Aug 30, 2010

Ambrose leaves Montreal empty-handed for 4th time

He wasn’t first time lucky, he suffered the sophomore jinx, and his third time definitely wasn’t a charm. Now, Marcos Ambrose has a fourth frustration in Montreal to fume over.

After taking control of the race early and passing cars at will, a mechanical failure turned another promising performance in Montreal to tears as he retired from the NAPA Auto Parts 200 on Sunday with 24 laps to go due to a suspension problem.

Instead of celebrating a win on the podium, a dejected Ambrose sat at the end of his hauler talking about what could have been — again.

It was the same old story for the likeable Australian, who has dominated each of the four NASCAR Nationwide races in Montreal, only to have something go wrong and spoil an incredible performance. In all, he has led 149 of 273 laps Nationwide has run on the 12-turn, 4.361 kilometre Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

So, when does the constant disappointment make him begin to have a hate on for Montreal?

“Oh, about now,” he said with a huge smile. “You know it’s a great track, a great city, huge crowd and I love coming here. Just because I am not winning doesn’t mean I don’t have fun. It’s just a shame I can’t get to victory lane.”

An alternator failure meant that Ambrose had to shut down all the fans in the car to conserve electrical energy as the power got sucked from the battery. With engine power falling, Ambrose needed to drive the car hard to keep up. And that was his downfall.

“We were dominating early on. I held the lead for a long time but I drove it so hard that I broke some of the left front suspension,” he said. “You can’t say we didn’t give it a good shot.”

Ambrose told reporters that he needed to sleep on it when asked whether he'd be back in 2011 to try to finally win in Montreal.

Let's hope he does come back and gets that elusive win. He deserves it.

Aug 18, 2010

Windsor wisdom?

Peter Windsor resurfaced earlier this month as a new columnist for GPweek magazine after laying low for the better part of a year during the USF1 fiasco.

As readers might recall, Windsor was one of the men behind stillborn Formula One team which never made it to a race despite his continued promises left and right that it would be in Bahrain last March.

In his first act as a GPweek staffer, Windsor did a Q&A with the magazine explaining his side of the story in an "exclusive" interview.

Bottom line he says is that "a bit of humiliation is always good for the soul," but unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the experience has removed much of the self important attitude displayed by Mr. Windsor. 

He takes no blame for the disaster that was USF1. Nope, that's the fault of Formula One, the Formula One Teams Association, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the economy, and sponsors, but not the silly decisions made by Windsor et al at the helm of USF1.

You know, like the incredibly misguided idea that the team could setup in the U.S. and build its car away from the hub of the sport and its talent. Despite being told by everyone "that Europe was the only place to do a car," Windsor and crew went forward.

Apparently the time "when an F1 car could be designed and built in America" had not arrived.

As an aside, one would think that Windsor, who has been a top communications official for several F1 teams and a working journalist for SpeedTV among others, would have understood that this kind of communication might have saved USF1 from the trash bin by quashing many of the rumours that he claimed sabotaged the operation.

But the more laughable part of the interview is his assertions on U.S. drivers in F1. He expresses disbelief at the fact that no one in F1 saw it wise to sign Danica Patrick to a contract.

Let's put aside the fact that Windsor promised up and down that he would run U.S. drivers on his team and vowed on pain of death not to go the pay driver route before signing flush Argentine driver José Maria López.

After blaming everyone else for his misfortune and making decisions that were apparently based on false assumptions, the real kicker here is that in trying to understand why Patrick hasn't had a shot in grand prix racing, he says: "You should never take anything for granted in F1 these days."

Apparently the humility thing kicks in slowly…

Aug 8, 2010

Mark Webber pays it forward

My latest column in the Globe about Formula One racer Mark Webber's help to IndyCar driver Will Power...

Formula One driver Mark Webber doesn’t have to win the world title this year to be a champion in Will Power’s eyes.

That’s because without getting some financial aid from the Red Bull racer five years ago, Power’s career might have come to a screeching halt.

Instead, Webber pitched in to help his fellow Australian keep racing and Power is now leading the IndyCar Series championship on the strength of four wins and eight top-5 finishes going into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Although he excelled once given the chance, Power's success in IndyCar may never have happened had the pair not met in 2004 at the Silverstone circuit in England, when he was watching the British Formula 3 Series from the sidelines due to lack of funding.

Read the rest at the Globe and Mail.

Jul 2, 2010

Did fans really get their say?

With loads of back patting and self congratulations happening in the wake of the Formula One Teams Association's fan forum this week in London, I’d like to take a moment to toss some cold water on the proceedings.

Maybe I am a complete cynic, but I wouldn’t suggest that F1 fans get their hopes up that it will have much of an effect on the way the sport does business.

Only 150 fans were given the chance to attend the forum, on a first come first served basis. Those registering for the event also had to submit their question in advance. So much for an impromptu and open discussion.

In addition, having it in London meant that the forum only addressed one type of fan from one country with particular interests. My guess is a fan forum in the U.S. — provided that F1 could actually find any fans there — would have a markedly different set of concerns about the sport's accessibility, considering their experience with other forms of racing.

But the bigger problem is that listening to FOTA representatives talk shows that they seem to be finding reasons to show why the fans are mistaken with their impressions of the sport rather than listening carefully and taking notes. This has been the case with the sport’s fan survey since it began.

Does anyone know what the No. 1 want of fans has been since the survey began? Well, it is and has always been overtaking on track. And that problem has not been addressed at all by the sport.

And yes, before we start ragging on me about all the passing this season, let’s remember that the weather conditions induced most of the overtaking, not the sport’s efforts.

Look at the dry races and you’ll see: Bahrain was boring. Only backmarkers getting in Fernando Alonso’s way made things interesting in Montreal. And Valencia was a yawner, save for the FIA’s penalty lunacy and Kamui Kobayashi on brand new soft tires at the end of the race against those on old hard ones.

And having some of the sport’s key players saying they’d rather see a heated battle between two drivers without a pass than drivers whizzing by each other at will simply insults the fans who have asked for it. It’s not a question of one or the other. Maybe we can find a happy middle ground where we don’t have a choice between no overtaking and 25 passes a lap for the lead?

Fans simply want to see battles where a driver CAN actually pass another. It’s not very difficult to understand. Anyone who has ever watch MotoGP understands this idea.

Like I said earlier, Kobayashi got by two cars in Valencia only because he had a gigantic advantage. Not unlike a McLaren trying to get by a Lotus. But put two cars together that are a second apart in laps times and the chance of a pass are zero to none, unless the guy in front runs into a wall.

Now, actually making it happen it starts with a governing body that makes proper rules.

So far, the FIA has failed on that respect, but it cannot be blamed solely. There is after all a technical working group made up of the teams, which is supposed to be the expert second sober thought on all the rules. And it let the loophole for the double diffuser through last year.

Remember the double diffuser that negated all the recommendations of the overtaking working group?

It seems the solution is pretty simple. Get rid of all the aerodynamic components that aren’t wings. Then add bigger, more grippy tires that don’t last 60 laps. Next is a mandate that calls for smaller wings with a maximum of two surfaces. Write it up in clear rules that do not allow for “interpretation.”

Essentially, an F1 car should be a giant go-kart with an adequate amount of downforce and a hugely powerful engine.

The final step is to combine this with tracks that actually penalize a driver for mistakes — which they will make driving these cars — rather than let them off the hook on smoothly paved runoff areas that mean they hardly lose time when they make an error.

Jun 30, 2010

Why the Valencia fiasco was the FIA’s fault

Ok, everyone has an opinion on the safety car pass by Lewis Hamilton in Valencia on Sunday and whether the fact that he still finished second despite breaking the rules while those who played fair were essentially penalized.

It does seem that the British media — unsurprisingly of course — are finding ways to defend their boy Hamilton. Not out of the ordinary, as Lewis is the greatest driver to ever strap himself into a car if you go by them.

Meanwhile the Alonso Ferrari camp is equally adamant that their man was given the short end of the stick, going from third to ninth because he didn’t pass the safety car illegally and instead pulled behind the car as required under the regulations.

This meant he was stuck behind the safety car as Hamilton streaked away. In the end, Hamilton pitted for tires and a new nose cone without losing a place — only because he illegally passed the safety car — while Alonso and teammate Felipe Massa paid the price for getting held up by the safety car.

Now, we can argue about the luck of the draw forever, but there are two salient points here that have escaped many arguments surrouning the incident. and both point to a massive failure on the part of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).

First, the illegal pass of the safety car has to be considered as one of the most egregious transgressions a driver can make. The safety car on track assumes that there is a serious situation on track where there may be an injury, track workers on the scene in a dangerous position, or huge amounts of debris on the tarmac. People’s lives are likely in danger in same way, something that is magnified by a driver ignoring the rules and driving past the safety car to speed around the track for his own gain. And yet, the proscribed punishment for such a transgression is a driver though penalty? So, fail the FIA on that account.

Second, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, the sport’s governing body failed to change the safety car rules once refuelling was banned. The rule was lifted after it was thought that a driver may run out of fuel under the safety car when they would had refuelling, but the new rules for 2010 made that point moot. But the FIA didn’t change the regulations. If it had, the pitlane would have been closed once the
safety car emerged and no one would gain or lose places because of where the safety car picked up the field. So, fail the FIA on that account too.

The FIA will now look into the regulations concerning the safety car in a meeting of the Sporting Working Group that will happen sometime before the British Grand Prix on July 11.

My guess is that the rules will change to have the pitlane closed when the safety car emerges and the penalty for passing it illegally will no longer be a drive through.

And when that happens, it will be clear evidence the FIA is guilty for the mess in Valencia.

But don't expect any apologies or regrets for a giant screw up that made the sport look like a Mickey Mouse show — again.

Jun 28, 2010

No reason to follow the rules in F1

My latest column for the Globe and Mail:

Formula One may be the pinnacle when it comes to auto racing, but its officiating continues to make it look like a bush league sport.

Time and time again, F1's governing Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) has dropped the ball when it comes to making and applying rules and Sunday's European Grand Prix only exposed further challenges to the sport's credibility.

That's the only conclusion that can be reached when the FIA allows a driver, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, to get a clear benefit from breaking the rules.

More at Globe Drive

Jun 25, 2010

Old names and new teams

Let me make myself perfectly clear: I believe that a sport diminishes itself when it allows participants to take credit for others’ accomplishments.

Now, if that makes me one of these “purists” who wants to stick with tradition, so be it.

That brings me to Lotus Racing.

Now some Formula One journalists that I respect have argued that Tony Fernandes has shown the proper respect to be a suitable heir to the legend of Team Lotus.

As they point out, the car is green and yellow, the team is based close to the old Lotus headquarters and its first chassis took a Lotus nomenclature.

And, kudos to new owner Tony Fernandes for going to Colin Chapman’s family and asking permission to use the Lotus name.

But in the end, that doesn’t make it Team Lotus. And it certainly doesn’t make it right.

In hockey here in North America, I have a similar issue with the Ottawa Senators franchise which began in the early 1990s using the name of a team that players in the city almost a century ago. There is no connection to the old squad, and the records for the new team only begin when the new franchise started playing.

Yet, the Ottawa Senators have Stanley Cup banners hanging from their rafters that belong to the original team but are displayed in the new franchise’s colours. And the team always talks about winning its first Cup in the modern era.

Sorry kids, but there’s no connection to the old team and its accomplishments except for the name. And the sport shouldn’t allow those lines to be drawn and fans should not stand for it either.

Competing, winning and finding success in the top echelon of any sport is supposed to be difficult and fans should not accept sport allowing teams to take shortcuts.

Formula One is included in that group.

Really, isn’t that why there were howls of protest when Bernie Ecclestone suggested there should be passing shortcuts designed into circuits to help drivers overtake?

If the new Team Lotus wants to keep that tradition alive, more power to them. The rub is that they can do that in many ways, such as adopting the team’s ethics, drive and spirit.

Unfortunately, the new team chose to adopt Team Lotus’ records, wins and races as its own and is now claiming that Valencia is Lotus’ 500th start and the next victory will be No. 80 for the squad.

This is not the way to go. Bottom line is that route only makes it seem to me that sportsmanship got lost along that way as the marketing folks took full branding control.

So, for me, Valencia is and always will be Lotus Racing’s ninth start and its next win will be its first. And no one can convince me otherwise.

Jun 11, 2010

Renault's winning formula

My latest column in the Globe and Mail...

With its venture capital owners and major manufacturer in the background, the Renault Formula One team’s model may be the future of the sport.

But F1 is a world where change comes slowly and old habits die hard, so the Luxembourg-based Genii Capital that now controls the Renault outfit seems to be ahead of the rest as the teams prepare for Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

The first act of the new ownership group, which manages money for many of Europe’s wealthiest families, was to split the outfit into two different units, one that worries about racing and another that only deals with the business end of the sport, so one does not have undue influence over the other.

More at Globe Drive

Jun 7, 2010

A breath of fresh air in F1 racing

My latest column in the Globe and Mail...

Gerard Lopez may be a bit too young to recall Formula One's glory years in the 1970s, but there's little doubt he's a bit of a throwback to the sport's halcyon days.

Renault F1's new majority owner would be pleased to see the sport go back to the days when drivers oozed charisma, characters dominated the pitlane, teams simply cared about racing, and fans regularly met their racing heroes.

“Some teams have become really clinical almost like corporate structures with no soul. And racing gets lost,” said Lopez, 38, who is as comfortable in a boardroom as he is with the gear heads in an F1 garage.

More at Globe Drive

Jun 4, 2010

An audience with Joe Saward

A quick reminder that Joe Saward will be the host of a Formula 1 insiders' view event designed for fans on Friday, June 11th at the Pub St Paul, 124 St-Paul East in Old Montreal. It begins at 19:00 and includes a buffet dinner and live bands later in the evening. Entry will be by ticket only.

The event which aims to give fans the chance to get a unique insight into F1 as Joe begins the evening with a formal discussion about the spotrts answers questions from the audience.

Joe began his motorsport journalism career in 1983 with a gig covering European Formula 3 races. The former racing editor at Autosport now runs one of the world's most influential and trusted F1 websites, He is one of F1’s most experienced writers and has attended every Grand Prix since 1988.

Tickets are priced at C$60 per person and may be purchased online at an Audience with Joe in Montreal.

May 31, 2010

Double dose of Red Bull doesn’t ensure a win

My latest column in the Globe and Mail:

Their ads say that Red Bull gives you wings, but having its Formula One drivers flying into each other probably wasn’t the planned result.

With 17 laps left in Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were cruising to a Red Bull 1-2 when disaster struck.

The pair tangled as Vettel tried to overtake his teammate going into Turn 12, knocking the German out of the race while Webber continued and limped to the pitlane for a new nose cone.

More at: Globe Drive

May 17, 2010

Kubica races to surprising start

My latest column in The Globe and Mail:

When Robert Kubica signed with Renault for 2010 after his BMW-Sauber team announced it would withdraw from Formula 1at the end of last season, things looked bleak for the talented Polish driver.

Only three years after winning consecutive world championships, Renault had limped through 2009 and finished eighth out of 10 teams with a dismal 26 points. And if it weren’t for the superlative talent of two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso wringing the most out of a terrible car, things would have been much worse.

More at Globe Drive

May 6, 2010

Lotus launches new online shop

OK, it may not be the old Colin Chapman Lotus Team, but the stuff is still really cool.

The newly revived Lotus Racing has unveiled team clothes and accessories available for purchase. The selection is sparse, with only 13 items for sale and nothing for women or kids until June, but the British racing green stuff is rather classy and neat.

The shop is open now with more items to come later in the season, including the usual caps, backpacks, t-shirts, drink bottles, key holders, luggage tags and pens.

And while you can see prices in Malaysian Ringgits, the Canadian dollar is not one of the available currencies.

The Thrill of the Chase

My latest column in the Globe and Mail...

With the NASCAR season almost one-third over, almost half of the Chase for the Cup qualifiers from last year need to get it in gear.

Five of the 12 drivers who battled in the 10-race playoff last year are on the outside looking in going into Darlington this weekend, the 11th of the season’s 36 races.

And while it may be too early to panic, the five drivers — Kasey Kahne, Juan Montoya, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers — know they can’t afford to lose more ground to the top 12.

More at Globe Drive

May 4, 2010

Porsche Cayman Interseries video

The newly Porsche Cayman Interseries ran its second race of its inaugural season at Road Atlanta in Braselton Georgia and the car maker used the occasion to produce a video about the new series. Also included are interviews with the founders of the series as well as on-track footage of the heritage livery themed 2010 Porsche Caymans.


The Cayman Interseries: HSR, Road Atlanta from TangentVector on Vimeo.

Apr 22, 2010

Gordon happy NASCAR an old spoiler sport again

Jeff Gordon's prospects go up with spoiler, James Hinchcliffe wins, and Lewis Hilton's unpunished antics get ink in my latest column in the Globe and Mail:

Watch out for Jeff Gordon for the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

After not having much luck with the Car of Tomorrow's wing, the four-time champion will be looking to regain old form as the Sprint Cup gets back to racing on faster tracks with the old-style spoiler back on the car.

Simply put, Gordon struggled in the wing era, taking only two wins in the 93 races it was bolted to his car. With a spoiler, Gordon won 80 times in 493 starts -- roughly once every sixth race -- and took four titles.

More at: Globe Drive

Apr 20, 2010

A grand evening indeed

F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone and former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Fortier, now at the law firm Ogilvy Renault will co-chair a pre-Canadian Grand Prix charity event on June 10, 2010 called “The Grand Evening.”

The exclusive soirée will benefit the Sainte Justine University Hospital Center UHC Foundation and the Hôpital Sacré-Coeur de Montréal Foundation.

How exclusive, or should I say "grand," you ask.

Well, no run of the mill Formula One fan will be attending as tickets for the grand social rendez-vous go for a cool $1,000 each, or a bargain $10,000 for tables of 10, which gets you cocktails and dinner.

Race promoter Octane Racing Group is organizing the event, which is an official activity of the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix. Mercedes-Benz Canada and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada are also partners.

Anyone interested in attending can get more information at the Canadian Grand Prix website or by calling 514 350-4731.

Apr 15, 2010

Wickens is new Status symbol

My latest column for the Globe and Mail...

Arguably Canada's best shot at having another driver in Formula One, Robert Wickens will be racing this year thanks to a countryman with long roots in motor racing.

He's Vancouver businessman Teddy Yip Jr., majority owner of the Status Grand Prix team that signed Wickens to race in the GP3 series late last month. Although relatively new to the racing business, Yip's motorsports roots run all the way back to F1 in the 1970s when his father, Theodore, owned a team.

“Naturally, being immersed in the motor racing environment from such an early age developed my love of the sport, and I've always maintained a keen interest,” he said.

More at: Globe Drive

Feb 18, 2010

Sato in IndyCar

Former F1 driver Takuma Sato has signed with KV Racing Technology to race in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

No terms of the deal were announced, but it is thought drivers need to bring about $3 million to the table for an Indy Car ride.

“This is a very exciting time for me and all my supporters,” Sato said in a release.

“I have really missed racing last year and can’t wait to get started in this new challenge with such a great team.”

Sato raced in F1 for seven seasons, With Jordan, British American Racing (BAR), and Super Aguri. Sato’s stint in F1 ended abruptly in 2008 when Super Aguri folded after four races.

The 33-year-old driver from Tokyo’s best F1 season was in 2004 when he placed eighth in the championship with 34 points. A year earlier, he famously replaced 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve at the Japanese Grand Prix, ending the Canadian’s tumultuous five years at BAR.

But Sato’s high point was a 2007 Canadian Grand Prix duel with Fernando Alonso of McLaren, when he defeated the double world champion in a battle for sixth place driving what was essentially a year-old Honda grand prix car. Earlier in the season, Sato also took an eighth-place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix to give Super Aguri its maiden F1 point.

It is thought KV will have a three-car operation in 201, with Sato joining EJ Viso and Mario Moraes.

In a related note, Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, 23, announced a deal to compete for Indianapolis-based Team Moore Racing in the Firestone Indy Lights Series.

IndyCar’s official feeder series opens its season on Sunday 28 March as the 13-race championship gets underway on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Feb 16, 2010

Pssst, wanna buy an F1 race shop

It looks like things aren't going well at USF1.

First, the race shop in North Carolina was put on the market, signaling that something is amiss.

Now, reports emerged that YouTube founder and CEO Chad Hurley is about to jump ship to fellow F1 newcomer Campos Meta.

All evidence points to USF1 folding even before they start and obviously not running in the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship.

Nothing yet from USF1 on these rumours.

Should USF1 fold, Berbie Ecclestone supported Stefan GP continues to say it will be happy to join the 2010 grid.

Feb 10, 2010

Todt's remarks on teams missing races are "clarified"

Apparently, the idea that teams can miss three races of the Formula One season are not sitting well with the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).

F1's governing body released a clarification following remarks by its president Jean Todt that appeared in the Italian Gazzetta dello Sport.

The statement puts the quash on the idea teams can join the championship after missing a few races, which F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone suggested earlier in the week and Todt apparently confirmed with his remarks in the Italian newspaper.

Not so said the FIA, which released a pointed statement about participation in events counting towards the F1 world championship.

"Following recent reports on the interpretation of clauses in the Concorde Agreement concerning the concept of a Team's ‘participation’ in the FIA Formula One World Championship, the FIA wishes to make the following clarification:

From a sporting and regulatory point of view, each Team that has registered for the Championship is obliged to take part in every event of the season. Any failure to take part, even for just one Championship event, would constitute an infringement both of the Concorde Agreement and the FIA Regulations."

More on USF1

I spoke to former Toro Rosso F1 driver Scott Speed a while ago about the rumours that NASCAR driver Kyle Busch was in the plans of the USF1 team.

At the time, Speed, now with the Red Bull NASCAR outfit, laughed when it was suggested Busch might leave NASCAR to race in F1. Not because he thought Busch didn't have the right stuff for F1, but because Speed had doubts whether the USF1 team would actually be able to make it to the starting grid in 2010.

He then suggested there was little real activity going on at USF1's US headquarters.

At Daytona, Speed was again asked about USF1.

"I think they have a very ambitious plan to run a Formula One team out of America," he said.

"That’s quite ambitious and I honestly wish them success because it would be great to have an American team in there."

Speed said that with the amount of time he needed to focus on his Red Bull duties in NASCAR and the gruelling 36-race schedule, he doesn't really have much free time to concern himself with the USF1 team or follow their progress.

"But I wish them the best and I pray it works out for them because, as I said, it’s a pretty ambitious plan," he added.

"If they do it, they definitely will have done something that nobody has and also have done what no one else even had the courage to try."

Feb 9, 2010

What are the odds?

Upon hearing that a newspaper had written his obituary, Mark Twain quipped that the reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

That may also be true of new F1 teams USF1 and Campos Meta 1, but it's difficult not to think something is going on.

Rumours of problems at the two teams continue to swirl, with many F1 insiders wondering if either will make the grid in Bahrain at the first race of the 2010 season next month.

That wasn't helped by Federation Internationale de l'Automobile president Jean Todt's confirmation that the Concorde Agreement signed last summer allows teams to skip three races.

After that, action may be taken, Todt said.

"If one of them doesn't make it, it doesn't mean another team comes in," he told the Italian Gazzetta dello Sport. "It's up to the FIA to decide if they have the credentials."

US F1 and Campos haven't named their two drivers, launched their 2010 cars or attended either of the first two pre-season tests. US F1 already asked the sport to test its car in Alabama sometime in February before heading to Europe to join the rest of the teams in pre-season tests.

F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone continues to talk up Stefan Grand Prix, as an alternate to any of the outfits that fail to live up to their obligations. It is owned funded Serbian businessman Zoran Stefanovich.

Todt's confirmation follows comments a few days ago from Ecclestone who said the teams can miss races under the new Concorde Agreement and its likely more than one will take advantage of this option.

"I think we won't see Campos and I don't think we will see the Americans," he told the Express. "They are going to ask to miss three races."

Jacques Villeneuve

Vitaly Petrov seemingly not having the €15 million in financial backing he promised to fund his Renault seat for 2010 may have thrown an Formula One lifeline to 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

Chinese GP2 racer Ho-Pin Tung and former Jaguar and Red Bull F1 driver Christian Klien are also in the frame.

Feb 8, 2010

Full Speed ahead

My latest story from Red Bull on Scott Speed's Daytona qualifying effort:

Scott Speed left us in no doubt that he’s ready to go in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup after locking up a spot in the Daytona 500 field with a superb performance in qualifying on Saturday.

The No 82 Red Bull Toyota driver arrived in Florida without a guaranteed starting spot in Sunday's Great American Race, but he quickly ended the uncertainty with a sizzling run in qualifying that locked him into the field for this year’s Daytona 500.

His speed of 189.958mph (305.642kph) in 47.429s around the 2.5mi (4km) tri-oval Daytona International Speedway was just 1.230mph (1.979kph) and 0.305s behind the pole winner Mark Martin.

More at: Red Bull International

Feb 4, 2010

Smoke and mirrors with F1 points

The Formula One Commission agreed this week to change the points system for the sport.

The commission asserted in its release that the new system would "further encourage the race to win," but a closer examination shows that the change is more cosmetic than revolutionary.

The new system will award points to first through 10th place by the following scale:


It seems like a big change, but really it is not so huge at all. Take the points and divide by 2.5 to reach the former scale where 10 points was awarded for a win.

The result is a scale that looks like this with the old points scale which gave points to the top-8 finishers added next to the new in brackets:

10      (10)
7.2     (8)
6     (6)
4.8     (5)
4     (4)
3.2     (3)
2.4     (2)
1     (1)
0.5     (-)
0.25     (-)

So, instead of real change we get the illusion of new thinking from F1. Really, the difference will actually be that it will be harder for fans to figure out the system and the performance required from their favourite driver to close a gap.

Had the F1 commission spoken to IRL or NASCAR fans, they'd know how difficult it can be to make sense of the higher point totals and more scoring by finishers.

Prior to this change, it was fairly easy for fans to see what was needed for their driver to move up in the standings. Now it's not so simply.

Responding to fans' wishes for more excitement does not translate into forcing them to buy slide rules. Well, in my book anyway.

Troubled reign ended with a whimper

My latest column in the Globe and Mail on Tony George's time leading the IRL:

Love him or hate him, Tony George certainly made things interesting.

A controversial and divisive figure who will probably be remembered as the man who destroyed open-wheel racing, George closed his Vision Racing outfit last week, effectively severing his final link to the IndyCar Series.

It was the last chapter in George's Pyrrhic victory in North America racing's open-wheel war, which weakened the sport and allowed NASCAR to dominate the landscape.

More at Globe Drive

Feb 3, 2010

Alonso fastest in Ferrari

The first pre-season test is in the books and New Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso came out on top.

the two-time world champion topped the time sheets for the three-day test with an effort of 1 minute 11.470 seconds, just under three-tenths quicker than teammate Felipe Massa.

The pair of Ferrari drivers were the only two drivers to dip below the 1 minute 12 second mark.

Whether this is the scarlet car's true pace is unknown as much cat and mouse goes on in testing.

But it is important to note that Ferrari abandoned upgrades to their car in mid-2009 to concentrate on the 2010 challenger, something that might give them an advantage out of the box.

Combined lap times are below:

1.  Alonso  Ferrari  1:11.470  127 laps  
2.  Massa  Ferrari  1:11.722 226 laps  
3.  Kobayashi  Sauber  1:12.056  96 laps
4.  de la Rosa  Sauber  1:12.094  154 laps
5.  Hamilton  McLaren  1:12.256  108 laps
6.  Kubica  Renault  1:12.426  188 laps
7.  M.Schumacher  Mercedes  1:12.438  122 laps
8.   Alguersuari  Toro Rosso  1:12.576  97 laps
9.  Rosberg  Mercedes  1:12.899  158 laps
10.  Button  McLaren  1:12.951  82 laps
11.  Petrov  Renault  1:13.097  75 laps
12.  Barrichello  Williams  1:13.377  177 laps
13.  Hulkenberg  Williams  1:13.669  126 laps
14.  Buemi  Toro Rosso  1:13.823  125 laps
15.  Paffett  McLaren  1:13.846 86 laps

Feb 1, 2010

Massa tops on first day in Valencia

Ferrari's Felipe Massa showed little after effects of the frightening accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix that almost ended his career last season by putting up the best time on Formula One's first day of pre-season testing at Valencia in Spain.

Massa was struck in the helmet by a spring that fell off Rubens Barrichello's Brawn in qualifying and narrowly missed being killed. He needed the rest of 2009 tyo recover from the incident.

His time of 1 minute 12.574 seconds was two-tenths better than veteran Pedro de la Rosa who returns to a race seat with Sauber after serving as a test and reserve driver from McLaren for several years.

Michael Schumacher didn't take long to shake off the rust, finishing the day with the thrid best time, about four-tenths back of Massa. Significantly, Schumacher was almost six-tenths quicker than new teammate Nico Rosberg.

Times below:

1.   Massa   Ferrari   1:12.574   102 laps

2.   de la Rosa   Sauber   1:12.784   +0.210   74 laps

3.   Schumacher   Mercedes   1:12.947    +0.373   40 laps

4.   Rosberg   Mercedes   1:13.543    +0.969   39 laps

5.   Paffett   McLaren-Mercedes   1:13.846    +1.272   86 laps

6.   Barrichello   Williams   1:14.449    +1.875   75 laps

7.   Buemi   Toro Rosso   1:14.762    +2.188    18 laps

8.   Kubica   Renault   1:15.000    +2.426    69 laps

Jan 27, 2010

F1 and North America

Formula One continues to talk about doing things to make the sport more accessible.

There's also no doubt that it is desperate to gain traction in the lucrative North American market. And the Formula One Teams Association is trying, but it's more than apparent that they have lots of work to do.

While F1 is the thing to see in Europe, apart from a small circle of die hard fans, grand prix racing gets less coverage than five-pin bowling on this side of the Atlantic.

One huge reason is that, in general. F1 insiders simply do not understand the expectations of North Americans when it comes to their sports.

In particular, F1 doesn't get the racing media over here, you know, the main conduit of the sport to the fans. The biggest problem is that F1 simply does not understand the kind of access that's expected by media to get the stories to their listeners, readers, and viewers.

For example, NASCAR and IndyCar both have a weekly teleconferences during the season and they try to keep a good supply of them going in the off season too. Apparently, F1 teams are doing this periodically now, but only to selected media. I have yet to get an invitation to any F1-related teleconference.

But it's more than that.

North Americans expect their sports heroes to want to be seen and heard.

It's not out of the ordinary for an NHL player to do an interview going into overtime in a Stanley Cup final game. Or for an NHL player to talk to a sideline reporter after a big touchdown. NASCAR has a driver be the "in-race" reporter" and answer questions about the race and strategy posed by the telecast crew during cautions.

On the other hand, F1 keeps this kind of thing to a minimum. It's all based on Bernie Ecclestone's idea that if you make F1 exclusive and expensive enough, and the drivers are on pedestals like demi-gods who don't speak to the minions who pay their salaries, then more people will want to go to races and be part of the club.

While F1 feels that snobbier is better, that kind of thing just turns North Americans off.

The result is that journalists rarely get one-on-one time with F1 drivers. And F1 drivers don't talk to reporters on the phone. In a decade of writing about motorsport, I have only had one F1 driver call me for a telephone interview (Olivier Panis for those of you wondering).

The accepted F1 excuse is always that there is not enough time for the drivers to accommodate every request. And we are not talking about Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton here. This goes for all the drivers on the grid, not just the big stars.

I say: Really? Then why can Jeff Gordon do it most of the time? I'd wager that he gets as many, if not more, media requests than any F1 driver.

But I digress.

The reason for this post is that McLaren has made a step in the right direction and decided to launch its 2010 car online. Yes, this is a good start.

Unfortunately, the brain trust at the team may have wanted to think about that pesky thing called time zones when they planned the timing of their event.

Had they taken the potential North American audience into account, my guess is that they would not have scheduled it at 11 a.m. English time.

For those of you in North America wondering about the conversion, that's 6 a.m. EST and 3 a.m. PST on Jan. 29.

I suspect that many might get up that early for a race, but perhaps not for a car launch. But for those wanting to get up to see the new McLaren unveiled, the launch is available here

UPDATE: Add Ferrari to the list. Their launch will also be streamed live online at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday (Jan. 28). You can find the Scuderia's launch here.

Hope you aren't too sleepy...

Warning: This is a spoiler

My latest effort for Red Bull International:

It was supposed to be a simple tire test and an opportunity to try out some new ideas. Instead, the No 83 Red Bull Racing NASCAR team got a sneak preview of the new spoiler that will likely replace the rear wing on the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) this season.

Announced a few days before Brian Vickers and his No 83 crew headed to the Texas Motor Speedway for a scheduled tire test, NASCAR decided to scrap the rear wing, which most fans simply hated, and put a spoiler back on the trunk of the car.

As luck would have it, the Red Bull driver was one of the first NASCAR regulars to test the new device.

More at:

Jan 25, 2010

Toyota says goodbye to F1

Toyota has put together a package for its fans which includes an eight-minute video retrospective featuring footage of key moments in its F1 adventure.

The company left F1 after eight seasons of never really getting it together.

Toyota was thought to have spent upwards of $3 billion on its F1 program but never got to the top step of the podium for all its efforts and expense. That reality plus some tough times for car makers in general led to an axing of its grand prix program late last year.

This special Toyota website is its last marketing and communications effort related to F1. Fans need to click on the banner 'A Virtual Goodbye to Formula 1' to look back on the manufacturer's time in F1.

Jan 22, 2010

Buemi seeks out the ice

My latest story for Red Bull:

What’s that old expression about going to the mountain if it won’t come to you? That’s exactly what Sébastien Buemi needed to do last week when Canada’s winter failed to deliver the goods.

Buemi and his Toro Rosso crew brought a Red Bull grand prix car to Montreal for a planned January 16 Frozen One ice run on the old Olympic basin that lies next to the paddock at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Unfortunately, unseasonably warm temperatures in Montreal left the ice too thin to support an F1 car.

He said: “I was more surprised than disappointed as I had heard how cold it can get in this part of the world and was interested to see how a country deals with being frozen all winter. And, yes, I hope to do a lot more laps when I come back in the summer for the race.”

More at: Red Bull International

Jan 21, 2010

Patrick's NASCAR experiment under fire

My latest column for the Globe and Mail:

While she may be attracting lots of attention with a part-time move to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year, not everyone in the stock-car world is throwing open their arms to welcome Danica Patrick.

The media darling already created a fuss with her late-December Automobile Racing Club of America test at the Daytona International Speedway, which brought out dozens of reporters and photographers, as well as NASCAR president Mike Helton.

None of it has impressed former NASCAR driver turned television analyst Kyle Petty. The son of Richard Petty - the all-time wins leader and seven-time Cup champion - didn't pull any punches when asked at a NASCAR event last week about Patrick's signing with JR Motorsports to run selected Nationwide races in 2010.

More at: Globe Drive

Jan 19, 2010

The case for retuning the F1 testing ban

Stefano Domenicali has come out in support of more testing days for Formula One teams.

The Ferrari boss believes that the reduction of testing to 15 days this winter simply does not give the teams enough track time. The change was instituted as a cost reduction measure.

The loss of testing in season limits the teams' ability to try out new ideas to improve their cars, which could make them more competitive and improve the show.

In addition, Domenicali indicated that the cost savings is really not being realized anyway.

"We need to consider the money we are saving compared to the additional money that we are spending at races as a result," said Domenicali. "If you take money away from one place, you spend it in another."

But it could be argued that this is also a safety issue, he added.

"We need to think about safety, young drivers and allowing drivers to test if there is the need for a replacement in the middle of the season, as happened last year."

The evidence is pretty clear on that front.

Romain Grosjean had a tough year at Renault after taking over from the sacked Nelson Piquet Jr. at the European Grand Prix.

Luca Badoer was just awful in the Ferrari as a sub for the injured Felipe Massa.

Giancarlo Fisichella moved to Ferrari for the final few races and struggled big time due to the lack of time in his new ride.

Even championship challenger Rubens Barrichello may have benefited from increased testing last year after he took half a season to come to grips with the Brawn's stopping system.

Testing would have helped the Brazilian get more out of the car prior to the team adopting new brake material that gave them a different feel. Once that happened, Barrichello was As it stood, the car favoured Button to that point and allowed him to stretch his lead in the championship. Not great for the show.

Maybe a simple solution is a cap on spending for development purposes that includes a fixed amount the teams must claim for each test day, rather than a limit on the days allowed. That way, each team could decide how it spends its development cash whether at computer screens using computational fluid dynamics, trying things out in the simulator, or testing at a track.

This could also help the smaller teams that may not use all their days as they could be hired out by suppliers to test new components while also trying some things they may not under their budget plus they'd also earn some income.

Sounds like a win for everyone.

Jan 11, 2010

Stupid, stupid, stupid

OK, so we have a new president at the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).

Remember that Jean Todt's election rallying cry was about bringing new ideas, a new spirit of cooperation with the teams and new ways of doing things all designed to improve the sport from inside out?

So, why then would Todt allow an appeal the French Court's decision last week to overturn the World Motor Sport Council's (WMSC) lifetime ban of Flavio Briatore?

F1 fans will recall that the WMSC kicked former Renault team boss Briatore out of F1 for life for his role in the crash gate scandal. That episode saw then Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. crash deliberately in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to ensure that Renault teammate Fernando Alonso's fuel strategy would deliver a win.

Pat Symonds, Renault director of engineering at the time, was given a five-year ban, which was also quashed.

A statement issued by the FIA said: "It was unanimously agreed that an appeal would be prepared. The FIA will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the continuing integrity and safety of the sport."

Really? Does anyone happen to know how dragging the sport through an embarrassing and lengthy appeal of a shameful incident will help improve its integrity? We all know that keeping such things in the spotlight go a long way to bolster reputations, right?

A more prudent course of action would be to accept the court's decision and quietly move ahead with the introduction of licences for major players in the teams, much in the same way drivers have to get a superlicence. Then, the FIA can simply refuse to grant said paperwork to Briatore. Case closed and no more scandalous revelations in court.

This would also mark a break from the FIA's former ways where anyone who was bold enough to challenge previous president Max Mosley would not just be corrected but also ground under the heels of the federation at every opportunity. Just ask former Minardi owner Paul Stoddart.

More worrisome is the fact that former FIA president Mosley took it upon himself to be the point man for the federation after the court overturned the ban.

"Remember, the court did not find that Briatore was not guilty. They just didn't like the procedure we used. But it's a very preliminary judgment," he said last week.

"Aspects of it are just extraordinary. Symonds actually admitted in writing that he was guilty and yet they found in his favour. But that's only because they are not looking at the substance, they are just looking at the procedure."

Remember that Todt was a hand-picked successor, something that made many worry that his presidency would merely be a front and Mosley would continue to be the real force behind the FIA.

Now, if Todt wants the F1 community and fans to believe the Mosley era is over and that a new dawn has begun, perhaps he should ditch the appeal, not deal with challenges in the same heavy-handed manner as before, and find a method to keep his predecessor from speaking for the federation.

If he doesn't, the feeling that Mosley continues to run things in the back rooms of the organization will not go away any time soon.

USF1 co-founder Windsor visits the spin room

It looks like USF1 will have two pay drivers in its cockpits this season, Argentine driver José María López and British racer James Rossiter, something it's boss Peter Windsor promised would not happen.

Although the team’s co-founder Windsor vowed go on talent alone as well as push hard to get a U.S. driver into a race seat, it seems that will be put on hold for 2010. While Rossiter’s finances are not yet known, it is thought López has an $8 million sponsorship deal behind him.

When asked by the official F1 website about pay drivers, Windsor gave a curious answer.

"Well, it depends what you mean by ‘pay drivers.’ Is Fernando Alonso a pay driver?" he said.

"I think we need to be pretty careful about what we are talking here. Those drivers who have done very well in their career have sponsors and companies who like to be associated with them, whether it is Alonso with his bank [Santander] or Michael Schumacher who has had sponsors throughout his career."

Windsor went on to explain that part of the decision stems from the economic climate which means that it is difficult to predict where the money is coming from over the next five years.

That said, even the most casual F1 fan can likely see the difference between Alonso and Schumacher vs. López and Rossiter. Windsor should know better too.

On one hand there are two supremely talented drivers with multiple world championships who have earned every bit of their success on and off the track with incredible performances at the highest level. On the other, well there's a couple of guys who never made the grade but can bring lots of money.

So, perhaps then he's simply suggesting that pay drivers bring certainty to the equation.

"All we can do is look at what is available," he continued. "We are a start-up team so we have to look at every opportunity. If there are companies out there that have associations with a driver because they have been supporting him for quite a while, or representing a country, or whatever, obviously we have to look at that. Providing the driver can do the job as well."

Now whether Charlotte-based USF1 will actually make the grid in Bahrain is another question altogether.

Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that the team applied to the FIA for permission to begin its 2010 season at the Spanish Grand Prix in April rather than Bahrain. If true, it would mean that the squad would miss four events – Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia and China. This comes a week after Windsor vowed the team would line up on the grid March 14 in Bahrain.

A number of racing insiders continue to snicker when the team is mentioned. One former F1 driver told me that nothing is happening at the USF1 headquarters and he doubts the outfit will make the grid.

And since Windsor has done most of his media work through selected F1 journalists he knows well in the paddock from his reporting days with SpeedTV and his time with the Williams team, getting any real information out of the squad remains difficult at best.

One item that has been confirmed is that the team asked the FIA for special permission to test its car at the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama next month rather than fly to Europe for its first run.

To make matters worse for F1, another new team, Campos Meta, appears to be on the brink of folding. Reports have former A1GP boss Tony Teixeira swooping in to take over the Spanish outfit.

At this point, Campos will not make the February test slated for Valencia. Word in the paddock is that the team’s relationship with chassis developer Dallara is strained, possibly due to a cash shortage at the Spanish outfit.

Stefan Grand Prix has been mentioned as the replacement if Campos folds.

Jan 10, 2010

Back on track

My latest story for Red Bull...

After the Red Bull crew finally enjoyed some downtime and relaxation over the holidays following a long NASCAR season, things are humming again at the team’s Mooresville, North Carolina, headquarters.

Although last season ended only a few short weeks ago at the mid-November Miami-Homestead finale, the Red Bull team has just over a month left to prepare for the 2010 season and the opening Daytona 500.

In between, Brian Vickers and the No. 83 crew will head to the Texas Motor Speedway Jan 19-20 for a Goodyear tyre test, along with fellow Sprint Cup drivers Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Kurt Busch.

More at: Red Bull International

Jan 8, 2010

The stories to watch as racing season revs up

My latest Globe and Mail column...

With the 2010 season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona only weeks away, there are many interesting stories already developing in the racing world.

There will always be dramatic events that no one could have predicted, such as the Crashgate scandal that rocked Formula One in 2009 and David Donohue winning last January's 24 Hours of Daytona on the 40th anniversary of his late father Mark's only Florida triumph.

That said, here are some stories that racing fans might want to keep an eye on in 2010:

See: Globe Drive for more

Jan 6, 2010

Holy baptism by fire Batman

Jean Todt’s first test as newly elected president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile is not to be taken lightly.

In a hugely embarrassing decision this week, a French court overturned Flavio Briatore’s lifetime ban from international Motorsport handed down by the World Motor Sport Council last year in the Crashgate affair.

It was revealed last summer that Renault team bosses conspired with driver Nelson Piquet to stage a crash to ensure his teammate Fernando Alonso's strategy would deliver a win in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

Now that the French court ruled the punishment illegitimate, the former Renault boss likely intends to pursue legal action against the Piquet family.

But he laid the blame for his lifetime ban squarely at the feet of Todt’s predecessor, Max Mosley: “The fact that the World Automobile Sport Council had been utilized to deal with a personal agenda aimed at pushing me out of the world of competition left me no other choice.”

This is important because several other incidents were dealt with in a similar fashion, with Mosley

To make matters worse, F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone has his arms wide open for Briatore’s return.

“I said at the time that even murderers don't get life sentences these days and the court seems to agree,” Ecclestone told the Daily Express newspaper.

“He is welcome to come back to the paddock. He was a great character in F1 but I am not sure if that is what he wants to do now. I think he will move on from that. It's good for him but it is not good for the FIA when you read the verdict.”

For its part, the FIA released a statement which made it clear that it feels the grounds for the ban were valid: “The Court has rejected the claims for damages made by Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds and their claim for an annulment of the FIA's decision. In particular, the Court did not examine the facts and has not reversed the FIA's finding that both Briatore and Symonds conspired to cause an intentional crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.”

Many feel the FIA may simply take pragmatic approach and rectify the problem which apparently led to the overturning of the ban, which is the fact that it does not licence team personnel in the same way it does with the teams and drivers.

This is something it hinted at in its statement.

“The Court did question the FIA's authority to impose bans upon Mr. Briatore and Mr. Symonds for procedural reasons and because they are not FIA licence holders and, according to the Court, are therefore not subject to any FIA rules … In addition, the FIA intends to consider appropriate actions to ensure that no persons who would engage, or who have engaged, in such dangerous activities or acts of intentional cheating will be allowed to participate in Formula One in the future.”

This is far from over…

Jan 5, 2010

It was a very good (and bad) year

My latest column in the Globe and Mail looks back on the big things that happened in racing last year:

The 2009 racing season saw several interesting episodes, new and repeat champions, scandals, classy moves and great performances.

But some things stood out a bit more than others. Here's a short list of the best and worst of 2009 to start the conversation about who and what made it a memorable year.

More at: Globe drive