Archive for May, 2011

Indy 500 After Bump Day, comes Bump Day, ‘just business’ says Hunter-Reay

I feel kind of sorry for Ryan Hunter Reay. The weather and setup troubles saw him out of the 2011 Indy 500 starting lineup. With no time for a final attempt at bumping his way in, he stayed out and by the end of Bump Day, was having to cope with the reality of failing to qualify his car.

I say ‘failing to qualify his car’ because in the world of the Indy 500 it’s the car, not the driver, that qualifies. Why? I have no idea.

So what did Ryan’s enterprising sponsors and Andretti team do? They looked up and down pit road to find a ride for Ryan to buy into. They found one, with AJ Foyt driver Bruno Junqueira being told to move aside as he did a few years back. It’s not new, it’s not particularly clever (the car drops from 19th spot to the back of the grid), and it’s NOT going down too well in the world of Twitter.

Hunter Reay himself is at pains to point out that it’s a “110% team / business decision”. Doesn’t sound like good business, good business would be putting the sponsor logos on the Foyt car and letting Bruno drive from 19th, with Hunter Reay on the pitwall basking in the admiration of the TV crews.

So, if you want to make your opinion known, apparently all you can do is boycott DHL International and Sun Drop citrus soda. Not too tricky for me as I don’t use either.

But don’t take it out on Ryan, he’s just doin’ his job.

Pitpass, Chris Sylt, please go away

Pitpass do not allow readers to cut and paste from articles.

In the event this is probably a wise choice since my first reaction to one of their recent articles was to write a line by line rebuttal of almost everything they had written.

It is also a paranoid level of control capable of being likened to that exerted by FOM in the management of Formula 1.

Whilst we all owe an undying debt of gratitude to Bernie Ecclestone for getting the sport to where it is today, there are a few things we all recognise as a bit off:

1. Because F1 is owned by a private equity company which borrowed money to fund its acquisition debt, money has to be REMOVED from the sport to make the debt repayments.

2. As a result of this, promoters are charged huge sums to stage races, sums which tend to rise over time, creating a progressively worse funding shortfall for most races.

3. The large (and growing) income from promoter fees (many of which are underwritten by government propaganda machines) dwarfs income from fans, so F1 is less a B2C (business to consumer) entity, rather a B2D (business to despot) outfit. See Bahrain for more detail.

4. The Concorde agreement as it currently stands is running out soon and this presents a good opportunity to open up the debate, get back to the essential qualities of the sport, and maybe stem the tide of reduced manufacturer and sponsor interest by offering slightly more money to: a) those teams who are good enough make cars to whizz around the track f or sporting entertainment purposes and b) the enterprising individuals who are prepared to build tracks and put on nice races.

So in view of all this it’s hard to see why any website purporting to be a fan of Formula 1 as a sport would write an article so dismissive and belittling of ANY attempt to challenge the highly leveraged, faceless, profit motivated debt repaying status quo.

The great thing about private equity is that IF it makes a bad move, it loses its shirt. Because it invariably uses borrowed money to make its acquisitions, secured against the item it acquires, IT can lose out, without the asset itself suffering.

Pitpass is in grave danger of confusing the health of the asset with the health of the (highly indebted) current owner. The asset will retain its value even if the owner loses everything.

Roll on that day, and frankly, enough of Ecclestone poodles masquerading as fans of F1. Enough of Chris Sylt and Enough of Pitpass

From McLaren Mercedes to Perky Jerky Toyota – Decline and Fall of a Career

It would be all too easy to poke fun at the idea of Kimi Raikkonen, the least enthusiastic driver when it comes to sponsor related promotional activities, getting out of his NASCAR Truck and saying ‘My Perky Jerky Toyota Tundra felt real good today”.

So I’m going to do just that.

Prune Candy. Tell you what though – the sponsorship’s working, these things are good : http://www.perkyjerky.com/

10 Ways Eurovision is Like F1

Sidepodcast is planning to run another of its annual Eurovision parties tonight, and it got me thinking about similarities between F1 and the Eurovision song contest. Unlikely as it may seem, there are more than you’d think:

1. Everyone remembers the old commentator and wishes he was still doing it

2. It’s virtually impossible for the host country to make any money putting on the show

3. Huge logistical endeavour requiring teamwork, planning and single minded attention to detail

4. Considered unbelievably naff by the vast majority of the viewing public, but many still tune in out of morbid curiosity

5. It’s not as good as it used to be

6. Tortured multi-lingual interviews with heavy use of the phrase ‘for sure’

7. The points system keeps changing

8. Dodgy fashion sense

9. Casual viewers don’t really understand how qualifying works

10. Despite all the build up and excitement you invariably end up nodding off half way through

Maybe the 2012 cars don’t suck?

Preview versions of the 2012 aero kit INDYCARs were unveiled yesterday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They don’t look as bad as I’d feared, in fact I think they’re pretty cool.

They are less dart/arrow/jetfighter like than some of the CGIs we’ve seen in the past. They look exciting and different, but are recognisably INDYCARs (probably because the wheels are identical to the present Dallara). The rear wheel protection is quite extreme, but looks pretty good. The rear wings are more conventional than I’d feared.

I still have a few concerns:

These prototypes are only required to look good and demonstrate the art of the possible, they need to LOOK fast, they don’t need to BE fast. When the time comes to design a quick aero kit, will it be as innovative or attractive as this?

The physical shape of any car is determined by 1) the regulations and 2) what works, aero wise. Until we know the detail of the regulations, we don’t know how much of what we see is required by the regulations. Because if it’s NOT required and its not helping aero performance, it will be removed (examples include the unusual wing end fence shapes and the radical sidepods. See the one with the big slanted sidepods? I still think that design could launch a car at a driver’s head.

The aim of any aero kit designer should be to get the car working as well as possible within the regulations. Given that they all have the same ‘Safety Cell’ chassis and associated kit to push up the road, and the same set of regulations, it’s likely that a competent aero designs will move towards similar philosophies. There just won’t be room for extras that add weight but don’t bring better performance.

I’m also curious to know what the rear wheel protection is made of. It’s bulky, so it’s going to have to be strong, or it’ll just break off and hit people

in the face, Felipe Massa style. If it’s strong, it’ll surely be heavy? Or will it? Like I say, I’d like to know.

I’d love to know whether there is really a compliant 2012 specification Dallara safety cell under these ‘presentation’ aero kits. It would have been nice to see a ‘naked’ chassis on display as well.

I’ve read a lot about whether the cars look better or worse, and I’ve written a lot too, but I have also started thinking that what we think of the present cars is also a product of the handling of those cars, as much as the shape. As long as these cars are big and heavy, and don’t corner brake as fast as F1 cars, they are never going to look quite right on a road course. How many times have you watched 20 Dallaras lumbering slowly round a hairpin and thought ####sigh####.

I guess we need to see the new cars running in the summer before we judge.

Why the 2012 Indy Car could suck

At the recent Sao Paulo Indy 300 race, we heard that INDYCAR team owners had voted to delay the introduction of differenciated Aero Kits until 2013 (meaning a delay to their introduction – since they are currently due to be introduced at 2012’s Indy 500).

INDYCAR’s CEO Randy Bernard is now apparently trying to decide what to do, whilst Tony Cotman, responsible for introduction of the new cars, appears less than happy at the development, as he explains in this comprehensive and frank Q&A session.

Let’s remember what we’re dealing with for next season. The current identical or ‘spec’ Honda Powered Dallaras will be replaced with a new ‘Dallara Safety Cell’ rolling chassis, which will be combined with engines from Honda, Chevy, and others, and which will also accept standardised ‘Aero kits’ (essentially front and rear wings, sidepods and airbox fairings)

The idea is that teams, engine companies and third parties will all be able to design their own aero kits.

As Cotman explains, the rules required to regulate and scrutineer custom designed aero are much more complicated than rules for a Spec design. A spec series rule book can say ‘the wing has to be like this’ whereas an open design must set limits (just look at the F1 rules defining various dimension limits relative to various planes and points on the car) It’s all very complex, and way more involved that the current approach.

There’s another problem with aero kits, whilst most of people around INDYCAR are very excited about how they’ll all look different ‘for the fans’, the real difficulty is that different LOOKING aero kits will have different performance levels. Put simply, only one kit will be the best kit. The same goes for engines – only one engine can be the best.

If you are a team owner and you have the best engine, you’d be a fool not to put the best performing aero kit on the car too.

There’s another slight problem – signs are that the 2012 INDYCAR just isn’t going to be very good. Dallara designed and built the slowest F1 car on the grid for 2010 (the Hispania Racing Car) and Nick Wirth (who is apparently designing an Aero Kit for Honda) has used his expertise in Computational Fluid Dynamics to design the second slowest car on the F1 grid (the Virgin Racing Car).

Then there’s the look. Read the Cotman Q&A and I think the subtext is ‘the cars look stupid’ – the promo images have done nothing to dispel this concern for me. They’re not even ‘mickey mouse’, they’re ‘donald duck’. The 2012 INDYCAR artist impressions are like a small child’s idea of what a jet fighter on wheels would look like, but not in a good way.

We’re already well into 2011, I’d expect extensive on-road testing of the car by now, but maybe I’m naive. I am starting to fear a scenario where the new cars are unreliable, slow, stupid looking, and where the performance differential between the front and the pack is even bigger than now.

In short – none of the benefits of Spec racing, with all the pitfalls.

I hope I’m wrong.

NewsCorp, EXOR, F1 and Crystal Balls

I’d be a fool if I tried to second guess what’s in the heads of the various players in the emerging F1 takeover saga. But I will:

BERNIE – one eye on the exit-door but determined to make life difficult for anyone who crosses him between now and retirement

CVC – trying to make sense of a post Bernie world, and beginning to suspect there’s an alternative to the status quo

NEWSCORP – see upside, global TV rights revenue, and interactive and 3D services potential

EXOR – see upside, are a proxy for Ferrari, and possibly for FOTA and FIA once things shake down

FOTA – sure there’s an alternative to the status quo, involving lower costs, higher revenues

FIA – hope there’s an alternative to the status quo, higher revenues, less grief

SPONSORS – want more and better exposure for their money and a younger demographic

PROMOTERS – want lower hosting fees and more ticket sales

So, my view is that the NewsCorp/Exor pitch will end up including all the FOTA teams, will have FIA backing and the support of CVC in the due diligence process. Bernie will also reluctantly come on board, at least to the extent of not actively blocking.

Then the tough negotiating talk will begin.

The outcome will be a FOTA/NewsCorp owned entity, selling free to air TV rights in major markets, whilst keeping income from a premium interactive and 3D service on the internet and NewsCorp networks for itself.

Hell, they might as well  buy IndyCar too 🙂