Andre Lotterer’s Journey to Formula 1

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He is the most accomplished driver under the age of 35 that has never started a Formula 1 race.

Until this weekend.

The news that Andre Lotterer, the ace driver of the Audi Sport Le Mans Prototype program(me), and who is also driving for legendary Toyota factory racing team TOM’s in the Super Formula championship in Japan, would be making his Formula 1 debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix – at age 32 – was first reported on Monday, and came as even more of a shock as the news that broke later in the afternoon (or evening) that Toro Rosso will be making Max Verstappen the youngest driver in Formula 1 history next year, at age 17. Which is almost half of Lotterer’s current age.

At 32 years old, Lotterer is only a few months older than when former Audi teammate Allan McNish made his F1 debut for Toyota in 2002. He lasted just one year before going back to endurance racing. He is one year older than the last driver to make his Formula 1 debut past the age of 30 – Yuji Ide. In fact, those three men – Lotterer, McNish, and Ide, account for all of the Formula 1 rookies to have made their F1 debuts past the age of 30 since 1997. By the time fellow German Michael Schumacher turned 32, he had already won his third World Championship, and had passed Ayrton Senna for second on the all-time Grand Prix wins list. And by the time Senna himself was 32, he was already a three-time champion with McLaren after his legendary and controversial championship duels with Alain Prost, who at age 32, had won the first two of his four World Championships with McLaren, and was running down the all-time wins record of Sir Jackie Stewart, who himself was a two-time champion by age 32. By the time Stewart retired in 1973, he had passed the all-time wins record of Jim Clark, who himself had planned to retire after the 1968 season as the winningest driver in Formula 1 World Championship history at the time, before the tragic Formula 2 accident at the Hockenheimring that claimed his life…at the age of 32.

Yet also, at age 32, Damon Hill had just won his first Grand Prix for Williams a month shy of his 33rd birthday, and only one year after his Formula 1 debut for Brabham. The man who founded the team, the late Sir Jack Brabham, won both his first race and first World Championship in 1959 at the age of 33. Nigel Mansell, the man who former Lotus team director Peter Warr said would never win a Grand Prix “so long as he had a hole in his arse”, finally proved his old boss wrong when he won the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in a Williams-Honda, just two months after he had turned…32. Continue reading “Andre Lotterer’s Journey to Formula 1”

In Defense of Luca Badoer

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From the satirical motoring blog Sniff Petrol, came a spoof article about a new series for the most rubbish drivers in Formula 1, headlined by the polarizing Venezuelan, Pastor Maldonado of the Lotus F1 Team. But this article isn’t about Maldonado, a former Grand Prix winner and GP2 Series champion in his own right, now struggling just to score a championship point in his fourth season. There’s a line in this article that lists three “benchmarks” of complete and utter futility in the highest level of auto racing, three of the worst drivers in recent F1 history, at least in the mind of Mr. Richard Porter, the Top Gear writer who has run the blog for nearly fifteen years. See if you can identify which one of them doesn’t belong, based on their career descriptions.

Driver #1 was a 31-year-old rookie driving for a first-year team. He never outqualified his veteran teammate, often ending up more than a second adrift of his lead driver’s times. He spun in nearly every practice session he participated in, and after four miserably slow and incident-filled races capped off by punting Christjian Albers’ Midland into a rollover at Imola, he became the first driver in the modern era to be revoked of his FIA Super License for failing to drive at an acceptable standard, and the only one since.

Driver #2 was a 42-year-old Israeli businessman, a gentleman racer in the truest sense, to put it as nicely as possible. He was a backmarker in all three of his Euroseries F3000 starts, and in 2005 he used his business connections to buy a weekend test driver appearance with Minardi at the Hungarian Grand Prix. He was 13 seconds off the pace of his nearest teammate, he radioed in complaining to the team about the car having too much grip, and after spinning into a gravel trap after just a handful of slow, miserable laps, he had to be craned off track while he was still strapped into his Minardi PS05 because he didn’t know how to detach the steering wheel on his car.

And then we get to driver #3. Driver #3 is one of seven drivers since 1985 to have won the top-level Formula series on the ladder to F1 – either International F3000 or GP2 Series – in his rookie year, at age 21, finishing ahead of three other rookies in that season’s championship, who would combine for 25 Formula 1 victories in their careers. His baseline qualifying success rate against all of his F1 teammates was well over 50% despite often driving for some of the least-capable and under-funded teams in the sport. And as a test driver for Scuderia Ferrari, he was the primary tester of the cars that won the team eight Constructors’ Championships in a span of ten years, and had a longer tenure at the Scuderia than did Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, and the seven-time world champion driver who was the face of the team for a decade, Michael Schumacher.

Drivers #1 and #2 were Yuji Ide and Channoch Nissany, respectively. But just who was Driver #3? None other than Luca Badoer.

And if you are reading this, and have no knowledge of F1 history prior to the year 2010, you’d probably be asking yourself – “What in the hell is this last driver doing in the same group as the first two guys with all the talent that he seemed to have and all that he’d accomplished during his brief career?”

Thank you. Because this is the point I’m here to demonstrate. Continue reading “In Defense of Luca Badoer”

F1 2014 Goes Dry: It’s Not That Big a Deal

Codemasters’ F1 2014 is coming out on October 17th. And fans are angry. And they’re angry because…the version shown in the trailer looks like just a 2014 season update for F1 2013? They may have cut back features such as Classic Content? The next-gen version of the game isn’t coming out until early 2015?

No, no, and no. Take a look at these in-game screenshots of the Williams Martini Racing FW36.

Notice anything missing? Like the logos of their primary sponsor Martini? Or even the small bits of red running down the Martini “stripes” on the rear wing and engine cover?

Continue reading “F1 2014 Goes Dry: It’s Not That Big a Deal”

Carlos Sainz Jr. Is Ready For F1’s Big Stage

The news that Spanish Red Bull junior driver Carlos Sainz Jr., the son of the legendary former World Rally Champion of the same name, could be brought into Formula 1 via the Caterham F1 team as early as sometime later in 2014, is one of the early talking points of an F1 Silly Season that has yet to really take shape, at least not until we get to the mid-season summer break in-between the Hungarian and Belgian Formula One Grands Prix.

A mid-2014 promotion to Caterham for the 19-year-old Sainz would replicate the Formula 1 arrival of Daniel Ricciardo, whose first drive did not come with Red Bull’s “junior squad” Scuderia Toro Rosso, but with bottom-ranked Hispania Racing Team, where he participated in the final 11 of 19 rounds of the 2011 season with the backmarker organization. There, without any real pressure to score points right off the bat, he had a capable benchmark in another former Red Bull junior driver, Vitantonio Liuzzi (save for the Indian GP where Narain Karthikeyan was subbed in for Liuzzi), and Ricciardo performed admirably given the experience gap between himself, a rookie fresh out of Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and the tandem of veteran drivers who had made their F1 debuts six years earlier. Sainz would be in a similar predicament, as the Caterham team and their CT05 chassis ranks dead last among all eleven Formula 1 teams in terms of raw pace, and they are unlikely to score their first championship points this year unless there is a repeat of the attrition-packed Monaco Grand Prix from this May. In an interesting tie-in to the Ricciardo scenario from three years ago, Caterham was just sold before the British Grand Prix to a consortium of businessmen that included Colin Kolles, who ran HRT back in 2011.

So what exactly does the heir to the Sainz racing legacy bring to the table? Continue reading “Carlos Sainz Jr. Is Ready For F1’s Big Stage”

The Hypothetical Champ Car World Series Drivers’ Club of 2014

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On this date in 2004, Indianapolis bankruptcy judge Frank Otte ruled in favor of a bid placed by the collective of Gerry Forsythe, Kevin Kalkhoven, and Paul Gentilozzi – known as Open Wheel Racing Series, LLC – to acquire the assets of what was known, from 1979 to 2003, as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). Their bid was accepted over a competing bid from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League (IRL) owner Tony George, which would have effectively ended the American open-wheel racing split that had been in existence since the formation of the Indy Racing League in 1996.

I thought about this anniversary yesterday, of all things, when the upstart Formula E series added eight new names to their pool of available drivers known as the Formula E Drivers’ Club. And looking at the list of freshly added talent that includes five IndyCar Series drivers, ten former Formula One drivers, and one driver from GP2, it didn’t look that impressive to some people. Zero F1 victories between all sixteen drivers, and out of them, only Takuma Sato won a race in a major series this past year. But I looked at it closer and thought to myself, “You know, this roster looks like the lineup for a reboot of the Champ Car World Series.”

And it’s not hard to see why – CART/Champ Car had a knack for attracting a lot of ex-Formula 1 talent and decent prospects from the European open-wheel ladder, and turning them into stars. Not just former F1 champions like Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi, or future F1 winners like Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya. Drivers like Alex Zanardi, who washed out of F1 before going onto mega-stardom in CART, or the likes of Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran, and Sebastien Bourdais, all accomplished drivers who all cut their teeth in the European ladder only to be passed up by F1 teams when it came time for them to move on, were a major part of the lifeblood of CART/Champ Car in the 1990s and 2000s.

So I thought to myself, “What if there was a reboot of the Champ Car World Series? And which active drivers from today would I place in the series’ pool of talent?”

I went out to pick twenty drivers (OWRS-era Champ Car, for all of its strengths, could never push the car count above 20) for a hypothetical “reboot” of the Champ Car World Series. My strategy for selecting drivers was to focus primarily on younger talent with loads of upside, both within the IndyCar Series and elsewhere. Only five out of the twenty drivers in this hypothetical drivers’ club are either in, or will be in their 30s by the end of 2014, and none are above the age of 35. I ensured that I had to pick at least six drivers that competed in at least one IndyCar Series race last season, and I had to pick at least one person in the second-tier Indy Lights series. I stayed away from anyone currently in F1 that wasn’t a race driver or a primary reserve driver. I could pick anyone I wanted under those parameters.

Click the link below to read my selections and my rationale for each.

Continue reading “The Hypothetical Champ Car World Series Drivers’ Club of 2014”

Some Words About Michael

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I now realize how lucky I am to have seen Michael Schumacher race in person.

Me, my father, and my younger brother would travel from Florence, Alabama, to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year between 2003 to 2005 to watch the United States Grand Prix. Schumacher won them all, but I didn’t care much for it at the time. I, like many other F1 fans who weren’t Ferrari or Schumacher fans through and through, just wanted to see someone else on the top step for a change, a new name on the list of champions, a new face leaping for joy on the podium in victory.

And like so many other F1 fans who shared this sentiment, it wasn’t until well after Schumacher’s first retirement in 2006, his comeback in 2010, and his comparatively unsuccessful second career with Mercedes-Benz, that I could take a step back from the whining I did earlier in life as a very young Formula One fan, and appreciate all that Michael Schumacher had accomplished in his career.

Continue reading “Some Words About Michael”