December 8, 2016

Another win for Mercedes: under 7 minutes 11 seconds at the Nurburgring

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Remember when Mercedes was the boring grandpa car and BMW were the ultimate driving machines?

Then something changed, Mercedes made a titanic PR investment in Formula One which spearheaded an ongoing repositioning of the marque's branding, away from staid grandpas, back to its mid 20th century glories of ultimate technology and performance.

The Mercedes juggernaut is just crushing it.

Latest case in point, the Mercedes Benz GT R. It's Benz's version of the Porsche GT3 or the Ferrari 458 Speciale. A souped up version of the already gorgeous GT and GT S, if you are an F1 fan, think Bernd Maylander's safety car, think more powerful version of the car competing in endurance races.

Gemany's SportAuto magazine drove a lap at the Nürburgring in 7:10.9 min.

With Michelin Sport Cup 2, same tire specced for the 458 speciale or. the Porsche 918.

There will be an internet food fight because SportAuto claims it is faster than the Porsche 918, which they drove to a 7:13 lap while Porsche has a video of a 918 driven by their pro driver Marc Lieb breaking the 7 minute mark with a 6:57.

The whole Nurburgring lap time thing by manufacturers is shady to begin with so, in many ways, magazine tests have a better chance to be honest since they tend to use "civilian drivers" and be more transparent about their tests.

But in the age of internet "truthers" this is not going to go down smoothly, a quick scan of the youtube comments and you will find a still from this clip someone is SURE are a set of slick tires which must have been used on the car...

To us they look like tires wrapped in tyre warmers, hardly a shocker since it looks like it was cold from the pictures.

Nurburgring's own Pizzagate fires up reddit* (*no I have no proof it's on fire but it could be)

For their part SportAuto confirms the tires were the ones the car can be bought with, a custom compound of the Sport Cup 2, much like the one you can get on the Corvette Z06 or the Ferrari 458 Speciale, a road legal "R-coumpound", similar to the Pirelli Trofeo-R available on may other top cars.

Naturally, being the internet, fanboys of all kinds will cry foul. but the pictures don't lie, driver makes it look easy to get a time that was once the Gumpert Apollo's fastest ever lap record.

Very impressive.

(as always, with all things N, I recommend you have Dale Lomas' bookmarked)

December 3, 2016

Who is Toto Wolff calling today?

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Can you imagine the number of calls in and out of Brackley in the last 24 hours?    Social media certainly had a good time with it yesterday.

Rosberg's surprise retirement leaves the undisputed number one. team is an odd place:  they. must fill what is arguably the most desirable open seat at a time when all of the sport's stars are (technically) not available.

Of course, F1 contracts have historically shown not to be worth the paper they are printed on and if there is the will and a check there's a way so, who is Toto Wolff calling today?

His easiest call would be to Pascal Wehrlein, he's already under contract to Mercedes.  Moving Pascal up  would mean depending on a Hamilton the team has learned it can only partially do.  You never know when Lewis might skip a tire test because of a "sore foot" or need to go shopping in Malibu.
Certainly Lewis has delivered for the Germans (and the team for him) but Mercedes is not the type of team  happy to put all of its eggs in one basket,

The most obvious choice and the one most would like to see is Alonso.   A talent like his,  in a Mclaren in disarray as it has been in the last eight years, is not good for the sport and, among top drivers, he is the one most likely to have a valid escape clause in his contract.

The downside for Mercedes is that someone has to tell Lewis.  Sure, Hamilton has said he does not care, but then again he has said a lot of things.   Having those two on the team could mean nightmares more than dream team for Wolff.  

For the public?  Pass the popcorn.

Verstappen or Ricciardo?   Not a chance.  A move to Mercedes would not be the smart play for either of them, not with new regulations tailor made to Red Bull's strengths.  

Bottas? Hulkenberg? Why when you have Wehrlein or Ocon?

And then there is Vettel.   Another year with Ferrari and not in a happy place at the moment. Certainly one could imagine a numbers oriented character like Sergio Marchionne not getting especially sentimental if those numbers were right.

A guy like Vettel, four championships, not short of funds, two young daughters,  perhaps the only thing left to prove's that it was not just the car,  does he go for the top team or does he stay on the more difficult road Ferrari is on,  for the satisfaction of seeing it through?

You have to wonder what wheels have been set in motion by Nico's choice.

December 2, 2016

Stunner: Nico Rosberg retires from racing.

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While much of the world's press seemed obsessed with debates overs "worth" as a Champion,  Nico Rosberg had other ideas.

ROsberg's announcement on Facebook:

"“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target.And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.
“This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough. I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target. I cannot find enough words to thank my wife Vivian; she has been incredible. She understood that this year was the big one, our opportunity to do it, and created the space for me to get full recovery between every race, looking after our daughter each night, taking over when things got tough and putting ourchampionship first. 
“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion. On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life. I took my decision on Monday evening. After reflecting for a day, the first people I told were Vivian and Georg (Nolte, from Nico’s management team), followed by Toto.
“The only thing that makes this decision in any way difficult for me is because I am putting my racing family into a toughsituation. But Toto understood. He knew straight away that I was completely convinced and that reassured me. My proudest achievement in racing will always be to have won the world championship with this incredible team of people,the Silver Arrows.
“Now, I’m just here to enjoy the moment. There is time tosavour the next weeks, to reflect on the season and to enjoy every experience that comes my way. After that, I will turn the next corner in my life and see what it has in store for me…”

I'm certain  some will figure out how to turn this into a negative for Nico.  Walking away from a great team, a great car, defending a championship and a new contract., it takes a lot of balls.

Ultimate walking away on top move, Nico!

November 28, 2016

Nico Rosberg: Revenge of the Underdog

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Nico Rosberg became a Formula 1 World Champion in Abu Dhabi,  It took him 11 seasons and 206 Grand Prix.

He did it the hard way, beating arguably the fastest driver of the moment, in the same car.

He did it after being beaten by Hamilton three years in a row.

He did it despite being the butt of jokes for his looks in the paddock (remember the Britney license?), being hammered by a lot of the motoring media as unworthy and "dirty",  criticized by the boss of the sport as too boring and painted as an entitled rich kid by his own teammate.  

Nico and Keke Rosberg.
"He grew up with jets and hotels, I slept on couches",  it was a famous dig by Hamilton towards his rival from their earliest days in karting.  Turns out one of this couches was at the Rosberg residence where he was often a guest in earlier, friendlier days.  
There is no doubt the Rosberg name opened doors and opportunities, but it must also be remembered Hamilton had Ron Dennis behind him since age 13 and that, after winning GP2,  he came into F1 at the top with Mclaren while Rosberg arrived at Williams when it was far from a top car.

At Mercedes, Rosberg was consistently faster than a Schumacher indeed past his prime, but still one of the top drivers ever to sit in a car.  Later,  Nico bested Hamilton on race wins in 2013.

In 2014 and 2015,  with the new turbo hybrid engines,  Hamilton beat him badly.
Tough losses, especially in '14.  A lesser driver might have gone the way of a Massa or Barrichello but Rosberg proved to be way more bulldog that Britney.  He may be a 10th off Hamilton's pace over a single lap but even his most rabid detractors have to acknowledge his remarkable consistency and resilience.

"Lewis is raw talent, Nico is hard work twenty four  hours a day, seven days a week" is a quote from Toto Wolff and in the end it's good for the sport to have different personalities, the jet setting social media star and the hard working family man,  both rewarded.   Kudos to Mercedes for trying to give both

Even Bernie made peace with it eventually and Nico didn't hold a grudge.   Perhaps even the Hamfosi can get past their prejudice and admit Nico drove a better season than Lewis this year rather than moan about it in perpetuity.

Bravo Nico,  now bring on 2017!

November 14, 2016

How Max Verstappen exposed Formula One groupthink.

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"Max Verstappen is redefining physics"

Startling statement from Toto Wolff, a man now at the pinnacle of Motorsport and one who has some understanding of physics himself.

But what Max should really get credit for is exposing Formula One groupthink.

Because what Verstappen did was something many of you with even basic track experience will understand,  he drove classic rain lines!

Driving off line and avoiding apes?  That's Skip Barber racing in the rain 101.

We got driver coach Peter Krause  on the horn:  
"Max was doing everything Bruce MacInnes and other Skippy instructors have taught for four decades!"

So, the bigger question: are we to believe the top drivers in the world (and if you doubt they are, you didn't watch the race in Interlagos)  forgot how to drive in the rain?

Not exactly, but Verstappen exposed the rut many of them may be stuck in.

For years, high downforce and very good rain tires allowed drivers to largely ignore rain lines, relying on car setup to drive the essentially the same places on the track they would in the dry.   In Brazil,  a combination of factors dropped grip  below a certain critical threshold  yet most drivers appeared to not adjust their approach.

We also asked coaching guru Ross Bentley to weigh in:

"Verstappen's performance in Brazil illustrates a few things.  First, with youth often comes a good form of not knowing what you shouldn't do. In other words, he's naive, but in a positive way. Too many drivers, after just a few years, start to follow what they think they should do. And they believe what they think they should believe. Verstappen doesn't believe he has any limits, and that's why he's doing what he's doing in F1. Let's hope he continues this way, because it's what Senna and Schumacher did longer than most."
When I hear people like Toto Wolff saying things like Verstappen is "redefining physics," it also shows how even people at the top of the sport can get into this "follow others" mindset. Verstappen isn't redefining physics. He simply drove further off line than other drivers because he wasn't set in his ways, and there is more grip that far off line. On one hand, what Verstappen did was nothing special - go to any junior formula race and you'll see a lot of that. On the other hand, what he did was special because he didn't follow everyone else, or the way others think.!

Peter Krause again:

This is the problem with the "funnel" approach. The higher they get, the narrower their view on what works. VES might be a tad immature, but he goes where there is grip, and he has ultimate confidence that IF he gets into trouble, he has the skillz to get out of it. Witness the epic save!

Yes "THAT" save, Let's have a quick parenthesis there.   I think even the most rabid Max fanboy will admit there was an element of luck involved but that said,  Max did everything he could, phenomenally right.     Pay attention how, once the car is sliding well over a 45 degrees to the direction of travel he locks the tires and straightens the wheel.  This gives him the best possible opportunity to prevent a tank slapper once the car straightens out in one direction or the other.    The true magic moment is the precision and timing of when Verstappen releases the brakes, taming momentum and catching the car.  

A lot of drivers made a lot of saves this year at Interlagos. They will not get the glory the Dutchman will get and,  in part,  that's because it's show business.

Ross Bentley:

When TV commentators and journalists rage about a driver's performance, and wonder how he's doing it, remember that they're being paid to entertain. Former drivers who are making comments know what's going on, but it's more entertaining to marvel at the situation. Or maybe they've just forgotten what it was like to be young and naive!

Young and naive FTW then,  it's all about an open mind.  A good lesson for all, no matter where you race or how old you are!

October 30, 2016

Bring gravel traps back to F1.

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Let's keep it simple.   Formula 1, and as a consequence, racing in general moved to turn gravel traps into parking lots because too many racers ended up beached after screwing up.

Keeping more cars in play is good for the show and good for business, the feeling went,  but unintended consequences of consequence free racing were on full display at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on Sunday.

There will be controversy about what happened at the beginning and the end of an otherwise rather dull Mexican GP,  hopefully it will lead to a wider discussion of the direction of a sport.

It's a complicated issue to discuss because you always run up against the safety argument,  obviously nobody wants to see anyone injured but at the same time there is the paradox where racing has been made so safe that young drivers simply do not even consider the possibility  of getting hurt and drive dirty from a younger age.  

Juan Pablo Montoya commented recently on how young karters are routinely making incredibly dangerous moves, blocking very aggressively.    You don't want to discourage drivers from attacking, said the Colombian, but at the same time not setting a higher standard will result in a "bunch of lunatics" when these kids get to F3 and above.

After Japan, Verstappen, asked about his aggressive style said: "this is the new style of driving" and older drivers should get used to it.

One way to curb some of this behavior might be the return of some nice fluffy gravel traps.   Let's examine the key incidents of today's race beginning with the start.

Hamilton missed the braking point and went through the grass, gaining perhaps 10 car length on his pursuers.
Granted his advantage was nullified by the safety car on lap one, but there is no scenario where you could argue he would not have gained track position on the rest of the field by cutting through the grass.

To the key incident at the end of the race, with Vettel catching Verstappen while in turn being pursued by Ricciardo.

Verstappen, under pressure makes a mistake, locks up and goes through the large runoff cutting two corners, gaining a few car lengths on Vettel who did not make an error.

The grown up thing to do is: admit you blew it and give up the position,  that's the Gentleman's Agreement for having those comfortable runoffs. but I guess that's not "the new way of racing".  
Despite a single message to the Dutchman, Red Bull looks to have viewed the situation as a chance to back the Ferrari into a faster Ricciardo.

British Fair Play....

There were two other incidents surrounding the off track excursions that should be discussed.

Many called for Rosberg to be penalized for going off track at the very first corner and gaining an advantage.   Is it a similar situation to Verstappen going off?   Not by a long shot.
Certainly he might have been caught up in our hypothetical gravel trap but it's important to note he went off not because of an error on his part but because a dive bombing, understeering Verstappen shoved him off.

Verstappen is only ahead after bumping the Mercedes off.  You can debate Max's move as a racing incident or just "the new way of driving"  but a penalty to Rosberg in this case would have been unfair.

The final incident between Vettel and Ricciardo should also be dismissed.    Setting aside Vettel would never had been caught by the second Red Bull had Verstappen and Red Bull had behaved like men and not children,  the Ferrari driver leaves enough space for one car under braking .    That is indisputable, end of story.

The "Verstappen rule" you say?   The clarification issued by Whiting after Japan said stewards would examine and incident if a driver makes a move under braking that causes another to take evasive action.

This was simply not the case here.

Finally ass this yammering about Vettel cursing Whiting on the radio.  

"I have a message for Charlie:  Fuck off!"

To be honest, I thought it was awesome.   Everyone's constantly complains about F1 being sterile and we get upset at a driver showing emotion?   Everyone praises Hamilton for brooding on top of his airplane in his underwear but gets in a tizzy at the German telling the white haired dude to of stuff it?

Are these the same people who claim to love James Hunt?


Just bring back gravel traps.

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