Welcome to the Formula Freak Paddock Club. It's far less exclusive and pricey than the real thing, but also more laid back and entertaining in its virtual entirety. We will cover pretty much everything interesting that has been going off track. This edition will be a bit longer than usual, simply because Monaco always creates many stories and because there was a two week gap between races
Dinner for winners
Now that everyone expects Mercedes to walk away with both championships, media has been concentrating on creating the illusion of a team that is fighting internally for the lead. Team Rosberg vs. Team Hamilton. While I'm not saying that there won't be any conflicts towards the end of the season, I can't imagine it already being a full on Prost-Senna or Rossi-Lorenz style war.
To keep it that way (and as a thank you gesture for the great work so far), Niki Lauda invited the two Mercedes GP directors, Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe, and the drivers to a nice dinner. This being Monaco it took place on a boat, the boat of current FIA Formula 3 commissioner Gerhard Berger.
Even Lauda expect an on track escalation though, at least if the dominance continues:
"Irgendwann wird es krachen. Wenn die beiden weiter so ihr eigenes Rennen vor dem Feld fahren, wird die Wahrscheinlichkeit eines Crashs immer größer."
"It will crash at some point. If the two keep having their own race in front of the field the probability of crash is getting bigger."
Ferrari and their GOT-like intrigues on a new level
Not only is Ferrari the only top team not located in England's motorsport valley, it also is truly unique in terms of internal politics. No team has got as much fighting for power going on behind the scenes as the Scuderia. Paired with "The Duke" Montezemolo's attitude of success-or-your-head, things are bound to get interesting when something doesn't work out.
Back in 2011, Aldo Costa was fired for not being able to keep up with the RB7 and McLaren. They didn't jump on the blown diffuser trend fast enough and couldn't catch up like McLaren. 3 years later, and Costa was one of the main minds behind the Mercedes W04.
After another poor start Stefano Domenicalli left, more or less voluntarily. In an interview he revealed whom he informed first after Montezemolo: Alonso, Raikkönen and... Vettel! He wouldn't say why and told the press to "find out themselves", but it's fuelling rumours about Sebastian putting on a red overall in the future.
Let's say he fulfils his current contract, then he could be paired up with Alonso in 2016. The two time champion is often called the best driver on the grid, recently so by Mercedes CEO Dr. Zetsche. Fernando accepted the compliment but also said that it's strange to hear these things from the rivals and people not close to him and not by his employer.
Normally, I would have expected a Ferrari press release stating that the team has priority, but it looks as if Alonso has become so powerful that he more or less forced the Ferrari boss hand out a love letter addressed to himself. It included humble stuff: Fernando is the best driver in the world, always gives 200%, they all rely on him. Lovely.
All of that won't help if they can't deliver a competitive car. After a new wind canal, simulation tools, a new Headquarter (pictured above) and possibly Newey, Montezemolo made it public that profit from car sales can be channelled into the team to finally get back to the top.
Is Monza's Parabolica being toned down?
Monza and Monaco – two tracks that couldn't be more different in its layout and in what they demand from drivers and cars. Both have been visited by F1 since 1950 (if you exclude the 1980 Italian GP which was held in Imola) and both are known for being old school tracks that require a good amount of confidence.
What I like in particular about these kind of tracks is that they don't forgive mistakes easily. In Monaco, a mistake nearly always means unpleasant contact with the Armco, and in Monza, a mistake at least makes the mechanics jump with joy when they have the honor of cleaning a race car from grass and gravel. Same things can't be said for most modern tracks – there is tarmac run off the size of football fields.
And good old Monza is rumoured to become a bit more modern in that way. The large gravel traps surrounding the last corner – the Parabolica – are said to be paved over. Sure, it might be saver, but it also harms the magic of a perfect Monza lap, which includes to place the low downforce car perfectly on corner exit, centimetres away from gravel that could ruin your session, and to be on the throttle as early as possible for a good run down to the line. Hamilton for example damaged his Mercedes last year by going too wide and possibly lost pole position.
Will GP racing return to the origin of GP racing?
Since 2012 people have been talking about a return to France. Romain Grosjean came back and after a one and a half year long crash phase he started to perform magnificently. Jean-Eric Vergne had chances to drive along Vettel this year but ultimately had to stay with Torro Rosso. And then there is Renault who supplied engines with great success. Time to revisit the country in which GP racing has its origins.
Until last year everyone was expecting the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit to host the show. It is super modern, offers beautiful climate and most importantly belongs to Mr. Eclestone (who had it built to the current specifications in the first place).
But since then, Magny-Cours came back as a possibility. It never was a track that was a driver's favourite because of its lack of overtaking possibilities, but Magny-Cours has got something that Paul Ricard wouldn't have: state subsidies. Which means more money for Bernie. And that's something he never says no to. It is said that there is a signature ready contract between Eclestone and Magny-Cours, waiting for final approval.
Speaking of Vergne…
What is Torro Rosso's purpose? It's the gate for young Red Bull talents to come into F1 and get the experience they need. It's the gateway to Red Bull Racing.
I along with many people suspect that the team isn't a place to get old. As soon as Dr. Marko has got enough of you and your driving and as soon as your "window" closes, you are sitting in a very unable position. Young drivers full of ambition and prospect are pushing from below, and the big team is all set. Nowhere to go.
That looks like Vergne's current situation. See, Daniel Kwjat, the young Russian, has performed surprisingly well and was even more consistent with scoring points, despite having an experience handicap of two years. That's what Horner had to say:
"Der Kvyat fährt den Vergne ganz schön an die Wand. Wenn das so weitergeht, beerdigt er ihn."
"He's pretty much outdriving Vergne. If it continues like this he's burying him."
And Franz Tost just praised Carlos Sainz Jr. and his performance in the Renault World Series. He also mentioned the likeliness of him getting a chance behind the wheel of a Torro Rosso this year, preferably at a Friday practice session.
Frankly, Vergne should start looking for possible alternatives in the paddock – Haas could use a fast driver.
Haas F1 shaping up, is more early Red Bull than early Caterham
After receiving the official entry for F1 as one of two possible new teams, Haas F1 is officially growing. Guenther Steiner, former Jaguar and Red Bull technical director, is a key figure in building the teams foundation. So far, things have been going surprisingly well.
Gene Haas is apparently trying to partner up with a major player in F1 so that his team can concentrate on the essentials: making the car fast. They are looking for a deal which included engines, gearboxes, hydraulics and unified crash structures. Basically, as much as possible is being outsourced.
The favourite for a partnership so far is Ferrari. They have the capacity to supply everything what Haas asked for, and are well connected with Dallara (who also are involved with Ferrari's GTE program) who are set to build the first Haas chassis. Mercedes would also have liked to get along the American-F1-Team-Train, but have no capacity to deliver everything Haas asked for.
Meanwhile in Mooresville, North Carolina, a new building is being constructed to accommodate 200 engineers that will design the car. It is bound to open in September, which would just be enough to make it to the grid in 2015. Also, Haas owns one of the best wind canals in the business: Windshear. It offers every possible simulation and can run tests at 290kp/h. The main problem: it is designed to work with 1:1 scale models, something that F1 only allows 3 days of work with. The current F1 standard is a 60% model, and Haas is working on adapting a part of the facility to this mode of operation.
And don't worry, they have enough applications: Steiner was speaking of a whole stack of CVs that are on his table. Promising. All they need now is a European base to maintain the cars during the EU races.
All in all, the Haas project feels a lot more like the Red Bull start back in 2005 than the quick and somewhat hurried entries of Caterham, HRT and Virgin.
Maldonado's greatest attribute likely gone bust
Imagine you are a team owner. You are sitting in your office, observing the assembly and service bays of your F1 team through your window. You see the chassis being stripped down and rebuild carefully, including the newest updates from the design office. Beautiful carbon fibre wraps a powerful metal engine.
And then your eyes wander over the contract offer for Pastor Maldonado. What is his most attractive feature? PDVSA. Venezuela's national oil company is allegedly pumping as much as 35 million dollars per year into Maldonado's racing adventure, and some millions into WEC endurance racing. For the past years, these payment have been save thanks to Hugo Chavez' personal support for Pastor, but it all changed when the old man died and a new government took over. The new minister for sports, Antonio Alvarez, has had the following to say:
"I know I'm going to win a lot of enemies, but there will be not one more dollar for motor racing. Venezuelan sport has other priorities, and it would be unfair to use state resources for disciplines that are not in line with the development of the country."
Who I am really concerned for is Lotus. It is no secret that they brought Maldonado to the team instead of Hülk for financial reasons, and they still are struggling despite having reduced employees to 470 (compare that to the 800 people the top 3 employ now!). Imagine what happens if the major sponsor breaks away and leaves a gap in the budget…
Hamilton proves his great taste in vehicles again
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Lewis. I like his driving style, and I love how he always performed well since his rookie days. Another aspect I like about him: his taste in cars. See, while many F1 drivers have great "company" cars on the weekends, some don't seem to be that enthusiastic about street cars. Hamilton is the exact opposite. His garage? A SL65 AMG Blackseries (Vettel has one, too), a new SLS AMG Blackseries and, even more amazing, a one-off Pagani Zonda 760LH. A street going version of the Zonda R coupled to a manual 6 speed. Oh boy. Excuse me for a few minutes.
The problem with all three of these wonderful machines: Monaco is the hotspot of glamour traffic jam. There is no way for something with 4 wheels to quickly cut through traffic. Luckily, Lewis knew that in time and ordered himself a custom motorbike: a legendary F4 "Tamburini" by MV Augusta, one of Italy's most traditional manufacturers. Lovely. It even fascinated the F1 mechanics:
Other news from around Monte Carlo:
- Eclestone ready to go if CVC finds someone to replace him. That might be just the case with Premier League Boss Scudamore who is under pressure because of a sexism scandal. The perfect next Mr. E.
- McLaren allegedly once again terminated negotiations with an asian company about a title sponsorship. Maybe Ron Dennis is asking too much for ads on a team that barely makes it into top 10? Pictured below is brilliant artist Camille de Bastiani's mockup of a 2015 McLaren MP4-30.
- Lewis Hamilton was out with his ex Nicole Scherzinger and bearded singer Conchita Wurst.
Photo credit (in order):