Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Patience F1Team

It's a few days after the 2013 Formula One season has come to an end. Personally I'm glad it is over following the dominance of a certain Mr Vettel, yet for other reasons, I feel this season was refreshing. This was pretty much down to one driver - Frenchman Romain Grosjean. 

Towards the end of the 2012 season, Grosjean (or 'Goujon' as my girlfriend calls him) was under more pressure than any driver on the grid. Whilst undeniably quick, he'd was involved in several high profile accidents and he was being verbally targeted by drivers up and down the grid following a series of collisions that led to him being banned for one race. I've been a big supporter of Grosjean since he joined 'Ice Man' Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus at the start of 2012 but at the end of the season, even I thought his days were numbered and he was off to race in sportscars. 

But Lotus had patience, something which most F1 teams don't have (or can't have, depending on how you look at it). Fantastically, their patience was more than rewarded. As Raikkonen tailed off, falling back and eventually not taking part in the last two races in 2013, the Lotus 'star' baton was rapidly passing on to Grosjean. 

Taking the fight to the dominant Red Bull's as best he could, Grosjean's performances in the latter part of the season were nothing less than spectacular, with some of his critics from 2012 becoming his praisers in 2013. Even the 4 time World Champion Vettel was impressed. Grosjean was, without doubt, one of the biggest stars of 2013 - a titanic change to 12 months earlier. 

Formula One teams need money more than ever as the recession is still hitting the sport. This is why a driver like Pastor Maldonado, who many people find questionable as a front running driver yet has a serious amount of financial backing, is holding all the cards in terms of what's left of the remaining empty F1 cockpits (Lotus being one of them). In a world like this, it's so refreshing that a team like Lotus can be patient and trust in a driver turning things around, especially as their finances have been questioned too.

Other teams, even outside Formula One, should take this as a lesson from the faith Lotus have shown in Grosjean.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

My First Race...15 Years Ago Today

It's a typical late British summer’s day. The weather is overcast – warm but with a bit of a chill in the air. I don't mind this though as this is my first experience of a motor race, live and in person. Little did I know at the time that this is a day that would affect my life in a big way.
The date is September 13th 1998 – 15 years to the day before I wrote this blog post. It's a Sunday race day at the fastest race circuit in the country, Thruxton.
I had been to the track once before in passing with my Dad when we were coming back from London on the A303. I’d heard the race engine notes from inside the car and asked Dad to pull in.  We drove into the circuit and parked near the final chicane (Club). I remember climbing the little spectator bank and there, coming through the chicane, was The Stig!! Well, it was actually Ben Collins, who became the famous character from Top Gear. Ben was driving a Dallara F398 for the Intersport team and was competing in the 1998 Autosport British Formula Three championship.
I returned to the circuit in September, but this time, it was a proper race in that year’s F3 championship – round 14 to be exact. There was such an atmosphere and it was a real thrill to be experiencing a high octane race meeting live in the flesh. To be able to walk around the paddock, see into the garages, smell the fuel and meet the leading drivers was great – especially as a 15 year old.

Andrej Pavicevic, Fortec Motorsport

I actually remember very little about the race itself. The driver who shined for me was an Australian called Andrej Pavicevic. I’m pretty sure he qualified second and as he’d been very kind to me earlier in the day chatting to me about his car, I’d turned into a fan. The driver I’d followed all year however was a Brazilian, Enrique Bernoldi, who at the time was leading the championship. Unfortunately, Thruxton would mark a bad run of form for him, with a series of retirements losing him the championship to countryman Mario Haberfeld. However, Enrique still drove in Formula One a few years later, for the Orange Arrows team in 2001 and 2002. During the race I remember his distinctive yellow and blue Promatecme UK team car pulling over (or spinning, I can’t remember!) and Enrique walking back, dejected, through the grass towards the back of the paddock. This was pretty much the defining moment in the race and pretty much all I specifically remember.

The racing, the emotions, the smell, the noise all helped fuel my passion for the sport. It’s a day I’ll never forget and ironically I probably now have driven more laps around Thruxton than some of the drivers who were on the grid on that September day!

Friday, 19 April 2013

The race that could change the world

Motorsport has become cleaner, especially across Europe, with hybrids now fairly commonplace especially in sports car racing. But let’s be honest, it’s never really firmly grabbed the imagination.
Formula E could change the game. Due to launch next year in an 8-round series, this single seater concept could finally be a real answer to motorsport’s ‘green’ problem.
The man behind the series, Alejandro Agag, looks like a slick chap. He’s clearly got the right contacts and can make his mark politically. Plus Formula E is all about the green issue, promoting zero emissions, which is very much a current automotive industry focus.
The lack of emissions and engine sound also opens up a whole new world of potential circuits, with street races now a real possibility where traditional motorsport would not stand a chance.  A race in London is pencilled in for 2014 with the support of the legend that is Mayor Boris Johnson, with LA and Rome also included on the calendar.
Big brands are keen on the series too it seems, such as Michelin and Renault. The series also has some high profile series supporters.
It all sounds positive so far but in my view it needs other ingredients to work. It needs to capture a fan base and a TV audience. Without those two the sponsors won’t turn up and the investment will be lower. As we all know money rules, especially on four wheels.
An impressive TV deal is vital then, as is having some leading drivers to bring in an audience. It’s been mentioned, however, that the series should be focussing on advanced technology more so than good racing, but it’s my view that the two should run in parallel. If the racing proves dull, audiences will switch off, which would be a catalyst of failure.
Formula E is a step change in motorsport – but the fact it’s green doesn’t guarantee it will work.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Formula One, Cornwall and the first Lotus win...unofficially!

If someone said the word ‘Davidstow’ to you, there is a high probability that you’d probably think of cheese. However, there are some people out there…myself included…that think of an entirely different thing when that name is mentioned. I think of motorsport.

OK, so on the face of it, that seems rather a random thing to think about. But there is method to my madness.
Go back 60 years or so and if you’d mentioned the idea of the British Formula One Grand Prix being held in Cornwall, not everyone would have laughed it off. It’s a bit of a different story in 2013! With the pretty terrible road, rail and air links into the county (I speak with some authority on this!), the idea is practically impossible in the modern era.
But Davidstow holds a bit of a secret. Near Davidstow village a site was purchased by the RAF in 1941 which became an RAF Coastal Command airfield, known as RAF Davidstow Moor, which was active from 1942-1945. As was common post-war, the airfield’s perimeter roads and runways were transformed into a motor racing circuit following World War II, when the military no long needed the land.  The majority of the UK’s current circuits, such as Thruxton and Silverstone, started out in a similar fashion.
The Davidstow motor racing circuit opened in 1952 and held three Formula 1 races between 1954 and 1955. In its short life the circuit had two layouts, one 2.6 and the other 3.1 miles in length.  Events that took place at the venue included speed trials, F3, F2 and Formula Libra. Crowds went up to around 20,000 – much more than expected.
On the 'Back Straight' looking west on the old Davidstow circuit
Perhaps most notably, in a race that took place on August 2nd, 1954, for F1 and F2 cars (although no F1 car turned up), John Coombs in a Lotus Mk8 won. Some regard this as Lotus’ first victory in an F1 race, but as the car that won was recognised as a sportscar, the victory was never official.
There was one main advantage to the Davidstow circuit. There was a lack of local populous, which meant limited noise issues. However, this advantage could also be seen as a disadvantage as it meant there was a lack of crowd, even though attendance figures at the few races that took place were positive as I mentioned earlier. The main disadvantage though, which would still be an issue today, is the location of the circuit.
It’s around 5 miles from the coast and it’s on the North edge of Bodmin Moor, meaning weather throughout the year can be a real issue – especially fog and heavy spells of rain.  This was in evidence during some of the races.
So could Davidstow ever host an F1 race again? Or even any type of motor race? Well, in a word, no. Too much investment would be involved and obviously there would be considerable protests about a race track being opened up on what is now classified as moorland. The South West remains poorly linked in terms on transport too, so long term, it probably wouldn’t work. It’s a shame though, because Davidstow represents the only circuit racing history this side of Castle Combe, which is East of Bristol…some 150 miles away.
So the short history of motor racing at Davidstow seems to forever remain just that…history. But a quirky one at that.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Autosport International impresses…

Last Friday I made my annual pilgrimage to the NEC in Birmingham to the 2013 Autosport International show. It’s an event that is an essential date in the diary if you’re in the industry and, to many, it symbolises the start of the racing season.

I went on the second of two trade days, so I can’t pass comment on either public day, but having seen the reports the show overall was clearly well attended. In this blog I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail as I know a lot of you reading this will have been to the show this year, but what I am going to do is give some of my opinions into the positives and negatives of the show, influenced by my experience as a professional in the PR/marketing area of motorsport.
I spent some time over the weekend thinking about the one thing I’ll remember from this year’s show. It came to me quite quickly – I was really impressed with the quality of the cars on display. I’m not talking about the more promoted displays either, like the F1 grid or the Richard Burns collection of cars. I’m referring to the cars that were dotted around the show on all manner of stands. For example, my friends over at TrackDriver magazine brought a McLaren F1 GTR owned by Nick Mason, Classic Team Lotus had a stunning ex-Nigel Mansell F1 car, Radical showed off its new RXC and over on the Aurora Bearing Company stand the DeltaWing was on display – a car that is simply amazing in its radical nature. The cars undoubtedly draw people in to the stands, so as a promotional tool they are fantastic.
Whilst there were an awful lot of positives, I have to add some negatives in too. The first isn’t to do with the show itself, more the NEC. I have a real problem with the £10 parking charge – I’m going by train next year now I’ve had a tip off. It’s a pretty outrageous price, particularly when you consider the entry price isn’t exactly a bargain. I don’t know how some families on the public days can justify the expenditure – particularly if they are travelling far.  Secondly, some stands were totally overloaded with information which meant you couldn’t get a clear picture of what the company actually offered. Clearly, some companies overthink their stands, which is where they should look at hiring professional branding or marketing advisors to assist in producing displays that are much more audience focused.

The Dunlop/BTCC display at the 2013 Autosport International
Some of the stands this year however were fantastic; better than at previous shows from recollection. The best stand I’ve ever seen was a few years ago when Prodrive had a magnificent ‘clinical white’ stand, which was extremely eye catching (I dare say expensive too!). In 2013, I was really impressed in particular with the Dunlop/British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) display; it wasn’t overly complicated and was visually appealing with a small mock-up of the iconic ‘Dunlop Bridge’. There weren’t too many staff on the stand either, which leads me on to a topic that I continue to have issues with. I really feel that some companies could make better use of the staff that attend the show. Without naming any firms specifically, it was quite clear that some had far too many staff and, in some cases, the staff weren’t interacting effectively with visitors. I saw far too many visitors wondering around several stands without being approached by anyone. To me, this is a waste of perfectly good resource and those companies should be doing more to engage with the audience.
So what did the Autosport International teach me about the year ahead? Well, there are certainly a lot of exciting new projects underway and it was clear, particularly in the Autosport Engineering area of the show, that innovations continue industry-wide. It appears that motorsport is continuing to fight off the economic climate - after speaking to a journalist friend of mine, it is clear that the BTCC in particular is looking very healthy going into 2013. Having said that, there have been some casualties, such as the loss of the HRT F1 team and the potential loss of Ford/Arena in the World Touring Car Championship.
It will be interesting what 2013 brings. I’m already looking forward to the 2014 show – I hope it’s equally as good.