The Right Decision?

March 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm
The right decision? We think so...

The right decision? We think so…

The cover of the June 8, 2000 cover of Autosport has in big red letters “OUT”. Jenson Button was to lose his seat at Williams in 2001 to Juan Pablo Montoya. Jenson was the rookie sensation in 2000 at Williams in only his third season of single seater racing but he was to lose his seat to the 1999 CART Champion and 2000 Indy 500 Winner Juan Pablo Montoya who Williams had an option on which came from Alex Zanardi’s move  from Ganassi to Williams in 1999.

It was said that Williams were looking for someone to blow current driver Ralf Schumacher away and they expected Montoya to be the guy after his two stellar seasons in America. So, was it the right decision?

Montoya and Button raced against each other in F1 from 2001 to 2006. Montoya raced for Williams from 2001 to 2004 and McLaren from 2005 to 2006. During that same time period, Button raced for Benneton/Renault from 2001 to 2002 and BAR/Honda from 2003 to 2006. In 2001, Montoya won one race and finished 6th in the World Driver’s Championship while Button had no wins and finished 17th in points. So it was clear in the year after, that this was the right decision.

During Montoya’s Williams years he had 4 wins and finished 6th, 3rd twice and 5th in the WDC while during that time period Button had no wins and finished 17th, 7th, 9th and 3rd in the WDC. In 2005, Montoya joined McLaren and had three wins and finished 4th in the WDC while Button remained winless and finished 9th. In their final year together in F1, Montoya had no wins and finished 8th in the WDC while Button got his first win and finished 6th.

In their time together in F1, Montoya won 7 races and had an average WDC finish of 4.8 while Button had 1 win and an average WDC finish of 8.5.

So it’s clear based on the comparable numbers that Williams made the right decision. However, after Montoya left F1 for Nascar in 2007 things began to change. After two horrible years in Honda, Ross Brawn bought the team and Jenson became world champion in 2009 with 6 wins. Since moving to McLaren in 2010, Button has had eight wins and appears to have a chance to increase the total in the next few years.

So did Williams make the right move? At the time yes, Montoya was on fire after his CART title in 1999 and his dominant Indy 500 win in 2000. He was proven in F3000 and had the makings of being the next big star in F1. Looking at the time Montoya and Button spent together in F1 the decision was correct as Montoya had the better statistics. Button’s star didn’t shine until 2009 when he was given a lifeline (and a dominant car) by Brawn.


Polish Power

January 15, 2014 at 9:23 pm

If you’re a fan of motorsport, you’ve probably seen it or heard about it by now. Robert Kubica’s amazing win on the ERC’s Janner Rally. Kubica came back to win the rally by nineteen seconds after going into the last stage down eleven seconds to leader Vaclav Pech. Kubica went half a minute quicker on a foggy night stage to take the rally win. I repeat, Kubica went thirty-seconds quicker on a foggy night stage driving flat out and at one point missing a pace note, dealt with broken driving lights and almost having an off. – The link to the in car video of the stage

Kubica’s talent clearly shines in the video of the last stage, what was just as classic was his non-chalantness after finding out how fast he went and that he won the rally.

It’s unfortunate that Kubica was unable to fulfill his potential in F1 between driving what many would consider not top flight cars and the rally accident that almost caused the amputation of his arm and the end of his F1 career. Many rated him a star in the making in F1 and Lewis Hamilton considered Kubica the driver who gave him the hardest time during their years in junior formulas. Many expected Kubica to end up being Alonso’s teammate at Ferrari before his unfortunate incident.

F1’s loss is the World Rally Championship’s gain. Over the past few years, the WRC has lost it’s luster between poor management and promotion, lack of manufacturers and dominance by guys named Sebastien. Perhaps Kubica can raise the standing if he performs well; going off of experience, the talent is there. Can he make the most of the situation?

Some may look at Kimi Rakkionen’s foray into world rallying and give that as the example as to why Kubica won’t succeed. The difference between Kimi and Robert is that Kubica seems fully committed to it whereas with Kimi it was just something to hold him over until the right F1 money came along. In addition, it was said by people in the WRC that Kimi didn’t care about listening to pacenotes.

Do I expect Kubica to win this year? No, I think 2014 will be learning year, there will be times when he shows the ability to be a front runner and times he bins the car due to a rookie mistake. I also question if M-Sport can give him the car to run upfront. M-Sport who was once the works Ford WRC team lost their Ford funding and has developed their WRC Fiesta with private funds.

All I know is that I will be following the WRC more this year due to Robert Kubica

The new “2” in Multi 12

July 26, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Daniel Ricciardo

With Mark Webber leaving the F1 paddock and joining Porsche’s return to top level sportscar racing; the question remains who will join Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull for 2014? The shortlist points to three men: Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne with Ricciardo appearing to be the front runner for the seat.

After the Multi 21 incident and with Webber’s announcement to join Porsche, many had Kimi as the frontrunner for the 2014 seat. He’s a free agent after ’13, has had Red Bull sponsorship during his Rallying sabbatical. In addition to the Red Bull connection, he is one of the most talented driver’s in the paddock and seems the most likely to not give “a hoot” about who his teammate is.

The negatives are the first being it’s Kimi Raikkonen. As we’ve seen, Kimi is either on or off, if the car is on, Kimi can win. If the car is off, Kimi will float the bottom half of the points table, unlike Alonso who has the ability to be championship contender in a horrible car. Kimi will also want to cash in; is Red Bull willing to deliver the Brinks truck to Kimi? It’s been stated that Kimi is on a bonus heavy contract at Lotus. Could Red Bull handle having “two bulls in one field”? How would their poster child Vettel react to a driver who could possibly be his equal more than Webber and who wouldn’t be phased by the Vettel/Marko machine in a bit. Also, how would the PR machine of Red Bull and Kimi work together?

If we were ranking the three drivers from most likely to least likely Jean Eric Vergne is the least likely of the three to be in the Red Bull in 2014. While Vergne has done a workman like job for Toro Rosso, he hasn’t had spectacular performances bar the Canadian GP. In all likelihood, I expect Vergne to be back at Toro Rosso at 2014, loaned to another team or be Red Bull’s full time Test Driver.

Out of the three, Daniel Ricciardo appears to be the most likely to be at Red Bull for 2014. Ricciardo has been fairly impressive for Toro Rosso with an uptick in his performance since the announcement of Webber’s departure. Ricciardo has been impressive in testing with Red Bull with even his teammate Vergne saying that Ricciardo deserves the seat at Red Bull.

What helps Ricciardo’s case besides his performance has been it appears that Red Bull has an interest in Austrailia. Red Bull sponsors a V8 Supercar series, has sponsored former Moto GP champ Casey Stoner and currently has an Aussie in Mark Webber in the team. Replace an Aussie with an Aussie? Ricciardo would also help Red Bull’s driver program. It hasn’t been since Vettel that Red Bull has fully produced a young developed driver with all other young drivers being cast off after a year or two at Toro Rosso. Also, unlike Raikkonen, Ricciardo would not cost an arm and a leg.

So, my money is on Ricciardo to be the new “2” in Multi 12. However, as a long run prediction, isn’t whoever gets the driver is just keeping the seat warm until Antonio Felix de Costa?

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

June 30, 2013 at 11:51 am

The Last Chance?


Meet Alexander Rossi, a twenty-one year old from California who serves as the reserve driver for the Caterham F1 team. In addition to his reserve duties, Rossi drives for the Caterham team in GP2 and participated in the 24 hours of LeMans this past year.

If you look at the ladder Rossi has taken to get to his current position, it’s been straightforward and unlike his American predecessors in F1. Rossi starred in Skip Barber and Formula BMW but instead climbing the IndyCar ladder, Rossi jumped across the pond to Europe and has competed in series such as GP3, Formula Renault 3.5 and the previously mentioned GP2 series. Rossi isn’t a Red Bull protege like Scott Speed (and what seems like 90% of the young drivers in the world). His place in F1 has been achieved on merit. Rossi has proven his talent in the European training grounds so perhaps teams have viewed him as less of a risk than taking an American who has competed in only American series.

The path Rossi has taken is perhaps the path any American who really has a desire to get to F1 must take; jumping across the pond and taking on the world and competing in the traditional training grounds to get to F1. With Rossi being associated with one of the backmarker teams in F1, the chance of him getting a race seat sooner rather than later (especially with rumors flying that current Caterham driver Guido Van der Garde is on the hot seat). What Rossi must do if given the opportunity is perform better than the car is capable of and use it to get a seat with a better team and help destroy the stereotypes about American’s in F1.

No pressure Alex.

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.

The Losing End of Winning

April 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

hill 96

If we’re the best in our field, the last thing we expect to hear from our employer is that we’re being replaced by someone else who has accomplished less but might have more potential. That was the curious case of Damon Hill as he was on his way to winning the World Championship in 1996. It’s a scenario that took place over a three year period that ended up with Hill finding out during a race weekend that he would be replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 1997.

The courting of Frentzen by the Williams team started in 1994 after the death of Ayrton Senna; Frank Williams was looking for someone to fill the now open seat and offered the position to Frentzen, then a Sauber driver and former Group C Mercedes Junior Team teammate to Michael Schumacher, who after his early season performances was looking like the man most likely to be world champion. Frentzen turned down the drive as the Sauber team (who ran the Group C Mercedes team) needed consistency after the near fatal crash of his teammate Karl Weindlinger. Williams appreciated his loyalty to the team and kept him in mind as future driver.

At this time Frentzen was highly rated by all in paddock. Schumacher was beginning the start of his reign and many viewed Frentzen, his former Mercedes teammate as being faster of the two but perhaps not as mentally strong. It’s also interesting to note that a former girlfriend of Frentzen’s is Mrs. Corinna Schumacher, the wife of Michael.

From 1991-1997 it was widely agreed upon that Williams had the best car in the paddock. It was shocking to Williams that they were being beaten by Schumacher and Benetton. The Williams philosophy was that driver was just another part on the car and it angered Hill when Williams brought back Nigel Mansell in the middle of the 1994 season when his IndyCar commitments would allow, leaving Hill who was supposed to be the number one driver and still in a title fight to feel as if the team had viewed him as second rate; a quality number two who could win a few races a year and provide great technical feedback to the team but not a superstar.

The 1994 season ended in controversy with the Hill/Schumacher collision in Adelaide and accusations of title winner Schumacher’s Benneton being illegal. The 1995 season was the first year of the raised nose Williams and Schumacher was even more dominant in the Benetton clinching the title with two races to go and Hill finishing second in the points but having a terrible second half of the year.

It’s believed that during this stretch when Hill was struggling was when Frentzen was signed for 1997.  Hill had a contract for 1996 and Jacques Villeneuve was joining the team for 1996.  1996 came along and Schumacher was now driving for Ferrari and Hill came into the season motivated to win at what many felt was his best chance at the world championship. It was during the summer while leading the championship that Hill found out at the German Grand Prix that Frentzen would be driving for Williams in 1997 and not him.

Hill went on to win the World Championship that year and continued what was a tradition of driver’s winning the world championship in a Williams and leaving. It started with Nelson Piquet in ’87, Mansell in ’92, Prost in ’93 and Hill in ’96. Hill would go onto to drive for the TWR Arrows team and later for Jordan giving the team their first win at Spa in ’98. It’s interesting to note it was the same Jordan team where Frentzen after struggling at Williams would go on to have the best form of his career.

Was it just Williams’ view that Hill was a really good number two and his poor result in 1995 was the reason that he was dropped from Williams? A few other scenarios come to mind. Was Williams aware in 1995 of Renault’s withdrawal from Formula 1 at the end of the 1997 season? Was the hiring of Frentzen a way of enticing BMW to partner up with Williams? By this point, F1 racing in Germany was at its peak; Mercedes was fully involved with McLaren and the men from Munich had been sniffing around F1 since the early 90’s.  Audi was also rumored on joining Formula 1 and where one of the big German manufacturers is, the other two are soon to follow.

It’s also interesting to point out that Renault was upset about Hill being dropped as they would be unable to have the number 1 on a Renault engined car for the third time with Williams in five seasons. Hill was also regarded as the best out of the four Renault engined drivers (himself, Villeneuve, Alesi and Berger) in giving technical feedback. There was also rumors that Renault was trying to have Hill replace Alesi in the Benneton for 1997 (important to note that Alesi was regarded as the worst at giving feedback).

Another alternative reason is money, Williams was notorious in its refusal to throw big money at drivers, Frank Williams was once quoted as saying that they spent more on Nigel Mansell’s salary in one year than they did on R&D. It’s possible that Hill priced himself out of a drive for 1997 like Mansell had done during his 1992 title season and found himself without a ride when his arch enemy Alan Prost was signed for 1993.

One final scenario (and the least likely) is the idea that Williams was betting against the success of Jacques Villeneuve. By the time Frentzen was signed, Villeneuve was confirmed at Williams for 1996. In the mid ’90’s CART was producing the best racing in the world and viewed as a rival to F1. Bernie Ecclestone fearing CART courted one of it’s biggest star’s in Villeneuve to F1 with promise of a frontline drive. The last CART star to venture to F1 was Michael Andretti in 1993 for McLaren which was complete disaster. Did Williams fear they were going to experience Andretti 2.0 and thought Villeneuve would only last a year and go back to CART with his tail between his legs?

While Hill did end up getting sacked he did what all of us aspire to do in our jobs; leave a place better than we found it.


Ruthless Champions

April 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm


Search for a definition of the word “ruthless” and you find it to mean “having no compassion for others or showing pity”. Perhaps when we try to define the greats of racing (especially those of the past thirty years) we can put ruthless next to car control, outright speed and the ability to adapt to conditions.

Go through the list of driver’s who have a won multiple world championships over the past thirty years and each can be defined as being ruthless in one way or another: Lauda, Prost, Senna, Piquet, Schumacher, Alonso and now add Sebastian Vettel to the list after the muti-21 incident. It’s possible that being ruthless is the key component that separates the very good from the great.

In a Motorsport Magazine podcast in 2012, Derrek Warwick told stories about the ruthless nature of two of the greats mentioned above. In 1986, Warwick had agreed in principle to drive for Lotus that season only to have Senna block him from being on the team. Senna viewed Warwick as a threat due to talent and being a British driver on a British team and instead approved of Johnny Dumfries (a decent driver in his own right but not on the level of Warwick). In 1991 Warwick nearly came to blows with Michael Schumacher after a week in which Warwick’s younger brother was killed in a British F3000 race and Schumacher chopped Derrek off while he was going for pole during a World Championship sportscar round. Warwick said Schumacher was only allowed to race the next day if he apologized to Warwick. which according to Warwick he did in a half hearted mumble.

The stories go on and on about the ruthlessness of these driver’s: Piquet saying Senna was a homosexual and the verbally abusing Nigel Mansell and his wife, Prost putting the pressure on to get Senna DQ’ed from the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, etc.

The rise of ruthlessness has much to do with decrease of ethics, standards and romanticism of Grand Prix racing. No longer is it pedestal which all is measured against but just another show.


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