Buying your way into F1

If F1 is going to try and tell everyone that it represents the pinnacle of motor sport in the world, then it has to present to us the finest drivers in the world. However, that is not the case. Do I have to remind you of Alex Yoong, the driver who bought his seat in the Minardi team a couple of seasons back? A driver who did not even qualify for some events, because he was too slow. Hardly the best in the world!

Then there has been Jacques Villeneuve, the ex-world champion, who was told that he would have to ‘buy’ his seat in another team, after being dropped by BAR. The figure of around $6 million was being bandied about at one stage.

To be perfectly frank, I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss whether JV got a seat for 2004, but I do give a damn about the fact that because of the ‘pay driver’ system, we are not seeing the best pilots, other than the man they are all trying to beat - Michael Schumacher.

The way the system works is very simple. As a driver, you approach a corporate sponsor and ‘sell’ that sponsor on the idea of seeing his firm’s name and logo on the side of the world’s fastest bill-boards. Let’s say you can get a promise of the aforementioned $6 million. With this, you then approach the teams and hey presto! The next thing is you are being measured for your fancy race suit and the team PR people are sending out bulletins about how pleased they are to being able to give this new young driver a chance at the big time.

This is not an exaggeration. Latest young drivers, with money behind them, are the sons of ex-F1 heroes, Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg. These young chaps are getting a ‘test’ with BMW WilliamsF1. According to a press release from BMW WilliamsF1, Rosberg and Piquet were selected for the one-off test roles as part of the team’s “ongoing commitment to developing emerging talent”, with Chief Operations Engineer Sam Michael claiming, “This is another sign of WilliamsF1’s contribution to the sport by assisting in the progression of the next generation of drivers.” This is hogwash, to put it politely! the very authoritative website was moved to comment, “With no disrespect to either Nelson Piquet Jnr or Nico Rosberg, wouldn’t it be good to see WilliamsF1 giving similar opportunities to emerging talent that doesn’t happen to have the same surname as a former World Champion?

“Although Nelson finished third in this year’s British F3 championship with six wins and nine pole positions, how about title winner Alan van der Merwe who took nine wins or runner up Jamie Green?

“Furthermore, since Nico Rosberg finished eighth in the Euro F3 Championship with just one win (Le Mans), where are the ‘trials’ for some of the drivers - including two other rookies - that finished above him, including Timo Glock and Markus Winkelhock, that’s a name with an F1 history too?

“We’re not saying Nelson and Nico don’t deserve their tests, rather than that it’s vital (most) drivers get into F1 on merit rather than their sponsorship budgets and family connections. We know cash-strapped teams such as Minardi and Jordan are in no position to pick and choose, but when Ford-owned Jaguar reveals it’s looking for a driver with a budget, it sends shockwaves down the pitlane and beyond.”

That’s what felt about the subject. I could not agree more. Talent is being overlooked as money clouds the vision of the teams. A ‘cash-strapped’ team is not going to improve its position on the grid by employing second string drivers. They would do much better by employing (that is ‘paying’) a young driver with cojones and talent to get them further towards the sharp end of the action. But will they do this? Not on your nelly. We are now seeing young drivers ‘selling’ themselves, or shares in themselves as a public company, to try and raise the finance to buy their drives. Prostitution by any other name, and the teams have become the pimps. It disgusts me.

Jaguar confirms Christian Klien for 2004

It seems like every race team is hoping to find another Kimi Raikkonen, a youngster who came from nowhere and set the tracks alight, coming second in the world championship this year, and causing just a few grey hairs in the Ferrari camp.

Jaguar Racing has now confirmed Austrian Christian Klien, a 20 year old, as Mark Webber’s team mate for the 2004 Formula One season.

Having never previously driven a Formula One car before, Christian Klien was invited to test for Jaguar Racing two weeks ago at Valencia (Spain) where he demonstrated clearly his capabilities and potential over two days.

According to Jaguar, “Christian was in as much control of himself as he was the car,” said David Pitchforth, Managing Director, Jaguar Racing. “He was extremely calm, composed and didn’t seem remotely fazed by his first ever experience with a Formula One car. His technical feedback was excellent and there is no doubt in our minds about the potential of this exciting new young talent. He worked very well with the race engineers and demonstrated increasing speed as he became familiar with the car. Christian’s professionalism and brain bandwidth are also very impressive and combined with his application, our decision to employ him as a race driver was based on merit, potential and speed,” added Pitchforth.

This, of course is total PR-speak, and although the lad returned excellent times in the car, he also comes with a large sack of gold, in the shape of many millions of dollars from the Red Bull energy drink manufacturer! The previous incumbent, Briton Justin Wilson, had to sell shares in himself to get into F1, but after only a few races with Jaguar, was given the flick in favour of Klien. Shares in Justin Wilson are now probably not worth the paper they are printed on.

After contesting his contracted five races with the team, Justin Wilson now has been moved out of the cockpit. Pitchforth kissed him goodbye saying, “I cannot thank Justin enough for his hard work and commitment since joining us after the British Grand Prix. Justin’s speed, focus and experience are exemplary and our decision to put Christian in the race car in no way reflects upon Justin’s clear ability as a competitive racing driver. We are, however, in discussions with Justin about how Jaguar Racing can help with his future career.” Does he really believe we will swallow that? Help him with his racing career? He just torpedoed it!

A new (old) face for Audi

The new Audi for 2004/5 is the Audi A8 6 litre quattro (4WD). According to some reports out of Australia, this is the first time the 6 litre engine plus 4WD has been presented in a production car.

According to the blurb, the new look grille is meant to evoke memories of the Auto Union racers of the 1930s, and the powerful new front-end look will gradually spread through the Audi range of vehicles. Its central element is the single-frame radiator grille, the outer chrome ring of which surrounds the painted grey fins of the grille with horizontal chrome strips.

For me, this is stretching the longbow somewhat. The Auto Union grille was almost pear-shaped, pointed at the top and wider at the bottom, but ah well, the copy writers will seize on anything!

Australian managing director Graham Hardy says “This absolute hero model is the kind of powerful icon capable of raising the image of Audi locally, and as such its introduction in Australia will be carefully considered.” That introduction will be with a huge price tag, as the current model 4.2 litre V8 costs AUD 206,900.

The upcoming 6 litre A8 is powered by the Volkswagen family’s unique W12 6 litre engine, producing 331kW of power and 580Nm of torque.

The performance figures being quoted are 0 to 100 kph in 5.2 seconds, and from 0 to 200 in 17.4 seconds. The twelve cylinder reaches its electronically governed top speed of 250km/h in about 30 seconds.

Mated to the engine is ZF’s excellent six-speed automatic transmission with tiptronic function, while other technical features include the Audi Space Frame (ASF) aluminium chassis, quattro permanent four-wheel drive and air suspension.

Audi claims the 12 cylinder A8 is the first car in the world to be equipped with the new lighting technology of adaptive light with LED daytime driving lights. The energy consumption of these lights is said to be only a fraction of that of conventional bulbs.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote about two cars from the same team that crashed, but the third car went on to win the race. We published this photo and told you that the background would tell you the corner, the circuit and the race. It was the White House corner, which is at Le Mans and the race was the 24 hour. Another clue was that a car from the same team won the same race this year and had the same number as the winning car from the team in the photograph. Bentley won this year with car wearing number 7, and that was also the number on the winning Bentley in 1927, the year of the White House crash. That car was known as “Old No. 7”.

So to this week. Ice cooling was used three times in world land speed record attempts. Who were the three drivers? A clue - two were British, one was American.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email: [email protected] Good luck!

Road Safety

Are Thai roads becoming safer? Is the government able to reduce the road toll? The answer to both these questions is a simple, No. Statistics from the Royal Thai Police show that last year there were 149,600 road accidents nationwide, a 20 percent increase over the previous year’s 125,432. The number of road deaths was 13,116 in 2002 and 11,652 in 2001, while the number of injuries climbed to 69,313 last year from 53,960 the previous year. That is a 30 percent increase.

This year the government tried to do something about the Songkran road toll, but had to admit failure. Total deaths were something around 600, around the same sort of numbers as SARS deaths world-wide that crippled the world’s tourism industry. But that 600 was just here, in Thailand, and hardly caused a ripple. And don’t worry, they will be lining them up in rows in the mortuaries all over the country after Songkran 2004.

So can anything be done? Yes, it can. Since the majority of deaths are to motorcycle riders, by applying the ‘wear a helmet’ rule all over Thailand would be a good start, and ensuring that all the helmets for sale from now on were of a decent standard would be even better. And as they do in Bangkok, the pillion passenger(s) have to wear a helmet too. But don’t hold your breath.