The WRC has had a turbulent few years, particularly from a UK perspective, but as the new season starts there’s an embarrassment of positive stories.
After scraping together a UK TV deal to air highlights on ITV4 a couple of rallies into last season, that continues into 2014, along with an additional deal for extended coverage on BT Sport. That will take in live coverage as well as daily highlights, even if the BT Sport website is no help in finding out when it’s on.
Then there’s the sport itself. How will Robert Kubica fare in his first full time WRC campaign? How about Kris Meeke at Citroen? And will new manufacturer Hyundai do a Volkswagen, or more of a Suzuki – or worse, a Mini?
But more importantly: glasses
That’s all good, but the best story is Thierry Neuville. After a storming 2013 season, finishing second in the championship in the factory-support-less Fiesta, this year the Belgian is Hyundai’s lead driver. Which is lovely for him. But it’s also good news for his glasses, which if there’s any justice, will rise in profile with the man himself.
Glasses are quite rare in motorsport, and vaguely interesting glasses – Jari-Matti Latvala doesn’t count – even more so since Sebastien Bourdais stopped wearing that red pair he had back around his time in F1.
I don’t even wear glasses, so no vested interest here. They’re just a bit of interest on motorsport’s largely bland faces, aren’t they? And therefore to be encouraged.
Glasses or no, Sebastien Ogier continued where he left off by setting the fastest time on shakedown for Rallye Monte-Carlo today. Tantalisingly, Meeke was second.
There is much to enjoy about the Korean Grand Prix. For one thing, there is great joy to be had reading about how much Formula 1 journalists hate going to Mokpo, because it’s not as exciting as somewhere like Singapore. Our collective hearts bleed for them.
But that’s not the best thing; the bleak scenery is. Specifically: the cranes and other industrial equipment of distant shipyards.
The circuit was meant to be a catalyst for development of the remote part of Korea in which it’s located, with an urban landscape supposed to pop up around the street-style section at the end of the lap. That’s not happened.
But I have a soft spot for brutal industrial landscapes, so in my mind the big red shipbuilding cranes have joined the Ferris wheel at Suzuka in the ranks of great Formula 1 scenery.
I have opinions on Rush; of course I do. But in many ways they’re the least important.
My stupid opinions
So let’s get them out of the way. It’s good! – the performances especially. Daniel Brühl has been singled out for particular praise for his portrayal of Niki Lauda, but despite some serious reservations, for my money Chris Hemsworth’s James Hunt is just as impressive. I also rather enjoyed Christian McKay as Lord Hesketh – and it looked like he enjoyed chewing on that role too.
Although the film focuses on the 1976 season, I think the it covers the period prior to that better. The last third or so of the film feels slightly rushed (no pun intended, but I’ll take it), going from race to race with little time given to anything else.
More is made of the teams when Hunt is at Hesketh and Lauda at BRM. On the one hand, that’s understandable, given that those teams were rather more ‘colourful’. But on the other, there was real enmity between people at McLaren and Ferrari, and for me that doesn’t quite come across enough.
The race footage is well done – the sheer noise is particularly effective – but it’s the human story that resonates. The film maybe loses sight of that for a period, while it goes about telling the – not quite incidental, but less engaging – numerical story of the season.
There has been criticism of the ‘Basil Exposition’ commentary, but I found it only realistically patronising. While it does get repetitive race after race, it’s a reasonable enough way of pushing on.
Personally, I got more out of the documentary Hunt vs Lauda: F1′s Greatest Racing Rivals, and to a lesser extent When Playboys Ruled the World. (At the time of writing, the former is available on the BBC iPlayer for a couple of days yet – and neither is hard to find on YouTube and the like.)
There’s some stunning archive footage in those programmes; it’s almost a shame not to see that paired up with a film-level budget and taken full advantage of, especially when Senna did something so special with it.
What the money says
But that’s me, and as far as this film is concerned, I’m not the average punter.
In short: it’s done well. It’ll be interesting to see how it does in the US, where it’s just gone on general release.
What a better person thinks
I was quite taken aback by how much my girlfriend enjoyed it. Her first comment was that it was the first time in a long while that she’d forgotten she was in the cinema. Not because she fell asleep, but because she was engaged: knowing little more than Lauda doesn’t die, the remarkable story had maximum impact.
The story has a wide appeal, and Ron Howard has made it attractive to a wide audience, in a format that’s immensely marketable – in a way that a documentary wouldn’t have been. People who saw Senna generally enjoyed it, but it was a harder sell. Documentaries just are.
The good news for me is it’s had a similar effect as Senna: my girlfriend wants to try to take an interest in Formula 1 again. It won’t last, but for some it will – which is good news for the sport.
I’ll be honest, I thought it was the usual extreme creative license games can delight in taking. “A prototype sportscar, around Laguna Seca? That sounds like fun – in the same way as driving a Formula 1 car around Mallory Park.”
But proving further that I’m a sportscar racing ignoramus, I was wrong: LMP2 cars visit the circuit also known – less attractively – as Mazda Raceway, as part of the American Le Mans Series. Look, here’s Marino Franchitti winning earlier this year.
Nonetheless, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro is quite a fun car to have included in the Forza Motorsport 5 demo, even if the idea of LMP1 at Laguna Seca isn’t as far-fetched as I thought. Certainly it was too much for me to resist when I spent some time with the game at the Eurogamer Expo recently.
So, a new generation of consoles. Is Microsoft using the Xbox One to usher in a new generation of racing games? Well, not obviously, no. But there are some neat ideas, such as shoving your performance data to the cloud for processing, to endlessly tailor the AI in future races. It also features open-wheel single-seaters for the first time – IndyCar and classic F1.
It certainly looks terribly pretty, with a low sun clearly chosen for the demo to showcase some particularly distracting lighting effects. By ‘distracting’, I mean ‘realistic’. And also ‘it nearly made me crash once’.
It’s worth being careful with that word ‘realistic’ though. You’re not going to be mistaking this for the real thing; it’s the same lack of incidental imperfections which give away a CGI render.
As if inviting the comparison, there was an actual McLaren P1 on the stand. That was covered in an unavoidable thin layer of dust, while the McLaren P1 in the game was either perfectly gleaming, or perfectly damaged. None of this is a criticism, but it’s worth setting expectations given that we’ve got new hardware here.
Whatever the fancy hardware and cloud-based shenanigans, the meat and potatoes is going to be driving cars around tracks – so how does it feel? A short time standing at a demo pod at a games show is never going to be the best place to judge, but so far so good.
One thing does feel different. The Xbox One pad has added individually vibrating triggers, which means you can feel the accelerator and brake pedal through your digits. The latter is particularly effective: leave it too late to hit the brakes and you’ll feel the squirming and wheel-locking through your left index finger. It’s a remarkably enjoyable sensation, especially noticeable when I was hooning around in the Ford Focus ST.
Of the cars on offer, the Focus ST was the most suited to the track. Throwing it around with a bit of BTCC attitude – rubbin’s racin’ – was most satisfying. There wasn’t really space to give the Audi R18 or McLaren P1 a proper run – clattering down the corkscrew in the R18 in particular felt rather clumsy – though suffice to say the added performance was obvious.
The old gull-wing Mercedes 300SL was a pleasant tootle around in comparison. It was also a reminder that steering wheels used to be massive. So much so that it was slightly in the way of the in-car view. Realism’s one thing, but couldn’t they have found a taller virtual gentleman driver?
The Singapore Grand Prix is an unusual event: it’s a night race; it’s a street race; it’s a new(ish) race that not only isn’t under threat, but is actively liked by drivers, teams, sponsors, journalists and fans alike.
But better than all of those: the walls around the track are painted a different colour in each sector.
It’s best seen in an on-board lap of the track – yesterday’s pole lap by Sebastian Vettel, for example.
Ignoring the pesky advertising hoardings, the walls start out blue, change to green for the middle sector, and turn yellow to complete the lap. It’s such a simple thing, and it’s not desperately obvious, but I appreciate the unnecessary effort.
So: circuits of the world, more colour coded track furniture, please!
For many riders, their bike number is a big part of their brand – Valentino Rossi and 46, for example.
But there are only so many one and two digit numbers to go round – 98 to be precise, excluding the rarely-seen 0 and champion-reserved 1. So there’s got to be some sharing going on between championships. But which numbers are the most popular? Let’s investigate the heck out of it.
The popular – and unpopular – bike numbers
Even from that tiny thumbnail, you can see that smaller numbers are more popular – no surprise there.
Proving that riders are a superstitious bunch, the most popular bike number overall, and indeed the only one in use in all six of the championships, is lucky number 7. Next up are numbers 4, 5, 9, 11, 19 and 23, all in use in five of the six series.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are a handful of completely untouched bike numbers. Those include 1, because none of the current champions chose to adopt the number 1 plate; and 13, further proof that riders really are a superstitious bunch. The others are: 28, 48, 56, 62, 74, 75, 78, 79, 82, 83, 85, 90, 92 and 98.
There are a lot of untouched bike numbers in the 70s, aren’t there? It’s not popular around there, as this breakdown by intervals of ten shows:
Average bike number by championship there, too. And those tables are related.
The two bike numbers in 100+ are both in British Superbikes – 127 for Robbin Harms, and a frankly ludicrous 303 for Keith Farmer. Fatboy Slim might have said that Everybody Needs a 303, but he wasn’t thinking of bike numbers. Other championships presumably dictate a maximum of two digits. Wisely.
And that’s why the average bike number in British Superbikes, at 52, is noticeably higher than the other championships, which range from 38 to 42.
Phwoar! Look at that branding
As I said at the start, a lot of riders use their bike number as part of their brand, and sensibly championships are getting more relaxed about how the number is displayed on the bike.
One of my favourites from recent years was Jorge Lorenzo’s 2011 number 1 plate, which he adopted after winning the championship in 2010. The construction of the number 1 from his initials, JL, was pleasingly subtle.
A current favourite is Mika Kallio’s number 36 on his Marc VDS Moto2 bike, displayed as -36°, presumably referring to his chilly homeland of Finland. Very neat.
And finally, some maths – sorry
Incidentally, if I was a racer I’d choose one of the completely unused numbers. That’s 28, because it’s a perfect number, meaning that it equals the sum of its proper factors: 28 = 14 + 7 + 4 + 2 + 1.
Implying that, perhaps unsurprisingly, racers aren’t necessarily big fans of number theory, the other perfect number less than 100, 6 = 3 + 2 + 1, is in use in only two championships, which isn’t many compared to other small numbers.
What to make of Cal Crutchlow signing for Ducati? He must believe it to be the best decision, but some fans aren’t so keen. I think a consideration of probabilities helps here.
What we – by which I mean British MotoGP fans – want is a British rider at the front. We’ve got that this year, with Crutchlow having bagged four podiums and a pole position so far. It’s not unreasonable to expect more of the same for the rest of the season – and indeed in 2014 had he stayed on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
By contrast, Ducati have had no podiums this year, and a only four in the past two seasons.
I think this is what British fans see: the probability of Crutchlow fighting at the front and grabbing a handful podium is greater at Tech 3 than at Ducati. And it’s a fair point, from a spectator’s point of view; the thought of Crutchlow languishing mid-pack on a Ducati is not exactly inspiring.
But no-one dreams of podiums; racers race to win. This is where it gets tricky.
The last time any satellite bike won a race was 2006, when the Gresini Honda was victorious with both Marco Melandri and Toni Elias.
Ducati, meanwhile, last won a race in 2010 – three times, thanks to Casey Stoner of course. Even excluding Stoner as a special case, it was still more recent than 2006 – Loris Capirossi took a win in 2007.
So where is Crutchlow more likely to take his first race win? It’s close. At Tech 3, on a satellite bike, he’ll struggle without something to level the playing field – wet weather or problems for the factory bikes; at Ducati he’ll need them to produce a better bike, or just ‘do a Stoner’ and somehow ride the heck out of it.
Race wins aren’t the end of it though: it’s all about being World Champion.
Here it gets a bit easier: satellite bikes don’t win championships. Never in the MotoGP era, and not in recent history before that – if ever. On the other side, Casey Stoner took his Ducati to the world title in 2007.
So undoubtedly Crutchlow stands a better chance of becoming world champion at Ducati than Tech 3. It might still be a long shot, but it’s better than the near as damn it zero chance at Tech 3.
The one certainty
This is all probabilities, chances and likelihoods. There only one certainty, and that’s that Crutchlow will earn more at Ducati. A racer’s career is relatively short, and opportunities are few and far between, so it’s only right that money be a factor.
If he’d stayed at Tech 3, Crutchlow would have had a very good chance of running at the front next year. In exchange for passing up that opportunity, he’s getting a factory bike which, if Ducati get their act together or Crutchlow can ‘do a Stoner’, could give him a chance at the world title – and the certainty of more money. Seems like a fair deal to me.
There’s been a lot of talk about tyres in Formula 1 circles this season. But my issue is not with Pirelli, but with the FIA’s terminology – specifically prime and option. Yes, I’m arguing over semantics. Strap in for a ripsnorter of a blog post.
The regulations state that two specifications of dry-weather tyres are available at every race. You know that. The differentiating factor between these is that drivers get six sets of the prime tyre, and five of the option.
It’s a working assumption that the prime tyre is the harder compound of the two – indeed it’s an assumption made by the Formula 1 website. But that certainly wasn’t the case at the 2011 Indian Grand Prix, and it doesn’t appear to be set in stone as the rules stand.
A couple of definitions from those helpful chaps at Oxford Dictionaries will help us on our way:
So the term prime is vaguely appropriate, in that it is the ‘main’ tyre by virtue of one more set being available. It’s not a helpful term though, because there’s an implication that it’s also the ‘best’ tyre, which it may or may not be race by race.
But it’s option that really gets my goat. In a dry race, both specifications of tyre have to be used. There is literally no option. How can such madness have arisen? I’d hazard a guess that something may have got lost in translation – from French, the FIA’s favourite language, perhaps.
Fortunately, I have a selection of alternatives to prime and option: primary and secondary; main and alternate; major and minor. But I think clearer still would be something slightly more abstract; plain old A and B would do the trick nicely.
FIA, you’re welcome.
It’s hard to keep up with the MotoGP rider rumour mill – who has a contract for 2014, who doesn’t, and who has a contract that might not end up being worth the paper it’s written on. But what it all adds up to is too many riders for not enough bikes, and pressure on certain riders.
Our very own rookie Bradley Smith is one of those riders, and there’s plenty of discussion about his performance this year.
He’s spoken about how the gap to the winner is more important to him in gauging his progress than outright finishing position. It’s a good point, but I think there’s another way to look at it too.
His satellite Tech 3 Yamaha is a competitive machine, so on paper he ought to be beating the CRT bikes, and at least having a bash at the prototype stragglers – Ducati, essentially. So: how many CRT bikes have been finishing ahead of him, and how many prototype bikes has he been beating?
It’s not an entirely straightforward comparison – there’s been injury aplenty in the Ducati camp, for instance. Nevertheless, let’s have a look.
Those two DNFs obviously stand out, but only Qatar was his fault. It’s also worth comparing that error in the first round to his performance at a wet Le Mans, where he kept it upright when the likes of Valentino Rossi didn’t.
The trend – if you can call it that – against the other prototypes suggests that Smith has started to get on terms with the Ducati riders, notably beating the lot of them at the Dutch TT. Overtaking Andrea Dovizioso – even on a Ducati – is no mean feat, and he’s beaten him in his last three finishes.
On the other hand, Smith has been beaten by a CRT bike four times in seven finishes, which doesn’t sound great. But every time that was Aleix Espargaro, for whom no-one seems to have anything other than utter admiration this year. Get that man on a prototype.
Looking at Smith’s preferred measure of success, he’s clearly been getting closer to the front – down to under 30 seconds behind the winner in Germany. And his finishing position is going in the right direction, even it is a bit of a blunt measure.
So it’s hard to argue that he deserves to be booted out of MotoGP. But is he more deserving of a ride than current Moto2 frontrunners like Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro? That’s another question altogether.
For such a specific detail, seat fittings are a surprisingly visible facet of Formula 1. News of a seat fitting can hint at who’s going where in the driver market, and they’re a firm favourite of teams on social media for offering a controlled little peek behind the scenes.
But I must admit, I’d not really thought about the importance of getting it right.
Though obviously there’s the comfort factor, far more important than that is safety – as the latest Allianz Drive Safely video explains, with a little help from Mercedes. And a little awkward banter between their drivers…
Something that Lewis Hamilton said grabbed me though, and that’s the fact that a properly fitted seat actually contributes to his ability to drive the car. It makes sense: if you’re being thrown around in the seat, even slightly, you won’t feel the vibrations and feedback in the same way.
While that might not be so relevant in road cars, the safety aspect absolutely is. The only difference is that an adjustable headrest isn’t quite as glamorous as a fancy moulded carbon fibre F1 seat. OK, not the only difference, but you get the point.