Posts in Category: Cars

France in June…

Tuesday 19th June 2012

So yesterday I got back home after two and a half weeks in France. Went out for a weekend at the start of the month with work, and decided to stay out afterwards to visit Paris:


After a week there, got the TGV back west to go back to work. Race week at Le Mans:

Le Mans pitlane at night

All in all, the last couple of weeks have been pretty good…

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Of plans gone awry

Saturday 28th January 2012

About 18 months ago I graduated with a pretty good degree in Civil Engineering, from a pretty good university. In the last few months, I’ve also graduated from an MSc course in one particular part of Civils, again from a pretty good university. During the last year – and particularly the last few months since I finished my masters – I’ve been looking and applying for jobs within that industry. Had a few interviews too, but for whatever reason got nowhere. Lately, I’ve become bored of being skint, so I decided to look for a part-time job, something to do/earn money while I keep applying for “proper” jobs.

And, well, that’s sort of what I’ve done. I’ve taken what is essentially a part-time job, that I know will give me work for the majority of the year. But as part time jobs go, it’s a bit good…

I’m going to be working for a tyre company. Specifically, in the motorsport part of the company. Providing support to their customers in the World Endurance Championship. So basically, I’m going to go to a load of races, getting paid for it, and getting involved in engineering some of the cars that are taking part.

So I’ll be working at races at Sebring (Florida), Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), Le Mans, Silverstone, Interlagos (Sao Paulo), Bahrain (or wherever they decide to reschedule it), Fuji (Japan) and somewhere in China. And I’ll also hopefully be involved in a bit of testing; I already know that I’ll be going to a tyre test in February, most likely at Monza.

So, my initial plan of “finish uni, get a civil engineering job” has sort of gone awry; I don’t know if this job will lead to any future work (although I get the impression that it possibly could), and of course I’m now not entirely available to start a “normal” office-based engineering job until about November, when the WEC season ends. But, well, I can’t say I’m really complaining…

I still find it slightly amazing that I had a few interviews for jobs that I should really be ideal for given my experience and my qualifications, and got nowhere. But somehow I’ve landed a job that’s completely different to what I’ve done before. Again, I can’t say I’m moaning; at least one of the companies I’ve interviewed for in the last 6 months is now in trouble. And, er, in this job I get to work in motorsport!

And that still hasn’t really sunk in. The way I keep looking at it is: I’ve wanted to go to the Le Mans 24 Hours for years. I’m going this year, and I’ll be in the pitlane for the race. I’ve been to spectate at the Silverstone 6 Hours for the last couple of years, this year I’ll be working there. It’s all a bit unreal really.

So that’s what I’m doing this year. I’m very excited.

Posted In: EngineeringMotorsport Tagged: | 2 Comments

Another hybrid?

Sunday 4th December 2011

At first glance, electric cars seem to be a good idea. Certainly at current prices, using electricity seems to be a relatively cheap way of fuelling a car. And for many people, who mostly use their car to make short journeys, the range issue isn’t generally a problem.

However, most people also use their car for occasional long trips. For example to visit friends or relatives who don’t live locally. And so although people generally only make short trips, they still need it to be able to make longer journeys on occasion. I think this is probably one of the major barriers preventing wider uptake of electric cars at the moment (price being another big one; a comparable EV typically costs 50-100% more than the alternative conventionally-powered car). Even if you only make short trips 95% of the time, most people don’t want to buy or rent another car for the other 5% of the time.

But perhaps there’s a way to have the best of both worlds. At the moment, certain cars have a “hybrid” system. Here, a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) provides power in the first instance, and this is supplemented by an electrical system which collects energy which would otherwise be wasted (in braking etc). Seems like a good idea, although I do find it surprising that many of the cars which use this system don’t actually seem to do it very well. For example in the real world, a Prius only seems to be about as efficient as other mid-size cars (e.g. the Ford Mondeo or the BMW 3-series) which use reasonably-sized diesel engines, and are much less efficient than many smaller cars which use small engines with forced-induction. Only the Prius is more harmful to the environment, once you take into account the materials used to manufacture the hybrid system…

I reckon that this might be the wrong way to go about making a hybrid drivetrain. Rather than having a drivetrain that is mostly ICE and partly electric, why not have the balance the other way?

By that I mean, rather than fit an ICE drivetrain with a slimmed-down electric drivetrain, why not fit a small engine to an electric drivetrain? So for short journeys you can run solely from the batteries, which you can then charge as you need. But then if you want to make a longer journey – or if you run out of electricity – you can fill up with petrol or diesel and start the engine.

I can’t see too many downsides to this. It’d be harder to package and would increase the weight slightly, but I guess that this is only the same problem as is faced with the drivetrain on other types of hybrid. But in this solution, the car gets the best of both worlds.

Of course, I’m not a mechanical engineer so there could be problems I haven’t foreseen; perhaps there’s a good reason why no-one uses this drivetrain (if that’s correct. Maybe some cars do, and I just haven’t heard of them). But I really can’t think of many negatives which would outweigh the obvious benefits: EV efficiency for smaller journeys, and ICE range for longer ones.

All this being said, has anyone actually worked out whether EVs really are more efficient than cars with an ICE? Or does using an electric drivetrain simply move the location at which fuel is consumed away from the vehicle? I actually don’t know the answer to this, although if making a journey using an electric car costs less per mile, I guess that’s a good hint.

Posted In: CarsEngineering Tagged: | 3 Comments

F1 waffle

Tuesday 4th October 2011

If you just looked at the statistics, it’d probably seem as if Formula 1 in 2011 is thoroughly dull. Sebastian Vettel is absolutely dominant; in the 14 races so far he’s scored 9 wins, 11 pole positions, has only finished off the podium once, and even then he managed to finish fourth. To win the drivers’ championship he now only needs to score a single point from the remaining five races, which should just about be possible given that the Red Bull he’s driving is by far the fastest car in the field. But that’s only part of the picture, because despite the rather predictable nature of the championship, the majority of the races this year have been fantastic.

One of the fascinating things this year has been seeing how the other top drivers have been coping with not always having the machinery to challenge Vettel. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have both been driving superbly, and have both made the best of what they’ve got to challenge as best they can. Button in particular has put in some stellar performances; in fact he’s probably driving better now than he did in 2009, when he won the championship.  He’s very intelligent about how he structures his race; his qualifying pace isn’t generally the quickest compared to Lewis Hamilton, his team-mate, but during the races Button is very good at working out when to push hard and when to take it easy and look after the car and tyres. The result is a very impressive season indeed.

It’s fair to say that Lewis Hamilton doesn’t have such a measured approach. Hamilton is without doubt one of the fastest drivers in F1, if not the fastest. He’s also one of the most exciting to watch, but that’s not always for the best of reasons. When it comes to overtaking other drivers, a driver like Button is generally quite calm, and only makes the move when they’re sure it’ll work. Hamilton… not so much. He’s very aggressive, and tends to take more risks than some of the other drivers. And to be fair, in the past it’s often worked out for him. But this year it really hasn’t, and so he’s been involved with more collisions with other drivers than he really should have done.

From the outside, it very much looks as if Hamilton is frustrated. Whether that’s a cause or effect of his collisions this year – or perhaps a combination of the two, in some sort of feedback loop – I don’t know. It can’t help that Vettel is running away with the title, and becoming (statistically) more successful than Hamilton in the process. Racing drivers have to think they’re the best in order to perform at the highest level, and so it must be extremely frustrating to be incapable of competing with someone else. Hamilton thinks he’s the greatest driver out there (and for what it’s worth, he very possibly is), yet someone else is getting the wins, the success, the plaudits. And perhaps that frustration is causing him to take slightly bigger risks, to overdrive the car to try to make up some of the deficit, and in the process allow these little errors to creep in.

To be honest, as a fan of the sport, it’s really frustrating to watch someone with such obvious talent have such a poor season (although, when we say it’s been a poor season, lets put this into perspective: he’s taken 2 wins, 4 podiums and 3 fastest laps thus far. That this can be considered to be a poor season sort of shows what we’ve come to expect). Because he is a great driver, and so it’d be much more entertaining to see him giving the sort of performances which we know he can deliver, rather than having silly little mistakes compromise his races.

It’s a pretty tough sport psychologically; as Jackie Stewart likes to remind everyone, a successful driver needs good mind management in order to get the best out of the car, to be able to find it within themselves to push it to the limit of what’s possible, and to then race in close proximity with other drivers. And once a driver lets poor form get to them, it can so easily knock their confidence or make them frustrated, causing more bad results. The contrasting fortunes of the McLaren drivers this year is just the latest illustration of this.

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The BBC are weird

Wednesday 10th August 2011

I’m somewhat late to blog about this (although I have tweeted about it rather extensively), but a couple of weeks ago it was announced that from next year the BBC is only going to show half of the Formula 1 races live. The other half of the season will be broadcast live by Sky, with delayed highlights shown on the BBC. Unsurprisingly, lots of people are very unhappy about this.

Whether or not this is a good thing for F1 and for the BBC is a pretty long discussion, and one where we probably don’t know all the answers. Whether it’s good for F1 depends on whether viewing figures drop in the next few years; for the BBC, they’re rumoured to be saving about £20m per year. Which is great! It means they can spend it on quality programming. I mean, if they didn’t drop the F1 coverage, would the BBC have been able to buy the rights to The Voice, an “X Factor-style singing show“?

Hang on. They’ve cut their coverage of a global sport in order to finance shit like this? They’d like to put on another boring, inconsequential talent show, rather than broadcast a sport that the British are actually good at? More than that, F1 is a sport which showcases British engineering and manufacturing, and inspires people to go into those industries. As a public service broadcaster isn’t it more worthwhile for the BBC to show things like that?

I’m not against paying to watch F1 per se, I just question the wisdom of moving to that model. For the sport the risk is that viewing figures will drop, as casual viewers drop away. And for the BBC, it just seems mental; as well as reasons I’ve already mentioned, it’s also one of their most-watched programmes. On the day of the last race a week or so ago, just under half of everyone who watched TV, watched F1 on the BBC. There’s even a report by the BBC which looked at their sport expenditures, and seems to show that F1 is pretty good value compared to the other sports they show. Why would you want to give that up to make what are really pretty modest savings? Wouldn’t it have made far more sense to cut production costs?

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | 2 Comments


Saturday 4th June 2011

When I wrote about Closer To The Edge a few weeks ago, I mentioned that there was another motorsport documentary due to be released, this time about an F1 driver. The driver in question is Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian three-time world champion, and widely thought of as the greatest racing driver ever.

I went to see the movie today, and it’s brilliant. It’s quite a different form of documentary, because as much as possible the film makers have avoided using narrators or talking heads to tell the story; instead they’ve used footage and recordings of Senna from during his career, and so largely he is telling his own story as it’s unfolding. It’s extremely clever, helps bring everything to life and draw you into Senna’s story. And it’s a fascinating and dramatic story, told extremely well. For instance, the way the film builds the tension when the story gets to That Weekend – even from the first shot, taken from a helicopter as it flies towards and over Tamburello, which genuinely made me shudder – is really quite remarkable.

You do not have to be a petrolhead to appreciate this movie (I saw this with my Mum – who finds F1 boring – and I think she enjoyed it as much as I did). As with Closer To The Edge, it’s largely not about obsessing over this race and that, about watching and admiring what he did on the track. Instead it’s about Senna as a man, about what made him tick.

I can’t think of much more to say, other than to urge you to go and see this (and to see it at the cinema rather than waiting for the DVD; it’s definitely worth it). Even if  you have absolutely no interest in motorsport or F1 and think it’s the most boring thing in the world, you will not be disappointed by this movie.

Posted In: MotorsportMovies Tagged: | 2 Comments

Closer To The Edge

Wednesday 18th May 2011

I’ve had exams the last couple of days. My next one is on Friday, so after this morning’s exam I decided to take a break from revision for the rest of the day. And as I was in town anyway, I thought I may as well go and see a movie. Specifically, TT3D: Closer To The Edge, because I read a review of it in the last issue of Grand Prix+, and thought it sounded interesting.

It’s a documentary about the Isle of Man TT, a bunch of motorbike races held every year. The circuit is 30-odd miles long, on narrow public roads. The bikes average about 130mph around the lap, and reach a maximum of over 200mph. There are buildings, trees, walls, sheer drops and all number of other things lining the track, which makes it ridiculously dangerous. And one hell of a spectacle.

The movie basically tells the story of last year’s event, mostly following one particular rider in his efforts to win his first TT race. As a motorsport fan, there’s lots to like. Lovely shots of bikes whizzing around very quickly, and some stellar onboards. But it’s not just about that. The TT is a hell of an event, and the story of that event is really quite interesting. It’s a dangerous race (on average, 2 people are killed every year), and so the first reaction is to question why the hell anyone would do something so stupid, to risk their lives like that. The people who made the film did a really good job about answering that question, and of making something which seems completely crazy, look like the most sensible thing in the world. It’s not just a movie about motorsport; it’s about passion. The passion and the drive that makes people do extraordinary things.

I’m always going to like films about motorsport, but this is genuinely something that I think most people would find interesting. And also incredibly exciting. It’s shot in 3D, and this is probably the first 3D movie I’ve seen where it’s actually added something to the experience, not just felt like a pointless gimmick (hello Avatar). It really conveys the speed, and the sheer thrill of racing those bikes in that place. And there are quite a few shots that are absolutely beautiful. If I’m honest, the 3D is probably the main reason I went to see the film; motorbike racing isn’t really my thing and I actually didn’t know much about the TT before I saw this. I just wanted to see how it looked in 3D, so that I enjoyed the film so much (and not just the 3D fast-bikeyness) is really quite impressive.

As ever, I’m aware that this entry will go unloved, as do all my motorsport-themed blogs. But honestly, if you get the chance to go see it, I seriously commend it. You will enjoy it.

Oddly enough, there’s another motorsport movie out in a few weeks, about one of the most talented F1 drivers ever. Apparently it too has been made for a wider (non geeky-motorsport-fan) audience, and all of the reviews I’ve read bear that out. I know more about the subject of that movie, and bloody hell I can not wait. Expect a post about that in a couple of weeks, where I shall probably urge you all to see that too…

Update (23/5/11): And here’s Mark Kermode’s review, to give the point of view of someone who isn’t a motorsport fan.

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Champions Forever

Friday 22nd April 2011

I’m looking for something to watch tonight, and I remembered that I have the above film bookmarked. To help me decide whether to watch it now, I’ve just watched the first part. The introduction is possibly the best introduction to, and explanation of, motorsport and the reason why it’s so easy to let it get under your skin. Why there are millions of people who are so passionate about cars going round and round:

“During those three days, the human capacity for excellence, for ingenuity, for callousness, for vulgarity, for sheer noise, for waste, for daring, for beauty… Those capacities are stretched about as far as they can go.”

And that’s why it’s such a captivating spectacle.

Whilst I’m linking to things which are cool, here’s another video on a similar vein. It was made by the BBC, a couple of years ago. And it’s full of awesome:

And also, the BBC’s introduction this year was really good (even if it’s voiced by Eddie Jordan…).

This year promises to be an epic season; we’re now 3 races in, and they’ve all been very good. In fact the last race (which is still on iPlayer) was one of the best I’ve seen. As usual, I strongly recommend that you at least give it a go, at least once (from the beginning of the race, and paying full attention…).

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For Those Who Say “Crashes Are The Best Bit of Motorsport”…

Thursday 31st March 2011

Here’s something you should watch (although you probably won’t).

To coincide with the start of the F1 season, the BBC showed a couple of documentaries about the sport. I’ve only seen one of them so far, and I thought it worth sharing. It’s called Grand Prix: the Killer Years, which sort of gives you a clue about its subject. Crappy title, but it’s really a great documentary (if somewhat gruesome at times; really not sure I wanted to see footage of Lorenzo Bandini’s accident at Monaco, for instance). It’s about the era of the 60s and early 70s, when the cars had developed to the point of being too quick for the tracks; when fatalities became a regular occurrence, and about how the drivers started to get things changed.

Even if you’re not a motorsport fan, it’s an incredibly good documentary and you will find it interesting. Just don’t watch it if you’re at all feeling down, because – and this may come as a shock – it’s not exactly uplifting.

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Sunday 6th February 2011

In the last week, the 2011 F1 season got under way, with the start of pre-season testing. The best bit of this is that we get to see all the new cars, and so get to have a look at what clever new bits and pieces they’ve got.

The new McLaren was unveiled on Friday, and it’s pretty interesting. I wrote last year about my admiration for their design, and this year I had pretty much the same reaction.

Some background: F1 cars have various aerodynamic appendages which work to push them to the ground, which gives them such immense grip. One of these parts is the rear diffuser, which sits at the bottom of the car at the rear, and increases the velocity of air moving under the car so as to reduce the pressure and create downforce (they used to run full-length venturi tunnels under the car, and one team even went so far as to use a fan to suck air from under the car). In the last two years, the teams have used a loophole in the regulations to make their diffusers bigger, to give the car more downforce and so more grip. This loophole has now been closed, so more grip needs to come from the rear wing to make up the difference.

To aid this, McLaren have shaped the sides of the car to maximise the clean flow of air to the wing. The result looks pretty weird (the “L” shape sidepods; compare that with last year’s car, which had more conventional air inlets in the sides), but it’s absolutely logical. It’s a relatively small detail, and one that the other teams didn’t spot, but it’s a brilliant idea and a beautiful piece of engineering.

No idea whether it’ll work in practice though, as the car hasn’t been tested! Either way, it’s a very nice idea.

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