Wednesday, 15 February 2012

"The only message I got was that there were some kids in trouble with the police" - Bernie remains defiant of Bahrain unrest

Mr Bernie Ecclestone has defied mounting political pressure and given the green light to race in troubled Bahrain. After last years cancellation due to safety fears, this year we will race on. Is it right? Put simply... NO!

Bahrain is riding the crest of the wonderful wave of uprisings against oppressive regimes in the middle east, the so called 'Arab Spring'. Although often complicated with sectarian divisions, heroically the people of the middle east are finally taking a stand against being trampled on by crackpot dictators and totalitarian regimes. In Bahrain, the Sunni minority are desperately clinging to power as the Shia majority population are rising up. The growing conflict has got even more violent in the recent month, leading to the government aggressively lashing out with bullets and Saudi military help. Even Shia employees at the Grand Prix circuit have been imprisoned.

Yet Bernie Ecclestone, completely out of touch with reality is behaving like a immoral business man by claiming that F1 is simply 'non political'. His comments of recent are laughable:

"The only message I got was that there were some kids in trouble with the police"

You honestly think what is bordering on potential civil war and making headline news around the world is simply a few pesky kids letting off some steam? Senile dementia is common in those above the age of 80.

"We've always been non-political....any decision will be made on grounds of safety." 

Say we were in pre war Nazi Germany with today's standard of moral consciousness. The German Grand Prix will go ahead, most likely to be won by a superior German car with a few million donated to the FIA by the Fuhrer himself. Bernie is used to the concept of bribes, he once donated £1 million to Tony Blair's Labour party and suddenly F1 was immune to UK tobacco advertising laws. Security at the race is tight, there is no chance of any trouble. Is F1 still non political? (if your interested, the 1938 German Grand Prix was won by British driver Richard Seaman in a Mercedes who gave Hitler the Nazi salute on the podium) .

Bernie's comments come in reaction to a recent letter from British government peers advising the race not go ahead. Then yesterday  Conservative MP Conor Burns and Labour MP Thomas Doherty of the suspiciously titled 'UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group' stated the race should go ahead as “an incentive to the authorities in Bahrain [to show that it is serious about reform].  

So is this the truth or is there some other driving force behind Bernie's decision? Unsurprisingly, the answer is money. Big money.

On the run up to the then cancelled 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, Mark Webber was the only driver with the balls to speak out, stating:

"When you hear of people losing their lives, this is a tragedy. It's probably not the best time to go there for a sporting event. They have bigger things, bigger priorities."

Then the ugly truth caught up with on Mark in the shape of the Redbull's Bahraini investers BMMI. At the next Grand Prix he uncomfortably refused to make any further comments on the situation or even back what he said previous. This sickens me to my stomach, and to make matters worse Redbull are not the only team with Bahraini sponsors, McLaren are another top team who's moral compass is swayed by the flow of cash. The government owned Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding company owns 30% of the team.
Have we been here before? In 1985 the F1 circus raced on in South Africa at the great Kylami race circuit. But this was under the disgraceful apartheid regime where blacks were segregated from whites. Many teams boycotted but often under pressure from their own national governments, like the French Ligier team. And many of the drivers were vocal of there distaste for apartheid. However they also explained that they were under contract to race at every event their team took them. One of those who stood out was Ayrton Senna, and in only his second year of F1 he decided to boycott the event. Unfortunately it dawned on him that a young up and coming driver racing for the renowned Lotus name would potentially damage his career prospects from being in breach of contract. The young Ayrton gave into the pressure, eventually retiring from the race with engine problems.

Of course apartheid South Africa is very different from the situation in Bahrain. While the Bahraini government is not afraid to use violence and torture, the country is regarding as one of the most democratic Arab nations. In fact last year's trouble bought about a government investigation into whether the security forces acted unlawfully, and surprising to many they judged themselves guilty of human rights abuses. But was this simply smoke and mirrors, an empty concession to the alter of the Western world to give the illusion of a democratic process?

The situation is also not as simple as the masses uprising against an evil few. It is a sectarian affair between different denominations of Islam, the Shia's and the Sunnis. However the Sunnis who rule the country are the minority population. The Bahraini security forces struggled with the unrest last year leading them to bring in the cavalry in the form of the Saudi army. Yes, Saudi Arabia, a government which amputate hands and limbs for petty theft and military are welcome customers of British Aerospace.

To me it seems an ubsurd situation and as a lifelong militant F1 fan who watches all racing live I am seriously considering not watching the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix. For Bernie to simply plead his show is non political and burry his head under the sand is a stain on F1's reputation. Shame on you...

Monday, 13 February 2012

Car of the month - Ferrari F2002

Every month we will be featuring a brief breakdown of the cars that changed F1 and why. So lets start with the fastest car there ever was...ENJOY!

A piece of engineering genious in the hands of Michael Schumacher is devastating.

So devastating in fact the F2002 caused the FIA to 'ammend' their points system...

The F2002 is a complete work of art from the Ferrari stable. Designed by Rory Byrne, Ross Brawn and Paulo Martinelli, the car was a continued evolution of the highly successful and proven F2001 concept. This was a recipe for dominance and there is little wonder why the car completely dominated the 2002 season. Ferrari had so much confidence that the car was also used for the first 4 races of 2003.

The old F2001 was a car well built around the new regulations governing front wing placement and legalisation of electronic driving aids. It featured a drooped nose which worked well with its new front wing and revised rear suspension. The suspension geometry was tailored around the use of traction control. For the new F2002, Ferrari developed a brand new titanium gearbox which lowered the centre of gravity and decreased the gearbox weight by 15%. The gearbox also introduced clutchless direct shift technology. Amongst other things, they had successfully removed the bell housing in the gearbox. This cut down parts and made the gearbox stiffer, and therefore able to be built to a shorter length. Now Ferrari could sculpture their rear coke bottle shape to the extreme, meaning a very low drag rear end. The rear sidepods were very low, allowing more air to the rear wing.

In 1998, the car of the time the F300 debuted a new concept of mounting the exit of the exhausts on the engine cover, rather than exiting on the underside of the car by the diffuser. The advantage of this was that the hot exhaust gasses didn’t interfere with the diffuser and thus increased aerodynamic efficiency. Every team quickly copied this design. However, in 2000 during the Monaco grand prix it became apparent that this layout had potential reliability issues. Michael Schumacher fell victim to retirement after a broken exhaust became so hot that it melted through the rear suspension. Ferrari considered other areas where the exhausts could exit and came up with the idea of exiting the exhausts towards the outside of the car, on the sidepods with ‘chimneys’. This concept meant the shortened exhaust was now clear of the rear suspension. To aid aerodynamics, the exhaust gasses could also be channelled to avoid disturbing air flow to the rear wing. On top of this, the ‘chimneys’ allowed a low pressure area around the exhaust exit. This meant the exhausts actually ‘sucked’ the products of combustion out of the engine. This meant increased engine performance, an area which was already benefiting from increased revs due to the shorter exhausts.

 The car featured a higher nose than the F2001 with straighter proportions, thanks to a more compact front suspension. The front wing remained similar to the F2001, though it was a two part wing rather than three. Continuing the aerodynamic masterpiece, the cockpit was modified to sit the driver deep inside the cockpit. The cockpit surrounds where thinner and tuned in the wind tunnel to work better in conjunction with the driver’s helmet. The deeper seat also allowed a cleaner flow of air to the air box, marginally increasing horsepower. A new fluid traction control system was developed to further take advantage of the new legalisation governing driving aids. This increased the car’s acceleration out of slow corners and off the start line, as well as increasing all round driveability.
What you have is the ingredients for the ultimate F1 car. An evolution not a revolution based upon a championship winning chassis. Intricacies and details all added up to put together a highly potent package. And the F2002 demonstrated all these principles on the track. At first there were concerns with the reliability of the new gearbox during problems in testing. Ferrari wanted to continue their reputation of entering bullet-proof cars so delayed the use of their new weapon until the 3rd race of the season at Brazil. There it won in the hands of Schumacher and went on to win 16 out of 20 races. The car accumulated 221 constructor’s points in 2002 – more than every other team’s put together!


Saturday, 11 February 2012

Final days at Jerez - What have we learned?

Another 2 days of testing has ended and what have we learned? And what can we trust? Well, the answer to both those questions is 'a little'. But here are some key pointers:

On Thursday Mecedes topped the timesheets again in old machinery, this time Rosberg was on duty setting a 1.17.613 which would be the fastest time of the week. So, likely that the 2011 Mercedes car they were running was some form of hybrid with 2012 systems (though not with the new mandatory exhaust exit) and with 2012 tyres, the time to us is still somewhat irrelevant. 

The fastest 2012 car of the day would also stand as the fastest time of the week, be it for 2012 machinery. It was set by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. My feelings are slightly mixed with Grosjean. It’s easy to see him as a Swiss driver from a rich privileged background that had his chance in F1 and failed to make waves. True his performances were below par but remember the 2009 crash-gate firestorm at Renault he walked into? Looking at his GP2 performances as well maybe we can let this guy off the hook. But if he wants to stay at the Enstone team he has come back to, be it in Lotus guise he’s going to have to prove himself. And from the 1.18.419 he set on Wednesday and Kimi's blistering times on Monday he may have a car capable of delivering solid results. It’s easy to lose yourself in the hype surrounding this Lotus based on the times being set. Let’s see how things develop week during the long Barcelona test. 

Next down the times on Wednesday were a pair more used to the top of the timesheets, Vettel and Hamilton taking the helm of their 2012 challengers for the first time. The Redbull has seemed spritely so far with Webbers performance the previous day. And as for McLaren, solid times but slightly worrying comments from Hamilton - also revealing that they were running an aggressive low fuel load. He went on to complain that the car was struggling with rear grip. Of course this is what we can expect from the ban on blown diffusers. But perhaps he is indicating the McLaren is struggling to get the balance dialed into the car so far. Let’s hope not.

Questions on the Ferrari's pace were further fueled by Alonso putting his Ferrari 7th fastest of the day, though he was running hard tyres. An interesting observation from the BBCs Andrew Benson:

                "The car, they said, was behaving inconsistently in the corners, and so far fixing its behaviour at one stage - the entry, say - messes it up at either the mid-corner or exit, or both. This is not an especially encouraging sign for a team whose 2011 season came off the rails at the final pre-season test, when new parts that they expected to bring a chunk of speed actually made the car worse."

This rings true with the times so far and the comments we picked up earlier in testing from Massa. 

Things were to brighten up for Ferrari on Friday, when Alonso went quickest with a 1.18.877 on soft tyres during a morning run. This would be the second quickest 2012 spec car time for the whole test week. Alonso was quick to play down any excitement by commenting on how misleading testing times are, though he did reveal the difference in how the car felt from before was 'night and day'. Has the hugely resourceful team managed to get on top of their design inaccuracies and set up? This time was set in the morning, and cold weather prevented further fast running late in the session. It is very likely that had conditions been the same we would see faster times. There is little doubt that at least initially the car has had a few issues.

Vettel suffered an engine based electrical problem that severely limited his running. As a precautionary measure the Renault engine was swapped over meaning the car could not run till late in the session. As much of a set back to valuable time out on track, such a failure has little to do with car design and can be put down to 'one of those things'. 

So, Ferrari iffy, Lotus look strong but a lot more question marks remain un-answered. I’m interested to see McLaren and Redbull put more of its hand down on the table. And of course, the new Mercedes. But as mentioned, don't get attracted to the misleading light that is pre-season testing. I remember years ago team Prost topping the timesheets, me raving about it to my friends and looking a complete moron when the car and team was pretty much a disaster. You have been warned!

Times courtesy of Autosport:

Pos  Driver         Team            Best time           Total laps
 1.  Rosberg        Mercedes        1m17.613s           174
 2.  Grosjean       Lotus           1m18.419s  +0.806   212
 3.  Schumacher     Mercedes        1m18.561s  +0.948   174
 4.  Alonso         Ferrari         1m18.877s  +1.264   106
 5.  Webber         Red Bull        1m19.184s  +1.571   151
 6.  Vettel         Red Bull        1m19.297s  +1.684   146
 7.  Hamilton       McLaren         1m19.464s  +1.851   166
 8.  Ricciardo      Toro Rosso      1m19.587s  +1.974   157
 9.  Vergne         Toro Rosso      1m19.597s  +1.984   159
10.  Raikkonen      Lotus           1m19.670s  +2.057   192
11.  Perez          Sauber          1m19.770s  +2.157   116
12.  Di Resta       Force India     1m19.772s  +2.159   170
13.  Kobayashi      Sauber          1m19.834s  +2.221   182
14.  Hulkenberg     Force India     1m19.977s  +2.364   90
15.  Senna          Williams        1m20.132s  +2.519   250
16.  Bianchi        Force India     1m20.221s  +2.608   46
17.  Massa          Ferrari         1m20.454s  +2.841   164
18.  Button         McLaren         1m20.688s  +3.075   147
19.  Maldonado      Williams        1m21.197s  +3.584   122
20.  Kovalainen     Caterham        1m21.518s  +3.905   167
21.  De la Rosa     HRT             1m22.128s  +4.515   108
22.  Trulli         Caterham        1m22.198s  +4.585   117
23.  Van der Garde  Caterham        1m23.324s  +5.711   74

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Putting it to the test – Days 1 and 2 at Jerez

An interesting two days of testing, with Raikonnen setting a blistering pace on Tuesday and Schumacher topping the timesheets today in the 2011 spec Mercedes. Kimi looked like a man with something to prove after his rally sabbatical, and all the reports show he was pushing the car to its limits right out the blocks. Today there was a slight off onto the gravel trap, but he has done well to announce his arrival back into the sport. And it looks like others want to make an announcement to him according to BBC’s Andrew Benson:

         “Late in the afternoon, Button's McLaren came upon the Lotus at the start of a lap and overtook it into Turn Two. Those who saw the move said Button effectively barged Raikkonen out of the way, and it looked very much as if he was trying to make a point. Button played it down when talking to the media later, saying: 'He was just going slow, so I thought I'd overtake him.' But then he came out with a remark that caught the eye. 'It's great to have Kimi back,' he said. 'We maybe haven't seen eye to eye a lot of the time when we have been racing but he is a very quick driver, very experience”

Something boiling under the surface? Jenson’s McLaren hasn’t exactly set the world alight, posting 6th fastest today though McLaren claim to have been carrying out only basic shakedowns in the last two days and are happy with the general feel and handling of the car. McLaren tech guru Paddy Lowe said today “"I think Jenson is pretty happy so, so far so good. The way he put it best was, 'this is a car that I can work with'. And that is what you need for a championship, so you cannot say better than that really." Lewis has reportedly arrived in Jerez ready to burn rubber tomorrow.

A story brewing at the moment is that ugly Ferrari not setting a fast times. It’s easy to forget testing is indeed that – testing, and the car was running with a large drag-inducing test pylon yesterday. Today Massa posted 7th on the timesheets, saying "It is a car that needs a lot of work, and (there are) a lot of things to try. I did so many laps just trying different things in the car. It was a programme to understand every single point in the car set-up.” Will be interesting to see if and how the times improve tomorrow.

An interesting point is the pace of this year’s cars. With blown diffusers banned teams have had to try and find new areas to claw back the huge amount of downforce lost, particularly under braking and slow corners. However Kimi’s time in only the first day of testing yesterday was of 1.19.670. That’s over 2 tenths faster than the fastest time in testing last year (though that was a 1.19.832 set by Barichello’s Williams- and that car certainly wasn’t a game changer). It seems that these losses have been over-hyped. It is important to remember that Pirelli have come to Jerez with an all new tyre compound that also doesn’t look to be shredding marbles left right and centre like last year. Ironically the fastest time so far, Schumacher’s 1.18.561, was set in last year’s car. BBC’s Lee McKenzie is claiming that Mercedes are keeping their 2012 under wraps till the last minute due to an extreme front wing that they don’t want to show the world.

Another positive start has been the Force India. The ‘VJM-05’ posted the second fastest time yesterday in the hands of DiResta. Today the scot posted the 6th fastest time behind the team test driver Bianchi who was 4th. New signing Hulkenberg has yet to take to the circuit, and i'm sure times will be quick and will only rub salt into the wounds of the man he stole the seat off, the unemployed champagne-glass stabbing Adrian Sutil.
But the fastest time so far in a 2012 spec car goes to Redbull. Webber set a blistering 1.19.184 in the new RB8. Again, lets remind ourselves this is only the second day of testing but I think it’s fair to say that the removal of the blow diffuser last year’s car was built around put Adrian Newey back to square one.
Roll on Day Three!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Extreme angles - The FW34

Williams released their FW34 this morning in their typical unglamorous manor in the Jerez pits just before initial season testing begins. Purely from an aesthetical view, its thumbs up for the rear and thumbs down for the nose.

Yes, Williams have gone Ferrari style with a hideous ‘boxer’ stepped nose. Even with un curved edges however it is unlikely that much aero advantage will be gained in this area. Look to the back for that...

An incredibly tighly packed rear on the Williams. One has to think the team has retained their very low gearbox in conjunction with their extreme high-angled driveshafts we saw last year. In theory the high angles should lose some efficiency but Williams seem to seek the all important aerodynamic rewards of a tightly packed rear end. Let’s hope the team can actually take advantage of this feature unlike last season and claw themselves up the grid. A fiery Maldonado and a Senna helmet in a blue liveried Williams-Renault should make for some good viewing.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Plastic parts and covered diffusers - The MP4 27 launch

The first of the big guns to release their car were McLaren, with their MP4-27. Heralded and hyped by the team as radical, the launch was somewhat of a let down. At least from the front nothing looks radical at all. 
That said, what of this car will be the car we will see in testing? McLaren have a habit of keeping things under wraps to protect any clever tech and this year was no different. The diffuser was completely covered and Martin Whitmarsh today announced  "Our exhaust was made of plastic, you will never see these components in this form again."

Last year I do recall McLaren launching their car in Berlin with engine cover off. Of course the team didn’t disclose the cars real internals – what featured would have been a watered down version or something from a car years old. But we did see the very interesting ‘L’ shaped pods which have been sadly dropped this year. Apparently this is because of the revised rear packaging for the conventional layout exhaust rules. However those exhaust exits on the Macca looked distinctly odd, with strange bulges encasing them. This has led Spanish publication Marca to claim that the FIA’s Charlie Whiting will be travelling to Jerez to clarify if McLaren’s trick exhaust system is within the rules. They got away with the F-Duct, if this story is true let’s hope they get away with it to spice the season up...

Stepped Noses

The year of the ‘step nose’ is upon us. New for 2012, the FIA have sought to control the very high noses we have become accustomed to last year by lowering the maximum height aft of the bulkhead. This is an attempt to avoid the pointy edge of a nose decapitating a driver during a side impact collision. Good, I hear you rejoice, now we can expect those low sweeping noses of beauty we remember so fondly a la Ferrari F2001 and McLaren’s 2003 effort, the MP4-18? Well I am afraid not.

Not counting on the ingenuity of the F1 fraternity it seems that any subconscious efforts by the FIA to increase the cars sex appeal has backfired horrifically. Rather than lower the bulkhead in line with the nose, the teams have aimed to continue to maximise the airflow under it. The result is a horrific looking and often blunt ‘step’ appearing on the new 2012 challengers.

The FIA simply should have set a maximum height for the bulkhead to combat this. Caterham and Force India have attempted to add some curve (ultimately performance driven). Ferrari on the other hand have just given us a pure 45 degree straight line eye-saw, suggesting a technical hook up and sharing of data with LEGO. An ugly Ferrari? The horror, the horror.

The good old boys at McLaren have not followed the trend it seems. Last year’s cars nose was comparatively low anyhow meaning no ugly modifications for 2012.