What did we learn from the French Grand Prix?
Well, the first thing has to be that Michael Schumacher is
just as hungry for wins as he ever was. Anybody who thinks he is “past it” had
better think again. The entire weekend was a Michael Schumacher master-class.
We also saw that Massa has matured while at Ferrari, and he accounted himself
very well. It should not be forgotten, however, that Massa finished well behind
Schumacher, in an identical vehicle, with exactly the same pit stop strategies.
Massa may be quick, but Schumi is even quicker!
The Renault strategy was perfect. Everyone was sure that Alonso would come in to
refuel – but he didn’t, and the team deserves the second place they gave him.
We also learned that Honda is in more strife than the embattled caretaker PM of
Thailand. The performance of their number one team has been going backwards for
some time, and with Jenson Button qualifying something like 19th and both cars
retiring, will not sit well with his Japanese bosses. With both succumbing to
engine gremlins, there has been much face lost. I was amused to read that Rubens
Barichello presumed he had an engine problem because, “there was a lot of smoke
and I lost all power.” I think everyone might agree with the diagnosis Roob! The
Honda people will also not have been impressed with Jenson Button telling the
media that the problem they have is a lack of power, “There is a lack of overall
speed. That comes from engine power and downforce, and that’s what we are
lacking at the moment, along with reliability.”
It is also becoming obvious that the usually unflappable Mark Webber is becoming
increasingly frustrated with the lack of reliability in his WilliamsF1. It is
now so long since he saw a chequered flag, he has probably forgotten what one
looks like. The mutterings around pit lane are that Webber will leave Williams
at the end of this year and go to Red Bull. While this initially sounded like a
step in the wrong direction, forget about the past and look at the realities of
today. Red Bull has been consistently getting both cars home, which is something
WilliamsF1 has not been able to do. Williams is also not as well funded as Red
Bull, and next year Red Bull will either have this year’s Ferrari engine (which
is not short of horses) or will have a Renault engine (also one of the best in
the paddock). Historically Williams is superior, but on the track in 2006, Red
Bull is looking much stronger (or reliable). It would appear that Williams has
lost the plot and can no longer be considered one of the plum spots in the Grand
Prix circus carousel. However, it should not be forgotten that Webber’s contract
is owned by Briatore, who manages Renault. Interesting?
Oh yes, there was one last thing. There were no crashes. Montoya was absent too.
Any connections, I wonder?
So now it’s the German GP
This week is the German GP held at Hockenheim, not
Nurburgring, which was the venue for the European GP. It was opened in 1939, 15
miles from Heidelberg, and was used for German national car and motorcycle
racing. In 1965/6 it was uprated to a design by John Hugenholz because one end
was lost when an autobahn was built. The resulting circuit, 6.7 km long,
remained blindingly quick for most of its length, with a slow section in the
‘stadium’ (i.e. grandstand) area, similar in concept to the GP course at
Hockenheim achieved notoriety in 1968 when, at one of the first major races held
at the circuit, Jim Clark was killed in a Formula Two race following presumed
tyre failure. His actual death was caused, however, by the fact that his car was
able to leave the circuit unimpeded and hit a tree.
While the Nurburgring was being made safe, Hockenheim staged the 1970 German GP
with a layout made slower by the construction of three chicanes. It was not a
popular choice of venue but, following Lauda’s accident at the Nurburgring in
1976, Hockenheim became the home of the German GP apart from 1985 when the new
‘Nurburgring’ had the race.
Although young Alonso in the Renault is still at the head of the table, there
are seven rounds to go – that’s 70 points up for grabs, so the championship is
still wide open. The points score going into this German GP stand at:
1 F. Alonso 96
2 Michael Schumacher 79
3 G. Fisichella 46
It is interesting to note that at this stage last year the points table read as:
1 F Alonso 77
2 K Raikkonen 51
3 M Schumacher 43
The race should start at 7 p.m.
Last week I mentioned that in the years immediately after WW II one new vehicle
earned more foreign cash for the UK than any other. I asked what was it? Clue,
think of a British county. It was the Austin A40 Devon (and I owned one)!
So to this week. I mentioned the Land Speed Records. The John Cobb Railton in
1938 employed ice cooling. Another two record breakers used this method before
then, rather than radiators. What were they?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email
World’s Fastest Indian
A couple of the chaps in the F1 supporters group told me about
the film of the exploits of one New Zealander Burt Munro (1899-1978), with
Rod Skinner (who also hails from EnZed) being very enthusiastic. Called The
World’s Fastest Indian, it stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro.
Following this information, George Comino came up with the DVD of the film
which he presented to me (thanks George).
Munro was totally eccentric, but also totally single-minded. He had a 1920
Indian Scout motorcycle, and spent the next 45 years modifying it for all kinds
of speed events, culminating in his running at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
To show the dogged determination of this man, I quote excerpts from a letter
from Burt published in New Zealand’s Veteran and Vintage Motoring Magazine
‘Beaded Wheels’ #189 April - May 1991. “I have been testing at the beach and
have been out 17 times and had 11 blow-ups. This consisted of mostly broken
pistons of older designs. The rod which had stood-up to all the broken pistons
finally shattered top end when I was accelerating hard in top at 5,500. I took
it down, the new piston was in many pieces, pin broken in half, cylinder scored
and split at skirt and hammered out wedge shape and locked in cases. One rocker
arm broken, one twisted, one push rod broken, one buckled. Other breaks were cam
follower I had made from magnesium four or five years ago, another rocker and
pushrods bent and both valves bent.
“Pulled the head off this morning and am starting two new rods from DC6 B
propeller. I hope to find it strong enough. It was sent to me from Auckland as I
cannot get the 70-70 or 20-24 alloy in NZ. I like to improve design every year
in cams, carbs (just finished a new one yesterday), conrods, pistons and
sometimes valves and guides when they wear a little, and cylinders.
“It is almost impossible for me to give you a true picture of the time I have
spent on my cycles. The last 22 years has been full time and for one stretch of
10 years put in 16 hours every day, but on Christmas Day only took the afternoon
New Zealanders, in particular, seem to have this ability to adapt, plus a native
engineering ingenuity, and Burt Munro is a prime example. He did build the
world’s fastest Indian motorcycle, and clocked 200 mph at the Bonneville Salt
Flats, in his totally home made motorcycle. He was still setting records when he
was 67 years old, showing that age alone should not be a bar to trying to do
anything. Burt (and me) said so!
If you get a chance, watch this movie (the DVD is available in the shops), it is
truly inspirational, and you do not have to be a motorcycle enthusiast to enjoy
it (although it helps), but even my wife enjoyed it. Sir Anthony Hopkins
deserves an Oscar for his believable portrayal of an old, and obsessive Burt
Munro, for whom you will cheer at the end!