of politics and change
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Paddock politics have always plagued F1 but this year was somewhat absurd. Given all the money at stake, I guess it was inevitable that F1 was going to land up here. It initially started when tobacco advertising looked as if it was going to be outlawed (in fact it is already outlawed in many countries) and teams started looking elsewhere for sponsors. The motor industry was a pretty obvious choice but with 20-20 hindsight it is now obvious that it inevitably was going to complicate politics.
Instead of only being concerned with the exposure sponsors are now also aware of the negative aspect of having a team that is not doing well. Ford seems to not be sure that they want to sell the Jaguar team in case its continuation damages their reputation even more. Toyota must be getting very close to the point where they have to decide if they want to continue throwing lots of money into a venture that has not lived up to expectations to date. Will Mercedes be happy to be associated with McLaren who has not done much this year either?
Constructors are talking about setting up their own series, with their own agenda heavily influenced by the motor industry, all chasing after the box office takings from television and other media. In the meantime the mighty dollar dictates which races will be held and circuits like Silverstone are almost off the circuit. Who would have thought that the time would come that the UK misses out? No Grand Prix in England was unthinkable just a few years ago.
In amongst all of this the FIA are trying to bend the rules to make the sport more interesting and safer. Somewhere in there is a notion that they would like to make it cheaper too but so far there has been no indication that they are achieving this, in fact there has been little indication that they are achieving anything. I plan to have a detailed look at these rules and will report on my views during the off-season.
Ferrari are probably not too anxious to change the rules for next year. Why should they? They are absolutely on top at the moment and it is looking as if they will never be caught.
They had a spectacular year. Their cars were obviously the fastest and their drivers were capable of getting the best out of the cars. They had some bad luck too but it came after they had already won the championship. This year the red cars dominated everything from starting grids to podiums.
Michael had some bad luck and made some rare mistakes but again too late in the season to have any effect on the championship. Rubens backed him up by finishing consistently in second place and winning twice.
BAR or Honda are in my opinion the team that has improved the most. They came from almost nowhere to a solid second place in the championship and Jensen Button and Takuma Sato certainly took advantage of it by doing very well too.
Before the start of the season I honestly did not think that BAR would be competitive. Their performance to the end of the 2003 season was just a little short of pathetic and although I did think that Honda's decision to get more involved would eventually put these cars on the map, I certainly did not expect it to happen so soon.
I did have high expectations from Renault and I am not sure that they lived up to those. Their progress in the first half of the season was impressive but towards the end of the season they seemed to be faltering. Maybe they decided to focus on next year.
Alonso was impressive. Whenever he got a car that could do it he was very competitive. Jarno Trulli may have won a race but the balance of his season was very disappointing. I guess the powers at Renault felt the same way, which is why we saw Villeneuve in a Renault for the last handful of races in the season.
Villeneuve did not impress but there were not enough races to tell if he still has the pace to be competitive. Jumping into a F1 car in mid season is daunting as one has to get to know the car during the races rather than the comparatively leisurely off-season practices.
Williams got it all wrong. Dramatic change is always needed to leapfrog another team and one can't deny that they tried but it sure went bad on them. That horrible looking front end performed about as good as it looked. It is only after they changed to a more conventional setup that they started doing better, but even then they were hardly ever competitive.
Montoya will always drive at 110%. Unfortunately he also stresses the car he drives at 110% and if the Williams/BMW can break he will break it.
Ralf Schumacher, on the other hand, does look after the car and had a better finishing record. But Ralf's year, like every year, was pedestrian most of the time only occasionally showing the brilliance that he can be capable of. I have never been ably to work out what the problem is. It could be motivation or a tendency to easily become discouraged but it could be something totally different like lacking the ability to set his car up to his liking or at all. Whatever it is I suppose we have become used to one or two good drives per season from Ralf.
McLaren were pathetic. We have seen in so many past seasons that McLaren have a tendency to not start the year with a good, fast and reliable car - only getting it up to speed half way through the season. Well this time the cars started looking OK in the very last races of the year, way too late to excite me.
Raikkonen is very fast and deserved a better car. His maturity and ability impresses and, in my opinion, he is one of the very few drivers that shares Michael's ability to think in the car without it affecting his driving or concentration. He will go places but if it is in this year's McLaren they better not be too far away, unless he plans to walk.
Coulthard, on the other hand, already looks as if he is walking. I have said it before and I will say it again: Why didn't he retire? Or has he done so already?
In the early half of the season Sauber did not even look as if they were using a Ferrari engine and gearbox. Sure the wind tunnel was not built yet and even when it was finished they had problems with it, but in my opinion, they lost the best opportunity they have ever had by not getting their house in order fast enough. Next year they will not get a Ferrari gearbox so even if the engine is the same they will never get the opportunity to build a Ferrari beater. Next year they will have to work for it. This year it was handed to them on a plate.
Jaguar? Well I never did have high expectations so I am not disappointed. I would have thought that they could have done a little better than they did but I was not even surprised that they bailed. They are not going to be much of a loss but if their demise causes the introduction of non-scoring third cars, I may regret being so glib about it.
Toyota made progress but I do not know how they feel about it. It is not enough to improve slowly as all teams are regularly getting faster and if Toyota do not get faster faster they will go backwards.
Jordan. What can I say? Once a team that was competing for the lead, now a team that is trying equally as hard to stay ahead of its creditors as trying to stay ahead of Minardi.
Minardi did good to gain one championship point taking into account that their cars are just not up to scratch. They circulated and enjoyed themselves, I presume, and seeing that they could not have had any higher aspirations they have had a very successful year.
Although I was disappointed in the year and always will be when a team and driver dominates the sport to the extent that race outcomes are almost predictable, we can hardly criticise Ferrari for it. They did everything right and certainly deserved to win.
Any criticism we have must be laid at the feet of Williams and McLaren. They certainly made a mess of their efforts this season.
Will they learn and apply these lessons to building a competitive offering for next year? Well, maybe it does not matter that much as there is BAR and Renault too. Maybe next year will be good.
Have a good off-season break and a happy new year and those of you that had to watch the races mostly in the middle of the night - get some sleep you may not want to miss a single race next year.
Agree or disagree ?