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A Road with Many Turns – Why there are no Americans in F1 Part III

June 12, 2013 at 11:40 am


Part II left off in 1995 when Elton Julian’s possible ride at Larrousse vanished due to financial reasons. 1995 can be seen as the turning point in the CART/F1 war with the emergence of the Indy Racing League (which could be another multi part post in itself). The emergence of the IRL divided open wheel racing in America which destroyed the power CART had as it no longer had the Indy 500 and allowed Nascar to develop into the 800 pound gorilla it became. The fall of CART and the rise of Nascar caused a change in direction in the development of young racers in America. Young drivers who wanted to be rich, famous and race in the biggest series only thought of Nascar as sponsors and manufacturers began throwing money at the series.

By the end of 90’s, CART was still offered great racing, but was no longer a threat to F1. It was now seen as a second rate series where there were some talented American’s racing against foreign drivers who were either “rejected” from F1 or waiting for an F1 seat to open up.

One of the criticisms of F1 during this time period was that in order for F1 to be a true World Championship, it needed to have a race in America. Many of sponsors and manufacturers in F1 viewed America as one of if not their biggest market. In 2000, F1 returned to America in 2000 with the USGP at Indy. Yes, the famed brickyard built a road course inside the oval. Perhaps it was Bernie Ecclestone’s way of saying thank you to Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss and IRL creator Tony George for starting the IRL and destroying CART.

The first USGP was a major success with and estimated crowd of 225,000 which is estimated to be the largest attendance for a Grand Prix in the modern era. The races after however were less attended and featured controversies such as the 2002 Ferrari “Dead Heat” and the 2005 race where all the Michelin teams withdrew after the formation lap leaving only six Bridgestone shod cars left to run the race. The 2007 race was the last USGP held at IMS due to dwindling attendance, the high sanction fees of having a Grand Prix and lack of a title sponsor

In 1997, Red Bull entered the US market. Red Bull was already know to fans european racing as it sponsored teams and drivers in a wide variety of series including F1. Trying to link their passion for racing with their new market of America; in 2002 Red Bull teamed up retired CART star and former F1 driver Danny Sullivan to create the Red Bull Driver Search. The program’s goal was to create an American F1 Champion, by taking young American talent and develop them in the open wheel racing ladder with Red Bull backing.

One of the first driver’s chosen was young karter with the perfect name for a racing driver: Scott Speed. Speed was a young karting star from California who had shown promise by winning the Formula Russell Championship in 2001. In addition to living up to his name, Speed was young, good looking, personable and very much an individual; the type of driver Red Bull could easily market.

Speed’s first year under Red Bull’s wing was a disaster. Speed was running in British F3 championship when he began suffering from Ulcerative Colitis and had to return to the US to take care of his condition. 2004 was a better year for Speed as he won Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup and the German Formula Renault championship in Red Bull colors. For 2005, Speed was promoted to GP2 and finished 3rd in the Championship. In addition to his Gp2 duties, Speed also acted as the Red Bull F1 team’s test driver at Canadian and US GP’s.

By 2005 it looked as if the US would finally have an American in F1 with Speed having success in the European Formula ladder, something an American hadn’t done in many years. Speed with combination of talent, Red Bull backing and the need for F1 to make ground in the US had a solid chance at being in F1.

Speed was not the only young talent Red Bull had under their wings. By 2005, it seemed as if 90% the young promising driver’s on earth were involved in the Red Bull Junior Program. In 2005, Red Bull bought the struggling Minardi F1 team and re named it Toro Rosso. Toro Rosso acted as junior team to Red Bull’s main F1 squad. A place where there young talent could develop in F1 without being on the main squad.

For 2006, Speed was a Toro Rosso driver, a team part owned by Red Bull and run by Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger. Speed and Toro Rosso struggled with reliability and crashes, usually finishing in the bottom half of the table. As the season went on it became clearer that he was favorite son of the Red Bull duo of owner Dietrich Mateschitz and racing guru Dr. Helmut Marko and not team principles Tost and Berger.

In 2007 was beginning of the end, Speed was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver late in the pre-season and was tipped by many to be on the hot seat. Speed suffered with poor reliability and crashes. Speed’s time as an F1 driver would end with European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Tension were high in the Toro Rosso camp between the drivers (Speed and Tonio Liuzzi) and Team Principles Tost and Berger. Speed went public with the tension telling the media that weekend that the team was trying to get rid of him and Liuzzi. The principles blamed the drivers for team underperforming while the driver’s blamed the car and poor management.

As for the race, Speed started 18th on the grid. One highlight of Speed and the Toro Rosso was that they worked well in the wet. Earlier in the season, Speed had been the fastest in a wet session at the Monaco GP. The European GP became a rain soaked race, Speed worked his way up from is lowly starting position a up to 6th when everything began to unravel.

The Toro Rosso pit crew expected Liuzzi to come in first and fumbled Speed’s pit stop, over a minute was lost during Speed’s pit stop. During this long stop, the rain became worse. After his pit stop, racing into turn one. Speed followed five other cars into the gravel trap. After this, the race was red flagged and Speed was forced to retire.

When returning to his garage, an upset Speed was met by a just as upset Tost. Tost yelled at Speed for crashing and Speed in return yelled at Tost for the botched  pit stop. When Speed turned away, he was then punched in the back by Tost, Speed walked away and was then grabbed by Tost and shoved against a garage wall. Speed moved into the center of the garage and in front of the whole team told Tost that if he wanted to punch him to do it in front of the whole team. Tost declined, Speed then told Berger that if Tost ever touched him again he would knock him out.

On July 31st, Speed was released from his Toro Rosso contract and replaced by Sebastian Vettel (what ever happened to him). It would be the last time that an American would be part of the driver line up (not counting 3rd and test driver’s) for an F1 team.

So why did something that seemed so promising go so wrong? First, the shotgun marriage of the team and drivers was a failure with Tost and Berger being “forced” to take young Red Bull drivers. In association with that there were differences in why the team was not performing up to expectations. Team management blamed the drivers while driver’s said the car was not able to do what was expected.

Second, one of the criticisms of Speed in the wake of the everything that had gone wrong was his demeanor. Speed’s confident attitude was received by some as cock and arrogant. Acclaimed F1 Pundit Peter Windsor blamed Red Bull driver coaching and development in part for Speed’s failure in that Speed wasn’t self critical enough. Windsor noted that Red Bull driver’s have not been taught self assessment and blame others for the lack of result.

While Speed may have burnt the Red Bull F1 bridge, they were not ready to let go of their investment. After F1, Speed with Red Bull backing started a Nascar career. The Red Bull/Speed Nascar partnership was unsuccessful and Speed was released by the Red Bull team at the end of 2009. Speed currently drives for a backmarker team in the Sprint Cup series.

The F1 circus would return to US in 2012 with the Austin Grand Prix with no American F1 drivers on the grid which takes us to Part IV. Is there anyone on the horizon and what will it take to get an American into F1.

Crapwagon of the Day – The Fast and Furious Probe

June 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

Found this gem outside the office today. The Ford Probe is a terrible car to begin with,throw in the color yellow and THEN add a terrible fast and furious bodykit and you’ve got yourself a crapwagon of the top kind. I’m not sure what it’s trying to be here. Do those air intakes by the rear fender help in anyway?


Crap(truck)Wagon: Ford F-150

June 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

Picture 10769

This gem was found in the South End of  Boston, an area known for it’s money, and up until this point, it’s nice vehicles.  Don’t be fooled by the bumper falling off; it actually doubled as a plow in this year’s February blizzard!  Other than the bumper, it looks to be in pretty decent condition.  However, the bumper, which is more than likely held on by zip ties, makes this Ford F-150 our latest crap wagon (Or truck)!

The Forever Car

June 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Recently, my brother shared an article that discussed how a Porsche 911 was the author’s “Forever Car”  – a car that he would never sell unless it was physically impossible to retain it. As some of you may know, I recently acquired a 1995 E36 M3 coupe on a bit of a whim, and I can say this: it has the stuff forever cars are made of.


I don’t know what it is, but older vehicles for me capture a mixture of qualities that today’s new cars and trucks can’t re-create, features that appeal to the senses and slip further and further out of grasp with each platform change or model update. I suppose people from every era say the same thing about how generational shifts aren’t moving us forward, whether it’s the type of service you receive in a restaurant to the price of a good pair of shoes. As I grow older, I find myself somewhat ambivalent about most of the changes we’re experiencing.  I can appreciate a good mobile phone, and eating organics can only serve to improve my health. But throwing down $30 large for a soulless rolling technology convention just isn’t going to happen.

The M3 is full of instant sensory gratification, from the way it just makes noise – it sounds fast when you’re creeping out of a parking space. It is eerily silent when you’re sitting in traffic, save for a rich mixture giving it a pulse at idle. The exhaust is bassy, full of bumps and pops when coasting down a hill. The intake noises, from the whine in first gear to the air horn-like blat it gives at full throttle, is nothing any new car can offer without acoustical support from some electronically manufactured soundwave. Kids today think all car movies are filmed with CGI, thanks to Fast & The Furious. The M3 is Ronin compared to Tokyo Drift. 

It looks natural. It’s a normal 3-Series coupe, from the side skirts to the trunk lid, yet a set of chunky wheels and aero kit transform it, with the 235-series rubber poking out from the fender. It’s as if the designers knew all along the ordinary E36 would accommodate such enhancements, even when there were no plans to bring the M3 to the U.S. Today’s  performance variants need lowered suspensions, 19 inch wheels with tire monitors, LED lighting and 500-watt stereos to convey performance; the M3 accomplishes the same without a bumping system and Von Dutch pinstripes.

Most of all, it’s a giant middle finger to our throwaway society. It’s got 153,000 miles of memories, and is testament to a proactive maintenance schedule and passionate owners. Today’s gadget-hounds and window shoppers find contentment knowing they’ve purchased the latest and the greatest, and tremble with the realization that newer and better will be here in six months – or worse yet, next door. Good for them, I suppose. Hope that new infotainment system keeps them occupied – God forbid they actually find driving engaging enough.

And that might be the bottom line of all of this. If you enjoy driving, you find pleasure in the tactile sensations of older vehicles, from the smell of fuel wafting through weathered gaskets and the rough leather patches of a worn steering wheel with hand-stitched M colors. If you just want to ensure your ego can keep up with the Joneses, your driveway will become a revolving door. If you want a forever car, you buy an M3.

You’re Either the Fence or the Switch

May 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm

“Hold onto your butts.”

Ah, the immortal Samuel L. Jackson and his cryptic words of wisdom before doing something that would both save the asses of everyone trapped in Jurassic Park while completely screwing over the slow kid stuck to the electric fence. In a somewhat premeditated move, I chose these very words to describe how I feel the night before I take delivery of a 1995 BMW M3 coupe from San Diego that I bought sight unseen.


In one regard, I have feelings of great anticipation. Hope for redemption, that after falling out of love seemingly overnight with my 2003 BMW 330i ZHP, that the M3 will indeed unlock Pandora’s Box of daily-driver bliss. That like the moment ol’ Samuel realized he had found the path to potential safety from certain death by tyrannosaurus, I have discovered the automotive fountain of youth, where, with every turn of the key, I am reminded that a car can deliver such satisfaction that its welcome is never worn out.

At the same time, I could be that idiot who climbed so God-awfully slow up the fence that you were almost rooting for him to get his brains fried when the juice was pumped through the lines. As you watched, you’re at first cheering for him, something like this: “Yeah, Jeff – a nice, clean E46. It’s got modern safety features, functioning air conditioning, hasn’t been stolen and put back together after an insurance auction, etc…” But then, as you watch little Joey Mazzello climb up the fence like he’s afraid it’s going to give him AIDS you start to think, “Goddamnit, you’re  a few apples short of  bushel, ain’t ya? You know what? You deserve whatever you have coming to you. Sam Jacks, turn that mother on and let’s see some suffering.”

All that said, I’m not sure what side of the fence I’ll end up on. Slowly taking a drag from a cigarette after a job well done, or writhing in pain as my intestines turn to jello.

Either way, it’s safe to say we better grab hold of our posteriors and hope for the best. The M3 should be here by this time tomorrow night.

Summer Crusin’ in Vegas

May 25, 2013 at 12:14 am

I live in a town that’s know as a beach community. During the summer months it’s estimated that the population in my town increases by 15,000 people. That means more vehicles at the beach, at restaurants and other places in town that I frequent. So here’s five vehicles I expect to see a lot more this summer in Marshfield.

1. Jeep Wrangler


The white suburban beach vehicle. YJ’s are driven the by the diehards or the long time beach bums. They’ve been roughed up over years by carrying board and other materials to the beach. The drivers are usually well tanned from years hanging on the beach. The TJ’s are the younger crowd, the high school kids or the middle aged folk who have them as summer vehicles as they go through their mid life crises and try to recapture their youthful summer memories. JK’s are for the yuppies or Massholes with cash or the trust fund kids

2. Jeep Grand Cherokee

jeep gcwj

WJ’s are a frequent site at the town beach, Haddad’s or Blanchard’s Liquors. The Grand Cherokee is the one tick more reasonable or richer sibling of the Wrangler. Most these SUV’s can be found in their Laredo version.

3. Toyota Camry


Face it, they’re everywhere. A large amount of them can be found in any place and being in a town whose population increases by 15,000 for a few months each means there’s going to be more of them. The Camry is the car for people who are soulless. All they care about is getting to their destination and making sure there is enough room in the car to take everything they need.

4. Kia Optima


In the past year I’ve started to see these everywhere, it’s as if all of a sudden out nowhere a quarter of the world’s population bought Kia Optimas. What is it? Is it the commercials? bang for the buck? Could someone please tell me why? It really racks my brain.

5. Small Four Door Sedans


Take your pick from Nissan Sentra’s, Toyota Corolla’s, previous generation VW Jetta’s etc. It’s the car of women aged between 16-22 who are spending their summer going to and from the beach. These cars always carry four females (driver and three passengers), all wearing aviator sunglasses and blasting some various form of top 40 music or whatever college kids are listening to these days. All these cars feature a lay hanging from the rearview mirror.

A Road with Many Turns – Why there are no Americans in F1 – Part II

May 22, 2013 at 8:45 pm
Al Jr. Tests the Williams

Al Jr. Tests the Williams

If you can’t beat them, get them and embarrass them

In the early 1990’s the world had two top open wheel series to pick from. In the old world, F1 was the grand stage and the new world had the ever growing CART; with full grids, star drivers, competitive racing and expansion into Australia, a place that was once the domain of F1.

One thing that Bernie Ecclestone doesn’t like, is something that could fight F1 in being the premier motor racing category. When the World Sportscar Championship threatened F1, Bernie got the rules changed so that the cars had F1 powerplants which increased costs and gave him a chance to say to manufacturers “Hey, you’re wasting your money in sportscars, come to F1, you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck. And what do you know, you already have an engine”. While the World Sportscar Championship was under the thumb of the FIA, CART wasn’t.

The threat became greater when Nigel Mansell, F1’s reigning world champion after a fallout with Williams over a new contract decided to retire from F1 and drive for Newman Hass in CART for the 1993 season. The international interest in the series exploded with the ever polarizing Mansell winning the CART championship in his red number 5 Lola-Ford.

In December of 1992, Ayrton Senna, one of greatest driver’s of all time was distraught over the state of F1. He was upset that a driver of his great talent could not beat a driver of much lesser talent in the gizmo laden Williams. His offer to drive for Williams for “free” in 1993 was rejected as Alan Prost had a clause in his contract not allowing for Senna to be his teammate for the 1993 season; leaving his only option to be back at McLaren which would be using a customer Ford engine for the ’93 season (note: Senna drove for McLaren on a race by race contract in 1993 with his rumored salary per race being over one million dollars).

Senna was then invited by his great friend, CART star and two time world championship Emerson Fittipaldi to test his Penske. Senna accepted the invitation which was made easier as he was in reality a free agent and two of his biggest sponsors (Marlboro and Hugo Boss) were also Penske sponsors. Senna drove the Penske at Firebird and enjoyed the experience. He refereed to the Penske as being a human car, a car that relied on the skill of the driver and not a computer.

It was then decided the best way to destroy CART was to steal it’s best drivers. In 1992, Al Unser Jr and Michael Andretti, two second  generation drivers and CART’s two biggest stars attempted to cross the Atlantic and try their hands at F1.

1992 was the year of Al Jr. He had won the Indy 500 and was arguably the best road racer in America. Unser had a seat fitting with Bennetton but rejected their offer because it was half of what he was making in CART. Little Al also tested the Williams in Portugal and was quicker then Riccardo Patrese and then test driver Damon Hill (who would get the seat for 1993). After the test Junior went to the Williams factory to make a deal to race the car in 1993 but was rudely turned down by team principle Frank Williams and Technical Director Patrick Head. Unser would stay in CART and go onto win the championship and the Indy 500 for Roger Penske in 1994.

Andretti signed for McLaren in late 1992 for the 1993 season. At this point, McLaren were no longer the dominant team in F1. Their engine supplier Honda, had pulled out of F1 leaving them customer Ford’s and they fell behind in the technology race to Williams. McLaren had also signed Mika Hakkinen in case Senna decided he didn’t want to race. A few other factors went against Andretti in that he decided not to live in Europe and instead flew to races and testing. Also, testing rules had changed for 1993 leaving Andretti not enough time to gain experience at the F1 tracks and the gizmo laden cars which were the opposite of his CART Lola’s.

The 1993 season started off as a disaster for Andretti as he completed only three laps in three races. His results improved but was then sacked after the Grand Prix of Italy in Monza. He went back to CART for 1994, driving for Chip Ganassi and winning the first race of the season beating Nigel Mansell.

Andretti later said that he was put in a position to fail at McLaren and in F1. Andretti claims the car was sabotaged by McLaren staff and that Bernie and McLaren Principle Ron Dennis conspired to the make the season a disaster. Andretti later commented that the F1 paddock viewed CART as a threat and the best way to make them look bad was to have a CART star fail in F1.

In 1994 there were no Americans in F1, in 1995 Elton Julian, an American who came though the European racing ladder and had tested several times for the Larrousse team in 1994 was a candidate for a race seat. Sadly the Larrousse closed its doors due to financial issues right before the start of the 1995 season.

As the decade reached it’s halfway point the last thing American road racers were thinking about was going to F1.

Part 3 – A return to America and mysterious lack of Speed


Feel Special for $800

May 16, 2013 at 11:46 pm

It’s not often you see a Saab Special Performance Group (SPG) 900 in the wild, let alone one that’s sitting idle waiting for the next sadistic fool to take his chances on this Swedish chariot. But points must be given to the current owner of this broken banger for having the foresight to store it indoors for at least part of its hibernation.

I don’t know much about Unity, New Hampshire but I’m assuming its namesake doesn’t apply to the status of this car’s most important bits. They’ve been scattered a bit like ashes, with the body kit removed, a dead fuel pump and a blown turbo. Perhaps it’s unified in its project car status, or maybe united in its goal to bankrupt subsequent owners.


Whatever premonition the car’s location supports, there’s no denying its significance as a crowning achievement in the Saab lineup. The 160 bhp 16-valve motor made for spirited performance, but this one’s faulty components – primarily responsible for fuel delivery and delivering the turbocharged-rush Saabs are famous far – let down what is otherwise a truly special car.

It baffles me sometimes how cars can be torn down in what seems like a valiant attempt to bring it back from the dead. Unfortunately, whether life gets in the way, bills pile up or the spouse gets cranky, many cars lie dormant, victim of their owner’s ambitions. With only 7,000 SPGs imported into North America, its rarity is well documented – but will this one get out of a shed in remote New Hampshire town to return to the ranks of its limited production brethren?

Hopefully, time moves a little slower in Unity.

A Road with Many Turns – Why There Are No Americans in F1 – Part 1

May 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

mears brabham

A discussion that can be kicked around for ages by American F1 fans is Why are there no Americans’ in F1. Truly, there has to be drivers in the US who are talented enough to compete at what many consider the pinnacle of motor racing. Doesn’t F1 in it’s quest to be a global brand have to have an American driver? In this multi part post, we’ll take a look at where we’ve been, why we are where we are and what would it take to get an American into F1.

A la CART?

Thanks or blame (depending on who you are) Bernie Ecclestone for making F1 into the hybrid of the highly exclusive country club/grand corporate spectacle that it is today. Gone are the days when a team could buy a competitive chassis from March or McLaren, put a Cosworth DFV in the back and select a few races to run and with a good driver, have more than a puncher’s chance of being competitive.

In addition to buying a competitive car, driver’s raced multiple series at a time. There was a point when Mark Donohue in the early 70’s was running Can-Am one weekend, USAC the next, the Trans-Am and then the occasional F1 race thrown in. With the cost of racing going up, teams began to protect their investments and have their drivers sign exclusive contracts; everyone was now stuck to one series which didn’t allow opportunities like drivers such as Revson, Donohue, Lunger and Folmer had in F1 in the 70’s.

The emergence of CART and the F1 Concorde Agreement in the early 80’s can be seen as when the fate of American drivers and teams jumping in and out of F1 began to be sealed. F1 was now an exclusive club and CART gave American’s a well paid, organized and prestigious series on their home soil. The door for American racers to F1 was offically slammed in 1980 when Rick Mears tested for Brabham (whose owner was…Bernie Ecclestone). Mears tested for Brabham twice and was fast as their world champion driver Nelson Piquet. An offer was given to Mears but Mears declined it. According to the way the story has been told, a number was in the contract that Mears (who at this point was a CART star and probably the most talented driver in America) thought he would be paid, but instead it was the amount that Bernie wanted him to bring to the team for the seat.

While the 80’s rolled on, CART began to look a bit like what F1 looked liked before Bernie, there were top teams but a team could buy a competitive chassis and engine and with right preparation and driver could be competitive. F1 became a place of the have and have nots, with only a handful of teams at the sharp end of grid. Foreign drivers began coming to CART in late 80’s/early 90 as they could be in a competitive car and get paid instead of being at the tail end of the F1 grid paying for a ride.

By the early 90’s CART was the best racing series in the world with a full competitive grid and was beginning to make a global expansion that had started with the Surfer’s Paradise race in 1991. It had stolen F1’s thunder in the US starting in 1984 when the Long Beach Grand Prix became a CART fixture, while the F1 race in American finally died out with Phoenix in 1991. Any American star was now in CART with a competitive ride and a multi million dollar retainer. The last American in F1 during this time was Eddie Cheever. An American who had grown up in Rome, Cheever was talented driver who spent his F1 career driving for mid pack teams. At the end of 1989, Cheever left F1 and joined CART running for Chip Ganassi’s team.

As the 90’s began there we no Americans in F1 as CART had all the American stars and was starting compete as a global rival to F1,

Coming Soon – Part II – The Biggest is the Smallest.

Finding the Fairest of Them All

May 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Why do people tear apart perfectly good cars in the name of making them better? Why? What level of self-confidence do you possess that you somehow determined your concept of suspension, or your perception of suitable contact patch, and yes, your feelings on engine internals, are better than the instincts of a highly-trained and well-compensated engineer?

This question has been wracking my brain for days as I pour over listings for E36 M3s. So many of these magnificent cars have been gutted, both figuratively and literally, of any cohesiveness they once possessed as a new car. What I mean by cohesiveness is the feeling that every screw is still in the correct location and that when you open a glove box or move the shifter, each movement evokes a sensation that only a motorsports engineer could create.


Now, I have to admit in fairness that I’m living in a bit of a glass house at the moment. I have modified my cars, thrown out the stock parts and done what I felt was a  bonafide improvement. But as I would learn, the Becks-chugging geniuses in Bavaria, Zuffenhausen and Wolfsburg actually know a thing or two about vehicle dynamics. They just may have built an entire chassis around schematics and designs based in years of study and evaluation, giving them at least some credibility to sell you a car that is just what it needs to be. And nothing more, nothing less.

So, as I click on yet another classified ad that divulges yet another M3 loaded with Dinan equipment, slammed on TC Kline coilovers and riding on staggered 19″ BBS basketweaves, I start to wonder just how many more times we’re going to take what was once great (and still largely is) and improve it for the sake of saying, “I was here.”  If you want to make your mark and leave a lasting impression, become a street artist. But leave the E36 M3 alone.

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