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Frankl's Motorsports Thoughts and Reports - This Week British GP

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British GP
Nicholas Frankl, Senior Editor
Motor Racing Correspondent
The Auto Channel

The 50th British Grand Prix demonstrated just how good safety has got in F1 and modern racing in general. Kimi’s 1st lap crash, at over 175mph, reminded many of the opening lap pile up back in 1973, when only a small miracle prevented serious injuries to the drivers enveloped in fragile, aluminum cars. Seeing Kimi back in top form for the weekend’s German GP is a testament to FIA safety regulations.

Hats off too for an incredible evasive maneuver by Massa, who avoided spearing the Ferrari’s side, that would likely have resulted in a similar catastrophe as befell poor Alex Zanardi in IndyCar.

The highlight of the weekend was Jenson Button’s performance, not just because he got the best out his underperforming McLaren but also out of himself, at his home race, in front of his thousands of fans and celebrating his poor departed father John’s favorite color – PINK! So as a sign of respect to him, both my father and I wore pink shirts in the paddock, something I know our old friend Jenson appreciated deeply. He was choking back the tears after both the qualifying and the race.

On the track Alonso and Vettel fought a battle royal as the “best of the rest” after Mercedes dominated once again and Hamilton converted disappointment in qualifying into a famous home win, turning the race stoppage to his advantage by going with the hard compound and alleviating the need for two stops, something that Rosberg, who was forced out whilst in the lead, would have required, meaning even without a mechanical failure he still would have been beaten by Lewis.

The Williams team was extremely down in the dumps Saturday evening. Home race, with some much needed top sponsor executives and keen prospects to entertain and schmooze, and the senior management were in damage limitation mode, with the race prospects looking dire and both drivers stuck down the back of the grid. However, with the track temperature nearly 10 degrees warmer than Friday, the well balanced chassis worked wonderfully with the hard tires which allowed Bottas to really demonstrate his talents, working tactically with his race engineer and climbing through the pack to end up on the podium a spectacular 2nd.

“Anyone who thinks they are winning the championship except Mercedes is lying, and I don't lie.” That was Alonso in the Ferrari motor home on Saturday afternoon having qualified a dismal 13th. The Italian press were giving him a hard time and having a field day, with poor Fernando, who was also defending accusations of a McLaren drive in 2015 - something I believe could be very likely unless Ferrari can demonstrate a clear performance jump next season, and let's face it, how are they going to do that before the lights go out in Melbourne next March? Alonso holds the keys to the traditional mid-season media fanfare, better known as “the silly season”, when each of us tries to out-guess and out-smart the other with more and more fanciful driver and team pairings. Once his destiny is sealed, the other major players will fall into place, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see both drivers out of Ferrari, Button out of McLaren and Vettel moving on from Red Bull. But again, I'm only going on a hunch and past experience, like almost everyone else in the pit lane!

Another Billionaire has fallen out of love with F1. When will they learn?? Tony Fernandez, who made a load of money with his airline in Asia, sold the ex-Lotus and now Caterham team to a group of “secret Middle East and Swiss investors” led by ex-Spyker / Marussia team boss Colin Kolles. The plan was to use the race team to grow the venerable British car company, based on Colin Chapman’s original Lotus Seven, which he only purchased a couple years back so he could rename his F1 team when he lost a lawsuit to retain the Lotus name – still following me here?? Tony has evidently decided that there are cheaper and, given the current state of F1 and the less than ‘fun ‘n’ happy’ atmosphere around the paddock, likely more enjoyable ways to spend $50m a year with not much to show for it except some nice green cars and in-kind sponsors signed off the back of his large airplane orders with GE engines and Airbus.

Sponsorship deals above $5m/ year in F1 are becoming harder and harder to find with even the top teams struggling in ways they aren't used to. TV numbers are down, the “show” is weaker, the global competition for sponsors stronger than ever, and even the German fans, fresh from being crowned World Cup Champions and likely exhausted from a week of too much beer and bratwurst celebrations, are now staying away in spite of their team and “German” driver Rosberg leading the championship. Ex-F1 tire supplier Bridgestone has just signed up to become a TOP partner of The Olympic Games, for instance. F1 needs to realign with the new commercial realities of sports, media and entertainment sponsorships, new media eyeballs and what constitutes “good television” and a “sexy” and globally appealing sport.

As for the German race, expect the same formula as previous episodes, but with the chance of some tire issues due to the extreme temperatures in Europe this weekend and, of course, the possibility of some technical gremlins. Those not withstanding I’d put Lewis ahead in the mind games at the three pointed star!

Nicholas Frankl has attended more than 250 F1 Grand Prix in the past 30+ years (1st race age six weeks). He has been writing for The Auto Channel since it started in 1995/6. He managed the Asprey/Ferrari partnership from 1996-99 working closely with Todt, Irvine, Schumacher and Stefano Dominicalli. Visiting the Ferrari factory annually he has a deep insight into the inner workings of the team. He is also an three time Olympic sportsman, having qualified and driven a two-man & four-man bobsleigh in Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has raced cars in the UK and USA, competed in the Cannonball, Gumball and Bullrun rallies, is a certified private pilot and member of both The Royal Automobile Club and Automobile Club of Monaco. Throughout his life he has visited the majority of F1 tracks and shared drinks and many fun times with many of yesterday’s legends and todays hero’s.

A Word from Nicholas:

So where does bobsleigh fit into this mix?

Well, that's me. Gilles Villeneuve I may never (unfortunately) be, but the next best thing (I'm told - and in fact can vouch for) is Formula One on ice. 1994 saw me competing as driver of the first Hungarian bob team in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and then onto two more Olympic Winter games. Why am I telling you this? Well, if for no other reason than that you'll at least understand how I gain some insight into the sport we love. Strangely enough, the F1 boys have a real respect for their ice cousins; the speed, G' forces and exhilaration are quite similar. This, however, is only my "off season" hobby. The reason for this intro is to allow me to say HI, From here on I hope we’ll become firm friends, as I follow the F1 circus around the world and you get to pick up all the details. Not just the results, but the gossip too and the first-hand natter you just don't get from the usual sources.

Thanks to my father, whose stories you'll also be reading, I've grown up in the world of motor sport and cars - in fact instead of a birth certificate, I think I was born with a pit pass. It's the sort of life that if you enjoy our sport is tough to beat, so I thought this would be a good way of sharing the fun.