NOV 30th 2015

Three Things We Learned This Weekend... Solberg Supreme, BBC Doubts and Alonso's off?

Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sunday 29 November 2015. Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-30 Honda. World Copyright: Charles Coates/LAT Photographic ref: Digital Image _J5R4206

Measuring McLaren’s misery

The final reckoning in the 2015 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship makes for grim reading if you’re a McLaren fan. This great British racing institution, which has racked up 182 wins, 155 pole positions, 152 fastest laps, 12 drivers’ titles and eight manufacturer crowns, as well as having its cars spend 10,578 laps of 322 Grands Prix in the lead, finished ninth – ahead of only the tiny, under-resourced, relative newcomer Manor Marussia, which failed to get either car into the top-10 in any of the 19 races. Not since 1980 has McLaren finished so low in the makes’ race.

The Woking squad, which any race fan worth his or her salt knows once guided F1 greats Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton to the title, scored just 27 points in the 2015 campaign, compared with champions Mercedes’ tally of 703. McLaren’s best single-race haul was 12 points in Hungary, courtesy of Fernando Alonso’s fifth place and Jenson Button’s ninth.

Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Saturday 28 November 2015. Fernando Alonso, McLaren. World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic. ref: Digital Image _89P0084

Those numbers are pretty depressing, and the stories doing the rounds in Abu Dhabi this past weekend about Alonso’s future with the team in 2016 and beyond don’t help. Will the Spaniard retire, go somewhere else (where?) or take a sabbatical? His team-mate Button put a brave face on the situation – yet again – during post-race interviews, even managing a smile when recounting that he’d held off a Williams for five laps and had enjoyed his on-track scrapping for 12th place.

Things must drastically improve for McLaren next season. Its engine partner Honda, with which, remember, it enjoyed so much success in the late-1980s and early-’90s, has a full season under its belt with the 1.6-litre turbo-hybrid technology. Sure, it came to the party a year late, but those rivals’-head-start excuses won’t wash in 2016.

It’s sad to see one of F1’s powerhouses, one that is second only to Ferrari at the top of most of the stats tables, struggling with a title-sponsorless car, losing long-time technical partners and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. As a long-time McLaren fan and a stalwart supporter of British endeavour in every sphere of motorsport, I hope the McLaren-Honda MP4-31 is a belter.

BBC F1 Suzi Perry David Coulthard Eddie Jordan

BBC F1: is there a future?

BBC F1 anchorwoman Suzi Perry’s ‘see you in 2016, we hope!’ pay-off at the end of the Beeb’s live coverage of the finale in Abu Dhabi reiterated suggestions of an uncertain future in the sport for the broadcasting giant. It’s not a secret that the BBC is targeting massive deficit plugs, to the tune of £150million, or that sports broadcasting will bear a £35million brunt of that. How will that affect F1? Hot rumours are that its F1 commitment is rife for a cull, meaning we might all have to get Sky dishes for 2016, despite the share-deal with Sky not contractually due to end until 2018.

The television sports-rights war is a bloody one (think about how much Sky pays for each Premiership football match, because it couldn’t afford to lose the deal), and doubtless Rupert Murdoch, BT Sport et al will be keeping a close eye on developments.

Sky Sports F1

The BBC got a barrage of grief when it announced in 2011 that it would only be showing half the races live, with the others coming in the form of edited highlights, but the truth then – and now – is that it couldn’t afford anything more. It chose not to walk away, instead battling on and bringing us the excellent combo of frontwoman Perry and commentator Ben Edwards, with expert punditry/co-commentary from David Coulthard and amusing interjections from Eddie Jordan.

Let’s hope the BBC still has a presence in F1 next season…

Petter Solberg

Solberg: WRX superstar

Young drivers making their way up through the motorsport ranks, in any discipline, could learn a thing or five from Norwegian Petter Solberg. The 41-year-old yesterday retained his FIA World Rallycross Championship title in his self-run Citroen DS3 and the former disco-dancing champ unleashed his trademark celebrations in Argentina, mostly involving donuts, leaping about, smiling and thanking people.

Solberg’s rabid enthusiasm is the perfect complement to his speed and commitment in the car – the sort of pace and bravery that landed him the 2003 World Rally Championship for Subaru. And rally fans who were in Margam Park in South Wales the day he landed the WRC crown and witnessed the post-victory shenanigans will know what I mean about The Solberg Show.

2015 FIA World Rallycross Championship // Round 10 // Barcelona, Spain // 18 - 20, September 2015 // Worldwide Copyright: Colin McMaster/Monster/McKlein

In the modern motorsport world, in which a driver’s every move – inside and outside the car – is scrutinised, Solberg plays the game superbly. His enthusiasm is infectious and a breath of fresh air among the corporate, PR-safe rituals akin to most international formulas.

In fact, we’d go as far as suggesting he be recruited to write the ‘how to be the perfect motorsport personality’ manual and that anyone involved in the sport professionally be made to read it.

Photography courtesy of LAT, Petter Solberg and World Rallycross and BBC F1 image courtesy of Phil Guest licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

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