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News of the Day: January 3, 2012

Today is my last day as a free woman before returning to work. Now, to make the most of it by really digging into some juicy, exciting F1 news!

Uh. Yeah. Er. So much to choose from today.

There Is Something Conspicuously Missing from the Williams Site

See for yourself.

Up at the top of their home page, where the logo is? Anything look different?

The apparent end to AT&T title sponsorship for the Williams team is probably the only thing that qualifies as actual F1 news today. Actually, I first saw it pointed out yesterday on Twitter, but it wasn’t until today that news stories in English started to pop up online. Here’s one, from SpeedTV. I don’t see any announcements on the Williams web site, and it’s not clear to me what “initial reports” the article is referring to, but you’ll see that same wording pretty much everywhere — it’s all from the same GMM wire story.

Oh, look — it turns out  Joe Saward posted about all this on his blog yesterday, but I didn’t see it until today. (I thought he was still on vacation!) In fact, he might be the “initial reports” the GMM wire article is referring to. Why don’t people just cite sources? I’m never going to understand that. Unless your story is based on information from an anonymous source, it would be nice to know who/what the source is!

Anyway, according to Saward, the national bank of Qatar, QNB, will soon be announced as Williams’ new title sponsor.

More Words from Adrian Newey, OBE

Interview with Autosport.

Straight after his interview yesterday with Unnamed ESPNF1 Staffer, Adrian Newey headed over to Autosport HQ to chat with Jon Noble and Pablo Elizalde. On his way in, he passed Nico Rosberg, who was just leaving and stopped to greet him.

“So,” Nico said, cheekily plucking a nonexistent piece of lint from the lapel of Adrian’s sportcoat. “I hear you are going to try to have your car ready for Jerez?”

Newey smiled agreeably. “Yes, I think that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Nico shrugged. “If you’re sure that’s the best way to proceed. Of course, you know best, but… There are those teams that would prefer to perfect every detail for an extra two weeks.”

“And there are those teams that have no need of an extra two weeks to perfect every detail.”

Nico laughed, perhaps too loudly. “Of course. See you in Barcelona, each with our perfect cars…”

Newey turned and headed into Jon Noble’s office for his interview — and that next part of his day turned out to be very much par for the course.

As Adrian Newey has said many times in many interviews (and says again here), Sebastian Vettel is a very intelligent and hard-working young lad who is constantly putting every aspect of his race under a microscope and trying to fine-tune it to absolute perfection. I think a lot of people would prefer that he did less of that. Maybe he could take up a hobby, like R&B album recording? But no — I don’t think he’s going to stop doing what he’s doing anytime soon.

So, Newey tells Autosport, one can expect Vettel to be using this break to take a very close look at the mistakes he made during this past season — mistakes like the fateful one in Canada. Oh, Canada.

…he was distraught post-race – that he had been beaten, having dominated the whole race, on the last lap.

Well, we all were to be honest.

Oh yeah, I hear that. Distraught is what I was, too. However, I’ll be surprised if we see Vettel make that particular mistake again. See the last hundred interviews with Adrian Newey or Christian Horner for the reason why.

Newey also says no one on the team is tired of winning yet. They’d actually like to continue doing that.

God, no, I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do to make this story interesting. I mean, I love hearing about how great Seb is a lot more than the next guy, and it makes me happy that Newey and Horner genuinely think so highly of him, but I honestly feel like I’ve read this interview twenty times in the past year. The first time I read it, I loved it. The second time I read it, I loved it. But…damn, people. Are there some new questions someone could ask Red Bull management at some point?

Jules Bianchi Says Things About 2012

French radio interview, reported numerous places, like ESPNF1.

Jules Bianchi, the Ferrari test driver and GP2 racer about whom you sometimes find yourself wondering, “Wait — he’s Italian, right? No, no — French. French.” is now rumored to be in contention for the Force India test/Friday driver position. Basically, he’d be this year’s Nico Hülkenberg, the Hulk obviously having graduated to racing full time for the team. I haven’t heard a lot of people saying they were blown away by Bianchi’s awesomeness in GP2 (he finished third in the 2011 championship), so I hope all this works out for him. I’m also not sure whether this means he is not going to be competing in GP2 in 2012. Anyone know?

“Sustainability Director”?

News item in the Austin Business Journal.

The Circuit of the Americas has hired Edgar Farrera as its “director of sustainability.” No, I don’t know exactly what that is, either. Oh, wait — the article says! See link above. You should go read it and see if it sounds like the sort of career you might want to pursue. I’d reproduce the description here, but I’m deeply opposed to the use of the word “green” to mean “environmentally friendly,” and that happens twice in the relevant paragraph of the article.

I know this is not exactly thrilling F1 news — or even F1 news at all, except in the most tangential sense — but it struck me as encouraging that COTA is hiring people for positions other than the most fundamental ones, like “director of making sure a circuit exists by November.”

Speaking of whom, it looks like he or she has been busy; here are some photos of the circuit posted on Facebook today.

And now, I’d like to thank you for making it this far into this blog entry. BY GOD, this was a dull day for F1 news. Perhaps tomorrow will be more exciting…

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News of the Day: January 2, 2012

Around this time of year, a type of “news” story that’s always around becomes a lot more prevalent. You might call it the “This Guy Has Something to Say, and Here It Is” story. It isn’t “news” in the sense of something of note happening — someone getting hired or fired, a rule change being made, etcetera — it’s the sharing of a couple of statements someone involved in the sport said in an interview, something that fans might find interesting. Or not. Probably depends on what kind of mood you’re in and how starved you are for something to read about F1, because, to be honest, it’s usually a bit dull. Minor measures could be taken to make them a bit less dull (see below for some ideas), but most F1 journalists, presumably saddled with numerous deadlines and strict word limits, tend to stick with just-the-facts reporting.

Today, Autosport and ESPNF1 both led off with “This Guy Said Stuff” stories on their home pages.

Nico Rosberg Says Things About His Team Missing the First Test

Autosport interviews Nico Rosberg.

You probably heard about Mercedes deciding to skip the first preseason test at Jerez in order to continue developing their 2012 car, and ever since then you’ve probably been wondering, “Hmm…but what does Nico Rosberg think about that decision?”

Well, wonder no more. Autosport has interviewed Rosberg about this and other matters — although if you want to know about the other matters, you’ll need to pay up. Nonpaying readers, this is what you’ll need to be content with: Nico Rosberg doesn’t have a problem with the decision to delay testing. As he stroked his attractively stubbled jaw, the dashing German explained to Jon Noble that he has full confidence in the team, specifically in the restructured tech part of the team, and if they say it’s important to have that extra time for car development, then he’s happy to get on board with that. “This year,” he said with the barest hint of a wry grin, “we would not have managed to do the first race if we had run the car that late.” He leaned closer with a slightly conspiratorial air, the leather of his jacket creaking with the movement. “But with the way the factory is now optimised, I am confident that we can quite happily make it happen…”

“Quite happily make it happen.” Let’s hope he’s right. We need Mercedes out there being competitive. It would be a great thing to see their drivers on the podium in 2012.

Adrian Newey Says Things About the RB8

ESPNF1 interviews Adrian Newey.

He’s obviously not going to say anything specific, but what Adrian Newey does say gives the impression that he is not too bothered by the 2012 rule changes. No exhaust-blown diffusers allowed? Well, it’s not as though it’s the first time he’s had to work a change like that into his car design. I takes a lot more than that to faze Adrian Newey, my friends.

No need for a wholesale overhaul of the basic design, Newey says. The RB8 will be an “evolution” of the very successful car of the past three years, and it’s going to “kick your ass” even more comprehensively. (Note: “kick your ass” is a direct quote from me, not Newey.)

But, the ESPNF1 interviewer asked, isn’t it really bloody annoying that this innovation you’ve perfected is now against the rules?

No, Newey is not too upset about that, because he’s been in F1 a long time, and that’s just the way it works. A team comes up with something awesome, and sooner or later, for one reason or another, it’s banned. “That’s the nature of the business,” he said mildly.

Newey also hopes Red Bull will be able to maintain the crazy-fantastic reliability they enjoyed during the 2011 season — but perhaps “enjoyed” is the wrong word. According to Newey, they have “hard work and discipline” to thank for that reliability. It’s not as though it’s something that simply fell from the heavens.

It became clear during the course of this interview that nothing the ESPNF1 staff member said was going to upset the coolness of Adrian Newey in any way — not mentioning of the forbidden exhaust-blown diffusers, not bringing up how unusual and unlikely the reliability of the car was last season, nothing. Flustered and frustrated at his inability to shake the man up, the interviewer ended the interview by leaping from his chair and yelling, “Yeah? Well, you could have at least made sure your fly was zipped before you got here!”

But Adrian Newey merely cocked an eyebrow and smiled pleasantly as he rose to leave and thanked the staff member for his time, never looking down in even the briefest moment of self-doubt. Naturally, his fly was impeccably zipped — in fact, much to the staff member’s annoyance, it was the most expertly zipped fly he’d ever seen. Damn that man…

Don’t Count Rubens Barrichello Out Just Yet

Andrew Benson BBC blog entry.

Andrew Benson, being a super-cool “insider” with “sources” and whatnot, has some actual information to provide today that requires little or no embellishment. Williams is, as Benson reminds us, the only decent option for an open race seat right now, and there is a surfeit of recently sacked drivers out there who would be only too happy to plant their jumpsuited behinds in that very seat. Williams is free to essentially sit back, relax, and ponder the possibilities, secure in the knowledge that whoever they do offer that seat to will absolutely not say “no.”

What is now coming to light and is reported here by Benson is the fact that Williams might, in the end, not make any changes at all to their 2011 driver lineup. Rubens Barrichello recently has shown himself willing to do everything just short of falling on his knees and begging to keep that seat, including finding sponsors if he needs to. As much as people love the guy, it seems a popular fan opinion that it’s probably just about time for him to retire. However, as Benson points out (and Barrichello himself has argued), it might be a good idea to keep some continuity where the drivers are concerned, especially in the face of the many other changes the team is undergoing.

In addition, Benson has been “told” that Patrick Head was somewhat less than charmed by Barrichello’s many complaints about the team, and he points out that now that Head has severed professional ties with the team entirely, that’s “one less barrier” to Barrichello being retained.

The other names you hear most often in association with the Williams seat are Adrian Sutil and Bruno Senna. Sutil is apparently trying to negotiate too short a contract for Williams’ liking (see Auto Motor und Sport and James Allen’s site). In the past few days there have been intertubes rumors that’s Senna is close to a deal — but there are intertubes rumors about lots of things, of course. Dimitris Papadopoulo seems to think there is something to the Senna vs. Barrichello idea, though.

My personal preference is to see Bruno in F1 next season — period. He’s an agreeable, sensible guy who keeps his feet on the ground and is being realistic about exploring all options, but I have no doubt this Williams seat would be his first choice. And let’s not forget what happened when he and Barrichello went for the same seat back in 2009! Maybe it’s time for a little turning of the tables…

There’s Domination, and Then There’s Domination

And so we’ve reached another terrible, seemingly endless F1 summer break — that time of year when drivers jet off to the south of France for some quality uninterrupted cavorting with supermodels, journalists make a big show of how great it is to have a few weeks’ reprieve from the terrible drudgery of their work, and fans weep and wail about how empty their lives have become. How empty our lives have become. I’m certainly no exception; I find these breaks in the action to be weirdly excruciating, not quite like anything sports-related I’ve ever experienced. By the time first practice in Spa rolls around, the sound of an F1 engine will be like a healing salve applied to my soul. My very soul, I tell you!

Hyperbole aside, the summer break does suck. One needs something to fill the void, and sitting here next to my TV I have four, count ’em, FOUR season review DVDs from Netflix: 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Schumacher domination ahoy! I can only assume that watching the first three of those DVDs will bore me beyond belief and make me want to stop following F1 forever — at least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten, seeing people wail and gnash their teeth in remembrance of the Era of the Schumacher. It was a dark time, that, or so I hear. So dark that the sight of a German winning the first few races of the current season triggered something akin to a collective F1 fan PTSD episode that still hasn’t quite subsided.

No matter, though. From what I’ve been reading, Red Bull’s and Vettel’s domination is “over”! The RB7 is no longer the fastest car — at least not during races, when it really counts. This is even the case at circuits like the Hungaroring, full of the sorts of corners the RB7 normally relishes. Vettel got pole position there, but only just. I obviously can’t take issue with any of these statements except perhaps the first, although I suppose it comes down to how you’re using the word “domination.” People (other than me) will sleep more peacefully at night if Vettel isn’t winning ALL the races — and, if things stay as they are with the RB7 relative to the other cars, it’s pretty likely he won’t.

But Vettel and Webber aren’t going to sit still for an RB7 that isn’t what it could be, and I can’t imagine anyone else on the team is, either. Certainly not Adrian Newey, by all accounts one of the most competitive carbon-based life forms ever to walk the pit lane. Obviously no one is planning to circumvent the forced two-week break — that would be wrong — but, although you might be able to stop factories from churning out bits, you can’t stop someone’s brain from churning out brilliant ideas. Especially not his.

Will Red Bull find a way to resume their total, crushing domination in the face of McLaren’s and Ferrari’s considerable improvements? I’m going to go with a safe “maybe…?” because I’m not feeling cocky enough to comfortably offer up my usual trash talk at the moment. During the past two race weekends, I found myself filled with an unfamiliar sense of dread; this was the case even after Vettel won pole position in Hungary. Something just didn’t seem quite right with the car, and it was like you could read it on the faces of everyone on the team. Or maybe that’s me projecting. Vettel seemed more positive about what the car could have done during that race than I felt afterward, and I suppose he might know better than me. Maybe.

Still, we’re coming up on two circuits that aren’t exactly tailor-made for Red Bull’s car. We could be looking at another disastrous scenario in which Vettel is able to increase his championship lead by only a few points in each race! And see, that’s where one’s particular view of “dominance” becomes relevant. Vettel might be looking at a remainder of the season in which he doesn’t win ALL the races. But which one driver is going to step up and win them instead? That’s where the rest of the field runs into a problem. There simply isn’t one other driver presenting a challenge, racking up the points. It ought to be Alonso, right? Or Webber? And yet . . . no. Instead, four guys are battling it out for the points Vettel doesn’t win, spreading them fairly equitably amongst themselves. If those four guys were able to merge into one terrifying mutant superdriver, then yes, maybe Vettel’s domination of the season would be in some serious danger. As it is, I think it will continue. Perhaps not as spectacularly as at the beginning of the season, but surely and steadily.

The largest margin by which anyone led the championship last year was 14 points. Vettel’s current lead is 85 points. And he’ll continue to learn from every mistake, to adjust his performance accordingly, to do everything in his power to finish every single race, to wring everything possible out of that car no matter what the conditions, building on his lead even if he isn’t able to make it to the very top of the podium every time. That is my firm belief.

The season might not end with the same euphoric, crushed-under-the-heel-of-his-bright-blue-Puma kind of domination we saw at its beginning — but the trophy he wins at the end of it will be just as shiny, and his signature will be on it twice.

A Modest Proposal

It’s taken me about a week to recover from the crushing disappointment of the last lap of the Canadian Grand Prix. No joke! Of course I realize my reaction was the precise opposite of that of most people, who would have been sent spiraling downward into deep despair had Sebastian Vettel won yet another race after all those hours of viewing commitment. The affable British all-around top bloke jolly well triumphed over the loathed German world champion, saving the day by putting a stop to him steamrolling the 2011 season like some unstoppable Tiger tank.

For a while now, F1 forums have been rife with moans that the current season is boring because Vettel keeps winning. I’m getting the impression that, to many people, a given race and what happens during the course of it makes very little difference. It’s all about the result, and when the same person is winning a large majority of the time, the season is simply ruined. “The Show,” as people increasingly annoyingly put it, is ruined.

So last weekend’s grand prix is a step in the right direction, if fans are to be persuaded not to abandon F1 altogether. Really, though, there’s more that could and perhaps ought to be done. Surprise race results like that last one can’t always be ensured under the current rules — really, Vettel could have won that race and was winning for most of its duration — so perhaps the rules need to be reexamined.

As it stands now, in theory, a single driver could win every single race in a given season. This simply isn’t right. Who wants to see that? How many fans would the sport lose if that happened? Even now, only two races so far this season haven’t been won by Vettel, and in those two races he came second and was beaten by a fairly small margin. What if things had gone differently? And what if they were to continue this way? Something really ought to be done.

That’s why I propose that, over the course of a twenty-round season, no one driver be permitted to win more than two races.

Under my proposed scheme, the results of the first three races of the current season would have been just the same as they were under the current scheme. However, when round 4, the Turkish Grand Prix, was shaping up to be won by Vettel, who had already won his allotted two races of the season, something would have been done to prevent that outcome. This could be any number of things, and the logistics of  my plan have yet to be ironed out, but I think it probably would be best to have it be something that would add to the “excitement.” Perhaps Race Control could have activated something on Vettel’s car that would have caused him to lose control in a corner, much as he did in Canada — maybe a couple times, whatever it took to close the gap sufficiently — thereby (in the case of Turkey) providing fans everywhere the opportunity to howl with gleeful triumph as Mark Webber closed the gap and overtook his teammate.

I’ve calculated what the points standings for the current top five guys would be under my scheme, and it looks like this:

  1. Vettel – 140
  2. Button – 101
  3. Webber – 101
  4. Hamilton – 92
  5. Alonso – 76

Sure, Vettel would still be in the lead — but by only 39 points, rather than 60. Webber and Button would now be tied for second, and Hamilton would be trailing them by a mere 9 points. In addition, race winners so far this season would include Vettel, Button, Webber, Hamilton, and Alonso. It’s all about evening things up, people! Evening things up, giving more guys a chance to win races, and keeping the audience entertained: that’s what my scheme is all about.

There’s room for tweaking as well, of course. Sure, Vettel might no longer be winning every race and boring everyone to death that way — but he still might be ruining everyone’s fun during qualifying! Well, then why not institute a similar limit on number of pole positions allowed per driver per season? The possibilities are endless, really, as long as the FIA is willing to think “outside the box” with regard to keeping audiences happy, as I think they’ve already shown their willingness to do. People were complaining about there being no overtaking? Now we have DRS, and how are you liking the overtaking now? Uh huh, that’s what I’m saying.

It’s clear that attacking Red Bull’s advantage by constantly trying to prove bits of their car are illegal is not an effective leveling-the-playing-field strategy, especially when there’s a certified genius like Adrian Newey being so damned clever about everything. Even ruling the off-throttle exhaust-blown diffuser illegal this far into the season isn’t going to help matters much, considering how other teams have been working hard at perfecting that system as well. No, it’s clear that the time has come for an entirely new approach to making F1 exciting. I profess, as a Sebastian Vettel fan, that I obviously have not the least personal interest in seeing any of this come to pass. I’m concerned only about the popularity of F1 and the TV ratings for the races; when these things prosper, everyone wins. (Except Sebastian Vettel — not more than twice a season, anyway!)

On Champions and Underdogs

Most people like a winner, but they don’t like consistent winners. . . . When people perceive you as an underdog, they are very supportive. Then when you’re on top, they turn you from a David into a Goliath and immediately try to tear you down.

(Ron Dennis, quoted in Grand Prix People)

Back in the 1990s, Michael Jordan led some Bulls of a nonracing (but also red!) persuasion to six NBA championships.

For Chicagoans who were basketball fans at that time — including the many Chicagoans he turned into basketball fans — Michael Jordan will always be something akin to a deity. A city with a massive love of sports and yet precious little victory to celebrate so much of the time, Chicago had never seen anything quite like him. Neither had anyone else, for that matter. So immense was his talent that he was able to lead what had been a truly pathetic team out of the depths failure and eventually into the stratosphere, where they dominated pro basketball for the better part of a decade.

Six championships. Three years winning, two years merely making it to the conference semifinals, then three more years winning. And I can tell you as one of those Bulls fans that not a single one of those championships was taken for granted or regarded as simply routine. Each championship was unmitigated joy, like we experienced with the 1985 Bears, except an unbelievable six times.

Of course, that was us. Of course we were happy. We were the ones doing the dominating. The dominated — well, they felt a bit differently about Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

My dad told me a story about when he and my mom traveled to San Antonio during one of those later championship seasons and went on a boat ride with a bunch of other tourists. The boat operator struck up a chummy conversation with everyone about NBA basketball — where the passengers were from, what teams they followed. My dad kept quiet as long as he could; he knew what was coming. When they finally got around to him and my mom and learned they were Bulls fans, my parents became more or less pariahs. No one spoke to them for the rest of the ride.

Never mind the years and years of obscurity. Never mind that, not even ten years earlier, a Bulls championship would have been nearly unthinkable. At this point, people elsewhere hated the Bulls. One championship? Sure, that’s an inspiring story for a team with the Bulls’ dismal history. Two championships? Okay, starting to push it a bit, but I guess you do have Michael Jordan and all. . .  Three championships? No, no, you’ve worn out your welcome — that’s quite enough. You’ve gone from potentially lovable underdog to predictable winner who needs to be brought down several pegs. Four, five, six championships? We hate you, thou epitome of evil!

Surely, the point of transition from underdog to unwelcome habitual winner isn’t set in stone and depends on numerous factors, but I’d venture to guess it often occurs right around the time of the second championship. Yes, often, but not always. Which brings me to the case of Red Bull Racing.

By the end of the 2010 F1 season, many fans were talking about Red Bull as though they were already an unwelcome winning dynasty — which is interesting, considering they won their first constructors’ and drivers’ championships in that same season. What is it about Red Bull that got so many people so sick and tired of them so quickly? Is it Sebastian Vettel, the young and emotional yet by all accounts friendly and down-to-earth German driver with a quirky sense of humor, whom people somehow love to hate? Is it Red Bull itself, the “drinks company” run by Austrians with buttloads of cash at its disposal? How much did Mark Webber’s deft use of the press and all the whisperings of favoritism within the team in 2010 have to do with it?

One complaint that was (and is) heard above all others relates to boredom and predictability. How boring that Red Bull is constantly on pole position! How predictable that Vettel wins whenever he’s on pole position! And yet how anyone could call the 2010 season “predictable” or “boring” is beyond me. Did everyone miss the part where the only time Vettel led the championship during the course of the season was when he won the championship in the very last race? Did everyone miss the part where there were five — FIVE — drivers on three teams who were absolutely in contention for the championship toward the end of the season? Yes? Here’s a picture to jog your memory.

Still, it is widely acknowledged that Red Bull has had the fastest car for a couple of years now, a fact that has rubbed many the wrong way and produced a long-term sense of foreboding. The response often takes the form of speculation about how the designers must be cheating, particularly with regard to flexing of the front wing. Frankly, I’m no engineer, and I keep hearing different things about this. The front wing must be entirely rigid, and Red Bull’s clearly isn’t! / It’s impossible for a front wing to be entirely rigid, but Red Bull’s is way more not rigid than it ought to be! / Red Bull’s front wing is totally illegal and evil in every respect, but Adrian Newey has used black magic to make it flex hugely during races and not while being tested by the FIA! Etcetera.

But isn’t that what F1 engineering is all about? Figuring out ways to work around the letter of the regulations to make your car faster than all the others? And another part of F1 engineering, as I understand it, is to try to figure out exactly what your successful competitor is doing to work around the letter of the regulations and then try to copy it as well as you can. These processes have been proceeding apace. All part of the game, right? Teams try to improve their own performance with the goal of beating other teams.

What I find puzzling is the number of fans who are already seemingly so invested in seeing Red Bull taken down by whatever means necessary. People are already talking about the team and Vettel in terms of the Schumacher/Ferrari dynasty that apparently drove so many away from the sport because of the boredom and predictability of being faced with the same team and driver always winning. It amazes me to hear demands that the FIA do whatever they have to to devise a wing flex test that will catch Red Bull out and put an end to their dominance. Really? Is that the way you want to go about it? Do you have so little faith in other teams’ ability to come up with their own solutions? Is leveling the playing field by stamping out design creativity the way you want the sport to proceed? Along similar lines, a couple weeks ago people were fantasizing about punishing Red Bull for “not using KERS correctly.” Again — really? The tone of some of the stuff I read about Red Bull’s imaginary “start-only KERS” made it seem like a mechanism that involved the blood of freshly killed kittens and puppies rather than the simple use of a (nonrequired!) bit of technology at one point in the race but not at others.

In the end, I suppose it comes down to the fact that people want to be entertained and to feel invested — to feel that there’s always sufficient uncertainty about the outcome of a race (or a game) and that their guy will have a chance. Despite the fact that more guys than usual did have a chance at the championship very late in the season last year, people were already feeling threatened by the potential in Red Bull — by the idea that, if the team were able to eliminate some of the car’s reliability issues and Vettel were able to cut down on some of the mistakes he’s prone to make, then there would be nothing to stop them from becoming the next Schumacher-led Ferrari. Never mind their status as still a relatively new team, never mind that they ranked seventh in the constructors’ championship as recently as 2008. Red Bull Racing is no longer any kind of underdog.

I got the impression, back in the 90s, that some might have been happier had Michael Jordan been required to play at least a quarter of every game with one hand tied behind his back. Would that have leveled the playing field sufficiently for everyone’s liking? Similarly, perhaps many F1 fans would be in favor of the FIA prohibiting Adrian Newey from working on car designs when. . .oh, I don’t know, how about when his blood alcohol level is below a certain threshold? Because if you succeed in forcing Red Bull to make their front wing work in just the same way as everyone else’s, Newey is likely to work his genius magic in some other way. Perhaps it’s time to stop this plodding, whack-a-mole approach to eliminating the threat of boring, excessive excellence in F1. Why not go straight to the source and hobble the creative thought process before it has a chance to devise excessive excellence in the first place?

(The graphic in this post was made using light textures by SICKBOYGFX and ROJOdesigns, available at Official PSDs.)

Valencia Testing: I Was Watching

And when I say “watching” I mean “watching the live timing on the Williams web site, which, by day three, was starting to bug me a bit, because that fake time Karthikeyan got on day two was still up there improving his overall ranking as though it wasn’t totally fake — although if I know Colin Kolles, he’s probably ignoring the fakeness and going around announcing how great it is to have finally a driver who’s able to show the F110’s full, awesome potential, unlike some Bruno Sennas he could mention.”

I obviously didn’t mean I was watching watching, as in able to use my eyeballs to follow the progress of actual cars as they drove around the circuit. I’m in the United States, and therefore such a feat would have required television/video coverage of some sort, of which there was none. But am I alone in saying I’d pay for something like that? If, say, there were a web site or sites willing and able to stream coverage of F1 testing live, I would be willing to pay for it. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that, considering how desperate fans are at this point in the year. I’m just saying, is all.

As for testing itself, it’s obviously too early to make much of what we did “see,” especially for largely ignorant people like me. Today I actually saw at least one person (a fan) predict that Robert Kubica will win the 2011 championship. It’s possible that this person was even serious, although sometimes I find F1 fans hard to read in that respect. For example, I also saw several people declare in apparent seriousness that the shark fin on the RB7 is there solely to accommodate the tail on a larger Red Bull logo. Surely, this ludicrous suggestion, which was echoed by several people, was meant in jest — or was it? Who can tell? Not me, apparently. Deadpan humor that isn’t that funny doesn’t always translate well online, I think.

In any case, I think I prefer to focus on the opinion of former F1 designer Sergio Rinland, who says it is his belief that the RB7 is at “a higher level” than the other cars, and what’s left for other teams to do at this point is marvel at its greatness and wish their car was even close to being that awesome. He used the words “neat” and “clean” numerous times in his description of the RB7; these are properties I imagine are as desirable to an F1 design professional from an engineering standpoint as they are to me from both a general and aesthetic standpoint. So, although it might be slightly premature after just three days of testing, I’ll just go ahead and congratulate Adrian Newey and his Red Bull posse on building the RB7, which I hope will neat and clean its way to another championship in 2011.

Other miscellaneous things I’ve woken up contemplating over the past few days:

  • I love the looks of the Renault this season. LOVE. Best-looking 2011 car I’ve seen so far, in my opinion. I think I was alone in really disliking the old yellow livery, but I LOVE the new JPS-like theme and the way it’s playing out on this car, which reminds me of a panther poised and ready to strike.
  • And I’m not just saying that because that team is now employing Bruno Senna. But I’m glad they are. That was a good move, as was their recent link up with Jackie Stewart. Gonna be hard to hate them now, isn’t it? Yeah, you know it is.
  • Poor Felipe Massa. Ridiculously reliable F150 bursting into flames? W.T.F.
  • So I see that Red Bull is going with KERS this year. I just — seriously, guys. Please tell me Mark Webber won’t have to try to lose any more weight. This concept concerns me. Not that I think he couldn’t do it, because he is the Man of Steel, and there’s pretty much nothing related to personal discipline he couldn’t kick the ass of.

Okay, show of hands: Who’s taking March 11 off work/school to watch the first Friday practice of the season?!

Come on. Like you’re going to get work done that day?

Paging Adrian Newey

Like most right-thinking people at the moment, I’m desperate for anything resembling Formula 1 news.  While making my usual hopeful web-surfing rounds last night, I came across a story in which Adrian Newey, in the words of the headline writer, “slams” stuff.  Well, if Adrian Newey’s going to “slam” something, I — again, like most right-thinking people — immediately feel like I might want to join him. If Adrian Newey slams X, X probably deserves a righteous slamming.

In this case, Adrian Newey was slamming petty complaints about his masterful work of engineering excellence and awesomeness, the RB6.  This part, in particular, caught my attention:

But the rumblings persisted; including a common claim in the pitlane and media centre that the RB6’s drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were oddly able to up their pace by as much as three tenths in the crucial ‘Q3’ qualifying segment.

“It’s a myth!” insisted Newey.

“I’m not sure our Q3 performance has been particularly different to our Q1 and Q2 performance, to be honest.

Okay, yeah.  This is easy enough to take a look at, right?

You can click that for a larger version, if you’re so inclined.  While I was putting that table together, I was able to confirm (anecdotally, anyway) what I first thought when I read the article: “Uh, don’t drivers’ times often improve in Q3 relative to Q1 and Q2?”  Er, yes, they do.  This seemed to be especially common among Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari — that is, among the usual top qualifiers.  So yes, Vettel’s and Webber’s Q3 times usually improved, as well, as the preponderance of negative numbers in the “Q3 − Q2” (Q3 time minus Q2 time) column indicates.  Of course, this is also true of Q2 times relative to Q1 times (see the “Q2 − Q1” column).  In fact, when Q2 time improved relative to Q1 time (n = 37), the average margin was 1.409 s.  When Q3 time improved relative to Q2 time (n = 32), the average margin was 0.671 s.

I’m forced to assume I’m misunderstanding these “rumblings” in the pit lane and media center.  Webber and Vettel did often find three-tenths of a second (or more, or less) in Q3 during the course of the season; however, so did other drivers in the top cars.  If I had all day, I could probably make one big megachart that would illustrate this.  Also, they tended to find even more time than that in Q2 relative to Q3.  So this whole issue must be about something I’m not quite getting.  Maybe what people are actually talking about is some three-tenths of a second Red Bull is “oddly” able to find between the penultimate and ultimate laps of Q3. . .or something?  Well, that’s a question I’m not sure I could locate the data to address.  And what illegal naughtiness would Red Bull allegedly be perpetrating during that couple of minutes, anyway?  Or is it the margin between their Q3 pace and the Q3 pace of the other cars that strikes people as being suspicious?  Color me clueless — about all of it!

Consider this a stern warning, though: if I can wield the awesome power of Excel in the service of addressing any further issues vexing Adrian Newey, I will not hesitate to do so.