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F1

If there was any justice, there would have been three top steps on the podium in the 2021 Russian Grand Prix.

But that's not how it works.

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It is becoming increasingly clear that my earlier argument that, if F1 is serious about providing the closest racing and the best spectacle, it really should abandon the massive shift in car design that is, now, only eight (or less) races away. The new qualifying format creates ample opportunity for the grid to be turned on its head and that helps but, as the race in Zandvoort showed, the fact that the lower budget teams have now had the chance to catch up with the big spenders has brought most of the pack into contention, as McLaren's historic first and second demonstrated in Monza.

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We're used to weather at the mighty Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes forest. Like many racing circuits, it has a micro-climate and, because of its trees, it is usual for moisture to hang around instead of burning off or blowing away.

But the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was something else entirely.

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It would be easy, after all the negativity from Red Bull and Verstappen to see the Dutchman's first corner crash at the Hungaroring as karma but nothing could be further from the truth; nor could any implication that it was caused by a Mercedes to further undermine his title challenge. The simple fact is that a near-inevitable chaotic start to the race nearly put out half-the field of which Verstaapen was one of the entirely innocent pins in a high-speed game of skittles.

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In two races, four penalties have been awarded against drivers who were on the inside of corners when an opponent made an ill-advised overtaking manoeuvre around the outside and, for his trouble, went off, alleging fault on the part of the driver who had been in front going into the corner.

So now it's clear: if you want to sabotage someone else's race, especially in the melée of the first lap, all you have to do is take a dive. Norris and Russell and, almost karma-like, Perez have all suffered penalties when someone else put themselves in harm's way and then complained about it.

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F1 is making a bad mistake. Recent racing shows exactly why.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it; let well alone, and such phrases come to mind.

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The Styrian Grand Prix was very misleading. It looked processional, almost pedestrian. But it was far from that. Equally importantly, it wasn't a race of pit-stop strategies. Yes, there were some tyre management strategies employed - and if they demonstrated anything it was that, in general, it doesn't matter what tyres are used in which order and, equally, it isn't critical if drivers burn the tyres early in a stint or at the end. In fact, the only thing about tyres was whether they would determine a one or two stop race.

What really matters is that Red Bull and their soon-to-be-former engine supplier Honda have quietly gone about producing a car that is faster and handles better than the Mercedes. At the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton implied that his only hope for a win was that it would rain. It didn't.

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There's an old story of the boy who cried wolf: he told villagers that a wolf was coming so often that, when it was true, no one believed him. Mercedes have the opposite problem: they have been so dominant for so long that they could rely on Hamilton's genius and a rock-solid car to win race after race, championship after championship, break record after record.

Nothing in Formula One is easy but getting a great start and bolting out of reach, for so long Mercedes' stock in trade, has made it look simple. And they have been complacent.

It seems that they have failed to develop the thing that wins races when there are competitors: they don't know how to build winning strategies.

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It's the year that shouldn't have been and Mercedes are having a tough 2021. What's going on?

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It's the ultimate dream for motor racing fans and for a driver paying his dues in a tail-end-charlie team, even more so: the call comes from the boss of the most dominant team the sport has ever seen which is seemingly getting better and better. How do you fancy a drive this weekend? a voice at the other end of whatever is the modern equivalent of the line. Of course you say "yes." Sure, their car is designed to be the fastest in practice and to win from the front; sure their pitstops aren't as fast as you are used do; sure it's the same engine as has been helping you trudge around trying not to get lapped but the package it's in and the team around it are, somehow, in a different league and no one in your present team knows why - for sure, it's not dedication and sacrifice.

So, of course you say yes. Welcome to the week when George Russel's dreams came true - then were dashed in a series of critical errors by the Mercedes team and a couple of bits of bad luck.

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When we wrote, in early 2010, a satire suggesting that Bernie Ecclestone might improve F1's racing by adding sprinklers to tracks (here ) we didn't expect that a few weeks later he would actually say he thought it was a good idea (but he didn't mention that we'd already put it forward). But the idea gained new impetus with the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix which turned out to be almost a proof of concept - and in doing so produced a race that, visually, looked more like the crazy days of 1970s and 1980s racing before sticky tyres and near-unbreakable downforce turned the sport into an engineering arms race that is at least as important as the driver's skill.

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Multiple Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton is the poster-boy for anti-racism. He has put himself in that position and there is absolutely no question - the world needs good people to stand up and speak out against bad things.

However, his symbolism is misplaced and those that demand compliance with it are doing more harm than good.

When we all wrapped up at the end of the 2019 Formula One season, there was the usual end of season feeling: a bit excited, a lot deflated (the Abu Dhabi race does that to me every time - it just doesn't cut it coming after Brazil) and a feeling that the next few months would be punctuated with bits of news from factories, some driver chat and the testing in Barcelona so we northern Europeans get reminded of what sun looks like. And then, it's off to Australia - in reality or virtually - for the season opener that really tells us nothing much about how the season will go and - fun as it is, it's really a shakedown test with points for those that don't shake apart. A huge cock up saw the teams arrive, unpack, set up cars - and then put them all back in the box and go home without a single car doing a lap. Covid-19 had struck and chaos reigned. Until yesterday.

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As more and more photos emerge of near empty restaurants and entertainment outlets, it's clear that governments are going to have to do something to help, even if it causes some political, even religious, dissatisfaction.

Testing is just that. It's not racing, it's not practice. It's one step before final shakedown. And it's one step up from running a highly sophisticated video game a.k.a. a simulator. Before the car arrives at the track, teams have buckets of data. Then, sometimes literally, the wheels come off.

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