MMR Blog

Time Flies

Posted on August 23, 2011 Comments (0)

I was checking out the cars for the feature F1 race with another guy in his early twenties who wrote for the Canadian motorsports magazine, Track & Traffic. His name was Lance Hill. There were no drivers in the pits and we got reasonably close to the cars. We were just two young guys talking about yesterday's practice times and somewhat mystified by what we were looking at. These cars were only familiar to us from magazine pages. I remember him now as a very nice guy, very approachable, and with a good sense of humor.

Time moved on. At some point I was in an airport and picked up a soft cover edition of "King of White Lady" by Lance Hill. The author's description left no doubt that this was the same person I once met. It was a good read and I had it around for years before it somehow disappeared.

Several decades went by and my wife and I drove our newly acquired Ferrari 308 to Florida in winter to attend the Cavallino Classic at the Breakers in W. Palm Beach. Crews were unloading Ferraris on the closely cut lawn. Here and there a V-12 engine was being blipped. I looked up and into the Passport van and watched it disgorge a stunning red 250LM with California plates. To my mind, this is the most beautiful road car Ferrari ever made. Two men were gently handling it. The owner was close by and was an attentive observer. At some point, as the car was being moved away, I approached him. I told him that he seemed familiar to me and I told him my name. It didn't mean anything to him and he said he was Lance Hill. It clicked for me and I asked him about Track & Traffic and whether he was still writing about cars. He said he was, but that his professional name was now R. Lance Hill. I pointed to the car and he said that, yes, it was his. He told me that after his stint at T & T, he moved to California and wrote the book I once had. It was optioned several times for a movie, but the topic fell out of fashion, and the movie was never made. He subsequently wrote another book that was made into a movie with Charles Bronson. He now made a living as a "script doctor" for movies that were stopped in production because their scripts needed help. He said the pressure was hell but the money was steady and he had done very well.

Tony Singer's image of Ralph Lauren's Ferrari 250LM in our gallery and Chris Szwedo's story and sound track reminded me of those encounters.


Red Bull Gives You Wins

Posted on November 18, 2010 Comments (0)

Red Bull have won it all! And deservedly so.

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

The energy drink people at Red Bull have proven once again that unfettered money can beat the Fiats, Mercedes and Renaults of the world at what should be their game. Benetton were the last wholly owned non-automotive oriented team to win both Drivers and Constructors Championships and that was fifteen years ago.

But this was an interesting season. Not as much for the racing as for the people. We appear to have a group of drivers who have let their personalities shine through the corporate sponsorships and we find they are a diverse group.

The following are the impressions they left with me as the year ended.

Sebastian Vettel: His little-boy exuberance can be alternatively refreshing and annoying but there is no doubt that he can drive. He had the best car, he won the Championship and he really deserved it.

Mark Webber: Flashes of brilliance but not enough of them. Nobody ever thought he would accomplish what he did at his age and stage of his career. He has a sympathetic following but a dim future.

Hamilton: Quick and competitive. Somehow appears one dimensional. He will be better as he matures.

Alonso: Quick and competitive and smart. Interesting to see him being consoled by Ferrari after the race. I would have thought the check was enough. He has been with four teams in nine seasons.

Massa: Great guy who needs to step up his game. He is number 2 at Ferrari. The new Barrichello.

Button: In two years he has built a reputation for being smart, fast and easy on equipment. Moved from Mercedes at the right time and can give his teammate a run on any day. He was impressive this year.

Schumacher: Gave every aging F1 driver hope. Then dashed them with uncompetive drives. His crash on the first lap of the final race should be a message.

Rosberg: Quick and smart. Handled being Schumacher's teammate very well. He deserves a better team and car. I would love to see him at Red Bull.

Kubica: Very quick. Needs a top ride and then will be very, very competitive.

Kobiyashi: Exciting to watch and would be interesting to see what he could do in a better car.

Domenicali: The most refreshing team principal in years. After years of Dreary Ron and Silent John, he is a breath of fresh air.

The only difference between the cars is Adrian Newey and Renault power.

The last two races were good strategic battles on boring courses. If Abu Dhabi would have been the first race it would have been called a disaster for its lack of passing opportunities.

Formula One drivers are pretty evenly matched. Vettel had a car in which at least five other drivers could have won the championship.

A lot of people seem to speak for Red Bull but we never hear enough from the guy who really makes it all work, Adrian Newey.

Hopefully next year will see more teams competing at the front. Mercedes and Renault seem poised, Williams, less so, but could surprise. A few less boring Tilke tracks would help.

On to 2011, let the testing begin!


Pointy Heads and Pointy Boots or Who’s Nervous Now Nellie?

Posted on September 30, 2010 Comments (0)

The boffins* of F1 race engineering will take their skinny little cars and their trailer loads of fashionably thin entourages to Austin beginning in 2012. Will the rich and clamorous follow them to the land of big hats and big egos?

Austin, TX: Tilke
United States Grand Prix (USGP) Track design

Austin, TX: Tilke United States Grand Prix (USGP) Track design

Bernie’s buddies and the Texas Gov bet they will but Bernie won’t rule out a second location in the US!

In 2007 Tony George explained to Bernie that in the USA the government won’t write checks to support F1 races and that the Speedway was not a charity. He was at least half right and that was the last F1 race held in the USA. F1 outgrew the independent entrepreneur’s ability to organize and fund a race many years ago. From time to time even governments in France, Canada, Belgium and the UK have balked at the financial commitments required to support “their” national F1 race.

As American F1 fans have learned, the stars ALL must be aligned for a successful F1 USGP. The major keys appear to be: a safe smooth track, a large amount of hotel rooms, a huge nearby population and the ability to throw a great party. And, oh yes, the reported $12M upfront cost of a date.

Austin United States Grand Prix (USGP)

Austin United States Grand Prix (USGP)

Now Bernie has an agreement with Tavo Hellmund, whose has family history with Mr. E and his respect and support. They apparently have $200M now and $25M annually from the great State of Texas to pull it off. They have purchased 800 acres and a track designed by the ubiquitous Herman Tilke.

This sounds a little like the Field of Dreams theme of “build it and they will come”. But the ingredients are there: Knowledge of F1, access to Bernie and the Texas treasury, land near the Austin airport that could be developed as a race track and industrial testing facility. Sounds easy and Austin has been told that the glamour of the FIA circus will put their city on a world map and also bring in $25M in cash.

I’m skeptical because I’m not convinced that there are enough people in the “huge nearby population” portion that care enough about F1 to spend the price of a ticket to see this type of racing. I further doubt that F1 fans will spend the money to fly from all over America and the remainder of the world to be seen in a Texas town famous for being the “Live Music Capital of the World”. And as they will learn when they get there, that’s not the only area Texans believe is either the biggest or the best in the world.

The F1 circus will go, because that is their business. I doubt anyone else will, twice. And I don’t think Bernie does either. That is why he has left the option of another race in America open. That would be fabulous for F1 but probably not so fabulous for either event organizer. Should the folks in Austin be nervous? Would you be?

*Boffin is a British term for “nerds”


Turkish Grand Prix: Sunday Morning in Turkey

Posted on June 7, 2010 Comments (1)

Sunday, I was watching a parade and a F1 race broke out.

Turkishf1

F1 Grand Prix of Istanbul - Race

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing leads from Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes at the start of the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Malcolm Griffiths/Getty Images)

On Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon two very different races, one in Turkey and the other in Indianapolis, left many questions unanswered.

The F1 race in Turkey was run for the benefit of only four cars. McLaren and Red Bull teams ran away from everyone else. As usual, qualifying well was the advantage that was needed to lead the first lap and the Red Bull cars, while not as quick as the McLarens in a straight line, had a distinct advantage in the twisty bits.

So Mark Webber who sat on pole, got away cleanly, his partner, Sebastian Vettel , slotted into second when Lewis Hamilton was held unexpectedly in the pits on lap 15 and it looked very much like a one-two for Red Bull and a three- four for McLaren.

redbullwaving

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing reacts as he crashes out after colliding with his team mate Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

At that point the cars were too evenly matched to expect a change and no passing had taken place among them on the track. But there were still technical unpredictables. The possibility of tires “going off” or “graining” and the ultimate F1 equalizer, rain, loomed.

Neither happened.

However, the human unpredictable did. The irrepressible Vettel in second place, due to different car set-up and team tactics, at one point had a slightly quicker car than his teammate, the repressible Mark Webber. On lap 40 of a 58 lap race he attempted to pass in a tight spot. In the process they both went off the track, the McLarens passed, Vettel was out and Webber finished third. It might have been stupid, but it was unexpected and entertaining.

Sebastian

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing reacts as he crashes out after colliding with his team mate Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

So now the McLarens were one-two with Hamilton in the lead when “vettelism” seized Jenson Button, the now in second place McLaren driver. He decided, on lap 48, to pass his teammate and race leader Lewis Hamilton. Well, that lasted for about five corners and then, once they had banged into each other, they were told by their pits they could have a fuel problem, so they should settle down to a parade formation to the finish.

“Conserve fuel! We have calculated that you are running out.” is code for “If you stupid bastards don’t cut this out we are going to trade you both for Kimi and you can learn to drive Renaults around elephant dung for the next ten years.”

The fact that these four guys actually raced each other was quite novel and great fun to watch. What it also gave us was a glimpse of what racing could be like without team orders. And while we are dreaming, suppose the whole track could be used instead of half of it being covered in rubber “marbles"?

And then TV witnessed the cleverness of the Red Bull engineers and managers when confronted with a management and PR situation. This is leadership! Vettel comes by the pits while the race is still on and they all hug him.

Turkishending

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 30:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes leads from team mate Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes on his way to winning the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 30, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The poor little boy, he broke his toy.

If that was my car that he had damned near destroyed trying to pass his teammate who was the pole sitter and leading the race, I would have grabbed him by his cute little ear and marched him straight down to the Lotus pit and told him to help them win a championship for the next few years.

And I would have had a word with Webber about doing something stupid like not moving over when my teammate does something stupid like trying to pass me in a tight spot that could have taken both cars out.

That’s a management point of view.

From a fan’s point of view it was unpredictably refreshing and I’ll bet we never see that again from these four.

So what did you think of the show?

pb