Archive: Formula 1

The very best of Hermann Tilke

Paul di Resta 2012 Malaysia FP2

Twitter was alight with speculation during this afternoon’s qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Force India pulled out of yesterday’s second practice session due to safety concerns. Since then, the team’s cars have been conspicuously absent from the television coverage, which is centrally provided by Bernie Ecclestone’s company, Formula One Management.

Despite the fact that at one point the Force Indias had set the two fastest times during Q2, they were nowhere to be found on the coverage. Viewers noticed. Knowing the way Bernie Ecclestone operates, it’s not difficult to imagine that he has decided to retaliate against Force India for their decision not to run in practice 2.

F1 journalist Adam Hay-Nicholls let slip that FOM have been ordered in the past to avoid filming particular teams.

He expanded on this point, saying that the repercussions for Force India could go beyond today’s qualifying session, and even beyond the race weekend.

What disgusts me about this is that Force India withdrew from yesterday’s practice session for legitimate safety concerns. Four of their employees were caught up in a petrol bomb attack while going about their normal business in Bahrain. In these circumstances, it really is not surprising that the team would prefer to pack up early in order to avoid travelling in the dark.

If Bernie Ecclestone really has decided to exact his petty revenge on Force India for this, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. He is putting his narrow business interests ahead of lives.

The only clue Adam Hay-Nicholls has provided as to the identity of the other team that has been ‘censored’ by FOM is that the team no longer exists in the form it did at the time:

This suggests that the team was effectively put out of business, or that the owner of the team had to leave the sport. Clearly, a lack of television coverage does not help on that front.

On the one hand, it’s incredible to think that FOM think that the viewers are mugs not to notice this petty behaviour by not filming Force India. But it’s also worrying that FOM have done this before, and we haven’t noticed.

I am considering buying some Force India merchandise in a show of support. The way they are being pressurised into neglecting their own safety is absolutely disgusting.

There is no way I will buy any merchandise from the official Formula 1 website, but this Force India flag available at Grand Prix Legends looks quite good.

FIA statutes, article 1:

The FIA shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.

This is a principle that the FIA takes seriously. We know this, because the organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix got themselves into very hot water in 2006 after using the podium ceremony for political reasons. The race organisers were fined, and the circuit quietly saw out its contract.

Similarly in 1997, the organisers of the European Grand Prix, held at Jerez in Spain, were also found at fault after the mayor of Jerez, Pedro Pacheco, “disrupted the podium ceremony”. The then President of the FIA, Max Mosley, is said to have screamed at the Mayor, promising that Jerez would never hold an F1 race again. It hasn’t.

But the business model of F1 has meant that politicised events are increasingly inevitable. Almost every race in the F1 calendar (the British Grand Prix is a notable exception) receives some form of government backing. Even the new grands prix in the USA are receiving state help.

At moderate levels, this normally isn’t a problem. But Bernie Ecclestone’s pursuit of cash has led to him sealing deals with governments that are explicitly looking for a global platform and see Formula 1 as the perfect tool to provide it.

No prizes for guessing why countries such as Bahrain and China are keen to hold a grand prix. Some of them will be quite open about it: they want to put their countries on the map. Being part of one of the most popular sports in the world helps these countries gain legitimacy on the global stage.

Bernie Eccelestone’s approach is to chase the highest fees he can get. This has meant moving the sport further away from its core in Europe, particularly in the past 15 years. More and more races are taking place in Asia. The calendar has undergone significant evolution.

Of course, an increased spread of races across the globe is to be applauded. F1 is supposed to be a World Championship, after all.

But just now the balance just isn’t there. One race takes place in Australia. Eight take place in Europe. Two take place in North America. One takes place in South America. Eight take place in Asia. No races take place in Africa.

Among the newer races, a number have run into difficulties related to politics. I have already mentioned the problem in Turkey.

In Europe, the new Valencia Street Circuit was closely linked to Partido Popular, a political party. A news story posted on Formula1.com noted: “The deal is conditional on [Francisco] Camps winning local elections next month.” Since Francisco Camps left office last year, there have been murmurings that the Valencia Street Circuit will scale back its involvement in F1.

Malaysia and South Korea have similarly threatened to scale back their races after power changed hands in government.

Many of the newer races in the calendar are inherently political, either because they are vanity projects of local politicians, or global propaganda tools.

The tension between Bernie Ecclestone’s commercial needs, and the desire of the FIA to be apolitical, has been increasing for some time. This weekend in Bahrain, that tension is reaching breaking point.

At the top of the tree, British motorsport has a lot to cheer about. If the British-based Red Bull Racing isn’t dominant, McLaren are on a resurgence. This weekend in Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton took pole position. Jenson Button took the victory.

But nearer the bottom, things don’t seem to be quite as rosy. I have already noted the worrying trend of major international motorsport series apparently deserting Britain for 2012. World Series by Renault, the World Touring Car Championship and the GT1 World Championship have all removed Britain from their calendars this year.

Apart from Formula 1, it seems as though the only major international car race to take place in Britain in 2012 will be a round of the fledgling World Endurance Championship.

Felix Serralles

This morning it was announced that the Formula Renault 2.0 UK championship has been cancelled for 2012. Formula Renault is a big deal for youngsters hoping to make their way up the motorsport ladder. Lewis Hamilton cut his teeth there, as did Heikki Kovalainen. Others that made it to F1 include Pedro de la Rosa and Antônio Pizzonia. Most impressively, Kimi Räikkönen made the leap directly from Formula Renault 2.0 UK to a race seat at Sauber.

It’s still a championship to keep an eye on if you want to have an idea of who the stars of the future might be. In recent years it has boasted grids in the 30s. But this year, with drivers and teams said to be struggling to raise the cash required, a measly six drivers had entered.

The British Formula 3 championship is also said to be on the verge of making a similar decision.

Meanwhile, the super-talented Scott Malvern is struggling to scrape together the funds to get any form of a drive at all. This is despite the fact that he utterly dominated the British Formula Ford Championship last year.

There is a worrying trend towards the lower-level single-seater categories becoming more and more extravagant. They are increasingly expensive to run. As such they are increasingly about the survival of the richest.

Take Auto GP, which in a few short years has evolved itself from being a European Formula 3000 championship to billing itself as a “World Series” with global ambitions. GP2 is virtually a destination in its own right, despite its semi-official role as a feeder series for F1.

Meanwhile, attempts at a more modest championship, like Formula Two, fail to hit the mark. They lack the prestige to be truly seen as an option for aspirational racing drivers.

I’m glad I’m not a young driver trying to make my way through the ladder at the moment. It’s a worrying situation. Formula Renault 2.0 UK and British Formula 3 are well respected championships, but they are on the rocks. It seems as though a generation of young racing talent is at risk of having their careers ruined. I hope that’s not the case.

Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?

This weekend was the first time in very many years that I have had to avoid spoilers for a grand prix. I missed quite a few races live during 2007 due to work, but I always watched them as soon as I got home so there was not much problem with spoilers. Today, I had to spend five hours awake, actively avoiding everything until the BBC’s highlights were broadcast at 2pm.

There are plenty of potential traps. I love listening to the radio. Luckily, during weekends mornings I currently tend to listen to music stations, meaning I just have to switch the radio off for the hourly news bulletins. It would be different on the days when I listen to Radio 4 or Radio 5 Live or the World Service, all of which could potentially mention the F1 results at any moment due to the current affairs nature of the output.

Then, of course, there is the internet. I have to avoid Twitter and Facebook. I can’t visit any news websites. Google Reader is out (although my brother fell into this trap — whoops!). I am even wary of checking my emails. It’s a big effort.

But, incredibly, I managed it. The only hairy moments were yesterday morning when I was trying to avoid the results of qualifying. I knew I had received a tweet from someone, because my phone told me. But I managed not to look at it. I also knew that someone — an F1 fan — had posted on my Facebook wall. This knowledge alone set my mind racing as to what might have happened, but in the end it was nothing.

All in all, I was surprised at how easy it was to avoid the result. But it’s one thing to avoid the result of an early morning flyaway race. The race goes on while I sleep, and the highlights are broadcast reasonably early in the day.

When it comes to the European races, I imagine it will be a much tougher challenge. In these cases, I may well choose to listen to the races live on the radio.