An Old Name with a New Approach – An Interview with Sam Brabham

Some names are synonymous with motorsport. Ferrari, Tyrrell, Lotus. Senna, Andretti, Villeneuve. In September another one was reborn. Project Brabham was launched in a bid to make the legendary Brabham name become a top racing team once again. The initial interest was phenomenal, with half of the funds needed to reach their first target via crowd funding raised in just two weeks. Momentum is vital for a campaign like this to continue and realise its ambitions, and David Brabham’s appearance on The F1 Show in December helped to continue that.

Autosport International was Project Brabham’s first public showcase to the motorsport community. During an interview with myself after the show, Sam Brabham – grandson of the late Sir Jack Brabham and son of project leader David, expressed how delighted he was with the response.

“Oh it was fantastic. We didn’t really know what to expect when we first decided to go. Saturday and Sunday we had so many people coming in asking about it, signing up, buying t-shirts and hats. It was quite incredible really. We had a lot people come in and say ‘we want to know more’, and then we’ve had a few people sign up since, which is good to see as well. We just wanna help people understand what we’re doing, as it’s a hard concept to wrap your head around because it’s a completely new model for racing.”

Sam Brabham talking to Formula Kart Stars at Autosport International 2015

Sam Brabham talking to Formula Kart Stars at Autosport International 2015

Sam played an active part at the stand in raising awareness and recruiting backers for Project Brabham, but that didn’t stop him from attending interviews with Formula Kart Stars and looking around the Autosport International show itself.

“We had a little bit of a look, we had like an hour and a half, me and Dad after lunch, so had a bit of a walk around. It was cool though. Some of the simulators and some of the stands, like all the old classic cars was pretty awesome as well.”

Although Silverstone will most probably come a little too early for the project, the amount raised since September has been phenomenal, and they hope to have a presence at Le Mans, and enter the WEC Championship during the second half of the season. There was also the possibility that Brabham could have entered into Formula E, but that came too soon for them.

“It was a thought I guess. But we didn’t have any basis. Didn’t have a team, don’t have premises, don’t have any of that. It’s just one of those things. We’ve got to try and figure out how are we gonna go about it. And Formula E looks great, it’s worked better than anyone thought. But the idea of the electric cars, and how all that was going to run was very different, and we weren’t ready. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t because few teams are in a bit of trouble financially, there’s a lot of driver swaps going on. Maybe in the future, when Formula E develops a bit more, for sure it’s something that I guess we’d look at. But for now, we’re just focusing on the World Endurance Championship and LMP2.”

Project Brabham has taken great pride in having close interaction with its fans, which will continue as the team takes shape. Backers will be able to contribute their ideas and suggestions that could influence the team’s future – from small things such as the livery design to what drivers and series the team should be looking at in the future. With the intense competition and rivalry in Formula One, could this practice and level of transparency carry over? Sam thinks so.

“I think it could transfer to Formula One. I think Formula One has to change first before we do that. It’s a very, very difficult series to be in, with the financial backing that Marrusia and Caterham have, it isn’t even enough to stay afloat. Even with four paying drivers they can’t carry on. Maybe in the future, but I think Formula One will have to change a bit for that to happen.”

Sam Brabham participated in four rounds of the Formula Ford championship in 2014, racing in a retro Brabham livery, claiming two wins while looking towards a potential title challenge. This was eventually thwarted by budget constraints but Sam was upbeat about his performance.

“We knew from the start of the year that it was gonna be tough. And with Dad working on the project so much, it was always gonna be a tough season. Fortunately I drove well. At each round I came close to winning, at Thruxton I did win. I bounced back at Donington which was pretty tough – in the last race throwing it off in the lead to double pole and two wins at Thruxton, which for me showed good character and showed I was capable of bouncing back after a bad situation. Then at Oulton Park it was just a shame that the suspension broke, and ended up having a massive shunt and that dented it a bit. I might have made Croft, but it was so marginal, that the crash kind of did it in, and that was it. If I was slow, and I would have come mid-pack, people probably would’ve been like oh well, there’s always next year, but considering the pace we showed and the wins we had. I guess the two other thirds of the year would have been would have been really good, and I’m confident we could have been in with a shout for the championship.”

The FIA’s new superlicence points system was released three weeks ago albeit with good intentions, but as with all things this has also raised many questions. IndyLights, DTM and the FIA’s new Formula E series have all been excluded from the points system. As a young driver with an ultimate dream of reaching Formula One, Sam is in a unique position to tell us how the introduction of the new system and the exclusion of certain series could impact a driver’s future career.

“I think in some ways it’s good. It means drivers need to do more racing, and have to do more experience and do well. Better drivers will end up getting Formula One which is good. But what it does is, it suits certain people, because people who do World Series Renault have had Sainz, Magnussen, and Gasly there last year and Bianchi. All these guys have come from World Series Renault. And who’s to say that World Series Renault isn’t any better or worse than GP2. I think they’re pretty similar. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari wouldn’t put their young drivers in that series if they didn’t think it was good for them.”

“Yeah, you see people start going to certain championships. You got a few drivers from World Series Renault, who have moved to GP3 & GP2 purposely so they can reach that Formula One dream. If I had the funds, my ultimate goal is to become a Formula One world champion, but I’m realistic enough to know that is very, very difficult, and it’s just got a little bit harder. What’s gonna happen is, people are gonna go to the right championship, but they’re gonna have to pay more money because it’s more of a sought after series. So the prices will go up. More people paying more money will increase [costs] in that championship. So, the likelihood of you getting a good deal is gonna be harder.”

Sam’s legendary family name has not meant that his been fast tracked in any way. As a team principal his father David Brabham must remain objective at all times and can’t factor sentiment into any of the decisions that he makes that could impact the project’s future. Sam suffers from a lot of the problems that many young drivers face such as under funding and doesn’t expect a seat at Brabham to just be handed to him.

“I’d like to drive. I won’t drive this year, or even next year I don’t think. Dad’s not gonna give it to me, and I wouldn’t want it that way either. I’ll be a part of it and I’ll want to be a part of the team and be involved, go to the tests, just learn and try and gather in as much information for my own career as possible. Whether Dad goes, one – I think you’re good enough, and two – it actually works as really good PR for us, for you to be driving as well, I do wanna drive for the team. It’s a bit of a dream to drive for Brabham. I’ve driven a few Brabham cars but never competitively. I’d love to do that and win, win in your own car.”

Many thanks to both Sam and David Brabham for making this interview happen and their work at Autosport International. They, along with their colleagues and team boss Piers Phillips, were all infectious with their enthusiasm and hospitality, and as a new backer myself I, along with many others cannot wait to see how far their ambition can take them.

The Project Brabham stand at Autosport International 2015

The Project Brabham stand at Autosport International 2015

Autosport International Autograph Signings

The first of the two public days of Autosport International has started, and here is the information you need for the driver signings.

Signings are available to those with a Paddock Pass, which is available for £10 extra in tip of your regular ticket, which you can buy on the day.

Signing sessions are usually quite short, around 10-15 minutes long, so to avoid disappointment with some of the top stars like David Coulthard and Anthony Davidson I would recommend arriving at least 15 minutes before the start of the session.

Below are the autograph signing times for both Saturday and Sunday – enjoy!

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Points Mean Prizes!

Or in this case, a superlicence.

The reveal of the FIA’s new point system to award superlicences has thrown up some interesting details.

It’s hardly surprising the the points system favours the FIA championships. Naturally the governing body would want to promote their group of series over others. When Gerhard Berger became President of the FIA Single Seater Commission back in late 2011, he expressed his desire to have a clear ladder for young drivers to follow on their path to Formula One. Berger stepped down from that role at the end of 2014, but it would be hard to imagine him not having a huge role in the setup of the new super licence system. It looks like he has finally got his wish. Formula Renault 3.5 has been knocked down several pegs. What was regarded by many in the F1 paddock (including former McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh) to be the feeder series of choice for Formula One teams, has been placed below GP3, European Formula Three, and is now on a par with GP3. Formula Three’s fortunes seems to have taken a huge lift through association with the FIA, now on a par with IndyCar just below GP2. The addition of the “Future F2 Championship” caught people’s eyes, which was disbanded at the end of 2012 following a lack of entrants, the same issue that signalled the end of British F3 last year.

Two omissions from this list are curious. The first being IndyLights, the feeder series to IndyCar, which arguably should be classed the same as national F3 or F4 Championships. The second is Formula E. For such a young, experimental series, the field is very strong, with plenty of formula F1 or GP2 drivers. The quality of the field, especially at the top end, could be considered only below that of F1, WEC and IndyCar. So why hasn’t it been included? This can only work as a deterrent to the series. Drivers racing in Formula E for multiple seasons would have to accept that the possibility of gaining an F1 seat to be virtually nil. I was going to save this point for another future post, but with many viewing Formula E as the ‘F1 graveyard’, in future years the series should be trying to secure more drivers that are up and coming – ideally those on a driver development programme. The new points system works completely against that. For example, why would a young driver such as Matthew Brabham continue to race in Formula E if it has practically no impact on any future F1 career he may hope to have?

One thing this should do is somewhat reduce the amount of pay drivers coming into F1. Without winning one of the top five championships or consistently performing over a period of three years, heavily-backed drivers will not be able to simply walk into F1. Drivers such as Marcus Ericsson, Max Chilton and Estaban Gutierrez would not have made it to F1 under the new rules, but nor would many others. The likes of Button, Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen and Ricciardo would not have been granted a superlicence at the time they entered the sport, which again raises the question of ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. Max Verstappen will forever go down as the youngest driver ever to have raced in F1 by the opening lap of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, now the FIA have changed the rules so no driver under 18 can enter the sport, but success stories such as his and Kimi Raikkonen’s – jumping several series straight into an F1 driver are also gone.

For all it’s good intentions of trying to make sure that drivers progressing to Formula One are of the right standard and experience, you can’t help but think that they are still missing the point slightly. The reason why teams are taking on pay drivers is because of the disparity in prize funds and income distribution. To be fair to lost if those drivers tagged with the pay driver label, they have still been able to compete in the F1 field, many of us forget for all his errors that Pastor Maldonado has actually won a race, and we are a far cry from times during the 1990s when it seemed a new driver joined the back of the grid very race weekend. If this new system is to decrease the number of pay drivers entering the top tier, then teams are either going to need additional means of income, or costs will have to come down. I just hope the FIA and the Strategy Commission get on with it.

Comments are always welcome.

Nothing Lasts Forever

The Buxton Blog

Marussia V Caterham Italian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography Marussia V Caterham
Italian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The plight of the Caterham and Marussia F1 teams is a sorry state of affairs. That two teams should reportedly be placed into administration within a month of each other is deeply troubling even if it is not, in all honesty, a tremendous surprise. It is very sad for the team’s hard working employees and for their many fans. But for anyone to pretend that this is some new phenomenon and that it should not be permitted to happen is utterly absurd. If success is the barometer against which all racing entities are judged, then failure is inherent in the very DNA of the sport.

In the 64 year history of Formula 1, 164 teams have existed. Today, including Caterham and Marussia, 11 survive. 153 teams have thus failed within that time period. That’s an average of a little over…

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Why Gary?

Having a DTM driver as possibly my favourite driver in all of motorsport is a strange choice, I’ll give you that. So I thought I would give you all an insight as to why I support Mercedes DTM driver and McLaren test driver, Gary Paffett.

I am finishing this post just a hours after the final race of the DTM season, and just two days after it was announced that Gary Paffett is to stay on with the Mercedes DTM team for 2015, after Euronics have extended their partnership with the manufacturer that has just won the Formula One Constructor’s Championship. This makes Paffett the first Mercedes driver to be confirmed for the 2015 season, which I originally had fears for as McLaren will no longer be using Mercedes engines from that year onwards, nostalgically switching to Honda. I couldn’t be more happy for Gary and the Mercedes team, and I hope that 2015 will be a better season for the both of them after an extremely difficult 2014 season that has seen Mercedes rooted at the bottom of the manufacturers championship in DTM, behind BMW and Audi.

My love for F1 came back to me in the second half of 2011, not because of the season itself – Sebastian Vettel pretty much dominated proceedings and left everyone in his wake. I no longer was working on Sunday’s, so in the spare time my eyes were drawn back to the world of F1, and back to supporting Lewis Hamilton and McLaren. After signing up to receive their email newsletters and becoming a Team Member (which I still am to this day), I started reading more about what happens behind the scenes at McLaren, and the people that contribute to the ongoing development of the team. McLaren’s two test drivers at that time were Oliver Turvey and Gary Paffett, both of whom fascinated me as these were professional drivers that drove McLaren F1 cars for a living, but are for the most part hidden away from public view, with arguably little recognition.

So, it started there, admittedly as a by-product of my support of Hamilton. I attended the European Formula 3 event at Brands Hatch in May 2013 to watch Josh Hill, son of the 1996 Formula One World Champion, Damon Hill. The day proved to be a frustrating affair for Josh as the Indy layout of the Brands Hatch circuit is not the easiest to overtake on, Hill was stuck in the lower positions of the top ten, while Raffielle Marciello stormed to victory before being disqualified for a technical infringement, giving the win to team mate Lucas Auer. Formula 3 was support race to another series that day, the DTM. The pit walk was earlier that day, which I attended, and for the most part I didn’t know any of the drivers on the grid. The only two I knew of was Timo Glock, a driver who is legendary in the eyes of Lewis Hamilton fans after Brazil 2008, he left Marussia after 2012, and was now racing for BMW. The other was Paffett. I stood trackside of the starting grid as the DTM field roared into action, I remember wincing at the sheer noise of the cars, very different type of noise from what I was used to at the 2012 F1 British GP! Rockenfeller took a well deserved win that day, a win that would help him win the championship that year. My camera found it’s way towards Paffett’s car, who was receiving great support from the Brands Hatch crowd, but he race didn’t go too well, having being penalised with a drive-through, if I remember correctly many drivers including those from F3 and BRDC F4 received similar fates that day, many being pulled up for not slowing down for yellow flags on the Indy circuit.

Gary Paffett going through the Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch

Gary Paffett going through the Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch

The first time I met Gary was through sheer luck and coincidence. I returned to the Formula One British Grand Prix for the second year in succession in 2013, for the Friday I was mainly by myself, apart from bumping into @beth_f1 a couple of times who was keeping a close eye on the McLaren garage. Again for the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to win a paddock tour with McLaren with a group of around 15 others, I remember having to run around from the International Straight to Chapel just to make it in time. A delay in obtaining the passes meant that we entered the paddock area around 15 minutes later than planned, we were lead through the back of the paddock to the McLaren garages where I took some pictures of the cars being maintained and with the accommodating McLaren personnel. On the way back to the paddock gates is where the action happened. The drivers must have just finished all of their interviews in the media den, and before we knew it, Alonso and Massa we rushing past us. There was no point trying to stop them, they were practically past us by the time we had noticed, then we saw Paul di Resta walking along with Gary Paffett at a slower pace, at that time I thought “sod it, I’ll never get another opportunity like this again in the paddock!” I asked them both if they wouldn’t mind me having a picture with them, I’m pretty sure I made they sound like they didn’t have a choice anyway, and that was that. Poor Jenson Button must have been confused when I asked “Can I have a picture?”, he seemed to have thought that I meant just one of himself, but anyway a very enjoyable paddock tour was topped off with a stampede of drivers at the end.

Not long after the GP was the Young Driver’s Test at Silverstone, an event that meant a lot to me in many ways, that day I met some like minded enthusiasts that I am delighted to say are good friends of mine now, you can find them on Twitter as @KarlaGeorge and @liamthenry, the three of us along with @heidi_masters all ended up camping at the British Grand Prix this year in its entirety. The Young Driver’s Test also meant that I would get to see some drivers that I would not normally have the opportunity to see, such as Nicolas Prost, Susie Wolff, Davide Rigon and Gary Paffett as well. Nicolas Prost provided a little excitement for the photographers by kicking up some dust on the entry to Copse, while Geido van der Garde had a trip into the gravel in the early part of the day. Paffett’s McLaren was stuck in the garage for most of the morning with an electrical fault, leading to exclamations of “Where’s Gary?!” from me on more than one occasion. By the afternoon the fault was fixed and started it’s runs out on track, with me spending most of the time trying to get the perfect shot of the McLaren with the pit board in the same shot, a bit harder when at the time I only had a small digital camera!

Myself with Paul di Resta and Gary Paffett at the British Grand Prix in 2013

Myself with Paul di Resta and Gary Paffett at the British Grand Prix in 2013

I returned to Autosport International in January 2014, although unfortunately I was not able to attend the show for the whole weekend due to work commitments. Autosport is a show that I have always enjoyed, there’s so much to see and so many stars to meet in such a short space of time if you only attend for the one day, and on the Saturday that I attended the end of the day was already booked for the Live Action Area, I deliberately booked the latest time possible as I remember that in 2013 I booked it in the middle of the afternoon, which clashed with an autograph signing with Sir Jackie Stewart. This left the rest of the day free. Now I don’t know about most other people, but as soon as I arrived I checked three things straightaway. The itinerary for both the Autosport and the F1 Racing stands, to see who would be taking and with which stars, and the autograph session times. First thing in the morning was Marussia’s Graeme Lowdon at the F1 Racing stand, who used the media opportunity to announce that Max Chilton (who was also present with him) would be staying in with the team for a second season. After a Q&A with David Croft, Graeme and Max then posed for pictures for the waiting media, at which point a few of us (@KarlaGeorge, @SilverArrowsHAM, @Silent_F1_Fan and @beth_f1 included) made our way around to the stage exit. After exiting the stage Graeme, Max and Max’s girlfriend, Chloe Roberts, were more than happy to spend a few minutes with the fans for some autographs and pictures, it’s times like those where teams like Marussia spend time with fans that make them one of the most popular teams on the grid.

The autograph sessions in the morning included stars such as John Surtees, Allan McNish and Martin Brundle, the queue for Surtees in particular was huge, as this was a very rare opportunity for motorsport fans to get an autograph or a picture with the only man to win World Championships on both two and four wheels. Gary had two autograph sessions in the afternoon, one by himself, then with Tom Chilton later on. Naturally we attended both, Gary was in good spirits and was more than happy to sign anything we had with us, eventually both he and Tom Chilton started doodling for Beth. It was a pleasure to meet a driver that was so relaxed, down to earth, and to have a joke with. I hope the same opportunity comes up against for Autosport International 2015.

Gary Paffett takes time out to take a picture with us at Autosport International 2014

Gary Paffett takes time out to take a picture with us at Autosport International 2014

Gary Paffett has won the DTM Championship on one occasion, in 2005, and has been a runner up on four other occasions in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2012. He remains the most successful driver in the current DTM field with 20 wins, third on the all time list, and the most successful British driver ever in the series.

Racing’s Latest Chapter – Formula E Beijing Debrief

After a few months of testing and waiting, the first race of Formula E finally got underway in Beijing at the weekend. I think it is safe to say that the race turned out better than most had anticipated or expected, with some tight and close battles throughout the field. By no means am I denying that there weren’t some issues with the spectacle as a whole, but the reaction was mainly positive.

If you were comparing Formula E to today’s Formula One, then you were always going to be disappointed. Which is why Alejandro Agag and the forces behind Formula E had always set out the series to be different from the behemoth that is F1. I’m sure that if F1 hadn’t existed previous to now and it was set up from scratch it too would have some teething issues, to be fair it’s far from perfect now! Many aspects of Formula E’s approach have been unique and experimental, starting with the obvious all-electric racing cars to fan-voted boosts, both in an attempt to be relevant in the 21st century and to appeal to a wide audience. I’d like to point out before the rest of this post that I am not a hater of Formula E in any way, I am just a fan like many others that has seen that perhaps some opportunities may have been missed and that there are some areas that could be looked at in the future to improve the show.

Let’s take the Beijing race from the top. It probably wasn’t the best of ideas to hold the first ever race of any sport or series in a country where social media and internet use is widely restricted, many of the teams involved at the weekend were unable to send updates on their progress throughout, and no doubt this would have affected the level of hype surrounding the event. However at least from now on, the Formula E PR machine and teams can go on full steam ahead from the next race at Malaysia in November and onwards. In the UK at least, the lack of qualifying coverage didn’t help with the build up to the actual race, although Jennie Gow and the ITV4 crew did a very adequate job in rounding up the news from qualifying in their one hour race build up show.

The warm up lap was at a snail-crawling pace to set the least, close to a total of five minutes, although this did meet seem to meet the delta time that was required by pole sitter Nicolas Prost. This formation lap in particular was extremely drawn out, with all drivers understandably trying to save as much electrical power as possible for the race itself. I have to say I feared the worst when almost three cars were unable to pull away for their formation laps, after a lengthy delay for a couple of them they all did eventually get underway. With no clutch, the only tasks required by the drivers on the warm up lap is raising the temperature of the tyres and brakes, maybe for the future tyre warmers could be used on the grid and then race without a formation lap, which would eliminate the problem of using up electrical power. With warm up laps being the norm in all motorsport it is completely understandable that it was naturally included.

The start had hardly any such issues (save Trulli who again couldn’t get off the line), which by itself got me off my seat in anticipation of the first corner. Most got through the first few corners without incident, but any thought of the drivers taking it easy in the first race were cast away after Montagny’s aggressive overtake on Charles Pic at turn two of the opening lap, almost putting Pic in the barriers. Turn two proved to be popular as Bruno Senna’s race ended after contact with Sato, putting to end a weekend that looked so promising for him throughout practice and leading into qualifying. Montagny’s ferocious moves proved to be one of the highlights as he took the race by the scruff of the neck.

Bruno Senna in the Esses at Donington Testing

Bruno Senna in the Esses at Donington Testing

Towards the end of lap two the safety car was deployed to recover Senna’s stricken car, most drivers had by that time used up 12-14% of their electrical energy in their first car. Don’t forget this included the formation lap, the whole of lap one and half of two at racing speed, with the other half of the second lap under the safety car. Which leads on to the main stumbling block that this series has to overcome – changing cars mid race. The series has been forced to do this to overcome the problem that the cars cannot hold enough battery power to last a whole race, but I thought this detracted from the event. Some fans on social media were confused as to why drivers had to sit and wait in their cars to be released after swapping cars – this is on safety grounds to ensure that drivers buckle themselves in correctly. If such a limit was not put in place, it would make more of a race out of changing cars, with the possibility of some drivers possibly not being belted up adequately to get out the pits quicker, whether it be through their own fault or just through human error. The Audi Sport Abt team timed their stops to a tee, gaining anywhere between 3-5 seconds over their competitors because of the practice they’ve been putting in. This kind of difference from changing cars and getting the drivers back out almost made the racing in the prior dozen laps almost irrelevant, as apart from Nicolas Prost at the front the field was completely rearranged. For a sport that wants to prove itself and electric cars in general as being relevant for the current day, I don’t believe it is a good advert for them to have to swap cars halfway through before completing the race, for some people this will no doubt have them raise the issue of whether or not a conventional road electric car would be able to complete journeys or not.

The BMW i8- Formula E's Safety Car

Quite a bit of fuss was made prior to the series about the use of fan boost, it become the subject of quite a lot of criticism with some saying that it is a gimmick, and this will only end up with the same drivers winning every race because they had more power available to them. The three drivers that got the most votes for the Beijing race were Bruno Senna, Katherine Legge, and Lucas di Grassi. With the exception of Senna, I had not predicted neither of the other two drivers to have been in the top three for that vote, I thought that drivers such as Nelson Piquet Jr (because of his high number of Twitter followers – second to Senna only) or Jaime Algersauri & Karun Chandhok (both well respected and popular drivers) would have a better chance of gaining the extra power. This extra power can only be used once during the race, and for 5 seconds, you could say it is the Formula E equivalent of having a KERS boost or an IndyCar ‘push-to-pass’ for 5 seconds. In the end it made almost no difference to the end result, Di Grassi winning because of the incident between Prost and Heidfeld, Legge was too far down the field to make real use of it, and Senna retired on the opening lap. If I had any criticism of it right now it was because we didn’t even know when or if the drivers used their boost, there was no graphic or information given to show either way.

The incident between Prost and Heidfeld doesn’t need to be talked about much, it’s already been well covered, the stewards deciding that Prost is to receive a ten-place grid penalty for the next race in Malaysia. Personally I thought the move was almost worthy of a race ban due to the seriousness of the accident, Prost clearly didn’t look in his left hand mirrors before turning in. One thing that may need to be looked at soon in a wider scale by the FIA is the use of sausage kerbs, which launched Nick Heidfeld’s car up in the air at an angle and into the barriers. This launching of cars has also happened in GP3 practice at Spa, with debutant Konstantin Tereshchenko also being flown into the air, resulting in his withdrawal from qualifying and the race.

Overall I think the first race meeting went quite positively, I’m sure the hype will only increase and the season progress towards the London finale in June 2015, I for one will definitely be attending. Yes, there are a few smaller issues to iron out, but as said at the top that will always be the case with any new series, also you can never please everybody and fans of all motorsports will have their own opinions as to what it entertaining and what isn’t. I think the true test will come in years two and three when the teams will be allowed to manufacture their own components and technology to improve the series’ competitiveness, I think then we will really get to see if Formula E is sustainable and if teams and manufacturers are really committed to it. In the meantime, I’m just gonna have fun watching it.

Hot Shots Update

Now a couple of the feeder series have taken a break before heir final rounds, I thought it would be a good time to see why their prospects are for the future, and to see what has changed in the past couple of months.

Max Verstappen
The subject of Verstappen has been talked about a lot, in previous posts I have been very defensive of his promotion to Toro Rosso, I believe many people have used his age as use for jokes at the expense of Verstappen, with many abusive comments aimed at both Verstappen and Toro Rosso, also because of their decision to not retain Jean-Eric Vergne. What Verstappen has achieved in his short time in Formula 3 is incredible, he may not win the title but he’s certainly given fellow rookie Estaban Ocon a lot to think about. Many commentators and columnists were wrong about Kvyat this season and I’m sure Max can do the same.

Estaban Ocon
It is almost certain that the Frenchman will win the European Formula 3 series, which is no less than what he deserves. Ocon has lead the championship for the vast majority of the season, while also achieving a clean sweep at the Moscow Raceway, winning all three races there over the space of the weekend. Now that F3 has taken a break until October, Ocon is competing in Formula Renault 3.5, with either that series or GP2 being Ocon’s destination for 2015. The young Frenchman has teamed up with Comtec Racing for the Hungaroring and Paul Ricard series of races, making it the first time that the British outfit is running two cars in any race during the 2014 season. At time of writing, race one had completed with Ocon finishing P9 in wet conditions after starting in 6th, earning two points for a team that has had a difficult few seasons in FR3.5.

Raffaele Marciello
2014 has not been an easy year for the Ferrari Academy Driver. A dose of bad luck mixed with avoidable mistakes has left him with a debut GP2 season to forget. His Feature Race performance in Hungary drew criticism from the Ferrari Academy’s own Twitter account, while his whole season was summed up in the Feature Race at Monza. Starting in the middle of the pack, Marciello was slow off the line, almost halting before the anti-stall kicked in. Then on lap two, a car was spun around at turn one, leaving Marciello with nowhere to go other than the gravel trap, the low speed exit of the opening chicane meant that Marciello didn’t have enough speed to escape the trap, resulting in his retirement. It was later revealed that prior to the race Marciello had decided to change his start procedure, which then resulted in the Italian’s poor start, and the fury of his mechanics. However he has shown glimpes of his brilliance, his Hungary Sprint Race performance showed his racing ability, now the young Italian will no doubt be looking forward to seeing out the rest of the season without any further issues and looking to 2015, when he can mount a challenge for the GP2 title.

Marciello on the International Straight during the Feature Race at Silverstone

Marciello on the International Straight during the Feature Race at Silverstone

Stoffel Vandoorne
Things have been slightly better for the McLaren Young Driver than his Ferrari counterpart. Vandoorne lies in third place in the GP2 championship, and still has a good chance of catching second placed Felipe Nasr before the season is over, as Nasr himself squandered a couple of excellent opportunities at Monza to close the gap to championship leader Palmer. Vandoorne has impressed many in his ability to carefully manage the Pirelli tyres, shown by his victory in the Feature Race at Monza. Arthur Pic was running in second place at the end of the first lap, while Vandoorne established a comfortable lead, only pushing the tyres when needed to pull out a bigger gap whenever Pic attempted to close in. The latest rumours on he driver situation at McLaren is that they will be retaining both Magnussen and Button for 2015, leaving Vandoorne likely to spend another season in GP2. His future in the long run is by no means certain, as it has been no secret that McLaren and Honda wish to add a big name driver to their line up. Presuming that driver would one day replace Button, it would mean that the second McLaren seat would be a choice of wether to retain Magnussen or release Vandoorne.

Vandoorne on the starting grid for the Silverstone Feature Race

Vandoorne on the starting grid for the Silverstone Feature Race

Jolyon Palmer
The Englishman now has one hand on the GP2 championship. Palmer produced what could be regarded as his best weekend performance ever at Monza. After starting 26th and dead last for the Feature Race because of a fuel irregularity in qualifying, Palmer took advantage of troubles ahead of him and pulled out some decisive overtaking moves to finish in 8th place and to claim the reverse grid pole position for Sunday’s Sprint Race. From there he was rarely troubled, and scored some major points on a weekend that started so badly. With title rival Felipe Nasr losing ground to Palmer that weekend, it’s possible that the Englishman could have the title wrapped up at Sochi. If and when that does happen, it would mean that Jolyon would not be allowed to race in the same series for 2015, Palmer has made no secret that he has been trying to raise funds to get an F1 seat, with his father and former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer casting doubts by saying that it would be a struggle. Romain Grosjean was the last GP2 champion to get an F1 seat, this was back in 2011. Since then, Davide Valsecchi only managed to secure a testing role with Lotus, and 2013 winner Fabio Liemer did not get an F1 role of any sort, instead switching to sportscars. It is these kind of examples that have made Formula Renault 3.5 the championship of choice for some to be F1’s feeder series, and also shines further light on some of the major issues in F1 today – pay drivers and the disparity of funds throughout the F1 grid.

Palmer at Club Corner during the Silverstone Sprint Race

Palmer at Club Corner during the Silverstone Sprint Race

Alexander Rossi
Events for Rossi have been played out in a more public fashion recently. Following the sale of Caterham by Tony Fernandes, Rossi was released by the Leafield team. Rossi raced in two further GP2 races instead with Campos Racing before being announced as Marussia’s Reserve Driver at the Hungarian Grand Prix. After the season recommenced at Spa following the summer break, it was announced by Max Chilton’s management team that the driver had voluntarily gave up his race seat (in favour of Rossi), in a bid to keep Marussia well funded. Many have speculated that this was either because Chilton’s money had either dried up or because payments were behind schedule, comments that Chilton has since rebuked, saying he and the team had been coming up with ways to keep the team well financed for a while, and it wasn’t until team owner Andrey Cheglakov intervened directly that the problem was resolved. Seemingly on the outside Rossi went out in FP1 in his Marussia thinking that he was going to participate in his first F1 race just 48 hours later, but by the time he got back to the garage Chilton was back in his regular race seat. Rossi handled the whole situation very maturely and professionally, saying that reserve drivers sometimes needed to be called upon at any notice to help the time and for the reserve to happen at the same pace. Huge doubts linger over the future of Chilton at Marussia after two years of racing with the team, despite an excellent record of finishes he has rarely outperformed his team mate Jules Bianchi. If Chilton is to be dropped then Marussia would need a driver that brings just the same amount of funds, and it is very unlikely that Rossi would be able to do that, fellow countryman Conor Daly was dropped from his GP2 outfit Lazarus Racing for that same reason.

It should be noted that unless McLaren decide to let go of Button, the driver market should be fairly static, as there seems to be a limited amount of seats available for 2015, with the possibility of one seat at Sauber, two at Caterham and at least one at Marussia. And with Caterham’s current financial situation precarious to say the least, they would need drivers with either serious backing or those on driver development programmes to gain income, assuming that they will stay in business altogether.