Korea’s ready

Just in case you were wondering whether the Korean GP is a goer or not for the 24 October, here are two circuit snaps that have just been sent to me. They were taken on 8 October:

Grandstand seating looks OK. Laying the tarmac a bit late though…

Let’s see what the FIA inspection reveals in the next few days.

Well done Cosworth!

The technology specialist has done a sensational job in providing a third of the grid with competitive, efficient and reliable engines this season.

Reliability is a central pillar of any racing programme – particularly on engines considering the 8-engine-per-driver rule. Unfortunately good reliability is a non-story and engines only tend to get noticed when there are clouds of smoke and pistons on the track.

Adding the distances achieved in Hungary, the total cumulative mileage for the Cosworth CA2010 engine in 12 race weekends is just over 58,000km across four teams – without a single engine failure.

But – how does the CA2010 rate in terms of ultimate performance?

Says General Manager of Cosworth’s F1 Business Unit, Mark Gallagher:

“It’s a very competitive engine. The results that AT&T Williams have been scoring since Valencia, with consistent Q3 performances and targeting a move up the Constructors’ table, illustrates that.

“When Rubens Barrichello overtook Michael Schumacher yesterday, he went on to set the third fastest lap of the race with a 1m22.811 – 0.16s slower than the best of race winner Mark Webber.

“I realise tyres played a key part but it’s nice to see that he was also third quickest in the speed trap at 291.6kmh and fourth fastest on the finish line. I’d like to hope people understand the Cosworth engine plays its part in that performance. You need power to make the most of the grip.”

What are Cosworth’s hopes for the final third of the season?

“We are looking forward very much to Spa and Monza to see how we perform on circuits where the engine can stretch its legs,” adds Gallagher.

“Williams wants more championship points, at every race, and we’d like to be on the podium. With Lotus Racing, Virgin Racing and HRT, huge progress has been made and it was particularly nice to see that the reliability issues which have been a problem for them at times finally disappeared on Sunday.

“The new teams have really done a terrific job under difficult circumstances in terms of lack of time to prepare and the most difficult economic situation the sport has endured in modern times.

“We are very proud of our association with them and from a personal point of view I would love to see one of the new teams score a World Championship point before the end of the season.

“Impossible, some will say, but I believe that under certain conditions it could happen. That would be fantastic.”

A short note to Michael Schumacher

Mr Schumacher is a great Formula One pilot. In most of this season’s races though, he’s looked decidedly average and his behaviour towards the other drivers has been somewhat erratic.

Some say he’s past it. He’s in an understeering car that was originally designed with Jenson Button in mind. The arguments will run and run.

What bothers me more is the incident during today’s Hungarian GP. In my opinion, it had a cloak of blackness about it and it wasn’t something you’d expect from someone of Michael’s pedigree.

Observing the incident from the front – all was clear. Michael had Rubens Barrichello in his right-hand mirror all the way down the finishing straight. His move to the right – almost planting Rubinho in the concrete – looked pretty deliberate to me. Good job there wasn’t a car exiting the pitlane.

No more of this please Michael. Take a long, hard look at the way you’re driving at the moment. Drivers and others who look up to you are watching.


It’s a shame that a track – for some of a certain age – perhaps best known for the violent death of one of our greatest racers as he ran on the limit (Jim Clark – 1968) should now be associated with an event that demonstrates quite the opposite of true racing.

Team orders at this weekend’s German Grand Prix dictated that one driver – clearly in line for a win – should move over to let his team mate pass and be credited with the win he should have had.

Business and sport are uneasy bedfellows in Formula One. The true fan isn’t sufficiently naive to realise the sport can survive without business money. But business does seem to think it can behave in whatever way it likes.

As my colleague, F1 analyst Joe Saward put it so eloquently in his latest review of the race:

” For the average fan what is important is not just that they watch a straight fight between two competitors, but that the sport itself is portrayed in a good light. Fans are passionate about the sport, about its traditions and they want to be able to say that they are proud of it when challenged by some ping-pong freak or a follower of synchronised swimming.

“…what drives sports fans to spend their money on luxuries such as team memorabilia and very fast cars is not the result, but rather the way results are achieved. They will spend more if they feel an engagement with the team. If it makes them feel good.”

It’s the same feeling I got when Schumacher raced. Again – Joe makes the point which, although talking about Alonso, could easily be applied to Michael:

“There are two ways of winning: one can win in a functional sense and one can win in style…Winning was the goal and the route taken to get there was not important to him.”

It’s why I will never regard Michael as one of our greatest drivers, even though his ‘achievements’ on paper look impressive.

We all admire the skills of those at the top of their game. But we also like to be inspired. And the one thing that F1 isn’t doing at the moment – even though we’ve had the occasional joust and spin – is inspiring the next generation.

Business – take note. Inspired people spend money.

Oh, and by the way, when an engineer informs his driver that the other guy’s quicker, then that driver increases his pace, doesn’t he? He certainly doesn’t slow down and let the other driver by.

And if Mr Massa had led a Ferrari 1-2, the team would still have come away from the GP with 43 points.

McLaren’s new MP4-12C sports car

McLaren Automotive launched its high-performance sports car today – publishing performance data from recent testing programmes, details of the car’s innovative construction, and new technologies inspired by Formula One.

They all say this but the 12C really is set to present new standards in the sports car market: 0–200 km/h in under 10 sec; 200– 0km/h in under 5 sec; and 100– 0km/h in under 3 sec/30m – less than seven car lengths.

The innovative one-piece moulded carbon-fibre chassis (referred to as the ‘MonoCell’) is the key to the 12C’s performance. It forms the structural heart of the car – the integrity that a carbon chassis offers allows McLaren Automotive the freedom to clothe the car with a combination of aluminium and low-density SMC (sheet moulding compounds) panels that, themselves, are ground-breaking: the SMC panels are 11% lighter than on any production car.

Not surprisingly perhaps, thanks to the company’s F1 pedigree, reducing weight is an obsession at McLaren. Recent developments have lowered the MonoCell’s weight further to below 80 kilos, whilst continued lightweight engineering supports McLaren Automotive’s plans to launch the 12C at a lighter dry weight than any competitor at around 1300 kilos.

The company wants the 12C to be at least 75 kilos lighter than its nearest competitor and a long list of further lightweight solutions highlights the 12C’s introduction as a new type of sports car. Examples include:

  • Standard composite brake system of forged aluminium and cast iron is lighter than the optional carbon-ceramic brake system, saving 5 kilos
  • Low-weight lithium-ion battery saves 10kgs
  • Lightweight magnesium structural beam supports the dashboard
  • Small, twin-turbocharged V8 engine delivers a quite staggering 600PS (German for horsepower) – or 592 bhp – from a 3.8-litre capacity
  • Rear mounted engine cooling radiators minimise the pipework, the fluids contained within them, and therefore weight. They were also mounted in car line to minimise vehicle width and weight
  • Hexagonal aluminium wiring saves 4 kilos over circular wiring.

The car uses a range of new technologies. All are unique to McLaren:

  • Brake Steer aids balance and grip through fast corners either acting as a safety control or an aid to performance on the track
  • The Airbrake increases downforce and therefore grip at speed and moves the centre of pressure rearwards under heavy braking
  • Proactive Chassis Control removes the need for mechanical anti-roll bars and distributes damper control hydraulically between wheels and axles – so, in normal-speak: minimal roll at high speed, a smoother ride under braking and over uneven road surfaces.

The McLaren MP4-12C goes on sale in spring 2011 in 19 countries. It sits in the market of ‘core’ sports cars that cost between £125,000 and £175,000. The car will be built initially at the Fosters+Partners-designed McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking. Construction will then switch to the new £40 million McLaren Production Centre next door.

I want one! The car that is, not the Production Centre.

Formula One in the Middle East (Part 1)

Just a few years ago Formula One – and motorsport in general – did not have any presence in the Middle East. Now the region wants to be associated with what Formula One represents – technological excellence, innovation, the future.

Bahrain has not only built a venue that is among the very best in the world and deservedly won acclaim for its Grand Prix, but it has also built foundations for the current growth of interest and investment in Formula One across the Middle East.

Bahrain International Circuit

The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) staged its first Formula One event in April 2004, winning the FIA promoters’ trophy for that season. Commented the sport’s dealmaker extraordinaire, Formula One Management CEO Bernie Ecclestone at the time:

“It was a real pleasure to bring Formula One to the Kingdom of Bahrain, and I’m pleased to confirm that this relationship will continue into the future.”

Since its inaugural race, the Bahrain event has drawn widespread acclaim for its facilities and its impressive programme of pre-race events. In 2006, it was honoured with hosting the season opener when Melbourne, the traditional first-race venue, was busy with the Commonwealth Games. Said BIC Chairman, Talal Al Zain:

“The success of the Grand Prix has however reached even further than we dared hope when we embarked on this great adventure, and we are delighted to see both interest and involvement in the sport from fans, sponsors and other ventures around the region has blossomed from our achievements. Our new agreement with Mr Ecclestone ensures that Formula One will retain its home in the Middle East long into the next decade, and that the Kingdom will continue to host the world’s biggest sporting series.”

The news that Abu Dhabi would host a Grand Prix in 2009 on a new racing circuit on Yas Island was also greeted with much fanfare. Said Bernie Ecclestone:

“We are delighted to bring Formula One to Abu Dhabi. It was a mutual decision to have a second race in this economically fast-growing region and I have no doubts that Bahrain and Abu Dhabi can co-exist perfectly. There are five countries waiting at the moment to have a race and we have decided to come here – this should speak for itself.”

The Abu Dhabi government said it had invested $40 billion in the Yas Island development, so the cost of an annual Formula One race is relatively low by comparison given that the aim is to build up a huge tourist industry on the island. Abu Dhabi is also able to attract more local spectators to the event as it is the highest per capita city in the world, unlike Bahrain where wealth is much more restricted.

The development is all part of the plan to wean the economy off its dependence on oil. Abu Dhabi started its own airline, Etihad Airways, in 2003 in an effort to emulate its neighbour and rival Dubai as a tourist destination and spent a huge amount of money expanding the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

For Ecclestone such projects are a gift as he looks for ways to expand Formula One’s revenues in the future with a new generation of high-paying races to follow in the footsteps of Bahrain and Shanghai. These will probably replace some of the first generation events outside Europe which have not yet lived up to local expectations.

Bahrain may not originally have been a success in financial terms, with very small crowds, but the publicity generated has been good for the country. Bahrain’s plans to be a holiday destination have long lagged behind Dubai, and Abu Dhabi is now embarked on an aggressive programme to catch up and rival both.

Jenson! What were you thinking, man?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fantastic to see two British F1 World Champions installed in one of our greatest British – well, sort of – racing teams. This hasn’t happened since 1968 when Jim Clark was partnered by Graham Hill. Hurrar!

It’s also a dream ticket for the sponsors. They’ll be cock-a-hoop.

That said, what must have been going on in those meetings for Brawn GP – and now Mercedes-Benz – to let the World Champion slip through their fingers, and Jenson abandon the safe haven that was Brawn to join forces with the enemy.

For those of us who follow such things, the whole saga defies logic. Drivers who really want to win world titles stay with the team that supports them the most – that provides them with the stability they crave.

Button has made a number of sacrifices over the last few years and behaved honourably. He deserves a pay rise. Then again, he couldn’t have won this year’s World Championship without Brawn’s team and a damned good car.

So, has Jenson lost his scruples overnight and decided to move for the money?

He and McLaren say no. Brawn GP says it offered Button’s negotiators what they was asking for, but it was they who upped the ante. We’re also being led to believe that Brawn GP’s management pocketed a great deal of money from the deal with Mercedes-Benz and perhaps Button’s negotiators felt Button was entitled to a share.

Who knows? Perhaps all will become clear over time.

What we do know though, is that McLaren is Hamilton’s turf and Jenson’s the new boy, World Champion or not. Jenson is facing an uphill battle to get his feet under the table.

The McLaren machine’s going to be hot at the start of next season. Wonder boy Hamilton is going to hit the floor running. Will Jenson?

I’m told that Hamilton used engines tuned by Jenson Button’s dad – John – to win one of his karting championships. Apparently, there’s a bit of history between both boys’ fathers. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between the racers develops.

More important to me than the Jenson saga

We’ll talk about the Jenson-McLaren development in a minute.

What saddened me more was news that Donington Park has gone into receivership today – and so soon after the passing of 87-year-old Tom Wheatcroft. This treasure of the sport did much to revive and then develop the circuit for world class racing. He also played an important part in the careers of many a GP driver.

In the early 1970s Donington Park was still in a dilapidated and neglected state following its use as a military vehicle depot during the war. Former racer Tom, now a successful builder, was in a position to buy the land upon which the circuit stood.

With amazing enterprise he upgraded and re-routed the circuit – to accommodate the required safety legislation – and a large number of hospitality suites were incorporated to enhance the circuit’s facilities for an ever growing leisure market. Racing eventually returned to Donington Park in 1977.

Tom also built up a unique collection of Vanwall, McLaren, Williams and BRM machines – the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition. The collection contains a pre-war AutoUnion built from the original plans and a perfect replica of Ettore Bugatti’s personal Royale.

I could go on, but Tom’s contribution to the sport has been immeasurable, and the word ‘legend’ hardly does justice to the man. It’s going to take someone with great vision to get Donington Park up and running again.

That’s not going to be easy. Tom’s a tough act to follow.

Overtaking in Formula One (Part 2)

I see that Formula One’s governing body – the FIA – was discussing the much debated subject of overtaking on Wednesday.

Among those present were circuit designers Hermann Tilke and Clive Bowen. Bearing in mind what I said on Tuesday, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting!

Ditch Hermann and save F1

The deliciously witty crew at grandprixdiary.com have, as usual, put their fingers right on it. The latest generation of F1 venue may be OK for supermodels and sundry celebs, but Hermann Tilke‘s circuit design has killed racing.

And why does this guy get all the business anyway?

The list of contracts he’s won is impressive but it begs the question whether it is good for the sport for one architect to maintain such a grip on circuit design.

Bring back the old style of circuit, we say. You don’t need all this plastic frippery when all that’s required for proper F1 racing is a nice bit of tarmac, handy thermos and, in the words of Clive Bowen – Founding Director of Apex Circuit Design – a track that builds in confidence and grip for drivers just where they need it the most to make a pass.

In response to F1 writer Joe Saward’s analysis of the subject, Bowen suggests how we can get around the problem.

His three ways make a great deal of sense.

Jenson Button

Jenson Button 2009

JB's first UK press conference since Brazil

Looks like his Jenson-ship is going to get his money after all.

Thank goodness someone at Brawn has let it be known that the team is going to boost the wages of its new World Champion by the month end.

I think we’re all sick and tired of the endless speculation and non-stories being run in the popular press.

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