The Pain of Sir Frank

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You have to feel for Robert Kubica and George Russell, Williams’ current F1 drivers. Kubica said after the Chinese Grand Prix that he has “no race pace.” Russell said he felt other drives passed him as if he were “standing still.”  How did one of the legendary F1 teams fall this far, and how will they dig out of this hole?

The answer to the first question is tricky, because Williams made a lot of odd decisions when the team was still helmed by Sir Frank.  First, they chose (long ago) not to sell out to BMW, when the German marque made one of the most powerful engines in F1. They went public and were managed by men who had less experience in F1 as a racers, and more experience in business as bean counters.  Williams stayed independent while Mercedes and Ferrari (read: Fiat) were growing their technical staffs.  Williams isn’t alone in this predicament; McLaren, another quintessential F1 constructor, is also languishing.

Williams thought it was on the road to improvement by hiring Paddy Lowe, a former Mercedes engineer.  But Lowe left the team early in the 2019 season, for reasons that were vague.  If Lowe wasn’t retained (for any reason), how will Williams move back up the grid?

There is no question that F1 needs teams like Williams, who exist to race, rather than race to promote other endeavors.  Wiliams has no sports car business akin to the McLaren brand, which sells sports cars to well-heeled individuals through the world. Williams is F1.  In order to exist, it must figure its way out of this predicament.

Ultimately, Williams will need to give up some of its independence and forge an alliance that can take it to the level of Mercedes or Ferrari.  The trouble, however, is that F1 is probably structured in such a way that a small team like Williams may never see the top of the podium again under normal circumstances.  Changing that outcome is going to take a lot of painful reflection.

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Leclerc of the course

It must be something in the water. A week after rookie Colton Herta won his first IndyCar race, Ferrari phenom Charles Leclerc just notched his first F1 pole position, at Bahrain. Leclerc was promoted rapidly at Ferrari to replace veteran Kimi Raikonnen, who moved to Sauber/Alfa. Although Ferrari occasionally makes some head-scratching decisions, the elevation of Leclerc looks to be a savvy move by the Prancing Horse. Will this make Vettel nervous?

Let’s not make too much of one P1. Leclerc clearly has gifts (as does Herta), but it takes more than that to be a champion. Specifically, Ferrari need to stop the bad habit of own goals that cost championships. And young drivers sometimes lose the plot along the way.

I Herta through the Grapevine

IndyCar couldn’t have picked a better way to debut at COTA than by having a rookie driver win the race, who also happens to be the son of a former driver. Colton Herta wowed dad Bryan with a late move to the lead when Will Power and Alexander Rossi were forced to pit late.

IndyCar came to COTA facing comparisons to F1, the only other top line open wheel racing series that has raced at the Texas track. For the most part, it put on a better show in terms of close racing, albeit anywhere from 10-14 seconds slower per lap. Herta may have received a break when Power and Rossi stayed out too long, but you have to be there to take the opportunity. More than just the son of a pretty savvy racer in his day, Herta is one to keep an eye on.

Texas toast

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IndyCar hits COTA for the first time this weekend (other than a pre-season test earlier this year).  So far, the fastest lap time in practice (1:48.657) is still over 10 seconds off the record set by Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes last year (1:37.392).

IndyCar fans will howl with disappointment because the cars are slower (you can almost hear them typing angry comments into Racer.com).  But they’re designed to be slower, which is why comparing lap times between two series is a fool’s errand.  If you want to play parlor games, go for it, but if you have any doubt about which cars are faster, cast those doubts aside. It’s not an IndyCar at COTA (different story at the Speedway, which is all that matters to most IndyCar fans).

To me, it seems like an F1 car just looks faster than today’s IndyCar.  F1 is all about the optimal aero package, which the teams can perfect all season.  In IndyCar, the chassis is a spec tub from Dallara and there’s a lot less room to maneuver. So put your stopwatch away and just enjoy the race.

CSRG at 50


The Classic Sports Racing Group is celebrating its 50th season of racing. The David Love Memorial Races at Sonoma Raceway featured the usual assortment of open wheel and sports cars from the 50s to the 80s. 

I confess a certain degree of partiality for open wheel cars from the 1960s and 1970s. CSRG owners include a brace of cars from Formula Atlantic, Formula Jr, Formula Ford, and SCCA B-spec.  The earlier cars are beautiful silhouettes designed for slip stream racing of the era. 

Aero had entered the picture by the 1970s. Two of the Atlantic cars were raced by F1 champion Keke Rosberg and stalwart Didier Pironi. These lurid cars were prepped by Fred Opert and sponsored by condom company Excita. 
In the same vein, some of the Lola sports cars from the early 1970s are also fantastic, racy and properly noisy.

Ford GT brings new life to GTLM

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I have spent the last 10 years around race tracks in the Bay Area, and I have never seen more interest in a new car than the Ford GT, which arrived at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Continental Tire GP of Monterey powered by Mazda.

Students of history will recall that the original GT40 was meant to beat Ferrari’s dominance at Le Mans. It did that, in spades, before walking away from the Circuit de la Sarthe for nearly 50 years. Now it’s back, with the support of Chip Ganassi and his major duomo, Mike Hull (pictured below with driver Ryan Briscoe).

This has become a great era for the GT class, with Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, and Ford all battling for top honors. The teams are now in France preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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CSRG 2016 David Love Memorial Vintage Races

CSRG events are always great fun, because they lack some of the intense scrutiny and crowd action that you see in Monterey later in the year. CSRG cars are raced hard (but fairly), and I enjoy listening to the owners talk about the long journey many of these cars have made from factory birth to vintage racer. The David Love Memorial Vintage Races at Race Sonoma honor the late vintage racer who was a passionate Ferrari enthusiast.

Below: 1966 Alfa Romeo GTA (Auto Delta); SCCA Formula A/B lineup; 1967 Alfa raced by Nanni Galli; Morgan Plus 4; 1958 Devin SS; Ferrari Lusso; 1967 Porsche 911 TR; 1981 March 821 F1 car; 1962 Lola Mk.5; and, 1962 Lotus 22 FJ.

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