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A Strategic Mess

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
01/06/2015

It is some time since I have contributed to Pitpass and the reason is that I have had nothing much to say since I do not do garbage like, 'Will Max Chilton go to Ferrari?'

Formula One is going to Hades in a handcart and the FIA has introduced two measures: they have allowed drivers to nominate their own race numbers and prevented them from changing the livery on their helmets mid-season.

Am I missing something here? Are these the most pressing issues?

The previous President of the FIA, Max Mosley, was often controversial but even when one disagreed with him, one could follow, and respect, his reasoning. Jean Todt could be replaced by a cardboard cut-out and few of us would notice. About the only time he has been active was when he flew around the world, at the expense of the FIA, canvassing votes for his re-election. Affiliated countries, even those without a racing circuit, have a vote.

The term for eliciting such support should be called blattering.

Recently, the GPDA commissioned a survey of fans, which shows some people are aware that F1 is in crisis. It is a rare occasion when I fill in a survey, in fact the last time was 1999 which is how I came into contact with Chris Balfe. Let that stand as a warning to all.

I thought I would take a look at the GPDA survey then discovered I had to respond or I could not read it. After about 50 responses, a meter indicated that I was less than a fifth of the way through and I was already losing the will to live. I could answer that I had followed F1 for 'more than 10 years' but the fact that I have been following it for nearly 60 years, since the days of Fangio, Hawthorn and Moss carried no extra weight.

I logged my occupation as 'self-employed', but beggars and burglars are also self-employed, as is the better class of hooker. My self-employment requires me to be knowledgeable about motor racing yet that carried no weight.

A nod, however, to the GPDA for attempting to do, however ineptly, what the FIA might be doing. The FIA is supposed to be the governing body and it governs so effectively that we have lost a staple of the Grand Prix calendar, Germany, with its huge trackside fan base, If FIA officials could be lured from their private jets, helicopters, and all the rest, they might do worse than wander through the camp sites surrounding Hockenheim prior to race day.

Instead of Germany, Azerbaijan is to host a Grand Prix. Despite having no history of motor racing it starts at the top. A bit like Qatar and the 2022 World Cup with the difference that there is no hint of corruption in our sport.

The FIA has formed the Formula One Strategy Group which proves the adage that a committee has the intelligence of the dimmest present minus one point of IQ for every member. When you make a movie you do not leave the script to the stunt chief, or the person in charge of CGI, you appoint a director.

The Strategy Group has proposed the reintroduction of fuel stops which were banned in 2010 on the grounds of safety, or so we were told. We have not been told what has changed to make refuelling safer. One cannot escape the feeling that what they want to do is spark up the show.

Communications from the Strategy Group indicate that they believe their own hype: that Formula One is at the cutting edge of automotive development that 'Racing Improves The Breed'.

'Racing Improves The Breed' is a 1930s MG advertising slogan and it has never applied to F1 unless you think that the paddle gear change is a remarkable step forward. All the main advances have come from sports car racing, or from road cars. The Strategy Group lives in a little world of its own.

For a time before the Australian GP there was some doubt as to whether Sauber would be on the grid since Giedo van der Garde took legal action against the team for breach of contract. Sauber argued that if they ran van der Garde it would put 300 jobs at risk.

I take this to mean that van der Garde was able to bring the promise of money to the team at a time when they had no better option. Sauber had snapped him up with a contract before he offered the money elsewhere. Then someone else out-bid the Dutchman and van der Garde no longer looked so attractive.

There have been reports that Sauber agreed to pay the aggrieved driver US$ 16 million which gives some idea what sort of money is involved in buying a not-very-good drive. There are reports that Adrian Sutil is also taking legal action against Sauber.

I have admired Peter Sauber for many years and it saddens me to see the team he founded behave like this. This is the reality of F1, not helmet liveries or surveys.

One might ask were 300 jobs really at risk? Does it really take 300 people to put two cars halfway down the grid twenty times a year? How many PR, and other dispensable people, does Sauber employ?

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by 4-Wheel Drifter, 03/07/2015 23:29

"Thank you, Mike. It's good to hear from someone with an interest in racing. You may disagree with me, but I believe when Bernie E. convinced the teams that he could make them some money if they'd play along, the whole thing went off the rails. It's the 'play along' part that should have alerted everyone to the fact that racing was giving way to show biz. Now show biz is always chasing profit just as corporations are always protecting their interests. So when the two get in bed together it isn't hard to see that competition is something that isn't wanted. Drivers become corporate 'spokesmen' and races become circuses.

It's too bad that Ferrari is no longer Ferrari. When Enzo was boss the goal was to win races and damn the expense and damn the rules. Now that Fiat is in charge the goal is to sell cars and do so by enforcing the rules.

Remember when Mercedes last entered Formula One? Their goal was to beat Ferrari and win races. Which they did and then got out. If they have any brains they'll get out at the end of this year. All kinds of 'solutions' are being offered to the dying interest in F1. But there will always be fans and interest when racing is put to the front and corporations shown the door. The same thing has happened in America to NASCAR, which used to be damned entertaining. Now it's about as exciting as demolition derbies. And Indy Car racing is only marginally interesting today owing to the fact that their 'generic' car has turned into a potential death machine.

I, for one, am looking forward to Red Bull's (and Toro Rosso's) exits and I hope they are soon followed by Peter Sauber and whoever is trying to make a go of Lotus. Then we can have the fun of seeing the Merc factory team running a couple of laps ahead of Frank Williams junior varsity Merc team and the rest of the teams fielding drivers in clown costumes."

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2. Posted by nnails, 15/06/2015 10:55

"In the recent grand canada grand prix. Jenson button had to take penalty at the start of the race for engine change. for honda each grand prix is test session but for red bull and tora rosa it is not.

Is it a legit strategy to do the following.

Monza grand prix has long straights and therefore favor mercedes engine and next grand prix is hungry which should suit renault.

So what it to stop red bull and tora rosa . changing all elements of engine for that race, Serving the penalty in the race, doing a lap, retiring the car and saving it for next race and making f1 look silly?

discuss?
"

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3. Posted by MKI, 08/06/2015 23:06

"For those of us who worked in motorsport most of our lives what's happening to it is very sad. As Mike says F1 is going to hades in a hand cart, but such is its influence the damage goes beyond F1. The confusion there is total. The FIA's Input is dire. Bodies invented to formulate rules are no substitute for an independent rule maker. Einstein's definition of insanity comes to mind in this context. Repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

A fundamental understanding by the teams that F1 belongs to the FIA would be very helpful. Commercial rights holders buy commercial rights. They don't buy the sport. Only Motorsport seems not to understand this simple truth. "

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4. Posted by kiwi2wheels, 07/06/2015 17:28

""........setting a limit on employees (including drones such as PR people) could .."

I would like to nominate those obnoxious PR peons, who stick a mini tape recorder under their drivers mouth when he is being interviewed, as the first to be deleted, preferably permanently, to prevent them reappearing in some other guise.......
Actually, can anyone tell me the reason for this practice ?

Another great summation by the good Doctor.

"

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5. Posted by tr3fan, 05/06/2015 10:40

""8) For everybody's sake, get rid of the effin fuel flow metering/monitoring. The only thing this STUPID rule
does is complicate things ,limit the fuel starved engines even further and lower the quality of racing.
9) Limit in car radio communication relating to pit stops only."

Fully agree, its F1 not the local club Economy Run !"

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6. Posted by petes, 05/06/2015 1:23

"Blattering!!
Certainly in fine form after your hiatus Mr Lawrence.
Glad to see you back."

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7. Posted by Spindoctor, 03/06/2015 13:23

"Whilst I agree that a cap on the number of "employees" might reduce costs, I'm pretty sure that numerous ingenious ways would be found to "outsource" so that McLaren (for example) might employ only Ron, and then on a nominal 1 p.a.!

The fundamental problem is that most of the costs of F1 go into abstruse predominantly aerodynamic tweaks, and into overcoming various Regulations designed to inject "drama" into the proceedings.

Without tyres made of chewing gum much of the "strategic" complexity of managing them would evaporate, along with associated costs. This would have the side-benefit of allowing fast drivers to go fast without constantly worrying that their tyres were about to disintegrate. The fuel flow-rate restrictions similarly reduce the likelihood of anyone trying to go "too fast" . As long as all the cars start with the same amount, who cares how quickly they use it up?

The new Power Units have attracted much ire, but without their introduction we'd most likely have had very noisy, but extraordinarily tedious processions. The simple truth is that Newey\Red Bull had optimised their car's aerodynamics for those rules, the others weren't very close....
The V8\10\12 engine is a thing of beauty both physically and aurally, but 500BHP+throw-backs from AMG, BMW et al aside are effectively now just a footnote to the history of the Motor Vehicle. Today's Supercars mainly use a variety of Hybrid powertrains for the simple reason that they work better, if you can afford them.

The new Hybrid PUs are technically interesting, and have challenged some of the world's best engineers, many of whom haven't quite cracked them yet. What's wrong with that? As a side-effect their introduction, alongside some aero changes, broke RBR's lengthy hegemony. What was wrong with that?
OK so Mercedes is currently dominant, but does anyone seriously believe they'll stay that way for another 3 or 4 years?

I suspect the main "problem" with F1 is that the likes of Bernie and Jean Todt (who??) seem to think that they have a fundamentally great series that only needs an occasional bit of "tweaking". The Team bosses seek to advantage only themselves - classic divide & conquer.
What's needed is for the FIA to "grow a pair" and to act as a custodian of the Sport, not an adjunct to the interests of either the Teams nor CVC\Bernie. An autonomous Governing Body, not in thrall to vested interests would be a good starting point for curing F1's ills.
Oh, and no races in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Sochi and similar hell-holes would also help."

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8. Posted by JackTheCat, 03/06/2015 9:40

"Couldn't agree more with Mike about the GPDA Survey, I too gave up after 20 inane questions. Who in their right mind signed that nonsense off?"

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9. Posted by Willie, 03/06/2015 3:15

"Like Mike, I have been following F1 since the days of Alfa-Romeo and Fangio (my second favorite driver after Gonzales).
Today we have cars which are essentially Super Go-Carts, running on Micky Mouse tracks, (except for Monaco which is glamorous but sucks).
As soon as Bernie is gone, I expect the whole thing to self-destruct within 5 years."

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10. Posted by ape, 02/06/2015 16:15

"Didn't we call this mess a "Polish parliament" LMFAO"

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11. Posted by A J S, 02/06/2015 11:46

"I agree with pretty much all of what Mike Lawrence says in his article and the GPDA survey frustrated me too. I felt many of the questions weren’t particularly relevant, but if you are being asked about your favourite driver and team, why not your favourite designer too? I am a far bigger “fan” of the likes of Rory Byrne and Patrick Head than any driver. My interest in Formula 1, and all motor racing for that matter, is much longer than the ten years on the questionnaire. Also, I worked in F1 for more than a quarter of a century too (and not as a PR drone either) but all I could record was being a “technical specialist”, and no more. Sadly I don’t work in the game now, principally due to health issues, however I think my experience still has some relevance.
Putting a cap on employees is an interesting thought. Race teams are too big at present, even some so-called mid-grid teams have grown over the last few years to a level where races wins would have been expected a few years ago. With a lower head count and therefore a lower budget perhaps new teams have a reasonable chance of survival. However, I think the idea would have a better chance of working if there is some sort of cost cap on the bigger salaries teams face. Drivers being paid over 10% of a team budget just can’t be right, no matter how good they are.
There is very little cross over from Formula 1 technology to road cars. Maybe there is a bit more now with the hybrid power unit systems, but I suspect the different duty cycle requirements, production volumes etc. mean the transfer is minimal. The types of carbon fibre used in an F1 tub or bodywork are very different to those used in the BMW i8; suspension systems are allowed to be much more complex on a road car than a single-seater race car; aerodynamic requirements are completely different and so on and on and on.
With regard to the rules and regulations, I think they should come from a separate authority so there is no fighting for a particular current advantage by any strategy group member. The current technical regulations are far too restrictive in many ways, too liberal in a few others, and occasionally rather silly. I won’t elaborate here though as it would turn into War and Peace!
Formula 1 is heading in the wrong direction now and strategy groups, surveys as currently presented and other similar ways of finding solutions just will not work.
"

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12. Posted by Mugmug, 02/06/2015 11:40

"Missed you Mike Lawrence.
I don't always agree with everything you say, but it's your "style " that makes me read your articles. Just like a book or movie, if I finish reading or watching it, it's good.

The only way out of the crisis F1 is in, is to:
1) get rid of Jean Todt
2) back to ICE , V10s, V8s
3)Get rid of Bernie, (that's coming soon anyway)
4)Turn all the Tilke tracks built in the last 10 years into Solar or Wind farms.
5)Eliminate "reviewing" and penalizing ALL contacts with cars/drivers. (It's getting ridiculous and preventing
drivers from making daring moves.)
6)Free tire choice for the weekend. (What does mandating 2 tire choices accomplish other than complicating
things and requiring teams to hire a "tire strategist"
7)More durable tires (minimizes marbles, opens up overtaking zones, and in general requires more driver
skill.
8) For everybody's sake, get rid of the effin fuel flow metering/monitoring. The only thing this STUPID rule
does is complicate things ,limit the fuel starved engines even further and lower the quality of racing.
9) Limit in car radio communication relating to pit stops only.
10) To prevent an overdose of "pay drivers", require higher achievement levels in order to obtain a super
license.

These are just 10 suggestions, there are many more, but I'm getting long winded as it is.
"

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13. Posted by Steve W, 02/06/2015 9:49

"Natcheztoo: IndyCar is not that smart as the series has proven for nearly 20 years. I fear F1 is about to head down a similar road..."

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14. Posted by Steve W, 02/06/2015 9:43

"Never owned an MG, but I did have a Triumph GT6. If racing improved those breeds, then those breeds must have been in a really sorry state to begin with.

Sorry."

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15. Posted by Willie, 02/06/2015 7:38

"Missed you, Mike."

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