Category: F1

Alexander Rossi and The Great Motorsport’s Myth

I was surprised and a bit disappointed, that Alexander Rossi did not get the full time ride with Manor Grand Prix.  Rossi had a successful series of runs at the end of 2015, where he handily beat teammate Will Stevens.  His “ride”, however, was taken this year by a paying driver, Rio Haryanto.

When you look at at the racing records of Alexander Rossi and Rio Haryanto, there is no comparison.  In Formula BMW, Rossi won both the US and World Championship, Haryanto only won the Pacific Championship.  Rossi’s best championship finishes include a 4th in GP3, a 3rd in Formula Renault 3.5 and a 2nd in GP2.  Haryanto’s best finish is a 4th in GP2.

Online, the arguments began.

Haryanto, much like Pastor Moldano, has his national government paying for his ride in F1.  Moldano had the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, pay his way.  When oil prices fell, the state could no longer pay and he is no longer in the sport.  In the case of Haryanto, the Indonesian state owned oil company Pertamina is footing the bill.

For the sport, I wonder if this is this good, bad or somewhere in between?  Are paying drivers really a problem?  In the end, this may be a good thing for Alexander Rossi.  I’ll get to that shortly.

A Quick History Lesson

Let’s look at this from a historical perspective.  In the early years, racing started out as a way for the new automobile industry to prove the strength, speed and durability of their cars. Racing has been used as a marketing vehicle for automakers from the very beginning of the sport.  Due to that, money has been integral to the sport since day one.  Racing has always been a business first and a passion second.  Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!

Drivers were hired for their speed and expertise.  Still, there are many who have essentially bought their way onto the track.  They paid for the sponsorship and wanted to drive the car.  Because we look at racing through the rose tinted glasses of “sport”, we expect the best drivers, and those with the best records and thus potential, to be highly valuable in this market.  That is, unfortunately for the fan, not the case.  Racing is a business. The first rule of business is first and foremost to stay in business.  When teams need money, they find a way.

Teams at the tail end of the grid need any money they can so to stay in business and therefore be able to compete.  Teams have taken many routes to get the money to just be there.  NASCAR is a perfect example of how economics can trump competition.  For many years, the “start and park” teams raced only a dozen or so laps, in order to get the guaranteed finishing money.  They pulled in to the pits so not to damage the cars and even save the tires for the next race.  In 2015, last place for the Daytona 500 earned $262,000.  They used the finishing money in order run the next race.

The “start and park” teams have been there for a long time, we never really noticed them.  That was until the economy dropped out in 2008, that we, the fan, saw them as an issue.  However, without those teams, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Front Row Racing would not be here today.

I believe when issues like this rise to the level where the fan see it, it is an indicator of the poor health of the sport.  As with my NASCAR example above, when the sport and the economy recovered from the financial doldrums, the issue eventually was resolved.

It is the same for F1.  With the loss of teams in recent years (Catherham F1 and HRT)and Marussia/Manor needing loans from Bernie Eccelstone to finish the season, 2014 and 2015 was extremely rough.  Though the financial problems are far from over, there is beginning to be an acceptance of issues.  People are talking and Bernie is still saying stupid things.  At least the problems can be addressed.

Drivers paying for rides are everywhere.  Sports car racing, for example, survives because of these pay to play drivers.  While imperfect and somewhat controversial, the FIA has developed their Driver Catagorization (rating) system in recognition of this.  IndyCar, too, has its pay to play drivers, with the Indy 500 itself littered with names like Patrick Bedard, Don and Bill Whittington, Randy Lanier, and John Paul Jr.  Bedard was a writer for Car & Driver who raced in 1983 and 1984.  Whittington, Lanier and Paul paid for their rides, at least early on, with money gained through their drug smuggling operations.  All three did serious jail time for their crimes.

Throughout the history of auto racing, there are three key truths.  Racing is about the money, not the sport.  Talent is secondary to money.  Regardless of what any sporting body says, fans are not the stakeholders of the sport.

Alexander Rossi

As for Alexander Rossi, I don’t want to see his talents wasted at the back end of the grid.  Manor Grand Prix has a history of financial issues and I don’t believe they will improve significantly in the near term.  While their car now has Mercedes power and they have a Mercedes factory driver in 2016 DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlin, I do not see it being very competitive this year.  Add to that, if they continue with financial issues, that could overshadow any effort on Rossi’s part.

Why pay to fail?  A year or two in Indycar, with consistently good finishes, could be the ticket to an F1 test, as it was for new team owner Michael Andretti.  That route has worked for F1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve.

While we rail against pay drivers, keep in mind that three time F1 Champion Niki Lauda started out paying for his rides at March and BRM!

The Future of LMP2 is in IMSA’s Hands

While the future of IMSA is now tied to the successful implementation of the new FIA/ACO LMP2 rule, it is ironic that the future of the LMP2 formula itself is in IMSA’s hands. They are inseparably bound together due to many of the same forces which have F1 in the mess it currently stands.  The talks are ongoing, and we are all hoping to finish up the final rules soon.  It has been a chaotic rollout of information.

I was shocked by the the initial rules that rolled out in April of 2015.  Honestly, I thought it was some kind of late April Fool’s joke!  The choice of 4 chassis manufacturers surprised me, but it was the single engine manufacturer that threw me to the ground..

Later we found out that Jim France and Scott Atherton negotiated the IMSA variation, called DPi (for Daytona Prototype International), which allowed a level of manufacturer support not allowed in the FIA version.  “WhooHoo!!!” I said. Now that is in doubt, and a number of teams and manufacturers are in limbo, with decisions for 2017 needing to be made NOW.

The issue at hand is the cost to compete and who should compete where.  Regardless of which series a team is involved, anybody involved in sports car racing want to be able to race in one race, The 24hours of LeMans!  The goal of the LMP2 rules is to allow cars from the four international series the ability to race against each other, including at LeMans.

The ACO and FIA have very definite opinions as to who they feel should compete in which class.  The automobile manufacturers will be in LMP1, with its bespoke hybrid systems and totally custom cars. Rebellion and ByKolles LMP1 Privateer efforts are  notable exceptions.  Professional privateers will be in LMP2.  LMP3, the future of Prototype Challenge, is the spec prototype series with significantly lower cost.

The reality is something very different.  To compete with Audi, Porsche and Toyota, F1 levels of money are required to meet the formulas complex hybrid requirement, whose technology is at, or above, F1’s level of complexity.  Even the LMP1 Privateer formula are so restrictive that there are only 2 team participating for the LMP crumbs. For the long run, this is not beneficial for the sport.  Jim France, Scott Atherton and company see that, and understand the long term implications.  As we speak, IMSA searches to find the fine line where manufacturers and privateers alike could join IMSA’s ranks AND race at LeMans.  That seems to be proving difficult.

In my humble opinion, the FIA and ACO are sticking to an belief which continues to prove troublesome.  Nissan, the most recent entrant into LMP, quit after single season due to poor results.  There is more to their leaving the series than meets the eye.   It is in part due to an extremely aggressive (revolutionary?) vehicle design by Ben Bowlby, and Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s purchase of the Lotus F1 team for a true factory F1 presence.  In the end, it was not financially productive for Nissan to spend F1 money in LMP1 when that money could actually be spent in F1!

On this side of the pond, we have a different set of requirements.  At the 2016 Rolex24, we had 7 different motors in 6 different Prototype chassis’s. LMP2 is our top tier, and we have manufacturers interested in prototype racing in the US.     If the manufacturers wanted to spend F1 levels of money on racing, they would, and there is little we can do about it.  But Ford and GM, for example, are not going to spend millions of dollars in either top level series.  They are already spread thin in motorsports.  Honda, Mercedes and FIAT/Chrysler, through Ferrari, are already in F1.  As such, I don’t see any new manufacturers entering into LMP1.  Worse, Audi looks set to leave the sport in the near future, possibly for F1.  With only two manufacturers and two privateer teams, that might spell the end of the currently LMP1 formula, making the new LMP2  rules even more important.

Now think about this, has anyone wondered why Ford, with its history of success in all forms of motorsports (F1, LeMans, IndyCar and NASCAR) decided to build a new road car for GTE rather than a prototype for LMP1?  Why is Ford focusing on a LeMans class win rather than go for the overall win, as it did over 50 years ago?  Look at the Audi LMP1 and Mercedes F1 budgets.  Building a new road car from scratch, and racing it, is cost competitive to the cost of LMP1/F1, especially when you can sell the road car in the showroom!  Does anyone get the hint here?

Now back to IMSA here in the US.  As I understand it, the DPi rules allowed any manufacturer to put it’s homologated GT3 motor into any of the 4 approved chassis’s, along with model specific bodywork.  With that in mind, we could see a Cadillac prototype, using their V6TT from their ATS-V!

There seems to be more manufacturer interest in IMSA’s prototypes than anytime since the late 1990’s!  These rules have piqued the interest of several manufacturers not currently in US prototype racing, including Audi, Bentley, FIAT and Nissan!  The possibilities are spectacular!  Especially if they can go to LeMans!  It would be very fan friendly.

With that being said, this indecision between the FIA, ACO and IMSA has put worldwide  prototype racing in limbo. The current teams can not go forward with their plans to tie up with a manufacturer until the rules are settled upon.  And potentially new teams will have an even more difficulty getting up and running.  And this effects those other series, as they too are waiting on the rules to be finalized.  Many of those teams, such as SMP, are interested in doing the Daytona/Sebring/LeMans trifecta.  The rules must be flexible enough to allow this.

Time is running out, and it’s the fans who suffer for this.

A Reformed Opinion of F1

Something has happened to me this summer.  I can’t explain it.  No, I don’t know why, but something has changed.

For the first time in years, I have found myself watching F1 again.  I’m getting up on race day Sunday morning and watching it on NBC.  I find it unsettling, as I have as recently as this spring railed against the sport, its direction and technology.  I have spoken out against the Ecclestone Mafia.

But, I have found myself watching it again, for the first time since Shumacher left Ferrari.  I watched the Italian Gran Prix and was enjoying the race for second, and Kimi Raikkonen racing his way through the field for a fifth.  OMG!  I have become that person who I railed against previously.  I am that which I feared.  I am enjoying the racing.  Now, where did that come from???

Is there room for improvement?  Hell yeah!  I have been sucked into the F1 soap opera of manufacturer intrigue, 50 position penalties and feuding drivers.

However, here are my thoughts on improvement…..

50 place grid penalties?  Really, who do you think we are? Rubes?  If your putting someone at the back of the grid, just do it!  Or, add a stop and got 10 laps into the race, along with the grid penalty.

Grid Penalties for changing engines, oh, I mean POWER UNITS….  Come on!  Teams are going to spend money somewhere.  If they want to change the engine 3 times a race, let them.  The drive to reducing team spending has only moved that money elsewhere.  Renault is not spending significantly less then Mercedes or Ferrari, but their performance requires a reallocation of finances.  Mercedes, however is balancing their own budget successfully.

Speaking of Power Units, F1 is a spec engine series with no Balance of Performance, and the spectacle has suffered.  While I don’t want to penalize Mercedes for building the better mousetrap, I don’t want Renault suffering from design decisions made when the whole formula was changed.  The current state, however, has the potential of Renault quitting because it seems no legitimate way of being competitive.  Honda is in the same boat.

I hate live telemetry and the millions of Dollars (Euro’s?) it requires.  First, half the personnel at the races are technicians watching live telemetry.  While there is a radio ban, remove the live telemetry and all those people at the computers, you will save teams enough money to actually spend on the chase and power units.

Now, I have a thought how to make the telemetry work, though.  SD cards!  Yes, SD cards.  Use it to collect data.  Have the technicians review the data.  Program the PU and suspension.  During the race, when changing tires, swap SD cards.  Then leave it to the driver to make the adjustments based on his feel of the car, not a computer tech calling over the radio.  No need for a $10million supercomputer on wheels and a team of techs.  This will help bring racing back to the driver, with the team only involved when th strategy and giving the driver the tools to compete!

I have issues with the aesthetics of the aerodynamic appendages on the body of the cars.  I like simplicity.  A wing up front and one at the back, plus the diffuser underneath the car.  Everything else, to me, is ugly.  Plus, so much of a teams budget is spent on the aerodynamics, which is now concentrating on all these doodads and doohickeys.  Eliminate them, bring front and rear wings to simple dual or triple elements, without the art deco waves we see now.  This will create a reduction in the need for spending horrendous amounts of money on aerodynamic development.

I would bring back more in season testing, though.  Make the testing open to the public and allow tickets to be sold.  This would help teams like Force India and Manor Racing create a bigger fan base.  Similar to the IMSA’s Roar Before Daytona, where people con go and see the teams up close, meet personnel and buy souvenirs.

I am seeing the light with F1 again.  Let’s see what happens during the next few races.


Does America Need F1?

Does America need F1?  Does F1 need America?  Given the current state of the US’s only F1 track, the struggling Circuit of the America’s (CotA), as reported by last night, they seem to me to be good questions.

I believe America wants F1, but does it need it?  No.  Wants and needs are two different things.  I WANT an Aston Martin Vantage Volante, but I don’t need it.  In fact, having one would put upon me an un-needed and un-wanted financial burden.  This does relate, believe me.

The US has the largest, most diverse and most financially secure sports environment in the world.  Its an alphabet stew of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS.  Add NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and IMSA for the 4 wheeled world and WOW!  I haven’t even touched the so called amateur sports of the NCAA.  By contrast, Europe, South America, the Middle and Far East do not have as wide a range of popular, and profitable, sporting events as does the US.

F1 is an extremely expensive endeavor to host.  The cost to simply purchase the RIGHTS to host a race are phenomenal.  A couple of years ago, a report out of Australia stated that the 2010 Australian Grand Prix cost the Australian state of Victoria $31millionUS.  On top of that, there is an escalator clause increasing the fee 10% per year, meaning this years race will cost almost $40millionUS!  Much of that is covered by various parts of the local, regional and national governments.  The state of Texas pays the Formula One Management (FOM), through CotA, about that much for the US Grand Prix. It has become a political hot potatoe in Texas.  It is not very popular as the $27+ million the state pays out of a tourism trust fund far exceeds most anything else, combined, paid by the fund.  But there’s more.

The general agreements have FOM getting 100% of any on track advertising.  This is in addition to the total control of TV revenue from the rights they already control.  This allowed them to force the removal of the stars painted on the run-off area (representing the state of Texas) and the DeJoria Tunnel signs (as in Paul Mitchell Products/Paul DeJoria, a major contributor to the building of the track) off the tunnels among other issues, as both were considered unpaid advertising by FOM.

Consider this, no American sports league has this much control over their venue’s on-site advertising.  In fact, it’s this on-site advertising that supports the venue’s continued survival.  Ask Jerry Jones if he would  have built the Dallas Cowboys (you know, America’s Team) ATT Stadium if he COULDN’T get this advertising!  I would say not!

So what does CotA have to work with?  Attendance!  Believe me, if the Jacksonville Jaguars had to survive on attendance alone, they would have been done and gone YEARS ago!  According to Christian Sylt, in an April 2014 Forbes article, CotA had to raise their ticket prices this year 24% to $409, and even then this brings them only to the break-even point!  I can’t afford this.  Neither can most people.  So how do F1 races survive?

Many nations, particularly in the Middle and Far East, and Russia, pay $400+million for the races in the name of National pride.  The rest, barely make it.  CotA isn’t alone.  Both the German and Italian Grand Prix have had, or are having, serious financial issues due to what we westerners call government oversight and taxation issues.  CotA is having the same struggles too!

So, does the US need F1?  NO.  Like my Aston Martin Vantage Volante, an American F1 race is an in un-needed and un-wanted burden that we cannot politically, or financially, afford.  With the current FOM contract, it frankly does not make business sense.  There are other, better, opportunities provided by so many other sports where there will be more revenue.

Does F1 need the US?  Yes!  Given the above described sports environment, the potential financial opportunities and the market the F1 teams themselves cater to, F1 NEEDS to be here.  If given a more realistic contract, and CotA getting a larger percentage of on-track advertising, both FOM and CotA can make a lot of money.  Any way the ticket cost can be reduced, the attendance will rise significantly, again, benefitting both!

Does F1 want the US?  I think not!  The contract itself is one sided to the point of “take it or leave it”!  Bernie Ecclestone knows motorsports, ALL of it.  He knew/knows that NASCAR had a race planned for the same day, yet refused to make even that seemingly minor (to him) concession.  Why would someone spend $400+ for an F1 ticket when they could spend one quarter that amount for the NASCAR race and still have money for a beer.  That decision alone leads me to believe he was setting the US Grand Prix up for failure.

So there it is.  I believe that F1 needs the US but doesn’t want it.  The US, on the other hand wants an F1 race but realistically does not need it.  I’m thinking that unless something changes with FOM, in the next 2 to 3 years we’ll be traveling to Canada or Mexico to see F1.

F1 as a Business… Not Working for Me…

The F1 season is over, and though I have only been a casual fan, watching very few of the actual races, I have been observing the politics with keen interest.  Chris Harris wrote a very interesting article on on F1, stating that Americans expect everything to be a sport (to paraphrase) but noting that F1 is actually a business.  With F1 in apparent crisis, I have some thoughts and opinions.

Let’s look at F1 as if it were a business.  F1 is owned by the Formula One Group (FOG, which seems to be what they are in at the moment, a fog), which itself is owned by Delta Topco, out of the Jersey Isles in Great Britain.  It is made up of CVC Partners, Wadell & Reed and LBI Group and they are effectively the board of directors.  What is not owned by them is owned by Bernie Ecclestone (along with other much smaller interests) and he is its CEO.

The individual teams and tracks may be looked at as either franchisees or semi-autonomous divisions of the much larger business.  Each keeps a separate set of financials but are tied to the overall well-being of the larger corporation.  I say this as all teams share in the revenue with the Strategy Working Group (AMG-Mercedes/Petronas, McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams) getting a majority of that money.

The product they sell is F1 racing; the glamour, the technology, the personalities and, lastly (it seems), the on track action.  This is what FOG sells this to the TV broadcasters.  They buy the rights to televise the races in their respective media markets.  Now, this is what makes the sport run.  From here, several entities make the money.  The television rights holder gets money from companies wanting to advertise in the various specific markets.  The Teams get money from companies putting advertising on the cars and drivers. The Tracks get advertising dollars from race naming rights.

But all of this is driven by the belief that enough people are watching the race to make it financially worthwhile.  And what they are watching are F1 races.   People want to see a compelling story on the track; the popular driver winning, the under-dog boxing above its weight, the new driver making a headline.  Like a soap opera, they want an evolving story line, changing race to race.  As the season winds down, people want to see a fight for the title.  We Americans want to see “Game 7 Moments”, those last minute upsets when the title is decided at the last second.

So, where are we now?  

By the fourth race of this year, we knew 2 things; AMG-Mercedes/Petronas would win the constructors title and either Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton would win the Driver’s Championship.  Knowing that, why watch the season?  It’s like reading the last chapter of a book first.  And, as I have said before, I don’t watch a race to see who finishes 3rd, 4th or 5th.  I want to see the winner fighting for it!

The finances are taking a toll…

At the start of the season, F1 had 11 teams.  With Marussia is out of business and Caterham close to dead, F1 is down to 9 for 2015.  The top 5 richest teams get a significant amount of the shared FOG revenue, making them richer, with the bottom teams getting a very small amount.

There are essentially 2 pots of money FOG distributes to the teams.  The first has TV revenue equally among the top 10 teams with new teams getting $10 million. On top of that teams get a prize pool based on the previous years results and “success, results, heritage and longevity”.  In other words, FOG can give more to any team for just a good old boy.

In order to get the sale of TV rights tied down under threat of the collapse of F1, Bernie Ecclestone made a deal at the time with the top teams for their support.  This deal created the second pot.  It is a $230 million budget specifically for those 5 teams: Ferrari gets $100 million, Red Bull gets $70 million, McLaren gets $40 million and Williams and AMG-Mercedes/Petronas each get $10 million.

The economy has not helped.  With the economy in a slump, companies normally willing to sponsor teams and drivers held on to their money to see how the economy would improve.  This meant there was less money around and the money that was there is going to the teams with F1 history and a record of success.  This forced many teams to lower what they charged, offer smaller sponsorship packages with the hope of getting more smaller sponsors. And the small teams now have a bigger hurdle to deal with.

When the subject of distribution of F1 money is raised with many team principals, the big teams argue its better to make the whole pot bigger, rather than change the percentage they make.  AMG-Mercedes Toto Wolff even went so far as to blame Caterham and Marussia of spending too much!  It’s easy for him to say, AMG-Mercedes gets $20million more from both pots than the 2 little teams. This attitude only continues the to widen the separation between big and little team.  This mindset is not at all healthy for a business…..

The engine that drives everything.

The change in engine formula (Power Unit is PU…whatever) has hurt everyone, with the smaller teams, who voted against the change, being forced to accept the significantly higher lease costs passed on by the big teams, I mean the manufacturers.  With a plan for $9 million leases more than doubled with the new engine, and the budgets shrinking due to the economy, the small teams were, well, screwed….

To me, it doesn’t make sense that the small teams are forced to rely on the manufacturers who, essentially, have their own teams competing directly against them.  Why would AMG-Mercedes give Force India its best engine when it has its own team competing directly against it!  And with results helping, to a small extent, determine the next years revenue sharing, there is a serious conflict of interest here and the small teams lose!   (That’s a story for another day).

The way the current rules are written basically legislates no room for adjusting the balance of performance (BoP).  While BoP has been an issue for years in sports car racing with many teams complaining about fairness, it generally works.  Look at the WEC, ELMS and Tudor for proof.  If all the teams are complaining, than balance was found, sort of.

In F1, there has historically been a method of maintaining competition.  The recently adopted rules (the new Concorde Agreement or CA) mean that if a manufacturer got a significant advantage, they could have it for years. This is because any changes have to be unanimous among the Strategy Group members.  Why should AMG-Mercedes accept any change?  It could have been any team that got it. Where the Strategy Group missed was with changing the basic design (from V-8 to turbo-charged, hybrid V-6’s), no method of balancing during the early development stages was considered.  Worse yet, they put in a restrictive design freeze.

Red Bull’s Christian Horner has even gone so far as to say Renault/Infiniti is considering leaving the sport.  If that is not a big red flag, I don’t know what is.

Bernie Sounds Off..

Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of this business we call F1, continues to speak from the heart.  When your Bono or Bob Geldoff, its OK. But as a CEO, everything you say is considered the official word of the corporation.  AS I see it, F1 is targeting 70 year old men who own Rolex’s and not people on social media, like Twitter and Facebook. Young people need not apply.  It goes further, saying on one day F1 doesn’t need the bottom teams, then saying the next day they do.  This coming from a guy who compared women to appliances.

He has no filter for what he says in public.  I can only imagine what he says behind closed doors.  Ask Marge Schott and Donald Sterling about that.  As F1’s CEO, he needs to act more professional by keeping his thoughts to himself and speaking only to promote the whole of F1.  He doesn’t and that lessens the value of the product.  From just watching the news, how many CEO’s have lost their jobs to one or two off-handed comments?  A good board of directors has little tolerance for for this in the real world.  F1 is not the real world, unfortuntaely.

There is Good News!

There are some good things happening, though.  HassF1, with Ferrari power, are set to race in 2016.  Haas either has or has access to everything an F1 team needs.  Through the Stewart-Hass Nascar team in North Carolina, he has engineering from a number of universities, about a dozen composite companies and even owns the only full sized rolling bed wind tunnel in the US.

Audi, who has been extremely successful in the WEC with V6 turbo hybrids is looking closely at F1.  They have hired Stefano Domenicali, formerly of Ferrari, for a“non-motorsports” position. It doesn’t make sense for VW, who owns both AUDI and Porsche to have them both competing in WEC.  WEC’s loss would be F1’s gain.  I’m already imagining the Silver Arrows fighting it out again.


I still feel F1, the F1 Strategy group, FOG and Bernie are not taking care of the quality of its final product, the racing.  Bernie can’t shut up and The choices being made by the F1 Strategy Group are only in the best interests of the top 5 Teams and are not in the best interests of F1 as a whole.  If the top 5 teams get their way, we’ll have a 10 car F1 race  with little action at the front of the pack.  That’s not an F1 I would spend money, or time, to watch.