Summer break Q&A Part 2 – James Allen responds to readers’ burning questions
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Aug 2017   |  9:04 am GMT  |  80 comments

In the second part of this Summer Q&A with James Allen we will address questions including: F1 drivers, manufacturer engines, the thin end of the wedge opened up by the Halo, what would have happened if Mercedes had stuck with McLaren, SKY F1 and why the F1 teams didn’t take up the offer to buy shares in F1?

Red Bull pitwall
Brendan: “In the current climate (and realistically in the near future) is it possible for a non works team to win the championship? Was Ron Dennis right about this? Should Red Bull push for a Honda team up or really push to get the VW group involved? What would encourage more manufacturers to get involved in F1?”

Well, Brendan, in the current climate the answer is no. Clearly the change to hybrid turbo engines gave the manufacturer backed teams a real grip on the sport and only Red Bull, as a customer, has managed to win six races since 2014, with all their mighty resources.

However the next step will be interesting as the new F1 management is committed to improving the competition and simplifying the engines. This will be delicate and is all tied up with cost control measures and an attempt to attract an independent engine maker in, like we used to have with Cosworth. It’s a long way from where we are now to something like we had in the 70s, as well as at times in the 80s and 90s, but if the journey is carried out successfully then at that point it might be possible for a team to win a title with a non-works engine.

As for Red Bull, they were close to a deal with VW/Audi group before the US emissions scandal broke. Porsche is certainly looking closely at F1 and the political barriers to entry have gone now with Bernie Ecclestone no longer running F1. I would see them partnering with Red Bull as a common sense approach on both sides, especially given all the history of talks between the two groups and the fact that no other team could give them a chance to win straight away and Red Bull could get out of its Renault deal easily.

Andrew Zarb1: “Which driver do you think has improved the most this season?”
Thanks for the question, Andrew. It’s a good one.

You have the younger drivers who are still developing, the mature ones who still have some areas they can improve on and then drivers like Raikkonen, who is having a better season because the Ferrari is a good car and the handling suits him better than in other years.

Carlos Sainz looks to be continuing on his linear progression, but I’d be looking at two drivers in particular: Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon.

Bottas started slowly; he was quite a bit off Lewis Hamilton in race pace in testing and at the start of the season, but since late April he seems to have got a pretty good handle on a tricky Mercedes car. He still has the odd race like Bahrain and Hungary where his race pace isn’t quite there, but his qualifying performances have been strong and he certainly has proved to himself now that he can do it at the highest level. He just needs a bit more consistency of race pace.

Ocon has been a revelation when you consider that he is still basically a rookie. He did half a season with Manor last year (Spa was his debut) and from the outset of this season he has been right with Sergio Perez on qualifying and race pace. Perez has the edge; he’s scored more points and has qualified ahead, but the Mexican is also driving the best he has in F1 and these 2017 cars are not easy for inexperienced drivers. Ocon has also learned from mistakes he made early in the season.

Bottas, Hamilton

I have a little tester I do in Montreal, where I go out to the first chicane in the woods and stand by the side of the corner entry. It’s a great place to show a driver’s commitment and technique and Ocon stood out there, as have other drivers who have gone on to do do great things.

I’m not saying he will do that, but he has shown me he has the talent and the commitment and from my conversations with him I see a sportsman who is here to learn and to improve. He’s in exactly the right team for that; with a car fast enough to be able to mix it in the Top ten and score points and with chief engineer Tom McCullogh to guide him, who is one of the very best guys for helping F1 drivers to understand what they are trying to do and for bringing them on.

And to answer Bob Dubery’s related question about how Force India evaluated Ocon and Pascal Wehlein , the answer is that they were able to give young driver day tests to both of them over 2015 and 2016 and saw more potential in Ocon. The simulators tell them something too, but in this case it was track days and debriefs in factory etc that told them which way to go.

Paul: “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?

I have to say I’m no fan of the Halo. I understand the problem of drivers’ heads being exposed and I understand the FIA wanting to do something about it. They have a duty of care, they take it very seriously and I respect that.

In terms of the push-back, I guess it’s a but like the 1970s when Jackie Stewart was trying to bring in safety measures and the old guard all said he was soft and should just get on with it as motor racing has always been dangerous.

I don’t think my age has anything to do with my feelings; my two sons are teenagers and they both hate the Halo, as do their F1-following friends at school.

I’m sympathetic to the need to protect the driver but the Halo cuts the driver off from the fans and is pig ugly.

I’ve just made two films for the Motorsport Network, one on the legendary technical journalist Giorgio Piola and another on Amalgam Collection that makes those exquisite 1/8 scale models. I was thinking as I edited it, ‘How would an F1 car with a halo spoil how great this all looks?’ and the answer is ‘a lot’.

As for the second part of your question, I’ve learned over the years that in F1 everything matters and also that everything that gets introduced has unintended consequences. So yes, there is a risk that we will be starting down a certain pathway here.

F1HERO: James, given the high profile takeover of F1 by Liberty Media and the ongoing discussions with the teams about the sport’s future why haven’t any of the current F1 teams taken up the offer of shares in the business? It seems a little at odds with all the positive public statements made by both ‘sides’ regarding future mutual support and recognition of which direction the sport should be going i.e. fan engagement, engines, etc. Is there something else in the background that we don’t know about? Why would the teams turn down an opportunity to own and potentially profit from F1’s future?”

The new owners offered F1 teams the opportunity to buy discounted shares in its new parent company; the idea was to give teams added financial incentive to support the sport and to stay in it. Team owners were quite luke warm on the proposals and in particular were wary of the 10-year lock-up period for shareholdings.

While it would be good for stability to have the teams holding some shares, you must never get to a situation like with CART in the USA in the 1990s, where things became too democratic. Motorsport doesnt work unless you have a benevolent dictator, who acts in the best interests of the sport. Teams will always act out of self interest. Liberty have a very hard negotiation ahead with the top teams like Ferrari and Mercedes and it was perhaps ambitious to think that teams would undermine their own negotiating position by taking a shareholding with a 10 year lock up, which would mean that they couldn’t threaten to walk away if the deal on the table from F1 wasn’t right.

But one team principal told me it was also naive to believe that the hard-up midfield teams had the cash required to take up the offer. The share sale was taken more seriously by some teams, such as Williams, which are focussed solely on F1. But they didn’t have the money spare.

And as we have over 200 questions that have come in, here are some shorter answers..

Anand R: “Hello James, Do you think if the whole Spygate scandal in 2007 hadn’t occured, Mercedes would have not had a separate team – thereby making the McLaren-Mercedes combo the most potent team in 2014-onwards?
Possibly, the mess over the Spy scandal and the $100m fine certainly didn’t help the relationship. There was also tension over the road car programme, I believe. But I think what pushed Mercedes into doing it was the chance to buy Brawn in 2009, having slimmed down the workforce after Honda pulled out. It was in the teeth of the credit crunch and F1 had taken a reality pill (didn’t last long) and Norbert Haug persuaded the board that F1 could be done more cheaply in future.

Fulveo Ballabeo: “I think most fans who love the sport yearn to see beautiful open-wheel/open-cockpit F1 cars, that sound awesome, allow for racing/passing, and are a handful to drive (so we can see driver talent make a difference).
Instead we repeatedly get garbage like the Halo, tipped noses, shark fins, T-wings, vacuum-cleaner PU’s, and elimination qualifying. How can so many smart people, get it so wrong, so often, for so long?

That’s a great question and almost exactly the same wording that one of the top F1 team technical directors posed rhetorically, in a chat we had a couple of years back.

It’s a very long story but I think it has to do with the divide and rule methods of Bernie Ecclestone and some of the moves he made to stay at the centre of power in the last few years of his reign. The teams, as always, were disunited and the FIA didn’t want confrontation, playing the long game, which seems to be working out for them now with Liberty coming in.

That’s what F1 was, we now have new leaders, new thinking and a once in a generation chance to get it back on track with well considered rules, fairly applied. Let’s hope they take that chance.

Sarsippious: “James whats the magical number that Sky has to give you to be the face of their F1 coverage?”
Ha! I’m really happy with the plans I have with Motorsport Network, which is digital-first company that is building up a very strong position in this sport. I have a chance to play my part in shaping that and in pursuing the content production ideas I’m most interested in, as well as developing this blog on a global platform.

I still do some linear broadcasting, but I’ve commentated on over 300 Grands Prix for ITV and BBC with big audiences, so I don’t have a burning need to keep doing the same thing over and over again. I’m more fascinated by the challenge of the digital transformation of F1.

I have respect for the SKY team, of course including my old team mates Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle, but I’m a little concerned about the backlash that will come when F1 goes exclusively behind a paywall in the UK and hope that Liberty can find a way to avoid disenfranchising millions of F1 fans here.

James will answer more burning questions from readers tomorrow

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I’m one the disgruntled F1 fans who after 2018 will no longer be watching the races as I am a pensioner on a limited income and cannot afford the monies that Sky will be charging. I have been watching F1 since it was first shown on TV, I just hope that there will some chance of watching after the event has happened a bit like happens with Motogp and the WRC.


Hi James:

While that digital stuff is very cool I don’t see the boob tube going away any time soon. The fact is good high speed internet with streaming is hard out in some of the rural areas in the US.

We can stream over 4g and do have fairly good speed but data is limited. If I lived in the city I would stream everything. Of course this is only 10% and those older people that don’t like change.

The rural areas will always exist because we supply the cities with food and every other resource. In the US most in cities don’t even know where their food comes from.

It’s the future though. Digital media has been around for some time but a lot aren’t taking advantage of it where available.

Everyone in rural US loves racing. I wonder what an F1 car would do at Bristol. That would be a good NASCAR track to demo one. Maybe they ought to make a special one that has a back seat to take lucky winners around a track before a race. Maybe Honda could do that haha. But good luck with the digital stuff.


What absolutely sticks in my craw is the ‘double taxation’ that paywall TV presents. First I must pay to watch, then I must be subjected to endless advertising.

A digital-first approach should surely be to offer a free to air ad-subsidised model, or an ad-free premium whereby you get the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show.

Ideally without having to buy countless other TV bundles and sports packages to access it.


I was told (accurately or not I can’t say) that Ross Brawn has bought the liquidated material from Manor. If true wonder why, and really what is the value in old F1 property?


Hi James you mentioned the drivers who impressed you, I was wondering anyone this year who have been disapointed by?


Choosing out of current drivers, drivers who aren’t currently on the grid (but a sensible age, i.e. Kubica, di Resta, Buemi), and young drivers (Leclerc, Giovinazzi, Gasly), what would be your ideal 20-24 driver grid?


Should the Motorsport Network be the online streaming service for F1, I’d pay to watch F1 like that then giving money to Rupert Murdoch.


Hi James,

Do you know if Liberty Media are taking the recent Motorsport Network fan survey seriously?


What is the way to stop Halo/Shield/whatever nonsense you want to call this? Is there a legal approach?


Separate pit facilities mostly.


F1 is going to shoot its self in both feet when it’s solely Sky, millions of viewing figures gone, and no way of attracting new viewers to the sport unless they pay. Advertisers will see this drop and will either pull out or when the contract ends demand a lower fee. When does the deal end? Is Liberty looking at ways of getting out of it?

jonathan powell

One of the things Ive always liked about you James,and Martin Brundle aswell,is that you tell it like it is!Your not afraid to say the halo is pig-ugly when it obviously is!

Keep up the great work and ive thoroughly enjoyed these Q&A sessions!


Why are the FIA and rulemakers so anti- ground effect when it came to the 2017 (and presumably 2020) rules? From what I’ve heard it will solve the dirty-air problem nicely.


Relating to your last comment above — am still not sure where the “future” of your blog is going to settle down. Hopefully, it will stay as a stand-alone and relatively free-market opportunity. Not sure what a “digital-first” focus is or what that term really means.

The format you have established and the moderation for most ‘fan-natical’ comments is appreciated, even with the ‘popularity’ based issues/rants from some reader comments.

Thanks for all the good work in developing the most readable and accessible organ around. We see what “media-specific” and politically motivated ‘reporting’ based on specific ideologies has done to the industry in the U.S. and your approach is a great counter-point to that model.

Also, if shifting to requiring a ‘face book’ based response process or similar approach is being considered, that model is not conducive to open dialogue and, more to the point, exposes readers who might choose to use that way of responding to unwanted invasion of privacy.

Thanks for listening.


James, Hello had put forward a question earlier which I’m still hoping you’d answer. Or my take on it is.. If you had an F1 team and could only choose one driver purely to achieve the best results for year, which of the current F1 drivers would you put in the seat? And secondly, same question but this time you get to choose from any F1 driver of all time. Thanks!


As regards a “customer’s” ability to win the championship. I think it is highly unlikely this is possible. Though Red Bull are often seen to have disproved this could one not say they were effectively Renault’s “works” Team – abeit they were paying. It is different now as Renault have their own works team – going forward Renault will certainly give their best spec engine to their works team – though they will have to improve their chassis to beat Red Bull who usually build outstanding cars.


Just wanted to say that these features (the reader Q&A as well as the mid-season reviews) are really informative and make a nice bridge over the mid-summer break when most other F1 sites are either shuttered or posting very light “stories”.

I appreciate the effort and hard work, thank you!

I have often appreciated your commentary as being very insightful and the most well balanced with very little of the bias one sees almost everyone else. I now consider your site to be my most valued source for F1 news and commentary.

Great work!!!


Thank you


James I’m so glad you mention the pay wall. I hope that liberty do find a solution. I’m not a sky subscriber and don’t intend to be. I am however an f1 fan but for how long more I don’t know


Mr. James,
My gripe with current F1 is over-regulation and the politics of environmentalism. When promoters suggest louder noise from the engines, sorry PUs ! – how foolish they must think F1 fans? While l miss the wail of a normally aspirated v12 at 20,000 rpm, it is not decibels, it is the missing beauty of unrestrained mechanical symphony. Because the current small displacement hybrid favored by manufacturers for marketing reasons is faster in the corners, it is not of course, due to the engine, but the result of regulations on tires and aero downforce. Those components are also the outcome of the regulators, in this case based on competitiveness, or leveling everyone out. Everything is. I fully believe a head protection system designed by the individual car designers could offer as much safety as the prescribed one-size-fits-all halo. Every regulation to make the cars slower or safer can be worked around by a creative designer. Lets set the performance standards, and let the designs win out on the track.
If Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna or Lewis Hamilton jumps out to a big lead for the whole race, it is not necessarily a boring race. If NASCAR restarts a race 3 times trying to level everyone back out, and Martin Truex Jr. does not win the final leg, that is a boring race.
Do you think there is any hope of again seeing the days of actual competition on many fronts?


Hey James,

do you know anything about what Ross Brawn and his engineering team do currently?
If not, could you maybe try to get in touch with them and find out what they are analysing or what basic ideas they came up with?



Hello James, With tire fatigue having found to be a more immediately dangerous threat to human health than tail pipe emissions from road cars, how long can F1 continue to accent tire degradation as a primary factor in racing success or failure?


I feel the real championship would be untie the drivers from manufacturers and keep them in rostrum to taste all cars and adapt to them in race weekends. FIA should take care of driver remuneration based on voting by manufacturers.


James, would you tells us few more of the “special” places on the current tracks where you like to go and watch drivers showing their best, or where the cars show their peculiarities?


James, seeing Ron’s picture… where do you rank Ron in F1? Is he as legendary as Frank? Up there with Enzo? Or was he just a guy in the right place, right time, having access to Marlboro money and Gordon Murray’s talent?

Maybe a feature on Ron would be fitting to answer this… 🙂 And must we count him out of racing altogether?


IMHO Ron is as legendary as it gets in F1.


I miss Martin Whitmarsh! Always thought he came across very pragmatic and seemed to have a high sense of corporate responsibility. I thought he was one of the better guys that F1 should have tried to keep around.

Kieran Donnelly

True JSL – I didn’t like him at the time but now, in hindsight, I think I respect his approach a lot more. I think Ron’s return helped in that reappraisal.


james , dont you think opening tyres régulation so any manufacturer could come in with “fia qualified tyres” would make a better show . it should be same as brake system , use those you want . now its just taking tyres manuf money for advertisement and no real good tyres dont u think ?


Open tyres is a can of worms, for example what happens if one tyre company is contracted to one team and they have the best tyre? That one team wins all the time. Conversely a team is contracted to a tyre company that supplies rubbish for a couple of seasons while they catch up? They have no chance of winning. What about a tyre that works at one type of track but not another? A tyre that was the “best” last race is now second rate because the competition made a break through? Catch up time for a few races, means their team/teams are uncompetitive.

Tyres are a huge factor, highly variable and cost a lot of money to develop. A control tyre eliminates that variable and helps the lower profile teams with less budget to spend on developing tyres.


as i said no contract. like brakes


@ gary..You make some very good points but i don’t believe having a control tyre is in the best interests of competition. It takes away the unexpected and it also plays to the strengths of some teams to the exclusion of others. Some cars will perform better than others on certain compounds and the teams have no say in that. Whilst we are on the subject of tyres the rules that force teams to use two compounds in a race is quite ridiculous. Teams should have the freedom to select whatever tyre they race on irrespective of compounds. If they choose to run, say a supersoft throughout the entire race with how many tyre changes as they need then they should be free to do so. The stupid rules about quali should also be done away with. Quali is quali and is a separate race within a race. All teams should be able to choose whatever compound they like to start the race on, not what they used on in Q2. That is just plain stupid. Tyres are such a determining factor that no one supplier should be used for obvious reasons. The FIA could simply lay down a general specification and then the suppliers could work around that as individuals with individual advantages/disadvantages.

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