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Summer Break: James Allen responds to F1 fans’ burning questions – Part 1
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Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Aug 2017   |  8:53 am GMT  |  123 comments

Over this week James is answering fans’ burning questions on F1, while the sport takes a summer break.

We’ve had a big response already with lots of questions on the Mercedes vs Ferrari battle, the future of Fernando Alonso, the F1 calendar, young drivers, TV paywalls, F1 rules – the list goes on. Please keep them coming in.

Here is the first batch of answers.

Craig Taylor: “What’s really going on behind the boardroom doors at McLaren Honda? Will there be a customer Mercedes engine in the McLaren chassis next year and if there were to be, where would that leave Honda?”

I think that possibility has receded, Craig and now it’s either stick with Honda or move to Renault. As the Renault is the least performing of the rival engines, it’s a bit of a case of ‘better the devil you know’; also you are back to being a customer in the Renault scenario and with Christian Horner and Red Bull likely to get their elbows out ahead of you in the queue, it’s not a great platform for growth.

Staying with Honda is the only way to succeed, but it’s a question of how badly damaged the relationship is due to the way Honda deceived McLaren about the performance and reliability of its new engine before it ran in the car for the first time and how the two sides have moved forward from there.

Michael Schumacher 2000
Aelfwald: “When you look at the current grid it seems there’s a lot of top level drivers. Yet in Schumacher’s day he stood head and shoulders above the rest, with only maybe Hakkinen being on a similar level.

My question is are there really that many top level drivers today compared to the Schumacher era or has the bar been lowered and today’s drivers are actually more comparable to the Alesis, Montoyas and Villeneuves of the Schumacher era?

What a great question! You are right that Schumacher was head and shoulders the best, with Hakkinen able to sustain a challenge to him for a few years only 1998-2000, Prost and Mansell moving on early in his career and Senna passing away. The red sea parted a left him a path to greatness!

Alonso came along and gave him a hard time at the end of his career, but in between it was all Schumacher. Ferrari had also built a hell of a machine around him, with every single detail taken care of to give a competitive advantage. So it probably made him look a bit better than he was. But he was top class, clearly.

We now have a four time champion, a three time champion and a two time champion as well as some very exciting younger drivers.

My view is that Hamilton and Alonso in their prime are a match for Schumacher in his. None of them are perfect but they are all exceptional and, on the whole, consistently so. Vettel is also exceptional and works very hard, but has a slightly narrower operating window in the way he needs the cars and the rules to be, as 2014 and 2016 showed.

Verstappen has all the tools to be exceptional, but is still only 19 and needs to focus all his energies on developing into a champion. It is not a given that he will do that, but he certainly ought to. Ricciardo has the tools also, but needs a season or two in a winning car to build himself up into a real force. He’s not quite as quick as Verstappen but he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and he takes the chances and the half chances that come his way.

Raikkonen had all the tools to be another Hakkinen and he managed one championship, but while still entertaining, he’s not the driver today that he was in his 20s. Montoya I would class in there, he didn’t make the most of the tools he had.

Kes: “Hello! Is it true that Vettel is hedging his bets and is willing to sign only one year contract for 2018 with Ferrari, with the red team pushing for a multi-year deal?

That is the word, but Vettel is also extremely canny and is waiting to see how things develop with Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. The Brit has another year on his contract and it’s all about what happens at the end of 2018. Hamilton may decide to stop or he may decide to continue.

I suspect that if you gave Vettel the scenario where he wins the world championship for Ferrari and then can see out his career at Mercedes he would snatch your arm off. But engineering that isn’t going to be easy.

If he signs a new three year contract with Ferrari he’ll be 33 at the end of it and could then move across, but he’s also smart enough to see that there are others like Ricciardo, Verstappen, Ocon in the mix and likely to get stronger as they mature.

Rob: “With manufacturers leaving other series in droves to focus on Formula E, what will the field looks like in 2-4 years’ time? What will it take for Formula E to de-throne F1? What will happen to LMP and DTM as budget and interests wane?”

I wrote about this in the Weekend Debate post on Saturday, but your question also takes it further.

Formula E is attracting the manufacturers because it’s affordable and it answers a lot of the right questions for them about the electrification technology and the direction of the automotive industry.

The manufacturers for whom motorsport has always been a priority want to continue that philosophy of proving the technology and at the same time gaining a marketing angle from their success on the track. The question is whether Formula E is actually motorsport or whether it is something else and should be approached and marketed as such?

The budgets are low in comparison to F1, LMP1 and even DTM. It costs £25 million maximum to be a front runner, while F1 is £300m and more, LMP1 is £150m and DTM is about £80m, I believe. F1 is still head and shoulders above the rest in terms of audience reach and engagement.

Le Mans is bulletproof, but the LMP1 category will need to halve the budget to have a future, while DTM looks like yesterday’s series.

Formula E is likely to gain audience and reach thanks to the promotion that manufacturers like BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and Jaguar will give their participation in it, as F1 did in the 2000s, using the new tools of digital and social media to reach a segmented audience that they want to reach.

I’m sure McLaren would like to do it too, but the problem is that they won the contract to supply the batteries for Season Five and so they would have a bit of a conflict in the eyes of other competitors if they entered a team in 2018!

Fernando Alonso

ArmchairF1: “In the modern era, do frontrunning teams plan, (or have to plan) too long term to, although an outstanding talent that he is, give Alonso a one or two year swansong”?

That’s a good question! Does the sport centrally have a responsibility to ‘place’ its super star drivers for the good of the show? Alonso is a wonderful character for our sport and a top class driver, but he’s made a series of bad decisions which have put him where he is – I don’t necessarily mean decisions which team to drive for, but decisions while driving for teams that have made top teams wary of using him.

He is 36 now, but pretty exceptional and versatile so maybe could squeeze two or three more years out of his peak and as far as I can see he has only two options: to stay at McLaren and pray it comes good in 2018 and 2019 or to have a last roll of the dice with Renault.

But they say in life you should never go back and he’s already gone back to the Renault life raft once after the failed 2007 McLaren-Mercedes experiment. By 2008 Renault were already not the championship force they had been in his previous stint there and that is true again today. I think they’ll need the rules to come towards them in the next few years to have a chance to win again. As there isn’t much clarity on that yet, it’s a big gamble for Alonso.

It depends on whether Alonso feels betrayed by Honda’s deception at the start of this year to the point where the relationship is broken. If they can give him something to believe in, he might stay. But he has heard it all before..

2017 Australian Grand Prix
Michael G: “What would your vision of F1 for the future be. From a fan perspective”?
Big question, Michael. I think there are some fundamentals that most people in F1 feel are not quite right at the moment and many of them have a knock on effect on each other and the competition.

First and foremost we need greater competition; we need that huge gulf between the top teams and the rest to close right up. If you look at the race history charts in our UBS Race Strategy Report after each GP, you can see this huge space, representing time, where the leaders have become completely detached from the midfield.

To close that up will take a careful plan, dealing with the simplification of the power units, which will also make them louder and cheaper. So that’s three areas right there. Controlling the input and output side of the F1 team budgets is also important. I’d emphasise the latter, making it harder for the rich teams to make a difference through money alone.

Chassis side the rules need a tweak to make the cars have a greater wow-factor, while also addressing the ability to follow and pass each other, which DRS has helped with, but it’s sometimes too powerful. I would also ask Pirelli to make softer tyres, with the balance as it was in 2016, where we saw a nice mixture of all three compounds used in races.

They now have to build in the Halo, unfortunately, which is very ugly and sets back the aesthetics a lot and separates the fans further from the drivers, which is a very bad thing. But as it’s a safety item I can’t see them rowing back on it now.

I can’t wait to see what Liberty do with the OTT (over the top service) video platform they are building. They can put lots of F1 content on there to feed the fans’ interest in the sport. I’d like to see F1 move to a direct media relationship with fans, rather than TV behind a paywall, which doesn’t work for niche sports, unlike football.

Another fundamental problem is that there are only 40 hours of F1 racing action each season; that’s about the same as one weekend of action in the English Premier League (and they have 38 weekends!)

So I would certainly explore the idea of a sprint race (for points) on Saturday afternoon, you could have qualifying for it on Friday afternoon after a Friday morning practice, or just start with reverse grids (Monaco could be a problem as it’s impossible to pass). Then qualifying could run on Saturday morning, for Sunday’s Grand Prix. That gives fans at the track plenty of bang for their buck and with the right platforms for serving up the coverage of it on TV and other streaming and highlights platforms, fans at home can slice and dice what they want to see.

I suspect younger fans would appreciate the sprint race and it would, in time, lead them into watching the full Grand Prix to see ‘what happened next..”

Thanks for your questions. JA will answer more on Thursday.

If you would like to have your F1 question answered during this mid season break from racing, leave it in the Comments section below. If you want to comment on any of the points raised in this post, please do so in the Comments section.

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1

RE Your vision for F1 from the fans perspective?
From your keyboard to Libertys’ ear James!! I hope they read your blog.

2

I’ve never been to an f1 race in the modern era but as an armchair fan reading about the lack of engine volume debate I was wondering how annoying are the helicopters buzzing down the front straight?

3
The Grape Unwashed

I agree with James regarding Schumacher, but I would put it a slightly different way: Schumacher raised the performance bar and was clearly the best driver until Alonso led the new wave of drivers capable of operating at that level. Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel are all Schumacher-level talents. I would put Hamilton slightly higher than all the others, except possibly the new boy Verstappen – once he’s knocked the rough edges off, Verstappen will be a Hamilton-level talent or higher. Ricciardo is clearly in this group, but at the lower end of it – closer to Vettel than Hamilton.

4

Cars are still a lot slower than MSC era..

5

Thanks for the great answers so far, James!

My question is: Monaco is clearly no longer an appropriate venue for a race. Given that F1 is by its nature about evolution, how long before the PTB say enough is enough and stop going there?

6

G’Day from DownUnda JA …
The next “era” of F1 is currently being pondered over and planned by Liberty / FOM with a view to moving away from road relevance and full hybrid / electric technology. Isn’t it time the overbearing relationship with the FIA and it’s all-encompassing safety measures is left behind as well? (I’m thinking about the sanitation of F1 through Halo, bitumen run-offs, no refuelling, high tyre pressures etc etc etc)
We now have great minds such as Ross Brawn’s at the helm. Is it necessary for the new F1 to be dictated to by an old-school organisation which aligns itself squarely with the automotive manufacturing industry when F1 is looking towards a more fan-friendly, sports and entertainment orientated DNA, rather than the road relevance DNA?
I feel that, if F1 was regulated by a group of specialist, motor sports minded “referees” and 3 full-time stewards at the circuits, it would instantly become more spectacular and fearlessly gladiatorial than it can ever be under a politically biased automotive organisation with industry related road safety agendas.
After all, this F1 racing, THE PINNACLE … not taking the kids to school in an 8 seater mini-van!

7

To me its simple get back to noise from real engines that do not cost a bazillion dollars to develop ,if a company like Honda can not figure it out we are lost in this sport.Leave the saving of the world to the e teams manufacturers are going to that because the cast is peanuts compared to F1.

8

Hi James. Thanks for the Q&A.

Obviously a lot of talk has been centred on next years driver line-up, but with so many open contracts – for me at least- 2019 is of much greater interest.

Care to throw out some predictions…?

9

Thanks for the opportunity James!
I have a question but it isn’t a burning question, it’s an urgent one. It concerns the device known as ‘Halo’. I really don’t know who devised/orchestrated the testing of it but the physics used were totally incorrect. As far as any urgency is concerned, how would, let’s say, Mr. Stroll react if his son were badly hurt, simply because some ‘stunt crew’ got it wrong?

If the above reads as rude and/or disrespectful I hearby apologise. It is something I feel strongly about as the test was no test. Consider if you will, a coin about to be flipped. The coin; a wheel and tyre combination bouncing aimlessly across the track; the stored energy of a racing car; a confined thumb suddenly released; a thumbnail or halo striking the lower edge of the coin or wheel tyre combination. Heads or tails?… Need I ask?

10

Hi James,
I’m still puzzeled ’bout the “pit under SC” and “pit under VSC” scenarios. What works, what doesn’t, how are the numbers, how position on track matters, etc. Also how the VSC delta’s work .. meaning how are they determined, when and from where are they send to the driver. I think there were some controversial or “hard to get” scenarios in the past; I asked this question before 😉 Think I’m still waiting for the answer, or did I miss it ? Tnx!

11

James, how do the teams evaluate drivers? Force India were able to get Wehrlein and Ocon into their simulators last year (and picked Ocon), but that’s unusual these days.

So how do they decide who is hot and who is not? Or does selection just come down to hunch and who is available?

12

Hi James,

If each team were to have 3 drivers (thus more seats opening) but only top two qualifyers (from each team) could race, would it transform the competition? It would certainly spice up the grid every weekend! Your thoughts please.

13

James, now that there’s no going back on the halo, do you see it as the start of a slippery slope? Maybe to fully enclosed canopies and maybe even enclosed wheels?
Thanks for a great read
Paul

14

“Monaco could be a problem as its impossible to pass” – the same was for Hungary.

James would the adoption of a Dual DRS system work on the Front Wing of the following car?

For example close all the gaps in the Front Wing of the folling car, when they are say 2 seconds behind then enable the orignal DRS in the 1 second window?

15

Thank you for answering my previous question. How deep do you think is Mercedes rooted in F1? They’re commited until 2020, but what could happen next? Eddie Jordan once famously suggested they could leave the sport at any point, with the quote being immediately denied by Toto Wolff himself. So what’s the story, is F1 already embedded in their DNA or are they there just for the benefits?

16

maybe, because, he’s not the driver today that he was in his 20s 🙂

17

James, Kimi gave Schumi a hard time before Alonso too, and could have won one or two championships ahead of Schumi if the McLaren was not so unreliable. You seem to ignore Kimi as you do not even mention him along the other champions on the grid now. I’ve seen this dismissal of Kimi before from you. I wonder why?

18

maybe, because, he’s not the driver today that he was in his 20s 🙂

19

James, can I just say great segment and good questions. I definitely think they hit a number of the big topics.

20

James, a question that pops up repeatedly on here is “how much do the teams spend?”

21

Oh and how many people work at each team! Thanks.

22

My view is that Hamilton and Alonso in their prime are a match for Schumacher in his. None of them are perfect but they are all exceptional and, on the whole, consistently so. Vettel is also exceptional and works very hard, but has a slightly narrower operating window in the way he needs the cars and the rules to be, as 2014 and 2016 showed.

Only Alonso in his prime would have been a match for a prime MSC. As for Vettel and the narrow operating window – I agree, to an extent. But would also put Lewis in that category. It seems the dominant Mercedes cars have blurred our vision 🙂

23

This also tends to be my opinion on the matter of all time great drivers (which is something of a hoppy of mine).

Alonso is definitely up there with Schumacher, Prost and Senna (and Fangio, Clark and Stewart if we go back further). But Hamilton is a bit tougher to gauge. I would agree that Hamilton at his best is undoubtedly on the highest level, but he also has much poorer consistency. That, as well as benefiting from the best reliability rate of any world champion, might hold me from putting Hamilton with the top tier of greats with Schumacher.

24

I’m sure mainstream opinion will wait on your final decision, regarding Hamilton. 😃

25

Thanks so much for your contribution.

If you’ve nothing constructive to add, best refrain, thx. I wasn’t rude to you.

26

I don’t believe I was rude to you either. Just pointing out the truth that majority opinion is different than yours. No need to be so sensitive.

27

You speak for the “majority” do you?

28

If I sound sensitive its because you belittled my opinion. Some might consider that rude in a place where people come to exchange opinions.

It’s also a bit disingenuous of you to suggest as a fact what the majority opinion is. I doubt the majority on this forum would agree with your premise about Hamilton.

29

You’re free to hold your opinion. Such rankings might be a hobby of yours, but it doesn’t make your opinion any more important than anyone else’s.

I find it hard to believe, 30 years from now, that people will be making the case that the driver with the 2nd most wins & podiums all-time, and most poles (barring some catastrophe) doesn’t count as an F1 great. The sheer weight of the numbers will tell. But that’s just my opinion. 😉

30

Oh no, I definitely agree with you on that. He is an all time great.

Let’s end it there on a positive note!

31

With all the technical advancements on the simulation-side, is it possible for the teams to forecast the absolute top-time of a car on a circuit, and then measure a driver’s performance against the theoretical performance? And if that’s the case, do drivers sometimes outperform the simulation?

32

Many thanks for answering my question!

33

Do you think nominating a single engine mode, maybe declared by FP3 would increase the racing and show. Not investing in qualifying modes could save millions in development, mix up qualifying, provide extra race day overtakes, and give the midfield a podium chance. Was Stroll robbed on the line by an engine mode boost in Baku for example?

34

You raise an excellent point regarding qualifying modes. That technique has always struck me as return to the concept of the qualifying engine; as you point out, developing these modes surely adds costs. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the incremental cost of developing and deploying these qualifying modes roughly equals what it would cost to swap engines between practice and qualifying.

35

Who do you feel has the best chance to become F1 champion for 2017?

36

We all know that Esteban Ocon beat Max Verstappen to the F3 crown, but do you think Ocon has the talent to beat Verstappen in F1 if they are given similar cars?

37

Parity in F1 is an emotional topic for fans. Everyone says the FIA needs to set the rules to make things more even. Why hasn’t F1 made more of an effort to attract more manufactures? What are the roadblocks to this and why should we water down the rules and place restrictions on spending? I have long felt that there are teams in F1 that would never survive under a normal business model if they have to obtain major bits like PUs from their competitors. How about a third party power unit?

38

I would love to see a Saturday kart race in equal machinery since many of the proper tracks have an international spec karting circuit within the confines of the circuit. In equal machinery over a decent distance, the fans really would get to see the driver skills and make their own comparisons. Any chance something like this could ever happen?

39

Scary thought, what happens if/when an F1 driver gets injured in a kart crash and can’t race in the GP?

40

Great idea. Or maybe a different theme every GP, depending… karts one week, quad bikes another, Ford Fiestas another… remember the BMW Procar series when most of the then current F1 drivers took part.

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