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When the music stops


  When the music stops and the fortunate few have taken their seats there are always those unfortunates who are left standing with no-where to go. Their dream of a career in the global lime-light has evaporated and most turn their sights to careers in other classes that they once saw as beneath their self deluded God-given right. Some are truly unfortunate and have had a promising career cut short or hopefully at best, just interupted while others have had their time to prove themselves and are either past their sell-by date or only proved that they were never really going to make it. For others, it must be said, that their very presence was over-optimistic at best. At least they all lived the dream for a while. There are those that, despite all the promise, talent and success never get to start a Grand Prix, mostly for reasons other than promise, talent and success. They all feel hard done by and aggrieved that those with obviously less talent have a seat and one or two are actually correct in that belief.

  One that falls into the latter category is Jolyon Palmer. The son of Jonathon Palmer, one of those who had a lengthy but unfullfilled career in Grand Prix racing, Jolyon has moved through the junior categories winning in every series and thoroughly dominated the GP2 series in 2014. He achieved it all just through shear bloody talent (and a lot of hard yakka obviously) without any huge financial backing or the support of manufacturer (I include Red Bull there) junior programmes. He arrives with all this success at just the time when the smaller teams that he would have probably gotten a break in have fallen by the way-side due to the stupidity, self interest and greed of those who "own" the sport. If he is REALLY lucky he might pick up a test role with one of the remaining smaller teams but short of dropping off the F1 bosses radar and racing in sportscars or the US, there is not much on the horizon for the poor bloke.

   Bernie may not feel that the "minnows" add much to the spectacle but they have always been the nursery, the finishing school, for some very good drivers and one or two of the greats. Would we have seen King Fernando without Minardi? Niki Lauda without March? Nelson Piquet without Ensign? Alan Jones without Hesketh, Hill, Surtees and Shadow? Rosberg (Keke) without ATS, Theodore and Fittipaldi? Senna without Toleman? And they are just the champions.

   The list of winners that began their careers at Minardi for example, an almost perenial back-marker team, is impressive. Michele Alboreto (in F2), Alessandro Nannini, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. When you add to that list others that have had a glittering career in and away from F1 such as Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene (who just won the World Endurance Championship for Toyota), Christian Fittipaldi, Ukyo Katayama, Pierluigi Martini, Gianni Morbidelli, Roberto Moreno, Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson you can begin to see just how important this little team from Faenza was. Then of course it morphed into Toro Rosso and has produced both Sebastien Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo in recent times but they can no longer be described as a minnow.

   It may well turn out that Jolyon is no better than his dad and would not turn out to be the champion in the making that he currently appears, but without a small team to take a punt on him we may never see if he is another of the greats. Not only will that be a loss for Jolyon, it will be a loss for the fans and the sport as a whole. He certainly deserves to feel a little aggrieved as one of the drivers that he gave a drubbing to this year in GP2 has just been signed to drive with Sauber after placing third in the championship. But then Felipe Nasr comes with a lot of Brazilian cash. And talent, and perhaps Felipe will prove himself and that he deserves to be there. But on current proven form, Jolyon deserves to be there more.

   Another that deserves to be there somewhere is Kevin Magnussen who in better times could have been farmed out to one of the minnows by McLaren. After a fairly impressive rookie campaign he is entitled to feel a bit hard done by in having to take a step backwards to the test role as McLaren finally decided that King Fernando would be mated with the 2009 champion Jenson Button. To be honest it would have been pretty tough on either of McLaren's incumbents to be ditched as Button's performance in more than doubling Magnussen's score was far better than the car deserved in 2014 and which ever driver got the raw prawn was never going to get another drive in '15 due to the late announcement of the team's decision.  The only silver lining for Kevin is that he has been kept on the pay-roll and is presumably there to step back into the seat when Jenson's time is up. Or if the three car per team rule is activated as per my previous suggestion, I gotta say I was pleased that Ron confirmed my suspicions on that when they finally announced Jenson's deal. However asuming that King Fernando and Button see out at least two seasons as team mates and Kevin does hang arround hoping, where does that leave Stoffel Vandoorne who is also running out of series to progress through as a McLaren junior team driver?

   Whether you think they are deserved or not you can mostly see the logic in most of the team's line-up choises;

 Mercedes would have been insane to change.

 Red Bull could possibly have the most exciting pairing next year with Kvyat joining Ricciardo and promoting from within. That's what junior teams are for after all.

 Williams would not want any more change after many years of disruption and have gotten themselves back towards the front with a very effective pairing of one young champion in the making (Bottas) backed up by a very capable experienced almost world champion (Massa).

 McLaren have gotten the bargain of the year with Alonso and one of incoming engine partner's favorites in Button to ensure some stability in a year of transittion. Magnussen waits in the wings.

 Force India are very happy with their current pair with a potential great (Hulkenberg) more than abley backed up by Perez who has his occasional superb moments.

 Toro Rosso are also promoting from within with Verstappen and Sainz sharing rookie seasons in the hope of following in Vettel/Ricciardo/Kyvat's footsteps to Red Bull.

 After a shambles of a year Lotus could not have hoped to get better drivers than their existing pair with Grosjean being potentially from the top drawer & Maldonado bringing in a shit-load of petro-dollars while being pretty handy on his day (see Spain 2013) himself.

Saubers recent "ishoos" mean that they need cash as much as talent so their pairing of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson is probably the best compromise they could come up with.

 The one that I wonder about is Ferrari. In the midst of sacking an awful lot of their senior management and technical staff they have chosen the two drivers that seem to have struggled the most with the latest generation of Grand Prix cars. Vettel simply never got to terms with the lack of rear grip that these turbo cars have (and no blown difusers) and was blown away by Ricciardo while Kimi did no better against a King Fernando who himself was slowly losing his passion for anything red as the year progressed. Sure they are both world champions and given the right car can easilly be again. But neither of them showed any progress from seasons start to end and they are in a team where the design staff are in a huge rebuilding phase and will, in all probability, not supply that all conquering car. In terms of development they don't even like the same things in a car. Vettel likes the rear end to be planted and is less concerned by the front end due to his corner entry style while Kimi can't (and this year didn't) cope with a car with no front end feel. His butt and sensative right foot can sort out the rear end so long as the front is planted. They'll both be pulling in different directions with an unsure design team and so I forsee a very lean year for the fans of the prancing horse.

 Mind you I have also been known to be wrong. Really! It's true……….I remember once back in 1976 when…..


Sam Snape





Musical vanishing chairs

  The music is playing. The chairs are waiting. The players all, world champions, contenders, also rans and hopeful newcomers alike, prance about in ever more frantic circles. The music stops. The chairs have mysteriously vanished. The players all look startled, anxious, perplexed. The conductor says some composers will have to provide extra chairs. The composers claim that the conductor and his masters take too much of the wood for them to make extra chairs. The players are nervous. Will there be a chair for them in the next game?

  While some of those seats have recently, and in some cases somewhat surprisingly, have been settled, there are still many  drivers contending for an ever decreasing number of drives next year. Prior to the Friday night before Sochi not many, Christian Horner included, had any inkling that Sebastian Vettel  would be quitting Red Bull for Ferrari. There were many rumours swirling about that King Fernando was unhappy at the Scuderia and was sniffing around Mercedes just in case… Then that door slammed firmly shut with Rosberg being confirmed for next year and beyond and that left McLaren and it's new Honda engine as the only real alternative. And McLaren have not yet confirmed either of it's current drivers for next year, so queue another nervous former world champion. Button's future is seemingly intertwined with that of King Fernando. Or is it? Will McLaren have two world champions on their books? A situation that would leave Kevin Magnussen, a driver that they have spent a small fortune on bringing through the junior formulas and into his fairly impressive debut season, dangling in the wind. Or does it?

  Remember that Bernie's contracts with the circuit promoters includes guarantees regarding minimum numbers of entries and agreements for the major teams to supply third cars if the numbers drop too low. With both Caterham and Marussia both going into administration it is close, if not at, the point where Bernie will have to request at least two or more teams to run third cars next year. Despite the noises made by the administrators it is unlikely that any buyers will be found for the deaply indebted teams, considering the level of debt and the current distribution of the money that comes into the sport. Even the two new teams that are due to enter the championship in 2016 are more likely to start from scratch rather than buy out the existing debt. And there are at least two, if not three more teams teetering on the edge. Lotus, Force India and Sauber have plenty of rumours surrounding them and their financial health, or lack thereof.

  A worst case scenario, if not probably very likely but who knows, would be that five of the current entries do not show up next year. That leaves just six teams and twelve entries. Even if they all supply a third car that would only bring the numbers up to the eighteen that we had at Austin. Four car teams anyone? There is little chance that some of the six could even afford a third car and almost certainly none could afford a fourth. So one way or another Bernie is going to have to come up with some way of getting more of that money that is flowing out to the venture capitalists that he sold the sport to to go back to the teams, especially the smaller ones that are on the edge. Even then it may well be that Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull, the current big four, will be asked to run a third car.

  So, is the reason we are still waiting to hear where King Fernando ends up is that he is waiting to hear if there will be a third Mercedes for him next year. Is the reason McLaren has not announced who they are dropping from their line-up, asuming King Fernando has indeed signed that mythical contract with Honda, is that they will not be dropping anyone after all? Then again there has been no announcement from Ferrari that King Fernando is actually leaving so will they have three former world champions in their line-up?  Could he end up at Red Bull?

   Just a thought. None of this may happen and King Fernando signs for the vacant Toro Rosso seat. That's probably not very likely, but neither is the latest rumour that Alonso wants to buy Lotus with Santander dosh and bung Ferrari engines in the back. Considering how Ferrari's engines have performed so far I suggest that this option is even less likely than the other scenarios listed above.

BUT….To quote Murray Walker, "if, if,if, F1 is if spelt backwards".

Sam Snape


Esteban Ocon to test Lotus

Lotus F1 Team Junior driver Esteban Ocon will test a two-year old Lotus F1 Team E20 as part of his ongoing development programme and as a reward for winning the FIA Formula 3 Championship in his rookie season.
Eighteen year-old Frenchman Ocon – who has been part of the Lotus F1 Team Junior programme since 2010 – took an unassailable lead in the championship standings this past weekend in Imola meaning the title is his with three races yet to run.
Over the course of his season to date with Italian squad Prema Powerteam, Ocon has achieved nine wins and twenty-one podiums. He currently has 454 points with nearest rival, Max Verstappen, on 368. Ocon has also secured the Rookie title, currently with 558 points to Verstappen’s 448.
Ocon will drive the Lotus F1 Team E20 – as used by Kimi Räikkönen to win the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – over the course of two days at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo on October 22-23. Ahead of his test, he will be conducting a simulator programme at Lotus F1 Team’s Enstone base.
Gerard Lopez, Chairman and Team Principal, Lotus F1 Team:
“Esteban is a tremendous talent for the future. He has shown himself to be a superb driver as part of our Lotus F1 Team Junior programme, we are proud of him and he truly deserves to be given every opportunity to take his career to the next level. To that end he will start testing in the Lotus F1 Team simulator at Enstone this week ahead of driving the E20 at Valencia later this month.”
Alan Permane, Trackside Operations Director, Lotus F1 Team:
“Part of the job of Lotus F1 Team is to consider future drivers through our Lotus F1 Team Junior programme, which has evolved from the longstanding and successful driver development programme run out of Enstone. Esteban has really shone this season so it will be rewarding for all to see him in our simulator and then out on track in the E20.”
Esteban Ocon:
“I would like to thank Lotus F1 Team and Gravity Management for this superb opportunity. The support and back-up I have been given since 2011 has enabled me to win the FIA Formula 3 Championship against some strong competition and I can’t wait to get started on the next step of my training. To drive a Formula 1 car has always been a dream of mine, so I can’t wait to get started.”


Supplied by Lotus


A dreary and featureless race

At a dreary and featureless circuit

In a soulless concrete Olympic precinct

 Ruled by a thug

 Formula 1 should never have gone

 The bikes didn’t - to their credit

 ‘Nuf said

 Sam Snape




  There is an old saying that goes you should never meet your heroes, they only disappoint you. This is often especially true of sporting heroes. Most of them have to be fairly ruthless to reach the top and even those that aren't begin to believe their own publicity and this can make for a pretty unlikable individual.

 That photo - Goodowood 2004

  There are those that, although successful, never quite make the very top of the pile, men such as Elio de Angelis or Riccardo Patrese, who are heroes to more thinking fans who prefer more rounded personalities than the uber-successful and they rearly disappoint when you meet them but truly likable champions are a bit thin on the ground.


  I have been fortunate to have met a few that are the exceptions to the rule, even, you could say the exceptions that prove the rule. Phil Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi spring to mind. Included in that few was Jack Brabham. His accomplishments and championships will be known to anyone who reads this and do not really need endless repeating. I would rather speak more of the man than the myth.


  I first met Jack at Fred Vogel's motoring bookshop in Sydney back in 2004 when Fred asked me to photograph the launch of Jack's biography (The Jack Brabham Story written by Doug Nye) and what initially struck me was how, well humble is close but not quite the right word, but lacking in an overblown sense of self importance, he was. Although he was not shy about speaking about his own achievements - it would have been a pretty boring book launch if he was, he seemed happier talking about the progress of his sons and the contribution of Ron Tauranac to his own success. I might have been happier at the time if Fred hadn't introduced me as "the official pornographer" but such was Jack's mischevious sense of humour that that is how he refered to me on the few other occassions we met.

 Jack with Ron Tauranac (L) at his book launch

  Another measure of the man came early the following year when I produced a calendar containing photos taken at the 2004 Goodwood Revival. The cover was a shot of Jack in a BT19 which he was quite taken by. As a courtesy I had sent Jack a copy. I wasn't expecting any response but thought at best I might get some acknowledgement from a secretary or someone else on his behalf. What I wasn't expecting was the guy on the other end of the phone to say "Hi Sam, it's Jack Brabham calling to thank you…" And this was before, during about a ten minute chat, he figured out I was "Fred's pornographer". You can't imagine many of the more modern champions taking the time to personally call and thank someone for receiving something so mundane as a photo in a calendar, even if he did like it. The gratitude and respect he showed us lesser mortals, from everyday fans, to writers, photographers and competitors was what made Sir Jack Brabham stand out from the pack.


  Australia and the motor racing world has lost a true sporting hero who was more than worthy of that title.


  Jack, "Fred's pornographer" salutes you.


Sam Snape


May 24 2014

GOING Ooooooooooooo


   Many years ago when sex was safe and motor racing was dangerous, a band called Blue Oyster Cult released a song that was sort of about the horrors of reincarnation. No, no, no not Godzilla but Joan Crawford (Has Risen from the Grave). And now we have the Formula 1 version.  The whining noise that could be heard reverberating off the hotel walls around the beautiful harbour setting that is Monaco, drowning out the quiet new generation engines - sorry - power units, was not the turbos spinning up. Not the ERS systems storing up all that nice green electricity. No folks - gasp - oh the humanity - Nigel Mansell has risen from the grave…………

   Just give Hamilton a bristling mustache and it would be tricky to tell the difference. Ooooo Nico had a posh upbringing…..Oooooo Nico cheated in qualifying…….Ooooo Nico errr -  the team wouldn't let me pit………….Oooooo My eye hurts…………..Ooooo must have been one of those bristling mustache hairs getting in  my eye….Oooooo Nico isn't my friend anymore……….Ooooo my cars made out of plasticine……….Ooooo my team has put me on the wrong strategy…..Oooooo my legs fell off.  Etc etc. Can't wait for him to fall out of the car and collapse in apparent exhaustion after overcoming all those impossible odds that all of the creatures in the universe have strewn in his path.

   Seriously, does the New Nige really expect us to believe that Nico cheated? He's seen the data …. well so did the stewards and they didn't come to the same conclusion. If he has other evidence he should take it to the FIA, if not he should just shut the fuck up and get on with what he is paid to do. Would the New Nige be whining if Nico had made that error while Hamilton was at the top of the time-sheets? No of course not. The New Nige just has to face the fact that Nico was simply faster than him on the day and get over it because the more he whines the more Rosberg will know he is getting under his skin and winning the mind war.

   Just like last year Rosberg was in imperious form at Monaco where he overcame his team-mate's slightly superior natural speed with his own slightly superior racing nous. Much like an aging Lauda versus a faster Prost or an older Prost versus a faster Senna a cerebral approach and superior ability to set up a car can make up for a deficit in outright pace. Whether Nico can convert this into a championship win over the New Nige like Lauda and Prost did remains to be seen but so far he is putting a very good challenge together. And as with Lauda and Prost, Nico and New Nige's team is letting them get on with it to win or lose the title on the track. We may not get too many different winners this year but I don't think we will get too many boring races.    

   Surprisingly just shutting up – at least in public – and getting on with it is mostly what Sebastian Vettel is doing as he attempts to deal with a situation that he really is not used to. He no longer has the fastest car and – for the moment at least – he is no longer the fastest driver in the team. As Mark Webber can attest, it is pretty damned difficult to out-qualify and out-race Vettel on a regular basis, even when he isn’t benefiting from a blown floor, but that is precisely what Smiley Dan is doing. Five – one in both qualifying and races with Vettel only edging him out at Sepang so far. Although Seb has been closer to Smiley Dan in the last couple of races, the young West Australian is riding a wave of confidence and is seemingly able to respond to anything that Vettel can come up with. It can’t last forever of course and one of these days Vettel will best his team-mate and it will be very interesting to see how the team dynamic plays out from that point on. Seb is also discovering just how much of a bitch life can be when Lady Luck is looking in another direction. Or perhaps we are still underestimating just how good Smiley Dan really is.

   Luck? Good management? A liberal dose of both saw minnows Marussia claim their first points with Bianchi finishing in ninth place at Monaco and leap ahead of Sauber in the championship standings. Both Sauber drivers assisted this situation by crashing out of the race, indeed when Gutierrez dropped it at La Rascasse it promoted Bianchi into the points. Sure there were plenty of retirements to boost the Maurssia up the leader-board but their race pace was reasonable and Bianchi finished ahead of Grosjean’s Lotus on merit. The five second penalty for serving a previous stop and go penalty during a safety car period was all that dropped him behind in the final classification. Unless Caterham, who finished with a best result so far of 11th, can snatch a few fortunate points somewhere this season then this result will be worth around thirty to forty million dollars when the prize fund is divvied up come Christmas time. A bloody good little earner indeed. I don’t hear them going Oooooooooooo…………….

Sam Snape