The McLaren-Honda partnership

As with almost any weekend, ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix focus was on the McLaren-Honda partnership. McLaren driver Fernando Alonso commented during the normal Thursday press conference that if the team won, or close to that, before September he would stay with the team.

Most will see this unlikely as Honda haven’t seemed to have gotten on top of their issues. It was compounded during the weekend when Honda failed to deliver upgrades to their engine for the weekend.

This led in part to McLaren’s executive director, Zak Brown, talking about having to ask the serious question of whether the team continues with the Japanese manufacturer or not into 2018.

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McLaren MCL-32 / Fernando Alonso / ESP / McLaren Honda” by Artes Max is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I personally want to see the partnership continue into 2018 and beyond. I also feel McLaren should let Fernando Alonso leave and focus on bringing a driver such as Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo or maybe even Sergio Perez to drive alongside Stoffel Vandoorne.

Why? Having signed a deal with Sauber for 2018, Honda aren’t going to be leaving Formula 1, unless a mutual agreement is made to cancel the deal, and therefore they are in the sport for the long term.

If you look at Renault and how they have approached their return as a factory team, they have stated multiple times that it will take time before they are ready to challenge for wins and championships. This shows to me that Renault are taking a long term view of their Formula 1 project, allowing them time and room to make mistakes, which has happened with their engine, learn from those mistakes and also recruit the right people into the team.

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IMG_5168” by rgbRandomizer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is an approach McLaren needs to adopt, regardless of whether they have a Honda or a Mercedes engine as it will take time, either way, to get the most out of the engine and therefore get to a point of challenging for podiums and championships. Therefore changing the mindset of the team to a long term project can ultimately help the McLaren-Honda partnership flourish and why it makes sense to me to allow Fernando Alonso to leave and sign someone else to partner Stoffel Vandoorne who is potentially more open to a longer term project.

With Honda also due to supply Sauber, this gives the Japanese manufacturer two more cars running their engine and therefore increases the amount of potential data that can be gathered. Surely the more data Honda collect, the quicker it is to identify issues with the engine as well as find suitable solutions to solve those issues and find performance gains.

The lack of cars running Honda engines out on track has been a serious disadvantage to them since they returned to Formula 1 in 2015, especially in an era where the engine technology is relatively new and there is a lot of possible innovation and performance gains to be found.

Formula 1 engine supply by team per season
2015 2016 2017
Ferrari 3 4 3
Renault 2 2 3
Mercedes 4 4 3
Honda 1 1 1

The above table hopefully shows this disadvantage as even Renault, a team who has struggled in the new V6 turbo hybrid era, has had at least two teams running their engines since 2015, whilst Ferrari and Mercedes have only ever had a minimum of three teams (that’s six cars) running their engines. Compared to Honda’s one, the Japanese manufacturer is in an almost constant state of catch up as they have little data to work with to guide the development of their engine.

It is frustrating to see the partnership failing and having gained little to no progress. But there is hope with Sauber due to run Honda engines in 2018 and the benefits that can bring. McLaren ultimately in 2017 have to decide whether to stick with Honda in the long term, which may mean taking the sacrifice of allowing Fernando Alonso to leave. Or whether they deem Alonso too important to lose and therefore potentially switch to a Mercedes engine.

McLaren Sunset
Sunset, Albert Park Turn 6 & 7” by Joshua Sadli is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 Debut

It’s not long now until the talking stops and we get to find out how well Fernando Alonso performs on his Indianapolis 500 debut. The move has generated a lot of talk.

The initial talk was, and still is to a certain extent, whether it was a good idea for Alonso to forsake competing at the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix. But more of the talk has also shifted to how well Alonso will do on his debut, with the opinion seeming to be around he might pull off the victory or otherwise end up retiring at some point during the race.

Alexander Rossi
Alexander Rossi waves to fans as the Indy 500 winner” by Greg Hildebrand is licensed under CC BY-NC_ND 2.0

Since the introduction of the DW12 Dallara chassis in 2012, rookies at the Indianapolis 500 have had mixed fortunes but there have been several good performances. These good performances include Rubens Barrichello’s 11th place finish in 2012, Carlos Munoz’s 2nd and A. J. Allmendinger’s 7th place finish in 2013, Kurt Busch’s 6th place finish and Sage Karam’s 9th place finish in 2014 and of course Alexander Rossi’s victory last year. So it could be said any finish inside the top ten would be phenomenal and a finish inside the top twenty is a good performance for a rookie, especially one without prior racing experience in the IndyCar series or on superspeedways. As is the case with Fernando Alonso.

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McLaren MCL-32 / Fernando Alonso / ESP / McLaren Honda” by Artes Max is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

For those still not sure whether it was a good idea for Alonso to swap racing at Monaco for the Indianapolis 500, the sheer amount of discussion and debate that has been generated, both positive and negative, has shown that the decision to compete has been a good one. It has helped promote both Formula 1 and the IndyCar series, to put it briefly. It is also worth mentioning the number of additional viewers the race will have, if you take into consideration the reported two million who watched the live video of Alonso’s rookie test.

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Screen Capture taken from IndyCar Series Facebook Live coverage of Fernando Alonso’s Rookie Orientation Test

It’s also worth noting that part of some of the Formula 1 community’s opposition to the move can be put down to the culture within Formula 1 of racing drivers being required and expected to be fully committed to the sport and not compete in other series. This is due in part to drivers potentially picking up injuries and potentially suffering fatal crashes whilst competing in other series, think Robert Kubica’s rally crash in 2011 or Stefan Bellof’s crash during an endurance race in 1985 whilst contracted to Tyrrell, to mention just two. Not forgetting the trouble and difficulty it can be to find an adequate replacement driver, although in McLaren’s case they had Jenson Button already signed to the team for 2017.

Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 debut has generated and will continue to generate a lot of talk and discussion, which is great. But the most pleasing thing for me is that there is a driver who isn’t just concerned about being a multiple world champion in a particular motorsport, but has the desire to try and be successful in a variety of racing series. Which is something Alonso should be commended for and why the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 is well worth tuning in for.

Formula 1 2017: A season requiring patience

2017 is a big year for Formula 1 as it races under new technical regulations and its new owners settle in, having completed the takeover of the sport at the beginning of 2017. But, to me, there is plenty of potential for things to go wrong. Therefore I feel a large dose of patience will be required for all of those taking an interest in Formula 1 this year.

 

Technical Regulations

Formula 1 undergoes a radical change in technical regulations in 2017 with the aim of making the cars more visually appealing and to make them faster. But this has led to some wondering whether the new regulations will lead to more processional races with little overtaking.

With that concern in mind, it will only be right to begin judging the success of the new technical regulations from the Spanish Grand Prix at the earliest.

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Valtteri Bottas at the first 2017 preseason test by The MotosportCritic

It may also mean that individual races will be seen as boring but when looking at the season it could be seen as quite entertaining as teams gain and lose ground in the development race that will take place throughout the season. To me it would mean that 2017 is more about the narrative of the season itself, which takes time to develop, rather than the story of individual races when it comes to the entertaining factor of the sport in 2017.

 

New Owners

Ever since it was reported that Liberty Media would be buying Formula 1, there has been plenty of articles written about what the new owners of the sport will, should or in some cases shouldn’t do in regards to changing the sport.

Many will want to judge quickly the impact of the new owners and whether they have been a positive or negative change for the sport, but this can’t be gauged until 2018 at the very earliest, if not until 2019, as the new owners hold discussions with teams and other stakeholders and then spend time in 2017 debating and initiating change.

P1030601
Guenther Steiner of Haas F1 Team by The MotorsportCritic

With all of the above in mind, 2017 is set to be a big season for Formula 1, I therefore feel it is best to reserve judgement and have a little patience as this new era of the sport finds its feet.

 

 

Film Review: The Green Hell

Amidst all the recent Formula 1 car launches for the upcoming 2017 season, recently I went to see The Green Hell, a documentary about the 15.5 mile track in the Eifel mountains of Germany, the Nürburgring. It was enjoyable but not a groundbreaker like Senna in terms of the way it was made.

colorkey-nurburgring
Nordschleife Colorkey” by Chris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The majority of the film is of archive footage and footage of the interviews conducted for the documentary. Those interviewed range from former and current racing drivers, employees of the track and even sim racers.

This is actually where some of the problems are as the interview segments with some current drivers and with the sim racers didn’t seem to add anything which hadn’t already been said by the former racing drivers. Although I can understand that you would want to cover the opinions of every type of racer.

nurburgring
SCG003C // Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus” by Stephan Wershoven is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

What is good about the documentary is that it isn’t just about what has taken place on the track as it takes time to explore the local area, how the track has changed the local economy and some of the non racing stories connected with the circuit. It also doesn’t just focus on a particular racing series and explores why car manufacturers find the circuit so invaluable when it comes to testing production cars.

My own personal grievances about some of the interviews aside, it is a fun and informative look at the Nürburgring and provides a comprehensive story that should be great for either a racing or car enthusiast as well as those who have a more passing interest in either of the two. It may be difficult to see in cinemas as there aren’t many showings, but if you ever come across it elsewhere, it is worth a watch.

Formula 1 Launch Season

The MotoGP and World Superbike series have already begun their 2017 pre-season, edging them that little closer to the start of their 2017 season’s. They have been joined this month by IndyCar who went testing at the Phoenix International Raceway.

But the main focus of this post will be Formula 1 which will see teams launch their 2017 challengers and go testing in late February. With a lot of change having taken place on and off the track, the 2017 pre-season will be a fascinating time for Formula 1, for a few reasons.

 

Look of the cars

lotus-2012
Kimi Raikkonen” by Scott Kilbourne is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The first thing is obviously the new technical regulations which are in part meant to make the cars look more appealing to the eye. After much debate and speculative technical drawings we will finally see the 2017 cars for ourselves. It will therefore be interesting to see whether teams come up with very different designs or whether they will generally look very similar.

 

Livery changes

There have been several reports stating that some teams will be changing their racing livery for the upcoming season. This includes Scuderia Ferrari returning to an all red livery (having incorporated white in their livery last season and elements of black in previous seasons), and McLaren hinting at incorporating orange into their livery for 2017.

rbr-testing-livery
RB11’s Motion Dazzle Livery” by Michael Elleray is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There could also be a livery change at Sauber after Felipe Nasr was not retained by the team and therefore potentially no Banco do Brasil blue and yellow livery for the Swiss team as well as a change of livery for Scuderia Toro Rosso.

 

How fast?

Although perhaps not in the first test and we won’t truly know until the Australian Grand Prix, but pre-season testing will enable everyone who follows Formula 1 to get their first impressions of how fast the new cars will really be. This after plenty of debating as to whether the new cars will be three seconds faster than last year, or whether they could be five seconds faster.

With the increased speed of the cars in mind, it will be interesting to see what the drivers views are about the new cars and whether they find them more physically demanding to drive, as some hope.

silverstone-starting-grid
The Grid at the 2012 Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix” by Silverstone Circuit is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

Formula 1 down to 10

After eleven teams competed the 2016 Formula 1 season there will only be ten in 2017 after it was confirmed that Manor Racing had failed to find a new buyer and would therefore not be able to compete in the upcoming season.

It’s an incredible shame as the team performed well in 2016, scoring a point in Austria and being narrowly beaten to tenth in the Constructors’ Championship by Sauber. It also gave three drivers their debut and first taste of competing in Formula 1 by having Pascal Wehrlein, Rio Haryanto and Esteban Ocon as its drivers during the season. It’s also the only team out of the three that were introduced in the 2010 season to have scored championship points.

manor-racing
F1 – Manor F1 – Pascal Wehrlein” by Jen_ross83 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The team may likely be forgotten by the time the new Formula 1 season is fully underway but smaller teams such as the now defunct Manor Racing and still active Sauber, Force India and Scuderia Toro Rosso (who can trace their roots back to F1 minnows Minardi), are just as important in the sport as the big names like Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren.

If you look through the 2017 grid, the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez didn’t make their debut with the likes of McLaren, Ferrari, Williams or Renault but with smaller teams such as Sauber, Minardi, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Hispania Racing Team (HRT). Despite some of them having the backing of bigger teams (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel being part of the Red Bull driver programme for example).

daniel-ricciardo-hrt
Daniel Ricciardo: Hispania F111” by nhayashida is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Another concern however is that Manor Racing haven’t been the only team to have faced financial difficulties in this decade with Caterham, HRT, Williams, McLaren, Sauber and the previous owners of the Enstone based Renault team all having struggled to either replace sponsorship partners or secure long term investment.

Some of the teams mentioned have ceased to exist (Caterham and HRT) whilst others have undergone periods of decline as they have struggled to replace sponsorship partners (Williams) whilst others have only just managed to secure new investors (Sauber). This puts at risk the sizes of the grid and generates talk about the need for bigger teams to field three cars in order to bolster grid numbers. Although some may not see that as a negative thing, it is concerning especially when other motorsport series such as MotoGP have managed to steadily increase the grid size of the premier class during this decade.

With Liberty Media having recently completed their takeover of Formula 1, talk has once again been building about introducing a budget cap in the sport. It’s something that to me needs to be introduced sooner rather than later in the sport otherwise the sport will have a grid the size of that which eventually competed the 2005 United States Grand Prix as teams and potential sponsorship partners and investors go to other series such as the World Endurance Championship or Formula E.

US F1 Grand Prix
51901196VR025_US_F1_Grand_P” by Owen Jeffers Sheer is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0