Sunday, 12 April 2009

F1-asco-2 ...

Your best teacher is your last mistake.

Ralph Nader



For a major corporate entity it appears that Ralph Nader's thinking is not advice that the FIA consider relevant, and that's a shame. Not that many people pay attention to Ralphie's Rants! But they could make an effort to listen to the siren calls of their fanbase to get it right!

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (Sempang), a week later. The FIA, barely over the Trulli-Hamilton debacle, were faced with BMW Sauber lodging their complaint against the teams that were using the new diffusers. For the unitiated, this is pure politics, not something that a team felt strongly about. The original complaint having been dismissed in Melbourne, the teams that lodged the complaint needed to have somebody reopen the wound or they would not have been able to raise the issue again on the grounds that it would have been 'inadmissable' under the current rules. So, BMW lodging their complaint forced the issue, and the International Court of Appeal (I mentioned the stuffed shirts in the previous post) had no choice but to schedule a meeting to hear the complaints and the appeals against the previous decision. They will also drag McLaren before the court to investigate the alleged 'lies' served up at the previous Stewards hearing in Melbourne.

And all this is to take place in Paris a few days before the Shanghai meeting, which is half a world away. I wonder whose interests these blockheads think they are serving?

Got carried away there! Back to Malaysia. The race was scheduled to start at 17.00 hours (5 in the afternoon if you're still using the funny clock), a time of day renowned for heavy rain at this time of the year. Why would anybody, no matter how inefficient they are, want to calendar a race meet knowing that rain is guaranteed?

And rain it did. Boy, did it chuck it down! A couple of madcap laps in those conditions, with drivers ducking into the pits to change and re-change tyres, and the safety car was deployed. The race continued valiantly under the pacing of the safety car, but after SEVEN drivers aquaplaned on apparently safe stretches of the circuit, the straight bits, it was decided to 'red-flag' the race. So we were faced with the spectacle of a whole bunch of drivers sitting in their open cockpits with a multitude of mechanics fiddling with the cars, even preparing to change tyres if necessary, and other lackeys holding aloft umbrellas so that the drivers didn't drown in a sitting position.


The start of the race and there is the ominous  threat of heavy rain. He doesn't know it yet, but Vettel's race is all but over! Button is in the lead, but he has to plough through a wall of water.
Finally, the 'Red Flag' comes into play! Hamilton does a rain dance ... ... Heidfeld decides to join him!
The rain worsens and the cars are instructed to re-form on the grid. Storm worsens, visibility almost NIL, and the stewards are considering sending them around for 8 laps! Button takes cover to avoid a watery end in a racing car!
All photographs courtesy of and © 2009 Official F1 Site


Honestly, you couldn't make it up! Nobody, and I mean nobody, seemed to know what was going on. Not the teams, not the television presenters, and certainly not the spectators - live or watching on television. Then word filtered through that the stewards were considering restarting the race. What? Under those conditions?

Yes! They apparently felt it would be OK for the cars to do another EIGHT laps under the safety car so that they would be able to complete 75% of the race and claim full points. Whereas, if the race was abandoned at that stage of the race, the drivers could only gain half the points. Them's the rules, see?

From where I was sitting, at an ungodly hour in the morning I might add, I could only whack the side of my head in disbelief. They were planning to send the drivers around in the rain, in a procession because they would not be able to 'race' behind the safety car, so that they could meet the absolute rule that full points could only be awarded to the drivers if they completed 75% of the race. But the placings would be the same after another 8 laps as they were at the time of the stoppage. So who was the dumbcluck that was making this decision? Facelesss to the last, I'm afraid.

Commonsense prevailed. The race was abandoned and the drivers climbed out of their cars with obvious relief on their faces. Jenson Button was adjudged the winner, and I have to say that I cannot tell you who came in second and third without looking it up, as I had lost interest by then! Half the race points were awarded, and I suspect that that might yet be an area for appeal by the teams and drivers if the end of the season is decided by a single point or two - or worse, half a point!

Will I stay up to watch the Shanghai 'hi-jinks'? You betcha!

Wouldn't miss it for the world ...

Update: (15 April 2009)

The court of appeal has upheld the decisions of the stewards in Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur to declare the diffusers in question to be 'legal' within the design guidelines published prior to the start of the season. What a surprise - NOT!

The fact is that, Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams, the three teams about whom the complaints were lodged, submitted the plans for the diffusers at each design and engineering stage of their pre-season build, and each time those submissions had been scrutinised and passed by the FIA technical directors.

Equally, it is clear that the diffusers are not a 'bolt-on' addition that the other teams can slap on after taking a stroll round to their local Halford's. At the very least the gearbox has to be redesigned to divert the airflow towards the diffusers to make them perform as designed. That means that all the other teams who do not have these diffusers now have to play 'catch-up'. So you can understand the labyrinthine politics, especially when massive amounts of money are involved. And it looks like Ferrari are in the forefront of the 'whingers'. Another surprise - NOT!

I have no doubt that the bigger teams like Ferrari and McLaren (who have NOT complained - correction, 22 Apr 09: they've had a whinge, too!) will already have started work on redesigning their gearbox and engine placement in anticipation of the decision going against them. But it will take 3 or 4 more races for them to become competitive, not to mention the extra testing that needs to be carried out.

I say "Good Luck" to Brawn, Toyota and Williams, and may the outcome of the races continue to be decided on the track and not in some dingy committe room!

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F1-asco ...

A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.

Sir Winston Churchill



Off to China next. Not me, the F1 Roadshow. After the fiasco's of Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur they are going to try and get it right in Shanghai. Fat chance!

I have put off saying anything about the F1-Circus on the off-chance that my disappointment would have abated sufficiently, hoping that I could be objective about what I wanted to say. But, what the hell, I'm not an 'objective' motor racing hack; only one of several million frustrated and disappointed followers of the sport.

Let us start at the beginning. Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault lodged an appeal in Melbourne against the Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams teams on the grounds that the diffuser devices used on their cars breached the technical design. The appeal was heard by the Panel of Stewards and was rejected.

Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault appealed the Stewards' decisions. Then, BMW Sauber launched a similar protest and appeal in Malaysia.

The hearing of the International Court of Appeal (don't these stuffed shirts embellish themselves with grandiose titles?) will take place in Paris on Tuesday, 14th April, 2009 at 10.00 hours. The decisions are expected on Wednesday, 15th April, in the afternoon!

I could wait for three or four days and report on the report, but I don't have the patience. I cannot see how the Court of Appeal can overturn the ruling of their local stewards, penalise the teams in question, remove the points scored so far (Jenson Button and Brawn GP have finished FIRST in the first two races), and leave themselves, the FIA, without any credibility whatsoever!

What else has been happening? A whole bunch of idiotic moves, is what. Lewis Hamilton qualified 15th on the grid in Melbourne with a car that isn't up to scratch. He and his team came to the decision that the gearbox would need to be changed before the race. For that Hamilton was penalised (quite rightly, according to the rules) and had to start from 18th position on the grid. The race was a thriller, the safety car being deployed twice, and Jenson Button took the chequered flag. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth, a commendable race when you consider he started from the back row.

Within a couple of hours after the race the Stewards had stripped Jarno Trulli of his third place and promoted Lewis Hamilton from fourth, along with the 6 points that came with it. TWO DAYS later the FIA reversed the decision, reinstating Jarno Trulli and disqualifying Lewis Hamilton completely, based on an interview that Hamilton gave immediately after the race, and on a transcript of radio transmissions between Hamilton and the team in the pits. Here is that transcript:

Team: OK Lewis, you should need to make sure your delta is positive over the safety car line. After the safety car line the delta doesn't matter but no overtaking. No overtaking.
Lewis Hamilton: The Toyota went off in a line at the second corner ..... is this OK?
Team: Understood, Lewis. We'll confirm and get back to you.
LH: He was off the track. He went wide.
Team: Lewis, you need to allow the Toyota through. Allow the Toyota through now.
LH: He's slowed right down in front of me.
Team: OK, Lewis. Stay ahead for the time being. Stay ahead. We will get back to you. We are talking to Charlie.
LH: I let him past already.
Team: OK, Lewis. That's fine. That's fine. Hold position. Hold position.
LH: Tell Charlie I already overtook him. I just let him past.
Team: I understand Lewis. We are checking. Now can we go to yellow G 5, yellow Golf 5.
LH: I don't have to let him past I should be able to take that position back, if he made a mistake.
Team: Yes, we understand Lewis. Let's just do it by the book. We are asking Charlie now. You are in P4. If you hold this position. Just keep it together.
Team: OK Lewis, your KERS is full, your KERS is full. Just be aware. You can go back to black F2, black Foxtrot 2.
LH: Any news from Charlie whether I can take it back or not.
Team: Still waiting on a response Lewis, still waiting.
Team: Lewis, work on your brakes please. Front brakes are cold.
Team: If we are able to use one KERS that would be good. If you deploy KERS please do so now.
Team: OK, Lewis, this is the last lap of the race. At the end of the lap the safety car will come in, you just proceed over the line without overtaking, without overtaking. We are looking into the Trulli thing, but just hold position.

The claim by the FIA after hearing that excerpt was that Hamilton and the McLaren team lied to them when they were interviewed an hour after the race. The transcript clearly shows that Hamilton was instructed, at least twice, to allow Trulli to overtake him. Hamilton admits that he told the stewards that he had received no such instruction. Hamilton was being a 'team player' when he said that, and the suspension of McLaren's sporting director, Dave Ryan, confirms that the team's dealings with the FIA stewards was not above board. McLaren have elected not to appeal the findings!

I have heard the audio of that transcript above and I can tell you that the confusion between driver and team was almost palpable. Hamilton had been penalised last season for a very similar incident, and here he was faced with something almost identical. Jarno Trulli had gone off the track whilst the safety car was deployed and the rules state that cars cannot overtake under those conditions. Since he, Hamilton, had 'overtaken' when Trulli had made an obvious mistake, he must have felt that it was an acceptable move to go past. However, neither he nor the team were certain of the 'rule' and Charlie Belated research has uncovered the following information about the elusive 'Charlie'

Charlie Whiting is FIA Formula One Race Director, Safety Delegate, Permanent Starter and head of the F1 Technical Department, in which capacities he generally manages the logistics of each F1 Grand Prix, inspects cars in Parc fermé before a race, enforces FIA rules, and controls the lights which start each race.

Now you know!

(whoever the hell he is) needed to be consulted. Somebody (from the team) decided that Hamilton had better give up his position, and I suspect that nothing more would have happened about that incident had Hamilton not been pressured, by his own team bosses, to say that he had not been told to allow Trulli to pass!

I was going to deal with the Malaysia cock-up next, but I suspect anybody that has read this far is as exhausted as I am. So, we shall leave Malysia for "F1-asco-2".

Next instalment soon ...

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