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And So It Begins !


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Nicholas Frankl
Senior Editor and Motorsports Correspondent
The Auto Channel
Formula 1 Racing Desk

Another season, much anticipation, and three good positives to start! New drivers from exotic countries with no F1 history, a whole new team from the USA, plus all the favorites back to do battle on, and off, the track. 

Don’t be surprised when Bernie announces a new Grand Prix of Jakarta. He may name it the Asia Grand Prix (a bit like the European GP in Baku) but in the right region this time.  Or he could just call it the Grand Prix of ‘The Americas’, because so long as they pay the $40m, he really doesn’t care. The F1 team sponsorship guys will all have parachuted into Indonesia, trying desperately to open up new business avenues in one of the few relatively untouched economies, but I’m guessing it will go the same way as China, which promised so much (think Sinopec, CCTV, Huawei technologies, Haier, etc and so on) and delivered very, very little.  

The new HAAS team seems to have gone about its business in exactly the right way. Investing in a Ferrari partnership, buying in the technology and expertise it didn’t have (as opposed to Toyota and Honda’s miserable F1 teams), spending lavishly, buying up the barely used stock of the last few failed F1 teams. It's therefore not too surprising that as a ‘second Ferrari team’ according to Bernie - it did so well on its debut.  If Ferrari has a bad weekend and the chips fall its way I can imagine them on the podium this year. I wish I could say the same for McLaren / Honda, but unless Melbourne was some oddity it's quite unlikely that they will be anywhere near the podium this year, unless there is a big crash that takes out the first 4 rows and gifts them a top three finish.  

It was a credit to the FIA and Max Mosley’s team (more than Jean Todt, to be fair) that Alonso climbed out of his spectacular crash. Of course this was just the sort of crash that fans show up to see, the media splashes all over the front pages and not a drop of blood (thankfully) is spilt.  Which is great news in lots of ways but also underlines the impunity with which these drivers can pursue their sport without the immediate fear of a serious injury.

 Today, one has to be extremely unlucky to be killed in top-level motorsport and the new halo will bring even more elements of safety to the sport. These are not bad things, but as Villeneuve said last week, if you’re afraid of crashing and injuring yourself, you’re not in the right sport. I do think risk equals reward and you cannot and should not eliminate risk from top-level professional motorsports. 

I don’t know what the G meter on the McLaren read, but I suspect it wasn’t as high as you might think, Fernando benefitting from a long run off and dissipation of energy (and parts) that took all the energy out of the accident. As he stated, ‘you make yourself small’ in the cockpit, something I can certainly relate to from my bobsledding years, crashing at various tracks at up to 85 mph upside down on the ice, with only a crash helmet (which would wear through from the friction on the ice) and a lycra race suit (no protection at all) between me and some rather unpleasant injuries, including death. Like millions of us around the world I competed for the love of the sport, the thrill, the danger, and the chance to compete in the Olympics.  No media, no medals, and no millions! 

Results from qualifying and the race would seem to indicate that the status quo of Merc and Ferrari won’t be challenged in a serious way this year. Yes, Red Bull and even Toro Rosso (with Ferrari power and Verstappen’s talent) will take points away and may affect the championship. Williams and Force India will be on the podium, with VJ’s team maybe even slightly ahead of the old British champions. Vettel has the chance to attack with a car that has been created with his driving style more in mind, good for him and the championship. Kimi has a new baby and I just don’t think his heart is really in it. Yes, he’s fast on the odd day he pulls it out the bag, but I can’t see him in red next year, or even F1, and its time to give more eager talent a go at top quality materials. I doubt Rosberg will stay at Merc in 2017 if he’s out driven again by his team mate, which is likely.  Maybe he’ll go to Red Bull or even Ferrari? 

The drivers vs. FIA vs. Bernie vs. Teams vs. CVC vs. fans debacle continues unabated and this during an economic downturn, with fewer and fewer major brands investing in, or even thinking about F1.  HAAS has no real sponsors, McLaren no title, many of the teams are on life support / Bernie handouts, and costs associated with the sport are only increasing. The big teams like it the way it is:  

They are winning and making money, while the little teams, like Sauber, can’t make payroll. I don’t know anyone who actually understands the rules, and the knee jerk decisions (think farcical qualifying that are affecting both the sport and entertainment value) have been swept in without real thought or analysis.

I love and respect Bernie, really, and he’s uniquely able to ‘manage’ F1's egos and complexities, and has done for 30 years, but leaders stumble and empires fall, and this one is in dire need of 'heroic measures', and I don't know of any current insurance that will cover the costs. 

About Nicholas Frankl

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:
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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.