Formula One returns to Paul Ricard this weekend for the first French Grand Prix in twenty years. The legendary circuit redeveloped in the early 2000’s under the guidance of former CEO Phillipe Gurdjian, has in recent years become a venue of choice for Formula One tyre development testing and was the logical home for the return of Formula One to its spiritual home of France.
Redevelopment of the Paul Ricard circuit was initially focused on the venue hosting racing testing and development programmes. Succesful completion of this objective came in the form of the FIA awarded the circuit as First Centre of Excellence for Motor Sport Safety. This recognition comes in part due to the layout of the circuit, it’s approach to run off areas and ability to sustainably simulate dynamic weather situations. As mentioned in an early article here on JWGP available here.
Whilst the venue’s approach to vehicle safety, through large tarmac covered run-off areas, perfectly lends itself to performance testing, minimising the risk of a driver being penalised for on-track errors and will likely lead to teams pushing the boundaries of track limits throughout the Grand Prix weekend. Coupled with this, the current philosophy surrounding Formula One aerodynamics have left many well informed observers to suggest overtaking will be somewhat of a challenge through the race:
With this in mind Formula One is at risk of a fourth successive event in which on track excitement looks set to be minimal. But worry not, there is a solution! As mentioned the Paul Ricard HTTT (High Tech Test Track) has a visionary trick up its sleeve, under the guidance of previous circuit owner Bernie Ecclestone and more recently his ex-wife Slavica, the circuit has an inbuilt sprinkler system.
The system is capable of simulating a multitude of wet weather scenarios at the touch of a button. Formula One returning to France and Paul Ricard offers owners Liberty Media the ability to bring to life the long-promised proposal from Mr Ecclestone to spice up Formula One through the use of sprinklers! (check out some of his other proposals here)
Of course, with no announcement of such trial being made prior to the race weekend, Liberty Media will have to manufacture a scenario in which the magic sprinkler system can be activated by mistake thus creating global media coverage for an otherwise uninspiring event. Winne Harlow, what are you up to this weekend? 😉
As the F1 world rapidly heads towards the winter break. The sport finds its self in a highly unusual position of having for seats still to be confirmed on the 2017 grid.
Whilst it is not out of the ordinary for seats at the lower end of the field to still be open at this point on in the year, for a seat to be open with the championship winning team is almost unimaginable. Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement from the sport has effectively stalled the driver market with no driver or team wanting to make a commitment before Mercedes conclude a deal with whoever their new driver will be.
At the time of writing favourites for the drive alongside Lewis Hamilton with the Silver Arrows in 2017 are; Valtteri Bottas, Pascal Wehrlein, and my own favourite Sergio Perez. Which ever driver is awarded the drive will have a knock on effect for the teams they are currently or likely to be driving for.
Should Mercedes manage to agree terms with Williams and they release Bottas, the team will be left with serious lack of experience in their driver line up as they head towards one of the most technically challenging regulation changes in two decades., As such working with Pascal Wehrlein who has only taken part in 21 races in unlikely to be their first choice. More likely would be development driver Paul Di Resta taking the role or recently retired Felipe Massa or Jenson Button making an unexpected return.
In the scenario in which Mercedes take the brave move of putting Pascal Wehrlein in the second seat of the W08, Manor Racing will be left with two seats to fill. The team are likely to be secure drivers with funding, which could lead to a return of a funded Rio Haryanto to the grid. Anther option could be Felipe Nasr should, a driver Bernie Ecclestone has commented he is keen to keep on the grid to assure Brazilian interest in the Championship. Manor Racing development driver Jordan King is likely to find a role within the team. Dependant on the budget he brings this could be in the role of reserve or second driver.
Moving to Sauber, with Marcus Ericsson confirmed the rejuvenated Swiss team have one seat still to fill. 2017 will be a season of rebuilding for the team, as such their focus will be on ensuring consistency and strong feedback. In an ideal world I can imagine the team would like to work with a driver already familiar with the world of F1. Critics may dismiss this option but I would not rule out Pastor Maldonado finding a new home in Hinwil. Should the team head down the rookie route GP2 vice champion Antonio Giovinazzi would be a bold move and one demonstrating the team’s commitment to the future.
Sergio Perez moving to Mercedes would cause Sahara Force India a great deal of pain. Of course Mercedes would compensate the team, but over the past 3 seasons Force India have focused the majority of their business development efforts around building a profile in Mexico. To loose Perez would be a major blow. As such I can see them looking to replace one Mexican for another and signing Esteban Gutiérrez to the team.
One thing is for sure, the F1 silly season is far from over and it still has a few surprises in store!
Earlier this week, Bernie Ecclestone took part in an extensive interview wit Sir Martin Sorrell as part of the annual Advertising Week Europe Conference.
The interview can be seen in it’s entirety here.
Many news outlets and journalists have taken extracts from the interview to create headlines, possibly ignoring; context, humour, and situation. Rather than provide commentary on the interview, I recommend people view the interview in full for themselves.
Rightly or Wrongly Formula One is a product, Bernie Ecclestone is responsible for the product. He is representing the product in a way he deems fit. With Formula One struggling to make the back page of the broadsheets, Bernie succeeds in bringing it to the front.
On December 10th 2013 much to the consternation the majority of Formula One’s global audience, the FIA announced plans to award double points for the final race of the 2014 season in Abu Dhabi. Bernie Ecclestone later revealed this decision was in fact a compromise with him having initially tabled a proposal for double points to be awarded in the final three races of the season.
Throughout the 2014 season; media and fans continuously voiced disdain towards the rule, arguing the rule reduced the sport to entertainment and detracted from a driver or team’s performance across the season. As it turned out the rule had almost no bearing on either the drivers’ or constructors’ championship standings, but the rule was drew such criticism it was dropped after only one season. The sport’s governing body listened to the fans.
Fast forward to the 2015 US Grand Prix should Mercedes achieve a 1, 2 finish with Lewis Hamilton winning; the drivers’ championship will be sealed with three races left to run. This coupled with Mercedes securing the constructors championship in Russia earlier this month, should we be asking was Bernie Ecclestone right after all?
Had Bernie Ecclestone got his wish and double points been available for the final three races of this season, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton would head into the closing races all with a chance of winning the drivers’ championship. Would that be such a bad thing?
Over the course of the 2015 season Ferrari has shown they are moving into a position to challenge Mercedes with genuine race pace. Had double points been available for Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, Ferrari could have dedicated all resources toward winning those final three races and challenging Lewis Hamilton for this year’s championship. Under the current system both Mercedes and Ferrari have focused efforts of 2016 acknowledging the battle for 2015 is all but over.
The current points system gives equal weighting to every race across the season, but in a championship in which a single driver or team has dominated the end result have never really looked in doubt. Adding an element of jeopardy to the championship could have served to sustain or even grow audiences, forced teams to remain focused on the current championship rather than diverting resources to the following season, and left drivers feeling vulnerable unable to rely on performances earlier in the year.
So next time Bernie Ecclestone or the FIA announce a radical rule change challenging the fundamentals of the sport we hold so dear, perhaps we should hear them out and give their ideas a chance!