Sunday, March 16, 2014

Engine Blood: Australian GP - Updated!

GO!  GO!  GO!  Finally, the talk is over - the interminable, barely-interpretable testing is over, and the ugly, ugly cars have been driven in anger for the first time in what the BBC is sadly referring to as the "Hybrid Era" of Formula One.  So let's respond by lashing straight into this race report with gusto, all guns blazing!

* FLAG REVIEW


...Are we still doing this bit?

At least it's a slightly interesting one: good old Blighty's own flag is ascendant in the upper left hand corner, with some stars knocking about the place.  Could have done with some hearts and clovers to up the gaudiness factor, but we can't have everything, can we?

* Britney takes the win by a country mile, and with McLaren, Williams and Force India having strong showings, it would seem to suggest that in trying to break the dominance of Red Bull, the rulemakers have cleared the way for Mercedes to dominate.  Way to go, geniuses!

* But whither his teammate and polesitter, Celebrity Racing Driver Lewis Hamilton?  Out on lap 3, because new rules.  Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel had a similarly dour day at the office, but was able to take some solace from the performance of his new Australian deputy Daniel Ricciardo, who took a sensational second place to become the first Australian to finish in a podium position at his home GP.  And look how happy he was!



(He is not, however, the first Australian to stand on the podium at the Aussie GP, as some sources have claimed; that honour belongs jointly to Mark Webber and Paul Stoddart, who had their own little podium ceremony after Mark finished 5th there in 2002.  Pedantic, yes; correct, very much so.)

* However, at the time of writing Ricciardo - can we decide how to pronounce this, by the way?  Engine Blood were led to believe it was "Rick-ard-oh", as in eighties legend Patrese, rather than "Rick-ee-ard-oh", as many used today - had been disqualified, because new rules.  Red Bull will be appealing, because new rules.  It's clearly darkened Mr Ricciardo's formerly ebullient mood, as can be seen in the picture below:


* A great day for the latest generation of drivers, as McLaren's Kevin Magnusson took an eye-catching second place.  He's looking like the genuine article, but let's also applaud Daniil Kvyat, who brought his Toro Rosso back in ninth place for points on his debut, finishing a mere three seconds behind his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, who's been with the team for two years already!

Even Caterham's Marcus Eriksson had a competent debut, albeit one that was curtailed at around half distance.  We'll discuss his colleague in a second, but just to note that Marussia may have wrapped up the tiny team battle early today, with Max Chilton hanging on to finish 13th.  That's all it took last year...

* Yes: Kamui Kobayashi, then.  We're well known for being Kobayashi apologists here at Engine Blood, and predictably we bandied about all the usual excuses - cold tyres after a second formation lap, lack of practice starts, solar radiation, it must somehow be Hamilton's fault - but he has issued an immediate and profuse apology, so let's move on and cross our fingers for next time after his great performance in qualifying.

EDIT: However, not one day later, we found out that it wasn't Kobayashi's fault after all - the telemetry has proved there was a mechanical failure on the car.  Hooray?  Well, it's the same disappointing result, but at least Kamui keeps his good name.

Sadly, Felipe Massa got speared by the unfortunate Japanese, robbing him of a prime chance to impress post-Ferrari.  A real shame as well, as Valtteri Bottas was in scintillating form, though he did hit a bum note by kissing the wall and losing a tyre.  Williams clearly have a great package right now, but need to impress in the next few races or risk outdevelopment by Ferrari and Red Bull.

* Anything else?  Hulkenberg's great, but we all knew that anyway...  Both Ferraris scored, though they've not got the legs of the Mercedes runners...  Kimi Raikkonen is said to be struggling with front end performance...  What was up with that aborted start?  That wasn't well explained at all...  I am assured that both Saubers started and finished the race, but you'd be hard pressed to tell from the television...  Lotus are in real, real trouble - and not just for their driver selection, this time...  Can we have a rethink on the BBC coverage?  Never mind the bloody "goddess of speed/hewn from marble" twaddle at the start, just sack the useless Suzy Wossname and you've improved it 100%.

We're off the mark, so join us next time for all the blood that's fit to drain!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Engine Blood: Let's Get Ready To Rumble

Yes, the cars look horrendous.
 
Yes, the engines sound weak.
 
Yes, Lewis Hamilton's still involved.

But come on, everybody - it's Formula One!  We've got the scent of Engine Blood, and it's nearly time for a new season of thrills, spills and boring conversations about gear ratios...  Oh hang on, Di Resta's gone; even better!

So Engine Blood are GO!  GO!  GO!...ing to bed early tonight, and watching the highlights tomorrow, like any good up to the minute news service; see you tomorrow, if we can be bothered.  YAY!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Red Bull

IN SHORT: Taurine cars.  Geddit?

HISTORY: Formerly Jaguar, which itself was formerly Stewart, the moribund outfit was taken over by the world-renowned purveyors of sickly energy drinks: Monster.  Only joking!  Despite a pedigree in lower formulae and extreme sports, nobody expected the kind of success that the newly-christened Lucozade team (ho!  They're on a roll) achieved.

For the last five seasons they have produced one of the best cars; in four of those seasons, they have won the both drivers and constructors championships as if from nowhere.  The dream team will most probably dissolve in the next few seasons - Vettel to Ferrari seems a sure thing at some future date, and boss Christian Horner is Bernie Ecclestone's hand-picked successor - but for now, they are the big dogs that run this yard.

THE LOOK:

Source: Metro
Ah.  Well, that's not too bad - though there were no pictures of it moving for obvious reasons, so we've had to go for an awkward smiling driver shot - and if you ignore the ugly black hump at the front, it's probably the most conventional looking car we've seen.  Though that's the least of their problems now...

ENGINE: Renault.  Red Bull and Renault's partnership has been absolutely bulletproof for the past four years, but pre-season testing has not gone well for any Renault-engined teams.  There's a lot of bullish (oh!  A delicious pun.  Will the jokes never end?) talk about how they might well be five seconds faster than anyone else, they just can't tell as they haven't actually got going properly yet; still, must be a worrying time for the champions elect.

DRIVERS:

1 (5). Sebastian VETTEL (GER) - Last year: Champion (397 points, 13 wins - here we go: Malaysia, Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Korea, Japan, India, Abu Dhabi, USA and Brazil)

3. Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS) - Last year: 14th (20 points, best finish: 7th, China and Italy)

Sebastian Vettel - one of the greats?  The debate rages on around the world, except in Britain where everyone's decided he's useless despite all evidence to the contrary.  In all seriousness, all we can accuse him of is being highly driven and better than us at high speed driving; admittedly it would be interesting to see what he could do in a worse car, but we may well get that chance this season.

Daniel Ricciardo is the second product of Red Bull's total approach to driver's careers, having been fed up the ladder and through Toro Rosso.  It's been hard to tell exactly how talented he is thus far, but the team could have had its pick of drivers and went for him, and it's not like wages need to be cut back at present, so we're looking forward to finally meeting him this year.

LAST YEAR: Champions, 596 points

Mark WEBBER (AUS) - 3rd (199 points, best finish: 2nd - Malaysia, Great Britain, Japan, Abu Dhabi and Brazil)

Despite the never-ending splurge of Vettel wins listed above, things did not look so rosy at the midway point of the season, with both Mercedes drivers plus Alonso and Raikkonen snapping at Vettel's heels.  It was his usual extraordinary run in the Asian races which really put the tin hat on everything, with Webber opting to hang up his helmet rather than risk the massive overdose of Canberra Milk that could have got him back on terms with his younger and better team mate.

PROSPECTS: Haven't managed much running in testing, so it's looking pretty poor - but we suspect all is not lost for them quite yet.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Mercedes

IN SHORT: Silver turns to gold?

HISTORY: A wee bit odd.  Not related to the original Mercedes team, it does still have a championship pedigree, having sprung from the outlet run by Ken Tyrrell which powered Sir Jackie Stewart to multiple titles, which went through a few different iterations to get here - including the smack-talking disappointment of British American Racing and the world-loving, environment-hugging huge carbon-belching corporation Honda.

Enter Ross Brawn, who rescued the team when Honda felt the pinch of the global financial crash, and promptly won the title due to a clever interpretation of the rules.  Mr Brawn's services have been dispensed with recently - Mercedes swept in when things began to sour with McLaren, and now they have a team of their very own, with no need to pander to Ross or Ron Dennis.

THE LOOK:

Source: The Week (credit: Mark Thompson)
So on the evidence of our last two photos, this is the second most popular take on the concept: a dramatically sweeping nose with a not-quite-walrus look around the front wing.  They do at very least look more like these cars should, which is all we can apparently expect going forward.

ENGINE: Mercedes.  What are you, thick?

DRIVERS:

6. Nico ROSBERG (GER) - Last year: 6th (171 points, 2 wins - Monaco and Great Britain)

44. Lewis HAMILTON, celebrity motor racing driver (GB) - Last year: 4th (189 points, 1 win - Hungary)

We're not doing the whole "let's compare Nico to his much cooler father Keke" thing again.  He has proved himself to be a perfectly capable, if not exactly memorable driver, who keeps his head down and stays out of trouble.  As such there's not a great deal to say about him, which is quite annoying when that's what you're trying to do.

Lewis Hamilton - Rubbish Or Not?  The debate rages on around the world - though not in Britain, where canonisation has already been completed.  When engaged he's quick, though he drives (and particularly overtakes) like he's on the PlayStation and has invulnerability turned on, which is a real bummer for the rest of the field.  When unengaged he's surly, offensive, accusatory and refuses to take responsibility for his actions.  Which Lewis will turn up this season?  And will it matter, given his celebrity status?

LAST YEAR: 2nd (360 points)

Mercedes finally came to life last year, eventually pipping Ferrari to second place in the constructors championship.  But L'il Lewis certainly didn't have it all his way, and was looking increasingly embarrassed as we approached mid-season, with Britney on two wins and Lewis with little more than a team-ordered third place to show for his efforts.  Hungary changed all that, and the end of the season was much kinder to the celebrity, whose consistent finishes saw him win the intra-team battle.

PROSPECTS: According to pre-season testing, very good indeed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Scuderia Ferrari

IN SHORT: You what?  It's bloody Ferrari, you loon.  If you've never heard of them we really can't help you.

HISTORY: Breaking records and taking names since the very start of the World Drivers' Championship all the way back in 1950, the eternally red Italian team are the most successful team in the history of the sport.  They sent Maserati packing, survived the British invasion of BRM and Tyrrell, waved bye-bye to Brabham and the original Lotus team and outlived the successes of Williams and (at the moment) McLaren.

Red Bull have done nothing to suggest they won't be just another victim, but Ferrari themselves have suffered some slings and arrows recently; they've not consistently challenged for the title since Michael Schumacher's half-decade of domination, and haven't taken one since 2007.  Failure is tolerated even less at the Scuderia than at McLaren, so the pressure is on to get their hands on the big prize soon.

THE LOOK:

Source: BBC Sport
 
OK; so far, so not nearly as bad as the Lotus.  Ferrari have a pretty unique take on the design limitations, with this suddenly-flattening affair.  From the front, it could be a normal looking Formula One car - and that's about the biggest compliment we can pay a car this year.

ENGINE: Ferrari.  Duh.

DRIVERS:

7. Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN) - Last year: 5th (183 points, 1 win - Australia)

14. Fernando ALONSO (SPA) - Last year: 2nd (242 points, 2 wins - China and Spain)

We cannot even begin to imagine what idiot thought this would be a good pairing of drivers.  Raikkonen may be Ferrari's last world champion, but his refusal to compromise his lap-dancin', shit-takin', public-relations-events-no-showin' lifestyle made relations increasingly difficult.  The team will hope he's fully healed from his recent back operation; Kimi will just be hoping this team will pay him.

Which leaves Alonso.  Still eating out on beating Schumacher in 2005 and 2006, his petulant whistleblowing at McLaren and involvement in "Crashgate" would have been banged on about for years had the German maestro done them, but like Noel Gallagher wishing terminal venereal diseases on his competitors it's all been swept under the carpet.  Well liked, but a title was expected, and even with Massa's full support he couldn't get one; what odds another tantrum if Kimi gets the better of him?

LAST YEAR: 3rd (354 points)

Felipe MASSA (BRZ) - 8th (112 points, best finish: 3rd, Spain)

Poor Felipe's confidence has been in pieces since the triple threat of his life-threatening accident, the "Fernando is faster" incident (he clearly wasn't, either) and the year of Lewis Hamilton-related accidents.  He may well be better off at Williams, at least psychologically.  On the other side of the garage, Alonso's fleeting interest quickly waned as they lost pace relative to Red Bull and Mercedes.

PROSPECTS: If the driver pairing works, very good.  If not...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Lotus

IN SHORT: They were acceptable in the eighties; they were acceptable at the time.

HISTORY: The Enstone team - The Artists Formerly Known As Toleman, Benetton And Renault - have had a very odd tenure in Formula One, with titles for Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso and a who's who of excellent drivers - Nelson Piquet!  Ayrton Senna!  Gerhard Berger!  Robert Kubica!  Johnny Herbert!

(Oh, come on: he was a decent driver.  Three more wins than Brundle...)

Sadly this came mixed with season after season of mediocre performances, the infamous Megatron engine and a period spent employing The Unfortunate Vitaly Petrov.  They've rallied in the last couple of years thanks to reminding everyone of the eighties with their black and gold livery, plus the rehabilitation of Kimi Raikkonen; sadly they forgot to pay him, and their greatest asset has hobbled off into the sunset, leaving a skint team with an uncertain future.

THE LOOK:

Source: Autosport

HOLY JESUS!  The...  What the...  Why?  We can't...  Whatever did you...  Ni...  It's got...

Sigh.  We're not looking forward to this season.

ENGINE: Renault, just like in them eighties.  Remember then?  When Phil Cool's rubber-faced Aquaphibian impersonations had them rolling in the aisles?  When the showdown between the Sinclair Spectrum and the Commodore 64 had as all on the edge of our seats?  And when the Enstone actually had some money?

DRIVERS:

8. Romain GROSJEAN (FRA) - Last year: 7th (132 points, best finish: 2nd, USA)

13. Pastor MONEYNADO (VEN) - Last year: 18th (1 point, best finish: 10th, Hungary)

We coined the phrase "Grosjeanned" two years ago, to describe the process or experience of being driven into by Romain Grosjean, usually on lap one.  It was used so often on these pages that it has been accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary*.  He matured into the team leader role at the end of last season, albeit with the help of a sports psychologist, and this is his year to step up or shut up.

Pastor Maldonado will have you believe that Williams were deliberately sabotaging him last year; that's a scary prospect if true, but it doesn't seem he's been able to back up his accusations with any proof at present.  What he does have is Venezuelan oil millions, which got him into this cash-strapped team over the vastly better Nico Hulkenberg.  Maldonado is a race winner - somehow - and if motivated may be able to deliver to a certain extent, but has a very low upside compared to most.

LAST YEAR: 4th (315 points)

Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN) - 5th (183 points, 1 win: Australia)
Heikki KOVALAINEN (FIN) - 21st (0 points, best finish: 14th, USA and Brazil)

Raikkonen looked to be a championship challenged for all of one race; it was downhill from there of course, but it was a nice dream while it lasted.  Again, Kimi based his tactics on tyre preservation with much success, whilst his teammate got on with the important business of trying not to suck.  Spare a thought for poor Heikki as well, who apparently ruined his chance of a Caterham return with his under-par substitute performances.  Mind you, it might have been a lucky escape.

PROSPECTS: Lost their head honcho to McLaren at the last second, and with the begging bowls already out this could be quite a rubbish term.

* = not even slightly true

Monday, March 10, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: McLaren

IN SHORT: The dark lord reigns again.

HISTORY: One of the most famous and successful teams ever, we won't go too far into their successes with Fittipaldi, Hunt, Prost, Senna and Hakkinen, and instead act as the team themselves are doing, and say that none of that matters because they had a bit of a dodgy season last year.

They had tried to escape the long shadow of the Unspeakable One himself, Regent Ron Dennis, but Martin Whitmarsh was executed at the end of last season, with former Lotus boss Eric Boullier being shuffled into the dead man's shoes to become the new Darth Vader to Dennis' Emporer Palpatine.  The edict?  Improve or perish.

THE LOOK:

Source: McLaren's official website
We've got something of a reputation as McLaren bashers around here (for the record, it's not exactly the team that we don't like, it's more Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton), but you know what?  This may be 2014's best looking car, which is faint praise but they do deserve credit for making the idiocy of the new design features look not only deliberate but logically integrated.  Bravo, sirs.

ENGINE: Mercedes.  McLaren are the original Mercedes customers, but the relationship has soured in recent years as Mercedes bought their own team and McLaren largely showed them up until last year.  McLaren have therefore lured Honda back onto the scene, hoping for a repeat of 1988's dominance - 15 out of 16 races won, fact fans! - but they won't be ready until next year, leading to this rather awkward final campaign.

DRIVERS:

20. Kevin MAGNUSSON (DEN) - Last year: Formula Renault 3.5 (Champion, 274 points, 5 wins - Aragon, Belgium, France, Catalunya [2])

22. Jenson BUTTON (GB) - Last year: 9th (73 points, best finish: 4th, Brazil)

Engine Blood saw Kevin Magnusson's dad, Jan, beating erstwhile Indycar champion Dario Franchitti to the British Formula 3 title back in the day, live at Silverstone.  Jan too was heavily backed by McLaren, before having a bit of a tantrum and going off to underwhelm at Stewart F1, and is generally considered to be someone who never paid off on his early potential.  We say all this not to pull rank on being senior motorsports fans, but more because we haven't got a clue what Kevin will be like; a top team has plucked him from obscurity, so he must be reasonably good, and the last person who got this treatment from McLaren was a certain Lewis Hamilton...

The unlikely former world champion Jenson Button is transitioning towards the end of his career now, and if Magnusson impresses he may be unceremonious dumped for Alonso at the end of the season.  However, Button is crazy famous over in Japan, with a half-Japanese girlfriend and having made a huge effort for tsunami relief.  These things will matter to Honda, for whom he has also previously driven, and he still seems hungry, so this is a very interesting intra-team battle, as we must assume they are both fighting for a seat in 2015.

LAST YEAR: 5th (122 points)

Sergio PEREZ (MEX) - 11th (49 point, best finish: 5th, India)

Despite getting results that Force India or Sauber would have killed for, that's not really McLaren's niche, and as a brand using success in Formula One to sell incredibly expensive sub-Ferrari sportscars, their very survival hinges on getting a leg up on their rivals.  In the rush to assign blame for the only-dismal-by-their-standards season, Perez was sacrificed in part due to his rough racing with his teammate.  How sad to see a young man cast aside for an even younger man - especially when you're considerably older than both.

PROSPECTS: The Dread King has decreed that another 2013 is unacceptable; still, marking time until Honda turn up would be fine for any other team.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Force India

IN SHORT: A force for the future.

HISTORY: Colourful, to say the least.  They were formerly cheeky Irish headline-grabbers Jordan, Dutch high-performance carmakers Spyker and Canadian-Russian...  Er...  Somethings, Midland F1, until Vijay Mallya stepped in from 2008 onwards to bring India its first taste of competition at the highest level of motorsport.

Unfortunately they were rubbish for a long time, until an unlikely second place from Giancarlo Fisichella in Spa brought them into the public eye, and year upon year of consolidation and gradual improvement since has both brought them to a comfortable mid-table position and made them a coveted destination for drivers with an eye on a leap forwards.

THE LOOK:

Source: Autosport
Another black car?  Formula One seems to go through phases of colour overuse; at least the distinctive orange and green is still in there.  The common new design features are present and correct.  On a side note, I love these awkward driver/car photos - nobody looks like they want to be there.

ENGINE: Mercedes.  Force India are long-time partners and Germany's once-fancied prospect Adrian Sutil sealed the medium-term deal last year; getting another much-fancied herr in this year won't have hurt that relationship either.

DRIVERS:

11. Sergio PEREZ (MEX) - Last year: 11th (49 points, best finish: 5th, India)

27. Nico HULKENBERG (GER) - Last year: 10th (51 points, best finish: 4th, Korea)

Rewind to 2012, and Sergio Perez was being heralded as the new hope for F1's future; come back to today, and he faces a make-or-break year in which he needs to rehabilitate his shattered career.  The difference?  Twelve months in a McLaren team who failed to impress and were riven with political intrigue, making him a convenient scapegoat - hence the fickle finger of fate pointed him out of the door, in a move that ripped the driver merry-go-round off its stand and kickstarted the very silliest of silly seasons.

Hlukenberg too comes here as a last-ish resort, since Ferrari had been courting him last season; Raikkonen's decision cut that one off but made him a shoe-in for Lotus, who as it turned out didn't have much money yet so had to plump for a much worse but much richer driver.  It was also said that Nico's stature counted against him, as he's a lanky git and the weight restrictions have been lowered this year, but that was a poor excuse - make no mistake, that decision was about the money.

LAST YEAR: 6th (77 points)

Adrian SUTIL (GER) - 13th (29 points, best finish: 5th, Monaco)
Paul DI RESTA (GB) - 12th (48 points, best finish: 4th, Bahrain)

Mission accomplished last year, as they pulled well clear of Sauber and even challenged an admittedly hamstrung McLaren.  Meanwhile, with Scotland heading towards independence, perhaps it's only fitting that gear ratio-obsessed boremonger Di Resta became independent of his Formula One career and got packed off back to touring cars; he didn't impress on the level that biased British commentary would suggest, and simply never earned his spurs.

PROSPECTS: Two hungry drivers, engine stability and a solid budget; this could be a squad to watch.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Sauber

IN SHORT: Mister, can you spare 300 million dimes?

HISTORY: The excellent sportscar maker first came to Formula One in 1993 and has since become the go-to place for great drivers to make a name for themselves, with its former roster reading like a who's who of impressive, if sometimes mercurial, talents.  However, mainstream success eluded the plucky team, who developed an underdog reputation.

Enter BMW, who bought into Sauber and briefly turned them into championship challengers with Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld; exit BMW in the financial crash, which nearly left Sauber without an entry into the 2010 season.  Since then it's been back to "impressive drivers, lack of budget"; recent flirtations with the very young and the very female as drivers smack of PR desperation, and some investment is clearly desperately needed.

THE LOOK:

Source: autogaleria.hu

Another exercise in dildonics, we fear; not many ways to dress that up differently.

ENGINE: Ferrari.  Sauber have historically been a proving ground for the Prancing Horse, with Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Giancarlo Fisichella and Kamui Kobayashi (he joined the sportscar team, which definitely counts) having joined up latterly.  Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg may have ended up there too, had things gone differently.

DRIVERS:

21. Esteban GUTIERREZ (MEX) - Last year: 16th (6 points, best finish: 7th, Japan)

99. Adrian SUTIL (GER) - Last year: 13th (29 points, best finish: 5th, Monaco)

"ESTEBAN!  ESTEBAN!", as the entire dialogue of whole episodes of 'The Mysterious Cities Of Gold' would run, grew into his role throughout last season after looking like a lame duck pay-to-drive necessity for most of it.  Admittedly the car got better as the season ground on, but he was noticeably more comfortable as time went on and has earned a second season on merit; it's time for him to push on now and cement his reputation.

Convicted violent criminal and Mercedes prospect Adrian Sutil is an odd fit for the traditionally red-leaning team, though in stepping in for the unprepared Sergei Sirotkin he is mercifully sparing us a driver so young his biggest challenge is learning to shave.  Sutil has always been solid, and perhaps that's exactly what the increasingly embattled squad needs.

LAST YEAR: 7th (57 points)

Nico HULKENBERG (GER) - 10th (51 points, best finish: 4th, Korea)

Here we see the difficulty Sauber have.  In the last two years, the team have failed to retain three fantastic drivers in Perez, Kobayashi and Hulkenberg, with the latter being genuinely electrifying in the latter half of the season after the team had an awful start.  Despite that good run, they hardly troubled a Force India team whose financial superiority really showed.

PROSPECTS: On the slide - money grubbing could spell the end for their overachieving, as well as their reputation.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Toro Rosso

IN SHORT: "#Red Bull Babies/we'll make your dreams come true (if they involve extreme sports or horrendous carbonated drinks)"

HISTORY: Toro Rosso were once Minardi, a proud Italian team of underachievers who were forever employing Pierluigi Martini throughout the eighties and early nineties.  Financial strife rocked the outfit, who came under Australian ownership and were subsidised by Bernie Eccleston to keep an increasingly threadbare grid stocked up.

Red Bull, who had previously bought Jaguar to launch their own team, bought Minardi with the intention of running new drivers in existing year-old cars as a sort of farm system.  Part of that idea didn't work - chassis transfer remains against the rules - but the other part certainly did, with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo making an initial impact here (including a win for Seb) before moving on to the parent team.

THE LOOK:

Source: crash.net

Kind of a vulture-nosed affair, painted in the usual corporate colours and therefore bound to confuse Brundle again when Vettel comes up to lap them.  Or will it be the other way round this year?

ENGINE: Renault, in a potentially disastrous switch from Ferrari last season.  This does however bring them in line with Red Bull, so maybe they got a two for one deal.  Every little helps!

DRIVERS:

25. Jean-Eric VERGNE (FRA) - Last year: 15th (13 points, best finish: 6th, Canada)

26. Daniil KVYAT (RUS) - Last year: GP3 (Champion, 168 points, 3 wins - Belgium, Italy and Abu Dhabi feature races).  Also, for some reason, Formula 3, but ineligible for points due to late registration; no, we're not making this up (1 win - Netherlands)

Poor Jean-Eric.  On points alone he was ahead of Ricciardo for a large portion of last year, but the Aussie still got the nod to go up to head office; you have to wonder if his motivation has been thrown off by that.  Still, at least he's seen the potential for promotion is there, and if relations sour with Vettel after a bad season or two he's doubtlessly still in the frame.

Kvyat is clearly a very fast young man, and his results last year speak for themselves, but Engine Blood always worries about the increasingly fresh faces making their way to Formula One in the last few years.  It's all good fun until someone makes an elementary mistake and someone gets injured; it does seem like they're risking some flak if something goes wrong, but since for once this appears to be a triumph of talent over sponsorship bucks, we hope this appointment works out just fine.

LAST YEAR: 8th (33 points)

Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS) - 14th (20 points, best finish: 7th, China and Italy)

Another woefully inconsistent season for Toro Rosso, and though they did manage to get well ahead of the disastrous Williams campaign, they never threatened to challenge Sauber and Force India ahead of them.  They solely exist to develop talented drivers that may at some stage serve the main team; thus is their niche, and ever has it been so, though the advantage there is that conventional success and improvement isn't necessarily their raison d'ĂȘtre.

PROSPECTS: Always hard to tell; they're usually either initially good and rubbish later, or initially rubbish and good later.  So one of those, then.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Williams

IN SHORT: Have seen better days.

HISTORY: Started by the great Sir Frank Williams in the seventies, they rose meteorically to take a number of titles in a competitive early to mid eighties.  After going a bit off the boil at the very end of that decade, their fly by wire, traction controlled, pretty-much-drives-itself model of 1992 and 1993 won with embarrassing ease, and two more titles followed that decade.

Whilst they were still competitive in the early 2000s with their intriguing Montoya/R. Schumacher driver line-up, later years have been particularly unkind to the once dominant team, and though they clinched a win in 2012, it was a result that flattered to deceive.  Last year was the worst in living memory, so this one could be make or break for the ultimate privateers.

THE LOOK:

Souce: F1 Fanatic
Williams have never fought shy of maverick technological and design steps, as proven by the walrus nose of the early 2000's and an experiment with six wheels in the seventies.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is that they're in the majority this time; rather than putting a twist on like Caterham or Lotus, they've gone for the basic shape that most have agreed on, with a tapering nose.

ENGINE: Mercedes.  Williams has made some great choices (Honda, BMW) and some terrible ones (Toyota, Judd) in the past.  Williams-Renault was such an evocative combination for anyone who saw their automatically-driven cars sweep all before them in 1992 and 1993, but early testing suggests the jump to the Germans may have been a stroke of genius...

DRIVERS:

19. Felipe MASSA (BRZ) - Last year: 8th (112 points, best finish: 3rd, Spain)

77. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN) - Last year: 17th (4 points, best finish: 8th, USA)

2008 World Champion Felipe Massa - it's only a Wikipedia update away! - finally departs a Ferrari team who were always on at him to improve, but not so much that he got in Alonso's way.  Now he no longer has to walk that tightrope, we could see the racer of old unleashed - IF the car's half decent; otherwise he'll be following his mate Rubinho into retirement.

Bottas, who has a vaguely amusing surname that is sort of a portmanteau of terms for the human behind in English, but is doubtlessly probably very serious in Finnish, had little chance to impress last year given the lack of quality equipment.  He did storm it in some later qualifying sessions though, so judgement should be reserved for now.  Is he all hot air?  Will he bottom out or follow through?  Can he (remember to come up with a third anus-related pun later, or this joke won't work - Ed).

LAST YEAR: 9th (5 points)

Pastor MALDONADO (VEN) - 18th (1 point, best finish: 10th, Hungary)

The name above is probably uttered with total disgust in the corridors of Williams HQ.  Maldonado did bring a fat Venezuelan oil cheque and a briefly impressive win in 2012, but last year the relationship turned sour in a hurry, as he accused the team of wrecking his chances in a number of races and sessions.  Unprofessional conduct, but that'll be someone else's problem this year, and replacing him with Massa improves on him in absolutely every area.

PROSPECTS: Another false dawn for the increasingly downtrodden veterans - but it can't be as bad as last year.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Marussia

IN SHORT: Not in much of a (Ma)rush.

HISTORY: Every year we mention this, and every year we will continue to mention this: when Marussia debuted (as Virgin Racing) in 2010, their first car had a fuel tank that was not large enough to finish a race.  Try to take that in for a moment.  That's the kind of team we're dealing with here.

Richard Branson made some unfortunate comments about lady racers and had some kind of guffawing billionaire's bet with Tony Fernandes, then promptly buggered off, leaving a Russian interest to take over the unimpressive team.  They achieved their best ever finish last season - second to last.  Whoopdy-doo.

THE LOOK:

Source: Fox Sports (photo by Adam Cooper)
Well, that's a bit more like it at least.  Definitely a more conventional design than most this year, albeit with a stupid pointy bit right at the front.  Whether this is a damning indictment of their inability to develop or a clever exercise in sticking with what they know will hopefully become apparent on lap 1 in Melbourne.

ENGINE: Ferrari, by way of highly rated prospect Jules Bianchi piquing their interest at around the same time as Cosworth quietly withdrew from Formula One.  Again.  They'll be back...

DRIVERS:

4. Max CHILTON (GB) - Last year: 23rd (0 points, best finish: 14th, Monaco)

17. Jules BIANCHI (FRA) - Last year: 19th (0 points, best finish: 13th, Malaysia)

Great Britain's Max Chilton set a record last year by becoming the first driver ever to finish every race of their debut season!  Largely this consisted of last place finishes, but it's still a thing.  A sad little thing, but a thing.  Continuity is great for a lower league team in terms of car development, so keeping a safe pair of hands like Fantastic Max on is a shrewd move.

Bianchi has a lot of interest from the higher teams, and nearly got a Force India berth last year before they decided to stick with Mercedes engines.  It was he who clinched the all-important 13th place that got the team their coveted (by two teams) tenth place finish, and he who may be in the mix for a less pointless drive in 2015; a better finish this year would really put him in that frame.

LAST YEAR: 10th (0 points)

I know how that looks, but this was a marked improvement over previous years.  It still seems odd that so much can turn on a seemingly innocuous 13th place, but it meant the balance to this hard-working and seldom-rewarded squad.  Building on it this year seems unlikely, but if they can survive until the budget comes in, it could be their time.

... There's never going to be a budget cap, is there?

PROSPECTS: In the last testing session in Bahrain, they got a computer virus which wiped out nearly a day's worth of running.  That's the kind of team we're dealing with here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Engine Blood's Guide To 2014: Caterham

IN SHORT: Lean, green and departing the scene?

HISTORY: Oh God - do we have to do this again?  OK, deep breath and...  In 2010, F1 expanded its line-up at exactly the wrong time; the global financial situation caused some manufacturer teams to sod off, and Caterham (then called Lotus) answered the call in a roundabout way, as AirAsia maestro Tony Fernandes decided he wanted in to the sport of kings.

Cue several seasons of beating only their fellow 2010 expansioneers, and a car best known for acting as the launchpad for Mark Webber's amateur moon mission in Valencia, until last year's standstill and woeful lack of ambition in the driver employment stakes left them bottom of the stack.  Fernandes says no more: allegedly, it's points this season or die for the delightfully-liveried losers.

THE LOOK:  Just to fill you in, there have been some big changes to powertrain and aerodynamic regulations this year.  We're not going to go into the exact points, because they are boring, but let's just say that the cars will be looking a tad different this year: behold!

Source: F1 Fanatic
Oh.  Our.  Various.  Gods.  That's nasty.

We're going to be seeing some abominations over the next few posts, but we're starting with a proper faith-shaker.  The vaguely obscene protrusion is one of a number of different ways that F1 designers have interpreted a tightening of the regulations that gave us the horrible "stepped noses" from last year; no-one else has gone this route, but if it's successful they'll all follow...  However, as it's Caterham, it won't be, so that at least is one worry off our minds.

ENGINE: Renault.  The first of the 2010 teams to switch from Cosworth, their relationship with the world champion engine designer has been of at least some assistance to them thus far.

DRIVERS:

9. Marcus ERIKSSON (SWE) - Last year: GP2 (6th, 2 wins, 121 points)

10. Kamui KOBAYASHI (JPN) - Last year: FIA World Endurance Championship (7th, 98 points)

Here's a cause for some celebration: Caterham have managed to attract a half-decent driver in the form of the highly-rated Kamui Kobayashi, who sadly finds himself paying for the privilege of driving a terrible car for the next year.  It'll be great to see him back, but his best case scenario is coming out of this with a shred of dignity and the hope of a better drive.

Marcus Eriksson is a human being of some sort, and there the trail ends.  We hope to bring you more coverage on this no doubt colourful character (let's face it - Formula One drivers are always extremely interesting and well-balanced people!) in an upcoming edition of ENGINE BLOOD!!!

LAST YEAR: 11th (0 points)

Charles PIC (FRA) - 0 points (Best finish: 14th, Malaysia and Korea)
Giedo Van Der GARDE (NED) - 0 points (Best finish: 14th, Hungary)

With not much to talk about from the team's performance last year, let us discuss the drivers they ushered out of the sport at the end of it.  It would be fair to say that Charles Pic did not set the world alight in either of his seasons in F1, but the originally unheralded Giedo Van Der Garde did seem to be improving.  Conventional wisdom said that the much-improved Dutchman should get a second year; conventional wisdom ain't never heard of Tony Fernandes, that's for sure.

PROSPECTS: Bloody awful; how we wish it were not so.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A Godawful Small Affair: Epilogue

"A GODAWFUL SMALL AFFAIR"
Written by: G.F. HIRONS

Chronologically critiquing David Bowie's albums, as based on opinions formed during a (nearly) comprehensive listen through in order conducted in February - March 2013.

Statistics

Time taken to listen to all of David Bowie's albums in order: 20 days (including 14 day wait for the release of "The Next Day")

Time taken to finish writing these columns: 365 days exactly!  I knew it must be around that, but only just realised it was on the nose.

TOP FIVE ALBUMS:


1. "STATION TO STATION" (1976)
2. "Low" (1977)
3. "Outside" (1995)
4. "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" (1980)
5. "Diamond Dogs" (1974)

THE DREGS:


25. "TONIGHT" (1984)
24. "Heathen" (2002)
23. "David Bowie" (1967)
22. "Pin Ups" (1973)
21. "David Bowie" ["Space Oddity"] (1969)

But it's not all bad - to show that every cloud has a silver lining, and there's diamonds in the sand and every turn, here's three great tracks from that festering five...

"BLUE JEAN" (from "Tonight")


"THE WILD EYED BOY FROM FREECLOUD" (from "David Bowie" [Space Oddity])


"SORROW" (from "Pin Ups")

 
BEST EXTRA CREDIT SEGMENT:
 
 
IGGY POP "The Idiot" (1977)
 
FINAL STATEMENT: Whether you agreed with me or not, I hope this series has inspired you to listen to these albums for the first time, or revisit the many twists and turns of David Bowie's career.
 
Due to personal circumstances, there will now be a break in service - apart from Engine Blood's (pre-prepared and therefore out of date) preview of the 2014 Formula One season, which will now run daily for the next Christ knows how long.  But stay tuned for our next epic project, a teaser for which will be released on March 31st.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Godawful Small Affair: Twenty-Five "The Next Day"

"THE NEXT DAY" (2013)

COVER: Bloody pathetic.  Easily the worst thing about it, though.

 
You can hear it from track one: this won't be another "Heathen" or "Reality".  The title track sounds like Bowie's entire career chewed up, minced and spat out to excellent effect.  "Listen", he implores.  He doesn't have to.  I'm already listening harder than I have since the mid-nineties, and I can't wait to hear what comes next.
 
Let's rewind a little, though: Bowie goes to ground for a decade, seen only occasionally, appearing at his son's movie premiere (the excellent "Moon" - check it out, dudes) here, being photographed nipping out for some milk and twenty Gitanes there.  As it turns out that wasn't all he was nipping out for - an album was being recorded between 2010 and 2012, under an unprecedented cloud of secrecy.
 
Meanwhile, and for no apparent reason, me and my peer group were actually discussing Bowie more than when he was last releasing records.  The silence from the once-prolific artist was fascinating; he'd even plugged the gap between "Never Let Me Down" and "Black Tie White Noise" with Tin Machine, so this was huge, and whilst it was becoming assumed that he'd quietly retired, that seemed at odds with a man who had previously made a big deal about one of his characters retiring.  The other persistent worries were the rumours of failing health, updated obituaries and affliction with the big "C".
 
Then - bosh.  "Where Are We Now?" was released as a single with absolutely no fanfare.  The introspective ballad namechecks Berlin landmarks, immediately linking it to an instantly evocative and fertile creative period for him.  More importantly, it's really, really good; reflective, misty-eyed and optimistic in equal parts, it made for a stunning comeback.  Another 'single' was released before the album - sadly, "The Stars Are Out Tonight" wasn't nearly as good, with many observers rankling at a celebrity dissecting celebrity itself.
 
No need to worry though - the album's a stonker.  Any doubts about the opening tracks being a fluke are kicked in the head by the sleazy crawl of "Dirty Boys", and maintains this run of great and very different tracks for the majority of the album (if you ignore "The Stars..." at track three, which I will for convenience's sake) - in particular, "Love Is Lost" is up there with his best tracks.
 
There's a bit of a wobble with the ordinary "Boss Of Me" and the nice but a bit unresolved "Dancing Out In Space", but it gets back on track with "How Does The Grass Grow?" and particularly the closing track, "Heat".  A genuinely stop-everything-and-listen offering, it's a haunting song that demands your attention and deposits you, open-mouthed and blinking, back into the world.  Then if you've got the version I have, the throwaway nonsense of "So She" starts up and somewhat ruins the moment; ah well, you can't have everything.
 
It's a great song to end on, not just for Bowie's career (to date, of course), but also for A Godawful Small Affair.  Throughout the year, which was supposed to only be a month, we've gone from vaudeville to folk, glam to soul, electronica to corporate pop, hard rock to industrial and out the other side into simple respect.  Thank you for coming along for the ride.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Godawful Small Affair: Twenty-Four

Finally...  Finally, we're here!

"THE NEXT D-

HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!

"DAVID BOWIE" (1967)

COVER: Bah!  He looks like a girl.  Cut that hair, hippy!


Oh, figs. 

Yes!  I decided I couldn't get away without listening to it - then immediately regretted it...  David Bowie's first album, released on Deram and arguably not at all in keeping with basically anything he's done since, to the extent that the album we all colloquially know as "Space Oddity" was released self titled a couple of years later and there was still little connection made between the two.

Now re-mastered and expanded into one of those impressively put together two-disk sets that are the big thing of the moment, there really wasn't much of an excuse I could offer for not giving this at least a cursory listen, despite my inability to conceive of any circumstances in which I would enjoy the contents.

Here we have a portrait of the artist as whimsical light entertainer, but comedy character pieces such as "She's Got Medals" and the risible "Uncle Arthur" rub elbows uncomfortably with the disturbing "Please Mr Gravedigger" and the acid-tongued poison pen picture of a clique, "Join The Gang".  Unsurprisingly I found the whole thing quite annoying, but I was wrong to omit this from the project - you cannot look at a piece of an artist's history, no matter how large, and expect to see the full picture.

None of this is to take away from the excellent reissue package.  Disk 1 features the original Stereo mix followed by the original Mono mix, which somewhat dulls the impact of "Please Mr Gravedigger" by striking up "Uncle Arthur" again straight afterwards.  Hearing is not my forte, but I understand this choice is the kind of thing that people like as part of their listening experience, so good for them.

Disk 2 has a number of singles, B-sides and unreleased mixes, along with a session for the BBC's Top Gear programme, though sadly his lap in the Reasonably Priced Car was wiped in the eighties, ha ha.  There's actually some good tracks on that, and I prefer "The Gospel According To Tony Day" and "Let Me Sleep Beside You" to anything on the album - so it's lucky for all of us this collection got put together, really.

It's a really interesting artefact, and one that I recommend everyone with an interest in Bowie hear at least once - in fact, you probably already have heard "Love You 'Til Tuesday" and infamous bonus track "The Laughing Gnome", so that's a toe in the water right there - but I'd be a dirty great liar if I said this would be visiting my stereo again anytime soon.

We apologise for this unscheduled interruption to "A Godawful Small Affair".  Those responsible for this obvious Terrance and Phillip homage have been thrown into the pit of fire.  To make up for this unwelcome diversion, we present this picture of a weasel:


Join us next time when we really will look at Bowie's latest album, "The Next Day".  Oh, mercy!