Automania

Brazilian GP this weekend

With McLaren now having won the first two GP’s of the year with Coulthard and Raikkonen, will they make it three in a row? There will be plenty of people out there wanting the expressionless young Finn (who ALMOST smiled after his maiden win) to gain another top step on the podium. He certainly has the talent.

Brazil Circuit

And Renault also showed that they had the strategy and the drivers, with Trulli and young 21-year-old Alonso, the first Spaniard to score a podium since the GP’s ‘officially’ began in 1950.

Now when will this be televised here? By my reckoning, which is always subject to a plus or minus 2 hour error factor - so always double check, we are ten hours in front of Brazil. So if it commences at 2 p.m., that equates to midnight our time. That being the case, it’s a late night at your favourite pub!

What did we learn from the Malaysian GP?

Well, first off, we saw that the world’s most expensive motor cars are totally unreliable! With two cars that couldn’t make it to the grid, two cars unable to move off the grid, and one car that wouldn’t start, it looked like the worst scenario in Honest Al’s Fly By Night Car Sales. Really! With multimillion dollar vehicles, one should expect better than 75% able to run properly.

Malaysian GP

Secondly, let’s look at the first corner shambles. Remember we are talking here about valet parking jockeys that receive ridiculous wages. Millions of dollars. None of them are starving, no matter what you are led to believe. Mrs. Schumacher’s big boy gets around $30,000,000 for example. One of the principles I would drum into all new young drivers was the simple fact that you do not win the race at the first corner, you only lose the race at the first corner. This lecture I would give to the novices. This should not be a lecture I would have to give to the highly paid, five times world champion. Stupid driving by Mrs Schumacher’s big boy.

Perhaps the only saving grace for Michael S was the fact that he never gave up and continued to push, eventually ending up 6th, despite four pit stops, two of which were avoidable.

The same cannot be said about the two BMW Williams guys, who appeared to tour for the entire event. Ralf S. did finish 4th, but seemingly got there through the war of attrition. Montoya just seemed to have stopped bothering. Time for another lecture from Patrick Head and Sir Frank, I feel.

Now then, how about the fact that these guys were getting tired, according to the sycophantic commentators. They race for about one hour, forty five minutes. Messrs Fangio, Moss et al, raced for three and a bit hours in the 50’s and 60’s, in the same sort of temperatures, in vehicles without seat belts, so they had to hang on for dear life, while fighting 600 horsepower on bicycle tyres!

Another fact we learned from the Malaysian GP is that the HANS (Head And Neck Support) device appears to be universally unpopular. Barichello was given special dispensation not to wear one as he claimed that his Melbourne crash was caused by not being able to concentrate while wearing it, and Justin Wilson was taken to hospital before the end of the race with a trapped nerve in his neck. I was actually involved in the initial evaluation of these things in Australia six or seven years ago and we came to the conclusion that they were too uncomfortable to wear. It seems things have not improved much. The following is so simple there must be a flaw somewhere - but since the concept is to avoid whiplash injury to the neck in the event of a sudden stop, attach the helmet tethers to the car’s cockpit, rather than to a frame plopped over the driver’s shoulders.

Bangkok International Motor Show

To say that this, our local motor show, just gets better and better sounds as if I have been swept up by spin-doctor’s hype. Let me assure you I have not. With me was our down-under correspondent John Weinthal, a man who used to organise the Motor Show in the UK, and since returning to Oz has been a visitor at all the Antipodean events. The Bangkok Motor Show is infinitely superior, both from the individual company stand’s presentation and the theatre used in showing off their products as well as the venue.

Ford Everest

It is bright, it is colourful and there was room to move. The auto manufacturers had reserved enough space to be able to properly display their vehicles. It was a pleasure and not a hassle to walk around.

Of course on Press Day, there is more razzamatazz than on the other days and for me, the winner in the theatrical presentation was Mercedes Benz with their adagio dancer who slid down the long silk curtain suspended above the stage, closely followed by Toyota, who put their ladies through the hoops and BMW with a group of Flamenco-style dancers!

Perhaps a few words on the atmosphere at Press Day might be of interest. When we arrived at BITEC there was already long queues of motoring journalists (read anyone who had ever ridden in a car before) all wishing to collect their press kits from the organizers. There was a slight glitch when the foreign press kits (in English) had failed to arrive, but that was corrected shortly afterwards.

First there was the usual official opening ceremony, at which the chairman of the Grand Prix International Group, Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow, welcomed everyone and the heads of auto plants and an assortment of ambassadors cut multitudinous ribbons to declare the 24th Bangkok International Motor Show open.

Then at 15 minute intervals the moving mass of media representatives descend on the various motor car manufacturer’s stands while usually a bevy of very athletic young ladies turn cartwheels and then leap in the air. This signifies a rush by the media to the counter with their press releases and the, what I like to call, “Gimmees!” These are the free gifts which are generally tote bags, satchels, T-shirts, caps and the like. This year I did score something in a box from Honda, which when I opened it, turned out to be a mug. Ah well, a mug for a mug, I suppose. Pens were also in short supply this year, with only Citroen doing us the honours.

Being Press Day, the organizers also provide a full press office, complete with lap-top computers. It was not their problem that I hate lap-top key boards. Those small fiddly items that big clumsy fingers like mine cannot use without striking at least two keys every time. But if you imagine that’s a drama, try the ridiculous “mouse” that won’t run in the direction you want. It is not a case of placing the pointer on the spot, rather it is a case of coaxing and cajoling the b*st*rd in the general direction. Having run out of “jai yen yen” very quickly, I gave the lap-top game away to another waiting scribe and decided to check the internet after I had returned to my hotel!

There were also a few releases at the show with Ford showing the world premier of the new Ford Everest, a seven seater Sports Utility Vehicle (or SUV for short). I must admit that I am not a great fan of the SUV style of transport, and the Everest could not be called a tour de force from FoMoCo’s styling department. Words like “bland” and “ordinary” come to mind. Even the Ford hand-out merely described it as having “Tough authentic SUV styling with commanding road presence.” To me, it had all the styling of a ten year old Nissan Patrol or Toyota Troop Carrier.

Even their own publicity department was scratching for things to say, describing how they relocated the spare wheel from underneath the box to the rear tailgate, to give the vehicle “authentic 4x4 looks” - spare me!

Everest comes as a 2.5 litre inter-cooled turbo diesel or a 2.6 petrol engine and is offered in 2WD or 4WD. The transmission is also either 5 speed manual or a 4 speed auto, but why anyone would want a ‘sporty’ manual gear selection in such a plebeian looking vehicle is beyond me. It is very definitely not a sporty looking vehicle, and I doubt whether it is sporty to drive either - but I shall wait until Mr. Ford gives me one to test before I make that final judgment.

On a plus note, it does offer split front/rear air-conditioning control. In this climate that is a decided plus. And another plus is that it is to be sold in over 50 countries, which can do nothing but good for the Thai economy, and since it is produced at the local Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate (the Detroit of the East) and has 80% local content, this is good news for the local parts manufacturers as well.

DaimlerChrysler did also offer a ‘first’ of sorts, the RHD version of the previously released LHD Mercedes 200 cabriolet. A nice enough car, but the 280 rag top looked sensational. Also on the MB stand was the big AMG Mercedes which local president and CEO Karl-Heinz Heckhausen claimed was the fastest big saloon in the world. With 0-100 clicks in 4.6 seconds, that is certainly impressive. The Chrysler end of the stand looked as if it had been forgotten about and they rustled up a few Jeep Cherokees to fill up the space.

More on the Motor Show next week.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned a very British make which derived its name from the Japanese flag, building two experimental cars in 1899, with production starting in 1901. I asked what is its name? The answer was Sunbeam. In 1897, John Marston, an enamel and tin-ware manufacturer established the Sunbeamland cycle works, given the name from his ‘japanned’ enamel goods. Production began with the Sunbeam-Mabley of 1901. Sunbeam eventually became part of the Rootes Group and has since disappeared.

So to this week. A very famous aristocratic German was one of the famous pre-WWII Mercedes aces. He was present at the release of the Mercedes-McLaren a few years back. He died this year. Who was he?

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

Good luck!