The dawn of Electric speed

“Long relegated to the humble role of a tradesman’s hack for door-to-door deliveries of bread and milk, the future suddenly seems brighter for the electric car. It is being tipped as the ideal solution to the triple curse of noise, fumes and congestion wrought by the internal-combustion engine in overcrowded city centres the world over.

Britain, which boasts the highest national population of electric vehicles with over 55,000 of all types, has begun to supplement research by industry with hefty injections of financial aid from the Government. America, Japan and the major countries of Europe are all striving for the same breakthrough. The goal? A lightweight, rechargeable, zinc-air battery or-in the long term, maybe-a fuel cell which would give the electric car a decent speed and distance range, cutting down the crippling weight liability of it’s present power source.”

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It’s amazing what you can find lying around in an antique bookshop in Scotland.

This is the start of an article in International Motor Racing book No.3, published back in 1969, written by Pat Gregory and titled: “When sparks flew AT A MILE-A-MINUTE”. It’s interesting how much of this still rings true today. (Except I guess for the fact that the UK now has approximately 80,000 light-duty plug in electric vehicles registered, even though it’s actually been pushed down to 6th in national EV population by the US and China among others.)

The main crux of the article, and the section that really captured my interest, was about the first recognised Land Speed records in the late 1800’s, which were fought in France between electric cars driven by two of the giants of the era: Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat of France, and Camile Jenatzy of Belgium. Both eccentric and fascinating characters, but largely forgotten compared to the 20th century stars that followed. I’d been previously unfamiliar with the story of their rivalry, so I felt it might be interesting and entertaining to recount it here for others, like me, who thought that Buemi vs. Di Grassi was the first electric rivalry the world had ever seen. The article describes the Count as follows:

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Count Gaston in 1899. Two years earlier he made history by taking the first ever major city-to-city win for a steam engined car in the Marseille-La Turbie race.
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Publicity photo of Count Gaston in his Jeantaud electric car, 1898.

“Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat was the sprig of one of the most ancient, most honourable and most distinguished families in the French ‘aristocracy’. He and his elder brother, the Marquis of the same name, embraced the delights of daring deeds mounted on a ‘Horseless Carriage’ with a zest and panache that quite eclipsed their ancestors’ prowess in other fields of battle. Count Gaston achieved countless feats of brilliance and bravado at the tiller of his French-built Jeantaud electric car, and he may understandably be pardoned for presuming that victory would again be his reward in a hill-climb at Chanteloup in 1898. However, he was to be thwarted in most decisive style by a certain Belgian called Camille Jenatzy who had begun designing the first of quite a number of not un-successful petrol and electric vehicles…”

Jenatzy by contrast came not from an aristocracy but was the son of a rubber manufacturer (rubber being a relatively novel industry back then) who had studied as an engineer with a keen and specific interest in electric traction automobiles. Whilst the French Count could afford to buy an EV off of a French manufacturer, the Belgian driver/engineer opted to design his own cars and use small companies to build and manufacture them; winning the Land Speed Record would secure his place amongst the thriving Parisian electric car market, and also settle the long-standing rivalry between Jenatzy and Jeantaud. (Not the incumbent FIA President, but the name of carriage maker Charles Jeantaud who’s electric cars it just so happened that Jenatzy’s arch rival raced in.)

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Camile Jenatzy, nicknamed “el Diablo Rouge” (The Red Devil) on account of the striking colour of his beard and his reputation for risk and exuberance. This photo is from the early 1900’s.

“‘Impetuous dare-devil’ is how one motoring historian describes the flamboyant Jenatzy, whilst ‘Sammy’ Davis had this to say of him:

“Pale-faced, with a V-twin red beard, he was a thin, almost cadaverous-looking bundle of excitement. His idea seemed to be to open the throttle wide and then hang on regardless- a technique which landed him in more catastrophes than any man has a right to survive”

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Jenatzy prepares for his run at Chanteloup hillclimb on November 27th 1898.

It was in the hillclimb at Chanteloup in late 1898 that Jenatzy in his custom modified and Brussels-built electric Fiacre (A.K.A. CGA Dogcart) bested all other competition in a burst of speed so furious that it actually ruined his car’s accumulators. The Count also took part in the event, but unfortunately humiliation would follow that day, and his indignity was not just restricted to the field of battle either…

“Count Gaston did his utmost to retrieve the honour of both France and the Chasseloup-Laubat’s. The chain on his Jeantaud broke twice and was repaired before he finally gave up, but even when he had conceded the contest the Fates still remained fickle. Whilst he was despondently coasting back down the hill, his chariot ran away with him, and he could only stop his precipitate rush by steering into the pavement and smashing his front axle.”

Count Gaston regained his honour in spectacular fashion in another Jeantaud entered by his brother (The Marquis, who also helped establish the Automobile club of France in 1895) into a speed trial organised by the magazine La France Automobile, which took place on a gloomy, damp day in Acheres, in the countryside just outside Paris, on a long stretch of road bisecting a sewage farm between Constans and St. Germain. After the loud and dust-blowing vehicles of other contenders, spectators and Judges treated their entry with a grain of salt. Imagine their surprise then, when the Count covered a flying kilometre in 57 seconds at a speed of 39.24 mph to establish the first ever officially record land speed record; extremely impressive given that back in 1898 no other car was recorded as having met that speed over the same distance. This bought great publicity and acclaim to Jeantaud as they had been building electric vehicles since 1881 and entering them into road races since 1896 without success, and this was their first triumph. Chasseloup-Laubat for his part received many accolades and was christened “The Electric Count” by the press.

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Count Gaston at the wheel of the 36 horsepower Jeantaud Duc in Acheres, Yvelines, 17th of January 1899.

Jenatzy was absent from this speed trial, but the record achieved by the man nicknamed the “Electric Count” had not gone unnoticed by el Diablo Rouge, and so Jenatzy resolved to challenge Count Gaston to that most provocative of contests: a Speed duel (again at Acheres) on January 17th 1899, which the Count effervescently accepted. Once they arrived in the new year, Jenatzy didn’t wait long, setting a record of 41.42 mph speed in 54 seconds on the first run, (3 faster than the previous record, making him the first person to actually break a land speed record) but the French aristocrat responded brilliantly; in his run the Jeantaud snaked luridly across the road, threatening to crash or flip over and only just about prevented from doing so by De Chasseloup’s car control. With the finish line in sight, the electric motor peaked and suddenly burnt out in dramatic fashion, emitting a heap of sparks and blue smoke. But in this blaze of glory he had done enough, establishing a new record of 43.69 mph. Jenatzy naturally was disappointed after losing the record the same day he set it, and unwilling as he was to admit defeat, he immediately challenged the Count once more, and they were both entered for a rematch a mere 10 days later.

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Jenatzy pilots the electric CGA Dogcart on January 17th, 1899.

This time Jenatzy, despite the age of his machinery, was cleverly able to modify it to fit extra batteries inside, which proved to be decisive on that freezing January morning. By the end of his run he’d managed to clock 49.9 MPH, a record that this time the Count would not eclipse, the motor burning out once again as the Jeantaud’s unreliability struck once again. Now, battle was well and truly joined and the goal started to shift from not just simply beating one another, but to being the first to break that mystical ‘mile-a-minute’ barrier.

“Both protagonists now had their blood up. Jenatzy was already working on the design of a new car, and his rival struggled to devise ways of coaxing still greater speeds out of the Jeantaud. The word ‘streamlining’ had not been coined and little or nothing was known about the science of aerodynamics. Indeed, only a few decades earlier medical science had gravely warned foolhardy autocarists that they ran the risks of endangering their lives as the exposed human would be unable to breathe at speeds above 60 MPH!”

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The Jeantaud Duc Profilee, with it’s tapered nose, pointed tail and underparts swathed in taut canvas, makes it’s debut at Acheres, March 4th 1899.

De Chasseloup was not dissuaded by such warnings, and so he decided to pursue this line of development. They did not have an Adrian Newey or Gordon Murray available to perfect the art of reducing drag, but the Count and the Marquis did come up with subtle means of ‘wind-cheating’. In March 1899, vast crowds were reported to have flocked to Acheres to watch the reprofiled Jeantaud be towed (by a petrol car, apparently) to make it’s debut. They were not disappointed by what they saw, as the transformed car romped through the Kilometre in 38.8 seconds at a speed of 57.6 mph; more than 8 faster than Jenatzy. Everyone thought that this would be impossible to top…Everyone except for the Red Devil.

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Jenatzy at the wheel of his exotic creation, “La Jamais Contente” (“Never satisfied”) in April 1899.

Jenatzy had been very busy creating a new electric automobile for the past two months which took it’s cues from Count Gaston’s ‘wind-cheating’ techniques, but to an even more logical extreme:

“The cigar-shaped body shell was specially constructed by Rothschild’s, the Paris coach-builders, from an early lightweight alloy called partinium. It was mounted on a wagon-like chassis with semi-eliptical springs all round, and wheel of quite small diameter fitted with fat Michelin pneumatic tyres. Every milimetre inside the ‘torpedo’ was stuffed with Fulmen accumulators supplying the power to a brace of large electric motors, each directly geared to drive one of the rear wheels. Any sort of gearbox was unnecessary. The power was merely regulated by a simple rheostat, with Jenatzy pushing a lever progressively over a ten-stud quadrant. In this odd-looking contraption the driver sat bolt upright with his body sprouting out of the shell at waist level.”

Jenatzy christened the car “La Jamais Contente”, and wowed everyone with it’s appearance at Acheres on April 1st, 1899. The date would prove to be prophetic, as in his haste the impatient and over-excited Belgian launched his machine down the road before the timekeepers had a chance to take up their positions; the run could not be recorded and the car’s batteries were entirely drained by the end of his untimed and invalid attempt. Fretting and fuming, Jenatzy was forced to abandon his runs for the day, no doubt to the relief of Count Gaston.

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A painting of Jenatzy on his landmark run in Jemais Contente, April 29th 1899.

Jenatzy would not let this setback overcome him though. By April 29th, the Red Devil and Jamais Contente were back at Acheres and this time the Belgian would keep his right foot in check…

“His exploits were the talk of Paris, and vast throngs lined the road to witness his latest efforts. The crowds were so dense were so dense that the Chevallier Rene de Knyff, a famous driver in his own right, was prevented from starting the run. At last a passage was cleared, and Jenatzy, his thin frame crouched over the tiller, nervously opened-up his ‘throttle’. ‘Jemais Contente‘ seemed reluctant to gather speed. Pale and sweating, Jenatzy shoved hard on the lever of the rheostat. The odd Torpedo-on-wheels quivered as the power took full bite, and then hurtled into the flying kilometre. Flat out it bounded down the road, it’s motors whirring, cheered on it’s triumphal progress by the serried ranks of spectators. When the chronometers were checked it was found that Jenatzy had covered the stipulated distance in 65.79 mph. For the first time man had travelled a mile in less than a minute in an automobile. Jenatzy’s dream of attaining 100 kilometres an hour had come true.”

The Red Devil’s record stood for three more years, until it was beaten by W.K. Vanderbilt in the internal combustion engineed Mors. As the ICE began to dominate the racing world, the Belgian was forced to adapt; it seemed that electric vehicles were not the future he had hoped they would be after all. In terms of circuit racing, the towering triumph Jenatzy is best remembered for is the 1903 Gordon Bennett race in Dublin, Ireland, which he won by over 11 minutes whilst driving for Mercedes. (And you thought today’s Silver Arrows were dominant…)

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A famous poster used by Bosch in it’s advertising since 1910, depitcts Jenatzy, who has now started wearing a scarlet overcoat and is perfecting his Dick Dastardly impression, winning races worldwide in his Mercedes thanks to a Bosch magneto ignition device.

Very sadly, both Chasseloup-Laubat and Jenatzy would both go on to lose their lives prematurely.

Jenatzy’s untimely end came in truly bizarre circumstances whilst out hunting on 1913, at the age of 45. The Red Devil played a practical joke on his friends by hiding in the shrubbery and impersonating a wild animal. The impression was so convincing that one of his party shot Jenatzy with their rifle. The Belgian bled to death en route to hospital; in a twisted irony he had fulfilled a prophesy he had made years earlier that he would perish whilst in a Mercedes; albeit not quite in the same manner which he had anticipated.

However, what happened to his old rival was both brief and even more heartbreaking. Count Gaston, utterly crushed and subdued, abandoned his Land Speed Record ambitions and withdrew completely from motorsport. The final bitter defeat at the hands of Jenatzy’s Jamais Contente in April 1899 was one he never truly recovered from. After a two-years long illness he died on November 20th 1903, aged 37 in Le Cannet, near Cannes, in agony and likely still believing himself a failure. In the same year, Jenatzy ceased manufacture of EV’s.

But what neither of them could have known was that 110 years after Jenatzy set his historic final land speed record, on the 25th of August 2009 on the Bonneville Salt flats, in Utah, USA, a new challenger would become the first electric vehicle to top 300 miles per hour. The car? The Venturi Buckeye Bullet. The car was even nicknamed as Venturi’s modern answer to Jemais Contente.

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This rather neatly segways us onto Venturi’s other notable motorsport activity: Formula E.

 

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A Frenchman and a Belgian competing against each other in purpose built electric racing cars…This seem awfully familiar. Dragon Racing’s Loic Duval and Jerome D’Ambrosio.

So why were Jenatzy and De Chasseloup important? In the course of 4 months, the record had gone from 39 mph, to over 65, changing 6 times in the process. In trying to beat one another, they not only captured the public’s imagination and changed perceptions about electric vehicles, they also created a golden age for Electric Vehicle development, one which we are only today starting to see re-emerge with the likes of Tesla and Mahindra going toe-to-toe with Renault, Audi and Citroen’s offerings, both in the showrooms and on the streets and racing circuits of the world. Without the engineering talent of Jenatzy, spurned on by the skill of Count Gaston in the Jeantaud, the EV would have been stuck in the dark ages; we would have no Formula E, no Electric GT and less clear alternatives to some of the problems of pollution caused by ICE’s. In my view we owe these two Pioneers a great debt for what we have today.

Because I love you people, I give you two videos: Both pretty self-explanatory.

The dawn of Electric speed

Why ITV’s Formula E coverage failed, and what happens now.

ITV have dropped Formula E from their ITV4 schedule. This means that currently Formula E does not have a terrestrial broadcaster in the UK. But let’s be honest, this news is not altogether unexpected; it took until September last year, under a month before the first race of season 2, for ITV to agree on a season 2 deal and it was clear all was not well when they decided not to broadcast the Mexico ePrix live at all, due to a clash with Snooker. (Infact the Snooker, although attracting a bigger audience would only have clashed with the buildup; ITV instead opted to show reruns of Storage Wars whilst the race happened) It’s no secret though that ITV have instead splashed out on Horse Racing; looking at the lack of viewers FE got you can kind of see why, but one has to wonder if it’s a case of ITV not trying their hardest with a flawed product or if Formula E’s UK TV coverage was always destined to fail because it was put on a lacklustre channel with (outside of the British Touring Car Championship, which is a thriving national series with a very long and established history on their channel) a pretty patchy track record of Motorsport broadcasting. Ask anyone who watched their F1 coverage between 1997 and 2008.

The sad thing is that the coverage itself on the most part wasn’t bad at all; sure, it was a bit of a shame to see Jennie Gow and co. cooped up in a London studio all season when it wouldn’t have cost all that much to fly them out to Paris or Berlin for example, but I felt that the production team did a solid job overall and they let Aurora Media Worldwide do their job by showing their VT’s, and the excellent commentary team of Jack Nichols and Dario Franchitti was definitely a highlight and a huge asset during both seasons. (Though Mike Conway, Scott Speed, Bob Varsha and Alan McNish filled in when one of the duo was committed at a motorsport event elsewhere) The main show was pretty much there despite not being all that well promoted via advertising.

The same can’t be said sadly for the magazine show they produced, Sound of the Future. If you’re not familiar with it (And boy, is ignorance bliss) then it is a poorly put together show featuring a smattering of decent driver interviews surrounded by horrifically bland filler. To give you an idea of how awful it was, the first episode in Beijing featured an introductory segment of the cameraman asking random people in the streets “Where is Formula E?”, being pointed every which way but the race track at the Olympic stadium (Also providing an excuse to use B-Roll they’d shot of the Great Wall of China) before they eventually ‘found it’. Not really a great intro by any standards, but they decided to let this one note segment of asking the same question to random members of the public run for just under 4 minutes, although I swear it felt so much longer. The cherry on the top of this muffin of excrement was the presenter (I don’t remember his name but he also narrated the qualifying recap for ITV’s race shows) who constantly sounded bored out of his mind and completely uninvested in the teams and drivers that the show covered; and if he doesn’t care then why should we? I stopped watching Sound of the Future after about 2/3 aborted attempts to watch different episodes, not helped by the fact that ITV4 was broadcasting them at incredibly random timeslots. (Ranging from 10AM,  6:45 AM, and even just before the Punta Del Este race at about 2/3 PM.) Compared to CNN’s Formula E Magazine show Supercharged, which is presented by Formula E’s pitlane reporter Nicki Shields, (Who by contrast knows what she’s talking about and gets across the passion and personality of the sport really well; especially ideal for a nascent sport) is far better edited, much more engaging and more informative; it gave it’s audience more and did so in a neatly presented package. It’s the show that I think a lot of us wanted in the UK…But instead we got Sound of the Future. Figures.

Despite ITV’s degree of incompetence, perhaps it’s time to admit that Formula E has only a niche appeal in the UK; and maybe that’s as good as it’s realistically going to get. You can’t force a sport to launch into the mainstream just by adamantly stating that it will. Sure, there was the Damien Walters stunt jump over an FE car in Mexico, and full credit to both to Walters and to FEH for putting so much work and risk into it in order to pull it off; it was a great novelty. But although novelty gets you talked about on Saturday morning talk shows, it doesn’t last. The same way the novelty of a motorsports event in London for the first time in over 40 years wore off; look at the viewing figures on ITV’s main channel for this year’s finale, by far the worst of the FTA channels for that timeslot. It’s very bizarre too that Formula E’s TV coverage isn’t gaining any traction in the UK, and yet Aurora Media and Little Dot Studios are winning UK broadcasting industry awards for their content. (Heck, ITV were even partly credited by the judges) Worldwide the picture looks more rosy, with US viewing growing from 10% in the first season to 29% by January in the second, and a strong audience in Japan built up during the first season by public broadcaster TV Asahi. (Keep in mind Japan doesn’t even have a race, and with Team Aguri changing owners they no longer have a team to support) But it’s at the home of it’s testing venue and it’s London HQ where Formula E seems to have made the most underwhelming impact.

So with no more ITV, how will Formula E’s cult following (And it pains me to say it but that’s what it is right now) survive in the UK? We should still have the online livestream (As we did with Mexico) but the figures for that are not that impressive either, and I can’t imagine the likes of Channel 4 or Channel 5 picking it up, and especially not the cash-strapped BBC. (C4 in particular put a lot of effort and resources into this year’s F1 coverage after the BBC dropped it at short notice…I highly doubt they would do the same for FE given the difference in viewing figures) Unfortunately Pay TV looks the most likely option, indeed for countries like the US and Australia it’s always been the only option, so my best guess is that BT sport or Eurosport will probably take up the slack. But we could just as easily be left with only the Livestream, which I’m sure is not at all what anybody involved in the sport wants, but their hands may be forced.

Perhaps more concerning is how the lack of a TV deal will affect any future UK race. Not many will agree with me but I don’t think the fact that London doesn’t currently have a race affected ITV’s decision all that much, however I do think ITV abandoning ship will affect FE’s decision over any future London ePrix (Don’t forget that Moscow is waiting in the wings) as with no TV coverage at all a UK race will be much less commercially attractive. But I guess we just have to have faith in Formula E, especially given that they have gotten out of worse situations like bankruptcy and court rulings threatening to curtail the series. They are definitely able to turn things around.

Why ITV’s Formula E coverage failed, and what happens now.

Why do we boo racing drivers?

Last weekend’s British Grand Prix was the latest in a series of high profile motorsport events where fans (Not all fans, but various different groups of fans) booed a driver on the podium. It goes without saying how disrespectful this is to the drivers and teams in question, but let’s try to figure out why it’s happening in the first place.

Interestingly, the first instance of booing this year that I noticed on a race podium was not in Formula 1, but at the Le Mans 24 hours. As we all know, this was a race decided when Toyota, who had lead since the early stages, suffered a failure in it’s lead car of Nakajima/Buemi/Davidson in the final few minutes of the race, handing victory very unexpectedly to the #2 Porsche of Jani/Dumas/Lieb. The boos seemed to surround the fact that whilst Toyota were in despair and heartbreak in their garage, Porsche were celebrating in shock at a race they had never expected to win. This is backlash I didn’t really understand; were they supposed to feel guilty for winning at the last death and building a more reliable car? Did they not work just as hard for victory?  Porsche drivers and team members displayed a lot of empathy in interviews, and their publicity afterwards gave almost as much credit to Toyota as to themselves.

Most recently we saw booing at the podium of the Austrian GP after Nico Rosberg collided into Hamilton during an incident on the final lap of the race. The circuit commentator read the crash as Hamilton turning into Rosberg, and many on the ground held the Englishman responsible as a result and let him know about it in no uncertain terms. Not to be outdone, members of the British public decided to retaliate by booing Rosberg on Friday during a public appearance at the track, and then they opted to do the same after the race, despite Rosberg doing very little wrong the entire weekend; even his team giving him advice on how to manage a gearbox issue could not really be classed as his own fault.

This is nothing new. I remember the first time I saw booing at a motorsport event, and not just minority booing but full scale booing from an entire crowd: It was the Austrian Grand Prix, this time back in 2002. I was a 6 year old at the time and it was my first season watching Formula One, but I remember vividly watching on TV as Rubens Barrichello, who had led the entire race, was forced by Jean Todt over team radio to move over for his Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher in the closing stages, the Brazilian choosing to do so in the dying metres before the finish line on the last lap. The crowd was furious at the fixed result, and quite justifiably expressed their huge displeasure towards Ferrari despite Schumacher attempting to appease the crowd by letting Rubens stand on the top of the podium. Being very young and having seen most of the 2002 season up to that point, I was under the assumption that pretty every race was arranged so that Schumi won; I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. When I got upset was a few races later at the Nurburgring when Barrichello led Schumacher in the closing stages and didn’t let him through… I remember getting very upset about that and being sent to my room by my parents as a result. The irony being that years later after leaving Ferrari Rubens actually became my favourite driver on the grid. But I digress.

It was incredible to see a motorsport crowd express so much anger and rage. I never thought it would be matched until I saw the 2005 United States Grand Prix, a race infamous for a Michelin tyre fiasco meaning that only the six Bridgestone runners could take the start of the race. Like in Austria, American fans were understandably bemused and very annoyed in 2002 when Schumacher pulled over for Barrichello on the line in an attempt to stage a dead heat, which was seen as almost “pittance” for Austria. But this turned to pure anger at the farcical race in ’05; cans were thrown onto the circuit, makeshift banners blaming Max Mosley and the FIA were created, and those that didn’t leave instantly booed in unison. Endangering the lives of the drivers was perhaps taking it too far, but again the reaction makes sense because they felt robbed of a show they’d paid to see.

One-off booing can be dismissed and moved on from, but repeated boos at multiple venues can be hard to take. Look at the case of Sebastian Vettel during his 10 race winning streak in 2013; he was being booed for performing too well, too often and making the sport boring and predictable, as well as the fallout from the multi-21 controversy. Publicly he laughed it off, but once he wrapped up the title in India that year he revealed just how much it had affected him.

“It’s very difficult for me personally, to receive boos, even though you haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.

“At the time it hurts not to get the reception you expect but I think I’m clever enough to understand why they do it. I’m not blaming them.”

Even Rosberg has suffered booing in the past after causing a puncture for Hamilton at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix. That day in the podium interviews Eddie Jordan chastised the hecklers for their reaction, but at Silverstone Mark Webber chose much more tacitly to introduce Max Verstappen and then redirect the cheers for him towards Rosberg, thereby highlighting those in the crowd that cheered and applauded all top three finishers.

Booing can be done for many reasons, but it is often tribal and intended to make the targeted driver feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or guilty. Whether you’re blamed for a controversial incident or simply deemed to be too successful and therefore undeserving, the result and reaction from the crowd is the same. In some instances where there is blatant manipulation at play then such a reaction is partially justified; by comparison though the boo brigades at recent races have seemed pathetic and bitter, as though they could not celebrate with the winner due to their own bias/prejudices, or just wanted revenge for a previous race where their driver was wrongly accused. But revenge doesn’t make things better, it just reignites animosity and creates an unhealthy atmosphere. And at classic circuits like Austria and Silverstone which are supposed to show off the best of F1 and at which we claim to have some of the best F1 fans in the world, (and certainly get some of the best attendance  trackside) maybe a little more restraint and respect for those who have worked so hard to reach the podium, regardless of personal feelings amongst fans, would go a long way.

Why do we boo racing drivers?

Why we will miss the Aguri name from the grid

Jaguar is joining the field and the championship fight is going down to the wire: There’s a lot to be excited about for the future of Formula E as we head to the last two rounds in Battersea Park. However, one name is disappearing from the grid for season 3. Aguri Suzuki, the ex-Formula One driver and team owner is leaving the Anglo-Japanese squad, which has registered under a British name for the 2016/17 season. Undergoing a Chinese buyout, this is a time of great change in the team’s identity, so it seems fitting to reflect upon the brief history of the Aguri team in international motorsport, and why it will be a shame to see the name disappear from Formula E’s garage doors.

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Takuma Sato driving in Super Aguri’s first Grand Prix, Bahrain 2006.

The Aguri team first came to prominence on the world stage a decade ago as Super Aguri (A cartoony yet iconic name; if anything it was a misnomer as some very competent staff were behind the leafield team) back in the 2006 Formula One season, and was essentially an 11th hour entry to give the popular ex-BAR Honda driver Takuma Sato a drive. An old Arrows A22 chassis (A 4 year old car) was converted to 2006 regulations and given a Honda engine, and the second seat was given to Japanese rookie Yuji Ide, who is the last F1 driver to have his super license revoked after launching Christian Albers’ Midland into a frightening series of barrel rolls on the first lap at the San Marino Grand Prix. The second seat was then occupied by future Formula E drivers Franck Montagny and Sakon Yamamoto, before Anthony Davidson filled the seat more permanently from 2007 onwards. Sato and his various teammates regularly propped up the back row of the grid in the team’s first year, but there was something very loveable about the underdog privateer team and it’s buckets of enthusiasm despite a baptism of fire, and with a B-Spec car introduced they started gradually to gain respectability: Sato ended the season with a 10th place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

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Sato sets up Fernando Alonso ahead of the famous giant-killing overtake in the closing stages of the Canadian GP, getting the team’s best ever finish in 6th.

For 2007, Super Aguri started using a customer Honda chassis, (The race winning RA106) and as the factory team struggled, the Honda B-team made hay and surprised everyone by qualifying 10th and 11th for the first race in Melbourne. Even better was to come in Spain and Canada, where Takuma Sato scored what would prove to be the team’s sole points finishes of 8th and 6th respectively. Canada in particular was a giant-killing feat, with Taku memorably going around the outside of the McLaren of Fernando Alonso: These days that may not sound like such a big feat, but back then the two teams were such polar opposites in terms of performance that it was unheard of.

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Davidson on another hot lap in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix in at Fuji. Also note the absence of main sponsor SS United.

Davidson often shined in qualifying but didn’t seem to have the same amount of fortune come the races: He was infact running 3rd in Canada before a local groundhog ran into the path of his car, ending his race. Unfortunately after issues with oil sponsor SS United who had failed to honour sponsorship payment agreements, the team fell into financial difficulties (Interestingly, there were rumours of a partnership with the now Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag and Adrian Campos to save the team which didn’t quite come off) and was only able to manage four uncompetitive races in 2008 with a recalcitrant RA107 before Honda pulled the plug amidst the world financial crisis.

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Spirit, Grit, and determination… Super Aguri trying desperately to stay afloat at Bahrain 2008, scene of their debut two years earlier.

During it’s relatively short time in the sport, Super Aguri had garnered a cult following amongst F1 fans; it had a reputation as the little team that could, and it’s no coincidence that former Super Aguri engineers contributed greatly to the 2009 title winning success of the Brawn GP outfit as well as the infamous double diffuser it used to great effect. So when Aguri Suzuki announced plans to enter a team into the inaugural Formula E season, he was given a warm welcome.

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Davidson driving the championship winning BGP 001 during a celebratory demonstration at Mercedes Benz world, Brooklands in 2009. Some of Ant’s old colleagues from Super Aguri played a key part in the car’s success.

Mark Preston, formerly the technical director for Aguri in F1, moved up to the role of Team Principal at Aguri’s behest, but having secured sponsorship from investment firm Amlin, the team was renamed Amlin Aguri and the cars were painted in a distinctive metallic blue and orange colour scheme. Portuguese driver Antonio Felix Da Costa would be a mainstay for Aguri despite DTM commitments taking priority and forcing him to miss a handful of races for the team, where Sato and Yamamoto would substitute for him. The other seat for the first season was initially occupied by endurance racer Katherine Legge, who failed to impress in her two outings and was promptly replaced by the Mexican Salvador Duran. The team took a shock victory at Buenos Aires with Da Costa after an eventful race where Sebastien Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi hit the wall, whilst Nick Heidfeld and Sam Bird served drive through penalties, clearing the way for the 23 year old to take an unlikely first Formula E victory.

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Da Costa celebrating his against the odds victory at the 2015 Buenos Aires ePrix; only the 4th race for the team and series.

Unfortunately this proved to be the sole standout high point of Team Aguri’s time in Formula E. Although Da Costa continued to impress with five other points finishes in the season, another podium appearance was not to be repeated. Duran was able to score in Miami, Moscow and London to bring Amlin Aguri to 7th in the team’s championship with 66 points, and despite missing three races Da Costa was able to finish 8th in the driver’s standings with 51 points. All in all it was a solid first season, but Aguri had been struggling in qualifying and that seemed often to be what held them back from better results as they got stuck behind cars with worse energy management: A case in point being Moscow where Da Costa was held up for several laps behind Jarno Trulli who cut a chicane repeatedly to maintain track position. 

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Jarno Trulli leads Da Costa and Justin Wilson at the 2015 Moscow ePrix, after cutting the chicane multiple times to keep the Portuguese driver behind him, Da Costa eventually got past and Amlin Aguri achieved a double points finish for the second time.

For season 2, Amlin defected their title sponsorship to the Andretti team instead, meaning the team would simply be named “Team Aguri” throughout 2015/16. The decision was made early on by Mark Preston and the team to maintain the season one powertrain, as they felt the difference in terms of race power mode that the standard McLaren unit could do compared to the custom made powertrains would be minimal, although they did seek out an OEM with the view to creating a powertrain for season 3 this did not work out as planned. In addition, the team gradually began to change, with figures like technical director Peter McCool departing, chief engineer Gerry Hughes joining NEXTEV as chief performance engineer and commercial director Keith Smout leaving mid-season for Dragon Racing, right after securing a new main sponsor for Team Aguri in the shape of Gulf. So the make-up of Team Aguri in season 2 became vastly different to that of Season 1.

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Da Costa retires whilst running in second place in Buenos Aires; the second time this season that a podium finish slipped from his grasp through no fault of his own.

This season has been a much more trying one. It started out quite strongly: Despite some uncertainty Da Costa returned for season 2 and would only have to miss a single race. (Berlin, where he was replaced by Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast) He was initially partnered by Frenchman Nathaniel Berthon, who was able to take advantage of a Virtual Safety car in Beijing during his later pitstop phase to finish 8th. This proved to be the only points he would amass though as he struggled enormously in his next two races before being dropped. Meanwhile Da Costa made up for crashing in the first round with a brilliant performance in Putrajaya where he ran in the podium positions and briefly led eventual winner Di Grassi before a heating issue with his power unit forced him to slow, meaning he ended up finishing 6th, a result repeated at the next race in Punta Del Este at a track which did not suit the car. Da Costa was set for another strong result at Buenos Aires, but just after passing Nico Prost for second place he suffered a terminal car failure; the cause was a $2 part which broke. Salvador Duran rejoined the team, but he lasted three pointless races before being replaced again. In Long Beach, Da Costa was able to brilliantly qualify on pole, but then had it cruelly snatched away from him due to tyre pressures being found to have been set too low. Still, he had recovered to 8th in the race when he suffered yet another car failure. In Paris, Da Costa came 8th after a thrilling battle with Andretti’s Robin Frijns, whilst his new teammate, Ma Quing Hua, crashed out after an otherwise fairly promising debut.

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The future of Team Aguri? Ma Quing Hua has been brought in to drive the last four races and with the financial help of CMC the team will be renamed Techeetah for season 3.

With Ma came rumours of a Chinese buyout, by CMC (Chinese Media Capital) which were confirmed on Tuesday. After only two races it’s much too early to judge the quality of the Shanghai-born driver, but his position is almost guaranteed regardless of his performances. That’s not to say he is a pay-driver by any means though, and hopefully Ma can go on to build a successful career for himself in Formula E. Da Costa will be his teammate for the final two races of Team Aguri’s history in London, but beyond that it is strongly rumoured that he is to jump ship to replace Simona De Silvestro at Andretti, which has links to his DTM manufacturer, BMW. Time will tell what will become of the Chinese owned outfit. For now though all we can hope is that Team Aguri have a decent end to their season; Antonio making the podium once again looks a tall order, but it would be a fitting send-off.

The Aguri team embodied a passion for motor racing and a strong privateer spirit. They made a habit of making the most of what they had, which often wasn’t much. It was a healthy mix of Anglo/Japanese engineering and enthusiasm backed up by serious professionalism. It went from being a Honda B-Team to an against the odds points scorer to a Formula E race winner. CMC ensures the future of the team and hopefully will create a strong team identity of their own; but it seems with this necessary culture shift that there is no way that the Aguri name can survive.

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Many in Formula E will feel sad to see Battersea Park go from the calendar, but as far as I am concerned the saddest goodbye will be to Aguri Suzuki and a name that inspired fans around the world.

ありがとうございますあぐり

Why we will miss the Aguri name from the grid

Why the BPAG/FE deal was the best case scenario

Well, Monday’s article is now very old news given what happened only a few hours after I posted it. What transpired in the unfolding story of Formula E and Battersea Park turned out to be a plot twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan blush.

A few weeks ago, BPAG met with Formula E staff (I also strongly suspect Agag was involved heavily in these meetings, but with so few details I cannot confirm this), and through their solicitors came to a mutually binding agreement: BPAG would drop the court case against Wandsworth Council in regards to their handling of the Formula E event, meaning that this year’s event would take place as planned.

Now, isn’t that a minor miracle?

Anyone who read my first e-racing.net article about the subject might remember what I said at the end of it:

It saddens me to think that I, a 2nd year university student and in many respects a complete outsider to this scenario, may have been the only person remotely connected to Formula E to have actually met with the action group in person. I truly believe that the only way to resolve the conflict is to negotiate with residents, not to ignore them further.

I wrote that in September 2015. For six months I saw no sign of any negotiations between the two parties, and I began to wonder whether I was wrong. Maybe this wasn’t something where they could just talk it out over a pint and meet each other halfway. The judicial review was filed and a court case with terrible consequences seemed inevitable; I was forever worrying about what might or might not happen. I felt like everyone in Formula E Addicts was being forced to take sides, and at times the atmosphere could be rather toxic, to the point that I was asked specifically not to bring it up unless absolutely necessary as it was causing far more trouble than was worth it in the group. It’s been by far the most divisive and frustrating topic to talk about in the relatively short history of Formula E, and I find it very telling how the demise of Moscow (In my opinion a much better track) didn’t seem to pique anywhere near as much of an emotional response from fans compared to Battersea.

Upon learning that the court case was off and an agreement had been reached, my response was one of huge, huge relief that both sides had made a sensible compromise, though I appreciate that it can’t have been an easy decision for either of them. The fact that Formula E came to the same conclusion that I did makes me feel slightly vindicated in my approach; I wasn’t a traitor for seeking these guys out and wanting to hear their full side of the story after all.

However, the trade-off for Jamie Jackson withdrawing his Judicial Review, as we discovered just after, is that Formula E is never to return to the Park: July 2-3 2016 will be the ‘Last hurrah’ for Battersea and Formula E.

Thankfully for Formula E fans, Alejandro Agag is working with London’s mayor Sadiq Khan to find a new location, and the most prevalent rumour being spread by Agag through the media is that a track with Buckingham Palace as a backdrop is what they are currently pursuing. I was quite concerned about the lack of comment from the recently elected Mayor but now it seems from his spokesperson’s statement he is fully behind Formula E, and that’s crucial for the future of the sport in London. Fingers crossed Khan has learned lessons from the mistakes of his predecessor.

I would also like to take back my comments about Agag’s press conference in Paris, where I felt his statements did not match up with reality and I doubted him. It turns out his claims that he had met regularly with the residents and got to know their opinions were actually true despite what the protestors told me at the time. (This also explains the “There’s only 9 of them” comment; those must just be the 9 people that he met in his negotiations) Obviously they were concealing information from me in order to honour their agreement, (I’ve had to sign an NDA once myself, so I understand this too) which I think was for the best. I wish they could have hinted that I didn’t need to write so much for the last article though…

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I agree with Nicki in the sense that Formula E will benefit the environment in the long term, but although you can just simply boil it down to politics, I never saw it as a fight between FE and BPAG; BPAG were fighting the Council’s misconduct over one event, and FE were simply caught in the crossfire.

The reaction from supporters of both camps to the joint statement, as well as the news surrounding it, has been…Interesting, to say the least. I’ve noticed a tendency to focus on the negative: The locals were initially unhappy about the fact that BPAG had relented over this year’s race, but seemed to calm down when reports emerged that Battersea was definitively off the menu for 2017 and beyond. Whilst they’ll understandably be skeptical about Formula E’s return and repeats of last year’s issues, I think most are treating it a little bit like having a medical operation: It’s not pleasant for you whilst it’s happening, but once it’s done it won’t have to be repeated again.

Formula E fans and staff on the other hand seem to be annoyed that the protestors “got their way” (I’m not sure they all realise that this court case wasn’t a mere formality that they could have won easily, but a big, big risk for the championship decider) but some have also admitted that there were problems with Battersea as a venue. Of course we get the “NIMBY’s ruined everything” response, which I could understand if we were talking about a permanent track that people were complaining about, but Battersea is not a permanent track, it was forced upon people by Boris Johnson and the local council without extensive consultation, or any to speak of really. I think overall fans liked Battersea for it’s atmosphere and qualities as a park and recreational area in the e-village (the largest one on the calendar) much more so than the racetrack, which let’s be honest has been shoe-horned onto it’s ring road. Despite that, I had good memories as a spectator there last year, and we’ve already got some exciting plans this year too for our group meet there. It’s still going to be bittersweet for me once the last race is over on July 3rd.

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Stefan Wilson qualifying for Sunday’s Indy 500 in a tribute helmet.

While the news in Battersea has been on balance a positive development, I’ve also got an eye on this weekend’s Indianapolis 500 which I think is worth mentioning. Making his debut in it is a driver by the name of Stefan Wilson, who is the younger brother of ex-Formula One and Indycar star Justin Wilson, who lost his life in a tragic accident in August last year. Justin was a childhood hero of mine from his time in F1 during 2003, and also competed in Formula E last season. Infact, he was scheduled to take part in the 2015 races at Battersea Park, but had a deal to compete in Pikes Peak instead and had to miss it, so unfortunately I never got to meet him. Ahead of his debut Stefan has written a deeply personal and moving article reflecting on his relationship with his older brother and motor racing in general: It’s worth checking out. It’s going to be a bit emotional for me if Stefan can cross the line of bricks that denote the finish line on Sunday, no matter where he places.

 

Why the BPAG/FE deal was the best case scenario

Why the London ePrix could still be cancelled in Court (Updated)

After Saturday’s Berlin ePrix, which left Lucas Di Grassi only 1 point in the lead from Sebastien Buemi, Formula E is set for another exciting denouement over the course of two races in Battersea Park on July 2nd/3rd. However there is one final potential stumbling block that has to be cleared.

On Tuesday May 24th, (Tomorrow) the immediate future of the London ePrix will be decided in a court of law after the local BPAG protesters (Battersea Park Action Group) decided to take legal action with a crowdfunding campaign on crowdjustice.co.uk that has raised almost £21,000 over 60 days. If the campaign succeeds then it will have huge implications, not only prematurely ending this year’s championship, but also potentially damaging the series by denying it’s Blue Ribbon event. How did it come to this?

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I imagine this lot won’t be very happy if the judge rules against the Council… (Infact I’m in there too, somewhere)

The first step that the Battersea Park Action Group tried to take to stop the event after the first running of the race last year, which most in the area hadn’t heard about until construction work started, was to invoke the break clause; this proved unsuccessful when Conservative councillors (Whom make up the majority in Wandsworth) on the overview and scrutiny committee voted against it 7-4 in November, despite a demonstration of about 200 people outside the Town Hall and four deputations all arguing against the event. There was a full council meeting in December on the day before the break clause deadline, and this once again led to a vote in favour of the continued running of the race for 2016 and 2017. (32:21, the majority in the 2014 vote was 43) Next was the planning permission, in which over 600 people/groups, including the the Campaign to Protect Rural England, The London Wildlife Trust, the Open Spaces Society and the Friends of Battersea Park, wrote in to persuade the planning committee that the event should not be approved on (Among other issues) the grounds that it contravened certain parts of a few important acts that are in place to protect Battersea Park; they were again dismissed.

Now, Jamie Jackson, a blind author and member of the Battersea Park Action Group, has filed for a Judicial review challenging Wandsworth Council’s actions; they have also acquired legal representation from Dan Kolinsky, a barrister and QC who practices in planning, rating, local government, public, and crucially environmental law. Kolinsky even has very recent experience of a noise judicial review against the M-Sport Rally team last year, in which although not entirely successful he was able to convince the Judge that: “a condition imposed to deal with noise, when properly interpreted, did not allow for the control of maximum noise levels; something which the Council intended it to do.” http://www.landmarkchambers.co.uk/cases.aspx?id=3663

In hiring Kolinsky, Jackson has shown that he means business by getting capable representation who’s CV suggests that he should be able to cause a few headaches for Wandsworth Council. (And most likely Formula E, who as an interested party being dragged into the conflict for obvious reasons, will of course be bringing in their own highly paid lawyers)

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BPAG have been critical of the attitude shown by construction workers, Formula E staff and Councillors towards them.

The case itself is essentially two-fold: Firstly they feel that the scale and length of the park’s closure (19 days) oversteps the mark outlined in law, and secondly there is a challenge to the planning consent, which they consider flawed. There are statutory restrictions on the Council which dictate that they cannot close all or part of the park for more than six days and further restrictions on the amount of the park that the Council can close for an event. (In Formula E’s case it’s in the region of 92%) Another overarching concern is that this sets a dangerous precedent for what will happen to other green spaces, in London particularly.

In terms of money, even if the crowdfunding stalls at £21,000, I have been told by members of BPAG that their bank balance is such that they’re are able to make up the shortfall, which is important as court cases aren’t cheap to arrange, and they’re even more expensive if you lose, or if there’s an appeal. From the protestors’ perspective they have nothing to lose; that’s not to say they don’t expect Jackson to win or that their case is desperate, but this is definitely a last ditch effort. The same cannot be said for their opponents, particularly Formula E who of course have suffered the recent loss of the Moscow round and have an awful lot to lose. There is a potential replacement venue in the form of the ExCel exhibition centre, (Beyond London though there is a rumour that an alternative Moscow venue is also in the frame) but if the tomorrow’s case goes against them it is doubtful there will be enough time before July 2nd to arrange a replacement, and it is currently unknown whether Formula E have sought one out. One thing’s for sure: Formula E know they must ensure that Wandsworth Council win their case; so much of the business and the reputation of the sport hangs on this outcome. One minor misinterpretation or alleged misconduct could be the chink in the armour that might put years of work in jeopardy.

As you’d expect, tension between local protestors on the one side and the Council and Formula E on the other is at an all time high. Conservative councillor Tessa Strickland chose to attend the public meeting in April; ( the protestors hold one every other month at Ethelburga community centre) she arrived unannounced, without signing in and wasn’t recognised until she was spotted taking copious notes. There was discontent at the untrusted Strickland’s perceived underhandedness as she insisted she was only there to listen to concerns and that her presence was “Not political”. The situation was resolved by the group’s chairman, Professor Paul Ekins, who decided to settle the issue with a show of hands for whether the Councillor should stay or go. She was respectfully asked to leave, but not before those present pointed out that she should have listened to their concerns when they had initially bought them up back in Summer. Whichever side you view it from, it was a ludicrous situation which illustrates just how far things have gotten out of hand by this point.

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Sadiq Khan has not openly aligned himself with either side of the debate, neither before nor after being elected as Mayor of London.

There is also a new factor at play here, in that one of the event’s biggest supporters, Boris Johnson, no longer holds office as the Mayor of London. Instead it is former Tooting councillor and Labour party member Sadiq Khan. The new Mayor has been placed into a pretty difficult situation by his predecessor in regards to the London ePrix: Johnson was a key player in both securing the use of the park and also in promoting the event, even driving a show-car around the circuit, and it’s not a huge leap of logic to think that Alejandro Agag will be expecting similar support from Khan. However, Wandsworth Labour have sided with the protestors against the ePrix, so will Khan disregard his own party and throw his weight behind the event? Will he back Labour up and take the step of launching a probe into the actions of his predecessor? (As he has done with the controversial Garden Bridge project) Or will he just keep to his current stance of staying out of the whole thing and waiting for the court outcome before making any comment about it? To be honest the latter may be the least risky option for him.

Finally, according to motorsport.com, London does not feature on the draft calendar for season 3; there is a very real fear amongst UK Formula E fans that this year’s event will be it’s last, irrespective of this court outcome. Nethertheless, I’m still holding my breath until it comes.    

…And now I can breathe again.

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More to come soon, but I could not be more relieved to read this right now.

Why the London ePrix could still be cancelled in Court (Updated)

FE issues resolved + Thoughts on Paris

My social media troubles are over

Originally this was just going to be my reaction addressing things that happened in Paris. But I should begin by explaining that recently both of the issues that I ranted about pretty angrily in the last blog post, which was very reactionary, have since been resolved. Firstly the guy who insulted me is no longer associated with the UK Formula E Fansite. In fairness he contacted me on this very blog to claim that his account was hacked and he apologised, which if true (And I can only really take his comment at face value) then I guess the whole thing is probably even more unfortunate for him than it was for me.

Despite the fact that I help run a Formula E group of my own that’s come to blows with a few of them in the past, I think the official fan pages on Facebook in principle are a good idea, they are building fairly niche audiences within each country and allowing the Fansite operators to have unique experiences at each race, which they then write about for the main website; it’s allowing the fans to do your publicity for you, which reaps it’s own rewards. We’re all doing what we’re doing because we love the sport, and to be honest I think what happened was just a one off incident, I don’t think it’s indicative of a wider resentment amongst the fangroups towards Formula E Addicts; it is a little awkward to have what is essentially an unofficial fan group competing for the attention of the same audience to the official fan groups, but we both work hard to build up the audiences that we have, and I have a good deal of respect for those that work there and I don’t really look down on them at all. I even briefly thought about applying to the UK fangroup myself but decided to stick with what I had already helped build up rather than jumping ship to the unknown. Looking back that was absolutely the right choice for me to make and I’ve really enjoyed what I have done so far this year for Formula E Addicts.

Even more reassuringly on Monday Formula E unblocked me after I sent them an email explaining that I’d been blocked without good reason and it turned out that they didn’t really know why I’d been blocked either; there was no conspiracy after all, it was just a mistake somewhere down the line it sounds like. But a big thanks to everyone involved for sorting out both of these issues.

Problems in Les Invalides

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The 2016 Paris ePrix was a pretty solid race. Slightly sedate in the second half perhaps by Formula E’s high standards of action, (And spoilt by an unfortunately timed Safety car in the final laps) but it had it’s moments, Lucas Di Grassi is a very deserving back-to-back winner and championship leader, and it can’t be denied that it was an incredibly unique and stunning looking setting right next to recognisable historic monuments such as the Eiffel tower and the Les Invalides building. However not everyone had a good experience trackside; many fans were not let into the circuit until the first practice session was over, which meant they missed the action that they had paid for, and there were further problems once people got into the circuit as well…In general it seemed like the 10,000 VIP’s there for free got a much, much better deal than the 10,000 ticket holders who had to pay; it’s not an exaggeration to say that the organisation was a bit of a disaster for these fans, even if it did not affect the race. (Despite one adventurous Marshal who stepped onto the side of the track from behind the barrier during a Full Course Yellow) Here’s a selection of stories from disgruntled fans trackside:

Au les écrans sont pour les gens en gradins qui voient déjà… (Places en gradin non mises en vente)

The #ParisePrix screens are for people in bleachers who are already seeing… (Places on benches not put up for sale)

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—  Lauren Provost (@Lauren_Provost) 23 April 2016

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Good point about the region block actually…Perhaps viewing rights is a topic for another time.

Admittedly the spectator views were also poor in Battersea Park during the London ePrix, which like in Paris resulted in a lot of Fans watching it on the big screen in the eVillage, although at least at that race last year it wasn’t quite as bad as Les Invalides because you could at least pay for a viewing platform without having to be a VIP. For the sake of balance I’d like to stress that some ordinary fans did get slightly better views of the track (I had some friends who were at turn 1 for instance, and they got a great view of Sam Bird’s spin near the end of the race) and their enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by the organisational issues; however the sheer amount of complaints is massive enough for Formula E to actually put out a survey asking for detailed feedback a few days after the race; that’s not something they’ve had to do at all so far, so I guess they are keen to show that Paris is an important market for the sport. (and it is) And as I said earlier it did look brilliant in terms of backdrop.

Before the race, local French commentators warned us, but not about the lacklustre fan experience: Once again, just like Berlin there was yet another political movement by local Green politicians who strongly objected to the environmental impact of the event, in particular the laying down of temporary Bitumen tarmac over the pavement/cobblestones outside Napolean’s tomb. (which is of historical significance due to having been constructed by POW’s a century ago) However, you’d be forgiven for dismissing their arguments entirely: Perhaps my schoolboy understanding of French (And my subsequent dependency on Google Translate) makes them sound far more nonsensical and incoherent than they actually are but I can’t accept bullshit rationale such as this:

“E” as Electric is not enough to make us modern and ecological things. Nobody asks the electric car to go fast, very fast … especially not in town! The figures for road deaths still just essentially increase due to non-compliance with speed limits. In town, the glorification of speed is really not the right message.

Just like the weakest and most sensationalist part of the Berlin anti-FE crowd’s argument, these commentators completely and utterly miss the point of not just Electric Vehicle racing, but the entire concept of motor racing in general by suggesting that the presence of Formula E will contribute to deaths on the road. It’s clear that A) They didn’t bother to do any research and B) the motive for their opposition to the race is simply to attack their Rightwing opponents who support it; they are not altruistic or hoping to serve local people whatsoever in intent, and it doesn’t surprise me either: I’d expect nothing less from self-serving, ignorant politicians in any country. As I established in detail in my post to FE Protestors, Formula E and the FIA in particular do a substantial amount for road safety; if anything under president Jean Todt the balance is too far in favour of road safety campaigns rather than focusing on issues in the actual sport that Todt runs; yes, Jean was heavily involved in the genesis of Formula E and should be given credit for approving the concept and pushing for it. But this is also the man who rather insensitively compared the number of deaths in the Paris Terrorist attacks of November last year to the higher number of fatal road traffic accidents worldwide. Of course factually there is nothing wrong with that assertion, but in my opinion it was a case of Todt (Not for the first time) showing his inhumanity by bringing up his favourite hobby-horse in the worst possible way, showing how out of touch he is with both fans of the sport and human suffering in general. That’s not to discredit the work that the FIA does for Road Safety whatsoever, but at some point you have to get your house in order and I think Todt is blind to the issues his lack of focus has created.

And that in my opinion is the absolute tragedy of the Paris ePrix: Here was an event in the heart of a city which only 6 months ago suffered a devastating and high profile bombing which killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more; this race could have brought people together and have been a really positive event for locals; it could have given something back even to those unfamiliar to FE. During qualifying eventual pole sitter Sam Bird even made a brief but touching reference to the city’s solidarity after the attacks. But what we got instead was an event that divided people; it divided VIP’s from the rest of us, and it divided fans from their view of the track with a few badly placed advertising hoardings. The legacy left in Paris for fans is a messy one and one which needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Thankfully the Official Facebook page for the Paris ePrix is at least addressing the issues and pledging to do something about them. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one due to them recently encouraging reaction and their willingness to listen; let’s hope they follow through and make changes based upon this feedback so that a lot less fans leave Paris disenchanted next year… Got to hope that they give Formula E a second chance though.

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Agag and Todt awkwardly tackle the tricky subject of protestors

With protestors in the Battersea Park Action Group (BPAG) charging ahead with their crowdfunding campaign to take legal action against Wandsworth Council which threatens to jeopardise all future races there, Alejandro Agag is under a lot of pressure and scrutiny. It was still a surprise though that 14 minutes in a lady in the press conference (Which Agag did with Todt on the the day before the race in Paris) decided to ask them if they still believed that the London ePrix would be a success despite the bad press the event was receiving. I’m going to address some issues I had with his answer here.

First off, it’s only a subtlety and I know they’re good friends, but I think Agag’s “I answer and then you” to Todt comes off as a little bit arrogant and condescending towards him; and I’m not exactly a member of Jean’s fanclub either…

“So there is no negative press about Battersea Park.”

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Hmm…

Searching “Battersea Park Formula E negative press” yields 41,500 results on Google. Of the top four, the first is an article by weekly Motorsport magazine Autosport covering the review and services committee meeting in November at which there was about 200 Protestors demonstrating outside Wandsworth town hall, which councillors themselves said was one of the largest they’d ever seen. The article is written by Scott Mitchell, a motorsport journalist whom I respect and admire, and whilst he concedes that the Council’s inability to repair damage/revert alterations made to the park from the race several months afterwards is unacceptable, overall he doesn’t agree with the protestors even though he does express concern that Formula E’s legacy in Battersea could be tainted by the fiasco; but tonally this a positive article which supports the event even though it is giving attention to the controversy. The second result is a Horticulture weekly article which as you’d expect takes the Protestors’ side; bizarrely the “bad publicity”part in the flavour text is actually from a  comment that I wrote on that article, so I’m not sure it would necessarily show up that high without that particular phrase in there, but nevertheless it can’t been seen as any anything other than bad publicity for the event. The third is a link to the news section of Battersea Park Action Group’s website, which is devoted almost exclusively to Formula E’s misdemeanours, and the group doesn’t hold back it’s angry vitriol in it’s reactions. The fourth result is from the London tabloid newspaper the Evening Standard which talks about Jamie Jackson’s legal challenge, crowdfunding and the fast approaching court case. Usually Formula E creates promotional content for the Standard which it then pays to have in the paper, however covering the controversy obviously goes beyond that remit. So I would say as a source that the Standard supports whichever side they think will bring in the most views on a given day, but this particular article is quite negative. Finally, we see images of both the race and the construction work which took place to build the race last year; the images of the build day are unflattering to say the least. It’s also worth pointing out that if you search for “Formula E Battersea Park” you might see an ad that the Open Spaces Society have paid for an ad for the campaign to appear on the first page of your Google Search. So Alejandro has not gotten off to a great start here; rather than addressing the problem he instantly sets out to deny it. An incredibly easy point to disprove, and a very unhelpful thing to say.

“There is 10 people around Battersea Park who complain and they’re extremely noisy. And I respect all opinions. And I have to respect these 10 people- maybe they’re 9- people’s opinions. But 30,000  people- No, 60,000 people (over) effectively 2 days, came to the race. So I think 60,000 is more than 9. And in a democracy, majority rules; and the Majority in Battersea and Wandsworth decided to go for that race. So we respect all opinions, but we have our own: And we think Battersea will be a great success.”

Notice how he very deliberately repeats that he “respects all opinions”; he’s presenting a very black and white narrative that presents himself as the innocent good guy fighting off a minority of bitchy NIMBY’s too selfish and deranged to let the Council lend out the park to Formula E. Oh, how I wish that were the truth; it would make the world so much easier to deal with wouldn’t it? If everyone who ever disagreed with Formula E was always wrong in every circumstance.

The “Only 9 people” part doesn’t make sense to me. The public meetings at the local community centre that I’ve been to have always had at least 20-25 or so present; 600 residents sent in messages opposing the planning permission, and over 400 have sent in money to the legal crowdfunding campaign. Finally the Petition has 2,863 signatures; although I’m not sure that all of these come from within the borough, more likely the number has been boosted by residents from the rest of London, though I still suspect that a majority of the signatures are from within Wandsworth. (And before anyone asks, rest assured that I’ve not donated to their crowdfunding or signed their petition; and anyone who expects me to do so because of my general sympathy for the movement is simply asking too much of me. I may not be a great journalist by any standards but I have always tried to give both sides of the debate a fair hearing and tried to remain as objective as I can)

Now you can say that nearly 3,000 is still only a small percentage of Wandsworth’s population and that Agag’s point still stands that they are a minority, and that’s fair enough; I won’t pretend that the entire borough, infant children and all, is behind the campaign. But to grossly misrepresent his opposition like this is a joke quite frankly. The next part though was what shocked me the most:

I keep meeting with those 9 people, actually I get along quite well with them when we’re not discussing about the race, they like Formula E, they just wanna use their park because it’s on their backyard, but you know, we also want to use it.

I’ve got assurance from protestors that Alejandro has never once even met with the protestors in person, nor even sent anyone else from FEH to do so on his behalf; I have been pushing for Agag to actually talk to them since last year so this really upsets me; there’s no nice way of putting this, but Agag’s assertion here is completely misleading and untrue. I would argue that infact they don’t get on with him whatsoever, indicated by his presence on their infamous “Hall of shame”:

Copied from SaveBatterseaPark.com

ALEJANDRO AGAG

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CEO, Formula E Holdings.

Son-in-law of previous Spanish Prime Minister, Aznar, to whom he was, for many years, a chief aide. Friend of Berlusconi, Murdoch and Briatore – all chief witnesses at his wedding in El Escorial.

What can we say about Alejandro? An ambitious billionaire, who claims green credentials. Make no mistake about it, an event that involves a massive carbon footprint, noise from 3 weeks construction, 800 diesel operated top loaders, diesel-run generators, thousands of tonnes of concrete and debris screens, full or partial park closure for more than three weeks, zoo animals moved, helicopters, is not green. Judging from some of the statements he has made, he is either unaware of the meaning of green, or else he is being deliberately obfuscatory.

But don’t worry. According to Agag this is just all just a big front; they love him really. The second part of Agag’s statement, that they actually have nothing against Formula E, was something echoed by the group at the start of the campaign quite often; I think their issues are more to do with Formula E Holdings than the sport itself as a whole, but unfortunately they can’t help themselves but complain about trivial aspects of the sport which don’t affect them, I.E. The concept of FanBoost or even in one instance the diversity of the drivers. If they had any begrudging respect for the sport at the start of their campaign, that seems to have disappeared now; they feel they haven’t been given any so it seems they haven’t bothered doing so in return.

Finally Todt finally got to give his 2 cents on the issue:

It’s human nature to criticise and to be against even if it’s something that is outstanding, so we cannot avoid it. We’re all aware that there is also some unhappiness in Paris, but wherever it goes you will not have unanimity of people being happy over the development of something. But I think globally it is an overwhelming support which we get for Formula E.

I can see where Todt is coming from, but again I doubt he is fully aware of the situation in Battersea beyond what Agag and co. have told him. Comparing it to the issues in Paris is kind of a moot point because, as I said, it’s just some Green politicians in Paris who are complaining; in London it’s members of the public complaining about the politicians who voted for Formula E. Whether Formula E truly does have global support is something that does worry me, especially recently hearing that Bureaucracy and admin issues in Russia are set to sabotage that event from continuing, which is a huge shame as it was actually one of the best ones. Even if it does have universal support globally there are definitely question marks over the London event, and far from steadying troubled waters, Agag’s comments have added fuel to the fire. We’ll let the law decide, although personally I’m not sure the protestors stand a dog’s chance in Court based on their current approach.

Anyway, sorry the promised Rosberg article has taken so long; turns out it’s not easy to fully analyse an 11 year career in detail quickly. To make up for it here is my entry to a Lego Porsche competition that I finished in the past few days:

 

 

FE issues resolved + Thoughts on Paris

Angry rant: FE blocks me

You know, I was really looking forwards to putting all that political bickering and bullshit behind me and posting about Nico Rosberg as I said I would at the end of my last post. Unfortunately that’s going to have to wait a bit longer, because last night I saw this:

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Why?

Now it is possible that I’ve been blocked by mistake, and that this is some kind of misunderstanding. But it’s much more likely that Formula E have simply decided that they don’t like what I’ve been tweeting about them and this is their way of “punishing” me. I’ve never said anything abusive or spammy towards Formula E, so this seems pretty harsh and draconian to me; if anything I’ve been one of their biggest fans right from the first race at Beijing in 2014. And what could they have taken offence to? Me retweeting F1 Broadcasting’s strong evidence that Formula E and Roborace have purchased thousands of fake accounts to follow them and to boost their profile? The fact that I’ve talked to and (perish the thought) listened to the Battersea Protestors and given constructive feedback towards them? Or maybe they’re big fans of Mr. Cameron and the Conservative party, in which case we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. None of these three are good enough reasons to block me.

Whatever the reason, the message is clear: “We don’t like what you have to say, so we’re going to ostracise you.” Was praising FE every weekend for the great show that they put on not enough? Hasn’t my work for FE Addicts over Facebook (3,587 members) and Twitter, (444 followers) tirelessly covering every piece of news that I can find, live tweeting races, doing a podcast and running competitions to win team merchandise, and not to mention my detailed articles for e-racing.net and ecocars4sale.com, pretty much all been positive publicity that has benefitted them? But no, apparently I’m a renegade who thinks too much and must be silenced.

You know what? Whilst we’re talking about unprofessionalism, let’s talk about Formula E’s official UK fansite on Facebook. We’ve had a pretty tetchy relationship after there was a big fallout out when they tried to promote their fanpage on our FE Addicts page, (They are a much younger page than us, established only at the end of last year) which didn’t go down well especially with the admin team. (It’s against the rules that have been in place for years on our long-running sister group Addicted to Formula 1) But despite that I was still active on their page and I even wrote them a fan interview which is still up there for all to read. I did my absolute best to keep things cordial with the UK Fansite despite the way things had fallen apart between us. And then this happened on the 18th of February:

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Very professional. The “Sorry, wrong person” schtick I can forgive, but insulting me and my group? That’s pathetic.

Some context: A YouTuber called Ali-A, who I don’t really like, got a showrun in a Formula E car, and I basically said some minor comment that I wasn’t a fan of his and I felt that other people would have been more deserving of an FE showrun rather than some Call Of Duty gamer who doesn’t really care about the sport. Tom deleted that and then posted this:

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You know, a simple “Fuck off Ed” would have been more to the point and would have worked just as well.

I told other members of the UK Fansite about Tom’s behaviour (Or rather, his lack of it) in the hope that whoever’s actually in charge of it all might intervene. I never heard back, so I can only assume that Formula E either takes Tom’s side and supports his actions, or has simply covered them up as a way of not having to deal with them or me. Well, not anymore.

You know what? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if me being blocked has something to do with Tom. Well, you can insult me and you can get me blocked on Twitter, but you can’t separate me from my love for this sport; not even the protestors’ strongest arguments and evidence of FE’s wrongdoing could make me turn my back on it. I know what will though.

I’ve bought my tickets for both race days at Battersea, costing just over £30 each, and I sincerely hope to be let in so I can watch the race, meet up with friends and have as good a time as possible. If I am barred from there too, (and I really, really hope you aren’t stupid enough to try that) then my love of Formula E, which has been severely tested so far, will be shattered completely.

Anyway, I apologise to regular readers for this, but I felt it had to be done. Because I always like to end with a video, here’s some Pikes Peak footage set to Miami Nights ’84 to take our minds off all this trouble.

Angry rant: FE blocks me

A message to FE’s Protestors

Motor racing is unavoidably mixed with politics. Long gone thankfully are the days of the 1930’s when the successes of German manufacturers Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were part of the Nazi propaganda machine, but our sport still relies on political clout almost as much as money changing hands to ensure that races go ahead and the show keeps itself on the road. Normally for a street race, the local government rubber stamps an event and it’s financial arrangements; then the motorsport circus comes to town, puts on a show, packs up and most people leave satisfied.

Lately though we’re seeing political struggles in one of the newest categories of our sport. The 2 year old FIA Formula E championship, which has a brief to hold races with it’s electric powered single seaters in city centres which normally wouldn’t be used for motor racing events is experiencing a backlash from some quarters; a race in Miami from the first season has been shelved due to (among other problems) vocal opposition from environmentalists that felt the sport was doing more harm than good to the local area, and a potential bid in Lugano was abandoned at the end of 2015 after a similar movement successfully campaigned against having a race in the Swiss city. More pressingly, races in London and Berlin are set to go ahead despite considerable opposition from local groups, in both cases locals had no idea it was even happening until the event was announced, construction work began and tickets went on sale.

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HGV’s carrying construction materials into Battersea Park ahead of the 2015 London ePrix

As a Formula E fan and someone who enjoys the sport greatly I am extremely concerned by the level of this opposition and the growing anger and frustration they’re expressing as their concerns are continually ignored or belittled by both the sport and their own governments. But whilst we need to take a good hard look at ourselves before we criticise members of the public, I must confess that although I’ve been fairly open and understanding, at times I’ve felt disappointed by them in certain aspects. I’m a lot more familiar with what’s going on closer to home in London, but less so with the Berlin situation, (For example, I have no idea how Berlin’s political system actually works) and as a result I find it harder to sympathise with preventing that particular race. However, if anyone wants to reach out to me and offer me full and detailed reasons why they think Karl Marx Alee is a bad place for a Formula E race, they’re more than welcome to, and maybe I’ll reconsider my stance on the Berlin ePrix.

Don’t get me wrong, the protestors that I have met are thoroughly decent people but I feel they can get carried away and make decisions/statements intended to help their cause, but which actually become detrimental and turn people away. What follows is not so much an analysis of the whole situation (That’s been done already) as it is my reaction to what’s happened so far and a few suggestions based upon my own observations.

One bad apple doesn’t necessarily spoil the whole barrel

Whilst I admit that at least one of the venues is on balance too problematic for locals and does more harm than good, the vast majority of the 10 venues on the FE calendar go ahead quite smoothly in venues which really suit this championship down to the ground, and allow for some fantastic racing. I don’t think it’s fair to disrespect the entire series because of problems at just one event; in the same way that the death of just one patient is not reason enough to shut down a hospital.

Furthermore, I have noticed a tendency to accuse Formula E personnel who work exclusively on the sporting side and have nothing to do with the decision to hold the races in Battersea Park or Karl-Marx-Allee. To me that’s probably even more unfair than writing off the whole series because it’s painting the innocent as guilty; all that does is hurt the image of your protest when you target the wrong people. The sport is by no means unaccountable, but we’re talking about a scenario that I believe shows Formula E at it’s absolute worst; it’s the nadir, not the standard. There are great people in this championship, from drivers to engineers, mechanics and team bosses; don’t throw them under the bus too just because of some poor decisions and management by those at the top. It’s very easy for example to call the construction workers “Cowboys” for causing disruption, but they’re just people doing a job; they’ve got to trust that those in charge are doing the right thing, otherwise they don’t get paid and a lot of money goes down the drain. Not to say that everyone working in FE should show nothing but gormless obedience, however it’s understandable why they won’t question or engage with the politics of the situation, even if they do keep being dug up like the Panama papers.

A recent step that Save Battersea Park have undertaken is to instate a “Hall of shame” on their website. Whilst it probably isn’t going to guilt-trip any of the accused into atoning, it’s definitely a step in the right direction: It clearly outlines the figures they feel are responsible and exposes the lies and mistruths they have told. Is the”Hall of shame” biased? Of course it is, and in a way that’s the point. It lets people know that SBP aren’t happy with the people who are making decisions on their behalf. It also shows that the protestors have a solid understanding of how this situation unfolded the way it did and what could have been handled differently. Does this information hurt the reputation of the championship though? Debatable. But even if the fiasco in London does hurt Formula E’s reputation, it certainly doesn’t mean that the other races are anywhere near as negative for their locals.

The fans are not your enemy

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Even heavy rain won’t deter Formula E’s most loyal anoraks.

Now, it’s natural that Formula E fans are not going to respond positively to you: You’re seen as a threat against something that they love. Maybe they went to the event you’re protesting against and had a great time. In many cases I’ve heard fans complain that they find these opposition groups “too aggressive, fanatical and militant”, and to be honest I find it hard to refute these claims when members of the Battersea Park Action group are talking on the local radio about how they’re going to “Throw Formula E out of the park”, fans are going to take that kind of thing personally. Keep in mind, we have to deal with a fair few Petrolheads who hate the sport for no other reason than because the electric motors in the cars don’t sound like the throaty engines that they’re used to, as well as purists who loathe the idea of voting for drivers to get temporary speed boosts, or of swapping cars midway through the race… The sport has to deal with criticism like this quite regularly, and a protest won’t be treated any differently. People are going to get protective, and you can expect to receive some abuse from them, especially online.

All I can say is that it’s very important to emphasise that the fans get a poor deal out of this too; at Battersea for example they get poor spectator views, (due to the trees and the lack of space for Grandstands) and a narrow track with extremely limited overtaking opportunities. Obviously you can’t force people to sympathise/support you, however you can definitely avoid casting yourself as the villains by not antagonising fans; avoid making it personal especially with individuals you don’t like. Remember if you support the Battersea Park Action Group that whatever you say over social media will be directly associated with BPAG; people see the “Anti-FE” Twitter accounts made by the public for the park’s Squirrels, Bandstand and lately “FE Wacky races” and jump to the conclusion that BPAG is responsible for all of them, when this is infact wide of the mark.

When you think about it the fans want the same thing as you: A green motor racing championship which practices what it preaches. The distinction between the two is that they believe that’s exactly what they’re getting; you do not. My opinion is that we should both be a little more tolerant of each other’s rationales.

Well researched evidence and facts, not just opinions

Saying the event disadvantages or is harmful to locals is all well and good, but can you quantify that into provable statistics? You can’t rely just on anecdotal evidence, even if it really did happen, because you need to treat what you’re saying as though it’s got to hold up under inspection in a court of law; indeed, I know that legal action is an avenue that protesters in Battersea are pursuing at the moment, so I feel this is a very relevant point. It’s like a house of cards: If one part of the argument isn’t strong enough, people will pick it apart until the whole thing collapses.

A big bugbear for me is the spectator numbers at Battersea. Formula E and the council claim that roughly 30,000 visited the park each day and that 60,000 were there the whole weekend. The Protestors claim that this is an inaccurate number based upon TV pictures showing that the park was sparsely populated during the event. But the ticket sales from Ticketmaster don’t lie. Interestingly though, the reviews for the London ePrix on Ticketmaster’s website are fairly mixed, with an overall rating of only 3.2 stars out of 5.

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Jerome D’Ambrosio, Nelson Piquet Jnr. and Lucas Di Grassi with school children in Punta Del Este.

In Berlin, it’s my understanding that a key argument against holding the race is that there are illegal car races happening in the German capital with fatal consequences, and opponents are concerned that having a Formula E race on Alexanderplatz will encourage further impromptu street racing. Formula E is actually helping to promote part of a road safety programme spearheaded by the FIA and it’s president Jean Todt. I’ve been critical of Todt in the past for appearing on TV coverage and going on endlessly about the number of people who die in road accidents every day, (All the while taking a very Laissez faire attitude to problems in the motorsport categories that the FIA has jurisdiction over, but that’s another can of worms) but Jean does raise a valid point and it’s clear that it’s an issue the sport takes very seriously; it’s no coincidence that the FIA has put so much effort towards promoting road safety, commissioning a short film by Luc Besson called “Save kids’ lives”, establishing 10 golden rules for drivers…In Formula E specifically each car has the FIA “Action for Road safety” logo visible just underneath the nosecone, and also the drivers are used in a lot of road safety campaigns in which they visit local school children. So to my mind, people who claim that Formula E will cause more road races and fatal accidents in Berlin are being at best sensationalist, and at worst have not done sufficient research.

Don’t disgrace yourself by spreading rumours and misinformation through some attention-grabbing soundbites; pick your evidence very carefully and get it as airtight as you can, in order to undermine the counter-evidence that your opponents will use. No melodrama and no bullshit; that won’t do you any good. Put the hard graft in and know thy enemy.

Politicians are just as responsible as Formula E

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Boris Johnson, the mayor of London responsible for the city breaching EU pollution laws, (No wonder he is pushing to leave the EU) is rewarded with a run in a detuned Formula E showcar.

We’ve all know of this type of public servant; they want people to think they’re green without having to actually to do anything to back up the high ideals they preach; they’re building ‘fake green’ portfolios and Formula E fits neatly into that. These are people who will use (and in many cases abuse) their power to get what they want, then ask for absolution afterwards and claim to have “learnt important lessons” before they go on to replicate the same mistakes that upset people in the first place.

This can also work the opposite way though; In London the Conservative majority backed the race, whereas the Labour party decided to oppose it. Whilst Labour did a much better job of representing the needs of local residents, they also used the whole thing as an excuse to criticise the use of Grid Girls at a family event. Now, don’t misunderstand me: I feel pretty uncomfortable about women being used to titillate at motorsport events, as anyone who went with me to the Race of Champions last November will know. (whilst the “ROC dancers” did two routines in a row wearing lycra in below freezing conditions I buried my head in a book and tried to ignore what was going on in front of me) But although it’s commendable to improve the image of women that the sport represents by attempting to put an end to/change the practice of Grid Girls (And the FE team principals I’ve talked have told me that if offered they would come out in support of such a cause) it’s not completely relevant to the Battersea issue. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Grid Girls, Grid Boys or inflatable mascots; they are a consequence of the race, not a cause. My point is that you’ll be hard pressed to find a political party that will support you without trying to force it’s own agenda to the table. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing though is up to you.

Chances are, if a politician speaks out in favour of holding a Formula E race in London or Berlin, it’s highly unlikely to be because they know or care about the sport. It’s because they feel they stand to benefit from allowing it to happen, either financially or in terms of their image. Everyone votes on party lines, because the political parties that are in power at the moment don’t represent the people that vote for them, they obviously represent the business interests of the corporations that bankroll their party. As you can tell I don’t have a very high opinion of politicians in general, and I treat them all with a large amount of disdain, skepticism, and in some cases contempt; I have found these to be the most reliable policies.

Focus on alternative venues: Give us somewhere better to race!

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The fact that Formula E can race in city centres and unique locations where other ICE motorsport championships could never go to is both a blessing and a curse…

A few Formula E fans I’ve spoken to have told me that the only point made by Save Battersea Park which they agreed with was the fact that the ExCel exhibition centre in London had also submitted a bid and that the event could easily be run there with much less disruption to people. Admittedly despite the shareholders being all for it, ExCel have gone a bit quiet lately. However, Future Liverpool are currently pushing for a very promising proposal to make a Formula E race happen on the road around Albert Docks which would pass right next to the historic Cavern Club; sadly it’s unlikely that Formula E will be interested in anywhere outside of London, but the potential is there for a great event and much better circuit for spectators and for overtaking. The UK in particular is not short of other venues to go to, however in the case of Berlin I’ve not seen an alternative suggested by the opponents there. Obviously there was great difficulty in finding a replacement venue for Templehoff airport so in terms of street circuits you’ve only got established venues like the Norisring (Who already turned it down because the timeframe was too short) but as far as Formula E fans are concerned, if you constantly point out the problems whilst not offering any solutions, then you’re just being whiny and selfish.

One thing that pisses me off no end about the London scenario is the people against the race in Battersea Park who constantly ask why the race can’t take place at Crystal Palace Park… Well, probably because it was too expensive to maintain safety and the speeds were simply too high in the 1970’s, meaning that the track was closed and hasn’t been used for international motor racing since, just a few club sprint races on what remains of the original circuit. Seriously, how hypocritical can you be to claim that “A park is not a place for a race track”, and then immediately suggest another park to replace it, for no better reason than because F3 used to race there (Over 40 years ago), and they remembered it from the opening ten minutes of Ron Howard’s Rush; the reality is that in places it’s even narrower than Battersea and would need extensive work to be made suitable for Formula E. The people calling for Crystal Palace really should know better; It’s a little annoying to have to explain all this to the Green Party’s London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry over Twitter, although to be honest I’m more concerned about the complete disinterest from all the other candidates in either the race or the issues surrounding it.

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As much as I respect Sian Berry, I don’t think she has enough power or influence to stop the race at Battersea, even if she could become Mayor of London. Still, she has been very open about her position on the issue; at least you know where you stand with her…

Remember that as far as these other venues are concerned your protest is a big help because it means they’re a much more attractive prospect due to their relative lack of opposition to hosting a race (This is assuming they wouldn’t subsequently cause problems with their own locals…) so make contact with these venues; they probably don’t have the same motives as you but chances are the enemy of their enemy is their friend, and they’ll want to help you out and offer some support, which is key.

Don’t feel afraid to speak out, or take action

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Protestors gather outside Wandsworth Town Hall ahead of a review and services committee meeting in November.

It never looks good when there’s protestors outside the gates at a sporting event, and it’s sad when people feel it has to come to this to get their message across. But a demonstration is harder for the sport to ignore. Legal action is also an avenue to explore, as discussed already, but for both London and Berlin it’s already far too late to stop this year’s events: Tickets have been sold, marshals volunteered, planning application approved… Plus if your case fails (And trust me, it’s not an easy case to win by a long shot) then you have to pay up for it. There are a lot of other methods and mediums via which to get your message across; obviously don’t do anything that would endanger your own lives or anyone else’s. And definitely do not tell people that you’re going to do an Arthur Dent and lie down in front of construction vehicles… (I appreciate that the stakes are high, but don’t panic! It’s not as if the Earth is about to get blown up by a bunch of poetry-blurting Vogons…)

As a Formula E fan, if you’re upset with my sport, I want to hear about it. I don’t want to live in some fake perfect world and stick my head in the sand hoping for you to shut up and go away. I want to make sure the sport I follow is legal and ethical, and if that means being taken out of my comfort zone and being forced to acknowledge and confront unethical politics, shady deals and damage to a green space, then so be it.

Clearly Formula E Holdings has not taken you seriously so far. But if they value their image then surely they have to respond at some point. If you ever feel that you’re not getting anywhere with your campaign and that you’re starting to lose hope of ever finding a resolution, then remember these words from the McLaren F1 team’s legendary boss Ron Dennis, said to his driver Ayrton Senna during a period when Senna had become disillusioned with the politics of the sport and was seriously considering quitting it for good:

“If you are true to your values, if you believe that your values are correct, then walking away from the dark forces that you are faced with in life just doesn’t become an option.”

The next post I am working on is back to my less political fare, another F1 driver career request. This time it’s the man currently on a 5 race winning streak; championship leader Nico Rosberg.

A message to FE’s Protestors

Re-evaluating Pastor Maldonado

Pastor Maldonado’s eventful five year sojourn into Formula One has come to an end, with his seat being taken by talented Dane Kevin Magnussen. Many commentators and fans feel that perhaps the Venezuelan should have been banished from the sport sooner, that he was a liability, a waste of a Williams and Lotus seat for too long and that the F1 paddock is a better place without him. Here’s why I don’t agree.

Maldonado was already unpopular when he first arrived in the sport in 2011, despite winning the previous year’s GP2 title with the unfancied Rapax team, defeating Sergio Perez and Jules Bianchi, as well as more experienced drivers such as WEC and Formula E stalwart Sam Bird and 2013 Caterham pair Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic. The reason he wasn’t in favour was because he had replaced 2009 GP2 champ Nico Hulkenberg, who had stunned everyone at the end of his rookie F1 season by putting the Williams Cosworth on pole in tricky conditions at Sao Paulo. With Pastor came Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA’s prominent sponsorship on both cars, leading to the assumption that he has bought his way into the drive and left a promising young talent in the cold. I won’t divulge into Venezuelan politics, but like any racing driver Maldonado used the resources available to him to make himself a more attractive prospect to teams. Even though Williams pointed to his performances and his technical feedback in the post-season Abu Dhabi test, signing him was only ever seen by the public as a necessary evil by which to gain a cool $30 million. But it is not at all uncommon for today’s F1 drivers to have to bring money to secure seats; that is one of the ways the smaller teams like Williams are expected to survive. To pretend for example that Sergio Perez did not bring Telmex’s pesos to Sauber the same year, or that Alonso’s Telefonica sponsorship was not an incentive for Renault to keep him is disingenuous; the fact that Pastor came with a headline grabbing figure made him by far the easiest target though. Finally, it would become apparent that as a personality in F1 Pastor had broken the mould; he was definitely not the typical media-conditioned stereotype that drivers are repeatedly accused of being.

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A brilliant drive at Monaco in the recalcitrant FW33, but Pastor would walk away empty handed after Hamilton pushed him into the barriers.

Maldonado retired in his grand prix debut at Melbourne thanks to a transmission failure; and it was indicative of the rough first season that was to follow, the FW33 lacking in both pace and reliability. But even during this baptism of fire Maldonado was able to occasionally qualify the car into territory it had no right to be in: His first appearance in Q3 was 9th at Barcelona, and he followed this up with a fantastic performance on the streets of Monte Carlo, (a circuit that he had become a specialist at after winning there multiple times whilst in GP2) qualifying 8th and after avoiding a massive pile-up running 6th in the closing stages. Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren had been damaged in the skirmish, but during the subsequent red flag his team was able to repair damage to his rear wing, and come the restart he was all over the Williams. Maldonado described what followed

“It is always difficult to overtake at Ste Devote. You have to be alongside and Lewis wasn’t. I was concentrating on my line and didn’t know he was there until I felt a bang. He was too optimistic.”

I think this was the race where I really became a fan of Pastor. I remember feeling livid at Hamilton’s recklessness during that race, (Lewis was initially unrepentant but after his now infamous Ali G impression he did subsequently apologise for ruining Pastor’s race) and bitterly disappointed knowing Pastor’s brilliant drive that day would go unrewarded through no real fault of his own, and in that terrible car it seemed incredibly unlikely that there would be further chances to score. However, in mixed conditions at Silverstone, and with the temporary reduction to 10% off throttle blown diffusers Pastor was able to qualify in a season best 7th, although the FW33 unsurprisingly faded during the race. A big shock though happened at Spa Francochamps, where Hamilton and Maldonado once again came to blows, this time during qualifying. At the end of his final run in Q2, Lewis ended up pushing Pastor aside before crossing the line to go through to Q3. Hamilton then weaved twice towards Maldonado after crossing the chequered flag, following which Pastor then side-swiped the McLaren on the run down to Eau Rouge, causing minor damage. Hamilton was reprimanded and Maldonado given a five place grid penalty. Despite starting 21st, by the end of the race Pastor had managed to work his way up to 10th to earn his first point after some hard fought battling through the field. However it would prove to be his sole point of the season; there were no further opportunities due to the car’s inherent lack of pace and poor development, the blown exhausts optimised so strongly by teams like Red Bull being a crippling weakness that the team never got on top of.

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A difficult weekend in Spa ends on a positive note, with Pastor claiming his first point in F1.

In his first season, Maldonado’s qualifying record held up closely but well against teammate Rubens Barrichello, (Pastor’s best was 7th with an average of 14.58, Rubens’ best was 11th with an average of 14.84) and despite being forced to drive one of the worst performing Williams cars to have ever been produced by the Grove based team, the rookie had shown signs of what was to follow; occasional brilliance but also impetuousness and the odd accident. The Spa incident with Hamilton was the first time that the British media began to label Pastor en masse as ‘Crash-tor’, especially because the TV coverage only showed the end of the incident and omitted Hamilton swerving towards the Williams after the final chicane. Pastor described it as “A difficult moment”, a phrase that he would go on to use multiple times in the future.

Maldonado was secured by Williams for a second season in which he would be partnered by former HRT and Lotus driver Bruno Senna. He would be driving with a much more powerful Renault engine, which immediately impressed Pastor once he started driving the FW34 in pre-season testing.

In Melbourne it quickly became apparent how much more competitive the car was compared to it’s much lamented predecessor. Maldonado qualified comfortably into 8th but then went on to have a scruffy race, making contact with Romain Grosjean which forced the Lotus to retire, then taking a brief trip through the gravel trap. Despite this the car still showed excellent pace, and on the final lap he was right behind Fernando Alonso’s 5th placed Ferrari when he put a wheel on a curb, had a huge oversteer moment and crashed nose-first into the wall. In China he scored his first points of the season in 8th, after losing out in another close battle with Grosjean.

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Maldonado leads Alonso en route to victory at Circuit de Catalunya

The career highlight of course is Spain, where Maldonado qualified 2nd on the grid, but was then promoted to pole position after Hamilton was thrown out of qualifying thanks to a McLaren fuelling error. Alonso got the jump on Pastor at the start, but an aggressive strategy and some intelligently measured driving (Especially in the closing stages when Raikkonen began to close in on the both of them) saw him take a shock first victory and a first win for Williams in 8 years. Critics of Maldonado dismiss this as a ‘fluke victory’ which was only made possible by dint of the unpredictable compound of Pirelli tyres used during the first half of the season and the 7 different winners in as many races, but Williams gave Maldonado the perfect strategy which he exploited to the full. (Even despite a slow final pitstop) Deciding that a driver’s best result ‘Doesn’t count’ because it doesn’t fit the pattern of the rest of their career is something we’ve seen before: For example, CART champion Michael Andretti’s 3rd place at Monza in 1993 only happened only because everyone ahead of him crashed into one another/retired, and the reigning Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jnr.’s 2nd place at Hockenheim in 2008 was due to a fortuitously timed pitstop for fuel just before a crash that bought out the safety car. Compared to those two, Pastor had to work much, much harder for his big result. I will admit that Hamilton losing his pole position and being sent to the back made it easier for Pastor, but F1 is a team sport; McLaren messed up that day, and Williams did not. Senna had the same car available to him, spun it in qualifying, dropped out in Q1 and then was rammed into retirement by Schumacher. As a footnote Senna’s car later burst into flames with a thick cloud of smoke emerging from the Williams garage where the team was celebrating, and thankfully Pastor was able to carry his younger cousin Manuel on his shoulders to safety. Although one Williams mechanic was hospitalised he later made a full recovery.

The win at Barcelona would prove to form a large percentage of Maldonado’s points in 2012, as he went on to have a succession of incident filled weekends. Monaco would prove to be one of his worst, with Pastor first clumsily cutting across Sergio Perez in practice and then crashing heavily, copping a penalty which sent him from 9th to the back of the grid, after which Pastor promptly ended his miserable weekend by piling into the back of Pedro De la Rosa’s HRT at the first corner. 

After recomposing himself, at the European grand prix in Valencia Maldonado was able to qualify 3rd, but found himself in 10th during the race after pitting under a safety car midway through the race. He then made his way back up to 4th after passing Mark Webber’s Red Bull and was challenging Hamilton (who was on worn tyres) for 3rd place on the penultimate lap when the Englishman forced the Venezuelan off track and onto the run-off. Pastor attempted to return too the track too early and the result was that the McLaren went flying into the wall whilst Pastor trundled home without his front wing, finishing 10th, but the stewards were unimpressed and chose to demote him out of the points. In the next race at Silverstone Maldonado was fighting for 6th place with Sergio Perez when he made contact with the Mexican going into Brooklands, leaving the Sauber trapped in the gravel and damaging Pastor’s wheel rim as well. After getting out of the car Perez decided to join in the vilification with the media to escalate the negativity:

“Pastor is a driver who doesn’t respect other drivers. It’s just a matter of fact,” Perez told the BBC. “I was already in front, and if not he should have given me enough space not to crash, but he tried to push me all the way to the outside. I don’t understand the way he is driving.

“I really hope the stewards can make something because the last three or four races he has done something to [other drivers].

“It is not the first time he has damaged my weekend. He did the same [to Hamilton] in Valencia, and they gave him a drive-through, which I think is not enough. This guy will never learn if they don’t do something, because he is a very dangerous driver and he can hurt someone.”

I find it slightly ironic that Perez is saying this, given that he has been involved in his fair share of wheel-to-wheel incidents too, (I.E. causing a heavy crash with Massa at the end of Canada 2014) even incurring the wrath of Kimi Raikkonen on more than one occasion. Despite Perez’s spiteful comments I don’t recall him or anyone else calling out Maldonado anywhere near as strongly in the media after Silverstone; I strongly suspect that Perez was merely angry in the heat of the moment and just appealing to the growing public sentiment against Maldonado, particularly within the UK media.

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An all too common sight during 2012: Pastor’s wounded car displays battle scars at Spa.

Qualifying at Spa went well but despite ending the session 3rd he lined up 6th after suffering a grid penalty for being deemed to have blocked Hulkenberg in qualifying. Then he jumped the start, and whilst Romain Grosjean started a chain reaction which caused absolute chaos behind, Maldonado’s car got tapped into a spin by a damaged Sauber which sent him to the back of the field, following which Pastor copped a 3rd penalty in two days for crashing into Timo Glock’s Marussia.

By contrast, Singapore and Abu Dhabi were top drawer performances towards the end of the season which weren’t rewarded with the points that they merited. At Singapore Maldonado qualified a brilliant 2nd behind Hamilton, and staunchly defended 3rd from Fernando Alonso in a fantastic battle. Unfortunately mechanical trouble forced him into retirement, robbing him of a certain top 4 position. At Abu Dhabi he was 3rd on the grid after another strong performance when his KERS system failed during the first safety car period, which severely impacted on his pace; instead of challenging Alonso and Raikkonen for victory, he was powerless to stop Vettel and Button from breezing by him, although Pastor did what he could to prolong the inevitable.

Maldonado’s second season had proved incredibly mixed, and sadly it would prove to be his only one in decent, competitive F1 machinery. He ended 2012 in 15th position with 45 points, 14 points ahead of his teammate Bruno Senna in 16th. It was felt that both drivers had under-delivered; Senna rarely got the most out of his car, whilst Pastor accrued far too many penalties, (A whopping 14, with Schumacher being the next highest that year on 9) meaning that a race winning team came a lowly 8th in the constructors championship. For his part it was Senna’s first full season in the sport and he was in the points on 10 occasions compared to Pastor’s 5, although despite this consistency Bruno was not kept on for the following year.

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Maldonado holds off an ailing Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for his sole point of an underwhelming 2013 campaign which saw him upstaged by his rookie teammate.

The 2013 season proved to be a re-run of 2011, only much, much worse; Williams somehow managed to build an even slower car than the FW33 and scored the exact same number of points with the FW35 as they did two years previously. (A mere 5) Pastor was only able to score a single point, this time in Hungary, whilst his superstar rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas, groomed by the team for several seasons in a test/reserve role, out-qualified him 12-7 and managed to finish an impressive 8th in Austin. Pastor no longer felt like the favoured son and his driving once again seemed erratic; memorably he made contact with both Force India cars during a battle at Spa which ended dramatically with Pastor T-boning the rear wheel of Paul Di Resta whilst attempting to drive into the pits. Nothing seemed to go right, and Pastor ended the year casually suggesting that the team was sabotaging his car. In the space of 3 seasons at Williams, Pastor had gone from zero to hero to zero again; after his least convincing year, he decided it was time for a change…

When the permanent driver numbers were chosen, Maldonado opted for the dreaded 13. With the move to a struggling Lotus team coming just as Williams were experiencing a long overdue resurgence in their form, it seemed that fate had not been kind to him. Pastor reflected on this at the end of last year:

“Frustrating is not the right word, it’s just difficult. Maybe the decision was not the best one but at the same time as a sportsman you always have a lot of hunger and you always have a lot of expectation in your life. At some point you have to take decisions and wherever it goes you must take it with responsibility and with all the passion you have. That’s what I did.”

Paradoxically though, I think this change in his career direction actually allowed Pastor to improve his attitude, despite his results on paper seeming unimpressive compared to 2012’s highs.

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Gutierrez is flipped dramatically into a barrel-roll in a racing incident when Pastor makes contact with the Sauber after exiting the pits.

The 2014 season seemed like it might be Pastor’s first pointless campaign, but he managed to score two points at Austin near the end of the year. However, although Grosjean scored 6 more points and generally out-qualified him, (14-5) Maldonado was able to put in some solid drives of his own to occasionally eclipse Grosjean in the races; the trouble is that these performances A) Didn’t come often enough and B) when they did they came late in the season at places like Monza where the car was so hopelessly off the pace that he could only manage 14th to Grosjean’s 16th; thus even with a new team, the ‘Crashtor’ nickname stuck, as people fixated on dramatic accidents with Gutierrez at Bahrain and Silverstone. It didn’t matter to people whether Pastor was at fault or not; they made fun of him regardless, regurgitating the same old memes until it all just became one redundant self-gratifying echo chamber of polarised opinion where objectivity goes out the window.

And so we come to his last season, although no-one could have known it at the time. After an unlucky and incident filled start to his year, I got to meet Pastor for the first time during a filming day Lotus conducted at Brands Hatch in Kent. If he was feeling down, he did not show it; he was more than happy to answer questions, sign merchandise and take photos: he was genuinely having a blast, and so was I! I didn’t seem to give him much good luck though as in the following two races Pastor was forced to retire whilst running strongly in the points.

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Meeting the man himself at Brands Hatch, April 2015.

Pastor finally got some points on the board in Canada, finishing 7th after teammate Grosjean tripped up over Will Steven’s Manor at a strong track for Lotus. Maldonado then repeated this feat at the following race in Austria, running a generally clean race and making a very hairy pass on Max Verstappen; DRS fully open, the car bottoming out and Pastor having to wrestle the car back under control. The Toro Rosso then ran wide and 7th place was his. However, the usual routine of mistakes and/or misfortune would follow; he was an innocent victim in the first corner melees that eliminated him at Melbourne, Silverstone, Monza, and Abu Dhabi, whilst Jenson Button rammed into his gearbox at China and Singapore, (Where Button accused Maldonado of being ‘Mental’ over the radio shortly after) but in Hungary he failed to leave enough room when Perez was alongside and caused a collision, and at Spa Pastor was running ahead of Grosjean when he clattered the kerbs going off track briefly at Eau Rouge (a recorded impact of 17G) which broke the clutch control system. It was avoidable, and Grosjean’s subsequent 3rd place showed what could have been. Towards the end of the season Pastor was able to string together 4 solid points finishes from 5 consecutive races, and he ended the season in 14th place in the championship with 27 points, his career best championship position. Although it was a better season for Maldonado he was still very much outclassed by Romain Grosjean in the other Lotus. (11th with 51 points and again dominating in qualifying 16-3)

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In his final season, Pastor proved that he could hold his own in wheel-to-wheel battles against the likes of Max Verstappen.

With Grosjean leaving for 2016 to join the fledgling Haas outfit, Maldonado was all signed to become team leader with Jolyon Palmer as his teammate. But Lotus were in financial trouble, with ex-driver Charles Pic threatening legal action, the team being locked out of their motorhome and Pirelli refusing to hand over tyres for practice until they were paid. With Red Bull falling out of love with Renault, the French manufacturer was looking to repurchase the Enstone squad that it had won championships with in the past, and so they did in late December. Suddenly both contracts were in doubt, with Renault having a plethora of it’s own young drivers they could sign, now they had technically become a new entity. With a drop in oil prices and Venezuela’s economy in a state of disarray (To put it lightly) PDVSA could not stump up the advanced payments needed to keep Maldonado in F1, and unfortunately Renault considered him nothing more than a washed up has-been. On February 1st Maldonado announced on his own terms that he would not be on the grid for the 2016 season and had amicably parted ways with the team. He has not given up on a drive for 2017 but in all honesty that seems like an incredibly unlikely scenario.

Even amidst the large uncertainty and speculation over his drive, Pastor behaved impeccably, showing that he’d matured from from the paranoid and unhappy driver who left Williams into someone a little more responsible and level headed. Looking back, his slightly philosophical comments when asked about whether Renault would dispose of him or not were quite telling:

“I really wish the best for the team, if Renault comes, they are welcome… If they don’t want me in the team, that’s fine. Life is like this.”

I see Pastor as a driver with a similar attitude to Gilles Villeneuve; always trying to win every single race, developing an unusual swashbuckling driving style which almost looks like he’s about to fall off the road every corner, but is still incredibly fast. Unlike Gilles though, Pastor was put under the microscope in a social media age where every transgression, every imperfection is monitored, magnified and exaggerated for all to see, (Villeneuve didn’t have his credibility undermined by a website devoted to documenting his every crash, jokey though it may be) not just by fans but also the stewards. Still, he gave it a go and in the right environment with a car capable of delivering, he proved he could pull it all together and achieve things no-one believed him capable of. Although I’m not unhappy to see Kevin Magnussen get another shot at F1, I feel sad that Pastor’s own potential will now never be fully realised, at least not at the pinnacle of motorsport.

His career in F1 was not a great one, but despite the mistakes, the misfortune and the bad choices he still had that one moment of unadulterated and fully deserved glory. To quote The Imitation Game: Sometimes it’s the very people that no-one imagines anything of, who do the things that no-one can imagine.

I’ll leave you with an old Venezuelan promotional video I found, which shows highlights of Pastor’s junior career to the score of Back to the Future. Where he’s going, he doesn’t need roads…

Re-evaluating Pastor Maldonado