Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My recommendations to the FIA

I was so excited with the FIA's decision to assign double points to the F1 championship finale, especially given the traditional venue, Abu Dhabi. After all, this is where fine folks like Nuvolari, Fangio, Clark, Stewart and Senna honed their skills and set the parameters for the history of motor racing. Thus I decided to give some suggestions of my own, to enhance our cherished championship. No need to pay, Mr, Todt. I am giving this free of charge. All I want is genuine emotion.

First of all I think F1 should adopt NASCAR style score. I reckon things would be narrow. This might also be the only chance Marussia amd Caterham get of scoring points before their ultimate demise.

As for the grid, I believe the grid for the entire year should be reverse of the championship order, by that meaning Vettel would always start last, and Marussia and Caterham up front. It will be fun seeing these  two teams leading the first seconds of every race before being wrecked out by a lightning faster midfielder Perhaps Alonso will win a championship for Ferrari that way.

Another reasonable option would be having Vettel always starting last. Perhaps one lap late! He should be punished for being so good! Anti-meritocracy for all. A cool 50 kg of ballast would do him good, the kid is too thin.

We could also do like the 30s, when grid positions were decided by chance. No more qualifying deciding starts, that is so passé. The qualifying thing could remain, for the heck of it, after all, it is an additional TV program and a chance to rake in a few more bucks.

Furthermore, to increase the game aspect of the category, a driver would be picked by race, to lose the scored points (remember everybody would score with NASCAR scoring). I can't wait to see the loser's face, specially if it is Maldonado. A good thing Chris Amon retired along time ago, otherwise he would be picked every race.

Fun, fun, fun. All cars would be fueled by the FIA. A couple per race would have a tad short on fuel. This would make things very exciting.

If NASCAR scoring is adopted, I also suggest awarding one point per lap a driver is last. That way, the Caterham and Marussia guys stand a chance of winning the championship. To ensure lots of passing up front, I believe a driver should lose a point for every lap led. This would level things out and change strategies.

As for tire changing, I am all for it. The only thing is, the drivers themselves would change them. The only help they would get from the pits is having the car jacked up. The driver would then remove and install the tires. No more 1.9 sec pit stops. After all, the drivers make a bundle, they should work a little more for their money. The teams would also be happy, saving on salaries and uniforms, for they would no longer require 35 guys to service a car.

Drivers who score fastest lap should also dock a few points for all that haste. They would lose 5 points on the next race, no appeal. And the FIA could also assess a speed fine, after all, the rent at Place de La Concorde must be hefty.

These are my humble suggestions. I quite positive we will have a swell championship if they are adopted.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The German mid-70 reaction

Between Wolfgang Von Trips' 1961 title bid and Michael Schumacher's first title in 1994, German drivers went through a long drought in Formula 1. That, coming from a nation that utterly dominated GP racing in the second half of the 30's, must have been a blow.

German drivers during this interval usually did well in long-distance racing, hill climbs, touring cars and even in Formula 2. In fact, German drivers had been runner up in the European Formula 2 championship two years running, 1973 and 1974 (Jochen Mass and Hans Joachim Stuck), during a highly competitive era.

During a short spell, between the Spanish Grand Prix of 1975 and the U.S. Grand Prix East of 1977, the three main German drivers of the time rehearsed a bit of a reaction, that did not really come to fruition. All three, Jochen Mass, Rolf Stommelen and Hans Stuck, lead a Grand Prix in that period. Plus Jochen won the first half Grand Prix of the history of the sport.

Most unusually, Jochen Mass's single win came in the same race in which a fellow German, Rolf Stommelen, was leading for the first time as well, in a Lola, of all cars. The weekend had been one of those dramatic ones, which seemed destined to end in tragedy and so it did. The guard rails at Montjuich Park in Barcelona were coming apart, the drivers threatened a walkout, and at the end, only Emerson Fittipaldi and Arturo Merzario stuck to a plan, both doing a slow first lap in protest.

The two Ferrari's clashed at the start, with Emmo out, and other top racers in trouble, it seemed as if a surprise would spring about. In fact, Mario Andretti led in the Parnelli, and then Rolf Stommelen took the lead, in a car that up to that point had not frequented the front at all. However, the rear wing support collapsed, and Rolf crashed. He sustained serious injuries that sidelined him for a while, however, some spectators were not so lucky and perished. Jochen Mass picked up the lead, and thus, for the first time since 1961 a German driver won a Grand Prix, albeit under sad circumstances.

Rolf would never again be competitive in GP racing, however Mass had a plum ride at McLaren, where he stayed for three seasons. The closest he came to winning a race on sheer speed was the also tragic German Grand Prix of 1976. Jochen started on slicks, on a drying track, and by the end of the first lap had a 30 second lead over second place. Then Niki Lauda crashed, and Mass' advantage evaporated in the second start. From that point on, Mass always played second fiddle to James Hunt.

As for Hans Stuck, he ended up taking the seat vacated by Carlos Pace at Brabham Alfa Romeo in 1977. When Hans was negotiating his retainer at Bernie Ecclestone's office, the astute Brit said that Arturo Merzario was on the other line and would drive for 35 thousand dollars the whole season. Hans, who wanted 100 grand, then accepted driving for 30. Arturo was not at all on the line, but would have been a logical choice for the Alfa Romeo-engined team.

John Watson, the other Brabham driver, was very fast during the rest of the season, led races, however, had a dismal finish record. Hans, on the other hand, was not very fast in qualifying, however, posted a couple of podium finishes. By Watkins Glen, the German had to prove his worth, if he were to have a shot getting a good drive in 1978.

Hans and James Hunt in 1977

Hans did well at the Glen, and it was raining. Few raced better under the rain than Hans. He qualified second, and led the first few laps, but then trouble struck, and that was the end of Hans' life at the top in F1.

In the mid 80's, Stefan Bellof came into F1 and looked like a sure future champion. Unfortunately, his 1984 points were taken away due to Tyrrel's disqualification and he never had the opportunity to show what he was capable of.

Germans would only lead and win again in 1992, when a certain Michael Schumacher broke the pattern,  eventually winning his first Formula 1 title (and Germany's) in 1994.

Carlos de Paula is a translator, writer and auto racing historian living in Miami

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winds of change from the East

These days, we are quite accostumed with the idea of GP drivers from the old Iron Curtain. After all, drivers from Poland, Russia, Czech Republic and Hungary have all driven in Formula 1, and the Pole actually won a race before a rally accident ruined what looked like a great career.

However, in the 70's, we still lived under the Cold War, and the Eastern Block was basically shrouded by mystery. Russia every once announced even more mysterious GP level cars, touring car races were held in Brno, Czechoslovakia, as well as Budapest and Belgrade in the 60s, and East Germany also had a fairly active racing scene. However, dreaming of  an Iron Curtain GP driver in Formula 1 in the 70s was as far fetched as an imagination could go.

Not that the Eastern Block did not have a representative in F1, for Edgar Barth, Jurgen's father, did drive in the category while still East German. And later as West German.

Allow me some poetic liberty. As Formula 2 was, at least in theory, the step category before Formula 1, the driver pictured below almost became the first modern Eastern Block driver to reach Formula 1 in the 70s. Allow me a lot of poetic liberty.

Ok, there was Count Adam Potocki, born in Poland, who raced briefly in F2 in the late 60s, early 70s, however, by that time he had French citizenship. The guy below was the real deal.

The car is a Surtees TS16-Ford, and the driver, Yugoslav Francy Jerancic.

The "lot of poetic liberty" stems from the fact that Francy, who apparently had lots of bourgeois sponsorship in his car, never even came close to qualifying in any of the Championship F2 races he showed up for in 1975. That, of course, meant GP teams were not really lined up to hire the slow Titoland driver, and perhaps bring Vesna sponsorship to F1. Elsewhere, Francy did not steal any headlines either.

Notwithstanding, Jerancic makes a nice conversation piece about "almosts", of which there are so many in car racing.

Carlos de Paula is a translator, writer and auto racing historian based in Miami

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winners of the 6 Hours of Peru

The 6 Hours of Peru is Peru's major car race, and in fact,m a long standing event, held since 1964. In its current form, it is a touring car race, that features more than 30 entrants. A lot of Peruvian drivers who raced abroad, such as Eduardo Dibos, Jorge Koechlin and Neto Jochamowitz have won the event. Ecuadorians  Fausto Merello and Guillermo Ortega won the race in 1968 and American Jim Pace was one of the winners in 2001.

1964 Percy Fox - Kike Pérez
1965 Eduardo Dibós Ch. - Emilio Fort
1966 Leopoldo Barboza - Ricardo Dewitz
1967 Armando Capriles - Alfredo Asencio
1968 Fausto Merello - Guillermo Ortega
1971 Francisco Schettini - Kike Pérez
1973 Miguel Navarro - Udarico Ossio
1976 Eduardo Malachowski - Denis Gonzáles
1977 Pedro De las Casas - Luis De las Casas
1978 Alfredo Bergna - Coco Corbetto
1979 Julio César De las Casas - Luis F. De las Casas
1980 Ricardo Bentín - Gaspare Dalla Francesca
1981 Jorge Koechlin - Gaspare Dalla Francesca
1982 Jorge Koechlin - Tito De la Flor
1983 Eduardo Dibós S. - Eduardo De la Flor
1984 Gaspare Dalla Francesca - Eduardo De la Flor
1985 Henry Peet - Gaspare Dalla Francesca
1986 Luis Alvarado - Alex Wille
1987 Raúl Orlandini - Luis Alayza
1988 Tito De la Flor - Ricardo Dasso
1989 Tito De la Flor - Ricardo Dasso
1990 Tito Pardo - Víctor Alvarado
1991 Francisco Schettini - Luis Mantilla
1992 Raúl Orlandini - Ricardo Menchelli
1993 Gaspare Dalla Francesca - Carlos Ibárcena
1994 Gaspare Dalla Francesca - Neto Jochamowitz
1995 Raúl Velit - Pedro Roca
1996 Neto Jochamowitz - Mario Alberti / Bruno Chiappe
1997 César Vera - Eduardo Aservi
1998 Ricardo Dasso - Bruno Chiappe
1999 Eduardo Dibós - Juan Dibós / Oscar Dufour
2000 Domingo Seminario - Sergio Seminario
2001 Eduardo Dibós - Juan Dibós / Jim Pace
2002 Gustavo Pinillos - Fernando Vera
2003 Gustavo Pinillos - Fernando Vera
2004 Raúl Orlandini - Raúl Orlandini Jr.
2005 Eduardo de la Flor – Wilson Maruy
2006 Christian Kobashigawa – Juan Manuel Polar
2007 Christian Kobashigawa – Juan Manuel Polar
2009 Christian Kobashigawa – Juan Manuel Polar
2010 Christian Kobashigawa – Tomás Oneto
2011 Ricardo Dasso - Godfrey Hemmerde
2013 Raul Orlandini - Ricardo Flores

Photo from the 1964 race

The pay driver "thing"

The pay driver "situation" in Formula 1 is being pictured escathologically as a disaster of the era, the end of the category as we know it. Even Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren chief who should know better, seems to be blowing the thing out of proportion.

First of all, paying drivers always existed in Formula 1, and always will exist, in one fashion or another. Years ago, they came mostly in the form of privateers, drivers who bought and run their own cars on real shoestring budgets, because they did not attract the attention of works teams. Then, when commercial sponsorship came into full force in the 70s (which, by the way, killed the privateers) the teams down the ladder continued to rent seats in their cars to anyone who could bring a few thousand dollars. As a matter of fact, a large number of drivers who raced in Formula 1 in the 70s were paying drivers of one sort or another, and I could list dozens. Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda began their F1 careers renting drives. Even Brabham, which was a well financed team, employed pay driver Hector Rebaque in its championship year, 1981. The list goes on.

The pay drivers continued to exist, although now, sometimes it looks like the driver is not a pay driver. Do the math - if you bring (or attract) 5 million dollars to a team's budget, and the team pays you US$500,000, then by definition you are a pay driver, even though you earn a salary!!!

So don't come with this "pay driver" crisis concept, it does not exist in my mind.

The situation seems "out of hand", because now the two weakest teams in Formula 1 - Marussia and Caterham - are all made up of pay drivers, and to make room for such drivers, they had to let go of two drivers who do deserve to be in Formula 1, Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock. Matters are made worse because a third "new team", HRT, finally foundered.

To me, the situation improved from last year, when one of the more traditional teams, Williams, employed a driver, Bruno Senna, who brought a sizable chunk of money, so he was a pay driver, whether one likes it or not. He has been replaced by Bottas, a Finnish driver who does not bring a cent to the team, I reckon.

One driver who some considered a pay driver, Sergio Perez, who attracted Carlos Slim`s money to the Sauber team, almost won two races, is now a Mclaren driver and yesterday posted the fastest time in pre-season testing. His placed is taken by Gutierrez, who some also consider a pay driver(!) and some reckon Gutierrez is even faster than Perez. Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, the mother of all pay drivers of the age, often frequented the first slots of the grid and won a race on speed! Something that seven-time, 93-race winning driver Michael Schumacher did not come even close to do...

On the other hand, let us be honest. What good would it be for Glock or Kovalainen or Kobayashi to continue in Formula 1 racing for thirteenth place and shooting for tenth place in the constructor's championship with zero points?

The real sad thing, Mr. Whitmarsh, is that Formula 1, with all its glamour, brains, talent, money and popularity, has failed to produce 22 competitive entries. The teams at the bottom of the time sheets are glorified jokes. The whims of the Caterham and Marussia teams stem from the fact that they are very slow backmarkers, who are unable to attract good sponsorship. Thus drivers like Glock, Kovalainen and Kobayashi have to be out of Formula 1, possibly forever.

Perhaps it is about time we talk about 3-car teams again, huh?

Carlos de Paula is a translator, writer and auto racing historian based in Miami

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The British Formula 3 crisis in 1974

Any follower of British F3 is quite aware that the once mighty championship is going through crisis. Once a championship with multiple rounds, even some abroad, now the championship is reduced to four double header events, excluding some of the more traditional venues.

It is not the first time, and we hope, not the last time British F3 goes through such crisis. I say I hope it is not the last because if it is, it might be the ultimate demise of the series.

In 1974, one of the major problems was the oil crisis brought about by the 1973 Middle East war. Oil prices went through the roof (little they know how far the roof would go), European economies were destabilized, and car racing was perceived as a wasteful endeavor. This affected a number of race series worldwide, in fact, in the next couple of seasons a lot of European championships were either gone or transformed into lighter versions.

F3 in 1974 also had an image issue. Engine sizes were raised again in a short period of 4 seasons, this time to 2 liters. That is, twice the size of the 1970 screamers. To distance itself from Formula Atlantic, which also had 1.6 liter engines, F3 matched Formula 2, although the latter category had much more powerful engines.

Be that as it may, the two 1974 British Formula 3 championships were a bit of a joke. Brian Henton, who drove one of the March works team cars, won a large number of races, and both championships. He had little competition, mostly from Tony Rouff and Alex Ribeiro, both in GRDs.

Some of the races had less than 10 starters, a few non-championship events had to be boosted up with Formula Fords, and the sad state of affairs seemed to drag on forever. Just a few seasons back, British F3 events had almost one hundred entrants, and required many qualifying heats.

Both the public and drivers were in love with Formula Atlantic, which had better grids, more competition, and seemed to be on the way to replacing F3. It did not turn out that way in England.

Curiously, the poor support gave opportunities to drivers who might otherwise had difficulty breaking into the category. A large number of Brazilians raced in the series. In addition to Alex Ribeiro, Jose Pedro Chateaubriand drove the second, Brazilian sponsored works March. There was a Team Brasil, which ran cars for Marcos Moraes, Luiz Carlos Moraes and Julio Caio. Jan Balder drove the works March a couple of times, while Marivaldo Fernandes, the owner of the plane in which Carlos Pace died in 1977,  fulfilled a dream racing in F3 in England, finishing one race in fourth.

Besides these, there was even an Indian driver, Hannu Wianu. Australian Buzz Buzzaglo had some good outings, as did Portuguese driver Jose Espirito Santo. Uruguayan Pedro Passadore and Austrian Nicholas Von Preussen.

On the following season, F3 recovered. The 100-plus entrants never again became a reality (Formula Ford 1600 filled this role), but by and large British F3 continued to be the foremost producer of Formula 1 talent for many years.

Carlos de Paula is a translator, writer and auto racing historian based in Miami

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jacques Villeneuve's accident

Not the son, the uncle. Just if you are wondering.

Yesterday, I found a newspaper from Montreal at my local supermarket, and bought it, to practice a little bit of my French. In the sports section, there was a news report about an accident suffered by Jacques Villeneuve.

I did not find any report on the specialized press, maybe I missed it. I don't know, but the fact is the lesser known Villeneuve, and for that matter, lesser known Jacques Villeneuve, had been a F1 driver (albeit unsuccessful), an Indycar car race winner, a Can-Am champion, and a notable Formula Atlantic driver.

Jacques, like older brother Gilles, began racing in snowmobiles. And it was in one of the contraptions that Jacques had an accident, that resulted in a perforated lung, among other problems.

The injuries are not life-threatening, and it seems the 59-year old will recover. Whether the French Canadian will muster the will to race snowmobiles again, I do not know.

Carlos de Paula is a translator, writer and auto racing historian living in Miami