Formula One - On And Off Track Week 9

Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Alex Wurz - mentor and crisis manager
  • Mandatory FIA crash tests tough to pass
  • 2012 Hamilton’s last season for McLaren?

Alex Wurz - mentor and crisis manager

Austrian Alexander Wurz has been appointed as driver mentor of the Williams team, a novelty, as mentors or coaches have so far been unknown in Formula One, while in other sports personal coaches are not uncommon. Wurz currently also runs his own coaching and consulting company, called Test & Training International.

“This is a great initiative by Williams and highlights just how hard the team is pushing to optimise its performance,” 38-year old Wurz said. Wurz has plenty of expertise himself, he participated in 69 Grands Prix for Benetton and Williams, and was also McLaren’s test and reserve driver from 2011 to 2005. He also tested for Honda and Brawn GP and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996 and 2009. Wurz is also involved in the FIA Road Safety campaigns.

Pastor Maldonado, Williams F1 Team
Pastor Maldonado, Williams F1 Team

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“Throughout my career as a sportsman, which started at the age of 12 in BMX racing, includes over a decade in Formula One and is still ongoing, I am lucky to have gained so much experience,” Wurz commented. “I grew up in a family business of driver training and naturally I enjoy helping fellow athletes to operate at their best. I'm really looking forward to using my expertise to help Williams at this important stage in its history.”

Indeed, 2012 is an important year for Williams, as the once very successful Williams team has failed to score a win since Juan Pablo Montoya won the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2004, last year Sir Frank Williams’ team experienced its worst season ever and finished ninth in the Constructors’ Championship after scoring only five points.

Williams hired Pastor Maldonado again and the Venezuelan will race alongside Bruno Senna, who raced for Lotus Renault last year, but failed to impress. Both are relatively inexperienced, and many believe they were hired because of their personal sponsors, who bring many tens of millions of Euros to the Grove-based team.

But all those millions of Euros don’t necessarily mean the still young and inexperienced Maldonado and Senna will now deliver the so long sought after win for Sir Frank, and this is of course where Wurz comes into the equation, it will be his task to coach the drivers and lead them in the right direction, which is scoring points, and lots of it.

In this case Wurz’ role will be more like a crisis manager and not like a real mentor or coach. His knowledge will be very important agrees Mark Gillan, Williams’ Chief Engineer, who welcomed him back to the Williams team, “I am delighted to be working once more with Alex and look forward to his valuable input with the drivers as the whole team strives to continuously improve in all aspects of its operation.”

Wurz will of course attend all Grands Prix this season and he was already present in Barcelona last week. His task is to see to it that both South American drivers will deliver, Williams really cannot afford another disastrous season. Both drivers and the team have already hailed Wurz’ input during the latest Barcelona pre-season test days.

Bruno Senna, Williams F1 Team
Bruno Senna, Williams F1 Team

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Alex is a great addition to the team," said Senna. "He has been around long enough to know things that we can benefit from. I'll try to use him as much as possible.” Maldonado was also impressed, “It is a positive thing because there is one more driver in the team looking from the outside.” And added, “"It's not always easy to look at everything from inside the cockpit and Alex is so experienced that he can help us to improve our performance.”

Also Gillan was positive after the Barcelona test, “He's one of the drivers who I would feel comfortable with bringing in in this particular role. He has settled in very well and it has been an easy introduction. He is already bringing good insight and knowledge.” And there was every reason for Williams to be positive, Maldonado was fastest during the last day of testing last week, and stayed ahead of Schumacher, Kobayashi, Button and Webber.

Mandatory FIA crash tests tough to pass

The mandatory FIA crash tests have proved to be a tough nut to crack, and not just for the lesser gods, Ferrari initially failed one of the tests in December last year but passed the test a few weeks later at their second attempt, after the design team had enforced the chassis, now known as the Ferrari F2012.

One of the new 2012 rules is that all cars must pass the FIA crash tests first before they can participate in the pre-season test sessions in Jerez and Barcelona. HRT was another team who failed to pass the test, and Pedro de la Rosa was forced to drive the HRT F111 at Jerez, and after two days the team went home again.

Last week HRT did pass all FIA crash tests, but it is still uncertain whether the car will be ready for this week’s last pre-season test days at Barcelona. If they indeed would fail to get the F112 ready for Barcelona this week, it will be the third consecutive season HRT starts the first race of the season in an untested car.

Marussia will certainly not have their car ready for the last test days, as their 2012 contender also failed to pass the FIA crash test. “The team will not take part in the final pre-season test in Barcelona later this week and will instead focus its efforts on repeating the crash test at the end of the week,” Marussia said in a statement this week.

The statement further read, “Despite the fact that the MR01 has passed all 17 of the preceding tests, the regulations require the car to have completed all of the tests before running commences. "The team will now focus its efforts on repeating the crash test at the end of the week.”

Timo Glock with the 2011 Marussia
Timo Glock with the 2011 Marussia

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The FIA conducts a number of safety tests, all cars must undergo impact testing, static load testing and also the roll structure of the chassis is tested. The chassis, or survival cell as the FIA describes it in the Technical Regulations, has to pass several impact tests, two frontal impact tests are conducted, executed with the fuel tanks filled with water and a 75 kg dummy driver in the cockpit.

There is also a side impact test, the four impact segments on the side of the survival cell must absorb 15 to 35 per cent of the total energy absorption, while the survival cell itself should not show any structural damage after the impact. The rear impact structure of the survival cell is also tested, after the impact the structural damage must be contained within the area behind the rear wheel axle. Also the steering column is tested, it must deform in a certain way to ensure the driver is not hurt in case of a collision.

The rollover structure, the structure that protects the driver when the car rolls or flips, is also tested and may not deform undergoing certain static loads. Finally there are also a number of static load tests, which determine what kind of forces a certain part of the survival cell can withstand without deforming or failing. Of course all these test only have just one objective: to provide optimum protection for the driver in case if a collision.

Robert Kubica gave an excellent demonstration of how safe Formula One cars have become over the years during his crash in Montreal, Canada in 2007. After hitting Jarno Trulli’s Renault at a speed of almost 300 km/h, Kubica hit a concrete wall head-on with a force of a whopping 75G, bounced off the wall again and barrel-rolled across the grass back onto the track, and hit the wall on the opposite side before he ended his frightening crash with his Sauber resting sideways on the escape road. The survival cell stayed in tact, Kubica only had a sprained ankle and a minor concussion, a decade earlier this would almost certainly have been a fatal crash.

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team, F1.07, crashes very heavily in the race
Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team, F1.07, crashes very heavily in the race

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And back to 2012 again, the stepped nose hasn’t changed the situation compared to last year, the nose of the car is still high off the ground -- this was actually pioneered by Red Bull designer Adrian Newey -- and it is not unthinkable a car will be launched high into the air like Mark Webber experienced during the 2010 European Grand Prix when he hit Heikki Kovalainen’s Team Lotus.

The side-impact protection system saved Sergio Perez’s life when he plunged into the barrier sideways when he crashed while exiting the tunnel in Monaco in 2011. The FIA crash tests are not only mandatory, but the crash tests are in fact the only way to continue to maintain Formula One’s excellent safety standards. Teams and the FIA spend millions on crash tests each year, but they are worth every penny.

2012 Hamilton’s last season for McLaren?

2011 was a nightmare season for Lewis Hamilton, after many incidents and crashes, many warnings and penalties from the FIA Stewards, and after dumping his father as his manager, and after being dumped by his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, the 2008 Champion landed fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship.

This year is going to be totally different Hamilton announced during the launch of the new McLaren MP4-27. “I want to win every race. I think I can. I think I've the ability to. If the car is where we hope there's no reason why we can't do that,” he said to the UK Sun. “The only thing that ever gets in your way is your own mind and your own insecurities or obstacles that you put in your way. The most important thing is to put those things aside and to overcome them, and I think I have. So I feel right. I feel stronger than I was a few months ago particularly, but even more so than I was at the start of last year,”

Didier Couton, manager of Lewis Hamilton
Didier Couton, manager of Lewis Hamilton

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And to get those things out of his system, his management team XIX Entertainment has hired Didier Coton, who has managed the careers of many drivers, one of them being 1998 and 1999 Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen. Coton will be present at all races to guide Hamilton. “Last year I didn’t always have someone there. Didier has been a good friend of mine for many years and has got great experience, not only with my team but Formula One in general. I think it will be quite strong to have him there at Grands Prix; there when I need him.” said Hamilton.

It is no secret Hamilton’s contract expires after this season, and if he doesn’t perform this time, it could be his last season for McLaren many already have predicted. One of those people is Bernie Ecclestone, who is a fan as well as an outspoken critic of the Briton. To the UK Guardian the FOM CEO bluntly said, “I don't agree with the people he's got surrounding him and so-called managing him. He doesn't need that sort of management. He needs somebody with his feet on the ground. It's a people's job.”

And what if he doesn’t perform this year? “If he doesn't perform this year he'll be looking to move on. And the team, maybe, will also be looking to him to move on,” said Ecclestone who seriously doubts Hamilton will see out his career at McLaren. Many believe Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull will be his main opponent in 2012, but according to others, his main rival sits opposite of him in the McLaren garage: Jenson Button.

Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes
Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes

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And they could be right, McLaren showed a strong pace during testing and the gap with Red Bull is not as big as it was at the start of the 2011 season. Button has showed he has matured after winning the 2009 title in the magic Brawn GP car, many believed he would be totally outclassed by Hamilton when he moved to McLaren in 2010, but Button has in fact revived his Formula One career by outpacing Hamilton many times, but more important, Button has shown he is patient enough to wait for the right moment. Button doesn’t make the mistakes Hamilton does make, Button retired from two races last year with technical problems, while Hamilton retired from three races due to his own mistakes.

And where could Hamilton go when he decides to move on? Ferrari has one seat available next year as Massa’s contract expires as well this season, Mercedes has a long term contract with Rosberg, but not with Schumacher, and finally, Webber’s Red Bull contract also expires at the end of the season. Ferrari doesn’t really want two champions in one team, Mercedes is thinking of retaining the services of Schumacher.

It could be interesting for Red Bull to have two World Champions in one team, and Webber, who always has rejected the idea of being a second driver, could get equal treatment at McLaren, so maybe if both gentleman would swap teams, who knows?

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One - On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 8

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Team Lotus , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Brawn GP
Tags bouman, featured, fia, hamilton, hrt, marussia, williams, wurz