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F1 Off-Season News #4

Tony Fernandes was offered £6 million from Lotus to abandon name

This is a bit of old news now, and I don’t really want to cover this silly argument much more, but it was interesting that Tony Fernandes responded to Gerard Lopez’s accusations that Team Lotus only kept the name to keep the FOM money for coming in 10th place in the championship.

So in a way Gerard Lopez was right, but Fernandes also talked about his passion for the Lotus name and how he played with his toy Lotus car when he was a boy, so he is showing that it’s about far more than money to him. I’m sure if push came to shove, he would relinquish the name reluctantly and adopt the Team Air Asia moniker as his GP2 team does. Obviously if they can come to some agreement where they keep the FOM prize money as well then that would be the best solution to this saga, as Lotus Renault GP I don’t believe can be forced to abandon the sponsorship agreement with Group Lotus.

I hope this gets sorted out very early in the season so it doesn’t drag out and allows both teams to focus on the task at hand, racing to win.

Robert Kubica‘s high speed rally crash puts season and maybe career in jeopardy

Obviously this is a big shock to everyone, a great shame for Robert and the team, and for all the F1 fans out there who desperately wanted to see him challenging for wins this season in that beautiful new black and gold car.

Apparently he was in a worse way than we were led to believe at first. We heard that he had broken an arm and a leg, which is bad enough. What we didn’t see at first though was that he had partially severed his hand in the crash. He had to wait at least 30 minutes to be cut free of the car and had to undergo 7 hour long surgery to make sure that movement in his hand was saved. Obviously, no one has to explain how vital this is to his career so it’s good to read that things have gone well so far, and in the next few days we should get a clearer idea of how it is and how long he will be out for.

Renault showed immense compassion and of course, as you would expect, put the safety of the driver above their dampened season hopes. They said that everyone at the team and Robert himself knew and understood the risks. They wouldn’t want to attempt to stop Kubica from participating in his hobby of rallying, no matter the danger, as they knew how big a part of his life it is.

Some F1 teams, and certainly teams in other sports such as football would not be so lenient and would have a kind of get out clause in the contract to allow themselves to bail out if an athlete injured themselves while participating in an activity the team banned them from. Perhaps when they signed Robert, they thought that they were lucky to have signed such a talented driver to their line-up at a time when the team were in the midst of the fallout to crash-gate. With that said however, I don’t think this really played into it too much.

Bruno Senna is the obvious choice to replace Kubica for the time he is out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another driver from Force India moving teams mid-season to replace an injured starting driver. Felipe Massa was eventually replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella and Nico Hulkenberg could be an appealing prospect, as he is currently only a test driver at that team. Then again, that could be seen as a massive snub to Senna and Grosjean who both have considerable F1 experience. It would really depend on how competitive the car is and if they think anyone else would be able to get more out of their car than the two reserves they have under contract currently.

Karun Chandhok closing on Team Lotus Test role

It has just been announced that Karun will test for the team in Jerez this week. The team clearly like the Indian former HRT driver and want to make him a permanent fixture with the team in this role. I hope this next test goes well and we see him hanging around the Team Lotus garage at each of the 20 races this year.

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Miscellaneous

Renault, Sauber and Lotus 2011 Car Launches

The 2011 car launches are now coming thick and fast after Ferrari’s F150 was unveiled on Friday. Renault and Sauber showed off their new cars at the Valencia circuit today ahead of tomorrow’s first test there. Team Lotus decided to launch the car in their email newsletter known as Team Lotus Notes. They will arrive at the Valencia track on Wednesday and film for an extra day on Friday.

The new Renault looks much more streamlined than the last version, especially at the front of the car. Last year’s nose cone was very big and bulbous compared to most of the other cars. This year’s R31 is slimmed down and looks similar to the other new cars we’ve seen so far.

This year’s Sauber also looks very sleek and as we expected is covered with advertising for Mexican sponsors due to Sergio Perez‘s financial backing. It’s a nice looking car though and an improvement on last year. As far as performance, you would expect them to be a bit better this year but we’ll find out in Bahrain as in testing pace can easily be disguised as happened last year.

The Lotus T128 is a big improvement over the first entry by the new Norfolk based team. Not only do they now have championship winning Renault engines, but also the Red Bull technology gearbox and hydraulics. These are along with the completely redesigned aerodynamics of the new chassis. The new car is still green and yellow but beyond that the similarities appear to end. Obviously it’s still an F1 car so it can’t look too different, but the team say they have made big improvements in every area of the car. I hope they really can establish themselves as a midfield team this year but the proof will be on the track. I have a little doubt also cautiously optimistic at the same time.

As far as the livery, I really like it. They’ve made a big change the the engine cover and wing design with a prominent Air Asia logo on the engine cover. This is probably nice preparation for if and when they are forced to change their team name to that.

Mercedes also teased their new car today. The picture can be found on their own site as well as the official F1 site and Autosport. The picture is a front view of the car as rendered, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the actual physical car to make its appearance. From the image though, it appears that the new car will have a higher front nose unlike last year’s which was one of the most dramatically downward facing. As I mentioned earlier, this appears to be one of the key trends among all of the newly shown cars.

I should also mention that Renault have announced both Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean as reserve drivers for this year. It’s nice to see that Bruno is getting a chance to keep his F1 career alive after being relieved of his HRT race seat after a season in which he wasn’t really able to show what he could do in a good car. Like Nico Hulkenberg, he now has that chance so hopefully he can do well in any practise sessions he gets to drive in and put himself in the frame for a race seat in 2012. The same applies to Romain Grosjean who was replaced by Petrov at the end of 2009.

Tomorrow will see Red Bull, Mercedes GP, Williams and Toro Rosso unveil their cars. That will leave McLaren’s launch on the 4th of February, Force India on the 10th and Virgin and HRT still unconfirmed.

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Miscellaneous

F1 Off-Season News #1

Team Lotus
Image via Wikipedia

The Lotus Feud and The New Renault

This feud has been very public for quite some time now, and it’s a real shame that they couldn’t come to some better arrangement. While it does excite me to see the Lotus Renault livery of black and gold for next year, it is upsetting that we’ll have two Lotus teams on the grid, causing confusion especially for the casual fan of F1. I now understand why Tony Fernandes went after and bought the Team Lotus naming rights. It was because he wanted to protect his investment as he knew that if his team finished 10th in the championship, which they did, and was forced to change the team name he would lose the prize money and have to re-enter as effectively another new team. It seems like Group Lotus wanted a short cut to instant success by getting on board with Renault, a team looking to be on the rise back to where they were several seasons ago. Rather than be patient and support Lotus Racing over 5 seasons while they build up to being a contenting team, as they originally agreed to. It’s not that I dislike Group Lotus, but it would be fantastic to see Team Lotus make a huge step forward next year that will see them able to compete and possibly beat the renamed Lotus Renault GP team. It’s very unlikely but you never know in F1. Who would have thought that the perennially useless Honda would build a championship winning car for the renamed team the following year after all?

Nico Hulkenburg’s Williams Exit

I don’t know whether it was Nico’s decision to leave or the team’s but it’s put him in a very difficult position with regards to staying in F1 next year. From what I read on Autosport.com, Hulkenburg was offered a multi-year deal. However, this deal would have placed him with HRT for at least the first of those years. Nico refused and is now struggling to get any drive for 2011. It may also be true that the Williams team decided to release him in favour of a heavily backed Pastor Maldonado despite his fairly strong rookie season. Regardless of what actually happened, it just goes to prove how cut-throat the F1 business is especially now as money talks more than ever and often takes precedence over talent.

I hope he gets his race seat at a team such as HRT next year, although we know there are many other talented drivers including Pedro De La Rosa, Nick Heidfeld, Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok, Lucas Di Grassi and others including Daniel Ricciardo are also looking for positions there as well as at teams like Force India and Virgin, where the drivers haven’t been formerly announced. The Lotus Renault team appear to have retained Petrov if what we’re hearing this morning about a press conference in Russia are to be believed. Toro Rosso also haven’t announced either driver for 2011 despite Buemi and Alguersuari both having contracts for at least the first half of the 2011 season.

Team Orders Ban Abolished

I suppose this was an inevitable rule change after Ferrari made a mockery of it’s existence last year by getting away with blatant team orders while only receiving a fine which to them is relative pocket change. I just hope we don’t see these team orders unless absolutely necessary unlike last season. Although I suppose it did turn out to be necessary from Ferrari’s perspective as even with the team order they missed out on the championship. All you can hope is that the teams and drivers that have gone for the correct moral approach, such as Red Bull and Jenson Button stick to their principals, and win the championship while doing so.

HRT up for sale

What a story it would have been if HRT had been able to complete that deal with Toyota at the beginning of the year and miraculously pulled a Brawn, to surprise everyone with a competitive car in the early season. Even if they had got the deal done in time for next season, you would think that even an unmodified TF101 car would have moved them up the grid considerably from where they were.

Now it looks like they won’t have enough time to make enough of an improvement to their 2010 car designed by Dallara. If they do get to the first race and have the money for a second full season, you would assume they’ll be even more strongly planted to the back of the grid than they were in their debut season. If so then they’re really going to be existing in racing terms to give younger drivers a stepping stone into the sport. This brings me on to Ferrari bringing up the subject of wanting to run 3 cars per team if possible in the future. This will increase the number of competitive cars on the grid, and the number of seats available for the talented drivers out there in the market.

What it could also do is make team orders even more potent, especially if any of the contending teams are not running 3 cars. You would also be running the risk of the sport ending up turning into series like WRC and WTCC where only a very small number of manufacturers take part and all of the cars look nearly identical. I think motorsport is at its healthiest when there are as many teams and manufacturers involved as possible so if the FIA does allow this change at some point, they have to enforce it in a smart way to make it fair for all and keep a large number of teams interested.

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Miscellaneous

F1: Hungarian GP Review

Last week’s Hungarian Grand Prix was a great race for Mark Webber and for Red Bull in general, but not what Sebastian Vettel wanted. After a mistake behind the safety car where he let Mark get too far ahead, which he subsequently received a drive through penalty for. That penalty cost him a fairly easy win and also the second place, which was the real killer blow to his patience.

He was clearly much faster than Alonso for the entirety of the race after that point but simply couldn’t get past him due to the nature of the circuit with its tight turns and narrow layout. However, even though the race ended up being handed to him, Mark Webber drove yet another fantastic race. When he needed to produce the laps of his life to build a lead big enough to pit and still come out in the lead after the safety car, he rose to the challenge and did 42 laps on those super-soft tyres.

Aside from Red Bull, Ferrari had a fairly decent race with a second and fourth position finish. McLaren struggled for the second race in a row with an absolutely dismal weekend. They had Lewis retire with a car issue which appears to be engine or gearbox related, and Jenson, after a poor qualifying could only manage 8th in the race. The team lost the lead in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. They’ll be looking to make a huge improvement in Spa to try to get back in front. They’ve got a tough task ahead but if anyone is likely to pull it off, it’s McLaren.

It was a great result for Vitaly Petrov with a 5th place. He out-qualified his talented team-mate Robert Kubica and after Kubica had a collision with Sutil in the pit lane he cemented his first weekend as the top Renault driver. Nico Hulkenberg was the best of the Williams drivers in 6th. Rubens Barrichello was in 10th after an exciting but dangerous overtaking move on Michael Schumacher. Pedro De La Rosa had his first points finish of the year in 7th and his team-mate Kobayashi had an 9th place finish for Sauber.

While Williams and Sauber have been steadily improving recently, Mercedes, McLaren and Force India have been going in the opposite direction. Mercedes had a terrible race. First, Nico Rosberg had a horror pitstop where a wheel came loose and speeded down the pit lane narrowly avoiding pit crew until eventually it was stopped by a williams engineer who took quite a hard hit but was fine after.

After Nico retired, near the end of the race Rubens was faster than Michael and wanted to take that last point scoring place off him. After a couple of laps Michael made a mistake in the final corner which put Rubens right on his tail going into the main straight. he got a good slipstream and was going to easily pass him but Micahel pushed him towards the pit wall, far beyond the white line of the edge of the track. Luckily a serious accident was narrowly avoided but Schumacher has been handed a 10 place grid penalty at the next race in Spa, which is probably going to put him near the back of the grid at that race. It’s unfortunate for him especially after finishing outside of the points at this race but it was a deserved punishment.

Also notable is all new teams achieving double car finishes for the first time. This is a great achievement for Cosworth who haven’t had a single failure so far this year from what i believe. This result just underlines their excellent reliability, especially considering their multiple year absence from the sport.

The next race is in Spa in about 3 weeks. It’s a classic track and it should be great this year so I’m really looking forward to it. I hope we get as many teams as possible evenly matched and some good racing up and down the grid.