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The Future of Formula 1 in America?

Danica Patrick - The Future of F1 in America?

Danica Patrick - The Future of F1 in America?

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.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | ALMS, Features & Opinions, Formula 1, Motorsports, NASCAR, Talkin Trash | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Future of Formula 1 in America?

Dear Bernie (Ecclestone)…

Dear Bernie,

Bernie Ecclestone - "F1 Supremo" & Andy Warhol Stunt Double

Bernie Ecclestone - "F1 Supremo" & Andy Warhol Stunt Double

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.

Yours Truly,
SportsflyJohn

December 28, 2008 Posted by | Features & Opinions, Formula 1, Motorsports, Talkin Trash | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2009 FIA Formula 1 Season – Looking Ahead

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.

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Features & Opinions, Formula 1, General, Motorsports, Talkin Trash | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bursting the NASCAR Bubble

nascardriversAdmittedly, 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.

Suckers.

December 10, 2008 Posted by | Features & Opinions, Formula 1, Motorsports, NASCAR, Talkin Trash | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Goodbye, Honda F1… We Hardly Knew Ya

hondadumbos

Even Dumbo's ears couldn't help Honda F1 fly

Fond memories of childhood will most likely contain snippets of Dumbo. That rather cute and lovable pachyderm that eventually learned to fly and soar to new heights. Perhaps that’s what Honda’s engineers in the much beleaguered Formula 1 team were thinking when they designed that monstrosity that sat on the nose of the 2008 car. Perhaps it would help them soar and keep their jobs. Unfortunately, a Disney film they weren’t.

It all began as a re-entry into the highest form of motorsport as an engine supplier to the BAR (British American Racing) F1 team. Ah, hopes were high then. Daydreams of yesteryears, when Honda supplied world championship winning cars at the hands of Piquet (Lotus), Prost and Senna (McLaren), must have provided much motivation to the engineers, mechanics and drivers. With decent success as an engine supplier, BAR coming in 2nd in the FIA F1 Constructor’s Championships in 2004, Honda decided to buy the whole operation for the 2006 season. Revamped as the Honda Racing F1 squad, hopes were high. But never having been a true constructor, the uphill battle began. Sure, bright people were in place, but with Japanese OE competitor Toyota pumping in a reported $500 million a year on its Formula 1 efforts, it was hard to keep up. Perhaps Honda bit off more than it can chew.

With a dismal 2007 and an even more dismal 2008 season, everyone wondered where this operation was headed. Ferrari F1’s former technical director, Ross Brawn, was brought in to help put things into shape (and surely, the 2009 season probably would have leveled the playing field more for Honda with all those new technical regulations coming into play), the global economic meltdown put the final nail in the coffin for the Honda squad. And I suspect they will never come back after this disasterous effort.

Their #1 driver, Jenson Button, deserved a better car. He’s a very good driver capable of winning races. Although I couldn’t foresee this Brit winning the championship, he surely would have brought home many race trophies with a good car. But a good car Honda couldn’t deliver and it was all for naught.

So long Honda Racing F1. We hardly knew ya because a poorly performing team isn’t on the minds of fans, sponsors and the media. Farewell.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Features & Opinions, Formula 1, Motorsports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

FIA: Stop Smoking the Crackpipe

FIA President Max Mosley

VS.

f1rollcall

Max Mosley and his hooligans at the FIA seriously need to stop hiring hookers for Nazi camp re-enacting sexcapades and dreams of bringing back F3000. There are plenty of things that the global motorsports stage needs without all this drama queen BS that Max is bringing to the forefront.

One of the more ridiculous suggestions by the FIA is standardization of Formula 1 engines beginning in 2010. In 2008, it was a standard ECU (made by McLaren, no less), banning of traction control (which created more accidents than ever, in this author’s opinion) and a mandate 4-race lifecycle for transmissions. Sure, it may have created a slighly better experience for spectators (due to all the mishaps – recall Timo Glock’s off road excursions this year, including that spectacular off at Adelaide in Australia?). Mandating a standardized engine for F1 means that it’s becoming a spec series. And spec series racing is BORING at best. Let’s consider all the spec series racing around the globe:

  • IRL: okay at times, but boring regardless
  • Champ Car World Series: no longer around
  • Speedcar Series: eh, Europe-based stock car racing; full of F1’s has beens = BORING
  • A1GP: the concept is novel, but boring; who the hell watches A1GP?
  • GP2 / F3: sure, it’s the ladder series to F1, but agan… BORING

Perhaps Max is trying to appease the little teams that feel left out of the “race,” so to speak. Okay, so who are the current players in Formula 1?

  • Scuderia Ferrari F1 – constructor / engine maker / car manufacturer
  • McLaren Mercedes – constructor / engine maker (Mercedes via Ilmor) / car manufacturer (Mercedes)
  • Toyota F1 – constructor / engine maker / car manufacturer
  • Honda F1 – constructor / engine maker / car manufacturer
  • Renault F1 – constructor / engine maker / car manufacturer
  • BMW Sauber F1 – constructor / engine maker / car manufacturer
  • Red Bull Racing – constructor / engine supplied by Renault
  • Scuderia Toro Rosso – not really a constructor considering they get everything from Red Bull and the engine is supplied by Ferrari
  • Williams Toyota F1 – constructor / engine supplied by Toyota
  • Team Force India F1 – constructor / engine supplied by McLaren / Mercedes for the 2009 season

So, 60% of the current teams in F1 are manufacturers in the truest sense of the word. And the rest seem more than content with being customer teams, sourcing their engines from one of the big manufacturers. And obviously by being able to sell engines to customer teams, the manufacturers can reduce their own development and production costs. The system isn’t broken so why fix it?

So tell us, Mr. Mosley. You keep referring to cost reduction as the primary reason for standardizing engines, but the manufacturers are threatening to leave F1 if it happens. So if the teams are willing to bear the cost of development, manufacturing, testing, etc. of these gorgeous 2.4L V8 engines, who are you to stop them? And if standardized engines become the norm, I predict we’ll see the return of the late 80s and early 90s, when you had shitty teams with no money (Fondmetal, Eurobrun, Leyton House, Larrousse, etc.) trying to enter F1. There won’t be enough space on the grid for all these useless teams so we’ll see the return of pre-qualifying. We don’t need that for F1.

Max. Just leave it alone.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Features & Opinions, Formula 1, Motorsports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Whiner?

rubino-7205981

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.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Features & Opinions, Formula 1, Motorsports | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment