of pitstops when he pitted ahead of the Benetton then had a sudden and somewhat suspicious lack of pace. Backing up against Fisichella might have helped Schumacher regain third position, but it put Irvine directly into the firing line of the ferocious Italian, and at one of the few overtaking areas made a great move on the outside of the right handed corner to challenge the Scuderia. 

At this point if you’re Giancarlo Fisichella, then He closed the door on the Ferrari and moments later they were both in the kitty litter is a phrase you only want to read in one of the Fifty Shades of Grey sequels. Nevertheless, it looked to me that Fisichella had done enough to claim the racing line, but now with two frontline cars out of the race someone needed to pay the price and post race Fisichella was slapped with a $7,500 fine. Perhaps the deciding factor was Irvine’s stunning insight that his opponent had, “came alongside me then hit the brakes and swerved to the right,” as if those manoeuvres weren’t integral to overtaking a Formula One car.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen had a race to forgetzen after spinning on the first lap, then pitting for a new nose and rejoining in last place. On the other side of the Williams garage Jacques Villineueve was being harassed by Johnny Herbert for most of the race, the Canadian looking uncomfortable and locking his wheels as frequently as humanly possible. When Hakkinen cruised up to lap the pair of them Herbert sensed an opportunity to pounce and get closer to Villineuve than he’d been since the start of the race, but when Coulthard came through to overtake them shortly after his fortunes reversed and the difficult task of overtaking became an impossible one.

Schumacher was handed a 10 second stop-and-go penalty for speeding in the pits, which is usually unforgivable but post-race he explained that his mechanism didn’t engage so make of that what you will. The Benetton of Alexander Wurst inherited P3 but in the second round of pit stops he emerges behind three back-markers that interrupt his flow enough that some blistering laps and a tidy pitstop was enough for Schumacher to not only jump Wurst but all of the slow runners that had caused him such grief, because that’s just the kind of fortune the guy has.

Rumors swept the paddock that Mika Hakkinen’s fiance was in the pitlane and that if she looked directly at you it would could your heart to turn to ice. Luckily someone caught her in a moment of weakness and breaking into a coy smile, otherwise I was worried for the safety of the Mclaren engineers. She’s about as far from Jennifer Becks as it gets.

Coulthard wiped a few seconds off Hakkinen’s lead which gave Murray Walker and Martin Brundle enough of an excuse to float the possibility of a late charge from the Scot. “The Mclaren team don’t enforce team orders,” they reminded us, apparently suffering from Men In Black style amnesia. So Mika claimed the chequered flag followed by Coulthard and Schumacher, a result that took a few twists and turns but was always pre-ordained.

Looking through the rest of the field a number of bizarre results were playing out. Rubens Barrichello suddenly made his prescence known snatching P5 and 2 points for Stewart Ford. Teammate Jan Magnussen had another poor race and word is that Jos Verstappen is waiting in the wings to replace him. Even stranger is the rumor that Michael Schumacher could be leaving Ferrari to join Mclaren, but we all know how that song goes. The only credence I could lend that rumor was the fact that Schumacher was so dismissive of the Mclaren drivers that he was more concerned with the state of his fingernails during the post-race presser.

Lastly, and it wasn’t covered in the broadcast, Frentzen overtook the Prost of Jarno Trulli on the final lap when a marshal mistook the Williams for a Ferrari and waved blue flags at him. Stranger still was the synchronised retirement of both Salo and Diniz, parking their Minardi’s within 200m of each other. As bizarre as these occurrences are, words can not come close the describing the absurd scene of Eddie Jordan playing drums while DC shakes maracas and Damon Hill’s guitar wails to a delighted Australian audience, with no lesser company than Wilbur Wilde and Red Symonds. 

Bring on Monaco, and if you really can’t wait until then Mika Hakkinen wrote an account of the 1998 race on the Mclaren blog that got a lot of traction.

^ Rod

Australian Grand Prix, 1998: The Gentleman's Agreement

I’ve been wanting to revisit the 1998 Formula 1 season for a long time now. Even seeing photos of the silver Mclaren from that era gets me feeling all the feels and daydreaming about late nights and F1 talk with mates during my early uni days. I’ve avoided researching the year in too much detail to make sure rewatching the races still have an impact.

As their pre-season form had suggested, Mclaren set a high benchmark that left the rest of the field eating their dust. Their secret weapon was a dual braking system, calibrated such that one pedal could be used when approaching a left handed corner and another one for right handers.

This allowed the car to fly through the corners with incredible speed, a subtle braking differential from the left side of the car to the right launching the car through the corners while keeping it stuck firmly to the asphalt. It was, naturally, the brainchild of Adrian “you didn’t explicitly say I couldn’t do that” Newey.

Hakkinen was quick off the line, but under pressure heading into turn 1. With the race outcome on the line (more on this later) he took a slightly tighter line than usual and assured his position in the lead. Coulthard in P2 must have been furious with himself. Renowned for his clean get aways (and not just with the ladies) his rhythm through turns 2 - 4 were less metronomic, giving Schumacher a sniff at splitting the two.

The Ferrari F300 was simply no match for the MP4/13 that day, and had he his engine not let go after a few laps of Albert Park Schumacher would have reached the final step of the podium at best. Clearly steering wheels where not as valuable as they are now, as Michael threw his at the wall with disgust - even the driver tantrums were better back then!

It goes without saying that there were a number of differences between racing now and racing then. They were still refueling the cars during the stops, so it was jarring to watch pitstops where the wheel men are in no particular hurry. Tobacco sponsorship is also rife; after watching the replay I needed to wash my clothes and air out the livingroom for a bit.

Some of the old liveries still hold up thanks to their classic minimalism. Mclaren’s beautiful black and silver looks stunning, as does the bold blue of the Prost-Peugeots. Ironically, before the race Murray Walker lamented the Williams design suggesting they had loaded up a cannon with names and logos and aimed it at the car, how far we’ve come!

To hear Murray Walker back in the commentary box was a pure joy. He’s not always the sharpest, and he can identify a constructor without issue, but I’m always listening out for Brundle’s call of which driver we’re looking at as Murray’s skills in this department as a bit of a coin toss. Although he’s a likable character, Ted Kravitz could learn a few things from James Allen on how to report from the pitlane, and back then he did it amidst a dizzying fog of fuel vapours.

Lapping the entire field twice was a very real prospect, however behind the scenes another game was playing out. Before the race a deal had been struck between the Mclaren drivers and team management that whoever lead the race after the first corner could proceed to the end of the race without any threat from the other driver.

DC had always been pretty quick off the line during his junior career, and fancied his chances of taking Mika at the start, even lining up his car at an angle off the line. Having missed his opportunity, he must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when, on lap 36, Mika pulled into the pits, found his team unprepared for a stop, and continued through handing the lead to his teammate.

Just as we had all resigned ourselves to a famous Scottish victory that day, with three laps remaining Coulthard yielded heavily (and obviously) on the main straight giving Hakkinen a hollow victory. Third place went to Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Williams, besting his teammate and reigning champion Villeneuve in fourth place.

Team orders were a major talking point after the race that permeated all forms of media, the first time I remember Formula 1 bleeding into the rest of my daily life. Although I’m not a huge fan of his, I vividly remember Wil Anderson quipping on Good News Week about the incident. “Ladies love David Coulthard, finally they’ve found a guy who doesn’t mind coming second.”

In the face of heavy, and deserved, criticism the two were dragged off to the World Motorsport Council and warned that the punishment for any future incident orchestrating a racing result would make them wish they’d never been born. Team orders were formally banned in 2002, although as we all know it did little to curb the practice that will always play a supporting role to the theatre of Formula 1.

DC wrote (or, at least dictated to his ghost writer) in his autobiography that it seemed like a good idea at the time, but later regretted the move. Looking back at the careers of Michael Schumacher and even Sebastian Vettel, it became apparent to him that World Champions were unrelentless, and never gave up the opportunity for a victory, no matter who they pissed off in the process.

Similarly, he couldn’t fathom why Mika was crying on the podium considering the race was served up to him on a platter. I have more sympathy for Mika than this given that the previous year his car let go a number of times with victory in sight. not to mention the fact that he nearly lost his life after an accident during the 1995 Australian Grand Prix.

Incredibly in 2007 Ron Dennis claimed that during this race, “someone had tapped into our radio and instructed Mika to enter the pits.” Whether the message was an act of sabotage, given in error or simply misheard remains is unclear. The fact that politics would determine the outcome of this season was however clearer than Andrea de Cesaris’ trophy cabinet.

Despite this there’s plenty of on-track action to come this year. I vaguely remember it but I am reliably informed that the ‘98 race at Spa is a cracker!

Up next, however, we're off to Interlagos, Brazil...

Rod is throwing a year-long, parallel retro F1 season revisitation party!

You're probably confused right now. Don't panic, that is a baffling article title and it could happen to anyone - just take a sip of water and think about puppies for a minute.

It's occurred to me a few times since Zach and I started the podcast that I've been watching Formula One for a heck of a long time. Over the years though the details have drifted from my immediate recall. I started watching in 1998, and pre-season form suggested that the Mclaren's were the hotness, and the ying-yang balance of personalities between Hakkinen and Coulthard and the shrill, exuberant commentary of Murray Walker brought the sport to life for me.

If memory serves me correctly the '98/'99 seasons were the last competitive era ahead of the Schumacher domination of the 2000s.

Well, I don't want to rely on memory anymore. Throughout the 2015 season - in the gaps between the current F1 schedule - I'll be watching the 1998 season to relive the tension, the fashions and a third other thing that will probably become apparent at a later date.

And you can too!

So, we can watch the races at the same time you do?

Sure, why not? Satisfying everybody in every time zone poses quite a problem, however. I'll probably work to a rough schedule (weeks when there are two successive F1 races will be tough, for example) so keep an eye on twitter for a clue as to when I'll be watching and what race we're up to.

How on earth did you get the race footage anyway?

Nice try, Narc! Footage of the races exists on the murky interwebs, however I'll have to leave it up to you to source them if you want to watch along - which is completely optional by the way! 

Oh, and it's worth pointing out that the races I'll be watching originate from the Australian broadcast, so expect at least some passing commentary on presenters Alan Jones and Darrell Eastlake.

So... you just watch the races? What's the big deal?

I'll post a recap and my thoughts on this very website, perhaps with some gifs etc to bring it to life for anyone that can't watch along.

It'll be similar to my normal recaps for The Roar, except with more humour and actual insights ;p.

More info on this soon, but rest assured it's going to be super-radballs!

^ Rod