Flat Chat 36:

A couple of days ago an American News program, shown on cable TV, ran an expose of kart racing for kids. "You will not believe what you are about to see" exclaimed the self righteous presenter, "kids driving at speeds of up to 40mph!". The gist of the piece was that no parent in their right mind would put their children in such danger. One of the karting officials attempted to explain their side, that the racing was very strictly controlled, that statistics proved that you had a greater chance of injury playing a stick and ball sport but the program kept harking back to the same footage of kids having karting accidents. They were obviously struggling to find film of the apparently normal  horrendous accidents having to show the same footage over and over again. An interview with a kid nursing a bruised hand after a shunt saw the child and his father state it was no problem and he would be out racing next week and that he had suffered worse falling off his bike. The program then hit below the belt by showing a photo of a youngster who had been killed in a karting accident a few years ago. This was tragic, to say the least, but should it put parents off allowing their kids to join a sport that gives kids a real sense of purpose, that is an activity that the whole family can be involved in, an activity that keeps kids away from drugs and other nefarious activities the self righteous presenter would probably get on an even higher horse about. Sad to say I am sure many more children have been killed horse riding, boating, bike riding, playing sports like American football than they have racing karts. This may sound callous but unfortunately it's a fact of life.

My brother's daughters all compete in horse jumping, they have all broken bones and sadly it's a sport in which some pay the ultimate penalty. In fact in the UK statistically the most dangerous sport a few years ago was fishing, believe it or not. Main cause of death was fishing rods snagging electricity lines. My point really is that almost any sport is dangerous, from soccer to golf, fishing to horse racing. Karting would be extremely dangerous for kids if it was not properly sanctioned, if the latest safety equipment was not worn, if the tracks did not meet minimum safety requirements. Our American presenter is a reflection of a change in society generally. In the West in particular safety is everything, no one should do anything remotely dangerous and the "nanny state" legislates against just about anything that could put you in peril. It's only a matter of time, in my opinion, before sports like boxing are banned in many Countries and motor sport will no doubt be high on the hit list.

Society's attitude to danger has changed beyond measure in the past fifty years or so and motor sport reflects this change. In the sixties drivers in F1 had an almost as much chance of meeting their end behind the wheel as they did living to tell the tale. At the time this was seen as normal, in fact it added to the glamour of the sport and its heroes. However, thankfully, it got to a stage where it became unacceptable and safety became a real factor. Jackie Stewart was one the pioneers and he was slated by many at the time. Countless race drivers, myself included, owe their lives to guys like Jackie Stewart. The sport has changed for the better, no one in their right minds wants to see anyone injured or killed. However now that drivers need not fear injury what is regarded as acceptable as far as driving etiquette is concerned has changed for the worse. When crashing meant injury or death drivers did their best not to put themselves or their competitors in a life threatening situation. Weaving, banging wheels, brake testing was just not done. If someone out-braked you into a corner you gave them room, now the reaction is to push your rival off the track.

I met a guy called Ian Ashley at Silverstone a few years ago. Ashley was a F1 driver before a huge leg breaking shunt put him out of the sport. Where he made his name was in a class called Formula 5000. These tubular space frame chassis cars had huge V8 engines and for a while where extremely popular in the States and Europe. They were not much slower than F1, in fact Peter Gethin at a non-championship pre-season F1 race at Brands Hatch famously beat all the F1 cars in his grid filling F5000 car. They were very fast cars and as a result many drivers were killed when they crashed. Ashley recalled regularly throwing up in his hotel the night before the race as he was pretty sure the following day was going to be his last. "At the time it still seemed normal, no way would I even think of doing that now" was his parting remark.

Around the same time as Ashley was racing I was a spectator at an end of season non-championship race at Brands Hatch in 1971 when Jo Siffert crashed at the back of the circuit, out of the sight of the main grandstands, and perished in the fiery wreck. I will never forget the sight of the drivers walking back past us to the paddock and seeing most of them in tears. Poor Ronnie Peterson, in particular, was inconsolable and was being propped up by two of the other drivers. Siffert had crashed due his suspension being damaged after a first lap clash with Peterson. A week later the drivers would all be back in their cars having been to yet another funeral of a comrade. They knew the dangers only too well and yet they still thought it was worth the risk. Real heroes.  I will also never the forget the sight of the crowd running towards the cloud of thick black smoke trying to get a closer look, as an impressionable youngster it showed me first hand the dark side of the sport. A decade later I remember sitting in my Formula Ford before a race thinking it had been some time since I had broken a bone in an accident and that surely my luck was going to run out in this race. At that time it was not unusual for drivers to break bones in the junior Formula, it was normal and we just accepted the fact. Now, no way would I race if I thought I had a very good chance of hurting myself! A decade earlier it was normal for drivers to be killed, by my time in Formula Ford the odd injury was 'acceptable' whilst today injury is almost unheard of.

The improvement in safety is fantastic and it allows many more people to participate in this great sport. Young drivers never had it so good and I hope governments and supercilious American TV programs will leave us alone to get on with a sport which gives young people such a great state in life.





FLAT CHAT 38:

Clay Regazzoni, who will forever be remembered as a Ferrari driver and also the man who won the first Grand Prix for the Williams team, was recently killed in a road accident. Regazzoni's driving career came to an abrupt end when he was behind the wheel of an Ensign, I think, at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1980. The brakes failed and he careered head on into the wall paralyzing himself from the waist down.

I actually remember where I was that fateful day, driving home from a Formula Ford race in the UK. I had stumbled across the American Services radio station and they were broadcasting the race live. The American commentator gave a graphic and emotional description of the accident and his conclusion was that no way could the driver have survived. I was mortified as he was a little bit of a hero to me and the following day when the news was that he was alive but paralysed relief was tinged by sadness at the thought he would never race again.

The only driver in the past decade to whom I could compare Clay Regazzoni is Jean Alesi. Both raced for the love it, both raced for Ferrari and both were loved by the tifosi, the Italian Ferrari supporters. On their day both were sublime drivers with uncanny car control and both let their hearts rule their heads which resulted in one two many accidents and them moving to teams for the wrong reasons. Really Alesi was born too late, he would have fitted into seventies F1 much better than the more clinical Formula we have today. Regazzoni was really the epitomy of an F1 driver of his time. His name sounded just right for a race driver and his dashing looks meant he was never short of a female admirer. He was also a hard but fair driver, just like Alesi, and I am sure he abhorred the tactics of some of the current day racers.

I do wonder however, if he had been born later, if he would have adopted the Schumacher rules of combat. In Regazzoni's day Michael Schumacher would not have lived too long, crash a seventies F1 car and you had a good chance of not living to tell the tale. The modern F1 car is so strong and the circuits so safe a driver injuring a finger is now big news. It allows drivers to be far more aggressive and the only sure way to put a stop to questionable driving is to make the cars more dangerous and that would be crazy! But if drivers were penalized, not thorough losing life or limb, but through firm penalties the result would be better racing. If you knew you would be excluded from the results by purposely knocking someone off the track you would race the guy not try to run him off the track.

The first round of the new Asian F3 Pacific Series was held at Zhuhai and Team Goddard's Henri Karjalainen dominated the event. He qualified on pole, won the first two races before he was rudely crashed out by McLaren Autosport award winner, Oliver Turvey. The latter was given a 30 second penalty for his tactics dropping him from first to third place. It was scant compensation for Henri, who scored no points, but I am sure Oliver will think twice about his Schumacher tactics next time. We were all robbed of a good race by Oliver's misdemeanor, and the spectators and TV viewers were the real losers. I am sure just one year ago Turvey would have got away with it, but finally I think a Schumacher backlash is happening and hopefully better racing will be the result.

Turvey is a star of tomorrow. Any driver who wins the Mclaren Autosport award must be incredibly talented and most go on to race in F1. However he is going to have an uphill struggle unless he is picked up by a manufacturer as his family is not rich by any means. They really struggle to find the budget to go racing, last year he missed the first part of the Formula BMW season due to lack of funding and he now faces a financial mountain to climb to find the money for British F3. US$900,000 is what is needed for a top British F3 team. This makes Asian F3 and its US$180,000 budget incredible value for money. Its not British F3 but it is incredibly competitive, witness the fact that Turvey did not win in Zhuhai! It demonstrates that AF3 is a credible series for a driver to demonstrate and develop their talents. It also confirms that Karjalainen is a developing talent. Henri also struggles for money and it will be that, not lack of talent and determination, that would have prevented him from getting to F1. Hopefully he can attract the backing to be the next Raikkenon!
FLAT CHAT 38

Clay Regazzoni, who will forever be remembered as a Ferrari driver and also the man who won the first Grand Prix for the Williams team, was recently killed in a road accident. Regazzoni's driving career came to an abrupt end when he was behind the wheel of an Ensign, I think, at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1980. The brakes failed and he careered head on into the wall paralyzing himself from the waist down.

I actually remember where I was that fateful day, driving home from a Formula Ford race in the UK. I had stumbled across the American Services radio station and they were broadcasting the race live. The American commentator gave a graphic and emotional description of the accident and his conclusion was that no way could the driver have survived. I was mortified as he was a little bit of a hero to me and the following day when the news was that he was alive but paralysed relief was tinged by sadness at the thought he would never race again.

The only driver in the past decade to whom I could compare Clay Regazzoni is Jean Alesi. Both raced for the love it, both raced for Ferrari and both were loved by the tifosi, the Italian Ferrari supporters. On their day both were sublime drivers with uncanny car control and both let their hearts rule their heads which resulted in one two many accidents and them moving to teams for the wrong reasons. Really Alesi was born too late, he would have fitted into seventies F1 much better than the more clinical Formula we have today. Regazzoni was really the epitomy of an F1 driver of his time. His name sounded just right for a race driver and his dashing looks meant he was never short of a female admirer. He was also a hard but fair driver, just like Alesi, and I am sure he abhorred the tactics of some of the current day racers.

I do wonder however, if he had been born later, if he would have adopted the Schumacher rules of combat. In Regazzoni's day Michael Schumacher would not have lived too long, crash a seventies F1 car and you had a good chance of not living to tell the tale. The modern F1 car is so strong and the circuits so safe a driver injuring a finger is now big news. It allows drivers to be far more aggressive and the only sure way to put a stop to questionable driving is to make the cars more dangerous and that would be crazy! But if drivers were penalized, not thorough losing life or limb, but through firm penalties the result would be better racing. If you knew you would be excluded from the results by purposely knocking someone off the track you would race the guy not try to run him off the track.

The first round of the new Asian F3 Pacific Series was held at Zhuhai and Team Goddard's Henri Karjalainen dominated the event. He qualified on pole, won the first two races before he was rudely crashed out by McLaren Autosport award winner, Oliver Turvey. The latter was given a 30 second penalty for his tactics dropping him from first to third place. It was scant compensation for Henri, who scored no points, but I am sure Oliver will think twice about his Schumacher tactics next time. We were all robbed of a good race by Oliver's misdemeanor, and the spectators and TV viewers were the real losers. I am sure just one year ago Turvey would have got away with it, but finally I think a Schumacher backlash is happening and hopefully better racing will be the result.

Turvey is a star of tomorrow. Any driver who wins the Mclaren Autosport award must be incredibly talented and most go on to race in F1. However he is going to have an uphill struggle unless he is picked up by a manufacturer as his family is not rich by any means. They really struggle to find the budget to go racing, last year he missed the first part of the Formula BMW season due to lack of funding and he now faces a financial mountain to climb to find the money for British F3. US$900,000 is what is needed for a top British F3 team. This makes Asian F3 and its US$180,000 budget incredible value for money. Its not British F3 but it is incredibly competitive, witness the fact that Turvey did not win in Zhuhai! It demonstrates that AF3 is a credible series for a driver to demonstrate and develop their talents. It also confirms that Karjalainen is a developing talent. Henri also struggles for money and it will be that, not lack of talent and determination, that would have prevented him from getting to F1. Hopefully he can attract the backing to be the next Raikkenon!
FLAT CHAT 39:

Its an old subject that keeps cropping up in Asian Motor Sport but it was brought to mind again the other day when I was surfing channels on the TV in the South of the Philippines. The local cable company offers 78 channels one of which is an Indian station which happened to be broadcasting their weekly Motor Sports program as I trawled the channels looking for something worthwhile to watch.

We were treated to half an hour of close, exciting racing in a very well produced, entertaining show. The races were held at one of the only two circuits in India, Chennai near Madras, and featured three different classes. Formula Swift is for 1300cc Suzuki engined space frame Formula cars devoid of wings as is Formula Hyundai which uses 1400cc engines from the Korean manufacturer. They both look similar to Formula Vee cars from the States and Europe and they are both made in India using over 90% Indian made parts. Its cheap and the racing itself was entertaining with lots of slipping and sliding and, hush hush don't tell Formula One, lots of overtaking. Budgets are reputedly around US$800 for a four day event which represents excellent value.

The main race was for Formula Rolon Chevrolet which also use a space frame chassis but they have wings and slicks and they look pretty good to me. The racing was again very close and they reckon a season of six events costs around $20,000 which is incredible value for money.

India is filling the gap between karting and the first rung on the International motor sport ladder, Formula BMW Asia in this region. The budget for the latter is at least US$130,000 for a season and it's a huge commitment to make for a driver straight out of karting. Many drivers simply cannot afford it and they cannot attract sponsors without results to show in Formula cars. It's a problem almost all Asian countries are experiencing, there are no cheap entry level series. Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia all lack them. China has seen some new Formula spring up this year, Formula Geely and Formula West being similar to Formula Swift and Hyundai but as of now they seem to be driven by touring car drivers of a certain age who definitely would not qualify for Formula BMW!

Whilst Asian Karting gives a good grounding to drivers it simply doesn't give a racer a good enough grounding to jump straight into an International Formula, like F.BMW Asia, and immediately do well. Despite the low tech nature of the entry Formula in India they do allow the driver to learn how to drive a CAR rather than a kart and at a relatively low cost. Filipino, Malaysians and Indonesians, to name a few, simply do not have this luxury and they can find their motor sport finished almost before they begin for lack of opportunity.

It's a simple formula to produce low cost single seater racing cars. Space frame chassis, made locally, using an engine which is supplied locally. In other words the local content must be as high as possible in order to keep costs in check. There is no reason why a car cannot be made in Asia to the same high standards as Europe but without the high labour costs, the cost of freighting the car around the World and import duties and taxes.

There are some who would look on a Formula Rolon with distain. If it isn't carbon  fibre and high tech they feel its beneath them to be seen in one. Also there is a belief that space frame chassis are dangerous, that they will disintegrate in an accident. Formula Ford regularly features some of the most spectacular accidents you will see and yet the drivers almost always walk away - the modern space frame chassis is incredibly strong. The bottom line is that India is producing quite a few new racing stars and they are rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with simply because their young karters can now afford to graduate to cars. It also allows the hobby driver to get into National Formula Racing rather being forced to stay in karts for their whole racing life.

Hopefully we will see more low cost series sprouting up around the region which will be good for us all involved in the sport.  Here in the Philippines Formula Renault has just been launched with a view to racing in 2008. I wish it luck but I believe it would have a greater chance of success if we had a pool of drivers already schooled in a low cost Formula.
Flat-CHAT 40:

You get a call. One of your Countrymen has dislocated his shoulder and cannot compete in the upcoming GP2 race supporting the Turkish Grand Prix. Would you like to take his place whilst his shoulder heals? Naturally your first reaction is yes, absolutely yes. Then you get to thinking. Your only experience to date is two half seasons of Formula BMW, a season of Formula Renault in Asia and the four event Asian F3 Pacific Series. The most powerful car you have raced is the 240hp F3 car whilst the GP2 has over 600 horses and is only just over six seconds off a front row F1 time and three seconds slower than a Spyker lap. It's going to be a huge jump in performance. You know you can handle it, you have great belief in your abilities but there will be no pre-race testing so you will have just one thirty minute session in Turkey before qualifying and the two races. Turkey is regarded as one of the most challenging circuits on the F1 calendar and of course you have never set foot in Turkey before let alone seen the track.

Realistically if you can get within six seconds of the pace in your first session it would mean you have done a great job and to get within two seconds of the pace by the end of the weekend should mark you out as a potential star of tomorrow. Or will it? You are aware how influential certain motor sport magazines are on the careers of up and coming drivers and you are also aware of the lack of understanding some, but not all, of the journalists who write for these magazines have of what it takes to be competitive in a series like GP2. Many motor sport scribes will just look at the result sheets and write a driver off without delving into the circumstances. You can just see the race report suggesting you are out of your depth and don't belong at this level of the sport. Decision makers within motor sport, who should know better but don't have the time and/or inclination to check the facts, read this and your career could be over after just one GP2 race.  

The other side of the coin is that it could help open doors in your own Country, you know no matter how the race goes you are going to get a great deal of media mileage at home and that in turn could lead to more sponsorship dollars to further your career. Your family is not wealthy so you rely on sponsorship to fuel your career. Your personal backers are very excited at the thought of seeing their man in a GP2 race and you know if they are happy with your performance they will help you on the next step up the motor sports ladder.

It's a dilemma many drivers face, the desire to move to bigger and better series as quickly as possible tempered by the need not to damage your career by stepping up too quickly without the required experience and possibly irreparably damaging your reputation. Over the past few season we have seen several Asian Formula BMW drivers move on to race in Europe after just one year of racing and disappear into obscurity. They left F.BMW Asia just as they were gaining enough experience to become competitive but without the experience to step up to more powerful series in Europe. No one gets to the top of any sport without years of experience, so why should Motor Sport be any different? 

If your name is Henri Karjalainen, the same man who raced in the Asian F3 Pacific Series with Team Goddard, then you decide to take that leap of faith and replace fellow Finn, Markus Niemela, at BCN Competition along side Ho Pin Tung. I have a very high opinion of Henri's abilities and whilst I feared for the reaction of the press if it did not go well I believe he was correct to grab the opportunity when it came. It can only make him a better driver, even if he ends up competing in the 2007-8 Asian F3 Series. Selfishly I hope he does to return to Team Goddard and AF3 as we want to win the championship and he is just the man to do it. However it would give also give me great pleasure if the GP2 opportunity opens up the door to bigger and better things in Europe. Either way it demonstrates that AF3 is doing its job of creating the stars of tomorrow. Henri got the opportunity because of his results in AF3 and it demonstrates how cost effective our series is. No other driver in the GP2 grid in Turkey will have spent less on their career to that point, by a huge factor I would think.

For the record Henri was 5.7 seconds off the fastest in practice, 4.1 seconds slower than pole in qualifying and was less than three seconds off fastest lap in the first of the two races. He retired after spinning out of 18th place. In race two 2006 British and Macau F3 Champion, Mike Conway, ran into the back of him at the first turn on lap one and both were out on the spot. Not bad at all considering his experience, I just hope those motor sport journalists look at the facts before giving their opinion.
Flat-CHAT 41:

Back in 2003 the future looked bright for the new generation of young karters from the Philippines. Drivers like Dado Pena, Tyson Sy and Don Pastor were graduating to the then new Formula BMW Asia Series and the dizzy heights of Formula One seemed to be almost within reach. Fast forward to 2007 and all three of these drivers have lost any realistic chance of achieving their dream.

Don Pastor ran out of money long before his compatriots and has been forced to ply his trade in Touring Cars. Tyson Sy went on to win the 2004 Promotions Class Championship with Team Goddard in Asian Formula Three and went on to win several AF3 races overall before chasing his dream in the USA, competing in the Star Mazda Championship. Two huge and costly accidents, both not his fault, have put paid to that adventure. Meanwhile Dado Pena also became a race winner in Asian Formula Three, again with Team Goddard, but is currently back completing his studies after an aborted attempt to put together a Philippine A1GP Team. All three drivers are still under twenty years old yet are already viewed to be too old to 'make it' in Formula racing.

Lewis Hamilton has a lot to answer for here. Along with drivers like Sebastian Vettel he has been catapulted into the highest echelons of the sport at a very young age. They seemed to have appeared from nowhere and it reflects badly on our local drivers who are the same age and yet they have got no further up the motorsport ladder than Asian Formula Three. However when you delve deeper you will discover that both Hamilton and Vettel have been racing since a very young age, around 7 in Cadet Karting, and that they were groomed from that tender age to become F1 stars. Hamilton learnt his trade in the ultra competitive British Karting championships and of course he was helped by having the support of the McLaren F1 team. They built a structured path for this career. After karting he graduated to Formula Renault, which was planned to be a two year campaign, learn in the first year win in the second which he duly did taking the British Formula Renault Championship by storm. Another two year stint in European Formula Three followed and again he won the Championship in the second year. A planned two year GP2 campaign went wrong when he won in the first year and the rest as they say is history.

If you look at the careers of Tyson and Dado, they both started quite young in karts but still when they were four yours older than Hamilton. They also raced in Philippine and latterly Asian championships. In common with most series in the region the races are tough at the top but there is not the depth of competition Hamilton faced in Europe. Also European karters compete almost on a weekly basis whereas in Asia it's more like a race a month. The result is that by the time Hamilton graduated from karts he would have completed many more racing laps than Dado and Tyson had at the same stage of their careers, by a factor of tens of thousands I would think. So when our local boys arrived in F.BMW they had no realistic chance of making the sort of impression Hamilton made on his graduation to cars. I would think in his first year in Formula Renault Hamilton completed more laps in a race car than Dado or Tyson have after four seasons of racing.

Years ago when I was Formula One wannabe in British Formula Ford many of us would look enviously at drivers from Countries like Brazil who seemed to have the full support of their government and corporate Brazil. It helped that drivers like Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet were from wealthy backgrounds which allowed them to race in their homeland before venturing to Europe but they still had the full support of their Countrymen.

I remain amazed that Corporate Philippines does not support drivers like Dado and Tyson. Their families have supported them financially for their racing to date and both drivers have given it 100 percent yet their efforts are largely ignored. Supporting a race driver is not a charity, sponsors use motor sport for branding, image building, business to business, corporate entertainment - all designed to increase sales. A Filipino who is successful on the World stage helps the Country to build its reputation, especially in a sport like motor racing with its modern, high tech image. Dado and Tyson have missed the Formula One boat but it doesn't mean they cannot perform in World Series like A1GP and Champ Car.

India is beginning to produce many good young drivers. Narain Karthikeyan has already made it to F1, with support of corporate India, and Karun Chandook is making waves in GP2 and has already tested an F1 car. There are several young Indians hot on their footsteps, Akhil Khushlani being one of them. Akhil drives for Eurasia Motorsport in Formula BMW Asia with the same sponsors as Narain and Karun. Corporate India is helping young drivers achieve their dream and at the same time benefiting from their success. India will have several drivers in F1, A1GP and Champ Cars in the not too distant future, Philippines will not. Unless the government and corporate Philippines can be persuaded to do something about it…..
Flat-CHAT 42:

After over one year without an event in the Philippines, Asian F3 returned to Batangas this January. A great deal has changed since the last visit to Batangas in November 2006. The championship is now a winter series, starting in November 2007 and ending April this year. The 2007-8 season began at Sepang in Malaysia, supporting A1GP and then moved to Zhuhai again with A1GP. BRC then played host to the third event in January.

The cars are all powered by TOM'S Toyota FIA specification engines and competitors run with the same map in the ECU. This helps provide close, cost effective racing. The majority now run the Dallara 304 chassis. AF3 is a series that is cost effective, compared to other Formula Three Series, runs at some great circuits like Sepang and Zhuhai and supports major events, such as A1GP. To cap it all the 2007-8 Champion will receive a test drive in a Force India Formula One car.

It is frustrating to report that whilst the racing so far this season has been extremely competitive the size of the starting grid has failed to get into double figures. V6 Asia, the next step up from F3 in the region, also struggles to produce grids of over ten cars. What is the reason? There are many factors at play here, such as a limited number of Asian drivers with the experience, talent and budget to compete at this level. All Formula racing in the region relies on Europeans, South Americans, Australians and New Zealanders to provide a good percentage of their starters. In 2006 F.BMW Asia struggled to put over ten cars on the grid, in 2007 the average was over 15 cars which is quite acceptable. The reason for the growth I believe underlies the problems suffered by the likes of AF3 and V6 Asia. Young talented drivers believe that succeeding in F.BMW really will help their careers and that BMW could help them become F1 drivers, like Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica.  The credibility of having a major manufacturer and F1 player does count for a lot.

However 2006 proved the might of BMW alone is not enough to provide a healthy starting grid. What happened in 2007 to improve matters? Quite simply the number of teams increased. Holzer joined with Petronas backing with three cars and Engstler with a further two. TaraDTM came along with a one car team and suddenly the ten had become sixteen. In the meantime AF3 and V6Asia boast a handful of professional teams between them. AF3 in particular has suffered due to the lack of professional teams. The word professional is the crux of the matter. Professional teams understand they have to work to attract drivers and sponsors. They have to work and invest in the championship to ensure the product is attractive for drivers. Several teams have fallen by the wayside and whilst short term this is not good, for the long term good this cull was needed. A new breed of Asian team is emerging with professional being their byword. Hopefully series like V6 Asia and AF3 will reap the rewards and we will see large starting grids very soon.

The Castrol Philippine Asian F3 Grand Prix held at Batangas was a successful event despite some torrential rain over the weekend. The races were full of close, exciting racing and the lap record was pulverized, Rafael Suzuki of Team Goddard qualifying in 1m 26.902. All four races were hotly contested between bitter championship rivals, Frederic Vervisch of Team Goddard and Hamad Al Fardan of Team GFH. Vervisch won three times on the road, was disqualified from one for reversing on the grid, a decision which is under appeal, whilst Hamad won the first race on the road. Matt Howson of PTRS, Niall Quinn of Aran Racing and Rafael Suzuki all raced for the remaining podium positions. This has been the pattern of the whole AF3 season and it is becoming an enthralling battle between Hamad and Frederic.

It was good to see Castrol back in Formula Three. They have been involved in motor sport for over a century. Castrol Team Goddard has won several championships and countless races in Asian F3 so the return of the famous name to the series was highly welcomed. What was also welcomed was the post race party at the Lima Hotel near Lipa City which featured the AF3 Bikini contest. British F3, Euro F3 and Japanese F3 may be considered the premier league of Formula Three but I can guarantee they cannot put on a party like the Philippines can!
Flat-CHAT 43:

There is a lot going on in Asian Motor Sport right now. The number of championships on offer is growing and there is a buzz around with new championships and of course the first Singapore Grand Prix coming in September.

The pity is that organizers still seem unable to work together and as a result it's the competitors and spectators who suffer. In the Philippines right now we have two touring car series, PNTC and Philippine GT. A couple of years ago it looked like touring cars was finally growing into the prestigious championship it deserves to be. One championship jointly promoted by both "groups" involved in running touring cars. Unfortunately it was not be, for reasons are that are beyond my comprehension, and we are stuck with two good series instead of one magnificent championship.

Good news in Asia is that the Super Car Club Series has joined forces with the China Formula Open (CFO) organizer and Asian Festival of Speed (AFOS) to promote their series. Bad news is that FRD and Zhuhai Circuit are promoting their own Super Car Series. Please do not misunderstand me, its not bad that FRD and Zhuhai are promoting their series, what is bad is that we have two organizers going after the same piece of pie again.

Good news is that CFO and AFOS are promoting Formula Asia 2.0, which is for Formula Renault cars. Bad news is that this conflicts with the incumbent Asian and China Formula Renault Series promoted by FRD and Zhuhai.

Good news is that F.BWW Pacific, as the Asian Series is now called, looks like it will be stronger than ever and no one is looking to promote a rival series using the same chassis! Bad news is that the budget is creeping ever higher which looks like it will affect the number of starters this year. The grid will still be good but not as good as it could be.

The next step up the Formula car ladder in the region is Asian F3 which is struggling for numbers. The budget is similar to Formula BMW, which is amazing value for an F3 series, and the champion driver wins a Force India F1 test, so all concerned are mystified as to why the grid is so small. The quality of racing has been fantastic, probably the best since the series inception, but its let down by the numbers.

The highest step on the Formula Car ladder in the region is the V6 Asia Series and like Asian F3 it is also struggling for numbers. Good value racing just does not seem to cut it in Asia. Undoubtedly AF3 and V6 take drivers away from each other and it again reflects the biggest single problem in Asian motor sport - organizers working against each other rather than with each other. In my opinion the only way we can solve this matter is for the FIA to step in with a consolidated plan for Asian motor sport. However I am not sure if this is realistic so it really is down to the various groups within the sport to at least try and work together. It will be interesting to see how the CFO, AFOS and Super Car Club group joint venture works out. Hopefully it will prove that working together produces much better results than conflict does.
Flat-CHAT 44:

I feel insanely jealous right now. A very old friend of mine, Bill Coombs, who happens to be Director of the Thruxton Circuit Race School in the UK, took part in the recent 40th anniversary event at that circuit. The main race was for Formula Two and Formula Atlantic cars from the seventies. Bill was good enough to be an F1 driver in his younger days but as with so many he did not have the financial backing to make it to the top. Once he stopped racing he forged a great career building up the Thruxton Race School. He was able to win one of the two races, beating a large grid of the thirty year old machines.

When I was much younger I would cajole my parents into taking me to spectate at Thruxton. It was watching races at the fastest track in the UK that convinced me that racing cars was what I wanted to do. I probably saw the car that Bill drove race when it was the latest model, often in the hands of a Formula One driver. The beauty of Formula Two in the early seventies was that many F1 drivers would take part in several other championships, driving in F2 or sports cars or very often anything with four wheels. Formula Two, like GP2 today, was the breeding ground for F1 drivers but unlike GP2 the young chargers could race against, and sometimes beat, the Grand Prix stars. Can you imagine Raikkonen and Hamilton racing in GP2 on their weekends off now! As the seventies drew to a close F1 was becoming more time consuming and the practice faded away. In 1972 at Thruxton current F1 star, Ronnie Peterson, won the race from fellow Grand Prix driver Francois Cevert. World Champion Graham Hill failed to start his heat due to engine failure in qualifying. The team had about an hour to change engine if they were to make the second heat.

In those days it was easy to get into the paddock and I was enthralled watching the team struggling to change engines, Graham Hill himself under the car helping the mechanics fit the engine. Hill caught my eye and marched over barking an order. "Don't just stand there pick up that rag and polish the car". That car never looked cleaner and as an impressionable young teenager it further cemented my love for the sport. My car failed to finish, Hill retiring with overheating problems. I am not sure who was more disappointed, Hill or I.

This gets me back to why I am so jealous of Bill Coombs. He actually got to race, and even better win, in a car that I dreamt of racing those many years ago. Historic racing in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA is really big right now. The grids are larger than most current series and events like the Goodwood Revival Meeting attract Grand Prix sized crowds. Many of the competitors would have sat in grandstands in their youth dreaming of racing the cars themselves. Most were unable to satisfy that dream but a few decades later they have made enough money to finance their own racing and what better than to drive a car from their formative years. Its really is living a dream. Historic racing is not popular in Asia, mainly I would think because persons of a more advanced age simply had little or no racing to watch in their younger days. There is no racing culture and therefore few fifty-something's who want to re-live the youth of their dreams. Perhaps in twenty years time aged drivers in Asia will drool over Dallara and Tatuus F3 and F. Renault cars and go racing like their childhood heroes of the early century?

Another thought, can you imagine a Double F1 World Champion helping to fit an engine to a GP2 car nowadays. Even if he did, can you imagine getting a pass to be able to watch the scene. Times have changed. Motorsport is definitely now a sport for TV. What worries me is whether TV is good enough to generate the passion young spectators felt when they were able to literally touch the real thing. By the way if anyone knows where any of the Formula Pacific cars which raced in Asia during the seventies are now kept, please let me know. I have a feeling they may have ended up as a chicken shed on a farm somewhere.
FLAT CHAT 45:

A journalist from an International Motor Sport publication contacted me the other day asking if I could give him the low down on what championships Asian graduates of our regional F3 series are now competing on the International stage. If the question had been just about graduates of Asian F3, rather than for drivers born and bred in this region, the answer would have easy. Many of them are successfully competing throughout the World. Dillon Battistini is winning in the Indy Lights Series, including winning the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis 500 event, whilst Henri Karjalainen is also in the States running in Champ Car Atlantic. James Winslow currently leads the Australian F3 Championship whilst Christian Jones is winning races in the Porsche Carrera Cup. Sometime AF3 racers, Oliver Turvey and Walter Grubmuller, are both racing in British F3 whilst Frederic Vervisch and Rafael Suzuki are competing in the German Series. Vervisch is winning races whilst Suzuki qualified on pole position for the last round.

But what of the Asian drivers? Luminaries such as Tyson Sy, Moreno Soeprapto and Dado Pena are currently not competing. Ananda Mikola has just raced in Speedcar and Satrio Hermanto in A1GP whilst Michele Bumgarner is doing selected Star Mazda races. That's just about it for Asian F3 graduates. Why I wonder has AF3 resurrected the careers of the likes of Winslow and Battistini and allowed them to go on to forge a life as a professional driver yet it seems most Asian drivers have hit a professional brick wall. Really only Mikola and Hermanto have successfully used AF3 to kick start their careers.

Is it due to lack of personal drive from the drivers concerned or perhaps it's solely due to lack of finance? Possibly it's a mixture of the two. The Philippines is a prime example. We had two World Class drivers in the form of Tyson Sy and Dado Pena and yet they were unable to attract much in the way of support from corporate Philippines. I wonder why Pertamina and Petronas are able to give realistic amounts of support to Indonesian and Malaysian drivers yet the "National" oil company here makes use of the fame of the local drivers by having them endorse their products yet seemingly contributes little to help them with their careers. Rising fuel prices make it harder for oil companies to justify their advertising spend, but a professionally run motor sports marketing campaign really can increase market share. This is why F1 still attracts so many sponsors.  Most foreign observers are amazed that Philippine drivers get little or not support from the Country's most famous brand, a well known beer company. Actually most Europeans I know who have not been to Asia believe it's a Mexican company!

Part of the problem is possibly due to the manner in which these blue chip companies conduct their sports marketing campaigns. To give a worthwhile return on the investment requires hard work from both sides, the driver and the sponsor. A well run marketing campaign requires a huge investment in time and effort from the sponsor. Many sponsorships right now seem to be a case of giving some money and in return getting a little media coverage and some stickers on the car. Little effort is required from either side. It's almost akin to non-commercial support and the marketing professionals in the companies concerned probably see little value in the involvement.

Who is to blame? The drivers? To an extent this may be so but also the system must take much of the blame. The problem with sports marketing is a reflection of the much broader affliction suffered by many Asian Countries and until the politicians can get their house in order it is going to remain difficult for Filipino drivers to attract real support. However lack of support is not the only reason for the dearth of International Asian racers. It has not stopped Winslow, Battistini, Vervisch, Suzuki, Jones and Karjalainen. I don't think any of these have families as wealthy as many of the Asian drivers. What they do have is the dedication, passion and drive to further their careers and a willingness to travel anywhere to get themselves in a car. I really hope that more local Asian F3 graduates can demonstrate that they also have what it takes and that we will see them winning races on the International stage. A kick start from corporate Philippines would certainly help.
FLAT CHAT 46:

Just received a press release from an organizer of an Asian Race Series stating that they "deplore the attempts by other race organizers to disrupt our series, using nasty and sleazy methods for their own commercial gains, and also to prohibit the drivers the right to make their own choices.  Hmm..so much for détente in Asian Motor Sport. However, the party they are complaining about has managed to upset just about every series and event organizer in the region and they may be unwittingly bringing the other organizers together in their disgust of their treatment.

On a brighter note Philippine's own Marlon Stockinger is proving to be extremely competitive in his first year of car racing. He was able to finish second with his Eurasia Motorsport car in round two of the Formula BMW Pacific at the Sepang F1 Circuit. This was hugely impressive particularly as he has had no car racing experience at all. Marlon is using Asian Motor Sport as a springboard to the top and there is no doubt after winning in Asia he will graduate to F3 in Europe and then why not to GP2 and Formula One? He certainly has a very good chance of fulfilling his dream. Formula BMW Pacific will support the Singapore and Shanghai F1 Grand Prix this year and will end the season at the Macau F3 GP.  Marlon, who is a BMW Scholarship driver, which is a big achievement itself, has a very good chance of doing well in Macau. It's a big ask for him to win but he does a good chance of being the first Filipino to win there since Dodjie Lauriel.

Formula BMW seems to have become the most prestigious International entry level formula and it really is producing some of the stars of today as well as tomorrow. Its hard to believe that Sebastian Vettel was competing in F.BMW just four years ago and that he was able to graduate to F1 within three years of his year in BMW. Its a great motivation for a young driver, F1 becoming a realistic goal rather than an impossible dream.

Eurasia Motorsport has seen several really talented drivers pass through its ranks in the past few seasons and its sad to see some of them fall by the wayside for various reasons. Lack of finance being the most common factor although some have been guilty of not following their career plan and some have just lost the desire and commitment required to succeed. Hopefully Marlon and his team mate this year, Aditya Patel, will join Sebastian Vettel in F1 in the not too distant future.

Supporting F1 races is really good however one gripe we have is the trend for hotels to hike their prices for the GP week. It happened at the first Malaysian GP back in 1999 and many hotels caught a cold because their prices were so high many spectators just stayed away. Hotels there still charge more for GP week but the increase is no longer stratospheric. Anyone thinking of attending the Singapore GP better look at either buying a tent or selling off the family heirlooms to pay the outrageous room prices the hotels are charging. Personally I think it gives the wrong impression to tourists and is extremely counter-productive.
FLAT CHAT 47/SINGAPORE F.BMW:

Singapore was the host to rounds 12 and 13 of the Formula BMW Pacific Series. What a great event it turned out to be, establishing Singapore as one of the signature races of the F1 calendar. The lights worked, the atmosphere was fantastic, as only a capacity crowd can produce, and it was a fantastic advert for Singapore and the region as a whole. Pity the event was tarnished a little by the greed of the local hoteliers who predictably hiked their room rates to stratospheric levels. Strange there seemed little sympathy to their complaints that room occupancy was down on race week. We have seen the same occur at the first Grand Prix in Malaysia and China and at both events hotel rates have dropped from stratospheric to merely mile high for subsequent events. It still leaves a bad impression on visitors to those Grand Prix, no one likes to feel they are being taken for a ride.

Eurasia Team Goddard entered two cars for the Formula BMW Pacific race, one for Indian Aditya Patel and the other for Filipino Marlon Stockinger. Both are rookies and both are progressing quite well. Formula BMW is usually a two year campaign, unless the driver already has car racing experience, so we have been reasonably happy with Marlon's progress this year. He managed a great second place at Sepang in round 7 but was scuppered in rounds 8-11 by a severe bout of food poisoning. Image our dismay to find on his first night in Singapore dinner had produced another round of the dreaded Montezuma's revenge.

Singapore has built a fantastic race track with 24 turns and it would take a lot of learning. The first line of attack is to walk the circuit as many times as possible, something all the team's engineers and drivers were doing from Tuesday of race week, except Marlon who was otherwise engaged. Fortunately by Thursday he was well enough to walk the track but it was not the best preparation for a race weekend. Practice was on Friday afternoon, the Formula BMW cars being the first race cars to venture out onto a very "green" circuit. Qualifying was a mere one and a half hours later and after a mad scramble to look at the data and change gear ratios it was Mahara Racing's Doru Sechelariu on pole with Championship leader Ross Jamison second and Ollie Millroy third. Marlon was a disappointed eleventh on the grid whilst team mate, Aditya, would start 17th and last after crashing on the first lap of qualifying giving him the dubious record of being the first driver to crash on the Singapore Circuit.

Race one was held on Saturday afternoon and Sechelariu made a good start to take the lead from Millroy and Jamison. Jamison was soon by into second and that's how it stayed to the flag, the championship leader content to take full points as both his podium colleagues were guest drivers and therefore scored no points. They were also F.BMW Euro runners from this year, both having had a roller coaster season. Sechelariu had qualified second on the grid at the Spa round so he possessed speed but not on a consistent basis. This first win will no doubt add to his confidence and expect him to be a consistent front runner in Europe next year. Jamison did the Pacific Series proud and we were all left wondering where he would have finished had points not been a consideration.

The TV cameras paid little attention to the front runners as they followed the progress of a tremendous race between Marlon, Haryanto, Chaves, Pepper, Moh and Ang which was joined by Patel as he charged through the field from the back. Marlon did a great job to haul himself up to seventh place. Sixth looked on when he got off line into turn 17, defending from Chaves, and spun into the wall with one lap to go. Aditya took advantage and finished seventh. It was a brave effort from Marlon who had been in hospital an hour before the start on a drip getting re-hydrated in an attempt to offset the effects of the food poisoning.

Round 13 was much the same up from with Sechelariu winning from Jamison. However Millroy retired on lap one with an electrical failure leaving a delighted Gabriel Chaves in third place. Once again all the action involved Aditya battling his way to the front and Marlon who was in the thick of a four car battle for fifth place. He eventually finished seventh after another brave run, which saw him fade over the last couple of laps due to his physical condition. Incredibly hot and humid conditions did not help. Meanwhile Aditya was up to 8th place when he was harpooned on the last lap at the chicane by Simon Moss and spun down to 13th place.

The next round is at the Shanghai F1 GP and we hope that Marlon will be fully fit and that Aditya has lost his affinity to walls during qualifying. Jamison now leads the championship with 192 points to Sean McDonagh's 136 and barring disaster he will be this year's champion. He was beaten to the Rookie Championship last year by Eurasia- Team Goddard's Kyle Mitchell and Marlon is now driving at a similar level to Kyle this time last season. Marlon has every chance of winning races and the championship in a second season of F.BMW
FLAT CHAT 48 Macau

Given the choice of attending just motor sport event in a year the Macau GP would be very high on my list of must see events. The street track itself is a heady mix of very fast straights and corners plus slow and medium turns with rather large elevation changes. The circuit is lined with unforgiving walls and barriers ready to punish any small lapse of concentration. It's a race driver's nirvana and the F3 GP is one of the most important races on the International calendar. The layout of the circuit has really not changed since the first race in 1954 but its surroundings have changed beyond recognition. Each year huge new casinos are sprouting up adding Vegas style glamour to the ex-Portuguese enclave. Happily the many great Portuguese restaurants remain part of the Macau experience and a trip to the old part of town is very reminiscent of Lisbon.

Do well in Macau and it marks you out as a potential F1 star. Drivers are able to enter by invitation only and each year almost all the top F3 drivers worldwide meet to race for the unofficial 'F3 World Championship'. The result is a no holds barred race with plenty of action and spectacular crashes. Macau also features the final round of the World Touring Car Championship and several support races which in 2008 included, for the first time, the Formula BMW Pacific Series.

Castrol Magnatec Eurasia Team Goddard's Marlon Stockinger and Aditya Patel were joined by Kimiya Sato, a NISMO development driver who was entered to learn the track before racing in F3 in 2009. Macau is a great challenge for team and driver and the first challenge is to survive the paddock. Unlike the F3 and Touring Car teams, who are housed above ground in the permanent pit and paddock garages, the support races are consigned to an underground car park below the main paddock. It is actually not so bad until engines are started, there must be over 150 support race cars in total, and the atmosphere quickly changes to a thick soup of carbon monoxide. The entrance is populated by team members coming up for air before returning for another stint down below. Some money spent on a working ventilation system would go down very well with the teams.

Macau is a genuine street track; it opens for practice on Thursday morning and closes again after the last session each day. Normal traffic resumes overnight before the track opens for racing again the next day. Track knowledge is vitally important and the 6.2 kms are wall lined and take a lot of learning. F.BMW had one thirty minute practice on Thursday followed by qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday morning. The lap takes around two and a half minutes so the maximum number of laps anyone completed was twelve during the practice session. As a result Marlon arrived on Monday of race week and we spent two days driving around the track in a road car to get it imprinted on his brain. This together with hours practicing on a Macau video game meant that Marlon was immediately in the top six for the first half of practice. However he managed to get caught out by a very slow Melvin Moh and tagged his front wing. The resultant stop to replace it lost time and momentum and he finished the session eleventh fastest, which was not so bad and gave us confidence that the Filipino would qualify well.

"Remember, new tyres so be careful and make sure the tyres are up to temperature before you push" were my last instructions to Marlon on the radio before qualifying started. "I got carried away and pushed too hard too soon" was the later explanation we received for the car completing the first lap in the pit lane with terminal suspension damage. Better a driver who tries but he was not flavor of the month post qualifying. The car was back together for the race with Marlon starting 21st and last on the grid. He finished seventeenth and brought the car back home whilst adding precious Macau experience. If Marlon returns to Macau he will find those laps invaluable and I am sure the whole event was a great experience for him. He did have the consolation of finishing third overall in the F.BMW Pacific Rookie Championship.

Aditya Patel had crashed in practice but kept it clean for qualifying and the race in which he finished sixth and first rookie home. Meanwhile Kimiya Sato, who has three years car racing experience under his belt did not put a mark on the car and finished third in the race. This made us the first Asian based team in the race and was a proud moment for the whole team which is staffed by Filipino technicians and was supported by Castrol Philippines advertising their Magnatec engine oil. The top two drivers in the race, Mihai Marinescu and Michael Christensen, were both front runners in the European F.BMW Championship and demonstrated their additional experience.

Experience in motor sport, like most things in life, is essential and its importance was demonstrated by the fact that the 2008 F.BMW Pacific Championship winner and runner up, Ross Jamison and Sean McDonagh, were both in their second season. I am sure Marlon and Aditya were disappointed not to have done better this year but they are at the same level that Ross and Sean were this time last year. We always tell drivers, unless they have a lot of Formula Car experience, that it is a two year campaign. Learn in the first year, win in the second. I am sure both Marlon and Aditya would win races next year, if they return.

It was great to welcome back Castrol Philippines who supported the team to our Asian F3 Championship successes and the weekend can be seen on Auto Xtreme TV who were making a 'fly on the wall' film of the team at the event. Castrol are the official supplier to all three F.BMW Series Worldwide and they support the BMW World Touring Car Team so it was great fit for all concerned.
FLAT CHAT 49

Formula One is the pinnacle of motor sport; it believes it has the best drivers and teams in the business. Sometimes this can be debatable but what cannot be disputed is that Formula One has a huge affect on the entire motorsport business. In the current global economic climate even Formula One is having to tighten its belt. The knock on effect is felt as far down as the level of National motorsport in the Philippines. When budgets are being slashed in F1, manufacturers are pulling out and sponsors reducing their spend it becomes easier for potential backers at National level to use this example to say no to any proposal. Quickly it becomes politically incorrect to be involved in sports marketing, even if your company is still doing well and it would still benefit from using motorsport to enhance its marketing program.

Series such as Formula BMW Pacific are suffering. The majority of drivers at this level are 'sponsored' by their parents and their family's business. It's hard for daddy to say yes to a Formula BMW campaign when he is cutting costs in his own business. He can afford it, but politically it is hard to go racing when he has just used the global economy as an excuse to cut costs through job cuts. The downward spiral goes on, fewer drivers at Regional and National level results in fewer jobs with the racing teams and the motor sport supply and service industry. Right now hundreds of Filipino race technicians are feeling the pinch and as a result the economy of the Philippine nation is also suffering. Motor sport needs to be talked up; it has grown into an industry in the region, not just a pastime for the rich. Many people's livelihoods depend on the industry and it's up to us all in motorsport to talk it up and not follow the doom and gloom attitude of the press and the economic lemmings.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a financial consultant who has many rich and successful clients. He says he has recommended that all his clients slash jobs now in order to reduce costs in the economic downturn. The same advice is given to those whose businesses are still flourishing as he believes the Global economy is going to continue to get worse for at least two more years. I argued that it's because of advice like his the economy is guaranteed to continue in its downward spiral. He retorted that I am just an entrepreneur, who by their very nature will always talk matters up, and that I don't understand economics. To me less jobs means less money to spend which means more jobs being cut and until the entrepreneurs can overcome the economists the downward spiral will continue.

Formula One can still brighten our lives, it's a soap opera and one of its stars, Max Mosley, continues to amuse with his war of words. At a recent press conference Mosley was asked to comment on a rumor that a former Royal Bank of Scotland executive was in the running to replace Mosley as President of the FIA. The RBS guy called Mosley to deny the rumor and Mosley remarked to the press "The interesting thing is where it (the rumors) could have come from. It has to be someone with some kind of connection to F1. He's got to have some connection with Scotland. He's got to have no understanding of how F1 or the FIA work, and he has to be unusually stupid. There's at least one person who ticks all those boxes." Now who could Mosley be talking about? Many thanks Mr. Mosley for brightening my day, you just have to chuckle on reading such remarks.  Ron Dennis is not Scottish so for now he can sleep easier in the knowledge that the President of the FIA has a new victim for his jibes.

Completely unconnected, I once was privileged to attend a lunch hosted by Sir Jackie Stewart and what a charismatic character he turned out to be. The man was three times World Champion during one of the most dangerous eras in motor sport and he was responsible in many ways for making the sport a global phenomenon. The man really knows what he is talking about and whilst I do not agree with all he says I believe we should all listen when he speaks.  
FLAT CHAT 52

One of the bonuses of Formula BMW Pacific being part of the support race package for several Formula One Grand Prix is that you can occasionally get to meet people you have admired in the past. The Formula BMW teams are allocated an area in the pit lane which they must use when the cars are on track. At the Sepang Grand Prix Eurasia Motorsport, my own team, was allocated the Renault pit. As we waited for the start of qualifying, Nelson Piquet Senior, the three times World Champion, sauntered over and took a good look at our cars, this year driven by Zimbabwean Axcil Jefferies and Australian Chris Wootton. He was intrigued to know what engine the cars used and he seemed very knowledgeable about BMW motorbike engines. The conversation ended as the qualifying session started and I had to get on the radio to my driver, Axcil Jefferies. I walked away still believing Piquet was a great driver and a great man, the latter not always the case with some names of the past I have met who probably had to retire from driving because their heads became too big for their crash helmets and remained just as large!

There are some sights in motor sport that those who were lucky to present at the time will never forget. One such was Nelson Piquet during qualifying for the 1983 European Grand Prix held at Brands Hatch in the UK.  He Was driving a Brabham BT52 which purportedly pushed out over 1500bhp. The engine in qualifying specification would last for a handful of laps only before the block turned to jello and it grenaded itself. If the car got back to the pits with the engine still running they still had to throw the engine away, they really were one lap specials. The corner behind the pits at Brands, one of the great tracks that became too dangerous for modern F1, wasn't really a corner in any car, just a sweeping curve that was flat our even in the wet. Not in a Brabham in qualifying spec., it became a real corner and one of those unforgettable sights was that of Piquet wrestling the car though the curve laying huge streaks of rubber and controlling the car with armfuls of opposite lock. The wow factor was extreme.

Same event and in the morning warm up it was damp and the cars were out on slicks. Piquet probably had 'only' 1200bhp in race specification but watching him at the last turn, clearways, was a joy to behold. He was still fighting a slide on opposite lock as he crossed the finish line. I doubt if he had the steering wheel straight anywhere round the lap! No wonder the guy was a three times World Champion. In contrast Piquet Junior is very good but his time in F1 seems to be numbered as he is still being blown off by Alonso. Unless he can up his game then I think 2009 will be the last we see him on the F1 grid.

The Formula BMW Pacific driver lineup is extremely strong this year and fortunately for Eurasia Motorsport it seems we have two very talented drivers. Chris Wootton is in his second year and his experience plus, I would like to think, his change of teams has seen him jump up the grid. He finished second in both races in Sepang, despite damaging the front of his car in both races. Gary Thompson won the first race whilst Rio Haryanto was on the top step of the podium for the second. They shared third place, Rio in race one and Gary in race two. Axcil Jefferies, who is still only 14, finished fourth in the first race, led the first lap of the second race before being punted off by an errant Calvin Wong. Still, not a bad debut for a complete rookie.
FLAT CHAT 53

As I write this I am in the process of moving apartment and taking the opportunity to throw out some of the accumulated possessions gathered over the last seven years. Buried deep in a draw I came across old VHS tapes of the TV coverage of Asian F3 in its early days.

Time has passed swiftly and AF3 is now a thing of the past but it was good to reminisce about the old days. AF3 received over the years a lot of criticism that it was not needed and that money should be put into the grass roots of racing in the Philippines. It is undeniable that the grass roots of racing in this Country is possibly at an all time low, at least since the time before Subic opened as a race track in the early nineties. In fact by 1996 we had two circuits in the Country, with the opening of BRC, and a strong and vibrant grass roots racing scene. Karting was possibly at its highest level seen before or since, slalom and rally had well supported events, as did the Philippine Touring Car Series and of course Subic also had its own successful and well supported championships. Formula Toyota was giving karters the opportunity to graduate to a single seater series and the one make Corolla Cup was attracting a lot of attention. If only the Asian economic crisis had not reared its ugly head in 1997 the story might have been very different. However economic circumstances saw a steady decline in motorsport over the next few years.

What did happen was that karters and Formula Toyota drivers had no where to go. Formula Toyota was the pinnacle of Philippine motorsport, at least for Formula cars, and drivers were tending to drift away from the sport. A driver can only spend so long in a junior Formula. The desire to step up and improve led to the birth of the Philippine Asian F3 Series. Johhny Tan, Eddie Pena and Ghiasports all invested in cars and a combined F3 and Formula Toyota grid raced in Subic, BRC and Zhuhai in China during 2001. As a result of the success of the new project Eddie Pena, the Chairman of Asian F3, developed a vision for a truly international series which would attract competitors from throughout the World and possess the razzmatazz of a major sporting event. It was hoped it would attract sponsors, TV coverage and, with a high standard of racing, raise the game of both local teams and drivers. 

There has been, and still is, a lot of talk of what should be done in Asian and Philippine motorsport but in 2002 Eddie Pena put his money where his mouth is and AF3 was formed. Now drivers like Tyson Sy and Dado Pena had something to aim for. They could graduate from karts to F.BMW to F3. Some like Michael Bumgarner moved into F3 via Formula Toyota. AF3 events at Subic and BRC were relatively well attended, they were entertaining both on and off the circuit, they attracted TV coverage, often live, the racing was pretty good with memorable battles between the leading lights such as Pepon Marave, JoJo Silverio, James Winslow, Ananda Mikola, Tyson Sy, Dado Pena, Christian Jones and John O'Hara to name but a few. It was a good a mix of Asian and Western drivers and the level was pretty high. It also gave drivers who did not have the desire to become a professional racer the opportunity to rise through the ranks of karting and Formula Toyota to eventually race in F3. In a way it was strengthening the grass roots as it gave a focus for karters and Formula Toyota racers. Now amateurs and professionals had a real ladder to climb, a goal to strive for. Asian F3 held launches, parties and street drives in Manila, it attracted a large amount of print publicity and it was reported in the International motor sporting press.

AF3 helped to improve both the BRC and Subic circuits, competitors in other series got to perform at exciting race meetings in front of a crowd, it attracted new sponsors to the sport, not just to F3.

So why is it no more? The fact is that the support was not forthcoming when it was really needed. It is a sad fact of life that many people like to decry anyone or anything that is successful, the build them up then shoot them down syndrome. Government and corporate Philippines refused to commit properly. TV companies would not fully commit themselves, some local teams and drivers would not put in the necessary effort. The work involved in managing and promoting an international series is huge, as is the financial investment. The bottom line is lack of support killed off the series. Ironically it's the same people who liked to decry AF3, attack it for not being grassroots are the same people who now moan about the lack of both International and grass roots motor sport in the Philippines.  

Mistakes were made along the way, as can be expected of a trailblazing project which AF3 definitely was. However the sad fact is that the aforementioned lack of support sees Philippine motorsport in the state it is in today. Why the support was not there is the million dollar question. AF3 offered great media values, both TV and print, it held fantastic events in Metro Manila and the race meetings themselves were highly entertaining. Why for example would companies who advertised regionally turn down the offer to place adverts for free on the regional AF3 TV? The idea was that they could determine the value of the show with no obligation to advertise later. That actually happened, more than once in the early days. Finally in the latter years when the going got tough due to lack of financial support those who could have, and should have supported, AF3 seemed to take great delight in kicking it when it was down. Jealousies, self interest and the inability to see the bigger picture clouded their judgment. .

The legacy of AF3 and Eddie Pena includes the large number of Filipino technicians who populate the pit lanes of the region and who would not be there without AF3. It includes the careers of drivers like Ananda Mikola, James Winslow, Christian Jones, Sartio Hermanto, Dillon Battistini, Ali Jackson and  Henri Karjalainen to name a few. They all saved, or started, their careers through racing in AF3.  Asian Formula Three demonstrated that the Philippines can be trailblazer in Asian Motorsport.

What lesson can be learnt? Whether it's karting, Touring cars, Formula cars, rally or whatever please stop the bickering, the in-fighting and the negativity and lets all work together to produce the vibrant motor sport scene the Philippines deserves. Strong leadership from the ASN is required to dictate who promotes what and to ensure all series are integrated to achieve the aim of strengthening and not fragmenting the sport. It would also be good to have a visionary like Eddie Pena come along, but this time they need the support that was sadly lacking the first time around.
FLAT CHAT 54

Ask most team managers in the junior Formula racing teams who or what makes their life most difficult and I guarantee that most will reply its driver's fathers. I do not wish to tar all fathers of budding Formula One drivers with the same brush but its amazing how many do become problems for race teams. It's understandable how they get themselves into trouble with their son's, or daughter's, race team. Many fathers have come up through the ranks of karting with their offspring. Often they will have acted as team manager, engineer and driver coach. They will have been very hands on and used to calling the shots.

Prior to moving to this part of the World I raced under a British licence and received the monthly bulletin from the RAC, the British equivalent of AAP. Several pages were always devoted to tribunals held by the RAC to determine the fate of errant competitors. The vast majority involved karters and usual not the karters themselves but the actions of their parents. Very entertaining reading it made as the antics of an irate parent were recounted for the tribunal. It often described the verbal and physical abuse hurled at some unfortunate official whose decision regarding their offspring's on track antics did not meet their approval. The poor karter often received race bans due to the actions of their parent in a reversal of the accepted father/teenager roles.

It's understandable how the fathers can get themselves into such situations. They really believe that their offspring is the next Lewis Hamilton, they really believe their offspring can do no wrong and after all the sacrifices they have made to help their child go racing its hard for them to accept any decision made against their son or daughter. They get themselves into trouble because they are not independent enough to act as a professional team manager would, at least should, when their driver has on track issues. One of the benefits of karting is that it is a positive family sport, it helps brings kids and their parents together. The dark side is when the parent cannot control his emotions and gets the son or daughter into hot water.

When it can become a real problem is when the driver graduates to cars. Suddenly the father no longer has control over the on-track life of his son or daughter. The team now takes over many of the duties the father used to perform. After a few years many fathers do become really good at running karts and at coaching their sons. However they do not have that expertise as far as cars are concerned. Many fathers come to understand that their role now is to provide the finance and moral support to their kid. However some cannot accept this and have to interfere. They question the team about everything, from car set up to driver coaching. I have seen fathers throwing equipment around pit garages, abusing officials and generally making a spectacle of themselves. It can be quite entertaining. I was watching the Macau F3 GP a few years ago in the pit garage of an Italian team, standing alongside the team owner. We watched in dismay as their driver made a mistake and spun down to the tail of the field. The team manager grabbed my arm and told me to stand back and enjoy the spectacle. The driver's father proceeded to pick up a chair and hurl it at the TV which was mounted in the wall. He then ripped the TV off the wall and stamped on it to make sure it was well and truly dead, all the times shouting profanities about his son and what he was going to do to him when he returned to the pits! The team owner whispered in my ear that even they paid him ten times the going rate the driver would not be in their team the following year. It's an extreme example but it is amazing how many teams can recount similar stories.   

I have seen fathers have their son's in tears after a pre-race haranguing as they believe their son has not been trying hard enough and giving the "don't they realise how much money is being spent" speech. Normally the car comes back in kit form as the drivers head (motor sport term for mental state) has been destroyed and he tries too hard.  I know of some talented drivers whose careers have been ruined because teams just don't want the baggage of their volatile dad. Worst is when the father questions the team and puts doubt into the mind of the son or daughter. Confidence is everything when it comes to race driving and the driver must have complete confidence in his car and his team if he is to perform to the best of his ability.

The majority of racing dads are sensible, supportive people who understand that they are paying a team for their expertise and let them get on with it. When they think there is a problem they have a quite word with the team rather than stick their nose in at every available opportunity. It's the small minority that give the racing dad a bad name. Interestingly enough it's not just the junior Formula that have this problem. It is rumoured that Hamilton Senior is causing friction within the McLaren team and if this true who will suffer the most? Lewis of course. The crux of the matter is that all dads think they are acting in their offspring's best interest and that's what every harassed team manage has to take into account when cleaning up the mess made by the errant father.

The best racing dad? The one that pays the bills and ….. well that's just about what they should do! As for the rest a motor racing dad once suggested to me that all fathers should be shut in a padded room during race meetings and they could beat the hell out of each other whilst letting their sons get on with it out on track. Not sure if the FIA would approve but I am sure all Team Managers at some time or other have wished it could happen. My own teams, Eurasia Motorsport and Team Goddard have always found the Dad's of all our drivers to be a pleasure to deal with, honestly!
FLAT CHAT 55

You are only as good as your last race is a saying that has a ring of truth about it. This is not only in the eyes of the motor racing world as a whole but also in the eyes of the driver's themselves. Often, but not always, a race win for a driver can open the floodgates to more victories. Winning is not just about having the best car or the best driver. Everything has to gel and when a driver is confident it's amazing what he can do. Winning gives the driver the confidence he needs to win on a consistent basis. It's amazing how a driver can be on a roll until he was one bad race, often due to bad luck, and suddenly the winning ways are a thing of the past. That confidence disappears and the whole season can fall apart. Real champions are able to take a knockback in their stride and keep their confidence intact.

Surely it should be easy to manufacture that confidence inside your head. If only it was. Ninety percent of motorsport is about the mental strength of the driver. If he has the basic skills to go fast, and almost anyone with a modicum of talent can be trained to do so, then it's the driver's mental attitude that will make him a winner. Look at Jenson Button. He has suffered years of racing a back of the grid car but he kept his head down even taking a win in the Honda in a wet Hungarian GP. Somehow he kept faith in himself and he has grabbed the chance now he has his hands on a winning car. Barrichello on the other hand has had a good start to his season but compared to his team mate it has not been so great. Would it have been different if it had been Barrichello who won the first GP in Australia rather than Button? Would Barrichello have been the guy who really knew he was going to win as he drives through the gates of the venue of each following Grand Prix? Jenson Button is that man now, as is Sebastian Vettell, whilst their team mates may be full of self doubt. Whilst they may not consciously feel that doubt, somewhere deep down it can be niggling away affecting their performance on the circuit. A win for Barrichello may turn his whole season around, and he needs to as it may be his last chance of racing a potential championship winning car.

Barrichello is no doubt a great driver. He gave Schumacher a run for his money on several occasions and that's in a team which was rumoured to be contractually bound to give the German the best equipment. I was present the first day that Barrichello drove an F1 car, a Jordan, at a cold and blustery Silverstone Circuit. He took to the car like a duck to water and despite being told to take it easy was immediately setting competitive times. In fact the team felt he was too quick and brought him in to give him a quick dressing down, despite his protestations that he was not trying too hard. As he drove out the pit garage again the then Jordan GP designer, Gary Anderson, broke into a big smile and announced to everyone that they were onto a winner here. 

Its interesting the effect first impressions can have on a team. Barrichello went on to become a darling of the Jordan team and that first day went a long way to cementing that relationship. Another example is Eddie Irvine, also a Jordan and Ferrari driver. When he first ventured to England, he was from Belfast in Ireland, he raced for Murray Taylor Racing in an unfancied Mondial Formula Ford car. He quickly built a great relation ship with MTR and it became the foundation of his later success. His first race was at also at Silverstone, it was a warm up race before the National Formula Ford Championship started, and an equally cold and blustery day as the one on which Barrichello had his first taste of Formula One. Irvine was under strict instructions from the team boss not to damage the car and not to do anything silly. The budget was tight and they were meant to be testing the following day. I sat in the grandstand next to Murray Tailor himself and we watched as Irvine tried to take the lead on the last corner of the last lap. Really it was never on and he clattered into the barrier taking the erstwhile leader with him. An initially horrified Taylor announced that he would like kill his young charge once he got hold of him and then broke into a big smile declaring that he boy was quick and willing to have a go, just the sort of racer he wanted! 

Irvine was lucky that Taylor had that attitude. Some team bosses are not so understanding. Patrick Head recently said that despite the fact that Nico Hulkenberg is the Williams team official reserve driver he is by no means the first choice as a race driver if one of the current drivers departs. The reason? On his first two tests with the team, where he was meant to be shaking down a new car, he visited the gravel after a handful of laps on both occasions! One suspects that Hulkenberg was trying to impress but crashing a car during a shakedown is not the time to do it. Hopefully for Hulkenberg's sake Williams forgive him and he gets a chance to race. It's a dilemma all drivers have when testing for a new team. Maximum attack to impress but if you crash your chances of joining them could be over or do you take it steady so the team believes you have done a good professional job but maybe they won't take you because they think you are not quick enough?

A friend called Anthony Reid, who went on to be a top touring car driver, won the Japanese F3 Championship after getting a paid drive with one of the leading F3 teams in Japan. Reid had no money and little chance of furthering his career when a chance meeting got him a test in Japan. The team was not really interested in him but they gave him a few laps anyway. Reid decided he had nothing to lose and went absolute maximum attack from the word go. He thought he was going to crash on every corner but somehow managed to stay on track and shatter the lap record. The team signed him on the spot. Fast forward a year and a leading Japanese Team tested him with a view to racing in the Japanese Formula 3000 championship. He decided to take the same approach as he had done a year previously. He did not shatter the lap record but he did shatter the car, completely destroying it after one lap only and he was lucky to survive the huge accident. The F3000 team sent him packing and that was the end of his Formula racing career.

What Barrichello, Irvine and Reid all possessed was the self belief that allowed them to push to the maximum. Hopefully Barrichello's self belief is still intact and it will allow him to overcome the bad luck he has encountered this year and for him to take that top step on the podium again. Button has a great chance of winning the World Championship but it would be good to see Barrichello take a few race wins along the way.
FLAT CHAT 56

Formula BMW Pacific was once again a support race at the Singapore F1 GP. The inaugural event last year was a great success and along with Macau was our driver's most popular event. A major factor in that popularity was that our paddock was below the huge Marina Bay grandstand and the only way for the spectators to gain access to their seats was to walk through the F.BMW area. In recent years Formula One Management have done their level best to ensure mere spectators get no where near the F1 paddock or the support race areas, unless they part with huge sums of money. As a result our paddock at a GP is more deserted than a test day and the atmosphere is zilch. Contrast that with Singapore in 2008 and all the drivers were enthused by the spectators, signing autographs, having their photographs taken and lapping up the atmosphere. It was great for the competitors, we all felt we really were taking part in an international sporting event, and was good for the spectators, many probably getting close to drivers and cars for the first time in their lives. This is how Grand Prix support races used to be in Europe although sadly FOM have again done their best to ensure support race paddocks are forbidden territory for spectators wherever the GP takes place. Hopefully this will change and FOM will take notice of the groundswell of opinion that F1 needs to be more accessible and that should include the support races.

We were all dismayed to find our paddock this year was moved to the multi-storey car park of the Singapore flyer. Spectators, absolutely banned. As a result we were back to the atmosphere of a test day. A representative of the organizer was proud to announce when we arrived that we would not have to put up with the inconvenience of spectators this year as we had been moved. They just don't get it……

The F.BMW races were done and dusted before the Grand Prix and we planned to get out of the circuit as soon as possible and watch the race from the comfort of our hotel. We really just wanted to get out of there especially after a week of being treated like something nasty you accidently step in. Last year the spectator control arrangements were improved each day and by Sunday they were not so bad. This year Singapore seemed to have gone to maximum effort to make it difficult for anyone to get around. After a long days work on Friday of race week were walking back to the train station on the route we had used last year and for that week to date only to find it blocked and to be told that we had to walk I would think three kilometres to the train station which was less than 500 meters from where we stood. When asked why, the police just kept repeating "its procedure". We heard a lot of very upset spectators over the weekend complaining about Singapore's "procedures" and every taxi driver we spoke to were also complaining about how it was far more difficult to get around this year. All in all it was a very bad advert for Singapore and their ability to organize a major event. Hopefully they will have taken notice and improve matters for 2010 but I suspect we may all be disappointed again next year.

One bonus of our multi storey car park paddock was that all the F1 personnel had to walk past to get to the F1 pits. My wife, Moniz, spent some time at the back of our paddock area watching the F1 world go by. Some spectators who had F1 paddock club passes would wait by the entrance gate hoping to get autographs from the drivers. Moniz came up with her own spectator friendly league based on how they interacted with the crowd. Alonso came top, happy to talk to the fans and sign autographs. The new drivers, Grosjean, Buemi and Alguersuari, were near the top, as was newly retired David Coulthard. The only driver who ignored the fans was Mark Webber and he was definitely bottom of the league. I have not heard stories about Webber being fan unfriendly so I suspect he was just having a bad day, but it does illustrate how important it is for drivers to consider the fans at all times. 

Our plans to get out of there on Sunday night went astray and by the time we left our multi-storey car park paddock it was only 15 minutes before the start of the GP. To get out we had to use the route used by the F1 personnel to get into their paddock and this took us past turn five, the fast right hander where Barrichello crashed in qualifying. Funnily enough this was one of the few parts of the track that did not have green tarpaulin on the debris fencing to prevent non-paying spectators from seeing the action. Formula One personnel seemingly are allowed to see the cars even if they have not paid for a grandstand ticket! We decided to watch the first laps of the race at turn five, standing right at the exit wall so close that we could almost lean out and touch the cars. Watching with me was our Eurasia Motorsport race engineer, Greg Wheeler, who used to work as an engineer at Williams and Arrows, Martin Quick also of Eurasia and my wife. The former two, like me, were feeling very jaded and frankly disillusioned with the F1 experience. The first we saw of the cars was on the warm up lap, the cars coming into view just before the apex. The noise certainly got the adrenaline flowing, the cars weaving and warming up the brakes. We could hear the start, hear the cars brake for turn one and then accelerate out of turn three and through the flat out kink that is turn four. Lewis Hamilton burst into view, the car bucking across the bumps just after the apex and then accelerating like a missile right up to the exit kerbing which was more or less at our feet. The acceleration was just incredible, I guess awesome really does describe it. In a few seconds the whole field had passed and we stood transfixed for a few more laps, taking in as much as we could in the few seconds it took for the field to pass. Vettel was really trying, close to the wall every lap. Real heroes were the Raikkonen, who was fighting a bucking bronco of a Ferrari and demonstrating why he was a World Champion, and the two force India drivers whose cars seemed to have a mind of their own over the bumps.

Greg was smiling form ear to ear, as was Martin and my wife was incredulous at the speed and noise close up and described it as 'just amazing'. I am sure Greg and Martin felt the same as me, I now remembered what made me fall in love with the sport and F1 in particular. The fastest cars and the best drivers in the World racing at the limit. Truly awesome.