The boys at Motorsport.com + Giorgio Piola have yet again done a fine job dissecting a new F1 car launch. Namely, the new Red Bull Racing RB15. From what has been reported, Max Verstappen came away smiling about the new car. Really? Are my greatest fears coming true? That Honda has finally managed to create an iteration of the hybrid that can perform competitively with the likes to Mercedes and Ferrari (and Renault, to a certain extent)? McLaren will be pounding the ground in disgust and anger if this is the case in 2019.
It’s easy to blame the car. It’s easy to blame the wrong strategy. It’s easy to blame something other than the driver. In the case of Scuderi Ferrari, however, it’s the driver. Namely, Sebastian Vettel. While he is a 4 -time FIA F1 driver’s champion, when was the last time you remember him actually making a clean, strategic pass on someone for position? For the race win? Sure, he’s terrific when out front, but he’s a dog when behind. Just look at what happened during the 2018 season. And look at the shenanigans he’s pulled in the past.
While I am not as enthusiastic about the 2019 season – more so because my favorite driver is not on the grid and kicking ass elsewhere – I sincerely hope Charles LeClerc comes in and proves once and for all that Vettel is #OVERRATED.
I really liked Sebastian Vettel. When he first burst onto the scene, everyone said he had the talent to become world champion. He was a young guy with big dreams and a personality that was animated and fun. He always had a smile in front of the cameras and was a welcome departure from robots like Kimi Raikkonen. I was cheering him on when he took his first victory as a driver at Monza in rain soaked conditions.
Fast forward to 2010. At the Turkish Grand Prix, Vettel veers right into the path of his team mate, Mark Webber, causing a crash that takes out both cars. Webber was able to continue and get a podium but he was all but assured 1st place up to this point. After he gets out of his race car, Vettel makes the above gesture as he makes his way back to the paddock. Replay after replay shows that there was no steering movement in Webber’s cockpit. Vettel says he was ahead but he clearly wasn’t. However you put it, it was Vettel’s mistake.
Red Bull Racing declares that it was Webber’s mistake. The team management hug and pat Vettel on the back – even though Seb caused the crash. What is this? Kindergarten? Others within the team declare Webber should have let Vettel pass him – where they got this idea is unknown, but when do you just let someone past because he wants to? This is racing. That doesn’t happen. Then based on the backlash by the F1 fanbase force their hand, with team principal declaring it a “racing incident” and even force the two to take what I deem as an incredibly uncomfortable photo, for they have “buried the hatchet.”
What hatchet? It’s clear Vettel screwed up due to his inflated ego (no doubt inflated further by the team) and / or a stupid rookie mistake… except Vettel is no rookie. He’s a third year professional in an organization at the highest form of motorsport and they currently have the fastest car. It’s also clear that Mark Webber is getting a bum deal. He’s been driving at his peak, taking home the victory at Spain and Monaco. Is this how you treat a driver who’s delivering the goods?
In the upper reaches of motorsports, teams are pretty clear about who they are. Heck, even HRT (Hispania Racing Team, formerly Campos) in F1 is never misunderstood beyond what they are – a newcomer struggling to catch up to everyone and anyone as they had absolutely no pre-season testing. But when a team makes a blatant move to confuse the hell out of everyone, I feel like it’s worth speaking about.
I attended the qualifying session for the IndyCar Long Beach Grand Prix earlier today. A festive event for sure with a decent turnaround for a non-race day. Then I saw it whizz by while standing around in the pits. Takuma Sato in the KV Racing… umm… Lotus… powered by Honda. What the heck is going on? The livery sure looked like that you would find in the Lotus F1 car, but this isn’t Formula 1 for starters.
So how does this association make any sense whatsoever? Let’s trace things back a bit…
Takuma Sato was basically a Honda boy from day 1. He went to a driving school sponsored by Honda. His debut was in the former BAR-Honda F1 squad. Then he was relegated to the Super Aguri F1 team (still powered by a Honda). All in all, it makes all the sense that he would find a seat in a spec series powered by a Honda engine. Fine. But what does Lotus have to do with it all? It’s now a Malaysian-owned car company (parent company = Proton) which uses Toyota engines in their road cars such as the Elise, Exige and Evora. KV Racing is owned by an Aussie and an American who is a former CART champion. They’re racing on American soil but the title sponsor is a Japanese car company (Toyota). How does this make any sense whatsoever when Lotus has NOTHING to do with the driver, the racing series, the chassis (Dallara), the team nor the engine manufacturer.
To summarize, a Japanese driver “brought up” by a Japanese car manufacturer who was kicked out of a primarily European racing series racing in an American series for a team owned by an Aussie and an American running an Italian chassis powered by a Japanese engine at a race title sponsored by a competing Japanese manufacturer wearing the colors and brand of a Malaysian auto maker that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Phew. What a mouthful.
Seriously, who / what the hell are you KV Racing / Takuma Sato?
From BBC – Robert Kubica signs with Renault to race in Formula One Racing for 2010. Kubica originally raced for BMW Sauber since 2006, and has had only one victory (2008 Canadian Grand Prix). It will be interesting to see how well Kubica will race next year against top competitors Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonzo, and Michael Shumacher.
From Cobra.com – Cobra just announced the launch of their new full color touch screen radar detector. The touch screen provides a graphic interface that makes it easier to set up the radar detector. Does touch screen really make radar detetors that easy to set up? Most radar detectors that I’ve seen only have one button. The touch screen radar detector is Cobra’s first radar detector that costs under $200.
From OCRegister.com – On January 15th and 16th, Orange County Race-Craft, a high perofmrance driving school, will allow supercar owners to learn how to learn the capabilities and limitations of their vehicles. This event came about after the many supercar accidents that have been occuring in Orange County over the past year. Owners can sign up at ocracecraft.com.
From Daimler – This week, Brawn GP was purchased by Mercedes-Benz, to compete in Formula One in 2010. The Principal for the team is still Ross Brawn. Brawn GP won the constructor’s title in Formula One in 2009. Will Mercedes-Benz be able to keep up with Ferrari in Formula One next season? I guess only time will tell. In other F1 news, Kimi Raikkonen “semi”-retires from F1 to race in WRC, and Jenson Button signed with McLaren. All of this F1 news show for a crazy and unpredictable 2010 season!
From CNBC.com – After Toyota announced a major recall on the majority of thier late model passenger cars due to an issue with floor mats sliding around, and pressing the accelerator pedal down, they decided to put a “band-aid” over the wound, and use zip-ties to secure the floor mats to the floor of the car. Now there are reports that Toyota has decided on a permanent fix – make shorter gas pedals. Is this the best that Toyota can conjure up? Personally, I expected a better solution. Toyota, perhaps you should take this time to go back to the drawing board.
“Some car companies sell cars so they can go racing, while others go racing so they can sell cars.”
Not too far in the distant past, I picked up on this rather relevant comment about car companies and motorsports. It’s all the more I bring this up now, as Panasonic Toyota F1 announced yesterday that they are withdrawing from Formula 1 with immediate effect. 500+ employees at the team factory in Cologne are going to be out of a job unless they find work elsewhere in racing. The team’s suppliers are losing out on revenue as there’s one less customer to sell to. And their 2009 drivers, Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock and Kamui Kobayash, will have to look elsewhere for a drive in 2010. But I digress. This isn’t about people losing their jobs. This is about how one car company perceives racing versus another.
The oldest team in Formula 1, Ferrari, has been there from the very beginning. You could even argue that even though the first F1 race was held in the UK, the spirit of it all really started at Maranello. Ferrari has always been about racing. And Enzo sold cars so that he could go racing. And racing helped create probably the most desired car brand in the world today, but racing was always at the center of it all. A successful car building operation was merely the instrument through which the expense of racing could be paid for.
You have the billionaires, wanna-be billionaires (the Grand Prix Autopolis immediately comes to mind) and / or racing fanatics who want to feed their ego and / or fulfill a lifelong dream of owning an F1 team. Eurobrun, Leyton House, March, Larousse, Tyrrell, Brabham, Spyker, Minardi and many others have come and gone. A few had some success. A few were dedicated and helped bring many good drivers into the sport (Minardi, for example, provided maiden drives to Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber) Others were permanent backmarkers who couldn’t buy a ticket out of pre-qualifying.
Then you have the behemoth car builders with billions to spend and figure Formula 1 would be a wise investment in building their brand on a global scale. Ford came and went with success (HB engines that powered one Michael Schumacher to a driver’s title in the Benetton); Jaguar was a leftover from the Ford days; Lamborghini powered the Larousse for a while, but they were backmarkers; Yamaha powered the Brabham, but yet again another backmarker; and so on.
Honda was a raving success entering the sport in the 60s, then with Piquet at the wheels of the Lotus-Honda, then with Senna & Prost at the wheels of the McLaren-Honda. Then they left the sport with multiple driver’s and constructor’s titles in their hands. Credit Soichiro Honda-san for that one. He was a racing fanatic. And their F1 efforts gave birth to VTEC, which everyone in their 20s and 30s knows about. Honda back then went racing because it wanted to, not because they wanted to sell cars.
Honda returned to F1 with BAT, which then became BAR Honda, then became Honda F1. This wasn’t the Honda we knew. This was a Honda focused on increasing market share. This was a Honda that went racing to sell cars. Honda-san must have turned in his grave.
Which brings us to Toyota. A company that became the #1 car brand in America, as US made brands quickly lost their luster. They were selling cars like there was no tomorrow. They had money to burn. So they entered Formula 1, spending what is reportely over $500 million on their F1 program. And they kept spending. But never won a race. Their driver choices were at times questionable. But they kept at it as long as the money was there. But when the recent global economic meltdown happened, they saw their compatriot Honda leave the sport because they couldn’t afford it anymore. So they questioned whether they should stay. And inevitably left the sport. Dwindling car sales couldn’t support the habit anymore.
This all begs a number of questions – did Toyota believe they could win races and championships by throwing money at it? Did they sell cars to go racing or was it the other way around? – I tend to believe it was the former. Was it just an ego play? No way to know for sure unless you’re deep within the industrial complex that is Toyota.
Whatever the reason may be, I’m still glad there are companies like Ferrari that stands by its tradition of racing to win. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be worth watching anymore.