Tag Archives: Formula 1

Alfa Romeo 164 Pro-car and Renault Espace F1: There’s hope for you yet, tiny human

14 Nov

Space Dog!

What images are conjured up when I mention the Alfa Romeo 164 and the Renault Espace? Speed? Dynamism? No. The images being conjured up in my head right now are of a scrap yard. Or a car park in Stevenage. Yet just as a common or garden dog has felt the exalted glory of space travel, and Cinderella was transformed from a common or garden scrubber into a princess, would you Adam and Eve that these common or garden cars were permitted to have a nibble at the crust of the highest heights for any automobile: Formula 1.

The Alfa 164 Pro-car. Comical.

Yes, for reasons now obfuscated by the passing of the decades, someone selected the blocky saloon shell of the 164 and the clunky body of a Renault Espace and shoe-horned some state-of-the-art F1 technology into their unassuming shells. In the case of the Alfa, it built the Pro-car, for ‘tis its name, in 1988 when there was talk of there being a race series to accompany Formula 1 races – which was subsequently cancelled, presumably causing much fist-shaking and “why I outtas!” (in Italian) at the Alfa factory. The car’s figures are…..impressive. It had a top speed of 211mph and an output of 620bhp from its V10 engine. The engine was so strong that there was even an option for Ligier to utilise it in their own Formula 1 cars. That’s right – Ligier, or the greatest racing team ever! No? Just me?

The Espace F1. ROFL.

As for the Espace, that was built by Matra and Williams merely as a technical exercise, and presumably for a small amount of comedy value as well. For what could be funnier than watching an MPV hurtle around a track at F1 speeds? Not much! The Espace was also powered by a V10, the self-same V10 as propelled Monsieur Prost to his 1993 F1 title. 0-62mph was dealt with in a mere 2.8 seconds, despite it having the drag co-efficient of a privet hedge, and it could achieve a top speed of 194mph. I have had the pleasure of driving the Espace F1, albeit on the computer game Gran Turismo 2, and let me tell you something for nothing, it goes like stink (hmm actually, given that no car company PRs seem to want me to drive their products, Gran Turismo reviews may be the way forward…..). Well it was fast anyway.

Well, dear Readers, I hope that this article has given you hope. Your lives maybe sad and pointless now, just as was the case for the Alfa 164 and Renault Espace, but maybe some day, some nice engineer will come along, rip out your boring innards and turn you into a bionic murderous space robot. Fingers crossed eh? Fingers crossed.

You now.

You after the revolution.

Should motorsport be banned following the death of Dan Wheldon?

19 Oct

Dan Wheldon 1978 - 2011

This morning a friend sent me this article. In it, the journalist argues that, following the tragic death of Dan Wheldon last weekend, there should be a move towards banning motorsport. The journalist also argues that, failing the banning of motorsport, there needs to be a serious review of safety, at least within IndyCar racing.

Now the second point I get. Any sport where you have cars driving at 200+mph should be subject to the very highest levels of safety scrutinising. The fact that the drivers expressed concern about the Las Vegas Motor Speedway ahead of the race last weekend should have been enough to encourage a wide-scale investigation into whether very powerful, open-cockpit cars should have been green-lighted to race around that track – and even enough to have the race cancelled, should the track be found to be not up to scratch. In this instance, I would personally level a failure at the IndyCar administration, who have a duty of care to protect drivers involved in their series.

However, by using Formula 1 as a comparison, I want to show that the idea of banning motorsport because of the death of Dan Wheldon is inane. In Formula 1, the fatality rate has been declining steadily decade on decade for the last 60 years, as shown in the graph below.

The last recorded fatality was that of the great Ayrton Senna, who died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, on the same weekend as Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger. That means that there have been no fatalities within that sport for the past 17 years. Now, this is by no means a chance for complacency. Safety should continue to evolve within Formula 1, as it should within all forms of motorsport. The injuries sustained by Felipe Massa in 2009 illustrated the dangers inherent in open-cockpit racing. The death of Henry Surtees in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch a week earlier made the point even more chillingly. But recent big crashes in F1, such as Mark Webber’s dramatic flip at the 2010 European Grand Prix, or the chaotic start to the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, illustrate how far safety has evolved in the sport.

Two particular events in Formula 1 come to mind when I think about this issue. One is the circumstances surrounding the 1976 Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. It was here that Niki Lauda, concerned with the lack of safety features at the track, proposed a boycott of the race. Other drivers vetoed the boycott and the race went ahead as planned. Lauda crashed on the second lap of the race, and the horrific burns he suffered in that incident still stand today as a totem to the folly of the decision to race that weekend.

The second event that I’m reminded of is the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix, when all cars running with Michelin tyres pulled out of the race due to fears, prompted by Ralf Schumacher’s massive crash during Friday practice, that the tyres would not be able to hold up for a whole race. Here, in stark contrast to the Nürburgring race 29 years previously, the teams and drivers exercised their free-will – in the face of much bloody-mindedness from the FIA regarding the installation of a chicane at the banked Turn 13 – in order not to race at a circuit where there was a serious concern about safety.

IndyCar really needs to look to the sophistication of safety within Formula 1 to show them the way forward. In addition, I would argue that two aspects need to be looked at in particular. One is the fact that 34 cars started that race in Las Vegas – a full 10 more cars than appeared on the grid at the Korean Grand Prix last weekend. And I would argue that that is simply far too many cars to have racing in that kind of scenario.

The second, and I think far more relevant, aspect that needs to be looked at it is the viability of continuing to race open-cockpit cars on oval, banked circuits. The stresses that banking puts on the tyres is, in my opinion, too dangerous, as is the fact that there are, clearly, no run-off areas on the outside of the track. This means that if a car loses control and is heading towards the outside wall, you run the risk of tyres and suspension arms coming into the cockpit – precisely what killed Senna in 1994. This is clearly a risk in all open-cockpit racing – but on an oval circuit with concrete walls, the incident seems to be invited. And interestingly, if you look at fatalities in Formula 1, which track has been the most lethal? The Indianapolis Speedway.

But is all this enough to prompt a worldwide ban on motorsport at all levels? That’s Formula 1, Formula 2, Le Mans, DTM, NASCAR, MotoGP, British Touring Car, World Touring Car, World Rally Championship and many, many more besides. Frankly, I think that that is a ridiculous notion, a knee jerk reaction to what definitely was a tragedy and a step that I feel certain Dan Wheldon wouldn’t have called for.

Monaco!

14 Jun

So, Carficionado took it upon himself to head to the Monaco Grand Prix. Intrepid little bugger, aren’t I? Frankly, it was absolutely unbelievable, a veritable Disneyland for car lovers – well, maybe second to Ferrari World. Or Goodwood. The thing that struck me the most about being in Monaco was the sound of the engines reverberating around the harbour and up into the dusty hills. And the engines of the 3.5L Formula Renaults and the Porsche Carreras were one thing. But the Forumla 1 cars – you’ve never heard anything quite like it, I assure you. As you enter your designated seating zone (in my case, a very steep hill were you had to fashion your own perch – or Rocher as they grandly put it) you are issued with earplugs. These I scoffed at, thinking them merely a case of health and safety gone mad, symptomatic of the nanny state (or principality…..whatever). Thus I duly gave mine to a mother with a very displeased-looking child, an act of immense altruism which I immediately regretted the moment the first HRT (unfortunate name, really) left the pits.

So, just briefly, a few key things regarding the weekend:

  • I discovered that almost all rich people are very boring. Wealth is wasted on the wealthy as I always say. If you, readers of Carficionado, had as much money as these people, do you really think that the most imaginative automobile you could stretch to would be a red Ferrari California? There were loads of them. I was beginning to despair that all rich people were boring when, after the race had finished and the track was opened I saw, looming into Casino Square, a beautiful blue Bentley soft-top, packed with about 8 British people with a man sat up on the boot playing an accordion, all singing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”. Thank God for them!
  • The Renault has the best sounding engine in Formula 1, closely followed by Lotus, Mercedes and McLaren. Ferrari’s was the most disappointing – Felipe Massa’s sounded like a bag of spanners rolling around in the trunk of a car.
  • The red flag robbed us of a spectacular finish. Fortunately Montreal made up for that. Jenson’s looking in fine form at the moment and his driving in both races has been immense.
  • One (admittedly very boring-looking) English bloke turned up in a proper, 1950s, Stirling Moss stylee 300SLR which was absolutely stunning. Pictures to follow…..
OK, so that’s the basic skinny of Carficionado’s first Grand Prix. I had a great weekend, I drank wine, ate cheese, swam in the sea. It was beautiful. So dear readers, get yourselves down to a Grand Prix, it’s highly recommended. Next one I want to catch is Spa, to see those cars flying up Eau Rouge – what a treat!

And it’s go, go, goat…..Martin Brundle’s secret texts.

29 Aug

Carficionado's homing in on your dastardly game, Brundle!

Welcome to a new era for Carficionado. Inspired by the Heat magazine currently lying on my toilet floor and belonging either to my girlfriend or gay brother who’s staying with us, I have decided to become an insipid little gossiper. I have to admit, I expect the number of these gossip posts to equal a grand total of 1, because no-one tells me any good rumours, but this one’s a good’un.

So, here goes. Carficionado has a friend who went to university with a certain daughter of Martin Brundle, who as you all know is the current BBC F1 commentator and former driver for the likes of McLaren, Ligier and Bennetton, and whose daughter was was going out at the time with my friend’s housemate. Well, it transpires that father and daughter have a system whereby she texts her father over the course of the race weekend and provides a word for him which he has to get into his commentary at some point. Now my friend who leant me this rumour didn’t manage to find out any specifics, but if you hear Mr. Brundle utter something slightly untoward during this afternoon’s Belgian Prix…..well, you heard it here first.

My Top Five F1 Cars, in no particular order. Number 5 – Renault RE30B

4 Jun

So I thought for the last post this week I’d choose a modern F1 car, to show I’m not an old fuddy-duddy. But I am. I would have picked a McLaren from the last five years fyi, but instead I’ve picked a Renault. From the 80s. In the 80s, turbos were being splashed around everywhere. Saabs, Group B rally cars trying their best, and sometimes succeeding, to murder their drivers. But the pinnacle of turbo use in the 1980s came in Formula 1, and particularly in the two Renaults of Alain Prost and René Arnoux in the 1982 season (hmmm, that’s three Prost driven F1 cars in my list. Prost-crush?). The seating position of the Renault, as with most F1 cars of this era, thrust the driver right to the front, whilst a twin-turbo 1.5 V6 projected it very quickly towards walls, armcos etc. It was dynamic in the way that a sledgehammer is dynamic, and hugely exciting to watch. Turbos were eventually banned in 1989, but not before Formula 1 had seen some of its fastest, scariest racing to date. And the pick of the bunch: the Renault RE30B.

My Top Five F1 Cars, in no particular order. Number 4 – Williams FW15C

3 Jun

This car effectively ushered in the beginning of my conscious mind reacting to Formula 1. With McLaren having a rough year in 1993, this was THE car in that season, winning Prost his fourth and final Formula 1 championship and highlighting the potential of the young Damon Hill. It also persuaded Ayrton Senna to leave McLaren and, fatally, to join Williams in 1994 (well he’d have left McLaren earlier if Prost hadn’t had it in his contract that under no circumstances was Senna allowed to be his team-mate). The Williams team was also sponsored by Sega and the decal of the design, with the footwells and steering looking like Sonics the Hedgehog’s legs and hands, only sold me more. This blog is intended to be about subjectivity, and subjectively, you don’t get more important to me in F1 than the Williams FW15C.

My Top Five F1 Cars, in no particular order. Number 2 – Brabham BT44B

1 Jun

OK, so clearly, anything with Martini racing colours gets automatic kudos in motorsport. Lancias, Porsches, whatever, it all looks better if you cover it in Martini colours. The Brabham BT44B was no exception. Designed by Gordon Murray, he of the McLaren F1 road car fame, the shape was, like Murray cars to this day, beautiful and clean. The BT44 was introduced in 1974, with the 44B used for the first time in the 1975 season. Both incarnations enjoyed only modest success at the hands of Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace. But like I said, Martini colours have a Midas touch, so here it is Ladies and Gentlemen, the gorgeous and evocatively monikered Brabham BT44B. In Martini colours.