24 July 2018

Digital Watches and Formula One Road Relevance

If I may use an analogy; back in the 1970's and 80's we were able to purchase a digital watch.  This was a marvelous piece of technology because not only did it tell you the time, you could also time sports events and even time the egg you were boiling.  The fact that you needed two arms, one to wear the watch; and, one with the hand that pressed the buttons so you could read it, mattered not.

At the same time we had arguably the best period of regulations for Formula One, in fact these regulations, which started mid-sixties, lasted well into the 80's.  With 1.5 litre turbos or 3 litre normally aspirated engines.  Of course it was Renault in 1977 who developed the first turbos for formula one use.

Anyway what has this to do with anything?  

Well going back to the watch, we now have "smart watches" which not only tell the time; help with that boiled egg; and time laps, they also monitor heartbeats, steps, exercise etc.  Clever stuff and considering our stressful lives, quite probably good things to wear.  And of course all this represents a vast improvement on the original, although it still does the same job.

Not so the current formula one power units.  These power units incorporate some heavy components, KERs etc.  which, although they provide power in terms of electricity, they take a lot of lugging around.  What is the point?  If you can produce a normally aspirated 3 litre, or turbocharged 1.5 litre engine that only needs 100 litres of fuel to push a lighter, more nimble Formula one car around at speeds in the region of 200 mph for 200 miles then why carry all that hybrid junk? As to road relevance.  We are after all talking about 9 mpg whether it's a hybrid or a "normally aspirated" engine.  Already the majors are moving towards plug-in electric rather than hybrid power, so the road relevance argument is somewhat flawed.

Not to mention the vast savings in cost, coupled with the ability for smaller independent engineering companies to build engines thereby increasing the competition.  What's not to like?

I believe reality is starting to bite.  Formula One TV audiences are diminishing; assisted by the inexplicable need for penalties for engine/gearbox changes; something that a reduced cost, more simple engine regulation would obviate, since nobody will be paying umpteen millions of Euros for an engine deal.  

The cars look like leviathans, nothing agile or indeed nimble about them.  Whilst nobody is going to unlearn aerodynamics if the overall size and weight  of the car were reduced, together with a limit on size of wings there would be more interest in my opinion.  Who hasn't heard the spectators expressing their pleasure at seeing the historic formula one cars that perform at a few of the Grands Prix?

We need to go back, to progress the sport.

31 May 2018

Formula 1 Boring - Whatever Next?

Following on from Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso's  suggestion that the Monaco GP was boring, which it generally is, it occurs to me that the fundamentals of the "sport" have been lost and thus most races are boring.  Here's my view.

In the past twenty years we had the Schumacher/Ferrari dominance. Which prompted the grooved tyres etc. A lot of people complain that the dominance made it boring and from the point of view of variety that may be correct. However the nature of the beast has always led to dominance. 

Right at the beginning before the World Championship was founded in 1950 there was Mercedes and everyone else, even Auto Union struggled. Then at the beginning of the Formula One World Championship the first two years were dominated by Alfa Romeo and its drivers, Farina and Fangio. Alfa and Fangio won in 1951; then, in 1952 it was Alberto Ascari with Ferrari, nobody else came close. Likewise the team and driver won in 1953.

All through the fifties there were close battles for the title but we know Fangio won four times. Almost Schumacher dominance. Yet the key to those races was that you could see the drivers working the wheel. It was exciting.

Take the sixties and the success of Lotus who, with Jim Clark took two championships and with G Hill one. Here there were two drivers who won four WDCs during the decade (Graham Hill for BRM). Also Lotus won with Rindt (Posthumously). Yet Jim Clark is revered by many enthusiasts. As is Schumacher. Nobody complained at the team’s or the drivers’ dominance. Again the cars were alive and you could see the drivers fighting with them.

Then in the seventies, once again Lotus and Ferrari shared most of the spoils. The cars, by now sported big wings and big fat slicks. And they danced. Ronnie Petersen sideways is an abiding memory in anything he drove. He wasn’t a champion (sadly) but he was always worth watching. But he wasn’t the only driver to make the cars slide and dance; Emmo, Hunt, Lauda et al, were all worth watching. Later in the 70's we got the likes of Jones and Andretti (returning) who took the fight to the leaders, and in Andretti’s case, won the WDC.

In the 1980's we got those fantastic turbos and awesome power with ground effect. Those cars ran on rails but they were soon legislated against, so we got active suspension.  Although McLaren dominated the decade with five out of ten WDCs there was no complaining. Williams won a couple too. Awesome cars and if they looked a little bit more stable than previously, we could see how difficult they were to drive. The chassis used to shake and vibrate due to the power.

Looking at the 90’s from my perspective. The restriction to V10s was wrong. But we got some great cars such as the FW14B. We also had some great championships 1994 and 1996 stand out for two different but obvious reasons, although the loss of Senna blighted the former. We had the 1993 European GP where the drive of the century occurred. The cars were still a handful to drive but they started to look similar. Perfect? No. But the racing among all the teams was plain to see and in many cases close. Even if by then passing in a pit stop was becoming the norm.

The Schumacher dominance began around 2000 but he’d already won two WDC’s by then. However there were plenty of others who won in the 90’s and the competition was pretty close. We forget that there were five seasons in the 2000's when Schumacher didn’t win. We did have two tyre companies at this time which meant the cars were not all set up for the same levels of grip.

Then, in 2009 we got KERs. All of a sudden cars were running odd laps in order to build up the necessary energy for a quick burst. How daft was that? Then to make matters worse in 2011 we got DRS! As if the only thing that should happen in Formula One was passing . Thus they invented a system that penalised the guy who was busting his nuts to lead and win!

At the same time tyres became an issue. They were designed to fall apart and this they did so all of a sudden, despite using KERs or DRS to get in front, the winner was the one with the right set of tyres on at the right time. And the cars? They were running on rails, controlled from the pits with minimal driver input, no gear levers, no left foot braking, steering kickback dampened etc. 

So, why is it boring and why do we need false means for overtaking?  Because we aren’t watching people drive their nuts off!  We are watching a sterilised TV version of what someone who doesn’t know, thinks Formula One should be. In the 50's to 90's we had less on board graphics, so we had to watch what the car did to see how the driver was performing. Now we get almost inside the driver’s helmet which is technically impressive but have you noticed there is very little input into controlling the car? And a fast corner doesn't look that difficult from the roll bar. On top of which the reliability has taken away that element of uncertainty that driver A will actually finish. So to counter that the FIA issues daft penalties.

For the record I didn't find the 2018 Monaco GP boring but that was mainly due to the knowledge we all had that Daniel Ricciardo's power unit, or whatever, was hobbled thus could he finish or was he vulnerable to attack?  It was an element of uncertainty in an otherwise processional race.  There is no doubt that the drivers are capable and Monaco exaggerates their capabilities, so much respect to them.  But those cars are so technically advanced there is little excitement in watching them.

27 May 2015

What a difference a Differential makes!

By Phtosports
It's been some time since I raced at Spa Francorchamps, my favourite circuit.  In fact three years have passed since we were last here.  So, when the opportunity to enter the Classic Endurance Racing Series - Historic Touring Cars event, I jumped at the chance.

Ken Clarke Motorsport was taking three cars to the circuit; the Richard Postins TWR Group A Rover; The Anthony Robinson Ex Works Group 1 Dolomite Sprint; and, my Group 1 ex works Rover 3500s.  We arrived at mid day on Thursday, opened the garage, signed on and after a visit from the organisers, we passed scrutineering.

The programme for the weekend was quite sedate, with a free practice on Friday morning, then qualifying in the afternoon and another free practice in the dark that evening.  All of which meant there would be plenty of time to relax.  Or so we hoped.  Not having raced the car here I was hoping to be at least within shooting distance of the 3 mins per lap mark.

From then on my weekend was compromised, no chance of racing at any kind of speed and unlikely to finish any races.  Nonetheless the team worked all day to repair the casing and at least get me out for evening practice which went well if slowly.  In the meantime an old axle from a 2 litre Rover was being transported from Hinckley and would arrive early the next morning.

Although the strength of the axle casing may have been compromised I took the decision to run the day race on Saturday using the existing/repaired axle.  I was pleased to be leading my class comfortably for seven laps, and indeed running among some Group A and Group 2 machinery, although I was slower than my previous best lap time, so it was disappointing when the pinion let go and once again I headed for retirement.

The broken axle showing the repair.
The team removed the offending axle and built the replacement into the car so that we could run the night race.  This was a road axle of some 70,000 mile vintage and not a limited slip item either.  It would be a slow drive to the finish.  Off the line at the rolling start I passed a few cars but I knew I couldn't really compete.  Indeed after three laps the axles started to whine and I was from then on, simply coasting to the finish.

Nonetheless I was comfortably leading the class which was reduced due to attrition, when the safety car was deployed due to a massive oil spill at the entrance to Blanchiment.  We had at least one lap to run behind the safety car before the pit lane opened for the necessary stops, although my class rivals arrived just as it opened.  That then compromised my chances of the class win because having spent another two laps behind the safety car my class rivals caught me up and passed me with a lap to go.

So, second in class and that was only due to the replacement axle which surprisingly held together for the race.

Massive thanks to Ken Clarke Motorsport and the entire team.  As it happens I was the only podium finisher out of the three cars; Richard Postins broke his gearbox when lying fourth and Anthony Robinson suffered similar gearbox maladies when leading the Group 1 (TC2) class.

We shall be back!