Tuesday, 28 October 2008

FIA Madness?

There seems to be a lot of fuss made about Ferrari pulling out of Formula 1 if plans to introduce a standard engine for all teams come to fruition. You can’t blame them, I imagine old man Ferrari would spin right out of his grave I the F1 team used an engine that came from outside Maranello. What interests me is that there are members of the public who think that standard engines are a good idea as it provides a more level playing field for the driver’s championship.

You can see where they are coming from, there are plenty of one-make championships but is there any way of being certain that the chap who is best in Formula Ford is a better driver than the fellow who can master a TVR Tuscan (not that I imagine Tuscans race anymore but I recall they sorted men from boys when they did)? A standard car does not tell you who the better driver is, only who is best in that car!

Unless there is room for parallel driver and constructor’s championships; one weekend drivers race in standardised cars and the next week they race for team glory in cars that suffer the least possible regulation on their construction. What I have in mind is similar to an idea advanced by my friend Simon. The schedule of race fixtures is known and the length of the race is also known before the start of the season and aside from a stipulation that the top six finishers must complete the race distance (if it is 70 laps all finishers must do 70 to score points) and the fact that the cars must fit in a notional box (say, 14-feet by 6-feet by 4 feet tall). Everything else would be left to the imagination of the designer.

It should make for an interesting grid, especially if all the teams do something different; so we see front and rear engines, enclosed bodies and open wheels, moving and fixed aerodynamic surfaces, small, medium or large engines with or without forced induction and possibly exotic fuels that may or may not need replacing every couple of laps. I think it would be a cross between the heyday of Can-Am racing and the Wacky Races – I’m certain that for anyone who loves engineering it would be a lot more interesting than the current season!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Grand day out 1 – Donington Collection

I decided to take a day to go to the Donington Grand Prix Collection. It is the largest collection of Grand Prix cars in the world, apparently. Once you are inside the collection seems to go on almost forever with halls full of cars and other memorabilia. The oldest cars are, I think, the two 60 hp Mercédès while the collection features examples from every era of racing right up to the present day.

One interesting thing is the noise; there isn’t any except that made by visitors. It is nice to see the temptation to go “interactive” and “multimedia” has been resisted. My experience today might not be typical but as it is half-term there were plenty of families in the museum and everyone seemed to be enjoying the exhibits without needing audio-visual stimulatiion. Somehow even quite young children seemed calm and well-behaved giving the collection a much most agreeable atmosphere. Some museums give the impression of being little more than glorified adventure playgrounds.

It is difficult to pinpoint a favourite exhibit as there is so much to see and I you have ever followed motor racing (I don’t really bother anymore to be honest) then nearly every exhibit will make some sort o connection, whether it is a famous historic machine like the bimotore Alfa Romeo or 1980s Williams and McLaren racing cars driven by Mansel, Senna, Prost, etc.

If motor cycles are your thing there are plenty of those too, including some almost toy-like Yamaha racers and a fine collection of vintage cycles. One of the most eye-catching is an early NSU cycle. Car enthusiasts may associate the Necarsulm firm with the futuristic but flawed RO80 or the unusual, rear-engined small cars but the company made bikes too.

It took me over an hour to get round the museum; a good length of time as I felt I had seen a lot. The only slightly negative criticism I’d make is that to get out you have to double back on yourself. On the other hand, if you want to go back for a second look at something at least you get the chance.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Catching Up

It has been busy lately hence the blog has not been as updated as often as I would like. Not that I’m complaining, I like the constant stream of activity, writing helps me to keep up with the news and there is the never-ending pleasure of seeing the finished result on the (web) page.

To be really thorough would mean going back to the SMMT Test Day in May. Two cars proved to be unexpectedly pleasing; the Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 T-jet and the Audi A4 3.2 quattro. One shared characteristic was that both cars seemed generally good without offering any singularly defining characteristic or area or excellence. Of the two the Audi was perhaps understandably the more impressive, feeling impressively sure-footed but – surprisingly - slightly less well assembled than the Citroen C5.

Friday, 3 October 2008

What’s outside today? VW Polo Bluemotion

I’ve been lucky enough to get the Polo on extended loan for a few months. As far as I can tell it is an arrangement with few downsides. I get a smart new car to use, one that should be pretty cheap to run as well and I have to compile regular reports for my editor.

So far I’ve been pretty impressed with the Bluemotion, I’ve had it for a week now and living with it seems pretty painless. The first journey I undertook was a drive from Newbury back to Warwickshire. This included the usual stop-start motorway traffic you get on a Friday evening but I got home in decent time and feeling quite fresh. As time passes, however, some of the novelty is wearing off and I’m finding one or two irritating quirks. The brake pedal has a lot of travel – you push down and down, and down before something happens. Similarly, there are times when acceleration is not as readily available as you might want it. When the turbo kicks in you can feel the swell of torque carrying you along but if you’re rolling up to a junction in second gear and decide there is time to nip out the immediacy of response just isn’t there. Obviously the solution is to change into first as you approach junctions but it would be nice if the engine did something usefull between its 900rpm tickover and 2,000rpm when the turbo cuts in.

The whole point of the Bluemotion is economy and on that score it appears to be doing well. A week at the wheel has used barely half a tank of diesel. At this rate it could be a while before I discover how much it costs to fill the tank. Then again, diesel is such disgusting stuff the less often I have to come in touch with it the better.