F1 Drivers – The Age Issue

15 Jul

Age can be a delicate subject for many, but in the world of Formula 1 it has become a somewhat contentious one. As someone of an age considered to be ‘a bit past it’ for sportsmen, I always find it somewhat bemusing to read about someone being too old. I can’t help but wonder, is 40 the new 30 in Formula 1?

Before I start to look at the age issue, here’s some basic figures for you:

The average age of the 2012 Formula 1 drivers is 28.75 years old

The average age of the 2012 race winning drivers is 29.75 years old

The driver contract ‘silly season’ always re-ignites the age debate in Formula 1, with contract lengths always being assessed against a driver’s age. Drivers of a ‘certain age’ who sign long contracts, such as Fernando Alonso and his contract extension with Ferrari until 2015, are predicted to see out their careers with that long contract. Alonso will be 33 in 2015 – not exactly over the hill – and the chances of him retiring then are incredibly small.

The ‘old timers’

The most controversial ‘old’ driver in Formula 1 is of course Michael Schumacher. He’s 43, on his second career, and his contract with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 expires at the end of the current season. No decision has been made as yet about whether he will extend, but both he and Mercedes team principal, Ross Brawn, have alluded to him extending for at least one more season. After two difficult years with the car, and despite some awful luck this season, Schumi has found his feet and is pushing hard for more success. There is no reason for him to retire other than any lack of personal motivation to continue, and the 7 times world champion appears as motivated as ever.

Michael Schumacher on the podium in Valencia, 2012.

Second oldest is Pedro De La Rosa, the 41-year-old Spanish driver for HRT. It could be argued that Pedro has been HRT’s most successful driver. He has duelled very effectively with the Marussia drivers this season, and wrung everything out of the worst car on the grid. Like Schumacher with Mercedes, De La Rosa can be a very strong asset for HRT to improve their car in the future, given his experience and ability.

Pedro De La Rosa, HRT 2012

2011 saw the F1 retirement of Rubens Barrichello, who recently turned 40. After leaving F1 Rubens moved to Indy Car. Four days after his 40th birthday, Rubens won the trophy for Best Rookie at the Indy 500. Not bad for an old dog.

Fast heading in the ‘old timer’ direction is Mark Webber, with his 36th birthday only just over a month away. Everyone’s favourite Aussie driver is a serious contender for the 2012 title, and appeared to have a choice between driving for either Red Bull Racing or Ferrari next year. Mark has just signed a year’s extension with Red Bull, and it is highly unlikely that 2013 will be his last. Lewis Hamilton was very recently quoted as saying he hoped he’d still be racing when he’s as old as Michael. Sounds to me like Schumi is going to become a trend-setter.

Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen, both aged 30, are worthy of a seat further up the grid and Heikki in particular may well get one in the next year or so, rather than eventually slipping away.

2012 is proving challenging for all of the drivers on the F1 grid. Pirelli’s new tyre compounds, and a tighter development race are testing the patience of many. Maturity and experience appear to be serious assets for F1 drivers in 2012.

When adversity challenges drivers, maturity wins the day. Hamilton may be young, but he throws away points through a lack of maturity on the track and an attitude problem off it. Yes, there’s the principle of being a ‘true racer’, but at the end of the day points win prizes. When adversity strikes, whether it is your own doing or not, how you conduct yourself affects everything around you. One of the most impressive things about Michael Schumacher this year has been his ongoing public support for his team, despite the many technical failures which have put him out of contention for a shot at the title. A younger Schumacher, or a younger driver like Lewis would be highly unlikely to show such maturity and restraint.

The Young Guns

At the other end of the age spectrum from Schumacher and De La Rosa are the three youngest guns at the tender age of 22: Sergio Perez, Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne. All have recently graduated from GP2 and Formula Renault.

Now if you’re a big fan of the F1 feeder formulas, you’ll be keen to see the top talents from GP2, Formula Renault etc securing a seat in F1. The longer the established drivers stick around, the fewer seats there are available for these young whipper-snappers. GP2 commentator Will Buxton highlighted this issue earlier this year in an interview with fellow blogger Jack Leslie: “There have been some incredible talents in GP2, but for as long as the likes of Grandpa Schumacher want to carry on trying to get a podium to prove to themselves they’ve still got it, there won’t always be space for them over the road in F1.” Derogatory references to Michael Schumacher aside, Will is right, and the lack of seats opening up, combined with the difficulties of obtaining sponsorship present a serious challenge to young drivers.

The current reality

With the majority of the top seats in F1 filled by drivers aged over 30 (only four out of the ten drivers in the top five teams are under 30 years old), a log jam has developed in F1. This will result in greater pressure on the young mid-field talent trying to push their way forward, and fend off the threat of ‘pay drivers’. If I could be confident that talent would always trump sponsorship money I’d be inclined to say this is a good thing as the quality of driving in F1 would increase further.

There will, however, be those who just don’t make the cut and never break in to F1 when they may have had the chance ten years ago. Given the years of dedication it takes to reach the top, this will always be frustrating for those who don’t make it, but the prize for those who do will be all the sweeter. Not only do they get to race at the top, but they get to do so alongside their heroes.

There’s no right or wrong opinion about the age of F1 drivers, as it is just that; opinion. My personal view is that having a range of ages and experience in F1 makes it a richer sport. The six world champions on the grid, and some top (more mature) dogs like Webber are making 2012 a fascinating season.

In other walks of life, the age of retirement is increasing. It would be naive to assume that the standard retirement age of an F1 driver should stay the same when the rest of us are going on for longer. 40 definitely seems to be the new 30 in the F1 world. Older drivers are here to stay, and the average age is only likely to increase in the coming years.

What do you think?

Sky Sports F1 – The verdict so far

26 Jun

Before the start of the season I wrote an article on the high hopes that I had for Sky Sports F1, and now that we’re eight races in to the season I’m going to offer up my verdict on how they are doing so far. This article won’t be a comparison of BBC versus Sky; firstly I don’t see that as a constructive exercise, but mainly because I have hardly watched BBC coverage this season so it wouldn’t be balanced.

The Team

The core presenting team of Simon Lazenby, Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz, Natalie Pinkham, Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson are all performing their respective roles as well as I anticipated, but my stand-out favourite has to be Ted. I’ve always liked his enthusiasm for the technical side of F1, but it has really notched up several gears now he is working for Sky. The graphics, the sky pad and the cars in the studio on the F1 show make him look as happy as a kid in a sweet shop and it is great to watch.

The Sky F1 team in action (picture via Daily Mail)

The pundits who join the team for some of the races really add to the dynamic on race weekends, and Johnny Herbert is definitely my favourite. His cheeky humour and the expertise he brings as one of the driver stewards are a great addition. I know a lot of others didn’t like Jacques Villeneuve on the Canadian GP coverage but I enjoyed his input too as he is so honest. This is the weaker point of the other regular pundit, Damon Hill. He doesn’t tell it as straight as Johnny, and his flip-flopping on the Bahrain political issues weakened his credibility. Karun Chandhok took to presenting on the Sky Pad with Georgie like a duck to water and I really hope that Sky bring him back in for more races (and not just while Ant recovers from his spinal fracture).

The strongest moment for me for the whole team was the Bahrain weekend. The tone of the programme changed perfectly, with a fair assessment of the troubles in the Gulf state and the effect it had on Force India personnel and others. The light-heartedness of a normal weekend e.g. the F1 Buzz Game just wouldn’t have been appropriate there and it didn’t happen.

My only small criticism would be the openness with which some of the presenters show their allegiances to certain drivers. The worst offender is probably Martin Brundle with regards to Lewis Hamilton. I am biased here because I am anything but a fan of Lewis, but I would prefer him to show more neutrality. Alan McNish wasn’t exactly neutral either.

The presenter who has come in for most criticism from the press has been Simon Lazenby due to a couple of unfortunate incidents; the Grace Kelly reference in Monaco, and his reported conduct on the flight home from Valencia. This criticism for me has been too harsh. We all make inappropriate jokes and comments at times, myself included, and who hasn’t acted inappropriately when they’ve got a few drinks inside them? I think Simon does a great job and I hope these incidents don’t jeopardise his role on the team.

The coverage itself

Sky’s coverage of race weekends is definitely comprehensive, and on the whole runs for the right amount of time. The pre-qualifying and pre-race build up runs for the right amount of time, and the post-qualifying and post-race coverage runs for a good amount of time although I think they could easily fill at least another half hour. With a dedicated channel at their disposal it would be good for them to stay on air as long as possible while there is still stuff to say and F1 folk to talk to. I might just be being greedy there though!

The number of advert breaks in the coverage was always going to be a high-profile feature of the coverage, and I like the timing of the advert breaks. Given the length of the coverage it is actually quite handy to have a few breaks for us viewers to do our own refuelling and pit-stops without having to pause it and miss anything (shudders at the thought). My only irk with the advert breaks is the regular opportunities they provide (after the break) for the presenting team to remind us yet again of the ways that we can access Sky’s coverage and that it is broadcast in 5.1 digital. WE KNOW!!!

Another thing annoying me is some of the editing. Monaco was particularly bad. Within about half an hour we saw the same excerpt of Georgie’s interview with Heikki Kovalainen three times. This was pretty poor, but thankfully isn’t a regular occurrence. The other thing is that Sky don’t always cut to the post-quali or post-race drivers’ press conference as soon as they could. I think it was Canada when they were interviewing Christian Horner in the pits and you could hear the press conference being broadcast around the track. I appreciate that live interviews can be difficult to secure, but the press conference is a key part of both quali and the race and I’d like to see it take precedence over anything else. I’ve seen tweets from fans watching other broadcasters around the world who have been ahead on the press conference and it has spoilt it a bit.

The two reports on McLaren show-runs, just weeks apart, showed a slight lack of imagination but show-runs are a really important connection between F1 and its fans so I am willing to overlook this.

The F1 show is a really good addition to the schedule. With so much news on a race weekend it allows that extra degree of coverage, and the shows in non-race weeks are great for further post-race analysis and an F1 fix between races.

I also really like the Thursday and Friday press conferences being broadcast on the channel.

Team Coverage

In my previous article about Sky I said that the amount of coverage they gave to teams in the mid-field and back of the grid was a crucial factor for me. I think so far I can say this is “not bad but could do better”. There is still a tendency to focus on the big teams. It was always inevitable (sadly so for me) that McLaren would dominate this, but rather than just being a McLaren and Red Bull love-in as we saw in recent years on the BBC, there’s a pretty good balance beyond the McLaren priority, across Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus. I’d still like to see more of the mid-field and back of the grid teams. Sauber and Williams are inevitably getting the best coverage in the mid-field because of their strong performances so far this season.

I can understand that McLaren is considered to be *the* British team, but I think it is important for the British broadcasters to consider that two-thirds of the teams are based in the UK. I am located equidistant between Red Bull in Milton Keynes and Caterham F1 while they are based in Hingham in Norfolk. The majority of their personnel are British, and their foreign ownership shouldn’t affect the amount of coverage they get. You only need to watch BBC Look East to see how proud our region is of Red Bull and Caterham, both of whom get regular coverage on the local news. More coverage could also be given to Paul Di Resta – he is just as British as Jenson and Lewis and I am sure will be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years. When it comes to forming allegiances to drivers and teams I am swayed by skill and personality rather than a blind allegiance borne from shared nationality, and I am definitely not alone in that amongst F1 fans. Thankfully for me Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Heikki Kovalainen all get a reasonable amount of coverage from Sky, but those who support others like Vitaly Petrov or Daniel Ricciardo will be waiting rather impatiently for decent coverage of their heroes. Please, Sky, give fans the chance to warm to other drivers.

Verdict?

Taking on coverage of a global sport like F1 is no mean feat, and I think Sky are settling in to F1 really well. The niggles I’ve mentioned here are all pretty small and it is definitely a good sign that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the coverage. I am sure it will only get better as time goes on. I’ll give Sky a 7/10.

Fans who have access to Sky, but have opposed watching their coverage on principle, really ought to give it a try. From what I’ve seen so far I can safely say that they will like it.

The F1 Week That Was (24 June 2012)

25 Jun

It’s a good job I described this as a weekly-ish column. The last few weeks have been really busy! Anyway, here’s the latest instalment.

Valencia GP – Alonso Reigns in Spain

Despite the unpredictable nature of the season so far, F1 fans were bracing themselves for the annual ‘bore-fest’ of the Valencian Grand Prix. and I remember BBC F1 viewers at the start of the season had been really annoyed that it was one of the 10 live races they would see. Luckily for all it was an absolute cracker. It was a race of mixed emotions for me; in the middle of the race two of my three favourite drivers had their races wrecked and I was bracing myself for the prospect of another Hamilton victory (sorry McLaren fans but I really can’t stand the man). Little did I know that less than an hour later I would be screaming with excitement that Hamilton was out and that Michael Schumacher would be on the podium. The podium made up of Ferrari heroes with Alonso winning his home race was an incredibly poignant moment.

The notable development of the weekend was the heavily upgraded RB8. It  was an impressive step forward for the team and it will be interesting to see how the car performs in different conditions. The other leading teams will need to make similar steps forward in the next few races to prevent the Bulls charging away. Lewis Hamilton’s comments and body language in the drivers’ press conference on Thursday implied this wasn’t the case for McLaren, and Ferrari openly acknowledge they need to move forward. The results of the 3 remaining races before the summer break will be fascinating.

Third Drivers

Timo Glock’s unfortunate illness in Valencia, which led to him missing the race, raised the issue of reserve drivers. Marussia do not have a reserve driver, and the sudden onset of Timo’s illness made the team unable to draft in a temporary replacement (Jaime Alguersuari and Nick Heidfeld were both in the paddock, albeit with broadcasting commitments, and there may have been others). It is unusual for a team not to have a reserve driver, and Marussia’s test driver, Maria De Villota does not have a superlicence so is unable to participate in F1 races.

So why not have a reserve driver? Marussia are clearly short on funds this year – no KERS etc, and as a team at the back of the grid I think they have made the right call. Having a reserve driver is a big financial overhead for a team, and as they aren’t realistically going to be in with a chance of earning points, they are better off running with just one driver in circumstances like the ones that befell them in Valencia. If either Timo or Charles had a longer term problem then there is no shortage of drivers who they could draft in for multiple races.

A London Grand Prix?

News emerged during the week that Bernie has started talks about staging an F1 race at the London Olympic park. This news has been greeted with both cynicism and enthusiasm. I’d absolutely love to see a race in London, and when I go to the Olympics later in the summer I’ll definitely be envisaging an F1 circuit around the park. Bernie has tried for many years to get a race in London and this may be his best chance. The odds aren’t in his favour though.

Inevitably British fans love the idea of having two races. Silverstone has a long-term contract (not that those mean anything to Mr Ecclestone), and Britain is the base for the majority of the F1 teams. I’ve never been convinced, however, that it is a good thing to have two races in one country when there are so many other countries wanting to get a place on the calendar.

We’ll have to wait and see if the bid is successful.

Why Britain Should (But Doesn’t) Adore Dario Franchitti

28 May

2012 Indy 500 Winner Dario Franchitti celebrating with his wife, Ashley Judd.

Sunday 27 May – a great day in Motor sport. The Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, right? Well yes, and it was quite a good race around the streets of Monte Carlo, but it was nothing compared to the excitement of the Indianapolis 500 and the brilliant 3rd win notched up by our very own Dario Franchitti…..

….Dario who? Yes, that’s right. Our most accomplished current racing driver in a major racing series (3 wins of the Indy 500 and 4 Indy Car Series titles)  and many Brits won’t recognise his accomplishments when they really, really should. If Lewis Hamilton had achieved the same levels  of accomplishment in Formula 1 yesterday (let’s substitute Monaco for the Indy 500) as Dario has in Indy Car it would be headline news on every news bulletin and newspaper. Instead, there are minor news stories and limited recognition.

As a passionate, British petrol head it makes me really sad that Dario doesn’t get the recognition he deserves here in Britain. This is my take on why we really should cherish this great racer, but we don’t.

Dario checks all the boxes when it comes to reasons why might love him: British, lots of prestigious wins, extremely good-looking, famous wife….all the things that Brits seem to look for in their sporting heroes (we’re a shallow bunch, aren’t we?).

The Indy Car driver fraternity always seems like more of a family than their equivalents in Formula 1, and Dario is clearly loved by his racing brothers. Their collective ongoing tributes to the brother they lost so tragically last year in Las Vegas, Dan Wheldon, have been incredibly moving. I follow Dario, his wife Ashley and Dan’s sister Holly on twitter, and the ongoing love and support between the Franchittis and the Wheldons is always so touching.

For a country so obsessed with WAGs, we ought to be in awe of Dario’s wife, actress Ashley Judd. As well as being a talented actress, Ashley is an activist, writer and feminist. Perhaps if she had a perma-tan, plastic boobs, and the ability to inspire young girls to want to marry a rich sportsman when they grow up so they can shop all day, we’d know more? I have very little time for the WAGs of most British sportsmen (let’s face it they’re not the most inspirational bunch) but have a total girl crush on Ashley.

So why doesn’t Dario grace our sporting headlines more?

The answer is, inevitably, the British media. Our national motor sport is Formula 1 and sports editors have very little time for other motor series both here in the UK and overseas. Finding stories about the Indy 500 takes some effort, let alone other race results during the Indy Car season. I looked across all the main UK newspaper websites today, and there were no major headlines in the sports sections about yesterday’s victory, just stories most of the way down the page or tucked away in the motor sport section. The Independent and The Daily Express had no story at all. The Daily Telegraph probably had the best story out of the broadsheets which included a video (woohoo!), while the Metro had a big spread on the story in their print edition.

As part of my research for this article I watched tonight’s Reporting Scotland (the BBC local news programme for Scotland) via Sky, and Dario’s win was covered there as the final sporting story. The sports reporter described it as a “Major Scottish Success”. Scotland are clearly proud of their man from West Lothian, but that pride really should extend to the rest of Britain.

Our media coverage of sport is incredibly insular, and it is ironic that our media here in Britain which normally sneers at their American counterparts for committing that very sin are guilty of not looking at the accomplishments of their fellow Brits racing across the pond.

Many British Indy Car fans were seething last year at the British media coverage of the tragic death of our other forgotten racing hero, Dan Wheldon. His Indy 500 glory earlier that year got the same limited media coverage as Dario’s did this year, and many Brits probably hadn’t even heard of Dan, but as soon as there was a tragedy to feast on, the press were all over it like a flock of vultures.

It is disgraceful that tragedy needs to strike in order for a British Indy Car driver to be headline news here.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year

If a British Formula 1 driver wins the Drivers Championship (or at least comes jolly close) it is almost automatic that they are on the nominee list for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark all either won the award or 2nd or 3rd place awards. The late rally driver, Colin McRae came 3rd a few years back. Other British motor sport drivers don’t stand a chance as the public never get to hear about them properly.

When the 2011 nominees were announced I remember Dario expressing his sadness that Dan wasn’t on the list, and his sad acceptance that he himself was always overlooked. I fear it is inevitable that the same will happen again in 2012, particularly with it being an Olympic year. Dario won the BBC Scotland Sports Personality of the Year award in 2007 but, again, he should be recognised across Britain.

Thankfully the community of racing fans I know through twitter do know and mostly love Dario Franchitti. We’re proud of our man, and so I can only conclude by thinking “quality not quantity” when it comes to the British contingent of “Team Franchitti”.

The F1 Week That Was (27 May 2012)

27 May

This is the first of a new ‘column’ on my blog which will look back at what has happened in the previous week in the world of F1. In Monaco Grand Prix week there is always plenty to talk about and this week certainly hasn’t disappointed.

The Return of the King

(Well I have to start with my favourite driver, don’t I?)

Michael Schumacher probably got more criticism over the last fortnight (after his incident with Bruno Senna in Barcelona) than he has at any other point in his 2nd career, but he answered his critics in the way he knows best; a thumping performance out on the track. The race itself may not have gone his way, but he proved himself to still be more than worthy of his seat at the track which requires the ultimate skill from a racing driver. What matters most is that everyone has more confidence in Schuey going in to Canada where the Mercedes should perform well again.

Other Monaco thoughts

There were some great performances today, both on the track and on the pit wall. Red Bull’s strategy for Sebastian Vettel paid off and finishing fourth was a great achievement for the team alongside Mark Webber’s win. It’s unbelievable that we’ve had six different winners so far. Felipe Massa put in a great performance and taking home those 8 points will hopefully curry favour with Ferrari. Both Force India drivers finishing in the points was a brilliant achievement for the team and it was great to see Bruno Senna score a point while his team-mate went from hero to zero in just 24 hours. Seeing a Caterham race so well today was just wonderful, especially with it being Heikki. Jenson Button inevitably complained about being held up by the Finn, but Heikki had every right to defend his position and did so brilliantly. Caterham boss Tony Fernandes described it as his best F1 moment.

Tyres

The tyres have been such a major talking point this season and have divided fans on the effect they’ve had on the racing. Michael Schumacher’s recent complaints have made headlines in the last week, but was he right? I can understand that everyone (except Vettel fans) was bored in 2011 and wanted something to change to prevent an era of Vettel/RBR dominance. The blown diffuser ban has clearly had quite an effect on the team and I suspect this on its own would’ve levelled the field out quite well. When it comes to the tyres I’m definitely old school: I want to see drivers racing and pushing themselves and their cars to the limit of skill and engineering, not driving to the limit of their tyre strategies. Pirelli’s Paul Hembery doggedly maintains their position on twitter: they were asked to mix things up and they have done so. Martin Brundle made an interesting referral earlier today to a briefing at McLaren where Martin Whitmarsh admitted they simply don’t know what is going on with the tyres. I can’t help but wonder if teams will ask for a regression back towards last year’s tyres for 2013. If they do, it may well diminish the victory of whoever wins the title in 2012 if it isn’t Sebastian Vettel.

The start of silly season

The rumours about race seats for the following season always start fairly early, but I think this week saw the start of silly season where rumours really start to fly. Some may be silly, some may not. The endless speculation certainly is and right now I don’t think anything is certain. It is anticipated that Ferrari will decide soon about Massa but it is possible they won’t name any replacement straight away. Here’s what we’ve seen so far:

– Massa to leave Ferrari (probably the only rumour with any serious credibility)

– Hamilton to Ferrari (now him and Alonso are being all chummy). I just don’t see this working.

– Hamilton to stay at McLaren with one of two outcomes 1) his salary halved, or 2) a 5 year £20 million a year contract.

– Webber to Ferrari for one year

– Vettel to Ferrari in 2014 if the car is up to it

– Schumacher to retire again (possible but hopefully unlikely)

– Di Resta to Mercedes if Schumi retires (possible when Schumi does go as he is a Mercedes boy and it would be a great move – I’d love to see him trump Rosberg).

– Di Resta to Ferrari

– Alguersuari to Force India

– Perez to Ferrari (either mid-season 2012 or 2o13)

Who knows what else will emerge in the coming weeks and months, but a shake up at the front next season would definitely be interesting and I would love it if Jaime Alguersuari came back.

Rush wraps filming

The much-anticipated film Rush, about the epic battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, wrapped filming this week and its director, Ron Howard, celebrated by attending the Monaco Grand Prix. Having been following Ron on twitter for some time it has been wonderful to see the photos he’s posted throughout filming and I can’t wait to see the film when it is released in Spring 2013. I know there’s some reluctance amongst some F1 fans about having actors playing F1 drivers but I think this is silly. The film is incredibly safe hands with Ron at the helm and he has clearly been aware that F1 fans area very tough crowd to please. It is really great to see a film being made about such an epic story in our beloved sport.

Williams Take Gold at Chelsea

You may have seen on twitter and amongst the F1 coverage that Williams F1 had an

The Williams Display at The Chelsea Flower Show

entry at the Chelsea Flower Show which won a gold medal. Their creation was some topiary shaped in to an F1 car with a pit crew around it. As you can see from the picture here it really was a great piece, and King & Co who created the piece for Williams should be congratulated on their work. It is really nice to see F1 being promoted in different ways and this is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

Record Deal for Griffin

Alistair Griffin, he behind the F1 anthem and Sky Sports F1 theme ‘Just Drive’, has got a new record contract. He has been signed by the Dramatico label and his new album, ‘Albion Sky’ will be released on 2 July.

Who will ‘Lady Luck’ favour in Monaco?

24 May

It’s hard to believe it is a year since that dramatic race weekend on the streets of Monte Carlo in 2011, but the Formula 1 paddock has sailed back in to the principality for another spin of the roulette wheel.

Last year brought misfortune for a number of drivers, notably Sergio Perez with his massive crash during qualifying, while both Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado clashed with a frustrated Lewis Hamilton. Vitaly Petrov’s misfortune brought good fortune to Sebastian Vettel through the red flag his accident caused and the ‘free pass’ tyre change it gifted Seb and the other drivers on the grid.

Lady luck was certainly smiling on Sebastian Vettel in 2011 but who will she favour this year?

After 5 races with 5 different winning drivers and teams, many seem to believe that stretching this pattern to a sixth race would be a safe bet. If this is the case, Lotus and either Kimi Raïkonnën or Romain Grosjean could win big on Sunday. After Pastor Maldonado’s surprise victory for Williams in Spain many in the mid-field may now also be dreaming big and hoping their chance of a podium will come.

The other drivers in the thus-far successful teams will also be hoping their time has come – Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton are hungry for victory. Felipe Massa seems to have no answer to Alonso’s ability to squeeze everything out of the F2012, and Bruno Senna will desperately want to prove he is a match for his previously underestimated team-mate. Where better to do so than at the track his uncle excelled at?

With his 5 place grid-drop, the odds aren’t in Michael Schumacher’s favour and he appeared to be struggling with the tyres in the practice sessions today. After such poor luck so far this season I really hope good fortune comes his way.

Felipe Massa is undoubtedly more in need of luck than anyone else on the grid. The vultures are circling and the rumour mill is in overdrive. I really hope he can score some more points this weekend and keep the wolves away from his door but it may only be delaying the inevitable. Outpacing his team-mate today in FP2 may bring some minor consolation but with a decision on his future at Ferrari likely to be made in the next month, it could well be a make or break weekend for the Brazilian.

After only limited running in FP2 today due to the weather, it is still difficult to gauge exactly how the odds stack for each team and driver. As always we will only know for sure when each of the players shows their hand in qualifying on Saturday. Lotus, Grosjean in particular, appear to be favourites amongst the pundits, followed by McLaren. The weather may well determine the outcome with more showers forecast. Whatever happens though, this weekend promises to be an absolute cracker.

F1 Merchandising – Have The Teams Got It Right?

19 May

Like fans of any other sport, Formula 1 fans want to get their hands on official merchandising of the teams they support. Before the start of the season I decided to look at what teams released and when so that I could write about it here. I’ve never previously taken a look across all the teams in this way, and what I found surprised me to the extent that I questioned whether or not the teams in one of the most commercial sports in the world have got it right.

Timing of merchandise release

We’re now past race weekend 5 of 20 – a quarter of the way through the 2012 F1 season, and some teams have still not released their merchandising collections online through their websites. Those still in that category are Williams F1, Sahara Force India and HRT. The majority of teams had their merchandise available by the Malaysian race, although Mercedes (whom I was very impatiently waiting for) didn’t release theirs until mid-April.

With merchandising changing from one season to the next, the late timing of the releases does not represent good value for money for fans; F1 merchandising (like most sports) is not cheap. Why is it so late in some cases? It is hard to say for sure in each individual case, but waiting until sponsorship deals have been sealed can put production of the merchandising on hold. It is inevitable for the team that the income from the pending sponsor(s) will be worth more to the team than income from merchandising.

The contrast in timing of release of official F1 team ‘kit’ for supporters with football teams is striking. The 2011/12 football season is barely over, but the kit for 2012/13 season for many teams is either already available to buy or can at least be pre-ordered. Even those teams awaiting sponsorship deals to be agreed (or branding changes) are likely to release their kit in July, still ahead of the start of the season.

Price Comparison

The price of merchandising across F1 teams varies significantly. I took a look at the cost of a team replica ladies shirt for each team who has released merchandising to date. Replica kit is always more expensive than other ranges offered by teams so it should be noted that there are cheaper alternatives available. Here are the prices, in descending order:

Caterham £60

Mercedes £58.50

Lotus £53

Sauber (unisex) £52 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Red Bull £44.19 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Marussia £39.99

McLaren £39.95

Toro Rosso – no official shirt

Ferrari – not available online

This list shows a significant range in price across the teams. The McLaren shirt is a relative bargain(!) for one of the ‘big teams’ but is a t-shirt rather than a polo or shirt. By contrast the prices of the Mercedes and Caterham shirts are somewhat eyewatering.

Gender balance

Being a female F1 fan, I was particularly interested by the merchandising available to women. It was striking, and disappointing, that some teams only sell a fraction of items to women compared to the menswear range. If my twitter feed (@schuvettelainen) is anything to go by, the gender balance amongst F1 fans is pretty equal. Shots of the grandstands on race weekends also support this – there are always plenty of women at races.

Red Bull, Lotus, Marussia and McLaren all have full ranges for women, while Sauber’s official team line is unisex.  By comparison, Mercedes has 2 items (plus  a unisex jacket) for women compared to 11 for men.

Even more depressing is that some teams don’t even have menu filters for women on some parts of their website. The Ferrari store has a women’s section in their general range, but in the Scuderia section containing the F1 merchandise there are filters for men and kids, but not for women. It is possible to buy Ferrari women’s clothing in shops but it is really odd that it isn’t available online. (Interestingly in the Ferrari Scuderia section there is a filter for Fernando Alonso, but not for Felipe Massa – there is Felipe gear on there, but you have to trawl through everything to find it).

The Scuderia section of Ferrari’s online shop

Caterham have women’s team replica kit, but not a lifestyle range. I contacted their e-shop to ask why this was, and I was assured that the items are on their way (and that Caterham value their female fans as much as their male fans), but if they are able to produce men’s lifestyle products from the start, why not women’s?

The Caterham e-shop. See menu on left hand side.

With some teams having full lines for their female fans it seems that some recognise that women are massive F1 fans too, but others apparently haven’t got it right and have some way to go to catch up.

Accessories and other items

One thing all teams are good at is producing accessories and other assorted items. Here’s a selection of what is out there.

Red Bull have a massive range of items:

Seb Jigsaw (£10.41), Bandana (£9.61) and RB7 nosecone (£80,38) from the Red Bull Racing Shop

Mugs and USB sticks are a popular choice with teams. McLaren and Lotus have the nicest, although the Lotus USB is frankly extortionate.

Lotus USB stick (£40), Lotus mug (£14) and McLaren Tea-Lemetery Mug (£9.95)

Belts and notebooks are also popular choices. I like these ones from Caterham F1:

Caterham Belt (£24) and Leather Notebook (£18)

Have the teams got it right?

In some cases it seems the teams are spot on – a good choice for all, while others seem to have got it wrong (from a fan’s perspective) in terms of timing and/or gender inequality. I don’t know how teams plan their merchandising ranges, but they don’t seem to be drawing on consistent data. It will be interesting to see what the remaining teams offer when their collections are released.

App Review – Part 5

29 Apr

It has been a while since I last did an app review, but here’s another collection of apps covering not only Formula 1, but other four-wheeled racing formulas as well. I hope you find it a useful resource.

Red Bull Racing Spy
(Free on iPhone, iPad)

After a slightly delayed launch, the Red Bull Racing Spy app is finally here. The app serves as an inside look at the team, and serves as a companion to one of the team’s official twitter accounts – @redbullf1spy.

The app features updates from the team at each race, including photos, a team diary which pulls together various feeds including twitter, facebook, the news section of their website, and some facts and figures about each race.

It is a nice little app, but if you already follow the team on twitter and facebook then it doesn’t add a massive amount.

DHL Fastest Lap
(Free on iPhone)

This app supports the DHL Fastest Lap award and allows F1 fans to participate in a season-long competition to win a 3 day pass to a race of your choice, or for individual race prizes of a DHL F1 package (the F1 2011 game for PC, a baseball cap, rucksack and a DVD). Before each race, fans need to predict what the fastest lap time will be, and which driver will record it.

The app also features information about the F1 season – standings, drivers, a calendar, and best of all, a photo gallery.

The only drawback to this app is that it requires users to have a Facebook account which, as you may have seen in one of my previous reviews, is something I’m not keen on.

DTM
(£1.49 on iPhone and iPad)

Today is an appropriate day to be reviewing this app, as the DTM 2012 season finally gets underway at Hockenheim.

The app features standard information about DTM – the calendar, driver profiles, tables and statistics.

Also included is a series of video clips about DTM – interviews, previews and features, as well as summaries of action on the track.

The other ‘media’ inclusion is photo galleries – there are photos of the track action from last year’s season which is the positive inclusion. Not so positive though is the Grid Girl photo gallery. I can appreciate that some blokes will like this feature but as a woman I don’t like it.

Overall it is a useful app. I’m not entirely sure that its features warrant a £1.49 price, but I may reconsider that during the season.

Team Ganassi
(Free on iPhone)

This is the official team app of Chip Ganassi and features information about each of the teams and drivers that they sponsor across American motor racing. In Indy Car this includes Target Chip Ganassi (Scott Power and Dario Franchitti), Service Central Chip Ganassi (Graham Rahal) and Novo Nordisk (Charlie Kimball). In NASCAR it covers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, and in Rolex Grand-AM Sports Car Series, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett.

As well as information about the drivers and series, there is Ganassi TV which includes a series of video interviews and features. There is also a trivia quiz about motor racing and the people involved in the teams.

The most fun feature of all though is the Fan Cam. This allows users to include their photo on a series of templates from Indy 500 winner to a team mascot.

V8 Timing 2012
(Basic app free, in app purchase £9.99 on iPhone, iPad, Android)

This app covers the V8 Supercars Australian race series (featured on Motors TV for non-antipodeans), and was built by the same software company who did the official F1 2012 live timing app (Soft Pauer).

The features are almost identical to the F1 2012 app – live timing and track positioning can be obtained through an in-app purchase, and there are the same basic free features containing news and information about the series.

I won’t go over the ins and outs again as I’ve already covered that in the F1 2012 app review, and I have to confess that the reason I’m including this in my review is that it highlights the premium that F1 fans are paying for the live data on their app.

The V8 Supercars series includes 15 races with 28 drivers, and the live feed data is £9.99. That works out at 67 pence per race, whereas Formula 1 fans are paying £1 per race for the data through their app which is priced £19.99.  FOM have defended the price of their app citing £1 per race as very good value. They might want to take another look at that…

Reflections on a week of controversy

22 Apr

A week after F1 started arriving in the Gulf state of Bahrain, the race has been decided and the teams are packing up and leaving. The race was an absolute cracker, but it has been completely overshadowed by the political storm created by the decision to proceed with the race. Nobody could be sure how the week would pan out, and many will be breathing a sigh of relief that there were no major events which directly affected the F1 paddock.

As I wrote in a previous article, the most controversial Grand Prix week  for many years began with the arrival of some of the F1 journalists: Kevin Eason, Ian Parkes and Byron Young. They decided to go and investigate the situation in Bahrain for themselves (provoking both praise and criticism from many quarters) and began reporting that things were not quite as the F1 paddock had been led to believe by the FIA in whom they had placed their trust. Meanwhile, most of their colleagues, and non-set-up paddock folks were passing the time in the UAE before travelling to Bahrain at the last moment. By the time everyone turned up on Wednesday/Thursday events in Bahrain were starting to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So what has been the effect of Formula 1’s decision to race in Bahrain? These are my thoughts.

The effect on Formula 1

As a fan it has been incredibly frustrating in the build up to this race seeing the team principals and drivers, whom I mostly have a lot of respect for, having to uncomfortably skirt round questions about Bahrain or stick to what I’d frankly term as “PR bullshit”. As much as I would have liked to have seen them speak out, they have rarely strayed off the party line. It is understandable why they stuck to the line that they had placed their trust in the FIA – if all was well then there’d have been no problem, but having seen the effect that the week has had on Force India, and the reports that all was not as they had been led to believe, it ensured the flack was placed well and truly at the doors of the FIA and FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Bernie Ecclestone is renowned for seeing all publicity as good publicity, and has a pretty hefty teflon coating on him but has the controversy of this race managed to stick to the diminutive puppet-master of F1 and left egg on the face of the FIA? Ross Brawn, team principal of Mercedes AMG F1 has called for F1 to reflect on the week and I expect that there will be some difficult questions being asked behind closed doors at FIA HQ on the Place de la Concorde. Given the scale of the PR disaster facing F1 they may want to consider an away-day in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to reflect. I fear it is inevitable though that nothing will change; there is a moral vacuum at the top of a world driven by money, with those underneath it gagged by commercial pressure and the lure of championship points.

It is only a few hours since the 2012 Bahrain race finished but I am already anticipating that we will be facing further months of controversy when the provisional and final race calendars for 2013 are published.

The results of the Bahrain Grand Prix will stay in my mind for the rest of the season. It is likely to be a tight championship where every point could affect the eventual standings. If the results of Bahrain determine who comes out on top, their glory will be tainted by the controversy of this weekend.

The effect on Bahrain

After months of being overshadowed by events in Syria and Libya, the spotlight has been well and truly back on Bahrain. Protesters have had a huge amount of media coverage, reminding the rest of the world that there are still significant issues in the country. The race was an opportunity to step up the ongoing protests and the plight of a well-respected activist on hunger-strike and the tragic death of a protester on Friday have reignited interest in the country. It remains to be seen if the protests will continue on this scale, and how the authorities will respond after F1 has left the country. The sadly almost inevitable death of hunger-striker Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, whenever it comes, will undoubtedly increase tension, and if the authorities respond with a hard crack-down, the situation could spiral out of control.

It is my sincerest hope that the world media will continue to watch events in Bahrain closely and keep their story in the spotlight. As someone with a strong interest in world news and the Middle East I will be continuing to follow the situation in Bahrain. I hope that other F1 fans won’t forget what we’ve witnessed in the last few days.

“Our Men in Bahrain”

16 Apr

After a thrilling race in Shanghai, the F1 paddock is currently making its way to Bahrain ready for the race due to take place this weekend. Some have gone straight to Bahrain, while others are biding time in the UAE or elsewhere. Amongst those who’ve gone straight to Bahrain are some of the F1 press corps.

The debate about the Bahrain Grand Prix has been simmering ever since the race was confirmed on the 2012 calendar, but the eyes of the world have been focussed on other areas of the MENA region since the uprisings last spring with little attention being paid to events in Bahrain. In recent weeks as the race weekend approaches, the question about whether F1 should return there has inevitably been making headline news.

As we’re all aware, the authorities in Bahrain are telling the world all is well in the country and that the race will unify the country, while blaming the foreign press for overstating the ongoing tensions there. This isn’t surprising; it goes against the very essence of the UNIF1ED promotional campaign for the Grand Prix which was intended to tell the world that the race is a good thing for the country.

It is also worth noting that press outlets in Bahrain are either owned by the government or closely linked to it; opposition press is pretty scant. It is relatively easy to convince those in the city that there are just a few skirmishes happening in villages when the streets of Manama are quiet. Having this much media scrutiny which they can’t influence will be making many in the halls of power in Manama extremely uncomfortable. To refuse visas to journalists arriving for the Grand Prix would be a guaranteed PR disaster, so they need to take their chances and let them in.

From what I have seen and heard recently about life in Bahrain, it strikes me that the authorities in Bahrain have been naive about their ability to convince the world that all is well, and up until this week it has been a bit of a case of ‘he said, she said’ between their PR machine and the western media. This week, we can find out once and for all how things really are through the eyes and ears of those members of the F1 press corps who are already on the ground in Bahrain. Other sections of the media are also watching the situation closely.

While perusing my twitter timeline this afternoon I was fascinated by updates appearing from two journalists, Byron Young (The Mirror – @byronf1) and Ian Parkes (Press Association – @ianparkesf1), who had gone to the village of Salmabad to observe the final day of mourning for a local cameraman who had been shot and killed on Friday. They tweeted what they saw as it happened, including a number of pictures. Tensions were high and resulted in a clash between the police and protesters. I can highly recommend reading their tweets from this afternoon.

Other journalists besides Byron and Ian are in Bahrain, including Kevin Eason (The Times – @easonf1). Kevin has been one of the most outspoken F1 journalists about the way in which FOM and the FIA have handled the decision about Bahrain, and you may have seen his piece over the weekend criticising Jean Todt. Kevin was first man at the Bahrain circuit today, and his first piece from Bahrain will be in the Times tomorrow which I’m sure will be another good read (note: I am in no way affiliated with News International….or related to Kevin…).

Every journalist from every news outlet will have their own slant on a situation, and so it is always worth reading across the spectrum to get a balanced view. Other journalists/news outlets worth following (some in Bahrain and some not) this week for some different perspectives are:

Gary Meenaghan – @GMeenaghan (Sports Writer for The National, Abu Dhabi – the main non-gov’t newspaper in the UAE).

Will Buxton – @willbuxton (Speed Channel. Will was in Bahrain in February last year).

Frank Gardner – @FrankRGardner (BBC Security Correspondent & Middle East expert – Frank isn’t in Bahrain but has been reporting on the Bahrain Grand Prix for the BBC for the last week or so).

Aljazeera – @AJEnglish (Arabic news channel based in Qatar – this is their English news feed. Aljazeera tends to be associated in our minds with videos of hostages or messages from Bin Laden, but they are a good source for Middle Eastern news so don’t be put off!!).

The situation in Bahrain is likely to get more tense as the race weekend approaches, and opinions amongst the press are likely to diverge. I can’t predict who will go which way; only time will tell.

Since I’m writing about the F1 media, I wanted to take a moment to tip my virtual hat to those who bring the F1 news to us . We tend to get a lot of our F1 news from the broadcasting teams who host our TV coverage, but there are so many more journalists following the F1 circus around the world who bring us a range of insights in to our beloved sport. Some we will agree with, some we won’t but that’s the whole point of journalism for me – to get people talking.

As Ian Parkes tweeted, it is his duty as a journalist to see for himself what is happening in Bahrain, and after all these weeks of speculation it is great to see these professionals doing just that. Some of their colleagues are spending time in Dubai before going on to Bahrain later in the week. I’ll be interested to see if they do the same as their colleagues when they arrive in the country.

Likewise, some broadcasters and journalists aren’t travelling to Bahrain at all this week due to security concerns or out of conscience. I can understand these reasons completely as I have been very critical of the decision to proceed with the race, but as a complete news junkie who has been following events in Bahrain closely, I am also curious to know more about what is happening there this week.

Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating week and I am grateful to all those journalists who have travelled to Bahrain to share what they see with us.