There is only one American driver who went across the Atlantic to beat the Europeans at what they perceive to be their game – Phil Hill. Although Mario Andretti is American by the most practical interpretation of the label, he was born in Italy so he doesn’t really count. The last American driver, Scott Speed, was dropped by Toro Rosso after 1.5 seasons in the cockpit, now finding marginal success in NASCAR. And before him…? An overweight and overhyped Michael Andretti, who seemed to DNF more races that I could bother to remember.
And when it comes to the constructor / supplier end of things, Ford had good success with their program but it really wasn’t Ford considering it was Cosworth Engineering who was buildng all the engines. And Goodyear was a single supplier of tires to F1 for many years, but bowed out in 1998.
So you can say the red, white and blue hasn’t seen much return-on-investment when it comes to Formula 1 racing.
Over the last few weeks, there has been quite a bit of hype around USF1. Supposedly, the new team will unveil itself for the 2010 season, headquarted in (gasp!) Charlotte, North Carolina, with an operational base somewhere in Spain. All fine and dandy, I suppose, but I have some questions for the two gentlemen who are putting together this team:
– Where are you going to find the money to foot the hundreds of millions of dollars required to run a competitive team? With the global economy in shambles, current F1 sponsors not reupping their contract after 2009 and motorsports in a state of crisis, where will the $$ come from?
– There are reports that Danica Patrick is a contender for one of the drivers’ seats. Danica Patrick? Excuse me? She was competitive in the former Champ Car Atlantic Series, but hasn’t done much in the Indy Car series. For her to be a high-midpack driver in a spec series doesn’t say a whole lot about her potential in the highest (and toughest) form of motorsport in the world. And her only victory to date was at Motegi, a circle jerk track owned by Indy Car series engine supplier Honda (which, ironically, has dropped out of F1). Formula 1 is on courses where there are both left AND right turns… and they brake, accelerate and shift all day long. If you want to see how sad some of these Indy Car drivers are, just watch some of the road / street course races this year.
– Do we even need an American Formula 1 team? Americans are preoccupied with NASCAR and even that’s dropping in the ratings as we speak. The Indy 500 isn’t what it used to be. Open wheel racing in America as whole isn’t what it used to be. ALMS doesn’t seem to be in particularly good health. So why bring yet another distraction for motorsports fans? Sure, I’d love to see the F1 circus come back to America, but the existence of an American F1 team isn’t going to elevate my enthusiasm for it whatsoever.
– Aside from Danica – who said she doesn’t want to be on the other side of the pond to race – what other talent do we have that could fill these drivers’ seats? Certainly no American drivers pop into my mind… save for Marco Andretti. He certainly has the pedigree and the youth to develop into one hell of a driver, but I think it’s an awful lot to risk to put in a driver without the required European open wheel experience. And why do they have to be American drivers anyways? There are plenty of drivers from the GP2 feeder series that could do quite well.
So I’m still confused as to why USF1 even needs to exist. Or what their mission / plan is. The coming weeks will hopefully answer these questions.
So how crazy and radical are the changes to the 2009-spec Formula 1 race cars? Based on the analysis by the good folks at Formula1.com, the changes are radical indeed.
“The regulation changes for 2009 are some of the most extensive ever introduced to Formula One racing and fall into three main areas – aerodynamics, KERS and tyres. Formulated with help from the Overtaking Working Group’s (OWG) engineers, the new rules aim to (1) reduce the aerodynamic sensitivity of the cars to turbulence; (2) increase overtaking opportunities; and (3) slow the cars in the very quick corners. To compensate for the loss of downforce from the aerodynamic changes, slick tyres have been brought back for the first time since 1997 to boost mechanical grip. As a result of the changes the 2009 cars appear quite different to their predecessors, with the removal of the vast majority of bargeboards (now only allowed in a very small area – see red arrow), winglets, chimneys and cooling gills leading to much cleaner looking designs. Forthcoming Technical news articles will examine each of the key areas of change in detail.”
The 2009 car is very similar to F1 cars of yesteryears, such as the McLaren MP4/5 driven by legendary driver Ayrton Senna. This author, for one, hopes that the new aero regulations will switch the focus from aero grip to mechanical grip, as the FIA intended with the switch to slicks, and will lead to more aggressive, wheel-to-wheel racing.
“As part of the aero changes designed to allow cars to be able to follow each other more closely (and hence promote overtaking), the 2009 front wing is both lower (75mm instead of 150mm) and wider (1800mm instead of 1400mm). The wing also features a universal central section (500mm), which all teams’ designs must comply with this season, and a flap section that can be adjusted by the driver twice a lap over a range of six degrees.”
BMW Sauber F1 driver Robert Kubica has already stated that the snowplow-like design of the front wing element, coupled with its rather ungainly width, will result in more race incidents. When looking at tracks with super tight first turns (Monaco being the most obvious), it won’t be uncommon to see sharp carbon shards cutting tires and causing DNFs and crashes. Decreased height of the front aero element should also prevent the cutting the chicane, especially at high curbed tracks / tracks with “sleeping policement” like Monza. Not having that extra “run off” will force drivers ever so tighter into corners. Be on the lookout for some hairy first corner antics. There will be plenty of it in 2009.
“From overhead, the clearest difference between the 2008 and 2009 designs is the increased width of the front wing, now as wide as the car itself at 1800mm. Gone are the fairings on the front suspension pick-up points (where the suspension attaches to the chassis) and the use of turning vanes is now restricted to a small triangular section (see arrow) in front of the sidepods. Cooling vents, chimneys and winglets are noticeably absent from the top of the sidepods and there is no winglet on top of the rear axle. The rear wing is narrower (750mm instead of 1000mm) and taller (950mm as opposed to 800mm) and the diffuser has been moved further back.”
Again, the analysis from the top shows the absence of the plethora of bargeboards (that often looked like the saw blades), the smoke stacks and the vertical aero element on top of the side pods.
I CAN’T WAIT FOR THESE CARS TO TAKE TO THE TRACK IN A RACE!
Yes, it’s that time again when Formula 1 teams launch their new race cars for the upcoming season. But 2009 is different. There are completely new aero rules in effect. Slick tires are back. There are new engine and transmission longevity rules in effect. KERS is coming. So here’s to the new cars. I personally can’t quite get used to the new look. Gone are the crazy aero on the front wing element, replaced by what looks like a snowplow. Gone are the crazy bargeboards in front of the sidepods. Gone are the “smoke stacks” and wing elements on the side pods. Gone are the low profile rear wing, replaced by a tall and narrow version. The new aero specifications are supposedly going to encourage more passing, as the aerodynamic instability of being in someone else’s dirty air has been resolved. Come March, we will know for sure.
You must be under a lot of stress nowadays, as the global economic meltdown is affecting your business – Formula 1. I’m sure despite your denials to the contrary, Honda’s exit from the sport was damaging. Sure, you can shrug your shoulders and brush it off but any time a team fails and leaves, that’s really a reflection on you, FOM (Formula One Management) and CVC Partners.
Let’s think about how many teams have left Formula 1 in the past few decades – Eurobrun, Tyrrell, Prost, Jaguar, Minardi, Fondmetal, Super Aguri, Leyton House, Stewart, Benetton, BAR, Honda, Brabham, Lotus, etc, etc, etc. Sure, some of these teams were bought out and renamed, but the fact remains – this level of turnover can’t be healthy for any professional sports organization, especially one that is concerned one of the most expensive in the world to run. If the same number of teams left, say, the NFL or NBA, there would be outrage from fans and participants alike, but no such thing happens in F1. Because… you own every thing. And became a VERY rich man for owning the commercial rights to F1.
You’ve made a mockery as of late abandoning the GP in multiple countries because the venue wasn’t up to snuff, safety issues and so on. Let’s count the ways – Indy, Montreal, Kyalami, Adelaide, Phoenix, Detroit, Las Vegas, Jerez, Paul Ricard, Hermanos Rodriguez (Mexico City), Autopolis, Suzuka and so many more. But let’s face it. The true reason for abandoning these cities wasn’t those reasons you cite. Rather, it’s because they wouldn’t submit to your demands for fees. And you’ve made a mockery of grand prix racing in general by going to countries and cities where the locals couldn’t give two shits about motorsports. So why, Bernie? Why?
And now that the FOTA (Formula One Team Association) is making a LEGITIMATE stink about how the revenue split should be reconsidered, you’re lashing out. For the 9 teams still in the game to get less than 50% of revenues, while your 80-something self and CVC Partners getting the remainder doesn’t seem right to me. Without the teams, both the factory and privateer squads, you would be nothing. And especially in these hard economic times ahead, it seems ever so prudent and appropriate that the share of revenues should lean toward the teams, not YOU.
Face it, Bernie. You aren’t going to live for much longer. And you aren’t going to take all that cash with you. You live the lifestyle of a multi-millionaire. That’s not too shabby for a guy who left school at age 16. So let’s loosen up that wallet a bit and give more to the teams. And count your blessings.
Winter testing for 2008 is now finished. As we look ahead to the 2009 season, it dawns on me that it isn’t that far off. We’re talking March, folks! By then, the new sporting regulations will be fully adopted and implemented. The race cars that we’ve been used to seeing will be gone forever. Regardless, I do look forward to the return of slick tires and tall, narrow rear wing elements… a return of sorts to the halcyon days of Senna vs. Prost.
So what do I predict will happen in 2009? Considering that the cars will be completely new and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) will kick in, it’s a crapshoot at this point. With that being said, you cannot ignore the performance of the past few years as we take a peek into the future…
Scuderia Ferrari F1 – Jean Todt departure ended the Schumacher era and it showed. Although Stefano Domenicali did an acceptable job, the Scuderia just seemed out of it. Pit stop mistakes and engine failures marred what was otherwise an excellent season for the Prancing Horse.
As for the drivers, you couldn’t help but feel an incredible amount of sympathy for Felipe Massa. HE was the best driver of 2008 and would have easily taken home the driver’s title if the car wouldn’t have let him down so often. Massa will come back with more confidence than he’s ever had before and any doubts about his ability and class no longer exist. He is my pick to take the whole thing next year.
And where was Kimi in 2008? The regining world champion seemed content with just driving a race, rather than winning it. And even though he repeatedly stated that he would fight for the championship, his actions spoke otherwise. Expect Kimi to be competitive, but I see him retirning after the 2009 season.
McLaren Mercedes F1 – Whether you like Ron Dennis or not, McLaren runs a tight ship. And save for the Peugeot- and Ford-powered days in the early 90s (and yes, that overweight driver named Michael Andretti), McLaren’s always competitive. And will be again for 2009.
Although I can’t say I like Lewis Hamilton very much, he is indeed FAST. And he didn’t repeat the stupid rookie mistakes he made in 2007. But really, would Hamilton still be champion if it wasn’t for Massa’s crappy luck? I think not. Hamilton will win races in 2009, but do not expect him to retain his championship.
As for Heikki… the poor Finn is so inconsistent and riddled with bad luck, I can’t see him doing any better in 2009. Ron Dennis may say there are no team orders at McLaren, but expect the diminutive Finn to continue playing a supporting role to Hamilton.
Renault F1 – Let’s face it. Flav and the Renault crew produced some pretty average cars over the last 2 years. But we did see some glimmer of hope with the return of Fernando Alonso. Fred should win some races next year, just as he pulled off a couple at Singapore and Japan, but whether he can challenge for the championship is a different story altogether. I pick Renault and Fred as the dark horse for next year.
As for Nelsinho, it was an up-and-down 2008. It’s highly doubtful that he’s going to do any better against Fred in 2009. Hell, Fred kicked the shit out of him last year and I am 100% sure that Junior is going to perform any better in the new season.
BMW Sauber F1 – Dr. Theissen and team have really come to the forefront over the last two years and it has shown. They accomplished their goal of a race win in 2008, with Robert Kubica taking home the trophy at Canada (naysayers will say it’s due to Hamilton’s stupidity in the pit lane). Speaking of the Pole, he’s been overly outspoken about differences in direction between the team and himself. Granted, we need to see more drivers with personality than robots like Bob, but he seems to lack some of the tact that we expect from professional athletes. Cheer up, Bob. You have a nice contract with a team in the upper echelons of Formula 1. Plenty of people would kill to be in your spot.
With that being said, “Quick” Nick Heidfeld did an okay job in the 2008 season. Is it just me or is he another Fisichella who needs a kick in the ass now and then to go faster?
I predict BMW Sauber F1 will win 2 races in 2009.
Red Bull Renault F1 – Let’s face it. Red Bull’s entry into F1 is a bit of a joke. It’s a PR / marketing stunt. There just doesn’t seem to be enough drive / fire under the butt to make things progress at a faster rate. With old man Coulthard leaving the paddock for a spot on BBC’s F1 coverage, things will hopefully change. Sebastian Vettel should bring some much needed youth and energy into this team. Mark Webber‘s always a consumate gentleman and I really do wish him best for the new season.
Scuderia Toro Rosso – With Gerhard Berger selling his 50% stake in the team back to Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of the Red Bull Renault F1 team and the Red Bull empire, things seem to be up in the air. The driver line up is still in question, with alum Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Buemi and Takuma Sato vying for a seat. If the former Honda Racing F1 squad does not find a buyer, it is quite feasible that Jenson Button could join the fray.
STR’s 2008 car really came alive in the 2nd half of the season, bringing together the maiden win for the squad and for Sebastian Vettel, who is now at the senior Red Bull team. Whether the team can maintain that form in 2009 is a big question mark. But with Ferrari power still slated for the junior Red Bull squad and Adrian Newey’s skills at play, don’t count out STR for top-8 performances in 2009.
Panasonic Toyota F1 – With both Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli returning for 2009, consistency will be the name of the game in 2009. There were a few bright spots for the Japanese squad in 2008, as well as some dark moments. The trouble with the Cologne-based team is their lack of consistency – one race they qualify well, next race they don’t. With the global automotive market taking quite a hit as of late, and Toyota’s Japanese compatriot Honda pulling out of F1 altogether, I feel 2009 will be a make it or break it year for Toyota. Glock or Trulli must pull of at least a victory or two for Toyota’s big wigs to even consider staying in the game beyond next year.
Williams Toyota F1 – Frank Williams has been in the game a long time and has a few trophies to justify his long standing position in the pit lane. In the past couple of decades, names like Mansell, Villeneuve and Hill have brought him the driver’s championship. But with BMW’s withdrawl a few years ago and a lack of consistency, especially with the Cosworth powerplant, Williams seems to be in decline. Sure, he has Nico Rosberg, a talented driver in his own right, and Kazuki Nakajima, the Japanese driver who probably had quite a bit to do with securing the Toyota engine deal, but being a privateer in F1 is tough nowadays. Unless you are a billionaire, that is.
I continually feel like Rosberg is a bit like Button – if there was a better car underneath them, they could be so much better.
Force India F1 – With a McLaren-Mercedes technical package secured, Vijay Mallya is playing musical drivers’ seats with Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella. And rumors abound that Pedro de la Rosa, long time McLaren test driver, is going to get a seat at the Indian squad. But I don’t get the intellect behind that move unless it’s a pure ass-kissing gesture on the part of Mallya – replace an aging Italian who has at least lots of race time and a few wins with an aging Spaniard with little race time and no wins? You tell me how this translates into a smart move?
Honda Racing F1 (post-mortem) – There are rumors flying everywhere about who could potentially take over the Brackley-based squad. David Richards, of Prodrive fame (and former frontman for the BAR F1 squad, which was Honda Racing F1’s predecessor), is talking to some Arab financial concerns about buying the team. You gotta give it to the crude-rich Arabs for saving F1 in more ways than one.
And Carlos Slim, owner of the Mexican Telmex empire (and #2 on the list of the world’s richest people), has supposedly visited the Brackley facility. It wouldn’t be too far fetched for Senor Slim to get involved, considering his long time involvement in the Rolex Daytona series in the States. Maybe he’ll convince Bernie to bring F1 back to the Hermanos Rodriguez track in Mexico. Well, probably not.
So there are my predictions for the 2009 F1 season. I can’t wait for March.
A possible murder-suicide incident with well known UFC fighter Justin Levens and his wife Sara McLean-Levens has been uncovered today. Current investigations assume that Justin may have been the potential killer. Authorities are not ruling anything out at this point, as there is much more to unravel.
The two were found Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 PM by McLean-Levens’ mother, who stated it had been about five days since she last heard from her 25 year old daughter. Both were found in their Laguna Niguel condominium with a handgun on sight, but no suicide note.
The fact that Levens was convicted of spousal injury back in 2003 makes the suicide suspicion a strong possibility. More on this is to come after the full autopsy is completed today.
NASCAR has finally settled a $225 million lawsuit with a former official who felt she was racially discriminated and sexually harassed. Mauricia Grant served the organization for 2+ years and was illegally singled out.
You know she must have been discriminated and harassed because NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston released a statement stating “We’re glad to have the case settled on mutually acceptable terms”. There’s no way NASCAR would’ve settled for that much $$$ if she hadn’t been tapped.
In other NASCAR news, the organization has decided to test drivers for performance-enhancing drugs starting next month. NASCAR will take tougher actions by testing before seasons begin and continue random testing throughout the year. NASCAR hopes to conduct testing on 12-14 drivers per series each weekend in 2009.
Skrybe – Keep it Fly
Well, it’s official Subaru has dropped out of the FIA World Rally Championship. Citing the global meltdown of car sales, Subaru said so long to a motorsport in which they were successful in the past, but not so much in the present, with the late Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns bringing home the championships. This departure, of course, leaves David Richards of ProDrive with little to do, except run the Le Mans GT1 team. Perhaps this will clear some bandwidth for him to return to Formula 1 by buying the very team he used to manage in the old BAR days.
This isn’t all of it, however. Subaru isn’t the only team to leave WRC. Suzuki has left town as well, citing the same economic reasoning. Frankly, Suzuki was a non-factor in WRC so I won’t shed any tears over their departure.
So this leaves Citroen and Ford as the only manufacturer teams to remain in WRC. Mitsubishi left a while ago. Peugeot left a couple of seasons ago. Seat did the same. And now Subaru. I certainly hope all this “departing” will not damage the series so much that it will crash and burn the whole thing.
But wait… THERE’S MORE! Both Audi and Porsche have announced that they are pulling out of the American Le Mans Series. Although both were incredibly successful in their respective classes (LMP1 and LMP2), no reasons were officially cited for the pullout.
I suspect that there will be other manufacturers to follow the long list of these escapees – Honda, Subaru, Suzuki, Porsche, Audi… Expect one of the Detroit 3 to pull out of NASCAR. If you want to trim the budget, racing seems to be the first to go. And with GM, Ford and Chrysler in a ton of trouble, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
Toward the end of the 2008 Formula 1 season, then current drivers Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) and Adrian Sutil (GER) said that they had solid contracts for the 2009 season. And management stated to the same, from Colin Kolles, team managing director, and Vijay Mallya, team owner.
Now, however, Mallya has gone on the record that he has not made up his mind about who will sit behind the steering wheel of the 2009 Force India F1 racecars. What’s the deal here?
Right after the end of the season race in Brazil, Mallya canned technical director Mike Gascoyne (who was brilliant when he was at Toyota F1, but not so brilliant at Spkyer F1 / Force India F1) and managing director Colin Kolles (not brilliant at Midland F1 / Spyker F1 / Force India F1) for lack of results, I would presume. I believe that Mallya was correct in canning these two, as they couldn’t figure out what to do with the brillian Ferrari V8 engine.
Now that Force India F1 has a technical partnership with McLaren Mercedes, they will reap the rock solid Mercedes powerplant and transmission related components from Woking. So perhaps sensing that 2009 might turn out to be a semi-competitive year (if they get the chassis and aero into proper shape), Mallya is perhaps seeking drivers with more clout. Or perhaps McLaren has dictated some sort of a driver swap as a part of the technical partnership. Will old Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa get a chance to race once more? Will young Gary Paffett get the chance to drive some races? Who knows.
But what we do know is that Fisichella and Sutil do have contracts. And for Mallya to pull the plug on existing contracts is the same old driver shuffle bullshit that we’ve grown to know and love – recall the Jenson Button Honda – Williams contract fiasco? I guess when you are filthy rich and have billions at your disposal, you can flip the middle finger at anyone and pay ’em off if necessary to shut them up. I guess he really doesn’t give a shit that the Italian / German duo did what they could with a crappy car all season long and even showed some promise in the latter half of the season.
And to cap it all off, Mallya stated:
“One McLaren test driver has already tested our car.”
“They bring the McLaren experience with them.”
“We haven’t finalised anything on the race seat. I will discuss this issue with McLaren and take this decision at an appropriate time.”
Looks like Ron Dennis has a puppet at his disposal in the F1 paddock. Hate to say it, but this is resembles English colonialism in India just a tad too much for my tastes.
Admittedly, I am no fan of NASCAR. Never have been. Racing shouldn’t involve only going left. Racing shouldn’t involve only drivers from the States, save for a few Canadians and one Colombian. Racing shouldn’t involve tires that are taller on the outside than on the inside. Racing shouldn’t involve old, fat guys – look at Le Mans endurance drivers, look at Formula 1 drivers; they’re fit and they also have a work out regiment. So there are these things that are wrong with NASCAR in my opinion. With that being said, I also respect NASCAR. It’s a pretty brutal racing series where crashes are the norm. And running that engine at redline for 500 miles is pretty buff as well. And they have done a hell of a job marketing, especially the drivers and their personalities, to the legions of fans in the States.
NASCAR has been growing by leaps and bounds in the States and commercial sponsors have been throwing money at it like there’s no tomorrow. But as the global economic crisis has hit Formula 1, it’s affecting NASCAR as well. Here’s the difference, however – whereas international level motorsports, such as ALMS and Formula 1, are not completely brutalized by the economic downturn as they are supported by an internatinal consortium of companies and brands, NASCAR’s primary funding comes from American companies and brands. And American companies are the ones feeling the biggest brunt of the downturn. European and Asian governments & economies have been quicker to react and / or don’t have the same level of fundamental economic problems – do you see Honda, BMW, Porsche, Ferrari and the like asking for a multi-billion dollar bailout from the government?
So the very reason why NASCAR grew so fast – “American pride,” “USA,” “Made in America” and all that good stuff – is ultimately the very reason why the NASCAR’s bubble is bursting. All three Detroit brands are in trouble and I certainly hope that if the government grants the bailout aid, they’ll have to nix NASCAR altogether. (Let’s face it… unlike other motorsports series, NASCAR isn’t used as an R&D platform so it doesn’t contribute anything except “brand awareness”) American brands like Home Depot and Lowe’s are facing a downward spiral, as new home starts, let alone home sales, continue to drop. People aren’t buying clothes, so Wrangler, Lee and all those other brands are going to hurt as well. NASCAR’s driver line up, made up of good old boys, isn’t going to attract international sponsors. And since NASCAR has acted and branded itself much like a xenophobic American, international broadcasters aren’t going to pay the rights fees to carry it on their airwaves. Hell, why would a French station carry NASCAR when the closest thing to anything French in NASCAR was the movie Talledega Nights (insert “Perrier”).
Frankly, I wouldn’t shed a tear if NASCAR went away permanently. Perhaps then Speed would start carrying some real racing, like WRC, ALMS, FIA GT, DTM and so on. And not air them at 4am Wednesday mornings so no one bothers to watch it. Perhaps with the demise of NASCAR, we can also finally get rid of those stupid Chrysler Hemi commercials, “Is that a Hemi?” Let it be known, it’s been a long time since Chrysler made an engine head with true hemispherical design.