Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Week in F1 7th January

7th January 2005 - Christian Horner Appointed Red Bull Sporting Director 

This week 14 years ago, a young Christian Horner was appointed sporting director of Formula 1's newest entry, Red Bull Racing. The energy drinks company bought out the old Jaguar team at the end of 2004. Previously, Horner had excellent success with the Formula 3000 team Arden, who won both the 2004 drivers and constructors titles with future Red Bull driver, Vitantonio Liuzzi, also winning in 2003 with Bjorn Wirdheim. The step up to Formula 1 was always Horner's aim as shown in his attempt to buy the Jordan team from Eddie Jordan but withdrew when these talks broke down.

After the buyout of Jaguar, the old regime of the team was essentially ripped out by politics. Tony Purnell and David Pitchfirth were in charge of the Jaguar team and ran the team as if it was a democracy. As is seen over the years however, that is not the way to run a successful Formula 1 team. Look at the way Ferrari have ran they team over the years. The overall feel was that Purnell and Pitchfirth were naive and an operation under the Jaguar name should have been more successful on track. Adding to this, there was a strong sense that major issues such as engine and reliability problems were never properly addressed. 

Guenther Steiner was also added to the Red Bull operation as technical director, a role he held up until 2002, when Purnell and Pitchfirth regime began. The rest, as they say, is history as Horner led the team to four consecutive drivers and constructors titles between 2010 and 2013.

9th January 1977 - Wolf's First F1 Victory

Jody Scheckter scored the Wolf Formula 1 team's first victory on their debut at the Argentine GP. Walter Wolf, an Austrian who made his money in the oil business, first entered Formula 1 in 1975 and partnered with Frank Williams, who had not yet made his name in the sport. 1976 saw the team named Wolf-Williams but it was clear very quickly that Wolf did not want to be a support to another team. The partnership lasted one season and Wolf cut the name Williams from the 1977 team name. Peter Warr was brought in to run the team and Scheckter was signed from Tyrell. Their debut race saw them take the chequered flag through some good fortune as James Hunt, who had a 15 second lead and defending his title, crashed out after an error and Ferrari's Nikki Lauda, who would go on to win the title, retired with car trouble. It should be noted that the Wolf team were still there all season fighting for the title but the more consistent Lauda won the title, beating Scheckter by 17 points, and the Lotus of Mario Andretti, who possibly had the best car, but the poorer reliability. 

9th January 2003 - Jos Verstappen Joins Minardi

Back in 2003, Jos Verstappen, father of F1's hottest commodity Max, signed for his 6th and final team, Minardi. Jos would call it a day at the end of the season on a career that could have delivered the heights that his son is currently experiencing. Astoundingly quick during his karting days, he had started less than 50 races throughout Formula Opel Lotus and German F3 before making his Formula 1 debut alongside Michael Schumacher in Brazil 1994 in the Benetton. Any similarities there?

Always viewed as one of Formula 1's quickest drivers, amazingly his highest finish in the sport was third at the 1994 Hungarian GP. Given the machinery he had during that year and with his talent that he was unable to win a race. This was down to inexperience more than anything else and the fact he was in and out of the car as officially he was the teams test driver. 

This was as good as it got for Verstappen really. He will ultimately be remembered for two things. The massive pit fire that occurred at the 1994 German GP that he somehow survived and for running into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya at Brazil in 2001 when he was a lap down. A Verstappen being involved in a lapping crash? Where have I heard that recently?

Monday, 15 May 2017

Why Fernando Alonso is Still the Best Driver on the F1 Grid

It is fair to say that Fernando Alonso is currently experiencing his worst run in Formula 1 since re-joining McLaren in 2015. When I say worst run, I am talking purely in results form not his own personal performance. At the Spanish GP, Alonso pulled out the best qualifying performance seen by anybody in a long time, getting his McLaren-Honda into Q3. Even more amazingly, he ended up starting in 7th. Although the race pace was still not there for Alonso, his performance in qualifying showed just how good the double World Champion still is.

It has not just been this race weekend that has showed his unquestioned talent, he has shown this dating back to the end of his Ferrari career, when that car was not as good as it should have been. Even during his second stint at Renault between 2008 and 2009, where the car was not on the same level as McLaren and Ferrari, he still managed to score two victories. 

When Alonso debuted with Minardi in 2001, everyone could see how special a driver he was. Though not scoring any points that year, he was constantly quicker than team mates Tarso Marques, and then Alex Yoong, recording a best finish of 10th at the German GP. Getting more out of his car than people would have expected saw the Renault team sign him up for 2002 as a test driver, before promoting him to a race seat for 2003. Though the team were on the up, they were no match for the power of McLaren, Ferrari and Williams. This did not stop Alonso becoming the youngest driver to score a pole position at the Malaysian GP. He then became the youngest driver to win a race the following year at the Hungarian GP, again in a car that was improving along with its star driver. This progression was complete with his two World Championships in 2005 and 2006. A third title should have followed at McLaren, unfortunately, inter-team politics and a bad attitude cost Alonso and the team that year.

That was the last year that Alonso had a genuine front running car. Two backwards years at Renault saw him more to Ferrari in 2010, which should have been a match made in heaven, with multiple titles for the Spaniard. 2010 should have been the first had it not been for Red Bull’s Vettel storming through at the end of the season. After that, the Alonso that we see now was born, the man that could get more out of a car than anybody else. The 2012 Ferrari was not a title fighter by any stretch of the imagination, yet Alonso not only won races in that car, but kept the title fight going to the final race of the year. As at McLaren previously, the relationship between team and driver went sour, and Alonso re-joined McLaren, who had teamed up with once again with Honda.

This current spell that Alonso is going through with McLaren-Honda however, is the one that is showing that he is the best on the current grid. Yes, you have Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel who are battling at the front and providing some fantastic racing for the fans. Their talent is undeniable, but neither driver has performed in Formula 1 quite like Alonso. In a poor car, he still manages to score points and put himself in positions that other drivers would not be able too. What proves he is the best however is that, this season, despite having the second slowest car, he is still averaging 12th on the grid, an achievement that nobody else on that grid would be able to achieve in that car. The upcoming Indy 500 race that he will contest, will provide further proof if needed that Fernando Alonso is not only the best in F1, but one of the best in the world right now.    

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Could Sauber Become the New Honda Works Team?

During the Russian GP weekend, it was announced that Sauber will be using Honda power units for the 2018 season, meaning their 8-season association with Ferrari will come to an end. It was also heavily speculated that the team would be using McLaren gearboxes from the 2018 season, though team principle Monisha Kaltenborn said the team was not ready to make any announcement. This new partnership is a good deal for both the Sauber team and Honda itself, leading some people to speculate whether Honda could take a controlling stake in the Swiss team, and make it the works Honda team, something which has not been seen since the 2008 season. 

This speculation has solid ground when looking the recent history of the Sauber team, especially in the last ten years. In the early 2000’s, Sauber were consistently “best of the rest” behind Ferrari, McLaren and Williams, securing 4th in the constructors’ championship in 2001. This achievement would not be seen again for the team due to the heavy investment that other teams were putting into their cars, which Sauber could not match. However, their heavy investment into their wind tunnel technology made BMW take notice and buy a controlling stake in the team, re-branding it BMW Sauber. Under this guise, the team enjoyed a lot of success even a sole victory at the 2008 Canadian GP thanks to Robert Kubica. Peter Sauber then bought the team back from BMW in late 2009 after the German car manufacturer decided to pull out of the sport.

Since 2010, the team has struggled financially and made no secret of this. There have been many times since the team’s reincarnation where they were on the brink of folding and disappearing from the sport. Investment from Longbow Finance S.A in 2016 has secured the teams future. On the track this season though, fortunes have not changed with the team being the slowest of the 10 on the grid, using old Ferrari engines. This new deal will see the team use the latest Honda engine, not a year old one and have a brand new gearbox supplied by McLaren. This deal can only help the small Swiss team but also help Honda and McLaren.   

Personally, I believe it will take some pressure off Honda, who have simply let McLaren down since their partnership renewed in 2015. Progress has been slow and many are running out of patience, none more so than Fernando Alonso. With an extra team to supply, it will give Honda the opportunity to test more new parts and upgrades to make itself a force in Formula 1 again and at the same time, help put McLaren back at the sharp end of the grid. In making itself a force again, the Sauber would be the perfect team for Honda to buy out and make itself a fully operational Formula 1 team again. This would all boil down to Honda turning around its engine performance though. The new involvement of Honda in Sauber shares similarities with BMW’s involvement which could point to a similar scenario of Honda becoming a works F1 team again.