The sorry state of F1

Its become no secret recently that F1 is in a miserable financial state. With the withdrawal of Marussia and Caterham from the upcoming Grand Prix due to sugarcoated bankruptcy, the sport’s fundamental management and operation policies have been cast in further doubt.

For me, responsibility lies with those who claim it. Yes, I am pointing the finger towards you, Bernie Ecclestone. Uncle Ben once said, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. The captain of the ship is the one responsible if some of the crew fall off-board because the ship isn’t able to support them.

The warning bells ahead of Caterham and Marussia’s withdrawal were ringing loud and clear, too. Williams, a team stooped in F1 history, had financial concerns that were well documented when the team was languishing at the bottom of the grid a couple of seasons back. Lotus failing to pay Kimi Raikkonen’s wages in the latter part of last season, followed by their decision to hire Pastor Maldonado – widely perceived as a ‘pay driver’ – are all symptoms of the crippled financial state the team was in. Even the almighty Mercedes were threatening to exit the sport if the team wasn’t able to reach a position where it can consistently fight for world championships.

F1 needs a change. Surely, a man who can’t get through a revolving door and thinks having sprinklers on F1 tracks is a good idea is way past heading a sport worth billions of dollars. The majority of fans have not a single clue as to why some teams are struggling to stay afloat. There is no transparency whatsoever regarding how money is distributed and how much teams are spending just to keep ahead of their day-to-day expenditures.

The system is flawed, and the man at the head of it is defiant, sticking to his controversial and questionable policies amid obvious dire results. Sounds like an Arab Spring country, no? Well it sure does to me, and if past trends are anything to go by, then change is imminent and is only a matter of time…

F1 Silly Season is upon us!

When some really ‘silly’ news crop up regarding McLaren’s future driver lineup, and a certain former world champion feels the need to tell drivers where to go (and others to just… leave), you know its silly season time. The competitive trends for this season have been set; Mercedes-powered cars have had the rub of the green, Ferrari is not an F1 car you’d want to be seen in, Red Bull have paid dearly for Renault’s ineptitude, and McLaren’s 2013 woes remain unsolved. 

Who will be racing in 2015 and where? Because, when you play the game of F1 race seats, you win, or you go racing in DTM / Endurance…

Mercedes
For me, highly unlikely that a driver change occurs here. I don’t see why Nico would leave regardless of what happens this year. He’s been Merc’s golden boy and should remain so by the end of the year. If Lewis wins the championship this year, he’ll most definitely stay too. If he doesn’t, then he’ll probably have a look around, but I think ultimately he’d stay at Mercedes.

Red Bull
How the mighty have fallen. Its dire times for the four-time world champion, most of the time through no fault of his own. For me, a move to Ferrari at this moment in time is career suicide, but options are really running low, I mean where else does he go? I reckon he will stay out the remainder of his contract at Red Bull until 2015, but if their fortunes don’t fair any better, his patience will run out. Daniel Ricciardo has been mightily impressive as acknowledged by the paddock. He revels in dragging a sub-par car around a track, and seeing the way things are going, he should be doing well at Red Bull for the foreseeable future. He’s already leaving his mark in the team, and the team seems to enjoy working with him. Its good times for the Aussie; I don’t see him leaving anytime soon.

Ferrari 
Another year, another lacklustre performance from the prancing horse. Time is running out on Fernando Alonso’s title ambitions, and Ferrari aren’t exactly hinting that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. He’s definitely one to watch out for this silly season. Rumours have been circulating that McLaren are interested in a reunion. Fernando’s ‘best friend’ Ron is back at McLaren, but the Honda-McLaren lure could be too much to resist for the Spaniard. As for Kimi Raikkonen, it hasn’t been the season his devoted fans expected. He’s had his bad luck in the first couple of rounds, but generally, he never looked like the Kimi of the McLaren glory days, or even the one that won the championship in his first spell at Ferrari. For me, Ferrari is his terminal destination in his F1 journey, if he leaves the Maranello-based outfit, he’s leaving F1 in its entirety – and this time for good.

Force India
They might have not made that jump out of the midfield and into the front-running group just yet, but its been an impressive season for Vijay Mallya’s bunch. Sergio Perez is showing glimpses of his Sauber-self once again, but that after year at McLaren, I think his chances of driving in a front-running car are all but gone. In my opinion, the team could hang on to him for another year. Otherwise, he’s off to either Lotus or Sauber before he signs off his F1 career. As for Nico Hulkenberg, he’s truly in the last chance saloon if he’s to race for a top team. He’s shown his potential for the past couple of years, but his teammate has kept him honest so far this year. Has he left it too late? He certainly isn’t the shining talent that was prominent to all during last season, again – mainly due to having a strong teammate. For me, he’s either at McLaren or Ferrari next season, or else time will really start to run out for the now not-so-young German.

Williams
Not quite the glory days yet, but they’re getting there. Valtteri Bottas isn’t doing too bad for himself whatsoever, and if he keeps up the good work, he’ll land a top seat and fight consistently for race wins. Will that happen next year though? I don’t think so, he’s staying at Williams. Felipe Massa’s switch has certainly revived the Brazilian spirit that we know and love. But, I think being in the latter days of his career, and after that famous near miss in 2008, Williams can be justified to question his motivation. He is certainly a reliable, experienced driver that delivers fairly consistently on what his car can achieve, but does he have the hunger of the youth in order to drive a team that’s chasing that top step of the podium? I personally think that 2015 will be the last year in F1 and at Williams. I think the 2008 season, 2009 accident, and the Alonso years have left too many scars inside Felipe, ones that Williams cannot afford to carry around if they are to pursue their vision.

McLaren
Early days, but it seems like a year to forget for the Macca fans. Ron Dennis is back and has brought Eric Boullier along with him. An instantaneous impact would have been too much to ask, as it often is in F1, but next year they are expected to deliver, especially with the new Honda engines and the recent acquisition of Red Bull aerodynamicist Peter Prodromou. Kevin Magnussen has done a respectable job so far. He has suffered a bit of rookie fever in a few of the races, but the Austrian GP has reaffirmed the initial impressions. McLaren have signed him as an investment in youth, as they did with Hamilton, and I don’t see why they’ll stop short now; he’s staying at McLaren. As for Jenson Button, the clock is ticking on his career. I really don’t see him leaving McLaren for any other team. He’d want to test the waters in 2015 to see if he can pull off another 2009 with the new engine, but I don’t think Ron has the patience for that; Jenson was a Whitmarsh signing after all. Definitely a racing seat to keep an eye on; we could be seeing a Magnussen-Alonso or a Magnussen-Hulkenberg lineup for McLaren next year.

Toro Rosso
More of the same for Red Bull’s sister team so far, in more ways than one. They’re still languishing in the midfield with no signs of improvement from a team perspective, but they still continue to pump out great driving talents. Algersuari, Ricciardo, Kvyat, and – considering how he he fared against Daniel – JEV, are all highly talented young drivers. Speaking of JEV, it is quite a shame that he might be facing the axe at the end of this season. It’s almost company policy that STR mix up their driver lineup every couple of seasons, and JEV might just get caught up in that process, especially with the likes of Da Costa and Frijns waiting in the wings. I think Kvyat has done a good job so far, so no reason for STR to let him go just yet, but the seat in the other side of garage remains up for grabs in my opinion.

Lotus
An abysmal year so far for Lotus; they’ve suffered the most from the new engine changes when you look at their 2013 performance. Romain Grosjean isn’t exactly the hottest property on the market right now, which goes to show that a slow/unreliable car can put an end to any driver’s F1 prospects. I don’t see him moving anywhere else. As for the crowd favourite, I think this year’s the last for Pastor. Lotus certainly wouldn’t tolerate his racing antics and the tall repair bill that comes with it, and I don’t see another team that would. I see him replaced by either Sergio Perez or Jules Bianchi.

Marussia
A better year it seems for Marussia, largely thanks to an eventful Monaco Grand Prix. Jules Bianchi is showing great promise as he as done in his early F1 days, and I could see him moving on to either Force India or Lotus. Max Chilton hasn’t really left an impression since his arrival, and even his race-finishing record has been shattered in Canada. However, I do see his private funding keeping him with the team for another year. As for his teammate, we could be seeing a new F1 entrant, ready to snatch at the Brit’s heels.

Sauber
Not exactly what Adrian Sutil imagined when he signed for Sauber, seeing them struggling in the dreaded backmarker zone. It could be the last year for the German before he heads off to a touring car series. Esteban Gutierrez’s costly mistake in Monaco will remain fresh in the team’s memory for a while, and the young Mexican hasn’t exactly redeemed himself either. Quite an uncertain situation for both drivers, and we could well see a fresh lineup for 2015.

Caterham
Tony Fernandes listing the team for sale tells you everything you need to know about Caterham. How an owner can publicly announce such a thing is beyond me, especially when you consider its effect on the team’s morale. But such has been their performance this season that it has become a nonviable business for the Malaysian entrepreneur. Kamui Kobayashi had rallied a lot of fans to fund his drive for this season, but – for me – has failed to repay the faith of his supporters. Marcus Ericsson hasn’t fared any better either, but he has the ‘rookie’ excuse on his side. I see Marcus remain with the team and Kamui dropped for a new entrant.

10 Reasons why You should be Excited for F1 in 2014

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With the festive period well underway and next season’s winter testing looming large, its a good time to reflect on why the 2014 season is probably one of the most anticipated in recent history. A plethora of driver changes and rule shuffles have made this off-season very much bearable, and the wait to see the cars out in Melbourne next year quite intolerable. Without further ado, let the countdown begin…

10Its a new season

This might seem like stating the obvious, and I can only speak for myself, but the fact that we have a new F1 season on the horizon is quite sufficient to spark up all sorts of imagination about what is yet to unfold. Will Red Bull and Vettel continue to outperform the rest of the paddock, or will another contender rise to the fore and break the running streak? Statistics are on our side; the records show that, since the competition officially began in 1950, only 17 times the reigning champion was able to retain his title, and only once has it been retained for four consecutive times, courtesy of a certain German you wouldn’t have heard about. But, all bets are off, since as we all know too well by now, we can always rely on Sebastian when it comes to breaking records…

9The sound of the new engines

In case you have been living under a rock, the naturally aspirated V8 engines are now a thing of the past. Gear up for some punchy, turbo-charged V6 engines with some handy ERS on the side. The new engines, or ‘power units’ if you want to be posh about it, will effectively be a hybrid of the usual combustion engine and an Energy Recovery System. The result is an inevitable change in one of the key elements of watching an F1 car speed by; its sound. Mercedes have published a video showing a simulator run of an F1 car going around the high-speed Monza circuit, with the sound of the V6 roaring in the background. It definitely sounds a lot more gritty and rough, and it seems like the familiar whine that we’ve associated with F1 cars for a while now has been dwindled down quite significantly, in return for a rather anti-climactic drone. But, watching an online video is one thing, and listening to the cars out on track is totally another, and, since I wasn’t particularly fond of the way the V8s sounded, I look forward to what the next-generation of F1 engines have to offer in terms of ear candy…

Will the new blood shine?8

The F1 grid welcomes two newcomers to its glamorous circus. Nineteen-year-old Daniil Kvyat joins the Red Bull programme as a race driver for Toro Rosso, and Danish racing driver Kevin Magnussen partners up with Jenson Button to head McLaren’s challenge for a long-awaited constructor’s title. At first glance, it might seem that Red Bull’s talent supremo Helmut Marko has brought in young Kvyat solely for marketing purposes; a Russian driver in next year’s inaugural Russian grand prix, driving a car with Red Bull stickered all over it would do well to spread the brand’s name across the country, especially since the product does mix well with a certain alcoholic drink that’s popular there. However, do not underestimate young Kvyat’s driving pedigree. He already has a GP3 title in the bag and has impressed the Toro Rosso team when he drove for them during this year’s Young Driver test. As for Mr. Magnussen, his record doesn’t have much to brag about, but there had to be something about him that made Martin Whitmarsh send Sergio Perez out the door – who wasn’t doing a shabby job by any means, mind you – and bring in the 21-year old. It is worth mentioning that he has shown impressive pace while testing for the team, but comparing testing to racing is apples and oranges all over again. Daniil and Kevin are the two confirmed rookies, but with three more seats to fill on the grid, we could well witness another new entrant, with names like Marcus Ericsson and Luiz Felipe Nasr being mentioned. It will be quite interesting to see how the new blood will fare in a racing series where second chances are rarely offered.

The double points shenanigans7

I have already given my two cents regarding the latest of the FIA’s deranged ideas in my last post, so I will save you the trouble of dealing with the banter again. But, apparently the rule is still being reviewed, and everybody’s favourite, Luca Di Montezemolo, has called a meeting for all the F1 team bosses in order to discuss, among other things, whether the teams are in favour of having a double-point finale and whether it is good for the sport. Assuming the rule does stand, double points in Abu Dhabi is bound to create some eagerly anticipated chaos. Will we see teams building a special car for the event, seeing that it counts for a bucketload of points? Or, will we see drivers being more cautious in the race to avoid what could be a very costly DNF? Think about this scenario for a moment; Caterham score a tenth place in Brazil, but Marussia score the same position in Abu Dhabi and therefore clinch the crown in the battle of the back-markers because it so happens to count for twice the points. Think about the shock that will ensue, because we’re talking millions of pounds in prize money. Albeit for all the wrong reasons, this rule earns its place as another reason why I can’t wait for F1 to commence.

Midfield battles6

When Force India made the announcement of pairing Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg for next year, I was genuinely excited. Two of the most highly regarded young talents of the current generation going head to head is very much an enticing prospect. I personally think that Hulkenberg fully deserved the Lotus seat for next year, but seeing him face off with another driver of the magnitude of Sergio Perez is not a bad compromise. As touched on before, Daniil Kvyat joins Toro Rosso, thus it will be important for his fellow teammate Jean Eric Vergne to lay an early marker against his teenage partner if he is to have any say in his future F1 career prospects; another battle to keep an eye on. And, although hardly a midfield team anymore, and mainly due to financial motives, Lotus have decided to go with a certain Venezuelan; the one and only, Pastor Maldonado. A race winner, yes, but quite an overly aggressive driver to say the least. With Romain’s resurgence in the latter part of last season, and Pastor’s impetus to shake off his pay-driver tag, it will be quite fascinating to see how the two work together, especially if the team comes up with a handy car.

(to be continued). 

2014 F1 Rule Changes

FIA-Fomrula-1-F1-flags1

The FIA has officially announced the rule changes for F1’s much anticipated 2014 season, and the outcome – for the main part – has been an outrage from the fans of the sport. Some of the changes are quite trivial, such as the introduction of driver numbers, but others have a bigger impact on next year’s competition.

Perhaps most widely publicised (and criticised) is the addition of double points during next year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi. It’s not difficult to comprehend why the FIA has made such a move; Vettel had pretty much dominated last season, hence placing more emphasis on the final race might help keep the championship alive until the very end. Also, the added attention bodes well for the race organisers. A title deciding race means more viewers, more tickets sold, and ultimately more revenue. It also happens that Abu Dhabi is back to host the finale. Coincidence? I think not…

Fans have publicly bemoaned this change, and for good reason. Statistics show that, had the rule been in place for the past 20 years, only a couple or so championships would have gone to a different driver/constructor. Apart from that, this opens a can of worms in terms of sporting fairness. A team that has worked so hard to build up a points gap over the entire season may lose everything with a DNF in the last race. More worryingly, the dreaded trend of F1 moving away from its traditional roots continues, as Sebastian Vettel has spoken out on, calling the change ‘absurd’.

A much less talked about change is the tightening up of engine regulations. The power unit is now divided into six components, with each team allowed to use five of each throughout the entire season. Changing a component for the sixth time will result in a grid penalty, and if the penalty is negated because a car has qualified near the back of the grid, the remainder of the penalty will be carried over to the next event. Now, with engine reliability being a significant concern for next year, such rule may have catastrophic consequences on teams unable to discipline their power units. This will undoubtedly put engine reliability on the forefront of a manufacturer’s agenda, and do not be surprised if next year’s victors don’t necessarily have the most powerful power unit.

Another change is the introduction of driver numbers. Drivers get to choose a permanent number, with the No. 1 reserved for the reigning champion if he wishes to choose it. Its a slightly less dramatic alteration from the FIA, and one that I kind of like. If two drivers choose the same number, priority is given to the one who finished higher in the championship, which makes perfect sense. Also, a cost cap is to be introduced in yet another attempt to control the rising costs of operating an F1 team. It takes effect in 2015, which means at least for now, judgement is reserved.

So, a couple of remarkable changes, and a couple of less remarkable ones. Will Red Bull’s infamous reliability issues come back to haunt them at a time when it really hurts? Or, more importantly, will Sebastian Vettel choose the No. 1? The latter is a witty gesture, but one thing that’s no joke is that interesting times lie ahead for F1.

Gran Turismo 6, a flop or a winner?

Polyphony Digital has finally unveiled it’s latest instalment of the critically acclaimed Gran Turismo series. Does the much anticipated sixth edition live up to its expectations? Image

Before I delve into my first thoughts of GT6, I must let you know that I do not own the game, and neither do I own Forza 5. All the judgements I make on this game are based on watching excessive amounts of gameplay videos (too many I must say) and listening to what people have had to say, as well as comparing it to it’s predecessor, GT5; a game that I do happen to own.

That said, I’ll cut to the chase right away and say that I’m a bit disappointed with Gran Turismo 6. If Polyphony Digital had the choice of going radical and risky or traditional and safe, then I must say it has gone for the latter. ‘If its not broken, don’t fix it’, you might say, and I do agree to some extent; Gran Turismo always had one of the best physics engines in the genre, and GT6 rightfully adopts it. However, when it is quite apparent that the jump from the previous instalment is almost non-existent, maintaining the old recipe just doesn’t cut it any more, especially with Turn 10 snatching on the heels.

In case you were wondering, the picture shown at the top of this article is not from GT6; it is a real-life image. If GT6 had such visuals, then I’ll probably be able to overlook all of its other drawbacks. Speaking of visuals, the game has improved marginally, and only marginally,  in terms of image sharpness and overall quality. GT5 was able to squeeze out all the available processing power of the Playstation 3, ergo any improvements would be regarded as an impressive feat on what is known to be outdated hardware. Flimsy shadows still maintain a presence, however, and most textures seen around the tracks will be very familiar to GT5 players.

Lets talk cars. GT6 has over a 1000 cars to choose from. Yes, at first sight, that seems like a total win. However, boot up the game and you realise that at least 800 are exact replicas of those that were in GT5. Not to mention the continuing trend of having dozens of Mazda Miatas or RX-7s, each representing a different model, but all fairly identical cars that don’t display anywhere near enough variety to distinguish them as separate cars. As opposed to GT5, ‘premium’ and ‘standard’ cars are no longer segregated, but that only applies to where you can buy them from. All the cars are up for purchase in one ‘Dealership’ section this time around, but that’s about the only change. The standard cars still have the same poor textures, are an overwhelming majority of the total cars available, and still maintain that infamous silhouette cockpit view. Considering all these factors, GT6’s massive car collection doesn’t seem as appealing as it may sound.

Sound design in Gran Turismo 6 is a tale of two cities. On one hand, the menu music is, as it has always been, a perfect match for a car game like GT. The relaxing, lounge tones are certainly one of the game’s strong points, and although come racing time the ‘hardcore’ players will often turn it down to enjoy the engine’s ‘roar’, it is a delicate addition that makes navigating the new and improved dashboard a much more pleasant experience. On the other hand, the sound effects during the races leave much to be desired. Dubbed by the community as sounding like vacuum cleaners, little improvements have been made to the way the cars sound. Plainly put, if you didn’t enjoy the engine sounds in GT5, you most definitely won’t enjoy them in GT6.

Most of the all-time favourite circuits in GT5 have made a return. Nurburgring, Spa Francorchamps, Suzuka and Circuit de la Sarthe all make a welcome return to the franchise, and are available right from the get-go. Although the Top Gear test-track has gone missing from the roster, Siverstone, Brands Hatch and Willow Springs make a debut appearance in the franchise. Furthermore, a special event lets you drive around at the Goodwood Festival of Speed; a neat touch. Another special even lets you drive on the moon. Yes, you didn’t mis-read that. You drive  a moon buggy on the craters of our moon, haplessly bouncing off ridges and what have you, but honestly, the less said about it the better. Overall, however, it has to be said that the game’s track selection are one of it’s strong features. The new tracks will likely to fall in favour with the community, and the retained ones will keep those who were previously hooked coming back for more.

I can go on and on and on about Gran Turismo 6, but I have to say, for me, the drawbacks outweigh the improvements. This is particularly exacerbated when you look at what the competition has to offer. Yes, Forza 5 runs on a much advanced piece of technology, but the gaming business has no room for excuses. Maybe PD has made a huge mistake on not jumping on the next-gen bandwagon with GT6. Some of the decisions that have been made are quite brain-scratchers as well. Why can they not design a set of generic cockpits that are to be applied to the ‘standard’ cars? Surely that would be a much better alternative to the concurrent solution. Also, I wonder who came up with the idea of the moon buggy. Honestly, what on earth (pun intended) popped up in their R&D meeting that told them that they need to design an outer space experience (yep I did it again)? Surely, the fans of the ‘real driving simulator’ would be much better off with the resources to be spent elsewhere, whether in adding new bundles of touring cars or improving the engine sound design.

I still haven’t discussed the hopeless computer-controlled AI that was pretty much untouched, or the stale career mode that has gone out of fashion for a long time now, but this article as already getting out of hand. All in all, as a true fan of the Gran Turismo franchise, this one is yet to convince me. I may pick it up later on, when it’s price drops to the point where I feel like I’m getting value for my money, but until then, it makes me sad to say that I’ll be looking elsewhere…