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“Coming Soon – World in Motorsport: Volume 2”

Some of TheMotorsportArchive.com’s more eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a couple of new buttons at the top of the site’s drop-down options, including “cart”, “checkout”, “my account” and “shop”.

These have been included to take into account the release of World in Motorsport: Volume 2, which is looking like going on sale next month.

Following on from 2018’s WRC Special Edition, World in Motorsport: Volume 2 looks at the complexities behind psychology in motorsport and whether it is still considered a secretive taboo in what is still a world full of machismo and testosterone.

Coming in at just under 100 pages, readers can pick up World in Motorsport: Volume 2 as a glossy and delicate hardcopy magazine for £8 (UK postage £1; ROW £1.50), while digital pdf copies will retail at £4.

In this examination, World in Motorsport speaks first with Haas Formula One driver Romain Grosjean about his efforts to improve his racecraft through mind management, while Dr Faye Didymus (Sport and Exercise Scientist (BASES accredited), Leeds Beckett University), Dr Victor Thompson (Clinical Sports Psychologist, BScPsy, DipSpPsy, PGDipCBT, DClinPsy, CEBHyp) and Greg McColl (DHP Acc. Hyp, M.H.S, CNHC, NLP Master Practitioner & Master Practitioner Coach, Mental Health First Aid – Armed Forces) discuss the concept of sports psychology and its changing perception in modern sport.

Also former Ferrari race winner Rubens Barrichello talks about life after Formula One and how he is embracing time with his sons, while Red Bull’s Alexander Albon reveals his secrets about race preparation.

Finally, Indycar driver Conor Daly tells World in Motorsport about the trials and tribulations of sponsorship and consistency in difficult economies, and a specialist panel of Yves Matton (FIA), Andrea Adamo (Hyundai), Rich Millener (M-Sport) and Colin Clark (DirtFish) contemplate a post-COVID-19 life for the World Rally Championship.

All this and some other neat little features in World in Motorsport: Volume 2, available exclusively from WorldinMotorsport.com and TheMotorsportArchive.com next month.


World in Motorsport: Volume 1 sample

“A Grand Portimão Cop-Out”

Of the drivers competing at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon all raced there in F3 in early September 2015.

Yet despite the nods to it in various record books and websites, none of the above group managed to race on the Grand Prix layout that weekend in what proved an embarrassing solution to a solvable problem.

Nothing quite raises eyebrows like a mid-week announcement following the first day of a Formula 3 test session, mainly because there generally shouldn’t be one at all.

Indeed, the idea of any news at all emerging from testing is a novel one. Those reports are primarily reserved for the unusual or severe or in the case of Formula One, the need to rummage 500 words together from the pit of nothing.

This was slightly different. In 2015, a round of the European F3 Championship had to rescheduled and a new date was offered to the Algarve Circuit in Portimão.

A wonderful flowing track on the southern tip of Portugal, Portimão is something of a modern wonder – a 21st Century circuit layout that is interesting, challenging and often delivers some wonderful action.

As the track was a late addition to the calendar, the field was gifted an extra two test days in the week leading up to the event to enable drivers to gain further mileage prior to the beginning of the meeting.

However, the circuit provided a challenge that the assembled drivers failed to meet – the field could not keep to the track limits, particularly in the short chute that extends between the double right-handers from the exit of turn one at Primeira and the nameless turn two.

By not even coming close to properly using or respecting the track, the drivers achieved some extra speed into the flick that is turn three (Lagos).

So, rather than drive home the serious nature of managing track limits, the Clerk of the Course decided to utilise an alternative layout for just F3 that weekend. Instead of longer run into turn one, the first turn was introduced a couple of hundred metres earlier, leading to a double chicane in the form of a quick right-left-right, before drivers came to turn three.

Alas, the pro-am GT field from the (then) Blancpain Sprint Series managed the original layout perfectly well, so they decided to keep using it. However, that required the first corner to be altered between every session, as corner boards were moved and later moved back, plastic bollards were placed to remind the F3 competitors of an upcoming corner, before marshals settled at their new post {note 1}.

One wonders if it made any difference in the end. Following the 2nd race of the weekend, Prema Powerteam’s Jake Dennis informed me that following the layout change, track limits were then not going to be monitored on the exit of the new T1/2/3 Primeira chicane, thereby rendering the process an utterly pointless exercise.

The allowance offered some of the same additional pace that the original track cutting allowed, giving drivers an easier exit from Lagos toward the Torre Vip hairpin, before the switchback on the curved back straight.

Apart from the fact that F3 was/is a learning category, the changing of the layout to accommodate the competitors was an absolute cop-out and the only low during an eventful weekend. This was a solvable problem, but changing the layout to accommodate troubled young drivers set a very poor precedent.

{note 1}

It reached a special ridiculousness during the final race of the weekend when, following a botched overtaking move on Alessio Lorandi, Sam MacLeod decided upon an adventurous detour.

Going side-by-side into the new turn one, MacLeod – on the outside of corner entry – banged wheels with MacLeod, then decided to take the original turn one, but got that wrong and ran into several plastic bollards, dislodging a front wing suspension column in the process. Despite this, MacLeod kept his foot down through the original layout, overtook Lorandi on the now-disused section of circuit and decided to keep the position.

The moment prompted some criticism from me while on commentary duties, noting that MacLeod had got the corner utterly wrong, but had not even attempted to correct the error. It was a criticism that got me benched from commentating for the next race.

“Motorsport Diaries, Ep 14 – Super Formula notes from Sportland SUGO”

My thoughts and notes on the 3rd round of the 2020 Super Formula season from SUGO. Also some spiel about returning and departing drivers ahead of next month’s 4th round at Autopolis.

“The First Time”

Just over twenty years ago, I attended my first Grand Prix as a fan with my Dad and some family friends. Although a long-time home viewer, to actually go to a Grand Prix was, until then, a luxury beyond me.

A rare precious trip and at the age of 18 and a first break abroad, the sheer size of the event grabbed my attention with both hands.

The first thing I discovered about flying abroad is that Ryanair’s flights to Brussels do not quite go to Brussels – they fly to Charleroi, some 60km south of the Belgian capital.

In the same way, one who flies to London does not necessarily have Luton in mind, Charleroi is not Brussels. The distance is not significant by any stretch, but it does still dampen the immediate feelings upon arrival.

Thinking back, Charleroi Airport in those days – I have not returned deliberately – shared much of the charm held by Frankfurt Hahn Airport, in that neither destination has any.

There is tarmac, there is grass, there is a shabby arrival’s building and a border control guard on their lunchbreak sucking the life out of a cigarette, which is in turn sucking the life out of them.

As can be expected with Ryanair, divine luxury was not an option on an airline whose planes contain seats manufactured with recycled spinal trauma and whose headrests enjoy the supple, soft feel of broken milk bottles. In later years as a travelling journalist, it became customary to spend a little bit more cash on different airlines, if only to preserve one’s bodily integrity. One hopes soon to one be in a position where travelling to races is an option once again, but alas…

Following a pleasant drive from Charleroi Airport heading east toward deep sectors of trees and hills, the clouds above began to pull together, drawing heavy pockets of rain in their wake.

As the pockets emptied, a distinct lack of forethought made itself known given the absence of a packed coat – the Irish person’s inability to properly prepare for rain – despite or because of our wealth of experience of the stuff – can surely only be based on the guts of unfounded optimism.

We were Irish and hardy boys though – nowadays still the former, less the latter. The 2000 European Grand Prix, hosted then at the Nürburgring, was a mostly wet affair and seeking some protection, I speedily made my way to the first stall available and planted 20DM on the counter.

There was no need for translation – the rain had long since rippled through my hair and was staining my clothes, while the cold turned my rounded dimples into sharpened wrinkles. For the right price, the trader pulled out a light rain jacket from the rear of his stall.

At the time, the Schumacher and Ferrari train was gathering pace and within five months, the German maestro would have claimed the first of five titles with the Scuderia. For now, he was “merely” a multiple race winner, albeit one looking more and more likely to break the Mika Hakkinen/McLaren machine.

Such was Schumacher’s growing popularity with race-going fans, the cheap red Ferrari jackets had already been cleared from their hangers, but at this point, I was caring less and less about the colours of the thread.

With a whisp, the market man produced a yellow rain jacket and gladly took my money. Initially thinking that it might be Jordan Grand Prix, the packaging was ripped off and binned to reveal a bright luminous yellow Ferrari jacket. The zip of the jacket broke soon after, but other than that, it did the job.

Positioned at the exit of the hairpin, our seats were in an uncovered stand – always brutal at the Nürburgring – and as we made our way to our positions from the top of the stand, we passed a number of delicately groomed moustaches and windswept bleached mullets, all of which had survived the Cold War.

It took another moment to realise that the hairpin stand was red. Deeply red. And I was wearing luminous yellow. So bright was my jacket that if I wanted, I could probably be found in the dark. If I were to re-watch the race now, it would not be a surprise if my yellow frame could be found on screen.

With each pace upon the greyed dirty concrete steps, many red heads turned to gaze, and many mouths bluntly grunted stunted words. To each head, I busily flashed the Ferrari insignia on the breast of the jacket, and the grunt turned to nods of approval complete with hat tips of alcohol. This continued for three days.

As the competition turned, David Coulthard claimed pole position, but was taken by Hakkinen off the line. When a dry start turned to a downpour early on, Schumacher took charge in the inclement conditions to pass Hakkinen and go on to claim a very popular victory.

Despite the conditions, there was something oddly processional about the event. Punctured by a delicate charm, wet races can be exciting and entertaining events, particularly if ever changing conditions present themselves, but from the point the rain arrived on Sunday, the positions settled as competitors fought hard just to get to the chequered flag.

Throughout the weekend, we stayed in a village called Bitburg, situated about an hour’s drive from the circuit – even on race day. It was pretty close to nowhere, but it did have a tiny train station at a junction called Bitburg-Erdorf and while there was not much in the way of restaurants or other eateries in Bitburg, one could easily catch the hourly train to Trier.

Alas, Bitburg did have several small, comfortable bars, owned and run by men who wore only blue and/or red chequered shirts with faded jeans and exclusively served the beer Bitburger. To get food required a train; to get beer required a short walk.

“F1: The More You Do, The More You Understand, The More You See – Grosjean”

Throughout his career, Romain Grosjean has proved an enigmatic racer, whose profile has been dominated incidents intertwined with undoubted speed.

Recently World in Motorsport spoke to the Haas driver about the moments that have defined his career and how mind management has allowed him to keep his feet on the ground.

It has not been the easiest of season’s for Romain Grosjean. At the time of talking – just prior to the Russian Grand Prix – the Haas racer had yet to score a point – a statistic finally rectified at this weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix.

And yet, Grosjean is phlegmatic about his situation. Initially he appears at ease with himself and yet, one can identify a level of frustration simmers below the surface.

It is a frustration that has on occasion boiled over on team radio during race weekends, but over the course of the past eight years, Grosjean has worked hard to counter these frustrations, with the help of sport psychologists.

However, unlike many in motor racing’s top tier, the Frenchman is open to discussing the topic of sports psychology, seeing it not as a weakness, but as a method of self-improvement – from both a personal and sporting aspect. “So many examples out there and you see it from outside where some need help and there are some who are having help, but they don’t talk about it. It’s still a bit of a taboo, but for some people, they don’t want to talk about it, but if I have a fitness coach to get stronger, why wouldn’t I have a psychologist to get my head better? To me, it’s a simple as that.

“I think it helps you to become a better person. In life, we go through challenges and having kids is one of the most incredible experiences on Earth, but also one of the most challenging. Seeing a psychologist when I had my first, my second and my third kids always helped me as a man and also, in a way, as a sportsman.”

Given the full-on nature of Formula One, Grosjean admits that sometimes it can be difficult to separate his personal and professional lives and says that working with a psychologist has given him the focus and ability to find balance. “If things are going wrong at home when you come to a racetrack, it is very difficult to completely separate that. You need to make sure that one of the two lives, if you want, goes well.

“It’s not easy, but as I say, the more you do, the more you understand, the more you see the situation, the more you can position yourself, the more easy it is to reflect on a session. When you say, ‘Look guys, I haven’t done a good job – don’t worry about the car, it’s going to be fine, it’s just me, I didn’t drive well, because of this and that.’”

In the background, rumours regarding Grosjean’s future with the American team continue to swirl; rumours which have only accelerated as the discontent between the two parties has turned public. “For the third race in a row, [Grosjean was asked in a press conference] ‘What’s your future like?’ There aren’t many places left in Formula One and Haas wants to take their time… It’s always repetitive pressure and if you do Formula One, that’s your life.

“It puts you into a frustrating place and then you know you’re frustrated, so you just act a little bit differently and I understand what’s causes your brain to work and how to be in the right place.”

As with all sport the world over, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with Formula One’s schedules and has also necessitated racing in front of bare or even empty grandstands. Stating that without the fans, the atmosphere at races has been very different, the 34-year-old acknowledges that “something is missing,” particularly given the normally charged events that Grand Prix are.

Despite this, Grosjean is finding some calm amidst the surrounding storms, aided by an emptier Grand Prix paddock. “It’s different. There’s less media, less marketing to be done, less sponsors, so there’s more [time],” Grosjean says. “You get to the track, you do the engineers meeting, you do the driving, you debrief, you get some time to yourself to think about what you can do in the next sessions, rather than being thrown around, going to the Paddock Club with those guys, go to an autograph session, go see the media, come say ‘Hi’ to the guests and next thing you know, you’re off, you need to go driving now.

“In that aspect for drivers, I think it’s been quite positive that we actually have a little bit more time for ourselves.”

Having made his Formula One debut in 2009, when he replaced the fired Nelson Piquet Jr at Renault, Grosjean quickly found himself back on the sidelines, with his stint lasting only seven races. Come season end, the Frenchman was cast adrift, but understands now he was missing the maturity and help necessary to fully grasp what was developing around him. “I wish I would know in 2009 everything I know now,” he recalls. “I wasn’t ready to come to Formula One in 2009 and I was missing key people around me, which is really very important for young drivers to step in and have people that can help them.”

Thereafter, Grosjean competed in the FIA GT1 World Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours with Matech competition, while simultaneously winning the Auto GP Series – despite only taking part in two-thirds of the races. In 2011, he won both the GP2 Series and GP2 Asia Series, before returning to Formula One a year later with Lotus.

Despite it being a controversial year for Grosjean, filled with accidents and incidents – one of which earned him a race ban for the that year’s Italian Grand Prix, Grosjean still looks upon the season with some positivity. “Since 2012 – everyone talks about those incidents, but [apart from that], it was a pretty good season. There aren’t many rookies that have come and scored podiums, p2 finishes, led Grands Prix, had a fastest lap in their first year.”

With it looking likely that both he and Magnussen may be replaced at Haas for 2021 – possibly with younger talent from the junior formulae – Grosjean has a message for those looking to jump into Formula One before they are truly ready. “I wish I had matured earlier. Even though you think you have won Formula 2… no, no, no, no, no, no… you’re not ready,” he ponders.

“It’s a big switch that you need to be ready to accept and probably I wasn’t so… let’s forget the first experience in Formula One,” states Grosjean firmly.

“I don’t think you know what’s coming.”

For the full version of this discussion with Romain Grosjean, as well as conversations with Rubens Barrichello, Conor Daly and WRC’s Richard Millener, Yves Matton, Andrea Adamo and Colin Clark, check back for the next issue of World in Motorsport – coming soon.

“Motorsport Diaries, Ep 12 – Super Formula at Okayama”

With the 2nd round of the 2020 Super Formula Championship from Okayama completed, I recorded some thoughts about events surrounding the race.

Also, I looked over the rule changes introduced at this round, included mandated tyre stops and also took a moment to consider the future of Red Bull junior driver Juri Vips.

 

“Ready. Steady…”

The set-up is not the most technical, but does still require some consideration of precision.

There are a number of elements of course – a reasonably speedy laptop helps, as does a good quality sound card with microphone and headset, while a clip-on webcam completes the connection.
All of this is, of course, relatively straightforward.

Tying it all together is this mobile lighting system, which – on the surface – puzzles me somewhat.

Switched on upon its stand, dials are adjusted, configured and reconfigured until someone on the other end of a Skype line gives me the thumbs up.
Remote coverage of live motor racing is far from ideal, but these are not ideal times, by any stretch.

Whether it actually looks good or not is, frankly, beyond me. Thereafter, it’s just the words from my head pouring out of my mouth, puncturing the images on screen.

And on this given Sunday, there were many words.
Many words.

 

© Leigh O'Gorman

“Super Formula: Tsukakoshi to replaces Calderón for Okayama”

Super Formula veteran Koudai Tsukakoshi is to replace Tatiana Calderón at Drago Racing for this weekend’s Super Formula round at Okayama.

With only four days until drivers are required to sign-on at Okayama, Calderón will not have time to sufficiently quarantine in order to take part in the event, allowing Tsukakoshi to claim his 82nd start in the series.

In a successful run at Le Mans for her inaugural 24-Hour Race, Calderón secured 9th in the LMP2 class (13th overall) in the Gibson-powered Richard Mille Racing entry, alongside Sophia Flörsch and Beitske Visser.

Calderón made her Super Formula debut at Motegi last month and enjoyed a respectable race, finishing 12th after keeping double-champion Naoki Yamamoto at bay in the final laps. It is expected that Calderón will return for the 3rd round at Sportland SUGO in mid-October.

“Super Formula: Race changes ahead for Okayama”

Tsukakoshi, meanwhile, is a race winner in Super Formula, having taken victory at Autopolis in 2012 on his way to finishing runner-up in the standings to Kazuki Nakajima; however, the 33-year-old has spent much of his time in the series collecting points semi-regularly in the lower end of the top ten.

Alongside teammate Bertrand Baguette, Tsukakoshi currently leads the Super GT Series, having taken two wins from the first four races.

“Super Formula: Race changes ahead for Okayama”

Following a tepid season opener at Motegi just over two weeks ago, it has been revealed that Super Formula are altering the race format for round 2 at Okayama.

Like the Motegi round, the Okayama event will enjoy two practice sessions through Saturday (Sept 26th), with qualifying and the race both continuing on Sunday (Sept 27th).

However, the race length has been extended from 168km to just under 189km (a maximum run time of 75 minutes in a two-hour window), with the race taking in 51 laps and falling some 60km short of a full-length Super Formula race.

Refuelling is still banned for the time being; however, the additional 20km could make life interesting for the drivers should they push hard.

Tyres could also be an issue. The opening round saw a mixture of two strategies, despite the shortened race distance. With all competitors now using the soft-compound Yokohama tyres by regulation, much of the field utilised a softly-softly approach to tyre usage at Motegi, punctuated by occasional quick stints.

It was a strategy that worked well for those at the front of the pack, but those in the midfield were clearly struggling toward the end of the race, particularly given how they spent significant portions of the race in traffic scrubbing grip away.

This harmed Yuhi Sekiguchi most of all, as the 25-year-old wore his right front significantly while defending against Nirei Fukuzumi (et al), before spinning out due to a puncture picked up while defending his 5th place.

On the other hand, Ukyo Sasahara and Tatiana Calderon both pitted for fresh tyres while running outside of the points. On a non-stop strategy, neither would have scored points, but pitting for fresh rubber allowed Sasahara to get within one second of 10th, while Calderon drove a steady race to 12th, before holding the charging Naoki Yamamoto at bay in the later laps.

A slightly longer event could see more drivers opt for a mid-race tyre stop if the pace advantage is there, although they will also be mindful of losing between 20-23 seconds in the pitlane against those who non-stop.

Given that for a time Sasahara was easily running 2-3 seconds per lap quicker than those ahead of him following his stop at Motegi, then drivers may be more inclined to investigate the option at Okayama.

But… this race is being held on September 27th and as such, the temperature will be quite a bit lower at Okayama than it was at Motegi at the end of August, where track temperatures of over 46C and an air temperature of 40C made conditions tough for tyre life. Temperatures for Okayama are expected to be approximately 12-15C lower, potentially resulting in a far less aggressive tyre fall off.

Meanwhile, Sasahara will continue to sit in for Jüri Vips at Team Mugen, until the latter can join the series at a later date, while Mitsunori Takaboshi will make his Super Formula debut with B-Max by Mototpark in place of Sergio Sette Camara.

Super Formula regulars Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, Kenta Yamashita will be competing at Le Mans this weekend. The trio received special dispensation to only serve a 7-day quarantine prior to Motegi and the same looks to apply post-Le Mans.

B-Max by Motopark’s other full-time racer, Charles Milesi, will also be competing at Le Mans in the Graff LMP2 Oreca-Gibson; however he will not be in a position to travel to Japan following the great race.

“Some Super Licence Points Pointers”

A few weeks back, I received a query from a correspondent on Twitter, asking to clarify a few elements regarding the Super Licence Points system.

So, I did, I hope.

Formula One can be a forgetful business and it is incredibly rare that a driver returns to the top-level once they have departed.

Some go to race in other distant categories for good money, while others become pundits or commentators.

There are a few that maintain a presence in Formula One, as simulator/test drivers or reserve drivers (alongside other racing duties), although the use of reserve drivers is quite rare. As such, drivers have been known to let their Super Licences lapse, particularly given that they are only a requirement for Formula One Grand Prix weekends {note 1}.

In an e-mail correspondence with the FIA’s Safety Director, Adam Baker, it was confirmed that technically there is nothing in the regulations that would prevent a driver from renewing their Super Licence within every three-year period, in order to keep it live; however, it would be an expensive process.

For drivers competing in the 2020 Formula One World Championship, the basic fee for a Super Licence is $556,509 (USD) {note 2}, but those competing in other championships across the globe, such a cost would be an unnecessary and prohibitive expense

One point that often gets mixed up. It is often assumed that when a driver has amassed forty points, then they are automatically awarded a Super Licence; however, this is not the case, as it would be illogical and unnecessarily expensive for drivers who have no use for a Super Licence for the reasons noted above.

As an aside to this, when a driver has amassed the necessary number of points to obtain a Super Licence, then they can apply for the licence and hold it, even if they continue to race in junior formula thereafter.

For example, Mick Schumacher collected the necessary number of points to apply for a Super Licence at the end of 2018, when he won the European Formula 3 Championship.

Once a driver has that Super Licence but opts to stay in the junior ladder system, it does not matter what their achievements – or lack thereof – are come later contests. Once the licence is possessed, it is theirs to properly maintain.

Which – unfortunately for him – is where Esteban Gutierrez fell foul in August. During the run-up to the British Grand Prix, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff told Racefans.net that regulations and circumstance blocked Gutierrez from obtaining a Super Licence in order to replace Racing Point’s Sergio Perez following his COVID-19 diagnosis {note 3}.

Wolff reasoned that, “There is a new rule this year that if you haven’t raced in a Formula 1 car in an official event for the last three years you need to have done the test of at least 300 kilometres.”

Technically Wolff was correct, but also not. For a start, this is not a new rule, but rather one that was refined and re-introduced back in 2016, so it is disappointing that neither Mercedes nor Gutierrez himself picked up on it, especially given Gutierrez is the team’s reserve driver – but more on that at another time.

Gutierrez could have reactivated his Super Licence; however, it is unlikely that the application would have been approved in time for the first race at Silverstone.

In the case of a driver change in the Championship for reasons of force majeure, the FIA state that they may accept applications up to 48 hours before the start of initial scrutineering for the competition; however, Gutierrez’ Super Licence had expired on December 31st, 2016.

Baker confirmed too that for Gutierrez’ licence to be reinstated, Racing Point would have had to arrange a test whereby Gutierrez would have to complete 300km at racing speeds in a representative F1 car over a maximum period of two days.

Generally complete applications for Super Licences must be received by the FIA at least 14 days before scrutineering for the first World Championship event in which the driver is to compete.

A quiet note regarding the calculation of Super Licence points – when calculating totals, it is necessary to collate points as allocated during the year’s positions are achieved. For example, a champion in Formula Renault Eurocup in 2017 would collect just 10 points; whereas in 2020 a driver in the same position would collect 18.

On the other hand, the FIA International Formula 3 Championship offers far fewer Super Licence points in 2020, than the European Championship did in 2017. Indeed, from 2017 to 2018, the FIA dropped the award for winning the European Championship from 40 points down to 30, ensuring Schumacher needed to beat Dan Ticktum to the title in order to be in a position to secure his full Super Licence.

Looking at the points table in 2020 and surmising that the same points were on offer two years will merely lead to incorrect totals.

Finally, Baker also acknowledged that while there is no officially published list of drivers who possess live Super Licences, it is not considered a confidential subject either. There has just been no need to publish a list of those who currently possess live licences.

{note 1}
Formula One is not the only category that applies Super Licence points concept – Formula E does as well. Drivers wishing to obtain an e-Licence must have either an International Grade B licence {note 4}, have made at least three starts in races counting toward the Formula E Championship in the previous year (or had ten starts within three years) or have collected 20 Super Licence Points over the previous three seasons.

{note 2}
For drivers already competing in Formula One and therefore renewing their Super Licences, as well as the initial $556,509 (USD) outlay, they have additional costs of $5,563 (USD) per championship point gained in the previous season for their respective constructor. The only exception is for World Champion driver Lewis Hamilton, who had to fork out an additional $6,677 (USD) per Constructor’s Championship point.

This means that following an ultra-successful campaign last year, Hamilton is likely to have forked out in the region of $3.314 million (USD) in order to secure his Super Licence for the 2020 season. This is generally paid in instalments, with the basic fee expected at the time of application and the rest of the monies transferred by December 10th.

{note 3}
Racefans.net – Mercedes seek “another solution” for reserve driver after rules change blow for Gutierrez

{note 4}
An International Grade B licence is a racing licence required for drivers utilising cars with a weight-to-power ration of between 1 and 2 kg/hp.

“Boom Time – Where War Ends and Racing Begins”

The late-1940s was an incredible boom time for motorsport. The second World War had finally drawn to a close and motorsport – for years stifled in numerous territories due to conflict and / or strained resources – began to breathe once again.

Formula A regulations were drawn up in 1946 for 1.5 litre supercharged cars and 4.5 litre unsupercharged machines, with the category renamed to Formula One for the 1947 season. While these regulatory changes played into the hands of manufacturers that had cars available to slot into this formula, it did much to give a direction and purpose for the years ahead.

In theory, the 1946 Turin Grand Prix was the first to run to “Formula One” regulations, but as the technical rulebook had not yet been ratified at this stage, the Turin Grand Prix is technically listed as a Formula Libre event, albeit one where 200,000 people reportedly attended.

The following February, four Formula One cars showed up for the Swedish Winter Grand Prix, but this event – run on ice for 20 laps – is often discounted as being a Formula One event, due to it being closer to ice-bound rallycross event than a road race.

And thus, April’s Pau Grand Prix has the label of “first Formula One race” thrust upon it, although that fact seemed to bring little fanfare with it.

Held over 110 laps, Nello Pagani was victorious in his Maserati, over the Delage driven by Pierre Levegh, with Pagani winning by two laps over his French rival. In a long and varied career, Pagani would go on to be the inaugural Motorcycle 125cc World Champion two years later.

In the coming years, the number of Grand Prix increased, while the various Grandes Épreuves – held in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, France, Britain and Monaco – dominated interest from drivers, teams and fans alike, before the World Driver’s Championship made a somewhat inauspicious start at Silverstone in 1950.

It would be some time before the new Formula One machinery would find its way around the globe, with many Grand Prix still running to the Formula Libre concept for several years after Formula One had been drawn up.

Most of these Formula Libre events were made up a mixture of pre-war cars, that had been dusted off, repaired, repainted and carted around to races. These were still incredibly popular events, as showcased by the 1949 Australian Grand Prix, held at Leyburn Airfield in Queensland.

The track layout was less than exciting and comprised of three runway strips linked at its ends to loosely form a triangle. With only four corners, the circuit proved less than challenging for drivers; however, the incredibly long straights did force competitors to grit their teeth as their ageing machines peaked and strained under the forces.

That race was won by John Crouch behind the wheel of a Jean François-designed Delahaye 135MS, in what was the sole major victory of his career. Crouch won by just under five minutes from Ray ‘Laddie’ Gordon (MG), with Arthur Rizzo a further two-and-a-half minutes behind in his Riley Special.

On the other side of the coin, Les Johnson had entered the race at Leyburn, only for his following trailer to suffer issues on the way to the circuit. As a result, Johnson missed the race completely, showing up after the chequered flag, and while he arrived without a racing car, he did unload his road going machine, which had been crammed full of alcohol.

With the support races continuing on into the afternoon, Johnson proceeded to get very drunk and watched the events unfold from the sidelines.

“Motorsport Diaries: Episode 11 – Super Formula Returns”

Following a ten-month break, Japan’s Super Formula finally returned in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The race at Motegi was not a thriller than desired, but that was not the important story. That it was back, was.

For quite a long time, this race was very much a case of follow-the-leader. These kinds of events make for a difficult time in commentary and it is often when one most utilises the best of pre-race research.

Beyond the start, viewers had to wait until lap 16 for the first overtake of the race when Nirei Fukuzumi took Kamui Kobayashi for 6th place, as the latter began to struggle on his Yokohama tyres.

To be fair, the race did kind of become a tale of who could make the tyres last in what were some pretty extreme temperatures. With an air temperature measured at approximately 40C and a track temperature several degrees hotter still, the drivers had their work cut out to maintain tyre life.

And so, for the most part, the race became a story of tyre preservation. Portions of the race saw the collective field record laptimes in the 1’38” measure, after qualifying some seven seconds per lap quicker just three hours earlier.

That is something that can be worked on and given the acknowledgement of the fluidity of the Coronavirus pandemic, JRP – promoters of Super Formula – have left a window open to tweak the sporting regulations should they see fit.

The important aspect is that Super Formula is finally back. The numerous changes from last year were almost overshadowed by the air of uncertainty in recent weeks, but with strength in the organisation clear, the series still managed to present eighteen cars for the first race.

And that would have been nineteen had Teppei Natori not suffered from heat exhaustion after qualifying, forcing his withdrawal from the race itself.

There were some brilliant performances from the likes of Ryo Hirakawa, Kenta Yamashita and French/Argentine rookie Sacha Fenestraz, while Ukyo Sasahara also made a good impression as he replaced the absent Jüri Vips.

But a difficult weekend if you were behind the wheel of a Honda-powered machine. Honda only managed to get one car into Q3 and their highest finisher (Fukuzumi) was 5th. His late charge came to nothing, although the gap had much to do with the number of laps he had been stuck behind Sekiguchi.

Sam Collins and I commentated on the season opener for The Race and we will return for the 2nd Super Formula event at Okayama on September 27th.

For more of my thoughts on the first Super Formula race of 2020, check out Episode 11 of Motorsport Diaries and don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe for more of this in the future.

A Patreon page for TheMotorsportArchive will be officially launched soon, as plans for 2021 slowly, but surely come together.

“First of the Year, the First of Many”

Sunday morning saw the Japanese Super Formula season finally begin.

Alas, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rumble on, there were no visits to the studio for the race – this was a home conversion.

And beyond some minor technical setbacks, it all worked out rather well.

In the end, the race was not the most exciting, but one can accept that in motorsport from time-to-time, just as long as you know how to fix it by taking the right steps.

Chester enjoys the scene, as I ran through the final pre-broadcast checks.

For this show, it was important just to get on screen and get the race out to audiences everywhere and in that, it was a success.

Congratulations to The Race for their efforts and to Sam Collins for another excellent job in the commentary “box”.

There are still six more Super Formula rounds to go.
Let’s continue to nail it.

“F1: Bottas 3.0 Needs a Hamilton 1.0 Upgrade”

Lewis Hamilton barely had to look in his mirrors during the Spanish Grand Prix, such was his dominance.

Indeed, Sunday’s race is a reflection of how the 2020 Formula One season is developing – and never was that more clear-cut than at Mercedes.

“I was just in a daze out there, I didn’t even know it was the last lap in the end, that’s how in the zone I was. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that.”

Qualifying for Lewis Hamilton almost wasn’t perfect. Despite taking pole, a slower second run as the clock ran down saw him four-tenths adrift of his initial effort – that his Mercedes teammate and rival Valtteri Bottas also ran slower on his final ensured that Hamilton’s first timed Q3 lap was enough for his 92nd pole position. Well, I say “rival”. Perhaps one should rethink that, as Bottas is currently no rival for Hamilton.

Whereas the poleman got away cleanly, Bottas was slow away again and fell behind Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Lance Stroll (Racing Point) in the early running. It would take five laps for Bottas to clear Stroll and slot back into 3rd position, but the Finn never truly got close to Verstappen.

Despite competing with a car that is not on par with the Mercedes, Bottas was always just a step behind the Honda-powered Red Bull and while the German manufacturer took hard lessons away from their Silverstone defeat seven days earlier, only Hamilton appeared able to convert those lessons.

The Austrian Grand Prix seems like an age ago. It was a well-judged win for Bottas, finishing ahead of Hamilton, until the latter received a penalty for his part in a clumsy challenge with the other Red Bull, driven – for now – by Alexander Albon.

All of the ramblings of “Bottas 3.0” made themselves apparent, almost as quickly as they had during “Bottas 2.0” – and yet, the impression is rarely so forward and the threat not so ominous. For all the talk of the challenge, Bottas’ additional push is often a limp endeavour.

This is not to take too much away from Bottas. He is a good driver, who since joining Mercedes in 2017 has won eight Grand Prix and taken 33 other podia, but he is up against a Hamilton who is driving on an entirely different plane.

Although not official by any measure, Bottas has almost certainly been cast in the roll of number two driver, buy virtue of his inability to match Hamilton’s level of performance across a season. Of late, Bottas – who turns 31 at the end of the month – has been also been consistently headed by Verstappen {note 1} and currently trails the young Dutch pilot.

Grand Prix are organic events and each incident and ill-considered moment has the power to unravel all the best laid plans, as he explained afterward. “I think with a different start, the end result would have been very different. On a track like this, where overtaking in the race is so difficult and track position is everything, your race becomes very tricky if you lose places.” From his sluggish start that cost him two positions off the line, Bottas had to push hard to get by Stroll and then catch Verstappen – a short series of events, that forced him to punish his Pirelli tyres far more than originally anticipated.

There was some small fortune. Exiting the pits after that first stop, Bottas maintained a small gap ahead of Stroll, who had not pitted and was on an extended run, but it mattered little in the greater picture. In that opening stint, Bottas had already lost an entire pitstop to Hamilton, while Verstappen’s slightly earlier stop gave the Dutch racer enough of an undercut to build a 2s gap to Bottas by the time the latter had emerged.

It was more of the same in the next stint. Verstappen pitted earlier (lap 41 to Bottas’ lap 48), but where the Red Bull man built a nice gap to the chasing Mercedes on fresher tyres, Bottas’ Pirelli’s were dying.

A change to a set of used softs yielded no favours and conceding that the runner-up spot was gone, Bottas stopped for a final set of new set of mediums with two laps remaining in order to bank the point for fastest lap. That may have been successful, but it was also a poor return when one considers how utterly dominant the Mercedes W11 has been. “Overall, it wasn’t the race I had hoped for,” Bottas added. “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. We’ll analyse everything from the race and move onto the next one.”

Hamilton won with ease, lapping all but Verstappen and Bottas, but even they were in a completely different world. With six rounds completed, Hamilton leads the pack with 132 points from a possible 150 and is currently 37 ahead of Verstappen, with Bottas a further six adrift of the Red Bull.

If this is Bottas 3.0, then he needs to reconsider his upgrade. As it stands, the Finn is simply not on a level to beat Hamilton across a whole season and this does not look changing any time soon.

{note 1} If one is to be truly fair to Bottas, he was running 2nd at the British Grand Prix when his left front tyre gave way with two laps to go; however, given his pace in the laps leading up to that puncture, Verstappen may well have overtaken Bottas anyway.

“F1: Sublime Verstappen Conquers Mercedes”

Max Verstappen’s victory at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix yesterday was a masterclass of skill and pace over the normally dominant Mercedes.

It was a result that required skill, maturity, tyre preservation and no small dose of heat.

A key overtake for the lead, followed by six blistering laps of pace. On the surface, that’s all it took, but there was so much more to it. And yet, one cannot ignore the small portion at the midway point of the race, during which the nature of the race was turned on its head.

The temperature yesterday was hot and if two races at Silverstone on consecutive weekends has told us anything, it’s that the Mercedes W11 does not appreciate excess heat. It almost cost Mercedes a Grand Prix win last week – this week it finally did.

Max Verstappen had initially taken the lead of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on the 14th lap as the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton switched from the medium Pirelli tyres to the hard compounds, but whereas Verstappen made his Red Bull RB16 sing on his Hards-Medium-Hards strategy, both Hamilton and Bottas struggled.

This is not to say that the Mercedes pairing were in danger of falling further behind – they were not – but this was the first time their frailties cost them so significantly.

Verstappen was one of only five drivers to start on the hard Pirelli tyres, with the Mercedes’ both getting away on the mediums. Bottas initially led from pole, and while that was briefly threatened by Hamilton on the opening lap, the Finn looked the most comfortable in the opening stint. Edging away from Hamilton, this looked like the race that would kickstart Bottas’ championship challenge, and yet – Verstappen…

In the early laps, the mediums held the key pace, but fell away quickly. In terms of raw pace, the hard tyres were supposed to be approximately 0.6s slower, but would last much longer, as the chasing Red Bull driver would prove. As the lap-count slipped into double digits, the leading pair fell back toward a cool Verstappen, who was maintaining both solid pace and tyre life.

Bottas stopped on lap 13, with Hamilton doing the same one tour later. At that stage, the Finn held a 1.1s gap to Hamilton, with the Briton just 1.0s ahead of Verstappen – the Dutch racer, however, did not need to stop at all and stayed out until the end of lap 26. Throughout this, Verstappen pushed, but not so much as to destroy his Pirelli’s – this was aggression, albeit the softly, softly way. Meanwhile, both of the Mercedes machines began to tear through the harder Pirelli tyres.

These were, of course, the medium tyres from last weekend’s race. In an effort to differentiate between two Grand Prix at Silverstone, Pirelli designated softer rubber for this additional race, while also mandating the use of higher tyre pressures to held counter the excess wear and delaminations from seven days earlier. With track temperatures close to 50°c, the problems suffered by Mercedes at the British Grand Prix began to develop once again.

Verstappen, meanwhile, kept life in his hard tyres and then kept the mediums on for just six tours. Emerging from the pits after his first stop just behind Bottas, Verstappen drew in behind the Finn quickly and made a move around the outside of Luffield for the lead.

Pushing hard, Verstappen assumed a solid gap to Bottas and stopped again at the end of lap 32. Bottas joined him, with both switching to hards for the final stint, but Mercedes’ tyre problems remained, gifting Verstappen the advantage.

Hamilton stayed out and, for a time, looked as if he may be considering a one-stop strategy, but even that was beyond the great champion. Feeling the grip ebb away, Mercedes pulled Hamilton in for his final stop on lap 42, just as Red Bull gave Verstappen the order to push.

With Hamilton out of the way, Verstappen led with ease from Bottas, while the 2nd place man began to struggle on aging rubber. In the distance, Hamilton emerged in 4th behind the impressive Charles Leclerc, who had spent the afternoon battling the less impressive Ferrari.

From here, the race was an easy finish for Verstappen, who was calm enough to exchange quips with the pitwall in the final tours. In what was probably the finest drive of his career, Verstappen made strategy and the conditions work in a car that, in standard conditions, is no real challenge for the Mercedes. Indeed, not only was this Red Bull’s first win of the season, it was the first time anyone else looked even remotely close to them.

It is tempting to think that this may kick start a championship challenge for Verstappen, but as summer turns to autumn, it may be ambitious to think that these conditions will be replicated at many other races in this already crazy season.

Behind the winner, Bottas could only lose. On hard tyres nine laps older than Hamilton’s, the Finn’s pace was falling away. Hamilton made sluggish work of Leclerc, eventually taking the Monegasque racer on lap 44 and then drawing six seconds from Bottas only to pass his teammate on lap 50.

It was a strategy call from Mercedes that was an attempt to beat Verstappen but failed and ultimately cost Bottas a shot at beating Hamilton. Considering the form so far this season, it is hard to see Hamilton not taking the title and this race will surely represent a step in that direction.

Leclerc came home 4th, ahead of the second Red Bull of Alexander Albon (5th), while Lance Stroll headed his Racing Point teammate Nico Hulkenberg to 6th place – a downgrading considering Hulkenberg was running 5th until a late third stop dropped him behind his teammate.

Esteban Ocon headed the Renault charge coming home 8th, a long way ahead of the lapped Daniel Ricciardo (14th) – the latter of whom endured an embarrassing mid-race spin. Lando Norris (9th) was the first of the McLaren’s to finish, while his teammate Carlos Sainz (13th) lost out mid-race following a slow first stop. Daniil Kvyat (10th) closed out the points, beating AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly (11th) to the finish line by less than a second.

Sebastian Vettel secured an anonymous 12th in his Ferrari. The four-time champion qualified poorly and hurt his day more by spinning by himself on the opening lap. Kimi Raikkonen (15th) was the first of the Alfa Romeo’s ahead of Romain Grosjean (16th, Haas), Antonio Giovinazzi (17th, Haas), while George Russell led the Williams duo in 18th, less than one second ahead of Nicholas Latifi.

Kevin Magnussen was the only retirement with the Haas driver pulling in nine laps from the end.

“Lance Stroll, Imola, Pasta and the Art of Preparation”

“Jesus Christ! What that f*** is that!?”

Or something to that effect.

Imola. Friday October 10th, 2014 and a colleague had sent a message urging me to come down to the far end of the paddock. Apparently, there was something that needed to be seen.

Things had quietened down somewhat. Having just finished – and enjoyed – lunch, there was more than enough time for a fifteen-minute stroll to walk off the local pasta and Ragú.

Situated toward the north-east of Italy, the province of Emilia-Romagna can be quite beautiful. By October, the height of the summer heat has dissipated, and the days are shorter, but the region still carries delightful wisps of warmth through the air. Having already taken in the Ayrton Senna memorial site, I started for the support paddock before too much of the day was lost.

In the background, the sombre quiet was punctured by the sound of gaggles of Formula 4 cars in circulation. From time-to-time, the driver’s lack of experience and skill overtook their speed and craft, with the resulting off necessitating brief red flags, during which the noise dissipated again, allowing the Santerno River to sing in ripples.

Being a relatively quiet weekend – European Formula 3 and Italian Formula 4 were supporting Italian GT – and as such, portions of the circuit’s extended paddock were rather empty.

There were scatterings of people around with pictures waiting to be signed. Only two months earlier Van Amersfoort Racing’s Max Verstappen had been announced as Toro Rosso’s 2015 signing, drawing the attention of a few autograph hunters, most of whom departed with a smile.

As well as that, Antonio Fuoco’s fan club arrived that weekend – a curiosity considering the Italian had shown precious little of his championship-winning Formula 4 form in the European Championship.

Unfortunately for Fuoco, the arrival of Verstappen and fellow rookie – and eventual European F3 champion – Esteban Ocon spooked him and apart from occasionally sharp performances, the results simply weren’t there. His inconsistency was carried into later formulae, ensuring Formula One was never going to be a realistic prospect.

There was another prospect at the far end of the paddock and as I crossed the tarmac, detoured around the helipad, a large, mundane grey monstrosity came into view.

“Jesus Christ! What that f*** is that!?” Or something to that effect.

Amidst the simpler awnings oft associated with Formula 4 was the Lance Stroll motorhome – a Formula One sized motorhome, planted at the base of the support paddock. The unpainted, decadent mammoth was a disconcerting statement of intent and a message that the Stroll’s meant serious business.

Having already secured the title, Stroll did not take part in the Italian F4 finale, citing an injury picked up during karting, however this was countered by acknowledgements that Stroll had already been testing a Formula 3 car with Prema Powerteam.

As he was not moving up to F3 until the next year, Stroll was not bound by Formula 3’s testing restrictions. The Canadian was far from alone in taking this option. It was an easy way to ensure a driver could get around the testing limitations. If a driver is not actively participating in Formula 3, then how can a testing restriction possibly be applied to that driver…?

“So, this is how it is now?”

Stroll’s arrival signposted not just his ambitions, but also his father’s. Lawrence may never have been a racing driver – although he has tried a competed in Ferrari Challenge occasionally – however he does have visions for Formula One. In 2018, he led a consortium that bought the Force India team and earlier this year, he led another consortium to invest a 16.7% in the struggling Aston Martin company. All this came after a huge spend in the junior categories.

In the space of a few short years, the goalposts had changed dramatically in Formula 3. Latifi money had come and gone – although that was less opulent – the Gelael funding was in the midst of being spread around everywhere and anywhere and soon, the Mazepin cash cow was being milked. And this is before one even begins to consider to endless flow of monies from the Norris’, the Russell’s, the Schumacher’s, the everyone else.

The denomination really didn’t matter, but it did much to drive costs higher and higher, although those taking the money were not ones to complain too much.

Stroll tested and tested and learned and spent much 2015 crashing very hard. When he won the European Championship the following season, a far more restrained Stroll enjoyed the spoils. The then teenager would regularly qualify up front, taking several wins and podiums with oft unchallenged ease, but when Stroll qualified poorly, he would often make little or no progress through a race.

There had been accusations of team orders during Stroll’s two years in Formula 3. With Stroll being the apparent number one driver at Prema Powerteam, there were curious moments when his teammates Maxi Gunther and Nick Cassidy would lift off in strange places or would leave the door wide open in convenient places.

This was not a popular subject, but it was one that simply never went away. Team orders in junior formulae is a tricky talking point – unlike in Formula One, junior categories are supposed to be every driver for themselves, with all entrants operating on an equal playing field. Alas, some drivers were more equal than others.

While he was winning in Formula 3, the preparation behind the scenes continued. Aided by then-Mercedes DTM racer Gary Paffett, Stroll regularly tested the 2014 Williams F1 car in anticipation of an F1 debut.

With all due respect to Stroll, he has carved out a position in Formula One as a driver who is not bad – especially on quicker circuits – but he is also not particularly stellar. Let’s not forget he is a driver who picked up a well-deserved podium at Baku in 2017 behind the wheel of a Williams. Put the Canadian in a car and on a track and give him a set of tasks and he will likely conclude them with relative success.

But actual racing – as in competing wheel-to-wheel with other drivers – has often been his weak point. Attempted overtakes rarely amount to much more than aimless ill-conceived lunges, and his defensive repertoire – often darting across the track – is unsightly and clumsy.

For the moment, he has a job and is hitting his marks and as long as his father is one of the shareholders of the Racing Point Formula One team, Stroll will most likely continue to achieve those aims. With Racing Point becoming Aston Martin F1 in 2021, it seems highly unlikely that the younger Stroll will be unseated and as rumours around Sebastian Vettel’s move to the Silverstone-based team continue to gather speed, Lawrence Stroll’s ambitions also gather pace.

Stroll – with the rest of the Formula One paddock – return to Imola at the end of October for F1’s first Grand Prix there since 2006. In its current layout, only Stroll, Latifi, Ocon and Verstappen, along with George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi have experienced Imola but coming as it did in F3 and F4 machinery, none of that experience will of any particular relevance to the Grand Prix.

In saying that, for the build up to this race, simulators will be in heavy use, particularly as at this two-day event, there will only be a single ninety-minute practice session, so any knowledge is key knowledge.

Imola is a stunningly quick and evocative place and there is little doubt that Formula One will be quite special there. It is just a shame that for this occasion, I will not be in the paddock finishing a bowl of delightful pasta and eyeing up endless opulence.

“F1: Nico Hülkenberg’s Last Shot to Somewhere”

(Update)

This morning Racing Point announces Nico Hülkenberg as Sergio Pérez’ replacement, while the latter recovers in isolation from Coronavirus.

—-

Sergio Pérez’ COVID-19 diagnosis may have given Nico Hülkenberg two shots to prove himself again in Formula One.

But even if he takes them, what is the long-term hope for a driver who was once considered ‘the next German star’?

December 1st, 2019 and Nico Hülkenberg’s Formula One career came to a sluggish and anonymous end.

More a sodden squid than anything particularly damp.

Following his Renault teammate Daniel Ricciardo home, Hülkenberg took the chequered flag in 12th position and lapped.

In a season dotted with finishes in the lower points paying positions, he appeared to spend an eternity flirting with anything from 7th to 13th place. A sole top-five at Monza was the only relief in a season where he was classified a solemn 14th in the final standings.

It was over a decade previous when the scope of the younger Hülkenberg’s performances raised eyebrows, as his various titles in Formula BMW, Euro Series F3 and A1 GP attested.

However, it was not just the results that captured eyes, but also the nature of his confidence, which – at times – bordered on irritating arrogance, but was probably closer to a sense of self-belief that was so powerful, as to stun the opposition.

This was most noticeable at a stiflingly hot Valencia. Following a podium in the GP2 Feature Race, Hülkenberg took the Sunday morning Sprint Race win ahead of Sergio Pérez and Vitaly Petrov, after having started 7th.

In the post-race cool down area – which if I remember correctly was behind the podium – Hülkenberg calmly dried his face with a towel and nonchalantly declined a bottle of water, while both Pérez and Petrov were soaked in sweat and breathing heavily.

It was all a show, but one that made a keen impression.

As with his other titles, Hülkenberg took the GP2 title with relative ease that year – and yet for all that promise, apart from several blips, his Formula One career never quite hit the mark.

Admittedly, when the blips blipped, they were very good. Pole at Interlagos with Williams in 2010 was fabulous, as was his challenge for the victory at the same circuit two years later, but beyond that, Hülkenberg’s Formula One tenure was… good. Just not great.

Beyond a few E-sport events, Hülkenberg has not raced since Abu Dhabi. Rumours of a possible DTM drive came to nothing, as did an Indycar opportunity with Ed Carpenter Racing, while the winner of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours does not have any options to rejoin the World Endurance Championship.

To be fair, the German stated toward the end of last year that even though was no longer drive for Renault, he would still be available and ready to jump into a seat should one come available – although he said this prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pérez’ COVID-19 diagnosis just before the British Grand Prix has opened that door for Hülkenberg and considering Racing Point’s form, should he be confirmed for the Silverstone races, Hülkenberg may be in with a very good chance of finally taking a podium, having missed out on a previous 177 occasions.

But then what? In recent seasons, it has often been unclear what Hülkenberg’s long-term ambition really was. He was dutiful in interviews and said the necessary things, but a great many people have misplaced their ambition while saying all the right things.

Does the 32-year-old see the British Grand Prix and its follow-up as an opportunity to kick start his Formula One career, or this about reinvigorating his racing ambitions elsewhere?

A lot has changed since last December. It is desperately unlikely that he has any option for a Formula One drive in 2021, unless something very drastic happens to Sebastian Vettel’s rumoured Aston Martin deal.

From there, Audi’s imminent withdrawal from DTM means that series may not even exist in 2021 and Hülkenberg’s Indycar negotiations were based around is only driving at the road and street races, while leaving the ovals to “An Other”, which would render any championship challenge null-and-void. Having already won Le Mans with Porsche, it is not entirely clear why he would go back to prototype sportscar racing in the WEC.

Hülkenberg has repeatedly said that he has not had conversations with any teams from Formula E, although with the 2020-21 season now converting to just being the 2021, there are still options for Hülkenberg to join the all-electric series.

However one looks at it, the landscape has altered completely in the space of seven months and the once highly-rated Hülkenberg needs to fit his ambitions into that new landscape.

For the meantime, Hülkenberg has obtained a guest drive in the ADAC GT Masters for mid-August at the Nürburgring.

It may not be Formula One, but it is racing. Yet, it will taste a little different.

“Anatomy of a Story Timeline: the Fast and Slow Reveal of Fernando Alonso”

When Renault F1 announced Fernando Alonso as one of their 2021 driver’s, the story punched a hole in motorsport media for much of the week.

The process was deliberate, intricate, carefully crafted and hugely successful and Renault owned the headlines.

The twitching on Monday evening was pretty hard to miss. After a couple of months of silence amidst the bustles of early-May noise, Renault were finally ready to announce their finalised line-up for the 2021 season.

Had Renault promoted one of the drivers from its academy programme, the news would most likely have raised a temporary blip, before dying down again, but in announcing twice World Champion Fernando Alonso, the French manufacturer were guaranteed headlines.

Despite what one may think of Alonso, the Spanish veteran is a headline generator and the timing and method of the story would have been designed to create maximum noise and coverage.

It is impossible (at this point) to know when the Renault/Alonso deal was done or even when talks began but given the apparent cracks in the relationship between Renault and current pilot Daniel Ricciardo, it would be unsurprising if discussions began quite some time ago. Whatever the case, Renault were in no rush to get this news released.

No matter, the timing still had to be right. It clearly served no purpose for the announcement to be revealed in the same breath as the Sebastian Vettel/Carlos Sainz/Ricciardo musical chairs, as it simply would have been an extra chapter to a story rather than being the story.

Around that time, the Formula One world was flowing with stories and counter-stories regarding the viability of each and every Grand Prix amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.

Acknowledgements that some races would happen – and then not happen – while some venues would take on double-headers – and then not – and the return of some classic races to the calendar – and then not – finding the appropriate space to drop this story was critical.

But Renault could not wait forever. The pin would have to be pulled eventually and the week following the Austrian Grand Prix was a perfect fit.

In following the belated opening race of the season, Renault’s announcement fed on the excitement of Formula One’s return just a few days prior. In addition to this, football across Europe had also returned shortly prior to Formula One, ensuring sporting news as a whole was beginning to emerge from the dark.

Meanwhile in the US, both NASCAR and Indycar had also returned and while Formula One media is of a much smaller scale in the States, the story was enough to create a ripple amidst the general motorsport media.

There was some risk of course. In timing the announcement just after the restart to the season, Renault ran the risk of this news dropping in a time when COVID-19 could have returned to bite the sport hard. Thankfully that did not happen and indeed, the only notable Coronavirus story to have passed through Formula One was the discovery of a couple of infected personnel in the run up to the third race of the year at the Hungaroring, although neither had attended either of the Austrian rounds.

Just placing the story in the week between the Austrian and Styrian Grand Prix was not enough however, as there were still plenty of avenues to navigate, but it was brilliantly managed.

SUNDAY

The Austrian Grand Prix had been held, and, in the aftermath, discussion generally revolved around the race and the weekend’s action, with immediate reaction and analysis being the course of the day.

MONDAY

Through Sunday night and into Monday, additional post-race coverage begins to emerge, with more in-depth examinations of driver and team performances dominating output. This generally falls under the scope of 600-to-1000-word pieces discussing the weekend’s developments and trends, with features generally fixating on a specific person or team in an effort to paint a grander picture of the Grand Prix event.

Monday also offers outlets the opportunity to deliver ubiquitous (and pointless and baseless) driver rankings scheme, sided with bite-sized blurbs that aim to maximise word count and minimise usefulness and imagination.

Interestingly, in the case of the Renault driver reveal, it was on Monday evening that rumours began to surface from Spanish media of a Wednesday announcement, immediately fuelling speculation that Alonso was about to make his return to French squad and quickly forcing writers back to their laptops and workstations. Although there had been rumbles of an Alonso return for some time, this merely adding fuel to the fire.

TUESDAY

And thus, the Monday rumours germinate Tuesday stories. Generally, in European territories, if your audience is primarily based in that time zone, dropping a story such as this can often sink if it falls outside of prime readership periods – a good editor will know when these slots are open.

As it is a story based on a loose rumour, with no confirmation or quotation of any kind, releasing it at a time when readership numbers are likely to be low is of little value. Launching when you are likely to have a prime number of eyeballs is generally a good shout – for many sites, that’s the following morning at around 9am when people are settling into the nine-to-five jobs and looking to burn a bit of time before their meeting or coffee (or both).

Meanwhile, with no confirmation and – most importantly – no denials from the interested parties, the rumour was allowed to gather steam and accelerate and as Tuesday morning passed into the afternoon, follow-up stories emerged, generally along the lines of, “Why Alonso and Renault are back together” and “What Alonso’s return means for F1”, (etc, etc.).

WEDNESDAY

The story is finally launched, details are solidified, quotes are released, and it is the story for the day online and (if they’ve done the mental gymnastics) the print media.
Importantly, in broadcast sports news, this is also critical as specialist television channels obtain media-junket style individual interviews, while others show pre-recorded video clips virtually guaranteeing near 24-hour coverage (unless something hugely unforeseen occurs).

In a way, launching a story such as this on a Wednesday is perfect, as thoughts of the previous week’s Grand Prix have evaporated and also it gives ample time for the media to enjoy a build-up, release and reload before the next race weekend begins.

THURSDAY

Thursday’s coverage allowed for additional reaction and also allowed the story to move on somewhat. The next Grand Prix weekend was officially beginning, and the Thursday Driver Press Conference opened windows to obtain comments from a pre-selected set of drivers about Alonso’s return. Those who bit helped to create additional column inches and stories during an already busy week.

FRIDAY

With some exclusive broadcasters slotting in a Grand Prix’ practice sessions, the news becomes a talking point during on track action, which – to be fair – is often barren of action and information. The inclusion of social media correspondence during these sessions – in an attempt to generate additional discussion – helps to fuel the conversation a little longer, before the story is finally overtaken.

SATURDAY

The last splash before the story finally goes away. This generally involves broadcasters showing segments recorded specifically for the Saturday qualifying build-up show, with news of the reveal, how it affects the driver market and what Alonso’s return for Formula One means for the young drivers who haven’t been promoted.

These are the final embers of the story before it finally ebbs away. It had been brilliantly played by Renault and Fernando Alonso, and while there was some small amount of luck in making each aspect of this story work, one must never overlook the hard work that went on to build this scenario.

“OPINION: F1 – Renault Driver Selection is Symptom of Banality Disguised as Ambition”

Rumours are rife that Renault may be ready to announce Fernando Alonso to replace the departing Daniel Ricciardo on Wednesday.

But is this indicative of Renault’s need for experience amidst restructure or something far more banal?

It may have slipped by many in recent months, but as it stands, there is still a vacant seat at Renault next season.

In the two months since Daniel Ricciardo’s move to McLaren was revealed, things have been very silent on the Renault front. That is – apparently – until this Wednesday, when it is believed that Fernando Alonso’s champion-like return is due to be confirmed.

Alonso’s return to the team where he won his two World Championship’s is all very interesting, but if it proves to be true, it will surely add to growing belief that Renault’s conservative nature in Formula One is indicative of banality disguised as ambition.

Beyond the excitement that will come from seeing Alonso on the grid again next year, what does it say of Renault’s position in Formula One when the question of who will take a factory F1 drive next year merely raises shoulder shrugs of interest?

Much has been made of Renault’s struggles in recent seasons but attempts to bulk up the technical team and facilities in both Enstone and Viry have not been met with reward on track. If anything, based on the weekend’s performance in Styria, the French manufacturer have been overtaken by Racing Point, having fallen further behind McLaren.

Indeed, Sunday’s Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring was another example of how the story of Formula One appears to be passing the French manufacturer by, as Esteban Ocon took a somewhat middling 8th (from only eleven finishers) and Ricciardo retired at the one-third point with a cooling issue.

There is little doubt that the bulk of the team are very good, the drivers are very good, but that there are possible frailties elsewhere, and if one is to believe whispers, fractures sit within and around the management structure of the team.

Those issues can only be fixed in the corridors of France and England, but for now, it does not appear as if they will change and this will only prolong the yellow team’s anonymity in Formula One. Some very tough decisions need to be made at Renault’s hierarchy and until these are made, Renault’s placement will not change for the better, no matter who is behind the wheel.

Alas the tentacles of mediocrity burrow deep, and while bringing Alonso may help bolster results in the short term, with his tenacity and drive pushing team members forward, it will not eliminate pre-existing frailties and if those weaknesses are not rectified, Alonso will simply leave. This time for good.

Ever since the Ricciardo/McLaren announcement, Alonso has seemed to be the most logical fit given Renault’s current situation. There are options beyond the Spaniard of course – the most obvious being Ferrari-reject Sebastian Vettel and while importing Vettel may be a move that could also revitalise Renault, there are questions regarding his motivation, long-term goals and significant salary cost.

Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen will also be available come the end of this year, but neither will represent the step-up that the French manufacturer so badly need.

Of the Renault Sport Academy, Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard could possibly make the leap, but only if they take top positions in the Formula 2 Championship to gain the necessary Super Licence points.

Given Renault’s requirements and the young pairing’s largely lukewarm status’, that surely puts them firmly out of the loop – for now. If they, in time, become better than merely good drivers, a future in Formula One is still open.

In the meantime, the pointers are looking at Alonso, as he aims for one last blast back, one final opportunity in Formula One. There is no doubt his presence would be welcome, but one hopes it is not another wasted chance upon which his helmet gets hung.

“F1: And So, It Begins Again”

There may be rain in the Styrian hills. More than a little in fact.

And as it peppers the some re-propositioned stretch of tarmac once called the Öesterreichring, one realises that it really doesn’t matter how long Formula One has been away.

All that matters is that it’s here.

It is not just noise. It’s the hills and how the artificial mesh with nature. And with no fevered, passionate crowd in attendance, the rather tamed Formula One engines – twenty of them, choked at the point of exhaust and exhaustion – will meander and wander and reverberate, before petering out.

Frequencies and sine waves will push and pull, with sound registering in the brain, as the echoes of those very same waves become entangled in the impossibly minuscule hair follicles buried in the inner ear.

The art of hearing is beautiful.

Up close and Formula One can be a punishing experience. Less so today compared to the previous generation’s dreary and tonally vacuous V8s.

There is little doubt that Formula One’s aural experience is part of its appeal, but the V8s has the curious habit of being quite painful to listen to, while simultaneously sending sleep signals to the brain, such was the time spent in the distortion zone.

That was then however, and today as the hybrid regulations enter their seventh year, Formula One will begin to play catch up, as life around the world reawakens.

COVID-19 is still very much with us, and as people continue to die from the virus, fears are ever present. But there are hopes that it will now have slowed to such an extent that life as was once known will eventually begin rear its head, emerging as it were from hibernation like an animal with heavy eyes.

Just not yet though.

To me, it does not matter who wins on Sunday. I have a feeling as to who the victor may be {note 1}, but that is not the most important story right now.

All I am waiting for is the green light at the end of the pit lane and the rumble from the tyres as they power out onto the Red Bull Ring.

I just wish that I could be there.

{note 1}

Lewis Hamilton will win.

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