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“Thoughts on McLaren, Alonso and a teammate”

Ever since Red Bull dropped the bombshell that Sebastian Vettel was departing Red Bull Racing, rumblings of Fernando Alonso’s return to McLaren have only strengthened.

However should the Spaniard confirm a move back to Woking, then team boss Ron Dennis will have little choice but to cut either Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen loose.

In one sense, it is a wonderful problem to have. In one corner, your team already possesses two star drivers: one of whom is a respected former world champion, known for methodical approach and calm nature that all too often sits within a narrow performance bridge, while the other an attacking young gun keen to make his mark on the sport.

Across the way lies Fernando Alonso – possibly one of the finest driver’s in the sport as a whole at the moment, if not the finest – and he’s knocking on your door, digging for a drive.

Should the double world champion sign up for a McLaren seat in 2015 – backed by Honda, returning as power unit supplier, then the famed team will have an extremely tricky decision to make.
Alas, running a third car may not be as much of an option as some might be led to believe…

If one were to merely look at the statistics, then the choice between Button and Magnussen would clearly favour the elder Briton. Indeed Jenson’s score of 94 points to Magnussen’s 49 certain offer Button an upper hand; however contradictions quickly emerge.
While points and statistics are useful barometers to have to hand, they rarely expose the complex layers that exist within a Formula One team. If anything, the team may be far more tuned into future potential rather than past glories or the present state and it is here where Button may lose out.

As is well known, Alonso and McLaren have history and any relationship in 2015 may be born through gritted teeth rather than open arms, but having the Spaniard on their books would ensure McLaren possessed one of the most methodical drivers on the grid.
Button, too, is well known for a good feel of a car in the right conditions, but in a difficult car that all too often sits outside of his comfort zone, the Briton’s performance slips away silently. Both would use their vast experience to the best of their abilities, yet one can see Alonso stretching that elastic somewhat further than his British counterpart.

Meanwhile, Magnussen may be short on experience, but he makes up for it in drive and aggression. On occasion this has led to penalties that have reduced Magnussen’s points tally, but the Dane is not making a habit of crashing and that is a good indicator of the driver.
At only 22-years-old, Magnussen should have many years ahead of him in Formula One, but it may require McLaren to knuckle down and to focus Magnussen’s inherent speed with proper guidance. Sidelining Magnussen will only serve to harm the young man’s career.

There lies another pointer though. Where one may look to their experience as a positive marker, it could also be pointed out that both Alonso and Button are close to the end of their careers and it is less than likely that Honda would wish to be in a situation where McLaren will face a wholesale driver change in the very near future.
While there may only be eighteen months between them, Alonso still looks by far the more energetic of the pairing; however his tireless at Ferrari in recent seasons has, on occasion, made Alonso appear strained. It does raise some questions just how long the Oviedo man can keep up this heightened level of performance.

Alas, both McLaren and Honda will be looking long term and they will want a capable young driver to lead the charge once both Button and Alonso have left the stable and Magnussen may be that man.
Sadly though, to make this work for McLaren, it may also mean the end of the road for Jenson Button in three Grand Prix time.

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“Roberto Merhi: A Racer Reborn”

Merhi was a FR3.5 race winner in 2014. © Renault Sport Media.

Merhi was a FR3.5 race winner in 2014. © Renault Sport Media.

Formula Renault 3.5 title challenger Roberto Merhi has revealed that he was close to retiring from racing altogether this year.

Following a dismal period with Mercedes in the DTM from 2012-13, the Spaniard made the bold move to return to single-seaters at the beginning of this year, joining the Zeta Corse squad in FR3.5.

However before things came good for Merhi, the former Formula 3 Euro Series champion had to suffer a tricky start and end to the season. “At the start, I was wanting to retire, because we were having problems and I thought ‘what is the point? Do I retire?’” He continues: “Then the team said ‘continue with us, try to get good results’ and I continued and got good results.”

With four races remaining, Merhi had closed the gap to eventual champions Carlos Sainz Jr to just 16 points with 100 still available.
However with the nimble the Zeta Corse machine proving a surprise package around the tighter, slower circuits, the Spaniard inevitably lost out when the set-up direction proved unco-operative on the final two quick circuits on the calendar, with Merhi eventually dropping to 3rd in the standings behind Pierre Gasly.

While disappointed with his final placing, Merhi feels a point has been made. “I [got] used to the formula car once again and I am pretty OK. My team also [did] a good job and when I ask for combinations or changes, they can do it and every time we change something, we think ‘well, this is working.’”
Despite finding himself in a championship fight, Merhi and the Zeta Corse team found comfort in a steep learning curve that leant closer to big changes in set-up, rather than incremental alterations. “Most of the time, things are working because we are going in the right direction and we quite like doing that, because it is not easy when you find something that needs work immediately. Normally it takes a while, like it does in other categories.”

Alongside his FR3.5 efforts, Merhi tested for the Caterham Formula One team in three Free Practice sessions, beginning at the Italian Grand Prix weekend in September. Merhi admits it was an opportunity he could not turn down. “After the [Hungarian Grand Prix], Caterham called me and said there was a chance to come and visit us and drive the simulator to see how I could go and they wanted to give me an opportunity to test the car in Monza.”

The Caterham team were recently placed into administration, effectively ending any immediate opportunities for further F1 tests; however the Spaniard was happy with his performances and the impression he made. “I am quite happy about the test, because I was quite competitive […] in the Formula One car and quite happy about the result.”
Asked whether any other opportunities are on the horizon, the Spaniard conceded that at the moment, “I don’t know.”

The Spaniard also tested three times with Caterham F1. © Caterham F1 Team.

The Spaniard also tested three times with Caterham F1. © Caterham F1 Team.

“Thoughts on Auto GP and numbers”

Auto GP has suffered from poor grids in 2014. © Auto GP Organisation.

Auto GP has suffered from poor grids in 2014. © Auto GP Organisation.

Last weekend’s Auto GP World Series finale at Estoril marked a disappointing end to the 2014 season for the beleaguered single-seater category.

At this time of transition where we are seeing some championships flourish and others fail, Auto GP is beginning to slide deeper into the latter category.

The inability to stay on the full season WTCC support programme after 2012; the introduction of the new car and its associated costs; a small and undersold media package and a less than superb reputation have all caused numbers to drop somewhat in recent seasons.

The rounds at Monza and Imola enjoyed the largest grids, but even they only attracted thirteen entries apiece, while only ten visited Estoril. The money demanded for drives did drop in some cases this season, but only because teams were struggling to sell drives to bring some money into play.
The series has the smell of death that followed the Euroseries Formula 3000 category in 2009, which Auto GP would eventually take over.

In the wider world of motorsport, there is not a huge amount of sympathy for Auto GP. While the cars are very good machines, the series is generally viewed as one that merely subtracts from existing championships, rather than one that can build foundations for careers.
The prize money on offer is a nice touch – and one which go a long way to help drivers up the ladder – but it does little to realistically push a driver into the wider consciousness.

When a driver wins a title, the first question that should be asked is “Who did they beat?” Although Kimiya Sato thoroughly deserves congratulations for winning the Auto GP title, it is not a crown that will be looked upon as a game changer in his career.

Kimiya Sato took the title one round early. © Auto GP Organisation.

Kimiya Sato took the title one round early. © Auto GP Organisation.

“Berger Steps Aside from FIA”

Berger spent three seasons as FIA Single-Seater Commission President. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Berger spent three seasons as FIA Single-Seater Commission President. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Former McLaren and Ferrari Formula One driver Gerhard Berger will step down from his position as President of the FIA Single-Seater Commission at the end of the year.

The Austrian took the position toward the end of 2011, but it was believed that the placement was only to last one year.

Berger, whose primary industry is Berger Logistik – a road haulage company – has also previously acted as Competitions Director at BMW, prior to purchasing the Toro Rosso Formula One team alongside Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz.

In his FIA role, Berger proved a controversial figure that appeared unafraid to ruffle feathers when they needed to be ruffled.
For all the criticisms leveled at the 55-year-old, the ladder to Formula One was a shocking mess prior to his appointment and while is still remains somewhat convoluted, the reawakening of the European F3 Championship has thus far proved a success.
Although it is far too early to declare whether the national Formula 4 categories will be as successful, there have been plenty of positive noises emerging from the various ASN’s and teams.

Berger’s tenure was not without issue however. Despite late attempts from the British Formula 3 Teams’ Association and SRO boss Stéphane Ratel to come to a deal with the board of the ATS Formula 3, the British F3 Series was lost this month and it looks likely that German F3 will go the same way.
Meanwhile championships of questionable value – such as the likes of Auto GP and Euroformula Open – continue to struggle along in an environment dominated by heightened costs and lowering relevance, while a seemingly endless supply of 1.6 and 2.0 litre Formula Renault categories pepper the continent.

There is little doubt that Berger’s approach and attitude rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, but sometimes such a figure is needed to bring shape to what can be a chaotic industry.

FIA President Jean Todt visited with FIA Single-Seater Commission President Gerhard Berger. © FIA F3 Media Services.

FIA President Jean Todt visited with FIA Single-Seater Commission President Gerhard Berger. © FIA F3 Media Services.

“The Simple Things”

© Leigh O’Gorman

© Leigh O’Gorman

Occasionally in life, the quiet moments ring through the most special. When one spends so much flirting between an office in London and gravel filled stadiums of speed, find silence can be difficult.

But this was nice.

Pinned for an extra few hours to the town Hockenheim on Sunday evening due to a nationwide train strike across Germany would normally break my patience.

Yet while wandering the town, where most places had shut up for the evening – or in some cases had not opened that day – I came across a little ice cream shop offering relief.
A sweet portion of vanilla and nut flavour dessert followed by a coffee was enough to slow my temperament and head for the evening and cool my nerves.

Small towns breathe and exist in a way that cities never could; the slower nature becoming an easy remedy for the frantic noise that spill from cities. Sitting and looking out the window as life passes by can be dangerous in some situations, but also a wonderful cure in others.

“In Victory and Defeat”

Tom Blomqvist (left) with Carlin stablemate Jake Dennis. © FIA F3 Media Service.

Tom Blomqvist (left) with Carlin stablemate Jake Dennis. © FIA F3 Media Service.

Tom Blomqvist was the big winner of a subdued final weekend of the 2014 FIA European F3 Championship.

The 20-year-old ended his stint in the European Championship by securing 2nd in the title race ahead of future star Max Verstappen.

While the 17-year-old Max struck with a win in Race One, the Dutch teen’s efforts were hampered in Friday evening’s second qualifying session, dropping him to the lower reaches of the top ten for the final two races.

Blomqvist on the other hand took two poles and with a win in the second race, the job was almost done. There was still the matter of the finale and while Blomqvist fell behind Lucas Auer and Jordan King, Verstappen was nowhere near close enough to apply pressure.

But…

It never felt like it mattered. Already crowned as champion, Esteban Ocon and his Prema Powerteam compatriots rarely featured, while Verstappen’s assured future in Formula One means his final position in the standings is irrelevant.

Blomqvist may have won the battle against Verstappen, but the “Son of Stig” has no set plans for 2015 and precious little money with which to bargain with, Blomqvist may find himself on the outside looking in, despite his successes.

“FIA F3: Auer closes season with victory at Hockenheim”

Lucas Auer won in Hockenheim. © FIA F3 Media Service.

Lucas Auer won in Hockenheim. © FIA F3 Media Service.

Lucas Auer claimed his third FIA European Formula 3 victory of the season at the Hockenheimring this morning.

The Austrian took the lead on the opening lap after a wheel-to-wheel battle with Tom Blomqvist that lasted from turn one through to the Mercedes corner three-quarters of a lap later.

The race was briefly halted by a safety car period when an overambitious Tatiana Calderon collided with Felix Serralles and Jules Szymkowiak at the hairpin on lap one.

From the lap four restart, Auer pulled a 1.3s gap over Blomqvist and never looked threatened thereafter.
By the halfway mark, the Mücke man had now drawn a two second advantage over Blomqvist; however with the 2nd place man coming under increasing pressure from Jordan King, Auer relaxed into a solid pace, bringing his Mercedes-powered machine home to a welcome victory, ending what has been a frustrating season.

It proved a satisfying victory for Auer who once again suffered minor gearbox issues during the race, causing him to occasionally lose time in the middle sector of the lap.

King eventually took 2nd place from Blomqvist three laps from the end when the Briton spotted a gap inside his Anglo-Kiwi teammate at the hairpin. Caught slightly unawares, Blomqvist failed to close the door, until King has forced his way down the inside, pushing Blomqvist down a position as a result.
King had also driven a brilliant opening lap. Starting 5th, the Englishman pipped Antonio Giovinazzi into turn two, before making a decisive move on Felix Rosenqvist into Mercedes, just prior to the launch of the safety car.

Although Blomqvist was disappointed to have lost the place to King, the Jagonya Ayam Carlin man had still done enough to solidify 2nd in the championship ahead of Max Verstappen.

Rosenqvist enjoyed a tough battle with Giovinazzi to claim 4th place for Mücke. The Swede held his Italian rival at bay for much of the race, with Giovinazzi spending large portions of the contest close to Rosenqvist’s rear wing, but was rarely close enough to force a change of position.
Giovinazzi did a have a go on lap 13, but on the one occasion that he needed to defend hard, Rosenqvist managed Giovinazzi to keep the Jagonya Ayam Carlin man behind.

Verstappen, meanwhile, had another relatively quiet race in his van Amersfoort machine. From 7th on the grid, Verstappen took Esteban Ocon off the line, only for the Frenchman to retake Verstappen when the latter ran wide at the final corner come the restart after the safety car.
Verstappen did look somewhat racey for a time – in his chase, the van Amersfoort man dived down the inside of Ocon at the hairpin on lap seven, as he tyre smoked his way into the corner; however Ocon immediately overlapped Verstappen, as the 17-year-old slid well wide.
Thereafter Verstappen trailed the Rosenqvist / Giovinazzi / Ocon trio, but the Dutch teen passed Ocon again spectacularly at the entrance to Mercedes, when he sneaked down the inside of Ocon, briefly locking wheels with his target before passing.

Ocon followed Verstappen hope, but this weekend the series champion and Prema Powerteam man rarely threatened the front and in this instance did nt look like breaking back into the top six.
In the distance Sean Gelael finished 8th in his Jagonya Ayam Carlin entry, several seconds clear of Carlin stablemate Ed Jones (9th).

Dennis van de Laar rounded out the points when he passed Jake Dennis on the final lap. Dennis had until then driven brilliantly to climb from last to 10th by the seventh tour, only to lose it when a mistake in sector one dropped him behind van de Laar.

Beyond that, the race was run one lap shorter than scheduled when Gustavo Menezes’ smoking van Amersfoort machine caused the first start to be aborted. The American would then get a drive through penalty when he retook his position on the grid, when he was supposed to start from the pitlane.
There was the usual fun and games at the back when Alexander Toril was hit by Roy Nissany on lap 15, before Nissany had a separate off of his own moments later.

Auer's victory ends a frustrating year for Mücke in F3. © FIA F3 Media Service.

Auer’s victory ends a frustrating year for Mücke in F3. © FIA F3 Media Service.

“FIA F3: Blomqvist takes victory in shortened race”

Blomqvist led Giovinazzi in a Jagonya Ayam Carlin 1-2 finish. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Blomqvist led Giovinazzi in a Jagonya Ayam Carlin 1-2 finish. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Jagonya Ayam with Carlin driver Tom Blomqvist took his sixth victory of the FIA European F3 season in a slightly shortened race at the Hockenheimring today.

The 20-year-old led every lap of the race at the German circuit, followed by teammate Antonio Giovinazzi and Lucas Auer.

The race was red flagged on the final lap when Antonio Fuoco clattered Jake Dennis from behind in the Mercedes corner in what can be best described an ambitious move by the Italian teenager.

Blomqvist made the win look easy. While the Carlin man escaped from the grid, Auer edged Giovinazzi for 2nd into turn one; however having taken one Carlin driver, the Austrian had no answer for Blomqvist’s pace.

After five laps, Blomqvist had already built a lead of just under two seconds; however a brief safety car to clear debris from Michele Beretta’s damaged EuroInternational car neutralised preceding’s for a time.

Once restarted, Blomqvist simply pulled away again and had built a gap of four seconds when the race was halted. On countback, Blomqvist held a 3.9s gap to Giovinazzi, with Auer 1.38s further in arrears.
As Blomqvist’s rival for 2nd in the championship, Max Verstappen, could do no better than 5th place in the race, Blomqvist enters into tomorrow’s finale with a two-point advantage.

Giovinazzi’s runner-up finish solidified 6th in the championship standings for the Italian. The 20-year-old had settled into 3rd place when Auer’s Mücke machine locked into third gear on the approach into the hairpin four laps from the end.
The resultant lock sent Auer into the tarmac run off area and while he escaped, he could do nothing to stop Giovinazzi reclaiming 2nd place. The issue topped off another frustrating day for Auer, who had suffered a similar transmission problem on several occasions during the weekend.

Series champion Esteban Ocon came home 4th following a reasonably quiet race for Prema Powerteam. The French teenager took Felix Rosenqvist for 5th at the start and then passed Jordan King on the third lap, but could progress no further than that.

Unusually, Max Verstappen drove a mostly subdued race to 5th. Having started 9th, the Dutch teen grabbed two places off the line, only to be brilliantly repassed by Tatiana Calderon in the Mercedes section on the 2nd tour.
It was not for long though. Within two laps, Verstappen had taken Calderon again, before passing King, who had suffered a damaged front wing while battling with Ocon just prior to the safety car. Thereafter, Verstappen settled into something of a lonely 5th place, where he neither threatened nor was threatened.

Rosenqvist finished 6th having also passed Calderon on lap four. The Swede briefly challenged Verstappen for the top five following the safety car routine, but never truly looked like making a move.
Roy Nissany drove a solid race to take 7th. The Israelite made several places at the start and passed Calderon on lap five, while Calderon stayed close to the Mücke man to assume 8th.
Gustavo Menezes ended the day in 9th, ahead of Dennis van de Laar who rose to 10th place to score the final point.

Spike Goddard drove an ‘interesting’ race. The Australian used the rear of Beretta’s car as a break in the Stadium section on lap four, which eventually brought out the safety car and on lap eleven, he suffered a lazy spin in the stadium ensuring a finish near the back.
Sean Gelael rammed the rear of Fuoco on the opening lap, pitching the latter in a spin. The Italian had risen to 13th – which included a fabulous brief tussle with Santino Ferrucci – when he collided clumsily with Dennis. Ed Jones, meanwhile, received a penalty for a jump-start, while Stefano Coletti picked up a drive through penalty for repeatedly breaching track limits. The Monegasque racer pulled into the pits simply to retire.

“FIA F3: Verstappen takes first blood at Hockenheim”

Verstappen took his 10th FIA F3 win at Hockenheim. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Verstappen took his 10th FIA F3 win at Hockenheim. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Max Verstappen won the opening FIA European Formula 3 race of the season’s final round at Hockenheim.

In what amounted to a stale race, dominated from the front by the Dutch racer, Verstappen made it look easy at a circuit where overtaking can often be difficult.

Verstappen led from the line, with a sluggish Lucas Auer (Mücke Motorsport) in tow, while Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) slotted into 3rd place.

Auer did press Verstappen hard initially, only for the van Amersfoort man to extend his lead significantly following the opening half-dozen tours. Thereafter, Verstappen was rarely under any kind of threat as he drew further away from Auer to win by 3.78s after 22 laps.

Behind Verstappen, Auer too drove a safe race to the runner-up spot. Although the Austrian spent a touch too long in a low gear at the start, Auer had enough of an advantage to keep Blomqvist behind through the opening bends, before building a sizeable gap to the Jagonya Ayam Carlin man.

Blomqvist filled out the podium places, although he was not always alone, as he led teammate Antonio Giovinazzi and Mücke’s Felix Rosenqvist home.
Indeed Rosenqvist did battle with Giovinazzi for a portion of the race, only for him to drop back slightly, as he managed intentions of 6th place Jordan King (Carlin).

King took the top six place after he passed Prema Powerteam’s Esteban Ocon on the ninth lap, with a decisive divebomb down the inside of the hairpin. It has been a subdued weekend for the entire Prema Powerteam squad, who appear to running on empty this weekend – their other charges Antonio Fuoco and Dennis van de Laar could do no better than 14th and 17th respectively.

Gustavo Menezes brought home four valuable points for his van Amersfoort team. The American finished 3.52s ahead of Felix Serralles (Team West-Tec), who wheelbanged his way past Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) on the lap ten.

Jake Dennis did what he could from last place (24th). A great start ensured the Briton was as high as 17th by the end of lap on, before he took Jules Szymkowiak and Nick Cassidy to finish 15th at the flag.

Michele Beretta spun himself into the barriers on lap eight, while Andy Chang and Stefano Coletti were retirements in the pits on laps 13 and 16.

“Numbers on a Screen”

© Leigh O'Gorman

© Leigh O’Gorman

I have always believed that there can be a point when one becomes so wealthy, their worth ceases to be money.

Rather than wealth that can be measured by context, the super rich merely possess numbers on a screen – albeit lots of zeroes…

When one is worth billions of Dollars, Euro, Pound Sterling or otherwise, is one’s money even real anymore?

If nothing else, the power to turn heads persists, as the Stroll family displayed in Imola last weekend. Present to celebrate Lance Stroll’s victory in the FIA Italian F4 Championship, the Stroll’s attended the season finalé, despite the teenage Lance’s inability to race due to a rib injury.

While that is no surprise, what was quite eye-opening was the size of Stroll’s private motorhome at the back of the paddock. Easily coming to approximately half the size of a current Formula One motorhome for its European season, the Stroll motorhome represented an excess that even had seasoned F3 people turning their heads.

At a rumoured cost of just over €4m, a few HGV’s delivered the unit, which took staff some three days to construct. Such is the enormity of the motorhome, it measure almost twice the size as many of the F3 trucks and awnings in the FIA F3 paddock. It really was quite an incredible sight for a driver who, let’s not forget, is only emerging from Formula 4.

Whether the Stroll’s will be able to cart the motorhome into the somewhat busier DTM paddocks next year when Lance is in F3 is unknown for now.
But it would be fun to see them try to bring that monster machine to Pau…

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