Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

The Renault F1 affair

Much will have been in the popular press over the past few weeks, so nothing I can write about it will be “new”; however, I can perhaps shed some light on the subject.
Last year, Renault were poised to pull the plug on the Renault F1 team. The Renault F1 team had not had a win for two years, and like most F1 teams was a giant hole in the ground, into which the manufacturer poured money, and for Renault nothing good had floated to the top.
Now comes the information that an ingenious plot had been hatched to get their lead driver, Fernando Alonso, leap-frogged up from 15th to leading the pack after a ‘fortuitous’ safety car period.
According to the accusations which have now surfaced, the Renault F1 team manipulated the ‘fortuitous’ side of things by determining when, where and how a safety car period could be arranged, by telling the second driver, Nelson Piquet Junior, just where he had to hit the wall. About the only thing they didn’t do was paint a big X on the wall, with a sign saying “Hit Here”.
To all intents and purposes it had worked well. Junior crashed, a safety car appeared, and Alonso was now head of the bunch and won the 2008 Singapore race, thus appeasing Renault. But then, after Junior was fired by Briatore, Junior opened the can of worms.
The FIA called Renault F1 to task, showing they had a prima facie case for Renault F1 to answer. Pat Symonds, the Renault F1 head of engineering tried fudging and all but claimed the 5th Amendment, while Renault F1 team boss Flavio Briatore tried to bluster his way out of it, waving writs in the air.
At that juncture, Renault removed both Symonds and Briatore from the Renault F1 team, and said they (Renault) would not contest the charges. The phrase “Guilty as charged, yer Honor” comes to mind.
What this effectively does is give Renault the power and reason to divorce itself from Renault F1, and make a quick exit left at the end of the year. It will also make it easier for Alonso to then go to another team. But finally, it will have given great delight to FIA boss Max Mosley who detested Flavio Briatore, who ended up not falling on his sword, but rather had it inserted painfully in a fundamental orifice. That’s what you call a win-win-win solution!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what prototype car was driven by Ayrton Senna who declared it to be “a little fragile,” so the manufacturer increased the rigidity by 50 percent? Clue: this was not an F1 car. It was the Honda NSX.
So to this week. How many of the famous Bugatti Royales were sold to the crowned heads of Europe?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


VW gee-up with E-Up!
Having seen that the Scandinavians can produce an electric car called the Think! has prompted VW to call their new electric car the E-Up! A singular lack of original thought in VW’s ad department I think!


This little buggy was also shown in Frankfurt and with a range of 130 km from its lithium-ion batteries, the plug-in EV is just one of a range of Up! variants.
Unveiling the E-Up! in Frankfurt, VW Group chairman Martin Winterkorn said that to be a genuine success, an electric car must be both affordable to a broad customer base and uncompromisingly practical in everyday driving.
The E-Up! is just 3.19 meters long - 726 mm shorter than the Polo light car, and the E-Up! has what VW describes as 3+1 seating. This is three real seats and one possible seat for a small child or - more likely - a baby seat or carry bag (or legless midget). They do this by putting the front passenger’s seat 50 mm ahead of the driver’s seat, allowing room for the sole rear seat passenger immediately behind. The “+1” seat is behind the driver, but with minimal legroom.
The 60 kW electric motor drives the front wheels, propelling the 1085kg car from 0-100 km/h in 11.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 135km/h, which is more than enough for a city car.
A quarter of the car’s weight is taken up by the 18 kWh battery, which is under the floor and needs to be mechanically cooled by fan.
VW says the battery can be charged from a home powerpoint in five hours, but like most other EVs coming on to the market, it also can be fast-charged at up to 80 percent of capacity in one hour at higher voltage. Like the Toyota Prius, the E-Up! has photovoltaic solar cells on the roof, but cover a larger 1.4 square meters to top up the car’s electrical system and power a fan to ventilate the car when parked.

Lexus limo for 2010 - the LS 600h and LS 600h L
Lexus unveiled their top of the line limousines at last week’s Frankfurt show, denoting a total commitment to hybrid engineering. This may be so, but to me it looks a lot like an overweight Bangkok “Limo” taxi.
The full hybrid Lexus Hybrid Drive system in the LS 600h has a new ECO mode, which modifies the throttle action and performance of the air conditioning system to support fuel-efficient driving.
The relationship between movement of the accelerator pedal and system output is automatically controlled, reducing response to aggressive inputs to improve fuel economy and promote smoother driving. The load on the engine is also reduced under acceleration, which also helps improve fuel efficiency. In other words, the electronics will cancel out all attempts at emulating Michael Schumacher. Mind you, in a Lexus limo do you really want neck-snapping acceleration?
With battery size in all hybrids being a problem, repackaging of the full hybrid system’s battery into two sections of six and 14 modules has reduced its overall size and freed up more luggage space in the boot.
Further development of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system has been revised to meet Euro V exhaust emissions standards, but with no change to the car’s performance: the combination of the 5.0 liter V8 petrol engine and 165 kW electric motor produces a maximum 439 bhp and 520 Nm of torque, giving zero to 100 km/h acceleration in 6.3 seconds.
The LS 600h has larger, 380 mm ventilated front disc brakes with six-piston calipers, rotors and pads developed jointly with Brembo.
Both front seats are equipped with new, inflator operated active headrests. Activated by a signal from the airbag ECU in the event of a rear impact, the inflator slides a piston into the headrest, unlocking a mechanism that projects the headrest forwards and upwards, reducing the risk of whiplash injury.
The driver’s seat also has a new return/away function. Linked to a similar function that moves the steering wheel, this automatically slides the seat back by up to 50 mm when the driver unbuckles the seatbelt and turns the engine off. The seat returns to its selected driving position once the car is started again. This reads well, but is merely a gimmick. The Lexus is large enough to get into and out of, even for Billy Bunter.
The rear seats recline, with fully retractable leg and footrest and lower back massage function, all operated using a remote controller. It also offers different levels of massage using an array of eight pneumatic chambers built into the seatback, and lumbar and shoulder areas. I wonder if the Thai spec model also comes with a masseuse?
In common with other Lexus models, the LS 600h is adopting a new hard disc drive (HDD) navigation system with the 40 GB capacity, giving Europe-wide coverage with traffic information data capture in each country. Nothing was mentioned about the one way sections of Sukhumvit Road.
There is an automatic high beam system. A camera sensor in the rear view mirror detects oncoming traffic, street lamps and vehicles traveling ahead and automatically switches the headlamp high beam on and off according to driving conditions.
Undoubtedly a triumph of engineering, but with so much being done by electronics, hardly a ‘driver’s’ car. But again, it will certainly be value for money.

New Lexus LS 600h L