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Posts Tagged: Motorsport

WTF?

Thursday 2nd December 2010

At the European Grand Prix in Valencia this year, Mark Webber had a pretty hairy accident. He ran into the back of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus, and flipped.

Not good, but he walked away. This sort of thing is an occupational hazard for racing drivers, really.

Anyway, here’s a video by a crazy person:

I’m not sure if it’s fake or not. It looks real (she’s got lots of other similarly weird videos on YouTube), and I think it’s hilarious. I especially like the end, where she just stares at the camera with the crazy eyes for about a minute. Nice.

Posted In: MotorsportRandom Tagged: | 4 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.

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | No Comments

Getting The Points, But Not The Point

Monday 26th July 2010

The result of the German Grand Prix this weekend was that Fernando Alonso finished 4.2 seconds ahead of his team mate, Felipe Massa, to win the race. However, to the vast majority of F1 fans, Massa was the real victor.

Alonso outqualified Massa on Saturday, but they both started behind the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, who qualified on pole position for his home race. At the start the two Ferraris got off the line better than Vettel, who immediately moved to the right-hand side of the track in an attempt to block Alonso. This left Massa to take the lead of the race, and ultimately Alonso got past Vettel to go second. The Ferraris were running 1st and 2nd, a great achievement given that they’ve been off the pace in recent races. It was also good to see Massa leading a race again, a year to the day after his near-fatal accident in qualifying for last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

During much of the race, the two Ferraris were not far away from each other, and it was fairly clear that Alonso was the quicker of the pair. Indeed, he made an attempt to overtake relatively early on, but Massa did a really good job of defending his position to keep the lead and then maintain it throughout the pitstop phase.

While he was being held up by his team mate, some of the radio messages that were broadcast sort of hinted towards Alonso’s frustration. He said that it was “ridiculous”. And then, on lap 48, Massa’s race engineer told him over the radio: “Fernando is faster than you“.

If you don’t follow motorsport, the significance of that phrase is probably lost on you. Because it has a very clear, distinct meaning: let him overtake you. Sure thing, a short time later, Massa miraculously slowed down coming out of a hairpin, allowing his team-mate past.

It was a team order. Ferrari wanted Alonso to win the race, so they told Massa to slow down.

The reasoning is clear. Alonso has a real chance of winning the championship this year, and Massa doesn’t. Therefore they want Alonso to score every point that he can, and doing this enables him to score 7 more points than if he had finished 2nd. Those points could be the difference between winning and losing a title. It’s a very good way to run a team if you want to maximise your chances of winning titles.

However, team orders are banned in F1. They have been since 2002, when Ferrari asked Rubens Barrichello to let Michael Schumacher through to win the Austrian Grand Prix. Accordingly, Ferrari have been issued a $100,000 fine after today’s race (which is essentially a non-punishment). But we’ve seen team orders used plenty of times, even after they were supposedly banned.

In some ways, team orders are a part of motorsport. It’s a team game, and the driver’s responsibility is to the team first, themselves second. There have been countless examples of this sort of thing over the years (indeed, in the early years of the sport, second and third drivers were sometimes required to give up their car part way through a race, if their team mate needed it). Almost every team does it, and I’m sure it’ll continue even after today.

I think the difference is timing. Mostly, team orders are used towards the end of the championship, when one driver is way ahead of the other and is in with a chance of winning the title. In that case, although it’s still slightly awkward, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The difference here though is that we’ve only just passed the halfway point of the season. Massa is way behind Alonso in the championship and so has no realistic chance of winning it, so logically this move makes sense. But even so, at this stage of the season it’s an incredibly bad thing to do.

There are two reasons why I say this. Firstly, it’s ridiculously un-sporting. Obviously the points are important for Alonso, but when we’re at this stage of the season it just feels really unfair to start using team orders. If Alonso was quicker than Massa, he should’ve made the pass on-track, and I was certainly looking forward to seeing that battle. Instead, Ferrari cheated Massa (and Alonso) of the opportunity to win the race (as opposed to having it gifted to them), and we were cheated out of the spectacle of seeing them do that.

Secondly, I think that Ferrari should’ve considered the damage this has done. Yes, 7 points are useful. But are they worth a demotivated Massa? I would say not.

This isn’t the first time that the issue of driver parity has reared it’s ugly head this season, as Red Bull have been accused of favouring Vettel over Webber a couple of times. In this case, it’s been because of things the managment have said, or by putting upgraded parts on Vettel’s car and not on Webber’s. But I reckon most of these are through mismanagement rather than anything more sinister. And anyway, it’s a very different scenario to ordering one of the drivers to let the other win a race.

It’s been a great season so far, and much of that has been down to intra-team battles. The Red Bull battle that I’ve just mentioned is one example, as is the contest between Hamilton and Button (the last 2 World Champions) at McLaren. I’m sure that the second half of the season will be just as enthralling, especially if Ferrari are able to join the title fight.

But whoever wins this year, it needs to be fair. Maybe Ferrari and Alonso simply want to win at all costs, and that’s their prerogative. Indeed, Alonso was happy with his “win” at Hockenheim, just as he still counts his (disgusting) result at Singapore 2008 as a fair win. But great champions do not need to throw their toys out of their carbon-fibre pram in order to get results; instead they just concentrate on winning in the proper manner.

A couple of years ago, Sir Jackie Stewart (World Champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973) released his autobiography. He entitled it “Winning is Not Enough”. It’s a shame if drivers and teams of the calibre of Alonso and Ferrari don’t share that sentiment.

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | 3 Comments

Hammond Meets Moss

Tuesday 8th June 2010

I watched an absolutely fascinating programme the other day. It was “Hammond Meets Moss“, and you can perhaps guess the basis of the show from the title. Basically it’s Richard Hammond meeting Sir Stirling Moss. Duh.

These two men have had pretty different careers. One was a top-flight racing driver, the other is a TV presenter. But they have one thing in common: they have both suffered major brain injuries. You will probably know about Hammond’s injury, after he crashed a jet car at 300mph in 2006. Moss had a career-ending accident in an F1 race at Goodwood in the 60s, when he veered off the circuit and crashed into an embankment at 110mph (the car wasn’t fitted with seatbelts, so his head hit the steering wheel). Different accidents, but the effects were similar.

Incidentally I loved Moss’s reaction to seeing Hammond’s crash: “Rather you than me, old boy”.

Moss also talks about the racing driver “mindset”, which sort of follows on from the interview I mentioned recently. But it’s fascinating hearing about how their accidents affected them, and how they recovered (or are recovering, it seems). To me this sort of injury is one of the scariest things that can happen. Even the most hideous injuries to other parts of your body only affect that thing; if you’re in an accident and you break your legs, then it means you can’t walk for a bit and it’s incredibly inconvenient. But if you suffer a brain injury, that’s you. Your brain is obviously where your personality comes from, and where your memories and whatnot are stored. The idea of having an accident that can fundamentally change who you are is a pretty terrifying one.

I know I mention lots of motorsport-related things and say “you should definitely watch this”, and I’m sure most people don’t. But this time you really, really should. The documentary isn’t merely about racing, it’s about brain injury and the effects thereof. It’s not a pleasant subject by any means, but I think this is genuinely fascinating.

Posted In: MotorsportTV Tagged: | 9 Comments

Talent, History and Danger

Monday 17th May 2010

After the last few posts on politics, now back to the really important stuff.

Monaco Grand Prix yesterday. I love this race; it’s a wonderful display of what the cars and drivers are capable of. It’s amazing seeing the speed they can carry through tight and twisty turns, and I am constantly in awe of the ability of the drivers around there. To drive a single quick lap round there is a massive test, requiring an immense amount of concentration, skill and guts. I simply can’t imagine driving any sort of car at 170-180mph on public roads, millimetres from solid barriers. And then I can’t imagine being able to keep that up for nigh on two hours. Great stuff.

I love the history too. The first race was held there in 1929, on basically the same layout (and incidentally, the guy who won that first race went on to work as a spy in WW2. Read this book because it’s fascinating). It’s amazing seeing the old videos and recognising the track, and realising that the challenges that faced Williams and Carraciola and Dreyfus are the same things which have challenged people like Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Stirling Moss over the years, and which still challenge the current crop of drivers. Some people fail those challenges, whereas others (people like Lewis Hamilton) thrive on them, and this means that Monaco – more than perhaps any other circuit – separates the great drivers from those who are merely very good.

Of course in the old days there were additional dangers. Note the lack of barriers in the old video, and the presence of street furniture. And the complete lack of protection in the cars. Luxuries that the drivers have today – things like seat belts – simply weren’t there in the past. And on that note, I heard an interview with Stirling Moss in the BBC coverage this weekend and he touched on this point. Listen to this even if you’re not a motorsport fan, because his comments on danger are fascinating:

“I’m glad that I raced when it was dangerous, because the exhileration of going round a really fast corner – 140, 150 miles per hour – knowing that if you go off you might die… Sure makes you feel pretty good when you get through it without dieing!”

It reminds me of another quote I’ve heard from him:

“To race a car through a turn at maximum speed is difficult. But to race a car at maximum speed through that same turn, when there is a brick wall on one side and a precipice on the other… Ah, that’s an achievement”.

Massive respect.

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | 4 Comments

An Amazing Display of Intelligence

Tuesday 30th March 2010

Actually two displays of intelligence, but both of them are linked to each other and both lead to a single result.

One of my lecturers at university likes telling us to “think from first principles”. That is, to look at a problem and to work out what is really causing the issue, and therefore come up with an engineering solution which solves that. An example he used was the bridge at Boscastle. In the aftermath of the 2004 flood, a problem was that cars got washed into the river and crashed into the bridge, which ended up blocking the flow of the river thus causing more flooding. A bunch of people looked at this and decided that the solution was to build a new bridge with a larger gap underneath so cars won’t get stuck there.

My lecturer’s suggestion was to put fencing of some sort along the sides of the river, to stop the cars going into the water in the first place. You don’t need much of an engineering background to realise that this is cheaper than building a new bridge! A much better solution.

One of the things I love about F1 is that the engineering is absolutely brilliant. And McLaren are one of the best teams in F1, so their engineers are pretty damn good. And they came up with something on their new car which I find amazingly impressive.

F1 cars run wings to create downforce. Downforce pushes the cars onto the track, which means they generate more grip and so can go quicker in corners. This also induces drag though, but in corners this isn’t as much of an issue because the extra grip makes up for the extra drag. On straights though, grip is less important than the drag of the car so the downforce is sort of “wasted”. The cars are therefore set up as a compromise, to give the best amount of grip in the corners without lowering the top speed of the car too much on straights.

But something F1 designers have looked at for years is trying to stall the wings on straights. This means stop them making downforce when it isnt needed, so there is less unnecessary drag. One way to do this is to have manually operated wings where you can change the angle of attack (like on aircraft). This is banned, for safety reasons. Another way is to have the wings deform under a certain load, so they bend into a shape which produces less downforce. Again, it’s been banned for safety reasons. But McLaren have come up with a new way to stall the rear wing, and it’s brilliant.

They have a vent in the front of the car, which carries air in a duct along the length of the car and onto the rear wing. This flow of air is positioned in a way that upsets the air flowing over the wing and so stalls it, so that the wing stops producing downforce and so produces less drag. Now, if you do this you need a way to turn it on and off, so that the vent only blows onto the rear wing on the straights. Otherwise the car will lose downforce in the corners and won’t go as quickly. They aren’t allowed to use some sort of mechanical system becuase it would count as a moveable aerodynamic device, which is banned. The solution they’ve ued is ridiculously simple. The duct runs through the cockpit, and has a hole in it. This means that when the hole is uncovered the air simply vents into the cockpit, keeps the driver a bit cooler and doesn’t upset the flow around the rear wing. When the driver covers the hole up though, the air flows to the back of the car and stalls the wing.

This is a stupidly simple solution, and completely beyond the scope of the rules. The thing which moves is the driver’s leg, and you can hardly ban drivers legs from F1! It’s a wonderful bit of engineering.

The second display of intelligence concerns one of McLaren’s drivers, Jenson Button. He won the race on Sunday with a decision to change tyres before anyone else, and with some brilliant driving. Everyone started on wet tyres because it rained at the start, but after a few laps it stopped raining and a dry line started to appear. Button realised this before anyone else and then changed to dry tyres, which moved him up from about 6th to 2nd place. He then kept those tyres till the end of the race, but not just that he managed to do consistently quick laps. The other people who were on the same tyres for that amount of time just couldn’t keep up with him.

On the other hand Button’s teammate, Lewis Hamilton, seemed to completely lose his head during the race. He really lost his composure, which quite surprised me. Before this season, most people sort of wrote Button off because the consensus is that Hamilton is quicker. And he probably is. But the thing is that the difference is probably only a few tenths of a second, and Button is possibly overall a more intelligent driver. Like in the race on Sunday; he knew when to change tyres. He knew not to push too hard on them, which meant that even at the end of the race – when drivers like Hamilton and Webber were on much newer tyres – his tyres werent too worn to stop him going quickly enough to win. I was watching the race with live timing, and his laptimes were amazingly consistent all the way through. Honestly, his drive on Sunday was one of the best I’ve seen – from anyone – for ages.

Motorsport at this level is not just about outright pace. Clever strategy can count for a lot, and it means that the battle between the McLaren drivers this year is gonna be a fascinating one.

If you havent already, watch the race on iPlayer. Well worth it because it was awesomely entertaining.

Posted In: EngineeringMotorsportTechnology Tagged: | 2 Comments

Get Oval It

Wednesday 10th March 2010

Ignoring any question of how entertaining it may or may not be (500 mile races where only the last 2 laps really count? Why not just race for 2 laps them?), oval racing is incredibly dangerous. There’s no way it can’t be. The corners are banked so the cars can go quicker, which means that all the way round the outside of the track is a wall. At most road circuits like the ones raced on in F1 or touring cars – which are more interesting and provide for more compelling racing – there is runoff. The walls aren’t right next to the road the cars race on because that’d be rather dangerous.

So in NASCAR, what we have are cars lapping very close to each other, at about 185mph, with a wall running all the way round the outside of the track. When things go wrong it can be nasty, because if you fuck up there’s a very good chance you’ll be going into said wall at 185mph. Which, all things considered, is less than ideal.

In the last NASCAR race, one of the drivers – Carl Edwards – committed possibly the worst foul I’ve ever seen in any form of motorsport. Actually, probably in any form of sport generally- when someone fouls in football or rugby, it doesn’t send them crashing into a wall and flip them over. At 180mph. This was insanely dangerous, so what would you expect the driver’s punishment to be? A ban for a few races? Maybe even a permanent ban? Massive fine? Guess again! He’s been put “on probation” for 3 races. So he’s ok as long as he doesn’t deliberately crash into someone in the next 3 races.

F1 got this right last year. In the wake of the Singapore 2008 scandal, the FIA effectively purged everyone who was involved from the sport (except for the drivers, but Piquet essentially purged himself by being shit, and Alonso “didn’t know about it”. Sure he didn’t…), which sent the message that “this is not acceptable”. Edwards’ misdemeanour in Atlanta was much, much worse, so to my mind the fact that they’ve not really punished him only serves to discredit NASCAR.

Not that there was much to credit to start with, but that’s a different debate…

Posted In: MotorsportRant Tagged: | 2 Comments

Romance

Sunday 14th February 2010

It’s a pretty interesting thing, really. When we romanticise something, it seems to me that we hardly ever think about that thing in the way it actually was (or is); we ignore the negative aspects and focus purely on the positive ones.

There’s a space on my bedroom wall at home which I’ve wanted to fill with a poster for some time, but I’ve never been able to decide which one. When I was at school, one of my German teachers clearly liked his motorsport, because all around his classroom were prints of vintage posters, mostly for the Le Mans 24 hour race. I love these sorts of images, because they all seem to capture the spirit of the era. Especially posters for the “classic” races – I think they resemble art more than they do advertising. Look at this poster for the 1961 24 hours of Le Mans, for instance – I think that image is wonderful. The drawing is stunning; you can almost hear the engine, smell the warm oil. Or this poster for the 1937 Monaco Grand Prix. Same thing – to me it perfectly sums up both Monaco, and the era.

Motorsport is amazingly romantic. I couldn’t tell you why, but it really is. I love that many of the circuits have been around for years, because the sense of history surrounding those events is really nice. There’s something special about a Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, something that an Abu Dhabi or Chinese Grand Prix can never have (not picking on those events for any particular reason).

Actually, if there’s something special about Spa, then somewhere like Le Mans is almost sacred. I absolutely adore everything about Le Mans. For the uninitiated, it’s a 24 hour race around an 8.5 mile long circuit, a lot of which is made up of normal roads. It’s been going for years at the same place, and there are some absolutely legendary stories about the race. It’s basically an entire F1 season packed into 24 hours, and I love it for that. I also love that it feels like a proper racing event – like the equivalent of a music festival for petrolheads. You go, set up a tent, drink lots of beer, watch lots of racing and have a jolly good time, and to me that is basically heaven. I’ve not been yet (money, time, exams…), but I will one year and I can’t bloody wait.

You see, I could carry on for ages talking about the wonders of places like Le Mans, Monaco, Monza, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Spa… But I’m romanticising. These places have always been – will always be – very dangerous. We specifically remember the amazing races and stories that happened at these places, and lots of people hark back to the good old days, but when we look back it can be very easy to forget the bad things. The 1955 Le Mans disaster, Stefan Bellof at Spa, Jim Clark at Hockenheim, Jochen Rindt at Monza – to name but a few examples.

I suppose there’s a lot to be said for passion, too. That is probably what carries people through the bad stuff. One of my favourite moments from F1 in 2009 was in the closing laps of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Jenson Button was 2nd, Lewis Hamilton 3rd and lapping quicker. A podium for McLaren at that time was a very good thing – it’d been a pretty bad year for them – but you could tell that Hamilton wanted that 2nd place and he was pushing as hard as he could for it. Too hard, because he span and crashed on the last lap.

I know people who said afterwards “oh he was stupid. He was on the podium anyway, he shouldn’t have been pushing so hard”, but that misses the point. It’s racing, and any racing driver that would’ve settled for 3rd in that situation really doesn’t deserve the name. I suppose that fundamentally, motorsport is very pure – more so than many sports. You have a certain distance to travel, and whoever does it quickest is the winner. It’s a lot purer than, say, football, which is a game that is basically composed of completely arbitrary rules. I think motorsport attracts a certain type of competitiveness, and I for one absolutely love that aspect of it. Yes, Hamilton at Monza could have backed off and ensured he got 3rd place. But why? He wants to win, to prove he’s better than the next guy. Taking the safe course is never going to achieve that.

It’s hard to convey the reasons I like racing to people who have never even seen a race, or any sort of competitive motorsport. One day, I intend to take all my friends who say they don’t like it to something like an F1 testing day, because I think seeing the cars “in the metal” is a really phenomenal thing. It’s hard to appreciate what they can do without having seen them – it really does amaze you. Actually it’s probably worth them seeing a proper race too, because I can’t think of a way to convey the atmosphere when 20-odd cars fly past you on the track, all of them trying to get ahead of the others. Anyone who doesn’t find that exciting is clinically dead. FACT!

Anyway. Romance. Passion. Idealism. They’re all really good things, but I guess that it’s important that they’re balanced by a decent dose of realism. Because really, that’s the only way that things can develop healthily.

When you saw that this post is called “romance”, published on this particular day, I bet you thought it was about something else? Suckers :-p

Posted In: MotorsportSleepStuff Tagged: | 10 Comments

Tweeting the Night Away

Thursday 11th February 2010

As you may have noticed from the new addition to the sidebar, I recently joined Twitter. I’d managed to hold off from joining for a while because I didn’t really get the point – my writing is quite verbose at the best of times, so what on earth is the use of 140 characters? What can anyone say in that tiny space that is of any worth to anyone? Well, a few people (well, 3) told me that it’s good and that I should join, and so I did, just to see what it’s like. Besides, when I joined it was exam period and at that time joining Twitter seemed a better use of my time than revising for the geotechnical engineering exam I had a day or so later…

Anyway, I quite like it. Turns out there’s a lot that can be said in 140 characters – generally stuff of the form of  “wow, this just happened!” or “ooh, look at this…”. There was a specific thing which made me realise just how powerful a tool Twitter is, and that was the first F1 test of the season, which took place last week. This was the first time that many of the teams showed their 2010 cars to the world and the first time that any of them had a chance to run their cars properly and see how good they actually are (or aren’t). For lots of reasons, people not intimately involved in the teams can’t really read too much from the times, so whilst this early testing isn’t really good for starting to map out the relative competetiveness of each car, it’s still pretty interesting and exciting – there’s not been any F1 since early November, and us F1 fans need our fix!

To me, Twitter really came into it’s element during that first test. There were a number of people at the test circuit (people from the F1 teams as well as journalists) who were tweeting away; keeping the hive mind informed as to who was on track, what laptimes they were doing, what the weather was like, pointing out different technical aspects of the cars, and all sorts of other interesting things which made it really easy and enjoyable to keep up with what was happening. In the past, the only coverage of pre-season testing would have been a short report at the end of the day, listing the times that each driver did and the number of laps, as well as some photos. Following the event on Twitter was really good because getting information throughout the day meant that it was easier to get an “overall” picture of each day of testing, and to try to work out what the times mean (if anything). It was also much more involving – getting an almost-constant stream of information made it seem like much more of an “event”.

I’m really looking forward to using it during the races this year. I can see that it’d be really cool then for much the same reason – taking in multiple sources of information all relating to the same event. That, in conjunction with the live timing app on the F1 website (which – although it sounds really geeky – is surprisingly useful for watching the races. Helps keep track of the strategies, because you see lots of things which aren’t ever picked up in the commentary and helps you to read the race better) should make watching the races even better.

I love technology for things like this. The way I can use different tools to change the way I do certain things, so that I get more out of them (as in this example) or to save time or make it more convenient.  Things like Google Reader and Calendar and the way they interact between all the devices I use to access the internet (phone included – calendar sync on the iPhone is one thing in particular which makes me want to shout “witchcraft!”). The way all my documents are stored in a Dropbox, so that I can work on the same thing on any computer – I love that I can work on a document on my laptop in the library, then come home and work on the same document on my desktop, and the whole transition being pretty much seamless. I don’t have to worry about syncing files between computers or making sure that they’ve all got the most up-to-date version – it’s all just done for me. Clever stuff. All relatively simple stuff too, but it’s amazing how much a difference they make.

Posted In: GeekMotorsportSleepTechnology Tagged: | 5 Comments

The Relevance of Engineering

Thursday 14th January 2010

Exam Time. I have 3 next week, had one already this week. My last one next week is Structural Analysis, and a part of that is Finite Element Analysis. We first encountered this in the 2nd year (where it actually wasn’t taught to us as such, we just had to use the concepts for some coursework), and it’s pretty powerful.

Anyway, you’ll be more than aware that as well as being an engineer, I’m also an F1 geek. F1 teams use FEA too, to model various aspects of their cars. Earlier on I came across this on iTunes, an Open University thing about, uhm, how an F1 team uses FEA. This has got to be the best distraction from revision ever; not only is it F1 related and so therefore interesting, it’s actually vaguely relevant to what I should be doing anyway. More relevant than, say, watching past episodes of Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe on YouTube, which I of course haven’t done at all…

Posted In: EngineeringMotorsport Tagged: | 2 Comments