New site launch coming soon

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. Now the F1 season (the Renault saga excepted) is at a close, more or less, it is time for F1-Pitlane to get ready for the new year.

We are moving to a dedicated site which you can find at F1pitlane.net. We’ll also be taking the F1-Pitlane.com domain name as well.

If you click on the site you will see the beta development. We are still experimenting with colour schemes and formats but the front page is 95% finished. Over the next few weeks we’ll finish the remainder of the site too.

One word of warning. The development has been exclusively in Firefox and it doesn’t look so great when displayed in IE 6 (I haven’t tried IE 7). Rest assured by launch date it will look great.

We are also looking for writers, editors and contributors to the site. Anyone is welcome to apply although we won’t compromise of professionalism.

That’s it for now. Expect the new site to be up and running by Christmas.

Thank-you for your patience.

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November 19, 2007 at 4:47 am Leave a comment

FIA botch fuel decision

Unbelievable. What next?

At the cost of millions of pounds the FIA World Motorsport Council took two days to rule than McLaren’s appeal into the fuel irregularities of BMW and Williams was illegal. Two days? What the hell were they doing?

So what are the implications of the decision?

Well, the public objective of McLaren, namely wanting “rule clarification”,  has been thwarted as by throwing out the appeal the FIA could not adjudicate on whether of not the accused committed an offense. This will put the FIA in a very tricky spot next time this issue raises its ugly head. Are F1 teams now allowed to ignore fuel temperature differences? It would appear so. If any team is punished next season for the same offense then the decision of both the stewards at Interlagos and the FIA will seem hypocritical and laughable.

The other bone of contention is that no one connected with the sport wanted the title decided in court. I don’t think that is precisely correct — that may have been the view a month ago but we are where we are.  What people didn’t want was another FIA dodge, which we got. Forever more this non-ruling will leave a fug of uncertainty surrounding the 2007 championship. One other aspect that was particularly distasteful was the pressure applied to the FIA by F1 ringmasters Max Mosely and Bernie Ecclestone. This is supposed to be an independent court. Butt out. Imagine if in the US at the trial of a serial rapist the President said that he thought the offender deserved to go to death row … the President would likely end up in the slammer too.

One bright point is that Kimi Raikonnen deservedly emerges as World Champion. He was the fastest driver over the year (although possibly not the best) and is a genuinely good bloke. However, all the off track shenanigans will make this title seem slightly false. He’ll just have to go and win another one next year.

Bring on 2008 so we can finally put this fiasco behind us.

November 17, 2007 at 4:56 am Leave a comment

Machinations of the F1 circus

What’s the difference between Formula 1 and a circus? A circus has more clowns. And so it goes.

Anyone but the most ardent F1 fan freely admits that his favourite sport is quickly becoming nothing short of a total farce.

Consider this: by the end of the year the last four world championships will have been decided not by who crossed the finish line first, but by the legal wigs in the courts. There is a chance, not a big chance but a chance none the less that each of these championships will change hands because of the legal rancour.

One, the 2007 Constructors title, already has with the trophy sitting in a glass case in Maranello when, a team in Woking actually accrued the most constructor points. In three days time Lewis Hamilton could be handed the Drivers Championship if BMW and Williams are expelled from the Brazilian Grand Prix. In any other race they would have been but it is unlikely the FIA will have the guts to alter the destination of the title, especially when it was won by Bernie’s favourite team.

With Renault-gate picking up momentum there is a chance that the Enstone-based outfit could be disqualified from the 2006 Constructors Championship, as that was when confidential McLaren information first came into their possession. If so that particulary trophy would be headed in the direction of Ferrari. The 2006 Drivers Championship could accompany too as part of the same penalty although the 2007 fudge means that is unlikely.

At this rate I don’t know why F1 bothers holding motor races. Max Mosely is eager to cut costs. Perhaps each team should hire a cabal of lawyers and see who comes on top in the dock?

Today the world awaits the fate of the new rising star of F1, Lewis Hamilton. The odds are that the FIA will agree some fudge that sees the BMW and Williams cars disqualified but not the drivers. That will be good enough for Kimi to retain his title.

Whatever the outcome it won’t be especially satisfactory for the sport.

November 15, 2007 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

Todt on his Todd at Ferrari

In a somewhat surprising move, yesterday Ferrari announced that Jean Todt, Team Principal, was kicked upstairs (probably to become CEO) and that Stefano Domenicali would replace the Frenchman as Ferrari boss.

That this move was made on the same day that Honda announced the capture of former Ferrari Technical Director, Ross Brawn, wasn’t coincidence. It is no secret that Brawn wanted to return to F1 as a Team Principal and that Ferrari was his first choice. Unless Ferrari badly misplayed their hand something has gone tragically wrong. Brawn is acknowledged as the smartest brain in the paddock and is a valuable asset to any team.

So why did he shun Ferrari (if he did) and move to Honda?

The smart money is that Ferrari simply didn’t want him so any option of a return to Maranello was merely an illusion. After Ferrari’s spectacular and unexpectedly successful season the Scuderia decided that after a decade of Todt and Brawn it was time for some new blood. This is in sharp contrast to the deal on the table at the start of the year where it was agreed that Todt would take on some luminary position within the Ferrari hierarchy and would be replaced as Principal by Brawn.

However, over the course of the 2007 season it became apparent that relations between the two became frosty. If Todt’s appointment as CEO is confirmed then it is likely he will still exert a lot of control over the team and the Team Principal will become a hatchet man. Brawn refused to work under those conditions.

If that is true then good for Brawn. Good for F1 too. There is little question of how important Brawn was to Ferrari but remember the organisation had the deepest pockets in the sport. Honda is an altogether different challenge, and if Brawn can bring in silverware then he’ll be rightly lauded as one of the finest hands ever to grace the F1 Pitlane.

And Ferrari? Expect Todt to play a role. It is business as usual at Maranello.

November 13, 2007 at 4:47 am Leave a comment

Honda appoint Ross Brawn as Team Principal

The Daily Telegraph is this morning reporting that Ross Brawn will shortly be announced as Honda’s new Team Principal.

Brawn’s future has been the subject of much speculation since he left Ferrari last year. Although he hasn’t kept his desire to run an F1 team secret the speculation up to now has been that he’d replace Jean Todt as head of the Scuderia. However, Ferrari’s remarkable double win this year, their first for three years, and Todt’s determination to continue meant that the Ferrari bosses were unable to make the switch they wanted to.

What does it mean for Honda?

Brawn’s record on the track is enviable. At Ferrari he orchestrated an era of dominance by Michael Scuhmacher never before seen in the sport. At Honda expect him to have complete control of both technical and strategic sides of the team — there is no way he’d have jumped on board a sunken ship without that kind of guarantee. Also expect Honda to have pledged significant resources to providing Brawn with a car that can win. It may be too late for Brawn to influence the 2008 car by 2010, if Brawn has anything to do with it, the Japanese-outfit should be back at the top-end of the grid.

For the Scuderia the outlook is more uncertain. There is no doubt they hankered over the return of Brawn to skipper the team into the early part of next decade. The dalliance my not be over yet. If Honda fail to give Brawn the control he craves and demands, and success isn’t forthcoming he may be asked to take over the reigns at Ferrari. And that will be a terribly hard offer to refuse.

November 12, 2007 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

2007 Review: Williams

This is the fifth in F1-Pitlane’s multi-part season review of each constructor. Today we look at Willaims who have fallen a long way in the last decade. The question is will they rise again?

The car

A decade ago the Williams team were double world champions led by the irascible Jacques Villeneuve. To say the team has gone through a barren spell is a gross understatement. A partnership with BMW looked at one point to have rekindled the glory days but the German engine supplier wanted a larger say in running the team, which Frank Williams was not prepared to give, so BMW bolted into the grateful arms of Sauber. Last year Williams ran Cosworth engines, when quite frankly, not taking part in any races at all may have been preferable.

This years marks a fresh start as the car is now powered by Toyota engines in a deal that saw Toyota get access to Williams’ seamless shift gearbox. The team performed admirably, proving that the Toyota engine is actually half decent. The biggest achievement was simply getting to the chequered flag. Only three times in 2007 did a Williams retire compared to 11 in 2006.

The drivers

If it wasn’t for one young Briton monopolising the pitlane chatter Nico Rosberg, Williams’ number one driver, would be receiving more of the plaudits. His performance in 2007 was astonishing as he comprehensively outraced his team mate Alex Wurz, who became so demotivated that he was forced into retirement before the end of the season.

Rosberg put in some gutsy performances, no more apparent (and controversial) than his efforts in the final GP of the season at Interlagos. He fended off the challenge of the BMWs to finish a gusty fourth. Although Rosberg was easily the better driver it was Wurz who had Williams’ best result of the year with a podium at Montreal.

The outlook

With the marriage of manufacturers to engine suppliers being a feature of F1 over the last 10 years, Williams have been left at the alter without a bride. This means that they are fighting squarely in the midfield and likely don’t have the financial resources to haul themselves back among the contenders.

Saying that their alliance with Toyota holds promise and with the ever stringent regulations engines are becoming a less defining feature of the car. The battleground these days is aerodynamics. That gives some hope but more than hope is required to catch the top three teams. Williams think they are ready to take a big step and have publicly declared their car “revolutionary” — Honda tried that last year and it only hastened their move to the back of the grid. Expect some progress next year but a couple of podiums is as good as it will get.

November 11, 2007 at 7:45 am Leave a comment

Did Kimi deserve the title?

2007 has been a strange old season. Amazingly it isn’t over yet what with the impending court case over fuel legality that could see the BMW and Williams cars tossed out of the Brazilian GP and Lewis promoted to fourth, which would see him mug the crown from Raikkonen. For political reasons that is an unlikely outcome. To have one title decided in court is unfortunate, to have two decided in such a manner is downright careless — the FIA will ensure it doesn’t happen.

F1 fans are an emotive bunch and opinion is split sharply among partisan lines: in the red corner are the folks who believe that anyone but McLaren deserves to be champion because (a) McLaren blatantly stole Ferrari’s secrets, (b) Lewis is an arrogant prima dona who should be taken down a peg or two, and (c) Ron Dennis is the bad guy and deserves to live out his remaining days somewhere between hell and pergutory; over in the silver corner are those who feel that Lewis and McLaren have been monumentally screwed over by an overzealous FIA and a tempestous Fernando Alonso.

So who is right?

The bald facts suggest that Kimi is a worthy champion. Winning the driver’s crown is about seeing the chequered flag first and Kimi stood atop the podium six times, twice more than both Lewis and Fernando. Were it not for the gremlins that afflicted his Ferrari in the mid-season then Raikkonen would have taken the title at a canter.

However, that’s not to take anything away from Hamilton, who arguably had an even better season and with a dash more luck would have walked away champion. It could easily have been Hamilton who won six races rather than Raikkonen. A different tyre strategy or dry weather my have resulted in victory. And at Interlagos Hamilton out-qualified everyone bar Massa despite hauling several laps more fuel around the track. Add in Hamilton’s rookie status, which meant he saw many circuits for the first time, and that he was paired with the double World Champion his achievements are even more impressive. Although Hamilton wobbled midway through the season, particularly at Monza and Spa, the way he outpaced Alonso over the last three Grand Prix suggest that he has more raw pace than the Spaniard.

Also we should put Alonso’s achievements in the correct context. To score the same number of points as his team mate and one behind the eventual winner is a monumental feat given the friction between him and his team over the year. Say what you like about McLaren’s equality policy it sure made for exciting racing.

There is little doubt that the top three are the greatest drivers of their era who in 2007 were all at the top of their games. Had Alonso and Raikonnen been team mates then it is likely that Hamilton would have sauntered off with the title. Were if Hamilton and Raikonnen in the same car then Alonso would have won.

What about the allegations of cheating? Does that mean the McLaren drivers should have been kicked out of the championship? The FIA need to show consistency and didn’t. If McLaren were guilty then they shouldn’t be allowed to compete in either the constructors or drivers championship. The facts are murky and obscured by the allegations that the infomation flow wasn’t one way. Why would it be? Nigel Stepney is on record as saying that Ferrari actively canvassed and recieved technical information about McLaren’s set-up. Also there was no evidence that McClaren used any of the information they got from Ferrari to advance their car. On the otherhand there was a smoking gun sticking out of Alonso’s pocket! No-one will ever agree on whether the punishment fitted the crime but what we can aquiesce on is that it dragged F1 through the mud and that is something that all involved with the sport should be ashamed of.

Baring a surprise ruling on the fuel irregularities the history books will conclude that the Flying Finn deservedly won the title on the basis of his six wins. Let’s not forget the desperate position Kimi was in in Fuji where at one point 20 cars separated him from championship leader, Lewis Hamilton. By fighting back to third he was able to keep the gap to 17 points with two races remaining. They say that it is in the face of adversity that true champions are made, so on that basis Kimi is rightfully king.

November 10, 2007 at 4:49 pm Leave a comment

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