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“All change of the streets of Geneva?”

Simona de Silvestro driving the Formula E car through the streets of Geneva. © Formula E Holdings.

Simona de Silvestro driving the Formula E car through the streets of Geneva. © Formula E Holdings.

With the 85th Geneva International Motor Show beginning this week, the powers that be at Formula E secured a nice slice of the headlines, as former IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro took to the streets in the SRT_01E machine.

A former “affiliated driver” with the Sauber Formula One team, de Silvestro took the Michelin-shod Formula E car from TAG Heuer’s Geneva office, through the Quai-du-Général-Guisan and across the Pont du Mont Blanc Bridge, before drawing to a stop on the Quai du Mont-Blanc.

Along the way, de Silvestro discovered a waiting Nick Heidfeld outside the Julius Baer building in the Swiss city. All very nice, which featured numerous opportunities for photographs aplenty throughout the speedy trip.

However, the running of the Formula E machine was not strictly the most interesting point of the day, but rather the announcement that a new law that is to allow motor racing back on Swiss grounds – as long as it is restricted to electric vehicles only – is being considered once again following a motion by MP Fathi Derder.
For the likes of Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, this marks an important step and opens an opportunity for the Spaniard to bank a race where all other categories have failed. “We would never have dreamed of getting an ePrix in Switzerland off the ground without TAG Heuer and Jean-Claude Biver’s continuing support,” said Agag in a statement released today.

There is little doubt that the presence of Swiss watch brand TAG Heuer – a founding partner of the Formula E Championship – have helped push the politics along. Agag added: “We are very proud to have TAG Heuer as a founding partner, and thankful that they are able to assist us in this exciting challenge. If the race takes place, TAG Heuer will definitely be our title sponsor. The ePrix will strengthen our close relationship with this country, which is the home market of our Global Partner Bank Julius Baer. They have been fully behind us since the very first race in Beijing.”

Motor racing has been absent from Swiss lands since 1954, with the axe brought down on the sport after the following year’s disaster during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, although hill climbs and rallying are permitted. Although there were a pair of Swiss Grand Prix in later years, these events took place at the Dijon circuit in eastern France, close to the Swiss border.

For de Silvestro, to have the opportunity to be the pilot who brought the face of motorsport back to her native Switzerland, it was an important opportunity. “It was a special moment for me to drive the Formula E car here in the streets of Geneva on the day which celebrates the return of motorsport in Switzerland.”
Citing her inexperience of the Formula E machine, de Silvestro added: “The first feeling I had is that there was no noise! For a driver every new challenge is a great experience and this was even more special; the acceleration of this car is really good and I had a lot of fun. I am sure that the American fans will love to see Formula E in Miami and Long Beach in the next weeks.”

“Further Details Regarding Fernando Alonso”

Alonso may not run at the final pre-season F1 test. © McLaren-Honda F1 Team / Steven Tee / LAT Photographic

Alonso may not run at the final pre-season F1 test. © McLaren-Honda F1 Team / Steven Tee / LAT Photographic

McLaren Formula One driver Fernando Alonso is on the road to a solid recovery in hospital following his test crash on Sunday.

According to a release by the Woking-based team, the 33-year-old Spaniard has been chatting to family, friends and staff at the hospital; however it is unknown at this stage whether he will participate in the final pre-season test which begins later this week.

Alonso crashed out in turn three prior to lunch on the final day at Circuit de Cataluña, just outside Barcelona and after some first aid at the scene was airlifted to hospital.

After a raft of precautionary scans, the double-World Champion is to stay in hospital for an extra night to allow him to recuperate from the incident and the lingering effects of the medication.

While McLaren admit that is still early in the process of investigating the cause of the incident, the team have been able to reveal that Alonso’s MP4-30 “ran wide at the entry to Turn Three – which is a fast uphill right-hander – allowing it to run onto the Astroturf that lines the outside of the track. A consequent loss of traction caused a degree of instability, spitting it back towards the inside of the circuit, where it regained traction and struck the wall side-on.”

In the release, the team suggest that the nature of the accident may have, quite unusually, been “caused by the unpredictably gusty winds at that part of the circuit at that time” – an issue also reported by Toro Rosso debutante Carlos Sainz.
The team also found no evidence to indicate a mechanical or aerodynamic failure, while also confirming that there were no electrical discharges from the car’s ERS unit. Alonso’s actions in the car – downshifting and applying the brake up until contact – also indicate that he was conscious during the “crash action.”

Following the initial contact, the car slid down the inside wall for fifteen seconds, rendering damage to front upright and axle. There was no damage sustained by the bodywork or crash structure between the front and rear wheels.

Alonso’s personal manager, Luis Garcia Abad, tweeted a picture of the McLaren giving the thumbs up from his hospital bed earlier this evening.

“The Power of Exaggeration”

Alonso's Barcelona test ended with a crash. © McLaren-Honda F1 team / Sam Bloxham/LAT Photographic.

Alonso’s Barcelona test ended with a crash. © McLaren-Honda F1 team / Sam Bloxham/LAT Photographic.

Fernando Alonso’s crash on the final day of the second pre-season Formula One test at Barcelona did more than take him out of the rest of the running.

It gave a speedy rise to unfounded speculation and exaggeration. It also displayed how sensitive the sport still is to developing stories surrounding driver care.

Sometimes the most innocuous of incidents in motorsport can betray the most devastating of results.

Whether it be a seemingly everyday crash that killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001, or Jules Bianchi’s off-camera accident at Suzuka last year, these incidents can result in a profound effect on sport – and the audience that views them.

As with all incidents like these, the development of rolling news and social media through the years has given rise not just to demand for instant gratification of information, but all to uneducated attempts at dissecting incidents followed by baseless comment and insinuation.
The biggest problem with all these conclusions is that they were based on nothing. Nothing at all.

But that is real life and it is not too different to The Grapevine, in which mere rumours passed amidst gossiping souls becomes solid gold “fact” further down the line of conversation.

Alonso’s test ending accident prior to lunch yesterday kicked The Grapevine into high gear as rumours, accusations and indictments of both the McLaren team and its reports on The Spaniard’s condition powered into overdrive.

The initial statement from the Woking team acknowledged “Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda car left the track at Turn Three, causing the right-hand side of his car to strike the wall. Fernando was driven to the circuit’s Medical Centre where the circuit’s doctors gave him first aid. He was conscious and spoke with the doctors.”
The statement followed with “As per usual procedure in such circumstances, he was then airlifted to hospital where he is undergoing precautionary checks.

It is important to understand that while McLaren followed sound procedures after the incident, they could do nothing to dispel the vacuum the came thereafter.
The car, which was to be driven by Jenson Button after lunch, did not return to track during the afternoon – a factor that added further fuel to the fire.
Still hungry for information – and pictorial “evidence” – self-proclaimed experts and commentators began to exaggerate Alonso’s medical condition based on the fact that he had been airlifted to hospital, while also conjuring up a juvenile case against the team, charging McLaren with all sorts of nonsense.

And all of it based on absolutely nothing.

In the end, it turned out that Alonso had suffered a concussion as a result of banging his head in the incident, requiring an overnight stay at the hospital. As noted by the team’s Racing Director Eric Boullier, “That’s normal practice after a concussion.” Aware of the white noise that had been building since the accident, the Frenchman added: “Inevitably, some media reports have sought to exaggerate the severity of the incident – it was just a normal testing accident.”

Boullier continued: “While the car wasn’t particularly badly damaged, it was enough of an impact to warrant quite a lengthy check of the gearbox and power unit systems. Given the time needed to carry out such an analysis, we decided to bring the curtain down on our test a few hours earlier than anticipated.”

Sometimes one must accept that these accidents happen, but the speculation that followed cast an poor eye over the manner in which news information is disseminated and used. Such a shame, the desire to be “first” and the ones that are “all updates, but with no updates” flew the flag on Sunday.

For now Alonso will be required to rest up and prepare, while the team will aim to understand why the car crashed and whether a mechanical issue or driver error forced the machine into the barrier.

“Taking it Public”

Public spats are rarely pretty things. Occasionally they will generate headlines and stories, with commentary built on allegations, insinuations and open ended mud-slinging.

This evening delivered a rather special example of this when Caterham F1’s former technical director Mark Smith shot a rather public aside across the bows of the team’s departed owner Tony Fernandes.

During a series of tweets where Fernandes lauded the performance of his investments which are apparently worth “about one billion in cash” (no currency denoted), Smith – who was dropped by Caterham last May – responded with “How about paying the 3 years remaining on my contract then Tony? A small amount by comparison.”

In the grand scheme of things, it is not a significant story. Smith is one of many members of the Caterham team who are chasing allegedly unpaid wages, but he is one of the few who – quite suddenly – broke out publicly in this matter.

One cannot help but get the impression that Smith is a rather frustrated character in all of this, but irrespective, it is still probably not the most desirable or professional way to have gone about the subject in what is a very public arena.

Whether Fernandes responds…

© Twitter.com

© Twitter.com

“F1: Nasr lauds positive start for Sauber”

Nasr enjoyed a good opening test. © Sauber F1 Team.

Nasr enjoyed a good opening test. © Sauber F1 Team.

Formula One rookie Felipe Nasr emerged positive from his first test with Sauber, but urged caution as the second four-day stint approaches.

The Brazilian, a GP2 Series race winner last year, enjoyed two very productive days in Jerez last week, completing 197 laps during his stint.

While times are irrelevant, the experience offered the 22-year-old an opportunity to acclimatise to his new setting. “So far, so good,” he said. “It was a new environment for me, a new car, a new team, I’m working with new people, so it was just getting used to everything, getting used to new systems, procedures.”

On the surface, it appears the Swiss team may be about to take a significant step forward, following a dismal 2014 season, which saw them score no points for the first time in their history.
While Nasr did not run in the C33 machine – he was the reserve driver for Williams previously – he did still have encouraging words following the completion of running at Jerez, yet the former British F3 champion held back from making unwise declarations. “There is clearly a step forward from the chassis and the engine side, but it is only testing – it doesn’t mean anything to be leading the testing, as I do not know what the others are doing. So far, so positive and much better than I expected,” he said.

The man from Brasilia added, “I think that we could have done more [laps], but we had some small issues – nothing major. It was good to have a feel of the car with different levels of downforce and different set-ups in the car and also we were able to do some long runs in the end.”

For some, the inclement weather that plagued the mid-part of the test would have been something of an inconvenience for a number of players keen to get clean running; however the debutante was happy, at least, to garner some experience in changeable climate.
“We drove in all kind of conditions – dry and wet – so I could have a feel for that and also play a bit on the tyre side. For example, I had never drove on the soft tyres before, so it was the first time I did that,” he noted.

Although Nasr may appreciate the lessons learned in the damp, the low ambient and track temperature during the Jerez sessions was unrepresentative of what he will face this season. It mattered little in the end, for Nasr was keen just to get runs in, as he settles into his new title of ‘Formula One driver’.

“In general it was very positive.” It was in this very typical laconic manner that Nasr ended the week in the driest manner possible. For the rookie, this adventure is only hotting up.

Nasr has two Barcelona tests to go. © Sauber F1 Team.

Nasr has two Barcelona tests to go. © Sauber F1 Team.

“Newey: Mercedes have the advantage”

Infiniti Red Bull Racing (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Infiniti Red Bull Racing (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Red Bull Racing’s Chief Technical Officer, Adrian Newey, believes Mercedes are once again leading the Formula One charge for the world championship this year.

Speaking in Jerez during the opening pre-season test last week, Newey claimed that the current engine dominated formula offers Mercedes a huge advantage, ahead of their Renault, Ferrari and Honda-powered competitors.

The Anglo-German squad easily swept the Constructors Championship last season and if their form in the first is anything to go by, Mercedes may prove extremely difficult to beat this year too. In what he describes as an “engine dominated formula”, Newey told Sky Sports F1 of the difficult challenge ahead. “I think Mercedes should win it frankly; they have a power advantage […] that puts them hugely ahead.”
However the former Williams and McLaren man was still keen to impress the importance of a competitive design. “The chassis is very important though – can we make enough of a difference on the chassis to mount a challenge? I think it will be extremely difficult, but we will obviously do our best.”

The 56-year-old has been critical of the chassis design regulations, which were introduced for the start of last season, citing that they have veered too far away from what Newey considers to be the optimum. “[The regulations have] gone the other way now, where the blend in my opinion should always be a combination of driver, chassis and engine and at the moment it is skewed very much toward the engine.”

As regulations governing where designers can go when drawing their new machines become increasingly neutered, Newey has not been shy to disguise his frustrations. “The chassis regulations have become over-restricted – the problem with that is the cars all look the same. It’s difficult to differentiate from my point of view as a designer; it’s difficult to find new avenues, so I do feel we have become over-restricted.”

Yet the man whose technical genius helped Red Bull to four Constructors Championship titles is also aware that loose a set of rules could also damage the spirit of competition. “It is a very difficult compromise, in terms of having relatively open regulations that can cause excessive spending if not carefully controlled – I don’t really buy that, as we have windtunnel and CFD restrictions – but also a fear that overly open regulations one team might get a big advantage over the others.”

Red Bull arrived at the circuit in the south of Spain utilising a camouflage livery and Newey was somewhat coy as to what significant details his RB11 machine may be hiding. “If we can help to disguise things a little bit and conceal some the shapes we have developed over the winter, then that prevents them getting as good a knowledge of our shape as they might do otherwise,” noted Newey.
When pressed upon whether there will be significant upgrades prior to the opening race in Melbourne, the designer was a touch more circumspect. “It will be the usual developments. I won’t say it will be a very different car; there will hopefully be some changes that we are working on, but the car we have here is the basic structure of we will have in Melbourne.”

Despite some underlying optimism, the opening test was not the easiest for Red Bull, whose drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat could only complete 122 laps over the course of the four-day session.
Throughout the test, Ricciardo suffered a battery problem on the opening day, followed by a power unit issue on day three. Kvyat’s running on day two was hampered when an error by the young Russian resulted in a broken front wing. With no spares on site, the team altered their programme, with Kvyat completing numerous installation laps and straight-line stints over the course of the day.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Infiniti Red Bull Racing (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

“Diff’rent Strokes”

© Leigh O'Gorman.

© Leigh O’Gorman.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Jolyon Palmer – two of the most impressive junior formulae talents of 2014. As a pairing, they took the top two spots in the GP2 Series last year, with Palmer emerging as clear victor.

Vandoorne secured 2nd ahead of Formula One bound Felipe Nasr at the final round in Abu Dhabi in November.

Yet as February turns and Formula One testing begins in earnest, both are, to a degree, on the outside looking in.

Admittely in the past, I have offered plenty of criticism in Palmer’s case, but one cannot underestimate the job he did last year – he was the deserved GP2 Series champion, but that has not necessarily been a passage to Formula One success in recent years. Just ask Giorgio Pantano, Davide Valsecchi or Fabio Leimer.

And so Palmer – recently announced as reserve driver with Lotus – has much to do in the coming year to make sure he does not slip through the cracks.
Yet whether he likes it or not, his fate may have spin on a money tuned spindle. One can only hope his future is not sold down the river by Lotus. That would be especially cruel at this stage, but they do have form.

Vandoorne, meanwhile, has been placed in a sort of no mans land. The Belgian was noticeably absent from the McLaren driver reveal in December and that is a worry indeed for Vandoorne is simply far too good to be sitting on the sidelines. Once both he and ART GP had found their feet, Vandoorne was impressive, displaying again the speed and talent that was clear in his FR3.5 days.

Vandoorne is still listed as a development driver at McLaren, but often that means different things to different teams. For some, it will mean the opportunity to test or do Friday FP1 sessions; for others it means just occasional simulator times, but when McLaren’s 3rd driver Kevin Magnussen has no chance of FP1 drives this year, then what hope for the guy further back in line?

Either way, the top two in GP2 from 2014 are not getting the airing they deserve this year. The FIA can come up with all the Superlicence points regulations they want, but it does not solve the issue of drivers getting shut out by commercial circumstances beyond their control.

“Thoughts on McLaren, Honda and success”

McLaren MP4-30. © McLaren Honda Formula 1 team

McLaren MP4-30. © McLaren Honda Formula 1 team

After the brief winter break, Formula One teams began unveiling their 2015 machines last week.

However unlike last year, when a brand new set of technical regulations made sure attentions were focused with each new machine, this year’s cars – with their technical evolutions, as opposed to revolutions – have commanded fewer column inches or digital space.

When the talk is more of the car’s collective liveries than the technology that powers them, one can be assured that little has changed on the outer design point – that will be noticeable to the general public.

There is one exception, of course, and that is McLaren for when testing commences this weekend at Jerez, it marks the first time since the end of the 1992 season that Woking team will publicly run a Honda.
The Japanese firm’s alliance with McLaren certainly evokes memories of one of motorsport’s great partnerships. For five seasons from 1988, McLaren took secured three titles thanks to Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
It was a stunning period for Formula One that saw it reach new heights of worldwide popularity and tension, as fans and commentators alike lined up to take sides, as the bitter feud spilled out beyond the boundaries of the track.

But that was then and this is now and McLaren are not the team of they were in the late 80s when Prost and Senna swept all away. The McLaren team of recent years has been prone to competitive struggles and internal wrangling that eventually saw Ron Dennis retake the top seat from Martin Whitmarsh at the beginning of last year.
Their last driver’s title came courtesy of Lewis Hamilton back in 2008, while their last Constructors’ title was as far back as 1998. The drought has been unforgiving.

With the rise of Red Bull and later Mercedes (née former champions Brawn), McLaren have tumbled down the order, spending too much time battling in the midfield with the likes of Force India. Their 2014 record does not bear the kind of results that might catch the eye of interested parties.
Two podiums (in the opening Grand Prix – one of which coming following a penalty for a rival) and a distant 5th in the Constructors’ Championship is hardly the form that will get large corporate bodies throwing their money at a team – especially in the current static economic climate.

Of course, this is hardly the first time that McLaren have experienced lingering difficulties. Following their split with Honda, the team went through several barren years with Ford and Peugeot power, before signing up with Mercedes in the mid-90s and even then, it was not until 1997 – after over four seasons without success – that they finally saw the top step of the podium again.

Yet times have changed significantly since the mid-90s. The cigarette money has long since disappeared (for all, except Ferrari) and sponsorship opportunities with alcohol brands are being tightened up.
From images released on Thursday, this new McLaren displays a significant amount of empty space on its livery. It is a touch worrisome that such a famous name are struggling to find a title sponsor, but attaching the failure to do so purely to results may also be a touch wide of the mark.

While claims that Formula One is a failing sport with toxic leadership that appear to specialise in creating publicity disasters rings partially true, McLaren must also shoulder the blame for offering a rate card that simply does not match what has been delivered of late.
Despite their proud stature, McLaren have not been a truly top team in quite some time – and that is something that is beginning to hurt on commercial side. The team have been in search of a title sponsor since Vodafone departed at the end of 2013 and of all the talk that the arrival of a big name was imminent, none have signed on the dotted line.

Instead, portions of last season saw the Woking team switch between their more prominent sponsors on a race-by-race basis, depending on territories, etc., but while that practice is common in American motorsport, it has not been a sight common amongst the top-end of the Formula One paddock in quite some time.

With the return of Fernando Alonso, to partner team veteran Jenson Button, McLaren certainly have the talent behind the wheel to get the job done, but they also must be prepared to accept that success may not come quickly with Honda.

Forget the exploratory post-season tests in a rejigged car that was originally designed to take the Mercedes unit – one would be foolish to judge future performance on the basis of such a Frankenstein machine. When the MP4-30 finally begins running regularly in testing, we may only then begin to glimpse where McLaren truly sit in the Formula One class.

But for those who are expecting an instant return to the days of Prost and Senna, prepare for disappointment. Such success rarely comes so quickly or easily – especially when your rivals have already enjoyed a year’s head start.

McLaren MP4-30. © McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team.

McLaren MP4-30. © McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team.

“Meanwhile at the Weekend”

Stroll leads the way in New Zealand. © Bruce Jenkins

Stroll leads the way in New Zealand. © Bruce Jenkins

Toyota Racing Series (Rd 1 & 2)
Ferrari Driver Academy member Lance Stroll leads the Toyota Racing Series following the opening two rounds at Ruapuna Park and Teretonga.

The Canadian teenager collected another win at Teretonga at the weekend, having previously claimed two victories in Ruapuna. Stroll’s Race One success came at the expense of original victor Arjun Maini, who received a 10s post-race penalty, dropping the Indian to 9th, promoting Stroll.

Whereas Stroll secured two further podiums, Maini could only manage a 7th and 4th, while Brendon Leitch and Jamie Conroy took a win each, ensuring Stroll emerged with an 88-point lead.

Leitch’s win in the final race of the Teretonga for Victory Motor Racing round broke a run of victories for M2 Competition, who had claimed the opening five races at the hands of Stroll, Conroy and Brandon Maïsano.

MRF Challenge (Rd 3, Chennai, India)
Toby Sowery claimed the MRF Challenge F2000 Championship in some style this weekend, by taking two wins and a podium to finish well ahead of series runner-up Ryan Cullen.

The 2014 MSV F3 Cup champion claimed four wins over the three-round series and only finished off of the podium three times in the twelve-race season.
Although reasonably close to Sowery before the start of the weekend, Cullen fell behind following a late, late retirement in Race One and then only finishing 5th in Race Two. Cullen did win Race Three, but Sowery came home 2nd – enough to secure the title.

Raj Bharath endured a rather anonymous weekend, but with South Africa’s Kyle Mitchell absent, Bharath sailed to 3rd in the points – the highest finish for an Indian driver in the championship’s brief history. Guest driver Oscar King won the season finale after taking two other podiums, allowing the Briton to finish 7th in points overall.

Admittedly the field size and quality of the MRF Challenge was hardly the most startling, but the series was still able to claim at least fifteen runners for its final weekend.
Yet with the opening pair of weekend’s taking place in Qatar and Bahrain, one wonders if more could be done – cost and logistics wise – to further promote home grown talent.

“Japanese F3: Moore goes East”

Moore will race in Japan with KCMG.

Moore will race in Japan with KCMG.

British racer Struan Moore is to move to All-Japan Formula 3 Championship this year with the KCMG team.

The 19-year-old Moore has become the first driver to announce a seat in the Championship Class, which was won by HFDP Racing man Nobuharu Matsushita.

Moore took a race victory and seven podiums on his way to 5th in last year’s BRDC F4 Championship with Lanan Racing, followed by a win in the MRF Challenge in Bahrain.

According to the excitable Moore, “After a successful 2014, I’m so pleased to be joining such a well-established and growing team. I’m looking forward to the challenge and testing my skills against some top class drivers.”
Since their creation eight years ago, KCMG have carved out a road in numerous categories, including the LMP2 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Moore added, “With KCMG, we’ve mapped out a clear development path with opportunities in WEC alongside my Japanese F3 commitments. I can’t wait to get my F3 testing underway.”

Meanwhile KCMG will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season, where their sole driver, Shohei Yuzawa, ran scoreless for the duration.
The 2015 All-Japan F3 Series kicks off in April at Suzuka.

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