Ducati Happy Being Third Best

Ducati unveiled their latest MotoGP bike at their Bologna headquarters today, which they hope will bring their four year win-less streak to an end. The GP15 isn’t simply an evolution of a previous bike, it’s a completely new design -the first since Audi’s acquisition of the Italian team.

It’s been nearly three years since Audi bought Ducati, and for it to take this long to build a new bike, you would expect it to be an unstoppable force. Many thought that they’ve been slowly piecing together a bike that could dominate races in much the same way as their sister team, Volkswagen did in WRC. But according to Ducati themselves, that is not the case.

The Ducati team just finished their most successful season in recent years with three podiums. With their new bike I thought the minimum would be to win, but that the aim would be a podium a race. But I am absolutely shocked that they want one win. That’s right, they want one, not expect. Not only that, but the team manager called this goal “very ambitious”.

Calling a goal “very ambitious” is effectively saying that it would be a great achievement, but you don’t expect to get it. Where is the motivation? What big competitor in any sport puts together a fresh challenge without the expectation to win? Why would you build an entire new bike and not build it to win?

Since Audi took over, the team has lost two of the fastest riders in the field, Cal Crutchlow at the end of last season, and the nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi the previous year. Their current pairing of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone could be interesting, both have been consistent riders and are fast qualifiers. Who wins in the battle of the Andreas may be the only interesting thing at Ducati this season.

How fast the new bike is remains to be seen. It will first hit the track in Malaysia next week at the second pre-season test. However it’s real pace won’t be known until next month’s first race. But if Ducati’s words are anything to go by, don’t expect much!

Head over to the team’s website to see photos of the new bike and read the full press release and let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Am I being too harsh on Ducati, or is it important to get that one win and build from there?

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Five Reasons to Watch Formula E

History will be made this weekend when 20 fully electric race cars will start the world’s first ever ePrix. The new Formula E racing series will showcase future technology which could eventually be applied to road cars. According to the FIA Formula E website the goal is “to improve the image and perception of electric vehicles and to encourage more people to buy and use them”.

Formula E is also a chance to expand motorsport’s fan base. You don’t have to be interested in green technology to enjoy FE. Here are five reasons to watch Formula E:

1- It’s coming to a city near you

Formula E will take place on city streets travelling to at least 8 different countries in the inaugural season. Chances are you’re not too far away from one. Tickets for the first race in Beijing have already sold out and if you’re lucky enough to live near Long Beach you can go to your local event for free!

The events won’t simple be a race that comes and goes. Each city will have musicians performing in entertainment areas where fans can also meet the drivers and drive simulators. What’s more, later this year there will be a motor show at the events to showcase the race cars and electric road vehicles.

2- Single day racing

If you live in one of the host cities this might please you. In order to minimize disruption, all track action will happen on the same day.

Most motorsport events take place over an entire weekend with qualifying happen on a separate day to the race. For spectators this means a lot of travel from hotels to race tracks each day and for fans watching at home it means you can’t see everything in one sitting. A lot of weekend sports, such as Formula 1 and Golf have a noticeable rise in viewing figures on the final day of each event. Most people just care about someone winning and don’t want to wait around.

3- You can make a difference!

In football the fans, or so-called “12th man”, can be a good moral boost. Playing at home is usually an advantage as you have the majority of the crowd cheering you on.

In Formula E you can help your favourite driver in a notable way. Support your driver using fan boost and it may help him or her win! Before each race the three drivers with the most votes will be given a special five second boost. For those five seconds their motor will be more powerful and it could help them get past another car.

4- Watch drivers change cars

These electric cars are completely new -the technology is new. Batteries are heavy and range is still the biggest issue when it comes to electric cars. As a result each driver will get two cars to use during every race. A mandatory switch must happen in the garage and races could be won or lost at the switch.

The car switch will be interesting to watch. How quickly can someone unbuckle, remove the steering wheel, jump out, run to a fully charged car, and get strapped in? It might be a slow process at the start but expect it to get quicker later in the series.

5- Experienced drivers in the same cars

This weekend you can watch Prost and Senna race live against each other. Not the Prost and Senna of the late 80’s and early 90s, but the next generation. It will be nice to see the names together on timing screens again.

The Formula E field boasts an impressive lineup. All but four have driven a Formula One car before and over half have raced in F1. A lot of talented drivers have been forced out of F1 due to lack of sponsorship, and Formula E looks like the place for them to go.

These are some great racers -such as Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld for example, and all will be racing in spec cars. Every car this year will have the exact same components so driver skill will play an important role.

The first race will take place this Saturday in Beijing and I’m excited to see how it goes.

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Verstappen’s Big Chance

Scuderia Toro Rosso announced this week that Max Verstappen will race for the Italian Formula One team next season. When he makes his debut, the Dutch teenager will become the youngest person to ever compete in Formula One.

The debate in the Formula One paddock is whether the soon-to-be 17 year old is too young to race in motor sport’s premier class. The issue people have is not just his age, but also his experience. Verstappen has only been racing cars for four months, for Van Amersfoort Racing’s Formula 3 team.

However, in those four months he has won eight races and currently sits second in the championship, meaning he qualifies for a Super License. Just like for driving on public roads, you need a license to drive an F1 car. Good results in certain racing series is required to apply for a Super License.

The situation has been compared to when Kimi Räikkönen made his debut in 2001 at the age of 21. Younger men had raced before him, but he just had a short spell in Formula Renault to his name. The Finnish driver later became a world champion and was one of the highest paid athletes in the world in 2009.

While the Räikkönen situation seems similar, times have changed dramatically since 2001. Räikkönen’s move did not involve as many changes as Verstappen’s will. F1 drivers nowadays have to cope with turbo chargers, hybrid systems, braking energy recovery, movable rear wings, and Pirelli tyres. The switch from F3 to F1 will be a massive step compared to Verstappen’s recent step from karts to cars.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to drive a full size racing simulator at Base Performance Simulators. I got to test cars from Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP2. The main difference between Formula Renault and F3 is more downforce, but they still feel similar to drive. However GP2 is different in every way. More downforce, bigger engines, and stickier tyres mean much faster speeds through the corners. But the main change is the brakes. It’s second nature to floor the throttle and work your way up through gears, but remembering that you can brake from 280kph for a 90° right hander just 100m from the corner and turn in at 60kph is what sorts the men from the boys.

My driver trainer for that day was two-time Le Mans Winner Darren Turner. He said there’s a jump from Formula Renault to F3, but the jump to GP2 is about 5 times as big, and F1 is about the same size jump again.

I have no racing experience. I am not saying Verstappen will not be able to handle a Formula One car -not in the slightest. He knows how to race and how to drive fast. My point is that lower categories of racing are there for a reason. By making steps through the categories, drivers learn how to adapt to different situations.

Who knows what F1 cars will be like in five years. When F1 switched to Pirelli tyres, even the experienced drivers struggled with that one change. But the younger drivers adapted quicker -maybe because they had gone through changes more recently.

I don’t think the question should be “is 17 too young for Formula 1?” but rather “is it too early for Verstappen to race in F1?”. I think the answer to that question is yes.

Toro Rosso is the testing grounds for Red Bull Racing. Both of Red Bull’s current drivers came through the Italian outfit. Typically, driver’s are signed for two years, and if they can’t prove their worth, or there’s no seat to fill, they don’t get a seat at Red Bull.

In two years Verstappen will be 19 (currently the record for youngest driver to race in F1). Only two of the current teams have ever signed a 19 year old -Toro Rosso, and Ferrari. Toro Rosso might not want him any more, Ferrari no longer sign young drivers -so who would sign him?

He might have to go to another category of racing, get more results and hope he gets another shot at Formula 1. Few drivers get a second chance, but it can be done -Romain Grosjean did it recently and has returned as a more competitive racer.

It’s an unfortunate situation for the teenager to be in. No young racer in their right mind would turn down a switch to Formula 1. It’s the dream, it may be a once in a lifetime offer.

I’ve watched Verstappen race in Formula 3 this season and he has a lot of talent. Around the streets Pau I saw him make the car slide around corner to get a better line for the chicane. That’s something you would normally see in karting, but he made it work in an F3 car.

Verstappen’s first time driving an F1 car will be before November’s United States GP and I for one am excited to see how he’ll do.

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Let’s Remember Kevin Ward Jr.

Motor racing is dangerous -it says it on every ticket sold and on signs at race tracks, but it doesn’t make it any easier when a fatality occurs.

My thoughts go out to all of Kevin Ward Jr.’s friends and family members at this difficult time. The 20-year-old died after being struck by Tony Stewart’s car during a sprint car race on Saturday. No matter what the circumstances, we should be mourning the death of a young racer.

There has been a lot of media coverage of this incident due to three-time NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart’s involvement. My thoughts are also with Tony Stewart after the tragic accident. I am shocked with some of the media coverage and comments made. Even trusted publications such as Forbes and the Irish Independent lead with headlines which say “Tony Stewart kills driver”.

Tony Stewart is not a murderer. He is not a criminal. Investigators have found no criminal intent and the investigation is ongoing. So why have these harsh headlines? Headlines should at least give the name of the deceased, Kevin Ward Jr. should be the focus of the stories.

I remember the 2011 MotoGP race in Malaysia. Marco Simoncelli died when he was struck by the bikes of Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards. All of the headlines paid respect to Simoncelli and didn’t point blame at the other riders. Why can’t we have the same respect for Ward Jr.?

Many people had never heard of Kevin Ward Jr. before Saturday, myself included. But he was a racer who was competing his way up the ladder.

Sprint car racing is not a high profile racing series. It doesn’t take place at large tracks in front of thousands of people. In the United States it is used as a stepping stone towards IndyCar Series or NASCAR.

Stewart continued to use the series to race before NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. (It might be confusing, but sprint cars are not related to the NASCAR Sprint Cup -which is named after its sponsor, Sprint, the American telecommunications network)

Stewart had raced a sprint car last month for the first time since breaking his leg in a race in Iowa last August. He returned to the series because it was a hobby of his. Whether it is a hobby he will continue to do remains to be seen.

I wish everyone could park their accusations and hurtful words for just one day. The world lost a racer on Saturday. Let’s stop pointing fingers and simply remember Kevin Ward Jr.

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The Love of Motorsport

“Racing, competing, is in my blood. It’s part of me, it’s part of my life; I’ve been doing it all my life. And it stands up before anything else.”

These are the words of the late Ayrton Senna during an interview before the 1989 Australian Grand Prix. This quote from the three-time Formula One World Champion illustrates why racing drivers risk their lives time and time again –it’s in their nature.

There are countless stories of racers who never give up. Just watch a MotoGP race and you’ll see riders who crash at high speed get straight to their feet to check if their bike can keep going. In other motorsports drivers such as Mika Häkkinen in 1995, Alex Zanardi in 2001, and Chris van der Drift in 2010 had near fatal accidents but recovered from their injuries to race again.

I have tried to start a blog for a long time now, but could never decide where to start. I love talking about Formula One, but seldom have the chance in everyday life. I’ve watched F1 more than any other motorsport, but recently all I can talk about are the negatives –pay drivers, ugly cars, pay tv, etc.

I’ve wondered, what is it that keeps me watching this sport that I speak so negatively of? No matter how many negatives I talk about, I still watch all the races, I still sit on the edge of my seat when I see the five red lights go out, I still get chills down my spine every time I see cars pass within inches of the Monaco barrier. It’s something that I can never get away from, it’s who I am, it’s part of me.

I am still thankful for my Formula One doubts. In recent years I have delved deeper into other forms of motorsport –Rallying, NASCAR, junior formulas, MotoGP, DTM, endurance racing, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. It has opened my mind up to a whole world beyond the Formula One paddock.

The more I explored, the more Ayrton Senna’s words made sense to me. Why should I complain about pay drivers (Drivers who bring big sponsorship deals to a team to secure a race seat)? It is a shame that highly talented racers can’t compete due to finances, but does that mean a pay driver is any less of a racer? No -they have still dedicated their whole lives to get to the top. They’ll still drive the car with three wheels or pick their bike up after a crash because they love racing.

The truth is, right now the sport needs pay drivers. Without them there might not be a sport. The cost of running an F1 team each year is massive and sponsorship deals are used to cover the cost. Teams like Marussia, Lotus, and Sauber who are struggling for results might not be competing if it weren’t for the money brought by their drivers. I shouldn’t be complaining -I should be thankful that the sport has found a way to keep going with people who love racing.

Now I should mention that this determination is not limited to motorsport –the same is true for a number of sports. From footballers getting horrible leg breaks and playing again the following season, to rugby players trying to play on after heavy tackles –they all do it for the same reason. Their love is for playing their sport.

My love is for motorsport, it’s something that I am passionate about and it makes sense that my first post is about why I am this way.

The pit wall is where the most important people in the team sit during a race. I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m not involved in any team, I hope the name doesn’t fool people. But a pit wall is something unique to motorsport. When people sit at the pit wall they look at monitors and over the wall to the track.

This blog is my view as a fan; as someone who is looking over the wall to watch the racing. This is Pit Wall View.

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