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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The fan's view: Enough

The British Grand Prix is in the books, and it was a thrilling race. A gearbox issue knocked out the championship leader, allowing his pursuers to gain some ground and make things interesting. Nico Rosberg wins his second race with Mark Webber breathing down his neck and Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton not far behind, all thanks to a late safety car bunching up the field.

But all that will be overshadowed by the multiple tire failures that plagued this race.

Tires, of course, have been the talk of this season. The rubber Pirelli was asked to design, to spice up the show, has shown a tendency to fail. Mercedes' inability to come to terms with the tires was the root of the testing soap opera we have been watching since it came to light in Monaco.

Red Bull has been a critic from the start, and admittedly, for a while it looked like sour apples. Tire issues seemed specific to certain cars, and cars that were designed to optimize the tire looked not to have the same issues. It looked like it should be down to the teams to come to grips with the problem.

But the problems experienced at Silverstone were altogether new ones, and appear to have played no favorites. More importantly, it isn't just about compromising the racing anymore, it is about safety.

I can totally understand the desire of certain teams to block changes to the tires simply because they don't suit certain teams in the field. But if Pirelli can solve these issues, and one would guess everyone has access to data that proves whether Pirelli can or not, then the teams should be overruled on safety grounds if they try to block the introduction of new rubber.

This is not all Pirelli's fault, though there are those with an interest in painting it that way. The fact that there is no way for the company to test the tires on a modern car is ludicrous. Safety of the competitors must be the number one priority, and I find it hard to believe, just as I did in 2006, that the FIA has not stepped in.

I sincerely hope someone acts. When drivers make comments like those above, there is a serious problem. Back in the 70s, the drivers forced the sport to become safer by acting as a group. I was in the stands at Indy in 2006. It was an ugly situation for all involved. It did irreparable damage to the sport's image in the U.S., but while others played chicken, the teams did what they thought was necessary for safety.

I would not have been surprised if something similar had happened today. It may be the only thing that gets the attention of the key players of this sport and motivates them to do what is right for everyone involved. There are more than points and money at stake.

Someone has to step up. They've got a week. Enough is enough.

UPDATE: Joe Saward reports the FIA will meet with Pirelli for an emergency meeting, and Jonathan Noble reports dissenting teams will not block any Pirelli changes. This is good news. Hopefully, the smart people will get quickly to the root of the problem and ensure there won't be a repeat. Perhaps a solution will also be found for the lack of testing. It's a start.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

A Fan's View: Catching up with the circus

The long break is over, and the series returns to Silverstone and the breadbasket of the F1 world. Finally, the saga of Tiregate is behind us, and we can return to the business on the track.

The Tribunal

Much to the disappointment of Christian Horner, Mercedes did not lose all of their points or receive a multi-race ban for the "illegal" test with Pirelli, which really was an unsurprising result. Few know how to exploit vague rules as well as Ross Brawn, and considering the scrutiny he is under this season, he was hardly going to throw it all away on something stupid. Granted, Mercedes' seeming ability to dictate its own punishment came off a little... well ... you know...

Did Mercedes benefit from the test? Of course it did. Why else take part? Did Mercedes take advantage of vague rules? Again, yes. It's just to the team's detriment its fiercest critic, Red Bull, has never done that (ahem).

How much the Silver Arrows have benefited we shall soon see. Critics claim its performance in Monaco and Montreal prove the test was everything. But both tracks are unique, and seem to suit the Mercedes. Sunday night we may have a better idea of the state of things.

In the end, this was never about what's on the surface, it's the battle behind the scenes. Battles between the FIA and Bernie, Germans, Concorde Agreements, and all such nonsense. But it is a testament to the idiocy of all involved that Pirelli does not have a platform on which to test. Had that situation not existed, it would never have come into question. Regardless, I doubt many would have reacted well to Merc being thrown out of the championship. Punishment would seem to fit the crime, in this case. Let's race.


"...when someone dies in the racing community, whether you are a driver, writer, or fan, it hits you like a brick.

We all know the risks of the sport - speeds of 180 miles per hour or more on crowded tracks can prove deadly. Somehow, we never seem to think someone will die, perhaps because drivers so often walk away from wrecks that to the eye look deadly."

I wrote those words in 2001 on the death of Dale Earnhardt. The intervening years saw a host of improvements in cars, barriers and equipment. Yet the specter of death still rides with us.

Twice in the past month we have been reminded the sport we love is still dangerous. The death of marshal Mark Robinson in Canada, and Allan Simonsen at Le Mans, cast a long shadow over racing. There will always be an element of danger to this sport. It's part of the thrill. But we must use those tragedies -- like the one that took Dan Wheldon before it -- to improve safety. We must honor their memory by continuing to advance the cause of safety for all who take part, whether they be track workers, fans, mechanics or racers.

Mark Webber

Mark Webber put the speculation to rest this week, confirming he will return to Le Mans next season as part of Porsche's new factory LMP effort. Webber has some unfinished business with Le Mans, to be sure, and he has secured for himself what looks to be a prime position. He'll be missed in F1. His straight-shooting honesty was highly appreciated by this fan. He raced hard, but fair, and was a team player. It's good to see a driver of his caliber able to leave the sport on his own terms. At least, that's the view from here.


Finally, congratulations to Williams for it's 600th race. Few teams are as iconic, and it is hard to picture F1 without Frank Williams in the paddock, a man who has seen all the pits and valleys of F1 existence. After last year's strong effort, things have not gone as well this season, but a clear path of transition, successful business offshoots and strong avenues of funding, it looks likely Williams will be around for a long time to come.

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