Under Starters Orders…

Forget Christmas, forget your birthday, forget your summer holiday – THIS is the time of year you can get really excited about, as F1 IS BACK!! And this time it is literally bigger and faster than before! So, in order to get into the swing of things we’re going to take a look at the runners and riders in this year’s Championship to see who might rise like a phoenix or flop like a lead balloon.

Let’s start with those expected to be the front-runners for this seasons’ Championship, and where else to start but with the current constructors’ Champions, Mercedes. Like a lot of teams, there has been some major reshuffling going on over the winter. Nico Rosberg surprised us all (Toto Wolff included) with announcing his retirement shortly after his World Title win in Abu Dhabi – this decision has split opinion, some thinking that he should be defending his title whilst others believing that what better time to retire but at the top. I can understand both sides of the argument, and ultimately we have to agree that considering Nico’s F1 career and how long it took him to get to the top, his decision to depart from there has to be respected. This said, however, a big part of me looks at drivers like Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and more, and what they would give to have a season in a front-running car – something Nico was already contracted to, and he walked away from it. I understand his reasons, however this does tell me that he is not as passionate about the sport as these drivers.

But this aside, what an opportunity for Valtteri Bottas. It will be exciting to see how he performs in his first year with the team – it would be very difficult for him to get the better of Lewis this year with his experience and knowledge of the team, but expect him to be challenging for wins each and every time out. The Mercedes still looks like the car to beat, many fans will hope that the gap will have closed up significantly but if the number of laps that they put on the board in pre-season testing is anything to go by, it will be a tough ask.

In my mind, despite the big changes in the cars and regulations, we can expect quite a similar story in terms of grid order. It is expected that Mercedes’ closest challengers will still be Red Bull and Ferrari – the prospect of what the Red Bull will actually look like in Melbourne compared to the pre-season tests in Barcelona is something to pay close attention to. Red Bull went for a very simple design for pre-season with limited aerodynamic development leaving many in the paddock wondering if this is merely the ‘shell’ of the chassis, yet to be enhanced by some Adrian Newey innovation which will make the car even quicker and really take the fight to Mercedes. Red Bull have come out and said that the simplicity is in order to compensate for the lack of power in the engine compared to the Mercedes, however it could all be smoke and mirrors – we will find out in Melbourne in just a few days!

Ferrari is another great unknown for this year – we can be fairly sure that they will be up the front end of the grid, however how high is yet to be gauged. The Ferrari has looked quick in pre-season testing, however it also did last year and they ended up with no wins. As a pre-season prediction, it must be said that I feel it will be the same story for Ferrari – alongside Red Bull but ultimately not challenging Mercedes. A win this year must be seen as progress, however this will not be good enough for the die-hard Tifosi. What is most important for them is regular podiums otherwise the fans will get on their back, a story we have seen with them all too much in recent years.

When it comes to the midfield, it is difficult to assess how successful or unsuccessful teams will be until we get to Melbourne, but there are a few tell-tale signs which give us indicators of what may happen. For me, Williams have to be one of these teams with cause for concern. Rocked by the departure of Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes (albeit likely for a huge sum), the return of Felipe Massa, the introduction of rookie Lance Stroll into the team, and the return of Paddy Lowe to the team from Mercedes – apologies if this sounds harsh, but it is not a team which is currently shouting ambition. I have great respect for Paddy Lowe, however it is not down to him that Mercedes had their success. Indeed, Paddy Lowe was part of the McLaren team which produced some increasingly awful cars whilst in his reign there as technical director from 2011 to 2013. I would argue that Mercedes have got an infinitely better deal by recruiting James Allison as their technical director – if they had beaten Mercedes to his signature it may be a different story. This said though, I have great respect and admiration for Claire Williams, Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley, and do hope that I am wrong, but it may be a few more years before we see Williams challenging as they did so well in 2014. With a driver line-up far weaker than last year and a car which missed a great deal of testing due to the crashes of Lance Stroll, optimism is not high.

However, this presents an opportunity and there are 3 teams which will be aiming to take that fourth spot – Force India, Toro Rosso, and Renault (unfortunately, I am unable to put McLaren in this group but we shall come around to them). The team out of these that excites the most is Toro Rosso – just the look of the car including the new colour scheme have got fans very excited about this season’s challenger. Toro Rosso were quietly confident about their new car prior to launch and it is remarkable how similar the Toro Rosso is to the Mercedes, and even more remarkable that the team were a bit disappointed by this fact, hoping that they had exploited an avenue of development which no-one else had seen. But despite this, the car looks like it will be competitive and they also possess a good driver line-up to take advantage of this – I expect good things!

Force India and Renault are slightly harder to place – Force India’s new pink colour scheme has raised a few eyebrows, and it is one of the cars which I feel is more of an evolution from last year’s car. Considering their fantastic achievement last year of beating Williams to fourth place, they will hope this is true. My one reservation about Force India is the recruitment of Esteban Ocon – a driver who was frequently out-qualified and usually out-raced by Pascal Wehrlein in the Manor Racing car towards the end of last year, I honestly do not rate him that highly. Many pundits and fans disagree and consider him a ‘hot prospect’ but I cannot see it. There are many drivers who I would have picked ahead of him, and expect him to be frequently out-performed by the excellent Sergio Perez.

Renault is a really interesting one which we can look forward to seeing. In essence, because of how rushed their 2016 car was, the team called the season a write-off early to focus on this 2017 car and with the regulation changes coming in this can be considered Renault’s first ‘proper’ car since their return to the sport. So do not read anything into Renault’s performance last year, their power unit looks faster and more reliable than before and they have two drivers who have a lot to prove for different reasons – Palmer to show that he can make it at this level, and Hulkenberg to avoid the unenviable record of most F1 race starts without taking a podium. Fourth place will be difficult to achieve again, however making Q3 and picking up points on a regular basis will be considered a success this season.

And so to who is expected at the back-end of the grid, and unfortunately for them it is likely to be Haas, McLaren and Sauber. Haas will try and elevate what was done last year, though considering their fantastic start in 2016 this will be difficult to achieve, but with Grosjean and Magnussen they have an excellent driver line-up who will maximise the performance from the car. I can’t help but feel that Magnussen made a big error in moving from a works Renault team to a customer Haas team, especially when going through regulation changes, but in reality it is still to be seen whether this is a good or a bad move.

OK…… we had to at some point. McLaren. What a mess. This was supposed to be the year of them finally making the podium again. This was supposed to be the year that Alonso would finally be given the tools to put himself at the sharp end of the grid. This was supposed to be the culmination of all the horrendous struggles of the last two years with Honda (but many more years prior to this with Mercedes). But, alas, we can boldly predict that it is not going to be any of these things. Numerous issues in pre-season testing, problems at management level, the axing of Ron Dennis from the team, rumours of switching engine suppliers back to Mercedes – nothing positive is happening there at the moment. If I were a betting man, I would not bet against Alonso leaving before the end of the season and seeing Jenson back in the car, if what was said when he retired last season is to be believed. Do not expect McLaren to make it to Q2 any time soon, let alone points. Just when they started making progress last year as well…….such a shame.

But moving on, to last and most definitely not least, Sauber. With financial backing gained and tenth place in the constructors’ achieved in 2016, as a team they look like they will safely stay in business for another year. To drive alongside Marcus Ericsson they have managed to recruit Pascal Wehrlein, an excellent addition to the team who will extract as much performance as possible from the car. I really do hope that Sauber do well – I have great respect for Peter Sauber and Manisha Kaltenborn who are individuals that F1 need. Hard-working, determined, not phased by poor performance but instead all the more focussed at turning it around. It will be another struggle this year, but as they know it only takes one car to push into midfield or even podiums (as they have achieved), so at least they are still going!

However the same cannot be said for Manor Racing, and a quick note about them as quite frankly it is infuriating how things worked out for that team, going out of business after Sauber beat them to 10th place in the constructors’ Championship. It is astonishing to me that when the new owners and management came in before the 2016 season that they did not prepare financially for the very likely scenario that the team would come last in the constructors that season. There had to be a contingency in place if this were to happen so that the team could stay in business – but there wasn’t. Completely inept management, and so disrespectful to the great work done by Graeme Lowdon, John Booth, and even Jules Biancchi. If these owners were the future of what these people had achieved, I am pleased they have gone. But still fuming about it……

So there we have it! A whistle-stop tour through the teams. In terms of overall standings, I have to tip Lewis Hamilton for the title this year, being still in the fastest car alongside a team-mate who may not quite be up to speed yet within the team. The constructors should also go to Mercedes, however it may not be so clear cut. The driver line-ups at Red Bull and Ferrari are more than capable of taking the fight to Mercedes, and I for one am very much looking forward to this prospect!

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Hope

Well – it has been a long time since my last blog entry, but now, with all the assignments and assessments for my nursing degree course firmly behind me (thankfully), I can now get back to spending some time writing F1 again…

And what an eventful year it has been! Starting with the absolute shambles of ‘elimination qualifying’ which had all the excitement of a Bernie Ecclestone Christmas party (I can only speculate about that to be honest), through some more awful, knee-jerk responses to problems as they arise, to an exciting climax to an absorbing Championship battle, finally culminating in the switch of ownership to Liberty Media and Chase Carey in December.

Now first thing I will make clear, no matter what is said here about Bernie, I still hold the utmost respect for him as a businessman – he is a shrewd operator who took Formula 1 and moulded it into the sport that I know and love today, and for that I salute him. However, as I alluded to several years ago in a previous blog, a change of personnel at the top was long overdue and absolutely vital to continue the progression which Formula 1 has seen over the last 50 years.

The era of Bernie is over. Unfortunately for him, the world has moved towards an internet age of digital and social media, and Formula 1 – the pinnacle of innovation and technical advancement – is still miles behind in this respect. This is because Bernie rejected its value and importance, which ultimately has to be considered as his downfall.

But this is not the only reason, and 2016 had so many decisions typical of the faults in F1 recently. For me, the ability of the FIA to change rules and regulations more often than they change their underwear has just made the whole thing farcical. The constant rule-changing has led to far too much power from the top teams with the most money and the most to gain from strategically changing rules. As soon as something doesn’t go their way, its straight to the stewards and the media which, as the press and Sky Sports in particular is so good at, gets over-dramatised and sensationalised to the point that every minor detail is up for debate and alteration. What other sport changes its rules so much during a season? Not one. Yes, this is a highly innovative sport which benefits from a certain level of regulation alteration, however the line must be drawn somewhere.

The buck must stop with the FIA. But in order for this to happen, they need to stop pandering to pressure from teams – don’t get me wrong, it is important for teams to speak out as they are experts so there can be a lot of truth in their arguments, however the FIA must take anything said with a pinch of salt. At the end of the day, this is a sport and all teams have an agenda to win at all costs, and they will always argue for what suits their team best – and so they should! It is up to the FIA and the owners to separate these agendas from the real issues and do what is best for Formula 1, not just the top teams.

It is also important that the FIA stop preaching safety in Formula 1 and start acting on it holistically across all decisions. They have made a big splash about this ‘halo’ cockpit protection (which many doubt the effectiveness of) and then they limit radio messages to the point where at last year’s European GP in Baku we saw Lewis Hamilton trying to drive an F1 car through a tight street circuit whilst frantically pressing every button on his steering wheel trying to restore power. Yes, this tests the driver’s ability, but if the FIA want to improve safety, they must start with doing the basics right before jumping to more complex, poorly thought out solutions. Granted, the radio ban has since been lifted, but only after a great deal of pressure, and my point is that these knee-jerk reactions of introducing unsafe regulations at a time that they say they’re trying to make the sport safer are symptomatic of the problems in Formula 1 right now.

And then there’s the tyre arguments. Continuing to put drivers on tyres which drop-off far too quickly when they are pushed, extreme wet tyres which (judging by the number of safety car starts and red flags seen in 2016 for rain) do not work in the extreme wet – it only reinforces this twisted logic that we have been living in for the last few years. I am 100% behind safety in Formula 1, but I am for effective, well-thought out, pioneering solutions. Not a glorified thong. NB – I would say yes to the aeroscreen, if proved as effective as it looks.

But – to the future!! This blog is not going to be a big whinge as at the end of the day we have just had a change of ownership and there is hope on the horizon. I just wanted to point out some of the failings which I hope are addressed by the new owners. My biggest hope, however, is for a backtrack on the move away from any free-to-air races from 2019 – this will be the biggest test of my faith in the sport since I started following. I, like thousands or even millions of us, got into Formula 1 because I was able to watch it for free on terrestrial television. Nobody in my household growing up paid the slightest attention to F1 or even motorsport, so if it were not for the accessibility of it I never would have even noticed its appeal.

Regular readers of this blog know I have long moaned that Formula 1 is more interested in gaining more viewers than pleasing the new ones – at the moment, I worry for both! But I still believe that the product and the entertainment factor of Formula 1 is as strong as ever, and also believe that this change in ownership is a positive one which most definitely keeps me tied to the sport, at least until 2019……………

Keep your eyes peeled – I shall be blogging again about actual cars, teams and drivers (YAY!) before it all kicks off in Melbourne on 26th March. Anything to take my mind off what is actually going on in the world!

Peace and love.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Finally, a new season is upon us again! It’s been a long, cold, dark winter, but at last we can start to look forward to the (slightly) louder roar of engines as the season kicks off in Melbourne next week. So, in anticipation of that, my feeling was that it was an opportune moment to have a few pre-season reflections.

What is unfortunate is that a lot of the excitement of the new season has been dampened somewhat by some off-track headlines that have hit recently which will be focused on first, namely the revamp of the qualifying format and the new ‘halo’ cockpit protection which has been presented.

For those who have not heard, qualifying will be taking on an elimination-style format, knocking out the slowest drivers at 90 second intervals in the three qualifying sessions. As a sport, we can all accept that we probably over-think things, but this is worse – this is under-thinking things and just throwing it out there anyway. The fact that this is having to be hurried out at such late notice is indicative of what a mess the whole thing is. The drivers have publicly said they don’t like it, the fans have said they don’t like it (76% of F1 Fanatic subscribers to be exact), and yet our governing body has ploughed on regardless. So now, instead of qualifying reaching an exciting climax where all 10 cars in Q3 are trying to get pole position, the session will slowly peter out to the point that there’s only two cars on-track. Fundamentally, the grid for the race will not be changed dramatically but we will lose the most exciting part of Saturday. At a time when everyone wants the sport to be more simplified in cars and rules, they are going the opposite direction and making it needlessly and unnecessarily complicated.

The reason for this change though – and this is something that really, really bothers me – is that people, and the media in particular, saying that Formula 1 is not exciting enough and something needs to be done. I completely do not agree with this – yes, there are a few shortcomings but nothing like the troubles which are being reported. We enjoyed some absolutely fantastic races last season (Hungary, Britain and USA to name but a few) which afterwards no-one would dare say ‘F1 is too boring’, but you have one race which isn’t epic and it’s crisis stations. In any sport you will have the more forgettable and the less forgettable, as a football fan also I can testify to the number of drab games I have experienced, and you have to accept this in any sport. Not every race will be a classic, but what keeps us watching is that this race just might be.

Fundamentally, the sport has run for over 50 years and is still popular, not because of stupid gimmicks but because of it being the pinnacle of motorsport, and this is what we need to focus on: making the cars faster, and freeing up the regulations so the cars can run closer and allow for more overtaking. The problems with Formula 1 are not on the track, they are in the board room. No leadership, knee-jerk decisions, and a lack of understanding of what the fans want is the main issue. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have long bemoaned that Formula 1 focuses too much on trying to acquire new fans instead of keeping the ones they have happy, and this is what needs to change.

Moving on though to the ‘halo’ cockpit protection which has been put forward. Some will disagree with me I’m sure but I don’t like it, and I haven’t since the idea was first suggested last year. My gut feeling is that it causes as many problems as it solves, therefore what is the point? My primary concern is getting out of the car if it’s flipped upside down – from the looks of it this would be a major issue. But not only this, I question how much protection it would actually offer. One of the incidents that has prompted this was Massa’s accident when a spring struck him in the helmet – would this design really guarantee this wouldn’t happen again? I see major gaps in the design which a spring could easily get through. I also still really question the visibility of the drivers with this contraption on the car. Kimi came out after driving with it and said it was ‘OK’, a word terribly open to interpretation depending on the tone he used (or didn’t use – this is Kimi after all!), but I still worry considering the limited field of vision drivers have anyway. And also, though more of an opinion – it looks awful.

In my mind, Nico Hulkenburg put it best: the fact is you have to accept an element of risk in motorsport. You will never be able to make the cars completely bulletproof, and the fact is Formula 1 has come such a long way when it comes to safety. The crashes that some of these drivers has just got out and walked away from are immense (I recently watched the documentary of 1: Life On The Limit which demonstrated this very point), crashes which never would have been survived even 20 years ago. The run-off areas for cars are getting bigger and bigger, the tyre barriers are getting bigger, at the end of the day you do just have to accept some risk.

Jules Bianchi’s crash was an absolute tragedy, it truly devastated me and I hope to never see it again. But the show must go on. We will do everything we can to ensure driver safety, but we shouldn’t change the open cockpit nature of the sport which has stood for the entire history of the sport.

Lastly, a few pre-season predictions! Unfortunately seeming like another dominating year for Mercedes followed by Ferrari, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how teams battle it out from there down from Red Bull, Williams and Force India, through to Toro Rosso and McLaren, with Renault, Sauber, Manor, and Haas towards the back. Incidentally, this is how I feel the grid is going to go. Ones to watch for me are Pascal Wehrlein, Max Verstappen (again), and the Force India boys.

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Footnote: A few friends and I are participating in the Badger GP Fantasy Grand Prix (badgergp.com/fantasygp). Feel free to join – you select 3 drivers and 3 teams, and each week you put in your predictions to earn extra points! Once you’ve signed up, join our ‘Formula Pun 2016’ League with the passcode 9862329 – the only stipulation is that your team name MUST be a pun of some sort. As an example, my team name is ‘Does My Haas Look Big In This’. Good luck!

The Makings of a Champion

I want to start by responding to the media’s sensationalisation of Lewis Hamilton’s achievements, claiming that he is possibly the greatest driver who has ever lived – he’s not. For me, the sign of a good driver is one who is competitive year after year, who can compete when the chips are down, and Hamilton is still not that driver.

There can be no doubt that he is an exceptional talent and always has been since he burst onto the grid in 2007, he is undoubtedly a born racer. However he still lacks the maturity and level-headedness needed to be a great – Lewis himself claims that he is a bigger and more mature person than he used to be, but it’s very easy to say that when you’re winning back-to-back world titles and you have very few drivers that can rival you, arguably only one. But my question would be, would he be the cool-headed, easy-going driver if he wasn’t top of the championship? Not likely.

But let me tell you why I think this: In the last few races of the season, Rosberg dominated him in every aspect: practice, qualifying, and the race, Lewis simply had no answer. But what was disappointing to me was how he reacted to this situation – he would complain over team radio, blame the car, demand alternative strategies and then reject whatever could be suggested, and once he’d lost out, would sulk on the podium; not exactly the traits expected from a person who already has the World Championship sewn up.

I can fully understand why Mercedes have put out a warning to both drivers regarding their future at the team; something I really love about Formula 1 is that drivers can go hell for leather on the track for two hours but once the race is over there is a mutual respect between them, but I do not get this from the Mercedes drivers. They have a complete inability to be happy for one another and let them have their day, meaning podium ‘celebrations’ this year have largely been a dour, flat affair, with the person in second place looking miserable instead of accepting it and respecting their team-mate, and the occasion. It’s pathetic. The best podium this year by far was Singapore, with three drivers in Vettel, Ricciardo, and Raikonnen all delighted to be there (well, as delighted a Kimi ever is…) and genuinely respectful of each other’s achievements.

I think what has really bothered me about the attention given to Hamilton is that the same people who long berated Vettel for only winning titles as he had the best car and refused to consider him as a great for this reason, are now claiming Lewis a legend in a car which is even more dominating than the Red Bull which Vettel won his titles in. Hypocrisy much?

Now Lewis has equalled Senna’s three world titles, I get the feeling he now considers himself to have achieved as much as him – but he is not half the man Senna was. Senna had a humility and respect which stood him apart from everyone else, which made him a great. Senna was able to challenge in cars that had no right to be up there, whereas Hamilton couldn’t compete in a McLaren which should have been up there; people forget that Jenson outscored Lewis in points in their 3 years as team-mates. To be considered as a true great he should’ve won two or three titles with McLaren, that was his chance and he didn’t take it, and for me this is the main reason he can’t be considered a legend in my book. Lucky for him he made the switch to Mercedes at the right time and has added two relatively easy titles to his trophy cabinet, it is after all a lot easier to beat one person to the title than five or six as was the case in 2009-2012.

2016

As always, very much looking forward to next season. Although still expecting a Mercedes domination once more, I feel Ferrari will get closer once more hopefully getting in between the Mercedes drivers (or even ahead). It will be interesting to see if Nico starts next season as well as his finished the last one, and if so how Hamilton responds to this. I will also be very interested to see the two young starlets at Toro Rosso competing again, this time with a Ferrari engine hopefully more reliable than the Renault package that hindered their 2015. We’ve got the debut of the new Haas F1 team, the return of Renault as a constructor, and the continued progress of Force India (or is it Aston Martin?) to look forward to.

There is also a feeling that the driver market will get very interesting in 2016 also, with Raikonnen expected to exit Ferrari who will take his place? As mentioned before, Mercedes may dismiss one of their drivers if relations do not improve, and if reports are to be believed McLaren may have a driver mutiny on their hands if the car doesn’t improve, all potentially paving the way for drivers such as Stoffel Vandoorne and Alexander Rossi.

And who said F1 was boring……. *tuts*

Footnote: I’m fully aware of Ferrari’s recent threat to quit F1, but purposely not talking about it as it’s a petty, empty threat not worth comment.

An Austrian Adventure

The race in Austria last weekend was a very special one for me, as it marked my first attendance at a Formula 1 weekend. This fact had long been a bugbear of mine, so it was pleasing to get this particular monkey off my back. One week on from the race, I thought it was a good chance to reflect on the experience, and offer some observations from a fan perspective.

Our itinerary began with a flight to Munich – not only were the cost advantages of flying there and picking up a rental car clear, but it also gave us an opportunity to enjoy a spectacularly scenic five-hour drive through the Austrian mountains, stopping in places such as Salzburg, Graz, and of course the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum in Thal (if you’re ever in the area, definitely worth a visit!). We arrived at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg on the Thursday, a beautiful setting for a circuit surrounded by the stunning mountains of the Alps. The elevation changes make for exceptional vantage points all around the track, and the dramatic clouds add to the magnitude of the setting. The weather for the duration of the four days we were there was constantly threatening but rarely punishing – when the sun was out it was very warm, but as soon as that sun disappeared a chill descended leaving many looking for coats and jackets.

The fans in attendance were largely local, one must assume that Brits are generally holding out for the Grand Prix at Silverstone next weekend. The majority of people we came across were Austrian or German, unsurprising when you take in to account the cancellation of the German Grand Prix this year. Red Bull had a very wide following, and the respect and goodwill felt towards Dietrich Mateschitz is plainly evident from the Austrians. It did surprise us to see the vast number of Ferrari fans, along with Red Bull they had the best representation of flags and team colours, but with Austria being just a short trip over the border from Italy it did make some sense!

We opted to camp for our time in Spielberg, staying close to the action and avoiding the daily 2-hour round trip from Graz. The facilities were (thankfully) surprisingly clean, functional, and well-maintained, and I didn’t have to queue for a shower even once!

The Cars

On arrival we were aware that the pit lane had been opened up for the fans to walk through, offering some great access. Understandably this was very popular, but a patient wait in the main grandstand was rewarded with a walk on the grid and a view of the cars close-up whilst they were being assembled for the weekend. Lotus and Sauber treated the fans to some pit-stop practices, a treat for any F1 to witness!

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The Friday brought an exciting day: my first opportunity to see the cars on track, and they did not disappoint. I took my position in the grandstand on the left going up the hill from turn 1 to turn 2, giving me a fantastic view of more than half the circuit. Not only did I have the first two corners in sight and the long straight in between, there was also a great view of turn 4, and the beautifully flowing ‘S’ of turns 5 and 6. In the distance I also had a glimpse of the last corner (a prime position for Rosberg’s off at the end of Qualifying).

I know a big deal has been made of the noise of the cars since the regulation changes last year, so I was very keen to experience it for real, and it must be said: I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Yes, they’re not as loud but believe me, they are still most definitely loud. It is odd, when they are further around the track you don’t hear too much, but as they pass right in front of you then you very much feel it. What I have enjoyed so much about these quieter engines is that you hear other little details in Formula 1 – the tyre squeal, the cars bottoming out, the roar of the crowd when witnessing a particularly close overtake; I am enjoying hearing these details instead of the all-consuming V8. It is also nice to watch the race without needing earplugs – after all, what is the point of overly loud engines if people do everything they can to make it quieter?

A highlight of the weekend was the ‘Legends Parade’ put on with some epic cars from the past including the McLaren MP4-2 and MP4-2B, the Ferrari F188, and a Brabham BT52. Great drivers from the past including Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger and Nelson Piquet put on a treat for the fans on the Saturday afternoon (which they termed ‘familiarisation laps’) and before the race on Sunday. It was very special to witness these cars, for as long as they lasted anyway! Several breakdowns were seen very quickly, a source of great amusement to the crowd, but Lauda stayed out there for by far the longest in his McLaren.

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A quick note must also be made to the GP2 series, in which we saw some exceptional talent spearheaded by McLaren’s protégé, the mightily impressive Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne – his pace was incredible to watch, definitely a star for the future. Special mention also to Sergey Sirotkin, a lot was made of this youngster when Sauber were rumoured to be picking him up, but it’s not all talk – the boy’s got skills!

Race Day

The Sunday brought with it some fantastic weather for racing – beautiful sunshine and clouds, with a dry race expected. A spectacular air show preceded the national anthem from The Flying Bulls; it really was something to behold, flying around the small circuit giving all fans unbelievable views of the impressive jets.

Before long, the race was underway, Rosberg beating Hamilton off the line for the lead before the Raikonnen-Alonso crash after turn 2. I could not see the incident where I was, but shared in the relief when both drivers climbed out of their cars OK. The race itself was an absorbing one, with many battles to keep an eye on, particularly at the end between Massa and Vettel, and Verstappen and Maldonado. Further to my last blog a month or so ago, my view has not changed as regards the gaps between the cars; drivers are struggling to get really close to the car in front, in my mind because of the intricacies of the front wings and how unstable they become in dirty air – a situation not conducive to good racing; watching the GP2, the drivers in that series run noticeably closer to the car in front. That said, the drivers in F1 are exceptional, still trying to do what they can leading to some ambitious and risky moves, and you really do have a full appreciation for the skills of these drivers.

Following the race, fans were allowed to invade the track and enjoy the celebrations from across the pit wall. This gave us another opportunity to walk down the grid, catch a glimpse of the winner, and all the melee that follows the Grand Prix race. Unfortunately there was no Eddie Jordan to chant at, but Toto Wolff responded to the cheers, fist-pumping to the crowd in a rather amusing fashion!

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Thank You Austria

All in all, Austria offers a fantastic venue for a Grand Prix – stunning views, a crowd which is genuinely excited about motorsport, and a lovely flowing track which offers amazing vantage points for fans. I would definitely recommend it for any fan, as would I a Grand Prix weekend anywhere! I look forward to my next one.

Lastly, I cannot publish a blog on the Austrian Grand Prix without a mention to those who lost their lives or were injured during the attack in Graz during qualifying on the Saturday. A truly shocking incident, my thoughts go out to the families of those affected.

Video:

The embedded video below is a collection of clips that I took, I only really did this so in years gone by I can watch a video without having to watch each individual clip, but as it has been made seems silly not to share!

Photos:

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Fuelling The Fire

The F1 think tank has been running on overdrive recently to come up with ways to ‘revamp’ the sport and, as always, the focus for them has been on trying to attract more viewers rather than keep the ones they already have happy. Latest in this continual remodelling of Formula 1 is bringing back the refuelling that was banned in 2009 in the hope of making the racing ‘more exciting’.

Admittedly, when refuelling was originally banned it was not a decision that I agreed with; My thinking was that refuelling added a degree of excitement to proceedings and that strategy would suffer with its loss. However, in the years since it was abolished the reasons why the choice was made became more apparent, to the point that I disagree with its re-introduction, and let me give you just a few of the multitude of reasons why:

Cost

A dull topic but, along with the obvious concern of safety, cost was one of the main reasons why refuelling was banned and is one of the main reasons should not be re-introduced. The cost involved in transporting the necessary equipment around the world for up to 20 races a year is astronomic (rumoured at around £1.5million per team per race), there are several teams on the grid which are currently struggling to stay afloat – re-introducing this will not only force these teams out of the sport, but also be yet another barrier to entry for new teams. Bernie has admitted that this is what he wants, but what about everyone else? A Grand Prix with only 10 or 12 cars would not be a Grand Prix.

‘Better Racing’

For some reason, it has been suggested that bringing back refuelling will automatically mean better racing, but why is this? The question of how to make Formula 1 more interesting has been around long before 2009 –the Schumacher years were long bemoaned for being a ‘boring’ era of F1, and yet there was refuelling. I would also add that an overtake involving a car carrying lots of fuel versus a car light on fuel would be as interesting as watching a DRS overtake, which has long been criticised. It can be argued that pit-lane action would be better (though gone are the days of trying to hit a world record pit stop), but at what cost? It only takes one incident and we could be kissing goodbye to the impeccable safety record stretching back over 20 years, something that we should be proud of.

Pioneering

Fundamentally, the important thing to remember is that if you have a car that can get to the end of a Grand Prix on one tank of fuel, why shouldn’t it? Yes, at the moment this may bring some fuel-saving occasionally, but I wouldn’t say that drivers hold back too much because of fuel consumption – it’s usually due to tyres. It is also worth remembering that the fuel limits put in place last year seemed ridiculous when they were announced, but the teams managed it, and they will only improve further from here. Formula 1 should be the pinnacle of motorsport, and at this time the pinnacle is making the cars as efficient as possible – refuelling would go against this.

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s all very well streaming off reasons why refuelling is a bad idea, but what should be done? Well – I’m glad you asked!

I feel that a key area that F1 can improve is around the cars themselves, cut out all the theatricals and get back to basics – as fans we want the quickest cars possible. Let’s open up the regulations on chassis development and make performance less engine-dependent, Adrian Newey has long said that the scope for aerodynamic advantage is getting smaller and smaller, and if we want to make the sport more competitive, this needs to change.

Doing so will bring back more attractive, aggressive cars. The most important thing to address is how the car reacts when driving directly behind a competitor – recent races in particular have shown drivers keeping a 1 – 2 second gap to the car in front, which is absurd for a race. You need to give the drivers the ability and confidence to attack the car in front and, though I do agree with having a certain level of tyre degradation, you cannot deter a driver from pushing as this is what people pay their money to watch. Making the front wing more stable would help, as would making the cars in general wider, with the added benefit of looking better as well. And lastly, if you’re talking about old regulations which people would welcome back, you can look no further than the bigger rear wheels – a treat every F1 fan enjoys!

So to sum up, Formula 1 needs to be more considerate about what they want to gain from regulation changes and avoid rash decisions. It is surprising that they announced the return of refuelling before the results of the fan survey that the drivers have (gratefully) taken upon themselves to conduct, but implementation of the findings that I fully expect them to find regarding chassis development would be a big step in making F1 altogether a more entertaining package.

Finger On The Button

It’s safe to say that 2014 has been a positive year. A close title fight between two fiercely competitive drivers, in Williams a spirited resurgence of one of F1’s great teams, and some incredible wheel-to-wheel action and overtaking which will long be remembered – largely coming from the young prodigy Daniel Ricciardo.

As in a previous blog the Hamilton-Rosberg fight was discussed, I shan’t touch on this too much. Lewis had an exceptional year and fully deserved the crown, which was capped off over the weekend by winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year. The fact that he won this award with nearly double the votes of second-placed Rory McIlroy exemplifies that he is a good and strong ambassador for the sport. And for those who feel that the golfer should have taken the award, they are underestimating the level of skill required to be in the position to win a World title, and then actually achieving it. More likely however is that the golfing community are just very sore losers; It is impossible to rank levels of achievement across sports which is why the award is a public vote, one which Lewis won by a landslide.

Moving on, however, to the main topic of this blog – given the changes we have seen in the grid line-up, I thought it would be good to take a look at the main talking points. The biggest move we have seen has to be Fernando Alonso’s move to McLaren, if you had told anyone a few years ago that Ron Dennis would return to the team and bring in Alonso, no-one would believe you. Quite a remarkable move but for McLaren, an excellent acquisition which can only strengthen the team. Alonso had five years at Ferrari and in every one he outperformed the car, indeed he got within a whisker of winning the title on two occasions. This experience will add so much to a team which seems to be heading in the right direction, if anything is to be read into their late-season form.

But what of McLaren’s decision to retain Jenson Button and drop the young Dane, Kevin Magnussen? Well there’s no doubt it is the logical choice, it is just deeply disappointing that it took McLaren so long to confirm the decision. The team had a lot more to lose by letting Jenson go – you can always retain Kevin, as a test and reserve driver he can be extremely valuable and it is a role that he would understand and accept filling in the short-term, but a driver of Jenson’s experience is difficult to match. He outperformed Magnussen comprehensively in terms of points this year and as we all know, points mean prizes.

What is most exciting about selecting this partnership, and for me the most prominent reason to opt for Jenson, is that the Brit seems to raise his level of performance when he has a more competitive team-mate. Some of the best driving we have seen from him came when he had Lewis Hamilton as a team-mate, and before him Rubens Barrichello for Honda and Brawn GP. This dynamic between himself and Alonso will only help to push them both on.

Also changing in McLaren is the engine supplier, making the switch from the strong Mercedes power unit to a new Honda unit. This is something for us fans to get excited about – as Ron Dennis argues, it is too difficult to match up to the Mercedes team whilst running a Mercedes power unit, and it is difficult to disagree with him. You look at Williams this season, absolutely exceptional season with a really good, competitive car – but no wins. It is a big gamble to move to Honda but it is one which is worth taking, we just have to wait and see how powerful it is. We can’t expect it to match Mercedes just yet, but so long as it achieves better reliability than the Renault in 2014, and good horsepower, then signs will bode well for competitive championships in the future.

Of other movements in the driver market, Vettel’s move to Ferrari is massive. Why Seb has chosen now to move to the team which has shown no signs of improvement in many-a-year is unknown to me. Alonso left for this very reason, which is why it must be seen as unlikely that Ferrari have an ‘ace up their sleeve’ – Seb may have to endure further disappointment before things get better for him which is a shame. The decision itself doesn’t surprise me, as he has always expressed his desire to drive for the team, but for me the timing is wrong. Exciting for fans though seeing him partner Raikonnen, I look forward to it!

One last note regarding Marussia; Really saddening to see teams struggling, these back-markers make up the backbone of our sport – indeed, one of the highlights of 2014 for me was seeing Jules Bianchi pick up two points in Monaco. Marussia are an incredibly hard-working team led by Graeme Lowdon and to see this hard work pay off was outstanding, it is moments like these that our sport so special and I sincerely hope that we see them in Australia in March. My thoughts also go out to Jules Bianchi and his family, an exceptional driver and potential future World Champion – wishing him a recovery as speedy as he drives.

#ForzaJules