Modern F1 car launches are rubbish: They should be ditched!

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F1 fans are a passionate lot. No sooner has the chequered flag dropped on the final race of the season in Brazil do the F1 fans start their countdown until they can get their next fix of F1 fever, and as we move through the dark winter months all eyes become transfixed on the F1 teams’ car launches for 2013.

Many see this as a chance to see how hard the teams have worked over the winter, to see the new driver line ups, to evaluate how the new car looks and to identify where a team has developed a competitive advantage or more importantly take it as a chance to predict just how the teams 2013 fortunes are going to pan out based on the new derivative car that they present to the public.

But these new car launches are a waste of time. Utterly pointless! So I ask the question; should F1 even bother with them.

Why?

Because these launches do not serve the F1 community with anything meaningful other than to see how the marketing and graphic design departments have conjured up the teams latest branding and colour schemes that emblazon the car and drivers overalls, and that is all. In a pioneering technical, mechanical and aerodynamic sport, these critical elements that determine a cars performance are all hidden away with deliberate act of smoke and mirrors.

Red Bull epitomised this perfectly this year. Their launch was in a room that resembled a sleazy night club, the invited press were forbidden to take any photos and no sooner were the covers off the 2013 challenger where they whipped back on again. To add insult to injury for all the disappointed fans that tried to streamed the event live over the internet, as a parting gift Red Bull presented the worlds audience with a hand drawn rendition of the 2013 car! I mean come on!

But let’s put ourselves in the position of Red Bull or any of the leading F1 teams, why on earth would you use your launch event to reveal all or any of your hard work and secrets to the public and other F1 teams in one fell swoop?
That’s right, that genius diffuser configuration your team had painstakingly drawn up, modelled, built, tested, revised, tested and then fitted to the new car in time for launch day which included many man hours and late nights has just been sold down the river in go or broadcast live on SkySports News! Bosch, there goes your 0.5 seconds a lap advantage as all the other teams find it, copy it and have it on their car in time for the first race of the season.

It is this hyper competitive environment that means F1 team will never openly display what their real 2013 challenger looks like and why we should not even bother to look at the car on display at a F1 launch. Yet, they continue to persist with the format of inviting the world’s media to travel to each team headquarters to enjoy lunch while F1 fans get to watch the event over a crappy buffering web streams.

In my view we should just ditch this futile exercise all together and just skip to the track and testing. F1 should hold a standard launch day on the afternoon/evening prior to the official first day of testing. Each team is given a slot whereby they roll up their car, pull off the cloth their latest model, say the nice things to camera, let the photographers take the pictures, then just get on with testing, where we really start to learn something.
The concept of a united F1 launch event for the team was banded around a few years when cost saving was being driven through by Max Mosley in his fight with the FOCA, but that seems to have died a death as the strength of FOCA has slowly dwindled.

Currently the F1 cars are testing in earnest in Jerez and slowly we will begin to see a picture of how the season is going to pan out. Testing reveals how the cars will look, how the concepts from the drawing board will play out, how contenders are shaping up. Modern F1 launches are pointless because the need for secrecy is paramount. They should be ditched but instead the teams should spend more time in coming up with better ways they can engage in a meaningful manner with their fans for the year ahead.

Hamilton to leave McLaren: A racing relationship turned sour

So, as James Allen reports today, Lewis Hamilton is likely to sign for the Mercedes team for 2013. His move away from McLaren would see him cut the ties to the team that grew and nurtured him from a young unknown kart driver, to the peaks of being the 2008 world champion.

For all the messages coming from the paddock, Hamilton, it seems wants to leave McLaren for “commercial reasons” which is fundamentally the salary his is paid and his potential to control his earning ability through his own image rights and sponsorship. I say seems, because on the face of the decision it cannot be one down to purely racing factors. Mercedes have won just one race this year and have struggled to develop the car around its ability to use the Pirelli tyres.

However, that tells just one side of the story, for Hamilton has endured a generally unhappy season with McLaren, who have underperformed after early promise despite recently turning there fortunes round by winning two of the last three rounds.  Hamilton has managed to create a number of awkward PR ‘situations’ from within the McLaren team as he struggles to show respect to some of the team’s recent performances on track.

But let’s be clear, the issues in the last paragraph are fixable, far quicker than the issues that the Mercedes team are confronted with, so why has there been this feeling of negative inertia from Hamilton that has brought him to the point on closing the door on his motor racing family at McLaren.

Truth is Lewis Hamilton has endured 4 grotty seasons in F1. Since winning the title in 2008, Hamilton has consistently been on the wrong end of under performing McLarens, race steward decisions through over aggressive driving, press and media errors and a draining celebrity personal relationship that have come together over this period that I think means Hamilton’s mind set right now is that he has had enough with the way things have been going for him and that a change is what is needed in his life.

From the outside he seems joyless and devoid of and real pleasure. Massive credit where credit is due, his performances on the track recently have not reflected this and he has driven superbly, so we know his mind-set when his visor is down is fully committed to racing, it just seems that he has lost the love and respect of the management team around McLaren and he cannot see an end to the dark clouds that follows him around the F1 paddock.

I think a move away from McLaren on a personal level will benefit him in the long term. He will be stepping out of the shadow of  Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh and like a young teenager does when he leaves for University, for the first time in his life he will be fully responsible for his own actions. This will hopefully change Hamilton, who constantly seems to be pushing the boundaries and patience of his team.

He will have to develop a resolve that is much stronger than he has now, knowing that the Mercedes project is still a work in progress because for all of McLaren’s faults, they know they will be there or there about in 2013, and Hamilton probably knows that too.

It is a shame, as both parties seemingly don’t want the partnership to end. Mclaren are stronger with Hamilton in the team, but would like him to evolve his personality slightly, and Hamilton wants to be where he can win the title next year, but wants the freedom to be who he feels he wants to be.

Who knows what the long term future will hold for both parties and who will have made the right choice, one thing is for sure, neither party will be truly happy about a split in their racing relationship

Thoughts as we head to Spa

It seems like an age ago that there was an F1 weekend, and this year the races have come and gone thick and fast while having to compete for headlines with the Olympics and the European Championships. Truth be told, the recent break at times, has felt far too long. But, there is a positive, it has given me reason to pause and contemplate something I believe a lot of of us F1 had taken for granted, that we are in the middle of what could potentially be a magical year.

Who would have thought in March that Fernando Alonso would be sat on top of the championship come the half-way point? What odds would you have given for there being 7 different winners in the first half of the year, with the promise of maybe more to add to that list? And as we turn in to the final 7 races of the series there are at least 5 drivers who have a possibility of the title.

There are 7 more rounds to go, 2 more in Europe before the long haul races wrap up the season. Writing this sounds like we are in to the final throws of the championship, but in reality that’s nearly 3 months away so much is yet to happen.

What the title contenders must do is leap-frog Ferrari and in particular the amazing Fernando Alonso. The contenders have to as a group, force Alonso off the top 3 places in the majority of the races to come. To use a cycling analogy: they have to form a high speed leading peloton that puts Alonso out of contention for the big points, and that must start this weekend in Belgium.

Lotus will be bringing their DDRS, McLaren will be hoping that Lewis Hamilton’s return to form in the Hungarian Grand Prix is there to stay for the remaining 8 races and Red Bull with the super team of Vettel-Webber-Newey will be able to find consistent race pace to put them back at the front.

So many questions left to be answered, so many more thrills and spills, incidents and accidents before we crown surely the most deserving world champion in what has been a golden era of F1.

Thank you summer break, for rekindling my love of F1 again!