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.
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.
It’s one thing when a driver exits the stage with some humility. It’s another when they bitch and whine about what happened in the past. Last week, current Honda F1 and former Scuderia Ferrari F1 driver Rubens Barrichello spoke ill of his former employer and teammate. Now, everything in retrospect is 20/20 but you can’t all of a sudden put forth accusations / statements about how he was treated unfairly at Ferrari. Come on, Rubens. You must have known that Michael Schumacher’s ambitions were going to be put ahead of yours. You must have known that the team’s ambitons were going to be put ahead of yours.
Sure, Rubens is a capable driver and his record is reflective of his skills. Although he has never won the driver’s title, he has a number of race wins and fine standings in the driver’s championships over the years. His record far exceeds the accomplishments of most current and past F1 drivers. It’s the stuff of dreams.
With his Honda F1 seat in question, perhaps this was his way of lashing out. Perhaps he’s going through a mid life crisis. Who knows. But if Rubens is the classy driver that everyone believes he is, then it would do much good to bow out gracefully. And even though he has said that he will not race in any other series if he cannot retain an F1 seat, perhaps putting the Indy Racing League in his future sights would be a good career move. The IRL needs some fresh talent from the continent and I’m sure Honda would more than welcome him with open arms.