I haven’t written much lately, but neither has Shakespeare. Last weekend saw the running of the 70th Monaco Grand Prix, the biggest event in the Formula One calendar. This race is widely celebrated for its glamour and celebrity content; Monaco happens to be home, at least legally speaking, for a lot of the F1 drivers due to its tax policies, and being a wealthy city in the French Riviera it is a virtual magnet for famous people of all stripes.
But as far as the actual racing goes… Monaco is pants. It’s terrible. By and large in the post-Senna era of F1 it’s so predictable you can pretty much set your watch by it. In Monaco the pole sitter wins, or doesn’t finish the race. The exceptions to this are very rare.
Let’s look at the results starting from 1994 onwards:
1994 – pole: MSC, winner: MSC
1995 – pole: Hill, winner: MSC, Hill finished the race (an exception!)
1996 – pole: MSC, winner: Olivier Panis, MSC crashed out
1997 – pole: Frentzen, winner: MSC, Frentzen crashed out
1998 – pole: Hakkinen, winner: Hakkinen
1999 – pole: Hakkinen, winner: MSC, Hakkinen finishes in 3rd (another exception)
2000 – pole: MSC, winner: Coulthard, MSC retires with suspension problems.
2001 – pole: Coulthard, winner: MSC, Coulthard had to start from the back of the grid after stalling on pole position (!) so this isn’t really an exception.
2002 – pole: Montoya, winner: Coulthard, Montoya retires with engine problems.
2003 – pole: RSC, winner: Montoya, RSC finishes the race (exception 3)
2004 – pole: Trulli, winner: Trulli
2005 – pole: Raikkonen, winner: Raikkonen
2006 – pole: Alonso, winner: Alonso
2007 - pole: Alonso, winner: Alonso
2008 – pole: Massa, winner: Hamilton, Massa is third (exception)
2009 – pole: Button, winner: Button
2010 – pole: Webber, winner: Webber
2011 – pole: Vettel, winner: Vettel
2012 – pole: Webber, winner: Webber
19 races, 4 exceptions to the rule. 4 times out of 5 (roughly) the polesitter leads a procession around the principality if the car and the driver’s skill manage to hold out for the entire race. It’s easy to see why, overtaking in Monaco is extremely difficult (ask Jenson…) and it’s incredibly easy to just put the car into the barriers (ask Nando…).
Still, that makes Monaco about the least interesting race to watch all year, as far as the racing goes.
Tags: Formula1 · General Commentary
So recently I was down at my Audi garage getting my diverter valve replaced, which is a common ailment for the first-generation 2.0T FSI engine (not to be confused with the second-generation 2.0 TFSI engine) and there in the showroom there was a new car which I hadn’t seen before, the A7.
To be honest at first I couldn’t quite work out what it was for. Audi redid the A4 for 2009, and it was good. Mechanically the car was redesigned to reseat the engine from the traditional Audi “in front of the front wheels” position to something a little more sensible in order to rein in some of the understeer that Audi users have come to expect. As a result the weight distribution of the car is a little better than it was before, 55-45 front-to-rear instead of 60-40. The car is now a little wider than it was, further improving the handling, and larger so it can accommodate adults in the back seat with greater comfort than previous generation A4s. The soundproofing of the cabin was improved immensely, and the suspension can now handle the worst of Montreal roads with comfort.
Last year the A8 received the same treatment, and indeed much the same design features on its ampler exterior. I don’t really care much for that Bangle-inspired stuff myself, but the car seems to stand a little lower and more aggressive. That being said the A8 now looks like a very big A4.
Not content with leaving things as they were Audi then redesigned the A6 in exactly the same way, as far as the exterior was concerned. So now all 3 of Audi’s “traditional” models have that weird line going down the side, and admittedly each has its little idiosyncratic design touches in the fascia — the A6 retains its weird curvy sort of “nose” and headlights, which together form what I think of as the “weird uncle” look.
But — and it can’t really be denied — if you’re looking for an Audi saloon nowadays you can practically order it like a coffee at a generic shop: you can have it in small (A4), medium (A6) or large (A8).
Except of course that now, there’s a new option on the menu. And it’s a good one. The A7 was, I would suspect, drawn up to compete with the Mercedes Benz CLS, and that part of its heritage is unmistakable, particularly as the eye is drawn towards the rear of the car. It’s got that long, drooping roofline and snubby rear end which suggests the CLS but does not really copy it, because the rear actually remains quite high off the ground (unlike the Benz). It has that same weird design line that slopes towards the front as the other Audis have. And it’s quite large, that can’t be denied. Another departure from the A4/A6/A8 design is the front grille, which in markets such as Quebec where front plates are not mandatory comes without a “placeholder” visual separator and lets the trademark Audi grille really shine through. And I do say shine, because the grille now comes with chrome stripes across its width. To be honest I don’t care that much for it but it is in keeping with the car’s “more glamorous than the A6″ inspiration.
The front fascia is more directly related to the A4′s than to the A6′s, and that gives this quite large car a very aggressive appearance. The effect is heightened when you go around the back and notice the retractable spoiler that sits on top of the trunk. That’s the sort of thing one used to see on Porsches and other sports cars, not on something that wouldn’t look out of place taking film stars to a movie premiere…
All in all, the A7 is a stunning car. And yet, I can’t help but think that there are one or two small problems that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The biggest is that it seems to have been designed by the same people who run Audi’s rather catastrophic marketing department. Audis are good and exciting cars in their own right; I only wish that the company would market them using a different approach than “a-ha, we’ve done better than BMW this time!” You just don’t establish a brand in the public consciousness by name-dropping the competition. To me the worst part of that was that Super Bowl commercial for the R8 which basically seemed to say “dump that old Bentley and buy an Audi instead!” Yes it was a rather witty reworking of the horse’s head scene in The Godfather but when you’ve built something as magnificient as the R8 IT should be the center piece of the commercial, not some old Bentley grille. And, even more of a “facepalm moment”, Audi forgot that it owns Bentley when it made that commercial. What were they thinking?
What does that have to do with the A7? On the surface nothing, but when you start looking at the car you start realizing that styling-wise it seems to be made up of little bits of the competition. That tail end, the moment you see it you think “CLS”. The hatchback is clearly lifted from the BMW 5-series GT. There’s even a hint of a Hoffman kink in the windowlets behind the C-pillar. Why is that there? I suppose we should be thankful Audi didn’t decide to go with a kidney grille in front…
That being said that’s not the car’s biggest problem; the styling department really pulled it off, when you forgive them for that slight lack of innovation. The A7′s real problem is that it should have been the A6.
Admittedly I’m a little biased here because I’ve never liked the A6. Not even a little bit. I had an instant dislike for that weird rounded nose and awkward front lights ever since I saw the thing. And even as an A4 owner who’s familiar with the diminutive sedan’s rear legroom issues I could never quite work out why it needed to exist at all, at least back when the A8 hadn’t broken into the $100,000+ price range. I didn’t like it for the same reason I’ve never been a fan of the Mercedes E-class. Both these cars are compromises, stopgaps for the market segment that exists between the entry-level luxury saloons and the real luxo-barges. The BMW 5-series is not included in this, it’s always had its own character, but in the mid-range German luxury sedan race the A6 is always the one that struck me as the rather characterless one. And that’s why Audi should have just abandoned its plans to modernize it and instead put the big sportback sedan in its place. Then you have real differentiation across the range, from the A1 supermini through to the Golf in an interview suit (A3) and up the range with the A4, A6 (now sadly A7) and A8. But no, the business people at Audi just couldn’t make up their minds and instead kept both.
Despite the clear styling dichotomy I can’t imagine that the performance qualities of the two models could differ that much, given that they’re both built around the same platform. Both come standard with Audi’s supercharged 3.0L V6; you can get the A6 with the throaty and admittedly-excellent 4.2L V8, but that involves you paying 10 grand for a gain of 50 BHP and a loss of 10 mpg. It sounds marvelous, no doubt about that, but it doesn’t make much sense.
It’s not like there’s a big difference in the price either, at least in Canada. The A6 will set you back $64,200 and the A7 $68,600. Okay, $4400 isn’t nothing, but when you’re buying a car which will cause you to write a check for upwards of $70k it really doesn’t make that much of a difference.
And I pity the fool who saves a relative pittance by buying the car that’s much, much less interesting and exciting. That choice just shouldn’t be there. Audi’s not quite big enough a car-maker to go the Mercedes way and make an individual car for each single customer out there.
Tags: Car Reviews
As a result of a heavy-handed, false and borderline-libelous copyright enforcement action against me by Youtube earlier today I have removed all my videos from that site. I will also no longer be posting any links to videos hosted there. So if you were looking for videos I (and no one else) made at the Canadian Grand Prix this past weekend, they’re no longer on Youtube. YT seems to have become little but an ass-licking service for very rich companies like FOM which then go around claiming copyright on material that isn’t theirs, and the fact that Youtube just accepts this clearly without any verification is sad and pathetic and a sure sign that I shouldn’t trust trust them with anything I make.
Oh, and to Formula One Management — you’re doing a really good job pissing off your base here. And for what, for a one-minute video clip shot by me on my equipment from the seat in the stands which I paid for, taken during 3rd practice on Saturday morning? Are you people fucking retarded? Maybe I should make more effort into ensuring that I stream every practice, qualifier and race just to go the extra mile in ensuring that you people don’t see a fucking cent from me being a fan of the sport. What’s the logic here? Petra needs a new pair of houses? How does making sure I’m pissed off even help?
I’ll make another post when I’ve rehosted the vids with a company that’s better at helping out its users than at licking corporate ass.
Tags: Formula1 · General Commentary
The FIA has decided to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix for 2011. The race will be held on October 30th, displacing the first Indian Grand Prix which will become the new season finale. I don’t know about you, but that’s once race I won’t be watching this year. I guess it won’t be that much of a loss as the championship will likely be decided long before that anyway.
Tire changes allowed under a red flag? Are you fucking kidding me?
If you were following the qualifying session for the Grand Prix of Monaco this morning you’ll know that Sauber driver Sergio “Checo” Perez has had a very big accident in Q3 near the exit of the tunnel. He was taken to hospital where he’s been diagnosed with only a concussion and a thigh sprain, which will keep him out of the race tomorrow, but I think it’s absolutely remarkable that in the past couple of years we’ve had only two accidents in qualifying which resulted in racers being kept out of the Sunday race, with the last one being Jarno Trulli’s accident in Suzuka in 2009, in which Jarno suffered a cut to his leg which also kept him out of the following race in Brazil and which catapulted Toyota reserve driver Kamui Kobayashi to a regular F1 drive (coincidentally also with Sauber).
Anyway, the point is that for all the inherent danger in driving a car at up to 300 kph the sport of Formula One has become incredibly safe. The last driver fatality in F1 goes all the way back to 1994, and that death (Ayrton Senna’s) so shocked the world of racing that it put the focus of the sport on safety. Nowadays all cars are subject to rigorous crash testing to ensure that the monocoque can stand up to exactly the kind of accident that we saw today, and there’s no doubting the effectiveness of these measures. Prior to the race following the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix the cockpits were so low you could see the drivers’ shoulders as they drove past, wheels and suspension bits would just break free from cars on impact, the HANS system did not even exist, and drivers raced around circuits which were sometimes surrounded by nothing but bare concrete walls. These were all factors in Senna’s death. The pit lane didn’t even have any speed limit at the time (leading to yet another accident after that race was restarted).
So sometimes if you catch yourself thinking that the FIA puts too much emphasis on safety, be thankful that it’s been a long while since anyone’s seen his or her idol die on race weekend of some stupidly preventable cause. These safety measures are there for a reason. I’m sure that Checo and his father (who was at the track this morning) feel that way also.
Tags: Formula1 · General Commentary
I am unfortunate enough to have gotten this loaned to me while my A4 is in the shop with a blown diverter valve (common with the 2.0T engine). It’s an absolutely hopeless vehicle. To quote Jeremy Clarkson, I have only one word to describe this, it starts with S and ends with T, and it isn’t “soot”.
The thing pitches to and fro if you even think about pushing either of the pedals in front of you, you’re sitting bolt upright like you were on a kitchen chair, and you literally have to lift your foot off the floor to be able to brake properly. Cornering is dismal with lots of body roll at even the lowest of speeds. It doesn’t even feel steady and planted while driving in a straight line on a flat road. Granted, it is a rental with 30,000 km on it, but I seriously dread being stuck with that heap on my drive home.
The interior is just a hopeless festival of cheap nastiness with plastics you frankly wouldn’t use for a dog’s water-bowl. As a habitué of the car company with the best interiors in the business I am rather spoilt of course, and this is probably not very high up on the trim scales, but I’ve seen 300s and Chargers that use the same nasty, paper-thin dimpled plastics on dashboards and inner door panels in the mid-2000s and it beggars belief that no one at Chrysler has, in all those years, decided that it was unacceptable for a car that you still have to pay 20 grand for.
Then again the journey is a replacement for Chrysler’s minivan line. Yes, it’s a glorified minivan. The vehicle for people who’ve given up on living. It has 3 rows of seats, which is perfect for when your better half is driving, your car-sickness-prone kid is in the front seat, and you can go sit all the way at the back, stare blankly out the window, remember the good old days when you were allowed to have some fun and wonder what’s happened to you since. Apparently it has stain-resistant seats, presumably so the car can reject the lonesome tear that falls from your eye as you reflect on those things…
To be honest the next time Audi Prestige tells me that they’ve got a Discount loaner for me I’m going to tell them I’d rather walk. This is my new “worst vehicle I’ve ever driven”. May I never get stuck driving something worse.
Tags: Car Reviews
Yes, the 2011 season is finally under way, and Sebastien Vettel started this campaign exactly as he ended the last, by converting pole position into a dominant win over Lewis Hamilton. However, the real sensation of the day was Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who successfully defended against Fernando Alonso to claim the third step of the podium.
There were a number of surprises on Sunday. Neither Williams or Mercedes finished the race; Maldonado developed problems early and parked in a runoff area, while Barrichello ended his race later after a run-in with Nico Rosberg (which caused the German to retire); Schumacher suffered from early contact and was out by lap 19. Heidfeld, who many thought would blow Petrov out of the water, could only manage 14th place (later adjusted to 12th) after early contact left his Renault’s sidepod in tatters (although the car kept working).
But the biggest story in my view was Sauber… both in the good and bad columns I’m afraid. The Swiss team managed to place an incredible 7th and 8th, mostly owing to a spectacular drive by rookie Sergio Perez who was the only driver not to need two stops. It was all good until the post-race scrutineering where a part of the car’s rear wing was found to be slightly smaller than it needed to be; this was a manufacturing defect, but it resulted in the two Saubers getting disqualified for the race, much to everyone’s disappointment. It makes one wonder why 23 hours in parc fermé aren’t time enough for the scrutineers to look things over a little more thoroughly.
The disqualification handed additional points to Massa, who did little in this race but confirm his status as a kind of Eddie Irvine to Ferrari top dog Fernando Alonso. Imagine what a “Trulli train” would have been like if Jarno Trulli had had a fast car, and that’s pretty much how the early part of the race went; then Felipe just kind of faded away for some reason.
Button finished 6th in one of those races that are best forgotten about, because it was very poor judgment that put him there. He lost a lot of time on the start and was stuck in 6th behind Massa for a few laps, when he opted for an ill-advised overtake maneuver and ended up taking an escape road around turn 12 (I think). At the same time Alonso (who had been tailing Button for some time) was pretty much waved through by Massa so that if Button gave the place back to Massa he had to let Alonso through as well… but then Alonso pitted and Button still refused to yield. This is the sort of thing that will live on as one of the great inexplicably dumb moves of Formula One. Massa, being ever the good #2, pitted the next lap and the stewards had to impose a drive-through penalty as there was no possibility of giving the place back. Button was insistent that he was ahead of Massa and was pushed out into the escape road, but frankly he should have known better. Had it not been for the time lost serving the penalty Jenson would have been vying for a podium spot.
It’s not to say that the officiating was spotless. After a pit stop Vettel came charging after Button and overtook him by taking an extremely long way out of the track and in an area that’s normally a car park. None of his wheels were anywhere near the track area, but somehow that never attracted the stewards’ attention… it was blatant enough to warrant a replay and a comment from Brundle, but sometimes with the FIA one does find that with all animals being equal, some manage to be more equal than others.
Toro Rosso did quite well on the weekend with a 10th (adjusted to 8th) place finish for Buemi. It seems that he’s responding pretty well to the pressure that’s mounting on him to get some results. He was followed by the two Force Indias which don’t seem to have improved much over last year. Neither have the Lotus or the Virgin team; in fact Glock was so far down from the pack (9 laps behind) that he didn’t classify in that race at all. Rookie D’Ambrosio finished but 4 laps down on the field. Kovalainen retired with a water leak and Trulli finished the race second to last.
HRT was there too… for the pre-race. Keeping in mind that this weekend was supposed to be the SECOND race weekend of the year, they were in even worse disarray than their detractors (like myself) had imagined. They literally didn’t have working cars until Saturday, and when Karthikeiyan finally managed to do a shakedown lap he was so incredibly slow that I, along with lots of other people no doubt, thought it was some kind of a joke. The best Tonio could manage was a Q1 time over 1.5 seconds off the 107% cut-off mark, and Narain was over 1.5 seconds off THAT. I felt I was faster than them just sitting in my office chair watching it happen. Joking aside, I’m not confident they’d be competitive in GP2. HRT is the new Andrea Moda — mark my words, unless some miracle happens and soon, they’ll just get struck off the F1 list before mid-season.
Of the new technologies, the Pirelli tires didn’t fare as badly as everyone thought, and some drivers are saying that the tires they had on Sunday were very different from the ones they tested on. KERS wasn’t much of a factor — Red Bull didn’t bother with it at all — and DRS seems like an expensive but futile gimmick. One thing that did make a difference, though, was the lack of double diffusers. You had a lot more cars right up against the car in front in Australia, and hopefully this trend will continue.
Other than that, it seems that the Ferrari is nowhere near as fast as pre-season testing would lead one to believe. Renault is a lot quicker than everyone expects. The Sauber was shockingly good, but we should probably reserve judgment until we’ve seen them race with a legal car. Red Bull is still kicking butt, and the McLaren’s pace caught everyone by surprise. Especially when you factor in that Hamilton ran a good portion of the race in a car with a damaged undertray that kept scraping on the track, but kept gaining a little bit on Vettel in his late run. What are Lewis and Jenson going to look like if a)they can manage to exercise better judgment, and b)the car holds together the way it’s supposed to? only time will tell.
Oh, and can I say that I just want Petrov to keep holding off Alonso as often as he possibly can?.. I was a bit skeptical of the guy until Abu Dhabi last year, but now I’m practically turning into a fan.
The next round of F1 takes place in two weeks, at Malaysia’s Sepang circuit.
Quite late (literally on the penultimate testing day of the season) and clearly short of sponsorship the new HRT 111 showed up in Barcelona today. Team boss Colin Kolles insists that this year’s car will be quicker than last year’s, which sets the bar pretty low. At least the team is hiring an experienced driver this year (Liuzzi) who’ll be able to help develop the car, but there’s always going to be the notion in the back of everyone’s head that he could be pushed aside in favor of the hapless Yamamoto if the team runs out of cash at some point in the year, which seems fairly likely. Oh well, one team has to provide all the drama…
Tags: Formula1 · Silly Season
I was checking out the SA F1 thread earlier and I came up with a little insight about Massa that I thought I’d share here as well. A lot of people seem to dislike Massa, which is something I really don’t think the Brazilian deserves. In fact it’s pretty amazing that the guy manages to get out of bed in the morning at all.
Massa’s a guy who’s been clobbered by bad luck and poor team management into becoming the Okay Guy of F1.
First season with Ferrari (2006), is third in the WDC behind Alonso and Schumacher. The next year, finishes fourth behind his teammate and two enormous (and duelling) talents at McLaren. 2008, he gets screwed out of a decent finish in Singapore by a)Flavio and b)his own team’s stupid traffic lights scheme, and loses the WDC by the slimmest of margins and at the last possible moment (bonus: this happens in front of the home crowd as he’s just won the race). 2009, he’s doing all right right up until Barrichello’s car throws up a spring that hits him right in the face, nearly killing him. And when he comes back the next year — briefly leading the championship early in the season, it must be said — he’s basically shoved aside into a supporting role by his own team in a rather public, obvious and humiliating way.
Granted that I’m not an F1 racer, but at that point I’d be convinced that there’s some sort of a curse on me and phone it in while Ferrari’s elephant paychecks keep clearing.
Webber has nothing on Massa when it comes to bad luck.
I think it’s worth thinking about, especially since we still have a full two weeks to wait until Australia.
Tags: Formula1 · General Commentary