GPDA set to launch fan survey – but will it make a difference?

The Grand Prix Drivers Association is set to formally announce details of its Global Fan Survey in Monaco on Thursday afternoon.

As revealed here over the Spanish GP weekend, the organisation wants to interact with fans, and find out what they want from F1.

I think the fans are very important, their opinions,” said GPDA director Jenson Button today. “And that’s exactly why the GPDA has a global fan survey which will be announced tomorrow. I think it’s massively important because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fans. This is a sport that needs fans, we have millions of fans around the world and it’s always interesting to have their opinion.

To see where they think the sport it, where they think the sport can go. Obviously we all have our own ideas, which is great, and I think the sport is in a good place right now – but there’s always room for improvement – as there is in any sport, especially a sport that’s always changing like Formula One in terms of technology and what have you. So, I think it’s really important, it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.”

Asked if he thought the results would have any impact he added: “I think our aim is just to put them in place and to see how it goes. I think that it’s very interesting to see which direction the supporters of this sport and the fans of this sport feel that the sport should go in.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to change anything, it’s just interesting for us as drivers but I think for us collectively in Formula One, to get a better understanding. And I don’t think it’s been done for a while, so I just think it’s necessary to do and hopefully we’ll get some positive results.”

My earlier story on the GPDA’s plans can be found here:


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Felipe Massa: “I like the idea of refuelling…”

Felipe Massa says he supports the move towards the return of refuelling in 2017, as well as the general push to have faster cars.

The Brazilian is also keen on the plan for teams being able to choose which tyre compounds to use, a change set to be introduved for next season.

“I like the idea of refuelling because the race is quicker, the car is quicker,” said Massa when asked by this writer. “We race with a very heavy car and the race is very technical today. It used to be a lot nicer for the driving point of view, and that’s why I like the idea of the refuelling.

“Plus for the teams to choose the tyres, we can see a change because of of that. For sure in most of the races I don’t think Pirelli choose the wrong tyres. Some of the races they are a little bit too conservative, some of the races, not. If you take 85-90% of the races, it’s more or less correct. But you will see things… Especially the teams that don’t have a good car they will choose, and they will risk. Maybe it can change a little bit especially the qualifying, because the team has quicker tyres for the qualifying, and maybe they can go back in the race. We need to understand, but I think it’s OK to have it.

“Maybe some changes for the fans or the people are OK to have, so we’ll wait and see. The cars should be quicker as well. I think they will put more downforce on the car, more power in the engine, plus maybe wider tyres. I think it’s difficult to say before, before you drive the car, it’s a little bit difficult.”

Asked about the Strategy Group’s target of quicker lap times he said: “Maybe 5-6 seconds is a little bit too much, but for sure we want to go as fast as we can, for sure we want competition as well. I remember before when we had a lot of downforce maybe you didn’t even see overtaking in the race, and now the DRS helps.

“This is the only doubt that we need to understand, that they still keep the challenge in a good way. We have already good power from the engine, so maybe we’re going to have a little bit more, which will be more interesting, it’s fine to have. I think more important than the power is the noise for the people.”

Meanwhile when reminded that fuel stops can go wrong – as happened to Felipe in Singapore in 2008 – the Brazilian made it clear that he remembers that race more for the ‘Crashgate’ scandal.

“In Singapore the refuelling was not a problem, the problem was the mechanic that pressed the button at the wrong time. Even if it was not the refuelling and the tyres were not there I was going out with a problem anyway. Especially in Singapore the biggest problem was a fake race as well. So many things happened in that race, it wasn’t just the refuelling that was a problem. It was a race that was supposed to be cancelled, and it was not, unfortunately…”


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Hamilton staying at Mercedes until 2018

Lewis Hamilton has finally committed to Mercedes and signed a three-year contract extension that commits him to the team until 2018.

The two parties have been negotiating for months, and despite suggestions of a flirtation with Ferrari the reigning champion was always going to end up signing a deal – it was a matter of finalising the details.

Mercedes is my home and I couldn’t be happier to be staying here for another three years,” he said. “This is a company filled with real passionate racers, from the board room to the factory floor, and an incredible hunger to win. Even after the success of last year, that hunger is greater than ever – and it’s the same for me, too.

The Mercedes car I am driving right now is the best I have ever had in my career; it’s just so much fun to be out there every weekend, on the limit and fighting to win at every track. Mercedes-Benz began supporting me in 1998 so I am very proud that this contract means I will mark 20 years with Mercedes in 2018.”

Toto Wolff commented: “Continuity is one of the key factors for delivering success in Formula One and we now have that in place. Lewis enjoyed an historic World Championship season with Mercedes-Benz last year and it was a priority for this season to renew his contract for the next term. We have taken the right amount of time with the process and not rushed ourselves.

The result is a strong agreement that will enhance Lewis’ association with the Mercedes-Benz brand, and that recognises and respects the market value of Lewis and of Mercedes in Formula One. Lewis’ sporting track record speaks for itself and he is a great personality for the company. Personally, I am looking forward to continuing to race with the strongest driver pairing in Formula One and to more historic achievements together.”

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Lynn aiming to shine in Monaco after Williams test boost

GP2 frontrunner Alex Lynn made a good impression on his first test for Williams in Barcelona last week, and the Briton subsequently had the chance to sample Monaco on the Grove team’s simulator – which was a useful boost ahead of his debut on the streets of the principality.

Lynn, who won the Sunday GP2 race in Spain, is hoping to use the his Williams test role as a springboard to an eventual race seat.

“I think it was a great first day with the team,” he told this writer. “You always go into quite confident, expecting it to go well, and I think it went as expected. We didn’t get a huge amount of laps, because we were limited on engine mileage.

“But we managed to do some stuff for Monaco and correlation for the upgrades the team brought to Barcelona. We got up to speed quite quickly, so the team could get on with their work, and I got used to driving an F1 car a bit more. All-in-all it was a really solid and very successful day.”

One of the big benefits for Williams that that Lynn does a lot of the team’s simulator running, and it was important to let him get a feel for the actual car: “It’s massively useful to be honest, because Valtteri and Felipe, with their busy schedules, don’t get a huge amount of time in the sim. Giving me some time in the real car it allows us to crack on with the nitty gritty in the simulator to try and get it as perfect as possible.”

Barcelona was the only day of track running on Lynn’s schedule, but he says he is not frustrated by that.

“It is what it is. I got my opportunity, and I’m glad I gave a good account of myself. Hopefully the team were happy. At the end of the day if I impressed them then my next time in the car shouldn’t be too far away. But at the moment my attention switches back to performing in GP2. That’s my way of, let’s say, impressing.”

Meanwhile the former Macau GP winner says that while this week will be his first experience of Monaco he’s determined to get up to speed quickly.

“It’s going to be a special first lap, that’s for sure! And probably an eye-opening one. I feel as prepared as I can be going into the weekend. I’ve done a lot of work with the team to get myself as comfortable as I can, and then it all comes down to not crashing in free practice and learning as much possible.

“I know that last year DAMS had a very good car there, so that’s one factor taken out of the equation. And then it will come down to me learning quickly and adapting. I’m not underestimating how hard it’s going to be, but I do expect to adapt quickly and make progress very quickly. That’s the aim in many ways.”

He had an extra bonus today when David Coulthard joined him for an early morning bike ride and gave him some pointers.

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Bottas the man on every top F1 team’s shopping list

Valtteri Bottas continues to figure high on the shopping lists of leading teams that might be looking for a change of driver in the future.

The Finn underlined his position as the man that all team bosses are watching by holding off Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps in Bahrain, and then doing the same with Kimi Raikkonen in Spain. Despite missing the first race in Australia the Williams driver lies fifth in the World Championship, ahead of team mate Felipe Massa.

His manager Didier Coton says that while there is no substance to the recent stories linking the Finn to Ferrari it does no harm to have Bottas recognised as the man in demand.

“For a driver like Valtteri it’s a nice return on the sacrifice and commitment that he’s put into the sport and into his driving,” Coton told this writer. “It’s all positive. Frankly speaking what people call the ‘silly season’ is not on yet’, so let’s stay relaxed about it. What happened last week [with Ferrari], I don’t know where it came from. It’s a rumour, and it was launched by I don’t know who.

“Personally I consider that Williams is a top team. Valtteri is with Williams and he’s concentrating on that. We saw again in Spain that he did a great race, and we will continue to speak with them, and see after.

“Our job is to look at what he wants to achieve, and it’s our job to help him to achieve that. Sometimes it’s a long term objective, it’s not something that will happen in one year, it may happen in two years or three years. So the most important thing is to build a path to that objective, even if it takes a bit more time.”

Coton indicated that it would be wrong to assume that Bottas has no ongoing ties with Williams after this season: “I cannot go into details of contracts, but you have free agents and free agents.”


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Pastor Maldonado: “I think we are not that far from Williams”

Pastor Maldonado says that Lotus is not far off the pace of Williams – and says he is hoping to make Q3 in Monaco, a track where he has shown well in the past.

Maldonado has yet to make the points in 2015, while team mate Romain Grosjean has scored in each of the last three races. He is officially last in the World Championship, behind the two Manor drivers.

“It’s difficult to say,” he told this writer when asked about his Monaco hopes. “We were expecting to be a little bit more competitive in Spain in quali, we weren’t, but we did a great strategy on saving tyres for the race at the same time.

“Monaco is very particular. We know we are going to be on the supersofts, but they are not very supersoft. We’ve been struggling in the past to put temperature in the tyres. Quali is very important there, it’s not only one lap, but it’s difficult to say. I hope to get 100% from the car, and be in the top 10. That would be awesome.

“The car is not bad. It’s not the best, or the second best, but I think we are not that far from Williams. They are still a little bit ahead of us, especially in qualifying. In the races we are coming very close. In some stints we are a bit quicker, not a lot, maybe one tenth. I think they have more degradation than us, so at the beginning of the stint they are quicker, at the end of the stint we are quicker. We are quite close to them, but we need to get closer.”

Maldonado’s Spanish GP was spoiled by wing damage after contact with Grosjean, but not before he’d caught the eye with some good passing moves.

“I was just trying to get the best from the car. It’s possible to do it, but it’s never easy. I was driving quite well in the last sector, just trying to get close. That was the key.”

Barcelona’s Sector 3 is seen as a useful test for Monaco: “The traction was quite good, maybe not the total speed in the corner because of the downforce compared to the top teams, but the traction was really good.”


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Keiji Matsumoto 1949-2015

Keiji Matsumoto, one of the biggest names on the Japanese racing scene from the seventies to the early nineties, has died at the age of 65. He had been battling illness for some time.

Although not as well known internationally as contemporaries Satoru Nakajima, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiro Hasemi, he was highly regarded not just by his compatriots but also by the many overseas drivers who raced against him in Japan.

Born on December 26th 1949, he started racing in 1969, and first really made his mark by winning the 1979 Japanese F2 Championship. He went on to finish runner-up in both 1982 and 1985 before the category was replaced by F3000. He was an F3000 race winner as late as 1990, when he took two victories and finished fourth in the championship.

He was also successful in Grand Champion, for ‘CanAm’ bodied single seaters, and was a big player on the Japanese sportscar scene. Although usually associated with Nissan he also drove Vern Schuppan’s Porsche 962 on occasion.

In 1985 he was credited with winning the FIA World Sportscar Championship Fuji 1000kms, but the race was stopped early due to heavy rain, and only team mate Hoshino actually drove their March Nissan in the race.

He rarely ventured outside Japan, but he did contest one European F2 race at Donington Park in 1981. He also competed in a works Nissan Group C car at Le Mans in both 1987 and ’88, failing to make the flag on both occasions.

Remarkably when well into his forties he was still competitive in F3000 against the likes of Eddie Irvine, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Mika Salo, latterly while driving for the Dome team.

He retired from racing at the end of the 1992 F3000 season. At his last race I was asked by a TV company to interview all the overseas drivers about him for a farewell video, and all had nothing but good things to say about a tall and quietly spoken man who always seemed to have a smile on his face.

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