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Grosjean says he “hated” 2014 Lotus but he’s smiling now

After being out of the points for nearly 11 months Romain Grosjean made it two scores in eight days when he followed up seventh in China with the same result in Bahrain.

The Frenchman agrees that the Lotus E23 has put the smile back on his face following a dreadful 2014 season.

“I’ve had it since Day One,” he told this writer. “At least I can understand the car, I can play around with it, I can push hard, and it makes such a big difference to last year, where it was doing whatever it wanted, so I really hated it.”

He agreed that the double points finish was a big boost: “It’s good for all of our guys, and myself as well. I think we worked hard, we deserved them. The [Bahrain] weekend didn’t start in the best way, I had really a lot of struggle, and the first time we had a good car was qualifying. They did a good job to guess the set-up and go for it in the race. I’m very happy with that. A lot of tyre management of course, but it’s good to score some more points.

“Everything was on target. Having a new set of options would have helped the second stint, we should have managed to keep one from quali, as Red Bull did and other top guys. But the strategy was perfect, so that was good.”

Grosjean expects the close battle with Red Bull Racing to continue.

“In China in the race they were less quick, here they were quicker. It’s good to fight with them, and also in qualifying Sauber is quite quick as well, so there is a good group around who we can fight with.”

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Force India backs Ecclestone’s push for low cost ‘parity’ F1 engine

Force India supports Bernie Ecclestone’s plan to introduce a budget ‘customer’ engine that will run in competition with the current works hybrid V6s.

As outlined here yesterday Ecclestone supports the idea of making available a cheap V8 with KERS (or even a V6 twin-turbo with KERS) that independent teams could use at a much lower cost than current customer engine deals.

“I think the principle of maintaining the V6 hybrid is absolutely correct and proper,” Force India’s Bob Fernley told this writer. “From the manufacturers’ point of view it’s very beneficial both for their marketing and technical programmes. I don’t see any doubt that the hybrid has a long term future in F1.

“What Bernie is looking at is that the independent teams will be offered a ‘parity’ engine, possibly a V8 with KERS, at a half of the price at least of what we are paying today. Of course, as an independent team to be able to cut our costs down by half and have parity with the V6s is attractive. It doesn’t disadvantage us, we’re still putting on a great show.

“If say Cosworth brought in a V8 with a KERS system it would be a very, very good unit. The advantage to that is we’ve got an independent supplier, and there’s nothing wrong with that for the health of F1. I think Cosworth and Renault are the two operations that can do it.

The obvious drawback is that there will be a debate on how the FIA can ensure parity, but Fernley does not see that as a problem.

“At the end of the day the teams cannot survive on the current cost base. So I think Bernie’s initiative has got tremendous merit. Whether it causes a few issues in terms of discomfort in determining where parity is… Well there is already discomfort between where Mercedes are and where Renault are! You’re always going to have that.

“I don’t think it devalues F1. We run with different chassis, so why can’t we run with different engines? We’ve done it in the past, and sometimes it’s been successful and sometimes it hasn’t, but we haven’t got parity today.”

Fernley says there has been no move from the current suppliers to reduce the prices they charge the independent teams for the current engines: “At the moment it’s not on the table and it’s not something that the manufacturers want to consider.

“The only other thing that’s been on the table is to reduce costs, but not have a parity engine. Why would we want that?”


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Bahrain was first “clean race” with Red Bull, says Kvyat

Dany Kvyat says he has learned a lot from his ninth place finish in Bahrain after his first untroubled race of the season.

Kvyat retired in Melbourne and Shanghai, and while be finished in Malaysia his race was compromised by brake issues. Last weekend he charged up from a lowly 17th on the grid.

“The recovery was not too bad I think, starting from there,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, the first laps. I think we all more or less managed the race on our strategy. So a good recovery, and these kind of races put a little bit of a smile on my face. We finished, we ran solid, we got a lot of information and feedback from the car. So this time we can look at where we can improve.

“It’s very important because in China and Australia I couldn’t learn much, unfortunately. Here I would say it’s probably the first quite clean race from a reliability point of view, and now we can start moving forward from here on.”

Asked what promises he wanted from Renault he said: “I think we don’t want any promises, we just want to see progress itself. We both as a team and the engine side want to improve, working with Renault, improving our chassis, me analysing the race and understanding where I can pick up the pace. It’s a long process, many things are happening and going on, and hopefully we will come up with something.”

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Button and Alonso see Monaco as chance for McLaren

Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both agree that the Monaco GP could give McLaren Honda its best opportunity for a good result in the near future.

It goes without saying that outright power is less critical in the principality than elsewhere, but the fact that the MP4-30 chassis is consistent, and inspires confidence, is also important.

“I think already in Barcelona you will see a good step,” said Button when asked by this writer. “But we’ve got a lot happening before Monaco with the car, so hopefully there will be a good step, not just with the power, but also with the aerodynamic grip. I’ve got a good feeling about it.

“There are a few areas where the car needs to be stonger right now for Monaco, if we’re going to go there tomorrow, but it will be an interesting place to drive this car, defintely. It’s such a tricky circuit to find the limit, and if you have a car that you are confident in, it makes a massive difference.

“I remember Jean Alesi in a Prost doing a really good job round there because he had confidence in the car and the balance was there. It worked for him and it gave him confidence, and that’s a thing that you need around there. You need it anywhere, really. Most drivers are talented, but it’s a real mental game, especially at Monaco, because it’s so unforgiving.”

“Lower power effect circuits will help us at the moment,” said Alonso. “So Monaco is the first circuit that we may enjoy a little bit better result. We’ll see. I think we need to think race-by-race, and Barcelona at the moment is the first step.”

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Hamilton ends long Arai helmet relationship as he swaps to Bell

Lewis Hamilton appears to have compromised his 20-year relationship with helmet supplier Arai by swapping to Bell.

Hamilton has long had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the Japanese company, who supply free helmets and service to F1 drivers, but have a policy of not paying them a fee on top.

Despite his Arai history Hamilton has been experimenting with a Bell in testing and practice sessions this year. However, Bahrain was the first time he used one in qualifying and the race.

Drivers usually take into account the aerodynamic properties of helmets – they are part of the complex interaction between the windscreen and the airbox – and Hamilton suggested in Bahrain that was important when asked if comfort, aerodynamics or a commercial arrangement influenced his thinking.

“It’s not something I’m willing to talk about at the moment,” he said when asked by this writer after he used a Bell in qualifying. “Because I haven’t made any decisions. I was just trying… As a driver you want to improve everywhere, and the [Arai] helmet’s not been in the wind tunnel.

“I’ve had Schuberth trying to get me to try their helmet as well. Ultimately you all know I’ve been with Arai since I was 10-years-old, a long, long, long time, but they don’t develop as Schuberth and the others do, and I like that, I like helmets that are developing and improving. That doesn’t mean that Arai… Arai’s still a damn good helmet and I’ve been with them a long time, and you see me swapping back, because I always go back to the old reliable.”

However the following day he opted to use the Bell in the race. Sources suggest that Arai’s Japanese management regard that decision as a tipping point, and that the company can no longer support Hamilton. In addition his comments about lack of development did not go down well. One source said: “The ‘undeveloped’ helmet won the last five World Championships…”

The Bell Racing Europe F1 operation now has strong Bahraini links and has recently opened a new facility adjacent to the Sakhir track, so getting a big name like Hamilton on board is clearly good business. However the management could not confirm that it has a new formal arrangement with the World Champion.

However the company’s Facebook page left little to the imagination when it noted: “Fabulous results for our Bell drivers Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkönen at Bahrain GP 2015.”


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Sergio Perez: Bahrain was “one of my best races”

Sergio Perez scored a solid eighth place in Bahrain

Sergio Perez scored a solid eighth place in Bahrain

Sergio Perez believes his drive to eighth place in Bahrain was one of the best races of his F1 career to date, given Force India’s form this year.

The Mexican, who also finished a superb third in the same event last year, had started from 11th on the grid. He managed to do two stops when several of those around him, including team mate Nico Hulkenberg, went for three.

“Today was one of my best races in terms of managing the tyres and managing the pace,” he said. “It was amazing what the team did, how we did the two-stop, because we never thought that was going to be possible. We thought we just too far away, the car was just sliding too much, and we were too slow on Friday. We picked up a lot of the pace and we managed the degradation, so I’m very happy with today’s performance.”

Explaining why things worked out so well he said: “I think this track suits us well with the engine. It’s not such an efficiency track. When we get to Barcelona we will struggle I think, but today was a very good opportunity to score points, and we did it. I think we as a team have done a very good step forward, and as I say I’m very happy for everyone, and very happy for the drive I did.”

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Martin Whitmarsh on his America’s Cup role – and what he learned at McLaren

Former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has now started his new job as head of the Ben Ainslie Racing America’s Cup challenge, where he will be reunited with Adrian Newey.

In an interview on the BAR website Whitmarsh compared his former and current roles, and talked about his original move from British Aerospace to McLaren.

“It wasn’t a logical career move,” he noted. “But it was an unavoidable and unmissable opportunity that I had to go and do. Everyone thought I was mad to leave that job – where I appeared to have some success and a large organisation of thousands of people working for me – to join a little team, but I never had time or thought or occasion to regret it.

“We grew McLaren within Formula One. But we also realised that racing was a volatile business, and if we were going to have a sustainable business, we needed to diversify and use our technology, our capability and, ultimately, our brand to spawn a range of other businesses. And so we founded McLaren Automotive, Applied Technologies, Electronics and all the rest. It was a fairly significant metamorphosis from the race team that I joined. It was an interesting and exciting path.”

Whitmarsh said the key is growing an organisation successfully: “I don’t think organisations necessarily have to grow for the sake of the organisation. They have to grow for the sake of the people in it. If you’re going to go out and recruit the best people into the team, then I think it’s implicit in your duty of care to them that you are going to grow.

“If you are growing, there are necessarily challenges and demands on people in the organisation and that leads to opportunity. If we said that in ten years time we were going to be the same size and the same organisation, then it’s hard to make a compelling case for people to remain motivated to stay here.

“Firstly [at McLaren] we had to make sure we could succeed and win. In any of these environments, to have confidence and credibility you have to go out and succeed in the core proposition, and develop technical capability as you do it. The next step is to say ok, we’ve got an organisation that’s running well, it’s performing, it’s got technology, how can we monetise that? How can we take some of those opportunities and create shareholder value?

“At McLaren, our first developments were largely technical, selling technical services, then we reached a point where the brand had become established in its own right. We’re in a brand conscious world and if you are going to sell to consumers as well as businesses you need the brand.

“The America’s Cup is a fantastic platform from which this team can demonstrate its capability in high technology, in performance, and in achieving things like cycle-time compression. I think we have a great opportunity to demonstrate how the technical endeavour associated with seeking to win the America’s Cup can be the catalyst of change in bigger technical organisations, can be a hotbed for technical development.

“I think it’s our job to ensure that we can capture the essence of that racing culture and tempo and speed of response, competitiveness and creativity. Those are things that are being searched for and worked hard for in big, big technical organisations. We have them, and that’s a valuable asset.”

He also spoke about the future of the America’s Cup – and made some observations that could also be applied to the state of F1.

“The Cup has been producing great contests for over 160 years, and has often relied on very wealthy benefactors. That’s great if you can find them, and great if you’ve got them, and we should be very grateful for the legacy that those people have funded and created. But if we’re going to have something with a little bit more continuity then we probably need to find a more consistent commercialisation of the sport, with initiatives like the America’s Cup World Series.

“The problem with any form of entertainment – and that’s the business we’re in – is that people have an almost infinite number of choices in how they can spend their leisure time. What I saw in San Francisco – watching as an average punter – was a truly exciting and televisual America’s Cup. And there are those who would say; great we can do it again in four years time. But I think it’s quite difficult to commercialise the sport and grow public interest in it when it only hits awareness once every four years.

“If we want to have the pinnacle of our sport with advanced technology then that costs money, and if it costs money then you have got to find either a rich oligarch who’s going to indulge you, or you develop a business that is actually sustainable because the commercial value of the business exceeds the cost of participation.

“And as I’ve already said, we owe it to the people here at BAR – who bring their time, energy, passion, knowledge and capability into this team – to see if we can not only win, but develop a business that means that they have a career path and development in front of them. That’s our duty of care to our people.”

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