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!

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F1 2010 Season Preview – Team News

In Part 2 of our Preview of the new season, we now look at the 12 teams  in this years championship.

The main news is that Brawn GP, the drivers and constructors champions of 2009 are no more, they have now been brought out by Mercedes, giving the team that nearly folded this time last year a much-needed stable financial grounding. One of the most depressing stories of 2009 was the constant threat of withdrawal from the sport of some F1’s teams and Manufacturers. In the end, BMW and Toyota have decided to the sport behind and Renault, who stay in F1 in name have been brought out by a new investor.   However, with a new year brings positive news and new additions to the grid.  Firstly the BMW team have been saved by former team manger Peter Sauber, and will be known as Sauber going forward, and there are 3 brand new teams that will be joining the big boys on the grid on Sunday.

The historic Lotus name returns after its last race in 1994. Despite the team being based in Norfolk like the original Lotus team, this carries very few ties with the dominant team Colin Chapman built up through the 60’s and 70’s. Backed by Malaysian investment, Mike Gascoyne is the experienced figure-head that has helped formalised and design the car, and will be vital for the teams development.

Despite being a sponsor to the Brawn team last year, The Virgin name returns for 2010 with its own team.  Richard Branson has paid for the naming rights of the team which was formerly Manor Motorsport. The most important factor about this team is that the car will be the first ever F1 car to have been designed completely on computer and without using a wind tunnel to aid and improve the car’s aerodynamics performance.  Through using just CFD (Computation fluid dynamics) the team aims to compete competitively while reducing costs needed to have their own wind tunnel.

The third and final team coming to F1 this year is the HRT team (Hispania Racing Team).  This is a Spanish based team that looked like it was not even going to make the start of the season.  It was going to be called Campos however funding for the team never arrived and it was saved at the last moment.  The car and team are completely untried has not even turned a wheel in testing. Friday morning in Bahrain will be the first time the team, car and drivers would have all been in the same place at the same time and will surely be the tailenders for the first park of the season at least.

Another legendary name also returns, Cosworth will provide engines to the 3 new teams and Williams this year.

Autosport International 2010

For the last 20 years many UK motorsport fans look forward to the now traditional Autosport International show held in mid January at the NEC in Birmingham.  After a particularly excellent motorsport season for Britains best drivers the show was almost guaranteed a large number of fans, particulary with 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button in attendance.

I have been going on and off since 1992, I would say that while I have not been a regular through the last decade, I still feel there is a place for motorsport shows such as Autosport International for the “fan” in the street to get a chance to see some of the years important cars and see of of the sports personalities in the flesh.

Before I set of this year I was aware of critisim towards the even, mainly focusing around a couple of key points. Some of the questions poised by bloggers were asking 1. Is the show is relevant any more as business/marketing  activity in todays ecommerce and internet age.  2. Is the tried and tested format the Autosport have stuck to over the years boring and uninspiring?  3. Is the cost of attending too expensive? 4. Should the event be carbon neutral considering the amount of energy used to set up and travel to the event by it’s organisers and public?  The list goes on….

Despite the negativity toward what is at the end of the day just a show to me I set of with camera to hopefully get an injection of motorsport that I have being missing since the season came to a close in November.

One the whole I was not disapointed and had a thoroughly good day and here are some of my show highlights using some of my own photos.

Alan McNish

The ex Toyota F1 driver was on the Autosport stage as I arrive and was giving a talk his plans for 2010 and for LeMans.  He then can out and signed autographs for fans just off the stage.

Martin Brundle

F1 pundit for BBC and previously ITV brought his 19 year old son Alex Brundle along presumably to get the young lad some experience up in front of a large motorsport audience and also perhaps to drum up some interest in his career which hopefully will take him to GP3 if he can find the budget.  Brundle was superb, always candid in his comments and he was happy to answer lots of questions from the audience.  I got the impression Martin understands the importance of events such as the Autosport show in it’s ability to let the public get close to drivers and cars and Martin gave plenty of time to autograph hunters after his talk.

Jenson Button

The current F1 World Champion was undoubtably the shows biggest draw and was on the main stage a couple of times throughout the day to give fans a good chance to see him, he was also on the F1 racing stand signing autographs and he finally made an appearance in the live show at the end of the day.  Jenson was as smooth as ever with the public, commenting of how his successful 2009 campaign had gone and most importantly why he was moving the Mclaren in 2010.  While I still am not sure about his move to Mclaren personally, the show gave him a chance to try and convince some of the public why he had moved from the Mercedes/Brawn team.  I get the impression the more he says his reason he hopes we will buy in to it.  Jenson did however make a fitting tribute to Rubens Barrichello, whom he said was a great team mate and friend.

There was a mixture of new and old cars on display, thankfully there was the winning Brawn car from this years F1 championship on display. Also from 2009 was the Mclaren, Redbull and Force India. There was representation from Renault, Williams and Ferrari – however the seem to have sent chassis made up of a collection of parts that might have been laying around in their factory. In fact I have no idea what car the Renault team had sent – It was orange, that’s all I can say. Historical cars on display of interest to me was the JPS Lotus 79, a ground breaking car that dominated the 1978 season through Colin Chapman’s pioneering of the Ground Effect car.

A car more relevant to my time as a F1 fan was the Williams FW14B that took Mansell to his only F1 drivers championship in 1992.  This car like the Lotus 79 stole a march on it’s competitors by mastering a previously undeveloped area of design – Active Suspension. The Adrian Newey designed car still looks relevant today with it’s raised nose.

I was also pleased to see the Lotus 102 as driven by Martin Donnelly in 1990, a car which he suffered a horrific accident at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez in 1990.  The Camel Lotus is certainly a very odd looking car and it was no supprise when it failed to perform out on the track some 20 years ago.

A beautiful car at the show was the Maserati 250F driven by Fangio and Moss in 1954.

The Beatrice THL-1, the car Alan Jones tried in vain to mastermind a comeback in to the sport in 1985/1986 was sat amongst a 1995 Benetton B195 which was for sale and an interesting Dallara BMS – 192 from 1992

I also spotted the burnt helmet of Jos Verstappen from his incident in the 1994 German Grand Prix, when a pit stop for fuel went wrong and ended up with a flash fire while Jos was still sat in the cockpit. These images serve to remind how dangerous fuel stops could be and how the move to ban them in 2010 is a positive decision in my book.

Now I come to the biggest let down of the show the Live Action Arena.  This years line up was particularly uninspiring and whether I was luck or unlucky I found myself in the front row.  Not only did the poor line up of cars get to me, but the fumes and the lack of light, meaning I could hardly see the cars as they made there way around what seemed to be a multistory car park.  I left with about 10 mins to go as it was I found it quite teadious as I couldn’t see or take pictures either. Although I did see the Lancia Stratos which kind of made up for it.  I wonder if they could try and get the event to be outside next year, so at least the fans can see and breath.

As always I picked up a few purchases, Lotus and Ferrari DVD’s and a copy of Sid Watkin’s book.  It never amazes me how expensive F1 merchandise is, with models pushing £40 and team clothing needlessly expensive.

After all that I was extremely tired and headed home.  Yes it is fair to say, it felt like any other of the Autosport shows from the last 20 years, but, there is a recession on and I am sure the organisers have struggled to get extra companies and teams to attend.

From a fans point of view I think it gives just enough. I was happy with the photo’s and racing drivers I met on the Saturday and yes it is sad that fans only get a 10 minute window to get Jenson Button’s autograph, and that Jenson was the only driver representing the current crop of F1 drivers at the show, but this I cannot deny that it does give the fans a early shot of motorsport hysteria that should tie them through until March.