John Button – a great Motorsport dad

It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of John Button.

A very popular man across the paddock, he’s been a steadying and continuing influence over Jensons’ career

It’s a great credit to John that people right across the paddock have stated his great ability to know when to stay in the background.

If I had a pound for every time I had heard from a Motorsport buddy about the negative influence many a young drivers parents can have on their sons career I’d be fairly well off to day the least.

From the overpowering influence of those trying to live their dreams through their offspring, to the chap that thinks he can engineer his son or daughters car better than the highly qualified teams around them, Motorsport has seen them all.

The great thing for any parent is to see their child achieve a target or a lifetimes ambition,. If we can be thankful for anything, it’s that John got the time to enjoy Jensons world champion year.

Not only that, but seeing his young JB pull off some of the great wins of the modern era.

I witnessed first hand in Barcelona just how many people in the paddock had time for John, watching him take about 15 mins to get from one end to the other. Stopping to talk to people who he’s come to know over the years.

He was perhaps a lesson to all of us that are lucky enough to be parents. Sometimes your greatest gift is knowing when to push and intervene but equally, when it’s time to sit back and let them get on with it.

It’s a lesson that many Motorsport parents could take heed from.

So we will see many glasses of red will doubtlessly be raised to John later in the month when F1 gets back down to business at Jerez.

Rest in peace John, you will be sadly missed.

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Happy new year – don’t take life too seriously

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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

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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.

Monkey Tennis? The partridge influence hits the FIA #F1

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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?

Even Nostradamus wouldn’t have predicted that – 2013 Merc v McLaren (and other ramblings)

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Well, as a McLaren and Williams fan for a long time, it’s fair to say I will be consigning 2013 to a dark place in my mind.

And I would also imagine there are some Lewis Hamilton fans feeling fairly happy with his move to Mercedes. Challenging times ahead for merc to continue progressing after what has been a really positive shift change this year on the car front.

Having finished 2012 with what was arguably the fastest car, McLaren started 2013 very positively in the first test, only to find it was a but of a fluke due to a quirky setup. The rest is a matter of record and given it’s been a deep low, I think the mechanics and team as a whole have performed well to recover to some extent.

Yes, those that don’t like Ron, Martin and the Woking outfit will have enjoyed seeing what is a top team struggle. But in the same season we’ve managed to reignite Hondas F1 flame for 2015, along with securing some absolutely top class tech staff for that big push.

As for next year at the sharp end the Mercedes power unit is going to be a top engine so it will come down to who makes the best package able to take advantage of the rules.

On Redbull, I’d fully expect Adrian Newey and team to come strong next year, although if the rumoured lower power output is to be believed they’ll have to be. That said Renault are a great engine builder in F1 and rarely completely miss the brief.

As for Ferrari I’m still yet to be convinced they can maintain the tech drive throughout the year without trying to find a scapegoat for bad performances. The red peril is a great organisation but in my view has recently been a place to not holding ones resolve and being more interested in finding someone at fault.

There are a number of things I’m excited to see throughout the grid next year, from the Pat Symonds effect at Williams, to the continuation of the Caterham Marussia battle.

And then look at some of the potential driver lineups at Sauber and Force India, and what looks like a very strong lineup for Lotus either way and there’s lots to look forward to.

I can’t wait to board the plane to Jerez personally. It will be here before we know it.

Winter Testing – F1s best kept secret

It’s been confirmed now that rather than testing at Circuit de Catalunya for 2014 the teams will jet off to Bahrain first the first and the final 2014 tests.

Now I’m sure the teams are happy to get a guarantee of 2 full tests with a guarantee of good weather for ’14 F1 testing, but there is another factor (often ignored) at play.

You see F1 testing offers the average fan by far the best opportunity to get closer to the action. Having been at the final Catalunya test this year, a Grand Prix weekend can’t compare (unless you’ve paid for hospitality/paddock club).

And in that respect it is F1s best kept secret…. which makes it such a huge shame for fans that they’ve moved it to a location that frankly it’s residents have slightly more to worry about.

I remember Peter Windsor commenting some time ago that F1 was missing a trick by not making more of F1 testing, and my experience was exactly the same.

Whilst twitter and other social media platforms are a great way of sharing information, F1 needs to focus on face to face interaction with fans.

Would be interested in others experiences and opinions….