Jumping to conclusions

The reaction to the FIA’s press release today highlights the danger of rushing to digital print:

The WMSC approved the introduction of a new specification engine from 2013, underlining the FIA’s commitment to improving sustainability and addressing the needs of the automotive industry.

Following dialogue with the engine manufacturers and experts in this field, the power units will be four cylinders, 1.6 litre with high pressure gasoline injection up to 500 bar with a maximum of 12,000 rpm.

Many people have alighted on the magic number ‘500 bar’ and rushed to announce that turbo engines will return to F1 with, like, ker-ay-zee boost pressures. Sorry, but that’s not what the sentence says. Look again: high pressure gasoline injection up to 500 bar. That’s not the same as turbocharging.

The introduction of high-pressure common rail fuel injection on diesel cars in recent years has yielded huge improvements in performance, refinement and efficiency. Most road car diesels now run around 1000 bar of injection pressure, but their petrol equivalents are lagging – 200 bar is about as high as it goes at present.

Using Formula 1 as a laboratory for performance and efficiency development makes sense on a number of levels. The sport has to be more relevant to the public at large. It also needs to attract investment from the automotive industry rather than hoping for a financial white knight to charge in from the ether to replace the departed tobacco money and the departing bank money.

Leading research into high-pressure gasoline injection systems could engage not only the established automotive industry, but also the breakthrough car makers in the far east. Turbocharging? It’s been done, luv…

Turbos will be part of the package, but my snouts suggest that the boost pressure will be more modest – in the region of 1.5 bar or lower, around where they were capped last time around. Longevity is more important than before, now that drivers face greater limits on the number of engines they can use over the course of the season.

A legend passes…

The Formula 1 world has lost one of its more colourful lunch partners. Christopher Hilton, the prolific book writer and former Fleet Street journalist, passed away unexpectedly at the weekend.

Chris was an established sports writer, albeit specialising in tennis, for the Daily Express when he was pitched into F1 at the beginning of the eventful 1982 season. He later turned those experiences into a book, one of many on F1 and other sporting subjects.

As a book writer his work rate put the rest of us to shame. He put this down to a regular routine in which he would rise early, write until lunchtime or thereabouts in his dressing gown, and then go out (properly dressed by now) for the papers, which he would digest over a pint in his local. Following this convivial repast he would return home to carry on writing until early evening, whereupon he would call time on the day’s work and take a long, hot bath.

Occasionally he would interrupt this routine to visit the LAT Archive for picture research, and this would usually involve lunch, during which he would provide delightful company. Thankfully he would give at least 48hrs notice of his impending arrival so that you could make alternative transport arrangements and mollify loved ones. Lunches with Chris almost inevitably occupied rather longer than the statutory hour, and would often involve you stumbling from the establishment rather later than expected and somewhat the worse for wear.

Most F1 fans will have at least one of his books. His prodigious output led to the inevitable accusations of hackery, and certainly many of his biographies relied heavily on secondary sources, but he always took the matter of accuracy and fairness very seriously, and he would never abuse the legal tenet that the dead can’t sue for libel. The majority of the previous sentence contains nothing that can be said about the author of a recent high-profile biography of a major F1 figure…

Santander still banking on Alonso

Ferrari’s little strategic error last weekend may have cost Fernando Alonso his shot at the drivers’ title, but the team’s sponsors are still laughing all the way to the bank – so to speak.

Banco Santander, the multinational financial group which sponsors both Ferrari and McLaren (although in the latter team its branding appears only on the drivers’ overalls), has released figures from the Media Sports Marketing and Havas Sport consultants estimating the bank’s return on investment (ROI) from its F1 sponsorships at €270million in 2010, up from a previous estimate of €250million.

The bank also takes title sponsorship of the British, German and Italian Grands Prix.

Meanwhile, back in Abu Dhabi, Mubadala – an investment company run by one of the members of the royal family – is selling its five per cent stake in Ferrari back to the FIAT group. Mubadala reportedly paid €114million in 2005 for the stake, originally held by the Italian bank Mediobanca. The figure mooted for the current sale is €122million, which is a tidy sum given the travails of the automotive industry in recent years. The sale has come about because FIAT exercised an option to buy back the shares – an option it has deferred several times.

Mubadala is part of Abu Dhabi’s strategy to diversify away from fossil fuels and into tourism and technology by making key investments. We can expect to see the name return before long – indeed, the rumour mill is already linking it to a possible acquisition of the Formula One Group from CVC Capital Partners. That may be a little far-fetched, though…

Sad news about a great snapper

It saddens me to report that the supremely talented portrait photographer Hugo Dixon passed away last week at the age of 46, after a short battle with cancer.

Hugo was not a full time Formula 1 photographer – his usual subjects were rock stars, of whom he could recount many a scurrilous tale. But he loved motor racing and would happily discount his usual fee so as to fit into the budget of our publishing niche.

Photographers can be a precious and temperamental breed. Hugo was very easy going, perhaps because he had been inconvenienced by people far more famous than those we were asking him to photograph. After all, when you’ve had to delay a shoot for 24 hours while Kurt Cobain has his blood changed after an overdose, having Jarno Trulli flounce off mid-shoot because it’s “a bit cold” pales in comparison.

He was an ebullient soul – always great company – and an adventurous one, too: he and a similarly intrepid journo once slept in a communal dorm in Sao Paulo while completing a fan story about the Brazilian GP. No armed raiders arrived to part them with his photographic equipment…

Hugo and his marvellous work will be greatly missed.