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March 17, 2017 @ 11:50 am

2017 Season Preview

As teams and drivers pack their bags ready for the flight to Melbourne, the Pitpass team jumped into the studio for the first podcast of the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Its' like getting the band back together as the trio of Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch once again run their eye over the state of play and conclude that the only certainty in the year ahead is that McLaren is in for a world of pain.

After a pre-season testing which could be politely described as 'difficult', Balfe in particular holds great fears, and goes so far as to propose a radical approach to what is now a three year old problem.

McLaren wasn't the only target in his sights though, as the now infamous F1 Live Timing app draws Balfe's ire, who was particularly bemused when he seemingly caught the team behind the program out for a cheeky long lunch one afternoon.

It's a black mark on Liberty Media's early involvement too, the company which now owns the sport which is reputedly trying to open up the sport more to an online audience.

It begs the question; is Liberty Media really interested in improving the sport, or just after its cash? It's a question Noble poses as he ponders two different approaches the new owners could take in the way it chooses to market the sport.

There is though an opportunity, he suggests, and a way to recreate the sort of razzamatazz the sport hasn't had since Flavio Briatore was flying around the world with beautiful women (or so the story goes).

Balfe agrees, suggesting there's no sense of occasion at a time when the sport should be working itself into a lather as it builds the anticipation among fans.

The problem of course is the best way to do that is to have the teams working together, which as the team discusses is about as easy as herding cats, or choreographing the Superbowl halftime show.

That's also a bone of contention with the suggestion Liberty Media wants to transform the sport into an American style spectacle, but that isn't what's at the sport's heart the team argues with Balfe in particular suggesting the marketing arm of the sport has lost its way.

December 13, 2016 @ 4:47 am

Season Recap & Pitpass Awards 2017

Who was the best driver and which was the best team in 2016? That's what the team has gathered to discuss in the Pitpass.com end of season podcast, as well as the slightly awkward fact that they forgot to talk about Nico Rosberg last time around.

Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch return for one final lap in 2016 to hand out the chocolates, with awards for best pass, most memorable moment and best innovation. There's disagreements, differences of opinion and plenty of bad jokes.

But there is more than just the handing out of awards, with discussion turning to all the key topics of the moment. For instance, no podcast would be complete without the mention of biscuits, and the team goes to great lengths to quantify Rosberg's world championship. Indeed, it spurs Balfe into asking the obvious question about the newly crowned world champion, the one nobody had thought to ask.

There's another question to be answered too, and that's who does Mercedes replace Rosberg with or, more to the point, is the Mercedes drive a poisoned chalice? Stepping in alongside Lewis Hamilton is a daunting task, and the team runs through a list of drivers and what they might stand to gain, and lose, should they fill the vacancy.

December 1, 2016 @ 8:53 am

Abu Dhabi 2016

As the 2016 championship draws to a close, the Pitpass team gets the band back together to review the final race of the season.

It's been a few weeks since the guys have caught up, but they get straight back in the groove as they discuss the merits of Max Verstappen, and try to quantify just how good he really is. The general consensus is varying degrees of 'bloody good'. That poses a raft of new questions too, such as what does it mean for Daniel Ricciardo's career, and Lewis Hamilton's ego.

If Verstappen's career has Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch salivating in anticipation, the retirement of two of the sport's most popular drivers has them reminiscing. After more than 300 grands prix there will be no Jenson Button on the grid in 2017, nor Felipe Massa – two drivers who enjoyed successful careers in a sport which has been so brutal to so many.

Of course there's no escaping discussing Hamilton's performance at Abu Dhabi. Did he overstep the mark, play to the letter of the law or bring the sport into some sort of disrepute. The team's opinion is unanimous, while Noble, who once again dons his Mercedes team boss cap, suggests a quiet word in the new year is all that is really necessary to calm things inside the team. Of course if that doesn't work there are a range of other options.

The crux of the discussion is not however over whether what Hamilton did was fair and just, because there's no doubting it was, but whether it was moral. Indeed it all gets rather philosophical as the team compares the three-time world champion with the man he bested to claim his first crown.

With one more season-wrap to follow, the guys for once manage to stay (more or less) on topic in their analysis of events in what was a dramatic, enthralling, nail-biting race.

October 13, 2016 @ 5:45 am

Japan 2016

Was the Japanese Grand Prix the turning point of the season, or the next chapter following Nico Rosberg's breakout drive in Malaysia a week earlier? That's what the Pitpass team is in the studio to discuss this week, along with the plight of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen's defensive driving and the storm that was Hurricane Lewis.

Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch managed to forget the biscuits in all the excitement of Japan, preferring instead to marvel and applaud the performance of championship leader Nico Rosberg. After a getting a glimpse of the sort of confidence the German currently has the race before at Sepang, the Japanese Grand Prix saw him stamp his authority on the race in style. Was in the race that broke the back of the championship? We'll have to wait and see, though team-mate Lewis Hamilton appears to be feeling the pressure.

Has he reached meltdown though? The team discusses at length Hamilton's comments from the weekend, analysing what might have caused them and whether there are other forces at work behind the scenes which saw the reigning world champion pick a battle with the British media. It's a fight Balfe suggests he's not likely to win, the Fleet Street firm seemingly in the process of knocking down a man they turned into a superstar. So what does Hamilton do from here, and was he showing the sport the direction it could or should be going by engaging with his followers on Snapchat instead of journalists across the weekend?

If Hamilton is feeling the heat so too is Sebastian Vettel, a man who according to the team looks a shadow of his former self. The swagger is gone, the wins have dried and instead of a boss with a twitchy foot he now works for a boss with a savage tongue, one all too ready to throw the team under the bus in pursuit of success. Is that the right approach, and is Vettel the man to lead the team out of its comparative dark ages the way Michael Schumacher did?

McLaren's weekend on pseudo home soil in Suzuka didn't go to plan with a weak performance from both drivers. After a number of positive glimmers from the team in recent races it was a blip on the radar, one that came at perhaps the worst event of the season for a team whose engine manufacturer owns the Suzuka circuit.

Force India and Max Verstappen caught the eye of the team, while Williams caught their ire for another Grand Prix that saw them comfortably outperformed by their nearest championship rivals.

October 5, 2016 @ 6:03 am

Malaysia 2016

Despite the quick turnaround between the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix, the team has found time to sneak into the studio to record the latest episode of the Pitpass Podcast.

Chris Balfe and Max Noble once again join Mat Coch to discuss a race which, according to Balfe, was better than nail-biting. Indeed it scored a Full Packet on the illustrious Biscuit Board and would have left our editor giving it two thumbs up if only he hadn't bitten one off in all the excitement.

But while there were moments too exciting to chow down on a shortbread there were points that had one absentmindedly munching away while pondering the enigma that has become Felipe Massa. Set to hang up his boots at the end of the season, boots which will probably not smell faintly of champagne on current form, the Brazilian's performance has left Noble at odds with Coch and Balfe. A stellar career he might have had debate rages on whether he's gone on too long, and what Williams options are as they begin looking towards 2017. The solution proposed by Balfe is so obvious nobody has yet spotted it.

One thing the team does agree on was that Malaysia was perhaps the race of the year for Nico Rosberg, an event in which it seemed he started to believe he could be champion. Where once he'd roll over and sulk he drove the race of a champion, refusing to give up and stealing third place at the flag as a result. But if it was the race of the year for Rosberg, what does it mean for Lewis Hamilton as the team discusses the fall out of the world champion's engine failure, and Lord Almighty do they pull no punches in that regard.

September 23, 2016 @ 6:40 am

Singapore 2016

It's all tea and biscuits in the Pitpass podcast following the Singapore Grand Prix, an event that saw Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo's grandstand finish overshadowed by a lizard and a moustache.

Chris Balfe is once again joined in the studio by Mat Coch and Max Noble, the three probing and prodding at all of the fleshy bits from the Singapore weekend. There's of course talk about Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo's dash for cash at the end of the race, and a discussion on Balfe's innovative biscuit based race rating system. This year's Marina Bay encounter netted an eight butterscotch rating, though we've no idea if that's good or bad or if Chris just got hungry mid-race.

Never one to shy away from the big issues the team also tackles the difficult subject of people on race tracks, though at Singapore that doesn't seem a particular challenge given a lizard a drunk and a marshal have all enjoyed unique views of the event in recent times. There is though a serious side to their debate given there were severe safety problems over the weekend, some emanating from race control but others from the drivers themselves as they chose to believe those yellow flags marshals were waving were just their nostalgic support for the Jordan Grand Prix team. That causes Coch to lose his rag and brand the lot of them amateurs – clearly he wasn't a Jordan fan.

Ferrari and McLaren get a mention, as does Williams though Valtteri Bottas is politely asked to ensure his seatbelt is securely fastened throughout the duration of the show. It was a bumpy weekend for Haas too, with Romain Grosjean's moaning almost of Lewis Hamilton (who has been on the backfoot all season, even while winning six races in seven) proportions.

However there was on topic from which there was no escaping, and one which Nigel Mansell will perhaps be glad finally raised its head. For the first time in decades the Best Moustache in Formula One Award has left his mantelpiece and has been whisked across to the office of Chase Carey with minimal fanfare.

Carey was of course on a meet and greet mission and shook hands and had conversations all weekend. So too did Bernie, and one suspects that may be the first glimpse of Liberty Media's new commercial strategy for the sport; the ultimate in reality TV shows as it follows the sports powerbrokers to decide who has the best handshake and small talk.

Exactly what Liberty's involvement will be remains unclear of course, that's the way Bernie tends to try and keep things wherever possible, but Balfe in particular isn't sold on the idea. It's probably because he hasn't got any shares.

PS, Don't worry Nige, you've still got the best eyebrows.

September 7, 2016 @ 7:30 am

Italy 2016

There's just something special about Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix, that gives the team goose bumps as they dissect the latest round of the championship.

Chris Balfe, Mat Coch and Max Noble can't hide their enthusiasm for the fabled Italian circuit, suggesting it goes a long way to make up for what tend to be fair predictable races. The question is however, for how much longer given the suggested fate of the parkland circuit.

The race, or moreover Nico Rosberg's performance, had Balfe thinking. Perhaps there really are two Nico's and the evil twin Max Noble has previously suggested does actually exist. Does that mean there are two Lewis' too, and the one who can start races well had the weekend off?

Nothing tough gets the team's motors running quite like Jenson Button's sabbatical, an announcement Balfe in particular takes great exception to. There's business sense there of course, and Balfe concedes that on McLaren's part, but doesn't hold back on voicing his opinion on how the situation was handled.

That however proves only to be the curtain raiser for discussion on Ferrari. While it may have nabbed third place on home ground there are confusing and concerning messages coming from the squad's top brass. For Balfe and Noble they fear a return to the dark ages – the period from 1980 to 1999.

The possible sale of the sport is also discussed briefly, with suggestions there is far more to any buy out than meets the eye. A date clash with Le Mans is considered a Bad Move while Balfe saves some late praise, and even more bad puns, for late on.

September 2, 2016 @ 7:44 am

Belgium 2016

As the Formula One season reconvened at Spa so too has the Pitpass team been busy discussing a Belgian Grand Prix that created more than one talking point.

It's a podcast with a bit of a difference, as the trio of Chris Balfe, Mat Coch and Max Noble discuss and analyse the impact of the race on the sport as a whole. There's much noshing and wailing of teeth over Max Verstappen, and the tactics the young Dutch (or Belgian, delete where appropriate) employs. More than that though Balfe traces the Red Bull driver's approach back to its genesis moment in the sport, and it's not quite where you might expect.

Of course Kevin Magnussen couldn't escape without a mention, and though the team stop short of awarding points for artistic merit do suggest that such incidents are a warning shot across the bows of the sport. Furthermore they ponder whether that such a crash has happened, and Magnussen escaped relatively uninjured, is perhaps one of the reasons drivers like Verstappen can employ the tactics they do.

Yes, it's a real chicken and the egg episode which inevitably leads the team to talk about whether the sport is a sport or if the sport isn't a sport and the sport has become not a sport because sport doesn't sell as well as sport used to. Sport. Then again maybe it's just all business and we should be happy we've got a show to watch, and that it's not been cancelled by fat cat television execs as audience numbers fall.

Somewhere in amongst it all there are discussions on Nico Rosberg as Coch and Noble try to work out exactly which one – Nico or his evil twin – turned up in Spa all the while trying to calculate exactly where Lewis Hamilton should have started from. Somewhere near Brussels, was Balfe's guess.

Unlike the team radio though it's not all moaning and negativity, though there is groaning about the moaning back to base. It's all a bit like the school yard out there with everyone running to tell teacher – in Verstappen's case, while holding scissors.

Still, Max Noble has the solution to all of F1's problems with a neat little rule change that could be enacted next week. It's a simple, elegant and fuss free way of managing penalties. So it'll never happen.

August 19, 2016 @ 4:49 am

2016 Mid-season report

It's the mid-season break and with the teams on summer holiday that's left the Pitpass trio of Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch to dissect the first half of the year.

In a show that's best described as a marathon and not a sprint, the guys look at each and every team, evaluating their performances and prospects in 2016. There's also discussion on the plight ahead of Nico Rosberg, and just how the German let a seemingly insurmountable points advantage slip through his fingers.

Speaking of slipping backwards, Ferrari too has shown worrying signs to Balfe, who suggests the once mighty Italian team is at risk of another dark age. But such is the way with Formula One, as one team's star rises another falls, and as those in red begin spending more time looking over their shoulders Christian Horner and his Red Bull squad must be rubbing their hands together though.

Enter Max Noble, who has a cunning conspiracy theory on the current engine situation at Milton Keynes. With its Renault engines – sorry, Tag Heuer engines – working a treat the transformation in the team has been evident in the season so far. There are worrying signs though, and not of another era of Red Bull domination but in its general attitude and swagger according to both Balfe and Coch.

The pros and cons of Sauber's new owners is debated as is the fate of Rio Haryanto, Daniil Kvyat and Jolyon Palmer. Indeed the Coch asks his fellow presenters to put themselves in the hot seat at Renault and decide just what it does on the driver front for 2017.

Williams, Force India, McLaren and Haas also get discussed as the sport enters its final week of summer holidays, as the Pitpass team brings you bang up to date with everything that we can expect to see in the nine races ahead, with the benefit of the hindsight gleaned from the opening 12 races of the year.

July 15, 2016 @ 10:11 am

2016 British GP

Is Lewis Hamilton good or bad for Formula One? That's the question the Pitpass team grapples with in the British Grand Prix podcast following his stunning win in Silverstone.

There are positives and negatives in the sport's reigning world champion, with Chris Balfe, Max Noble and Mat Coch looking at where he adds value and where there's room for improvement. The consensus is that it's not Lewis who needs to pull up his socks but Mercedes, which has created a runaway train following its denial of comments made by Niki Lauda.

Nico Rosberg doesn't escape without feeling the wrath of the team either, with his Austrian Grand Prix misdemeanor leaving all scratching their heads. In theory the Pitpass trio like the aggression and intent from the German, though if it were an Olympic diving even would have given him particularly low scores for execution.

They reason however that it's a glimpse into the mentality of the world championship leader, with his performance at Silverstone – and more the point the fact he was second fiddle to Hamilton all weekend – is cause for concern.

Mercedes dominates the episode with plenty being said on the radio, unlike in modern F1, and a debate on just where to draw the line. Noble suggests regulation size chalk boards and strict rules over the colour of the chalk itself be used as the sole means of contact mid-race.

Away from Mercedes, Ferrari has its decision to offer Kimi Raikkonen another contract analysed. It's a statement of ambition Coch, Balfe and Noble agree, but is that ambition ambitious enough for the Scuderia?

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