Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the French GP?

Well, we learned that Ferrari is back. With a vengeance. And the wheels appear to have fallen off the McLaren juggernaut. A very convincing Ferrari 1-2, with Kimi Raikkonen on the top step of the podium, while Felipe Massa spent that last 20 laps trying to work out how he went from a secure first to an equally as secure second. Massa’s race was compromised by slow ‘in’ and ‘out’ laps, occasioned by catching traffic, while Raikkonen put in a couple of blinders to take the lead after the final pit stop.

Look Mum, I’ve caught a python!

For McLaren Mercedes it was the end of the 2007 season euphoria. Gremlins in qualifying saw a bearing freeze in Alonso’s gearbox (or perhaps it was a deliberate anti-Spanish plot, Fernando?) and the current world champion had to start from 10th slot on the grid. Both Hamilton and Alonso were fuelled light for qualifying, so McLaren knew they did not have the speed of the Ferrari’s and were trying to counteract for this. But to no avail. When Raikkonen could out-accelerate Hamilton to get into second place at the start, the race was over for McLaren. From then on, all that could be done was for Hamilton to maintain position; however, a very strange strategy which saw Hamilton three stopping completely sealed off any chance of mounting a challenge to the Ferrari’s.
We did learn that Alonso still has plenty of tiger in him, but whilst he attempted many overtaking maneuvers, he could only make one of them stick. And then after the final round of pit stops, he found himself back where he started. Not a good weekend for the Spaniard.
BMW continue their strong performances, with Robert Kubica an untroubled 4th, finishing where he started on the grid. He definitely outshone Heidfeld, who apparently has a bad back. He had better get his doctor’s certificate ready, or BMW’s Dr Mario Theissen will be giving him a rather different sort of certificate, taking his name off the locker and writing “S. Vettel” in his place.
Ralf Schumacher (Toyota) had a brilliant weekend. He did not hit anybody, and finished in front of his team mate, even though he qualified behind him. However, this was because his team mate went out on the first lap fracas! 2007 will be Ralf’s swansong, and he is driving as if he knows it already. The smart money in the pits is that Adrian Sutil will be in the Toyota next year.
Albers in the Spyker is really sealing his fate, driving off still attached to the refueling rig.
Is this what you could describe as being ‘pumped up’? This was totally his fault, which he admitted afterwards, and he was lapping one second a lap slower than his team mate up to that point. Spyker should replace him before he pulls off another hose. I’m sure they are expensive.
Alexander Wurz? What can you say about this Williams driver that we don’t know already? He is just too slow. And proves this every meeting. Seems a very nice chap, but you don’t win races by being ‘nice’. Michael Schumacher proved this for many years. Don’t bother with a Wurz-Williams 2008 T-shirt.
Some days I feel sorry for Renault’s silver fox Briatore. He has to keep Renault boss Carlos Ghosn happy, with a team that is a mere shadow of itself of the previous two seasons. Fisichella is trying hard to the best of his ability, but even last year he showed that he was not the match of Alonso. He is now a year older and even less likely to improve. Young hopeful Kovalainen is not coming up with the goods (at least half a second slower than Fisi), so Briatore has two second or third string drivers competing in the top formula. Unless Renault has very deep pockets and is able to buy some driver talent for 2008, I would not be surprised to see Ghosn pull the plug on their F1 team. A struggling automaker does not need a struggling race team.
So Honda finally managed to score a point following Button’s eighth place, and the Brackley boys have gone back to the UK shaking hands with themselves. If they think Honda-san will be happy with that, they should think again. One of the best funded teams and quite frankly just also-rans this year. Ritual hara-kiri is coming. Believe me!
Anthony Davidson, once hailed as the new white hope, is not living up to the promise he showed as a Honda reserve driver. He has been involved in too many incidents, and the French GP error on the first corner was an elementary mistake. Anthony, write out 500 times “You do not win races at the first corner - you only lose races at the first corner!” Unless Davidson has a wealthy backer, expect to see a Japanese driver as number 2 to Sato next season.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what brand of electric car did Thomas Edison drive? It wasn’t an Edison, it was a Baker.
By the way, a couple of weeks ago I asked about retractable headlights, and Jerry Coffey sent the following email:
I believe the 1936 Cord was the first car with disappearing headlamps. They did it right with a hand crank and the far right and left hand sides of the dashboard. (One for each headlight ... no electronics or fancy motors to fail). The 1936/7 Cord 810 and 812’s were designed by Gordon Buerhig. His small design office is preserved on the second floor of the building housing the A C D Museum. The two storey brick building has the original Art Deco showroom on the ground floor. Behind it was the Auburn factory. (The Cords were made in Connersville, Indiana and the Duesenberg chassis came from Indianapolis, Indiana). It is a treat to see, if you are ever in Auburn, Indiana over Labor Day Weekend, when they have the annual A C D Festival. In 1938 GM built an advanced Buick called the Y JOB. It was a one off show car which also had disappearing headlamps. In 1941 Chrysler built a couple Newport show cars also with disappearing headlamps. The following year, Chrysler introduced its 1942 DeSoto with disappearing headlights. When DeSoto resumed production after the war in 1946, disappearing headlights disappeared and were not seen again on an American car until the 1966 front wheel drive Toronado which was declared “revolutionary”.
Thanks Jerry for that bit of autotrivia. Well done!
So to this week. The London to Sydney marathon in 1968 was given much publicity, but who was the first from London to Sydney?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email auto [email protected] Good luck!

A Class Benz for 300,000 baht
Spotted the most amazing “A Class” Benz the other afternoon. There it was, brilliant red color, but as I went past in the traffic, there was something wrong. The shape was not totally right - and then there was the small fact that there was only one wheel at the front.

A Class Benz?

This was certainly no vehicle made by Daimler-Benz, though it should be remembered that Karl Benz’s first car was a three wheeler in 1886, and they did build another strange three wheeled beast called the Life-Jet 300 in 1997, just in time for the economic crash, so sales were poor.
It turned out that this three wheeler was called a Trident 320 electric, and was an imported Chinese city car. Complete with four doors, this vehicle would do 60 kph and had a range of 80 km before needing another eight hour charge. You can also get it in a gasoline powered version, returning 3.5 liters per 100 km. You can find out more on the Trident through Tirachart Charuvastra, telephone 081 410 0155, or email [email protected]