January 28, 2015

The Scuderia's FIST

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Funny how if happens. Last season, as soon as Ferrari announced the F14T, fans pointed out how that spelled out FIAT, in custom plate grammar anyway.

This year's car will be the S F15T and already it's the Scuderia FIST.

Actually, quite appropriate for the car Maranello hopes will be the basis of its fight back to the top of the sport.   If F14T evoked and performed along the lines of that old "Fix It Again Tony" cliche, the F15T is meant as the basis for Ferrari's revolution,  a revolution which saw an unprecedented turnover of what had always been a fundamentally conservative organization.

If you read here regularly, you are familiar with what happened but it's worth going through the names of those who left, one way but mostly the other, from Maranello:   Alonso, di Montezemolo, Domenicali, Mattiacci, Fry, Tombazis, Marmorini are well known names but at least as many less know engineers have  also left.    In their place Sergio Marchionne promoted mostly from within,  a noble strategy he used successfully at FIAT but not before, as Cesare Mannucci in Autosprint points out, trying hard to hire Adrien Newey from Red Bull and Andy Cowell from Mercedes' engine department.

We'll see how that will turn out: Ferrari made a lot of hires in areas of organization and race simulation, things they have clearly been behind on.

Another noticeable area of change at Ferrari this year will be their social media strategy.  
Up to now Ferrari produced perhaps the most boring, dated, unwatchable videos in all of F1, its tweets and FB accounts were rather boring and unimaginative.   But the pre-launch teaser videos released  ahead of this week official reveal, while not groundbreaking by any means, are a move in the right direction.

The SF15T will be an evolution of last year's car.  The most controversial aspect will be the insistence with the pull rod front suspension much criticized for the past few years.   It gives some aero advantages but is stiffer and more difficult to set up.

Why did Ferrari stick with it?   Most likely because it was not the biggest problem with the 2014 car and they have had four years to develop it.
This year they will count on two drivers with closer driving styles than in the past so perhaps that will help and by most accounts of the '14 car's problems focused on corner exit grip (rear suspension) and lack of power from the MGU-H (turbo) which had been undersized for failed aerodynamic reasons.

2015 will see a revised rear suspension and a much larger turbo along with a conventionally positioned oil tank (last year it was inside the gearbox!)

Part of Ferrari's larger strategy has been to reposition itself more clearly on the side of the fans, calling for more interaction between the series and the public.    You have probably read about team manager's Maurizio Arrivabene, calls for concentrating innovations on aspects of the car average fans can understand and appreciate rather than arcane hyper technical details only engineers can appreciate.  It was all a bit vague as these pronouncements tend to be but the sentiment is admirable.

Certainly, Mr. Arrivabene has been successful in the pre season negotiations over engine modifications.
How manufacturers will use their 32 tokens over the course of the season will be a point of interest in 2015.  Mercedes is apparently ready to come into the season with all its tokens spent,  a confident move but also one a strategic one as it will, in effect, limit Honda's options this year.    Honda will be able to make changes to it's power unit but will have a number of tokens determined by when Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes finish "spending" theirs.   Confused?  hey, it's the FIA.   but it boils down that the faster the other three use their tokens the less options Honda has.

At least F1 came to it's senses and threw the Japanese a bone, immediately alienating one of the world's top manufacturers just entering the series would have been a grave mistake both with Honda and the public.

Stay tuned.

January 25, 2015

Passing on the grass almost never works...


Leaving pavement in favor of grass almost never works and whatever you do, don't crash into your teammate.

Those are two fundamental rules of racing newly crowned Porsche Supercup champion Earl Bamber got completely wrong at Daytona overnight.

Bamber looks to have misjudged slower traffic at the kink and went wide onto the infield grass. Perhaps it was all over then, perhaps he though he could save it,  either way, he slams into the 911 car driven by Marc Lieb at turn 5 taking them both out.


January 23, 2015

Why WRC is awesome.

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Via Rally Channel HD

Rallying is a game of supreme skill but also of luck. It's a fine line between what Ogier pulls off above and running into something solid like Sebastien Loeb and Robert Kubica did on SS8 today.

But rallying is also about not giving up and here again Loeb shows how it's done. Rear corner came off? Nothing a strap and a ratchet can't fix, at least enough to get back to the end of the stage.

It does not look good for Loeb, he's now over 6 minutes behind leader Ogier and might be assessed a further 10 minute penalty if he cannot fix or convince officials he has 4 wheels attached to the car for the upcoming road section.

(thanks Wojtek, our super rally producer!)

Bonus video

Even Sebastien Loeb can't believe how good he is!

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Photo: Best of Rally Live

Sebastien Loeb is a nine time WRC champion, with 900 stage wins under his belt, it's fair to say he knows what he's doing but even he was shocked at how well he drive on the opening stage of the 2015 Montecarlo Rally.

Thing is,  Loeb  retired from full time rallying in 2012.  Sure, he did a couple of rallies in 2013 but basically he's been relaxing, a bit of le Mans here, a bit of WTCC there, schooled everyone at Global Rallycross, broke the Pikes Peak record,  you know, normal retiree stuff.  

This year, Citroen was able to talk him into one more Monte Carlo Rally, Loeb has won seven, it's his favorite event.   Loeb's target is rival Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, the current champion driving for VW.

The first stage of the Montecarlo rally was brutal: ice, snow and fog along the  21 km night stage.  Ogier set the early pace and led comfortably over the field until he's bested by Ott Tanak, driving for Ford. The Estonian beat Ogier by 9 seconds,  quite a feat in the conditions.

Then it was Loeb's turn.  He beat Tanak by 22 seconds, Ogier by over 30 seconds.   That is just ridiculous.   As he's mobbed by reporters waiting after the finish, Loeb, head soaked in sweat, asks how far back he is, he has no clue because new for this year drivers are not allowed to receive split time information.

"I just said to Daniel (Elena his co driver) three kilometers from the end, we are completely stopped" said Loeb "It was very difficult"


This clip is taken from the live broadcast. If you love following live (or watch replays) we recommend you look into the WRC+ service which offers all that and more for $49 per season.

January 21, 2015

The Montecarlo Rally was something else in 1984.

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On the eve of the start of the 2015 edition let's look back about 30 years,   to 1984.

Two wheel drive was still seen as a competitive technical solution in the early 80s but only in tarmac and gravel/tarmac .

1984 was the final nail in that coffin.

While boxy Audis looked awful as they plowed on dry tarmac, the Monte was almost all snow that year so anything with two driven wheels had no chance,  Audi swept the podium led by Walter Röhrl.

The first clip is in Italian, it essentially tells of Lancia's (and everyone else's) tale of woe in the face of the teutonic turbos.  Still the Lancia 037, the Renault 5 and the Nissan 240 RS the Open Manta (and was that a Subaru Leone?)   all look glorious fighting their way around the icy hairpins.

No wonder everyone is so excited about the new R-GT championship this year,

The second, in English is a condensed version focusing mostly on the Audi and Lancias
Bonus clips in French and German  at the bottom

January 19, 2015

GT3 on ice, not on the rocks.


From horrendous driving to sublime control.

It wasn't always the case but, these days,  a Porsche GT3 is an odd if glorious choice as a rally car.

While having all the weight behind the driven wheels helps with traction and certainly helps swing the tail around hairpins, the platform  is only really viable on tarmac and relatively slow  compared to a state of the art WRC car driven by a one armed man.

But who cares,  good thing Europeans don't and have been using 911s for national rallies for long enough that the FIA was compelled to publish an RGT spec in the last few years.

RGT spec is for two wheel drive, series derived cars and stipulates, among other things,  a maximum power to weight ratio (1hp/3.4kg) and a manually operated clutch.

Since 2011 RGT cars have competed agains every other car in WRC (Remember Bill Caswell?)  but as of this season there will be an official RGT championship run only on tarmac rallies (Montecarlo, Germany with WRC, Corsica and Belgium with ERC).

The Monte starts officially today with the first shakedowns (or recce if you want to be cool).  Conditions up behind Monaco are cold with mixed precipitation expected, possibly snow when the competition starts mid-week.  

Mixed conditions is what Montecarlo is all about so it might very well be the same kind of crud François Delacour is driving though in the clip below.

On ice but keeping it off the rocks.

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