Tag Archives: Mercedes

Formula One: Time for Mercedes to go Aggressive?

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The 2017 Russian Grand Prix looks set to be the race in which Scuderia Ferrari cement their status as the dominant force in the World Championship. Having won two of the first three races of the season, the Scuderia’s pace was unquestionable yet many felt AMG Mercedes Petronas still held an ultimate performance advantage.

However with Ferrari having locked out the front row in qualifying for the first time since 2008 at a circuit which Mercedes have dominated in recent years, it is becoming clear that the boys in red have overtaken the silver arrows in terms of out and out pace. Since the introduction of the current power unit regulations, ignoring a few erroneous races, Mercedes have been the dominant force. The team has adopted an approach in which only an inter team battle is considered as a threat. In so doing, in a bid to ensure equality amongst drivers, race strategies have been safe and mirrored on both sides of the garage.

With a genuine threat from Ferrari for the overall  2017 World Constructors Championship clear, has the time come for this to change? At this point in the season Mercedes and Ferrari are the only team capable of challenging for race wins. Red Bull Racing being the next closest team were 1.8 seconds of the pole lap time in Russia. In this situation the challenging team, in this case Mercedes have two choices; acknowledging the lack overall race pace, they could take adopt the same approach as Ferrari in qualifying and the race, with the hope that driver skill or mistakes will elevate performances, or they could switch to an aggressive strategy, splitting their drivers tyres compound section in the hope of interfering with Ferrari.

For Mercedes to maximise an interference strategy the team should have sent either or both Hamilton and Bottas out into Q2 on Super Soft tyre compounds, with Ferrari qualifying on Ultras softs. This move would have safely taken them through the session and allowed them to run much longer in the first stint of today’s race. In electing not to do this Mercedes opportunity to interfere with Ferrari today will be limited to a strong start, or adopting a two stop approach over the expected one stop norm.

Moving forward, in order for Mercedes to challenge for their 4th successive constructors championship they must adapt to the new norm and consider irregular approaches to race strategy. Simple accepting, ‘the second row was a the best we could expect’ is not good enough from a championship winning team.

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Formula One: Are Cosworth the solution to McLaren-Honda’s woes?

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On the eve of the 2017 F1 season McLaren Honda head into the third year of their partnership with little cause for optimism. Despite the FIA’s removal of the Power Unit development token system which previously limited manufacturers ability to modify / redesign technology, Honda solutions seemingly remain at odds with the F1 Hybrid era.

2017 pre-season testing saw Honda introduce an entirely new Power Unit, a fully integrated unit developed around the MCL32. In a bid to improve performance and resolve drivability issues which plagued the 2015 / 16 design, Honda engineers have taken inspiration from the solutions seen with their immediate competitors. This approach, in the short term at least, appears to have failed. McLaren have reported extensive issues with vibrations within the power unit limiting any ability to push for out right performance. Neither team nor engine manufacturer have been able to validate design concepts through pre-season testing and have minimal expectations around the team’s ability to complete a race distance let alone score points in the opening races of the 2017 season.

The situation is unsatisfactory for all parties involved.

In recent days it has emerged McLaren may have made preliminary enquiries towards Mercedes around future power unit supply, some media outlets going as far to suggest a mid season switch could be possible. The reality of this is highly unlikely, both from a commerical and technical perspective the strategy defies logic and any form of long term thinking.

McLaren maintain an ambition to compete for and win world championships. Using Williams Martini Racing as a prime example, despite access to the dominant power unit for the past three seasons, customer status with Mercedes limits their ability to challenge. This should not be the strategy McLaren seek or accept. It may resolve short term frustrations with partners, but it will not deliver world championships.

Instead McLaren may need to seek an alternative solution. It is understood Honda support the team and power unit development to the tune of $100 million per season. On the recommendation of McLaren, Honda could look to redirect this finance to a third party. The third party in question being Cosworth.

When the Hybrid F1 regulations were originally outlined in 2010, Cosworth, similar to Mercedes, dedicated significant resource to develop a new power unit for the sport. The intention had been for Volkswagen to badge the Cosworth power unit, however as the implementation of the new regulations grew nearer VW reneged on their F1 ambitions. This left Cosworth with a concept power unit 4 years in the making but no manufacturer budget to bring the power unit to the grid.

Cosworth have stated in previous years that with budget the power unit they developed could be on the grid within 6 months. They remain confident that the solutions they engineered would be competitive. In theory it would be possible for the Cosworth power unit to become the 2018 Honda F1 Power Unit. It is fair to say there would be a certain amount of pride to overcome between all parties involved, but ensuring future competitiveness may ease the short term pain.

To those who see the suggestion of Honda badged Cosworth Power Unit as the future of the McLaren Honda relationship as far fetched, take a look at the companies house registry for the list of directors at Cosworth. Top of this list you will find Mr Zak Brown, Executive Director of the McLaren Technology Group.

Formula One: Eddie Jordan slams Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes

Ahead of the 2017 F1 season former team owner turned pundit Eddie Jordan has suggested he would his response to Lewis Hamilton’s decision to back up Nico Rosberg in the final race of the 2016 season in a bid to secure his 4th World Championship would not have been as forgiving as that of Toto Wolff and the Daimler management board.

Never one to shy away from a headline, in this 2017 preview for Mobil One’s The Grid, Jordan comments on the departure of his good friend Bernie and the new start of a new era with Liberty Media.

Despite questioning Lewis’ approach to 2016, suggesting his lost focus, Jordan predicts he will be the favourite going into 2017. On Bottas, Jordan suggests 3-4 wins could be possible but questions his ability to push Lewis through the season.

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 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!

Formula One: Lorenzo’s Mercedes audition

In the weeks preceding Nico Rosberg being crowned 2016 Formula One World Champion and subsequently announcing his retirement from the sport, former Moto GP champion and future Ducati rider had the opportunity to sample the Mercedes AMG Petronas W05 around the Silverstone International Circuit.

The experience, arranged through mutual sponsor Monster Energy, was a dream come true for the Spaniard who became only the forth Moto GP champion to sample Formula One machinery.

With every man, woman, and child seemingly replying to this advert from Mercedes:

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Lorenzo can at least now tick “any previous experience” box!

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Formula One: Pérez for Mercedes?

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With the shock announcement from 2016 Formula One World Champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement last Friday, almost every driver on the grid has been named as a possible replacement for the German. Nico’s decision came as a surprise not only to media and fans of the sport, but to his employers and rivals on the grid. Had there been an inkling from anyone that Nico may have taken this decision the contractual status of a number of leading drivers may be looking very different at this point in the season.

The Mercedes board will be keen to install a replacement driver as soon as possible to minimise the impact on the teams 2017 campaign and maximise driver acclimatisation. That being said, should Mercedes opt for a driver currently under contract with another team it is highly unlikely they will be able to work with said driver until the new year.

From an ease of transition perspective Mercedes could opt for one of their junior drivers in Ocon or Wehrlein. Whilst kind on the cheque book and simplest to implement, Mercedes require a driver capable of performing from at the very top level from the word go, it is undeniable the potential of both drivers is without question,  but it would be a risk to place them with the team from the beginning of 2017.

Realistically, this leaves Mercedes with little option than to approach drivers with existing agreements for season ahead. Toto Wolff has intimated he is reluctant to poach drivers from Ferrari or Mclaren, acknowledging the damage this could cause to future team relations in the lead up to strategy group negotiations with Liberty Media over the coming 36 months. This in theory removes Sebastian, Kimi, and Fernando from the equation. Whilst Toto did not explicitly rule out either of the Red Bull Racing drivers, it is highly unlikely either would be released from what are understood to be long term contracts.

This has left many to suggest Bottas has the most likely candidate for the seat. He is part managed by Toto Wolff and with Williams working in close collaboration with Mercedes a deal in theory could be easy to achieve. I see this to be quite unlikely. 2016 was somewhat of an underwhelming season for both Bottas and Williams. If the cliché of ‘you are only as good as your last race / season’ were to be applied. Bottas is not hot property and should not be regarded as the next best option.

Taking all of this into consideration I believe the best placed driver on the grid to replace Nico Rosberg for 2017 is Sergio Pérez. With 101 points, and 2 podium finishes in 2016 Sergio Pérez was the best performing non works Mercedes driver. He lead the Force India team to their most successful year in history, finishing 4th in the constructors championship scoring points in 16 events over the season. From a pure performance perspective Sergio Pérez has to be regarded as a genuine contender for the seat.

Over and above on track performance, Pérez is highly attractive from a commerical perspective. Mexico is a hugely important market for Mercedes, the car maker is looking to double car sales in the country by 2020. Having a national hero behind the wheel of a Silver Arrows would support this strategy.  Beyond this Sergio Pérez brings his own sponsors to a team. Mercedes are not a team struggling for budget, but opening doors to the Slim family (Telmex Group) will be more than welcome.

Of course Sergio recently signed a one year extension with Force India which in theory locks the Mexican in to the team until 2018, however were Mercedes to offer the services of Wehrlein alongside a discounted Power Unit I am sure an agreement could be found.

Sergio Pérez is a changed driver from the man who replaced Lewis Hamilton at Mclaren in 2013. He has proved his consistency and ability to work with a team during his time with Force India. He deserves another opportunity with a top team. He is the most logical option for Mercedes.

Would it prove to be a threat to Lewis Hamilton? Only time will tell. His has a unique ability to manage tyres and with the huge shift in regulations coming for 2017 this attribute could prove invaluable. At this time Sergio Pérez’s management have declined to comment on the possibility of such a move, but there should be no doubt they will be evaluating any opportunity should it arise.

Formula One: Do we want a clean fight?

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With an incredible nine wins a piece, Nico Rosberg & Lewis Hamilton head into the final round of the 2016 Formula One World championship knowing whichever driver takes their tenth win of the season will be crowned world champion….

….except they won’t.

After a season in which Nico Rosberg has elevated himself from the accomplished team mate to the formidable championship challenger, and the combined misfortune of half the grid seems to have fallen the way of Hamilton, simply winning on Sunday will not be enough to secure a forth world championship for the Brit. Every self respecting F1 fan will be more than aware of the finishing positions each driver must achieve relative to the other in their quest for the championship, but for the sake of clarity the simplest way of looking at things if Lewis wins, Nico must finish at least 3rd to be crowned champion.

The Mercedes AMG Petronas W07 will be remembered as one of the most dominant cars in F1 history. True, the reliability of one of the cars has been rather questionable but there has been no circuit in which the W07’s dominance has genuinely been in question. There is no reason to expect Abu Dhabi will be any different. The team and drivers can, with some confidence, expect to find themselves on the front row of the grid on Sunday.

So how will the drivers approach the race? Lewis has an incredible track record around the Yas Marina circuit and heads into the weekend on the back of three straight wins. Since Lewis’ retirement in the Malaysian Grand Prix Nico appears to have been secure enough in his championship position to not feel the need to push for outright wins accepting he does not need to win another race this season to seal the championship. Will we see a repeat of this on Sunday? Does Lewis believe the best he can do is simply get his head down and win the race and the leave the outcome of the championship to fate. Could Nico see a return of his form from earlier in the season and dominate Lewis removing any possibility for Hamilton to do anything other than accept 2nd place both in the race and the championship? Or will either driver try to change up the race to influence the result for their rival?
Knowing Lewis MAY be considering an aggressive approach, could Nico take matters into his own hands and end both his own and his team mate’s race in the first corner by simply driving into him? Nico appears to have taken on a much more aggressive approach to his racing and defending this season. Securing his championship in this manner should not be ruled out. And would anyone blame him?

Earlier this week Nico reflected on his approach to the 2016 championship and how he plans to carry that into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:
“In Brazil, after the race, I was joking that I would still be taking things one race at a time. But, the more I think about it, the more that’s actually not as crazy as it sounds. I have to treat this like any other race. Doing a good job on a Grand Prix weekend is always a challenge. Nothing in this sport is easy, so this won’t be any different and I still have to go all out for a good result.
The closer it gets, the more I’m feeling excited. It will be a big battle and hopefully the fans will get a great show to end the year.
I will give it everything to end the season with a win.”
Of course the team will publicly deplore any actions their drivers take to imped the progress of each other, but after sealing the constructors championship back in Suzuka will they really mind? Viewers of the Brazilian Grand Prix would be forgiven for thinking Max Verstappen won the race so little airtime was given to the dominant Silver Mercedes finishing ahead of him. If Mercedes want exposure, which let’s face it is one of the primary reasons they are in the sport, perhaps their drivers working to manipulate the others race result is the best way to achieve this.  Whilst they might not support any efforts either driver may take to increase pressure on his team mate, they might feel they owe their drivers the freedom to approach the conclusion of the drivers championship as they see fit.
In the build up to the Grand Prix Toto Wolff has commented:
“As a group, we now have one very important final duty this season – to give Nico and Lewis the platform they need to battle it out to the flag. Both of them have been exceptional and either one would make a worthy Champion. It’s been a gruelling year for us all, with a record-breaking calendar and the added challenge of a new regulation set to prepare for in 2017. After such a battle of endurance, the winner can say without doubt that they earned it. We are all excited to see who that will be. May the best man win.”  

So what could Lewis do in the race? In the lead up to the weekend he was quoted as saying:
“I can’t and won’t give up. You never know what might happen.
I’m approaching this weekend the same as I do every race. I want to win and I’ll give it everything to finish the season on a high.”
Assuming he is the pole man and manages to maintain this position at the start of the race with Nico in second, would he look to back his team mate into the clutches of his rivals? Ferrari will desperate to close out the season with the best possible result, and the Red Bull Racing duo will be fighting tooth and nail for supremacy as they head into the winter break. Nico won’t want any of those drivers anywhere near his car during the race and so would be unlikely to battle too hard for fear of a race ending incident. Realistically one or more of them getting past Nico is Lewis’ best chance of taking the championship.

Yes, anther factor to consider is that statistically Nico is long overdue a mechanical issue in his W07, but Lewis can’t and won’t bank on statistics finally falling his way. Any issue Nico faces could hit him as well.  I’ve read a lot of articles recently asking if Nico Rosberg is worthy champion. To my mind, if you’re leading the championship at the end of the season you are champion. Simple as that. There is no worthy or not worthy. Whoever that may be they deserve all the accolades and respect they will receive.
So what kind of race do we want to see on Sunday? I for one don’t want to see another demonstration of Mercedes dominance. We’ve seen twenty of those races already this year. I want to see tactical excellence from two drivers at the very top of their game. Ignore the team calls, ignore the critics, you have a championship to win and a championship to lose, be the master of your destiny and give us a truly historic race.

Formula One: Stepping into a VR Future

 

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Joining Lewis Hamilton in victory at the United States Grand Prix this weekend was Datu YogaBrata. Winner of the 2016 Tata Communications F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize. Working in collaboration with Formula One Management and Mercedes AMG Petronas, Tata Communications challenges fans of the sport to rethink the way in which Formula One is consumed.

Now in its 3rd year the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize has seen over 200,000 entries from participants all over the world. This year has seen the competition focus on challenges around fan immersion through Virtual and Augmented reality technology.

Datu’s winning entry  is a live, 360-degree virtual trackside experience that transports fans to the exhilarating world of a Grand Prix. The ultra-immersive VR application is enabled by a group of roaming commentators with wearable cameras, capturing the excitement of the trackside to make fans thousands of miles away feel like they are part of the action. The application also harnesses AR, encouraging fans to collect ‘hidden stars’ at the  trackside, and enabling them to seamlessly glean additional insights on their favourite driver, team car, or anything else they see around them in the virtual Grand Prix environment.

Lewis Hamilton, one of the judges in the process commented  “It is great to be a part of the F1® Connectivity Innovation Prize and to see first-hand fans become part of the F1 action in real time, in addition to watching it on their TV or phone. The winning solution, from Datu YogaBrata gives us a glimpse of what the future of F1® could look like – and how we will be able to share so much more of our race weekend at the track with people at home. I would love it as a fan!”  

Datu YogaBrata said, “There’s no bigger or more powerful showcase for technological innovation than F1 and VR and AR will push the excitement of the sport even further. My idea aims to capitalise on that by bringing fans closer to the exciting world of F1 than ever before. I’m thrilled that the judges saw the potential of my virtual trackside experience for fans.”

Julie Woods-Moss, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer, Tata Communications, said, “We created the F1® Connectivity Innovation Prize to show the immense potential of virtual reality and other technology advancements to transform the sporting experience. These disruptive ideas from fans that are powered by data and superfast connectivity continue to inspire and excite us for the future of F1″

To see more on the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize check out this film