Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the British Grand Prix?

Well, firstly we learned why so many Brits come to live in Thailand. The weather! The race was run under the usual British summer weather trio of wet, wet and wet.
The star of the day was, without any shadow of doubt, McLaren Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. He delivered a performance the like of which we have not seen since Michael Schumacher. By far and away the best driver there, lapping the entire field other than the second and third place drivers. You can ignore the pleas from the other teams that they made the wrong decisions re tyres and statements from Ferrari that they could have won if … On the day, Hamilton was invincible.
The other star performance was from Ross Brawn and Rubens Barichello. Brawn as the strategist for Honda was flawless in his decision making, and not just in putting his drivers on extreme wets while other teams were dithering around selecting between old and new wet tyres. Brawn also ran wet weather settings on the Hondas in qualifying, knowing that the race would be wet the following day. Whilst this compromised their qualifying position, it meant the Hondas were set up for the wet conditions and could utilize the wet tyres to advantage. If they had not had a refueling problem, Barichello would have been second, not third, and drove an excellent controlled race.
Ferrari blew it in the biggest possible way. The decision to leave Raikkonen on worn wets is difficult to understand, and Ferrari have admitted that it was a very poor call. Mind you, Ferrari are known for some rather amazing strategy decisions. Massa’s car was clearly set up stiff for dry conditions, but it wasn’t was it? Massa has the new Silverstone ‘spinning’ record. He’ll get a job as a DJ after Ferrari gives him the DCM (Don’t Come Monday) award January 1 2009.
Heidfeld (BMW) may have won himself a reprieve. Looking very much as if he would be dropped for 2009, he brought out a vintage performance, never placing a wheel wrong, bringing off two of the best passing maneuvers and finishing second (albeit over a minute behind Hamilton). BMW Motor Sport Director Mario Theissen saying after the race, “After things have not gone his way recently, I am very happy for him.” Kubica had a day he will want to forget.
Red Bull also blew it. Or their drivers did. After amazing everyone with his second place in qualifying, Mark Webber blew it on the first lap, but was missed by everyone as he sat helplessly facing the wrong way, and then did it again later. David Coulthard announced his retirement and then tried for another passing ploy that was not going to come off. End result was he came off, taking the hapless Vettel (Toro Rosso) with him. Vettel had managed to qualify in the top 10 again and with BMW’s door probably closed, I would expect to see Vettel take Coulthard’s seat at Red Bull next year.
Williams were nowhere. Nakajima was lucky to end up eighth, and Rosberg clearly could not handle the conditions. He is not delivering the performances that were expected of him. He will stay at Williams for 2009, mainly because other teams will have lost interest.
Renault was never in the hunt. Piquet showed flashes of brilliance, but retired after spinning off, while the sulky Spaniard was lucky to end up sixth.
Toyota? Wrong strategy decisions regarding the tyres, but Trulli drove well to come seventh. Glock is just not making the grade and will not be around in 2009 (unless Toyota makes another wrong decision).
Force India drivers Fisischella and Sutil did not like the wet conditions at all, spinning off terminally on laps 27 and 11 respectively. Team owner VJ Mallya will put more water in their curries until they get used to racing on it.
Almost forgot Bourdais in the second Toro Rosso. Nowhere. Forget him for 2009 as well.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked who gave Go Karts their name? To answer this you have to go back in history to 1956 and the first kart was ascribed to an Art Ingels, an engineer with the Kurtis Kraft company, the manufacturer of tube-frame race cars, with a very successful history at the famed Indy 500 in the USA. He had a friend, Livingstone who built a copy, but it was a Lynn Wineland, an artist and fellow racer who did Livingstone’s advertising, who came up with the name “Go Kart”. (It is also claimed that Wineland proposed he not take a fee for his ad work, but earn a $2 royalty from every unit sold. Sales were so strong his royalties bought him a house.)
So to this week. I mentioned electric cars this week, so which vehicle was the first to exceed 100 kph? I want the name and driver!
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania
Good luck!


Diesel cars more expensive to run?
In all the debate about dwindling oil reserves and alternative fuels, someone will mention diesels. These go much further for your liter of fuel, and so should be much more economical. That is the game plan; however, as the song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so!”

Chevrolet Captiva

One of the trusted motoring organizations in Australia (the RACV) has come out with a survey to say that in their opinion diesel cars cost more to run than their petrol engined stablemates. The survey included 60 of the most popular vehicles on the road Down-Under and covered all the costs including purchase price, depreciation and running costs such as fuel, tyres, servicing and insurance over five years or 75,000 km. This was worked out on the list prices of the vehicles, as if bought in cash. If purchased on the never-never, this would push up the weekly costs even further, as diesel options are more expensive than petrol engines.
Of the six diesel hatches compared in the RACV Running Costs Survey, only one was actually cheaper than the petrol version over five years or 75,000 km. This was the Hyundai i30 and the diesel was cheaper by just B. 16 a week (B. 840 for the year). And that is only if you kept it five years! And of course, you can’t buy one here.
There were some savings by the time you come to larger ‘soft roaders’ such as the Chevrolet Captiva, which gave around B. 6,500 savings every year, but the large Toyota Land Cruiser cost nearly B. 600 a week more to run in diesel form compared to the petrol engined variant.
So if you are contemplating diesel because of the better fuel economy and performance of diesel cars that is fine, but you should also think about the fact that the higher purchase price and higher price of diesel fuel can cancel out gains made by lower fuel consumption.
The Hybrid story is another chapter all on its own. The RACV found that the Honda Civic Hybrid costs B. 36,000 per year more than the petrol engined Civic and the Toyota Prius costs B. 9,000 more annually than a Camry. If you want to be seen to be green, then you will pay for it in folding currency. How many people are prepared to pay to ease the reputedly dwindling fuel stocks?

For economy, forget hybrids, forget diesel, think electric
A report has come in regarding the University of South Australia which has built an electric vehicle that costs roughly 30 THB to travel 100 km. This is not a futurology project, but is currently running to demonstrate the viability of electric cars, even with today’s far from the ultimate battery technology.


The University of South Australia’s Two-seater Renewable Energy Vehicle (called TREV) also uses less than a fifth of the energy of a conventional car and is designed for a future without petrol.
“Electricity costs about 18 cents per kilowatt hour,” said Dr Peter Pudney, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Systems and Technologies at UniSA. “The cost of recharging TREV is 1.1 cents per kilometer. It makes petrol look silly.”
To keep the need for off-road recharging to a minimum, TREV’s batteries can be recharged with energy from renewable sources, mainly solar and wind. The prototype is fit for commuter use and has an ultra-light body and 150 kilometer driving range. This is more than adequate for the average commuter. TREV can also be plugged in and recharged from the domestic grid, which takes up to four hours.
I have been predicting for some time that the technology swing is towards electric propulsion. Go to any world motor show and the mainstream manufacturers will have an all-electric project car on display. Some using fuel cell production of electricity, others using rechargeable batteries making the vehicle a plug-in.
BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer said recently, “Later this year, we will decide about building an electric car,” he said. “Modern lithium-ion batteries would allow for the combination of an electric drive-train and sheer driving pleasure.”
He is correct. Look at your mobile phone which originally used batteries that had to be carried in a small suitcase and you had to have gone to Thor’s gymnasium to be strong enough to carry it. Now the entire phone fits in your pocket.
Power to weight is all-important to allow the use of battery power, and TREV weighs 300 kilograms, which Dr Pudney says avoids the trap of conventional car manufacture, although the lighter batteries restrict the driving range.
For TREVs to be able to run on Australian roads will need new legislation. Like the Indian electric car REVA, which could not be sold in Australia because it did not meet safety regulations, TREV cannot be registered for road use.
Dr Pudney wants that changed. “You are allowed to drive little scooters that travel along at 40 km/h, so there are some conflicts about what we allow on the road,” he said. Perhaps he should bring it out to Thailand!