What did we learn from the Bahrain GP?

In my opinion, this was probably the best GP we have had in the past three years. OK, so the red steamroller did it again, but the TV coverage let Ferrari get on with doing what they do so well, and showed us the racing all the way down through the field. I am sure everyone enjoyed the battle between Raikkonen in the McLaren and Klien in the Jaguar. The coverage of the dices like this was exceptional, and you could almost hear Klien trying to work out where his next move was going to be.

What else did we learn? Well we saw finally saw Takumo Sato start to show his real potential in the BAR. Sato is not a ‘pay driver’ but came to F1 from a very successful career in F3, winning the Macau Grand Prix, as well as being the star of the F3 championship. If he had not had the tangle with Ralf Schumacher (who was given an official reprimand by the stewards after the race) it could have been Sato on the podium, instead of Jenson Button. However, we should not forget that for my money, the star of BAR was the test driver Anthony Davidson, who was quicker than both Sato and Button in each session that he ran in. I have said many times that we do not see ‘the best’ drivers in F1.

It was a similar situation at Toyota, where test driver Ricardo Zonta was quicker than both Panis and Da Matta, neither of whom really covered themselves in glory over the Bahrain weekend. It is time Toyota looked at doing something with Zonta, rather than bringing in Ralf Schumacher very expensively.

Talking of Ralf - he has taken over from Jacques Villeneuve in the biff and bash stakes. I remain unimpressed with Ralf. He is certainly quick on his day, but those days are becoming less frequent. He does not show the mental strength of his elder brother, and his public disputes with Sir Frank Williams does not garner him sympathy from the ordinary mortals. To say that he wants 12 million dollars a year or something equally as ridiculous is a travesty. No driver is ‘really’ worth that sort of money, and Ralf certainly is not. Montoya is showing himself to be much stronger and is the man delivering the goods for Williams BMW. If it had not been for his gearbox malfunction, JPM would have been on the podium.

In the Renault camp, Alonso the feisty Spaniard is showing too much Latin temperament and Jarno Trulli is returning more kudos to Renault at present, even though both are equal in the drivers’ championship.

Over in Woking, where McLaren Mercedes has its lair, Ron Dennis is certainly not on a roll, but he has been around F1 for 25 years (and made a lot of money from it) and knows how to come back. The main problem seems to be with the engine, and DaimlerChrysler will not sit back and see their name dragged through the kitty litter, even if the engines are designed and built by Ilmor Engineering. As far as their drivers are concerned, Coulthard was never going to be in the hunt anyway, and Raikkonen has many more seasons in front of him. However, he has to keep himself motivated, and seeing him dicing with rookie Christian Klien is a sure way to lose that motivation, even though it was entertaining for the TV audience.

Jaguar got a world championship point, with Webber coming through the field as strongly as he could push. In typical Webber form, when asked about the race said, “I started well and was up to tenth position on my first lap, which to be honest is where I should have qualified.” This guy is one of the nicest (and most honest) drivers in F1 today.

The final item we learned from the Bahrain race was that the circuit did allow for passing, and did keep the field bunched up (other than a couple of red cars). With imaginative TV coverage this was a great weekend of Formula 1. Probably the best telecast I have seen for the past three years - even in spite of the inane drivel from the Star Sports commentators.

The current points score as we go to Imola on the 25th of this month stands as follows:

1 Michael Schumacher 30

2 Rubens Barrichello 21

3 Jenson Button 15

4 Juan Pablo Montoya 12

5 Fernando Alonso 11

5= Jarno Trulli 11

7 Ralf Schumacher 7

8 Takuma Sato 4

8= David Coulthard 4

10 Felipe Massa 1

10= Mark Webber 1

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what has British Central Equitable Trust got to do with Bentley Motors? That should have been very easy. That was the ‘front’ that Rolls-Royce used to take over Bentley when it went to the receivers auction.

So to this week. Since I have featured Rolls-Royce this week, let’s have an RR question. The first car that appeared in which Henry Royce had no part in was the P-III built between 1936 and 1939. It had a V12 engine with hydraulic tappets that always gave trouble, but the front suspension was more interesting. The question this week is which company designed the independent front suspension?

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

Good luck!

Rolls-Royce - how does it stack up today?

I have never owned a Rolls-Royce, and unless things change dramatically in the newspaper business, I doubt if I ever will. However, I have sat in the odd one or two and even been chauffeured in one. But to be quite honest about it all, does anyone buy such a vehicle, other than for the ‘pose’ value?

However, there has always been a market for such grandiose vehicles, the original Maybach (and the new Maybach), the Bugatti Royale or the Bucciali TAV all spring to mind immediately. These were not ‘sporting’ vehicles in the mould of the Bentley’s for example, but imposing chariots that said one thing above everything - “I’ve got the money. I sit in the back. The chap up the front is just the chauffeur.”

However, RR became synonymous with all things upper class and a symbol of British aristocracy and the ‘best’. Whether it deserved all the adulation was another thing altogether, especially when the RR’s for many years had General Motors Hydramatic transmissions for example.

It was on July 28, 1998 when the toffs in the UK choked on their morning tea and toast, as BMW took control of RR, that bastion of everything that the British Raj had ever stood for. With Bentley going to VW and RR to BMW, the blitzkrieg was totally successful.

To both the German manufacturers credit, they didn’t take the radiator badges to Germany and stick them on tarted up BeeEmms or VeeDubs, but VW returned Bentley to Crewe in the UK, and BMW built a new manufacturing plant at the home of Roll-Royce, Goodwood, West Sussex, on the south coast of England.

The new RR has been given the name Phantom, which takes its title from a succession of between wars models and will spawn a series of forthcoming variants including convertible, long-wheelbase and armoured versions.

Despite a somewhat bland and (for me) dated exterior, the result is a thoroughly modern interpretation of the traditional Rolls-Royce shape, draped over a full aluminium spaceframe structure.

According to the factory, it presents classic Rolls-Royce shape comprising a long, tall bonnet and radiator grille, an even longer wheelbase, short front and long rear overhang, solid aluminium A pillar and a thick C pillar that offers rear-seat passengers the ultimate in privacy and safety. Riding on a expansive 3570mm wheelbase, the Phantom body measures a huge 5834 mm long (Maybach is 6200 mm), 1990 mm wide, and an equally imposing 1632 mm high.

The four-door, five-seat Phantom weighs 2485kg, yet thanks to a purpose-built 6.75 litre, 60 degree 48 valve V12 with 338 kW and 720 Nm of torque and six-speed ZF automatic transmission will record 0-100 kays in 5.9 seconds and has a top speed of some 240 km/h (however, one cannot ignore the Maybach with its 405 kW and 900 Nm of torque recording 0-100 in 5.4 seconds).

One very distinct difference between the new Roller and the Maybach is in their handling of the rear doors. Maybach is conventional, swung from the B pillar, but RR have gone back to the old ‘suicide doors’ hinged from the C pillar. Since the chap in the rear seat is the one who matters, this may be a better compromise, but reports I have read suggest that the doors are too long to open fully from the rear. However, as pointed out earlier, you are not supposed to do this by yourself - that’s what the chauffeur, footmen, doormen are there for!

For the ultimate in ‘uselessness’ the RR boasts floating and synchronized wheel centres to ensure all four RR badges remain upright at all times. Now that’s really got you lusting after one, hasn’t it!

But if you are in the marketplace to be looked at while deciding whether to buy a British Football Club, then from the inside of an RR would probably be the best place to make that decision.

Price? Does it matter? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, but I believe it is somewhere between 50 and 60 million baht in this country.

Ken Miles and the 7 litre AC Cobra

Ken Miles and Cobra.

A few weeks ago I mentioned watching Ken Miles in the AC Cobra at Lakeside in Australia, and reader John Stanley, who lives in Sydney these days, dug in his treasure trove of pics and came up with this super action shot of Ken Miles three wheeling the Cobra over the bumps, down the back, at Lakeside. Thanks John, this will certainly stir some memories of a great car and a great driver.