Damon Hill worried about ex drivers role as stewards

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Autosport on Tuesday brought us the story that Damon Hill, the ex F1 driver who was involved in giving Michael Schumacher his controversial penalty in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, has question the amount of input the ex driver should have as part of the team of race stewards.

His comments shed some light on just how involved the ex driver seems to be as part of the decision making unit:

I imagined I would be there as a consultant providing driver insight to the stewards, who would then make the decisions. My expertise is as a driver rather than a lawmaker or interpreter of regulations

To me I think Damon was shocked by just how integral he was to refereeing the race and I believe he almost expected his role to carry no responsibility and instead would just be that of an influencer.  It doesn’t sound like Hill enjoyed having to comprehend a large range of non-racing rules and to be confident off applying them.

Is Damon right in saying the ex driver should purely be consulted on racing matters and leave the rest to the full time stewards?

I think he is wrong. Why cannot we expect ex drivers who are prepared to step up in to the steward role not to at least understand the rules of F1 and how to apply them? Otherwise the role becomes less important and over time the need for such an influential voice will be dropped.

I agree that the F1 rule book is big and often ambiguous, as proved on Sunday with the confusing safety car rule that had a quirk for the last lap of the race, however, the ex driver has 3 full time stewards on hand to help explain the areas that he might not be familiar with, just in the same way, the driver will explain to the other stewards that have not raced at a high level before.

Going forward, I would like to see an end to the need of having a different ex driver on the stewards team at every race and get to a stage where we can count on one or two over the course of the season. I say this because the continuity will breed better decison making on the whole.

I don’t completely discard Damon’s comments, I think he found the whole situation a bit uncomfortable for him, particuarlly with the rivialry he had with Schumacher still in the background of peoples minds, and he was also caught up in an event that exposed the need for a improvement in one of their sets of rules, so no wonder he wasn’t blowing the trumpet of the ex drivers role.

On the whole this year I think adding ex drivers to the stewards has brought a element of common sense to the cases that have been looked over so far this year, and that is why I would like to see the ex driver continue in that pivotal role during the race weekend.  However this will be unlikely until it is made in to a paid role, which at the moment, I believe it isn’t.

The Virgin that won’t go all the way!

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27: Lucas Di Grassi of Brazil and Virgin GP drives during qualifying for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on March 27, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Astonishingly the BBC is going with rumours that had originally surfaced pre-season that the Virgin F1 car does not have a big enough fuel tank to get it to the end of the race.  Apparently commentator Jonathan Legard has heard about this astonishing blunder.

If this is true it is an amazing mistake that cannot be easily fixed.  Firstly because in race refuelling has been banned, and secondly to change a F1 chassis after it has been approved by the FIA will take weeks to implement.

The Virgin team is yet to make a formal announcement, and I wonder if they ever would admit to such a mistake, as it would make it impossible for them to get a result for the next 2-3 races which would be damaging to title sponsor Richard Brandson.

One hopes this is not true, but a memo has gone round the teams from the FIA that Virgin needs to make adjustments to its car, and this only serves to add to the mounting rumours.

During the first practice session the BBC commented that various parts of the cars designed were outsourced and we can only assume that something has been miscalculated or communicated.

The Virgin car is the first F1 car to be designed completely by computer by Nick Wirth’s team.  Whether he has any responsibility over the design of the tank is as yet unknow.

Mclaren’s controversial rear wing

Just like the opening round of the 2009 season with the Brawn’s double diffusers, the F1 paddock is abuzz with the subject of the new McLaren rear wing, which seems to go against some teams interpretations of the rules.

In simple terms, the Mclaren drivers can control the the amount of air follow to the rear win through a small vent in the cockpit.  The driver does this by covering the vent with his knee.  When the driver does this it, the amount of down force is reduced and the car can go faster, giving them, some estimate, as much as 6 kph down the straight.

Mclaren have had the wing approved by the FIA in scrutineering, after constant dialogue with FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting throughout the winter.  However RedBull and Renault are very angry with this decision, not just because they feel that a rear wing should not be able perform this feature know as “Stalling”.  and it is expected that at least one team will protest should the Mclaren team do well this weekend.

If the FIA uphold the ruling that the Mclaren wing is legal then all the other teams will have to go back to the drawing board and re-design their rear wing set ups, and with the first rounds of the season all far away races, it might be hard for some teams to get a similar design on their cars for a month or so.

One thing is for sure, that despite the tight rules and regulation, Mclaren have been innovative and aggressive in their design of the rear wing and have stolen an advantage on it’s rivals for now anyway.

Round 1 Bahrain – Free Practice 1

This morning saw the first officially timed practice session of the 2010 season.  While it was still very early days, there was some interesting points to pick up on.  With many of the teams still desperate for testing mileage the session was busy pretty much throughout.

Surprisingly Adrian Sutil ended the session fastest for Force India with a time of 1:56.583, just in front of Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari. Robert Kubica was an encouraging 3rd for the Renault team, with Massa 4th on his debut back in the sport since his accident.  Mclaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were well placed in 5th and 6th respectively.

However the session seemed to be a bit of a struggle for the Mercedes and Redbull teams.  7 times World Champion, Michael Schumacher could only manage 10th, a second of fastest man Sutil’s time, and Vettle finished in a lowly 13th place.

New teams Lotus, Virgin and HRT were able to compete their first competitive laps, however Karun Chandhok was unable to get out in the HRT as his team was still building his car in the pits.  It is hoped that he will be able to take some part in the second session in a few hours.

We were able to see the new section of the track for the first time, with most commentators and fans disappointed in its slow, twisty and bumpy nature.  The extra corners has added an additonal 15 seconds or so to the total lap time.

During the session Renault’s Managing Director Bob Bell spoke to the BBC and was scathing in his criticism of the FIA’s ruling to approve the new Mclaren rear wing, which is controlled by the driver in order to achieve higher top speeds. It seems that other teams are unhappy and that there could well be a protest during the course of the weekend.

Pos  Driver         Team                   Time              Laps
 1.  Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1:56.583            18
 2.  Alonso         Ferrari                1:56.766  + 0.183   18
 3.  Kubica         Renault                1:57.041  + 0.458   19
 4.  Massa          Ferrari                1:57.055  + 0.472   19
 5.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1:57.068  + 0.485   19
 6.  Hamilton       McLaren-Mercedes       1:57.163  + 0.580   19
 7.  Liuzzi         Force India-Mercedes   1:57.194  + 0.611   19
 8.  Rosberg        Mercedes               1:57.199  + 0.616   15
 9.  Webber         Red Bull-Renault       1:57.255  + 0.672   17
10.  Schumacher     Mercedes               1:57.662  + 1.079   16
11.  Alguersuari    Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:57.722  + 1.139   18
12.  Hulkenberg     Williams-Cosworth      1:57.894  + 1.311   20
13.  Vettel         Red Bull-Renault       1:57.943  + 1.360   17
14.  Buemi          Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:58.399  + 1.816   13
15.  Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth      1:58.782  + 2.199   11
16.  Petrov         Renault                1:58.880  + 2.297   13
17.  de la Rosa     Sauber-Ferrari         2:00.250  + 3.667   18
18.  Kobayashi      Sauber-Ferrari         2:01.388  + 4.805   11
19.  Glock          Virgin-Cosworth        2:03.680  + 7.097    8
20.  Kovalainen     Lotus-Cosworth         2:03.848  + 7.265   21
21.  Trulli         Lotus-Cosworth         2:03.970  + 7.387   15
22.  di Grassi      Virgin-Cosworth                             2
23.  Senna          HRT-Cosworth                                3
24.  Chandhok       HRT-Cosworth

No engine equalisation for 2010

James Allen reported this weekend that the FIA will not be allowing the different engine performance to be equalised before the start of the 2010 season. You may or may not know but the engines in F1 cars are fixed in terms of performance for the whole season, the manufacturers cannot improve or put better parts on the engine that will give it an advantage over the competition.

In order to stop the engine manufactures spending millions of pounds per year on developing their engine designs in the hope to find tenths of a second advantage over the rivals, the FIA put the restrictions in place at the start of the 2008 season, however a process of re-equalisation happened just before the 2009 season primarily to help the Renault F1 team who claimed their engine had fallen behind in performance.

This is not very good news for teams that do not use the Mercedes engine, because it is paddock opinion that the Mercedes engine is not just the most powerful engine but also the most fuel efficient, and with the rules changing banning in race refuelling, fuel efficency is going to be important as they will have to carry more fuel at the start of each race so teams not using the German powerplant are going to have to find advantage through their chassis design which will take hours of design time and a hefty cost.

James Allen points out that despite the poor reputation of the Renault engine, the power plant was able to provide victories in the Redbull chassis, so perhaps the poor car that the official Renault F1 team have produced the last couple of season has projected a negative perception over the French manufacturers engine performance.

USF1 given extra test days

Somehow the new American based USF1 team has been granted 2 extra straight-line test days because of their “Geographic location” as reported on Autosport today.

But why I ask? The team appear to be claiming they need the running before travelling to Europe to start their proper testing campaign. That just doesn’t make sense, for they can carry out straight-line tests before they travel to Europe in the USA out of their allotted 4 days (The same every team has)

Are the FIA giving special dispensation to them because they are based in America, or because perhaps the team are running behind in its schedule and won’t be ready by the time the first teams roll out in Valencia.

I have not heard Lotus, Campus or Virgin asking for extra days, and it seems unfair to me that the USF1 team are being given extra time to gather data for their car.

Flavio Briatore’s life time F1 ban overturned

Disgraced former Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore has had the FIA life time ban overturned today by French courts.  Briatore was given the life time ban by the FIA at the back end of 2009 after the widely publicised F1 Crash-Gate controvisy.  Flavio argued that the ban the FIA has imposed upon him was far to harsh and was influenced by the then FIA president Max Mosley, who seemingly was acting out his own personal vendetta towards Briatore.

This is bad news for F1 and the FIA. Firstly the negativity that surrounded the Crash-Gate story will be brought back to the headlines, promoting the sport in a dismal light again, and secondly new FIA president Jean Todd has his first significant issue to tackle.  The F1 community and worlds press will be interested to see if the new broom in Jean Todt can act decisively against Briatore or if the same old murky waters still flow through the FIA towers.

Ultimately though the question begs if anyone in F1 would want to be associated with Briatore having been made scapegoat for the deliberate accident caused at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix involving Nelson Piquet Jr and Pat Symonds.  Piquet Jr is finding it incredibly tough re-establishing his name and credibility and one wonders if Flavio despite the ruling today will find his attempts to get back in to F1 futile.