The worst-kept secret in Formula One (since the last one) is now official - from 2015 onwards, McLaren will be running Honda engines, reigniting the partnership that powered the team's glory days.
It became clear last autumn that rumours of a Honda return were looking less and less like idle gossip, and by the end of the year eagle-eyed observers had spotted more than a few Honda employees dotted around the MTC. When it emerged that Honda were developing a motorsport facility in Milton Keynes - ostensibly for their WTCC efforts - it became clear that an announcement was imminent.
“It’s fantastic news for everyone who loves Formula 1 to be able to welcome Honda back to Formula 1,” said Martin Whitmarsh. “Together, we’re about to embark on a new and extremely exciting chapter in McLaren’s history. Like McLaren, Honda is a company with motor racing woven into the fabric of its heritage. We’re proud and thrilled to be joining forces once more to take on the world in Formula 1.
“Whilst both companies are fully aware that we’re embarking on a very demanding journey together, we’re hugely committed to the success of the partnership, and we’ll spend the next 18 months working together to ensure that we’re fully established and competitive ahead of our first grand prix together in 2015. The names of McLaren and Honda are synonymous with success in Formula 1, and, for everyone who works for both companies, the weight of our past achievements together lies heavily on our shoulders. But it’s a mark of the ambition and resolve we both share that we want once again to take McLaren-Honda to the very pinnacle of Formula 1 success. Together we have a great legacy – and we’re utterly committed to maintaining it."
The announcement is also good news for FIA president Jean Todt, as it validates his position on the need for an F1 engine spec change in the face on incessant opposition from Bernie Ecclestone. Takanobu Ito, president of Honda, confirmed that it was the engine spec change that lured the Japanese OEM back to the sport.
"Formula 1 is about to introduce new regulations that require a downsized engine with a turbocharger and energy recover systems, which fits better with environmental technologies for mass-production vehicles," Ito said. "As a result, more than ever we can expect more feedback from racing machines to mass-production vehicles and some feedback from mass-production vehicles back to racing machines.
"As we started to see a better match between the new direction of F1 and the direction of Honda's product development, our young engineers who will shape the future of Honda began expressing their passion to take on the new challenge of Formula 1 racing."
So the secret's out. Marussia and Caterham had TOP SEKRIT merger talks late last year, and now we know all about it, right?
Errr, maybe not.
Marussia and Caterham had about as much intention of merging as I do of saving up for species reassignment surgery and becoming a dolphin. (For those of you without an encyclopaedic knowledge of every South Park episode in the history of ever, that was a joke. If I were to change species, I want to come back as a basset hound.)
A certain Mr Ecclestone wanted to get Caterham and Marussia to merge, because it would enable him and CVC to save themselves a bit of money from the ol' prize fund. But Maruham and Catussia didn't want to play those reindeer games. Teams don't merge. They compete with each other, what with being competitive animals and all, and it makes no sense whatsoever for two different car brands to join forces on the race track.
But when the organ grinder plays a tune, the monkey has to dance, even if it's not feeling particularly inclined to bust a move or six. So talks happened, and went nowhere, and we've still got eleven teams on the grid.
The merger story came out in December, was largely ignored for the silliness it was by those in the know, and has since re-reared its ugly head because BCE spoonfed the story to one of his pet journalists. Who had somehow managed to miss it entirely at the end of last year.
Anyone who has followed Formula One for more than twenty minutes is well aware of the fact that Bernie doesn't do anything without a good reason. So why would he want to put the merger story back in the public eye? I don't know for sure, but my bet is that he is somewhat disgruntled that his best laid plans went awry, and he's looking for a quick way to destabilise both teams and claw back a bit of that prize fund money for CVC.
The Concorde Agreement isn't anything like as signed as the general public has been led to believe, there's still a bit (a lot) of bitterness about the amount of money now being given over to the FIA (far better them than an investment firm, but hey - who cares about the long-term health of the sport?), and throwing a spanner in the works at inopportune moments is a great way to disrupt yet-to-be-signed sponsorship agreements.
And if the teams at the back of the grid can't secure sponsors, they will run out of money. And if they run out of money, they can't afford to compete without external financial support. The paddock does have a white knight within its confines, someone who can offer financing with strings attached to those in need.
As every good businessman knows, if the opportunity you're seeking doesn't exist, you should do your best to create it.
So everyone's been giving Red Bull a bit of shit today, thanks to the not-so-VIP VIP Race Experience won by a pair of their fans last year.
It's a shame Red Bull didn't call me to the stand, because I think I could have saved them a whole bunch of legal trouble.
The whole complaint boils down to the fact that a pair of fans who won a VIP Belgian Grand Prix experience were flown into one country and out of another on a budget airline, missed the end of the race to make their return flight home, and ended up staying in a dodgy hotel in a third country. The contest winners had grandstand seats, not VIP seats, and had to arrange their own travel between Maastricht and Spa.
Sounds to me like they had a classic VIP experience in F1 terms. At least, they had a fairly standard experience from a journalist's point of view.
Sure, the fans' experience itself may have been something of a disappointment. And it always sucks when the dream prize turns out to have been a bit of a damp squib. I'm pretty sure the competition winners aren't going to be spending any more of their hard-earned dosh on cans of Red Bull.But maybe they can take some solace in the fact that their VIP F1 experience was less VIP and more typical Formula One? If only they'd taken baby wipe showers in a public bathroom at some point - then they'd really have lived like we do...
- Flying into one country and out of another for cheap travel? Been there, done that.
- Missed the end of a GP to make the flight home? Tick, and more than once.
- Stayed in a separate country to the one the race was being held in? Happens a few times a season. And the Maastricht to Spa cab ride isn't actually all that expensive.
- Dodgy hotels promising facilities that turn out not to exist? Welcome to my world.
So those late January tales were true - Paddy Lowe is off to Mercedes at the end of his McLaren contract, and will hang about Woking doing busy work while Tim Goss steps up to the role of technical director.
Of course, the official statement put it slightly differently.
The McLaren statement was more about announcing Goss' promotion than it was a farewell to Lowe - his only mention came at the end of the press release, and read simply: “Paddy [Lowe] will be performing a different role within McLaren until the end of the year. He's been a good and successful F1 Technical Director, and we wish him well when he embarks on a fresh challenge in 2014."And from the looks of things, Lowe appears to have done the decent thing when it came to giving McLaren notice of his intention to move on once his contract expired. Part of the McLaren release included a thumbnail sketch of Goss' CV, and one of the elements listed was the recent cars Goss had worked on.
He has been technically responsible for the definition and development of the following Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 cars:
* MP4-23 (6 Grand Prix wins with Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen in 2008; 1st place in 2008 Drivers' World
Championship with Lewis Hamilton)
* MP4-25 (5 Grand Prix wins with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in 2010)
* MP4-27 (7 Grand Prix wins with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in 2012)
* MP4-28 (the F1 car that will be raced by Jenson Button and Sergio 'Checo' Perez in 2013)
McLaren are known to follow an alternation pattern with their car designs, swapping responsibility from year to year. As a rule of thumb, Goss designed odd-numbered McLarens in even-numbered years. But not this year - Goss has had responsibility for back-to-back cars.
I may be reading far too much into this, but it looks to me like Lowe told McLaren he was looking elsewhere back when negotiations to join Toto Wolff at Williams first got underway.
It's the decent thing to do, as the loss of Lowe is a blow to the team. As Jonathan Noble points out in Autosport
, when Lewis announced he was leaving McLaren last year, Jenson said that the loss of a teammate was one thing, but that the loss of Lowe would be a disappointment.
Aside from the practicalities of losing a man of Lowe's skill and experience, there's also the psychological blow to a factory that has just said goodbye to a star driver and long-time member of the Woking family. The fact that Goss has been with McLaren for 23 years is a bonus in that regard - a familiar face in charge will help smooth the transition.
But it's not going to be all plain sailing at Mercedes, either. Brackley now houses about 94 different people who have been technical directors at one time or another, and no matter how often Ross Brawn says it's not a problem because everyone has a clearly defined role, it's still not easy to see how adding Lowe (and Wolff, and Lauda) to the mix isn't going to complicate matters somewhat.
Where does the phrase 'too many chiefs, not enough Indians' fall in the parameters of political correctness? Is there a better, more modern way to say that sometimes simplest is best? A direct chain of command and accountability has been proven to win wars, and I can't imagine it would be the worst strategy in motor-racing.
My instinct is that those who foresee a rapid reduction in senior Brackley personnel in the not too distant future are right, although I wouldn't put any money on specific names staying or going. Not yet, anyway - let's see what happens after the first four races.
Mercedes have not been available for comment since the McLaren press release was issued.
Williams have continued in the 2013 launch tradition of referring to their car as an evolution or refinement of last year's machine, while also acknowledging that the vast majority of the new car is actually brand new.
According to the Grove team's launch press release, a whopping 80 percent of the FW35 is new - “new gearbox, new rear suspension, new radiators, a new floor, new exhausts, new bodywork, a new nose, and a significant amount of weight had been saved". But aside from that it's just like last year's car. Honest.
Of course, launch cars are a lot like the previous year's model. Testing is all about getting the cars ready for Melbourne, and at Williams it's no different. After a long winter spent testing new components for reliability, the team are confident that they won't have missed out by delaying the launch of the FW35 till this morning.
And if the car runs as consistently as the team hope it will, the next two weeks will see Williams refine an aerodynamic upgrade for the Albert Park season-opener next month.
“The Coanda effect is going to be a big thing for us,” technical director Mike Coughlan said in the team's launch release. “There’s been no rule clarification concerning this area of the car, so we’ll work closely with Renault to maximise the available gains. Use of the DRS is more restricted this year, so we’ll take some resource away from that and focus on other areas.”
Below the jump you can find the full technical specs for the FW35.
It's all change at Marussia, as the team today launched their first car with KERS power, the MR02. While rivals Caterham have taken the decision to put most of their eggs in the 2014 basket, Marussia are hoping to make their great leap forward this season.
Parts of the chassis have been redesigned, while Marussia have concentrated on managing the airflow over the car's rear bodywork while improving the cooling. Under the watchful eye of Pat Symonds, and through the technical partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies, the Banbury-based racers are confident that their car is a great leap forward from the MR01 in the technical stakes.
“The incremental steps we were taking in the latter half of last season gave us the confidence to not only fight hard for 10th place in the Constructors’ Championship, but to feel encouraged by our overall design direction, which was the basis for the car we are fielding here in Jerez today," team principal John Booth said. “We are confident that the MR02 is the product of evolving elements of last year’s package whilst integrating the new KERS system.
“It was said many times during 2012 that, notwithstanding the impressive steps we were taking in other areas of our development, KERS - or the lack of it - was the defining factor in determining our position relative to our immediate competitors. KERS was however a ‘strategic omission’ from our package until now; we opted to place the emphasis on aerodynamics, so that when we were in a position to bring the system to the car, we already had the strongest possible basis and its integration would be relatively straightforward. Thus far, this has certainly been the case, as our trackside engineering team have spent the winter refining their tools and preparing for the addition of KERS to ensure we can hit the ground running with effect from this week and use the short period of testing we have to get the car optimised for Melbourne."
Perhaps the most obvious change has nothing to do with the car itself - Marussia have ditched the mean and moody black-based gear with a much brighter red. Not rossa corsa, mind...
Technical specs will be published when they have been released by the team.
Caterham unveiled their 2013 challenger in the Jerez pitlane this morning, showing off a lighter colour scheme and an all-new driver line-up in the form of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde.
The green and gold racers have elected not to go with a modesty panel, and will be retaining last year's stepped nose. And that's not all that's familiar - Caterham have made the decision to concentrate the bulk of their resources on making a step up in 2014, when the regulation changes should open up the playing field somewhat, and as a result the CT03 is another evolution.
“CT03 is the first car we have produced in the Leafield Technical Centre so it marks an important milestone in the development of our team," technical director Mark Smith explained. “The season ahead presented us with an interesting challenge early in the design process as it is the last year of the current regulations before the introduction of the new engine rules in 2014. With that in mind, we decided that CT03 would be an evolution of CT01 rather than a complete re-design, allowing us to focus our resources on developing areas of last year's package where opportunities would give us the greatest return, while also beginning work on the 2014 package.
“We have made a number of significant changes to the car that takes it from the package that gained us 10th place in the championship in Brazil in 2012 into CT03. Among the most obvious are around the lower chassis where the sidepods have been significantly undercut to improve airflow to the rear of the car. The diffuser, engine cover and cooling exits have also seen major changes and there are more subtle improvements to other areas of the car, such as the sidepod turning vanes and the lower tea-tray area. This is the package we will take to race one in Australia and as part of the 2013 upgrade program we will then bring new front and rear wings and a new diffuser soon after the start of the season.
“However, the CT03 car that starts testing in Spain on day one in Jerez is not the only visible change amongst a number of other important developments at Caterham this winter. Back in Leafield, we are fast completing our own 'driver in the loop' simulator, created with the support of Dell and powered by Alienware. This is a major asset for our team that puts us on a par with any of our competitors and constitutes another example of the long-term plans we are activating that will help us continue to grow and develop into the team we know we can become."
In their initial summary of the CT03, Racecar Engineering
pointed to two points of particular interest: a vane in the exhaust channel covered by a ceramic thermal barrier, and a dimple at the top of the same channel.
Below the jump you can find the full technical specs for the CT03.
Toro Rosso were unlucky to join the ranks of teams whose launches have coincided with something of a tech fail this season. While the Faenza racers didn't wind up with endless reams of social media ire, they did have a server crash preventing them from releasing official launch photos...
So if you want to *see* the STR8, you would be best advised to check out the above compilation of less official photos.
When it comes to official launch news, the team were able to issue the usual selection of quotes and specifications, making it not entirely impossible to cover the event from the comfort of my sofa.
Toro Rosso have been upgrading their facilities for quite some time now, and team principal Franz Tost is confident that his team now has everything they need to be competitive as Formula One looks ahead to a new era.
“Formula One is approaching a new era, specifically in 2014, and, at Toro Rosso, we have already made significant changes to our structure both in terms of manpower and facilities, to be ready for that," he said. “We believe the changes made will also help in the short term for this coming season and, combined with the fact that Daniel and Jean-Eric are more experienced, now that they have a season with us under their belts, we start winter testing in a mood of justified optimism.”
The STR8 is the first car designed under the auspices of James Key, who left Sauber a year ago.
“What I said to the guys was that the baseline of the car needs to be worked on here and let's not push on the special stuff like the exhausts and the additional projects over the standard bread and butter aero plan," Key said in Jerez. “What we needed to do was get the baseline of the car up to get the fundamentals right and then start applying all that stuff. So that's why this [the current car] is a very basic start point and there's more to come.
“We've got some bits coming to the next test and the test after that which will visibly change the car for Melbourne. We're working now on the future steps and it will evolve for sure and we're looking at some quite fundamentally different approaches that will eventually come to life later in the season. If we're going to go from where we were [last season] to where we'd like to be, we can't just throw bits at the car at every race, we've got to step back and think about what we're going to achieve."
Below the jump you can find the full technical specs for the STR8.
In an ideal world, I would have been present for the launch of the W104. In an ideal world, I would have booked my Jerez flight for 4 February, not 4 March. So I can claim no personal insights about the brand new Mercedes, nor about the team's demeanour at the launch.
According to team principal Ross Brawn, “2013 marks the start of a second era for our Silver Arrows works team. The restructuring we undertook at the team over the past 18 months are now growing in maturity and this is reflected in the F1 W04, which is a clear step forward in design and detail sophistication over its predecessor.
“Many thousands of hours of work have been invested by our technical teams in Brackley and Brixworth to ensure that the new car delivers a step change in performance compared to last season. We are also hugely proud to welcome Lewis to the team as a works Mercedes-Benz driver. With Lewis and Nico, we have what I believe to be the strongest driver line-up in Formula One and I know that a healthy level of competition between them both will help drive the team forward."
Exactly what those changes are remains to be seen, as the team have yet to release their technical specs, but Mercedes have refined their Coanda-effect exhaust while completely reworking the front wing. The suspension layout is the same as on last year's model, and - like the majority of their opponents - Mercedes have worked hard to slim down the rear bodywork for a more aggressive back end.
Interestingly, Mercedes noted that their modesty panel gave them a slight advantage during aero testing. Hmm...
Nico Rosberg took the car out for a brief shakedown, and you can see the footage in the clip below. Lewis Hamilton will take his first turn behind the wheel tomorrow.
Technical specs will be published when they have been released by the team.
Exclusive RB9 launch photo
The most hotly anticipated car of the 2013 season made its debut on Sunday afternoon in Milton Keynes, in a launch that promised much but delivered little.
Invited guests were told to gather at the Red Bull HQ, where a fleet of Infinitis awaited to ferry them a full 300 metres down the road, where a unit on an industrial estate had been turned into a black and purple nightclub, replete with champagne, cocktails, and sushi.
After a raft of online-only launches, and the more traditional offerings seen at McLaren and Force India, it looked as though the Red Bull-Infiniti partnership would be bringing something of the glamour back to Formula One.
It turned out that what they were bringing back was exclusivity. Guests and media alike were banned from taking photographs of the RB9, while the launch site suffered such bad phone signal that rumours began to spread of 3G blocking in place. Instead of streaming the event live, Red Bull released an edited video for fans after the launch.
It was an odd choice of promotion, and one that caused more annoyance among fans than the intended intrigue.
The launch opened with a video (above) of an F1 symphony, as created by the various components, staffers, and tools involved in the creation of the RB9, which was revealed to have added purple to the traditional red, yellow, and blue livery in a nod to their new title sponsors. The machine itself is an evolution of the championship-winning RB8, although it should be assumed that the team have a few tricks up their sleeve that won’t have made an appearance on the launch car.
“It’s a tribute to all the hard work of the guys over the winter because we had a very tight championship battle last year,” Red Bull chief technical officer Adrian Newey said at the launch. “It was difficult trying to continue development of last year’s car while also doing research into the RB9. Obviously it worked for us, but it gave us a very tight timeframe to design and manufacture this car.
“RB9 is an evolutionary car,” he added. “Probably the most significant change is not the regulations, but the new Pirelli tyres. We had a quick test with those in practice ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix but in truth we didn’t learn a lot because of the conditions. Pirelli have supplied us data about how the new tyres behave but past experience tells us that it’s only when we go testing that we really find out.”
Technical specs will be published when they have been released by the team.