Posts filed under ‘Teams’

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

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

More reflections on Renault

More information about the circumstances surrounding Renault’s possession of confidential McLaren data has come to light.

The case concerns Phil Mackereth, who defect from McLaren to Renault in September last year. Earlier today Renault issued a statement:

Following the notification of the FIA for the ING Renault F1 Team representatives to appear in front of the World Council, the team wishes to clarify the situation.

On the 6th September 2007 it came to our attention that an engineer (Mr Phil Mackereth) who joined the team from McLaren in Sept 2006 had brought with him some information that was considered to be proprietary to McLaren. This information was contained on old style floppy discs and included copies of some McLaren engineering drawings and some technical spreadsheets.

This information was loaded at the request of Mr Mackereth onto his personal directory on the Renault F1 Team file system. This was done without the knowledge of anyone in authority in the team. As soon as the situation was brought to the attention of the team’s technical management, the following actions were taken:

The information was completely cleansed from the team’s computer systems and a formal investigation was started. We promptly informed McLaren of the situation and immediately after the FIA.

Since then we have constantly and regularly kept McLaren and the FIA informed on all relevant findings.

Mr Mackereth was immediately suspended from his position. The original floppy discs were impounded and sent to our solicitors for return to McLaren.

Our formal investigation showed that early in his employment with Renault Mr Mackereth made some of our engineers aware of parts of this information in the form of a few reduced scale engineering drawings. These drawings covered four basic systems as used by McLaren and were: the internal layout of the fuel tank, the basic layout of the gear clusters, a tuned mass damper and a suspension damper.

Subsequent witness statements from the engineers involved have categorically stated that having been briefly shown these drawings, none of this information was used to influence design decisions relating to the Renault car. In the particular case of the tuned mass damper, these had already been deemed illegal by the FIA and therefore the drawing was of no value.

The suspension damper drawing hinted that the McLaren design might be similarly considered illegal and a subsequent clarification from the FIA confirmed this based upon our crude interpretation of the concept.

ING Renault F1 Team have co-operated fully with McLaren and the FIA in this matter to the extent that the team has invited McLaren’s independent experts to come and assess the team’s computer systems and inspect the cars and the design records, to demonstrate that this unfortunate incident has not in anyway influenced the design of the cars.

ING Renault F1 Team have acted with complete transparency towards McLaren and the FIA, being proactive in solving this matter and we are fully confident in the judgement of the World Council.

Renault’s defence is that the team gained no advantage from having the McLaren data. That may be turn but is a shaky stance. Remember that the FIA couldn’t find a shred of evidence that the MP4-22 was contaminated by Ferrari’s technical data.

The omens don’t look good for the Enstone-based team and a swingeing fine could cause the parent company to pull out of F1. For the good of the sport the FIA must levy a fair (probably hefty) fine, but it would be a shame if that was the deaf knell for the team.

November 9, 2007 at 4:38 pm Leave a comment

2007 Review: Renault

This is the fourth in F1-Pitlane’s multi-part season review of each constructor. Today we look at Renault who were only going to go one way in 2007. Down.

When Fernando Alonso departed for pastures anew, the Enstone-based outfit were always going to find life tough adjusting. However, many on the grid thought that Heiki Kovalainen would prove, over time, a more than adequate replacement. Those hopes turned out to be false.

The car 

Given the amount of work that Renault had to do in 2006 just to keep up with a rampaging Ferrari team it isn’t surprising that that deflected attention from the development of the R27. What was a surprise was the extent to which Renault fell back to the pack. Not only had Ferrari usurped them but so did McLaren and BMW. They hung on for third in the Constructors Championship.

One of the issues was adapting to the Bridgestone compounds, which Renault struggled with all season. The team also wasn’t helped by some faulty wind tunnel work which hampered development in the early races. Perhaps the only bright note was the  unerring reliability of the car. Kovalainen, for instance, finished every race bar the last, where he crashed.

In fairness to Flavio and his clan the team realised pretty quick that further work on the 2007 car was futile and switched efforts to the 2008 incarnation. Whether this will enough to claw back any of the gap to the top team remains to be seen. One wonders whether Renault would have been this far behind with Alonso in the cockpit — perhaps he does add 6/10 after all.

The organisation

Briatore continues to skipper the ship with a rod of iron and his flamboyant personality transcends the team.  Pat Symmonds heads up all the technical aspects of the team and he does a damn fine job. Given that the team has never traditionally been an F1 leader the successes over the first part of this decade has been nothing short of astonishing.

More pointed questions on Renault as an organisation centre on the commitment of the parent company to F1.  Renault has a history of pulling in and out of the sport and speculation continues that CEO Carlos Ghosn, a renowned cost cutter, could pull the plug. While the team was winning the decision to continue wasn’t too taxing. A couple of losing seasons could decisively shift sentiment.

The drivers

The loss of Alonso was undoubtedly a big blow but Renault were quietly confident that Heiki Kovalainen would be able to partially fill his shoes. That hope was proved forlorn in the first race and Kovalainen was exceptionally ragged leaving the circuit countless times. After the race, which to the surprise of everyone the Finn actually finished, Briatore publicly admonished his protege.

Kovalainen later admitted that he didn’t understand the onus of him to develop the car and accepted that he should spend more time with his engineers to develop the car jointly. The amazing thing was that Kovalainen had success across many formulas and he had graduated to F1 without understand how to work with his engineers — Flavio must have choked on his cornflakes as he heard that.

To Kovalainen’s credit by the mid-season he’d started to assert himself as Renault’s number one driver as Fisichella was consistently outraced and seemingly headed for retirement. The Finn even secured a podium in a monsoon-affected Japanese Grand Prix, and at one point it looked like he might secure an unlikely post-race victory as Lewis Hamilton was caught on handycam driving like a madman.

The outlook

Renault stated developing the F28 early and had a strong track record in F1 so expect next year’s car to be a lot stronger that this year’s. If Briatore can snare Fernando Alonso the future could be very, very bright.

November 8, 2007 at 4:57 am Leave a comment

2007 Review: BMW

This is the third in F1-Pitlane’s multi-part season review of each constructor. Today we take a look at BMW, who took a giant stride forward in 2007.

2007 was the year that BMW-Sauber emerged from the midfield to spearhead the challenge against the front two. However, they were always a league short of McLaren and Ferrari and decided to focus on their 2008 car early, which caused performance to dip a tad in the last few races.

The car

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in their second full season BMW Sauber established themselves as the third best team in F1. The BMW engine was always a contender with Williams and now that BMW has invested heavily in the Sauber operation they are reaping the rewards — one must wonder whether Frank Williams has any regrets.

The engine was reliable, as most are these days under the 19,000 rpm limit rules, and only once did the motor give up, which resulted in Kubica forfeiting ten spots on the grid at Spa. However, it was with the transmission and hydraulics where the team floundered, which led to five retirements. If the team is to mount a serious challenge these issues will have to be overcome.

BMW also put FIA’s stringent crash tests under the spotlight. In Montreal Kubica’s car flew into a concrete wall at 180+ mph and scuttled and span down the tarmac coming to rest several hundred metres down the straight. By all accounts he should have been dead but it is a testament to all involved in F1 that he walked away with nary an injury and was back in the car three weeks later.

The organisation

Although arguably overshadowed by the drama between McLaren and Ferrari, BMW was an advert for German efficiency. Mario Theissen runs a tight ship and BMW have a promote from within policy that has seen Chistoph Zimmerman, who has been in the organisation for 20 years, ascend to chief designer after the departure of Jorg Zander to Honda in the mid-season.

Not much else to report.

The drivers

This was the year when many expected Robert Kubica to outshine his senior partner Nick Heidfeld. It was not to be as Heifeld was consistently quicker and finished with 61 points and two podiums to Kubica’s 39 points and no podiums. Although it the Montreal incident cost Kubica two opportunities to score points afterwards he was, if anything, quicker. To underline the difference in speed Heidfeld was quicker on the one-lappers, out qualifying his team mate 11-5.

Kubica was pegged as “one to watch” as he entered his second F1 season and was somewhat overshadowed by Lewis Hamilton in the rookie stakes. One feels that next year is make or break for the young pole. He has publicly admitted that he is the weak link in the team. In 2008 he has to be on par with Heidfeld to be considered a serious racing driver.

The outlook

Exceptionally bright. If McLaren are distracted by their mega-fine then BMW could pounce as the natural challengers to Ferrari’s dominance. Add that development on the 2008 car started early expect the Munich-based outfit to assemble a formidable package.

November 7, 2007 at 4:49 am Leave a comment

2007 Review: Ferrari

This is the second in F1-Pitlane’s multi-part season review of each constructor. After a look at the shenanigans over at McLaren yesterday we turn our attention to Ferrari, who cantered off with the constructor’s and driver’s championship

The twilight years of the Michael Schumacher era was barren for Ferrari as a resurgent Renault and a certain young Spaniard conquered all before them. After the departure of Ross Brawn, 2007 was expected to be another difficult year as the Scuderia regrouped around Kimi Rainkonnen and Felipe Massa.

The car

The omens were bright after the first race of the season in Australia where Raikonnen set a marker for the rest of the campaign convincingly outpacing the two McLarens. However, the advantage was to be short lived as McLaren hit pack in the next two grand prix.

The design philosophies between the two teams were vastly different. Ferrari opted to run a longer, heavier car ostensibly to generate better floor effect aerodynamics and generate more mechanical grip. This was evident at Melbourne as the team were accused of running a flexible floor. In their never ending wisdom the FIA put in place more stringent requirements on floor testing (effectively ruling Ferrari’s design illegal) but elected not to punish the Maranello outfit.

Where as the MP4-22 excelled in the slow turn, where the F2007 had more pace was in the high-speed corners, so circuits like Silverstone quickly became Ferrari tracks. One area where the team let themselves down in 2007 was the reliability stakes. At the turn of the century Ferrari were more than bullet-proof but the gremlins struck more than once in 2007. Coupled with a couple of basic strategic errors (failing to fuel Massa’s car properly in one quali session) and the impression was that was missing Brawn.

At the end of the season it was clear that McLaren and Ferrari were on a par with each other, which made for some phenomenal motor racing.

The organisation

With the departure of Ross Brawn there was always likely to be some afters organisationally. No-one would dare dream that it would involve the leaking of state secrets to arch-rivals McLaren by Nigel Stepney after he failed to secure a post-Brawn promotion.

Many feel that Ferrari were a little fortunate to escape punishment from the sordid saga as allegations were made that they were in possession of classified McLaren information. The FIA oddly choose not to investigate.

Another dynamic at work was the loosening of Jean Todt’s grip on the team. Rumours abounded the paddock most of the season that Ross Brawn would step into top-job at the season’s end. That Todt pulled two championships out of his hat may have saved his job but expect the grumblings to continue into 2008 if he stays in position.

The Drivers

Compared to McLaren, Ferrari’s lineup of Massa and Raikonnen were a paragon of absolute harmony. Raikonnen must take most of the credit. He struggled early on to adapt to what was essentially Schumacher’s car and was regularly outpaced by his team mate. Rather than grumble at his misfortune he decided to stick his head down and do his job (take note Fernando) and was duly rewarded with an astonishing championship and six race wins.

Felipe Massa was the perfect foil and also won his fare share of races. He knows he is batting slightly above his weight driving for the Scuderia although as the victories rolled in his confidence leapt. He was rewarded with a new contract at the end of the season but that was partly to ward off speculation that Alonso would join the team. Massa is managed by Jean Todt’s son, Nicolas, so nepotism was also reported to be at work.

The outlook

The future for the Scuderia is very bright. Raikonnen will enter 2008 as clear favorite for the title and if the McLaren design is hamstrung by the FIA for copyright infringement it could be one way traffic.

November 6, 2007 at 5:47 am 1 comment

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