A New Season

Prologue 

She was tall, thin and tarty

And she drove a Maserati

Faster than sound

I was heaven bound

– Rod Stewart, Italian Girls

  

Have you seen the new Alfa Romeo ad, the one for the Guila (pronounced Julia), that curvy little red rocket of joy whipping around what appears to the Italian countryside? If you’ve seen it, liked it or consider the Alfa Romeo one of your fantasy cars, check out the heaven that is the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Cinematic Trailer and Commercial below and come right back to read on.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of F1 motor racing. Growing up in Newfoundland as the younger sister of two brothers who were avid F1 fans, every week that ABC Wide World of Sports featured F1, they’d have racing on the TV. A lot of the time, I watched with them, hanging onto their words, disciple-like, and absorbing the poetry of the announcers as they named the field of drivers—Surtees*, Hill, Fittipaldi, Ickx, Peterson, Andretti. The circlet of tartan on Jackie Stewart’s helmet is one of my first racing memories. And hundreds of races later something I had long suspected and now know to be true, my older brothers are the font of all wisdom and the knowers of all things worth knowing.

So, two seconds after watching the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Cinematic Trailer mentioned above, I copied the link and sent it off to them. At last, they would fully appreciate the sophistication of their younger sister’s conversant and nuanced appreciation of l’auto, on and off the track.

I was not what you could call disappointed.

“Yes,” replied the eldest brother. “It’s a very nice car, fast and beautiful. I hear it also comes with legendary Italian reliability.”

The other chimed in. “That’s a beauty of a car, the Alfa Romeo. But remember the FIAT: Fix It Again Tony.”

Hardy, har, har.

With this frame of mind, I’m jotting a few notes about the 2017 F1 Racing Season. I’m coming to it fresh in 2017. I was writing a book last year and missed a lot of the 2016 action. (Writing books is a miserable occupation that way. It takes up a lot of time that could be spent watching racing or baseball.)

Welcome to Your 2017 F1 Racing Season

Sound the flute! William Blake would say. Spring is here.

And race fans all over the world are cheering as Formula One Racing has packed up and whisked itself off to Melbourne Australia to lay down its inaugural lap this weekend. Time to unwrap this oversized candy bar and see what’s in store for this year on the track and in the paddock.

The shambles that is McLaren

When Honda became the engine supplier to McLaren three years ago, fans hoped the sun would rise on the grand old McLaren team because all that Honda expertise would logically translate into exciting developments. The Mercedes engines were dominating, Renault was beginning to have trouble and Ferrari was in transition. The re-entry of Honda was anticipated with enthusiasm. Anything remotely resembling developments has been surprisingly elusive for Honda, however. The team’s lead driver, Fernando Alonso, the highest paid driver in F1 (at $40 million USD) has been muttering that the power unit is a combination of slow and unreliable. In pre-season practice at the Circuit de Catalunya, McLaren were last on the scoreboard for laps completed and the quickest laps recorded as well as being 20mph slower than other teams on the straights. The team reportedly went through seven power units during testing. F1 has a rule that only four power units can be used for the entire season or the team will be penalized.

McLaren’s contract with Honda goes until 2024, but it is said there are clauses to allow a break. Rumours abound.

There’s no engine under that hood.

It’s time to put away the engine talk. F1 isn’t about engines any more. It’s about the power unit. To put it simply, that’s because the internal combustion engine is not only converting energy from the gas in the tank. It is also being fed by the Energy Recovery System (ERS), which gathers up kinetic energy produced by applying the brakes and heat energy from the exhaust system, and stores it as energy in a battery, which can then boost the power. It’s a dance coordinated by a complex set of electronics. About 30% of the energy used to propel the car comes from ERS. The hybrid power unit uses about 35% less fuel than the traditional engine.  Power units are expensive. A season’s supply of four (any more will generate a penalty) costs around 20 million euros.

The days of racing to save tires may be done

Tires are 25% wider this year and tire supplier Pirelli has said we will not witness the same kind of degradation seen in the last couple of years. That should put a stop to the frustrating practice of watching a race where drivers are not racing, they are ‘saving’ their tires. They will be able to drive flat out during the race, fewer pit stops are in the cards, but the pit stops may be longer.

 

Is the DRS really for sissies?

“Within designated DRS activation zones, a driver within one second of a rival car may activate his DRS. This alters the angle of the rear wing flap, reducing drag and thereby providing a temporary speed advantage.” according to F1.

The Drag Reduction System (DRS) is meant to make overtaking easier in F1 racing. It has come under criticism from certain quarters (Le Mans and some Indy commentators) for making passing another car a “less gutsy move” than might occur in another racing series. The thing is the way the cars are designed in Le Mans and in the Indy series, the air flow runs underneath the car and creates most of the down force that keeps the car on the track. That means a driver coming up from behind can stay closely behind the car in front.

The way F1 cars are designed with a flat bottom, the air flow that creates the down force keeping the car on the track flows over the car, which creates a turbulent air flow behind the F1 car, making it difficult to stay close enough to overtake. DRS was instituted to create a better environment for overtaking maneuvers, which it has done.

The system itself is a simple mechanical function. There is a flap on the rear wing and when it is lifted, like a mail slot, from the main plane of the wing the air flows through the rear wing reducing drag and allowing a 15—20 km increase in speed, but also reduces down force.

The amount of down force generated by an F1 car laterally in a corner is about 4 or 5 Gs. An exceptional road car, like the Alfa Romeo Guila, would generate less than 1 G.

 

Force India PINK!

Until the middle of this week, my commentary on the new liveries was essentially going to consist of giving Mercedes 10 points for looking so good. But then on Thursday, Force India busted out their new look, which according to Sky News was inspired by a ‘long-term relationship’ with Austrian-based water technology firm BWT.

While some, including Sergio Peres, call it striking, I could think only of a passage from Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy, when, at a wedding celebration, one of the male protagonists throws a bit of shade … on the pink sari.

Try the pistachio ice-cream,’ suggested Maan. His eyes followed her pink sari for a few seconds. Good-looking girl—in a way, he thought again. Pink’s the wrong colour for her complexion, though. She should be dressed in deep green or dark blue . . . like that woman there. His attention veered to a new object of contemplation. 

Bottas goes to Mercedes, as does former Ferrari technical director, James Allison.

Once Nico Rosberg dropped his shell-shocking retirement bomb seven days after winning the 2016 World Championship, the biggest story in the F1 world was who might be his replacement. I was surprised it was Bottas but like a baseball trade, there were a few moving parts in that story. One of those parts was James Allison, Ferrari’s former technical director and, many say, one of the reasons Ferrari had a great start in 2016. But tragedy befell the Allison family when, in April 2016, at age 47, Rebecca Allison, James’ wife and mother of his three children, died suddenly of meningitis. The highly rated engineer missed the rest of the season. His relationship with Ferrari suffered.

James Allison re-emerged in March 2017 with the Mercedes team who are headquartered in Brackley, U.K., allowing him to be closer to his children than would have been the case if he had stayed with Ferrari, which is headquartered in Maranello, Italy.

Paddy Lowe, former technical director for Mercedes and F1 paddock veteran, is off to Williams.

Bottas leaves Williams for Mercedes. Massa comes out of retirement for Williams and Canadian rookie, Lance Stroll, lands a drive with Williams

I first become semi-consciousness of Lance Stroll, Canada’s first driver in F1 since Jacques Villeneuve, when he landed on the front page of the Globe and Mail because he had just joined the Ferrari Driving Academy. He was 11 years old. Now Lance is 18 years old and is about to start his F1 career with a team that has always liked the young driver. (Jacques also started his F1 career with Williams.) But so far, at least in practice his proclivity at crashing cars—the most recent of which has earned him a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change in Melbourne—has drawn unfavourable comparisons to Pastor Maldanado. Stay safe, Lance.

Bernie’s out

Bernie tells me what to do/Bernie lays it on the line/Bernie says, we sue, we sue/Bernie says, we sign, we sign (My Attorney Bernie, David Frishberg, sung by Blossom Dearie)

 Liberty Media has completed its takeover of F1 and their first big move was to give Bernie Ecclestone his walking papers. It had to happen some day and it was as dignified as it could have been, especially as there have been times when Bernie could have been escorted off to jail. Part of the rationale was that Bernie was cold to the idea of social media. He will have no official capacity in Melbourne.

Liberty Media is also reportedly going to take some consideration of social justice, or some F1 version of social justice, on the decisions of where the series races, such as the recent addition of a race at Baku City Circuit in Azerbajan. It also wants to redouble efforts to promote the sport, and add a race, in the U.S.

“Bernie took this sport to global levels,” said Toto Wolff, top executive with Mercedes. “It’s strange without him, but we will have to get used to it.”

Apparently, fans in the in the Catalunya Practice Circuit paddock and teams were being allowed to post video to social media.

It has also been reported that Liberty wants to stop the huge bonuses being paid to the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes. Toto Wolff had no comment.

 

“One thousand times better”

When Mercedes unveiled its new look, Lewis Hamilton said it “looked a thousand times better than anyone else’s.” And yet …

Ferrari has been fast, not just looking fast, through the entire practice season. But who knows, right? Mercedes could be sandbagging, running a bit slower in practice, a bit heavier. Last year, Mercedes got 20 pole positions, a feat never accomplished by any team, ever. That’s a big hill to climb. But still … it’s the biggest question hanging over Melbourne. And one we’ll have the answer to shortly.

Consider though, that former Ferrari technical director, James Allison, is now with Mercedes. And there is that legendary reliability thing.

*

Epilogue

*John Surtees passed away on March 10 2017 at the age of 83. He was the only person in the world to have won a world championship on two wheels in motorcycling as well as four wheels in a car. His son Henry Surtees followed in his father’s racing footsteps. Tragically, he was killed in an F2 race at Brands Hatch after being hit in the head by a wheel that had spun off the car of another driver. The wheel assembly weighed 64 lbs, but given the speeds involved, the impact yielded 60,000 joules of kinetic energy. John Surtees spent much of the rest of his life working at improving race side safety and medical protocols.

Gail Picco, a strategist who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years, is one of Canada’s foremost experts on the increasingly complex dynamics at play in the charitable sector. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector and of the recently published, Cap in Hand: How Charities Are Failing the People of Canada and the World published in January 2017. Gail works as a Principal with The Osborne Group in Toronto and serves as Chair of the Board of the Regent Park Film Festival.

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