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It’s what non-car people don’t get. They see all cars as just ton-and-a-half, two-tons of wires, glass, metal and rubber. That’s all they see. People like you or I know, we have an unshakable belief that cars are living entities. You can develop a relationship with a car. And that’s just what non-car people don’t get. Charles Babbage, the inventor of the computer in the 18th century talked about the unerring certainty of machinery. Now, the problem you have with the unerring certainty of machinery is that it is a machine. When something has foibles and won’t handle properly, that gives it a particularly human quality because it makes mistakes. And that’s how you can build a relationship with a car.
Jeremy Clarkson, from ‘Love the Beast’

Why motor racing isn’t really a waste of fuel


I am forever being asked these questions: “Why are we wasting so much precious fuel just so some strange looking cars can go round and round endlessly?” “Isn’t it silly to have races when the need of the hour is to save fuel?” “Fuel prices keep going up, and it’s because of race cars, why wont you admit it?” etc etc. 

I realise that people without an engineering background or understanding cannot be expected to come up with the correct numbers and facts, but I’ve had enough. I’m going to try and settle this debate once and for all, using F1 as an example. People who think it’s a good idea to ban motor racing, this is for you. 

The absence of Formula 1 races will have almost no effect on the total fuel consumption of the world because:

a) The total fuel consumed by all the F1 cars in one year is ~265,813 litres, which is less than the ~273,000 litres of fuel consumed by a jumbo jet on a long distance round trip (Singapore-Zurich-Singapore). 

b) F1 cars’ collective fuel consumption is just 0.0000050898% of the total oil consumption of the world. 

Let me explain. 

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Some thoughts on the Pirelli “Testgate” verdict

First, some background information for those who haven’t read about it:

The International Tribunal has banned the Mercedes team from the Young Drivers Test scheduled as well as reprimanded tyre supplier Pirelli for breaching the rules regarding in-season testing.

Here’s why I think the FIA International Tribunal’s verdict in the F1 “Testgate” is fair:

1. Pirelli was in charge of this test, whereas the teams will be in charge of their testing programmes at the Young Drivers’ Test. There’s a world of difference between a team conducting the test and asking Pirelli to supply tyres and Pirelli conducting a test and asking a team to supply a car. Specifically, the parameters, data logging and test strategies will not be optimised to develop the car, they will be optimised to develop the tyres. By that I’m not suggesting Mercedes didn’t benefit from it, but the benefit would’ve been much less compared to a test that was run by the team itself. 

2. The teams at the Young Driver Test will run more than 1000km if they complete 57 laps each day, which is seriously low by current testing standards. Although they will not be running current race drivers, the teams will be fully in charge of their testing program, and get exactly the data they need and will be able to do better development work than Mercedes was able to do at Barcelona. 

3. If some people feel the punishment did not befit the crime, the blame lies with the ambiguity in the rulebook. Mercedes’ Ross Brawn was clever enough to exploit some gaping (loop)holes in the rules, and although it is unsporting in some ways, it is not illegal. Sports federations will consider unsporting actions more seriously than a court of law, but in the end, the punishment for unethical behaviour will always be lesser than illegal activities. F1 teams are always pushing the envelope when it comes to rules. Red Bull Racing has done it so often in recent times in terms of aerodynamics, and Mercedes did so with testing in this instance. 

4. Like all cases that provide a precedent for future infractions as well as scope to reword certain points in the rule-book, it appears as though Mercedes have been treated too leniently. In truth, this is the right way to go about it, although it is not ideal for any sport. Mercedes did what they did based on what the rule-book said at that time. It was not their initiative - Pirelli requested them to provide the car, and they did so after checking with a senior FIA official (Charlie Whiting) and examining the rules. Now that the FIA has been embarrassed and is now aware of the loophole, it will make sure that the next instance of such an infraction will see the respective team incur a much harsher penalty. Think about all the aero and engine map related controversies - all those incidents were instances where a team saw a loophole and utilised it before anyone else. None of them incurred a drastic punishment, like race bans or points deduction, as people are demanding for Mercedes. The loophole was plugged, and the sport moved on. 

'Senna' (2010) Review

19 years have passed since the death of Ayrton Senna, the most worshipped, the most inspiring, and the most intense racing driver ever to have lived among us. Documentaries and biographies paying tribute to the great man are plenty; in fact, you could find more books and films on Ayrton than most of the other great drivers combined. Such has been the impact of the Brazilian on the collective motor-racing psyche. But ‘Senna’ is a rather different documentary.

Although there have been numerous films on motor racing over the years, most of them have turned out to be seriously disappointing. More often than not, the plot would be wafer thin, the acting horrendous, the special effects non-existent, the editing rubbish and all those friends whom you managed to drag along to accompany you in watching it, would moan about it for years. But this time, if a racing-enthusiast-friend tells you this documentary does not require you to be a Senna fan or an F1 fan or even a motorsport fan for that matter, to appreciate it, believe them. Senna is an excellent film all on its own, and director Asif Kapadia has managed to make it enthralling to watch for seasoned F1 fans as well as people who have never heard of Ayrton before.

One of the strong points of the film is the style of narration. Instead of the all too familiar talking head interviews we have become used to over the years, Kapadia uses countless hours of hitherto unseen footage of Formula 1 to tell the story. Rather than listening to people around Senna recall various incidents from the Brazilian’s time in F1 (1984-1994), we now see it like it happened, with plenty of press conferences and behind the scenes footage to re-contextualise some of those events. The film primarily focuses on Senna’s F1 career, with Ayrton, his arch-rival Alain Prost and McLaren team boss Ron Dennis more or less slipping into the lead roles and telling the story in chronological order. With judicious editing, ‘Senna’ is impressive in the way the characters of Ayrton and Prost are developed – the contrast in their approach to racing and life as a whole is handled brilliantly.

Alain Prost Vs Ayrton Senna was one of the greatest battles in motorsport history, and as such, I expected the four-time title winning Frenchman  to be portrayed as the villain. However, ‘The Professor’ as he was known as, is shown to be a bitter rival every inch of the way, but never as a baddie. That role is given to the then-reigning FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre and although you could argue he was not quite the eccentric, allegedly biased, high-handed boss as he is shown to be, several controversial decisions on incidents involving Senna and Prost didn’t help his cause. As a result, you see that Ayrton is the man fighting against the odds, against the mucky politics infesting the sport and his defiant attitude towards the deteriorating morality in his beloved sport is fascinating to watch.

I have seen several complaints that some of Senna’s ruthless actions on track, bordering on the unfair and sometimes dangerous, have been omitted, showing the three-time world champion as a competitive but faultless, saintly person. Controversial incidents like the battle at Portugal in 1988 which started the decline in the relationship, and the restart at Imola the next year could have been included. But I feel the amount of screen time that will be taken up by contextualizing those events does not justify what it contributes to the average viewer’s perception of Senna as a whole, at the end. It is impossible to make a documentary suitable for both F1 fans and the mainstream audience alike, without forgoing some details of the subject. 

And one could hardly make a documentary spanning Senna’s F1 career without mentioning his supernatural qualifying lap at Monaco in 1988 and the collisions with Prost at Suzuka. Although the former requires no background colouring, hearing Senna’s thoughts on that lap will give you goosebumps for sure. The film also shows the crashes at Suzuka in a different light. Senna’s actions at the start of the 1990 Japanese GP seem almost justifiable, and it appears to be his way of giving Balestre and Prost the proverbial finger. Ruthless he may have been, but Senna always did what he believed was right, and was straightforward in word and deed. It is to the film’s credit that it manages to convey a great many things about the complex and extraordinary character of Ayrton without actually putting it into words, such as Senna’s concern for the safety of other drivers and his desire to help underprivileged children in Brazil.

Another scene worth mentioning is Senna’s first home win in 1991, in front of an adoring crowd at Interlagos, Brazil. He looked set for an easy win, but gearbox gremlins forced him to drive with just sixth gear working. In that ailing McLaren, he battled his opponents, battled against the elements and soldiered on towards the finish, with a roaring Sao Paulo crowd egging him on. I was a toddler then, and thanks to FOM’s TV footage policies, one does not have the privilege to travel to the past and live the excitement of those incredible races. Although I have read about Senna’s heroic victory that year, hearing his and the fans’ emotional response after he took the chequered flag put a lump in my throat. Ayrton was more than a philanthropic sportsman – he was a national hero, an inspiration for millions and a single blinding star on a dark Brazilian skyline.

Those few minutes after the race ought to be preserved as an example of the immense joy humanity is capable of inspiring in itself. In those glorious moments, the sport and it’s magnificent exponent transcended all boundaries to become one with it’s passionate fans. Every once in a while, sport blurs the line between competition and art – and Senna gave us those priceless moments so often, just like Gilles Villeneuve did before him. Watching the achingly gorgeous black-and-gold Lotus dancing in a straight line through the streets of Adelaide, the uncompetitive Toleman coming to life in the hands of a wet weather master at Monaco, you wish it will never end.

But the story goes on, and as the 1992 and 1993 championships flash by, you begin to dread the fact that it will invariably arrive at the black weekend at Imola in 1994. For it is much like watching ‘Titanic’ or ’300′. You admire the talent, the courage, the audacity, the defiance, the commitment, the dedication, the determination of the protagonist, and yet you know how the story ends – and you really don’t want that devastating end to come. There’s no avoiding it, however, and the aerial view of the Tamburello corner signals the beginning of the end, so to speak.

Thankfully, the film does not go into the details of Senna’s crash, instead preferring to conclude with the poignant scenes from his funeral. To see the one million people lining up on the streets, the tears and inconsolable grief on every face, the state funeral with three days of national mourning declared is quite an emotional sequence that you watch with a heavy heart.The final scene where Senna describes a cherished karting memory is also touching. At this point I would like to give a special mention to the music score by Antonio Pinto - producer Manish Pandey said in an interview that the Brazilian music director approached him and said he would do it without accepting any payment, as a tribute to Ayrton. And that feeling of love and loss shines through in his music - all the emotions it evokes are as intense as the man himself.

 For me, the best thing about the film is the way it immortalises Ayrton the man, rather than Senna the superstar racer. It shows all the facets of Senna’s character, the competitive nature on track, the tenderness in helping the underprivileged, the concern for safety of the drivers, as well as the emotional responses to F1′s politically rooted controversies. It shows a man who loved and lived for racing, who followed his heart and remained true to himself. Yes he had his faults, but he fought against them, as hard as he fought the politics in the sport, his fellow competitors and his ill handling Williams FW16. I believe even if God had whispered in his ear about his impending accident, Senna would’ve taken that broken car around Imola to try and defy His will. And it is that defiance that defined Ayrton Senna as a human being, a rather remarkable human being at that. ‘Senna’ is a fitting tribute to this fantastic man blessed with supreme skill and a beautiful soul. It is a great film by itself, and in my opinion, by far the greatest film on motor racing ever made.

Click this link to view the trailer

Red Bull Racing Joins F1’s Greats

The 2010 Brazilian GP was by no means a thriller, yet it must be the most memorable day in the lives of the men and women who are part of the Milton-Keynes based Red Bull Racing team. After several hits and near misses, mistakes and misfortunes, Red Bull finally clinched the World Constructors Championship and are yet to give up the tag of Champions, three years since. They are now properly one of the “big” teams that Ferrari and McLaren have to respect. In my view, the seeds for this triumph were sown when Christian Horner brought the legendary Adrian Newey on board. The design genius has been responsible for several cars that have dominated championships and it was only a matter of time before he hit the sweet spot at Red Bull.

That year’s RB6 and its successors were rocketships – consistently quick in every single circuit in the world – as Red Bull’s incredible qualifying achievements show us. Considering the fact that the Renault engine doesn’t quite have the grunt or reliability of the Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz, and that their drivers have made several mistakes, one wonders what Red Bull could’ve achieved if they’d had Mercedes-Benz engines and a driver like, say, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or even Kimi Raikkonen. But fortunately for us, the strengths and weaknesses of these championship-contending teams have more or less evened out the playing field, giving us some extraordinary seasons with unprecedented action, excitement and unpredictability.

At this point I think it would be interesting to reflect upon the circumstances that led to the birth of the Red Bull Racing team. Cut to the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix of 2004, when the erstwhile Jaguar Racing team announced that parent company Ford had pulled the plug on it, and the team was to be sold or closed down if no buyer were found. It was sad to see a name like Jaguar leave F1, but it was even sadder to think of the hard working men and women in Milton-Keynes, people no less talented or passionate or committed than the people in McLaren or Ferrari, and yet, people who’ve never really enjoyed the success that they deserved. It is worth noting that, according a reveal by F1 Racing magazine, although Toyota was acknowledged to be the biggest spender in F1, their total expenditure was about 3% of their global marketing budget. In comparison, Jaguar Racing got a mere 0.05% of Jaguar Cars’ annual expenditure – a pittance.

Formula 1 isn’t about bigger equalling better – money talks loud, but not it is not the loudest. Brawn GP proved that in 2009, a team on the ropes, struggling to survive, coming through purely on technical expertise and excellent management of resources along with brilliance in strategy. Yet money is vital – if it wasn’t for Honda’s investment in the ’09 car, we may not have witnessed one of the greatest fairytale success stories in motorsport. A solid budget enables the team to push the development process harder and faster, attract more talent to the team and crucially, hire drivers based on skill rather than sponsorship. Force India’s improvement in leaps and bounds is a case in point. Ford though, after wrecking Jag’s chances with budget-cuts,  also played musical chairs with Jaguar Racing’s management, leading to instability in both Teams like Ferrari and McLaren don’t rely on revolutionary designs or shuffling the management in order to get instant results. Nor is their considerable budget the sole reason for their success. Building a good car is very much a human thing – it is about having the right people in the right jobs, and making sure the team works as one cohesive unit in the same direction with clarity in thought and skill in execution. It is a long process, and poor results have to be endured and acted upon – passing on the blame and moving in a different direction can buy time, but not long term success. It’s a continuous process and once the team reaches a level of competence and stability in terms of design, management and resources, the results are guaranteed. In 2004, Ford were at the beginning stage of the decline in profits that culminated in their recent bankruptcy. As such, it was a golden opportunity when the Chinese government was willing to enter into a partnership with Ford in order to take the Grand Prix team to new heights. Rumours flew that it was Ford who had opted out of the deal at the last minute, hoping to improve their share price by selling Jaguar Racing. If the rumours were true, it means Ford’s CFO sold out on 40 years of Grand Prix history just to please shareholders. We know now how little it cost Ford to fund Jaguar, and how little the sale did to stem Ford’s slide into bankruptcy.  

Today, as they rebuild, recovering from their economic crisis, Red Bull’s success will hit Ford hard – and hurt badly. Dietrich Mateschitz owns an energy drink corporation – not a prestigious automotive group – and yet, all he did was give his racing team a capable manager (Christian Horner) and a good budget to go racing – something that doesn’t require four decades of motorsport experience to do – and the team has delivered. Make no mistake, Sebastian Vettel has been a vital ingredient in Red Bull’s success, but the team has unquestionably been the bigger factor. While Ferrari and McLaren continue to stumble in designing a fast AND reliable car, Red Bull Racing have been getting it right year after year. 

Tony Purnell, one of the heads of Jaguar Racing when it was sold, said in an interview that time : “I’m not concerned for my own future – I’ll be okay. But I’ve read about Jean Todt’s description of his Ferrari boys as a ’dream team’ – and yes, I think they’ve achieved a hell of a lot. But our team are a dream team, too – and I’d love to see whether Jean’s lot could’ve achieved what we’ve achieved with our comparatively meagre resources. Believe me, the engineering management and know-how at Jaguar Racing are fantastic. And, for that reason, any buyer who can add the financial wherewithal to that, is onto a winner.”

Purnell’s faith in his boys has been vindicated in style. Hats off to the Red Bull Racing team.

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