The FIA had its last big convention for the year yesterday. As a result, the motorsports calendar is now set in stone, including a surprise or two. While they were at it, the FIA signed of some new regulations regarding F1.
For the first time in years, teams have an actual choice regarding the tires they will run. The whole idea originated at Force India. They suggest to leave tire choice completely to the teams, creating more diversity and action as it would allow for different strategies or even different approaches to vehicle construction (slower, tire conserving car vs. fast, tire consuming car). Pirelli thought this was too risky and feared teams always picking the super soft tire as some sort of “Qualifying Joker” and a harder race tire. Whenever a driver would overdo it on the super soft and it would blow, Pirelli once again would be the target of heavy criticism. Instead, the Italian tire monopolist came up with a more conservative, complicated solution.
For every weekend, three specs of tires from the total pool of five (Hard, Medium, Soft, Super Soft and the new Ultrasoft) will be nominated by Pirelli. As before, each driver receives 13 sets of dry tires. Two of those sets will be locked in by Pirelli, the team can chose another 10 sets freely. The remaining set will be the softest of the bunch, reserved for Q3. Of course, each driver can chose independently from his teammate which could for example add another dimension to the Mercedes thriller upfront.
I’m not sure why it had to be so complicated in the end; a signed waiver by every team that frees Pirelli from any litigation and public blame in case a tire blows up would have been sufficient. But that’s F1 for you: worsen the original idea and then make it more complex.
Sadly, when talking about the calendar, Pirelli is not involved. If none of the Grand Prix promoters defaults, F1 will have its longest season every at 21 races. Germany returns as Hockenheim is back, Azerbaijan (one of those rogue states that is blessed with oil money) hosts the “European” Grand Prix in Baku. Yep, that’s the European Grand Prix right at the shore of the Caspian Sea. Only in F1 and the European Games.
Malaysia was moved from the start of the season to the end and is now part of an Asian triple tour (Singapore, Sepang, Suzuka) following the European races. Russia took Malaysia’s spot and is now the fourth race of the season. It kind of makes sense travel wise as Bernie’s retinue just makes a weekend-stop on their way back to Europe from China.
A general problem I see with the inflation of races is the oversaturation of spectators. Even as a die-hard F1 fan, 21 races are plenty. It also takes an extra toll on the travelling crew members. David Richards, head of Aston Martin Racing (more on them and F1 2016 later), for example stated that he is not ready to do the whole crusade: leave the family in February, come back in December. Cutting down the number of races highlights another issue though: events that are, well, held in non-traditional F1 countries such as Azerbaijan bring in a lot of cash. The money is being distributed through FOM to the teams, so less events equals less revenue. And less revenue could push one or two teams over the edge and into bankruptcy.
Force India is an amazingly efficient team. After starting out with the ruins of the former Jordan team and being dead last, the team started a process of constant improvement and now very deservedly holds P5 in the constructor’s championship. All of that with less than a third of the top team’s budget. Seeing their success rewarded financially would make me incredibly happy and prove that while F1 is a very, very hard place, effort and cleverness pay off. The rewards could come in form of two sponsors: Aston Martin and Johnny Walker.
Aston Martin is about to renew their beautiful but aging model range with the help of Mercedes-AMG. Their other motorsports program, GT3 and GTE racing, doesn’t receive the media attention they need to grow into a profitable business, so entering F1 could solve that. Force India is probably the most cost-efficient way to do so, especially if they buy the naming rights. And politically, the connection with Mercedes grows further as Mercedes HPE keeps supplying engines. Johnny Walker, having just walked away from McLaren (does that qualify as a pun?), is reportedly ready to join Aston Martin Mercedes. I bet that they get a far better deal than what McLaren, notoriously expensive when it comes to having logos on their cars, could offer them.
All of the restructuring should result in a color change. Frankly, I have no idea what the racing color of Johnny Walker is, but with Aston Martin it should be either a British Racing Green or Gulf color respray. Fingers crossed that the deals go through and that Perez and Hülkenberg get some nice new company cars.
While nothing is official yet: Red Bull will keep on racing with Renault engines. Their last hope, Honda, was shushed down courtesy of Ron Dennis. What’s unclear yet is how the engine will be called: Nissan was rumored, but maybe another unsuccessful racing endeavor isn’t what the manufacturer that struggles with passing LMP2s in their LMP1 car needs?
Red Bull themselves is not helping: instead of a clear announcement, a suggestive tweet introduces TAG Heuer as their new partner. The watch manufacturer from the LVMH luxury goods empire is another sponsor deserting from McLaren. In the past, the TAG name has literally powered McLaren to championships: in the glorious eighties, Porsche developed a mighty turbo engine that received TAG branding. Is the “Swiss Engineering to close the gap next season” and the men in white lab coats an indication of the naming scheme for next season? Or is Infiniti, also present in the picture, elevated in terms of sponsoring for 2016? Questions that will be cleared up when Renault is ready to announce their plans. Speaking of…
… says Autosport. Which would be fantastic news for everyone.
Jean Todt, head of the FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone, head of FOM, received an early Christmas present: it is understood that until January 31st, Bernie and Jean will have the power to decide over the most pressing issues on their own, bypassing the usual sanctioning bodies. The issues they two will be talking about for two months will be costs and how to reduce them, the role of the strategy group and engine regulations, including an alternative engine or a whole new rulebook for everyone come 2018. We’ll see if that’s a productive arrangement.
Anything else you think is noteworthy? Leave a comment and discuss it with other users and the staff of Formula Freak. On an unrelated note, if you have a specific question regarding the distribution of money and power in F1, ask it in the comments and I will try to include the answer in an upcoming article about just that.