Friday, August 11, 2017

Lewis vs Bottas: the hidden war

During the Hungarian grand prix Lewis Hamilton yielded 3rd place back to Valtteri Bottas after promising to do so if he could not make up positions. Bottas was running in 3rd but Lewis closed on him and seemed faster and asked to be let by. The way we see it, it was unprofessional from the Mercedes team to make him have to give back the position. Even if he promised. He is the team points leader and the team owes him one for the headrest snafu in Azerbaijan.

Their cars can no longer finish a race 20 to 30 seconds ahead of the pack. They're no longer fighting each other for the title. Ferrari is in the mix, and at the right tracks like Hungary so is Red Bull. If the team really believes it's giving each driver an equal chance at the championship it's instead forcing them to fight with one arm tied behind their back. Compared to Vettel who has his whole team and teammate pledged to support his title bid Mercedes simply looks amateurish.

Had Verstappen overtaken Lewis Hamilton while Bottas was going by, it would have been a major embarrassment.

There are a few telling reasons why Lewis himself was compelled to cede the position back besides his inability to pass Raikkonen. He was probably well scolded behind closed door after last year's final race, Valterri Bottas' longtime billionaire supporter Antti Aarnio-Wihuri might really be splurging on the team and might have an equality clause for his sponsored driver. You have probably noticed the "Wihuri" patch that used to adorn the Williams uniforms is now proudly but inconspicuously displayed on the right arm of the Mercedes uniforms and both drivers' helmets. Bottas is an F1 team's prototypical driver: Fast, and connected in high places. Lewis' last teammate with similar circumstances was Fernando Alonso. Bottas is also Lewis' boss' personal project. If Bottas makes it, Toto Wolf will also be regarded as someone with an eye for great talent.

Just as Lewis was Ron Dennis' find, and made sure to give him equal footing against Alonso, Lewis shouldn't be surprised if in the second half of the season, Toto develops a penchant for Bottas.

From the team's point of view, now that Bottas is used to the car he can be a threat to Ferrari. But the true wisdom is that if Bottas was truly a better driver than Hamilton we would have seen it in the first 5 races. Pre season testing should have been plenty for him to adapt to the car.

What's the indication of who truly is the better driver when a new driver moves to a new team?

When Lewis moved to Mercedes in 2013, against Nico Rosberg who had been there for 3 years before him, it was clear who the new team leader was. Lewis outclassed Rosberg, even when he got borred midway through the season.

When Vettel moved to ferrari he had his way with Raikkonen. When Alonso went to Ferrari he had Massa in check. Pretty much no matter who is already in a team, so long as the incoming driver has had preaseason testing, he will get the hang of the car if he is the better driver.

It's not at the midway point that the team should start changing strategy to allow the secondary driver to fight for the title because he has worked himself into the hunt.

So barring catastrophic failures, in the first 4 to 5 races the better driver in the team is usually the leader in points. In Mercedes' case Lewis is the de facto and de jure #1. He is the proven winner.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The "meh" Grand Prix

The Hungarian Grand Prix showed some of the worst aspects of Formula 1 racing. It summed up everyone's complaint about the sport. It was so devoid of any meaningful racing action that one of the podium hostesses inadvertently stole the show.

The race was mostly such a procession that the broadcasters' focus was on the leading cars. Among the top 5 cars there wasn't a single genuine pass. Given their pace and the tight nature of the track, the leading cars couldn't get enough of a run to make clean passes on their teammates. And given their lofty positions no one wanted to make a daring move for fear of damaging their tires or worst their car.

The drivers all blamed the track, but it's rather the F1 honchos, since they decide the car design parameters. F2 had a very entertaining session at this same track.

When you compare the action here to Indycar, or even the F2 race earlier in the day, F1 was rather boring, predictable, and lacking in any taut racing.

On average Lewis Hamilton was the fastest man on track. In a normal racing environment Raikkonen would have passed Vettel, then Lewis would have made quick work of Bottas, Vettel, and then battled it out with Raikkonen for the win.

So why can't F1 cars overtake each other on this track And have a hard time at most other tracks? This track is even so short that even the DRS gimmick doesn't give pursuing cars enough time to make a pass.

Formula 1 cars' reliance on aerodynamics to make speed and downforce is their long standing problem. Compared to Formula1 cars,  the F2 cars that raced earlier or even Indycars and Super Formula machines rely more on mechanical grip for handling and speed. Meaning the design of the chassis, suspension geometry, tire, weight distribution, ride height all are used to keep the car holding onto the road. There is still aero involved, in F2, Indy and Super Formula, but it's less of a factor compared to F1, and vice versa.

Aero grip is advanced, near space age technology. The higher the speeds the better it works. It really provides quite a show on acceleration and fast sweepers. Its development cost is stratospheric, it has limited real world application, and as witnessed in Hungary, it requires undisturbed air and does not allow for much close racing in confined quarters.

Mechanical grip is closer to real world road car technology, its development cost are more manageable, it allows for close racing as you see in Indy and F2. It is considered a step down from aero grip development and the cars tend to look unsophisticated compared to F1 machinery.

In my opinion if an Indycar were to be fitted with either the Mercedes or Ferrari engines used in Hungary, the same tires and with a competent driver, it would have over taken the leading pack and easily kept the lead by making quick work of lapped traffic. The reason so, is because it would be able to draw close to cars, since its body work makes do with more mechanical grip than aero grip.

If cars with higher mechanical grip than aero would provide more racing action, why doesn't F1 scrap their current rules book and adopt a whole new concept frame? The answer is one of exclusivity, and control.

F1 has been very lucrative for the established teams. Over the years they have amassed nearly unsurmountable knowledge about aerodynamics as it applies to racing vehicles. This knowledge alone is golden. It sets the established teams apart from any new entrant. No matter how much a new entrant is willing to spend to be competitive, or the caliber of the firm they choose to subcontract design work to, overcoming the challenge of years of aero knowledge is a task measured in hundreds of millions. In the case of a savvy new entrant like Haas, the aero curve defficiency makes them dependent on an established team. In the effort to keep themselves as the players in the sport for as long as possible, the F1 establishment will simply not budge to move the sport's chassis design language from a aero dependent grip to a mechanical grip dependent platform. The sport is lucrative, exclusive and the big players want to stay in charge of it. End of story.

As a side effect this has also ensured that only a small crop of heavily backed drivers can truly contend for a driving seat in Formula1. All lower formulas (Indylights, F2, FV8 3.5, etc) and all other types of racing, have mechanical grip dependent or dominant chassis. When drivers graduate from there, unless they were heavily sponsored to have used a team's simulator and test drive the latest F1 cars regularly, they will struggle to adapt, and F1 teams simply won't hire drivers who do not test drive regularly.

Formula1 can be made racier with more passing. However the desire to maintain a solid grip on the sport and only attract well heeled newcomers (drivers and teams) to add to the pot has kept the sport from truly being as entertaining as it can be.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The "Great" dilemma

Or the "Magnus" dilemma. It's really the same thing. Since leaving the Weathertech championship, Magnus Racing has been fielding 2 cars in Pirelli World Challenge. An R8 LMS for team owner John Potter in the GTA class, and another for Audi factory driver Pierre Kaffer in the all professional GT class, where many other brands have their works drivers battling it out. But Kaffer has a few European race conflicts with PWC such as this weekend when he is at Spa for the 24hrs. Enter Spencer Pumpelly.

The team's part time driver Spencer Pumpelly, who has driven less rounds than Kaffer is placed higher in the driver standings. Any significant results he achieves in this weekend's double header round at Mid Ohio could give the team something to think about. Pumpelly could possibly land on the podium or finish in the top 5-10 in either or both races. 

Pierre Kaffer is no slouch, he has been relied on by many quality or well funded racing outfits; driving an Audi R8 LMP1 at Le mans in 2004 with Allan McNish and Frank Biela, a driver for Risi Competizione, and AF Corse under their PeCom racing moniker, and before this year the Bykolles WEC LMP1 team. Audi, Risi, and AF Corse appearing on his resume almost leaves you with no question of Kaffer's caliber. 

This year as an Audi factory driver he has been assigned to Magnus Racing in their factory supported #4 R8 LMS in Pirelli World Challenge, with full intentions on a championship assault (if BoP permits). The season started with some difficulty for Kaffer, finishing 19th and 15th in St Petersburg. He then finished 8th in Long Beach, an improvement over the frst 2 rounds. But not enough for a proud team working hand in hand with Brad Kettler at Audi Sport customer racing (and looking to prove that they're better than what the Weathertech championship gave them credit for).

In the Sprint X races, Kaffer was paired with Spencer Pumpelly, himself a consumate professional on the level of Kaffer, but unlike Kaffer he doesn't have factory gigs lining up his resume. Instead he has made a career of loaning himself out to wealthy racing enthusiasts and privateer team owners for Pro-Am championships jaunts.

Together Kaffer and Pumpelly have finished 28th and 5th in the VIR double header, and 5th again at CTMP (the Mosport name is better). The kicker was that when Kaffer was on his European racing duties for Audi in Blancpain, the team drafted in Dane Cameron for the Lime rock Sprint X double header. There they finished 2nd and 1st, the best points haul for any team that weekend, and no doubt reminding themselves they're one of the best groups out there. If Pumpelly distances himself substantially from Kaffer in the points standings this weekend, the thought of finishing out the season with him will surely cross the mind of some in the team. For those dramatically inclined Dane Cameron does not have Cadillac DPi duty for the next 2 Sprint X rounds in Utah and Texas.

In truth it will not be that easy to simply boot Pierre Kaffer out of the #4 car. There are contracts and agreements in place that must be taken into consideration. 

The results are better when Kaffer pairs up with Pumpelly, even better when Pumpelly pairs up with Cameron. Now the team will get to see how pumpelly gets on solo in the car. If he gives the team very solid results or a reason to celebrate in either race, Kaffer's return to the Magnus racing paddock could be quite awkward. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Indycar Toronto notes.

Packed grandstands

Two weekends ago, the indycar race in Toronto was one mightily entertaining affaire. One thing we noticed that the TV commentators did not seem to comment on was that the grandstands were full. It's either there were not that many grandstands and spectators had to pack into the stands availablr, or Indycar just has a fabulous Canadian following. In either case it would be wise to have a second race. Perhaps revive Edmonton, or even at CTMP (formerly Mosport).

James Hinchcliffe finishing on the podium was a plus for the series. He is just as competitive as anyone in the top teams. If Bernie Ecclestone ran Indycar he would pressure Chip Ganassi to drop Tony Kanaan and pickup The Mayor of Hinchtown. It's a win-win on all fronts: for fans, Chip Ganassi, Indycar, and it keeps Canadian fans loyal to the series.

Free Kanaan!

Despite his desire to keep racing, Tony Kanaan no longer has the burning desire to launch a sustained attack on the Indycar championship. He should be let go.

It's really not fun advocating for someone to be let go from their job. Given that i had a similar tidbit about Helio Castroneves, and now Kanaan, some might believe i'm just out to badmouth the series. Yet the reality is that there are younger drivers coming up the ranks who can be as good or better, but who simply need a chance.

The argument that drivers such as Helio and Kanaan are very popular with fans, and loosing them could decimate the fan base does not hold water. Rather Indycar is struggling for fans, so letting the younger generation into the series will bring novelty and boost attendance and viewership.

Carlos and Connor

What seemed like very promising careers last year has not delivered this year. In 2016 Carlos Munoz finished second in the Indy 500 behind teammate Alexander Rossi (if it had not been for a late call to pit...), and was the highest placed Andretti Autosport driver in the final driver standings. Connor Daly in his rookie season last year, dazzled with his passing and his ability to make opportunistic strategies work.

Now here they are at A.J Foyt Racing this year. No sponsorship to bring to the team, only their "A" game. But so far neither Munoz or Daly have been able to bring their "A" level game according to the team, and perhaps onlookers. This has got A.J Foyt frustrated. 

But from my observations over the years, i can say that unless you're bringing sponsorship to help the team along like Takuma Sato did, your season is doomed to mediocrity..maybe even your career. I did have hope to see either Munoz or daly score at least a couple top 5 results by now, yet sincerely these results are not their faults. An Indycar Connoisseur knows what the drivers are capable of. It's the team that's letting them down. The team should instead focus all resources on their engineering talent, strategy making and pitwork, similar to what Dale Coyne did in the last off season. The team's biggest assets now are these 2 drivers.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

F1 Live in London notes

Missing Hamilton

Lewis was repeatedly questioned about not being at the F1 Live in London fan event during the Silverstone drivers' press conference. The press had it out for him to let him know they were not at all happy. They were speaking on behalf of the fans. They had a point. Lewis is a tireless globetrotter. It's almost a let down to not show up for an event that benefits his career industry. His facebook account has documented his many escapades. Sometimes it seems he even parties less than a day before a race weekend, and is still able to hoist the winner's trophy on Sunday. Being the ultimate showman this was a golden opportunity to once again showcase his "brand" to a public that was going to cheer him on more than any other driver there.

What the reporters and no one else didn't realize is that the appearance of all the other drivers made the event mundane for Lewis. There was no excitement for him to be there. His persona is built on being different, exclusive, and controversial. He thrives in such circumstances. Skipping the event made him an even more valued commodity. 

Unless it's a competitive event, he doesn't just want to be one of many, where his run in Trafalgar Square would have been compared to that of other drivers. When it's a fan event where people's personal judgements are involved, he wants no contest, he wants to be the clear favorite.

The only way to make up for not showing up is to win the British Grand Prix. Preferably in convincing fashion.

Ricciardo on Bottas

During the driver's Thursday press conference Daniel Ricciardo said Bottas did not represent his country well. Since Riciardo's run was no contest the best and the bravest, with well placed doughnuts and burnouts, he was probably expecting Valtteri to be drifting the car around the streets as if rallying. It would have been eye catching to drift one of those F1 monsters on a city street, but required supreme car control with flawless execution.

The rivalry is real

When all the drivers had gathered on stage and Bottas came out with the mother of all champagne bottles and began to spray it on the crowd, he turned to spray it on the drivers and Kimi Raikkonen was the only driver to run away from the stage to avoid the spray. It seems like an innocent enough reaction, but it's not. Similar to how Lewis Hamilton ducked out from the champage shower during Nico Rosberg's championship celebration with the team. Kimi wants nothing to do with Bottas. As far as Kimi, they're simply racing rivals no countrymen brotherhood to celebrate.

F1 two seater

It was actually refreshing to see Formula1 roll out with their own two seater. A two seater has been a staple showcase for years in Indycar. Imitation is flattery. But a few improvements are in order: it looks cramped even though Naomi Campbell somehow managed to fit in the Silverstone winner's trophy. Also, they should make the two seater stall proof. It doesn't have to be operated like an F1 car. It just has to feel, look, and accelerate somewhat close to one.  It didn't look good when Jensen Button a former champion stalled the showcase piece with a VIP guest in tow. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

18 years in racing heaven

Helio Castroneves won the Indycar race in Iowa, and has dislodged his reigning champion teammate Simon Pagenaud in second place. There is starting to be talk that it would be ironic if he was to be replaced after winning the championship this year. Throughout his hall of fame career that has been the only knock on Castroneves' career - not winning a championship.

But the notion of Helio being ousted from Indycar is not of course without merit. Ever since Penske Racing moved to Indycar from CART, the only multi year full time drivers not to win a title for the team are Ryan Briscoe - whose moment of inattention after a pit stop at Motegi cost him the title in his second season with the team in 2009, and Juan Pablo Montoya who would have won the title had it not been for the double points at the last race of the season at Sonoma in 2015. All other drivers have won at least one crown for the Captain, Sam Hornish, Will Power, snd Simon Pagenaud. Joseph Newgarden is lining up for his ring fitting in the next few years.

Helio is in his 18th season with the team. He has become a very popular driver in the series and has won 3 Indy 500 races. Those accolades has enabled him to remain firmly entrenched in the Penske organization. Perhaps that confidence in his racing future has also worked against him. Maybe he played it safe sometimes instead of attacking, since he almost always approached the end of the season knowing what was next for him the following season.

Before the question of why should he be let go if he wins the title is answered, the question that should first be asked is should be allowed to win the title? Despite being second in the championship, can he be trusted or counted on to really mount a charge to deliver results in the crunch against Scott Dixon?

We already have our answer from 15 competitive seasons out of 18 for team Penske. Helio has had his chances. If he were to win the title, we think Helio himself should retire on a high note rather than be forced out. In case he isn't able to sustain his championship charge he should do his best to make sure Pagenaud or another Penske driver wins it for his beloved boss.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wearthertech championship 6hrs at the Glen

As hollowed a racing circuit as Watkins Glen is, I would suggest changes that I think would make it even better. The bus stop should go. Let that back straight be a flat out stretch. However turn 5 at the end of the back straight should be made a bit more squared exactly like turn one. Leading off turn 5 you would have a run off area, and a set of spaced out tire barriers. Tire barriers will damage a car while catching it, and gravel or sand traps would stop the car while preserving it. But a car coming back on track from there will leave a mess, reducing the racing line, and possibly causing other on track issues. That simple change to the track would do wonders, simply and brilliantly.

It was refreshing to see a mix of prototypes in the hunt for the win. However we could not help wondering. Had Rebellion been here, would they simply walk away with this thing and ride into the sunset triumphantly? At Sebring, Rebellion was close in performance to the Cadillacs, even though Neel Jani had to be on the ragged edge to keep the pace, but it was pretty close. The JDC/Miller Oreca 07 at the time was not on the pace of the Rebellion Oreca. The team is just not  on the level of Rebellion at setting up a P2 car. The Cadillacs were slowed after the sebring test, before Long Beach and then again before Detroit. Only then was the JDC Oreca starting to get a sniff of glory. 

At Watkins Glen, the PR1 Mathiassen Ligier JS P217 received assistance from Onroak and they also brought in Olivier Pla. The effort showed because the car was setting fastest laps during the race, and could have won it overall had it not been for a strategy blunder. Judging by 24hr of Lemans performances, we can assume that whatever performance achieved by a 2017 spec LMP2 Ligier, a 2017 spec LMP2 Oreca can outmatch it. Given that a Ligier was the fastest car in the field here, the Oreca at least in Stephen Simpson's grasp should have been faster. But it wasn't. Had rebellion shown up with an Oreca 07 fully on song (which they have the means to do), it would have blown away the whole field. Rebellion's 2 cars ran 1-2 at LeMans for the majority of the race before hitting troubles, so they have no lack of strategy and efforts. The cadillacs should be able to keep up with an Oreca 07 in optimum race trim.

We believe the Cadilac's have been pegged back too far. They should be taken back to their Detroit balance of performance adjustments, or just slightly below their Sebring performance level. Let the others do the work to catch up. We should not forget that Cadillac put in a lot of effort get these cars to their performance. Don't reward other's mediocrity. It should not be easy to win in the top category of a top rung championship. If or when Penske and Joest racing jump in the fold, they would be doing so with no shame of making their intentions clear, and no shyness about flaunting their racing resources. 

At Petit Lemans we hope not to see Rebellion or Penske with expertly set up Oreca 07's blowing away hobbled Cadillac DPi's. Long time entrants should not be left vulnerable to part time or new entrants coming in to wreak havoc. Unless of course those new part time or new entrants have also done a very good job. Until then free up the Caddies a bit. Their strength gives prestige to the series.

The BMW M6 finally has a win with Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims. This car has been plagued by its size. We don't think many in the team thought they would have a win. Next year they will have a BMW M8. In spy shots of the road car testing, it seems to be as big if not bigger than the M6. Unless it's extremely efficient in other areas besides aerodynamics, it too will have trouble being competitive and getting its first victory.

During an interview of Will Turner, owner of Turner Motorsport (#96 BMW M6 GT3), while talking about the speed of the Acura NSX's, he kept referring to them as Hondas. Honest slip up or underhandedly putting them down? Sure they are made by Honda, but they are the luxury brand, competing with BMW in the marketplace.