MIDFIELD ANALYSIS

Did McLaren destroy Alonso or did Alonso destroy McLaren?

 

After I had written and published my first analysis, in which I looked at the race performance of Ocon, Gasly and Leclerc over the first 12 races of this season, I thought of doing the same thing with 3 prominent midfield drivers.

 

The analysis of Ocon, Gasly and Leclerc was to look at their race performance and try to ascertain whether it justified either one of them being considered to move up to the main team. The results seem to indicate that Ocon probably is ready to move to Mercedes, while it’s very questionable whether that holds true for both Gasly and Leclerc. Recent events have had an impact on that analysis. Ocon won’t be moving to Mercedes next year as Bottas was re-signed. I wonder if Hamilton is using a similar system and decided he didn’t want Ocon as a team-mate. Ricciardo’s move to Renault may necessitate Red Bull to move Gasly into their main team, if they want to stick to promoting from within, as they have no other viable options. Hartley clearly isn’t qualified to be in a Red Bull, or F1 😉. And finally, Sergio Marchionne’s death, and the installation of Louis Camilleri as the new CEO, may cause Ferrari to keep things as they are, especially as Vettel and Arrivabene both indicate they want Räikkönen to stay.

 

While the analysis of the young drivers was to try and determine, as I mentioned above, whether they are ready to move up, the analysis of two of our mid-field drivers is to determine if starting right behind the top 6 of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull (and usually scoring points in the process) is masking their true race performance. Our third driver is a two-time world champion who is hobbled by a (seemingly) bad car but likes to claim he is still one of the best, if not the best driver in F1 today.

 

The three drivers I’ll be looking at are: Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and last, but not least, Fernando Alonso of McLaren.

Since I had analysed Ocon in the previous article I decided I should look at the other top drivers of the midfield.

I haven’t made any changes in the metrics that I used when looking at Ocon, Gasly and Leclerc

First up: Kevin Magnussen

I don’t think there can be much doubt that Magnussen has been the best driver at Haas this season. He has out-qualified Grosjean 9 – 3, outscored him 45 – 21. Magnussen has only had one DNF compared to four for Grosjean, and that was a team mistake when his wheel wasn’t properly attached in Australia.

The first thing you notice about Magnussen is his adjusted grid position gains him, on average, almost 1 place. He then loses that gain in his race result. In 45% of races he has lost final race positions compared to his adjusted grid position start. And cumulatively he has lost 1 place.

Second Up: Nico Hulkenberg

It’s clear that Renault are at the top of the mid-field, currently 4th in the Constructors World Championship, 16 points ahead of Haas. While Hulkenberg and Sainz are tied 6 – 6 in qualifying, Hulkenberg has outscored Sainz 52 -30 and did it while have having 2 more DNF’s. Hulkenberg is gaining on average 1.3 positions when his grid position is adjusted and another 0.5 positions for his final race. Only twice out of the 9 races he finished, he has lost places and cumulatively has gained 5 places.

And finally: Alonso

Alonso gains 2.6 places on the grid when his starting grid position is adjusted. He gains another 2.7 places from his adjusted start to finishing position. He gains a massive 21 cumulative places over the 8 races he finishes!

 

Conclusion

 

Only one driver of the three, Hulkenberg, was close to what I believed he would do before I started this analysis. I’ll be honest and state that I’ve never rated Hulkenberg as a great driver, but as journeyman mid-field one. The best word that you could use to describe him is consistent. 5 times out of 9 races he’s qualified 7th. In his true positions gained, he picks up one or two in one race and drops them in another. It’s fairly clear that the Renault is the best car In the mid-field, yet regardless of where he starts and on what kind of track he is racing on, he seems unable to really standout. I believe I see now why Renault decided to keep him instead of Sainz and it comes back to being consistent, something which Sainz isn’t. I see Hulkenberg’s role next season as being similar to Riccardo Patrese’s at Williams, when Mansell was his teammate. You’re not here to lead the team but be a safe set of hands that will not make mistakes and maximize the points you score. And for Hulkenberg this role marks him now as a forever number 2.

When I first looked at Magnussen’s chart my first impression was I had done something wrong. The Haas team have made great strides and the new Ferrari engine, which I believe is now the best in F1, has been a big part of this season’s success. Guenther Steiner, the Haas team principal, has made many positive comments about Magnussen; saying he has really upped his game this season.

 

Yet I come back to my chart and I’m afraid I don’t see it. Yes, Haas is doing better because they have a better car, but Magnussen cumulatively has lost a position. In 5 races out of 11 he’s lost places. It looks to me like Magnussen is a qualifying specialist and an average race driver, who can put his car high on the grid but doesn’t have the race pace to keep it there. 8 times Magnussen, when grid adjusted, has qualified 10th or better, yet only twice has he gained any positions. I get the sense that the Haas car is making Magnussen look a lot better than he really is. I would like to see Haas replace Grosjean with Leclerc and keep Magnussen in much the same role as Hulkenberg will have at Renault, a solid driver who can score points as I don’t think Magnussen has the talent to take Haas any further than it is now.

 

And finally, Alonso… It’s hard to know where to start with Alonso. If you don’t adjust his grid position and look at his final race position, he is on average gaining 5.3 places a race. When grid adjusted its 2.7 places. Cumulatively he has gained 21 places from his adjusted position over 8 races. Those are massive position gains. Some will simply say that Alonso is the best driver around – that’s why. But there are still a lot of questions I have.

 

The main question I have is: why can Alonso, it seems, easily pick up positions during the race, but can’t qualify his car well? Alonso’s average final race position is 7.2, which means he is finishing just behind the front runners of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. Yet his adjusted grid place is 9.9, meaning he is effectively on average, the worst Q3 qualifier.

 

That then begs the question is this a car issue or an Alonso issue. If it’s a car issue, the fault lies entirely with McLaren. And Boullier’s head rolled because of it. If however it’s an Alonso issue, meaning the car was essentially designed and is set-up for Alonso, and while in race trim it seems to suits Alonso perfectly, but it doesn’t in qualification, Boullier was a sacrificial lamb and McLaren have a much more serious problem. Brown has allowed Mclaren to effectively be turned into a one-car team to suit Alonso, as I believe Vandoorne isn’t as bad a driver as his record this season indicates.

 

If, as I speculate, Alonso has pushed Brown so McLaren focus on him to the detriment of Vandoorne, I can see why other teams, when coupled with his toxic influence within a team, are reluctant to consider him.

Doesn’t this mean the downfall of McLaren has only just begun? Rather than working towards a solution the will are feeding the problem even more…

Is the news that Alonso quits after this season good news for McLaren? Or did McLaren destroy Alonso’s career?

Let me know in the comments.

 

Article by Cavallino Rampante edited by Phil Bruznic

THE SPECTACULAR FAILURE OF LIFE

One of the most common and usually heated discussions in F1 is who or what, is or was the best. The best driver, car, engine or circuit provides endless debate. But sometimes who or what was the worst can actually be more interesting. And in this article I’m going to detail one of F1’s little known but maybe greatest team failure.

Today, as we are halfway through the 2018 F1 season, various groups within F1 are looking to come up with a new, maybe simpler, engine spec for 2021. However it turns out, one of the common statements made is that this new spec could encourage new engine supplier entrants into F1. Whether that actually happens or not, only time will tell. But there was a time the FIA did change the spec and made that claim and it did actually happen. This isn’t just a story of engines, but also about a team being formed because of their engine. Usually a team in F1 fails because it has a bad chassis or engine. Rarely do they ever get both wrong. And that is where or story begins.

Well, it actually starts a little bit earlier than that. The engines of the first turbo era were astounding pieces of engineering. The first Honda turbo in F1 in 1983, the RA163E, produced around 600HP. By 1987 the RA167E was producing about 850HP in race trim and 1200HP when set-up as a one lap qualifying wonder engine. Regulation changes for 1988 brought the HP of the RA168E down to around 725, but that was still 150+ HP more than the normally aspirated Cosworth DFR produced. F1 had evolved into a two-tiered sport with those who could afford turbo’s and those who couldn’t, or those who couldn’t get a turbo engine deal. Honda was reported to be spending $60M – $70M a year on their turbo engine program in the late 1980’s. Depending on what calculator you use, that is $125M – $150M in today’s money. That’s significantly more than Honda is spending today, rumoured to have been $100M at McLaren and $40M at Toro Rosso. It was clearly financially unsustainable and if left unchecked could have finished off F1. The FIA acted and for the 1989 season turbo’s were banned and the new F1 engine spec was 3.5L with no restriction on configuration.

In 1988 former Ferrari engine designer, Franco Rocchi, saw this as an opportunity to design an engine for the new 1989 F1 engine spec. Rocchi was no novice when it came to engine design, he was responsible for the engines in Ferrari’s 308 series in the late 1970’s an early 1980’s, but those were road cars. This would be his first F1 design. He believed that with 20 teams entered in the 1989 season there was bound to be a team willing to buy his design, as Subaru had done with another former Ferrari engine designer Carlo Chiti, and especially as Rocchi felt he had an ace up his sleeve in a W12 engine.

I’m sure most people reading this have no idea what a W12 engine is. Simply put, it uses 3 banks of 4 cylinders (which look like a W) instead of the traditional arrangement of 6 cylinders in 2 banks configured as a V. W configured engines weren’t new, they had been used in the aircraft industry since the 1930’s and occasionally in motorcycles. The advantage Rochi saw of using them in F1 was that while they are slightly taller than a V8 they were the same length and any of the Cosworth powered teams could easily fit the engine into their car and get the benefit of 4 extra cylinders. That was the theory.

 

By mid-1989 the design was finished. Rocchi didn’t have any success selling the concept to any F1 team but an Italian businessman named Ernesto Vita liked the idea and figured he could make a quick buck or lira selling the design to an F1 team, so he bought the rights to the design and Vita (which is Italian for life) named the new company Life Racing Engines.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Vita had no more success selling the W12 concept to any F1 team than Rocchi did. Teams were sceptical of the W12’s radical design. It was safer to go with an engine from a proven company like Cosworth. At this point most people would have walked away and realized they had made a mistake buying the engine’s design. But not Vita. With an F1 engine he decided the smart way to go was to form his own F1 team, and Life Racing was born.

Vita’s big problem was he didn’t have an F1 chassis to put his engine in. Luckily he found that First Racing had designed a chassis which they intended to run in 1989, but it had failed to meet the FIA’s crash test requirements. First Racing abandoned their F1 project but the single chassis they had built was available, so Vita bought it and renamed it the L190. A couple of ex-Ferrari engineers were brought in to modify the chassis to accommodate the engine and get it to meet the crash test requirements. By the middle of February the work on the chassis was finished.

Vita now needed driver. With less than a month before the first race in Phoenix they would be hard to come by. Somehow Gary Brabham was asked to drive for the team. Brabham, the son of three time F1 champion Jack Brabham, had been on the fringes of F1 for a while. He had tested for Leyton House, Brabham and Benneton and likely saw the Life drive as his last chance to get into F1. Vita saw Brabham as a known figure, giving the team some credibility and as an English speaker could help him sell his engines to other teams. It was rumoured that part of Brabham’s contract was he would get a commission on any engines he could sell to other teams. Life decided to forego testing and with one chassis and two engines headed out to Phoenix for the first race.

With 20 teams competing and as Life was a new entrant, they would be required to pre-qualify. When it finally did get out on the track to pre-qualify it was slow, dreadfully slow. Brabham only got in 4 laps before the engine blew up, but his best time was 30 seconds slower than Senna’s pole time from 1989 and ultimately 35 seconds slower than Berger who took pole. After failing to qualify the team packed up and went to the next race in Brazil. In Brazil the mechanics, who hadn’t been paid, decided to go on strike and sent out Brabham to pre-qualify without any oil in his engine. Brabham went a couple of hundred yards before the engine blew. He got out of the car and quit.

Back in Europe for the San Marino GP, Life was looking for a new driver. Somehow they were able to convince Bruno Giacomelli to drive for them. Giacomelli, who had once driven for McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toleman, was presently Leyton House’s test driver. He hadn’t driven in an F1 race since 1983 with Toleman and with his F1 career effectively over, the Life drive was as he admitted simply a way to stay in F1 and be with his friends.

Things didn’t get any better with Giacomelli at Imola. Suffering engine and chassis problems he posted a time of 7:16.212, while Senna did a 1:23.220 for pole. Next was Monaco – he did a 1:41.187 while Senna’s pole time was 1:21.314. Then Canada with a 1:50.253, while Berger posted a 1:30.514 for pole. And it continued like that all season.

After the Italian GP Life dropped the W12 engine and purchased a couple of year old Judd engines for the Portuguese GP. They finally got the Judd engines fitted the night before pre-qualification only to find that much of the rear bodywork no longer fit around the new engine. Without any time to make new body work they used gaffers tape to hold it on. As soon as Giacomelli got on track the body work started flying off. The FIA disqualified them.

A week later at Jerez for the Spanish GP with new body work that did fit and with the Judd engine, Life hoped they might be able to get through pre-qualification. It wasn’t to be. Giacomelli was 17 seconds slower than the slowest car to make it out of pre-qualification and 25 seconds slower than Senna’s pole. After the race Vita had had enough. He shut the team down.

In 14 attempts Life never made it out of pre-qualifying. Only once in pre-qualifying were they ever quicker than another team, and only then it was when a Coloni suffered a partial engine failure but continued simply to set a time.

Years later an Italian collector bought the chassis with a W12 engine and restored it. When the engine was restored he had it dyno tested and found it produced about 450HP, while Cosworth’s DFR produced around 600HP and Senna’s Honda RA100E around 700HP.

One final note about Life. Many people have said that Bernie Ecclestone’s obsession with having only 10 teams in F1 was to a great degree the result of seeing the Life team and wanting to make sure that another team like them never got anywhere near F1.

And that’s Life.

Article written by Cavallino Rampante (@CavallinoRampa2)

FIA WEC 6 HOURS OF SILVERSTONE

La superstagione del WEC riprende la pista 2 mesi dopo la 24 Ore di Le Mans, una pausa veramente lunghissima dovuta al particolare calendario di quest’anno. Si torna a Sliverstone in Gran Bretagna, gara che inizialmente era stata esclusa dal calendario, per poi trovare una collocazione a seguito del malcontento dei team britannici, come l’Aston Martin, a non avere una gara in casa. Ovviamente la tensione e pressione nelle gare dopo Le Mans è inevitabilmente minore, anche se questa stagione si articola su due 24 Ore, per cui già da Silverstone si possono mettere in pratica soluzioni per migliorare in vista delle altre gare e per la prossima Le Mans che sarà il gran finale della stagione. La Toyota arriva quindi senza ansie di sorta, avendo appena raggiunto l’obiettivo primario del programma WEC….per i giapponesi, l’altro grande obiettivo sarà fare una bella doppietta nel circuito di casa del Fuji in autunno. Le LMP1 private hanno avuto il tempo necessario per affinare lo sviluppo delle nuove auto e provare dei nuovi kit aerodinamici, illimitati per loro. Purtroppo ci sono 2 defezioni sull’entry list, infatti le Ginetta dopo aver saltato la tappa di Spa non correranno nemmeno a Silverstone, questa stagione si sta trasformando sempre più in un calvario, fra grossi problemi finanziari e prestazioni non all’altezza. Continua la lettura di FIA WEC 6 HOURS OF SILVERSTONE

Jean Alesi, ovvero un pilota dal grande futuro dietro alle spalle

1990, Gran Premio di Monaco a Montecarlo.

Ayrton Senna, come di consueto, è in pole position. Seguito dall’idolo dei ferraristi – e mio, all’epoca – Alain Prost. Subito dietro ad occupare la terza posizione c’è un giovanissimo pilota francese, campione di F3000 dell’anno precedente con il team di Eddie Jordan, un certo Jean Alesi. Guida una modesta, ma bellissima, Tyrrell caratterizzata da un’ala a forma di gabbiano all’anteriore. Precede monoposto ben più quotate, come l’altra McLaren-Honda di Gerhard Berger, la Ferrari dell’altro idolo Nigel Mansell e le due Williams-Renault di Riccardo Patrese e di Thierry Boutsen.

In gara, al semaforo rosso, pronti via, Jean ha uno scatto fulmineo.  Al Mirabeau affianca e sorpassa senza alcun complimento il professor Prost, che allarga e viene tamponato da Berger. Bandiera rossa. Tutto da rifare.

Quello è stato il momento in cui ho scoperto Jean Alesi. E, come spesso accade nelle storie d’amore, è stato odio a prima vista.

Continua la lettura di Jean Alesi, ovvero un pilota dal grande futuro dietro alle spalle

Zeltweg: Lorenzo fa la voce grossa, Ducati fa tris

Il gran premio di Austria ha mantenuto le promesse della vigilia e ci ha costretto come spettatori a seguire quasi tutta la gara in piedi per l’adrenalina indotta dallo spettacolo in pista.

Lo spettacolo ha trovato due grandi attori in Lorenzo e Marquez e sullo sfondo un deludente Dovizioso non all’altezza delle promesse della vigilia.

La scelta delle gomme, soft per Lorenzo, medie per Dovizioso e Hard per Marquez lasciava intendere una strategia di gara scontata con Lorenzo a fare la lepre ma senza chances per il risultato, Dovizioso diligente e scrupoloso a cercare di ripetere la cavalcata trionfale dell’anno scorso e Marquez in difesa, a marcare le Ducati per il miglior risultato possibile ai fini del campionato.

E invece…

Marc Marquez  ha mostrato la sua intelligenza tattica inventandosi con le gomme hard una gara in fuga  rubando di fatto la scena a Lorenzo e mandando all’aria tutte le strategie pre gara dei ducatisti. Ma Lorenzo, fatto buon viso a cattiva sorte, lo ha lasciato sfogare fino al finale di gara dove ha attaccato inesorabilmente fino a guadagnarsi la vittoria. L’evoluzione di Lorenzo che,  domata la Ducati, ha imparato ad aspettare in gara e a conservare le gomme, è sintomatica di come anche i grandi campioni possano sempre trovare dentro di se ulteriori elementi di crescita. Complimenti.

Gara e finale di gara che saranno ricordati nel tempo come uno dei migliori spettacoli della motogp (e visto il livello delle ultime gare è tutto dire!) e preludio di quello che probabilmente sarà il campionato del prossimo anno, con i due contendenti sulla stessa Honda. Dovizioso ha pagato un contatto iniziale che gli è costato un paio di secondi mai recuperati che l’hanno relegato a spettatore del duello per la vittoria. Una evoluzione molto amara per le sue ambizioni.

La gara non ha detto molto altro o meglio tutto il resto è passato in secondo piano. La crisi Yamaha ha raggiunto vertici imbarazzanti per i vertici giapponesi (costretti a una conferenza stampa di ammissione di responsabilità) e anche per i manager europei. Sicuramente serve un reset soprattutto per aiutare Vinales ad uscire da una situazione che sta diventando imbarazzante; viceversa Valentino riesce a galleggiare (di esperienza, almeno in gara, ma sicuramente lontano dalle sue velleità. Per lui i tempi di una resa onorevole stanno diventando sempre più stretti, a mio parere.

Viceversa, In prospettiva in casa Ducati la fretta di liberarsi di Lorenzo rischia di essere un rimpianto per gli anni a venire e questo sarebbe un ulteriore errore: “quel che è stato è stato” è  sempre una ottima regola per non innescare un domino di errori. Appare però chiaro che Petrux con tutto l’affetto che merita la persona rischia di essere una scelta troppo poco stimolante per Dovizioso e per la Ducati stessa. Se ci sono delle carte nascoste è giunto il momento di giocarle per il 9. E anche Dovizioso deve riaccendere la modalità 2017 se non vuole che rimangano un fuoco di paglia le sue ambizioni.  La strada sembra imboccata, purtroppo.

Lo spettacolo ai massimi livelli non è una peculiarità della sola motoGp. Nelle classi minori solo la sofisticazione dei mezzi è inferiore alla classe regina, certamente non la classe dei “pilotini”.

In Moto3 bellissima vittoria di Bezzecchi su Bastianini di rimonta. Capolavoro di Martin che nonostante la frattura fresca di 7 giorni ha venduto cara la pelle fino all’ultima curva. La gara è stata meravigliosa dal primo all’ultimo giro.

In Moto2 Bagnaia ha avuto ragione di Oliveira solo all’ultimo giro di una gara combattuta in ogni singolo metro di pista. Anche qui giovani piloti piloti grandi promesse per uno spettacolo che continuerà ad essere avvincente per tutta la stagione.

Valther