Minardi goes for the long shot

Minardi, the battlers in F1 and everyone’s sentimental favourites, are another team, like Sauber, that is known for taking on youngsters. This year they took on board Aussie Mark Webber and Malaysian Alex Yoong. Webber did manage to cover himself with glory and has now joined Jaguar, while Yoong did at least show that although money can buy you a seat in F1, it doesn’t buy you results. (Mind you, with a brief perusal of Yoong’s motorsport history you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict this.)

Justin Wilson

The newest signing is a young Englishman, Justin Wilson, who at 24 years of age has shown himself to be a man with talent - however, he has a physical impediment which has made it difficult for him to get an F1 drive (forgetting about the cash up front for the moment). He is 1.92 metres tall (about 6’3" in the old money) and doesn’t fit into most F1 cars which are designed for the well under 6 footers that most race drivers are these days.

From all accounts he is a well liked and personable young man, whose favourite drink is orange juice. It will be interesting to see if the champagne lifestyle of F1 changes any of that.

To show that he has done well in his apprenticeship on the way up, take a look at his credentials.

1994 Formula ‘A’ British Championship - 3rd Renault GP at Buckmore Park. Formula Vauxhall Junior Winter Series - won first ever race, the first 16 year old to win a British Motor Race.

1995 Formula Vauxhall Junior Challenge Cup - Champion, 4 race wins. Formula Vauxhall Junior Championship - 3rd overall. Formula Vauxhall Winter Series - 3rd best newcomer.

1996 British Formula Vauxhall - (Paul Stewart Racing Team) runner-up, 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps, 1 first place, 5 seconds, 3 thirds; finished every round in the top five.

1997 British Formula Vauxhall - (Paul Stewart Racing Team) 4th overall, 1 lap record; 2 pole positions; 4 fastest laps, 3 wins; 2 second finishes; 2 thirds.

1998 Formula Palmer Audi - champion, 9 wins; 10 fastest laps; 6 lap records, 4 pole positions.

1999 FIA International F3000 Championship - (Team Astromega) 2 points finishes and several times top qualifying rookie.

2000 FIA International F3000 Championship - (Nordic Racing) 5th overall, 3rd at the Silverstone GP; 2nd at the A1 Ring GP; a total of 5 points finishes.

2001 FIA International F3000 Championship - (Nordic Racing) - champion and first British driver to score record number of F3000 points (71); 10 podium finishes out of 12 races; 2 pole positions; 3 race wins.

2002 Telefonica World Series by Nissan - (Racing Engineering Team) 4th overall, 2 pole positions; 2 race wins, 1 second place; 5 third-place finishes.

As can be seen from his results history, this is a driver with a talent, and while he is not going to add to his tally of wins in a Minardi (unless hell freezes over and the PM decides to donate all his money to the Automania fund for aging motoring writers) he is capable of extracting what is there in the Minardi package, which in 2003 is powered by Cosworth, so has a fighting chance of the odd points finish.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that there was a very famous F1 engine that was built from a V8 Oldsmobile F85 engine. It won the world championship twice. What was the car it was placed in? The answer was of course, the Brabham BT 19, firstly with Sir (Black) Jack Brabham at the wheel and the following year with Denny Hulme at the helm.

So to this week, and let’s stick with Sir Jack. After having retired from racing for 5 years, he was talked back into competing in a tin-top, with another famous F1 punter as co-driver. He didn’t get off the line as the gearbox stuck in two gears and Sir Jack (it is rumoured) forgot to stick his arm out the window to warn the other competitors and a following car hit him up the rear. What year? Where? And what was the car? And who was his co-driver?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!

BMW talks about the future - and its involvement in Thailand

Automotive News in the USA, through Automobilwoche, a publication in the Automotive News Group, published the translation from German of an interview with BMW CEO Helmut Panke, in which he indicated BMW’s future plans and his thoughts on their Asian production facilities.

The BMW Group hopes to sell 1.4 million vehicles worldwide by 2008. To meet this goal, BMW plans to expand manufacturing capacity in Asia. Panke sees the opportunity for a world car to be built in Asia within 10 years.

Automotive News (AN), “BMW is about to embark on a product offensive. Where will the cars come from? Your plants already are working to their full capacity.”

Hemut Panke (BMW), “That our plants are reaching their capacity is proof of the success of our flexible work models. Historically, production capacity at BMW has always been increased step by step and without making too big a step, which can lead to excess capacity. And as we all know, plant capacities are never fixed because they are designed to be flexible.”

(AN) “How?”

(BMW) “By extending shifts, cutting tea breaks or using stand-ins who can keep the production going during breaks. Changes can also be made to shift arrangements.”

(AN) “But is that sufficient? That would increase production by only a few hundred units maximum.”

(BMW) “So far we have only been talking about short-term measures. At the same time, we are investing a lot in the improvement of our plant structure. In the next few years we will spend a total of 3.4 billion euros on such improvements. We are investing approximately $400 million in Spartanburg alone. By the end of 2004, the Leipzig plant will start production. And there also will be additional capacity through the joint venture with our Chinese partner, Brilliance. We definitely need this capacity. We plan to increase our sales in Asia from 60,000 to 150,000 vehicles within five years.”

(AN) “Are you planning more joint ventures to increase flexibility?”

(BMW) “We are open to that if it makes sense and if it is strictly a project-centered cooperation. We already are working with Magna Steyr because that enables us to get the X3 off-road vehicle to the market quicker. The production of the X3 can commence by the end of 2003 because of that. BMW also will manufacture small gasoline engines with Peugeot-Citroen that will be used in future generations of the Mini. If BMW and PSA can reach a volume of more than a million engines, we will realize great savings in purchasing as well as in manufacturing. Those are good arguments for such cooperation.”

(AN) “How far can such cooperation go? Is it possible to produce vehicles together with another manufacturer?”

(BMW) “We are not negotiating the co-production of vehicles with other manufacturers.”

(AN) “You said that you would increase your capacity gradually in Thailand. Why there?”

(BMW) “Our decisions concerning Thailand are to do with the development of the Asian Free Trade Area (AFTA), the free-trade zone soon to come into existence in Southeast Asia. The step-by-step expansion of Rayong (in Thailand) is even more interesting because that location will become the center of the Asian Free Trade Area as soon as the import restrictions in the neighbouring countries fall.”

(AN) “How are you judging the potential of eastern European markets?”

(BMW) “The total eastern European market is developing positively, although starting at a low level. In the long term, interesting opportunities might develop from this. That’s why we are definitely thinking about a step-by-step expansion of our sales activities in the eastern European countries.”

(AN) “Where do you see the biggest growth potential for BMW?”

(BMW) “During the planning period until 2008 the growth in Asia - both proportionally and absolutely - will be bigger than in eastern Europe or South America. That’s why in the development of new markets our focal point for the next few years definitely will be Asia.”

BMW 745

So there it is, straight from the top man - BMW will be increasing their production out of the Amata City plant, and have plans to increase sales in Asia from 60,000 vehicles to 150,000 within the next five years. Obviously some of this will come from China in the JV with Brilliance, but provided AFTA actually crawls into being, Thailand’s future is looking better and better. With so many automakers willing to site production facilities here, we should see a spin-off with better and cheaper vehicles on our roads. The one ton pickup market has dominated for too long!

New Year’s F1 Predictions

Since this is now 2003 by the time the paper is in your hands, perhaps I should try a little predicting. Here’s a few forecasts, let’s see how I make out by the end of the year?

1 Michael Schumacher retains World Championship.

2 Rubens Barrichello has bad crash mid-year and struggles thereafter.

3 Juan Pablo Montoya tries hard for 6 months and then gives up struggle.

4 Ralf Schumacher plods along all year to an undeserved 3rd in championship.

5 David Coulthard fails miserably and retires at year end.

6 Kimi Raikkonen fights all the way to 2nd place in championship and scores first GP win.

7 Jarno Trulli nothing brilliant all year.

8 Fernando Alonso blows more engines than anyone in 12 months.

9 Nick Heidfeld dropped by Sauber at end of year but gets another team 2004.

10 Heinz-Harald Frentzen dropped by Sauber at end of year and retires.

11 Giancarlo Fisichella occasional flashes of brilliance only.

12 Takuma Sato retains Jordan seat, but continues to crash.

14 Mark Webber has more DNF’s than finishes but gets one podium.

15 Antonio Pizzonia so few finishes that he is dropped by Jaguar at year end.

16 Jacques Villeneuve another poor year and returns to American oval racing.

17 Jenson Button a year to forget.

18 Justin Wilson takes the battles upwards and scores drive with BAR for 2004.

19 Christijan Albers gets the second Minardi seat but struggles in F1 after F3.

20 Olivier Panis a good solid year with Toyota and some podiums.

21 Cristiano da Matta the surprise of the season at 4th in the championship.