MMR Blog

2014 Predictions - Confusion Reigns

Posted on January 9, 2014 Comments (3)

As 2014 begins, F1 is praying that the decisions it made regarding engine and chassis will allow more teams to be competitive. Sports cars are struggling to find a formula that will be entertaining and also doesn’t exclude good racecars, and IndyCar is timorously emerging from its own stretch in the wilderness.

The business of racing is business. The public, that’s us, seeks entertainment. The racers, that’s them, seek fair competition and money. Between us and them is each series management. If management can satisfy both camps, everyone will be happy and they also will make money. History tells us that the only management style that has thus far satisfied both camps is one that is intelligent and autocratic with the ability to withstand pressure from teams, advertisers, suppliers, broadcasters and fans. No mean feat.

Bill France

Bernie Ecclestone

Only two people have managed to do that for a prolonged period and only one is alive. Big Bill France and Small Bernie Ecclestone ran/run their operations to suit their visions and the bottom line. Like them or not, both have made wealthy men of themselves and those who chose to follow them.

Here are some thoughts about three major series for 2014.

F1 – Difficult to Predict

If you believe that the four major components of a race team are engine, chassis, driver and management, the fact that two of them are in flux for everyone this year has created a level of excitement and anticipation for followers of F1. The advent of new engine and aero packages could wreak havoc with the current order. As we left them, Renault had the top engines and Red Bull had the top chassis.

Beginning with a clean sheet, it is theoretically anyone’s game. But if you believe that people win because they are experienced winners and appear to have the most talent, you have to give the nod to the Renault-Red Bull package. The fight for second could favor the Renault- Lotus package. Lotus arguably had the second best chassis last year and the same winning engine as Red Bull. But in the driver department, Grosjean has yet to mature to the Vettel/Alonso/Raikkonen/Hamilton level. Maldonado, despite his experience, is an unknown factor at this level.

The most solid one-two driver line-up belongs to Ferrari. Like their drivers, their management is solid and experienced. The engine-chassis portion of their package, we will learn about at the first race. And so will they.

McLaren, considered the engineering team, have proven to be weak in engineering. Plus, half their driver line-up is on a learning curve and their engine fate will be in the hands of Mercedes until next year.

Mercedes are the enigma and the enigma is fascinating. They have two strong drivers, and like everyone else, an unknown chassis/engine package. What makes them particularly interesting to follow is their management structure. Having recently fired Ross Brawn, the canniest racer in the paddock, they have new management which is unproven at this level. At the top sits Niki Lauda, the non-executive Chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, and who, undoubtedly, at the very least, agreed to the Brawn dismissal. Totto Wolff, who has a racing history with Mercedes in the DTM series, is the Business Manager and Paddy Lowe, formerly Technical Director for McLaren will, be Sporting Director with responsibility for building the cars and running the team. They all report to the board.

Time will tell if firing Ross Brawn was a bright move. Last year when Mercedes appeared to be having a high level of tire degradation, it was Ross Braun who engineered a secret tire test that solved the problem and also contravened what many considered to be strict rules against such actions. Not many people in F1 could have done that. Fewer still could have come out of it with so few negative consequences. New Mercedes Business Director Toto Wolff will be benefitting from Brawn’s 2014 planning and efforts for the first part of this year but after that Toto will discover that, as Dorothy said, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Brawn has said he will take six months to review his options. Here’s a prediction: Don’t be too surprised if someone has suggested he not commit to anyone until the board sees how the new management team does. His track record in F1 management is considerably better than Niki’s, Toto’s, and Paddy’s put together. At the very least Mercedes should keep Brawn on retainer not simply for what he can add but to keep him from adding it to someone else’s pit box.

Toto Wolff’s interview with Fox sports regarding Lotus Renault’s delayed payment of their drivers was at best tactless and equally ill informed historically. If this is accurate reporting, it would indicate that Mr. Wolff will be exciting to watch, if only briefly.

Sadly, the remainder of the F1 field will continue to soldier on at the back of the grid.

Tudor Sports Car Series  A Shotgun Marriage

Two series, ALMS (American Le Mans Series) and Rolex Grand-Am, have struggled with confusing classes, hopeless schedules, and lack of the necessary funding to properly establish distinct products. They have now merged to form a new series, the Tudor Sports Car Series, that will allow cars from both series to be competitive.

Tudor, I recently was informed by a watch aficionado, is Rolex’s second line, just as Tissot is Omega’s. A fine watch, to be sure, but still an acknowledged cut below the top level. And it does pose a simple question: Why a second level product?

They face challenges. Merging at the second level will be difficult but made easier because major car manufacturers are involved. They see a link with sales in showrooms and they will find a way, with time, to accommodate the new rules. The Ferrari, Corvette, Porsche, and Viper people all want a system that will allow them to be competitive. They want the series to have value in the eyes of the consumers and if it does that, they can afford to build the cars and the teams to make it work.

The biggest problem is at the top of the ticket. The Grand Am Daytona Prototype was initially a France family product designed to impose on sports car racing what they imposed on NASCAR. They introduced it as the Car of Tomorrow (COTA). The fans didn’t buy the homogenization and it is now, happily, the Car of Yesterday. The initial Daytona Prototypes were ugly slugs and still remain hugely different from the ALMS FIA derived Prototypes that run at Le Mans and in the remainder of Europe. The difficulty is that both sides have huge investments in these cars and nobody wants to, and many can’t, make obsolete their equipment and start from scratch. Management is struggling to find a way to make them even without destroying the cars or the racing.

Now is the time for IndyCar to anoint a strong leader and to find either a much higher profile title sponsor or co-sponsor who can invest the needed funds to help the teams through the expensive transition they will need to make to stay in the game. Like NASCAR, their biggest event is also their first. The Daytona 24 hours will be held at the end of this month and we will learn then what progress has been made.

IndyCar: Chasing the Carrot – Getting the Stick

The four major components required for a successful IndyCar program differ somewhat from the four determined for F1. These are IndyCar's requirements for a strong series: Strong teams, affordable car/engine packages, decent venues, and strong visionary leadership.

They have the first two. Randy Barnard rescued open wheel racing in America from the inept stewardship of the Hulman family and in the process learned that no matter how bright or right you are, when you are beholding to the folks who created the mess you are cleaning up, the likelihood of them being clever enough to let you take a bow and a buck, is highly unlikely.

IndyCar management believe their destiny is bringing their races to downtown streets all over downtown America and obscure racetracks in the hinterlands. F1, by contrast, have enough confidence in their product to believe that people will pay a lot of money to see good racing on real race tracks no matter where in hell they are. Their problem is supplying a consistently good race.

IndyCar finally has good racing and a deep field of driver talent, but their venue lineup is a joke. Other than the Indy 500, Birmingham and Mid-Ohio, the remainder are second rate and hard to watch. Long Beach, the most celebrated, tries hard, but it isn’t Monaco. Monaco has movie stars, Long Beach has TV stars. Bumpy city streets between ugly cement walls and 20’ catch fences is hardly glamorous. Inexplicably, they persist in believing that Laguna Seca, Elkhart Lake, Lime Rock Park, and countless other interesting tracks couldn’t fill their coffers.

They have a great product that has the potential of someday rivaling F1 as they once almost did. But history has demonstrated that as long as the France family control the major venue and the series, it will continue to fumble on!


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on November 29, 2013 Comments (0)

Our images in this issue are by S. Scott Callan. The lead image is of an Alfa 8C shot at Pebble Beach several years ago. The Alfa Romeo – Paris badge is correct. (To view the rest of the images subscribe to our free community newsletter.)

1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Figoni Roadster

Scott's multi-faceted site, Velocity Group, is featured in this issue. Scott has also offered MMR subscribers a first look at his new E-Book, The King’s Eyes. This E-Book has an amazing added dimension designed to bring your reading experience to an entirely new level. We urge you to explore his Kickstarter presentation and learn about this exciting new product.

The King's Eyes by S. Scott Callan

Fixing F1 – Step Four: Making Qualifying Count

At the beginning of Saturday qualifying, NBC F1 announcer/commentator, Leigh Diffy, advised viewers the rarely uttered truth about F1. He said viewers should prepare themselves for the most exciting part of the F1 weekend. We agree. So let’s recognize its entertainment value and make it more important to the teams. Consider awarding points towards both Driver and Manufacturer Championships throughout the whole grid. That insures everyone will compete. Then reverse the grid order for the following day’s race. This is not a new concept and it insures interesting passing and team tactics. What think you?

Brazil and F1 Wrap-Up

The final race was oddly interesting. Throughout the race, the threat of rain hung over the event and anyone who watched qualifying was hoping it would materialize. We have some thoughts about the season and we share them with you here.

Denise McCluggage: The Centered Driver Workshop – January 28th, 2014

The response to last week’s announcement about Denise’s workshop was excellent. We urge you to set aside the date and register for an unforgettable master class in road and track driving. Tickets are limited.

Following up on Risk in Racing

We had a number of email comments from subscribers about our lament re the lack of risk in racing. I watched live the final Superbike race of the 2002 season. These races were run in two heats and at the end of the first heat, Honda racer Colin Edwards, The Texas Tornado, had won the Championship from Ducati rider Troy Bayliss. This is a 7:02 minute video of the second heat. Yes, there is a Racing God. And he loves motorcycle racers and fans of putting-it-on-the line racing:

Hope you had a great T-Day.

Peter Bourassa


Reflections on F1 2013

Posted on November 26, 2013 Comments (2)

Brazil is done. A race made interesting mostly by the threat of rain which never came. But didn’t the commentators and viewers wish it had. Other than that, it was notable for a couple of things.

First, of course, was the departure from F1 of Red Bull stalwart Mark Webber. A man of talent but also unlucky and inconsistent. Vettel may miss him most because he was not a serious threat. If it wasn’t clear before Malaysia, Mark’s position was very clear afterwards.

Frank Williams

Sir Frank Williams

Massa departs Ferrari. He appeared at times this year to require motivation. If driving for Ferrari is not motivation enough, he will surely disappoint at Williams. Sir Frank is not a cheerleader.

We learned, at this race, that in 2013 Ferrari and McLaren went to a different front suspension that allowed them an aero design advantage. This was apparently the major cause of their lackluster performance.

Heikki Kovalainen was consistent, sadly. Surely someone else could have done better and helped Lotus, themselves, and the viewers in the last two races. Management error.

Speaking of error. Red Bull’s on a pitstop for Vettel. A rare occurrence and a comfort to competitors.

Musical chairs will shortly end and many will be fitted for new uniforms and seats, but in the end, it is the cars that are the stars and Lotus, who do not have the budgets of RB, McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari appear to be punching above their weight. Where they will be after McLaren and Ferrari sort themselves out is an open question. On a positive note, they will have a Renault engine and a good chassis and a deserved reputation for being fast. Good drivers will be attracted to them.

Will Buxton’s interview with Nico Rosberg was a highlight of the interviews. Asked if he felt better about his improved performance this year over last, Rosberg replied no. It was due to an improved car and he left no doubt that he felt his performance was always good. He reminded Buxton that he had driven with Schumacher for three years and beaten him consistently. This is a driver who knows where he is at mentally and, should Mercedes deliver the car, he will deliver a championship.

Great credit is due and is paid to the Red Bull team, its drivers and management. Nobody on their side appears to say a word of thanks to their engine supplier Renault.

Red Bull

Finally, Vettel and records: A wonderful accomplishment for which he rightly thanks his whole team profusely. He is very good. He also owes thanks to Webber for not contesting his unexpected pass in Malaysia. That would have stopped the streak half way. Webber also deserves credit for taking 199 points that might have otherwise helped his competitors. He will miss Mark Webber.

In Will Buxton’s summary of the year he credited Vettel with finally realizing that he had to be ruthless to be a champion and that his pass of Webber in Malaysia showed he had come of age as a Champion.

This certainly fits the Senna–Schumacher mindset mold. Hardly fits the one from which Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Graham, and Phil Hill were cast.

As for Buxton’s comment, perhaps it is the times and perhaps it is the difference in our ages but when the goal is more important than the manner by which we achieve it, I lose interest. Fortunately for F1, I believe the majority of the drivers competing would not have needed to be reminded of team orders. It would never have crossed their minds to take a win away from a teammate.

NBC are to be supported for saving F1 from the Fox troglodytes. They have developed a first rate product and, if for them alone, the motorsports community should work like hell to grow F1 in North America.

As for the TV show itself, the sooner they get away from podium interviews the better. They are at best inept and mostly embarrassing to watch, and I would imagine to perform.

Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, F1 remains compelling.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on November 22, 2013 Comments (0)

This week’s images are from Michael Furman’s excellent new book Automotive JewelryRead our review.

Fixing F1 – Step Three - Bring Back Risk

Let’s face it, the risks in today’s F1 races are hardly commensurate with the rewards. The danger and often deadly aspects of older tracks, long gone road courses, and races such as the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio were inherent and impossible to eliminate. Huge trees, narrow roads and stone bridges, were all part of the perils of racing and everyone, drivers and spectators, recognized them. For drivers, the risks were always high and the monetary rewards comparatively low.

However, other than being a fighter pilot during war, there are few opportunities to compete with like individuals at a potentially lethal level and earn both adulation and great sums of money for doing it.

Keeping It on the Island

Keeping it on the island.

Today, what commentators call a brave move is more likely to be an unanticipated maneuver. The risk is now limited to a damaged car and/or loss of championship points. Is it admirable? Unquestionably. Is it brave? Not the way it once was. Is it exciting? Well that’s the question isn’t it? Lawyers and insurance companies have successfully eliminated risk from but a few corners at a few tracks. And if we are not pleased that racing is now safe, what does it say about us? Are we the new old Romans?

F1 – US GP

A boring race. See above. There was an opportunity for drama. Lotus borrowed former F1 driver and now Caterham test driver Heikki Kovalainen to replace the Never Leave ‘em Laughin’ Kimi. The Kimster had back surgery so that he could be healed in time to race for Ferrari next year. True to form, Kovalainen, once again, didn’t fail to disappoint. Surprisingly quick in practice, only 8th in qualifying, he finished 14th. There is a reason this driver has a test contract with the worst team on the grid. To his credit, he doesn’t blame the machinery.

Snooze Fest

Snooze Fest in Texas

So now on to Brazil and more of the same.

NASCAR – Johnson Wins Again

The 2103 NASCAR marathon is over. A talented driver, who works hard, has a great pit crew and races clean, Jimmy Johnson won the championship. I gave up watching when the challenge became the re-engineering of the tire pressures and suspension setups through their far-too-long oval Sunday afternoon marathons. Like other forms of high level racing, the battle now is among the engineers. The saving grace for NASCAR may be its road races. NASCAR drivers are not recognized for just how good they are. If NASCAR dropped Sears Point, added Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Road America, and Road Atlanta and two more tight tracks, they would have an exciting new series.  

Nascar

Welcome NASCAR Fans?


Denise McCluggage

Denise McCluggage: The Centered Driver Workshop

Mark your Calendars. January 28, 2014. Denise will hold an interactive drivers workshop at European Motorsports in Lawrence MA. The class is for a maximum of 60 participants. Order your tickets here.


Burt Levy

Our Buddy Burt – Holiday Offerings

Vintage Racer and Author, Burt Levy, has forwarded his Holiday gift suggestions and a teaser about delivering his second Ford/Ferrari/Le Mans book entitled Assault on Four O’clock. Check out the pricing on Holiday cards on Burt's website.

Have a great weekend.

Peter Bourassa


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on November 15, 2013 Comments (6)

Our images this week are from the new book 1967 – Chris Amon, Scuderia Ferrari and a Year of Living Dangerously by John Julian. See our review.

Fixing F1 – Step Two – Tires

Instead of a single source, open it up to two or more manufacturers and scrap the six lap specials except for qualifying. Let the tire manufacturers work with the teams. Since each chassis reacts differently to the current tires, it is already a part of the strategy. Change the paradigm from adjusting cars to tires to adjusting tires to cars. The current situation benefits Bernie and the teams as they sell the exclusive rights to one manufacturer. The manufacturer gives them money they would otherwise have spent on developing better tires for the different teams and tracks. Under the current formula, Pirelli has no competition, no incentive, and no opportunity to show themselves better than their competitors.

Tires-600

1967: My Favorite Car Year

I was 23, single, with a good job that partially involved racing. I wasn’t ugly or stupid and I had a little jingle in my jeans. Life wasn’t bad. On the car front it was also a good year. Corvette introduced the final iteration of the C2. The '67 Stingray model went from the iconic 1963’s split rear window to an iconic stinger hood on the 427 and subdued front side vents. Refining the details on each model year has been a Corvette tradition. The '62 C1 was the cleanest of that grouping also. If that holds true, considering all the bits added on to and hanging off the C7, it should be pretty by 2018. A friend had a '67 427 4-speed 435 HP convertible, dark green on tan with a white stinger and tan top. It had the optional side pipes and cast aluminum finned wheels. It was a comfortable driver and I don’t think he paid $5K for it. Unlike today’s performance cars, the suspension wasn’t tuned to generate g-forces through turns. It was a simpler time. We burned rubber and street raced in straight lines.

1967 Stingray

Mustang introduced its second generation model in 1967 and in some people’s view (mine) the first completely real Mustang. The very early first series Mustangs with six cylinder engines and 260 CID V8s were pretty and popular but they were not much as cars. Shelby and other racers got power out of the 289s and retuned the suspension. Once they got a fastback model and began racing and rallying them, they became decent cars. But the '67 with the 390 320 HP GT package was, in my opinion, as close as America ever got to the European style Gran Turismo of the day. The 390 engine was heavy and had no top end, but it had tons of grunt and would lope along at 3000 RPM all day long. Gas was cheap then. In hindsight, the 289 with the 271 HP engine was probably a better balanced package overall but it was not a popular option then and Ford built fewer than 500 of them.

1967 Mustang

If for nostalgic reasons alone, both are cars that might happily have a place in any garage today. But neither car would make a good daily driver. The things we loved about them in 1967 have been bred out of the newer cars by advanced technology and societal demands. Those Corvette side pipes we loved were hot as hell and far too loud for top down distance driving. Squealing bias ply tires? Both the Vette and the 390 Mustang plowed terribly at relatively slow speeds. The hardly sensitive worm and sector steering didn’t help either. Cars have come a long way since 1967. And so have we.

Have a great weekend.

Peter Bourassa