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, grandprix.com. 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.