McLarens machinations, Motors, Monza & more


  Well Ron must have done some fast talking, or major grovelling, as Jenson has decided to come back for more next year. Exactly more of what is yet to be seen and I expect everyone, whether you like Button or not, does not want to see McLaren trundling about at the back again next year. Ron almost got all touchy feely in the days leading up to the announcement with comments to the effect that he should have been making Jenson feel all warm and fuzzy about his future in the weeks leading up to Monza. He had, after all, already decided to retain Button and he had, well just not found the right moment or the time to let Jenson know.


  Sure. This is Ron after all. His recollection of past events are usually as he wants history to remember them in hindsight. This is also the guy that hung both Jenson & Kevin Magnussen out to dry last year while he fought with his own board in an attempt to ditch Button. And what then for Magnussen? Another year as test driver will just about end his career but there are bugger-all spots left in F1 and none that will let him run near the front. A move into either sports cars or Indycar would also probably be the end of his F1 dream. An even shorter career than his dad’s. Meanwhile I don’t really believe that at this point in his life Jenson needed to have his feelings and emotions all cuddled up to. He was already comfortable with what he has achieved in his career and his decision to move on to pastures new. While all the words at the announcement were “on message” it seemed to me that Jenson had more of a wry smile, one of amusement at the situation, and the extra cash he had wrung out of Ron, than any one of delight that he would again be in front of a Honda motor next year.


  This is not necessarily to blame Honda. But like Renault, under these stupid “engine token” rules the chances of them being able to make the enormous strides required to catch Ferrari, let alone Mercedes by the start of next year are probably less than those of your present interlocutor becoming a billionaire and getting his leg over with a super-model. Frozen, or homologated, engines should never been introduced at the very beginning of a new engine formula as it is a recipe for entrenching one manufacturer as the dominant force. Yes Mercedes have done a brilliant job and deserve to be the front runner at this point but everyone should have the opportunity to do whatever it takes, or whatever they can manage, to bridge the gap. The concept of the homologated engines was that it would save money (bullshit) and prevent manufacturers from leaving the sport due to costs. As manufacturers like Renault and Honda are currently spending a bloody fortune with very little hope of challenging for wins, how long will it be before their boards will pull the plug on an extravagance that is only acquiring negative publicity?   


  Good news for Manor though with their announcing the Mercedes engine deal which may help them begin to close the gap. At the same time they announced that they are rejoining Williams in a technical deal for gearbox and suspension packages. Now as long as they can raise some cash...Renault have all but confirmed that they will be taking control of the current Lotus team. This will solve their current financial woes but probably not help with their competitiveness as they will be losing the Mercedes engine. It also sadly means that once again the name Lotus will be missing from the F1 grid. Romain Grosjean has had enough and signed with HAAS, probably in the hope of impressing Ferrari for the future. There are very few seats left before the music stops.


  I also absolutely loathe the idea of a “spec” engine formula for F1. It is utter rubbish that a performance levelling formula cannot be applied to motor racing, just look at the WEC. Audi, Porsche, Toyota have all taken vastly differing routes to their power trains and have all spent time at the front over the last 3 years. It seems we are about to have the third different LMP1 manufacturers champion in that period come seasons end and the racing has been absolutely stunning in all classes. Why a sport with the technical know-how that F1 has cannot replicate this is, unhappily, just a bad joke. Imagine if all manufacturers were able to run competitively with engines that match their ethos, from small turbos to screaming V12s. How many more may be tempted to join the fray? The added benefit would be that there would be no complaints about the sound. Hell, it’d be like 1983 all over again. In-line 4 cylinder turbos, V6 turbos, V8s, V8 turbos, V12s.......bliss. You would just need to introduce rules regarding the cost of supply to teams and that manufacturers be enforced to provide for a certain number of cars (say after a first year to allow for development) and there would be more engines than you could poke a stick at. We wouldn’t then have the current ridiculous situation that Red Bull finds itself in. Obviously they can’t go back to Renault and as Honda can’t, and Mercedes won’t, their only supply option is Ferrari. But Ferrari are also too scared to supply 2016 spec engines to them for fear of having their horses arses kicked. Just like Renault and Honda it is hard to see just how long the Red Bull board would be prepared to spend a fortune to run about in mid-field with year old engines.


  And on top of all this stupidity, Bernie is threatening to drop Monza. Monza for Christ’s sake. Just think about it for a minute. Monza, the home of the most passionate fans on the planet. Monza, that temple of speed, ghosts, history, passion, insane neglected banking, the Alps in the background, Italian girls, the Tifosi, over officious cops in the beautiful setting of the national park. No Monza? Might just as well go and run a race in a go-cart track in a Las Vegas car park! Oh that’s right, he’s already done that. How about the FIA cancel F1’s FIA World Championship status and set up their own Grand Prix World Championship, just as Bernie threatened to do in 1981. Using the above engine formula and running on all those circuits that Bernie has dropped due to his desire for more and more money (along with one or two others). With none of the sports money going out to a bunch of vultures they could lower the cost to the circuit owners while giving more to the teams. Everyone would benefit. Mostly us, the fans. How’s this for a calendar? (Remember I am not including any current – except Monza, oh all right, Spa and Monaco as well – circuit);  Argentina (Buenos Aires), Brazil (Jacarepagua), South Africa (Kyalami – the old one), USA – Long Beach, San Marino (Imola), Spain (Aragon), Monaco, France (Paul Ricard or Le Mans), Britain (Brands Hatch or Donington), Germany (Nurburgring), Austria (A1 Ring), Holland (Zandvoort), Belgium (Spa), Italy (MONZA), Turkey (Istanbul),Qatar (Losail), India (New Dehli),  Japan (Fuji), Korea (Yeongam), Canada (Mosport), USA (Watkins Glen – or Road America or Road Atlanta) and Australia (Adelaide).  OK some of them are no longer plausible but it gets you drooling doesn’t it?


  Over to you Jean.


  Or should Sam become Il Presidente di FIA? For Life!!!!! Maniacal laugh inserted here.................

Sam Snape




  1979 had ended as a season in three acts. The pretty Blue Ligier Cosworths of Laffite and Depailler dominated the start before the not so pretty but very distinctive  Ferraris of Villeneuve and Scheckter gained the ascendancy. Renault had their break-through moment in the sun at Dijon before Williams, after ten long hard years finally cracked it at Silverstone with Clay Regazzoni’s emotional victory which was then backed up by Jones winning four of the final six races. The year had inspired some weird and wonderful versions of the “ground effect” concept, still in its infancy, and all of the most radical ended in failure. The wingless Lotus and Brabhams didn’t last long, the Arrows A2 “doodlebug” looked the biz but was more a low slung slug than any flying device and the less said about the short side pod Fittipaldi F6 the better.


  Entering 1980 all designers had come to the conclusion that a simple and standard ground effect concept was the best way forward so long as they could get the maths right as Williams had done in ’79. There were no wingless wonders or radical designs to be seen and all followed the basic long side pod with shallow (depending on the circuit) front and rear wings. The main differences were in the packaging required for the alternate engines. The narrow Cosworth V8 was the optimal version for aerodynamic packaging, The Renault Turbos were next with a narrow V6 but they had to figure out how to get the twin Turbo-chargers out of the way while the Flat 12s from Ferrari were too wide to provide the effective under-car tunnels required for maximum down-force. Confidence was high amongst all the major teams that they had the answer although not all would be proved right.



  As reigning champions, Ferrari believed that an updated version of their successful 79 challenger would provide Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve, who had finished one and two in the 79 title race, with the car necessary to contest the title again. The 312T5 was much more tightly packaged than the T4 of 1979 and although the Flat 12 engine in the rear was too wide to be ideal that hadn’t stopped them winning before. And just in case there was either the V6 Turbo-charged 126CK or the super-charged 126CX models under development. Unfortunately for the men from Maranello the width of the Flat 12 proved too much of an issue and the Ferrari 312T5, lacking the downforce of its competitors regularly chewed its rear tyres forcing pit stops that no-one else needed to make. As the year progressed and the team realised that no amount of tweaking was going to help, concentration on the development of the 126 meant that the drivers slipped inexorably down the grid until the reigning champion, Jody Scheckter, suffered the ultimate indignity of failing to qualify for the Canadian Grand Prix. By this time the dispirited South African had already announced his retirement at years end and Villeneuve had debuted the 126C during practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Imola. The Scuderia had suffered its worst season since 1969, finishing tenth and scoring just eight points with its best finish being a trio of fifth placings. Even in 69 when they scored just 7 points they grabbed a podium finish. Enzo was not amused.


  Nor was Uncle Ken. Although Tyrrell began 1980 in much better financial shape than the previous season, having secured sponsorship from Candy, an Italian washing machine manufacturer, part way through 1979. In 79 they produced what was generally described as a Lotus 79 clone, the 009,  which kept them moderately competitive and they ran them in South America in 1980. The new car, the 010 followed this line of thought and was generally considered a clone of the Williams FW07, made its debut in South Africa. The team retained Jean-Pierre Jarier who had restored his reputation in 79 as team leader and he was joined by Irishman Derek Daly who had impressed in his infrequent outings during 1979. In the 010 however, the designers didn’t get the maths right. The chassis lacked the required stiffness to cope with the negative pressure being created by an underbody that was generating too much downforce. This created a new handling problem which was given the name of porpoising. The car would create ever more downforce, sucking it down onto the track until it arrived at a point that the chassis could no longer cope. The car would then suddenly lose all that downforce and the car would rise dramatically before starting to sink back down again. On longer straights the Tyrrell would “porpoise” three of four times and not always at the same point. Needless to say this didn’t engender a great feeling of confidence in either Jean-Pierre or Derek and although they outscored Ferrari, sixth place and 12 points was a long way from where this once great team had been. The long slow slide into oblivion had begun.



  Brabham had ended 1979 in a certain amount of chaos. The Alfa Romeo V12s where too heavy, too thirsty and too unreliable and BT48s were replaced by Ford Cosworth powered BT49s when they arrived in North America at seasons end. Team Leader, Niki Lauda, then decided that he was no longer interested “in driving around in circles” and quit the team during the first day’s practice in Canada, leaving the inexperienced Nelson Piquet being backed up by debutant Ricardo Zunino. The BT49 however, was fast, and development over the off season turned it into possibly the second best car of 1980. Nelson kicked off the year finishing second in Argentina and after victory in Long Beach was the joint championship leader. He dropped back behind Jones through the mid season but a run of seven consecutive points scoring finishes from Monaco onwards that culminated in victories in both Holland and Italy had the young Brazilian leading the title chase with just the North American races remaining. Sadly for Nelson he would finish neither while Jones won both. Piquet finished second in the championship with 54 points while Brabham’s policy of concentrating on Nelson’s efforts meant that they finished third in the constructors title with 55 points. Hector Rebaque, who had replaced Zunino mid season had scored just a single point.



  McLaren was another example of how the mighty had fallen. It was expected that the team would bounce back from the previous two under-achieving seasons with an updated version of the M29, which had replaced the woeful M28 series part way through ’79. The M29 however suffered from much the same problems as the Tyrrell and even the arrival of the M30 towards the end of the European season did not improve their fortunes. John Watson was retained as team leader and he was joined by debutant, and future super-star, Alain Prost. Prost started the season and his career promisingly scoring points in both Argentina and Brazil but then broke his wrist in an accident in South Africa. He was replaced by Stephen South in Long Beach, who failed to qualify, and returned in time for the Belgian Grand Prix. Alain would score just two more points in the year and quit McLaren at the end of the season following a monumental shunt during practice at Watkins Glen, vowing never to return to the team. In hind-sight a silly thing to say but understandable at the time. Watson would score just two fourth places in a year where his mechanics got so confused that at one race they jokingly changed the name on the side of his car from John Watson to Johnny Whatswrong. Things had gotten so bad that by season’s end the team sponsor, Marlboro, financed a managerial buy-out and installed the boss of their Formula two outfit Project Four, a certain ex-Brabham mechanic by the name of Ron Dennis, as team owner. We will hear more of Ron later. McLaren finished the year just ahead of Ferrari in ninth place with 11 points and now hadn’t had a win for three years.


  Due to Gunter Schmid’s, let’s say, unpredictable management style, ATS had been going through drivers, designers and staff faster than an amoeba can multiply and 1980 would be no different. Begining the season with the Nigel Stroud designed D3 that debuted late in 1979, drivers Marc Surer and Jan Lammers struggled to qualify for the early races and then Marc crashed in South Africa and broke his legs. By now Stroud had also left the team and another new car, the D4 was designed by Gustav Brunner who was now the fifth designer in just over two years. The others being Robin Herd (HS1), John Gentry (D1) and Giacomo Caliri (D2). Had the build quality also not been effected by a revolving door of staff the D4 would have made a good mid-field car. Jan Lammer’s first outing with it saw him qualify fourth on the grid at Long Beach. In the race however the car made it as far as the first corner before a driveshaft broke and that was the high point of the year for the team. Jan continued to qualify well over the next few races before he was replaced by the returning Surer from the French Grand Prix onwards. Despite reasonable qualifying pace the ATSs rarely finished and the team failed to score any points all year.



  Lotus spent the year trying to claw back their performance after the developmental dead end that was 1979s Lotus 80 model. Martini sponsorship had vanished along with Carlos Reutemann and 1978 champ Mario Andretti was joined by the Italian rookie Elio de Angelis from Shadow. The Lotus 81 was the logical development of 1978’s championship winning 79 and really the car that they should have been running in 1979. The fact that they were running it in 1980 meant that they were in reality a year behind the leaders of the pack and had much catching up to do. Now solely sponsored by Essex Petroleum, Elio got the year off to an encouraging start with a fine second placing in Brazil however it was then a long dry spell before the team would score again in Austria. Elio ended the season well though, scoring in three of the final five races. Mario on the other hand had a shocker and had to wait until season’s end before scoring his sole point for the year. The pair were joined by Nigel Mansell for the final three European races. The British debutant was being evaluated for 1981 as it was clear that Mario would not be sticking around to suffer through another frustrating year of transition. Although that would be exactly what he would end up doing at Alfa Romeo in 1981. The modest total of 14 points scored was enough though to see Lotus top the mid-field pack and finish fifth in the championship standings.



 Mo Nunn’s tiny Ensign team had suffered through two rough years with no funds and out-dated equipment but 1980 promised much. Decent sponsorship from Unipart, a neat new design by Nigel Bennett in the N180 and the return of Clay Regazzoni, fresh from his victorious season with Williams all pointed to an expected upswing in fortunes. The year started with steady progress before Clay had a huge accident at Long Beach when his brakes failed on the super-quick Shoreline Drive. Hitting Ricardo Zunino’s dead Brabham before the concrete barriers probably saved his life but Clay was left paralysed from the waist down. Clay was hastily replaced by Tiff Needell, who started the Belgian Grand Prix but failed to make the cut in Monaco. Patrick Gaillard then filled in at the non-championship Spanish race before Jan Lammers, recently sacked by ATS despite his good form, was handed the poisoned challis in France. By this time development was at a standstill and moral was all but obliterated so Jan only managed to qualify for three of the remaining eight races. Geoff Lees did little better in a temporary second entry retiring  in Holland before not qualifying at Imola.   



  Renault though were progressing. Steady development of the RS10 through 1979 led to the twin turbo powered RE20 which was to prove a very potent weapon. Regie’s weak point however was still with cheaper parts such as valve springs which led to too many retirements to make a consistent title challange. One-two finishes should have been the result in both Brazil and South Africa but team-leader Jean-Pierre Jabouille retired from the lead in both races. Brazil from turbo failure and at Kyalami with a puncture. Rene Arnoux took the lead and victories in both races and a couple of minor placings meant that he was leading the championship going into the second half of the season. In that second half though he would score just once with a fine second to Piquet in Holland. Jabouille’s horrid fortune continued apart from one sunny day in the Austrian hills where he scored his only points finish of the season, a win over the rapidly closing Williams of Alan Jones. 38 points and fourth in the championship was proof, if needed, that the turbo-charged route was the future and if they could just cure their niggling reliability issues.....If is a very big word.



  After it’s promising early days with Jarier’s South American poles in ’75, and the zenith of Jones’s win in Austria in ’77, Shadow was a team suffering it’s death throws. Stefan Johansson and David Kennedy began with a barely developed version of the 1978 DN9 known as a DN11. Stefan left after just the South American races and was replaced with Geoff Lees who managed to qualify for the teams only start for the season in South Africa. The team was subsequently sold to Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing squad who tried to turn things around and debuting the new DN12. Unfortunately that didn’t help and neither driver started another Grand Prix before the team shut up shop after the French Grand Prix.


  Fittipaldi Automotive appeared to be a team revitalised after a dismal 1979 where the short side-pod ground effect concept of the F6 was an utter disaster. Although their long term sponsor, Copersucar, had departed they had been replaced by Brazilian brewery company Skol and with a bit of cash to splash about they had arranged a buy-out of the Walter Wolf Racing assets. Included in this purchase were not just the cars but the chief designer Harvey Postlethwaite, and the rapid Keke Rosberg who would pilot the second car along with team owner Emerson Fittipaldi. Postlethwaite revised the Wolf chassis (WR7 – 9) which were presented as the Fittipaldi F7s for the beginning of the season and despite not being particularly rapid, both Rosberg (Argentina) and Fittipaldi (Long Beach) scored third placings early on. Fittipaldi also scored with a sixth in Monaco and took fifth at the non championship race in Spain. Postlethwaite had been joined by a young aerodynamicist fresh out of university to pen the new F8 which debuted at Brands Hatch. The F8 was a great step forward and, especially in the hands of Rosberg, was a regular top ten qualifier. Reliability was a problem though and a sole fifth place at Imola was its only points finish but if they could keep the development up into 1981 this was a car with enormous potential. The team scored 11 points and finished eighth in the constructors standings above heavy-weights McLaren, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately with the retirement from driving of the great Emerson at season’s end Skol pulled the plug and many of the design team left for more secure employment. Included in those departing was that young uni graduate previously mentioned, Adrian Newey, who again, you will hear plenty about in the future.





Alfa Romeo’s comeback to F1 was gathering pace and Autodelta, their in-house racing operation, had secured substantial funding from Marlboro along with the signing of the rapid Patrick Depailler to lead the squad. Depailler was returning from his hang-gliding related leg injuries which cut his 1979 campaign short and would join the 1978 Formula 2 champion, Bruno Giacomelli as the full time drivers. Veteran Vittorio Brambilla would remain in the line-up as a test driver and would also make sporadic appearances in races. A mere 4 points and eleventh in the standings may seem a poor return on investment but the team made major strides through-out the year despite the tragic events at Hockenhiem. Bruno took fifth first time out in Argentina and despite that heavy, thirsty and unreliable V12 engine the 179s potential pace was evident from the start. Depailler would qualify third at Long Beach before the usual gremlins intervened. Despite a lack of finishes, progress was being made when Patrick went off at the fearsome Ostcurve during practice for the German Grand Prix and as if to pay homage to his lost team-mate, Bruno scored the teams second points finish during that race.  Vittorio Brambilla then stood in for a couple of races before being replaced with another young Italian, Andrea de Cesaris. By season’s end the car was quick enough for Giacomelli to claim the first Pole Position for an Alfa Romeo since 1951 at Watkins Glen and Bruno led comfortably until electrical problems ended the dream. Alfa Romeo joined Williams and sent a single car to the non-championship Australian Grand Prix at Calder where he finished a combative second behind Jones. With 1978 champ Mario Andretti joining Bruno, 1981 looked a promising prospect.



  Some minor tweaking of pretty and rapid JS11 resulted in Ligier producing a beautiful car, the JS11/15 that was sometimes literally too fast to win. Long term team leader Jaques Laffite was joined by rising star Didier Pironi from Tyrrell and despite being a front runner ultimate success eluded them until the European season started. Second (Laffite) and third (Pironi) behind Arnoux in South Africa along with a couple of other points placings for Pironi was a somewhat disappointing start but a dominant win for Didier in Belgium was followed by a second for Laffite at Monaco. It was about this time that the car just got too fast and the wheel rims that were being used were cracking under the cornering pressures they were being subjected to. They again finished 2-3 in France before both retired from the lead at Brands Hatch due to wheel rim failures. Laffite then won in Germany and followed that with a fourth and a third in Austria and Holland while Pironi continued to suffer from retirements. Pironi scored another couple of podiums to end the season and helped secure Ligier second in the constructors championship with 66 points, the best result in their history so far.




  After their break-through season in 1979, the Saudia Airlines and Leyland backed Williams squad were to dominate the 1980 season, winning the first of many championships. As with Ligier, there was just a minor upgrading of the FW07, and the FW07B was the car to beat from the beginning of the year till the end. Australian Alan Jones scored five victories starting with the season opener in Argentina, and then back to back wins in both France and Britain, and Canada and Watkins Glen. He was also victorious in both the years non-championship races in Spain and Australia. He also racked up second placings in Belgium, Austria and Italy and took third in Brazil to score 67 points and become the team’s first World Drivers Champion and lead them to their first Constructors Championship. He was ably backed up by Lotus refugee Carlos Reutemann who won at Monaco during a run of ten consecutive point scoring drives from Belgium until the season’s end. This run would also continue well into 1981. Carlos would score 42 points for third in the driver’s championship behind Nelson Piquet in the Brabham. Such was their supierority, Williams total of 120 point was almost as much as the combined total  (121) of Ligier and Brabham who finished second and third. The Patrick Head designed FW07 was so good that it was still running competitively in 1982, four years after it’s introduction.



  With it’s splendid gold and black Warsteiner livery the Arrows A3 was probably the prettiest car on the 1980 grid. Piloted by Riccardo Patrese and Jochen Mass it had it’s moments but it was not as consistently quick as it was beautiful and all the teams points were scored by the Monaco Grand Prix, round six of fourteen. It was however a vast improvement over the A2 “doodlebug” of 1979 and was the best car that the team had designed itself, the A1 of early 1978 being in effect a Shadow DN9. The highlight was an excellent second place for Patrese at Long Beach behind Piquet while Mass picked up a fine fourth at Monaco. A pair of sixths, Patrese in Brazil and Mass in South Africa were the only other scoring results for a team headed for seventh in the championship with 11 points. Their chances of more were hampered by Mass’s huge roll during practice for the Austrian Grand Prix which resulted in back and neck injuries that ruled him out for a few races. He was replaced by Mike Thackwell in Holland and Manfred Winklehock in Italy but neither drivers managed to get a handle on the car and both failed to qualify.




  The years only debutant team was a little squad from Turin which was named after its owner. Osella Squadra Corse entered a single Denim sponsored FA1 for Eddie Cheever and began as a perennial back-marker. Eddie only qualified for two of the first six races but as the year progressed and the weight was trimmed from the car their qualifying performances gradually improved to the point where it was a competent mid-field starter. The FA1’s reliability though did not follow the same trajectory and Cheever finished just once, a lonely 12th place in their home race at Imola. From all appearances this was a team that having started with little resources needed a large investment to move up the grid in future years and although always considered one of the more fun teams, supplying many on the grid with copious amounts of pasta over the years, the required money would sadly never arrive.


  The only other entrants were John MacDonald’s RAM team which was having a good time in the Aurora British Formula One Championship and a one-off squad called Brands Hatch Racing that both entered year old Williams FW07s for a variety of drivers from the British Grand Prix onwards. For RAM, former Hesketh and Surtees pilot Rupert Keegan would qualify for every second race he entered and managed to finish each of those four starts, just not in the points. Neither Kevin Cogan nor Geoff Lees got the second car onto the grid in their respective North American outings and Desire Wilson fared no better in her single attempt at Brands Hatch.



Sam Snape



  Prior to the summer break there was a silly season in full swing. Rumours abounded regarding who would replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari because he would DEFINATELY be on the way out. Most of them were complete nonsense of course as either the cost of paying out existing contracts would make the choice prohibitively expensive or the touted drivers were not, or not yet, of Ferrari quality.



  In the nonsense file could be placed Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Guttierez, Jean-Eric Vergne, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton but they all were mentioned as certainties by one publication or another. Ricciardo for several reasons, one being the cost involved in extracting him from his Red Bull contract and the other that Vettel would probably not have been too keen on the concept after his trampling by Daniel last year. Ricciardo did his best to dismiss the story but did admit it was nice to be considered a potential Ferrari driver. Williams also would have wanted a large swag of Euros to release Valtteri who was more likely to have been having discussions about a 2017 drive while Hamilton, give me a break. Why on God’s earth would he want to leave the team that is the current cream of the crop when he is currently cruising to a second consecutive title in a team that he has now moulded about him? Not unless he is on copious quantities of mind altering substances would he even remotely consider such a move.


  With all due respect to two very competent drivers, neither Guttierez or Vergne are really thought of as potential world champions and Verstappen, who is, does not have enough experience yet to have been a real candidate. In reality the only real, potential candidate was Nico Hulkenberg who’s current Force India contract is finished at season’s end. For some reason no front-running team has snapped up Hulkenberg despite a glittering junior career and a habit of transcending every F1 car he has parked his arse in. This is a guy that truly deserves a front running car and it will be a huge loss for all F1 fans if he doesn’t get one before he gets too old.


  However all this feverish speculation came to naught when Ferrari announced that Kimi would be staying on for at least another year and that effectively killed off the silly season. In the weeks following this there has been a series of announcements that have basically confirmed that everyone is pretty much staying where they are for next year. Mercedes – no change, Red Bull – no change, Ferrari – no change, Williams – no change, Force India – no change, Toro Rosso – no change and Sauber – no change. Sort of takes all the fun out of it.


  There are potentially just six places left, although that is only five if Button does not announce his retirement this weekend. Jenson dropped a couple of large hints in Singapore when he mentioned that he had made up his mind regarding his F1 future and that it had been an emotional decision. That usually means you are calling it quits and there are whispers that he may end up as one of Mark Webber’s team-mates next year. That is of course if VW’s current emissions scandal doesn’t bring the company to its knees as the cost of worldwide fines and law-suites could make any motorsport programmes too much for their bottom line. It would be just Jenson’s luck to have signed a contract with a team that may not exist in six months time. The repercussions of this could be disastrous for not just the World Endurance Championship (possibly losing Audi and Porsche) but also the World Rally Championship (VW and Skoda) and Formula 3 where most engines are supplied by VW. Let alone the rumoured future tie-up between Red Bull and VW.


  If Button does go, who will step up into the second McLaren seat? Most likely either Magnussen or Van Doorne obviously but Magnussen has also been linked with a move to the new Haas squad, as have many others. Amongst those (who are yet to sign up with their current teams) are Ferrari testing pair Esteban Guttierez and Jean-Eric Vergne, Romain Grosjean (who has become thoroughly fed up with Lotus’s continued financial woes) and Alexander Rossi, currently with Marussia. As the potential Haas list began with ten names the odds are getting better for these final five.


  No-one will know who Manor/Marussia will front up with until their finances for next year are sorted out but it is unfortunately likely to be who has the biggest cheque available so the only questions left to be asked are; Will Lotus be Renault and will Renault have Mercedes engines and who will slot in beside Maldonado whose Venezuelan petro-dollars have kept his place safe? If Renault don’t buy in, will the Enstone squad be around at all? Will Ferrari agree to supply Red Bull/Toro Rosso with engines now that the split with Renault has been all but finalised and announced. Will they get the latest versions of the Ferrari or will Maranello be unwilling to be beaten by a customer and only agree to supply year old ones? If Ferrari don’t supply them, and Mercedes have also said they won’t, and Renault aren’t, and Honda can’t, will we lose both teams? What would that mean to the newly reinstated Austrian Grand Prix at the “Red Bull Ring”?


  Ah jolly good, there are some things that we can still speculate about and enjoy the wild rumours that will be postulated. Did you hear the one about Stirling Moss coming out of retirement and rejoining Mercedes after 60 years to replace Hamilton who has accepted a place on the one way mission to Mars?



   I’ll keep you posted.


 Sam Snape



DEATH!!! and other pleasant topics


  Motor Racing is Dangerous!  It must be. It says so on your admission ticket. And not just in these tedious Ëlf n Safety” ridden times. It used to declare this on the tabards of professional photographers in the days where to get the best shot you stood on the very edge of the track. Long sigh – the good old days…Despite a few close calls oddly enough very, very few of these guys were ever killed by an errant F1 car occupying a joint moment in space and time. However it just takes one tiny piece of crap luck to induce the most tragic of circumstances.


  And one tiny piece of crap luck was all it took to end the life of Justin Wilson last Sunday. It was such crap luck that the accident that claimed his life did not even involve him. Justin was many cars back from Sage Karem when the young American lost it and clouted the wall. It was such crap luck that the nose cone from Karem’s car took the one direction from that impact directly into Wilson’s path. It could have gone in any million other directions and posed no threat. We have all seen it hundreds of times as the following drivers fly through the scattering debris fields, whether on ovals or on road courses. Daniil Kyvat flying through the shotgun blast that just moments before had been Nico Hulkenberg’s front wing in Hungary a couple of weeks ago springs to mind. And we usually think, “Wow, that was lucky”. When in reality it’s not. The odds of any of those pieces being of a size to do any damage and being on the one degree of direction out of the millions it could go are akin to the odds of a Lotto win. 999,999 times out of a million there will be no problem. That poor Justin collected an entire nose cone, which would have arrived with the same devastating force as the fire extinguisher that killed Tom Pryce back in ’77, was now, just as it was then, just utterly crap luck.


  There are several things about crap luck. One is that it doesn’t discriminate. It is just as likely to happen to a really decent guy like Justin as an arse-hole. Although when I think back on it – it seems to happen more often to nice guys but maybe that’s just because we feel it more keenly when it does. Another is that you can’t legislate against it. Unless none of us ever leave the hospital we are born in, crap luck will occur, somewhere, sometime, somehow. You just have to cope with it as best you can and try not to over-react. I have noticed over the last few days the rehashing of the idea of having fighter-jet style cockpit canopies on open wheel racing cars to prevent any possibility of head strikes. Seems reasonable at first sight. Until you think about it. The car in front drops oil, or mud all over your canopy, how do you clean it at high speed? Bit dangerous that. Had a prang and your car is upside down and on fire, you can’t open the canopy. Bit dangerous that. You do an Ascari and head into the harbour at Monaco and can’t open the canopy… All to protect a driver from something that is extremely rare. In my memory in major categories just three other drivers have lost their lives to a head strike since the afore mentioned Tom Pryce in 1977. One was Ayrton Senna who was speared by his own suspension arm and the other was Henry Surtees who collected an entire wheel during a Formula 2 race in 2009.


  If the powers that be want to make motor racing a little less dangerous, and lets face it, it will never be entirely safe, there are a couple of areas that can be looked at, and really should have already been so. The first (not in any particular order of importance) is the level of marshalling standards in some countries and the pressure brought to bare on marshalling decisions by the evils of TV money. Generally the standard is very high but occasionally stupidity springs forth when under the pump from the almighty dollar. Example – an unfortunately to recent one – I don’t give a flying fuck what the FIA say, the act of having a 20 ton tractor on the same side of the barriers as racing cars, in the wet, with ever darkening and worsening visibility and NOT putting out a safety car was just plain STUPID.


And stupidity can be learned from, so long as you don’t bury your head in the sand and deny it. Of course if the race had been held earlier in the day as many requested due to the incoming weather pattern none of this would have happened and Jules would probably still be with us but the almighty TV dollar demanded no change to the schedule. Guys, learn to be a bit more pro-active and flexible, it’s a multi-billion dollar sport. You can afford to lose a few bucks here and there with the odd change, after all, if the race had happened a few hours earlier the TV companies could still have played their telecast at the programmed time. No one would have missed it. Except Jules.


  The second, and this is the one that pisses me off the most, is driving standards. The FIA seems to be just plain gutless when holding drivers to account for their actions. The real decline seems to have started with Senna – let’s be honest here – he did admit he intentionally rammed Prost at Suzuka in 1990 – and absolutely nothing was done about it. The HOLEY dollar spoke again. Michael Schumacher did it twice – in Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997 - and absolutely nothing was done about it. The HOLEY dollar spoke again.


If the FIA had any balls both of these guys would have been completely disqualified from the championships, loosing all placings, points and prize money and then given VERY lengthy suspensions. But all they got was a slap on the wrist. So we now have an entire generation of twerps who think that behaving like this is acceptable. Robin Frijns, for example, who intentionally took out Jules Bianchi at Barcelona to win the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 title. Just this weekend in the GP2 race at Spa, Pierre Gasly drove Daniel de Jong off the track going through the flat-out Blanchimont curve, whether through intent or stupidity is irrelevant, causing de Jong to have an almighty accident resulting in fractured vertebrae. De Jong is in hospital having had surgery and bloody lucky to not be paralysed. And what furious punishment did Gasly receive? A 10 second penalty. Wow. Give the prat six months to think about it and you might just change his behaviour. Ten seconds? Broken Vertebrae? You’ve got to be kidding. And while on the topic of GP2 standards, just how many accidents does Sergio Canamasas have to cause before he receives a substantial suspension?


  Rant over. For the time being. Not only is motor racing dangerous, so is that incurable disease – life. Although many of you wouldn’t have heard about it because there wasn’t any spectacular TV footage, two other ex Formula one drivers passed away this week simply because life ran out. Eric Thompson, who is one of very few drivers to score world championship points on debut, and has an even rarer distinction of scoring points in his only world championship appearance with a fifth place for Connaught in the 1952 British Grand Prix. Thompson was better known for his sports car exploits but also scored a pair of non-championship wins at Snetterton in 1953. Eric was 95, not a bad innings. Guy Ligier also departed the scene aged 85. Better known for his eponymous Grand Prix team of the 70’s and 80’s, Guy was also a former French Rugby international, motor cycle racer, sports car constructor and racer and Formula One driver, racing privately entered Cooper-Maseratis and Brabham-Repcos during 1966 and 67. Their luck was not so crap. Cést la Vie.  


Sam Snape






The UPS logo on the FerrariThe dick butt cartoonBest racing I have seen in years  Well OK – two weeks – mostly ‘cause I’ve been a bit slack. I think I might have mentioned that Albert Park was a sodding awful circuit sometime in the past and so it was proven with two fine races at Sepang and Shanghai showing that the snoozefest that was the Australian decidedly un-grand Prix was not how the entire season was going to play out. OK so the racing for the lead in either race was not a thrill a minute dicing but there was some great action down through the field and at least one surprise result based on a perfect strategy for the stinking hot conditions that are prevalent in Malaysia at this time of year. And some weird shit in China just to give you a laugh if you start thinking this stuff is serious.


  We’ll start with the weird stuff first shall we? Not so much in Malaysia as it is just too damned hot but Shanghai threw all sorts of oddness in our direction. During Friday practice a spectator ran across the start/finish straight in front of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India before diving head first through a gap in the fencing on the pit wall. Well OK, we’ve had mad monks and pissed off Mercedes employees doing similar craziness before but this idiot wasn’t protesting anything. Oh no…According to reports he just wanted to have a go in a Ferrari and thought that the admission price (which to the average Chinese worker is probably the same as a house or two) meant that he could have a drive. Was probably a bit pissed that the rozzers at the paddock gates wouldn’t let him in so he chose the most direct route. He was then prevented from entering the Ferrari pit by a couple of mechanics who handed him over to the always polite Chinese coppers who have undoubtedly sent him off for a brief bit of “re-education”. Needless to say security was a tad tighter come Saturday which briefly halted some of ITV’s commentary team from getting into the circuit. Shouldn’t have left your pass at the hotel Johnny.. Ah – isn’t it wonderful to visit lands with such a deep history and knowledge of motor sport. Can’t wait to see what happens in Azerbaijan…

  In hindsight the next bit of silliness was quite appropriate considering the now missing afore mentioned idiot. One of Ferrari’s sponsors, UPS, thought it would be a great wheeze to run a campaign in which they would create their logo on the car out of a collage of facebook home page pictures submitted by fans. One can only assume there was no actual person checking these before the creation went off to the printers or one doubts that a cartoon of “dick-butt” would have made it through. Nice to see some fans still have a sense of humour, even if UPS and Ferrari didn’t. Come Saturday Ferrari had blacked out dick-butt with a nice cheap permanent marker (I wonder if they are cheaper in China where they are made?) but that didn’t stop the wags who have access to this interweb thingy posting photos of proudly smiling drivers Seb and Kimi holding up the offending logo. And April fools days was ten days past. Perhaps it was submitted on April 1. More please, gave everyone a laugh.



  And now to the stuff that is all about the four black round rubbery things on the flat black tary stuff. Team by team may be easiest and we can match it with some of my pre-season prognostications to see just how much of a genius I am (not). Well I, like Nostradamus before me, correctly surmised that Mercedes would be crazy to change anything and they didn’t. Except perhaps how much quicker they are than last year. Utterly dominant in Oz they were heading in that direction again in Sepang until a bit of a strategy blunder on lap 4 saw both cars pit for a change of tyres under yellow flags while the Ferraris stayed out. This meant that Nigel – sorry – Lewis and Nico had to do 2 long stints on the harder and slower compound black round rubbery things while trying to catch the Ferrari of Vettel who’s car was very friendly to the softer and faster compound. Needless to say they didn’t and for the first time since 2013 2 healthy Mercs finished only second and third. Rosberg was particularly hampered by this pit decision as he had to wait in the pits while Hamilton’s tyres were changed losing loads of time and six positions before rejoining the race. While Mercedes was beaten it wasn’t for pace and it would have been much more interesting had they split their strategy and left Nico out, right behind Vettel and on basically the same plan. They weren’t beaten for pace at Shanghai either where normal service was resumed. Often a second quicker than their nearest rival they dominated the meeting, much as in Australia and the only time Ferrari really got close was when Nig…Lewis was intentionally backing Nico up. Funny how much quicker he became when he was told to hurry up or the team would give Nico a preferential pit strategy.


  Red Bull are having a shocker of a start to the year and despite what Mr Horner et al would like you to believe, it’s not all Renaults fault. OK the current power unit from Regie is a bit asthmatic and they are losing them quicker than an amoeba can divide, but Renault don’t provide the Red Rags brakes. They are suffering from currently incurable overheating of the brakes which was not rectified by a change in pad supplier between Sepang and Shanghai and it sort of helps through the twiddly bits if you can slow down before you get to them. Both the cars limped home in the last two points paying places in Sepang with great gouts of brake dust spurting from the cars and just like in Oz, they were a lap down. Shanghai wasn’t much better with continual cooling problems but at least Kvyat didn’t need to wait for his brakes to give up on him. His Renault went pop on just lap 15. Daniel meanwhile struggled after a dreadful start and only just scraped into ninth place. Seems a lot like what happened at Williams and McLaren when a certain Mr Newey stopped designing their cars. I wonder how long it will be before he is dragged back to his white board?.


  As to Williams they don’t seem to have made the strides they hoped for and have currently slipped back behind Ferrari in the battle for second best. Considering the respective budgets this should not be a huge surprise it is a bit of a disappointment to the chaps at Grove. They are currently well lodged in as the third fastest car as can be shown by the drivers finishing fifth and sixth in both races behind the Silver and Red fellows and never being any real threat. I have a feeling, despite Rob Smedley’s contention that we are seeing “the best ever Felipe Massa” that all may not be completely well with Bottas’s back after his injury in Oz. Having had a disc injury myself I can tell you that even with the greatest medical minds in history working on you, you are not going to recover fully from this type of injury in a couple of weeks and the fact that Felipe has out-qualified Valtteri three from three seems to support this hypothesis. Perhaps the break between Bahrain and Spain will help Valtteri but even then, Team Willi needs to find some time to get back to where it was last year.


  And here’s where I look like a bit of a prat. Having suggested that having the two least impressive drivers of 2014 join a team that had just sacked the best part of it’s design and management team may not lead to the best of all possible outcomes may not have been my finest prediction. Vettel has driven superbly and delivered all he could possibly have done with his win in Sepang and third in Shanghai following on from his similar result in Oz. Kimi has been equally impressive, if not more so, in the races but just needs to finds that extra tiny something in qualifying. If Kimi does find it, Seb will not be looking over his shoulder, he’ll be looking far down the road at the ever decreasing size of the second Ferrari. Raikkonen’s come-back drive after an early puncture in Sepang was mesmeric. Having being screwed by bad timing in his qualy 2 efforts he lined up 11th on the grid and had to pit at the end of lap 1 after damaging a tyre. After pitting for his second time (his first scheduled) on lap 15 Kimi was sitting 17th and second last. Within twelve laps he was third and trying to hold off Rosberg who had just stopped for new rubber. Fourth place was a fine result which he repeated in Shanghai. It might have been better but as he was closing on his team-mate near the end a safety car was called upon after yet another Renault went pop on the pit straight with a couple of laps to run.   


  To say that McLaren are getting more bang for their buck with the Honda engines is not as good as it sounds. Even with the power turned down the Honda units are detonating at an unpleasant rate. So much so that King Fernando may well be in line to cop his first grid place penalty for using too many engines by Spain. Not that he or Jenson can be sent too much further back on the grid as they are currently only ahead of Manor. Be that as it may it seems impossible that things will not improve, it’s just how long will that take? And in the mean-time two of the fastest guys out there will just have to trundle around and give us more of those wan smiles that Jenson seems to have perfected.


  Force India are only marginally ahead of McLaren and are waiting for their use of Toyota’s wind tunnel at Cologne to produce results. The team is saying the first upgraded parts should arrive in Austria and so again the drivers, Sergio Perez and Herr Hulkenberg will just need to stop sulking and get on with racing each other and enjoy being two of the twenty luckiest fellows on the planet. There are, after all, plenty of others who would be very happy to race a temporarily sluggish Force India.


  The Red Rag junior team is proving the absurdity of the recent rule change mandating a minimum age for Grand Prix drivers. With the youngest and least experienced driver pairing and the same explosive engine supplier as the senior team they are getting on with making the most of it and both their drivers finished ahead of Ricciardo/Kvyat in Malaysia. Both Verstappen and Sainz are proving if you are good enough you are old enough and have both looked confidant and assured in their three outings so far. Both more so that Kvyat who has been a bit ragged in the Red Bull and the Scuderia sit just one point behind Red Bull in the constructors standings at this juncture. Sure they will make some mistakes along the way, that’s what rookies do. But both look like potential race winners on their performances so far. Time I guess will tell how good that prediction is….


  Lotus are probably the current fourth fastest team about and about the least luckiest. You’ve got to wonder just how many Chinamen they ran over before they got to Shanghai, but finally Grosjean scored some points with a seventh place finish in China behind the big three. Pastor Maldonado retiring from three races on the trot would sometimes not be an unsurprising occurrence but on not one occasion so far this year has it been his fault. Even the two accidents. Shoved into the wall in Oz after Seb hit Kimi who hit Nasr hit him can hardly be construed as Pastors error. Brake failure in Sepang could have happened to anyone (see Red Bull for example). And when, just when, was the last time you can remember Jenson Button cocking up a simple braking zone as he did while ploughing up the arse of Maldonado at turn one in Shanghai? The battle with the resurgent Sauber team for the best of the midfield will be a good one but I suspect Lotus will prevail. Providing people stop running into Maldonado.


  We all knew that Manor/Marussia would be propping up the rear of the grid this year after getting out of administration just a few weeks before Oz and that is exactly what they are doing. And they are possibly doing it a lot better than some believed likely. With the usual dipshit nay-sayers coming out with ridiculous theories about their failure to get both cars into the race in Oz and Sepang – I particularly liked the one about then only having one steering wheel in Malaysia – who comes up with this crap? – it was good to see that both qualified, started and finished the Chinese Grand Prix. A difficult rebirth sure, but that was a better result than was had by Red Bull, Lotus, Toro Rosso and Force India. A plus for effort and determination.


  And finally Sauber. After the Van der Garde fiasco it has been onwards and upwards for the little Swiss team. Except for Ericsson’s spin in Malaysia both Marcus and Felipe Nasr have finished all the races in the points and they are currently sitting fourth in the championship. Both drivers were condemned by some as pay drivers not worthy of their place in this lofty championship but Nasr after some super races sits seventh in the drivers standings, behind only those from the big three, and Ericsson has scored points twice and qualified inside the top ten in both Sepang and Shanghai. Not something a muppet can do. Both are proving themselves very worthy of their place on the grid.


  For full results go to;



  On a completely separate subject (sort of) if you want to see just how good motor racing can be without all this stupid engine standardisation bullshit we have to put up with in F1 check out the World Endurance Championship round from Silverstone. Spectacular racing between Porsche, Audi and Toyota with more overtaking (without DRS mind you) than your average Moto 3 GP. I’d say in the 45 minutes leading up to the half way mark there would have been at least 30 passing moves between Fassler’s Audi and Jani’s Porsche alone. So much so that there was a marvellous bit of film of the Audi boss laughing out loud in the pits. Exciting, exhilarating, dramatic and just bloody good fun to watch. Reminds me of why I loved the sport in the first place. Can’t wait for Spa…


  This link has the whole race – you can bounce forward to the really good bits and there are plenty of them.


Sam Snape