Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Les Autres

I had intended to pontificate at length on the subject of team orders and the FIA's dubiously motivated 'investigation' into Mclaren's activities at the Monaco Grand Prix. Thankfully, however, as I was bashing out my vitriolic rant, news came through that the FIA had seen sense and let the matter lie. Its a shame that we didn't see a fight all the way until at least the second set of pit stops at Monte Carlo, but there's to my mind a pretty significant difference between asking drivers to hold station and asking them to swap positions.

So instead, I feel it is time to take a break from what is a rather fascinating four way battle for supremacy at the front of the field, and in particular the relentless attention being given to one Lewis Hamilton and focus for a while on how the other new boys are doing.

Though you might not know it if you only ever read the popular press, there have been four other rookies, or near rookies on the grid this season. If you have the dubious pleasure of picking up the ITV coverage, you could be forgiven for thinking Lewis Hamilton the least experienced driver in the field, but in fact, the man with the least previous experience of powerful single seaters, let alone F1 mileage, is Spyker new boy Adrian Sutil.

Sutil, unlike Hamilton, has hardly had an error free start to his F1 career (offs in four of his five Grands Prix so far). On the plus side, though, he has looked very fast from the off - comfortably outpacing his more experienced team mate Christijan Albers. And remember, Albers had little trouble seeing off Monteiro last year. At Monaco, he went one better and outqualified Takuma Sato and Ralf Schumacher. Frankly, being anywhere other than on the back row is always going to be a pretty impressive achievement in the primitive and underfunded Spyker .

Even the mistakes are somewhat more excusable given his more limited testing mileage, the fact that he is trying to make a name for himself in a desperately slow car, and the fact that those at the wrong end of the grid are far more likely to get caught up in opening lap chaos.

The other absolute beginner on the grid, of course, is Heikki Kovalainen. Unlie Sutil or Hamilton, he has very extensive F1 testing experience, having been Renault's official test driver throughout last year. However, one wonders if this was necessarily the best preparation for his first F1 season, or whether it has simply left him race rusty, and unused to driving at the full potential of the car. Testing doesn't normally involve driving at 10/10th, and perhaps after a while it becomes habit-forming. Certainly this might help to explain not only his performance, but also the rather lacklustre start of F1 returnee Alex Wurz over at Williams.

In a way, I feel rather sorry for the Finn. If Hamilton had not come along and redefined what it is possible for an F1 novice to achieve, then Kovalainen's performances in the Renault perhaps wouldn't look so bad. Sure, he was awful in Australia and utterly anonymous in the midfield in Monaco, but in Bahrain and Malaysia he looked the equal of the vastly more experienced Fisichella, and in Spain he actually appeared the quicker of the two.

Given that Fisichella has comprehensively outpaced all but one of his former team mates, including Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, that's perhaps not bad going for a newcomer. Or it wouldn't be, if it wasn't for the fact that said former team mate is himself being given a much harder time by another new boy than Fisichella ever managed to give him. Which, if nothing else, has raised the bar for what is possible for a rookie in the right car, even against the most experienced of team mates. Perhaps he is suffering for the fact that this year's Renault is emphatically not of the same kind of quality as the 2006 car. Certainly it has been said before that while anyone with enough natural talent can be quick in a good, quick car, experience comes to the fore in getting the best out of a more troublesome machine.

Aside from the genuine debutants, there are two nearly new boys - men who have raced before, but who are doing their first full season this year. Anthony Davidson's F1 career, until this year, had been brief and disappointing. Two outings in the second Minardi in 2002 both ended in the gravel trap while a one-off run with BAR in 2004 lasted just a handful of laps before the engine gave up. His potential, therefore, remained something of an unknown when he was announced as Takuma Sato's partner at Super Aguri.

That, to some extent, is how he remains. There has been little to separate him from his more experienced team mate, but it is very hard to know how well, or how badly, the Super Aguri pair are doing. They are in effect running a well proven car on a very minimal budget with the wrong tyres on it. When Davidson or Sato start mixing it with the Williams and Toyotas, it is hard to know whether that is because they are doing an outstanding job, or because a year old Honda on Bridgestone tyres with a group of experienced ex-Arrows men doing the engineering is a pretty serious proposition.

Similar question marks surround the performance of the other nearly-new boy, Robert Kubica. Some people expected that, given his explosive debut last year, he would blow Nick Heidfeld away this season. It hasn't quite worked out that way. The BMW has proven to be a seriously competitive piece of kit, but it has generally been the hitherto anonymous German who has got the most out of it. It is hard to know quite why this should be - perhaps Heidfeld has found having Kubica alongside him a wake up call, perhaps after 8 years in F1, he is finding that having a competitive car has sparked his motivation. Or perhaps Kubica, like Alonso and Raikkonen, is simply struggling to adapt to the very different demands of the new Bridgestone rubber.

Whatever way one looks at it though, the mixed fortunes of what is to my mind, the most promising set of F1 rookies in a very long time is a significant story in itself. It would be a shame if it were entirely lost in the hype surrounding the undoubtedly highly talented Lewis Hamilton.

Post Script - Motorsportsramblings will take a one week break next week. I'll tell you why when I get back...

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Bernie Ecclestone, Silverstone and Third World Follies

Some of you may be aware that Joe Saward and Dave Tremayne have, together with photographer Paul-Henri Cahier, launched a new online Grand Prix magazine, Grand Prix Plus. The first two issues are free, and I've always enjoyed Saward's writing on motorsport, first as Autosport's F1 qualifying writer in the late 80s and early 1990s, and later on his own site, Grand Prix so this is good news, in my book.

Nonetheless, I must take issue with his very first editorial. Under the headline, Spain Gets it Right, Britain gets it Wrong, Saward congratulates the Municipal Government in Valencia for putting up the funding for a second Spanish Grand Prix around the city streets, and criticises the British Government for refusing to contribute towards the reputed £100m cost of 'revamping' Silverstone.

I have to say that Saward's argument, that £100m represents better value for money than the £10bn cost of the London Olympics, is a particularly weak one (albeit other bloggers have taken a different view). Now I have to confess that the Olympics interest me little, save their value to what Jane Austen described as "connoisseurs of human folly". In years to come, I suspect that "better value than the Olympics" will come to be a Treasury equivalent of the phrases "shorter than War and Peace" and "funnier than Psycho". To justify spending £100m on a sporting venue which, lets be honest with ourselves here, attracts only a tiny fraction of the interest generated by major events at Wembley Stadium, is going to be rather tricky. Saying that it beats spending £10bn on a Festival of Minor Sports is a start, but hardly constitutes a sufficient argument in itself. And that's before we get into the small matter of the 'Cash for Ash' scandal and, perhaps more pertinently, the fact that F1 has still been unable to entirely rid itself of cigarette sponsorship (thanks, Ferrari) after all the promises previously made. Suffice to say, the current Labour administration are unlikely to do anything that their opponents could portray as a favour to Bernie Ecclestone.

There are a couple more very pertinent questions which the Government would have to ask before putting up any share of the £100m supposedly needed to regenerate Silverstone. The first question is, quite simply, what do they actually need the money for?. There is no suggestion that the circuit itself isn't up to scratch. No, apparently, the "pit complex" is what needs work. This strikes me as rather odd, because, in all honesty, beyond garage space, mains electricity, running water and somewhere to put the press corps (all of which Silverstone had last time I managed to get into the paddock for a look around, back before paranoia and swipe cards took over in the early 1990s) I'm not quite sure what it is that is needed. What I think Bernie Ecclestone means, when he says that the pit complex and paddock needs £100m work, is that this would be what is needed to match the facilities in some other parts of the world But all the facilities in the world won't change the sporting spectacle, nor will they add to the experience for the vast majority of fans, who aren't allowed anywhere near the paddock, lest they lower the tone.

The second question the Government would surely ask is why the owners of Silverstone can't pay for the work themselves. After all, the British Grand Prix is an event which draws crowds in excess of 100,000, and as anyone who has been to the race knows, the tickets are not exactly cheap. The problem is that, the vast majority of the gate receipts go straight to Bernie Ecclestone's FOM organisation in the form of fees for getting to host the race. On top of that, the race promoters are unable to make any money from corporate hospitality, trackside advertising or TV rights, as all these belong to FOM. The simple truth is that the race fees are set at a level that just about allows the organisers to turn a profit, but in no way would enable the financing of the kind of major capital project now being demanded. Not without government money, anyway.

So why is Silverstone in this indivious position in the first place? The short answer is that around the world, Valencia's regional government are not alone. There are plenty of Governments willing to put up large amounts of money to host a Grand Prix. Shanghai is a very impressive 'facility', but the circuit is rather less inspiring, and several of those responsible for its construction are now facing criminal investigations for misuse of public funds. Bahrain has very striking pit garages but is also one of the most mickey-mouse tracks F1 has ever had the misfortune to visit.

Herman Tilke's efforts at Turkey and Malaysia are rather more impressive but still, the question remains - why are these circuits being built in places with no history of, or interest in, motor racing? Formula 1 fans are mostly to be found in Western Europe (and Japan and Latin America, it must be said), and attempts to expand into other areas of the world have largely failed. This is tacitly admitted, with talk that the forthcoming Singapore Grand Prix will take place at night, to allow for live prime-time broadcast in the sport's core market.

So why (Valencia aside) are Bernie and the powers that be seeking to move the racing out of Europe. To my mind, the biggest clue is to be found in the kind of places that F1 is going to. Countries with weak or non-existent democratic accountability. Countries, in short, which can spend large sums of public money on vainglorious follies, £200m ersatz pits complexes et al, safe in the knowledge that they will never have to account for their decisions to their own populaces. Places like China, Bahrain, Malaysia, all of whom ought to have rather more pressing spending priorities than helping to enrich Bernie Ecclestone.

Recently, I found myself in an online debate as to whether Bernie Ecclestone's influence on the sport had been positive or negative. I chose, in the spirit of contrarianism, to answer that he hadn't made nearly as much difference, one way or the other, as he is usually credited as having done. Sure, he helped to turn Grand Prix racing into a global sport, and he certainly helped to turn it into a television sport. But does anyone really think that, if he hadn't existed, some other entrepreneur wouldn't have done the same thing, sooner or later? What he did was merely what promoters in major professional sports did pretty much everywhere. Got the sport on the telly, then set about ruthlessly milking the TV rights and exerting ever more control over the sport's promotion.

Lately, though, I've begun to wonder whether Bernie's influence has become wholly negative. The drive to go literally wherever the money is runs the risk of alienating the sport's core audience without succeeding in bringing in a new one to replace or augment it. Look at Spa - dropped from the calendar last year, and then look at Malaysia. Ask which of these two events attracted the spectators? Short term greed is in danger of eating away at the foundations of the sport. The danger of leaving things in the hands of the very old is that they don['t necessarily have any interest in thinking long term.

I hope the British Grand Prix survives. Silverstone may not quite be Spa Francorchamps, but it is still one of the finest race circuits on the Grand Prix calendar. Of the 11 teams on the Grand Prix grid, 7 are based in Britain, including the supposedly French Renault, and the supposedly Japanese Honda and Super Aguri. Of the 22 drivers, 4 are British, and 2 of those are Grand Prix winners - and we can I'm sure be confident that it is only a matter of time before Lewis Hamilton joins them. If, though, we lose the British Grand Prix, it will not be the fault of the British Government, nor, on balance, of the BRDC. No, the blame lies firmly with the greed and short-sightedness of Bernie Ecclestone and FOM.

Post script - Though the connection to this week's article is tenuous (he is the President of the BRDC, but that's about it) I really ought to draw your attention to an excellent interview with 1996 World Champion Damon Hill in the Times. Regular readers may know that I never regarded him as a truly first rate driver, but he does strike me as one of the most decent, human guys ever to have become World Champion.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Curious Case of Felipe Massa

So did you stay awake through the Spanish Grand Prix? I did, but I must confess it was something of an effort. After the first lap, there was, by my counting, just one 'on track' pass through the whole race, when Jarno Trulli made a move on Adrian Sutil into turn one, early on. The Circuit di Catalunya has never been especially good for overtaking (memories of wheel to wheel battles in the early years of the circuit's existence notwithstanding, but both the 1991 and 1992 races were wet). The current F1 cars, with their combination of high downforce, aerodynamic instability and relatively low power, merely serve to emphasise the problem.

The Spanish Grand Prix was, thus, the dullest Grand Prix in some while. It was, though, a soporific race which provided a very interesting story. Namely, Felipe Massa is beginning to emerge as Ferrari's lead driver and, perhaps, the favourite for the World Championship. I think its safe to say that pretty well everyone assumed that Kimi Raikkonen would emerge as the de facto team leader at Ferrari. The team were, after all, paying him perhaps as much as six times what they pay Massa. The Finn had built up a reputation during his time at Mclaren for being the outright fastest driver in the world. It was simply assumed that Felipe Massa would pose no serious threat. Even when Massa went quicker in testing, many of us (certainly myself) thought that this was indicative only that Raikkonen was sand-bagging. At most, we thought, he was perhaps taking a little time to get used to the Ferrari and to the working methods of his new team.

And yet here we are, 4 races into the new season, and, except at Australia, where Massa was handicapped by a one-stop strategy and a pre-race engine change, he has looked the quicker of the two Ferrari drivers. Perhaps this is nothing more than an anomaly. Perhaps, come the season's end, we'll be musing about Kimi Raikkonen's strange, slow start at Ferrari. Maybe we'll even be wondering whether this was what let Alonso, or even Hamilton, through to the title. But perhaps not...

I was scouring through Felipe Massa's resume, trying to find any hints that he was a potential front runner in the way that Raikkonen is. Its far from obvious. When he came into Formula 1, in 2002, he was occasionally quick, but wild and erratic. He scored 4 points, which in a 2002 Sauber was a respectable enough haul for a newcomer, but he was outqualified 12-5 by team mate Heidfeld, and ended his season with a sadly characteristic error at the Degner Curves at Suzuka.

He spent a year testing with Ferrari, during which time it is claimed he matured considerably, but when he reappeared with Sauber in 2004, I well recall one Autosport journalist remarking along the lines that "He's so wild he looks like he's going to have an accident at every corner, but his car control is so incredible, he usually manages to keep it to one every race. Which is still not much use." In 2004, he was back at Sauber and paired with Giancarlo Fisichella. He had matured somewhat since his wild opening year but still, he was usually outpaced by the Italian and scored only half his number of points. If one was looking for a potential future world champion, then a man who, after a full season of F1, and another testing with Ferrari, was still being blown away by perpetual underachiever Giancarlo Fisichella surely wouldn't be the obvious bet.

The following season, his third and final at Sauber, saw him paired with a returning Jacques Villeneuve. It was here that perhaps, in retrospect, we began to see signs of what Massa might be capable of. Initially, he considerably outpaced his former world champion team mate, and as the season wore on, Villeneuve was eventually able to get on level terms with the Brazilian, but never really established superiority over him. Having said that, I've always thought Villeneuve one of the luckiest world champions there has ever been, and that by 2005, he was probably some way past his best. It must also be borne in mind that Nick Heidfeld, on balance, fared better against him the following year when they wered paired at BMW.

So, on balance, Massa's 3 year stint at Sauber did only enough to suggest that he was a decent racing driver - a good number 2 for a top team perhaps - and no more. When compared to what Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna were able to do in second rate machinery in their first season, it can't be said that Massa stood out as the kind of driver who might frighten Raikkonen and emerge as a serious title contender.

What, then, of his time at Ferrari, alongside Michael Schumacher? On paper, the qualifying performances at least, seem to suggest that he was really rather close to the 7 time world champion - much more so than anyone might have expected. However, Mark Hughes, a man who frankly knows his stuff, is pretty sure that, when corrected for fuel load, Massa was on average 0.4s a lap slower than Schumacher. By contrast, the fuel-corrected gap between Alonso and Fisichella was just 0.2s My own analysis of fastest race laps last year suggest a similar margin of superiority was enjoyed by Schumacher on Sunday afternoons, too. Perhaps the one thing that can be said is that a more nuanced analysis of their relative performances shows Schumacher way out ahead in the early part of the season, but Massa much closer to him later on in the year. I have seen this put down to a change of race engineer - with Rob Smedley seemingly able to understand what Massa wanted from a car in a way that his previous engineer could not.

And if there is an explanation, perhaps this is it. Rightly or wrongly, Massa has never struck me as the most technical of drivers. I could be wide of the mark, but he doesn't strike me as someone who would simply know what he wanted from a car. Perhaps in Smedley he has finally found someone who has been able to work it out for him - or at least work with him much more effectively. The two wins towards the end of 2006 have convinced Massa that he is capable of winning Grands Prix, and that confidence, combined with a car and team with which he is familiar, has enabled him to really raise his game this year.

I was trying to think of a precedent for what has happened at Ferrari. For sure, illustrious drivers have been matched or even outpaced by newcomers before. One thinks, for instance of Nelson Piquet against reigning champion Niki Lauda at Brabham in 1978. Or, with neat symmetry, of Michael Schumacher against three time champion Nelson Piquet at Benetton some 14 years later. Perhaps by the end of the year, we might be adding the names of Hamilton and Alonso to that list. Its something which happens from time to time. It might happen still more often if inexperienced drivers more regularly walked straight into front running teams.

But an established star being outpaced by a well established number 2, a known quantity? That is actually rather rarer, by my reckoning. In fact, Massa's performances remind me of a very different personality with a very similar reputation some 20 years earlier.

By 1986, Nigel Mansell had been knocking around F1 for several years. There was no doubt that he could be fast on his day, but he didn't seem to be really quick. He was, for instance, generally outpaced by Elio De Angelis, a good rather than great driver, at Lotus in 1984. He also had a reputation for bottling it when the really big opportunities came - most notably at Monaco in 1984. Towards the end of 1985, in his first season at Williams, however, he began to show real signs of promise. First came a mightily assured second place in treacherous conditions at Spa. Then there was his first win, at Brands Hatch. Two weeks later, he repeated the trick at Kyalami.

For 1986, though, he was paired with Nelson Piquet, a double world champion who had made the Brabham team his own over the past seven years. It was simply assumed that he would put the upstart Mansell in his place. Piquet had acquired a reputation for being the fastest driver in the world at that point, after all. Yet, that wasn't the way it played out. In the first part of the season, Mansell was generally comfortably quicker. And in the second half, Piquet succeeded only in closing the gap - he never established superiority. The following year, the gap between the two seemed even greater, and it is only sheer blind luck which gave Nelson his third and final title that year.

It is hard to think of two more disparate people than the sunny Massa and the perpetually sullen, chippy Mansell, but their remarkable similarities in their early careers. Neither was an instantly fast and consistent, natural. Both struggled to shake off a reputation for being fallible under pressure. And now I wonder if the comparison might be an omen. Because, of course, in 1986, Piquet eventually fought back against the upstart and began to take points of him. And that battle enabled a little Frenchman by the name of Alain Prost to sneak through and win the title. He, of course, drove a Mclaren....

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Field of Dreams

Hats off, I think, to BMW for letting Nick Heidfeld loose around the old Nurburgring in a modern F1 car. To my knowledge, its the first time a contemporary F1 car has been driven round the 'Ring since James Hunt won the last German Grand Prix to be held there, back in 1976. OK, so Nick admits that this was no banzai attempt to smash the lap record. BMW had put him on 'demonstration' tyres which were around 10% slower than the race rubber, even at the highest possible ride height, the car couldn't get around Karussel and it was geared to go no faster than 275kph down the fearsomely long Dottinger Hohe.

The end result was that his 8m 34s time was in no way representative of what a modern F1 car could do, given free rein. Even allowing for the demonstration rubber, even allowing for the fact he had to slow down for the cameras in a few places, and even allowing for a certain sense of self preservation, there is little doubt that Heidfeld was never attempting to run at a really quick pace. After all, Stefan Bellof managed to get a heavy, and by modern standards, slow and primitive Porsche 956 round the circuit in a little over 6 minutes, at the last really serious race to be held at the old 'Ring, back in 1983.

On the one hand, I'm disappointed that Heidfeld wasn't let off the leash a little more. I'm sure that a modern F1 car would have little trouble breaking the 6, if not perhaps, the 5 minute barrier without the driver having to take any undue risks. And the onboard footage would have been absolutely breathtaking . On the other hand though, perhaps it is more appropriate that the outright records remain in the hands of drivers who were pushing to the limits in competition, to Bellof (outright) and Lauda (F1), rather than going to an F1 driver doing a press stunt in a car vastly superior to anything that ever raced there in anger. And we'll always have Derek Bell's 'In Car 956' footage. (A poor quality version can be found on Youtube.)

Sometimes, I think F1 goes too far in compromising the essential spectacle of the sport in the name of safety, whether it be the slowing of the final corner at Barcelona, the removal of the walls from some parts of Monte Carlo or the vogue for absurdly huge tarmac run-offs at new circuits in Bahrain and Turkey which fundamentally trivialise the consequences of driver error. I cannot, however, argue that the old Nordschleife is in any way a suitable circuit for a modern F1 car. There is no way that a circuit which used to see single seaters regularly airborne, which has so many blind crests and which is, after all, 14 miles long could host a Grand Prix now. As Anthony Davidson pointed out in an article for Autosport a couple of years back, in a contemporary F1 car, there is every chance that the driver could be flat out for minutes on end around the 'Ring.

No, I'm just glad that there was a time when it was possible to race state of the art racing cars round so daunting, so beautiful a circuit. That, even if it was all over before I was born, it was possible to go racing at such a mad venue. There may be nothing like it on the calendar now, but at least there are the stories: of Jackie Stewart's 4 minute winning margin in the rain in 1968, or Juan Manuel Fangio's comeback drive in 1957. And there's the pictures - most iconically - of all manner of single seaters airborne at the aptly named Flugplatz.

There is something though, which was a massive part of what made the Nurburgring so special, which I really wish was emulated more in modern F1 circuit design. Elevation change. I grew up watching F3, touring cars and even, on one occasion, truck racing, at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park. These were circuits with some pretty serious undulations, and finding the limit at, say, Deer Leap or Paddock Hill Bend was something which really separated the men from the boys. For the most part, Herman Tilke's efforts have been disappointingly flat (though I've always liked Sepang anyway) but there is a sign that with Turkey, he has begun to understand what can be gained from including a hill or two. Lets hope there's more of the same at Singapore and Dubai.

If you really want to see something truly in the spirit of the original Nordschleife though, forget cars and look instead to those crazy guys on motorbikes. Specifically, look to the Isle of Man at the end of the month. The TT is over 100 years old, and the Snae Fell Mountain Course is 37 miles long - or 2.5 Nordschleifes! The big names may stay away these days - World Champions Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini won the event many times, but Valentino Rossi et al have never shown any interest - but this is perhaps the purest road race left in the sport. See it before they ban it.

Post-script: As many of you will no doubt be aware, it is possible for anyone to turn up in their own car and drive the Nordschleife. A friend went round it in his Mazda RX-8 recently and spoke glowingly of the experience. Even if he did end up getting rather scared by the bikers...

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How to go Motor Racing

Peter Sauber's old boys are doing rather well aren't they. There's little doubt that, after the first 3 races, Ferrari and Mclaren are some way out in front of the field, but contrary to what might have been expected, it is BMW which is leading the chasing pack. Renault, Williams, Toyota, Honda and Red Bull would certainly be happy to swap their position with that of the Swiss/German team.

I have to confess that when BMW took over the Sauber team, I didn't think any good would ever come of it. I wasn't alone on this, either - Mike Lawrence confidently predicted that they would never win a race - save in the kind of circumstances which led to Giancarlo Fisichella's shock win for Jordan at Interlagos in 2003. The doubters had good reason to be pessimistic. After all, Mario Thiessen had spent six years trying and failing to win the world championship with Williams - a real racer's team which had won multiple titles with Renault, Honda and Cosworth. One got the impression that both parties were more interested in apportioning blame for failure than in seeking success. Certainly, there appeared to be a degree of resentment from Frank's men at what they saw as inappropriate meddling on the chassis side of things. The odds seemed against Thiessen achieving anything with the solid and respectable, but hardly front-running Sauber team. It looked for all the world that BMW's board had sanctioned a colossal ego-trip on the part of their motor-racing chief.

And yet it hasn't worked out that way. Maybe Thiessen was simply capable of much more when given complete control. Maybe Frank Williams and Patrick Head are simply out of touch these days. Maybe the shared Germanic culture of Sauber and BMW has smoothed working relations, but BMW have emerged as the front running full manufacturer team in just their second season of F1.

This begs an interesting question. If, for example, Volkswagen's board was looking at putting together an F1 programme, what lessons are there to be learned about how to go about it. More importantly, perhaps, what traps should definitely be avoided. Here are 6 useful pointers:

Resist the temptation to start from scratch

Formula 1 is a seriously complicated business these days. The balance of power between the teams may shift from one year to the next, but all are relying on a vast bank of knowledge and past experience. Toyota have spent perhaps more than any other team in establishing their Formula 1 team over the past five years, and yet still it has not paid off. BMW and Renault, on the other hand, have done well out of buying up a midfield team and injecting fresh capital. Chassis manufacture, in particular, remains something of a black art even now, and its better to buy in the experience of an existing privateer team. Going further back, Renault did everything in house first time around, and while they came close to winning the title in 1983, there is little doubt that they squandered a huge early advantage with their turbo engines because they didn't know enough about chassis building. Michiel Mol, and perhaps even Dietrich Mateschitz or Frank Williams could probably be persuaded to sell at the right price.

Leave the job to the racing people

I may not be Mario Theissen's greatest fan, but he has been around motor racing for a long time and he understands how the business works. Likewise, Renault have taken a very hands-off approach to the running of their race team. They have left the Enstone team in the guiding hands of Flavio Briatore, a man who may not understand what makes a car fast, but certainly knows how to manage racing people. By contrast, Toyota have always more directly involved their company's senior management, and recently, it appears Honda have begun to head down the same track. The task of building two fast racing cars is very different from that of building hundreds of thousands of reliable cars that people want to buy. Don't assume the skills are interchangeable.

Don't hire and fire

Surely nobody made a bigger mess of running their works Formula 1 team than Ford/Jaguar did. In the five years they were in F1, they got through countless team principals and managers - Neil Ressler, Niki Lauda, Bobby Rahal, Tony Purnell and Dave Pitchforth. Nobody was in the job long enough, or was given enough freedom, to turn things around. It's worth remembering, too, that top F1 people tend to come with massive egos and an unshakeable belief that they are right and senior management are wrong. Let them think that. When it comes to F1, they're probably right. Toyota and Honda are widely rumoured to have sacked Geoff Willis and Mike Gascoygne because they showed insufficient respect for company bigwigs, and look where that got them. Renault and BMW, on the other hand, have tended to be able to keep hold of their technical people.

Don't think an F1 team is just another corporate department

I've pointed out before in a piece about Toyota that running an F1 team as if it is a department in a large corporation is unlikely to work out. Recent anonymous articles from a Honda insider at Pitpass indicate that the same problem is infecting them now. I think it was Jackie Stewart who said that an F1 team should have a "corner shop" rather than a "big store" mentality. This means a degree of flexibility and a distrust of strict hierarchies that is uncommon in any large commercial organisation. Renault, in particular, seem to have done a very good job of maintaining this feel to their race team, and the result is that the best people want to work for them, even though they are not thought to offer the same kind of financial incentives as, say, Toyota or Mclaren.

Making sure that the parent company doesnt interfere with the operational decisions of the team for non-racing reasons is equally important. When Jaguar came into F1, they had a much greater budget than in their later years but it was squandered on things like ensuring that the computer systems were in line with Ford company procurement policy. Toyota's switch to Bridgestone tyres in 2006, long after the team had begun designing their 06 car around Michelin rubber was rumoured to be similarly motivated by corporate, rather than racing reasons (Toyota road cars come with Bridgestone, rather than Michelin tyres, apparently). The long and the short of it is that F1 is too cut-throat a business to allow for these kind of compromises.

Sort out the drivers

Getting the right drivers is a notoriously tricky business. As Patrick Head once said, the problem is that its always a bit of a shot in the dark. There are, however, some obvious mistakes to avoid. Don't pay over the odds for a driver who is clearly not from the very top drawer. There is really very little reason to pay more than, say £2m to any driver who is not Raikkonen, Alonso or (it would now seem) Hamilton. In particular, there really is no earthly explanation for why Toyota have made Ralf Schumacher the second highest paid driver in the F1 paddock. He's not necessarily a bad choice of driver for Toyota. He's competent and fast, if not quite from the very top drawer, and he arguably makes more sense than an unproven youngster, but there is no way he is worth what he is paid. Jaguar Racing, who made pretty much every mistake in the book, made an arguably even greater error in paying a vast fortune to Eddie Irvine to tool around in a series of awful Jaguars for 3 years.

Ask whether its really worth it...

I don't have the definitive answer to the question of whether "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" really holds true. I think that various marques have enhanced their image by their involvement in F1. This may have helped them to sell cars. It may not have done. It is entirely possible that advertising/branding itself is a great swindle perpetrated on the industrial classes by cunning arts and media studies graduates. That's for another time. What I do know is that Mercedes stick to building engines, and leave the racing car manufacturing to Mclaren. It saves them an awful lot of work, and right now, I'm not sure they're getting any less positive publicity than they would if the car was simply a 'Mercedes'. In fact, by being directly associated with a famous racing name like Mclaren, they might even benefit more. Did winning the world title as 'Renault' really do Renault any more for their image than winning it as the engine supplier to Williams or Benetton? Perhaps Toyota should sell the racing team and jump into bed with Williams...

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