Monaco Eff Wun round this weekend

So the world championship contenders Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher will line up again this weekend. With the new Qualifying system, it will be even more important to put in that one perfect lap on the Saturday, as passing at Monaco is damn near impossible. Remember last year when David Coulthard won it? He had faster cars on his tail, but passing could not be done without risking collision. The telecast should be at 7 pm Thai time, by my reckoning, but as always, check with your own TV feed. Monaco always has the potential to be exciting, especially if it rains, but if the weather is perfect can be processional.

This race began in 1929, and has always run through the streets of Monte Carlo, the capital of Monaco, the pocket sized Principality. It has always been a slow circuit, but one which is very demanding on both car and driver. The kerbs and walls require the utmost precision and there is very little room for even small mistakes.

One of the men behind the race was Louis Chiron, a noted driver with duel French and Monegasque nationality. Chiron last drove at Monaco in 1955, when he was placed sixth and, at 55 years and 276 days, was the oldest driver to start a Grand Prix. Chiron continued as Clerk of the Course up to his death in 1979.

Why is Toyota so dominant?

The most popular car in the world is the Toyota Corolla. For my money it tends towards dullsville, but for the vast majority of the public-on-wheels, the Corolla does offer a fuss-free way to go to work, go to the supermarket and take the kids to the beach at the weekend.

The answer to its popularity is not then performance, but in quality, and that is Ďrealí quality and not Ďperceivedí quality. The J.D. Power and Associatesí Initial Quality Study results have now been released, and guess which manufacturer came out on top with the least number of faults? Toyota!

According to this yearís survey, the quality class results are 1 Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., 2 Porsche Cars North America Inc., 3 BMW of North America Inc., 4 American Honda Motor Co. and 5 General Motors.

Putting numbers on this we get the following, based on reported defects per 100 vehicles in first 90 days of ownership (remembering that these are North American figures)

Toyota 115

Porsche Cars 117

BMW 124

Honda 126

The ones at the wrong end of the list included

Hyundai Motor America 143

American Suzuki Motor Corp 144

Subaru of America Inc. 146

Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. 148

Kia Motors America 168

Now those are fairly important statistics. Toyota (again in North America) had fewer faults reported by their owners than Porsche and BMW , companies which are world renowned for their quality.

What this really means to the consumer, is that for a fraction of the cost of the top quality vehicles from Porsche and BeeEmm, you can buy a Toyota which is very unlikely to let you down. The resulting reputation that comes from quality, sells motor cars. Donít believe me? Ask any Toyota owner why they bought that brand.

If you want to know the worst new car in America, according to the J.D. Power and Associatesí Initial Quality Study, look no further than the Hummer which came in with a whopping 225 defects per 100 vehicles. I wonder if the US Army was one of the respondents to the J.D. Power survey? "Dear Mr. Power, My new Hummer fell over after being hit by an Iraqi missile. Hummer have refused to cover this under warranty. Do you think I can claim on Saddam Husseinís policy?"

So what did we learn from the Austrian GP?

The first thing we learned is that Michael Schumacher is certainly one cool customer. Sitting there as his Ferrari was on fire, and then goes out and storms past Raikkonen as if he were standing still, setting new lap records, lap after lap, and winning at a canter. He was over one second a lap quicker than anyone else. That is a champion driver.

Jacques Villeneuve

Due respects to the Iceman, Kimi Raikkonen. He drove with his head, made no mistakes and deserves to be where he is at the top of the ladder. His team mate, poor old David Coulthard, is really in the twilight of his career. Unfortunately everyone can see that, other than Coulthard. I would not be surprised to see Ron Dennis of McLaren letting DC go at the end of the year.

Alonso, Renaultís Wunderkid, did not do so well in Austria, and never really was in the hunt all weekend. The other charger, Aussie Mark Webber, showed just why Jaguar have snapped him up for the next three years. Started from pit lane, cops a 10 second stop-go penalty because the crew worked on the car while waiting for the umpteenth restart, but just went out and drove the wheels off the thing and even set the third fastest lap after Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barichello. His Jaguar team mate, Jungle Boy Pizzonia, had a better weekend, but still blotted his copy book with an off track excursion and finished a couple of places behind Webber, despite having started on grid 8, while Webber started stone motherless last.

There has been much muttering about whether electronic driver aids should be removed, so it was interesting to read just why Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) did so badly. According to JV, "We had a problem all the way through the race because the electronics on the steering stopped working on the first lap. I had no limiter button, no idea of which gear I was in, no neutral - no nothing. I had to do it all manually. My race engineer was even counting my speed down for me coming into the pits! Then the electronics problem caused a stall at the second pit stop. We had decided not to change the steering wheel at the first stop because it can mess up the electronics, but after the car stalled we changed it then had to wait for the system to reset. It was a fairly disastrous stop and I lost a lot of time." So there you have it - the driver didnít know what to do without the electronics doing it for him! The sentence, "I had no limiter button, no idea of which gear I was in, no neutral - no nothing. I had to do it all manually," says it all as far as I am concerned. Our Jacques has been spoiled. Anyone who has raced an open-wheeler up till a couple of years ago has always had to remember which gear he was in at any time. No, bring back clutches and manual gearboxes and letís sort out the men from the boys.

How much does a recall cost the manufacturers?

Last month, GM recalled 500,000 trucks to disable features that were not permitted in the vehicles under federal safety regulations. The offending items were mechanical overrides, which permit the key to be removed from the ignition with the shifter in a position other than park and allow the transmission to be shifted out of park with the ignition in the off position. (This feature would be very useful in Thailand where you often have to park, leaving the car in Neutral, so that it can be pushed out of the way in car parks and such.)

According to US Federal antitheft rules, administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), overrides can only be used in vehicles with locking steering columns, and GM had installed them on some trucks without locking steering columns. Now imagine just what half a million recalled trucks just cost the General? Even if it were only a $40 modification, thatís $20 million down the drain! Ouch!

Unfortunately, recalls are part of life for the auto manufacturers. Ford is going to replace windscreens in about 68,000 American Ford Tauruses and Mercury Sables from the 2002-03 model years. NHTSA says the windscreens are not mounted properly, and motorists may experience wind noise, water leakage, squeaks and rattles. But from a safety perspective, NHTSA says a vehicleís occupants are in greater danger if a windscreen comes out in a crash. So the repair qualifies as a safety recall and cannot be ignored.

A Ford spokesman said the problem developed because primer for the adhesive was not applied properly to the glass and the head rail during one shift at the companyís Atlanta assembly plant. Look back at the numbers of windscreens - 68,000 in one shift! And how much did that remove from FoMoCoís bottom line?

In another NHTSA recall report, Nissan is asking its dealers to repair the exhaust systems on 268,000 cars (2002 Sentras and 2002-03 Altimas) equipped with 2.5 litre engines to prevent fires. NHTSA says that debris collects on an exhaust pipe hanger pin and can be ignited by the carís main catalytic converter. Dealers will remove the protruding part of the pin and install heat shields on the pre-catalyst and exhaust tube. And how much will all that cost? For something that would be very difficult to predict.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I printed this old B&W photo. The woman raced F1 and the venue was Spa in Belgium. I asked what was her name? The correct answer was Maria-Theresa de Filippis, and the year was 1958.

And so to this week. A very famous racing driver used to wave when passing the grandstands, saying, "You may not know anybody there, but thatís all right. Somebody will think youíre waving at him and heíll start waving back and if you can get a good percentage of the crowd waving at you itís going to impress the organizers, so when you come back next year, theyíll pay you more money to appear." So who was it?

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