Monthly Archives: January 2010

Don’t be fooled by the F1 Tests


I have been guilty as much as anyone of reading too much into what happens at the F1 test sessions before the season begins. It is the very first time that the teams reveal their new cars and we get to compare them against the performance of the other teams. This is also when each driver begins his battle against his teammate, with each trying to be seen as the lead or better driver. However, this year more than ever, we must be very careful about what we interpret from what happens at the tests.

Teams don’t truly reveal their hand at these test sessions and a lot of the time they are genuinely learning about how best to set up their brand new car and what areas they need to improve and develop for the first race and beyond. The team or driver that produces has the fastest lap(s) is not necessarily the best F1 package and likely to win at Bahrain. Small differences in times between teams and drivers reveals nothing, it is only when there are large differences in performance that we might infer something.

For example, in 2009 the F1 testing before the season began revealed very little in how the teams would fair for the season, except for two points. Firstly, McLaren were significantly off the pace (i.e. over 2 seconds) at each testing session and secondly, when Brawn arrived for the first time at the final pre-season testing session, they were immediately quicker than all other teams. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how these points precipitated their comparative performances throughout the season.

However! Be warned, we will not know the true form of the teams for a race or three. In fact, the expected closeness of the teams this season means there may never be such a thing as the ‘in form’ team. Although they were slow in pre-season testing last year, McLaren actually did quite well at the first race in Australia and if hadn’t been for Hamilton and his team’s ‘indiscretion’ he would have finished 3rd. BMW had been fast in pre-season testing and looked very quick in Australia with Kubica seemingly likely to get 2nd and challenge for 1st if he had not had the coming together with Vettel. Unfortunately, BMW went downhill from there.

The 2010 pre-season testing will be even harder to read due to the new rule changes, in particular the banning of refuelling. Teams will be concentrating on being quick, consistent and not using up their tyres on a heavy fuel load. They will be less concerned with producing a quick lap on low fuel. At each race teams and drivers will have to cope with up to 3 times as much fuel as they did last year for up two-thirds of the race. As we won’t know how much fuel each driver will be running at the tests, it will be hard to assess the comparative long run pace of each team and driver.

We should be able to compare the relative performance of the drivers within in a team, but even then we will not know if they will be carrying the same levels of fuel? Teams will be concentrating on getting the best performance out of their cars, which will be a balance of quick lap times with minimal tyre wear. We won’t be provided this combination of information, it will only be provided by paddock gossip and speculation.

There are 4 official tests, all taking place in February in Spain. The first official F1 pre-season test will run from 1st-3rd of Feb at the Valencia track. Not all teams will be in attendance, most noticeably the Red Bull team. The second official test will take place a week later on the 10th-13th of February at Jerez, with the third test at Jerez again on 17th -20th Feb. The fourth and final test takes place at Barcelona (Catalunya circuit) from 25th – 28th February.  After that, the teams have a fortnight to make changes and develop their car before the first race of the season at Bahrain on 14th of March.

Therefore, be very careful about you read into the relative performances of the F1 teams at the official tests in Spain. We all have our favourite teams and drivers, but it will be very hard to tell which one is actually in the best position at the beginning of the season. However, we may be able to tell which teams or drivers are struggling (poor times, spins, etc.).

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Jake McMillan

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One to watch in F1 2010 – Kamui Kobayashi


He only appeared in 2 races for Toyota last year, deputising for the injured Timo Glock, but I became an instant fan of Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi and really hoped he would get a drive for 2010. Even when Toyota pulled out of the sport, I felt that he had shown enough potential that at least one team, if only one of the new expansion teams, would offer him a drive.

The BMW Sauber F1 team, taking over the BMW team, have thankfully offered him a drive and will use Ferrari engines. As of 8th January, although the BMW Sauber team has been assured of a place on the 2010 grid, they are yet to be officially confirmed on the FIA’s entry list. Nevertheless, their entry is expected and they have announced they will unveil their new car in Valencia on January 31st just before the first official 3-day test of 2010 gets underway.

Kobayashi’s brief appearance at the grand prix of Brazil and Abu Dhabi last year revealed a great deal about the driving and racing ability of this relatively unknown driver. His debut into Formula 1 came at Brazil, a track he was unfamiliar with and qualified in the pouring rain in a respectable 11th, especially as he had very few practice laps before hand. It was in the race that he showed that he was a driver that was not in awe of established drivers. He notoriously battled Jenson Button and aggressively defended his position before eventually the future champion managed to squeeze by. Kobayashi also had a fierce and almost kamikaze battle with his countryman, Nakajima, which did not end well for the latter who ended up crashing out and Kobayashi went on to finish 9th just outside the points.

Although that day was all about Button finally clinching the 2009 F1 crown, many people were talking about the driving of Kobayashi. Everyone thought he was quick, but many said he was too reckless and dangerous and that he could not continue to drive like that in formula one. Even Jenson, when talking about his amazing race that day, said that Kobayashi was “crazy”. He was definitely fearless and determined and maybe just over the line of recklessness, but then you want to see that in a F1 driver don’t you? The likes of Schumacher and Senna were also criticised in a similar way.

The following race at Abu Dhabi, a new track to all drivers, saw Kobayashi drive a mature race to finish 6th, ahead of his far more experienced teammate Trulli. He also overtook Jenson Button and drove at a quick and respectable pace throughout and very much looked like a F1 driver who needed a confirmed drive for next season.

So what else do we know about Kobayashi? According to his website, Kobayashi began his racing career in 1996 at the age of 9 and finished 3rd in his first season of Karting in the SL Takarazuka Tournament Cadet Class and in the following 7 years he won 4 karting titles. In 2004 he signed up with the Toyota Drivers Academy and raced in Formula Renault, both in the German series and in Italy where he was 7th overall in his first season. The following year, he finished 1st in Italian Formula Renault and Formula Renault Eurocup (all with the Prema Powerteam).

He moved up to Formula 3 in 2006 & 2007 (Euroseries) and finished 8th overall and then 4th a year later. 2008 saw him graduate to GP2 in the Asia Series and in the main GP2 Series as well as becoming a Toyota F1 Test Driver. He finished 1st overall in his second season of GP2 Asia Series but did not make much of an impression in the main GP2 Series, finishing only 16th overall in 2008 and 2009. I think this is what shocked people when he drove in F1 last year as they were not expecting much from him.

Looking at his GP2 results, he did not seem to fair well at street circuits such as Monaco and Valencia. However, he did win at Bahrain (look for him to do well at the first race of the season), Shanghai (China), Sepang (Malaysia) and at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain.

This season is going to be very intense up at the front, but I will be watching Mr Kobayashi very closely to see how he does. Sauber has yet to announce who will be driving alongside him and they are clearly trying to get someone experienced. They could not get Trulli but Heidfeld would also be desirable, however, he could be too expensive. To help Kobayashi’s first full season in F1 it would help him to have an experienced driver with him who knows how to set up and develop a car. If that does happen then I can very much see Kobayashi becoming part of the usual suspects in F1! (sorry, couldn’t resist it)

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Jake McMillan

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Castrol Driver Rankings


In case you missed it, this week Castrol, in partnership with Autosport.com, have launched the Castrol Driver Rankings, which ranks the world’s best drivers across nearly 50 different top class motorsport series. For the first time, a comprehensive and objective system has been established to track and compare the performances of drivers in different formulas and will be updated on a weekly basis.

So how does it work? Well, each driver is given a score depending on his/her qualifying position and race results as well as gaining additional points for fastest lap, leading the race/rally, leading the most laps, finishing on leading lap, most positions gained and starting the event. Points accumulated are then weighted based on the type of race being contested with the more important the event, the higher the weighting.

The introduction of this rating system is very much a good thing and will help display the effectiveness of drivers who may not be leading the championship and/or in the best cars but consistently produce good results. In particular, stats-obsessed Americans will love it and is about time we had some way of comparing performances across different driving series.

As of 11 January 2009, the current leader board is as follows:

Although overall the introduction of the ranking system is a good innovation, there are some bad and ugly things about it which prevent it from being perfect or pure. Firstly, we are not told precisely how the index score is calculated so we cannot tell if it is really fair or not. Castrol say ‘we do the maths so you don’t have to’, which is great but surely there can be no harm in letting us know how the calculations work? It is meant to be a pure and objective system so the withholding of this information makes us suspicious of whether it really is?

Secondly, there is the Series/Event weighting which is calculated, we are told, by Castrol Performance Analysts who ‘use their knowledge of the drivers and teams in each championship, plus the relative strength in depth of competition, to generate a strength rating for each series’. Sounds reasonable and logical, but from their online Guide Book, it tells us on page 10 that F1 and NASCAR Sprint Cup are both ranked number one?! Does anyone really believe that NASCAR and F1 are on a true even footing in terms of performance and competition? Joint 3rd in the weighting is IndyCar and Le Mans 24Hrs; 5th is World Rally Championship; 6th NASCAR All-Star races; 7th equal is GP2, A1GP and DTM and 10th is World Touring Car Championship.

NASCAR is not at the same level at F1, which I would strongly argue should be the highest weighting all on its own. The pinnacle of motorsport has the best drivers, biggest budgets, best engineers and the 2010 season is shaping up to be the most closely fought championship in history. Does GP2 deserve only to be 7th and at the same weighting as A1GP? I would say it is of comparison to IndyCar. It is subjective, of course, but I think many people will have an issue with the weighting as it stands at the moment.

Being cynical, it would appear that the American racing series’ have been given higher weighting than they deserve. Castrol has not established the rating system out of the goodness of its heart and is doing this as a marketing campaign, and I’m glad they have done so, but I can’t help thinking they want to give greater prominence to racers in America otherwise they won’t follow the rating system and won’t give Castrol the exposure it wants in the US.

To see if the calculations seem fair, just scroll through the list of top ranked drivers and have a think about why some drivers appear where they do? For example, Sebastian Loeb, who is currently 3rd in the Castrol Driver Rankings, won the World Rally Championship by winning an impressive 7 of 12 rallies and came second twice. The only reason he is not at the top of the rankings is because the WRC is ranked significantly lower than Formula One. This may not be unfair as the WRC does not have the depth in competition it once had, but does that make Loeb any less of a driver? He comprehensively dominated his sport in 2009 and will have to do it to an even greater degree to appear top of the ratings in 2010.

Nico Hulkenberg is the highest GP2 driver on the list but is only 27th on the ratings and he won the GP2 series last year by an impressive 25 points. He achieved 5 Race victories and 5 other podium finishes in a highly competitive series that currently acts as a feeder series to F1 itself. A higher weighting to GP2 would see Hulkenberg quite high in the top 20 which I would say was more deserved.

Disgraced driver Nelsinho Piquet who was sacked by Renault half way through the season is ranked at 158th, but is above drivers such as Ralf Schumacher (DTM – 163rd), Alain Menu (WTCC – 167th) and BTCC  Series Leader, Jason Plato, at 170th. Does this seem right?

I’m definitely all in favour of the ratings system and will be following it closely throughout the year and it certainly seems quite comprehensive in its coverage. However, I am not sure how pure and objective it is and I hope they alter the weighting system and disclose exactly how they make their calculations. Without that, its credence will always be slightly in doubt.

For a more statistical critique of this new system I very much recommend reading rubbergoat’s article: http://f1numbers.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/castrol-driver-rankings/

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Jake McMillan

7 Reasons why the 2010 F1 Championship could be the most exciting Ever


Here are 7 reasons, in no order of priority, of why the 2010 Formula One World Championship is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and exciting championships ever:

1)      Button & Hamilton at McLaren – The current and former F1 Champions racing together in the same team. Both are British, racing in a British team but with very different driving styles that has been compared to the different styles of Prost and Senna. Regardless of who you support or comparisons to other rivalries, everyone wants to see if Jenson can measure up to and even beat Lewis?

2)      Alonso at Ferrari – The double world champion is now thankfully back in a competitive car with the most prestigious team in F1 history. Always ultra-competitive, he will be counting the milliseconds down until he can start challenging for race victories again. Whether he will be champion or not, who knows, but he will definitely be in thick of the action this year.

3)      Michael Schumacher is back – The most successful racing driver ever in F1 history returns to the sport with the current champion constructor, Brawn GP, now called Mercedes GP. This is very exciting. Massive debate has already taken place as to why he is doing it and whether he can be as good as he was before. Even if he’s not at his peak, he will still be very competitive and will feature highly throughout the year. He will give Mercedes GP expert technical input into how to develop their car over the year.

4)      Refuelling Ban – All drivers will have to start the race with enough fuel to finish it which will mean for the first time in over 15 years that drivers really will have to learn how to manage their tyres and fuel consumption. Drivers known to have aggressive driving styles (e.g. Alonso & Hamilton) will need to adapt in 2010 to be successful. This will make for interesting races as drivers who are more careful early on will be quicker in the later stages of the race. Drivers will need to be quick and smart.

5)      At least 4 Teams at the front – At this moment in time, it is expected that McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes GP and Red Bull will all be up at the front challenging for victories and points. Normally, we get one or maybe two teams fighting it out, but this year we will have a minimum of 4 teams that will be closely matched. It will vary from track to track and as the year progresses, but it is unlikely that one team will be head and shoulders above the rest.

6)      Change in Points – 2010 will see a change to the points system that will reward more points to those who finish higher up with the top 10 drivers receiving points as follows: 25-20-15-10-8-6-5-3-2-1.  This is similar to the Moto GP points system and the aim is to encourage drivers to overtake and get race wins rather than settle for points.

7)      New Teams on the Grid – The arrival of Lotus, Virgin, US F1 and Campos Meta will definitely have an impact on the sport and we will all be interested to see how competitive they are? Bernie Ecclestone has even recently questioned whether they will even make the first race of the season. It will be exciting to see them on the grid as well as observe talents of new drivers such as Bruno Senna, the nephew of Ayrton Senna.

Just one of these reasons alone would make the championship interesting, but combine them together and we are looking at what hopefully will be one of closest fought and exciting championships ever. Every practice, qualifying, race and point will count. I cannot wait.

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Jake McMillan

Button & Hamilton, the new Prost and Senna?


Regardless of the driver or team you support, we are all eagerly anticipating to see how well current World Champion Jenson Button fares against the previous World Champion Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, a team he has made his own. However, McLaren is somewhat unique amongst F1 teams in wanting to have 2 top drivers in their cars and have a philosophy of providing equal equipment and not favouring any driver. Although they are probably the team best able to do this, there is much debate as to whether they have been able to achieve this in practice, especially when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna raced together for them in 1988-89, two drivers who share very comparable driving styles to Button and Hamilton.

Alain Prost and Jenson Button drive their cars in a very similar way. They both have a very smooth driving style with seemingly gentle inputs to steering, acceleration and braking. The result is that they are quick, but they don’t look quick. In contrast, Lewis Hamilton has a similar approach to his idol, Aryton Senna, in that they are more comfortable in a tail happy/oversteering car and in being this way, they look quick and aggressive.

Prost and Button are both good when the car is working well and when it is set up to their liking they can be unbeatable. The difference between Prost and Button, although it could be proved in the future otherwise, is that Prost, ‘The Professor’, was a master at setting up a F1 car. Button is not quite so adept in this area and it is known that he copied set ups from the more experienced Barrichello.

Senna was also known to copy set ups from the more experienced Prost, but I wonder whether we will see Hamilton copying Button in 2010? Like Senna, Hamilton is able to make the best of whatever car he has and at the beginning of 2009 when the McLaren was just plain awful, the difference between his pace and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen was quite staggering. On the days when the McLaren is not set up well, Hamilton will do better than Button as Senna did with Prost.

With the banning of refuelling for 2010 and a greater emphasis on tyre management, the similarity of Prost and Button will become more apparent. Prost was highly skilled at looking after and maximising his tyres during a race and would often seem slow and a little off the pace at the beginning of a Grand Prix only to speed up later on and carve his way through the field. Button, I am sure, will follow a similar approach. This is not to say that Senna or Hamilton cannot manage their tyres well, it is just that Prost and Button are better, respectively.

In terms of consistency, the drivers also have strong similarities with their counterparts from 20 years ago. Alain Prost was a very consistent driver who thought in terms of championships rather than risking everything to win every race. In 1988 Senna was World Champion, but Prost actually scored more points that year but the rules were at that time that only the best 11 results counted. As we have seen in 2009, Button is very consistent. Apart from in Belgium when another driver, Grosjean, crashed into him, he finished in the points in every single race.

Lewis Hamilton, like his beloved Ayrton Senna, is not always the most consistent driver in terms of results. They are both consistently quick, but both have been prone to make mistakes through being too aggressive or emotional. Both could qualify very well and produce electrifying pace on a single qualifying lap, but not always able to transfer high grid positions into corresponding points.  Whereas both Prost and Button can take a relatively poor grid position and gain good points from it.

Like Prost, Button has always seemed less aggressive in the car, but they both have great track records of overtaking in Formula One. Neither is flamboyant, but both are far more able in this regard then they are given credit for. Just like Prost, Button won this year’s championship by being consistently quick and being able to make passing manoeuvres when he needed to. His pass on Hamilton in Bahrain was impressive and decisive as was his many passes in Brazil.

In terms of their characters, Button and Hamilton are so not the same as Prost and Senna. The rivalry that began in 1988 at McLaren became to be one of the most intense and acrimonious rivalries ever to take place in Formula 1. The rivalry between Hamilton and Button will get intense, if both are able to perform at a similar level, but it won’t be anything as hostile and bitter as it got with Senna and Prost. Ayrton Senna was simply unique in his personality and approach and was one of the most driven sports people that ever was born and had a self-belief and conviction in his actions that was unparalleled. It was Senna’s intensity and desire to beat Prost, at any cost, that drove their rivalry into dangerous territories.

Lewis Hamilton is a very focused, determined and driven racer, but not at the same level as Senna was. His desire to beat Button will, of course, be very very strong, but it won’t be extreme, which is good, and he will be professional, cordial and he won’t try to deliberately take out Button at 180mph. Hamilton is not high maintenance like Senna was. Button is also not really that much like Prost, but both are reasonably quiet individuals. Prost was much more outspoken in the media and certainly had a reputation of being more political within a team. However, this reputation only really emerged or grew after Prost’s experiences of McLaren with Senna.

Ayrton Senna arrived at essentially Prost’s McLaren team and was able to turn the team, and particularly Honda (their engine supplier), on to his side. Honda and McLaren engineers admired and respected his way of driving and his commitment and dedication to the sport. In a reverse of the comparisons, Button is the one joining Lewis’s team and it is he who has to garner support as the new boy. McLaren are going out of their way to show neutrality and will support the driver who is the quickest. Button is already liked by Mercedes and so I don’t think he will struggle to get up to speed at ‘Hamilton’s McLaren’. Whether he will be quicker than Hamilton? Well, that is what we are all waiting to see.

I think it will be a fascinating rivalry to watch as I think Button will clearly accept that there are days that Hamilton will be quicker than him and I do not think that Hamilton will go into a flap and lose it if Button beats him. I really hope it is a close battle and is just one component of what I think is going to be an amazing 2010 F1 World Championship.

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Jake McMillan