Category: Formula 1
I was intrigued by an incidental fact in the news that Petter Solberg is sponsoring Norwegian F1 hopeful Dennis Olsen in his Formula Renault 2.0 campaign: there has never been a Norwegian Formula 1 driver. And it got me thinking: what’s the biggest country that hasn’t been represented on the F1 grid?
It’s not a hard question to answer: China. It’s the most populous country on the planet, and no Chinese person has competed in a Formula 1 race. Ma Qinghua has taken part in a handful of free practice sessions, but never actually competed.
Well that’s pretty clear: half of the top ten most populous countries in the world have never been, let alone currently are, represented in Formula 1. That’s over two billion people – which is 30 percent of the planet, give or take – without no-one from their home country to cheer on.
Of the five that have been represented, India and Russia have each had just two drivers – well out of proportion with their population. The United States, Brazil and Japan have remarkably close ranks for population and F1 drivers though. So well done them.
Let’s look the other way: the top ten countries by the number of F1 drivers.
Yep, there we are, the good old UK, punching conspicuously above our weight at the top of the F1 list. Sorry about that.
We’re not the most unlikely country in the top ten though: that would be little old Switzerland, 97th on population, but with 24 F1 drivers, a huge 8th on that measure. Belgium isn’t far behind, 75th on population and 9th on F1 drivers.
What’s the lesson? History means a lot, and shouldn’t be forgotten – particularly as far as races in Europe are concerned. But at the same time, it’s a big world out there, and only by promoting and holding races in new places will the sport spread into new lands. But quite how you square that particular circle is well beyond me.
Christian Horner has said that Formula 1 needs to let its drivers be themselves more. I agree. In particular, the younger drivers need to be set free before they become PR automatons. Young people are frequently ludicrous and brilliant – let them get on with it.
Horner’s own Red Bull driver, Daniel Ricciardo, is a case in point. It’s not original or clever to point it out, but it’s unavoidable: he is one infeasibly beaming Australian.
Who hasn’t enjoyed seeing him on the top of the podium twice this season? It’s a joy to see him enjoy winning so much. Or doing just about anything, it seems. It would be criminal if his PR handlers were to erode that implausibly large smile to a weak, heartless smirk.
Or look at Marc Marquez. Admittedly anyone doing as improbably well as he has for the past season and a half would be on a permanent high, but he’s another one that’s a joy to see win.
It’ll be interesting to see how he comes across on MotoGP Tonight on BT Sport next month. Tickets to be in the audience practically evaporated, so the public are keen to see what he’s like. Hopefully he’ll be as charming as he tends to come across as in interviews, and not dead behind the eyes already.
Riders do inevitably calm down, though. Like Jorge Lorenzo. He wouldn’t jump in the water at Jerez with his leathers and helmet on these days, as he did in 2010. Shame, that.
It’s not all beaming smiles and daft celebrations though. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the World Rally Championship this year has been on boards with Elfyn Evans. It’s the young Welshman’s first full season in the WRC, and the look on his face while driving, a mixture of intense concentration and justifiable fear, is a thing to behold. This on board from Monte Carlo is a bit dark, but it’s clear enough.
So: young people being young people. More of it please!
I’d sort of forgotten that Formula 1 has stuck with the wildly unpopular idea of double points for the final race. But comments from Mercedes boss Toto Wolff have put it back in the headlines.
In short, he said:
It is fair though:
It’s the same for everyone, and the decision was made before anyone had scored any points, so it pretty unequivocally satisfies the definition. All the teams know that it’s a disproportionately rewarding race, so if for example they’ve not got a fresh power unit, then that’s their fault.
I’m not criticising Toto Wolff; I know what he’s getting at. I’d say there’s a better word for it:
And that’s my problem with it: there’s no reason for the double points, other than to increase the probability that the championship battle will go down to the final race. I kind of hope it doesn’t, just to spite the rule.
There are plenty of comparisons to be made to other championships. The World Endurance Championship, for instance, awards double points at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, because of the historical and continuing significance of that race. The fact that it’s four times longer than any of the other races might have something to do with it as well.
But the point is that there are double points for a reason. There could be double points at the historic races in F1: Monaco, Britain, Belgium, Germany,
Alternatively, if the end of the season is going to count for more, then do it properly. British Superbikes introduced the ‘Showdown’ a few years ago, which was basically a copy of the NASCAR ‘Chase’ – a few races from the end of the season, points are effectively reset for the top few in the championship, and it’s a straight fight from there. There was some grumbling beforehand, but now it’s an accepted part of the championship. It’s arbitrary, but at least it’s a thing – something that can be promoted and followed. Rather than: oh yeah and the final race has double points for no apparent reason.
The whole double points fiasco is similar to DRS, really: it’s a bit of a half-arsed solution to a perceived problem that might not have actually needed fixing; it doesn’t feel quite right; but ultimately it’s not worth worrying about.
There’s a lot of running away with championships going on this year, but not all of it is as clear cut as the results suggest. Here are six degrees of motorsport domination so far in 2014.
6. KTM – Moto3
It’s a remarkable record: a KTM-engined bike has won every Moto3 race since July 2012, and a KTM chassis every race since September 2012.
Though 2013 was a year of utter domination for KTM, 2014 hasn’t been the whitewash – six wins from six – that it looks like. Were it not for some cracking rides from Jack Miller and Romano Fenati – topping the points table as it stands – Honda would by now have secured a win or two at the hands of Alex Rins (third on points), Efren Vazquez or Alex Marquez.
The Honda is now a match for the KTM, and Miguel Oliveira on the Mahindra can’t be entirely discounted as an outside bet. It’s only a matter of time until KTM’s winning streak comes to an end.
5. Shane Byrne – British Superbikes
Shane Byrne has won three of the first four races in British Superbikes this year, and came second in the other. It’s a storming start, giving him a 30 point championship lead on 95 points.
But with those four races at only two meetings, there’s an awful lot of the season to come. There are consistent riders behind him too: Josh Brookes has a win and two second places, a retirement costing him dearly in the points standings; James Ellison has finished third in every race.
It’s too early to say that Byrne will dominate, then, but it’s clear where the sensible money is.
Domination: to be established
4. Mercedes – Formula 1
The Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid hasn’t finished a race outside the top two so far in 2014. Until last weekend, it seemed completely believable that it could win every race.
Reliability at the Canadian Grand Prix put paid to that though, and Daniel Ricciardo took the first non-Mercedes win of the season for Red Bull.
But there’s no sign that the other teams are in danger of catching – let alone overtaking – Mercedes on performance. So with 258 points and a 119 point lead in the constructors championship, and a similar advantage in the drivers table, it’s going to take a lot more unreliability for anyone other than Mercedes to have a look in when the big prizes are handed out at the end of the year.
Domination: probably in tact
3. Citroen – WTCC
Citroen have definitely ‘done a Volkswagen’: entered a world championship, thrown time and money at the project, and blown the competition – with little or waning manufacturer support – away.
They were never going to win every race of the season, with a reverse grid for the second race of each meeting, and the penalties for success that are usual for touring car racing. But even before the season started, it was virtually a foregone conclusion that one of the Citroen drivers would come out world champion.
And so it has worked out so far: Citroen have won 11 of the 12 races, and comfortably occupy the top three spots in the championship table. It’s not all predictable though: not many would have Jose Maria Lopez leading the standings by 41 points from Yvan Muller and Sebastien Loeb.
Domination: convincing, but not complete
2. Volkswagen – WRC
Volkswagen have won each of the first six rallies of the year, and there’s every chance that run will continue.
They also won all but three rallies in 2013, in their first year. Sebastien Loeb won two of those three, but he’s out of the way now, part of Citroen’s domination of the WTCC.
The competition are looking only intermittently threatening, with a smattering of podium finishes scattered amongst the Citroen, M-Sport and Hyundai runners. Citroen’s Mads Ostberg has been most consistent, but has less than half the points of inevitable championship leader Sebastien Ogier.
Volkswagen might not win every rally this season – reliability and bad luck always come knocking eventually in rallying – but it’s almost inconcieveable that they – and Ogier specifically – won’t be on top come the end of the season.
Domination: highly efficient
1. Marc Marquez – MotoGP
One man, though, has dominated domination so far in 2014. As if taking the MotoGP title on his first attempt in 2013 wasn’t enough, Marc Marquez has won all of the first six races of 2014, to collect a perfect 150 points. His closest rival is Valentino Rossi, on 97.
The first four races of the year were pretty straightforward for the ludicrously talented Spanish child, who has been excellently described as the Predator, in reference to the ‘aliens’ tag that has been used in recent years for the frontrunning set of MotoGP riders.
Then in France he made it hard for himself by dropping back to 10th at the start, but it didn’t take long to find his way to the front, ultimately taking victory by 1.5 seconds.
And in Italy, someone finally made it hard for Marquez. Jorge Lorenzo – hopefully a now resurgent Jorge Lorenzo – challenged him race-long in a superb battle for the win. Marquez ultimately triumphed, by just 0.121 seconds.
But he did win. Again. When will it end? No-one knows.
Much has been written about the 2014 Formula 1 engines – sorry, power units – and much more will be written. I’ve already added to the noise about the noise, so I’ll leave that. But there are a few comparisons that I think highlight just how bloody remarkable these things are.
It’s easy to take reliability for granted these days. But reading Ayrton Senna: All His Races recently, it really hit home how far we’ve come.
Stuff used to go pop all the time. As an arbitrary example, Gerhard Berger only finished three races in the 1989 season, and still ended up 7th in the championship. They weren’t all mechanical problems, but – hell, not even HRT in their first season had that many problems. And Berger was in a Ferrari.
The speed at which teams have got to grips with reliability this season is remarkable. At the first four races, there were 13, 15, 17 and 20 classified finishers – and not all the non-finishers were due to car problems. That’s with historically low amounts of pre-season testing. Stunning work, really.
It’s healthy to remember that F1 has always been preoccupied by talk of engine advantages, technical novelties, managing the tyres, fuel consumption – and often more than one. Senna ran out of fuel on the last lap at Silverstone three years running, for Christ’s sake – most famously in 1991.
So the fact that they’re using something like a third less fuel than last season, and not only getting to the chequered flag, but doing it inappreciably slower, is an absolutely cracking job. Even Renault: they may pale in comparison to Mercedes, but it’s still a massive achievement.
The World Touring Car Championship also introduced new engine regulations this season, and I can’t help feeling that they did it while the FIA wasn’t looking. Yes, the engines have more power, but as a result of enlarging the air inlet for the turbo charger, meaning the engine can burn more fuel. More power from more fuel – it’s not exactly an impressive claim, is it?
And this is in a series based on road going cars, so you’d hope would want to concentrate on relevant technology. You know, like fuel efficiency, hybrid engines – the sort of stuff that manufacturers are supposed to be interested in. But instead, it seems to have gone down a fairly blunt avenue to get more power. Doubtless a cheaper avenue though, and that may be the salient point.
But since F1 can afford – just about – to pursue green technology, it’s a mystery why the engine manufacturers – if not teams and sponsors – aren’t making more of the promotional opportunity. Mercedes have at least now put a little bit of their Hybrid production car branding on the rechristened F1 W05 Hybrid. But is that really the best the sport can do?
As the title suggests, the backbone of Tony Dodgins’ book is a series of accounts of every race Ayrton Senna took part in, from karting, through the junior formulae, to Formula 1. These are interspersed with interviews with key personalities, and longer accompanying pieces.
There’s generous photography throughout, and it’s printed on very handsome paper. These things matter for a coffee table book of this stature – it’s approximately the size and weight of a typical coffee table – and price.
It’s a successful format, particularly for the pre-F1 years. The race reports broadly concern themselves with just the facts, personal perspectives on events coming separately in contributions from the people involved.
With Senna having taken on a different championship every year, there are several new faces to offer contrasting views on each season – rivals, team owners and so on. The Formula 3 season is the obvious highlight, with contributions from the likes of Martin Brundle and Dick Bennetts.
In those early chapters readers are largely left to piece things together for themselves, and draw their own conclusions. That changes somewhat in the F1 years, the author more widely offering his opinion on events. The shift in tone jars somewhat at first, but was probably unavoidable given the controversy around a lot of what went on.
Nevertheless, the format remains effective. The race reports for the most part remain admirably concise, and largely avoid trying to describe specific racing action – which is hopeless in the written word. There are some longer reports, of course, but only where it’s called for.
If there’s a criticism of the race reports, it’s that there’s an occasional overuse of numbers in the prose. Sentences full of qualifying lap times to three decimal places aren’t desperately easy to read and digest; gaps between times are also used, and work better.
With relatively little variation in personnel from season to season, there’s not the same array of fresh perspectives in each chapter that there is earlier in the book. There are plenty of contributions, however, with some nice incidental anecdotes supplementing discussion of the key events. The other longer pieces add welcome background and detail, even if much of it is familiar – and indeed some of it is drawn from the archives.
The book has been published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Senna’s death. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix is covered in appropriate detail, but the book neither dwells on nor is dominated by those tragic events and the subsequent court case; a similar amount of space is devoted to the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, for example. The final contribution comes from trainer Josef Leberer, who knew Senna well, and whose career-wide recollections bring the book to a satisfying close.
It’s a novel approach to documenting a driver’s career, and comes together as something of a high end scrapbook. It’s eminently dip-in-able, as a coffee table book should be, but also stands up to more sustained consumption. Though it’s a story that has been told many times and in many ways, it covers the ground well, and the approach throws up enough new insight and detail to justify spending time with it – and the attention given to Senna’s early racing life is particularly welcome.
AYRTON SENNA: ALL HIS RACES By Tony Dodgins, Foreword by Martin Brundle
The last thing anyone needs is another idiot spouting opinions about the noise of the new 2014 Formula 1 engines. But now this is happening. You’re very welcome.
I left it a couple of races because honestly, I didn’t quite know what all the fuss was about after Australia. I enjoyed the tyres screeching as the cars left their pit boxes, but didn’t really notice much else.
Having paid more attention during the Malaysian Grand Prix, I guess it does sound different to last year – closer to MotoGP bikes, perhaps. But the noise has never impacted on my enjoyment of MotoGP.
Taking that point and running with it, Moto3 bikes sound less impressive than MotoGP, but that doesn’t stop Moto3 from providing some of the most consistently entertaining racing – on two wheels or four.
Maybe I’m different to a lot of F1 fans. In fact, I rather hope I am, given their reaction to the noise of an engine. To many, F1 is motorsport. A change to the sound coming out of their telly box is strange and frightening.
But if you consume a range of motorsports, I don’t think it’s possible to be concerned by it. Rally cars, touring cars, superbikes – they all sound different again, but does that make them more or less entertaining? No.
Nevertheless, there are simple solutions for those who find their hearing insufficiently damaged. At the track, for example, there could be a designated NOISY GRANDSTAND, with different sources of intolerable noise at each track. A Harrier Jump Jet could hover overhead at Silverstone; guns could be unrelentingly fired in the air at the Circuit of the Americas; something Belgian could happen at Spa.
Accidents may happen, and some people may die, but at least spectators would leave with an uncomfortable ringing in their ears.
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.
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!