WEC: A day out at Silverstone

Recently I have seen a number of articles saying manufacturers are preferring WEC to F1. Mark Webber seems to be enjoying himself as well having left Red Bull in 2013. So I thought I would go and see what the fuss is about.

WEC is the World Endurance Championship and features seven 6 hour long races, along with the Le Mans 24 Hours Race. It features cars of radically different speeds, with LMP1 prototypes going faster than 200mph on the same track as cars like Ferrari 458s slower in top speed, cornering and accelerating. Due to the lengths of the races, teams comprise three drivers who take turns at the wheel. The goal is rarely top speed but efficiency and endurance over the race distance.

The first race of 2015 was held at Silverstone on 12 April and I went along. The first thing that struck me was the value for money that the race provides. In 2009 we paid £125 per ticket for general admission to the British Grand Prix. Now the minimum is £155 and neither of these prices will allow you into a grandstand. In addition, parking costs extra at £50 per car. For the WEC for £35 you got 6 hours of racing, free parking and a roving grandstand seat so that you could sit anywhere.

On showing up, you get the feeling that this is charging what the series’ can get away with. Silverstone was not packed for the WEC. The organisers have quoted a figure of 45,000 spectators across three days compares to 120,000 spectators on race day for Formula One. So, the cars may be immensely impressive but the series lacks the support of F1, however, the WEC has only existed in its current guise since 2012 and is growing year on year.

Any race that features pit stops can make it confusing as to what is going on, this is especially true in an endurance race, however, it also applies to F1. It is up to you to make sure you know who is winning and have some idea of the strategies at play. We did not plan for this and got confused as to what was happening until we went and sat in the main grandstand with its decent PA system and TV screen. Unlike F1, in which a race will usually be done in a quarter of the time, this is not a race that requires your full attention. People walked around, enjoyed the fantastic track and its facilities and experienced what was on offer. Everything was much more open than at an F1 race. The paddock was completely open, a couple of teams allowed you into their pit boxes while the race was on. It was quite possible with a general admission ticket to walk amongst team mechanics, drivers and celebrities something that you would not dream of at an F1 event.

To me, it does not seem correct to compare F1 and WEC. Yes, they are both racing series that race on similar circuits at similar speeds. However, F1 historically was about speed and excitement, WEC is about endurance and efficiency. F1 seems to have gotten confused recently, it is trying to do what the WEC is doing with its fuel limits and tyre management. That is to its detriment. F1 needs to go back to being about blistering speed and pushing the limit, leave the WEC to provide the endurance challenge.

To me, the technology in the WEC is more relevant, I can see why it would appeal to manufacturers more than F1. It is more open to its fans, it costs less to watch and allows far greater access. Would I go to another WEC race to watch these marvels weaving amongst the slower cars again? Absolutely. Would I go to an F1 race right now? No, it does not appeal.

F1 Driver Rankings 2014 edition

It looks like I missed out on doing this last year, probably because I was a little bored of the Sebastian Vettel show.

So to my list (comparisons are against my 2012 list):

1. Daniel Ricciardo +17
2. Lewis Hamilton +1
3. Fernando Alonso -3
4. Valtteri Bottas NE
5. Nico Rosberg +5
6. Sebastian Vettel -4
7. Jules Bianchi NE
8. Felipe Massa -1
9. Jenson Button -5
10. Romain Grosjean +10
11. Nico Hulkenberg -6
12. Danil Kvyat NE
13. Kevin Magnussen NE
14. Jean-Eric Vergne +9
15. Kimi Raikonnen -9
16. Sergio Perez -8
17. Kamui Kobayashi -6
18. Pastor Maldonado 3
19. Marcus Ericsson NE
20. Adrian Sutil RE
21. Esteban Guttierez NE
22. Max Chilton NE

 

While Lewis Hamilton won the championship, winning over half the races along the way, it was Daniel Ricciardo who impressed the most. The new Red Bull driver dominated his four-time world champion teammate and snatched the only three victories that did not fall Mercedes’ way. In a season where one team had a second or more advantage per lap, his achievements were clear to see. Alonso again did the best he could with a poor Ferrari while Bottas had a break out year for Williams, getting his first podium finishes along the way. Hopefully in 2015 someone will catch up to Mercedes, otherwise 2015 could easily become a repeat of 2014. Mclaren now have one of the strongest lineups on the grid, they will be under a lot of pressure to perform with Alonso and Button, if Honda deliver a strong engine things will heat up.

The last lap redux

Last week the FIA met to discuss changes to F1 for 2015 and beyond. A number of the changes address issues that I raised in my article last month. I thought it would be a good time to take a brief look at where things have been changed and how.

 

The problems

Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – A number of poor tracks exist as pet projects that have poor layouts, oft poor racing and nobody watching… the FIA has now reintroduced one of the more boring races, Korea.

Ever younger drivers (2014) – For F1 to claim it is a sport for the best drivers, those drivers should have a certain amount of experience and therefore Max Verstappen with this one year of single seater experience should not be allowed in. The FIA have agreed, from 2016 (so after Verstappen), an F1 superlicense will only be granted to over 18s with at least two year’s single seater experience. This is a good move that should have been in place sooner.

Financing (ongoing) – The teams are meeting on 18th December to discuss F1 costs, the big teams will need to give the small teams some rope.

Double points (2014) – I threatened to stop watching Formula One if double points affected the championship fight and the prospect loomed large over the season finale. Fortunately Lewis Hamilton had everything under control and I didn’t need to worry. In addition, the FIA have now dropped double points for future seasons.

Poorly thought-through regulation changes – I came up with a few examples (including DRS) of gimmicks to improve the show, fortunately a number of new ones planned for next year have been dropped including standing starts after safety car periods.

 

Most of these changes are common sense and it is good to see that the FIA have made these changes. In addition, despite Bernie’s comments about F1 not being for young audiences and saying the sport will not embrace social media, there are plans in the works for the sport to increase its social presence with youtube and facebook being added to the existing twitter offering. Hopefully the sports leading teams and the sports owners can agree to lower their slices of the revenue pie and give the small teams more of a chance to succeed when they meet later this month.

The last lap

I started watching Formula One with the 1998 Spanish Grand Prix – won by Mika Hakkinen – and since that day I have not missed a single race, watching around 95% in their entirety without fast forwarding. That makes a streak of 295 consecutive F1 races. However, over the last three years I have had a growing feeling that I may just be watching for the sake of watching. The powers that be have decided to make changes to the sport to ‘improve the show’ that have led to me feeling alienated. In this post I am going to outline these changes and then outline some of my own ideas that I think could make me love the sport again.

The problems

DRS (2011 – today) – The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was brought in as a solution to aerodynamic efficiency leading to a lack of overtaking in the sport. The system allows a following car within 1 second to open a flap in their rear wing to reduce drag and give them a speed boost along a particular straight. To me, this is an unfair system as you are being punished for being ahead. If you are ahead, you deserve the chance to defend in a position that is stronger or equal to the driver behind; there should not be a rule that enables them to drive around you.

Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – F1 has always attracted new tracks and races. Some of these – such as Circuit of the Americas where this weekend’s race takes place – have been a big success. However, poor tracks that receive a poor attendance do no-one any good: just look at Korea. A lot of the circuits that are on the calendar are there as a marketing exercise for car manufacturers or are the pet project of a rich consortium for their pleasure. The circuits are poor, the racing they give is poor, but they are being used for the world’s premier single seater series.

Ever younger drivers (2014) – To me the intention of F1 is to have the best drivers in the world doing battle on track. Having a 17-year-old racing next year does not reflect this. Max Verstappen has one season of single seater racing under his belt and yet in 2015 he has a drive with Toro Rosso. To me that is a joke and disrespectful to drivers who are working their way up the ladder properly and have gotten where they are deservedly and not on their name. If F1 is easy enough for an inexperienced 17-year-old to take part in then it clearly is no longer enough of a challenge.

Engine noise (2014) – This is a minor point for me; I love the new power units and their general efficiency against previous cars. I also don’t particularly mind that the lap times have dropped since last year. However, that all being said, I still personally prefer the high pitched whine over the lower grumble this year. The old cars just sounded better and faster.

Domination (2014) – Again, a small point for me. I sat happily through five years of Schumacher domination and four years of Vettel domination. However, with Mercedes a second and a half quicker than the chasing pack it isn’t close to being a fair fight. We need more equalisation between the engines, otherwise we can get ready for many more years of Mercedes driving straight past people if they have to start from the back.

Financing (ongoing) – Two teams have just announced their inability to take part in a race in the same week. Meanwhile the teams at the top of the sport are being given extra money for showing up. By all means have performance-based prize funds, however, don’t reward teams that already have more money for attendance. Based on figures in Autosport magazine 30/10/2014, the smallest team, Caterham, is spending approximately four times less per year than Red Bull (the biggest team that doesn’t produce its own engines), and yet it is that small team that is failing. The cost of third party parts needs to be reigned-in to help smaller teams.

In addition, the costs of watching F1 in 2014 are prohibitive; it is now harder to watch F1. Few will pay £50+ per month to watch the racing on Sky, and going to a circuit is also ridiculously expensive. For the cost of general admission at Silverstone I can go to approximately six BTCC race events (18 races of 30). If the teams and the circuits aren’t making money and the fans are over-spending, do we really want to be lining the pockets of the sport’s owners?

Bernie paying his way out of a bribery case (2014) – Should you really be allowed to PAY to end a BRIBERY case?

Double points (2014) – If a driver wins the championship because they won a race that was worth more than all the other races I will stop watching and not turn back. This rule in a sport where reliability is a factor is not sporting.

Poorly thought-through regulation changes – F1 has become so desperate to improve the ‘show’ that it is practically no longer a sport. Artificial overtaking now rules, with the championship potentially no longer won by the most consistent driver, but the one who gets lucky in the last race. Next year there are plans for standing starts after safety cars, because starts are “more exciting” (with the clear potential for yet more safety cars). I want to see racing where overtakes are earned, and where the best driver in the best car is not cheated out of the championship.

Possible fixes

Remove bonuses for ‘legacy’ teams – Instead give all teams an even share of the pot as soon as they have completed their first full season. Allow prize money to spread the best teams from the worst. In addition, if you want to engage the fan base, lower the cost of entry, because if no-one is watching, there is no money.

More difficult super-license – Having young inexperienced drivers does not do the sport any favours, to be in F1 you should have to earn your place by working up the ladder, not by jumping several rungs.

Allow for a maximum cost cap of £100m – In 2009 Max Mosley attempted to enact a restrictive £40 million cost cap. For the big teams this was never going to be achievable. however, setting the bar higher so that it is lower than the large teams spend and bigger than the small teams spend means that there is still a small window for buying success. This would need to be balanced for teams that also produce their own engines, perhaps defining a separate cost cap that applies to engine production, which in turn defines a maximum price that an engine supplier can demand from teams.

DRS limit – DRS as it currently stands diminishes overtaking. However, it has proven itself as a means for getting one F1 car past another. An approach that I would like to see taken would be to change the rules so that each driver gets 10 uses of DRS per race. They can then plan when to use that, whether it be to attack or defend or pull away. It would have the current provisos regarding no use during wet conditions or within two laps of a start/restart, however, could be used anywhere on the track.

Ask the fans what they want – Instead of a group of old men making decisions about what the fan base wants or the sport needs, would it be so hard for the decision makers to ASK and listen to the fans? There has been overwhelming negativity for a number of recent rule changes, the loudest response regarding double points. It may be that fans want dumb gimmicks, but do some research and explain how the results led to the decisions made instead of just deciding on things like double points or medals or standing starts after safety cars.

 

F1 is not the sport that I started watching in 1998, in many ways it is a shadow of its former self that has continued down a path of allowing money to dictate both success and priorities. The victors are currently neither the drivers, the teams, nor the fans, just those at the top raking in millions of pounds off the sport each year. The racing is almost as entertaining as it has ever been, however, gimmicks being piled on top diminish the appeal and I have questions about how challenging the sport is now for drivers.

F1 Driver Rankings – End 2012

So another season of F1 has passed. This was my 15th, it also marked the first year, however, that I did not watch a race the whole way through. As a kind of protest against the Bahrain Grand Prix I suffered through the fairly poor BBC highlight show instead of watching the race live. Bit of a crap protest as I still watched… but I didn't enjoy it.

Anyway, it was another title for king Vettel, Red Bull once again supplied him with a car with which to take the title. The difference between Red Bull and the rest definitely came down this year and they started the season with the second or third best car out there. Alonso's achievement was far greater though, in the first race of 2012 the Ferrari car was the eighth fastest out there. By season's end it was still only third and yet Alonso took the fight to Vettel, losing out by just three points in a tense final race. Consistency was Alonso's game and he drove a near perfect season in a middling car.

So to my end of year rankings:

1. Fernando Alonso /
2. Sebastien Vettel +1
3. Lewis Hamilton -1
4. Jenson Button +5
5. Nico Hulkenberg +5
6. Kimi Raikkonen +7
7. Felipe Massa +12
8. Sergio Perez -2
9. Mark Webber -1
10. Nico Rosberg -6
11. Kamui Kobayashi +1
12. Paul Di Resta -1
13. Michael Schumacher +1
14. Bruno Senna +9
15. Timo Glock +1
16. Heikki Kovaleinen -9
17. Vitaly Petrov +4
18. Daniel Ricciardo -1
19. Charles Pic +1
20. Romain Grosjean -15
21. Pastor Maldonado -6
22. Pedro De La Rosa =
23. Jean-Eric Vergne -5
24. Jerome D'Ambrosio RE
25. Narain Kathikeyan -1

To me Alonso was clearly the best driver all season long. Hamilton drove better than last season and was largely let down by the team with reliability problems and issues with pitstops throughout the season. He drove fast but not necessarily intelligently and as it stands Vettel and Alonso are better drivers than he is. Grosjean and Maldonado both slip as each was involved in too many incidents, Maldonado because he is malicious and Grosjean because he is careless.

My big hope for the offseason is that both Kobayashi and Kovaleinen are picked up by teams for 2013, both deserve their drives and make F1 a little bit better. I am also pleased to see that Massa is back to where he needs to be in terms of pace finally, it appeared that the new Ferrari deal he received lightened his load and allowed him to concentrate on the driving again.

Rating the races

F1 this season is reaching a record 20 tracks in 19 countries. The racing so far this year has been unpredictable and exciting but there are some tracks that I feel do not do the sport justice with their layouts. In this post I will be ranking the tracks used in this year's world championship, my criteria will be how enjoyable I find them to watch/play in games and how good the racing usually is at the circuit.

 

  1. Canadian GP
    Montreal has long been my favourite track, it is the most enjoyable for me on any racing game with its mix of tricky chicanes, long straights and hairpins. It helps that the real life racing at the circuit tends to be superb and it is exciting watching to see who will make a mistake going into the final corner the 'wall of champions'.




     

  2. Belgian GP
    F1's classic circuit is still fantastic with the brilliant Eau Rouge still the best corner on the calendar. Unfortunately the track has been neutered further in recent years. I have seen some great races there as well with last year's race definitely up there. Hakkinnen taking Schumacher in 2000 being the one that sticks clearest in the mind. That said, I've always been poor round here on games…




     

  3. Monaco GP
    The racing might not be exciting on this circuit where passing is impossible but it is always a tense race to watch where an accident could happen at any time. This year's race might be remembered as a procession after the fact but during the race we had six of the world's best drivers duking it out for the win just waiting for one of the others to make a mistake. Watching the best drivers on edge round the streets is always awe inspiring.
     
  4. Brazilian GP
    This little circuit in Sao Paolo more often than not produces stonking races, so the infrastructure may have some issues (see advertising boards falling on the circuit during one qualifying session) but this track works so well as the climax to a season. If the championship is coming down to the wire you know the final race will live up to expectations (see Hamilton's title win or Schumacher's 'last' race in 2006).


     

  5. Indian GP
    So its a new track, as soon as I played it in F1 2012 I loved the layout, it really flows beautifully. The first race there did not necessarily live up to the billing but give the track time.
     
  6. Japanese GP
  7. British GP
  8. Singapore GP
  9. Australian GP
  10. Chinese GP
  11. Malaysian GP
  12. Hungarian GP
  13. Italian GP
  14. German GP
  15. Spanish GP
  16. Abu Dhabi GP
    This track showed a lot of promise but despite the glitz and glamour the track layout is just uninspiring. The flow of the corners lends itself to dull racing.
     
  17. European GP
    I have never clicked with the Valencia track, it just doesn't work for me. The racing has also been dull with the only exciting moments the track has recorded coming in the 2010 race with Webber's flying lesson and Kobayashi overtaking Alonso in the closing moments. 
     
  18. Bahrain GP
    Political troubles do not help this track which already battles with a poor layout and perennially dull races. Kill it.
     
  19. Korean GP
    The Korean track has had a troubled existence, first its miles away from the majority of the South Korean population, second it was still being completed during its first year. Add to that the circuit's inability to decide what track it is, some sections are wide open, some sections would be at home in Monaco with the walls close in. Then you have that daft chicane at the end of the second straight. To this track I say meh, should be better.

Ranking F1 – after seven races

It is time for the return of my F1 rankings. These are my first since the end of the 2011 season. What a start we have seen to 2012, seven races and seven different winners. I have been impressed by five of those winners' campaigns so far. You can probably work out the five from the rankings.

1 Fernando Alonso +1

2 Lewis Hamilton +4

3 Sebastien Vettel -2

4 Nico Rosberg /

5 Romain Grosjean NE

6 Sergio Perez +3

7 Heikki Kovaleinen -2

8 Mark Webber +2

9 Jenson Button -6

10 Nico Hulkenberg RE

11 Paul Di Resta -4

12 Kamui Kobayashi -3

13 Kimi Raikkonen NE

14 Michael Schumacher -3

15 Pastor Maldonado +10

16 Timo Glock -1

17 Daniel Ricciardo /

18 Jean-Eric Vergne NE

19 Felipe Massa -6

20 Charles Pic NE

21 Vitaly Petrov -5

22 Pedro De La Rosa -3

23 Bruno Senna RE

24 Narain Kathikeyan /

 

I think Alonso deserves to be top of this pile for what he managed to achieve with what was an underperforming Ferrari early on. Hamilton meanwhile has been consistently fast this year with the only faults committed by his team. We have also seen two overperfoming youngsters in Grosjean and Perez. Both have had fantastic starts to the year and both appear to have bright futures. I am less impressed by Maldonado, he moves up 10 places thanks to his superb drive in Spain but his personality still hinders. His move on Perez in Monaco stops me from taking him seriously and I still blame him for a similar move on Hamilton at Spa last year. He may be quick but he needs to temper that with a hold on stupid outburst.

 

Meanwhile right at the base, I am starting to wonder if Bruno Senna is capable at this level, he is not doing well at all in that Williams. If I had to drop three drivers from F1 at this stage of the season it would have to be Karthikeyan, Senna and Massa.

F1 Driver Rankings – season end – 2011

So for the first time since race 5 of the season we have an F1 driver ranking post. While my feelings towards F1 were tempered slightly by the domination of king Vettel and the introduction of DRS it was still generally a good season. Possibly not up there with the last couple but fairly strong. How were the drivers though? Well Hamilton certainly struggled with his style not suiting a DRS / Pirelli tyre world. He made silly mistakes aplenty and looked like a rookie. This is the first season he has been outperformed by a teammate and that saw him slip. Heikki Kovaleinen continues his rise through the rankings. He has worked very well with a teammate not seeming to contribute much and moved Lotus near to the midfield. He deserve a high spot.

1 Sebastien Vettel /
2 Fernando Alonso +1
3 Jenson Button +1
4 Nico Rosberg +1
5 Heikki Kovaleinen +4
6 Lewis Hamilton -4
7 Paul Di Resta +6
8 Kamui Kobayashi -2
9 Sergio Perez +2
10 Mark Webber -2
11 Michael Schumacher +3
12 Bruno Senna RE
13 Felipe Massa -1
14 Adrian Sutil +2
15 Timo Glock +2
16 Vitaly Petrov -7
17 Daniel Ricciardo NE
18 Nick Heidfeld -8
19 Pedro De La Rosa RE
20 Sebastien Buemi -5
21 Jaime Alguersuari -2
22 Rubens Barrichello -4
23 Jarno Trulli -3
24 Tonio Liuzzi +3
25 Pastor Maldonado -2
26 Jerome D’Ambrosio -4
27 Karun Chandhok RE
28 Narain Kathikeyan -4

At the bottom, the two Indian drivers sit at the bottom fairly deservedly based on performances. D’Ambrosio never seemed fully cut out as Di Grassi’s replacement while I still don’t like Maldonado or Liuzzi in F1. Trulli and Barrichello need to realise it is time to retire and the two Toro Rosso drivers must have reached their ends too? Hopefully some old boys can go away and the new generation can come and play. With that being said though, Schumacher is showing the old boys still have some life in them. Curses.

Improving Yas Marina

Martin Whitmarsh at Mclaren today said that the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi could do with improvements to aid overtaking. I agree, so here is my hastily put together design for improving the track.

The image might not be the clearest but as I said, hastily put together. The blue line is the current layout, the red markings are my changes.

First turn 1, the corner is too easy to take flat/near flat on turn one. I think the straight should be extended slightly and the corner should be made tighter, thus encouraging moves into the turn as there will be more than one line. This would come at the loss of some run off but lets be honest there is too much of it anyway and it doesn’t punish mistakes.

Round the next bend also taken flat out I think the track should go onto a little loop that already exists on the way down the hill, the end of this loop would give a tightish bend that could be exciting at speed like Koreas last corner. Meanwhile the chicane at the bottom of the hill should disappear as other than nearly decapitating Michael Schumacher it serves no useful purpose other than making the hairpin very dull and impossible to overtake on. Keep the long straight as is at is rocks…

At the end of the straight though remove the chicane (as Nigel Whitmarsh says in the article) and instead have a tight turn that runs nearer the grandstand allowing for more chance at overtaking moves onto the next straight. After that straight have another tight turn followed by a gentler chicane that is currently there, this in turn would make the of camber turn onto the harbour more difficult and could lead to mistakes/passes into the last sector.

The last sector is the best part of the track. While it might not have overtaking chances it is still stunning and exciting to watch the cars go through. That said I think the penultimate corner could be more difficult. A gravel trap on the outside is a must and a tighter entry could also lead to overtaking chances into the last corner.

I designed these changes by looking at where run off areas currently exist, I do not believe any of them would cause to safety issues and that all of them could be done fairly easily and cheaply and would in my mind improve racing by removing three very retarded chicanes.

What do you guys think? How would you improve this circuit?

F1 rankings – revised

So 12 races in how have things changed in my rankings over the past 9 races? The championship battle has gone back and forth between the major drivers but this is about pace against teammates and general ability (plus possibly some deductions based on whininess).

2010 rankings (after 12 races):
1. Sebastien Vettel /
2. Lewis Hamilton /
3. Robert Kubica +1
4. Mark Webber +6
5. Felipe Massa /
6. Fernando Alonso -3
7. Nico Rosberg -1
8. Kamui Kobayashi +13
9. Adrian Sutil -1
10. Jenson Button -3
11. Rubens Barrichello -2
12. Nico Hulkenberg +1
13. Heikki Kovaleinen -1
14. Vitaly Petrov +5
15. Timo Glock /
16. Jarno Trulli /
17. Jaime Alguersuari -3
18. Sebastien Buemi /
19. Pedro De La Rosa +1
20. Bruno Senna +2
21. Karun Chandhok +3
22. Lucas Di Grassi +1
23. Michael Schumacher -12
24. Vinatonio Liuzzi -7
25. Sakon Yamamoto (just plain rubbish)

So Kobayashi is the biggest winner, Alonso loses out for being whiney and annoying and needing to steal his results and Schumacher drops right down for four dangerous moves in five races. Please note these results are not scientific just based on my observations.