Archive for July, 2010

The Dog Ate My Homework

July 30, 2010

I was going to write a longer post on this but all the main points seem to have become apparent elsewhere. Christian Horner has the management skills to get the best out of a team of people, and I do believe there is favouritism to Vettel, but I do not believe it comes from Christian Horner. Listening again to the Motorsport podcast when he was interviewed, I noticed he talked fulsomely about his excellent working relationship with Dietrich Mateschitz, but completely avoided talking about Helmut Marko at all. It was Princess Diana, in that blatantly scripted Panorama interview, that said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” A team boss needs the direct support of his boss, but Marko seems to have the power to interfere, and leave Horner to take responsibility for the messes it causes, including the need to lie to the media, and us, even when it is obvious he is being untruthful. Mateschitz is an intelligent man without airs that has achieved huge success in business from small beginnings, so surely he should be able to see that he needs to keep his adviser off Christian’s back so the guy can do his job. After all, he did not put Helmet in charge of RBR or even STR.

This popped up on Autosport last week. The gist is that after Vettel’s new front wing was damaged, that it was thought so was the new front wing Mark had. So they took it off him, then realised only the paint was harmed, so had to make a decision about which driver to give it back to, picking Vettel. Is this the best they could come up with in two weeks? It was not that they decided to take the wing off Webber to give to Vettel, but they decided to take the wing off Webber, and then decided to give it to Vettel! Well, does that not make all the difference? Is this the explanation that reassured Mark Webber when they had their clearing-of-the-air chat?

Of course, we were all supposed to believe they had all kissed and made up after the Turkey incident, especially with the news that Mark had re-signed with the team. It turned out the contract was renewed before Turkey, and comments the Australian made after the wing-episode revealed that even aside from that he was still deeply unhappy with his status in the team. Webber has been persuaded to toe the party line again in public but must still be seething. When he talked about saying too much in public about it, wearing his heart on his sleeve, tricky decision, that he was part of a sensational team, he did include, “But the upshot is that it will go the other way in the future – it just will, even if that’s hard for people to believe.” Does he believe that, and do we?

Christian Horner is obviously almightily relieved that the media swarm have now moved onto the team-order issue at Ferrari. The evening after the race he described it as the, “clearest team order”, comparing it to Austria 2002. Before Hungary, he vocally backed the ban on team-orders. Very much a case of pouring petrol on the neighbour’s burning house so it will not be noticed his is still smoking.

Germany Snippets

July 28, 2010

(I intend to write separately about the team-orders issue)

I thought that was a fairly interesting race with some dull bits. Vettel’s attempts at the Schumacher-chop on the starts really are not working. The scarlet team’s return to form has to be the big news. Whilst I concede I dismissed Alonso’s utterances about how he could still win the World Championship after Silverstone’s race as just PR-talk, well I did miss their improved turn of speed amongst recent other problems, but the run of results they will need to win the title still looks improbable.

Alonso’s victory was his 23rd win, 17 for Renault, 4 for McLaren-Mercedes, and 2 for Ferrari. It was Ferrari’s 212th win, 81st 1-2, and their tenth F1 WC win at Hockenheim (Nicki Lauda 1977, Patrick Tambey 1982, Rene Arnoux 1983, Gerhard Berger 1994, Eddie Irvine 1999, Rubens Barrichello 2000, Michael Schumacher 2002 2004 2006).

It was sad to see Karun Chandhok sidelined by Yamamoto. With HRT’s obvious need for ready cash, and no reason to believe that will be abated any time soon, it is all too likely that the Indian’s season, and perhaps his F1 career as a driver, is over. It is perhaps then ironic (a word I generally try to avoid often using “paradoxical” instead) that it was the weekend just gone that I became a fan of Chandhok, deeply impressed when he was on Radio Five Live duty for Free Practice that he won fifty quid off Ted Kravitz, not for knowing that Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen had identical qualification times for the 1997 European GP at Jerez, but for being able to state the time to the nearest thousandth of a second. There have been many F1 drivers with little regard for the history of the sport, indeed as if it never existed before they arrived. The ugliest example I know is when Michael Schumacher won the 1998 French GP with team-mate Eddie Irvine second, and when asked about the one-two questioned whether it was Ferrari’s first! I am cynical about rumours that HRT will be running with Toyota technology next season. The remnants of the Toyota team have a 2010 car ready to go but probably no other potential customers, so may have told HRT they can have the package and the back-up if they can find the apparently required €15 million, without much expectation that they will.

When it was learnt Button was off to McLaren, many thought Hamilton would eat him alive, and Jenson has done much to impress by competing well against Lewis. Hamilton made a comment, after finishing second in China to Button, that Jenson was making it easy for himself whilst he was doing it the hard way, and that he needed to learn from that. Lewis than had a bad race in Spain after a puncture, Button had his engine fiasco in Monte Carlo, and in the five races since Lewis has beaten Jenson every time, albeit by only one position except Britain where it was two. Certainly, Jenson is keeping up better than Heikki Kovalainen did, and Hamilton’s rookie year against Alonso showed just how good he was, never mind any improvement since. Paradoxically, Jenson may be doing more this year to show he deserved a World Championship than last season, when the question of if it was the car or the driver deserving the wins raised its head. Ferrari have decided to use team-orders, Red Bull see their guys taking points off one another, whilst at McLaren they offer driver-parity but Button may as well have been the number-two driver in recent races with Hamilton taking twenty-five points, a race-win worth, in the last five outings. I think it is to be admired that Lewis was so positive about acquiring such a race-winning team-mate, and has looked to learn from it with the sort of humility that Schumacher or Alonso are not prone to. For Jenson, it looks ominous, and impressive though it is how he has done this season, that Lewis simply has the edge. There often seems to be a psychological need for drivers to believe they are faster than anyone, with a succession of excuses if bested by a team-mate, until sometimes the inevitable, that the other guy is just better, has to be accepted. If Hamilton keeps beating him considerably more often than not, Button’s confidence, and perhaps his results, may be badly dented. Jenson really needs to get one over Lewis in Hungary, or will have a three-week break to think about losing six-in-a-row.

There has been much mention of Vettel only winning once this season from the six races he has been on pole. Two of these were Bahrain and Australia, when the spark-plug and wheel issues respectively spoiled what otherwise looked likely to be dominating performances. The third was China when mixed weather conditions were a bigger factor. Last season, Vettel had four poles, three of which he converted to wins, and 2008 he had one pole for his debut win with STR at Monza. Essentially, from eleven pole positions, he has made a couple of weak starts. No wonder he looked annoyed when it was suggested to him that he should adopt the strategy of not getting pole in view of the one-in-six success rate.

Vettel managed to gain three points by finishing third ahead of Hamilton’s fourth. Of course, if Ferrari had been off the pace (or get disqualified), the difference between first and second would have been seven points. Sebastian has generally been beating the McLarens if things go well, and would be quite a few points ahead of Webber if not for the spark-plug, wheel and brake glitches that were the sort of one-offs no driver deserves more than one of a season. Ferrari’s resurgence could make it harder for Vettel to catch Hamilton with the points more shared around between the three teams. Button won last year because although he struggled for points later in the season, the other teams took too many points off each other to catch him. Of course, it might help Vettel if he can beat the McLarens sometimes with a Ferrari or two between him and the Woking cars. My feeling is that if Ferrari had remained off the pace, Vettel with a decent run of luck could have outscored the Brits often and by enough to win the title, but with Ferrari back in the fray, it gives Hamilton more chance of holding his lead to the season’s end.

What’s The Points – Germany Update

July 25, 2010

Previous entries:

    What’s The Points
    What’s The Points – China Update
    What’s The Points – Spain Update
    What’s The Points – Monaco Update
    What’s The Points – Turkey Update
    What’s The Points – Canada Update
    What’s The Points – Valencia Update
    What’s The Points – Great Britain Update

(Obviously, this entry is horribly provisional with it being unknown what sanctions effecting the result may or may not be taken against Ferrari by the WMSC.)

Below is a comparison of the World Championship positions for this year’s points (left), last year’s points-system (middle) and the older 10-6-4-3-2-1 approach (right). Ties are decided by countback.

1   Hamilton   157   Hamilton   65   Hamilton   49
2   Button   143   Button   58   Webber   43
3   Webber   136   Vettel   55   Button   43
4      Vettel   136      Webber   53      Vettel   41
5   Alonso   123   Alonso   49   Alonso   37
6   Rosberg   94   Rosberg   36   Massa   20
7   Kubica   89   Kubica   35   Rosberg   19
8   Massa   85   Massa   34   Kubica   18
9   Schumacher   38   Schumacher   13   Schumacher   7
10   Sutil   35   Sutil   11   Barrichello   5

The order of the top-ten in the World Championship is unchanged despite Ferrari’s upsurge. It is clear that the quartet of drivers for McLaren and Red Bull, with Alonso striving for their coat-tails, are the first-division contenders. Rosberg, Kubica and Massa look to be fighting it out for the next division with a huge gap to the rest. Whatever one thinks of today’s decision to favour Alonso over Massa, even if Ferrari are broadly the fastest team for the rest of the season, it is a tall order for Alonso to catch and pass the four drivers ahead, with a fairly close points scoring system and the expectation Vettel, Webber, Hamilton and Button will be regularly finishing top-six, and grabbing wins where they can. If Ferrari are contending for wins and top-positions from now on with RBR and McLaren, this will probably be in the Woking team’s favour as Red Bull need quite a few wins and one-twos to overhaul the McLaren drivers.

The order for last year’s points is much the same except for being slightly kinder to Vettel. There is movement in the 10-6-4-3-2-1 scheme. Webber hangs on above Button as before with his three wins. Massa gets more reward for his two seconds and a third. Rosberg has had three third-places, Kubica a second place in Australia plus third at Monaco.

These are the points if given to engines:

   Engine Score    Average
per Team
1   Mercedes    479      159·7   
2   Renault   368   184·3   
3   Ferrari   233   77·7   
4   Cosworth   31   7·8   

No points for Cosworth. Ferrari scored 43 for first and second with zero help from Force India and Sauber. Renault scored 30, with Vettel and Webber in the top six, and both Renault drivers chipping in. Mercedes also had four contributors, from McLaren and Mercedes for 28. Ferrari made a 15-point gain on Mercedes, but with a 246-deficit and eight to go, would need to average beating them by over thirty points a race to win this.

The scores by nationality of drivers are:

   Nation Points   Scoring
1   Germany   305     5
2   Britain   300     2
3   Australia   136     1
4   Spain   126     2
5   Brazil   114     2
6   Poland   89     1
7   Japan   15     1
8   Italy   12     1
9   Russia   7     1
10   Switzerland   7     1

Britain gained a single point over Germany, with Button and Hamilton totalling 22 to the 21 of Vettel, Rosberg and Schumacher. No change in order except Russia squeezing ahead of Switzerland on countback, after Petrov’s tenth place. With Alonso’s win and Ferrari’s new pace, Webber’s chance of singlehandedly holding Australia in third looks slimmer than before.

Thank you to Pat W’s suggestion that the “Nations Cup” count only the top two finishers, as he remembers that CART used to do. This set me thinking and I decided to go for a similar idea, somewhat reminiscent of the scoring system that used to be used in the earlier years of the Constructor’s World Championship, of only counting the score of the highest driver in a race for each nation. I also decided to use 10-6-4-3-2-1, partly because I think it a better scoring regime, partly because it meant less work. Thus, for example, the McLaren 1-2 in China would give Britain 10 points for the win, nothing for second, and Rosberg’s third place would give Germany 4 points, with nothing for Vettel’s sixth place. Incidentally, only for Monaco did six different nationalities fill the top-six.

   Nation Points  
1   Britain   64    
2   Germany   52    
3   Australia   43    
4   Spain   37    
5   Brazil   25    
6   Poland   18    
7   Japan   1    

Obviously, the big difference is this gives Great Britain the lead, but Germany have more chance of fighting back than if I scored the two top finishers for each nation.

See also RG’s Germany update for his championship for new teams.

Great Britain Snippets (Belated)

July 22, 2010

(This piece is obviously very belated, and indeed I have not blogged at all for much too long. I did write some of this entry the night after the race, was not happy with what I had written about the Red Bull situation, felt very tired so went to bed. Then for more than a week, I have not been notably ill but have not been that well either, feeling far too mentally groggy to concentrate on writing. So sorry about that. I am undecided if I will still write about the Red Bull situation separately, but have excluded it from this entry. Readers may be interested in the last Motorsport podcast, essentially an extended interview with Christian Horner, after Turkey but before the events of Silverstone, a very interesting listen in itself but even more so in view of subsequent events. I expect most of you follow Joe Saward’s blog, but if not you really should read this and this, the first posted last month on Helmut Marko, the second on who runs Red Bull, which seems to be the most germane issue.)

Webber’s Silverstone win was his fifth, and his fifteenth podium from 148 races (Mark holds the record at 130 for the most GPs contested to win for the first time). There have been eight different winners in the last eight years at the circuit, Barrichello (Ferrari 2003), Schumacher (Ferrari), Montoya (McLaren), Alonso (Renault), Räikkönen (Ferrari), Hamilton (McLaren), Vettel (RBR) and Webber.

There was some talk that the new Silverstone would rival Monza on sheer speed. Comparing fastest laps, this year’s best was 145·3 mph (233·7 kph) whilst last year’s was 142·5 (229·2 kph), so not a huge difference and partly due to the cars getting faster. The fastest lap at Monza last season was 152·9 mph (246·1 kph).

It was sad to see Bruno Senna dumped for Britain in favour of Sakon Yamamoto. The Japanese pay-driver was clearly not race fit judging by the way his head was lolling around in practice runs. He was about a second a lap slower than Karun Chandhok early in the race, dropping to three or four seconds slower as the laps mounted, but after a rest behind the safety-car, Yamamoto was able to circulate at around a second behind his team-mate’s lap-times for the rest of the race. Rumours have been flying about why Senna was replaced at Silverstone, and we know now that Chandhok is to be usurped by the Japanese pay-driver for Germany, but clearly the team just need the money. It was a financial struggle to get the team on the grid this season for Bahrain with José Ramón Carabante providing most the money. The Carabante family business in Spain has had its assets frozen in a legal dispute over the sale of part of the group. Obviously, no one wants to sponsor them, apart from via pay-drivers, which may help the team survive from race to race but will not help the long-term position. The team have minimal infrastructure to run the Dallara-built cars. It has to be questioned if they will survive until the end of the season, and even if they do, what then? A takeover is probably the team’s only chance, maybe by one of the outfits tendering to FIA for the thirteenth-team-slot that is not selected, but it would have to be before the end of the season to stand any chance of preparing new cars in time. It has been pointed out that HRT have little more than an entry to sell, but if they do survive the season, they will get a third of the $30 million allocated to help the new teams. Anyone wishing to enter F1 next year could use the current cars to at least turn up at the earlier events perhaps producing their own car by the European rounds. Judging by what happened in the late ‘eighties and early ‘nineties, I can envisage HRT using the ten million dollars to make some minor updates to the car, make a down-payment on engines, and turning up to try to evade the 107% rule with whichever drivers bring the most money, as long as they can get a superlicence and are faster than continental drift.

I was interested as ever by that shot shown from time to time during races of fifteen to twenty Ferrari guys staring at computer screens. Their job is to monitor a forest of telemetry-parameters for the cars and engines ready to alert the team to any emerging problems. Two things strike me. Do they really need that many people? Surely computer-programmes could be written to detect and flag aberrant readings. Secondly, with modern telecommunications, surely these guys could do this back in Italy as effectively as behind the pits? Just how many of them are thinking, “For all the years I have been doing this, I might as well have been playing Minesweeper.”?

“What the stewards say is always right, so that is it.”, said Alonso after the Silverstone race. Again I sense the guiding hand of the Ferrari PR department, as immediately after the race, Fernando was too angry to give any interviews. I am sure the Spaniard was also instructed to make the quote about being convinced, after the British performance, that he will win the World Championship this year, despite being 47 points behind with nine to go, and Ferrari struggling to match Red Bull and McLaren, never mind beating them. Ferrari’s recent performances have led to a protracted roasting by the Italian media, and this was probably a desperate attempt by the team to generate some positive headlines after their drivers finished an unimpressive fourteenth and fifteenth.

Also making optimistic forecasts for the future shortly before Silverstone were F1’s comeback seniors, Schumacher and Pedro de la Rosa. Michael talked about concentrating his efforts towards next year whilst Pedro explained that a driver needs a full season to get fully up to speed. I would imagine most of us will be wondering if de la Rosa will be back at all next year (or indeed if Sauber have anything like enough money to be already spending on next year’s car plus finding a budget for next season), and is probably keen to engender the message that if they replace him, it will set the team back a year in driver-experience. I do not think he will be convincing anyone. The German seven-time champion, who used to be renowned for his ability to immediately set fast laps on getting in a car, has run out of excuses for not cutting the mustard, but looks determined to continue the experiment, and like de la Rosa and Ferrari, to distract from current weak performances with promises of unlikely future success.

As a Williams fan of thirty years, it was good to see Rubens Barrichello finish fifth, but bad that that is now an excellent result for the team that in the past have garnered seven drivers’ titles, nine constructors’ titles, and 113 wins. I so want to believe Barrichello’s enthusiasm about the team being on the way back to the top, but, as has been pointed out, the only reason they can really have for sticking with Cosworth is needing cheap engines, which does not bode well. Although pretty competitive last season (at least with Rosberg), the team made the decision not to adapt last year’s car but design a completely new one, and this has not improved the team’s fortunes. After ten races in 2009, Rosberg had 25·5 points, whilst Rubens, if calculated by last year’s points, would have ten points. I doubt Adam Parr replacing Frank Williams as Chairmen of Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited has much real significance; it was probably just felt Parr was due a promotion.

I was interested by an observation made in Free Practice (with the cost of F1, they should call it, ‘Bloody Expensive Practice’) that despite Force India being based within site of the Silverstone circuit, if they won, the Indian National Anthem would be played. Of course, Lotus Racing are based in Norfolk, are very keen to hark back to Team Lotus’s heritage with the cars resplendent in British Racing Green, but if they won the Malaysian National Anthem would be played. Most will remember that when Vettel took RBR’s first victory, it was by accident the British National Anthem was played instead of the Austrian, as used for subsequent victories. However, when Vettel won for STR, the Italian anthem was played as the Red Bull junior team are allowed their Italian identity. McLaren, Williams and Virgin are the only teams for whom victory would be marked with the British anthem, despite eight of twelve teams being based in Britain.

What’s The Points – Great Britain Update

July 11, 2010

Previous entries:

    What’s The Points
    What’s The Points – China Update
    What’s The Points – Spain Update
    What’s The Points – Monaco Update
    What’s The Points – Turkey Update
    What’s The Points – Canada Update
    What’s The Points – Valencia Update

Below is a comparison of the World Championship positions for this year’s points (left), last year’s points-system (middle) and the older 10-6-4-3-2-1 approach (right). Ties are decided by countback.

1   Hamilton   145   Hamilton   60   Hamilton   46
2   Button   133   Button   54   Webber   42
3   Webber   128   Webber   50   Button   41
4      Vettel   121      Vettel   49      Vettel   37
5   Alonso   98   Alonso   39   Alonso   27
6   Rosberg   90   Rosberg   35   Rosberg   19
7   Kubica   83   Kubica   33   Kubica   18
8   Massa   67   Massa   26   Massa   14
9   Schumacher   36   Schumacher   13   Schumacher   7
10   Sutil   35   Sutil   11   Barrichello   5

A painful race for Ferrari with 14th and 15th. Alonso keeps fifth in points but is not far shy of falling two race-wins behind the points leader. Kubica’s DNF saw him lose position to Rosberg in all three schemes. Nico seemed very positive about improvements to the Mercedes but his podium surely had much to do with both Ferrari drivers, Vettel, Kubica and Button having difficult weekends. However, he did stay ahead of Button without obvious difficulty after the safety-car period so let us see how he does in future races.

Webber has overtaken his team-mate in all three systems, but also squeezed ahead of Jenson under 10-6-4-3-2-1. That regime gives more favour to outright results. Button has seven top-six finishes to the Australian’s six, but Mark has three wins plus two other podiums, whilst Button has two wins with three other podiums.

These are the points if given to engines:

   Engine Score    Average
per Team
1   Mercedes    451      150·3   
2   Renault   338   169·3   
3   Ferrari   190   63·3   
4   Cosworth   31   3·9   

With Barrichello fifth and Hülkenberg tenth, Cosworth achieved their first double-points finish, outscoring Ferrari by 11 to 8.

The top six scores by nationality of drivers are:

   Nation Points   Scoring
1   Germany   284     5
2   Britain   278     2
3   Australia   128     1
4   Spain   101     2
5   Brazil   96     2
6   Poland   83     1

Britain gained two points on Germany with 30 to 28 despite Rosberg, Vettel, Sutil, Schumacher and Hülkenberg all finishing in the points for the first time.

See also RG’s Silverstone update for his championship for new teams.

Silverstone Driver Wins

July 10, 2010

Below is a table of Formula One World Championship driver-wins at Silverstone (Ascari’s two wins were in the years the championship ran to F2 rules).

Driver  Nat.   No. of
Years     Car         
Alain Prost  FRA   5    1983
McLaren-TAG Porsche
Jim Clark  GB   3    1963
Nigel Mansell  GB   3    1987
Michael Schumacher  GER   3    1998
José Froilán González  ARG   2    1951
Alberto Ascari  ITA   2    1952
Jackie Stewart  GB   2    1969
Jacques Villeneuve  CDN   2    1996
David Coulthard  GB   2    1999
Giuseppe Farina  ITA   1    1950     Alfa Romeo
Juan Manuel Fangio  ARG   1    1956     (Lancia) Ferrari
Peter Collins   GB   1    1958     Ferrari
Jack Brabham  AUS   1    1960     Cooper-Climax
Peter Revson  USA   1    1973     McLaren-Ford
Emerson Fittipaldi  BRA   1    1975     McLaren-Ford
James Hunt  GB   1    1977     McLaren-Ford
Clay Regazzoni  SWI   1    1979     Williams-Ford
John Watson  GB   1    1981     McLaren-Ford
Ayrton Senna  BRA   1    1988     McLaren-Honda
Damon Hill  GB   1    1994     Williams-Renault
Johnny Herbert  GB   1    1995     Benetton-Ford
Mika Häkkinen  FIN   1    2001     McLaren-Mercedes
Rubens Barrichello  BRA   1    2003     Ferrari
Juan Pablo Montoya  COL   1    2005     McLaren-Mercedes
Fernando Alonso  SPA   1    2006     Renault
Kimi Räikkönen  FIN   1    2007     Ferrari
Lewis Hamilton  GB   1    2008     McLaren-Mercedes
Sebastian Vettel  GER   1    2009     RBR-Renault

Home drivers have done well with sixteen wins in 43 events at Silverstone. The race in 1965 featured a British 1-2-3-4-5, the only by any nation, with Jim Clark winning, followed by Graham Hill (BRM), John Surtees (Ferrari), Mike Spence (Lotus-Climax), and Jackie Stewart (BRM).

It has been a happy hunting ground for McLaren with twelve wins, including the first win for the team under Ron Dennis when John Watson was victorious in 1981.

Nigel Mansell won, took pole, fastest lap, and led from start to finish in both 1991 and 1992. Alberto Ascari led all the laps in the ’53 race as well as taking pole and fastest lap, but the latter was shared with José Froilán González. (In 1954 at Silverstone, they only timed the fastest lap to the nearest second resulting in seven drivers splitting the point that that earned between them.) Other ocassions drivers did the triple of win, pole and fastest lap are:

1977 James Hunt
1994 Damon Hill
2003 Rubens Barrichello
2006 Fernando Alonso
2009 Sebastian Vettel

Life Begins At Forti

July 9, 2010

A subject for debate might be which has been the best team in the history of Formula One, with arguments for Ferrari, McLaren, Team Lotus or Mercedes (100% title-success with Juan Manuel Fangio in the two previous seasons Stuttgart had a team in 1954 and 1955, winning nine of the twelve events entered). Which, however was the worst?

There have been teams that entered one or two rounds with resounding failure, especially in the old days when privateers might have a go (like Bernard Charles Ecclestone who failed to qualify his self-entered Connaught twice in 1958) but those aside, the real period for sustained failure was, as covered in my last entry on non-pre-qualifying, the late ‘eighties into the early ‘nineties. Although teams like Coloni, AGS, EuroBrun, Zakspeed, Osella and Onyx all amassed hideous totals of DNPQs, all of them at some point qualified and finished races, some even scored points. Andrea Moda were such a shambles, they vie for most embarrassing team of all time, and almost certainly would have recorded nothing but DNPQs had they turned up a year earlier than their useless 1992 campaign, but with shorter entry-lists in that latter season, they at least managed once to qualify a car, albeit for their best result of retirement. The all-time worst team in terms of quantity of consistent failure and general uselessness has to be Life Racing Engines.

Franco Rocchi had been an engine-designer for Ferrari responsible for the 3-litre V8 used by some Ferrari road-cars in the ‘seventies. Rumour is during this period, he proposed a W12 engine unsucessfully, but after being dispensed by the Italian car-maker in 1980, worked on the project privately. If you view a V8 engine from in front, it has two banks of four cylinders, one leaning to the left, the other to the right, creating the v-shape, but a W12 engine has a third bank of four cylinders pointing up vertically in the middle. Theoretically, it offers the power of a V12 but closer to the compactness of a V8, although will be taller with a higher centre-of-gravity. By 1989, his W12 was ready.

Enter Italian businessman Ernesto Vita, who bought the commercial-rights hoping to sell to the post-turbo F1-teams that needed normally-aspirated engines. After acquiring zero customers in 1989, Vita decided to start his own team the season after to show them what they were missing, naming the team with a translation of his surname. In ’89, FIRST had made an attempt to establish an F1 team commissioning Richard Divilia to derive a design from a March F3000 car. When Divila saw the shoddy and dangerous quality of the construction of the resultant chassis, he warned drivers not to get in it and took legal action to avoid his name being associated with it. FIRST abandoned the move to F1, but the chassis was bought by Vita, patched up, and adapted for the W12. Thus the team arrived for the first round of 1990 at Phoenix as, with Ferrari, one of only two teams with their own chassis and engines.

Gary Brabham failed to pre-qualify the car managing a time 38 seconds off the eventual pole-time. The engine only had 450 hp when 600 to 700 hp was the standard. The car broke down not far out of the pits in Brazil, and Brabham quit. Veteran, Bruno Giacomelli, took over, recording a time at the next round at Imola of 7:16·212, less than five minutes shy of pre-qualification. As the season went on, the car only ever managed three or four laps, if that, before breaking, the highlight being only 14 seconds off pre-qualifying at Silverstone. After 12 races, the Life Racing Engines team fitted a Judd engine for Portugal, but the engine-cover would not fit so no time was recorded. The team were still eighteen seconds off pre-qualification in Italy and duly disappeared from existence.

I use a lot for statistics, and looked up Life recently. I was greeted by the message, “An Error Had Occurred”. This amused me because I thought it a very apposite summary of the team. I e-mailed the site receiving a reply that they were aware of the problem, it will be corrected in an update to the site (due yesterday (Thursday)), and that the error was caused because when the site-programming tried to calculate the team’s pole-success percentage, it divided by how many times the team was in qualification, and any programmer will tell you that code leading to dividing by zero causes failure.

(Let me be honest in admitting that I am only writing about Forti to justify the title of this piece, whilst also doubting that anyone under forty remembers the expression, “Life Begins At Forty”.)

Apart from the Mastercard Lola debacle of 1997, the last notably uncompetitive team in F1 was Forti Corse. The F3000 team moved up to Formula One in 1995, with driver Pedro Dinz’s very rich family underwriting the first-season budget with sponsorship from Parmelet and a clutch of other companies. This gave the team a decent budget, but the car designed by Sergio Rinland seemed to closely resemble the last car he had designed for Fondmetal for 1992, was the only F1 car that season with manual-shift gears, and stank. Qualifying was no problem with only thirteen teams but Dinz and team-mate, Roberto Moreno, were finishing six to nine laps behind, four of their first five finishs too far back to be classified, and more than 50% of starts resulting in retirement in the first ten races. The team did manage to find a bit of improvement in the cars by later in the season. In a high attrition race, the last of the season in Australia, Pedro finished seventh.

Word was that the sponsors did not mind the team being so slow because the amount of times they were lapped gave them good TV time, but this was probably face-saving sentiment, and unsurprisingly Dinz and his money moved to Ligier for 1996. Also, following the slow performances of Forti and Pacific in ’95, the 107% qualification rule was re-introduced, having been scrapped some years earlier with the disparity between turbo and non-turbo cars (Pacific’s second-and-last year was 1995 when in order to stave off folding, they had resorted to a succession of slow pay-drivers). The previous year, only Dinz’s qualification in Australia had been within 107%.

Although stuck with adaptions of the old cars for the first few rounds, the team had more up-to-date Ford engines, and the new car when ready was praised by the drivers, Luca Badoer and Andrea Montermini, as a significant improvement. Unfortunately, the team was badly in debt to Ford for the engines. The Shannon organisation, which had teams in F3000 and several F3 series, bought into the team before Spain, where neither car qualified. Things seemed fine in Canada, apart from double-retirement, but had fallen apart by France. Shannon claimed 51% ownership of the team whilst Forti claimed not, denying any payment had been made. At Magny Cours, both cars had to pull out of the race to preserve engine-mileage, Britain both stopped after two laps in qualification using the last of the mileage, and Germany, without fresh engines, neither car left the pit ending the team’s existence. Indeed, Shannon’s other teams also collapsed, but later a court ruled they did own 51%!

(Second entry in a row to mention F1 Rejects, but they do have good articles on Andrea Moda, Life and Forti, amongst other unsuccessful teams, listed here.)

“What do you mean, race-weekend?”

July 6, 2010

(I started writing about something else and found what was meant to be a short aside on pre-qualification rapidly expanded into what I have now decided to make a separate entry.)

Most will be aware there used to be pre-qualification in the late ‘eighties into the early ‘nineties. It was a time when there were more than the thirty cars permitted to practise and attempt qualification. Thus a one-hour pre-session would be held, probably late Thursday afternoon, when some teams had to pre-qualify at least one driver or pack up and go home. According to an unconfirmed source, teams exempt from pre-qualification were those that had finished top-thirteen in either of the two previous half-seasons, another source says it was based on the last half-season. Some smaller teams only running one car would avoid the former stipulation creating thirty exemptions, but towards the end of this period one-car teams were banned. Certainly, it could be very harsh with, for example, most races in 1990 having six drivers chasing a single place in the last thirty.

The very first pre-qualification was at the 1965 South Africa Grand Prix. The country had its own domestic F1 series so a crowd of local racers turned up with a variety of out-of-date machinery. Three drivers DNPQed, the dishonour for being the first to do so shared between Clive Puzey from Rhodesia, and South Africans, Jackie Pretorius and Dave Charlton.

In not dissimilar fashion, there used to be a British F1 series, and a bunch of them turned up for the 1976 British GP. That year, excess entrants were not allowed to compete, but the 1977 British GP featured six of these drivers not pre-qualifying.

The next round to feature pre-qualification was the fourth in 1978 at Long Beach, California, with four drivers, including future World Champion, Keke Rosberg, finding themselves with a free weekend. Most the following races that season saw DNPQs. In a period when less drivers were allowed to practise and start at Monaco, pre-qualifying featured there in ’79 and ’81. It returned again for a few races in 1982, and just for Monaco in 1983.

The phenomenon reared again for Brazil 1988, with one driver making an early exit in all but three races that season but that was just a warm up. Thirty eight drivers arrived with seats for the first round of 1989 in Jacarepaguá, Brazil, with eight proved to have wasted their air-fare before proper practice began. The rest of the season, thirty-nine drivers with nine DNPQs was the norm, except Portugal with only eight. Aguri Suzuki (later owner of Super Aguri) managed to not pre-qualify his Zakspeed in all sixteen races.

Things settled for 1990 with the field down to thirty-five, and with Onyx quitting after ten events, followed by EuroBrun and single-car team Life dropping out of F1, pre-qualifying in the last two races was unnecessary. 1991 saw 34 entries for most races down to 32 by the last with all needing early pruning. 1992 started with thirty in the field, with Andrea Moda joining the fray by the third race necessitating DNPQ exclusions when the team managed to field cars. The Brabham team was only able to field one car in Hungary, Damon Hill finishing eleventh for what proved to be the marque’s last stand, with his good friend, Perry McCarthy, recording the last ever DNPQ. McCarthy was fielded by Andrea Moda because they had to have two cars when the team could barely run one (his team-mate, Roberto Moreno, with their backing only made it out of pre-qualifying one time in seven attempts). They once sent Perry out with 45 seconds of pre-qualification remaining, another occasion with wet tyres on a drying track. I strongly advise reading his book, Flat Out and Broke, and following the link at the bottom of this entry to F1 Rejects as they have produced an excellent account of his trials that makes my writing more about his amazing story redundant.

Andrea Moda were out of F1 after Belgium as the team-owner had been arrested for fraud. The Fondmetal team abandoned having run out of funds a race later, so for the last three races of ’92 there were only 26 runners and everyone qualified. In 1993, they restricted starters to 25 so one car would fail to qualify. I think there is some argument for bringing that back; it would certainly make Q1 more interesting.

This table is for the seasons involving pre-qualification.

Year     No. of
1965     3          1     
1977     6          1     
1978     25          8     
1979     1          1     
1981     5          1     
1982     10          5     
1983     2          1     
1988     13          14     
1989     142          16     
1990     61          14     
1991     56          16     
1992     13          8     

Below are the drivers that experienced not pre-qualifying. NQ means never qualified for GP, and NPQ is for drivers that never pre-qualified and always had to.

Driver Nat.    No. of
Gabriele Tarquini  ITA    25       
Roberto Moreno  BRA    22       
Nicola Larini  ITA    16       
Aguri Suzuki  JAP    16       
Bertrand Gachot  FRA    16       
Bernd Scheider  GER    14       
Claudio Langes  ITA    14      NPQ 
Piercarlo Ghinzani  ITA    13       
Yannick Dalmas  FRA    13       
Pedro Chaves  POR    13      NPQ 
Bruno Giacomelli  ITA    12       
Gregor Foitek  SWI    10       
Olivier Groulliard  FRA    10       
Alex Cafi  ITA    9       
Piere-Henri Raphanel  FRA    9       
Oscar Laurrauri  ARG    8       
Volker Weidler  GER    8      NQ 
Stefan Johanson  SWE    8       
Joachin Winklehock  GER    7      NPQ 
Eric van de Poole  BEL    7       
Enrico Bertaggia  ITA    6      NQ 
Fabrizio Barbazza  ITA    6       
Perry McCarthy  GB    6      NQ 
Keke Rosberg  FIN    4       
Hector Rebaque  MEX    3       
Derek Daly  IRL    3       
Rolf Strommelen  GER    3       
Ricardo Paletti  ITA    3       
Emillio de Villota  SPA    3       
Martin Brundle  GB    3       
Michele Alboreto  ITA    3       
Emmuele Pirro  ITA    3       
Danny Ongais  USA    2       
Rene Arnoux  FRA    2       
Brett Lunger  USA    2       
Martin Brundle  GB    2       
Arturo Merzarario  ITA    2       
Brian Henton  GB    2       
Derek Warwick  GB    2       
J.J. Lehto  FIN    2       
Gary Brabham  AUS    2      NPQ 
Naoki Hattori  JAP    2      NPQ 
Clive Puzey  RHO    1      NPQ 
Jackie Pretorius  SA    1       
Dave Charlton  SA    1       
Mikko Kozararowitsky  FIN    1      NQ 
Brian McGuire  AUS    1      NPQ 
Andy Suttcliffe  GB    1      NPQ 
Tony Trimmer  GB    1      NQ 
David Purley  GB    1       
Guy Edwards  GB    1       
Patrick Neve  BEL    1       
Bernard de Dryver  BEL    1      NQ 
Alberto Columbo  ITA    1      NQ 
Gianfranco Brancatelli  ITA    1      NQ 
Harald Erti  AUT    1       
Slim Borgudd  SWE    1       
Elisio Salazer  RCH    1      (Chile) 
Teo Fabi  ITA    1       
Raul Boesel  BRA    1       
Chico Serra  BRA    1       
Johnny Cecotto  VEN    1      (Venezuela) 
Roberto Guerrero  COL    1       
Phillippe Alliot  FRA    1       
Andrea de Cesaris  ITA    1       
Mark Blundell  GB    1       
Ukyo Katayama  JAP    1       

Gabriele Tarquini did not pre-qualify 18 times for AGS across three seasons, ’89, ’90 and ’91. He failed to qualify thirteen times additionally with the team, but did start 15 races for AGS with one point-scoring sixth place.

These are the teams that suffered non-pre-qualification woes. CC means all were customer-car DNPQs.

Team No. of
Coloni  52       
AGS  45       
EuroBrun  41       
Zakspeed  30       
Osella  27       
Onyx  16       
Life  13      Never went beyond pre-qualification 
Lambo(ghini)  13       
Andrea Moda  12       
March  9      3 were customer cars 
RIAL  8       
Fondmetal  8       
Dallara  7       
Footwork  6       
Lotus  5      CC 
Theodore  5       
Toleman  4       
Brabham  4       
Merzario  3       
Arrows  3       
Lola  3       
Shadow  2      CC 
Hesketh  2       
Martini  2       
McLaren  2      CC 
Ensign  2      CC 
Surtees  2      1 was a customer car 
LDS  1      CC 
LEC  1       
McGuire  1      Modified customer Williams 
BRM  1      CC 
Wolf  1      CC 
ATS  1       
Fittipaldi  1       
Jordan  1       
Venturi  1       

Coloni entered one car in two races in 1987, returning a DNQ and retirement. In the 16 races of ’88, they collected their first six DNPQs, two DNQs, four retirements, and a best finish of eighth. Just getting into their stride, with two cars the season after, they were able to gain 22 DNPQs, along with five DNQs and five retirements. Back to one car, 1990 started with ten DNPQs and finished with six DNQs. In ’91, they missed Spain but DNPQed the other fifteen. Having not started a race in over two years, and not having finished one in over three, they left F1.

EuroBrun picked up a few DNPQs in ’88, in which they managed a best finish of eleventh. 1989, they reduced to one car and did not qualify at the first event in Brazil, and did not pre-qualify for the remaining fifteen. Undeterred, they expanded to two cars the season after, with Roberto Moreno managing 13th in the first round. His best result in the next five races was one retirement. He followed up with eight DNPQs, whilst team-mate, Claudio Langes, failed to pre-qualify once in the fourteen races before EuroBrun quit.

Zakspeed in their last year, 1989, collected 30 DNPQs and two retirements. In better times, they once had a point-scoring finish, courtesy of Martin Brundle finishing fifth at the San Marino GP in 1987.

Life is the subject I initially planned to write about before being distracted into pre-qualification, so more about them in the next post.

For those that think there is too much emphasis on success in Formula One, I recommend a look around the F1 Rejects site. Read more about Perry McCarthy on that site here.