Lewis In Malaysia

March 30, 2008

It was really nice to see Lewis driving as he did in Sepang. His charge from the middle of the pack showed to me that he is not intimidated by his hugely complex and powerful machinery. The way he hustled his McLaren on to the kerbs, opposite locking it, out braking and then recovering to get the car going was all a treat to watch. It’s really something special to see such an young man having total control of his car at those speeds.

I could very often see Lewis giving a tinge of opposite lock to the steering wheel when he was hard on the power with his outside rear wheel on the kerb. It was purely on the limit correction and driving and was really fascinating to watch. It was so much on the edge that even a split second of missed corrective action would have spun him around leaving him beached.

I think having traction control around would’ve been an injustice to the likes of Lewis or Kimi who have stunning levels of car control. Car control is not just about bringing your car home safely without making any mistakes. Many other drivers on the grid can do that. It’s about taking your car beyond its limits and then stepping back to exactly on the limit when it bites back. And doing this for the whole race distance. That’s what differentiates a champion driver from a good driver. In the process, you will have extracted a lap time that the car simply doesn’t deserve and at the same time would’ve provide a spectacle to the spectators.

A little bit more technical brief on why Lewis did so many opposite locks in Malaysia on the kerbs:

The kerbs have lesser grip levels than the tarmac. Also, the outside rear wheel, which is accelerating on the kerb, will have extra burden in the form of the car’s weight in addition to the accelerating force. Naturally, the tyre will tend to slide away as a reaction to these two loads. One effective corrective action that can be given by the driver is to take some of the car’s weight away from that tyre. This is done by turning the steering wheel in a direction opposite to that of what is required to negotiate the corner and this is what we call as the opposite lock. When this is done, the weight starts transferring to the inside wheels and the car starts to get stabilised. This prevents the car from spinning.

   

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Why Renault Doesn’t Win

March 29, 2008

Flavio Briatore and the Renault team do not fail to blow their trumpets on them being the team that uses one of the lowest budgets yet managing to win races and championships. But we must ask them, “for how long”. With their so called low budgets, they won two titles and then? Promptly became also-rans. For the 2007 season and again this season, they’re, at best, lower mid-fielders. What about the highest spenders, Ferrari and McLaren? They’re the two title contenders. This despite the two teams having had a dog-fight for the championship until the last race of the last season. In contrast, Renault stopped the development of last year’s car well and truly before the final few races and instead concentrated all their resources on their new car. The result? Two fortunate-points finishes this season. I’m not belittling in anyway the expertise of the Renault engineers. They’re the ones who won two titles on the trot. But I would like to emphasise the point that budgets DO matter in F1.

I believe, only because Ferrari spend what they spend every year, are they able to be at the highest level of competitiveness year on year (they’ve always been in the fight for the titles continuously since 1997!). When their form suddenly slumped in 2005, they just got back to their usual self the following year. That was no fluke. They had one of the best resources–lot of team personnel and budgets and they put all of them to effective use. The result was a massive performance gain. Renault’s strategy of trying to ‘sip’ resources will work only for a short stint and will have its phases. That is, it’ll take a few years’ culmination of work to get them back to the top, where they’ll remain for only a relatively short period, until the other teams start flexing their muscles.

If anyone wants to dominate F1 (like Ferrari), they’ll need to be both efficient in using whatever resources they have and also have huge resources. They must be prepared to spend like top teams and not just like mid-fielders. 

An analogy: when you super-charge a 1.5 litre engine, you get 300 bhp. When you supercharge a 6 litre engine, you get 700 bhp. Supercharging is like efficient use of resources. 1.5 or 6 litre is the amount of resources you spend. The 1.5 litre engine will wow you with its power only until the 6 litre doesn’t come around. When it arrives, the 1.5 litre is no more. That’s the case with Renault.

Be efficient. Be huge. Follow neither, you’re not gonna be on top.

   

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2008 Predictions – Part 3

March 2, 2008

 

image my team predictions for the brand-new season done and dusted, here’s the first part of my driver predictions. And, please remember that this time I haven’t ranked them; just a few lines on what I think is awaiting them.

 

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image is a race-winner in a championship winning car. There is little sign that Honda’s RA108 will be a huge step forward in comparison to its predecessor, at least in the first half of the new season. So, I’m not expecting any impressive performances from him, until the Honda car gets to a certain level.

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image actually rate Button as an equal to Lewis Hamilton in terms of pace and race craft. I also reckon Hamilton has an edge in terms of facilities at his disposal to improve himself. This might explain why the ‘perceived’ talent is higher for Hamilton. Jenson Button is currently limited by his car and not by his talent. I believe he is doing as good a job as any other top driver in extracting 100% out of his car. Button can be whatever his car is. Be it a champion or back-marker.

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image very-good-driver-in-a-bad-car. Fisi’s biggest problem might probably be handling pressure. The pressure I’m talking about here is a bit different. In a race-winning car, a driver will be expected to win races. In a car that struggles to finish in the points, a driver will not expected to do anything other than finish the race with it. Fisi always does the opposite of it, which means he does the unexpected. Which again means that his talent is not at question but his efficiency in extracting everything out of himself is. Expect to see those unexpected performances from him this season.

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image a bit of an unknown quantity for me. Gascoyne doesn’t fail to talk about this youngster’s ability in his press meets and we can’t dispute him.

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image ChampCar champ is now in F1 and will definitely be looking forward to making a name for himself here. So far in testing, he has been pretty close to him team-mate Vettel, who is very highly regarded, and thus this is not exactly an inconsequential thing. His race craft should also be champion material and thus his success this season will rely on how quickly he learns the technical aspects of F1.   

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Why Budget Capping Is the Way To Go

February 27, 2008

image F1 currently needs is a compromise between two very contrasting demands. The most important demand of all is the need to maintain its status as the top motor sport category. But then, it also needs to ensure that teams will actually be there to race a few years down the line and we are informed that at the current levels it is not possible to do that. So there you have it, the budget cap. Imagine this for one moment: You’re given 25 lakh rupees to get yourself a nice house. You’re also given two options: you can either build your own according to your taste or you can buy one that is not necessarily built to your taste. Wouldn’t you much rather stick to your own design?

image logic here is very simple. In either case, it’s your money that you’re spending. Wouldn’t you want your artistic skills to shine through, using whatever money you’re given? Agreed that building your own house is, in a way, a chore. But, that’s the point, isn’t it. Life is a zero-sum game. If you want to achieve something, you lose something else that you don’t attach too much importance to. 

image satisfaction that you get when you’ve done something on your own is immeasurable. It isn’t any different in building a Formula 1 car chassis. Ask any engineer and he’ll tell you that of the two, budget capping is the best idea. And it doesn’t detract from the important issue too, which is to allow teams to survive in F1 and keep racing in the future. 

image capping satisfies everyone involved directly or indirectly in F1: team bosses, engineers, technical fans and sporting fans. What more can you ask for?

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2008 Predictions – Part 2

February 27, 2008

Here’s the next prediction list consisting of the next 5 teams in the order of ascending pace.

 

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In my view, this is a team that lacks nothing. Well, almost. The resources are plenty, no lacking in the technical department too. The drivers? Enough for the moment but probably may need a replacement once they start sticking to the tails of the top-runners more often. So? A regular Renault challenger this season? You bet.

 

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The biggest news bearer this season with the return of the much-hyped Alonso. And all the Alonso-brings-5 tenths-to-Renault is, frankly, laughing stuff. I do think that they can fight season-long with Williams, however. Challenging Ferrari and McLaren? Pah.

 

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They seem to be getting back to where they belong. This is one team that I respect a lot. No manufacturer support, relatively limited budgets but still they take pains to design their own chassis and this is most admirable. This is one of the reasons why their way back to the sharp end of the grid is impressive.

 

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Like Toyota, BMW Sauber are cash-rich. However, they put it to very good use, unlike Toyota, if I must add. Having gained a reputation for adopting the most aggressive developmental approach, BMW Sauber might make small slip-ups when they push hard targeting the bigger picture. Case in the point, their less then impressive initial pre-season testing form. But, overall, I would say they are the strongest contenders for the last podium spot. I don’t expect them to trouble the red cars but, depending on how McLaren develop throughout the season, might have a sniff at the silver cars.

 

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The team that almost pulled it all off last season, if not for one Alonso. Actually I’m quite surprised by how competitive McLaren is showing themselves to be this season. McLaren have, in recent years, had only zig-zaw seasons; one ultra-competitive year followed by one mega-ultra-disastrous year. Last year was great (in terms of performance) for the team. Wonder what this year holds.

 

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The 2007 World Champion Team. They’ve so far set frightening pace in testing and start the season as one of the favourites for the title. I think Ferrari will not have a fight on their hands to defend their title. This sums it all. 

 

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2008 Predictions – Part 1

February 26, 2008

We’ve been spectators to a number of pre-season tests from which very little can be deduced as to the true pecking order of the teams. But still, predictions are meant to be just that. Predictions. The real thrill is in finding out if things go as predicted. So, here’s my expectations ahead of the new F1 season.

 

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They’re definitely not the dark-horse of the 2008 season. The fledgling team, with its highly limited resources and development time, are not going to see another 2007 season. Their biggest undoing is going to be their chassis, which is last year’s Honda RA107 and that car was not too popular for its pace. If, even Honda, with its mega-everything resources couldn’t turn their car into anything more than an also-ran, what can Super Aguri do? And I do not have a soft-spot for Super Aguri as I did for Minardi. They’re, in the end a customer team and I’m sorry to say that they may as well save time and money by watching races in their TV. Customer teams are not what F1 needs.

 

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Ross Brawn is there but it’ll take its time before his influence is felt. Which means, we can expect to see Honda ahead of Super Aguri. Only.

 

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This prediction is about where teams will be, at the end of the season. For this, one year’s development work will have to be taken into account and I don’t see this team going too far. Unlike according to its winter testing promises, I do not expect STR to worry any other team other than the preceding two and the following.

 

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What this team lacked in the past was resources. And they’re getting it now. There’s no questioning their technical department’s prowess. I expect Gascoyne and his team to work their magic.

 

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I believe that the lack of a ‘small’ technical team is what is holding Toyota firmly near the back of the pack, despite their endless pocket. I’m not sure that Toyota will move up the ladder any further this season. We’ve to see how it goes. 

 

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Dear Indians

February 21, 2008

Ahead of the launch of the definitive 2008 Force India car, I’ve got something to share with my fellow Indians. We might be expecting a lot out of ‘our’ new team–regular points etc. However, we’ll have to keep reminding ourselves that this after all is a team that’s still on the recovery. The resources have just started to flow in and it’ll be a while before the effect will be more pronounced. I would put my money on a year and a half, may be, for assured points finishes. The team definitely shows a strong sense of promise–promise that they are, passionately and enthusiastically, after bigger things. Back to the Jordan ’99 days? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Vijay Mallya is hugely motivated, Mike Gascoyne is finally getting to get hold of resources with which he could start to work his magic and the drivers are promising. Go Force India, Go!

 

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