On This Day: 11 February

There was a time in Formula One when competitive racing would take place in the month of January or February. Such an occasion was the 1973 season which saw the opening Argentine Grand Prix contested in January followed by the Brazilian Grand Prix which took place on 11 February.

Going into the 1973 season Brazilian and Sao Paulo local, Emerson Fittipaldi, had been crowned the 1972 Drivers’ Champion, driving with Team Lotus. At the time the youngest to become world champion having achieved the feat at twenty five years old.

The 1973 Brazilian Grand Prix was the first ever to be included in the Formula One Championship having held a non-championship event the previous season. It took place on the original 7.960 kilometre Interlagos circuit, as opposed to the current 4.309 kilometre circuit used currently.

The configuration of the Interlagos circuit used for the 1973 Brazilian Grand Prix

Pole position had been claimed by Swede, and Fittipaldi’s teammate, Ronnie Peterson. It would be the Brazilian however who would go on to claim victory in front of his home crowd ahead of the Tyrrell of Jackie Stewart and the McLaren of Denny Hulme. The fastest lap, which was a 2:35.0, would end up being shared between Fittipaldi and Hulme.

Fittipaldi’s victory in Brazil was his second of the 1973 season, having also won the opening Grand Prix in Argentina, and the eighth in his Formula One career. The result in Brazil also meant he led the championship after two rounds by eight points from Stewart.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.