Formula One: Racing from the reprofiled Sepang

Sepang, home of the Malaysian Grand Prix, has seen extensive redevelopment since the 2015 F1 race last March. The circuit first joined the F1 calender in 1999, this redevelopment represents this first significant upgrade since its construction.

Thankfully, rather than focusing exclusively  developing the pit and paddock area, the upgrades are largely focused on the circuit itself. Making racing and fans the main benefactors. The entire circuit has been resurfaced, and many corners have been re-profiled. Whilst the layout is unchanged, Italian Circuit design house Dromo have set out to maintain the essence of the circuit and create a new challenge in races.

Earlier this year, a round of the SHELL Advance Asia Talent Cup Championship took place at the venue. This race highlights the impact of the changes, in particular the increase in racing lines into the final corner.

Dromo are the same design house tasked with the upgrades of the Monza circuit, which following the F1 contract extension now appear to have been postponed.

 

 

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Formula One: Button sets his sights on Schumacher

The 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix will mark Jenson Button’s 300th start in Formula One. With a career spanning 17 years to date Jenson Button ranks 3rd behind Rubens Barrichello (322) and Michael Schumacher (306) in most F1 starts in the history of the sport.

In this incredibly open interview for Mobil 1’s The Grid. Jenson highlights this statistic and references a desire make his way to the top of this ranking. Only time will tell if the falling of the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi will mark the end of Button’s F1 career, for now retirement from F1 is not on his mind. The Brit makes it clear 2017 for him will be a year in which he can take time for himself, he has a contract to race in 2018 with Mclaren if both he and the team desire, and should anything unforeseen happen between now and March 2017 there is no reason to think he would not be the team’s first choice reserve driver.

Jenson Button’s F1 career is far from over, it is hard to imagine him not wanting to experience F1 machinery under the new technical regulations. For 2017 however he states ambitions to compete in the Triathlon world championships and sample other forms of motorsport.

 

Formula One: Sky to broadcast all races in Ultra HD from 2017 through Tata Communications

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Following successful trials at the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix, Tata Communications, Connectivity Provider of Formula 1, have confirmed Ultra High Definition (UHD) will be available for Sky at all races from 2017 onwards.

The successful proof of concept involved the installation of multiple state-of-the-art UHD cameras at the Singapore circuit. The footage from these was mixed in the FOM Broadcast Centre onsite, and the UHD output distributed live to Sky’s HQ in Osterley in the UK using Tata Communications’ Video Connect service. Video Connect enables broadcasters to deliver live video feeds over the world’s largest wholly-owned subsea fibre network, ensuring the highest quality experience for viewers.

“UHD offers four times higher resolution than HD, making F1 a more powerful, immersive experience for fans than ever before”says Keith Lane, Director of Operations at Sky.

“Delivering the race action seamlessly in UHD from any Grand Prix location to homes requires superfast, reliable connectivity on a global scale,” says Mehul Kapadia, Managing Director of F1 Business at Tata Communications.

The Tata Communications relationship extends to the entire Sky group, encompassing Formula One broadcast rights across the UK, Germany and Italy. At this time access to packages from the broadcaster to access UHD coverage have not been announced.  With the recent sale of F1 to Liberty Media it should be expected Tata Communications will be working to broaden to the offering of UHD content to the entire F1 broadcast community alongside accelerating plans around live OTT & 4K broadcasting.

Formula One: Deconstructing Stroll

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Following the announcement of Felipe Massa’s intention to retire from Formula One at the end of this season, the consensus of opinion is that Lance Stroll will be his most likely successor. Lance Stroll left the Ferrari Driver Academy and joined Williams at the end of 2015 in a development driver capacity. He is currently leading the European F3 Championship with Prema Powerteam.

Lance will turn 18 at the end of October and through his 2016 F3 campaign has achieved sufficient success to qualify for an FIA Super License and allowing him to participate in Formula One activities on track. Lance is the son of multi billionaire Lawrence Stroll. Lawrence, a keen motorsport enthusiast himself, has supported Lance through his career in junior categories. This support should not in anyway suggest Lance should be labelled as a ‘pay driver’ his domination in the European F3 championship clearly demonstrates he is a talented driver.

Williams have a reputation for signing up and coming drivers, signing Lance Stroll would be in keeping with this reputation. At this point all signs point to his announcement as a driver in 2017 seem entirely reasonable. In fact, both Lance and team representatives have suggested the levelling effect of regulation changes in 2017 would make it a logical time to make the change.

There is however another rumour about Lance Stroll which doesn’t make quite so much sense. In recent months highly reputable journalists in the Formula One paddock have suggested that Lance Stroll and the Williams team are completing extensive familiarisation tests for the Canadian using 2014 machinery at multiple circuits on the F1 calendar. These journalists suggest the programme is being bankrolled by Lawrence Stroll to the tune of up to $20M. At this time neither team or driver have officially commented on the rumours.

Rather than make a claim one way or the other, it seems of merit to delve into the challenges of  how such a test programme could be achieved within current FIA regulations and Williams partnerships:

  • Power Units. Whilst it is within regulations for a team to complete tests with power units from seasons two years prior to the current season which would allow Williams to complete tests using current hybrid power unit technology, Williams do not own any Power Units. The partnership agreement with Mercedes is a supply agreement only which means Mercedes deliver Power Units to the team on a race weekend. The team do not retain anything. In order for tests to be taking place an additional agreement would be required with Mercedes. Mercedes would then have to agree to supply or manufacturer 2014 specification Power Units. This is not impossible but does add a level of complexity.
  • Tyres. FIA approved tests with 2014 machinery require tyre supply from Pirelli. Pirelli are only permitted to supply demonstration tyres for such tests. These tyres do not perform in the same way as a race tyre. This would devalue the purpose of familiarisation tests. Of course it is possible the team have found a dispensation within these rules, but again, Pirelli would be required to dedicate resource to this programme at the same time as developing 2017 tyres. It should be noted Williams declined to participate in the 2017 tyre development programme. Again this does not make the Lance Stroll test programme infeasible rather illustrates a supply challenge.
  • Circuits. Contrary to the belief of some in the F1 paddock, Racing circuits do not lie dormant for the 362 days a year that F1 is not using a venue. Booking circuit time is not a simple task. Shutting a circuit down for private testing would not go unnoticed.
  • Existing Commitments. Lance Stroll is currently leading the European F3 championship. The championship requires more commitment than an arrive and drive mentality. He will be fully focused on the task in hand.
  • Existing Infrastructure. Williams, as with many leading teams on the F1 grid, have invested heavily into race simulators, completing tests way from the simulator in old machinery may suggest a lack of confidence in their own technology.
  • Regulations. 2017 will see a radical overhaul in Formula One technical regulations. Ambitious projections suggest a lap time improvement of up to 5 seconds per lap. If this is accurate, the value of testing machinery by that time 3 years old and possibly up to 7 seconds per lap slower becomes highly questionable.

Without official confirmation from driver or team it is not possible draw a conclusion over these rumoured tests, but given the challenges surrounding their feasibility on the face of it they appear unlikely. A far more logical and cost effective approach would be to wait until Lance turns 18 and place him in Felipe Massa’s car in the Free Practice One sessions in the remaining races of the 2016 calendar.

Another challenge the Williams F1 team may face in signing Lance Stroll for 2017 could be with their principle partner Bacardi (with the Martini brand) Williams drivers pay a key role in the activation of the Martini Sponsorship, a driver not of legal in the US could prove to be a challenge for the business and this approach.

Formula One: Vettel to start from the pitlane

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Scuderia Ferrari have installed a 6th Power Unit and Gearbox into Sebastian Vettel’s ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix today. This should equate to a 15 place grid penalty for the German which would be normalised to zero given his start position , however with the change having taken place under Parc fermé conditions a pitlane start is more than likely.

After a disastrous qualifying session, in which an anti roll bar failure saw the German unable to set a representative time in Q1 and the team with insufficient time to repair the issue, Vettel was set to line up on the grid in 22nd place.

With a high probability of a safety car during the Singapore Grand Prix, time lost through a pitlane start is expected to be minimised. Through starting from the pitlane Sebastian will be able to avoid the risk of incident off the start. Heavy rainfall in Singapore between qualifying and the race will have removed all rubber put down through the race weekend up until this point leaving the surface quite “green’ this may impact the tyre strategy Scuderia Ferrari opt for with Vettel with the life of the ultra soft compound tyre expected to be significantly reduced.

Formula One: Tyre availability and likely strategy for the Singapore Grand Prix

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If points were awarded to drivers for not using their complete allocation of tyres Sebastian Vettel would be in the box seats for the Singapore Grand Prix! With 3 sets of unused Ultra soft compound tyres availble, owing to a technical in Q1 leading to a back row start for the race tomorrow, Sebastian and the Scuderia have the opportunity to take a ultra aggressive approach to the race. Philosophical on the difficult session Vettel commented:

” For tomorrow we have a long race in front of us, with a lot of safety cars. At least we have some new tires, and even if for sure it is not an ideal situation. we can still have a good race.”

Red Bull Racing and AMG Mercedes Petronas have taken opposing strategies to the race with the former electing to start of the Supersoft compound the latter the Ultra soft. Lewis will be keen to ensure he recovers from an average qualifying session quickly to minimise any time behind a Red Bull on a slower compound.

Pirelli have confirmed the life of each tyre compound is expected to be around 21-23 laps, the challenge will be managing the level of drop off in performance which could be as great as 6 seconds per lap.

A two stop strategy is expected to be the quickest way to complete the race, with a very high probability of safety car periods team strategists will be working overtime to pick the precise points at which to complete those stops and reduce loss of track position.

Nico Rosberg has looked strong throughout the weekend. With a good start and a cushion of Daniel Ricciardo between him and his most likely challenger Lewis Hamilton, the race could be his to lose.

See the info graphic below for a breakdown of drivers tyre availability for the Singapore Grand Prix:

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Formula One: Scuderia Ferrari deny rumours surrounding Paddy Lowe

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Scuderia Ferrari have moved to deny rumours suggesting Paddy Lowe will join the team taking on the role vacated by James Allison earlier this season.

Commenting directly to JWGP a team representative remarked:

“There’s no comment to make as it is what it is-just rumours generated from some media.”

Mercedes AMG Petronas are yet to respond to the rumour, but a similar response should be expected. Such rumours are common around this point in the season, silly season extends far beyond the driver market these days!

It should be noted that Paddy Lowe has attended all races this year with AMG Mercedes Petronas, if he were to be switching teams he would likely have been placed on gardening leave.  Furthermore, should any change prove to be on the cards existing contracts would likely preclude Paddy Lowe from any involvement with the Scuderia for a minimum of 12 months. Which would in effect marginalise his ability to influence any F1 car design until 2019.

With many elements of teams 2017 challengers already in place, a rival team seeking to challenge the dominance of Mercedes through poaching key personnel would have had to have made a move far earlier in the season.

Paddy Lowe joined Mercedes in 2013, at the same time as Lewis Hamilton. Lewis Hamilton has a contract with the Silver Arrows through to 2018.

Formula E: FIA Formula E takes to the Ice!

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The FIA Formula E Championship is made up a truly unique group of people, with an endless drive to amaze and inspire. They are a creative marketeers dream, and a health & safety insurers nightmare!

When faced with the challenge of bringing to life the impact of climate change, what could have more impact than landing a car on an ice cap for a demonstration run? With support from  Julius Baer, Visa, DHL, Schaeffler, The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Mumm Champagne House, Formula E bought this vision to life. The zero-emission racer was driven on the ice cap by adventurous race-winning Formula E driver and series ambassador, Lucas di Grassi.

The Brazilian, who will be seeking to go one better than his runner-up position in the season two championship when the series returns with the HKT Hong Kong ePrix on October 9, performed a series of jaw-dropping runs on the ice cap, inside the Arctic circle in the north of Greenland.

The seemingly impossible act was captured in a series of impactful short films that will draw the world’s attention to the escalating threat posed by the melting of the ice cap to global sea levels.

See the first of the films from the demonstration run here:

The stunning exhibition is a continuation of Formula E’s commitment to showcasing the ability of electric car technology to act as a key part of a more sustainable future, and play a vital role in tackling climate change.

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said: “I have four children and the future of the planet depends on how we can control the effect that human life is having on the environment and the climate. That is why I think climate change is very important to address, to control, to face, and everyone can do something. We do something for motorsport, other people can do something from whatever they do in their lives.”

Formula E vice-champion Lucas di Grassi said: “It was such a beautiful, peaceful place. To come here and see how huge the ice cap is and how the effect of global warming is changing it, melting it, gives me a completely different understanding of what we are doing with Formula E and the importance of driving electric cars.”

The event was only possible due to the co-operation and assistance of the Greenland government and its desire to raise awareness of a need for action on climate change. In order to learn more about the effects of the melting ice cap, Formula E has teamed up with Southampton University, and during the trip a tracking beacon was place upon an iceberg that had broken away from the ice sheet.

This will help to advance the research into the behaviour of these ice sheets in the open ocean, and the tracking device will allow climate scientists and fans alike to understand more about the graceful journey they undertake as they return back to the sea.

HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco said: “I fully support the bold and ambitious activity that Formula E has undertaken as a way of raising awareness of the effect climate change is having on the ice cap in Greenland. My Foundation recognises the role that electric vehicles can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and believes that Formula E can inspire a new generation of motorists and potential motorists to ‘drive electric’ and help in the fight against global warming through high-profile activations like this.”

A special 48-minute documentary looking at every aspect of how the event was put together has been commissioned and will be premiered at COP22, which takes place in Marrakesh, Morocco on November 13 this year. Formula E will also be in the North African country at the same time for the inaugural Marrakesh ePrix.

Formula One: Win a Go Kart driven by Mclaren Legends

Earlier this summer Mclaren legends of the past present and future raced against each other behind the wheel of the great motoring equaliser, the Go Kart! In an event hosted by Esso and Mcalren Honda at Fernando Alonso’s go karting circuit in Spain, Alonso, Button, Coulthard, Vandoorne and Hakkinen competed on the same track together for the first time.

Check out this film to see how they got on:

Mobil One’s The Grid are offering you the chance to win one of the Go Karts used at this event. To take part follow this link and answer the question:

How many Grand Prix did David Coulthard win during his F1 career?

Best of luck!

 

 

 

Formula One: Heineken F1 – More than a race

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The Italian Grand Prix saw Heineken formally launch its Formula One partnership. Whilst the Dutch brewer took title sponsorship at the Canadian Grand Prix earlier in the year, Monza was always set to be the event in which the campaign shifted into high gear.

In the weeks preceding the Italian Grand Prix at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Heineken executives spoke of strategy to bring Formula One to the fans, to improve the race going experience and seek ways in which to engage a millennial audience. If I am entirely honest I was somewhat sceptical. Brands all to often focus Formula One activation strategies around corporate entertainment and business to business network development.

With this in mind, upon arriving in Monza on the Thursday ahead of the Grand Prix the first thing I did was head to the fan village. In recent years the fan village, an area surrounding the circuit open to all ticket holders, has become little more than a few merchandising stands. It can feel as though the interests of the fan have been overlooked. Heineken have gone to great lengths to address this issue erecting a huge pop bar and entertainment space for fans, as pictured below. Whilst the beer isn’t free, prices are reasonable and they have created a communal space for fans away from the circuit.

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Building on this, Heineken have addressed another common frustration amongst race going fans. How do you fill your time outside of track action? On Thursday evening, Heineken installed a temporary five a side football pitch on the start finish straight challenging Champions League stars to a game against Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer. Whilst it soon became clear the F1 drivers’ talents did not extend to the football pitch, it was fantastic to see Heineken hosting an event for the public outside of the regular F1 weekend schedule. More than 2000 fans filled the main grandstand to watch the game.

Of course Heineken must also use their partnership within F1 to address the fans at home and it would be naive to think there are no business to business expectations around the agreement. On Friday evening, Heineken set about explaining how these would be addressed. At the core of this session was the launch of the two advertisements Heineken have developed featuring Sir Jackie Stewart and David Coulthard. The production values of both films are incredible, and both have been extremely positively received. So much so, that Freddie Hunt, son of the late James Hunt has suggested Heineken use footage of his father in their next campaign.

To see the Heineken F1 adverts in full click here

What struck me about the Jackie Stewart film in particular was the core of the message. If You Drive, Never Drink.  Whilst anti drink drive campaigns are nothing new, making this the fundamental message of a campaign for a beer company is a bold strategy. One unimaginable in other sectors. Heineken should be commended for this approach. They have acknowledged the challenges of associating alcohol with motorsport and addressed it head on.  More over they are seeking to evolve an F1 weekend, from 2 hours of racing on Sunday into something much more significant. This is neatly tied up in the tagline ‘more than a race’.

I am hopeful that Heineken’s approach to fan engagement within Formula One, alongside a fresh approach from the sport’s new owners Liberty Media, will apply pressure to existing brands in the sport to do more with fans. In the beverage sector brand loyalty is fundamental to success and if Heineken can demonstrate new customer loyalty through Formula One and through engaging with fans you can be sure more brands will follow and the Formula One experience will only improve.

To read my interview with Heineken ambassador David Coulthard follow this link