Saturday, 4 April 2015

Vorsprung Durch Madness!

It was very depressing news to hear that the German GP had been cancelled. Having started watching the sport in 1991, Germany was synonymous with the old Hockenheim, that breathtaking blast through the woods, briefly out of the light into the stadium section. This period coincided with the inexorable rise of Michael Schumacher, which created teeming throngs of crowds in the stadium. It was thrilling watching the new star, in a Ford V8 powered Benetton, hold off Riccardo  Patrese, in a Renault V10, active suspension and all the trimmings Williams! The cars visibly teetering on a knife edge at a high speed - that was Hockenheim. It would have been dull if all the tracks had been like it, but it was something different, and added to the variety of the sport.

Sadly Hockenheim was homogenised (You've Been Tilked?), but in a country that was building its motorsport heritage, and had a decent smattering of fans (and a stellar collection of drivers) it still for my money should have been one of the first races on the line up. And the 'new' Nurburgring was a very enjoyable track to watch and produced some great races.

I think F1 should be a WORLD Championship and not just confine itself to Europe, but surely this does not preclude including historic races, countries with a large fanbase and an opportunity for plenty of money to be made. Take tennis as the model - they play anywhere and everywhere, and everywhere in between, but don't drop Wimbledon for the sake of a few quid! The traditional events with big passionate crowds look great on global TV, and this helps get people round the world watching, and surely the financial arrangement for the core tracks should reflect this.....

Sadly it does not seem it will be the case anytime let me indulge with my own fantasy calendar - all tracks upgraded to safety spec but no changes to the layouts!

2015 F1 Calendar:

Race 1: Australia, Bathurst
Race 2: USA, Laguna Seca
Race 3: Mexico, Mexico City
Race 4: Portugal,Portimao
5: San Marino, 
5: Monaco, Monte Carlo,
6: France, Paul Ricard
7: Germany, Nurburgring
8: Britain, Silverstone
9: Portugal, Esteroil
10: Czech Republic, Brno
11:Belgium, Spa
12: Italy, Monza
13: Turkey, Istanbul
13: Britain, Brands Hatch
14: USA, Road America
15: Canada, Montreal
16: USA, Austin
17: Singapore, Sinagpore City
18: Japan, Suzuka
19: India, Delhi
20: Australia, Adelaide

Errrrrrr whats that Mr Ecclestone? Im very sorry for publishing this, here is the corrected calendar.......

2015 Formula Bernie Presented By CVC
1: Abu Dhabi
2: Baharin
3: Qatar
4: Dubai
5: Japan, TI Aida
6: Korea, Yeongram
7: USA, Las Vegas Car Park
8: USA, Phoenix
9: China, Shanghai
10: USA, Indy Road Course
11: European Classic, Valencia Street Course
12: Austria, A1 Ring
13: Japan, Fuji
14: Russia, Sochi
15:Argentina, Buenos Aires
16: USA, Dallas
17: Belgium, Nivelles
18: Italy, Fiorano
19: France, Le Mans Bugatti
20: Abu Dhabi (Double race, double points, double $£€)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Put Your Visor Down and Close Your Ears........

Truth be told, I am not a fan of the FIA. They seem to be doing a very effective line in acting as a chocolate fireplace over the myriad issues in the sport at present. The distribution of the revenues, the calendar, promoting young drivers.....they often have little to say, or pour petrol on the flames of an inferno! But finally, last week dropped in a collectors item, a sensible decision that will make F1 better for casual and committed fans alike...........a ban on changing helmet designs.

And with that, the F1 twitterati and forumrati and downthepubrati erupted with scorn.....

....And I would have to disagree with them!

A stultifying inability to do the small things should be no reason to do the big things. While there is a mammoth amount still to do (and I have minuscule faith in the their ability to do much) we cannot as fans deride the organisation for never thinking of the fans, and proactively change the sport, and then propel mud and rocks through the doors of the palatial Place de la Concorde offices when they do so!

To me it parallels the driver numbers change which was similarly lampooned last year. While it hasn't single handedly fixed all the problems in F1, it has been something that I have enjoyed greatly. Learning the reasons different drivers used choose their numbers, having them assimilate into memory though the nifty placement of them on the tv graphics, wondering what numbers new drivers will is all good fun. And I think this new change (or stopchanging change?) will be A Good Thing before the end of the year. Reasons to be cheerful............

A driver's helmet colour is his identity. Now the colours will be on for every race (no more tired Monaco specials, yaaaaawn) we can get used to the colours, and blend them into our mental image of the driver. No bizarre helmet changes like Alonso's (not)famous '1571' (you won't remember!) effort in India 2013. I won't go on about the absurdity of changing a recongnisable, unique helmet design for a random helmet focused on a record number no one would have a clue about, that didn't mean a lot anyway (the points given out for a win had increased markedly from Fangio or even Schumacher's day)  and for something that created zero excitement....apart from for the guy who gets paid to do his helmet designs?! Anyway, I won't go on about it (cont. page 1571)

It might even force the drivers to produce stronger simpler, more recognisable designs, now that they have to think about the downside of plumping for the wrong choice. Some more James Hunt or Ayrton Senna style designs would be nice.....

For new fans, some of them possibly very young ones (the ones who sneak past the opprobrium towards them from the promoter...) it means when they tune in for their second race they might be able to actually recognise drivers they saw in their first race...radical that!

With permanent designs and numbers, maybe we can even have some kick ass driver merchandise! Make it happen!

And it will be such a boon watching classic races now - no more trying desperately to figure out who that guy in the Toro Rosso is, having to Google and find out Vergene had a tribute helmet to Total Oil because it was the fifth anniversary of them changing their logo etc........

So drivers - get those good designs in for Melbourne, and let us all enjoy a change for the better!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Woking Worriers

Well thought I would be original on the blog so..............

The new McLaren livery.........I hate it!

After all the hype about global title sponsors, retro Marlboro liveries (yes please!) It was the red surround round the front nose that did it for me....a bizarre homage to the two year departed title sponsor Vodafone. But hey, logical enough, given supreme head honcho/leader Ron Dennis said during the Jerez test that there was no point changing the colour scheme until a putative title sponsor ponied up some moolah?

They took the red off last year. Ron...?

So not a good look, not good 'vertical brand external exposure imagery synergy' from McLaren! But all would be a temporary distraction if it did not hide some uncomfortable portents for the coming years.....

McLaren have long been rightly famed for the stable, heavyweight long term sponsorship deals they have been able to make. Marlboro, West, Vodafone, Boss, Mobil......high paying sponsors, on long term deals. Bullseye for the sponsorship team! But lately, they have been not reaching the board. The new McLaren is barren, bereft of sponsors large or small, and while I am sure the £50 polo shirts are nice, I doubt they are taking up the slack in the same way shirts do for a football team....

The problem may not be the sponsorship, at a time when costs are escalating, F1 is struggling for audience, and advertisers have a great number of other global outlets. But with Red Bull and Mercedes able to whack huge sums in from the parent company, who in the Darwinian world of F1 will have sympathy? And something is definitely wrong, with even Santander off the McLaren overalls despite the presence of Senor motorsport (don't mention the emails) Fernando Alonso. I wouldn't have thought even me making a presentation drunk with an upside down Powerpoint could have turned Santander off with Alonso there......

And can McLaren find the money to keep competing at the top table? They subidised their own team last year, have free Honda engines (although less FOM prize money) this year, but when the accounts for 2013 show £8 million in cash in the bank potentially down to £100 million this year, does the team rely on shareholder generosity (from Baharian?)? And Alonso will not have decreased the wage bill.......

And in this uncertain environment, when the team need a strong year, comes the new Honda engine. It was in recalcitrant mood at Jerez. Are Honda a year behind, destined for a frustrating year as the others pull ahead thanks to a year's experience?

Against these questions, McLaren have a lot of plus points. A driver many consider the best, and another World Champion. A designer fresh from Red Bull, who has produced a sleek agressive car (albeit inartfully monikered). IF Honda have used their year of observation wisely (will the split turbo work for them like Mercedes?) and get over teething troubles, odds are the  drivers and chassis can capitalise with hatfulls of points, and maybe a lot more. And if the title sponsor follows, McLaren may well have fallen through the years of victories and titles.

In F1, teams ebb and flow as the creative, personal and situational evolution drives ever forward. It is always fascinating when a team reaches a 'pivotal year', and it will be fascinating to see how McLaren do.

Good luck the boys and girls from Woking........and please repaint the car ;)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Return To Blogging :)

Okay popped out to the shop.......for 3 years :) Lets try and get some regular posts up here.......and do better this time!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Greatest Race That Never Was: London 2012

Putting something a bit different on and posting up a short story! I wrote this in the wintertime but forgot to post it up at the time...which explains the start of it - at Christmas! Thought it might be interesting to put this up now that the Games are in full swing...

The floor was strewn with bits of pinecones, tinsel and all manner of other detritus, the tree listed to one side, the lights flickered – was that down to my haphazard handiwork,  or was the electricity failing thanks to the howling wind and snow outside? Well, it was most likely my poor workmanship, but come on, I only got to practice this once a year, in pursuance of the whole ‘Christmas’ circus. I found ‘Chrimbo’ a mite contrived, and more importantly, it represented a massive obstacle to my constant quest to watch as much live motorsport as possible, in person or on TV. Britain’s race tracks were long under snow, and the gushing torrent of live motorsport on telly had reduced to a trickle. Was that Andros Trophy in the planner a rerun of last year’s race? Oh, look, V8 Supercars at the weekend!.....ah, darnit, the final race was two weeks long till the Dakar


I sat down on the armchair, truly exhausted after a few hours of the ‘fun’ of decorations. I poured myself a whisky, and lay back. Why couldn’t Bernie have extended the season even further? A Grand Prix would have been just lovely to sit down to now. Instead what was flashing up on my screen was a ‘celebration of the Olympics’. There were thousands of people gathered. ‘Less than 100 days to go’ boomed the presenter, with it written in huge neon lights on Trafalgar Square just in case you hadn’t heard. Oh crumbs, that will be another thing that disrupts motorsport, wedged right in the middle of the season. No doubt we will have to pretend to enjoy it, while we miss loads of great track action! Just like Christmas, and just as contrived. Don’t give me all this spiel about plucky amateur values and grass roots sport, given the whole thing was just a bizarre arms race between Governments, showering money on teams for medals and prestige? And surely there were some professional sports there anyway, cricket golf...but only the lucky few? Who decided that?  So we were facing an Olympics without motor sport, but also rugby, cricket, snooker, darts, in a British festival of sport! Oh for goodness sake! It made me angry, although given the long day decorating, that made me feel even more tired. I pulled my cushion up, shimmied under my nice thick rug, and my eyes were weightlifting heavy within seconds. All went black......

I suddenly regained vision again, and struggled to focus. Strangely, there were no decorations in sight, it was warm, and very sunny outside, and I was wearing my beach shorts. I was massively confused....mind you, the telly was still blaring away on full volume, just as I had left it. Okay then, fine. Mind, the pictures had changed – was that the Olympic Stadium with thousands of people in it? Test event? What was going on?
‘The OLYMPICS, the nation unites around OUR festival of sport’ shouted the announcer. Oh give it to me then, our good old festival of sport, where you’re probably about to cut to the obscureville arena for some sport you never knew existed.....

‘Hi I’m Jake Humphrey, here at Brands Hatch, for the Olympics motorsport events. First let’s talk about the new event with Lewis Hamilton, Dario Franchitti, and Sebastien Loeb, part of the greatest driver line up ever assembled!

What the fu............

‘But first I’ve got Bernie Ecclestone, the instigator of all this. Bernie it was a bit of a shock when you and the IOC announced this in January?’

‘Well yes Jake, but as I said at the time, we all mellow a bit....eventually.....and I just thought elite level motor sport had become too associated with money, with Formula 1 far too dominant. I just wanted a fun event, that showed off the Corinthian spirit of the athletes from the diverse parts of our great sport.’


So I planned this event myself and I have paid for all the cars, the circuit, and the marshals. So when I went to the IOC, they were so tempted by the prospect of boosting viewing figures by enticing some F1 fans to actually watch the damn thing....and, er, of course, the great contribution to the sporting spirit of the Olympics this would be. So we will have three separate one make races, in V8 Superstars, around the rallycross course in Ford Fiesta WRC’s and finally in Superleague Formula cars. And may I just say isn’t this track marvellous, far better than some of the Tilke tracks I’ve, perhaps, mistakenly flooded the calendar with....’

This was ridiculous now. It had to be a dream. I pinched myself. I didn’t wake up. There was a pencil lying on the sofa, and I pricked myself on the arm – ouch! Still didn’t wake up Well, it must be a  pretty realistic dream.....

‘Thanks Bernie, well there was so much debate about what 40 drivers would be selected, including the now famous article on the Motor Sport website that attracted 850,000 comments, entering the Guinness Book of Records. In the end the FIA and IOC settled on last years champions in Formula One, Indycar, NASCAR, GP2, WTCC, BTCC, DTM, V8 Supercars, Formula Renault World Series, WRC  and IRC, plus 29 wildcards selected by a committee. Sadly it was just too last minute to get racing bikes involved, although they will compete in 2014 for a separate medal, and Valentino Rossi is one of the wildcards thanks to his previous car racing experience. Here are the drivers displayed on your screen.’

D. Earnhardt Jr
R. Wickens
A. Mikkelsen
J.E. Vergene
Points system: 40 for first, down to one for last.

Wow, what a field. What a field! All racing together, at Brands Hatch! I could rightly live with the Olympics now thank you very much! Although I was still slightly bemused by Bernie Ecclestone’s attitude. Less so the drivers.....

‘Lewis, are you not pining for your F1 car after the two days testing in these three cars?’  ‘No way man, this is frickin great! That V8 touring car is awesome, you can get the rear end to slide so good, and the superleague car with a V12! I remember the V12’s from Senna’s day....the SOUND! What a SOUND!!’

‘And Sebastien, you’re a wild card, how do you think you can do in the racing cars, is it too steep a challenge as a rally man?’ ‘Ah no....I don’t think so. I always being an all rounder, I’ve done track racing successfully before, and I really think I have the all round ability to beat these guys. I will certainly beat Ogier easily!!’

‘And Dario, you’ve put so much effort into your preparation for this, what does Olympic Gold mean to you?’ ‘Ah, so much, so much. I was delighted that the FIA resurrected the Jim Clark Trophy to be presented along with the Gold medal. I’m a big student of the history of the sport, and even now I can’t believe how Jim Clark could jump from Formula One, to Touring Cars, rally cars, anything.....To have the opportunity to do the same, even for one just such a privilege. So I really want to win! Some people have said that carving out a replica of the rallycross track at my ranch, and buying a Ford Fiesta WRC to practice was a bit much, but we racing drivers always want the unfair advantage!’
Wow....I couldn’t believe some of all this. 40 of the world’s best drivers in V12 single seaters, rally cars, high powered touring cars...bring it on!

‘Now we will show you highlights of the first two races before we go live to the third race’.

The V8 supercars appeared on the grid for the first race, with the star studded line up. The fireworks were about to go off, and my goodness they went off with a bang. But first, astonishingly, confounding the predictions of each and every one of the pundits, the cars made it through Paddock Hill bend without contact. But that was just a lull in the storm, as it really degenerated at Druids, with Tony Stewart taking a massive yahoo up the inside of Jamie Whincup, the two cars slewing all over the place on the exit of the corner, before Matt Neal gave them a little tap, pushing them offline, with the concertina effect causing a lot of banging around through the field. The onboard camera caught Stewart gesticulating and shouting furiously.....As the cars screamed down the hill and the end of lap one, the order was: Lowndes, Edwards, Prialux, J.Gordon, R.Gordon, Plato, Hamilton, Whincup, Stewart, Vettel, Johnson and Franchitti. As the race went on the pace was furious, with the non touring car drivers adapting very well to the bashing and boring.  In just a few of the flashpoint areas the highlights editor had picked out, Michael Schumacher put Montoya on the grass on the run down the hill to Hawthorn, before Juan nerfed him into the gravel at Dingle Dell. ‘I’ll show you ONE MOVE!’ he thundered on the radio. There was a right shemozzle at Paddock Hill on the next lap as Robby Gordon and Jason Plato banged fenders on the way in, and as they did so, Hamilton blasted past on the outside, powersliding the car on the grass in a wonderful manoeuvre, to the frenzied noise and applause of the packed crowd on the banking. Astonishing! But then it was quickly all shattered, with Robby Gordon locking up hugely in the run into Graham Hill bend, knocking into the rear of Hamilton’s car and knocking the rear wing off. But this did not deter Lewis and he kept charging round, powersliding everywhere and entertaining the crowd. But it began to wilt his tyres, and he was overtaken by first Vettel and then Johnson. They had bided their time, and saved their tyres, and gradually worked their way up the field. 10 laps from the end Johnson slipstreamed past Vettel, after following him the whole race, and relentlessly then picked off everyone else, with a series of incisive manoeuvres, finally taking Lowdnes round the outside of Surtees on the last lap. So the final order was: Johnson, Lowndes, Edwards, Prialux, Borudais, Vettel, J.Gordon, Hamilton, Franchitti, Loeb, Stewart. 

‘And if you thought that was chaos, here are the highlights of the second race.’

The cars appeared in screen for the rallycross event. Loeb and Ogier were on the front row. The commentator  was excitedly burbling about this being a grudge match between Loeb and Ogier, after the recent war of words between the two in world rally. And true to the form, the two indulged in an orgy of wheel banging throughout the race, as they left the rest of the field in the mists. Behind there was utter chaos, with the F1 drivers in particular using the license to pull out some spectacular power slides. Hamilton showed a great aptitude for this, joking over the team radio that it was a joy to do two races with no downforce at the back, and that he wished he could do it more often! Franchitti was well up after his extra testing and had a ding dong with the exciting Theirry Neuville, that ended up in their bumpers littering the track. After 50 minutes of absolute chaos, it came down to the last lap, with Loeb slingshoting Ogier at the last corner to won, much to his joy. The final order was: Loeb, Ogier, Neuville, Hirvonen, Franchitti, Kopecky, Hirvonen, Stewart, Hamilton, and Vettel.

‘And now we go to our final race, in the V12 superleague formula cars’. The standings going into the race were:
Loeb: 71
Franchitti: 68
Vettel: 66
Hamilton: 65

Vettel had taken pole, sharing the front row with Hamilton, with Franchitti in 5th, and Loeb in 12th. All still had shots at the Gold Medal. It promised to be quite a race, and so it was. Vettel roared off from the start, while Hamilton got an awful one, and was passed by Alonso, Webber , Button and Dixon. Vettel immediately built up a big lead. But inexorably, cheered on by the capacity crowd, Hamilton started to move up the field. He went round the outside of Dixon into Surtees, slipstreamed Button down the hill into McLeans, and dived past Webber into Paddock Hill bend. After that he barged up the inside of Alonso into Graham Hill bend, and started to reel in Vettel. He looked good for the win. But this seemed to spur on Alonso, and he passed Hamilton in an astonishing manoeuvre that started with him going up the inside at Paddock, but thanks to Hamilton’s obduracy lasted till Alonso got the drop at Dingle Dell! It was all absolutely crucial, as although Alonso could not realistically win Gold, he could take it away from Hamilton and Vettel by winning – Hamilton needed to win the race, second for Vettel would not be enough if Franchitti was 5th, or Loeb 9th. And intriguingly Franchitti, cannily saving his tyres, was in 7th, but catching Schumacher and Dixon for that 5th place, while being pressured by Castroneves and Vergene. But catching them all was Loeb, a quite astonishing performance for a man who had been refused an F1 superlicence, but was finally fulfilling his dream of racing against the best of the best in single seaters. And he was in tantalising reach of the Gold medal....

The race got momumentally intense towards the last 5 laps, with the TV director furiously flashing up ‘As it stands’ tables every 5 seconds – and rightly so, because the position was constantly changing. At various points, Franchitti, Vettel, Hamilton or Loeb were all theoretically top of the table. The top 3 had got into a ding dong battle and were swapping the lead nearly every corner. Franchitti had briefly got into the hallowed 5th place, but Schumacher and Dixon were proving obdurate and sparked off another desperate bout of passing and repassing.  Loeb had joined a furious battle with Castroneves and Vergene for 8th. If Loeb was 9th he would win Gold providing Franchitti was not 5th. If he was 8th he would definitely win Gold. If either Vettel or Hamilton won they would win Gold providing Loeb or Franchitti were lower than 9th or 5th respectively. Get it? Well I didn’t, but with the help of Mr ‘As it Stands’, I was enjoying it immensely! It really was all up in the air.....

And who to win? They all had mighty claims to be deserving of the first Olympic Gold. Vettel was the World Champion, had been breathtakingly fast in everything and had really thumbed ‘the finger’ to anyone who thought he couldn’t do wheel to wheel racing – he had executed, what, a million clean and brilliant passes in one day! Hamilton had brilliantly got into the spirit of it, relentlessly attacking, creating nonstop excitement for the home crowd, even when he had no rear wing. Loeb had showed how much of great all rounder he was, possessing real single seater prowess, and as a bonus had vanquished his emerging rival Ogier. And Dario.....he had been great, and his respect for the history of the sport and adulation of Jim Clark, in some way, it make it so fitting if he was up there on the podium in front of 100,000, the Gold medal round his neck and lifting the Jim Clark trophy. There was just one thing for sure – they had all thrown themselves into the event, created a magnificent spectacle that would be the talk of the Olympics, and motorsport fans would be proud of them, whoever the winner....

The last lap started. Somehow the director had contrived a three way split screen to view the crucial battles that would decide the Gold. The front three battle was unbelievable, throwing all caution to the wind, going on the grass sliding, darting around,(maybe thinking they were still in the touring cars?!) but still showing respect for each other.....just about! It was more Villeneuve/Arnoux than dodgem cars, thankfully. As they went through Clearways and into Clark, Vettel appeared to have it, but Alonso had saved a little power boost and used it just before the braking area, and dived down the inside brakes locked, both cars lightly tapping and slewing a fraction sideways, both drivers struggling to put the traction down and beat the other to the line. While they were doing this, Hamilton had thrown his car into a crazy powerslide, two wheels slightly on the grass, still behind, but crucially carrying more momentum than the other two. HOW WAS THIS GOING TO END?! And the thing was, the lead battle possibly wasn’t even decisive. The other split screen showed Franchitti in 6th, but diving down the inside of Schumacher into Stirlings, with the door rapidly closing! Could he sneak through? And at the same time, Loeb had sneaked up to 8th. But there was Vergne going round the outside of Loeb into Dingle Dell! I could not believe this!!! Everything was happening at once, yet somehow in slow motion. It was madly exciting, who was going to win Gold out of all this pandemonium!! I stood up and punched the air –‘This is the Olympics! Gold!! COME ON!!!!!!!!!’


I was still shouting and punching the air like a madman, but suddenly....I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t focus on the TV. Was there a problem? Oh no, had the satellite signal lost it at the crucial moment? I NEED TO KNOW HOW THAT ENDED!!! NOW!  But hang on, now I refocused my vision, the TV was still displaying pictures. But they were of the lithe figure of Usain Bolt, ‘the fastest man on earth’. THEY HAVE CUT AWAY FROM BRANDS HATCH FOR THAT?!!!!!!! I smacked my hand against my trousers in utter disgust.....

Trousers? What had happened to my beach shorts? And why was it so cold? In summer? What?

I looked around. Oh no. Oh no. The Christmas tree was still up with the lights flashing.....

A dream!

Oh darn, now I would never know who won....mind you it was the best dream ever. And Usain Bolt the fastest man on earth, Olympics hype la de got to be kidding me! There are faster out there don’t you worry about that. He wouldn’t have got near 40th place in my dream!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Williams Keeping Their Principles...?

Well, I was definately a tad pessimistic in my last post, with my opinion that the Williams team would find it very hard to return to past glory and that their decline was all the worse for the way their principles seemed to be gradually floating away with the winds! I did read one thing last night that reassured and amused me. In Jonathan Noble's excellent interview with Rubens Barrichello,  Rubens let slip that Sir Frank had been "cold" duirng the phone call where he told him that he would not have the 2012 drive, and Rubens was not happy at not even being thanked for his two years of service! The Williams old 'no nonsense' school of driver management is still around! And maybe it is filtering down to the new generation of leadership as Barrichello states that Adam Parr has still yet to contact certainly is a reminder of past times with Williams, who managed to lose/let go of four World Champions immediately after they won the World Championship in the space of under a decade - Piquet, Mansell, Prost and Hill.

I say this half in jest of course, a case can certainly made for the other drivers they took in place of their World Champions. It is still an astonishing statistic, and anecdotes like those of Rubens Barrichello still indicate a distinct 'no bull' attitude! My eyes are still blinking at the realisation Jacques Villeneuve raced with the number one on his WILLIAMS in 1998......!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Williams And Principles

All us motor sport fans, bloggers, forumites and general fanatics resemble Aladdin on speed around this time of year, fervently pleading for our wishes to be granted: “If Mark Webber could win the championship and five manufacturers suddenly enter the World Sportscar Championship and the Grand Prix ticket prices get reduced and…..(continued ad nasueam). And I am no different, with a melange of different hopes, fancies, fears and lunatic impossibilities filling my mind about a variety of different areas of the sport. But what keeps tapping me on my minds shoulder is the most enticing one, that Williams Grand Prix Engineering might just shock everybody this year and move up the grid. Wouldn’t it be just brilliant? The performance of Williams in recent times, and especially last year, was enough to make one weep. Reading the Williams thread on the Autosport Racing Comments thread was sometimes like walking into an episode of Cheers when the regulars were at their most morose (and this is not a criticism of them, such pessimism WAS perrenially justified). So definitely an annus mirabilis then. And what makes this more painful is how Williams have deviated from the values which have won them so many fans.

Two incidents underline these values, which make me happy, sad, fascinated, laugh, despair and bewildered depending on which way I look at them, but are all uniquely Williams. The first was when they rejected the offer of keeping their Honda engine supply in favour of buying normally aspirated John Judd engines in 1988. McLaren had cleverly spirited away Senna from Lotus, and along with him a supply of the ‘best in class’ Honda turbocharged engines. But Honda were not up for burning all their bridges with Williams, and offered them continued engine supply, as long as they reserved a place for their favoured son, Satoru Nakajima, who had been at Lotus. Williams could have kept a free supply of the best engine, while negotiating with alternative manufacturers if they wished for future years, while providing a viable challenge to McLaren, comparing themselves against Ron’s men with the same engine. How different would the Senna/Prost domination of 1988 been with Nigel Mansell buzzing around in a Williams Honda? Well, we don’t know, because the Williams answer to Honda’s generous offer was: NO. And no doubt delivered in a fashion that wouldn’t have been ‘Lost in Translation’! That is Williams, delivering themselves pain in the short term, to stick to their long term principles. But would they have it any other way?

They certainly didn’t in 1996, when they let go of one of their boffins. And it wasn’t any old was a certain Adrian Newey, and it has not turned out well for the boys from Grove. The story goes that Newey wanted more recognition for the astounding job he had done with the cars, helping Williams reap from 1991-1996 a massive harvest of victories, championships and glory. Specifically, he wanted shares in the business, around 10% if what I read at the time was correct. The Williams response? Well you can probably guess by now.....NO! And look how it cost them, as Newey went to McLaren, and then Red Bull, inspiring them to championships, while Williams have won none since the 1997 chariot that Newey left netted the Drivers and Constructors titles.

So, while by turn maddening and frustrating, the two examples at least show a team that sticks to its principles no matter what. So what if they are enjoying bad times, at least they can be beaten by no one for those principles eh? The breaking of the first principle was painfully and ironically evident. Just in case it didn’t dawn on people in 2007, 19 years on, that Williams were breaking their principle to take a Japanese driver, in order to get a discount on their engines, this Japanese driver had to be.......Nakajima san, KAZUKI Nakajima, son of Satoru. Generational changes....And when Patrick Head stepped down, and wanted to sell his stake in the team, the shares that Adrian Newey wasn’t good enough for, are now owned by.....Tom, Dick and Harry. Well they very well COULD be. They were floated on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, so go and buy some for yourself right now if you fancy it. So did Williams’ credibility float away with it? Well that would be excessively harsh. They are Williams, they are privateer, Sir Frank is still at the helm, their core business is still racing, there is no mega-rich sugar daddy behind it all (not even Qatari) and my goodness they even have Renault powerplants in the back of the things this year. But undeniably, something has changed. Adam Parr now seems to be a big public face of the team, pay drivers come and go, and they are now involved in a multitude of other projects, opening a technology centre in Qatar, or working with road car manufacturers. ‘Diversification’, and maybe more sensible for the bottom line, but more McLaren than Williams. Something seems to have been lost from the Williams ethos. 

And yet, if they were a stock................oh, they are(!)....................well anyway, I would be recommending ‘Buy’ for this season. A Renault engine that apparently allows them to fully exploit their svelte gearbox, a ban on exhaust blowing that the Cossie couldn’t manage last year, and a new design team including the talented (albeit controversial) Mike Coughlan, and I think Williams will safely leap from the no man’s land of last year right back into the upper midfield this year and ‘overperform’ expectations – never a bad thing. But that is this the long term I worry that Williams, increasingly under Parr’s leadership, will hit a ceiling where that is all they are able to achieve, and future race wins are beyond them. The seeming gradual tearing apart of the RRA, and Williams’ financial weakness would leave them exposed in a new era of financial arms racing. And lead to further reliance on pay drivers, which when from dubious regimes like the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez, will lead to less interest from other sponsors, less money, less performance, which will lead to less interest.....and repeat. I worry that this year may be as good as it gets for Williams. And I’m just not sure potential future decline will be accompanied by them sticking to their guns as resolutely as in the past either.