ITV Sport's F1 commentator Martin Brundle took the Ask the Team hotseat following the San Marino Grand Prix.
As ever we were inundated with questions on a broad spectrum of F1-related topics and Martin took time out to answer 15 that caught his eye.
With reference to Jenson Button's fuelling incident at Imola: Is it beyond the wit of F1 designers to incorporate a simple switch into the fuelling connector on the car such that when the filler is engaged it disables/overrides the driver’s ability to use the gearbox and/or engine?
After all, there’s no physical connection these days between the driver’s foot and the engine. Such a device would not allow the car to move until the fuel filler was successfully removed, hence avoiding accidents.
That is a great idea and you should suggest it to the FIA.
The safety of the mechanics and other people around the pit area is paramount and that Honda incident in Imola, although serious enough, could have been grave to say the least.
I agreed with your comment about the final segment of qualifying seeming unnecessary because the burning off of fuel effectively cancels itself out as all the teams do almost the same number of laps. What suggestion would you put forward for altering this final session?
I think the new qualifying system is basically very good but still some people, who I know understand F1 well, feel the need to ask me to explain it again.
What I would do is fine-tune it slightly to have three 15-minute sessions where on all three occasions you can complete any flying lap that you started before the chequered flag dropped, in order to make this consistent throughout.
Between sessions one and two, and two and three, I would have a seven-minute break which would allow those late runners to recover to the pits and prepare for the next round if they have made it through, and also give the broadcasters more time for their ad breaks and then a fuller analysis of what had just happened.
It would remain that six runners dropped out in each of the first two sessions making a top-10 shootout, and those in the top 10 would have to declare their race fuel before the start of the session in a sealed and confidential way.
This is exactly what occurs anyway if you have qualified for the top-10 shootout but are unable to run, as happened to Ralf Schumacher in Malaysia.
This would leave a true low-fuel, head-to-head fastest combo wins in session three and still leave uncertainty on race day as to who was stopping when amongst the key runners.
That leaves a 59-minute qualifying session which is perfect for everyone.
I was wondering where you stood on Ferrari using Massa to back up Alonso at Imola. I thought team orders were banned but neither James nor yourself mentioned this fact in the commentary. I think for the fourth race of the season to be deploying such tactics is at best unsporting and indeed breaking the rules.
I think it was only my view that Massa appeared to be tactically backing up Alonso as he did not appear to have tyre issues in the first stint.
The teams can revert to using all sorts of coded instructions because their radios are being listened to at all times by the FIA.
The team order ban is aimed at avoiding arrangements between the teams' own two cars to prevent situations like the Ferrari swap-around in the disastrous 2002 Austrian Grand Prix.
I would expect that tactically operating as a team unit against the other teams would not be an issue. It is still potentially compromising one of your own cars but they can always correct that later on where possible.
What did you make of Pat Symonds’ comment that Schumacher was deliberately driving up to two seconds off his true pace during his second stint at Imola? Is sand-bagging like that during a race common practice – or is Schumacher still head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to thinking on his feet?
I think it is becoming more and more clear that whilst Michael was genuinely losing pace in the second stint – which we are now told were brand new tyres as opposed to scrubbed tyres in the other two stints – he was overplaying that in order to back Alonso up towards the main pack.
I think it is quite canny too and it certainly drove Renault into changing strategy, whatever they might say post-race.
We understand that there was radio communication between the team and Alonso suggesting that he had four more laps worth of fuel than Schumacher.
However, I don't believe that really should have rattled Renault much, if indeed it did, because the closing pack all had to pit again anyway.
I think Renault's view was that they did not have much to lose by swapping strategies and I suspect strongly that Michael was sand-bagging to put Alonso off his stride.
Very clever if that is the case and a great in-lap gave Michael the breathing space to get back out in front of Alonso as Ferrari were always going to pit immediately anyway to cover Renault's tactics.
Rubens Barrichello has mentioned that when exiting a corner with the Ferrari, all he had to do was to floor it and the traction control would take care of the rest. The Honda TC is not as efficient as the Ferrari’s and he therefore has to gradually feed the power to the rear wheels. Would you say that he (and the others) has lost some of his skills of throttle control because of these driver aids? Thanks Martin.
I think it is not only the traction control systems but others too which prove different between the Honda and the Ferrari.
Whilst fundamental items such as anti-lock braking, launch control and other aspects are banned, the teams devise a number of systems which can to an extent eliminate the car sliding and yet remain within the rules.
I would imagine that Ferrari's systems are better developed because they have had a consistent driver and technical package heavily focussed on this area for several years now.
For example, under braking the throttle is automatically opened in a controlled way to avoid the rear locking up. Whilst all the teams have this basic concept, some will be better than others.
Another aspect is that Jenson is one of the smoothest drivers for many years and tends not to lean on those systems quite so heavily. Rubens has been driving a Ferrari that has had a lot of grip and refined control functions, enabling him to floor the throttle as soon as he can feel the nose will go into the corner and make the apex.
The upside for Honda is that Rubens may well identify weak areas which Jenson has been driving around.
Without doubt this 'babysitting' by the electrics, as I call it, has reduced the driver input and required skill level.
The regulations for 2008 are proposing standard electronic control units which hopefully will eliminate much of this artificial assistance but no doubt the teams will still find a way to help the drivers control their cars using other parameters and devices.
I've heard (and read) your commentary about Alonso's driving style, including the possibility that it is simply the way he has adapted to the Renault. How then do you think he’ll handle a McLaren? Could he struggle like Barrichello has at Honda?
The Renault appears to understeer more on some circuits than others but Alonso is fast everywhere. Therefore I do believe he has adapted to the car rather than the car to him.
I am pretty sure he will not have any problem galvanising the McLaren team around him to provide the type of car that he can be fast in.
Do you think that Alonso is regretting agreeing to join McLaren having seen their performance in the first few races? Could it be another Jenson situation (i.e. trying to get out of the contract)?
We won't really know how smart is Alonso's decision until next year. He couldn't be sure how committed Renault are to the long term of F1 but for that matter I believe there will be challenges and changes at McLaren and Mercedes Benz too, but that is in the longer term.
I remember when Montoya declared he was leaving a very strong Williams team to go to a struggling McLaren that it didn't seem very smart at the time but certainly proved to be so 18 months later when he actually made the jump.
There are so many factors involved in those decisions, and not a little gambling for a driver.
One thing I do know is that Ron Denis is extremely motivational and persuasive and without doubt Alonso would have been blown away by his inevitable midnight tour of the facilities.
I believe his move to McLaren started on a victory podium when he congratulated Ron for continued improvement in the McLaren. Ron responded with “why not be part of it?” and a short while later Alonso effectively was.
I have been involved with a McLaren contract every year since 1994 – firstly with my own and then with David Coulthard and recently with Gary Paffett – and Alonso will not be reversing out of one of those in a hurry.
I’m a big fan of your grid walks and the plan to get Bernie’s daughter to ask Schumacher a few questions at Imola was great; shame it didn’t work out! You mentioned you fell out with Michael a few years ago and don’t talk to each other much as a result. Can you remember why?
It is a funny thing but I get great comments all over the world about the grid walks and I have yet to see one on TV! I have caught glimpses here and there but I have never really had the inclination to watch them. I hate seeing myself on TV.
I thought Tamara Ecclestone did really well, and when she said she wanted to get into TV I suddenly had the idea of giving her a platform to show her skills.
It really miffs me that Michael won't talk to other television companies on the grid except the Germans, especially as he rightly has so many fans in the UK.
If you notice, we actually get very little access to him through the year and only Ross Brawn really looks after us. It is crazy on their part because the UK is an important market for F1, Ferrari and their sponsors.
Michael took exception to something I was quoted as saying which had been taken completely out of context by a German newspaper.
I think it was about three years ago and I think it was me being critical of him for driving people off the road when he had a bad start. I cannot fully remember and nor can he, so it's really not important.
Do you think the current trend for second or B teams in F1 will continue and grow in future years?
The B teams are eminently sensible, especially if they can use hand-me-down equipment. It is a way of spreading the costs of development and production of the A teams and generally absorbing costs in a more efficient way.
Just as importantly, it can be a development ground and feeder for drivers, engineers and even sponsors who want to dip their toes in the water before ramping up to a massive investment.
If costs really are brought down by hundreds of millions of dollars, which I am sceptical about, then it seems a no-brainer for the manufacturers in future years.
I have noticed that over a flying lap Michael Schumacher keeps tweaking his brake balance before certain corners, but no other driver in the pit lane seems to do this as much, if at all. Please could you explain this in more detail please?
It has been very clear for some time that Michael's work rate, both in and out of the car, is higher than anyone else's.
Michael really does compartmentalise the lap and tries to eke out fractions of a second. Therefore I suspect he is quite capable of fine-tuning the car over each braking zone and corner.
The braking has to be manually adjusted whereas the differential can be changed automatically as the lap unfolds because the telemetry identifies where the car is on any given lap.
I think it is just that the other drivers either cannot or do not feel the need to make this many adjustments and instead focus on other areas.
How do different driving styles compare (smooth/aggressive etc)? Is one better than another in certain situations or for certain circuits? Also, in the future might we ever see you racing in GP Masters?
Driving styles can differ massively. I try to talk about it sometimes on TV but because the drivers are so enveloped in the car it is really difficult to explain.
It starts with the style and intensity of braking and whether the driver is happy to be braking as he turns into the corner. Often you can steal some time on the way in but pay a price on the way out with not having the perfect line.
Conversely, you can sacrifice a little time on the way in to enable yourself to start to turn the car and have it exactly where you want it for early and maximum acceleration.
Sometimes the drivers demand that the front is sliding gently with understeer so they can be sure of the rear not stepping out and surprising them. Others, like Raikkonen, are fully prepared to let the rear move around providing they can easily position the front end of the car.
If you overlay the steering, braking and acceleration traces of all 22 drivers on the grid no two would be identical, such is the difference in style and set-up and performance of the cars.
On a street circuit it is all about front-end grip because you spend so long in the apex of slow corners. On a circuit like Montreal you need some understeer, seeking full and early throttle on the gently opening chicanes into the next long straight.
Without doubt, driving styles and performance do suit some circuits better than others.
Right now I have to say I have my hands full with ITV, driver management and F1 in general as well as my son, Alex, just starting his circuit racing career.
I am certainly eager to race again and in the future I may get something together with GPM.
What do you think of McLaren’s qualifying tactics of looking to the race rather than grid position? They don’t seem to be able to get the best out of qualifying to make the most of their high fuel load and when cars in front have pitted they are already 20 seconds behind.
Do you think they should go for a good grid slot and then adjust their strategy during the race – longer second stint? At least then they could have track position.
I am a bit confused by McLaren's qualifying tactics because for the first four races we have heard how satisfied they are with their grid positions, given the amount of extra fuel they feel they have on board over the competition. In reality, whilst they have tended to run longer, it has not been dramatically so on average.
However, being further down the grid also exposes them more to race incidents, for example when Raikkonen was collected by Klien in Malaysia and, to add to the problem, the two McLaren drivers just failed to wipe each other out at the start of three of the four races.
The other aspect, as you say, is the field spread in the turbulent air where even at the end of the first lap somebody running P7 or P8 can be 10 seconds behind the leader, which is half a pit stop.
You cannot help but feel they should compromise a bit and focus harder on being in the first two rows, especially if they have a fundamentally faster race car than say the Honda and the Toyota which at some point they are going to get caught up behind and have to pass – ideal strategy or not.
I believe there is another factor in that actually the McLarens have not had the race set-up or pace that we thought they would have and they have tended therefore to cover their bases with a more optimal fuel load.
Who pays for the damage when there is a collision between the F1 cars on track? Would it be the guilty party, and would they have insurance to cover these incidents as with normal road cars?
That is an interesting point. In all forms of motorsport there is effectively no insurance for third party, car or racetrack damage. You don't pay for anyone's repair work even if you are wholly at fault and the cause of the shunt.
You can insure the cars, which many people outside F1 do, for bigger incidents and total write-offs and simply build that into your racing budget. Inevitably the insurance companies are looking for a profit and therefore sooner or later it is going to cost.
Also, for example, in many race driving licences it is clear that if other people get injured they cannot claim against you either.
I always used to carry third party liability insurance as I was nervous of being involved in an accident which was my fault and, say, the wheel making it into the crowd and having an action taken against me.
It is a tricky area especially if you end up being reprimanded by the stewards and therefore effectively being blamed for the incident by the organising body.
However, the circuits and the teams also carry this type of insurance. There is not an issue between teams and drivers, therefore, but possibly more so against fans and circuit personnel.
After Imola we heard Michael Schumacher congratulating Shell for the great fuel they produced giving Ferrari extra horsepower. We rarely hear teams being vocal about their fuel and its development.
Do you think there is a “fuel war” going on out there? If the fuel can give a team more power then this has to be an advantage. We don’t really hear this mentioned often and I was just wondering what your take was.
The constituents that make up the race fuel are very carefully controlled and monitored, although I am sure there is still scope to improve performance marginally.
I have noticed Shell getting a name check a few times recently by Ferrari personnel but I strongly suspect that it is commercially driven.
I believe Shell did make a lightweight fuel last year which would be most helpful as we know that a few kilos equals tenths of seconds rather than hundredths per lap.
Generally speaking I suspect there is not a great deal of performance difference between the various suppliers of F1 fuels in terms of raw power.
Martin, as you have done several years behind the “mike” for ITV F1, which of all the races you have commentated on do you think is the best and why?
Two races that stand out most in my mind are the 2003 Silverstone Grand Prix which had everything from a crazy man running on the track to safety cars, changeable weather and a stunning drive from Barrichello; secondly, last year's Japanese Grand Prix with the great overtaking moves from Raikkonen and Alonso.
I am sure there are many others I should be remembering but of the 150 or so I have commentated on they are the two that spring immediately to my mind.