A Loss Too Great

I sit here typing away, with the never-ceasing dull pain in my heart and an emptiness in my soul the likes of which I have not felt in years, trying to express my feelings about the loss of a man who was only four months older than me, yet lived a life that was infinitely more fulfilling in the short time he was with us than I could ever hope to even if I lived a hundred years.

Jules Bianchi is gone. Well and truly gone after spending the last nine months in a comatose state for nine months, his family in an unimaginable scenario wherein his state of “living” – if you can even call it that – was described as “unbearable”, “a daily torture”, and “worse than if he had died” on the afternoon of October 5th, 2014, by his own father. And yet, as the weeks turned into months spent clinging to life, as the hope of a full recovery withered into nothing, then the hope of any sort of recovery died along with it, the confirmation of his death last night still caused me to break down as if it was a sudden instance.

I lost one of my favorite drivers in Formula 1. Continue reading “A Loss Too Great”

No Longer Convinced

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I’ve once made a point in previous entries on A Motorsports Blog that I feel that the generally negative reception towards Sauber F1 Team principal and CEO Monisha Kaltenborn’s tenure in both positions since 2012 is not motivated solely by the team’s recent sharp decline in performance, but enhanced by the fact that she is the only woman of colour who has ever held a major position of leadership in Formula 1’s sixty-six year history.

In the wake of the decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, which ruled that Sauber’s former test driver Giedo van der Garde must now race for the team which has already signed rookie Felipe Nasr and second-year driver Marcus Ericsson to full-season deals, I no longer feel that the enhanced backlash towards Kaltenborn, her gender, and ethnic background are not somehow connected.

As covered extensively by veteran F1 reporter Adam Cooper, the terms are that Van der Garde, per the original terms of a contract he had signed in 2014 when he joined Sauber as the third driver behind Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, is obligated to run the full 2015 season, and not either Ericsson or Nasr, who each come with their own wealthy investors behind them who can issue an appeal just as Sauber did, and it would be expedited. In Ericsson’s case, their backers already paid for him to race in 2015 with an estimated budget of as much as €60 million.

I’ve made the point that Van der Garde, in the grand scheme of the overall pool of talent of drivers that are racing, or could be racing in Formula 1, has yet to prove that his merit at the highest level on a consistent basis. Brilliant mixed-weather drives in Monaco and Belgium two years ago aside, the Dutch driver still scored below 50% in every major intra-team statistical category in 2013, against a teammate in Charles Pic who is considered by all but a small handful of avid F1 followers to be a borderline F1-caliber talent. Comparatively speaking, Felipe Nasr has accomplished way more as an F1 prospect, and Marcus Ericsson drove against far more experienced and capable teammates last year.

It’s all water under the bridge now. Van der Garde will race in Australia, and either Nasr or Ericsson will not. In the first case of a driver winning back his contractually-guaranteed race seat since Alex Caffi used his power of attorney to reinstate his seat at Footwork Grand Prix – which also deposed another Swedish driver, Stefan Johansson, in the process – Van der Garde has now been deemed justified in taking his case to the supreme court of two different countries who have both ruled in his favor. And no amount of arguing based solely on esoteric advanced sporting metrics can override a double whammy of a trans-national judicial ruling.

This is no longer about Van der Garde for me. It’s about Kaltenborn. It’s about the fact that while her team’s legal defense of why the plaintiff should not be allowed to race on the grounds of safety is full of holes, and while she is ultimately responsible for the contractual calamity that resulted in this case going to court on the week of the race, the accompanying commentary running along the lines of “I have never liked Monisha Kaltenborn and this sequence of events reinforces this opinion,” or “Monisha Kaltenborn has destroyed a once proud organization,” or “This would never happen if Peter Sauber still ran the team,” is uncomfortably commonplace, and I am no longer sure that this is not further fueled by Kaltenborn’s gender or ethnicity. Continue reading “No Longer Convinced”

McLaren Honda’s Formula for Winning Now

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It’s not the Four Horsemen and J.J. Dillon, it’s McLaren Honda!

At first, I didn’t like the idea of McLaren demoting, or even worse, cutting ties with Kevin Magnussen just to squeeze one more year out of Jenson Button’s Formula 1 career. I didn’t like it a bit. Not even twelve months had passed before McLaren signed Sergio Perez, who by the summer break of 2012 was absolutely red-hot with three podium finishes, two genuine brushes with victory at Malaysia and Italy – hell, he was strongly being considered as a mid-season replacement for the struggling Felipe Massa at Ferrari – before they let him go because he was underperforming compared to Button in a mediocre car.

They had promoted Magnussen in Perez’s place, with all the promise that the former Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion, just the second former champion to earn a promotion to Formula 1 the very next year after Robert Kubica, would be a star of the future. That promise seemed to be fulfilled when he scored a podium finish upon his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix, the first driver to put it on the podium in his F1 debut since another McLaren young driver of note named…Hamilton, was it? But after his form seemed to tail off afterwards (so did McLaren as a whole after Melbourne), and Jenson Button drove toward the end of the season like, well, like his career was on the line, McLaren were seemingly ready to burn through two different drivers, both under the age of 25, in a span of twelve months just so they could keep Button and bring in Fernando Alonso, who would absolutely never, EVER come back to McLaren the way their partnership ended so acrimoniously in 2007.

You know, just like how Kimi Raikkonen would never come back to Ferrari after being bought out of the largest Formula One contract to date to make room for Alonso in 2010, and like how Nigel Mansell would never come back to Williams after announcing that he was leaving for 1993 – during the middle of his championship season in ’92 – to go to IndyCar, and like how Paul Tracy said he would never “race for hot dogs and hamburgers” in the newly-unified IndyCar Series early in 2008, only to then make a one-off months later that year – and for the Vision Racing team run by Indy Racing League founder Tony George no less, the most hated man among the very same Champ Car supporters who had for years rallied around Tracy as a hero to them beginning shortly after the 2002 Indianapolis 500.

Back to Magnussen, the idea that McLaren would let him go just one year after bringing him in to replace Perez contradicts Ron Dennis‘ patient approach with other drivers several years ago. Dennis could have fired Mika Hakkinen for failing to deliver victories from his McLaren debut in late 1993 until he actually won his first race in 1997, in the season-ending European Grand Prix at Jerez. A timespan that included a near-fatal accident in Adelaide and dozens of races in cars that didn’t have enough to win races. He didn’t fire Hakkinen. Instead, Dennis was patient with his driver, and in the next two years, Hakkinen would be World Champion both times, staging some of the most memorable duels with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Dennis could have also fired Kimi Raikkonen just one year into his deal with McLaren after the 2002 season. Similar to Perez and Magnussen’s struggles in their first years at McLaren, Raikkonen scored just a paltry 24 points to teammate David Coulthard‘s 41 points that included a win in Monaco. Remember also that Raikkonen was not the former Sauber driver many were expecting to get the promotion to McLaren when Mika Hakkinen retired – that would have been Nick Heidfeld, who was actually a coveted prospect of McLaren’s in Formula 3 and Formula 3000. Instead, Dennis kept Raikkonen into 2003. Raikkonen won his first race, and went a full sixteen rounds against Schumacher for the title. Two years later, he’d battle Alonso for the championship in a fast, yet fragile McLaren MP4-20, and two years after that he’d be World Champion, albeit for McLaren’s biggest rivals. Now you have a McLaren team that’s burning through promising young drivers after just one season a piece it seems, all in the effort to win big, and win now. Continue reading “McLaren Honda’s Formula for Winning Now”

Transaction Analysis: Felipe Nasr and Sauber

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As I watched the first practice session of the United States Grand Prix this past week, and saw the progression of the session standings focusing on one designated FP1 driver in particular (no, this time it’s not Max Verstappen), a thought crossed my mind. With Sauber F1 Team in a very publicized shortage of funds, but coming under heavy criticism for not taking enough speed to go along with those personal sponsorships – why not take a chance on a well-funded, yet highly-rated prospect who just outpaced his grand prix veteran teammate by almost a half-second in the first practice – finishing 8th? Why not go after Williams Martini Racing test and reserve driver Felipe Nasr?

Evidentally, someone at Sauber, Nasr’s management team, or his sponsors must have been listening in. On Wednesday, Sauber came to terms with Nasr on a two-year contract, beginning in 2015, where he and soon-to-be-former Caterham driver Marcus Ericsson will replace Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil. This means that Sauber will have also come to terms with Nasr’s prominent sponsor, Banco do Brasil – the largest bank in Latin America – which has accompanied Nasr since his GP2 Series debut in 2012, and will now go with him to Sauber next season. The Brazilian rookie candidate just turned 22 in August, and is currently 2nd in the GP2 Series standings behind newly-coronated champion Jolyon Palmer.

Sutil, as well as the man who was expected to partner Ericsson next season, Giedo van der Garde, may have individual claims that they are under contract and should be driving for Sauber next season, but the harsh reality for both of them is that despite Sutil’s masterful qualifying effort in Austin, and slightly outperforming Esteban Gutierrez – who himself is looking like a bust at the Formula 1 level – throughout 2014, Sutil is still a 31-year-old career midfielder, who in 124 Grands Prix has only finished as high as fourth just once in his career, he’s not been anywhere near the level of last year’s lead driver Nico Hulkenberg even when you factor in how much worse the Sauber C33 is compared to its’ 2013 predecessor, and he’s not really bringing enough money to justify staying at a team that is very openly in need of well-funded drivers. And while Van der Garde is a well-funded driver in possession of an eight-figure sponsorship from McGregor, as I mentioned in my transaction analysis of the Ericsson deal, both Ericsson and Van der Garde have been outperformed in every major head-to-head statistical category over the course of their respective campaigns at Caterham. A team of Ericsson and Van der Garde brings a lot of money, but it does not bring any significant speed nor a driver renowned for being able to develop a car over the course of a season by any means other than just throwing hard cash at it. A team of Ericsson and Sutil would bring less money and such a marginal increase in driving ability that it wouldn’t be worth the investment in a second season of the German veteran.

In signing Felipe Nasr, Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has found the best “paying option” available, as Nasr strikes a near-perfect balance of pure speed and significant sponsorship. A sponsorship that has spawned some of the best looking cars on the GP2 grid in the last two seasons, might I add. He is the sort of driver that Sauber absolutely needed, and he seemed to just fall right into the Swiss team’s lap when it seemed another year of test/reserve duty at Williams was in the books. Continue reading “Transaction Analysis: Felipe Nasr and Sauber”