F1 Hungarian GP: McLaren + new regulations = bad things

It’s Hungary time! Or “Monaco without walls” as it is sometimes referred to which seems a little unfair because it’s WAY more exciting than Monaco. Although overtaking is difficult I always enjoy watching the attempts at overtaking in Hungary, there’s always some controversial action to discuss afterwards. Unlike Silverstone, the Hungaroring is not a traditional power circuit so should suit the Honda engine better. Downforce is much more important here and since everyone knows beautiful equals fast in the world of aerodynamics, McLaren totally have that covered already.  According to Alonso, in the McLaren race preview, the best way to succeed at this track is to attack the corners, like in carting. Well he was certainly doing that in free practice with a few little spins along the way, but that’s what free practice is for right? Finding your limits and perfecting it for qualifying, or just spinning off in qualifying too, but as you like Fernando. Besides, everyone was doing it. Both JB and Alonso have previous form here and McLaren are all time Hungary pros having won more times than any other constructor, so points were always on the horizon.

Qualifying was exciting with both JB and Fernando getting through into Q3 for the first time this season. I am glowing with happiness over the steady progress McLaren are clearly making. I never stopped believing this would happen. It feels almost as good as winning to me. I’m excited every weekend and I actually enjoyed watching qualifying for the first time in ages (aside form when we did that crazy qualifying thing that everyone has forgotten about now. That was amazing, just to see the outrage).

The race was a little less exciting though admittedly, from a McLaren perspective. Jenson’s issue early on in the race was disappointing but my disappointment turned to rage as race control went all out with their batshit crazy new radio regulations. JB had no brakes, pretty serious when driving round at nearly 300kmh so after he had dropped back a million places the team found out what was wrong and told him what setting to choose, then he went in the pits as per the new regulation regarding radio messages. But oh no Jenson, because you were on the track at the actual time that you got the message, not in the pits as the regulations state, now you must have a drive through penalty as well. That’s two penalty trips through the pitlane because the team thought maybe it wasn’t the best thing for him to drive around with no brakes. I mean, he was already flat last. What was the point of that? Happy Jenson complained about the regulations for a bit before retiring due to another issue and then continued to complain about the regulations in the post race interviews. I look forward to next weekend where we can here him complaining a bit more. I will most likely do the same thing. What is up with these ridiculous regulations? Sure no one wants to see drivers being told to brake here, speed up there, take this line round that corner, but fixing technical issues, in my opinion that’s fine. I don’t need my racing drivers to be able to understand everything that every switch on that steering wheel can do, I just need them to be able to drive fast round the track using their own minds.

Alonso had a very consistent Hungarian GP managing to finish 7th for literally the whole weekend although he was lucky to also not get a telling off from the stewards for exceeding track limits. With the new electronic sensors being able to tell when a car has all four wheels off the track, it seems the stewards were super focused on just watching that and totally ignoring all the other shenanigans that happened over the weekend. (With the exception of the above). “Oooo shiny new sensors that make our job way easier.” Probably a little harsh but I’m still bitter. I’m surprised they were even allowed to tell Alonso he had a warning for going off track. “Fernando, stop driving off the track.” Sounds like driver coaching to me. *Rolls eyes.* At first I thought I liked the idea of the electronic track sensors system but now I’m not so sure. It’s great if it stops people from gaining an advantage where it really matters, such as qualifying or in a real battle for position, but I just got sick of it being used through the middle of the race. I was happy not knowing that they were always cutting the corners and driving wherever, that’s just racing. Maybe a case of overregulation this weekend?

Points all round for McLaren

This weekend we had both F1 in Sochi and British GT action in Rockingham. Similar results, but slightly different moods.

Formula 1

For the regular F1 fan, McLaren’s weekend may have seemed reasonably ordinary, ending up with a pretty good points finish, but for me it was a rollercoaster of emotions; nail biting through and through. Let’s start with Friday practice. McLaren have often looked pretty good on a Friday, raising hopes of a forward advancement only for a little disappointment when this does not materialise in the race on Sunday. This Friday was looking good. Saturday practice looked good too. The tension was mounting for qualifying, Twitter was alight with speculation over whether Button would make it into Q3 or not. Apparently there was some kind of Hamilton/Rosberg thing going on too but I barely even noticed that. I held my breath as Button crossed the line to finish Q2, but alas it was not meant to be. Less than one tenth of a second too slow and Torro Rosso had stolen our 10th place. We’d get them back though. Later.

Kvyat in the Red Bull gave Alonso a good start to the race by taking out a load of the mid field (and one front runner), clearing the way for his charge through the pack. JB was a little less lucky but at least managed to stay on track unlike many who found themselves in the wake of the young Russian. (That’s a little unfair to Kvyat but I just like the drama). The rest of the race for me was just nerves, would this end up with the glorious points McLaren deserved, or would something terrible happen – a crash, a mechanical failure, a bird on the track?  But no, Alonso finished in a well deserved 6th place. Jubilation! I peered further down the field, my heart sank as it looked as though JB was going to finish just outside of the points, until I realised that we were getting our comeback for Torro Rosso beating us in qualifying. Tenth place Carlos Sainz had been handed a 10 second time penalty, to be applied after the race, for forcing Jolyon Palmer off track during an earlier battle. Brilliant. That promoted Button up into 10th place and a double points scoring finish for McLaren, in addition to Alonso doing the 5th fastest lap of the race. Not bad for a Honda eh? Go team!

British GT

Meanwhile in the British GT championship, there was a little less elation and so much that could have been in a frustrating weekend that started off so well for both GT4 and GT3 McLarens. Just to get it out of the way – my major complaint about British GT is that it is comparatively difficult to follow. There are weird TV times several days after the event, no online live streaming or post race downloads or highlights that I can find and the reports are quite long and confusing if you haven’t had time to keep up constantly. This slightly spoils my experience of the championship which is sad because the racing itself is brilliant. However having said all that, they do have very comprehensive information about the drivers, reading a little too much like a dating profile, which completely adds to my entertainment.

In the GT4 class, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell in the #59 McLaren 570S GT4 secured third place in qualifying and were looking favourites to win the race at one point, only to be handed a six second stop/go penalty for being too quick in their pitstop. What kind of a ridiculous rule is that anyway? The pair were then hampered by some intermittent electrical issue for the rest of the race but somehow McLaren magic (and good driving) enabled them to finish in 5th place. The race was won by the second place team, car #407, Aston Martin, in yet another post race exclusion as the first place #73 Ginetta naughtily did some overtaking under yellow flags. What is going on this year? I’m almost getting used to this post race exclusion thing for the victors and just cheering on the second place drivers to begin with. Still, it moved McLaren up one place.

Rob Bell and Alisdair McCaig in the #79 McLaren 650S GT3 didn’t have much more luck. Starting second on the grid but dropping back through the field early on due to an electrical issue meant that they were unable to manage any higher than seventh. Sad times after such brilliant qualifying from both cars, clearly they have the speed, roll on Oulton Park!

A plea to give formula 1 some love (and to say NO to an aggregated qualifying system)

Just to qualify, this is not a McLaren related post, but still something dear to my heart (apparently) and ultimately a plea to care for our beloved F1, for without it, there would be much less McLaren to dazzle our screens every other weekend. Normal service shall be resumed shortly.

I’ve been pretty laid back about what everyone else has been referring to as the qualifying debacle,  (at least in polite circles). I’ve defended the change despite its many, wide ranging flaws and sat back and tried to enjoy everything, good or bad. I’ve been a loyal F1 fan. However just the mere hint of some kind of aggregated style of qualifying has finally hit a nerve. Daniel Ricciardo took the words right out of my mouth; qualifying should be about that one perfect lap. Not two pretty good laps mashed together. What if someone did a stunning, mind blowing, lightening fast, nothing you’ve ever seen before lap, but didn’t make it to pole because on their way to doing that eye wateringly amazing thing they had put a couple of wheels in the dirt. What if someone who had done two mediocre but tidy laps then got the pole. I would cry. Actually cry. It can’t happen.

In addition to this scare, imagine my horror when I stumbled across a qualifying system poll going on over at Sky Sports. Not wanting to be lumped in with the grumbling change haters I was reluctant to click the “go back to 2015” option, but I knew it was my duty as someone who had to do anything it took to steer away from the injustice of aggregated qualifying. Click. The current results popped up. As expected, the overwhelmingly popular choice was to return the qualifying of yonder year, but in the minority of those who had opted for a new system, the winner was somehow the aggregated format! No! No formula 1 fans, what are you thinking!? Is the “thrill” of seeing a clock ticking down to zero in a final lap shoot out, with the addition of having to review precious lap times and then do some maths to work out what lap time each driver needs to do in order to be on pole position, really more important to you than seeing the artistry of that one perfect lap rewarded?

I imagine this will be the only time I write something so overwhelmingly negative about the state of the sport I love. I have deliberately kept away from this most hot of hot topics for the reason that in all this qualifying craziness we are forgetting what formula one is about. The fastest drivers competing in the best cars on a shimmering world stage. It should be a showcase of that, not a maths challenge. But let us not lose hope, don’t let us turn our backs on the thing we love. Instead of criticising we must work for positive change. As we fumble through many strange qualifying formats we should ask ourselves what is the problem we are seeking to solve? How do any of these things help to solve that problem? What do we want from F1? Let’s take a step back to lovingly nurture our sport and let it grow, let us facilitate positive and exciting change rather than kicking it while it is down. For those who are truly disillusioned, take a short break, watch some Blancpain GT series, British GT championship or Asian Le Mans series, come back when you’re feeling ready but don’t add to the negativity. Don’t keep breaking it down until it is no more. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.