…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

The Eagle has landed

Amidst all the turmoil of recent days it was stunning to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon9 mission. There was nothing particularly ground-breaking about it within the context of, say, Mercury, Gemini or Apollo….or was there? As a Tintin fan, I’ve always hankered after rockets that land vertically, thrusters down, but as a realist I just assumed that that would never happen.

Enter Stage 1, Falcon 9. Within minutes of the SpaceX launch, there it was, perfectly settling back onto its droneship as per the predictions of Prof. Calculus!  And, if that wasn’t ‘t enough, look at which company played an integral part in the design and construction of that landing gear: Dan Gurney’s All American Racers (AAR)! This association has been a loosely-guarded NASA secret in recent years but now, I think, is the time to raise a glass to Dan, to his son Justin, who now runs AAR, and to everything for which Dan’s heritage now stands. As much as we might revere the applied technology of all the great F1 teams, what AAR have done with SpaceX literally places them in another world. And, for that, everyone in motor sport should be delighted. AAR might not build race cars any more – but they wouldn’t be the company they are if Dan Gurney hadn’t been the enquiring, imaginative, hard-working and very fast racing driver that he was. The Eagle has landed, I guess you could say….

That’s what this video is all about – that and Doug Hurley, one of the current SpaceX astronauts. Doug was at the USGP last year and loved every minute of it. He’s a Top aerospace/flying guy in the mould of a lot of other F1-loving NASA guys, including Dave Scott and Pete Conrad.  So here’s to them all – to Dan and his family, to Doug and to the the team at AAR. Brilliant stuff.

Brilliant racing drivers

Chatting with Hitech’s Oli Oakes

Oliver ‘Oli’ Oakes today owns and runs one of the most successful race teams in Europe – and must be on any logical short-list of F1 team owners of the future. More than that, though, Oli is a former World Kart Champion and Red Bull Junior F3 driver, which means that there are not many drivers of this generation that he doesn’t know, or hasn’t raced against. He loves motor racing and winning and thinking ahead in the classic way of successful entrepreneurs – but, unusually, he’s also passionate about rewarding unsung but genuinely talented drivers. Hiring Luca Ghiotto to head-up Hitech’s new F2 team this year is a classic example of this; running Harrison Scott in a couple of Asian F3 races is another.

And so it’s always a pleasure – a laugh – to hang out with Oli, particularly if there’s an F1 practice session taking place on screen in the background and he is able to interrupt the flow of conversation with sudden comments like, “Gasly’s P3! This is big!” or “I know that engineer on screen now; he used to race Cadet Karts the year after me…”

Please enjoy, then, these three videos I shot recently with Oli. Chatting to him on-line via Skype isn’t quite the same as sitting with him in the F3/F2 hospitality area, but I hope they capture a little bit of the flavour of how it can be.

Some classic John Surtees…at Suzuka!

Sifting through the AP Archive the other day I came across this collection of gems – Honda-made footage from 1967-68 featuring John Surtees at Monza, Suzuka and Rouen. It was all mute, so I hope you don’t mind that I’ve added a few thoughts and a bit of music; and it was originally edited all over the shop – ie, ’67 had been mixed with ’68, Suzuka with Monza, etc, etc. So here is the finished edit. I hope it does some justice to John’s staggering achievement at Monza in ’67…because it’s not every day that a driver convinces a manufacturer that he can produce a new car in 30 days…and then wins, first time out with it. Equally, we should never forget the race John drove at Rouen the following June: against John’s advice, Jo Schlesser started the French GP in the difficult Honda A302 – and was then fatally injured in a fiery accident.Through the rain, and the fire and the smoke and debris, John nonetheless battled on to finish second (despite having to stop in the pits for a new pair of goggles). The footage from Suzuka is in my view equally amazing. I’d never seen any colour action images from Suzuka prior to the 1980s – and it’s amazing to see that the track has changed very little over time. Anyway, enough of the words: here’s the vid:

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Sainz to Ferrari, Daniel to McLaren. Wow!

Good news all round, I think, to have Carlos Sainz in a Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo a McLaren-Renault/Mercedes (post-2020).  Carlos will bring a dash of Latin flair to the most glamorous team in racing; and Daniel will glide right in at McLaren alongside Lando Norris. Anyway, rather than reading about my opinions, here are my thoughts to watch and/or listen to:

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Vettel splits with Ferrari

Here are a few thoughts on Sebastian Vettel’s end-of-season departure from Ferrari. I think this is a good thing for Ferrari in one sense – it’ll allow them to focus 100 per cent on Charles Leclerc, who is quite capable of winning a championship if the car is good enough – but in another it’s kind of sad that Sebastian never really progressed as a driver beyond his golden days at Red Bull. The ultimate, super-precise “vee” driver who likes to extend the straights for as long as possible, Seb’s mid-corner rotation has always required a back end that would do exactly what it was told. He had that in the blown diffuser days at RBR but when that went away due to regulation changes he was always looking for the right set-up balance/Pirelli grip combination – and that, of course, whenever he found it, was always going to lead to dramatic compromise. Manipulation of the back end of the car has always been his bug-bear and I suspect he tried to solve this issue with data analysis and sim work back at the factory. What he really needed, of course, were days and days of testing at circuits like Mugello and Imola – as in the good old Ferrari days. But that, sadly, was never going to happen in today’s F1 world. In a Ferrari that lacked Mercedes power, he was always going to be exposed…particularly when they ranged him alongside the emerging Jackie Stewart who is called Charles Leclerc.

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Classic Gilles – 1979 South African GP

I couldn’t contain my delight when I discovered all this AP Archive footage from the 1979 South African GP.  Gilles Villeneuve didn’t win anything like the number of GPs his talent deserved – but here, at least, is one of those victories. I’ve voiced-over this video as best I can (all the footage was either ambient or mute) but could I also suggest that you watch it in conjunction with our latest podcast?  At the link below I narrate my race notes from that 1979 SA GP weekend; and, by combining the two platforms, I hope I can provide some idea of what this amazing shining light from Canada was all about.

(Joining me as I watch the footage is Enaam Ahmed, who was our live guest for this show.)

Podcast download link:

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