Happy new year – don’t take life too seriously


Forgive me for a non F1 post, but it was with great sadness I heard about the passing of comedy genius John Fortune (of Bremner Bird and Fortune fame).

As always in the new media world we live in, the first thing I did was look up YouTube clips to remind myself just what a funny change was.

Whilst looking through clips of his excellent double act with John Bird came across a relatively recent clip on Social Media.

Bird & Fortune – New media, internet, blogs and Fame

For those of us who use twitter extensively we will have come across the odd (dare I say) blinkered single minded people who are unable to take alternative views into account. Or are unable to see past the end of their nose, or that of their driver or team.

The entire point of the medium is that it is driven by the principle of free speech. If you don’t like what is said, just unfollow. Don’t rant about it, just smile and move on.

People with different opinions have not automatically entitled themselves to volley of verbal abuse (as I regularly see targeted at people on twitter)

Indeed what has been good to see is the well wishes from all of the F1 community towards Michael Schumacher.

We’ve collectively got the point that whether you like his tactics or driving history, or the team he drove for, he is first and foremost a family man, and one for whom we all wish a full recovery to happen.

There are slight signs of encouraging news for Michael and we can only hope his progress is steady and continual. Good luck big fella.

So I’m wishing everyone the very best in 2014, in particular to all F1 fans, team members and press folk we know.

For F1 in particular, it promises to be as uncertain a start as for some time.


MP4-28 – a blot on the landscape


Now anyone that has ever been to Woking will accept its a pretty ordinary place.

Having worked there for some 4 years, a walk around the town centre always felt a little bit like the docking/customs station for planet earth from the movie “men in black”. Yet all is not ordinary in leafy surrey.

There are three world leading centres of excellence in Woking, and all 3 hold the moniker of McLaren above the door. I’m of course speaking about the well publicised McLaren Technology and Production centres, and the less well known (but top class) McLaren special operations division.

Which makes the 2013 F1 performance all the more difficult to understand.

If you had a checklist for F1 success you’d ask for
* leading engine – check (Mercedes hpe)
* brilliant facilities and wind tunnel – check
* great technical staff – check
* financial backing – check

All started well, it seemed in the first test for 2013 with the McLaren pace raising a few eyebrows. Indeed so convinced was I in the pace of the car I told my good friend Mark Gallagher over a coffee (I’d just returned from Catalunya final test) that McLaren must be sandbagging.

And the rest, as they say, is history. A tough year for all those involved, the MP-4 28 a car that responded badly to changes.

In the excellent Autosport 2013 annual review, a quote from Tim Goss (TD at McLaren post Paddy Lowe) really speaks volumes about the potential leadership challenges ahead

“Each of the projects was well-researched but you tend to do it in isolation. And when we pulled all of that together and ran that in the tunnel for the first time it just didn’t click”

In any profession, the success or failure of any system is in its integration with other parts. So as a business system is only as good as the end to end process, Formula 1 design can be no different. The sum of the parts has to work together, and as a “system”. It’s the basis on which Redbull and most Adrian Newey design teams have achieved their success to date.

I’m sure 2013 is a temporary blip, with Martin Whitmarsh stating he felt the panic button may have been pressed mid 2012 when the required level of downforce points wasn’t being achieved on aero. Indeed Ron Dennis was pushing to reinstate an updated MP4-27 early in the year.

So when the covers come off the MP4-29 on or around the 24th-25th January, let’s hope the blip is forgotten.

The If I was Bernie team will be at the last couple of days of the test live in Jerez, hangovers permitting. It’s shaping up to be a very important year for F1. And we fully expect McLaren to be back in business prior to high profile arrivals in 2015.

Lewis Hamilton – a few thoughts


When Lewis Hamilton entered F1 in 2007 he surprised many with his raw talent, amazing pace and fantastic overtaking.

He was very unlucky not to be world champion in his first year of F1, yet we will enter 2014 with only one world championship for Lewis – a return which many people think is poor given the drivers ability.

And in the same time a friendly german chap called Seb has arrived and taken full advantage of good machinery to win 4 championships in a row.

Now put them both in the same car, and I think it would be very close indeed. But for now Seb has the better race car and as Lewis has himself admitted, his first year at Mercedes did not live up to the high standards he sets himself.

So what is the source of the perceived underperformance?

Well I’ve spoken to quite a few people in and around F1 at length on this one and there are three recurring themes. Fantastic talent, surrounding himself with the wrong people, and being too open about his own shortcomings (too critical and giving a negative perception).

Many of those like me, that love the racing driver he is, but struggle to like the other shitstorm that surrounds him (rap stars, living his life out in the papers), just wish he’d get back to basics.

I read a fascinating article from 2007 recently in the Guardian by Paul Kelso heralding Lewis as one of a new breed of sportsman.

Indeed, the quote that intrigued me was from Mark Sharman (head of ITV sport when interviewed)

“He’s one of a new breed of young sportsmen like Theo Walcott and Amir Khan who are a breath of fresh air, and he’s hugely exciting”

Six years on, and all three sportsmen mentioned have reached the top echelon of their respective sports, but are arguably yet to scale the heights that their natural talent suggested was possible.

I imagine it would be interesting to see what different off seasons look like for Seb and Lewis. And whether that contributes to what Lewis felt last year was underperformance.

The mental side of top line sport I think is incredibly important, and is one where Lewis has shown increasing signs of fragility.

Looking at Tiger Woods in his early career, there was a feeling before the other golfers stepped out onto the course that they were playing for second place. Indeed since that aura of invincibility has been taken away, Tiger has struggled to regain the type of dominating performances we used to see week in week out.

A top sports psychologist could probably help many of the drivers, Lewis included.

Now despite many thinking Lewis has lost his way, it might be that next season he will finally feel at one with his Mercedes. I sincerely hope so.

But in the event Nico outperforms him, I do fear we may not see him in F1 for the long term.

And that would be a great shame…. especially if he takes up singing.

Alex Sims joins “If I was Bernie” team


I’m very excited to announce that I’ve managed to persuade Alexander Sims to join the “If I was Bernie” team as our “resident race driver”.

We’ll be collaborating over the coming weeks and months on topics of interest to both of us around F1, young drivers, single seaters and of course Alex’s exploits in GT racing. You will also no doubt be aware that Alex is a great believer in environmental issues, and alternative energy sources.

Now those of you in the know will appreciate just how adaptable this guy’s racing talents are. In 2013 alone Alex has raced in the Blancpain Endurance Series, Formula 3 (T-Sport), GP3 (Status GP and Carlin) and is just back from the Macau GP.

Anyway, we thought it might be a nice introduction for Alex to do a Q & A.

Q.) 2013 has been quite a season with all of the different series you’ve raced in. What has been the most memorable race you’ve been involved in this year and why?

This year started off quite quietly with just 5 Blancpain races planned with McLaren and ended as being the most hectic second half of the year I’ve ever had! There have been quite a few highlights this year as its thankfully been a good one, if I had to pick one though it would probably be the Paul Ricard round of the Blancpain series where we finished 2nd overall. We were not the fastest car outright that weekend but we were streets ahead of the other McLarens and really felt like we achieved the absolute maximum from the 3 hour race. Alvaro started and fought hard to get into fourth position by the time of the first stops. Stef jumped in the car and the team, Hexis, did a superb pit stop which saw us jump to 3rd on exiting the pits. After some heavy pressure from behind, Stef did really well and kept his head down to stay in front, eventually pulling a small gap to make it more comfortable. At the end of his stint I jumped in the car and after another trademark stop from the guys in the pits, I exited and found myself in the lead! Our lap times had not been the best but through consistency and great stops we were in the lead. Managing traffic in that race was insane, especially when you know that you are in the lead, one wrong decision and I would have screwed it up for everyone. We had the Ferrari behind for around 10 laps, frequently on my bumper giving their all to get past, I then started to break away from them but the BMW was catching at an impressive rate. They had been the fastest all race but through the pit stop phases we had jumped them significantly. In the end they drove past me as if I was standing still in the middle of the Double Right after Signes and we had to settle for 2nd position. It felt like a win though and we were

Q.) What is the biggest challenge of stepping from a GT car to a GP3, or a GP3 car to an F3 car? And what’s the key to getting on the pace quickly?

Quite honestly I didn’t find it that much of a challenge jumping in between different categories this year. It was just a case of taking it a bit steady for the first three or four laps and getting accustomed to it again.

Thankfully I have enough experience in F3 and GT3 to know what to expect, GP3 was different this year as it had twice the horsepower compared to when I last drove it so that took some getting used to. I was quickest in the first session out though which proves it wasn’t that hard to get my head around it!

The key to being on the pace quickly is just to be fully focused and methodically attack to find the pace.

All you can do is try your best so each time I just chipped away at it lap after lap and tended to get to a position where I was competitive by the end of the session.

Q.) Other than the winning the Autosport McLaren award in 2008, and joining the “If I was Bernie” blog team (obviously) which achievement in your career has been the most satisfying to date?

Haha, to be honest I think you could drop the Autosport Award from that list, joining the blog really is the one highlight of my career so far 😉

It’s really quite difficult to single out one achievement, thankfully I have been proud and satisfied of a few different things I’ve done. If pushed, I’d probably say standing on the podium at Paul Ricard this year.

Not because of the way the race went, although that in itself was something to be satisfied with, but because it was my first podium as a professional driver.

Q.) Clearly the sponsor attraction and retention is key in all series. How do you go about the process?

It’s difficult, it really is, to try and convince someone in a company to part with their advertising budget, especially as the sums needed are substantially more than for most other sports.

At any level other than F1, DTM and probably Indy car there is such little coverage and exposure compared to the amount of money needed. It simply doesn’t make sense for a company to spend hundreds of thousands to sponsor a driver in F3 or GP2 and get a few thousand people watching the racing.

Inevitably this leads the sport into a situation where it does in most scenarios restrict its participation to relatively affluent families. I am fortunate in this regard as my father was able to pay for my racing up to a point, I also got a very fortunate break in F3 when Gravity Sports Management took me under their wing and managed and paid for my racing for two years.

After this we couldn’t continue in single seaters and so finding an option to be a professional became the priority and thus I went into GT racing.

Q.) Moving onto Single seater series, recent years have seen a lot of drivers largely supported by driver development programmes such as the Red bull driver programme. Are they helping the better drivers through, or stifling the progress of those not as well backed?

I think they have to be seen as helping the better drivers through, most of them have good intentions as far as I can see and do tend to focus on performance rather than other factors.

Of course, as with any business, it is also about who you know as much as how fast you are but still, they are certainly a positive aspect of the motorsport world.

Q.) having worked closely on the McLaren GT programme and racing in the Blancpain and other endurance racing, what do you enjoy most about closed-wheel racing?

I have to say that I’ve hugely enjoyed the GT racing that I have done this year. There is such a great atmosphere at the track between the teams and drivers.

Many people have been in the sport for many years so know the majority those involved at the race weekends which means that mingling and socialising when you have free time is very possible.

Depending on how the weekend goes and the format, sometimes you have 5 minutes free during the whole day or sometimes you have an hour or two and so when you do have spare time, it is lovely to be able to go and talk to friends and be able to speak openly about life and racing.

Aside from this the racing is really as good as it gets, if the racing wasn’t good then I guess I wouldn’t really care about the down time, but because it also ticks that box, that’s why I picked up on it this year. Having mainly done single seater racing, its snot something that is very common in those paddocks (perhaps I just don’t have many friends who drive single seaters and the GT guys haven’t fully got to know me yet!).

Don’t get me wrong, I do get on with people and I would class some from single seaters as the best friends I have in motorsport but there are just not that many of them…

Q.) 2014 is a huge change in engine and tech regs in F1, with a more “road relevant” engine format. The changes have been quite unpopular on the loss of the V8s in particular, but I’m hoping it’s a positive impact, especially with the energy recovery systems and so on. What are you looking forward to seeing most when the ’14 cars hit the track?

It would be wrong for me to say I’m only looking forward to seeing the improved efficiency from the engines and crunching the data to work out how many gallons of fuel will be saved!

However I do think it is a very real issue that faces F1, they have to keep developing the cars in ways which keeps it as relevant as possible to current and future technology in the automotive industry.

For years it was very good at that but since aerodynamics became such an integral part of Formula 1 cars, it certainly has had less relevance and fewer crossover technologies. Increasing energy recovery will certainly improve the investment in the racing world for this technology which can only be a good thing.

With so many manufacturers building and investing in electric propulsion, Formula 1 has to keep a connection to that and help breakthrough barriers that it faces.

I expect that the F1 engine will still sound very good. Maybe not what some people would call the holy grail but its surely still be impressive, and if it’s not then they’ll do something about it pretty quickly.

What I’m looking forward to is seeing how the rule changes affect the performance of the teams and see what ingenious technologies and devices can be invented to give them the extra edge.

Although wholly irrelevant to the real world, I thought that the F Duct was fantastic!

Seeing people find loopholes and exploiting them when others miss them completely is quite good fun.

Q.) Senna or Taki Inoue?

Taki Inoue!
His tweets are far better…

Q.) Who is the guy in the junior series you think has the potential to make it in F1?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. A few I know certainly have the driving potential, so many things need to be right though for F1 to happen.

The likes of Alex Lynn, Felix Rosenqvist and Rafaelle Marciello who all did F3 this year are certainly good enough from what I’ve seen.

I’m sure there are others in different formulas but to say one might make it is tough because even if you do everything right, you may get to F1 and the right seat is not available and then you have to follow a different career direction.

Q.) Of all of your experiences as a racing driver, what gives you the greatest buzz?

Nothing gets close to racing an F3 car around the streets of Macau. Every year I have been there, I come away from the first session with renewed respect for what we do as drivers.

The precision and focus that is needed when driving flat out where the limit is literally the Armco barrier is what most certainly gives the greatest buzz.

The problem comes when you then put your head over the pit wall when the bikes are out and you suddenly feel what you do is completely insignificant!

Then the level of respect for yourself and the other drivers drops and they take up top spot.

Monkey Tennis? The partridge influence hits the FIA #F1


You’d be forgiven this evening if you’re an F1 fan to wonder whether Alan Partridge had actually won the FIA presidency earlier this month rather than Jean Todt.

For those unfamiliar with one of the greatest BBC comedy characters!the fictional presenter Alan Partridge is so desperate to get a show on the BBC he comes up with a load of frankly terrible ideas for TV programmes including “Monkey Tennis”, “arm wrestling with Chas and Dave”, and my personal favourite “Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubanks”.

Some of the moves from the FIA announced today are in the same vain. It is a sign of desperation that for 1 race of the year you’d get double points. That smacks to me of gimmickry, rather than highlighting the sport as the pinnacle of single seater Motorsport.

Equally, having a career driver number for a drivers is completely unnecessary indeed, if that is the only way for some fans to be able to identify with F1, then I’d argue the sport is better without them.

We’ve seen the global economic downturn affecting sponsorship revenue and F1 itself seems to be struggling for prime sponsors at the same time as Premier league teams are thriving.

Quite what those in the FIA who are coming up with these ideas think they’re creating is beyond all of us (judging by opinions of fans and those reporting on the sport alike), but it’s very sad to see these token gestures spoiling what is a very serious sport, with a great deal of good professionals and historically a great deal of committed and knowledgeable fans.

Let’s not cheapen the teams efforts, by taking the focus away from being a bona fide racing series.

Why not address the challenges on the tyres, let the tech guys do their stuff in ’14, and pretend for a moment that F1 is about creating the best car, engineering the best setup, and great racers.

Redbull have been the standout team for a number of years, yet it’s on Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus to come up with a solution. We don’t yet know how the engines will turn out in 2014, but perhaps the door will be open to a Merc or a Ferrari powered car to break the stranglehold.

So let’s put these ideas back in the bad ideas box Jean. Or is it Alain Perdrix?

If I was Bernie – by @kiril_varbanov – my ideas for improving F1


This is the first in a series of guest contributions which inspired my blog “if I was Bernie”.

First up is Kiril Varbanov (@kiril_varbanov) with views on potential changes to F1 to improve the quality of racing and overtaking (not necessarily the quantity).

I’ll be asking various contributors to put down a few thoughts over the coming weeks and months.

Be sure to check out Kiril on twitter. So over to you Kiril, and thanks for contributing….

In the next paragraphs I will be sharing my thoughts on couple of things that can improve Formula 1 races.

1. Less aerodynamic influence, more mechanical grip and engine focus

The 2014 regulations are heading there, fortunately…

We are going to witness smaller front wings, shallower rear wings, simple exhaust layout and less aero downforce. An enormous part of the focus shifts towards the powertrains, which in my opinion, is the right thing to do.

At the same time, in order to compensate for the loss of aero grip, more mechanical grip should be induced via tyres. The teams have resisted changes in tire width, so Pirelli will have to rely on compounds and constructions changes only.

The tyres will have to be “somewhere in the middle” – a balanced compromise between show, a bit of uncertainty, a few thrills and lots of grip, but the grip wont last forever.

This will very likely negate the need for artificial gimmicks like DRS. But there’s another needed step…

2. Track changes

Many of the current issues we are seeing are down to inherited or imposed track design and layout. On some of them, as fans know for sure, the overtaking is close to impossible.

When it comes to track design, however, there are certain rules that The FIA imposes, but at the same time some tracks are simply having not enough space to overtake. This is one of the reasons to introduce the DRS – a move widely disregarded by fans as a fair weapon.

Tracks are not something that can be changed with magic powder, it certainly takes time and money, but most of all it takes the will to change.

Mind you, some of those tracks are not used only for Formula 1, but other series, too, which could be beneficial for them.

3. More testing

It is absolutely ridiculous to have a series which is labeled “the Pinnacle of the motorsport” and which then discourages / limits testing.

We are seeing younger and younger drivers, who are somewhat unprepared for Formula 1, and we also see teams which struggle to match their simulators or in-factory machinery to those of the top teams.

Yet, the tests have to be limited, again, due to general cost control. While I understand that some teams are not comfortable with organizing a track event, history shows that a simulation only is not really the best choice.

More track testing would be beneficial for both engineers and drivers – an instrument that can certainly improve racing. I know I sound like Luca di Montezemolo, but it is just the case where we share common opinion.

At the same time, the budget cap is not a bad idea at all, because it will make teams much more efficient when it comes to spending – you can choose to invest $10 million in simulator or couple of track testing days.

4. Reintroduce a more relaxed environment

A couple of days ago I was looking at a picture of James Hunt eating some chicken, naked, sitting on his car.

Today, you cannot imagine such a thing – the whole Formula 1 environment is becoming more closed and sterile.

Drivers are being punished for some silly words or moves – a result of race adrenaline rush. Drivers are getting seemingly unneeded penalties for having a will to fight. Stewards, at the same time, are not always consistent when applying the rules, which lead to inevitable frustration.

I wholeheartedly think that if the environment is more open, everyone will contribute more towards a better racing spectacle.

This will also lead to a better fans engagement – a living example is Le Mans, where you can meet and talk with literally anyone….

Now that we’ve heard Kirils views, what do you think of the suggestions? And what would you change about F1 if you were Bernie?