F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Practice

Formula 1 needs to learn from Caterham’s story


When Tony Fernandes closed his Twitter account earlier this week with the message “F1 hasn’t worked”, he managed to sum up the sorry state of the sport’s cost crusade in less than 140 characters.

Caterham’s demise has been hard to watch. The team has fought tooth and nail to stay ahead of Marussia, and has been the leading backmarker team for most of its five years in the sport. Last year, it was behind the Anglo-Russian team for just four races – sadly for Caterham, it was enough time for Jules Bianchi to rack up a 13th place finish that would secure Marussia P10 in the constructors’.

For 2014 though, there was renewed hope. In Kamui Kobayashi, the team had secured a very popular and talented driver; you can expect the Suzuka grandstands to be a sea of green in October. The stars seemed to be aligning for the minnows to make the step forwards and perhaps even score some points.

So when one of the new teams did score points, it was something of a surprise that Marussia had that honor. The teams had been largely neck and neck, but some more brilliance from Bianchi meant that he finished ninth. On the same day, Marcus Ericsson matched Caterham’s best ever result in 11th, but few smiles were raised.

The future for the team is not clear, but buyers are lining up to take over from Fernandes, meaning that it should at least run to the end of the season before perhaps being rebranded.

“F1 hasn’t worked” – for Fernandes, no, it has not. Formula 1 on a budget is always difficult, if not impossible.

But Fernandes did not come into the same sport that we have now. Following the withdrawals of Honda (2008), BMW and Toyota (both 2009), new teams were needed to take the grid back up to a healthy number. After receiving a number of entries, berths were given to Lotus Racing (now Caterham), Virgin (now Marussia) and Campos Meta (then HRT, now defunct).

For all three entrants, the big condition for them joining the party was that a cost cap would come into force, allowing them to run on a budget of around $50m per season. Toyota was spending close to nine times that figure during its time in F1.

At the time, it seemed to be the only way to save F1 from itself. Red Bull’s Christian Horner was enthusiastic, saying: “I think Formula 1 has reacted responsibly. It’s positive to see new teams entered for next year which would have been impossible, I think, without the resource restrictions that will be introduced.”

So when the cost cutting measures were not enforced as strictly as planned, it hit the new teams hard. The fact that they managed to keep gradually cutting the gap to the leading teams despite running on far smaller budgets is highly commendable.

F1’s outlook has changed. At the time of Caterham’s entry, it had the feeling of an “all for one, one for all” club. FOTA, the teams’ association, was doing some great work. However, it sadly became impotent as a political body, and eventually folded earlier this year. The voice for the teams now is the F1 Strategy Group, which only includes the bigger players in the sport. Caterham and company have little to no say in the future of F1 at the moment. The big boys have formed their own club now.

The sport needs to learn from Caterham’s story, but it is unlikely that it will. Teams have come and gone in the past (Super Aguri, Prost, Arrows etc), but that was in a different time when it was a case of spending what you want to be successful. Caterham came in on the provision that things would change, but it has not.

We’re back to 2010. Cost cutting talks continue, but little is actually done. The sport plays host to some of the finest minds in the world, yet they continue to squabble like children and come to few actual solutions. Tony Fernandes’ views and approach was refreshing, just as Monisha Kaltenborn and Bob Fernley are at Sauber and Force India. They are voices of reason.

F1 has managed to reduce five years of struggling and fighting the good fight to less than 140 characters. It is likely that the stories and fall-out from the impending sale of the team will be a bit more drawn out.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

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NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski