Posts Tagged: F1

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.

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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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It Could Only Happen in F1…

Thursday 9th December 2010

At the start of the 2010 season, 3 new teams entered F1. One of these teams decided to call themselves “Lotus”, in honour of the team founded by Colin Chapman that competed in F1 (and other forms of motorsport) between 1954 and 1994, won 13 championships and introduced many of the innovative ideas that shaped the technical aspect of the sport.

They’ve had a reasonably successful first year, and for 2011 they have signed a deal to use Renault engines (which have just won the championship in the Red Bull). The team have also announced that the livery of the cars will echo one of Lotus’ classic liveries. This means that next year, the team will be known as ‘Team Lotus Renault’, and will be run in a black and gold livery.

All very good, and all very simple, yes? Perhaps not…

Renault have owned their F1 team for about 10 years now, but since the story of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, they have been steadily withdrawing from the sport. Last year they sold part of the team to a private investment firm. This year, they’ve sold the rest of their stake in the team to the Lotus car company, which was founded by Colin Chapman to support his racing ambitions. Group Lotus want to expand the company, increase their model range and sell more cars, and so they want to get back into motorsport for the marketing potential. So they’ve bought into the F1 team, which will keep Renault engines for next year.

The deal was announced yesterday, and they also announced that the cars would run in one of Lotus’ classic liveries. This means that next year, the team will be known as ‘Lotus Renault GP’, and will be run in a black and gold livery.

Two Lotus-Renault teams. Both with basically the same livery. Excellent!

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The Final Countdown

Wednesday 10th November 2010

The 2010 Formula 1 World Championship. Wow. I mean, seriously, it’s been immense, and it’s not over yet. This coming weekend sees the 19th round of the championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. And heading into that event, there are four drivers with a chance of securing the championship, which I think is unprecedented.

It’s been quite a topsy-turvy year. Without a doubt, Red Bull have had the quickest car all season. They’ve won pole position 14 times so far, which I think equals the record set by McLaren in their dominant 1988 season. That they’ve only won 8 races from that qualifying performance is pretty shocking really, and down to a mixture of unreliability (particularly on Sebastian Vettel’s car) and driving errors (er, again, particularly for Sebastian Vettel). They should’ve crushed the opposition this year, but these mistakes have opened the door for other drivers to capitalise and build a championship campaign.

And interestingly, two teams have provided the bulk of the challenge in both halves of the season. In the first half, McLaren were the team with the pace – and tactical nous from Jenson Button, who had two sublime victories in Australia and China – to take the fight to Red Bull. Indeed, I think I’m right in saying that at the halfway point it was Lewis Hamilton who led the championship. However the McLaren challenge has sort of fallen away in the latter half of the year, due to the increased pace of the Ferrari as well as some uncharacteristic crashes for Hamilton at Monza and Singapore. In the latter part of the season, Fernando Alonso has managed to score more points than anyone else, and has clawed back a pretty sizeable points deficit to now lead the championship by 8 points from Mark Webber. Vettel is 15 points behind Alonso, and Hamilton behind by 24 points; 1 point less than the amount awarded for winning a race, and so just about still in with a chance.

With such an intense season it’s perhaps not surprising that team orders have been somewhat of a hot topic. I’ve blogged before about Ferrari’s use of them at Hockenheim, but the behaviour of Red Bull is also pretty interesting. They say that both of their drivers are in with a chance of the title, so no team orders. Yet there have been hints over the course of the year that, actually, Vettel is the favoured son in some parts of the team at least. He is currently behind his team mate in the rankings, and it’s been argued that actually Red Bull just want to keep him in the fight and that by doing that they are harming Webber’s chances. It’s a persuasive argument.

For instance at the previous race in Brazil, Vettel won from Webber and Alonso. Which means that for Webber to win the title, he needs to finish a few places ahead of Alonso and so is likely to need Vettel to help him (assuming current form continues and the Red Bulls qualify on the front row, with Vettel on pole). Now, that’s a big risk, because it’s impossible to know what could happen next weekend. In order to maximise the chances of one of the Red Bull drivers winning, it would’ve arguably been more sensible to let Webber win. Which would’ve put him 1 point behind Alonso, and so not dependant on anyone else to win. Vettel could conceivably win. But it’s going to require something odd such as Alonso having a poor race. It’s possible, but pretty unlikely.

I have a feeling that Abu Dhabi is going to be a properly thrilling race. There’s all the team politics that I’ve just discussed, as well as a bunch of other factors. Certain drivers – Alonso and Vettel, I think – are getting fairly low on engine mileage. Which means that they go into the next race with older engines. Vettel had a pretty spectacular engine failure a few races ago in Korea (innards became outards, which I don’t remember seeing for a while in F1), and Alonso had one let go in practice in Brazil. It’s probably unlikely that one will pop in the final race, but it’s a thought.

It’s also going to be interesting to see how the drivers cope with the pressure. I think the Red Bull drivers in particular are going to be under pressure, and we’ve already seen this year that Vettel is not the most adept at soaking up this pressure; he collided into Webber during the Turkish Grand Prix, and I would not be at all surprised to see him clout into the side of someone in Abu Dhabi.

All in all, I have a horrible feeling that Alonso will wrap up the title. If he does then I’ll be pretty damn annoyed, because I really can’t stand him. He’s a great driver, one of the best in F1, but when he gets out of the car the way he conducts himself is terrible. For instance, when he was Hamilton’s team mate in 2007, he apparently tried to blackmail the team into slowing Hamilton down. In 2008, he and his team cheated their way to win the Singapore Grand Prix – a win that he still counts as valid (see this, and his smug little grin when he answers the question. ARGH. Something else about that video that irritates the fuck out of me: Max Mosley. Don’t get me started on that awful man. I digress). Great drivers don’t need to cheat, don’t need to bitch to the team to slow down their team mates; instead they raise their game and work out how to beat their opponents. Don’t get me wrong, if he wins, he’ll deserve it. But I won’t like it.

I’ve not mentioned Hamilton in all of this, mainly because he’s really a long shot. But anything can happen in motorsport, and I have a feeling that the final race will be eventful. The bookies have him at 66/1, which was definitely worth a £5 punt…

So I don’t have a clue what will happen on Sunday. And whilst I’d like Webber (or Hamilton, but preferably Webber) to win, I’ll be happy as long as it’s a fitting end to a classic season. I can’t wait.

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Wedding, Water, Waffle

Tuesday 9th November 2010

I think I mentioned in the last post that I went to a friend’s wedding a couple of weeks ago. In some ways, I find it quite odd seeing people my age married/buying property/with kids (delete as appropriate). Obviously I don’t knock anyone who wants to do that, but for myself it all seems so young to be doing those things. In some ways I’m not even sure if I want to get married, in some ways it seems pretty old fashioned, rooted in religious tradition.

Hmm. I guess it makes sense in a symbolic way, committing to someone and whatnot. Although one thing I don’t get is having a big ceremony for it. To me, it seems like quite an intimate and personal thing. So it seems odd to do that in front of assembled family and friends. Oh, sure, the reception is a nice idea (any excuse for a pissup), but a big ceremony? Perhaps not.

Except earlier I did think of one possible reason for it. Because I’ve only just got round to changing my friend’s name on my phone (my friend was the bride), and as I did that I thought “yeah, this is going to confuse me every time I want to text her”… But then, will it? Because there was a big ceremony. So perhaps the ceremony is just a really elaborate way of reminding people that they’re married, so if you want to contact the bride you’ll have to look under a different letter in your contacts.

But then, why not just not get married, thereby avoiding the issue? Actually, I think it’s pretty anachronistic that the woman takes her husband’s surname. The whole thing is, really, unless you change the ceremony (see the previous post).

All this being said, I am (perpetually) single. Which perhaps makes it easier to be cynical about these things. Who knows?

I realise that I’ve not really done a general update on here for a while. Most of my posts have been about Things Which Annoy Me (read: politics/news) or F1. Generally because those are the things I’ve wanted to write about. I’ve also got a bunch of things in my drafts folder which I got half way through and then never finished. One in particular was a lengthy essay about sustainable construction, which I may polish off at some point because it’s actually pretty interesting. But then I would say that…

So yeah, update. I’ve graduated from Cardiff, and I’m now studying a postgraduate course at Birmingham. I’ve decided that I wanted to specialise in one particular part of Civil Engineering, and so the course is all about water. When I say that to most people they sort of look at me blankly, but it covers a hell of a lot. From flow in open channels (i.e. rivers), flooding, to water supply. Which is all quite interesting. At the moment I’m working on a coursework about the sustainability of the water supply in the UK, which is a fascinating topic. Most people seem to assume that because it rains all the time, we have plenty of water to drink. That’s not quite true, and water stress is a real problem. For a summary, see this diagram. Note that the areas with the lowest availability are also the areas with the highest demand (i.e. the South East). Apparently they’ve started to use desalination plants to supply water in some of those areas, which is just phenomenal. As well as expensive and energy-intensive; which in itself is in short supply…

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that since privatisation in the early 90s, the water industry has actually gotten much better. Better quality of water (admittedly, partly driven by EU directive), and crucially more efficiently extracted, treated and delivered (the improvement in leakage is particularly impressive). The regulation that exists to drive all this, though, is pretty mind-boggling. There’s apparently a push to introduce real competition between providers (currently water companies have a monopoly on certain areas; Dŵr Cymru supplies Wales, Severn Trent the Midlands, Thames Water in/around London, etc), and to introduce more of a market. Which is pretty interesting. Turns out that this privatisation/market lark isn’t in conflict with environmentalism. People being greedy (i.e. water companies wanting to make money) doesn’t necessarily equate with wrecking the environment…

Anyway, I digress. This post is probably a bit meandering, but I just felt like writing something really. I was going to say something about the upcoming F1 finale as well, but I think I’ll save that for another post. I’m massively looking forward to it, even though I have the horrible feeling that Red Bull will somehow manage to pass the drivers’ title to the Alonso. Which is really phenomenal given the car advantage they’ve enjoyed this year; they should’ve at least managed to exclude everyone else a while ago. Just goes to show that even if you have the best car, you’ve still got to drive it. Sort of puts Button’s performance in the Brawn last year – which only had an advantage for about 4 or 5 races – into context for those who say his championship is devalued because of the car advantage. Bullshit.

Posted In: EngineeringMotorsportProcrastinationStuff Tagged: | 2 Comments

That Idiot’s Guide Thing…

Sunday 29th August 2010

In the comments for my post on German Grand Prix, Jenny suggested the idea of an “idiot’s guide to motorsport”. That was a month ago and I’ve been meaning to follow it up, because as you may have noticed I quite like writing about that sort of stuff and I think it’s a pretty good idea.

So I will write it up at some point (probably…), but for now I thought it might be worth pointing out that coverage of the Belgian Grand Prix starts at 12:05 today on BBC 1. If you want to find out about motorsport then it’s probably worth watching a race, and I certainly recommend the Belgian GP because it’s generally one of the better ones on the calendar. And also, there’s been rain the last few days at the track, and the BBC website currently tells me that heavy rain is forecast for the race tomorrow. Wet races are always exciting, so probably worth having a look if you’ve never seen an F1 race before.

If you miss it live and still want to watch it, then it’ll be on iPlayer all week (along with the practice sessions and qualifying), here.

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