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13 Mar 2020
Beyond Sport

It should go without saying that the Formula One community made its best effort to go racing and start the season as normal in Melbourne. 

However, we face an extraordinary and unprecedented global situation that outweighs any single, let alone seasonal sporting event.

Following the news that a member of the McLaren team had contracted COVID-19 and their subsequent withdrawal from the race it was only a matter of time that the rest of the dominoes would fall.

Navigating the various pitfalls to the point of cancellation was not an easy one and whilst there seemed to be an unacceptable communication latency, where no official word was conveyed by either the governing body or commercial rights holder, it was for good reason.

First and foremost the Australian governments guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 hadn’t yet precluded large gatherings, obviously an essential factor when attendance was expected to exceed 300,000 over the course of the weekend.

Put simply, if F1 had said ahead of time it wasn’t going to arrive in Melbourne, they’d have been undermining government advice and put them on dubious footing not only with the Australian authorities but also many others around the world- A difficult tightrope to walk.

The WHO categorization of this virus as a pandemic leading upto everyone’s arrival clearly changed the complexion of the threat but, with the sports entire traveling contingency now in transit it was a little difficult to imagine them turning tail.

However, in the wake of the McLaren withdrawal a meeting, which involved representatives from the teams, FIA and FOM, was conducted and reportedly concluded in 50% of the teams admitting that they too wanted to withdraw from the event.

Of course, this left the FIA and FOM in an a position where it must now take a decision that would go directly against government advice but arguably one they should have made earlier, in order to safeguard everyone involved.

The lack of communication from the FIA and FOM during this phase was the single most annoying factor. 

Over 10 hours passed between McLaren’s announcement and the official cancellation confirmation. This is not acceptable! Even if they’d only issued a release to allay fears, explaining that they were in a consultation phase, but no, nothing.

I have friends and colleagues in the paddock and none of them knew what was going on and became reliant on their inner sources. This is a situation that led to conflicting stories emerging in the British media. 

Whilst I’d been told by several of my own sources that the race was off, SKY sports ran with an opposing narrative. 

Shortly after the BBC ran a story that the race was off and led to a groundswell of disdain on social media platforms, as they took aim at the media for rushing to report.

In an age where information can spread quicker than the virus itself, the FIA and FOM’s communication vacuum was far from ideal and perhaps lessons can be learned here*.

Understandably the lines of communication have since eased and we now know that Vietnam is officially postponed (although I already understood this to be the case, but all parties had decided to wait until the first race was over to announce it) and Bahrain, which was already to be raced behind closed doors now has a postponed status too.

This puts Zandvoort at the head of the queue for the season opener, but there’s question marks over whether that will even be possible at this stage. It’s a very fluid situation, one that has various moving variables and whilst FOM do their best to manage the situation and placate the various teams, drivers, circuits and even fans, there’s still more questions than answers.

Formula One is not on its own in this regard, most of the sporting world is now on an a hiatus, as we try to limit human interaction on larger scales.

And, whilst there are those that don’t believe in the threat level of this virus, it must be at least obvious that our expansive use of global travel has been a factor in the spread of COVID-19.

*It is an interesting aside that FOM’s head of motorsport press office - Luca Colajanni, has recently left his post and returned to Ferrari
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1 Mar 2020
The 'Drive to Survive' companion guide - Season 2, Episode 2

Episode 2 - Boiling Point / Boiling Guenther's piss

Haas and moreover Guenther Steiner proved to be the stars of series one and so it was an obvious narrative tool to use them in the first real episode of series 2.

Haas arrived in Formula One in 2016 and immediately locked horns with the other teams, as they frowned heavily on the relationship they'd had with Ferrari. The newly formed team were not only buying every non-listed part they could from the Scuderia but it had been intimated that the creation of their first car, had been done almost entirely by Ferrari. No rules broken here, as not actually being on the grid meant that Haas still weren't a constructor and certainly not under the purview of the regulations.

The rest of the grid assumed that as a by-product of this, Ferrari were able to use almost unlimited wind tunnel time on the Haas project that could also aid them in the design of their car.

The allegations were quickly quashed by the FIA but the affair left a sour taste in the mouth of the other teams. In the wake of this showdown, the governing body also made changes to the rules surrounding the movement of staff, as it had become obvious that certain personnel had moved back and forth between the two operations.

That's a bit rich
The arrival of William Storey and his Rich Energy brand is not a new chapter in Formula One’s history, with many the chancers having roamed the paddock down the years. More often than not the teams realise they’re being duped before they get too deep into negotiations, but on the odd occasion someone gets beneath the veneer...
Storey had sidled up to other teams in the paddock, including Williams, before finally doing a deal with Haas. Many questioned the validity of the deal and the company itself, owing primarily to the fact that most people had never seen the product out in the wild. 

Supply issues aside, Haas did their due diligence and were happy that they’d get their money, they did not. Well, at least not all of it and Rich Energy got what they wanted all along - publicity, which as we all know, no publicity is bad publicity.

From great expectations to fucksmashing everything up...
2019 was not a kind year for Haas, their car did not deliver the kind of performance they’d come to expect and clearly led to a fraught, tense and brutal environment in which to work. The team struggled to get the best from their car, a situation that spiralled throughout the season as they didn’t seem to have any answers as to why the car wasn’t behaving as expected.

If you’re new to the sport you may not realise it but Formula One cars are essentially prototypes, changing at each and every event to try and get the best from them. Haas, owing to their budget and resources, have to go racing a little differently to the bigger teams though, as they tend to use development waypoints in the season, with larger update packages arriving at certain races, rather than drip feeding them through on a race by race basis.

This can be problematic if you encounter an issue, as all of the new parts are generally needed in order to work with one another (think of it like a daisy chain), meaning that you can’t just take off one part to see if it’s that which is giving you poor performance.

Haas found themselves in this very spiral during 2019 and in the end took the very unusual step of reverting one of their cars back to ‘day one’ spec, taking off all the updates to see if that actually made any difference. It made the car more drive able and consistent for Romain by all accounts, but it did not fix their issues.

The team haven’t openly commented on why their car failed to work as expected in 2019, but it’s believed to be tyre temperature related, a vicious circle created by not being able to keep the tyres in their ‘operating window’ [2] and constitutes a lack of grip for the driver.

Grosjean “Feels like it’s raining, I have no grip, no grip”
As noted in episode 1’s guide, changes to the technical regulations had an impact on how the cars needed to be designed for 2019, with a potential shift in the aerodynamic load to the rear of the car problematic in the control of tyre temperatures [1]. This was exacerbated in Haas’ case by their use of the Ferrari designed front brake drums, which place an emphasis on creating aerodynamic outwash and lessen their role in passing heat from the brakes into the tyre via rim heating [3].

[1] The tyres, which are supplied by Pirelli, have been deliberately designed to be heat sensitive, in order that they degrade and create strategic variance between each driver/team. This is a challenge that must be overcome at each circuit, with its prevailing weather conditions and the teams given aerodynamic configuration factors in this.

[2] There are three tyre compounds available at each race (5 compounds overall and Pirelli chooses which three will be used at each race) - Soft, Medium and Hard, denoted by Red, Yellow and White markings on the tyres sidewall. Each tyre will degrade at a different rate but this is a non-linear factor based on how the car and driver use the tyres over the course of a stint. To make life even more difficult the tyre will work better when it’s kept in its operating window, a temperature range which Pirelli created for each tyre in order to control the tyres lifespan. 

For example, the softest tyre in Pirelli’s lineup has a working range of 85O to 115O, whilst the hardest tyre is 110 degrees to 140 degrees C. Somewhere in that heat range will be the optimum temperature for the given driver, car, track combination and if you can’t maintain that variance then you’ll lose performance.

[3] It’s always a tricky balance to get the necessary cooling to the brakes, whilst also considering how the heat generated whilst braking is transferred into the tyre, owing to their close proximity. 

On top of this, the change in regulations for 2019 meant that teams focused some of their efforts into recovering aerodynamic losses they’d had previously. At the forefront of these were the loss of aerodynamic surfaces on the front wing, which helped to control the turbulence that’s created by the front tyre and can be damaging to the performance of the rest of the car. 

Furthermore, Ferrari and as a by-product Haas, used a blown axle solution to further enhance this ‘outwash’, also banned for 2019 they’d looked at doing this a different way, with a large cutout in the drum used to send airflow in the void between it and the wheel rim.

Now, think of the effect this could have on heat convection from the brakes to the tyre via the wheel rim…
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The 'Drive to Survive' companion guide - Season 2, Episode 1

Season 1 of ‘Drive to Survive’ made certain characters in Formula One look like “fucking rockstars and others, absolute wankers” to borrow a phrase of one of that first seasons headline acts - Guenther Steiner. But, like that difficult second album for recording artists it will be a challenge for those characters to shine through, especially with the sports two biggest teams partaking for the second go-around.

The Netflix series gives a fascinating insight into a world that most only ever live on the periphery of. But, no matter if you’re a die-hard fan or a total newcomer there’s more to the stories shown on screen. A deeper, sometimes even sinister narrative that can’t be dragged to the surface in the ten 30 - 40 minute episodes that make up each season.

So, I’ve decided to create a companion guide, something you can read after each episode or after you’ve binged the entire thing (like me, so I could create this).

Hopefully, each of these mini guides will only increase your desire to unfurl the inner workings of the sport further. A sport that’s not only won at the race track but back at the teams factories, in the meetings between teams, the FIA[1] and FOM [2], in the media and anywhere that political and psychological mind games can be played between all of the parties involved and some that are not.

Episode 1 - Lights out / It’s back...

Hello and welcome back. This episode is a reintroduction for those that watched season 1 and a brief guide to the main characters in the sport for those that are new. Mercedes and Ferrari abstained from season 1 and so it’s good to see their involvement in season 2 straight off the bat, even if they continue to take a backseat to the characters that defined the narrative in season 1.

One of the things that I feel deserved at least a mention and never got it were the technical changes that were imposed on the sport for 2019. They are small compared with the ones faced by the teams in 2021, but resource sapping nonetheless. So, in a highlights reel kind of way the main changes were a change to the design of the front and rear wings, primarily focused at reducing the aerodynamic losses caused to a trailing car by the turbulence created by the lead car.

The teams, albeit with the same set of regulations to follow, always come up with different ways of ‘getting around’ the obstacles placed in front of them. And whilst the changes should have slowed the cars down quite considerably, they were as fast as ever…

[1] The FIA is the sports governing body and oversees the creation of and policing of the regulations.

[2] FOM or Formula One Management is the commercial rights holder, of which Liberty Media are currently the controlling entity (Perhaps we take a deepdive into this and their predecessors at another time…). They promote the sport and see that it reaches the consumers eyeballs, be that in terms of subletting the rights for broadcast footage to the likes of SKY or negotiating deals with the circuits that the sport races on. 

I’ve bought them up, as the pair are often confused, especially by newcomers to the sport as there’s often some overlap between the two entities and they both have a vested interest in Formula One being the pinnacle of motor racing.

Season 2, Episode 1...
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20 Feb 2020

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