British GP this weekend at Silverstone

Last week the French GP and this week the British GP at the famous Silverstone circuit. This was actually the venue for the first World Championship F1 Grand Prix and was held on May 13, 1950 with the British Royal family in attendance.

The history of the circuit is one of continuing development. During WW2 Silverstone was a bomber station and it was pressed into service as a motor racing circuit in 1948. The three pre-war British circuits, Brooklands, Donington Park and Crystal Palace were all out of commission and ex-military airfields offered ready-made road surfaces, other basic facilities such as primitive toilets, and they were usually a long way from densely populated areas.

In 1950 came a layout which was unchanged for many years. An additional corner, Bridge Bend, was added just before Woodcote for 1987, and the chicane was removed. This altered the length to 2.969 miles. A major revision of the layout was undertaken for 1991 which tamed the awesomely fast Maggotts curve and Stowe and Club corner and added a sequence of bends prior to Woodcote. These revisions increased the length to 3.247 miles and remained in force until 1995 when further details were made which decreased the overall length of a lap by a few yards leaving it at 3.210 miles.

The race should begin at 1 p.m. British time, which is (I think) 7 p.m. here, but check your local TV feed.

A1 GP is “A1” and all ready to go!

With F1 doing its level best to shoot itself in the foot, the people behind alternative formulae must be laughing themselves silly. One of these is the new A1 Grand Prix Series, the brain-child of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum al Maktoum (the name is ‘real’), a member of the Royal family of Dubai, which seems to have caught the imagination of everyone. Despite initial claims that it was just a publicity stunt, or would be a flash in the pan, it looks as if the A1 Grand Prix is here and rarin’ to go!

To refresh your memory, the A1 GP series will have up to 30 franchises available, limited to one per country. Each national team will be represented by a driver native to that country, making for strong local support and presence for the team. So instead of Ferrari against BAR, we will have Italy versus the UK. Good thinking. It works for the Olympics, why shouldn’t it work for motor sport?

Currently there are at least 25 countries who will be represented on the 25th of September at Brands Hatch in the UK, when the first two rounds kick off, including the latest team from Brazil, bank-rolled by footballer Ronaldo and ex-racer Emmerson Fittipaldi. Even if the entire 30 places have not been sold, 25 is still 19 more cars than we saw at Indianapolis for the F1 series!

Countries ‘in’ at this stage includes Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and China, South Africa, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE, Australia and the UK, plus Sweden, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Canada, USA, Brazil and Argentina.

A1 Grand Prix series presents a level playing field. The cars are identical single-seater A1 racing cars, built by Lola, and powered by identical 550 bhp Zytek A1 Grand Prix V8 engines.

To keep the playing field level, no driver aids allowed. No driver aids! Is this not what we have been calling for? We, the viewing public, want to see the drivers change gears and use the clutch, just like we do. We want to see them manage their own starts, none of this “Renault have better starts than the other cars” rubbish. We want to see if driver B can get the drop at the start, better than driver D.

To maintain the level playing field, so there is no more of the Bridgestone versus Michelin debate, there will be one tyre supplier, which is Cooper Tires (Avon), who have been supplying Formula 3000 for the past years, so they know what they are about too.

To keep the world informed, TV coverage is also in place with Sky Sports taking up broadcasting rights. Full coverage from each round of the international FIA sanctioned series will be broadcast exclusively live, with practice sessions, qualifying and the races themselves.

Each three day racing weekend will have the same format. Day one, the Friday, will be free practice, day two further practice followed by qualifying and day three a 15 to 20 minute sprint race which will determine the grid positions for the longer main event, which will be for between 50 to 60 minutes.

The different countries are taking the series very seriously as well. China has been having driver shoot-outs, with top two hopefuls Ma Quinghua and Jiang Tengyi being sent to South Africa to continue testing and familiarization with the single seater race cars. The UK has also been attempting to assess four drivers, with this being done under the watchful eye of the legendary John Surtees, the only man to have won the world championship on both two wheels and four. The only problem the UK has been having is to find a day where the weather remains constant (and dry) for all four drivers! The Australian entry also has Alan Jones, a former world champion at the helm, and this will be another serious entry.

Here is the (almost) finalized A1 GP calendar:
25 September, 2005 Brands Hatch UK
9 October Eurospeedway,
23 October Estoril, Portugal
6 November Eastern Creek, Australia
20 November Sepang, Malaysia
11 December Dubai, UAE
15 January 2006 TBA
(Indonesia or Singapore)
29 January Durban or Cape Town, South Africa
12 February Monterrey, Mexico
26 February San Antonio, USA
12 March Laguna Seca, USA
26 March Beijing Goldenport,

At each venue, two rounds will be held, making it a 24 round series (F1 has 19 this year). There are also two street races (Durban and San Antonio), as well as some fabulous circuits such as Laguna Seca in the US and Eastern Creek in New South Wales, Australia. (I have raced there and it offers many passing opportunities, as well as being a great driver’s circuit.)

The A1 Grand Prix series looks like it will provide the spectacle that the motor sport enthusiasts have been calling for, and with the strong Asian involvement, we will all have a ‘local’ team to support! F1 should start seriously looking at itself.

US GM sales jump 46.9 percent in June

Automotive News in the US reported some good news for GM, a company that despite being Number 1 in the world, has had more than its fair share of battering in the last few months. To pump up sales, GM offered everyone the chance of having “employee” discount, pushing the total sales in June this year up to almost 50 percent more than June 2004. This gave GM almost a 33 percent market share for June, the best it has seen for some time.

World number 2, Toyota Motor Corp, also had a rise in sales compared to June 2004, but its healthy 14 percent pales into insignificance, compared to the General’s results. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, FoMoCo saw a less than 1 percent rise compared to June last year.

Mind you, sales were down for BMW and VW, a little worrying for the German car companies, although DaimlerChrysler did show a 5 percent increase.

Good retailing and marketing seemed to be the answer for GM, but the question remains - can they keep it up?

What did we learn from the French Grand Prix?

The first thing we learned is that Alonso has really come of age and is turning out to be a driver worthy of a championship. An all the way win, and deservedly so.

The second item worth noting was Raikkonen’s drive from 13th to 2nd. Alonso is not home and hosed by a long way yet.

We also saw some great disparities between driver performances, which certain team managers must be looking at very closely. Trulli, for example, is out-performing Schumi Junior, Schumi Senior consistently out-performs Rooby Baby, Alonso is making Fisichella eat humble pie, and Raikkonen is head and shoulders above J-P Montoya. Now it can be said that these second guys are just “unlucky”, but it is final results that teams look at, and “luck” is ignored. Quite frankly, if I were team manager at McLaren, I would be looking closely at JPM’s contract. I know that statement will bring all the JPM fans out and he missed a couple of races, but just look at the numbers, chaps, look at the difference in championship points! And for interest, here they are: Alonso-Fisichella 49 points, Schumi-Barichello 40, Raikkonen-JPM 29, Trulli-Ralf 9.

While also looking at contracts, I still say that Jenson Button will be mad to make a dive to Williams for next season. The BMW powered cars are not setting the world alight, and next year Williams will have “customer” engines, not “works” engines, which will go to the new BMW (ex-Sauber) team. Button will score more points in this second half of the season too. JB should stay where he is, for my money.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned that V8’s were not a popular configuration in Germany. The first appeared in 1931, and I asked what was the company that produced it? The answer was N.A.G. and was designed by Paul Henze. I was looking for German V8’s, not American V8’s.

So to this week. Which band leader drove for 52 hours straight to win a European rally, after his co-driver fell ill?

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