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Pirelli under fire after 82 pit stops, tyres now rule Formula One

By Berthold Bouman

Pirelli under fire after 82 pit stops, tyres now rule Formula OneFormula One’s tyre supplier Pirelli is under heavy fire after the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend, during the race most drivers needed to pit four times for new tyres, and thus needed five sets of tyres to cover the 300 km Grand Prix distance. Which means on average one set of tyres lasted only 60 km or 13 laps.

Formula One is certainly not an environmentally friendly sport when each of the 22 drivers need five sets of tyres to finish a race, and thus 440 tyres in total were wasted during the Spanish Grand Prix. There are not only concerns about the green image of the sport, as fans and drivers feel Formula One is now ruled by the Pirelli tyres, some even spoke of the ‘tyranny of tyres’.

Drivers cannot really race, afraid to damage their tyres, qualifying is a farce as teams want to save tyres for the race, and following a race is, even for the drivers, confusing to say the least. Drivers are instructed to let their rival pass them, as they are on a different strategy, which must be hugely frustrating.

There are also safety concerns, tyres explode or delaminate unexpectedly, large pieces of rubber fly through the air, and the last thing Formula One needs is a seriously injured driver. If a tyre explodes at 300 km/h, a driver can only hope for the best, and with Formula One now heading to Monaco, a circuit without run-off areas, this doom scenario could become reality.

The start of the Spanish GP - Photo: Mercedes-Benz

The start of the Spanish GP – Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Although Pirelli’s job was to make the sport more exciting by increasing the number of pit stops, many feel the Italian tyre manufacturer has gone too far, one of them is Red Bull and Toro Rosso owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who said Formula One is not racing anymore.

In an interview with Autosport, Mateschitz vented his frustrations and said, “This has nothing to do with racing anymore. This is a competition in tyre management. Real car racing looks different. Under the given circumstances, we can neither get the best out of our car nor our drivers.”

“There is no more real qualifying and fighting for the pole, as everyone is just saving tyres for the race,” the Austrian complained. “If we would make the best of our car we would have to stop eight or ten times during a race, depending on the track.”

Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner agreed and said, “When you are telling drivers not to push because we are saving tyres, it isn’t great for the sport or for the fans. We need to push the drivers harder and allow them to drive properly!”

Too many pit stops in Spain - Photo: McLaren

Too many pit stops in Spain – Photo: McLaren

During the race at the Circuit de Catalunya, Lewis Hamilton complained that he had just been overtaken by a Williams, the 2008 World Champion, who had qualified in second place, was a sitting duck for the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, who had qualified in 17th place. At one point when his team asked him to spare the tyres, he said, “I can’t drive any slower!”

Hamilton later commented about the lack of pace, “I really don’t know what the problem is. I’m lost. We were slow and I had no grip for some reason. It was really tough, way too tough. I felt like I was going backwards, which I obviously did.”

About his race pace he commented, “The team were asking me to slow down in certain areas but I couldn’t go any slower otherwise I’m going at walking pace. I was already going so slowly to the point that people were just passing me. That is the way the sport has gone to improve overtaking. It is for the public to judge.”

Also Niki Lauda was critical after the race, “The car is quick, there’s no question about it. But the tyre consumption … look at Vettel, the same problem. He couldn’t get anywhere near the Ferraris and Raikkonen. And he added, “So, this is a problem which we need to fix but I don’t know how. They have to fix it. No question [about it].”

Even the race winner, Fernando Alonso, questioned the policy of heavy tyre degradation to ‘improve the show’. “With this year’s degradation and this year’s tyres we see races keep changing all the time. Whatever car keeps the tyres alive normally finishes on the podium or wins the race. Is it too much confusion for the spectators? There is no doubt,” Alonso said.

Jenson Button was also critical, “When we’re going round doing laps three seconds slower than a GP2 car did in qualifying, and only six seconds quicker than a GP3 car did in the race, there’s something wrong. This is the pinnacle of motorsport. We shouldn’t be driving round as slow as we have to look after the tyres. We go 12 seconds slower in a race than we do in qualifying.”

Winner Alonso with Raikkonen and Massa - Photo: Pirelli

Winner Alonso with Raikkonen and Massa – Photo: Pirelli

Red Bull’s Mark Webber wasn’t happy either and said, “Neither Seb [Sebastian Vettel] nor I had the performance of the cars in front, and without that you can’t nail the magic strategy. With the tyres performing as they do, the races can be a bit frustrating, but that’s the way it is at the moment.”

Sky Sports commentator and ex-Formula One driver Martin Brundle wrote in his column, “Enough is enough. Pirelli have to change their tyres after a race bordering on a farce. I’ve tried my best to be supportive of more interesting — albeit to an extent fabricated — motor racing, but it’s just gone too far. Qualifying clearly means nothing these days, just ask the front row Mercedes boys.”

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery angrily defended the policy of producing rapidly degrading tyres and said, “What do you want? We are only doing what we are asked to do, which is provide two or three stops. I know some people would like us to do one stop where the tyres aren’t a factor.”

“You can go back to processional racing where the qualifying position is the end position. Is that what you want? Unless you want us to give Red Bull the tyres to win the championship, I think it is pretty clear. If we did that there is one team that would benefit.”

Later, in an official press statement, Hembery said, “Our aim is to have between two and three stops at every race, so it’s clear that four is too many: in fact, it’s only happened once before, in Turkey during our first year in the sport. We’ll be looking to make some changes, in time for Silverstone, to make sure that we maintain our target and solve any issues rapidly.”

Brawn dismisses rumours, still firmly in charge of Mercedes F1 team

By Berthold Bouman

Brawn dismisses rumours, still firmly in charge of Mercedes F1 team - Photo: DaimlerRoss Brawn has dismissed rumours that his position as Team Principal of the Mercedes Formula One team could be in doubt, and today confirmed he’s still in charge of the famous German Silver Arrows team. Mercedes has recently hired Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda to reinforce the management team, but there are no plans to replace Brawn.

“I am the team principal and I am in charge of sporting, technical and racing matters,” Brawn said today. “Toto is coming in and that’s a whole other side of the business that I don’t want to get involved in. I don’t want to get involved in, on a day-to-day basis, the commercial activities and I don’t want to get involved with the support we need to give Daimler on a day-to-day basis.”

And the Briton added, “There are a lot of things that Toto will be doing that are complimentary to what I’m doing in terms of running the team, but you have to have one reference. Everybody knows that the only way a racing team would work is to have one reference, and I’m that reference.”

Brawn, who previously has worked for Benetton and Ferrari and helped Michael Schumacher winning the Formula One crown seven times, said Mercedes wants ‘a long-time commitment’, and that is exactly why he stays as Team Principal. Apparently, Mercedes is trying to lure McLaren’s Technical Director Paddy Lowe to the team to succeed Brawn when his time has come.

Brawn dismisses rumours still firmly in charge of Mercedes F1 team - Photo: Daimler

Ross Brawn has no intention to leave the Mercedes team

“It’s like my succession plan at Ferrari. When I decided I was going to stop at Ferrari, we built a succession plan and I am part of that, I’ve talked to Paddy, we know the situation. I’m planning on being here for a very long time.”

Actually, Brawn isn’t really happy with all the media attention, “I think it’s a bit disappointing that it’s got into the media, because that’s disturbing for the team. I want our guys focused completely on doing the best job they can for this coming season.”

And he added, “It’s a really exciting time here and Lewis [Hamilton] is now spending some time here at the factory and there’s a huge buzz about the place for the coming season. That’s what we want to maintain and unfortunately those things are in the nature of the business, but they are distractions for people and I have to do the best that I can to make sure people don’t get distracted!”

Toto Wolff joins new Mercedes Formula One management team

By Berthold Bouman

Toto Wolff joins new Mercedes F1 management teamMercedes today announced Toto Wolff will join the Mercedes Formula One team, and together with Ross Brawn and Niki Lauda he will be guiding the team to more success. The Austrian entrepreneur will acquire ‘a significant minority interest’ in the German team, according to a Mercedes statement.

Mercedes announced triple World Champion Lauda will also acquire a stake in the German Silver Arrows team. Wolff’s arrival is part of the reorganisation of the Mercedes F1’s management team. Wolff will become executive director of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd, and will replace Norbert Haug, who left at the end of 2012 as he was held responsible for the lack lustrous past three seasons.

Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars and Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG said in a statement, “As an entrepreneur, investor and motorsport manager, Toto Wolff has proven that this sport runs in his blood; at the same time, he is also well aware of the economic necessities of the business. With Toto Wolff, we have gained for our Formula One team not only an experienced motorsport specialist, but also a long-standing enthusiast of the Mercedes-Benz brand.”

Toto Wolff joins new Mercedes F1 management team - Photo: Williams F1

Toto Wolff joins new Mercedes F1 management team – Photo: Williams F1

“Together with him and Niki Lauda, we will further develop our motorsport activities and guide our Silver Arrows into the next era.”

Wolff, who will retain his shares in the Williams Formula One team, commented about this new challenge, “Mercedes is one of the most important participants in motorsport worldwide. I am not only a big fan, but also a longstanding friend and enthusiast of the brand. I am looking forward to the challenge and, along with preparing for a successful racing season, also want to focus on the targeted promotion of new talent.”

“I am leaving Williams on good terms and I will miss the team and friends I have made there. I’d also like to wish Frank and the whole of Williams the best of luck for the future”, Wolff added.

Lewis Hamilton felt too many restrictions at McLaren

By Berthold Bouman

Former Formula One and McLaren driver David Coulthard wrote it was even funny when he heard Martin Whitmarsh told the world Hamilton had made a big mistake by leaving McLaren. Hamilton sealed a three-year deal with Mercedes last Friday, and the new contract ends a 14-year long relationship, and since Hamilton is now 27 years old, he started his career at McLaren at the age of 13.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren

“Sometimes relationships just reach their natural conclusion,” Coulthard wrote in his weekly column for the UK Telegraph. “You don’t live your whole life at home, even though the fridge is always full and the laundry gets done for you. At some stage you have to move out. Grow up. Become a man,” added Coulthard, who himself spent eight years of his Formula One career at McLaren.

“Lewis Hamilton felt like a caged bird,” Damon Hill told the UK Daily Mail. Therefore he was right to make the move to Mercedes, reckons the 52-year old 1996 World Champion. “He had been managed to within an inch of his life. I can’t blame him for looking to move elsewhere. Lewis needed to leave McLaren to stretch his wings,” Hill added.

Hill also believes McLaren was never flexible enough in their relationships with drivers, and again brought up the argument of the trophies. “I could never get my head around the logic that the team takes the driver’s trophy,” said Hill.

And the Briton added, “It’s the principle, not the trophy, that is at stake. After you have won a championship, and jumped through a lot of hoops, there is a point when you think: “This is my life”. You can have a bellyful of becoming a performing seal. You don’t want to be on probation for your whole career.”

John Watson, who drove for McLaren from 1979 to 1983, agreed with Hill. “When you become a McLaren driver everything about you becomes, in effect, the property of the team. McLaren are a great team to drive for but they’ve got limitations and I think Lewis felt those limitations were intruding into the time that he wanted to develop, from a non-motor racing perspective.”

He also had some advice for Ross Brawn, Hamilton’s new team boss. “I would love to see Ross, Lewis and I go fishing. Show Lewis that there are other qualities or values in life that are very simple,” he said. “I’d love to see Lewis with a mayfly trying to catch a trout. He’s won Grands Prix, he won a world championship but he’d find it a lot more difficult to catch a trout. It’s all about life balance.”

So it seems the many restrictions, personally and commercially, and McLaren’s outdated drivers’ policy finally forced Hamilton to move to a team where he at least can be himself, instead of jumping through McLaren’s ‘protective’ hoop like a circus attraction every time he hits the headlines, kisses his girlfriend or wins a race.

If one looks at it that way, the conclusion is simple, it wasn’t all about money after all; because if he had stayed and had signed for another five years with McLaren, he could have earned a lot more, but he simply thought it wasn’t worth it.

Hamilton ready for a new challenge

And last but not least, Mercedes have prepared themselves very well for the future, this year they recruited Geoff Willis, ex-Ferrari designer Aldo Costa and Mike Elliott who is now the head of the aerodynamics department.

Brawn himself knows how to lead a team, he is responsible for Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles, he is not only a great leader but also a great strategist, and an excellent designer as well. Norbert Haug, President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, knows Hamilton very well, as he has worked with him many years before Mercedes decided to split with McLaren.

And then there is Niki Lauda, triple World Champion and new vice-chairman on the Mercedes Board of Directors. A man who knows everything about Formula One and the now 63-year old Austrian was involved in the talks to lure Hamilton to Mercedes. But Lauda admitted Hamilton didn’t need any persuasion, “I didn’t have to convince him much. He had a clear plan and I didn’t have to convince him of anything!”

Can Alonso hold on to his lead and become the next Formula One Champion?

By Berthold Bouman

Against all odds Fernando Alonso is leading the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship, 40 points ahead of the number two, Mark Webber, and 42 points ahead of the number three, double World Champion Sebastian Vettel. The Ferrari F2012 is certainly not the fastest car on the grid, but the Spaniard is someone who never gives up, he won three races this season, and that is probably a lot more than he bargained for ever since he go into his Ferrari for the first time during testing in early March 2012.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

The Spaniard has finished all 11 Grands Prix in the points, which is not only a sign of driver-related consistency, but also the car, engine and gearbox are performing consistent. It has already been said by in and outsiders: this year’s championship is all about consistency, and the most consistent driver and team will emerge as the victor of the 2012 season.

Alonso is smart enough to know he was lucky a few times, which also helped him to keep his points advantage, but nevertheless he is the only driver to have won three races. Hamilton for instance, has won two races, but only has gathered 117 points, due to, shall we say, a few driver-related ‘problems’ he had this season. Vettel won one race, but only has 122 points, and that is why Niki Lauda said Vettel could learn from Alonso. According to the Austrian, Alonso performs better under pressure than his rivals.

Ferrari Technical Director Pat Fry admitted Ferrari got some help from above, “Yes, we were helped by the weather, but then why didn’t other people take advantage of it? We’re fortunate to be where we are — some of that is luck with the weather but then everyone’s got those conditions. They’ve got to go and make the most of it.”

Fry also knows how important it is to develop and produce new car upgrades, and Ferrari have something special for Spa and Monza, two high-speed circuits, “We have a few interesting developments that we will introduce at Spa, a track which, from an aerodynamic downforce point of view, is quite special, as indeed is Monza.” He also thinks Ferrari should keep the pressure on for the second half of the season. “There is still also a lot to do: we must continue to keep up the pressure to a high level.”

Alonso also understands the development race for the 2012 Championship is far from over, “I think Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus are in front of us and we need to catch up. We need to close this gap, hopefully after the summer break when we come back to Spa we need to be more competitive and we need to be quicker.”

Former Formula One, and now IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello said, “Alonso is in the form of his life. He does not have the fastest car but he is the one getting the best out of what he has. And his rivals are taking points off one another.” And he predicted, “In the end I see this as a duel between Alonso and Vettel.”

Jenson Button, who has had a problematic first half of the season to say the least, said about Ferrari, “The team have done a great job to get the points they have, but I don’t think they’ve really had the speed.” About Alonso’s current advantage he commented, “They are going to manage it well, they are a great team and Fernando is a great driver.” And he predicted, “But it’s tough when you see other teams winning races consistently — and I think that might be happening over the next few races.”

Also Williams driver Bruno Senna said it won’t be easy for Alonso to grab the title, “There are still 225 points [for nine 1st places] left, which is a lot. So even with 40 points more at the moment it’s not going to be easy for him.” And he explained, “You never know what is going to happen in terms of the development. It is possible that Ferrari will be left behind, even if I don’t think they will let that happen.”

Also the tyres have become an important factor, especially this season as most teams are still struggling to understand the Pirelli tyres. Ferrari has been struggling with the Pirellis in 2011 as well, and therefore hired Hirohide Hamashima, a former Bridgestone tyre technician. He thinks Ferrari still has a lot to learn, “We are studying very hard how the tyres behave and the process for preparing the tyres to find out which way is the best.”

And he added, “In Malaysia Ferrari used the tyres very well and Fernando won and also I think in Valencia he understood how the tyre behaved very well and that was how he could win a very difficult race. He also had an explanation for Alonso’s lead in the championship, “I think the main reason why Fernando is leading the championship is Fernando himself!”

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

And what does Alonso think about the current situation? “Hamilton and Vettel are the drivers we have focused on since the beginning. They are the biggest challengers, but all of the teams are close. Hopefully, they will fight among themselves and not one of them will dominate,” he said to GMM today. About his future chances he commented, “Sometimes we know we can be on the podium, other times maybe it’s only seventh, but we cannot afford to make any mistakes or do anything that we will regret.”

Webber very nicely summed it up like this, “There’s always talk that it’s [the Ferrari F2012] not the fastest car, but you need the most consistent one. I don’t think anyone’s got the fastest car at the moment. And the Australian added, “We do know we can go and have a chance, no question about it. But I don’t think anyone will sail off into the distance. Those days are numbered.

Lauda: Vettel can learn from Alonso

By Berthold Bouman

Former Formula One driver Niki Lauda thinks Sebastian Vettel can learn from Fernando Alonso this season, he said to the Österreich newspaper. Vettel has had the best car during the last two seasons and was able to clinch two consecutive World Championships, but in 2012 the 25-year old German has so far won only one race, the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Niki Lauda thinks Vettel can learn from Alonso

The by Adrian Newey designed RB8 lacks straight-line speed compared to McLaren, Lotus and Ferrari. Asked why Vettel seems to be more stressed this season, Lauda replied, “That is logical, last year he had a huge advantage with his car, this year he has to fight like hell each race not to lose too much ground.

“The stress level is simply higher this season, and Vettel can learn something from Alonso, as he is superior to all [drivers] in difficult situations.” But Lauda doesn’t think Alonso, who currently has a 40 points advantage to the number two, Mark Webber, is now the only remaining title candidate.

“The Hungarian Grand Prix has shown us once again the top teams are very close together this season,” said the Austrian. “I expect the championship will be exciting until the end and I hope McLaren and Red Bull will exploit their potential to the fullest.”

The newspaper also asked Lauda about Bernie Ecclestone’s plans for a race in London, in and around the new Olympic Stadium, but the triple World Champion wasn’t really impressed by Ecclestone’s plan.

“I think we should cherish the memories we have of the Olympic Games in London [and not go racing there], I have followed everything from the opening to the closing ceremonies, the Olympics will never get any better after London, the atmosphere was great.”

More about Lauda: Ron Howards’ Formula One movie Rush to be released in September 2013

Ron Howards’ Formula One movie Rush to be released in September 2013

By Berthold Bouman

Oscar-winning movie director Ron Howard is currently working on the movie Rush, a Formula One film about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970’s. The movie highlights the 1976 championship-deciding Japanese Grand Prix at a rainy and foggy Fuji circuit, and of course the fiery accident of Lauda in 1976 at the Nurburgring, which almost claimed his life.

Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt) and Daniel Brühl (Niki Lauda) star in the movie Rush

According to the official Rush website the movie is, “set against the sexy and glamorous golden age of Formula One racing, Rush portrays the exhilarating true story of two of the greatest rivals the world has ever witnessed — handsome English playboy Hunt and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Lauda.

“Taking us into their personal lives on and off the track, Rush follows the two drivers as they push themselves to the breaking point of physical and psychological endurance, where there is no shortcut to victory and no margin for error. If you make one mistake, you die.”

Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers) plays the role of Hunt, while Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds) stars as Lauda. Contrary to popular belief, Lauda and Hunt were friends off-track — they even shared hotel rooms — but on track they were enemies and the pair fought many battles. The cast also includes Olivia Wilde, Natalie Dormer, Alexandra Maria Lara and Christian McKay.

The $65 million movie was shot on several locations, but to shoot the race scenes Howard and his crew travelled to Cadwell Park and Donington Park in the UK and of course the famous Lauda crash was re-enacted at the German Nurburgring at the exact same location the Austrian crashed (see second video). Howard also used many of the original 1970s Formula One cars, and even managed to get the original famous six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 on the set.

American Howard, who became famous playing teenager Richie Cunningham in the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, also produced Hollywood blockbusters like Splash, Cocoon, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon and The Da Vinci Code.

It is certainly not going to be a documentary like the 2010 Senna movie directed by Asif Kapadia. In 2011 Howard said to the official Formula One website about the film, “It’s going to be a motion picture. It will be fascinating, sizzling, sexy and entertaining in the mould of Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind.”

Asked why he chose Formula One he said, “There are two reasons. Firstly, I am a huge fan of sports — almost any kind of sport — not just motor racing. Secondly, I am always in search of a good story with great characters.

“Peter Morgan, who did the script for Frost/Nixon, has known Niki Lauda for quite some time and started digging for information about 1976, when Niki had his accident and then literally rose again like a phoenix to fight James Hunt for the title. Peter has written a mesmerizing script — not only for Formula One fans, but also for everybody hooked on sports and drawn to extraordinary characters.”

The movie is currently in post-production and Universal Pictures will release the movie in September 2013. Until then, enjoy the behind-the-scenes video!

Lauda’s accident at the Nurburgring re-enacted, video by