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FP3 report from the Red Bull Ring
The renovated circuit complex was bathed in sunshine for the beginning of FP3 as the all-important day in Austria came. The 1 hour day around the 9 turn track started with a flurry of activity as the two Mercedes and Kevin Magnussen made it out onto the tarmac.
Oddly enough, it was Magnussen who went fastest as the Silver Arrows played it safe on a colder track. Similar problems to the day before saw many drivers throughout the field having problems locking up under braking. This can be expected to be a problem for the whole weekend it seems.
Hulkenberg reported early that he had a “very different car today” and seeing as he felt it was “terrible” yesterday, that must be good.
With 43 minutes to go, the first excitement of the day occurred as Jenson Button reported over the radio his brakes were not functioning. Only moments later he was back in the garage with smoke coming from the rears. Not what the Woking team had ordered, and even more worrying that nothing had shown up on the telemetry before.
With the car taking so long to repair, a lot of setup time was lost for Button. At the half hour mark, the Briton was at the rear of the field as all 22 cars had made it out onto the track setting their time on the soft tyre. It was the two Williams cars that led the timing sheets with Bottas ahead with a 1:10.430 and his teammate 0.036 seconds down on him.
After a brief interval in the pits the Mercedes pair reemerged to flex their muscles. As had happened previously, Hamilton struggled slightly in the cooler temperatures. Rosberg went fastest with a clean lap, even if he didn’t seem to be on the limit at any point.
Whilst Alonso does his usual magician’s trick with the beast from Maranello, Raikkonen reported: “The car is understeering like crazy in the right-hand corners, especially Turn 8 and the first corner.” Not looking good for the ice side of the red garage.
With just 15 minutes to go, it was only Romain Grosjean on track as he looked to improve on 16th place. After a rather frantic radio message, he dived back into the pits as Nico Hulkenberg replaced him out on track – the first tom strap on the ‘option’ supersoft tyre.
Once again, the softer compound took more time to reach their ideal operating window, as the tyres required more time to heat up. Some teams, including the Red Bull cars, appeared to be running with heavier fuel loads, perhaps confident of their qualifying setup already. Rosberg became another driver to run wide at turn 8 which cost him the accolade of setting the sheet topping time.
In the dying minutes of the session, Rosberg’s final attempt was ruined by Kobayashi’s off as he was told, “DRS did not work” because it was automatically “masked” by race control. In addition, the German appeared to be doing some self-diagnostics in the cockpit on his in-lap reporting: “The diff was the problem in the high speed, I know that now.”
After an adjustment to the front suspension, Hamilton went 0.03 faster than Massa with a 1:09.898. With a last gasp effort, Valtteri Bottas slotted himself into 1st place. An impressive lap from the Finn, so could this be the race we finally see a car other than a Mercedes on pole?
|4||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:09.927||0.079||25|
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:10.392||0.544||19|
|10||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:10.562||0.714||21|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:10.683||0.835||22|
|13||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:11.043||1.195||22|
|15||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:11.235||1.387||18|
Is the Red Bull Engine Coming?
If the persona of Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Dr. Helmut Marko was to be summarised in a single motto, it would be: “How am I supposed to know what I’m thinking, before I hear what I’m saying?”
Just a few weeks ago, the loud-mouthed Austrian threatened Renault to get their s**t together, or else. As a dead-line he declared the race in Red Bull’s homeland, beautiful Austria. He was quick to add that VW could build an engine just as well, which is true for Le Mans, but not F1.
Between 1998 and 2013 I’ve worked in four projects for Volkswagen and I know that their Corporate Compliance rules make Mercedes look like a Kazakh Kolkhoz. You just learn to watch your step if your very existence can be traced to an order from Adolf Hitler – another ‘export’ of Austria.
As long as the career criminal from Suffolk is allowed anywhere near a F1 grid, there’s not a cat’s chance in hell that Volkswagen or any of its bazillion brands is going to enter F1, there’d be people with pitchforks before the gates in Wolfsburg. German magazine AMuS agrees, although their choice of words is slightly more diplomatic. They cite ‘political reasons’ for VW’s absence from the grid.
So is Marko just releasing hot air again? Not necessarily.
Did nobody wonder how a crack team from Red Bull managed to ‘fix’ Renaults external combustion engine between the last Bahrain test and Melbourne? Is nobody wondering how come they have people, who manage what took Renault until Barcelona?
Love them or hate them, but Red Bull are not the sort of people, who get caught travelling up a creek (the smelly kind) without a paddle. The very fact that they have people, who are suspiciously good with engines makes it realistic that Red Bull started plan B much earlier than February. It is easy to forget that the clever Renault engine of yesteryear started out pretty hopeless and needed special permission by FIA to catch up.
And part of the V8’s swan-song success is attributable to Red Bull, as the Austrians produced the KERS and came up with the clever mappings that allowed them to emulate a blown diffusor while still staying within the allowed 2% variance.
This year, new rules and all, the Renault is hopeless – again – and only the clever chassis of Adrian Newey and his team of crack designers puts them remotely in contention. Now the Austrians want to have the engine to go with the downforce and nothing would make more sense than taking a leaf out of Mercedes’ book – build both chassis and engine yourself.
What are the options? The easiest would be to pump money into Cosworth and strike an exclusive deal with them, the way McLaren did with Honda. That would have the benefit of Cosworth actually being in possession of a prototype engine already.
AMuS presents a second option. There will be no Merc engines for Red Bull, because Mercedes want to win themselves and have no use for opposition, who builds a better chassis. Ferrari engines are no option either as they’re hopeless and Honda is tied to McLaren, who wouldn’t fancy being beaten by Red Bull and losing factory team status. So the own engine is Red Bull’s only alternative.
The hypothetical Red Bull engine according to the gospel of AMuS would be the result of an all-Styrian cooperation with some Japanese bits nailed to it. The current batteries are already manufactured by Red Bull themselves in cooperation with Panasonic if my beer-addled brain serves me right, so that’s one box ticked. The turbos come from APC, a subsidiary of Pankl Racing Systems, the absense of vowels in the name of denotes an Austrian company, Styrian to be precise. They reside in Bruck an der Mur, which is ancient allemanic for ‘god-forsaken place with lots of mountains around’.
The ICE and the electric motors, according to AmuS, would come from AVL – List Institute for internal combustion machines – in Graz, which sounds suspiciously Styrian, too. Err, wasn’t there something with a test between Bahrain and Melbourne… in Graz… I digress…
Now all they need is some money from Nissan and some of their knowledge about electric motors. Granted their outing in the electric freak car at Le Mans was fairly shambolic, but anyone, who manages a whole lap around the fabled track on 3 AA cells knows a thing or twelve about electric locomotion.
Nail an Infiniti badge to it – et voila.
Is it realistic? Most definitely yes. Whether they go the Cozza route or build the ‘Styrian jackhammer’, there won’t be any Red Bull-Renault in 2016, that much seems obvious.
Team Principal Press Conference
As can be expected the first salvo of questions was about cost cutting. It is strange though that for such a collective of the most clever people in the world (or that is what we are led to believe) they are unable to agree what the best way is to bring spending under control.
Kaltenborn, isolated from Bob (the builder of Force India Cars) said the sport is nowhere near where it should be.
“In my view we are not where we should be and where we wanted to be, at least from our team’s perspective. I also don’t think that we have achieved any measurable cost cutting.”
For a sport where no problem is unsolvable the engineers appear to be completely out of their depth… hold on. It does not take much to work out that the teams at the top don’t want to cap costs, why give away an advantage?
Herein lies the issue. Engineers will always try and find the extra bit of advantage and if you ask them can you use more money the answer is yes. Tasking racers and engineers with a way to come with a way to reduce costs (and for them their advantage) will not, and is not working.
As Monisha said, the FIA has been mandated to find a way to bring costs under control but it appears that the silent one and his following are not currently making any progress.
“There was a decision taken last year by the [World Motor Sport] Council in which they endorsed cost cutting as a target and they also agreed in principle to the cost cap and the FIA was mandated to implement that.
“Now since then other decisions have been taken by other groups, going in a different direction, and following that amongst other teams, the non-Strategy Group teams, they were asked to bring proposals in, how you can achieve a sustainable cost base, while still promoting competition. We did that, we also didn’t get anywhere on that. So my understanding, I really wonder what the FIA is now going to do and how Formula One will be governed in this respect.”
Teams agreed on Wednesday to new measures for cost cutting which Horner thinks is good…
“We’ve agreed a couple of things next year which will save some money, testing is reduced, testing will be in Europe rather than overseas, wind tunnel time and CFD ratio has been further reduced.”
According to Horner this was a unanimous decision by all teams and they could have objected if they wanted to “So we’ve got what we’ve got but I think the most important thing now going forward is stability.”
Is the real issue here not that there is no real leadership within the sport and the governing body? No one appears to be taking ownership of bringing costs down but who does this responsibility stop with?
Marketing Formula 1
Interesting question from one of the two better reporters currently in the press conferences, Kate Walker. With team bosses talking about “fan engagement and solidifying F1’s profile in various territories” what they are doing specifically to “boost Formula One’s profile in [their] own [countries] and in other territories that [F1] visit” apart from the race weekend?
According to Boullier, Wolf, Horner and Mattiacci they are doing loads to engage and showcase the F1 show. Demo runs in places to show old and new fans the cars and opportunities to learn more about the sport. Mattiacci thinks more can be done though.
While he believes Ferrari is well placed if all the teams work together as a force more can be achieved. “… because working together in a synergic probably we can sell the product more.” He then goes on to say today’s younger audience spends lots of time on the web so it is fundamental to create an experience on the web.
All wise words but, while the commercial rights holder milks the sport and do not invest in the fans of tomorrow, should this activity rest with the teams, adding more cost to them. Monisha said small teams don’t have the resources to do demo runs etc.
“… with the size of team we have, we don’t have a demo team that we can go around and do these things – but we try to do whatever we can, particularly with our partners – like with the Telmex Group in Latin America, a lot of activities down there and that’s where we try to support, of course, Formula One also with the race also coming up hopefully in Mexico to do something there.
I think where we could do more is particularly around a race weekend. The smaller teams could get together with the others and make the crowds then benefit here more if our drivers would maybe do more – or we could just interact more with people.”
While it could be argued that teams are responsible for the marketing of the sport should it not be the commercial rights holder who manages the marketing of their business? As their business is entertainment should they not invest in new ways to reach new audiences and break into new markets or in order to get more people watching F1 make it more accessible to everyone e.g. cheaper race tickets, online content and not putting F1 behind pay per view?
With all the turmoil in F1 at the moment maybe now is the time for someone to step in and take control… then again, it would require leadership and that is something that does not appear to come from within the current F1 circles.
Todt admits some F1 teams may not survive.
Jean Todt has admitted some F1 teams are in danger of bowing out. Despite the impressively rejuvenated Red Bull Ring, an air of slight melancholy has gripped the F1 paddock.
Television ratings are down, the new battery-powered ‘green’ era and Bernie Ecclestone’s apparent aversion to social media is being debated, and seemingly desperate measures like artificial noise, sparks and standing re-starts are being seriously considered.
Against all that, the powerful teams look to have won their latest battle against F1’s struggling minnows — the race to drive down the sport’s huge costs. The F1 Commission met in London last week, but – having already dispensed with the budget cap – almost every single cost-reducing counter-proposal was also rejected.
“I don’t think we have achieved any measurable cost cutting so far,” said Monisha Kaltenborn, boss and co-owner of the struggling Swiss team Sauber. “I really wonder what the FIA is now going to do and how Formula One is going to be governed in this respect,” she added.
If that sounds like a thinly-veiled attack on president Todt’s leadership style, the former Ferrari boss and Frenchman admits he is also frustrated. “Some racing teams are becoming resistant to changes,” he is quoted by Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper.
Many insiders have contrasted Todt’s FIA presidential technique with that of his predecessor Max Mosley, who was more inclined to banging heads and provocatively forcing initiatives.
Todt admits the “resistant” teams have pushed against his desire for “a constructive solution that everyone can live with”.
“I admit,” said the softly-spoken 68-year-old, “these calls (for cost reduction) have been tougher than expected.
“I am aware that there will never be complete agreement,” added Todt, “so I strive for the best possible compromise.” It seems the eventual outcome, however, is already known — no huge cost-cutting initiatives, but a trimming of the fat with things like non-European testing and further reduced wind tunnel time.
“It may be that some teams do not survive,” Todt continued to the Austrian newspaper. “We have seen this situation often. But I am convinced that the present Formula One is more stable than in recent years. And, yes, we want new teams in Formula One.”
Mercifully, two are at the ready — Gene Haas’ American outfit, and a Romanian camp run by the former HRT chief Colin Kolles.
“The new US team will come in 2016,” Todt confirmed. “Also Forza Rossa of Colin Kolles (could enter),” he added, “if it meets the requirements, but currently they do not have a license.”
Mercedes still troubled by Montreal glitch (GMM)
Mercedes’ reliability worries are not over. In Canada, Lewis Hamilton failed to finish, while Nico Rosberg nursed his ailing W05 to just second place as the otherwise utterly dominant German squad struck cooling problems with its energy recovery systems.
In Friday and Saturday practice at the Red Bull Ring, the problems were back.
“No, unfortunately not,” said team boss Toto Wolff, when asked by the Austrian broadcaster ORF on Saturday if the Canada problems were fully resolved.
“We still have aches and pains that we have not resolved but we need to for the race. It’s much like the cooling issues in Montreal.
“The sword of Damocles is hanging over us,” admitted Wolff. “It’s not dramatic, but it’s costing us performance. We need to resolve it.”
On Saturday morning, it is believed Mercedes’ troubles contributed to Valtteri Bottas setting the fastest time in the final practice session before qualifying, even though Wolff said the Mercedes-powered Williams is simply “fast” in Austria.
Pressure mounts as Hamilton spins down Austria grid (GMM)
The pressure is mounting on title favourite Lewis Hamilton, with even the Briton admitting his 2014 challenge could be slipping away. After a car failure in Montreal put him 22 points behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, Briton Hamilton insisted he cannot afford many more strikes against him.
Going into the Austria weekend, the 2008 world champion said: “Another situation like that (Montreal) and that gap might start to get too big.”
Indeed, the mountain became even steeper after qualifying, where Hamilton secured just a ninth place spot for Sunday’s race. Rosberg, in contrast, is third, behind the shock Williams one-two led by Felipe Massa.
In the silver camp, however, it is the German with the psychological edge at present.
And, sparking comparisons with Hamilton’s Monaco anger after a controversial qualifying mistake, in Austria it was Rosberg’s turn to furrow his brow.
“I could not put the perfect lap together because of Lewis spinning,” he said. “I had to lift off, so that definitely cost me today.”
Unlike Rosberg in Monaco, however, Hamilton certainly did not benefit from the qualifying action in Austria.
But although some think Hamilton’s sudden spin under braking looked like a technical problem, the feeling within the silver-clad garage is that the 2008 world champion simply made a mistake.
“I’ll have to look at the data to see what happened,” Hamilton told Sky. “I’m ok — it’s a long race tomorrow. We have the best engine so hopefully I will be able to move my way up.”
Team boss Toto wolff also suspects a driver error.
“We are just looking at the data,” he told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “It looks as if the rear brakes blocked, at precisely the moment when he downshifted. Whether it was a driver error or a problem, I don’t know exactly yet.”