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

Archive for the tag “US GP”

Five Good Men and True

On the eve of this year’s US Grand Prix in Austin, I thought it might be nice to have a look at some video cameos of the five American drivers who have to date won World Championship Grand Prix races (or a race).  Thanks to Pathe and AP Movietone, I’ve put together a YouTube playlist of video content that to date has had very little airing; and, wherever possible, I’ve tried to steer clear of the obvious. Phil Hill, for example, is encapsulated by a charming (and I think very funny) video-documentary shot around his first GP win (at Monza, 1960).  It features such advanced techniques as “sound recordings”; Phil reading a script, post-race; and the transfer of images, from Monza to Fleet Street, via “photo-electric cell”.  Watch for the dispatch rider delivering said photos to the studios at Teddington – today’s home of F1 Racing, Autosport and Motor Sport News…  For Mario Andretti, I’ve chosen some nice colour footage of the Lotus Cavalcade staged in Norwich in late 1978.

Where possible, I’ve left the original audio. The silent videos have been re-voiced.

So here they are (in the order in which they won their first race): Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Peter Revson and Mario Andretti


Racing in America

Last week being  US GP week – one of the biggest events on the F1 calendar, with a history going back to Sebring, 1959 – we ran a decidedly American-themed edition of The Racer’s Edge.  It begins in the UK with Jim Clark’s 1966 US GP-winning Lotus 43-BRM and it continues on to Austin Texas, where we looked at some of the elements of the latest US GP venue, at the positioning of F1 in the USA – and where we caught up with a Hollywood actor with more than a passing interest in F1.  Here are all four segments.  The show begins up near Liverpool, not far from Aintree, as it happens.


Reflections in the Texan sun

Another superlative performance from Seb Vettel.  I watched the race with my friend, Nigel Roebuck, and had a lot of fun constantly eulogising Seb’s performance in the face of Nigel’s ever-valiant hopes for Fernando and Ferrari.  I was part-joking, of course, but it still has to be said:  it doesn’t matter how good the car and the team have become, the guy in the cockpit still has to do the job on Sundays.  I asked Seb afterwards if by his standards he had made any mistakes in Austin. He allowed that he had run wide a couple of times under braking for the hairpin.  There was nothing Michael-esque in his reply:  this was genuine humility in the face of what is obviously a moment of perfect harmony for Seb, Adrian Newey, Renault and the all the guys behind them.  It is a pleasure to watch them all at work, although really understanding the depths of their achievement is of course very difficult: that is only for the engineers to know, and for Seb to demonstrate.  That is why Formula One is such a difficult sport to capture.  Everyone wants a “great race”:  what they really mean is “lots of overtaking”.  Seb actually drove a “great race” in Austin but in today’s world it’ll inevitably be lost in all the headlines about boredom and processional motoring.  Behind the scenes, Kenny Handkammer and the RBR mechanics not only had the gearbox off Vettel’s car on Sunday morning but also most of the rear suspension.  It was the culmination of three days in which they were always the last to leave the circuit.  That isn’t a reflection of the other teams:  it’s a reminder that an Adrian Newey car – without question – is the most tightly-packaged in the pit lane. It’s what tiny aerodynamic details are all about. That’s why looming wires occasionally chafe on RB9s.  That’s why Kenny and the boys have such long working hours. Then, in the race, they managed to change Mark Webber’s four Pirellis in 1.923sec, which I think is another F1 record, but I may be wrong.  To my eye, Seb’s only real error was in doing his post-flag celebratory donuts down at the hairpin, where nobody sits.  Neat, concentric circles would have sent the Turn One crowd into some sort of F1 delirium.  Anyway, here is a rather foggy shot of Seb leaving the Media Centre with a stetson-wearing Romain Grosjean. There was a subtle moment in the press conference on Saturday when Romain was joking about having to wake up a little earlier for the 0900 start.  Although he was off-camera at the time, Seb was listening to Romain’s every word and laughed at exactly the right moment.  You might think that this is pretty standard procedure but, believe me, after years of watching drivers chat rudely amongst themselves when the camera moves away from them, this for me comes under the heading of “good manners”. Another reason I’m a Vettel fan.  photoj

I thought Romain also drove beautifully. He’s found a soft consistency with his foot- and handwork that has in the past few races elevated him to a position of “team leader”, regardless of the team for which he works.  He delivers in qualifying, he races in a groove, he manages tyres and air leaks from the engine, he knows how to pass.  His development has been captivating and reminds me of the time when he had lost his Renault F1 drive and had to dig deep, driving the Ford GT and AutoGP cars in front of empty grandstands.  Romain kept at it.  He knows how narrow is the line between racing for a top team and having nothing to do.  He is a winner in the waiting.  No doubt about that.

Lewis Hamilton on this occasion was the Merc driver who wrung the best from what is still obviously a difficult car.  A Lotus E21 the Merc will never be – let alone an RB9.  You could almost feel Lewis’s frustration at having to drive yet another “tyre management” race but drive it he did, to his credit and to his obvious relief.  I know Lewis has been getting increasingly frustrated with the damage that can be done to your Pirellis when you’re not running in free air – India was a classic case in point – so on this occasion it would have been satisfying, I think, for him to drive “Nico’s Abu Dhabi race” and Nico to find himself in recent Lewis territory.  In other words, it isn’t just Lewis who can’t get the tyres to work in certain ambients and certain degrees of turbulence. I guess there’s a little squabble taking place of the minor positions in the Constructors’ Championship and to this end this was another good day for Merc and and a “difficult” one for Ferrari.  Fernando drove another Fernando race – tough in the face of difficulties – but nonetheless had to be at his best to beat Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber.  Nico H was also brilliant: as he crossed the line, waving his arm in triumph (well, in celebration of achievement) I couldn’t help thinking that he might after all be better just staying at Sauber in 2014.  Tom McCullough and the boys are moving Swiss mountains right now.

Another stand-out, for me, was Valtteri Bottas.  We’ve had him on the show several times and you know that Rob Wilson, who has coached him, long ago described him as another Kimi. This Williams year has been plagued by no grip (and thus balance) but finally, in Austin, the clouds began to clear. In the low-grip conditions of Austin Saturday Valtteri was fast – just as he had been in Montreal in the wet and semi-wet.  Like Kimi, Bottas drives primarily in straight lines with gorgeous, Jarno Trulli-like transitions. He doesn’t look quick in the way that Romain Grosjean looks quick. He is, though. He’s deceptively quick.  He’s one of those guys who is always thinking ahead of where he is.  He is manipulative rather than reactive. He makes it look easy.

In the race he was fast and consistent from a very neat start.  I loved the bit where Jonathan Eddolls was on the radio, telling Valtteri to cool it and look after his tyres at precisely the moment his driver was passing Esteban Gutierrez round the outside of a very quick right-hander. Walter’s a racing driver of enormous talent and brio.  Here he is, chatting to the English-speaking press after the race (Jonathan Noble and Tony Dodgins directly in front of him).  I asked him afterwards where this race rated in terms of enjoyment in the context of his career so far.  “The best,” he said simply, and with a smile.  Of course.photof

There’s plenty more to talk about, of course, but let’s leave that for next week’s show.  We’ll be chatting to Craig Scarborough about exactly what Williams have done to elevate their pace and also looking ahead again at 2014. In the meantime, here are a couple of “pack-up” shots from the post-race Austin paddock. I don’t know how the mechanics find the energy to do all this stuff after three hard days of practising, qualifying and racing…but they do. Look at all the gubbins needed for the Mercedes pit stand – which is another bete noire of mine. Why do we need those pit stands at all? Wouldn’t it save a collective fortune in freight, and ongoing development, if the pit-perchers do what they do from the back of the garage? photobphotodphotocImages: Peter Windsor Collection photoa  

The Glen ’63: “…he was given to understatement…”

21699.tifFrom Trenton back to London; from London to New York and then on to Elmira, the small airport local to Watkins Glen.  The 1963 US GP would be Jim Clark’s first as World Champion.

Jim loved his days at The Glen;  everyone did.  The leaves had by now turned red and brown; there was a mist in the mornings that lifted only as the sun broke through before noon.  And this was a Grand Prix run by good, racing people – men like Cameron Argetsinger, who had brought motor racing to Watkins Glen in 1948,  Media Director, Mal Currie, and Chief Steward, Bill Milliken.  All had rich racing and automotive histories.  Milliken had been a Boeing test engineer during World War II and had joined the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (Calspan) in 1945.  As an avid Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) member and former driver/designer, Bill in 1960s and 1970s became the doyen of US automobile engineering research. He was, in short, the sort of Chief Steward in whose presence you doffed your cap. The drivers and key team people stayed nearby at the Glen Motor Inn, hard by the Seneca Lakes, where their hosts were Jo and Helen Franzese, the second-generation Italian couple who loved their F1.  Legends were born overnight at the Glen Motor Inn – and even at the old Jefferson hotel downtown. Lips, though, were always sealed.  Such was life that October week at The Glen.

Ford made a big splash, too, this year of the Lotus-Ford at Indy.  This was the US GP!  Sixty thousand fans were expected.  Cedric Selzer, hooking up with the Team Lotus “US guys” for this race, remembers the drive up from New York airport on the Tuesday before the race:  “We were given the keys of a saloon, a coupe and a convertible and made our way out of the city, heading for Watkins Glen.  When we stopped at traffic lights, people came over and asked us about the cars.  We told them we’d got them from the Ford Motor Company but it took us three days to realize that we’d all been given 1964 models than no-one had seen before.

“The following afternoon, Jim Endruweit hired a Cessna 180, with a pilot, and we flew over the Finger Lakes. It was autumn, and the seasonal colours were unbelievable.It seemed a shame when it was time to get back to the task of winning a motor race…”

Milliken remembers the pre-race party:  “High point of the festivities were the parties at the Argetsinger’s home in Burdette.  All drivers and officials were there in an atmosphere or pure fun and excitement, bolstered by great conversation, good food and dozens of magnums of champagne from the local vineyards.  The homespun hospitality led to permanent friendships and was never forgotten by the drivers or teams.”Watkins_Glen_Dec_2002_209.1

Practice took place over eight absorbing hours, split between two four-hour sessions on Friday (1pm-5pm) and again on Saturday (11am-3pm).  There was a bit of a fracas when, first, Peter Broeker’s Canadian-built four-cylinder Stebro-Ford began spewing – and continued to spew – oil around the circuit, and, second, when Lorenzo Bandini slowed down after a blind brow to talk to his sidelined Ferrari team-mate, John Surtees.  Richie Ginther and Jack Brabham narrowly missed the Number Two Ferrari, igniting a bit of finger-pointing back in the pits and plenty of  “I no-a speak-a di Eengleesh…”.

The Glen in 1963 featured the brand new Tech Centre on top of the hill behind the pits (which were then sited after today’s Turn One), allowing all the teams (except Ferrari, who continued to use Nick Fraboni’s Glen Chevrolet garage and therefore to truck their cars up from the town each morning), to work on their cars in situ, in communal spirit and to be energized by plenty of lighting and electric sockets. (The F1 teams were obliged to convert to the American standard 110volts. On the face of it, this didn’t seem to be a problem. As it turned out, it was.)  For a small incremental fee, race fans could also walk up and down the Kendall shed, looking at the cars at close hand.  GP2 could learn a thing or two from The Glen, 1963…

Jim, in relaxed mood, qualified second, 0.1 sec behind Graham Hill’s old space-frame BRM. Milliken also recalls in his excellent autobiography (Equations in Motion, with an introduction by Dan Gurney) that the timekeepers “always had problems with Colin Chapman. Colin timed his own entries and claimed his faster figures were correct, so Bill Close, one of our timers and a solid Scotsman, put two clocks on each Lotus…”

Trevor Taylor, whose car caught fire in the paddock on Saturday, qualified seventh; and Pedro Rodriguez, having his first F1 drive, and fresh from a win for Ferrari in the Canadian GP sports car event, was 13th in the carburettor-engined 25. This wasn’t a happy weekend for Trevor:  Chapman chose the US GP to tell him that he wouldn’t be retained for 1964. His place would be taken by Lotus’ FJ king, Peter Arundell.

Bruce McLaren lost most of the Saturday morning session when his Cooper-Climax lost oil pressure; and so – as at the British GP – he used his time to watch, learn and compare.  This from his notes in Autosport the following week:  “Graham Hill finished his braking relatively early and had the power on, and the BRM a bit sideways, well before the apex of the slow corner at which I was watching.  Jim Clark, on the other hand, braked hard right into the apex with the inside front wheel just on the point of locking as he started to turn.”

Jim’s race was defined on the dummy grid.  Due to what was later found to be a faulty fuel pump, his 25 wouldn’t start. And then, very quickly, the battery went flat. Selzer: “The truth is that the battery had not taken a proper charge overnight. We used a dry-cell aircraft battery made by Varley with six, white-capped cells. Somehow, we never got the hang of keeping them fully-charged. America was a special case as we had to borrow a 110 volt charger.  We used a ‘fast’ charger when actually what was required was a ‘trickle’ charger. As Jim was left way behind the grid proper, two of us ran over to him and changed the battery. This meant that Jim had to climb out whilst we removed the tail and nose sections of the car in order to get at the battery, which was under the seat.”

I recently bought an audio CD of the 1963 US GP and Stirling Moss provides an hilarious description of these moves whilst watching the start from the main control tower.

“I can see lots of people gathered around Jim Clark’s car.  Looks as though they’re trying to remove the bonnet…no…what is it that you Americans call it?  The hood? Yes, that’s right. The hood. They’re removing the hood. Meanwhile, I can see Graham Hill getting ready for the off….”

Jim eventually lit up the rear Dunlops just as the last-placed car completed its first flying lap. He would finish a brilliant third behind the two BRMs of Hill and Ginther (after Surtees’ V6 Ferrari broke a piston in the closing stages) – but it could have been even closer.  “That mishap on the grid was what I needed to put me back into a fighting mood,” remembers Clark in Jim Clark at the Wheel, “and so I set off after the field, knowing I was going to enjoy the race. I began to catch up the field, and to thread my way through, until I saw Graham Hill in front of me. I thought I was at least going to have a dice with my old rival, albeit with me being a whole lap behind him. This was not to be, for shortly afterwards the fuel pump started acting up and it became a struggle even to keep him in view. I ploughed on through the race, during which many cars dropped out, and finally finished third.”  Jim didn’t know it at the time but Graham, too, had been in major trouble:  a rear roll-bar mount had broken on the BRM. Even so, it is typical of Clark’s character that he should sum-up his US GP with the phrase “…and finally finished third.”  He was given to understatement; his mechanical sympathy in reality did the talking. 

21700.tifNeither of the other Lotus 25s finished, although Pedro showed the promise of things to come by slicing his way up to sixth before retiring with a major engine failure. Given the financial support the Rodriguez family were giving Team Lotus for The Glen and then the Mexican GP, the mechanics had to work very hard to rebuild that engine within the next few days. A new timing chain and valves were found after long “phone-arounds” and other broken valves were repaired at a local machine shop.  David Lazenby, the lead “American” Team Lotus mechanic, returned to Detroit to begin installation of the four-cam Ford engine in the Lotus 29 – and he would be joined, once the Rodriguez engine rebuild was finished, by the F1 boys.  Chapman was always one for keeping his lads amused…21754.tif

There was no podium at The Glen.  As in other races back in 1963, it was the winner alone who took the plaudits and the laurel wreath (and, in the case of the US GP, the kisses from the Race Queen.) The new World Champion, after yet another astonishing race, would have quietly donned his dark blue, turtle-necked sweater, had a soft drink or two, helped the boys in the garage and then repaired to the Glen Motor Inn for a bath and a good dinner.   The Mexican GP was three weeks away.  On the Monday, Jim would journey back to New York and then fly across the continent to Los Angeles.  Ahead, over the next two weekends, lay two sports car events for Frank and Phil Arciero, the wealthy (construction/wine-growing) enthusiasts from Montebello, California, who had already won many races with Dan Gurney. The first would be the LA Times Grand Prix at Riverside, where Jim’s “team-mate” would be his Indy sparring partner, Parnelli Jones.  Then, the following weekend, he would race in the Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.  On both occasions he would drive the Arciero’s new 2.7 Climax-engined Lotus 19….assuming it was ready.  On the radio in his room that night at The Glen, with the still, cool air from the Lakes reminding him that the European winter was  but a step away, Jim might have heard the Beach Boys chasing their Surfer Girl, or Peter, Paul and Mary Blowin’ In The Wind.

Captions, from top: Jim drifts the Lotus 25-Climax up through the Watkins Glen esses on his way to a fighting third place; less than a year after the loss of his brother, Ricardo, Pedro Rodriguez made his F1 debut at the Glen in a third works Lotus 25-Climax; classic pose: Jim displays the 25’s reclined driving position as he accelerates past an ABC TV tower Images: LAT Photographic 

Buy Cedric Selzer’s wonderful new autobiography, published in aid of Marie Curie Cancer CareS2740001

When F1 first came to Texas…


…it took over the entire city of Dallas.  It was a street race.  It was hot – very hot.  And the city said “F1” wherever you went.

It was different this year in Austin.  The circuit is out of town.  You sat in a coffee shop near the University of Texas and the world of F1 was about as far away as rainy day in Woking.

That’s not how it was in Dallas ’84.  Maybe it was because Lorimar’s Dallas had never been more omnipresent.  The whole world talked about it – not as a “soap”, as it is glibly described today, but as a skillfully-enacted drama that was about as close to reality as anyone had ever dared to step.  That’s how F1 people felt about it, anyway.  And the people of Dallas embraced their amazing new F1 race, for it was everything that their show was too:  it was about money, power, ego, politics, sex… and it was played out in a world within a world.   The poignancy of Larry Hagman’s recent passing should not have been lost on anyone who was at Texas F1 (Season Two) a few weeks ago. Austin didn’t feature much in the Dallas storylines, but the spirit of ’84 was there if you looked for it at the Circuit of the Americas.

Here are a few snapshots, then, of the days when Dallas met Formula One. Fun days. Amazing days.

Captions, from top left: Larry Hagman – he’ll be sadly missed.  His autobiography, published recently, is a must-read; I don’t know what I enjoyed most – the Benetton party at Southfork Ranch or posing in the factory Alfa with a sweet, Texan pussycat; F1 people headed quickly for Southfork Ranch – and found that it was just as it seemed to be in the show!; the delightful Linda “Sue-Ellen Ewing” Gray was golf-buggied to the starting grid;  Tyrrell’s Martin Brundle and Steve “Ray Krebbs” Kanaly shared some laughs; Ayrton stayed characteristically cool; Niki Lauda, who would win the Championship that year (by half a point:  you think 2012 was close!), with trademark fruit (who needs a drink bottle?!); this we’d never seen before: marching girls! On an F1 grid!; Keijo Rosberg won the race for Williams-Honda, helped in large measure by the cool suit created for him by Williams Team Manager, Peter Collins. We all approved of the headgear worn by the Willy boys, as modelled in the background by Chief Mechanic, Alan Challis; Brabham’s Corrado Fabi prepares for work.  Mickey Mouse t-shirts (won under the race suit, Rene Arnoux-style) were all the rage back then; Nigel Mansell catches up with the sports news on the bus into the paddock on Saturday morning: “Lotus’ Mansell sizzles on hot track…!“; Elio De Angelis and Nigel tell the US media all about it.  Honed by the Glen, Long Beach and Detroit and to some extent Vegas, the American press fully-embraced F1 in Dallas; Below: Nigel and his JPTL  race engineer, Steve Hallam, pause for a breather by a (rare) Colin Chapman-inspired DeLorean during their pre-practice track walk; Bottom: Patrick Duffy, and (in white polo, staring at the lens) the brilliant singer/songwriter Christopher Cross  feign interest during a briefing for the celebrity race.  “If you get caught between the moon and New York City….” just about summed it all up





Patrick Duffy and the boys feign interest during the celebrity race briefing. Why no celebrity race in Austin, come to think of it?

Notes from the Circuit of the Americas

General overview: Full marks to Ferrari for exploiting the five-place grid penalty for a “gearbox change” on Felipe Massa’s car. Felipe has been widely criticized all year for the lack of “support pace” he has displayed in the second Ferrari but in my view he is, and always has been, the perfect counterpoint to Fernando.  He’s fast enough to be helpful but compliant enough, and low-key enough, not to be any sort of threat to Fernando – or even an “annoyance”.   Jenson Button has not been that at McLaren (an “annoyance” factor, that is) but there’s no doubt that he has “taken” points from Lewis this year – and vice versa.  Ditto the situation at Red Bull – Seb Vettel and Mark Webber.  At no race has Massa ever compromised Alonso’s ability to reap the maximum available points of the day.  You could argue, of course, that part of playing a team role is to take points from the opposition – and that is true.  When you have a driver like Alonso, however – or Lewis Hamilton – you always have to assume that they will be your main championship contenders.  To “take points” from the opposition in the case of Massa or Hamilton in reality means beating the Red Bulls.  And that is a task best left to the Number Ones.

Never, though, have we seen a team move its number two driver back five places in order to maximize the chances of its number one.  Of course, it should be remembered that this was only the second time in 2012 that Massa has actually out-qualified Alonso (and on this occasion Felipe’s pace was thanks mainly to the disappointing updates on Fernando’s car) – and that Ferrari are the only top team to operate a genuine “Number One-Number Two” driver pairing.

Nonetheless, Felipe played the perfect team game in Austin – and totally justified his position as Fernando’s wing man.  By contrast, one can only imagine the dramas if Ferrari had been running, say, Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta or Nico Hulkenberg in the other car (drivers that the media in general have been touting all year as suitable Massa replacements).  Their palpable irritation would have been leaked to their national media, even as they displayed a brave face in Austin.  And so the distractions would have begun…

Ferrari received plenty of post-race criticism from the international press, all of which was based on the argument that racing should be “fair and equal”; that teams should respect “the spirit of the regulations”; and that no driver’s chances should be compromised by team orders.  As I see it, there is no difference between Felipe slowing in the closing laps in order to give track position to Fernando – a difficult thing to orchestrate pre-race, because you never know where the opposition is going to be lying – or ceding five positions on the grid. Actually, the latter decision was definitely the right call for the simple reason that Fernando’s new grid position (a) moved him further from the potential mid-field first-corner skirmish and (b) swapped him to the clean side and to the outside.  I joked with Fernando after qualifying that he was again going to have to execute one of his demon round-the-outside maneuvers at the first corner – he laughed back in agreement – and so it proved.  He out-accelerated Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen via the intermediate gears and used the outside line to pass none other than Michael Schumacher on the exit of Turn One.

Fernando loves using the outside of the first corner in any race on which he doesn’t happen to be on the front row – but such a move can be dangerous, of course.  Had Ferrari not exercised their “gearbox option” with Massa, Fernando would have had a difficult time moving from the inside file, for the wide entry to Turn One in Austin invited three-abreast – and in some cases four-abreast – approaches.  And there was a skirmish:  Kimi Raikkonen was tapped by Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India in Turn Two and Pastor Maldonado ran to the outside run-off area in avoidance.  Fernando, from P8, could have been in the middle of all that.

One question of intrigue, I think, will be whether we see more grid-shuffling of the type we saw in Austin.  If Mark Webber qualifies on the pole in Brazil, for example, and Vettel is, say, fourth, would Red Bull take a gearbox five-penalty hit on Webber and move their title contender onto the clean side of the road and a little further to the front?  That’s a difficult one, because Webber is quick enough, of course, to be able to beat Alonso…

Braking for Turn 1: The steep upwards incline of the track at this point enabled the quick guys to brake amazingly late into Turn 1.  In general, I try to stand at the point of the latest braker for corners like this but in qualifying, as the hour progressed, I was obliged to move nearer the apex virtually by the minute (as the track picked up grip and the fast drivers switched to options Pirellis).   By the end, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado all seemed to be braking at about 75metres (from seventh gear down to second).   Impressive stuff.

It was also interesting to listen to the downshift sequences of the different drivers.  Grosjean and Bruno Senna, for example, flick down through the gears as quickly as possible – 6,5,4,3,2.  There is barely a pause between each gear selection.  The pause, when it comes, is between the selection of second and the first application of mid-corner power.  Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso, by comparison, consistently paused after selecting fourth – as in 6,5,4…pause…3,2.   At first I thought I was imagining the difference but the sequences were repeated, lap after lap.   I think this is because the latter group “save” the selection of third and then second for the moment when they are about to impart the first steering load into the car:  the simultaneous downshift gives them more control of the rear when the need it most.  From the outside, the pause also seems to add to the time available – a bit like the pause at the top of a golfer’s backswing gives the impression of there being all the time in the world in which to hit the ball.

So there is still an art in clutchless, paddle-downshifting, even if it doesn’t re-ignite the glorious days of heel-and-toeing!  (I can only imagine the perfection of drivers like Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Michele Alboreto, Carlos Reutemann and other artists on this section of road:  the shame is that we no longer get to hear the foot-hand co-ordination of drivers like Seb Vettel, Fernando and Lewis.)   It seems strange to me that Jenson Button’s downshift pattern resembles that of Romain Grosjean (albeit slightly less rushed) when Lewis, quite audibly, is doing something very different.  I doubt that telemetry is accurate enough to be able to identify these “pauses” – we’re talking milliseconds here – but I may be wrong.

“Becketts”: Turns Four, Five and Six – all the turns were marked by vertical marker posts  – resemble Becketts at Silverstone.  Most drivers to whom I spoke said Becketts is in reality a tad slower, although the greater run-off area in Austin – the moonscape – gave a different impression from the outside.  Felipe Massa was absolutely brilliant through this section in qualifying, taking the first left-hander, and the next left, flat in seventh and then downshifting to sixth precisely as he clipped the apex kerb there with his left front.  The thought: “Can the Ferrari take the load on the right-front??” flashed through your mind as he flicked the car one way and then the other and then it was down another gear for the tighter right-hander.  Maldonado and Grosjean downshifted twice where Felipe was going from seventh only to sixth – which may explain why Romain was a bit non-plussed when I talked to him about this piece of road after qualifying:  “Yes, it’s quite fun,” he said, but the next section is much more demanding…”  I was a bit confused, at first, because “the next section” on my circuit map was actually a nice piece of undulating road killed by some pretty slow corners.  Sure, the entries are blind, but we’re not talking 185 mph here…  Nonetheless, it was to this that Romain was referring: “It’s really difficult.  Blind entries, difficult approaches.  You have to get it just right…”

Lewis was on a different plane, I think.  When I chatted to him on Saturday afternoon about Turns Four, Five and Six his eyes just lit up and almost did the talking for him:  “What a section of road!  Really quick!  Awesome!”

The Pirelli compounds: In general, it looked as though the drivers who “energize” the tyres fared much better in qualifying than the drivers who “nurse” them.  Jenson is never going to be more than a few degrees out of line, regardless of the circumstances – and nor is Nico Rosberg.  Lewis and Michael, by contrast, thrive on “bending the sidewalls”.  No-one can blame Pirelli for bringing such conservative compounds to a new race – and the proof of their quality came with Lewis Hamilton’s race pace on Sunday.  If ever a car has been sensitive to tyre temperature windows this year it has been the McLaren;  and yet on both the medium and the hard it was a gem of a car – a Red Bull match with greater top speed.  That’s the sort of pace that Lewis has shown at circuits like Singapore and Abu Dhabi and so it was only just that he was finally able to win again.

Overtaking, etc: I was astonished by the number of drivers who predicted on Saturday afternoon that “overtaking” was going to be difficult in the race.    I guess such predictions have become “security blankets” for drivers who fear the worst but you didn’t have to be an F1 mastermind to see that the Circuit of the Americas was going to present no problems at all.  The wider entries to such corners as Turns One and Eleven did exactly what they were designed to do – ie, promote overtaking – even if they did look a bit odd when you walked the track on a Thursday.  Circuit designers used to pride themselves on having exactly the same track width for the entire lap, regardless of the topography:  COTA has changed all that – although I think that the entry to Turn Eleven (the hairpin at the back) is very similar to that at Magny Cours (in reverse).    The shame is that the three-apex corner near the end of the COTA lap had such a slow entry speed.  Such a design works in Turkey because of its entry speed;  in Austin it was more of an accelerative, TV corner than it was a dramatic one.  Having said that, qualifying brought a new slant:  who could hit the DRS switch sooner at this point of the lap?  My post-qualifying poll was not sufficiently all-embracing to be definitive but said Grosjean, and the two RBR drivers, did seem to be flattening the rear wing about mid-corner.   (This sort of bravery will not be possible in 2013, when DRS useage on Fridays and Saturdays will be limited only to the DRS Sunday zone.)

The garages: There was not as much room as normal in the Austin garages – which to some extend is a surprise, given that the detail design and architecture was carried out by Hermann Tilke.  The problem was the available flat land between the last corner and the incline on the straight:  add the US-spec fire evacuation steps not required on the other circuits and you have a problem.  As Hermann tells it, Pirelli were originally not going to be operating from pit lane garages.  When that was changed, each team had to switch from three garages to two-and-a-half.  “In reality,” he said, the garages are about 15cm narrower than normal, given all of that.”  What I didn’t understand was why the garages were not built to a larger depth.  There was plenty of room in front of the garages for a few metres of additional garage space, and a covered walkway at the back of the garages could in reality have been the back wall of the garages, offering two or three metres more space.  (Judging by the number of times we’d see a Jenson or a Felipe sprinting from luxury portaloos, there also seemed to be fewer bathrooms than normal in the new complex.)

The beauty of imperfection: I’m sure some of the F1 establishment will be complaining even as I write but, for me, one of the great things about Austin was its imperfection.  It’s a bit like India in that respect.  Dodgy power supplies and drainage issues are part of the scenery, the atmosphere, in India:  and if you’re going to create a US GP around a brand new facility why not capture some of the charm, say, of Watkins Glen, and have the F1 high-rollers grouping in temporary buildings behind the garage area?  The Austin circuit was built for the bargain-basement price of $300m (compared with the $1.2bn spent on Abu Dhabi) and that meant fewer luxuries and more essentials – an ethos perfectly in tune with these economic times.  And still they didn’t skimp on the real necessities – by which I mean the design of typeface for the building titles; the use of local limestone on some of the paddock structures; decent, free, wifi; and the track itself, of course.







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