Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the Australian Grand Prix?

Last week I suggested that if you were of a religious bent, then to pray for a more exciting race in Australia than we saw in Bore-rain. Well, you did it, thank you! A much better race in all respects, though ‘rain’ played a major part in it.

The rain at the start certainly changed the whole running order. Vettel (Red Bull) stayed in front from pole position, but Massa in the Ferrari had a superb start, leapfrogging Mark Webber in the other Red Bull and Ferrari team mate Alonso, to the displeasure of the Spaniard, who was then hit by eventual winner Jenson Button in the McLaren-Mercedes. This produced a chain of events in which Michael Schumacher lost his front wing after a clout from Button and had to pit, effectively ending his race; however, after rejoining in last place, he did not drive like an ex-champion.

Major gainers were Kubica (Renault) and Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Mercedes, who came from his lowly 11th place after a woeful qualifying to be challenging in the front pack. Unfortunately, after being brought in for a second set of slicks he lost too many places, with not enough laps left. Hamilton was not a happy bunny, complaining loudly about the team decision, but stopped short of saying that the team was favoring Button.

It wasn’t Hamilton’s weekend in Australia, having his Mercedes road car confiscated by the over-enthusiastic Australian Police for dropping a ‘wheelie’. Congratulations Constable Plod for making Australia a laughing stock.

Until his brake failure, Vettel in the Red Bull looked as if he had this one sewn up too, but to finish first, first you have to finish! His team mate Mark Webber drove in front of his home crowd as if he had to deliver the goods at any cost. He didn’t, and the last minute lunge on Lewis Hamilton was never going to come off. This was not the confident race-winning Webber from 2009.

The Ferrari challenge did not come from Alonso, who had to sit behind team mate Massa all the way to the chequered flag. Massa gave no quarter, and in fact, his driving was quite erratic at times, verging on dangerous. The Spaniard will be muttering again behind closed doors.

The driver of the day was Robert Kubica in the Lada (Renault), a car which was not as good as the other front-runners, but he kept it all together, and everyone but Button behind him. He deserved the second place.

It was interesting to note that in the first half of the race there was much slipstreaming and many passing manoeuvres (the air in Melbourne was ‘clean’ at that stage?), but in the second half there was very little passing and ‘dirty air’ was named as the culprit. I suggest that perhaps driver fatigue may play a large part in this.

Only 14 of the original starters actually finished the race, with the final runner being Karun Chandhok in the HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), shaking hands with himself at being still running at the end, even though he was five laps down. This is the pinnacle of motor racing? I don’t think so. The slow bunch should be made to qualify within 107 percent of the estimated pole time before even getting anywhere near the grid.

The non-finishers included the usual bunch - Petrov (Lada), Trulli (Lotus), Kobayashi (Sauber), Hulkenberg (Williams), Senna (HRT), Glock (Virgin) and Di Grassi (Virgin). The Virgin F1 team must be an embarrassment to Richard Branson (or is it a tax dodge?) and the failing front wings on the Saubers need to be fixed before Malaysia this coming weekend.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what was the connection between the famous aviator Louis Bleriot and automobiles? The connection was acetylene gas lights for the early motor cars, which first were used in 1898. Louis Bleriot apparently made the best ones.

So to this week. Did Karl Benz work for Gottlieb Daimler, or did Gottlieb Daimler work for Karl Benz? Their legacy is of course the Daimler-Benz company which builds the Mercedes cars.

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

Good luck!

Nissan first in with the eco car

Siam Nissan Automobile Co (SNA) launched Thailand’s first locally produced eco car, the Nissan March, a petrol miser.

SNA president Toru Hasegawa said the Nissan March is a small vehicle with a 1,200cc three-cylinder engine with carbon dioxide emissions less than 120 grams and able to use fuel more efficiently at around 5 liters per 100 km.

Ugly Nissan March

Nissan expects to increase vehicle production in Thailand from the previous 63,000 units in 2008 to 200,000 by 2012.

Nissan is also the first contender in the eco-car market among the six companies that have received investment privileges to make these vehicles in Thailand.

The March has a base starting price of 375,000 baht, with six variants priced up to 537,000 baht for the full spec model.

The March comes with either a five-speed manual transmission or the Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The manual transmission versions will be offered first and the CVT versions from early June.

Thailand joins China, India and Mexico as one of the global manufacturing hubs for the March, which is also known as the Nissan Micra in Europe and some other markets. Nissan was thus able to utilize the development work done by its other manufacturing regions.

Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co. said that, “Producing and selling the eco-friendly Nissan March in Thailand, as well as exporting it to other countries, will create jobs and contribute to the country’s progressive auto industry development.”

Nissan aims to sell about 20,000 units of the five-door March hatchback in Thailand this year and to export 70,000 to ASEAN, Oceania and Japan within 12 months of the debut. The manufacturer claims it had 5,000 pre-launch bookings even before it announced specifications and price.

Having looked at the Nissan March in the metal at the motor show, I can report that it is dead-set ugly. It takes just as much time and effort to make a good looking car, so why make an ugly one? Nissan should shoot the design team

Some notes from the Bangkok International Motor Show

While I am writing this, my motorcycle correspondent Alan Coates and I are at the Bangkok International Motor Show at BITEC (Km 1 Bangkok-Trat Road), which will be running until April 6. We will be giving you a detailed run-down on the offerings at the show itself over the next couple of weeks, but here are a few preliminary jottings and impressions. Let me start with Press Day and the push-up bra.

Push-up bra time!

I must be getting old, but I go to motor shows to look at motor cars. If all I want to do is to ogle at some dizzy dame with a push-up bra, in a ridiculous outfit, then are many streets in Chiang Mai which could more easily cater to my taste or push-up perversions. In those self-same streets, I could even handle the merchandise, without a push-off, never mind a push-up.

However, after sifting through the 31st Bangkok International Motor Show, there were some gems amongst the frizzy hair and come hither looks. Along with the world’s economic melt-down, many dealerships seemed to have indulged in an automotive ‘pass the parcel’ and the exotics seem to have been snapped up by small enterprises, and their offerings were not in the main halls populated by Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Mercedes, but hidden away beside motorcycles and a couple of ocean-going motorboats. Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus and a wonderful red Audi R8 were there if you looked for them. Venture down through the tools and accessories and Mr Meguiars presented the eager auto buff with a brilliant black Lamborghini Gallardo, which just looked sensational. Mind you, also hidden away, and should have been ritually buried before the show opened, were the unbelievably crass Mitsuoka’s complete with faux Rolls front on an original Nissan Teana donor car.

Copy Rolls

You have to feel sorry for Volvo, falling from Ford’s table before grace was even over, and also falling from the main hall to be banished to the basement with the Wuling Scorpions as bed-mates. Yes, how the mighty have fallen.

The Japanese auto industry, when you give it free rein, can come up with some amazing machinery. Tonka toys for bigger boys seemed to be one of the themes, with the incredibly ugly Suzuki and Toyota Rin being at best tongue in cheek automotive jokes. Or I hope that was the reason.

Scotsman contemplating a Chery

One Japanese offering which had generated much interest was the Nissan March (Micra in some countries), their entry level Eco-car. Having stolen a march (couldn’t resist the pun) on the other manufacturers, they showed their new little baby in a depressing range of colors, when this should have been the time to show them off in outrageous colors like Mazda had done with their Mazda2 variants.

Cheery Chery, the Chinese automaker was exhibiting their wares again this year, though the Chery QQ seemed basically unchanged from last year. Taking a leaf from the history books and E.L. Cord’s strategy to shift old stock from the 1930’s, stickers and stripes were applied with gay abandon, including a Bumbee Tartan model for impecunious Scotsmen.

More on the motor show next week.