Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Conclusions from Silverstone

As a stage on which to perform, Silverstone is very much Broadway to the Red Bull School of Performing Arts. Here, the aerodynamic superiority of Adrian Newey's design can be exploited to greatest effect.

Thus, having qualified 0.8s faster than third-placed Fernando Alonso in 2010, a gap of merely 0.1s on Saturday evening this year was clearly a matter of concern to the team from Milton Keynes. And, once the initial damp conditions had passed in the race, the Ferrari appeared to be both faster, and capable of making its tyres last longer.

It now seems, however, that what took place at the British Grand Prix last weekend was a controlled experiment; a singular chance to assess the relative performance contribution of Off-Throttle-Exhaust-Blown-Diffusers (OFTEBDs) to the different cars on this year's Formula 1 grid. And arguably, there are two principal conclusions which can be drawn:

(i) Red Bull gain a moderate relative performance benefit from OFTEBDs.

(ii) McLaren gain a large relative performance benefit from OFTEBDs.

Now, Silverstone is not the ideal place for such an experiment. In both topography and meteorology, it is something of an outlier, boasting fast, sweeping corners, and afflicted by strong winds. In addition, there were other confounding factors last weekend: the intermittently damp conditions in practice entailed that not all teams would have achieved their optimal dry-weather set-ups, and Ferrari had a number of rear-end modifications which they claim would have provided a significant performance boost even without the OFTEBD ban.

Mark Hughes puts forward the case for accepting Ferrari's argument, but whilst the Italian team might well have closed the gap to Red Bull on most types of circuit, it would be remarkable if a few modifications around the rear could have brought Ferrari to Red Bull parity on a circuit such as Silverstone.

Elsewhere, the benthic activities of the News of the World dominated the non-motorsport headlines, and the redoubtable Tony Dodgins bravely re-examines the issue of Max Mosley's NotW exposé. Tony suggests that the NotW's phone-hacking habits may offer a better explanation for how they happened upon the story than any far-fetched MI5 link, although NotW editor Andy Coulson resigned in January 2007, and such activities had supposedly ceased by the time of Mosley's 2008 misfortune.

Incidentally, author Will Self suggested on BBC's Newsnight last week that the phone-hacking scandal is merely an epiphenomenon of the transition from print to electronic media. Self is presumably implying here that the NotW only developed their phone-hacking strategy as a response to falling sales, a supposition which is difficult to test.

Irrespective of the root cause, there may be consequences of this scandal for Formula 1. If Rupert Murdoch is now impelled to switch attention from the already dwindling print media component of his business to other broadcast interests, then this may increase the probability of Formula 1 being owned by News Corporation in the near future. All parties concerned were at pains earlier this year to emphasise that they only have the best interests of the sport and its fans at heart.

After being owned for some years now by CVC private equity, it seems that Formula 1 just can't help attracting modern-day Victorian philanthropists.

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