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Is F1 challenging enough for drivers? Fans’ Forum video 6
Is F1 challenging enough for drivers? Fans’ Forum video 6
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Jul 2010   |  7:23 am GMT  |  30 comments

Many of the fans who attended the FOTA Fans Forum, powered by Santander this week were interested to ask the panel of key team members whether they felt that current F1 places enough emphasis on driver skill, whether the huge run off areas on the circuits make it too easy for drivers to get away with mistakes.

Jock Clear, senior race engineer with Mercedes GP, made an impassioned speech about the challenge of F1, pointing out that if F1 had merely stood still in this area on the last three years, then Michael Schumacher would have found it easy to come back. Instead it is an extreme challenge and his rustiness is showing.

The panel for the Forum, which brought fans and key team members face to face, was led by Martin Whitmarsh, FOTA chairman and team principal of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and featured Tony Fernandes, team principal of Lotus Racing, Jock Clear, Senior Race Engineer, Mercedes GP Petronas F1 team, Luca Colajanni, Head of Motorsport Press Office, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and Paul di Resta test and reserve driver, Force India F1 team.

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Funny how many are quick to rubbish Jock’s statement which was made from an engineering point of view. Those F1 engineers know the performance characteristics of cars to a degree that is “mystifying” to say the least. When Felipe was told about Alonso being faster than him it was probably more because they knew that he was driving the car much below it’s potential than just wanting him to pull over for Alonso. When a former F1 driver slams a current driver using statements that fly in the face of recent history he is lauded as knowing what he is talking about; go figure.


Whilst Jock does put forward some good points about the driver skill part it is somewhat flawed.

Given that as David Coulthard has mentioned as he is the experienced one, faster cars are somewhat harder to drive due to them having the downforce and load settings that put the car to the edge of what is physically capable or rather closer to it than the slower cars.

The slower cars are, however, admittedly a handful too because you can see the drivers hacksawing away at the steering wheel trying to hold it steady, albeit, mostly in the slow corners.

That I believe is a case more about the mechanical side of the cars and simply they just aren’t developed enough yet and in addition, it is also partially due to the Cosworth engines.

3 years out the sport doesn’t help and so that means their engines are somewhat less “driveable” in that they don’t give out the power in as smooth a curve as the Mercedes, Renault or Ferrari engines since they have obviously kept with the sport. Not that it is Cosworth’s fault incidentally.

Jock mentioned about ’96 with Damon and Schumacher. The thing is, at that time Ferrari were still very much a fair bit away from the front of the field and Williams were still there or there abouts as they were (in hindsight) reaching the end of their peak at the front whilst Ferrari were just on the path on getting back up there.

The car was only just behind so to a certain extent, yes Schumacher’s skill brought it up to podium finishes and wins (Spain ’96 when it was a drenched grand prix).

However, in the “Ferrari dominant” years I believe it was also partially a case of other teams not having the reliability whilst Ferrari did.

F1 as I’ve always believed has been some sort of balance between the driver and car because a) the driver has to be capable to drive the car to the limit, but b) the car has to be drivable to a point AND can also be reliable.


Driver skill is very much live and kicking in my view. The arguments as regards what is required to promote overtaking will rumble on and on and I don’t think there are any simple solutions that please all.

Circuits do have a major role in enabling overtaking and for me with the exception of Monaco the old classic circuits are far better from a racing perspective.

I am not convinced that the new scoring regime really promotes overtaking in the first quarter of the field; the point’s differentials are all relative. Better I feel to award bonus points for places made in the race. At least that way those further down the grid always have an opportunity to score points.

The sport has taken a big step backwards as regards the removing of at least the option to refuel during the race and the same is true for the current rules on tyres. With track position being more critical now than ever to effectively put everybody on the same strategy removes another variable that frequently used to mix things up throughout the grid and something the sport now misses. How we ever expect to see a proven slower car to suddenly be able to challenge the faster car (on the same strategy) in front is a concept I’ve always struggled with. I would suggest that other than the first race of the season quali is dropped and the grid lined up on the reverse of the previous races finishing order. The finishing points can stay as is but award a bonus for each place made by the end of the race. At least that way there will always be faster cars coming through the field and slower cars able to defend their position.


James, thanks for posting these videos. It was nice to be able to get a feel for what went on at the event.

On a separate note. It occured to me that all of the interviews/articles I have seen about overtaking all seem to concentrate on new technologies for the car, and not technology for the track. Possibly because it is not glamourous.

All attempts to add technology to the car to increase overtaking all seem to result in the status quo because of the calibre of engineers. Why shouldn’t some effort be put into an addition/change to the track tarmac so that extra grip was added outside of the current primary racing line so that the drivers could not only explore other racing lines, but these extra lines could be used for overtaking. If these proved useable they won’t get so dirty so there wouldn’t be a huge penalty for using them to overtake.

Assuming this was achievable it might allow for some more interesting racing on existing circuits without them having to be modified drastically.

Has this been investigated/considered before?

Such technology that increased grip on pre-existing tarmacs could also be used in the real world to increase grip on dangerous roads – particularly when they are wet. This would tie into the FIA’s road saftey initiative and have relevance to the real world long before I think I will have KERS in my car.


only guy on stage to clap for Schumacher on Stage was Ferrari guy. It sometimes feels with that team that they view Schumacher as a lost child who will find his way back soon.


between this and a previous forum video, Jock comes off as a bit daft to me, with blinders on.


Awesome blog! What a moving speech by Jock Clear, he couldn’t have said it better!

Maybe there’s a discrepancy between teams, but it’s still not all about the car but the driver as well. Proof being with teammates, Schumacher won 2 championships w/ Benetton and 5 w/ Ferrari, Lehtto/Verstappen/Herbert/Barrichello/Massa none. Alonso won 2 w/ Renault, Fisichella none. The cars those guys drove were the same specification. In fact all the second drivers in those teams were crushed by their vastly superior teammates.

As David Coulthard once said, “Traction control makes you leave the corner more consistently, but it doesn’t drive it for you”.


Yeah, Fisichella and the rest of the crew were very strong drivers.

Come on! Give me a break.


Hmm. I was at the event – thank you James very much for arranging it, it was quite interesting.

Although I have enormous respect for Jock Clear, I don’t really agree with what he said on this. Rafael – I agree with you about team mates, and that has always been the case – i.e. that the only real benchmark is your team mate (and even then it can be questionable; would Schumacher have been so superior to all those drivers you mentioned had they been treated as equals? I’m not saying he wouldn’t but we will never know).

I agree with Clear to the extent that I don’t believe a bad driver can win the championship. But I don’t agree with the notions that the best driver always wins; I don’t believe Hill was better than Schumacher in ’96 (or Hakkinen for that matter), any more than he had been in ’94 or ’95, in years when the Benetton and Williams were much more evenly matched. Do I believe that Mansell was suddenly better than Senna in ’92? Or that Button was better than Hamilton or Alonso last year? I don’t (although of course it’s open to interpretation).

I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of those particular championships, they’re just examples. All the above drivers were/are great, but I don’t believe that the best driver always wins.


Its an interesting debate, and none of us know for sure, because MS is never going to get to drive that ’97 Williams, and Alonso is never going to get to drive the 2003 Ferrari, but for the record TM i didn;t say the best driver always wins..far from it, i clearly said the good drivers win a championship and the very good ones win 2 or 3, and the exceptional win 7. My point was, over the course of a career there are very few examples of drivers who havent got what their talent deserved, or conversely got more than their talent deserved.


Very very interesting to hear your views Jock, especially on Hill in ’96 as an insider at Williams at the time. The Alesi-Montoya comparison definitely makes sense. I always relished seeing Alesi on those occasions when the conditions changed from dry-wet-dry-wet, but alas I guess you’re right, he struggled to build races and championships.

Thanks very much, it’s great to see that some inside in F1 do pay attention to what us fans are saying!

….now if you could just get the moveable wing for 2011 ditched I’d be a happy man :o)


Thanks for the reply TM>

Like all sportsmen, drivers have good and bad patches – again these tend to get masked in the clutter of cars/teams/luck etc; but in ’96 i dont think MS was at the top of his game – maybe the tension of the 94/95 seasons took something out of him, and building a new team at Ferrari etc. I think Damon may well have been driving better than MS that season, he was certainly driving much better than i had seen him drive the previous years.

Alesi falls into a category of drivers who are stunning in the cockpit, and then only occasionally, but who do not seem to be able to develop a car, or team to the top level; another example is Montoya.


Thanks for your message Jock, and apologies if I misinterpreted what you said. I guess my misunderstanding comes from your comment that Hill’s driving was unbeatable in ’96 and that Villeneuve and Schumacher couldn’t beat him.

I would say (in my opinion) that the combination of Hill, the FW18, and circumstances won it that year. Afterall, Villeneuve was stunning (that’s my opinion again, but e.g. his debut race was awesome and that move on Schumacher at Estoril was too) but it was his rookie year, and Schumacher was in a far inferior Ferrari. As you rightly say, we will never know, as Schumacher never drove the Williams, and it would have been so great to have seen Hill and Villeneuve teamed up again for ’97. Although I recognise that all championships are a combination of driver, car and circumstances, their weighting surely changes year to year.

But in light of the fact that we will never know for sure, the only way to predict what would have happened is to use what clues there are. God knows I have never been a Schumacher fan, and have been appalled at him at various points, but In my opinion (I know it’s opinion and not fact) I just think Schumacher would have won in ’96 if he’d had a more equal car; he blew Hill away in ’95, and essentially did in ’94 really once we take into consideration all the penalties Schumacher was given (rightly or wrongly).

But, I note that you didn’t say the best driver always wins. I think we at least agreed (from my 1st post) that only great drivers can win the championship. One other thing though; you said that the “skillful drivers win championships and the less skillful drivers don’t. If you can show me anybody who bucks that rule then I’ll admit defeat.” I mainly agree with that, but I always thought Alesi really did buck that trend. Although I don’t think you ever worked with him (??) would you agree with that as an insider? Or was he just too flawed?


James, thanks again for arranging this for all those who managed to attend. I discussed with you briefly after the events my thoughts on an alternative system to the Safety Car and you suggested that I put them down in a comment, so here goes.

In short, I believe that instead of operating a safety car, the track should be divided into 400 metre sections, each marked with a clear line across the track, (like the safety car lines) When an accident occurs in one of these sections, the drivers must drive through them in single file with a 100km/h speed limiter on. (This is the pit lane speed limit for most races) There would be yellow flags before and after this zone and cars must enter and exit in single file too.

This would have the effect of keeping the majority of the race track live, would prevent the random race reset that the Safety Car triggers and would have minimal effect on relative track positions (ie, a driver 30 seconds ahead won’t suddenly have that gap reset)

It would also stop the pit lane lottery that advantages some drivers and severely disadvantages others.

Regardless of whether Hamilton cheated or not, and for the sake of the point I am making lets assume he crossed the line before the safety car; even in that situation he suddenly gained a huge time advantage on Alonso who was only a couple of seconds behind him at the time. The drivers further down the field then received a massive advantage due to being able to pit immediately.

I have discussed my ideas in a lot more detail in a document I have prepared here for anyone who wants to read:


Please note, that the section titled ‘Example Procedures’ is not detailing the fundamentals of this idea, but is are just examples of possible ways of dealing with some of the many issues I anticipated might be raised.

And please, any one commenting on this – this is not a discussion about the rights and wrongs of Hamilton’s move – it is entirely to do with the lottery of Safety Car advantage.


That’s a very interesting idea.

One of my colleagues suggested something roughly similar by getting the ECU to force the pit lane speed limiter on for all cars from the time the SC is announced to when it leaves the circuit. Your idea of track zones could be enforced in the same way.

I suspect you would probably still need a physical safety car to help guide drivers around the accident as they would have specific knowledge of the state of the track, where the marshalls are, etc.


The problem with ththe idea of a speed limit aound the whole lap could be the inherit nature of an F1 car – with cars circulating at very low speeds they would lose temperature, tyre pressure and the engine would likely run very hot..


But thats what they get when behind the SC.


As the cars would have to follow single file through the zone, without weaving or tyre warming, they could simply be directed by the marshals. It would simply take 1 marshall at the start to the site to direct the cars to either side of the track (and subsequent marshals further down the incident site should further direction changes be needed) to accomplish this.

The system needs to work without a safety car because the whole point is to stop the field bunching up. Without a bunched up field a safety car is pointless as all the cars are at different points on the race track.


The thing though is, from FOM’s perspective, with 15 laps to go they’d surely rather have the pack bunched up than have 20 cars spaced an equal 5 seconds apart?

From a sporting perspective, and in terms of fairness, that idea’s excellent. In terms of putting on a show though, the odd sporting car bunch-up does make things that bit more interesting.

Lennart Jardenius

Go back to the old days, no changing tires.

One set only in race.


Jock lost me when he called F1 a ‘sport’ honestly, but that’s another debate.


While I appreciate to hear some insight information from James and Jock regarding the driver skills, I feel that Jock’s arguments are not bullet proof.

Michael didn’t beat Damon in 96, not to take anything away from Damon’s achievements, but Michael didn’t have the car to contend the championship.

And from my understanding, technology is there to make your live easier.

A very simple example: we didn’t have calculators before. Mathematicians in that era had to exercise their brain power, arguably, more than the mathematicians today.

And now, if some expert tells me that today drivers have to work harder in hitting the apex right and changing gears etc.. than those drivers in 90s, I am not overly convinced.


Top mathematicians will use computers and the same or even more mental effort to assist them to go much further than their counterparts of yore, who worked with much simpler equipment. So it depends on what are we talking about, maybe F1 pilots can easily be dumbed down by the use of advanced technological assistance. How further will they go in their piloting achievements? Are F1 pilots doing things that were considered unthinkable or a mere dream a few decades ago? I may be wrong but It’s not apparent to me.


Technology in any context is there to advance and improve life. As Bernard says, in F1, that would be to make the car faster.

Here’s another simple example: the internet. Allows realtime communication between parties that are separated in space. Never before modern technology (e.g. telephone/gram or whatever) was that possible.

Does technology only make your life easier? You’ve got to keep up with technology or else you’re left behind in life.


Williams with Renault had a car that was so supreme they didn’t need the quickest driver to win the WDC.

Hill wasn’t the best of his generation, and neither was Jacques for that matter. They weren’t rubbish either, more on a par with Heiki and Fisc than Lewis and Alonso, I’d say.

I don’t really agree with everything Jock said, but at the end of the day there are a million reasons why it makes more sense to pay attention to him than it does to me.

Was slightly perplexed at the FOTA thing to learn that the guy named Jock wasn’t Scottish yet the one named DiResta was. It’s a mad world.


Technology in F1 is there to make the car go faster and nothing else.


The same as I thought.

Some dilemma over here:

He explains it in such a nice way that you just have to believe it.

In my opinion he’s talking rubbish but… on the other hand, he’s that experienced that I just can’t believe he’s talking rubbish…

Nonetheless, great initiative this meeting.



thanks for all your work on this and thanks, too, on a personal level for your help on the day.

Can I now be a grumpy old git and complain that the main ingredient missing was debate – there was just no time for the floor to respond to the panels reply and the panel was sadly lacking in opposing views.

In particular, I felt the ‘we’d like you to hear more pit/driver radio but FOM won’t let us’response was very lame, and no-one challenged Luca to explain Big Luca’s views on the new teams – all rather too cosy.

‘Nuff said: as a first step a great start!

Thanks again.


The panel was responding to audience feedback. If a fan had a point to make they weren’t ignored.

Luca’s point was FOM hold the rights to anything that can be broadcast, so if they wanted to stream radio comms on the ‘net they’d be treading on Bernie’s toes by giving away something he could sell. That was my understanding of what he said, anyway.

I was amused by Martin Whitmarsh saying McLaren used to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to encrypt their radio comms. I suspect what he meant was they spend that sum trying to decrypt Ferrari’s.

Any chance that dreadful joke about Red Bull’s Wings could be put on Youtube? I’d love to see video footage of a whole auditorioum wincing in unison.


it FOM are holding the radio back then why is it that Toyota were able to broadcast there radio online a couple times last year?

i’ve also seen renault do it in the past at the french gp.

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