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Why Do You Love It?

June 21, 2012

Is it the rumble of the engines as they sit on the starting grid?  Is it the fierce rivalry that exists between the men who sit in the cockpits?  Maybe it is the rich history of Grand Prix racing, going back over 60 years?  It could be the memories of the iconic circuits that have held Formula 1 races and the breathtaking layouts of the modern era?  20 Sundays of the year millions of people around the world settle down in front of their televisions or radios to watch, or listen to, 24 of the most sophisticated vehicles in the world wind their way around a strip of tarmac for 2 hours.  We follow the development of our favourite teams and drivers as they strive for the championship.  We proudly don our Ferrari jackets or Mclaren  peak caps to display our allegiance.  Why do we do it?  Why do we shake our fists when our chosen driver gets cut off by another and cheer when he sticks an overtake?  Why do we love Formula 1?

It is hard to pinpoint when I became so passionate about F1 and why.  I can remember, as a young boy, when the sound of V12 engines would fill the house as my dad watched the race after a Sunday braai (barbecue for the non-South Africans among you).  I would watch for a while, sitting next to my dad on the couch, enjoying the sounds and marvelling at the speed of the cars.  However, I would soon lose interest and rush off to complete my latest Lego creation or jump into the swimming pool.  The names of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell meant as much to me as the political situation in Switzerland.

As I grew so did my interest in Formula 1.  I now found myself joining my dad in front of the tv, listening to the “Go, go, go, go!” of Murray Walker as the cars set off and watching the glory years of Michael Schumacher’s reign as champion.  It was at this time that I became a Ferrari supporter.  The allure of the red paint and Prancing Horse symbol, driven by the greatest driver of his era was enough to capture the heart of any 11-year-old and I have considered myself a “Tifosi” ever since.  Even with this new-found interest and allegiance to a team I would still not have considered myself a true, passionate F1 fan.  I was only watching races when they happened to be on tv and couldn’t name half of the drivers on the grid.  It would be a few more years before the bug truly bit.

It was in my latter years of high school that my enthusiasm and interest for Formula 1 escalated.  I now found myself making an effort to watch as many races as I could.  I was keeping track of the driver’s standings and paying attention to the designs of the cars and strategies of the teams on race weekend.  As Kimi Raikkonen clinched the title from the exciting young Brit, Lewis Hamilton my enthusiasm turned into full-blown passion. My devotion to the sport and interest in the inner workings of the incredible machines led me to the decision to study mechanical engineering at university.

Now, as I approach the end of my undergraduate career, I border on obsessive and am proud to say so.  I love Formula 1 and all that it entails.  I love the precision engineering of the engine and the cacophonous sound that it produces at 18 000 revolutions per minute.  The unquestionable skill of the drivers as they hurtle past advertising boards and come within millimetres of slamming into the wall.  I love the devotion of the fans, the millions of people all across the world who wave their flags in the stands and scream their throats raw in the belief that their cry is going to get their driver that extra split second.  I love the sense of anticipation and excitement that I feel as  the lights go out on yet another race weekend.  It is for these and countless other reasons that I love Formula 1…why do you?

What Comes Next?

June 11, 2012

First we had one winner.  Then we had two.  China made it three in fantastic style.  The fourth winner came in Bahrain and eyebrows began to rise.  Barcelona gave us a fifth winner and we knew that this was going to be a special season.  When Webber made it six from six in Monaco, making the 2012 season the most unpredictable in history, I thought it could not go on.  Surely Montreal would give us a repeat winner? Of course Vettel would convert his pole position into victory and become the first double winner of 2012?  Or maybe Alonso, in the reinvigorated Ferrari, would leave the field in his wake and claim his second victory of the season.  But, it was not to be.  In yet another brilliant race, with a nail-biting last few laps, Lewis Hamilton sailed to the top of the podium, and the championship, becoming the unprecedented seventh winner in seven races.

The Canadian Grand Prix began without incident.  All of the cars got off the start and the order remained relatively unchanged for the first few laps.  I was a little bit worried that the race was becoming a bit of a procession.  Vettel seemed to be in absolute control at the front of the field and, with no chance of rain, it didn’t seem like anything would upset the apple cart.  There was no need to worry though, Pirelli came to the rescue.  The Pirelli tyres, which have been the defining issue in the strategies of the teams the entire season, once again proved to be instrumental to the excitement and the outcome of the Grand Prix.

After 15 laps the pit stops began and the race started to heat up.  Vettel pitted and Hamilton took the lead until his turn for fresh rubber brought him into the pits.  Alonso grabbed the metaphorical bull by the horns and produced some blistering laps to ensure that when his turn to pit came he returned to the track ahead of Hamilton and in the lead.  Hamilton made a second pit stop which saw him coming out in 3rd place, behind both Alonso and Vettel.  This is where things really became interesting.  Vettel and Alonso, in an all-or-nothing bid for the win, decided to skip a second pit stop, the logic being that if they could somehow make their tyres last to the end of the race they had a chance of walking away with victory.  It was a brave decision by both teams, but ultimately the wrong one.

The severe drop-off in performance of the Pirelli tyres, demonstrated so emphatically by Kimi Raikkonen in China, meant that in the last few laps of the Grand Prix Hamilton simply had to stroll past both Vettel and Alonso as they slipped and skated around the circuit on tyres well past their use-by date.  In clear admittance of their error, Red Bull brought Vettel in for new tyres with just 5 laps remaining, worried that he could end up very far down the table.  Alonso took his chances and stayed, but was ultimately passed by Grosjean, who seemed stunned to finish in 2nd place, and Sergio Perez who rounded out the Podium.

As we head back to Europe I’m starting to believe that we might just have a different winner every race of this season.  Surely Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, in their very competitive Lotus, will fancy their chances of becoming the 8th and 9th winners of 2012 in Valencia and Britain?  Michael Schumacher must believe that he could become the 10th winner when he races in his home Grand Prix in Hockenheim?  The way this 2012 season is going, I will only be slightly surprised if a tornado sweeps across the track in Budapest, sweeps away 22 of the cars, and HRT coast across the finish line to claim their first Grand Prix victory!  It would only be marginally more unbelievable than the start we have had to this 2012 season.

In Pursuit of Speed

June 3, 2012

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport.  The drivers are the cream of the crop at the peak of their careers.  The cars themselves are at the forefront of automotive design.  The sport draws the most talented engineers, designers and aerodynamics experts with the result that the technology that is showcased on the cars is years radical and innovative…or at least that’s the way it should be.

The issue of FIA technical regulations is currently a hot-topic on the lips of all involved in Formula 1 after what can only be described as the Red Bull slot debacle of 2012.  For those few of you who are unaware, the issue surrounds a small slot cut into the floor of the Red Bull RB8’s floor.  The car has been run featuring this inconspicuous slot since the race in Bahrain earlier in the year, but apparently opposition teams only noticed it (or decided it was advantageous) during the Monaco Grand Prix which was won by the RB8 driven by Mark Webber.  For full technical details on the purpose of the slot and reasons for its supposed illegality I recommend you read this great article which explains the facts far better than I can.

Without getting into the details of the matter, the FIA have come to the (rather late) decision that the slot, in its current configuration, is illegal and Red Bull must change the design before next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.  Since no team lodged an official complaint after the race in Monaco all of Red Bull’s points earned this season will stand.  Whether you agree with that decision or not is another debate entirely.  While the matter has been handled in a very efficient and low-key manner, without the bickering and fighting that so often accompanies these technical altercations,  it has highlighted a much larger issue in my mind; the issue of restrictions that have been placed on designers and engineers in modern Formula 1 teams.

In the not-too-distant past Formula 1 cars were the most radical, outrageous, cutting-edge vehicles in the world.  Created with the pure intention of  racing around a circuit as fast as possible, no holds barred.  Some of the cars that were created were unbelievable feats of imagination and engineering capability.  The Tyrrell P34, with its 6-wheels, astounded the world at its unveiling in 1976 when the cover was removed for the first time.  The Brabham BT46B was known as the “fan car” due to its utilisation of a large fan at the rear of the car which drew air from beneath the chassis, quite literally sucking the car onto the tarmac, allowing it to accelerate through the corners as if it were a roller-coaster.  Perhaps less obvious in its innovation was the car known as “Black Beauty”, the Lotus 79.  The first car to fully make use of ground effects aerodynamics it made use of venturi tunnels underneath the car to accelerate airflow and reduce pressure beneath the car.  The design was so successful it dominated the 1978 season, winning the Championship at the hands of Mario Andretti.

Where is that innovation today?  Sure, we have seen some incredible technology introduced to the cars such as KERS and DRS, but nothing remotely close to the avant-garde, daring creations of the past.  I am entirely aware of the reasons for this.  The restrictions and regulations of the FIA are there to ensure the safety of the drivers and the competitive nature of the sport, both of which are extremely valid reasons.  However, I can’t help feeling that F1 has lost a little bit of its maverick nature.  F1 is meant to be more than just a competition between drivers.  It should be a showcase for the genius of some of the best minds in the world, who pit their creativity and intellect against one another in a bid to create the fastest machine possible.  In today’s competition all of that creativity seems to go into attempting to create a car that flirts with the rules as closely as possible without breaking them.  That in itself has its own merits, but does not allow for the out-and-out originality and imagination that made F1 such a spectacle in the past.

I don’t see the FIA changing its approach any time soon and perhaps that is a good thing.  Formula 1 is an extremely successful venture in the eyes of  who are involved, fans included.  The close nature of the 2012 season is testament to the success of the regulations at ensuring the competitiveness of the competition.  My passion for F1 is not going to diminish in the slightest simply because there isn’t an 8-wheeled or turbojet-powered car amongst the pack.  However, if a series emerged that gave free-rein to designers and engineers to create the fastest machines that they could, strap a driver to it and send it blistering around a circuit I would be track-side in a heartbeat; cheering for the frontrunners of innovation, creativity and the unbridled pursuit of speed!

It’s Time for Africa

May 31, 2012

Formula 1 is a global sport.  The Championship draws over 500 million viewers from all corners of the world.  During the course of the year races are held in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and, starting again this year, North America.  Africa, however, does not make an appearance.  This needs to change.  The time is ripe for F1 to return to the continent and a South African Grand Prix is the way to do it.

South Africa has a proud motor sport heritage.  The first South African Grand Prix was held in 1934 in the town of East London on the Prince George Circuit.  Racing in South Africa was brought to a halt by the start of World War II.  The race was brought back to life as part of the F1 World Championship in 1960 and moved to the Kyalami race track in 1962.  In two decades Kyalami saw some famous winners including Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell and South African Jody Scheckter.  Racing was stopped again in 1985 due to the Apartheid regime and the boycotting of the Grand Prix by a number of teams.  After the fall of Apartheid the race resumed for a brief 2 races in 1992 and 1993.  Since then the sounds of an F1 race have not been heard in Africa.

Recently there have been some rumblings about F1 making a return to South Africa.  Since the successful hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, Bernie Ecclestone has dropped a few hints that he would like to see a South African Grand Prix on the calendar.  Here in South Africa there are a number of possibilities being explored.  One of the most promising and exciting ideas is to host a Monaco or Singapore style street race through the city of Cape Town.  The company behind this plan is called Cape Town Grand Prix SA and they hope to see a race in Cape Town by 2014.  The proposed track will see the cars screaming along the Atlantic coast, weaving through the famous V&A Waterfront and even cutting through the iconic Cape Town Stadium, something never done before in Formula 1.  All this under the shadow of Table Mountain, one of the new 7 Wonders of the Natural World.

The race is an opportunity to showcase Cape Town and South Africa to the world; not just once but year after year.  With the planned creation of a motor sport academy the Grand Prix could be boost to future engineers, car designers and even aspiring drivers in South Africa.  Beyond extending the reach of Formula 1 into a 6th continent and truly becoming a global sport, the South African Grand Prix is an opportunity for F1 to leave a true legacy in its wake and have a palpable impact on the country it visits.  It’s time for Africa.

One Word…Monaco

May 27, 2012

Monaco.  Just one word is enough to conjure up incredible imagery and emotion.  Monaco.  It is a word steeped in history, both automotive and otherwise.  Monaco.  Since the first race was run in 1929 the principality has become legendary in the world of motor racing. Monaco.  Once a year the drivers weave their way through the streets of Monte-Carlo, flying between the claustrophobic fences, mere millimetres away from the barriers and a catastrophic end to their race.  Just one word encompasses all that is Formula 1; the wealth, the glamour, the skill and the determination. Monaco.

The 2012 Monaco Grand Prix had a lot to live up to.  After 5 unforgettable races, which saw 5 different drivers standing on the podium raising the winning trophy, F1 arrived in Monte-Carlo.  Were we going to see the first double race-winner of the 2012 season or was a 6th driver going to stand up and take the glory?  Michael Schumacher, a master around the Monaco circuit, arrived hoping to prove that he has not lost any of his magic.  The Ice-man, Kimi Raikkonen, wanted nothing more than to seal his return to F1 by winning the most prestigious race on the calendar.  We, the fans, wanted a spectacle and we certainly got it.

The practice sessions on Thursday and Saturday morning were nothing to write home about.  A red flag, brought about by the failure of Heikki Kovalainen’s engine, meant that the first practice session ended early with Alonso taking the top spot.  Rain in the second session meant that we were unable to read too much into the times set on Thursday afternoon.  The first hint of things to come came in free practice 3 on Saturday morning.  Nico Rosberg took his Mercedes around in the fastest time of the weekend, hinting at the pace of the Mercedes car, and Felipe Massa, who has struggled so far this season, seemed to find some desperately needed form as he posted the second fastest lap.

The streets of Monaco truly came to life on Saturday afternoon.  The qualifying session was full of action as drivers tried to clinch the crucial pole position for Sunday’s race.  Sergio Perez pushed a little too hard and found himself slamming into the barrier near the swimming pool.  The tension came to a head in Q3 as the top 10 threw everything they had into their attempts to set the fastest lap.  In the last few minutes of qualifying positions were changing faster than you could say “pole-position”.  For a moment it looked like Mark Webber had grabbed the coveted pole but then, in a true display of his former pace, Michael Schumacher rounded the last corner and, even as the commentators were declaring Webber on pole, flew over the line a mere 8 hundredths of a second faster than the Australian, claiming his first pole position since his return to racing.  Or it would have been if not for the 5 place penalty handed to him as a result of his shunt with Senna in Barcelona.  The final result saw Webber at the front of the grid followed by Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso.

In the blink of an eye it was Sunday and the cars were lining up on the starting grid, ready to set off on the 70th running of the Monaco Grand Prix.  The race wasn’t the most exciting of the 2012 season.  We didn’t see overtaking like we did in China, but overtaking is not something you expect too much of in Monaco.  Instead we saw a classic Monaco Grand Prix, full of retirements, pure racing and as close a finish as you will see in a long time.  The action started in the first corner where Romain Grosjean found himself spinning across the track, ending his race and causing drivers behind him to take evasive action.  Grosjean was the first of 8 retirements on a list that included Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado.  As the race wound to a close Mark Webber, who had led the entire race aside from a brief stint after his pit-stop, found the 5 drivers behind him closing the gap.  Eventually, as he arrived at the last corner less than 2 seconds covered the top 6.  But it was enough and Mark roared over the line to take his second Monaco victory and become the record 6th winner in as many races in 2012.  He was followed by Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso who both seemed happy to finish on the podium.

As quickly as it started the Monaco weekend was over.  The parties and celebrations will continue long into Monday morning but, once the haze has cleared and the yachts have set sail from the port, the teams will pack up their trucks and prepare for the next stop.  The 2012 Monaco Grand Prix lived up to all expectations.  It was glitzy, it was thrilling and, perhaps most importantly, it kept the momentum of the incredible 2012 season going.  As we head to Canada in 2 weeks time we can only hope for another thrilling episode of the 2012 season.  Perhaps a new winner to bring the total to 7 or maybe one of the previous winners will step up and claim his second victory.  But, we will have to wait another year to return to Monaco.  There it is again, that word.  Those emotions, that history.  One word…Monaco.

Razzle Dazzle

May 25, 2012

It is the second smallest country in the world.  A tiny principality on the French Riviera with a population no larger than 36 000 people.  It is a playground for the rich, a holiday destination for the famous and, once a year, host to the most prestigious and glamorous motor race in the world.  It is Monaco.

Nothing comes close to the glamour and culture that surrounds the Monaco Grand Prix.  The event brings the super-wealthy and mega-famous flocking to the coastal city-state, many of them arriving in their multi-million dollar mega-yachts.  These yachts fill the port for the weekend, billions of dollars floating in the small harbour in the shadow of the famous Monte Carlo Casino.  During the day the sound of racing engines fills the air and when the sun sets the sound of the parties replaces it.

Of all the races that make up the Formula 1 calendar, the Monaco Grand Prix is the one I would most like to experience.  It certainly isn’t the most exciting race; it hardly involves any overtaking as the cars wind their way through the narrow streets.  Every now and then a brave driver will attempt a pass that causes your heart to stop briefly, but those moments are few and far between.  The reason I want to go to Monaco over the race weekend is because I think it is the race that best embodies the spirit of Formula 1.  The sport is all about the glitz and the glamour.  The million dollar yachts and super cars, the champagne functions hosted by the sponsors and the maverick businessmen, actors and drivers.  That is what formula 1 is all about for me.  That is what Monaco is all about.

Angry Lotus!

May 19, 2012

Formula 1 is an expensive sport, an extremely expensive sport.  Teams rely on a number of different sources to acquire the cash necessary to create a competitive outfit.  Many teams are owned by multi-millionaire businessmen, others rely on their drivers to pay for their seat in the car, according to the Guardian, Pastor Maldonado brings an estimated £45 million to Williams.  Advertising and sponsorship deals bring even more money to the teams who sell space on the body of their car to the highest bidder.  This year these deals and partnerships have been getting  quite interesting.

Recently we found out about the partnership that has been forged between the Sauber F1 team and Chelsea Football Club, with the football club’s logo making an appearance on the Sauber F1 car at Barcelona last weekend.  The deal brings together two of the most popular spectator sports in the world in an innovative example of cross-branding.  In return for sporting the Chelsea logo on their car Sauber will have their image featured on advertising screens surrounding the Stamford Bridge field.  Football and Formula 1 are already two of the biggest sports in the world and partnerships like these will increase their global reach even further.  Perhaps in the not-too-distant future we will see the Red Devil of Manchester United alongside the Prancing horse of Ferrari, or a Red Bull storming across the field at Arsenal!

The latest partnership to be announced is certainly the strangest.  Lotus F1 Team have announced that they will be joining forces with the most popular digital game in the world, Angry Birds.  Lotus is celebrating its 500th Grand Prix in Monaco and Angry Birds has reached an incredible 1 billion downloads.  To celebrate both occasions the Lotus E20 will sport Angry Bird branding as it races around Monaco and Rovio, Angry Bird’s developers, are releasing a unique version of their popular game which will be playable on the Lotus website from the 23rd of May.  No one is quite sure what the game, creatively entitled “Lotus F1 Team Angry Birds”, will entail and the teaser video released by Rovio doesn’t give away many clues!

I am extremely excited by this wave of innovative partnerships.  It brings a freshness to F1 that is desperately needed.  Hopefully the other teams will pick up on the trend and we will see a host of new relationships forming.  Who knows, someday we may see the Facebook logo flying past us at Silverstone, with a live ticker displaying the number of ‘likes’ the team’s Facebook Page has received?  The possibilities are endless and there are countless combinations that can be formed between teams and corporate partners.

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