Category Archives: FIA

Formula One: Zak Brown’s strategic masterstroke?

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McLaren Honda’s announcement that Fernando Alonso will compete in the 101st running of the Indy 500 this week came at the perfect time for both the team and driver. After a more than challenging start to the 2017 season the team were in dire need of some positive press coverage. The move towards Indy, initialed by Zak Brown (Team Principle) has achieved exactly that.

There are a plethora of reasons as to why this move will be a positive for McLaren Honda moving forward, this article will seek to explore these from driver, commercial, and team perspective.

Driver: Fernando Alonso’s contract with McLaren expires at the end of the 2017 F1 season. Mclaren Honda’s failure to provide Alonso will a car capable of challenging for regular points let alone podiums or wins has been seen by many as a waste of Alonso’s talent. Should Fernando seek to remain in Formula One beyond his current agreement McLaren Honda will have their work cut out to convince him they can deliver a car that will allow him to challenge for a 3rd world championship. Zak Brown and the team realise this, and as such have begun to explore other ‘benefits’ they can bring to the table that other teams may struggle to offer. Running at the Indy 500 is one such benefit. With Honda power supplying half the grid in Indycar, slotting Alonso into a front running team was not a challenge. Realistically only McLaren could offer an active works F1 driver this opportunity.

Will this alone be enough to convince Alonso to stay? Beyond money, which at this point in his career may not be an incentive,  what else could they offer him? Running in LMP1 at Le Mans for the foreseeable future would prove very tough for McLaren to offer to Alonso. With only Porsche and Toyota capable of challenging for a win, it is doubtful a manufacturer drive would be open.

Through Zak Brown’s involvement in the Motorsport Network he has a connection to Formula E (Motorsport Network are minority shareholders of the championship) in addition McLaren supply ECU units. Could the team offer him a drive in Formula E alongside F1 from 2018 and beyond? Equally Zak Brown runs his own endurance racing team, could this be used to entice Alonso to events such as the Daytona 24hrs.

If McLaren can find Alonso success in other categories could they convince him to remain with the F1 team whilst they rebuild? Or could it show him there is more to life than Formula One.

Of course this assumes Alonso would perform well in other categories. The flip side of this strategy would be if Alonso struggles at the Indy500 or other events the team ‘allow’ him to compete in, he will devalue his own stock. He may make himself less appealing not only to F1 teams but also to other championships. In running at Indy Alonso risks limiting his own options when it comes to negotiating new a new agreement with McLaren.

Commercial: McLaren Honda’s recent struggle to retain and entice new partners has been well documented. With another underperforming season in prospect the team’s ability to ‘stop the rot’ is unlikely. Partners join Mclaren on the basis of front running exposure. They are not receiving this. Media coverage the team does receive is largely negative or not focused on racing.

Alonso running at the Indy 500 has created a good news story for the team, media coverage has been extensive and positive. This will continue into Indy. Through running a McLaren livery at the Indy 500 with all Mclaren’s partners gaining exposure, Mclaren will be able to make up for any exposure shortfall they may have faced as a result of disappointing performances in Formula One. Running at Indy will also give Mclaren’s partners additional exposure in the US, a key strategic market. This will help the team in future partner discussions.

The counter argument to this is that existing partners may realise they can achieve expansive coverage, greater than that of F1, simply by partnering with a top driver at a single event. Any partner / sponsor questioning a future with the team may be presented with a new strategic direction through this gimmick / project.

Team. There is no I in team. As fantastic as it is to see a current F1 driver taking part in the Indy 500, but Zak Brown and McLaren Honda management can’t for one second forget that they have fundamental problems to address within their own team. Issues that no PR stunt will overcome. There is talk that Mercedes have agreed to support to Honda in overcoming some of their Power Unit shortcomings, assuming the support leads to a turnaround in form, perhaps there is a light at the end of the Honda struggle. McLaren must focus on this. There is no point ploughing resources into keeping Fernando Alonso happy if the situation around overall team performance does not improve.

A side comment on the offer of Mercedes support. It is impossible to imagine a scenario in which Mercedes will give Honda sufficient information to enable them to challenge for outright performance. Will a Honda Power unit developed with Mercedes not just become an incredibly expensive customer power unit which similar to a Williams or Force India will not be allowed to win?

Could McLaren Honda heading to the Indy 500 also be a comment to the FIA ahead of discussions around future power unit regulations? If they find success in Indycar will Honda start to camping for the same power unit to be used in F1? Are McLaren in sufficient a position of strength to threaten to switch to Indycar should future F1 power unit regulations not shift in their favour?

In conclusion. Zak Brown’s commercial minded approach to management of McLaren Honda and their issues is hugely refreshing for the fan and for sponsors. I look forward to seeing this same dynamic approach being taken to resolving team performance issues.

Credit to Tim Holmes for the concept Mclaren Indycar livery imagery supporting this article. Follow Tim on Twitter here

 

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F2, F3, F4: Erreà Sport join Prema

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Italian clothing Manufacturer Erreà Sport continue their rapid growth throughout Motorsport with the announcement of a new partnership with Prema for 2017 and beyond.

Joining the ranks of the Sauber F1 Team, Mahindra Formula E team, & Manor Endurance Racing, this new partnership will see Erreà Sport represented across F1, F2, F3, F4, Formula E, and the World Endurance Championship, with further partnerships in motorsport in development.

Fans of Erreà Sport in motorsport can find the online store for the Sauber F1 Team and Mahindra Formula E team though this link. Highlights of the Prema and Manor Endurance Team collection will be made available in the coming weeks.

The 2017 Prema team wear collection is a result of coming together of minds between the Prema and Erreà Sport design teams. The collection reflects the teams Italian heritage and team history, alongside ensuring functionality for the team in races around the world.

Commenting on the partnership René Rosin, Team Principal, remarked:
“We are proud to partner an excellent Italian company like Erreà for what is expected to be a particularly demanding season. Like in all professional sports, also in racing every single component can make a difference and Errea, to whom we will entrust our personnel, will definitely be a key component of the team”.

Errea Sport Chairman Angelo Gandolfi added:
“We are delighted for this new and prestigious partnership. Prema and Erreà share the same values and represent a dynamic, efficient and determined combination, looking forward to score great results in the upcoming season. We worked hard together with the team in order to provide them with all the support they need to keep pushing the limits forward.”

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To keep up to date on  Prema through the 2017 season in motorsport you can follow them on Twitter here.

Formula One: Could F1 consider cloud seeding to ensure Sunday’s race?

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Friday free practice running for the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix was all but a complete washout. With conditions at the circuit and the neighbouring city, in which the hospital on call for medical emergencies from the race weekend, too poor for helicopters to operate in, the FIA delayed and eventually cancelled most of the days running.

Current weather forecasts suggest conditions will improve for tomorrow, but are likely to return on Sunday. Should forecasts prove to be accurate there is a real possibility that it will not be possible for the race to take place on Sunday as scheduled. With only a one week turnaround between the Chinese and Bahrain Grand Prix it will not be possible to hold the race on Monday or at a later date. As such FOM, the FIA, teams, drivers, and broadcasters are apparently in talks to host the entire race weekend activities tomorrow.

Within Formula One, there is no prescient for a race taking place a day earlier than scheduled, and in reality with the highly complex global broadcast agreements in place, it is highly unlikely that terms for running the race a day early can be agreed. Sponsors, Broadcasters, race attending fans, teams, will all seek compensation. As such at this point in time the most likely outcome, if the poor weather returns, is that fans will be treated to a four hour broadcast of no track action at all on Sunday.

This will significantly damage the reputation of Formula One globally and most specifically in Asia, a market in which the sport is struggling (note the discontinuation of the Malaysian Grand Prix agreement from 2018 announced earlier today). To avoid such an outcome it is time for Formula One Management to get creative? Could they look towards a solution involving Cloud Seeding?

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification, a way of changing the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds, by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. The usual intent is to increase precipitation (rain or snow), but hail and fog suppression are also widely practiced in airports. (thank you Wikipedia). The process could be applied in areas away from the circuit and the route to the hospital supporting the race.

It is understood organisers of the Singapore Grand Prix, have long used this technology to ensure a dry race weekend during the rain season for the region.

The process was used during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to ensure a dry Olympics.

No doubt, as the weekend processes, the weather forecast will evolve and fans concerns will evaporate!

Formula One: Giovinazzi impresses on his F1 debut

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Antonio Giovinazzi became the first Italian since Jarno Trulli to compete in a Formula Once race this weekend, standing in for Pascal Wehrlein for the Sauber F1 Team in Melbourne. The Scuderia Ferrari development and reserve driver was called up to the team with less than 12 hours notice following concerns being raised around Wehrlein’s ability to complete a race distance due to an injury sustained in the off season impacting his training schedule.

Having completed 2 days of pre-season testing for the team, Antonio Giovinazzi, found himself able to push team mate Marcus Ericsson throughout the race weekend, qualifying just on place behind him on the grid. In the race Giovinazzi bought his Sauber C36 home to finish 12th overall, whilst out of the points, team members and those outside the team were keen to praise his performance:

“A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula One race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of. The lap times were quite satisfying”

Monisha Kaltenborn, Team Principal

Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne, in his celebration of his Scuderia’s return to the top step added a note of recognition to Giovinazzi:

“Congratulations to Antonio for his debut in Formula One”

Commenting on his own performance Giovinazzi added:

“It was a good race, and I am happy with my performance today. My objective was to gain more experience and collect mileage in the car. I will sit together with my engineers to analyze areas where I can improve. I want to thank the Sauber F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari again for this opportunity. It was an amazing race weekend for me.”

See below to hear from the driver himself in this video uploaded by the team following the race:

New Italian team partner Errea Sport were delighted to see an Italian driver behind the wheel of the Sauber C36- Ferrari, to see a preview of the 2017 team merchandise see below:

The Sauber F1 team expect Pascal Wehrlein to be fully prepared to return to full race duties for the Chinese Grand Prix in 2 weeks time.

Formula One: 2017 Regulations Reminders

With Qualifying for the opening round of the 2017 F1 World Championship just hours away Red Bull Racing’s Chef Aerodynamics Engineer Dan Fallows sat down with Mobil One’s The Grid to explain the new technical regulations for the season ahead and the intentions behind them.

Flying in the face of many commentators and his own team principle Fallows is speaks highly of the returning shark fin aerodynamic element for 2017. Many detractors including   senior leadership within Formula One Management sought to remove the fin ahead of the season opener.

Formula One: FIA clarifies position on sale of one per cent shareholding in Delta Topco

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The FIA have issued the following press release in response to inaccurate reports. To ensure no confusion the press release has been posted here in full:

Following the unanimous approval by the World Motor Sport Council of the change of control of Delta Topco Limited (the holding company of the Commercial Rights Holder of the FIA Formula One World Championship) from CVC Capital Partners in favour of Liberty Media Corporation on 18 January 2017, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has been made aware of certain declarations and comments, clearly inaccurately informed or made maliciously, relating to this process.

In light of this, the FIA wishes to make clear the following once again:

  • Firstly, the prize money allocated in the Formula One World Championship is done so in accordance with the bilateral agreements that exist between each team and the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH).  The FIA has no knowledge of these agreements
  • Secondly, there is no conflict of interest on the part of the FIA with regard to its approval of the change of control of the CRH which has been approved by the World Motor Sport Council taking into consideration exclusively the terms of the existing agreements between the CRH and the FIA and the best interests of the Championship
  • As per the Agreements made in 2001 for 100 Years, the FIA could only have withheld its consent in the event that the change of control would materially alter the ability of the CRH to fulfil its obligations; it is obvious that the taking of control of the Formula One Group by Liberty does not create such a risk, and nobody has ever suggested a different view in this respect

The FIA would naturally be happy to demonstrate the absence of any conflict of interest to any competent authority that may so request.

Once again, the FIA looks forward to its collaboration with both Liberty and the Formula One Group to create a constructive relationship that will ensure the continued success and the development of the FIA Formula One World Championship in the long term.

The press release from the FIA can be found here

Formula One: Mercedes brand alignment

 

In amongst new driver announcements, car launch dates, eRacing, and calender shuffling, the eagle eyed motorsport fan may have noticed a small but significant change in the name above the door of the current Formula One Constructors Champions over the Christmas period.

Since January 1st 2017, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team has been re-branded Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport. In contacting the team the rationale for the change was explained as a move to harmonise the team with the overall strategic direction of the business. The team went on to explain the change does not necessarily indicate plans for the Brackley based team to expand into other categories, but that the team would not rule out this happening at some point in the future.

With a notice of intent offered to Formula E having been made by the Mercedes Grand Prix in 2016, in effect granting them first refusal on the final team slot in the championship, the harmonisation of Mercedes Motorsport branding could signal team preparations to enter the championship. Another factor to consider could be the rumoured budget cap set to be implemented across Formula One. Mercedes Grand Prix employ over 1200 staff, the salary bill alone could exceed the budget for running a team in future. Diversification of the team into other racing categories would serve to increase Mercedes brand awareness and maintain it’s commitment to the motorsport industry in the UK.

Mercedes’ positions in DTM & GT racing, logically, could also be housed under a single Motorsport entity, possibly located in the UK.

Formula One: Bem-vindo a casa Felipe!

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In what may be one of the shortest retirements in recent Formula One history, Williams Martini Racing have confirmed the Felipe Massa will return to the Grove based team for the 2017 season.

Following earlier confirmation that Pascal Wehrlien will join the Sauber F1 Team for 2017, Valterri Bottas’ path to join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes AMG Petronas is now clear freeing up the seat alongside Lance Stroll at Williams for Felipe Massa in 2017.

Speaking about the announcement Felipe Massa said; “Firstly, I am very happy to have an opportunity to return to Williams. I always intended to race somewhere in 2017, but Williams is a team close to my heart and I have respect for everything it is trying to achieve. Valtteri has a great opportunity, given the turn of events over the winter, and I wish him all the best at Mercedes.

“In turn, when I was offered the chance to help Williams with their 2017 Formula One campaign, it felt like the right thing to do. I certainly have not lost any of my enthusiasm for racing and I’m extremely motivated to be coming back to drive the FW40. The support from my fans over the last few weeks has been a huge boost and I’m grateful for that. I also look forward to working with Lance; I’ve known him for many years and seen his talent develop during that time, so I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.”

Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal, said; “I’m delighted that Felipe has agreed to come out of retirement to be a part of our 2017 campaign. With Valtteri having a unique opportunity to join the current Constructors’ Champions, we have been working hard to ensure that an agreement could be made with Mercedes to give Valtteri this fantastic opportunity.

“Valtteri has been part of the Williams family since 2010 and in that time has proved a huge talent, securing nine podium finishes. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him on behalf of the whole team, and wish him a successful season as he joins Mercedes.

“Felipe has always been a much-loved member of the Williams family, and having the opportunity to work with him again is something we all look forward to. He was always going to race somewhere in 2017, as he has not lost that competitive spirit, and it was important that we had a strong replacement in order for us to let Valtteri go. Felipe re-joining us provides stability, experience and talent to help lead us forward. He is a great asset for us.”

With the 2017 F1 regulations changes set to be the most significant in decades, Williams have been keen to ensure an experienced driver lines up alongside F1 Rookie Lance Stroll.

It is understood Felipe walked away from opportunities within Formula E in order to return to Formula One. Felipe has returned to the team with a single season agreement.

Formula One: Jean Todt joins Twitter

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President of Motorsports Governing Body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), Jean Todt had kicked off 2017 by joining Twitter!

The account, whilst currently not verified, appears to be genuine with the President’s first two tweets coming from a BMW Autonomous driving demonstration at CES in Las Vegas and the Formula E Visa Vegas eRace over the weekend.

 

At this time Jean Todt, or those managing the account on his behalf, are not following any other users on the social media platform seemingly opting to use it to communicate on events attended rather than engage directly. This approach may evolve in the coming weeks and months as the full 2017 motorsport season commences.

During 2017 Jean Todt’s second term as president of the FIA will come to a conclusion. No formal comment has been made with respect to plans to seek re-election, nor have any alternative candidates been mentioned. It had been speculated that Jean Todt would not seek a re-election for the unpaid position following his appointment as  Special Envoy for Road Safety to the UN.

You can follow Jean Todt on Twitter here.

Formula E: The season 5 conundrum

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2016 Nat Twiss / Spacesuit Media

Formula E is in a great place. With Jaguar joining the championship, Audi scaling up their involvement, BMW committing to the category and Mercedes taking up a placeholder position, OEMS are falling over themselves to get their place on the grid. The same can be said for host cities, in only 3 seasons Alejandro Agag has secured events in locations Formula One have spent decades trying to get on their calendar. The Championship is growing beyond anyone’s expectations.

The success of Formula E is due in part to the mentality of cost control placed upon teams and organisers. Through staggering development cycles of components teams are not in a position to throw money at a problem to find a solution, instead they are forced to find creative solutions to move up the grid. The result Is exceptionally close racing in which more than half the grid are genuinely capable of winning races on their day. However, the Formula E development cycle could be about to cause the championship a serious headache.

I have followed Formula E since day one of the championship. I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of races and spend time with a variety of people in and around the sport.  I am a huge supporter of the championship and the racing, although I have to be honest until attending racing there was always one element of Formula E that I couldn’t get my head around. That was mid race car swapping. Why would a championship designed to promote electric vehicle (EV) technology build prospective EV buyers greatest anxiety, battery range, into the race? For a time, it seemed that OEMS shared the same concerns and to give credit to Formula E, they had a plan. From Season 5, battery technology will be upgraded and the need for a mid race car change will be removed. It is exactly this evolution of technology that has seen BMW commit to the championship.

However, I’m not convinced this is the best direction for the sport. As mentioned until attending a race I was a sceptic of the mid race car change. Why not have two shorter races? It wasn’t until spending time at the London ePrix last season with a group of lifestyle journalists and corporate management that I saw the value of the car change.  In explaining how the breakdown of a Formula E race, the most thrilling element of the race without any question was the car change. Witnessing drivers jump from one car to another bought the race to life and gave a very human perspective to the spectacle. It became the talking point of the day and the lynch pin of subsequent questions around the championship. The championship had me and many others converted!

So what happens in Season 5? In theory the range of Formula E batteries will be increased to remove the need for each driver to require two cars to complete a race distance. In theory we could see a lights to flag race with no interruptions. Is this the right direction? Speaking to drivers and team managers at the Marrakesh ePrix last month few seem convinced. Formula E races with no concerns over battery life and range and no need for pit stops could become quite mundane and processional. Drivers talk of their enjoyment of having a unique challenge mid race. A new element of their racing to finesse. Do we realy want to loose this?

No doubt Formula E organisers are more than aware of this and have already started to evaluate how they can change the way in which the championship goes racing to maintain the thrill and strategic element to an ePrix. To help them out along the way I’ve mapped out a few options for them to build into the equation:

Tyre change pitstop: A relatively logical and simple way to maintain the strategic element of ePrix in the post car change era would be to introduce mandatory pitstops for tyre changes. However, Michelin (the control Formula E tyre supplier) have commented in the past that their strategy around motorsport engagement is to showcase durability. They would not want to develop degrading tyres to artificially impact the race. Moreover, pitstops require additional equipment and manpower from the teams. Any savings generated through the removal of a second car would be negated. Formula E is an environmentally conscious sport; tyre changes could be seen to promote a message of waste.

Joker Laps: A seen in World Rally Cross (WRX), introducing the concept of a secondary element to a circuit layout which when taken will increase lap times by a number of seconds. Drivers could be mandated to take a certain number of joker laps during a race, introducing a dynamic element of strategy. Recently crowned WRX champion Mattias Ekström has passionately advocated their introduction in other series commenting “In F1, if you see how close many races were and it’s difficult to follow, if you have a joker lap someone has to do at a certain time, you can also time it different to get free air for a couple of laps, and that time you can launch your attack,”

Of course concerns around open wheel single seaters returning to a racing line from another point on track at full speed would have to be addressed, but Joker Laps would certainly add an interesting element to future Formula E events.

Dynamic induction charging: Qualcomm are a founding partner of Formula E. They work with the championship in the development of new technologies fit for the evolving automotive industry, one such technology is the Halo system. Halo is an induction charging plate currently used by the championship BMW i Safety and Medical cars. The charging plate removes the need to plug an EV into a charging point. This technology will be launched on road going cars in the coming 18 months. The next phase of this technology is to replicate the induction charging technology whilst a vehicle is in motion. Formula E, could look to introduce dynamic charging strips of 100-200 metres around elements of a circuit off the racing line in which drivers could pick up a power boost. Qualcomm have the technology to facilitate this kind of development. It would require additional investment and require extended periods of preparation time at ePrix circuits, but such a move would push Formula E further towards the pinnacle of motorsport technology. An accolade I am sure they are keen to achieve!

So where to next? Formula E is riding a crest of success. The Championship will have it’s work cut out in the coming years to balance the growing demands of a number of OEM’s all of whom expect to win, and the expectations of fans and sponsors to be entertained. Formula E should see the removal of mid race car changes as an opportunity to throw another element of change into racing. They’ve convinced the sceptic once; I trust they will do the same again!