Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend!

After the Ferrari rout two weeks ago, there will have been more than a few F1 designers that had sleepless nights last week. Despite the pundits still claiming that Michelin are the quickest tyres, and citing this as the reason that BAR are so high up the grid, they are ignoring the fact that Bridgestone won the world championship last year and Bridgestone came 1-2 in Australia at the first round this year.

The team with the most problems seems to be McLaren. Raikkonen popped an engine in Australia in a big way, with both back wheels locked up. Raikkonen looked less than impressed as he walked away from it. The Ronster would also have been less than pleased, and Mercedes’ Norbert Haug would have been having the odd Germanic threat to the engine division, having taken over the running of the Ilmor organization, who design and build the power plants. The rumour mill also has Ron Dennis retiring at the end of the year, and I am sure Ron does not want to slink off like a defeated dog.

The new crop of drivers did not really have much of a chance to show what they are capable of, with mechanical catastrophe being the order of the day in Melbourne. Young Austrian Christian Klien did keep his nose in the same condition and finished the race in his Jaguar, but was never seen in the telecast.

Another team that did not cover itself in glory was that of Toyota. I was pleased to see that after the race, they did not try to conceal the problem, admitting that their cars were lacking in grip, both aerodynamic and mechanical. Toyota’s Mike Gascoyne said, “Let me take this opportunity to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with our engine. Luca Marmorini (technical director engine) and his team have done a tremendous job and have produced what I consider to be a World Championship-winning engine. Our main problems are with the chassis and, in particular its aerodynamics, but we already have programmes in place to rectify the situation and everyone is working flat-out to get us where we should be, which is at the front of the grid.” Now there’s an honest man!

While mentioning performances, the telecast itself deserves a mention, just in its awfulness! Unless a driver was actually in the leading bunch, he was never seen. Even when there was some dicing, such as Montoya and Trulli, they cut to a pit stop! I find it difficult at times not to throw things at the screen. The inane commentaries are bad enough, and with buy-drive F1 dropout Alex Yoong as their authoritative talking head, need I say more?

World going Mini?

Castagana Mini Wagon

Fiat Treppiuno

Opel Trixx

We have just had the Geneva Motor Show (and are about to have the Bangkok International Motor Show next week) and the trend appearing at the shows is for more small cars to be shown as concepts. Thoughts of oil shortages always bring on a rash of tiddlers.

The retro Fiat Treppiuno definitely brings back memories of the Bambino, while the Castagana Mini Wagon evokes thoughts of that dreadful Mini variant, called the Traveller, complete with the wood bits glued on the side. These always rotted and fell off, but in the Castagana it’s probably faux wood anyway! The Opel looks very interesting, and there are rumours that this may make it into production.

With the future overcrowding of the world’s highways, and the questionable dependence on fossil fuels, small, fuel efficient, space efficient vehicles make more sense than anything else.

Nissan Maxima (Cefiro by another name) - Now with style and identity

The Nissan Cefiros have had a good reputation all over the world as good, solid, reliable and dependable transport. A damn good package, but always with a tendency to be a little bland. All that has changed, says our Down-Under correspondent, John Weinthal. It now has genuine style and character, says John.

Here are the Words from Weinthal:

“Nissan dealers and enthusiasts alike should be delighted with the appearance of the latest luxury Maxima sedan. My doctor would be too, if only he knew as much about cars as he does - thankfully - about homo sapiens. We’ll get back to the good doctor later. (That’s not me! Dr. Iain.)

“Maxima was always a fine sedan but now it has the two vital elements missing from the start - style and a genuine identity. No Maxima has been less than good, they have always more than matched class norms for comfort, performance, equipment levels and build quality. But nobody ever bought one to impress onlookers. Their styling, until now, was always from the white goods school: effective, efficient but unexciting and uninspired.

“New Maxima changes all that. It has real class in its external lines, particularly side-on and three-quarter rear. The interior is both original and inspired - it epitomizes quality, class and elegance. That it is also extremely functional and user-friendly is a nice plus - but the sort of thing one expects from Nissan.

“Beneath the bonnet lies a 170kW 3.5litre V6. This is shared with the 350Z sports models although their power output is upped to 206kW. The lower power is not missed as such and no doubt contributes to the Maxima’s laudable fuel consumption and greater refinement. An excellent four speed auto complements the engine perfectly for seamless, near-silent progress around town or cruising the highways and byways.

“Safety is big with the Maxima Sti model setting the pace with four airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, electronic skid control and three-point seatbelts for all five seats. This luxury sedan also boasts dual zone climate control air-conditioning, eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat, cruise control, 17" alloy wheels and all the usual electrics.

“Maximas start at AUD 39,990 for the Sti. Another AUD 6000 buys Ti badging, full leather interior trim, power sunroof, side curtain airbags, power operation for the front passenger’s seat and a six-stacker CD with six speakers. Topping the Maxima range at AUD 49,000 gets you umpire’s privileges as you determine whether your kids use the CD, video, DVD or MP3 elements of Nissan’s comprehensive rear seat entertainment centre. Thankfully there’s a ton of rear head, leg and shoulder room so even lanky teens will be comfortable while they exercise these toys.

“This is one of the most hushed cars around - we are talking near-Lexus hush - and that is key to what this car is all about: comfortable, distress-free unintimidating progress. With 170kW up front Maxima can be rapid - it CAN be hustled. But that is not its prime purpose.

“This brings us back to Dr D. This really is the car for him. It has the right size and classy looks - especially the interior - for his personal needs and professional status (not that he personally would rate that element highly). It can more than lug his golf bags as well as the usual medico stuff, plus the family baggage for times at their Gold Coast retreat.

“His current car is a Ford Fairmont, which he likes. His wife has a Subaru WRX, which he misunderstands as defiantly as she does his Fairmont. There is never an argument over who drives what - both detest the other’s car. Now, were they to switch to Nissan, he would have a Maxima Ti and be as happy as they come. His wife would delight in a 350Z - coupe or convertible, she would not really care - and raise even more eyebrows as she swept into the drama teacher’s parking space at one of Brisbane’s more exclusive colleges.

“Maxima is as Maxima always was, but now it comes with genuine style and character.” (Thank you John, and I look forward to your comments on the Bangkok Motor Show, on this month from March 26 to April 4.)

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which race driver used to bring along a recording of his country’s national anthem, just in case the race organizers didn’t have one to play after he won the race? It was Nuvolari, who would bring the Italian national anthem, as played so often these days, every time a Ferrari wins. Which is often.

So to this week. Again in an effort to thwart to web-crawlers, take a look at this photo. What is the make of this car, and what movie is this still from?

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

Good luck!

A leg-over for 15 days

Does a ‘secret biker’ live inside all of us? For many it does. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda and the film Easy Rider has a lot to answer for. However, there is one tour company that understands. It is Special Journey - a tour company with a difference. They specialize in 15 day tours to scenic spots in Thailand on motorcycles. The motorcycles which are supplied are 200 cc Honda Phantoms and the bikes are fully insured. The tour includes all the accommodation and many other items. As far as I can see, the destinations include many out of the way places, to allow the riders to experience a little of the ‘unspoiled’ Thailand, as opposed to the ‘tourist’ Thailand. If you have always hankered for the “Born to Ride” feeling, then contact Special Journey Company, telephone 02 917 1300, fax 02 917 0904, or email [email protected] specialjour

Thanks to Rene Pisters, GM at the Thai Garden Resort for bringing this item to my attention.