Jordan: Ralf’s sabbatical is a mistake

According to former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan, Ralf Schumacher s sabbatical from the sport may hurt his career.

Schumacher quit Toyota at the end of a disappointing 2007 season for the team. The only seat which looked likely for the German driver was for Force India, particularly given that he has a friendship with team boss Vijay Mallya. However Schumacher chose to opt out of the running for the season and follow his brother s advice of taking a sabbatical year.

Jordan believes that this decision is a mistake and may ultimately mean that Schumacher s F1 career is over.

“Not sure if it will work,” Jordan said. “There are too many young kids coming through the door and it might not be open when he returns. Ralf performed brilliantly for Jordan and Williams, but Toyota probably overpaid him, and he had an underperforming car which probably sapped his motivation.”

Honda recovery will take time

Money doesn t buy you happiness, nor does it buy you success as Honda have been quick to realise this season.

The arrival of former Ferrari Technical Director Ross Brawn to the struggling Brackley based team, along with a series of other high profile appointments, illustrates Honda s new found commitment to long term capacity building as well as continuing to throw money at research and development. But patience will also be required if Honda are to return to winning ways.

It has been a dismal season for the Anglo-Japanese team; the worst in Honda s modern history.

The team s 2007 challenger the RA107 was dogged by aerodynamic instability, consistently outshone by its 2006 predecessor and managed a sum total of six championship points, barely enough for 8th in the constructors championship. The result was a far cry from the success of 2006 in which Jenson Button scored his maiden victory at Hungary.

To make matters worse, the team s performance did little to promote or even justify the team s environmental message conveyed in the car s innovative Earth livery.

I must shamefully admit to an element of satisfaction in seeing a team with one of the biggest budgets in the sport estimated to be just under $400m along with Mclaren and Toyota struggle so badly; especially when you look at teams such as Williams perform so well with only a third of Honda s budget.

I take great comfort in the knowledge that despite all the money that pours into and is generated by Formula One, success in the sport is by no means dependent on budget alone and this should add weight to any future cost-cutting proposals.

You would have to wonder if Honda have had a different view these last couple of years. Heavy investment in R&D has coincided with some very poor decisions surrounding key personnel.

The wind tunnel debarkle in the summer of 2006 was a case in point.

First came the appointment of Schuei Nakamoto as the team s Senior Technical Director. Nakamoto was a former project manager for Honda s motorcycle racing operations and later Race and Test Team Manager for Honda F1.

Geoff Willis, the team s previous technical lead and a chief architect of BAR Honda s turnaround and success in 2004, had effectively been sidelined. He eventually ended up leaving the team after it became clear that newly appointed chief aerodynamicist Mariano Alperin-Bruvera would oversee work at the team s new £30 wind tunnel a role Honda claimed had been set aside for Willis.

Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing but even the most casual of F1 followers would have expressed doubts about the decision to appoint over the head of the vastly more experienced Willis a man whose engineering background had predominantly been in motorcycle racing.

It seems to me that with the loss of Takuma Sato, the appointment was heavily motivated by a desire to promote Honda back in Japan. Team Principal Nick Fry had little say in the matter as did Jenson Button who went out of his way to back Willis.

Much of the RA107 s aerodynamic problems have since been attributed to these personnel changes though the team reportedly also had major problems getting the wind tunnel up and running.

Seeing the error of their ways Honda went on a massive recruitment drive in 2007. The team poached several high-profile aerodynamic specialists including ex-Williams chief aerodynamicist Loic Bigois, the replacement for Mariano Alperin-Bruvera who left for BMW-Sauber.

With one of the biggest budgets in the paddock and a strong set of staff headed up by Ross Brawn Honda are well poised for a recovery. But this will take time.

Ask anyone responsible for driving change in an organisation and he or she will tell you that it isn t the new flashy idea in itself that motivates progression but the way in which that idea is put into practice and becomes ingrained in the routine day-to-day practices.

Ross Brawn will have a limited influence on Honda s 2008 challenger. Indeed the recent testing in Jerez suggests Honda are still off the pace by a big margin.

His best bet would be to focus on the more mundane technical processes and systems something that Ferrari excelled at so that the design he does have control over has the maximum impact and can be properly tested and monitored. This is something Honda have suffered from badly with the team even admitting once to resorting to the traditional method of throwing parts on the car and seeing if it goes quicker.

The big question now for Honda and Jenson Button in particular is how much time they are prepared to give to the team s recovery.

Christopher Hayes

Honda: Scrap limitations and introduce team budget caps

The FIA are keen to reduce costs in Formula 1 and have brought in a whole raft of new regulations such as limiting the use of wind tunnels and a 10 year engine freeze. However, Honda Racing believe that this isn t the way forward and that the FIA should introduce a cap on team budgets, rather than limiting the areas that the teams can research and develop.

“Ross and I both think that an overall budget cap is something that should be seriously investigated,” Fry said in an interview with Autosport. “What we see at the moment, if you look at the accounts of any of the UK F1 teams, is that the costs keep going up.

“So far what we have been successfully doing is moving money from one area of the team to another. Money is certainly moved from engines to aerodynamics, because that is the next best area of performance advantage.

“We support a lot of the proposals on the aero restrictions, but the fear is that that money will merely be diverted elsewhere. It will go to driver salaries or engineer salaries, or some other part of the car, but will not necessarily reduce the total bill that a team has to pay. So rather than chasing our tails, we think we should be considering an overall budget cap. Although it will be difficult to monitor, we think it can be achieved.”
Ross Brawn continued, “We do support sensible efficiencies on cost and cost restraint. The difficult thing is applying it so it doesn’t advantage or disadvantage one team over another, and that’s the thing we need to focus on. The concept of a budget cap a couple of years ago was thought to be fairly ludicrous.

“But if you look at the weaknesses of the counter-arguments and alternative solutions, you wonder whether budget-capping isn’t the one you ought to find a solution for. It gives everyone the opportunity they want to try and achieve the objective.”

It could be tough to fully monitor a team s budget however Brawn believes that the task is no more difficult than the FIA attempting to impose their current regulations.

“I could pick holes in the aerodynamic argument,” Brawn said. “How do you police CFD? You have a processor and a number of people working at their workstations in the CFD department, but if you’ve got somebody off-site quite legitimately developing the code and then they put that enhanced code into your system, are they part of your CFD process or not?

“I’m not saying a budget cap is the easiest thing to apply, but is it any more difficult than the other things we’re going to do? And intrinsically or conceptually, it’s a nicer thing because it’s an efficiency approach. How fast can you make this car go for 100 million a year? How efficient can you be? And it’s up to the teams to decide whether they spend 50 million on the driver and 50 million on the car – or one million on the driver and 99 million on the car. It would be fascinating to have that challenge.”

“Some of it looks easy on the face of it, but you have to think about what is included and what is not included,” added Fry. “Are your marketing people included? How do you account for resources that are shared with a car manufacturer?”

Brawn: Schumacher happy just to test

Having tested several times for Ferrari since his retirement, Schumacher has been fuelling speculation that the German star is considering a Formula 1 comeback. However, according to former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn. Schumacher is happy just testing and is not contemplating a comeback.

“Michael loves driving a car,” Brawn said in an interview with Autosport “At the moment that’s what he’s doing and that’s what he loves doing. Knowing him as I do, I don’t think there’s a natural extension from driving a car to racing a car. I can see why he enjoys that, because he just enjoys driving, developing a car and being a part of that process.

“I don’t know if he misses the racing because that’s a different thing, but he just likes going fast. And he loves the interaction with the engineers and making a car better. So I can see why even a testing role would be quite fulfilling for him. He probably won’t leave Ferrari. Maybe I had different objectives to him, but he’s pretty close to the team.”

Brawn’s presence inspires Button

Honda Racing CEO Nick Fry has said that the hiring of guru Ross Brawn has reignited the fire in Jenson Button who now believes he has a shot at becoming Formula 1 world champion.

Button has always publicly said that he thinks Honda will bounce back from their terrible 2007 season, however Fry believes that with the addition of Brawn to the team, Button is now sure that the bounce-back will happen.

“Jenson s loyalty to the team, even prior to the announcement of Ross, was admirable,” Fry said in an interview with Autosport. “He really is one of the team someone whom I get on with extremely well and he has believed we can do it. But there is a difference between believing and knowing.

“Prior to the arrival of Ross we all believed we could provide a car that was capable of winning the world championship. Post the arrival of Ross we know we can do that. We’ve got the facilities, they are absolutely top level. We’ve got top level people, the infrastructure of the company is absolutely first class and it is gratifying that Ross, who knows what a top level team looks like, has come in and is pleased with what he has found.”

Mosley not ready for FIA shake-up

Earlier this year, former world champion Jackie Stewart called for a shake-up in the governance of Formula 1. However, FIA president Max Mosley who is not a fan of Stewart having called him a certified half-wit has said that calls for changes only make him more determined to continue in his position.

“Dear old Jackie,” Mosley said in an interview with British newspaper the Guardian. “He knows nothing about sports governance. Because he never stops talking, he doesn’t know much about anything, actually. He just talks. So when people like that say it, you think, ‘I just can’t.’ It’s very childish, I suppose.

“The real moment to go is when you lose interest in your ideas. As far as I go, the only thing that keeps me doing it is new ideas and new technologies and steering the thing in a sensible direction. That’s the motivator. I sometimes say jokingly that is it sensible that Formula One is run by two old-age pensioners? I don’t think of myself like that, and Bernie certainly doesn’t, but we are, and I think you have to recognise that at a certain point you’ve got to stop.”

Bridgestone sign three year contract

Bridgestone have signed a new contract with the FIA to be Formula 1 s sole supplier of tyres for the next three seasons. In the middle of 2006 Bridgestone won the contract to supply Formula One tyres from 2008 to 2010 however the final paperwork has only just been completed.

Bridgestone have been the sole supplier of tyres to F1 since Michelin withdrew from the sport at the end of the 2006 season.

Three More Teams Announce 2008 Car Launch Dates

Three more teams Ferrari, Honda and Red Bull Racing have confirmed launch dates for their new cars.

Honda Racing will be unveiling their 2008 car on 29th January at their Brackley headquarters. The team are hoping to bounce back from a poor year and start fighting at the front of the field.

Red Bull will be launching their new car the RB4 in Spain on 16th January during an open test session. You can watch an official time-lapse video from the team here.

Meanwhile, Ferrari have confirmed that their F2008 will be launching on 6 January at their Fiorano test track, although CEO Jean Todt will not be at the event as he will be on holiday in Malaysia at the time.

Photocopy shop worker invited to Italy

Ferrari s president Luca di Montezemolo has invited the British photocopy shop worker who tipped the team off about McLaren s spying activities to Italy.

“If it had not been for that photocopy man, we would not have known anything about this story,” Montezemolo explained. “That s why we have invited him to the Mugello race track and will invite him to our factory.” Montezemolo has already dedicated Ferrari s win at the 2007 Belgian Grand Prix to the employee and also to the fans.

The photocopy shop worker tipped off Ferrari that someone had been in his shop copying 780 pages of confidential Ferrari data. McLaren employee Mike Coughlan was later found to be in possession of a copy of the data, and McLaren were eventually fined $100 million and thrown out of the 2007 drivers championship thanks to the scandal.

Red Bull target better reliability for 2008

Red Bull s 2008 car, the RB4, is set to have it s track debut in Jerez next month. The team are hoping that their RB4 will be more reliable than their last offering, particularly given the recent appointment of Geoff Willis.

The Red Bull team made clear improvements last season however they suffered from numerous mechanical failures, particularly with their gearbox and hydraulics, and boss Christian Horner believes that these failures ultimately cost them fourth place in the constructors championship.

“We learnt many lessons during 2007 and obviously reliability is a key topic that the design and development groups are fully focused on,” Horner said. “In 2007 we gave away approximately 24 points as a result of poor reliability, without which we would have been much closer to Renault and ahead of Williams. This is therefore one of our key focuses for 2008. With the same engine as the factory Renault team they, more than any other team, are our barometer. 2008 is certainly set to be another very close season.”

Horner then dismissed claims that the team had discussions with Fernando Alonso over a possible 2008 contract. “S=Speculation regarding Fernando was flattering, in that it demonstrates the significant steps that Red Bull Racing have made in a short time to be considered as a viable team by the double world champion,” he continued.

“However, since we announced our driver line-up in the summer, we have been committed to David and Mark. They did an excellent job for the team in 2007 and remain one of the strongest driver line-ups in F1.”