MMR Blog

The Korean GP 2010 Settles Nothing

Posted on November 1, 2010 Comments (0)

I’ve waited up half the night for a lot of exciting things in my life. The Korean Grand Prix doesn’t qualify as one of them.

Red Bull's Korean Nightmare

Red Bull’s Korean GP debut was not pretty.

In a 16 race F1 schedule you can generally count on 75% of them being boring. The others are usually interesting either because they occur at the end of the year with a championship at stake, or it rains. Korea promised both. Instead it delivered a boring race in the rain and made us wait up for it. 

Alonso won by employing that clever old strategy of staying in front and not doing anything exciting. Webber and Vettel lost by being in front and being unlucky. In Webber's case he made a dumb mistake and was also unlucky enough to be caught out by it.

The really unlucky one was Nico Rosberg who was driving brilliantly until he was collected by the dumb/unlucky Webber who ended Rosberg’s bid for a podium and another trouncing of the once fabulous and now just plain old Schumi. Michael was jubilant with his finish and no one had the heart to point out that three guys in front of him had to crash for him to finish fourth.

In business or life, everyone needs a reserve of sympathy, understanding or forgiveness that gets one through a tough time. Supplying it is what friends are for. It’s what engenders a “second chance”. Webber may have eliminated himself from the championship and if he did and somehow there isn’t a great deal of that sympathy left in the tank for him. Odd, because he came into this race with the support of many but left it with much of that gone. At his level of pay and expectation, a self induced mistake at this point is really not forgivable.

If one of the Red Bull drivers or the team wins a championship, it will be despite their best efforts to throw it away. And if Alonso and/or Ferrari win, it will be because they never gave up. They took a “third best car on the grid” and kept making it better and they made less crucial mistakes. Ferrari Team Manager, Stefano Domenicali understands the sympathetic reserve and this season he has managed to put Ferrari in a position that the Todt-Braun-Schumacher team could never do. Through his thoughtful handling of interviews, he has mollified the ”anything-but-Ferrari” fans. Amazing what a little humility and grace can accomplish.

For raw talent there is not much to choose between the top six drivers and Rosberg. Experience and judgment are the determining factors and it is tough to take anything away from Alonso in either department. He is quick and he makes few mistakes and while that may win him a championship, it isn’t worth staying up half the night to see.


Singapore F1

Posted on October 8, 2010 Comments (0)

Racing into the Night

Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular fire

Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular fire

As a rule, televised night races hold little appeal for me. On the fully lit NASCAR and F1 tracks they simply render all the background objects dull or invisible. No blue sky, no green trees, no well known markers or bridges or signs. Just brightly lit cars travelling on varying shades of gray.

On poorly lit tracks like Le Mans, it becomes a procession of darting white and red lights rushing from one pool of light to the next. Because the cars have no lights, the track at Singapore is completely lit in a stark white and color comes only from the cars and the pit action shots. On TV it is impossible to know where the cars are on the track or even where the track goes. Gushing commentators aside, if this is “the crown jewel” of the GP world, from a TV spectators point of view, the crown is made of dull tin.

Alonso Wins Under Lights

Alonso Wins Under Lights

On the other hand, the lack of color highlighted the colors of the cars, particularly the Ferraris. Is it just my TV set adjustment or has Ferrari gone back to the beautiful blue-red of the sixties from the Marlboro orange-red of the past twenty odd years? This year’s car is the most attractively sculpted Ferrari in decades, and the new color does it justice. Removing decals could only help.

Also, Heikki Kovalainen’s spectacular fire would not have been half as dramatic in daylight. And it was spectacular!

This viewer’s highlights of Singapore.

Alonso is unquestionably a great driver. But he always looks like he needs a bath and a shave, and unless he is on the top step of the podium he seems positively surly. By comparison Kimi and Mika are hilarious.

The drama of the race was watching Webber work his way through the pack and waiting for the guys in front to pit. Would that he could have made it to Vettel’s tail, it would have made interesting politics and racing.

Hamilton may have turned in on him, but Webber did nothing to get out of the gas or the way. Hamilton passed Webber in the first place because he got a really good run on him out of the previous turn. While Schumacher’s current driving style appears less forgivable in a lesser car, everyone else out there is just a mini-mike. Thank you Ayrton. Sorry Stirling.

My hero of the race is Kovalainen. What he did and how he did it was cool and you know it wasn’t something he could have practiced. It showed presence of mind. I like that kid.

What do you think?


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”


Indy 500:Sunday in Indianapolis

Posted on June 10, 2010 Comments (0)

There is more to the Indy story than Dario and Danica.

indyopening

94th Indianapolis 500 Trophy Presentation

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 31:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, poses with his wife Ashley Judd and their dogs on the yard of bricks during the 94th Indianapolis 500 Trophy Presentation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 31, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The Indy 500 was run on Sunday and the packed grandstands and pre-race pomp puts lie to the oft expressed feeling that the event is now only a shadow of its former self.

This is still apple pie and the homeland. Never mind that only 9 of the 33 competitors for the huge payday are American.  As to the field, an argument could be made that in the history of the race, the number of real contenders in the 33 car starting field has not really changed.  What may have changed are the number of inexperienced  drivers who qualified for this year’s race, and the nature of the race itself.

Indy has always been a huge payday for oval racers.  In days past, journeymen and winning racers would attempt to qualify whatever they had in order to make the field and a decent payday. Today, competitive equipment is available to all, but the number properly funded teams and drivers qualified to win is still limited.

There are two kinds of drivers in any race. Both are talented but one is a racer by nature, a competitive person who can make his way to the front by driving aggressively, taking chances and seemingly willing his way past other drivers. They only race to win. The others may be equally talented, but for any number of reasons, they are less willing to take chances and are more inclined to wait for things to happen rather than making them happen. People in the pits know who the racers are before they get to the track.

Five rookies made the field. Four women also made the race, including, of course, the talented, but at times difficult, Danica Patrick. She finished seventh and proclaimed herself pleased with her car and her performance. Danica had a tough PR month and it’s hard to believe she was pleased with anything.

carsinindypit

Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Will Power of Australia, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Only 14 cars completed the 200 laps, but another 6 talented and competitive drivers completed as many as 198 laps, including Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway, who’s dramatic crash brought the racing to an end for the day. Looking down the list of finishers, there is no shortage of participating talent, yet one third of the starting field crashed.

In part, this is due to the fact that while quick enough to qualify, a number of the drivers are too inexperienced to be racing with the big boys all day long. The Indy 500 is a tough place to be getting experience.

Another reason is plainly the nature of modern racing. Modern racing tires shed rubber as they wear. This rubber collects in small chunks on the outside of the preferred racing line and narrows the actual racing surface of the track. Going off-line with hot tires picks up these cast off pieces of rubber, unbalances the wheel and makes the car difficult to drive and uncompetitive, necessitating a pit stop and loss of position to change tires. Going off-line can also mean a loss of grip and a crash.

Before this phenomena, faster drivers drove around slower cars or slower cars were expected to move off-line to let them by. Because moving off-line is so dangerous now, leaders will not move around to pass and expect the slower cars to move onto the dirty surface and get out of the way. Imagine Graham Rahal’s surprise and chagrin when race officials black-flagged him for not moving off- line to let the race leader by. He qualified 7th and finished 12th, but his drive-thru penalty arguably cost him a chance at the win. It could also be argued that this decision would never have been an issue before soft compound tires. Uncompetitive drivers place a heavy burden on race officials because they are charged with getting them out of the way by drivers who are racing for a win.

indyfinish

Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, celebrates in victory circle after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

500 miles at Indy generally separates the drivers from the racers and the racers did well today. Marco Andretti started 16th and finished 3rd. Dan Weldon started 18th and finished 2nd. Tony Kanaan charged from 33rd and at one point was 2nd. Those are the racers fans pay to see and despite the fact that one of the great all-times chargers, Paul Tracy, didn’t make the show, the fans got their money’s worth.

In the end, a well funded team with an experienced crew and racer started 3rd and won the race. Isn’t that what racing is all about today?

pb


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