Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton on his second World Championship following his convincing win at Abu Dhabi earlier today. Whilst its a shame Rosberg dropped out of contention with mechanical difficulties, it was a relief that the Championship went to the driver with the most wins and that it was not decided by the ridiculous double points system in place for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hammertime! Well done Lewis, Britain's first two time World Champion since Jackie Stewart

Hammertime! Well done Lewis, Britain’s first two time World Champion since Jackie Stewart

Other innovations were more successful. The new hybrid engines are absolutely fascinating and have proved more reliable than anyone would have predicted. I personally do not mind the different noise – I think it sounds like the future.

Despite Mercedes Benz’s crushing dominance it was still a thrilling season. The resurrection of Williams was great to see for all British fans as was the humbling of Vettel at the hands of his Australian team mate. Ricciardo has had a fantastic season, his third in the drivers championship being well deserved. His lack of pretention and easy going nature have already endeared him to the fans. We can expect great things of him next season.  In addition, thanks to the aerodynamic skills of Adrian Newey, Red Bull managed to stay in touch with the Mercedes powered teams, notwithstanding their Renault engines. A remarkable achievement for the team. How will they cope with less of his time next year?

Ricciardo had a great season- a future World Champion?

Ricciardo had a great season- a future World Champion?

Massa has also had a good season. He must be delighted Ferrari let him go. Ferrari’s season has been terrible – an embarrassment to the team who reap the most financial reward from the current system of team financing.  The departure of Montezemolo after so many years is the end of an era.  Rumours abound that Ross Brawn may go back to Ferrari. Might that and Vettel’s arrival be enough to help them out of the hole they are currently in?  McLaren, the second oldest team on the grid, have also had a season to forget.  Ron Dennis has a new Honda engine next season – will it be good enough? Engine aside they have not been competitive with the other Mercedes customer teams, Williams and Force India, both of whom have outperformed the Woking outfit.  Bar a miraculous Honda engine, Alonso is likely to face a tough test on his return to the team.

The administration of the Caterham and Marussia teams was a sad symptom of the increasing cost of F1. The new hybrid engines and the inequity of the current Concorde Agreement between F1’s commercial rights owner and some of the teams led directly to the reduced grid seen in the last few races of the season. Things do not look good for Sauber, Force India of Lotus either. Lotus’ season has been particularly terrible and it seems nothing much can save them apart from a return of Flavio Briatore or some other deep pocket.

After many years of no serious injuries in F1 we were rocked by Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident at Suzuka. Hopefully he and Michael Schumacher, injured in a freak skiing accident earlier in the year, will make a full recovery.

jules

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In the week leading up to the London to Brighton veteran car run, the organisers, the Royal Automobile Club, hold a number of motoring events in London including a motoring forum at the RAC club house in Pall Mall.  This year the guest of honour was former Ferrari and Benetton team manager Ross Brawn.  As well as having won manufacturer F1 World Championships with both those teams Brawn has the unusual distinction of having won the same title with his eponymous team in their first year of operation. Until recently he also managed the Mercedes Benz team following their purchase of a majority interest in Team Brawn in 2009.

After struggling for a couple of years the Mercedes team has now won this years Formula One manufacturers title. Brawn expressed his pride in having contributed to the team’s success. He said winning the title was harder than he thought it would be as Mercedes-Benz were initially unwilling to invest in the team. Brawn pointed out that Red Bull spent over £200 million each year to win each of their recent titles . Brawn said that unfortunately Formula One was like that nowadays . Investing a lot of money was not a guarantee of success but not investing enough money was a guarantee of failure .

The cost of running a successful Formula One campaign was very high and could not be met, even for the large teams, by the income they received from the commercial rights holder. Sponsorship could close the gap to some degree but, due to the recent recession, this was not as plentiful as before. As such the manufacturers have an advantage today because they are able to support their race teams from other resources and also supply engines to other teams which generate an income. The complex hybrid engines being used this year are over twice as expensive as last year’s engines and as such Brawn believed the cost of such new technology has undoubtedly had a negative impact on the smaller teams.

When asked what was the greatest challenge of his time at Mercedes-Benz Brawn said it was getting them to think as a team. The engine guys had initially been sceptical of a Mercedes-Benz team as they already had a good working relationship with a successful team – McLaren.  Getting the engine guys and the chassis guys to think together on a “one-car “basis was the key to the current success of the team.

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Ross Brawn at the RAC Motoring Forum

When asked about his impressions of Michael Schumacher Brawn said that he first came across Schumacher when Brawn was working for the Jaguar sports car team at the end of the 80’s. At the time Schumacher was racing for the Mercedes sports car team and Brawn and Tom Walkinshaw were very impressed with Schumacher as he was the only driver at the time who threatened the dominance of the Jaguar sports cars.

When Walkinshaw and Brawn were recruited to Benetton with Briatore it was Tom Walkinshaw who approached Schumacher and poached him from Jordan, not Briatore who often claimed the credit for what turned out to be a vital hire.  Schumacher quickly established himself as a very impressive driver who worked very hard and was always available for testing, unlike some of his colleagues. brawn said he was a great team player who took a real interest in all members of the team. He knew the names of all the mechanics and never criticised the team.

When asked which current drivers he rated Brawn tactfully mentioned Hamilton and Rosberg but also expressed admiration for Alonso. Alonso was one of those drivers able to get the best out of any car in any circumstance.  Brawn contrasted this with Vettel’s performance this year where he’s been consistently outshone by his teammate.

Asked what he thought about double points being awarded to the winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix he said he thought it was a “stupid idea”. Brawn was firmly of the view that the most consistent driver of the year should win the championship – it should not be decided on such gimmicks at the last race of the season.

Currently “retired” Brawn was due to take part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in his recently acquired 1904 Wilson Pilcher.

Nestled amongst pine clad hills, Spa is one of the oldest and most legendary of the Formula 1 circuits. They started racing here 100 years ago as a novel alternative to the then popular city to city races. The current circuit is often mentioned by Formula 1 drivers as their favourite and the plunge downhill to Eau Rouge before the climb up to Les Combes is regarded as one of the most perfect racing corners in the world. I have never driven the current circuit but doing so is certainly on my bucket list.

I was last at Spa for the Belgian GP in 1998. The weather was unusually fine but the race was dull. Schumacher and Ferrari were in their pomp and pretty soon the race began to resemble the sort of dull processions that did so much to turn off fans in the Schumacher era. Even sitting at the bottom of Eau Rouge could not make things more interesting and that race was the last F1 race I went to for 12 years.

The Spa circuit we see today is only a fraction of the Spa circuit that was in use from 1902 until 1978. That circuit was much much longer at 15km in length and had a reputation for appalling weather and danger as notorious as that of its near neighbour across the German border, the Nurburgring.

The typically wet weather, the lack of run off and the brooding trees claimed many lives, even before the War. Dick Seaman was killed here in his works Mercedes on 1939. Throughout the fifties and sixties lap times shortened as cars got quicker. Inevitably the danger increased. For example the 1960 GP claimed two British drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey. Stirling Moss was also injured.

The weather for the 1966 race was awful and Jackie Stewart had a serious accident he was lucky to survive. Having crashed on a remote part of the track he had to rely on fellow competitor Graham Hill to pull him from his car. Jackie has often said that it was this accident that started his campaign for better safety in Formula 1.

Those running Spa made little effort to make the circuit safer and F1 ceased to race on the old circuit in 1970. Sports car racing continued, lap times got quicker still and the death toll mounted. Three drivers died in the 1973 Spa 1000km race. The lap record (that still stands) was set in that era by Pedro Rodriguez in a Porsche 917 at an incredible average speed of over 150 mph.

Finally, in 1978 the old circuit was closed and reconfigured. It was reopened in the shorter form we see today and GP racing returned in 1983. The public roads that bore the old circuit reverted to full time public highways and can be driven today.

You join the old circuit at Les Combes and meander slowly down hill through the village of Burneville. It’s pretty straight and an F1 car would be going very fast as you enter the long right hander at the bottom of the hill. Houses and junctions keep your speed down and it is hard to believe you are on such a notorious circuit.

The long straight between Malmedy and Stavelot is interrupted by the infamous Masta Kink. It’s been tightened in modern times but its old configuration can be seen in the lay – by that sits where the wicked left / right must have terrified drivers in the past. Motorsport’s famous correspondent Dennis Jenkinson used to sit above the Kink and watch and listen to the passing racers to see who could take the Kink flat out and who would lift off. To him it was the ultimate test of a driver.

Just before Stavelot a cambered right hander takes the old circuit back towards Blanchimont and the new circuit. The crumbling Tarmac and flaking Armco at the beginning of this stretch are from the original circuit. Finally, with little traffic and few houses, it is possible to open up the throttle a bit. The road is very straight and its easy to see why the old circuit was so fast. Pretty soon you arrive at some huge gates that mark the point the old circuit joins the new, but for at least a few seconds its possible to imagine how Fangio, Moss, Stewart and Rodriguez must have felt all those years ago.

Below: Masta Kink isn’t what it used to be; Blanchimont gates; Rodriguez’s Porsche 917

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