News Round-up: Hype, Night Races & Portugal

News Round-up: Hype, Night Races & Portugal

Sakhir Circuit - Bahrain Grand Prix VenueHaving been away from BlogF1 for the last week there is lots of news to catch up on. In particular, Force India launched their 2008 car, the VJM01, night races have become once again a big talking point and Portugal wants a race again, having not been seen on the calendar since 1996 at Estoril. I’ll talk about Force India separately in a later post, but first I need to wade through all the hype that is currently doing the rounds as the teams prepare their new cars for the season start in Australia next month. Here’s what some people are saying about their chances in 2008.

Everyone’s A Winner, Almost

Pay Symonds of Renault believes his team will be fighting for wins this upcoming campaign, and feels that the return of world champion Fernando Alonso should be the catalyst to this. The Anglo-French squad endured a win-less season in 2007, the chassis not being on par with Ferrari, McLaren or even BMW. Speaking to Autosport Symonds stated that six-tenths-man Alonso wouldn’t have been able to make up the deficiencies in the R27, but feels the new R28 is a big step forward and will allow the Spaniard to fight for victories.

I am certain that the combination of Fernando in a revitalized Renault will see him challenging for wins. He knows what he wants from the car and we have shown in the past that we can deliver it. Pat Symonds

Mark Webber is pleased with his new RBR4, stating that the machine is superior to last years car and much more reliable. Given the the woeful troubles the team had with their gear box last time around, it is hard to see how the team could make it any worse, with at least one ‘box going awry during most race weekends in 2007. However, Red Bull aren’t about to up sticks and leave just because they’ve had a bad year and it seems, from testing at least, that the new car is indeed more reliable.

A lot of that equipment has been pulled down very well at the end of each night so we’re very encouraged by how those components are running at this early stage and all things being equal we should have at least the most reliable car that we’ve had for a long time coming into the season, which is good. Mark Webber.

Luca Baldisserri of Ferrari has spoken of how the new F2008 is suited to the new regulations that prohibit electronic driver aids. The Italian team manager said that public opinion suggested the cars would be harder to drive, but went on to say the new red rocket has excellent traction, enabling Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa to feel confident in the car and set quick times during testing.

Everyone reckoned that the drivers would find the car harder to drive with the electronic aids banned this year. But, so far, the F2008 has shown to be very sincere and with excellent traction – that’s why we got those laptimes.

Our aim in 2008 is reliability, but if the car doesn’t break down and is quick too, then that’s the best thing. Luca Baldisserri.

To fly in the face of all the optimism though, Timo Glock has brought the Toyota Corporation crashing to its knees by going on record and saying he doesn’t think the TF108 will able to challenge the front-runners. Okay, perhaps Toyota weren’t really expecting to be nearing the top of the timing sheets this season, but his words spoken to Australian Grand Prix promoters came across as very honest, particularly when you consider the German drives for a team known to hype their pre-season chances, only to be left somewhere in the middle.

For us, when we compare the 2007 car with the 2008 car, we definitely made a step in the right direction, but on the other side all the other teams made a step forward as well.

So at the moment maybe [it] looks like we didn’t do a step because time wise we are the same like last year in terms of the gap to the top teams. But at the end I think we will see the clear picture… in terms of how much can we develop the car and how much closer we can come to the top teams and make the gap smaller. Timo Glock.

Snuggling Up To F1 & Corrie

For non-UK readers, I of course mean Coronation Street, a popular television soap broadcast in the early-evening prime time slot, that occasionally gets delayed (to the no doubt disgust of the shows fans) whenever the US or Canadian Grands Prix overrun slightly.

Although I jest a little, the issue could become a whole lot worse. I am of course talking about night racing, which has once again come to the fore as Bernie Ecclestone realises how many viewers he is missing out on with very early races. Formula One is an international sport, but I think it is fair to say that the majority of viewers are European. Combined with the lack of American Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, I think it’s also fair to say that my previous statement will be largely true for a few more years. Thus, Bernie needs make some more coppers to line his pockets, and a good way to do that would be to ensure that his sport is shown, live, at a regular time in Europe. For Grands Prix held in countries East of Europe, this poses a problem.

Currently, the Australian Grand Prix coverage starts at about 4am for me, with the race commencing around the 5am mark. China and Japan are about an hour later due to being ever slightly closer. Singapore, if running their race at the traditional time would also have fallen into this band. The solution being, and it really is the only solution if we’re going to accept there is a problem in the first place, is to run these races later in the day local time, so they are actually shown closer to Midday CET, which for the Brits is only an hour out from there.

Singapore signed up straight away and their inaugural race will held under floodlights, the first to do so in the history of the sport. It should be very interesting and a lot of planning has gone into it. But what worries me ever so slightly about the current course of action being imposed is the pressure that is being placed on Sepang and Bahrain to follow suit, before we’ve even had a night race. For all we know, it might prove to be a complete failure. We still don’t know the full facts about what is going to happen simply because it hasn’t actually happened yet. I can’t imagine there would be too much of a problem (aside from one that I’ll talk about tomorrow), but to start adding pressure to other circuits now is a little premature, me thinks.

Unfortunately the comments given by BIC Chief Operating Officer, Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, have been taken out of context at their source in the Gulf Daily News, and while the concept of night racing is extremely interesting it is not on the agenda of the BIC.

Through enjoying very favourable time differences to Formula One’s key European and Asian broadcasters the viewing figures for the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix are among the highest of the year in terms of audience share and viewership.

As a result we have had no discussions with either the FIA or Formula One Management towards staging our race at night.

Like the rest of the world, however, we are looking forward with great interest to the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix this September and to the introduction of night racing to Formula One. Bahrain Circuit Statement.

BIC also pick up on an interesting point in their statement; the time difference is favourable. I presume this means, as hinted in the next sentence, they receive high numbers of local viewers. I say hinted because the word local isn’t used, but even if the race does rank highly for global audience share, why would they need to change? And besides, the two hour time difference between Europe and the Middle East isn’t that bad, is it?

Sepang have also been issuing press statements the past week, trying to quell speculation that Ecclestone has given the track an ultimatum.

European viewers will enjoy it because they’ll get to watch it live at a more decent time. For example, the Melbourne race is at 2pm which is something like 6am in Europe and for the first race of the reason that doesn’t go down very well with the F1 fans.

So, they should enjoy it even more if they can watch it at midday or afternoon. For Asia it would make a difference to the spectators who come to the track but not much to TV viewers at home.

…it was never an ultimatum from Bernie where either we do a night race or get the contract cancelled.

Our current contract is up to 2010 and then last year when we were negotiating for an extension a clause was put in to the contract saying that we need to be ready to host the race at night. We also said that the pricing [of the lighting system] must not be too big a financial burden for us. Our new contract is now up to 2015. Dato Mokhzani Mahathir.

Everyone Wants A Piece Of The Pie

With ever more countries desperate to get in on Formula One action, and with Ecclestone stating that the calendar will not likely exceed 20 events, another circuit has chimed in and said they want a piece of the F1 pie. Portugal, who last hosted a round of the championship in 1996 when Jacques Villeneuve pulled off a masterful move around the outside of Michael Schumacher, are building a new circuit in the the tourist region of the Algarve.

Costing just a little shy of $300m (~£150m), the circuit has apparently already been booked by a Formula One team for testing next January, and is also expected to host the final round of the World Superbike championship in November. The site is approximately 300ha and can hold a capacity of 100,000. The circuit also houses a hotel, football field and bizarrely, residential property. Personally I wouldn’t have too much of a problem living close to a racing circuit, but even I might be a little unsure of living within the grounds of one; think of all the noise!?

The Deputy Sports Minister for Portugal, Laurentino Dias, said that “the government will undoubtedly dedicate all its efforts to ensuring that Portugal forms part of the top world championship circuit”, implying that he would like Formula One back. The competition is strong though and currently it is only getting worse. Ecclestone also likes to broaden the sports appeal and has been getting his foot in emerging economies of the future, India being a great example of this. Portugal has a somewhat slow economy at the moment and I doubt the country particularly appeals the the businessman at the moment. However, getting a test session for an F1 team is a good start. Expect a full report early next year.

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