by Dr. Iain Corness
British GP Silverstone this weekend
Silverstone for the British GP.
The British Grand Prix will be held this weekend at the
ancestral home of F1, with the first ever F1 GP held there in 1950 (and won by
Dr Farina in the Alfa Romeo).
This is a circuit that the drivers universally like, a circuit that allows cars
to pass each other (even without the DRS), and a Grand Prix where it is likely
to rain at some point. After all, it is in England, and they cannot possibly go
three days on the trot without a good drenching from above!
The new “arena” part of the circuit used for the first time a couple of years
back goes from Abbey to Brooklands corners, moving infield and adding an extra
760 m to the track length. You will be heartened to read that Herr Tilke was not
involved. Interestingly, this modification was actually built for the MotoGP
series, but now incorporated in the F1 series after Bernie, the patron saint of
King Midas Dwarf Enterprises, gave it his blessing. Yes, that is the same Bernie
who has masterminded such yawnfest circuits as Bahrain and Singapore. But don’t
So who should we look out for? Mercedes is now right up there, and Hamilton was
unlucky not to get pole in Canada. Hamilton will be trying for the win but if
Vettel’s form is anything to go by, the finger will be raised and the Mercedes
cars will be left behind.
Alonso the Savvy Spaniard will complain about something, and then try and scoop
up another win! Felipe Massa, who must be on borrowed time, will complain that
his car feels different every time he drives it, while all the tail end Charlies
will be tripping over each other as usual.
The Qualifying is at 7 p.m. on Saturday 29 and the race is 7 p.m. on Sunday 30
Antonio dislikes BMW!
I came across this interesting snippet that I had stored in
my computer - and then lost, to just find it today! This is from the Le Parisien
newspaper who reported on “The Unhappy Customer Who Took Hostages At BMW’s
60 year old French retiree Antonio Fontana is obsessed with BMWs. Like, Single
White Female obsessed. It started with a BMW he regretted purchasing and ended
with him taking hostages at BMW’s French headquarters. But there’s actually more
to this story.
According to Le Parisien (translated), Fontana purchased a BMW 530d diesel from
a dealership a few years ago, but wasn’t happy with the performance of his
And, like any upset consumer, he took the following normal steps:
In 2003, he tried to set himself on fire in front of the BMW dealership where he
purchased the car.
In 2005, he left boxes of fake explosives at three BMW dealerships around
France, for which he was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
In 2008, he called in a bomb threat to BMW France HQ.
Yesterday, he fired shots at BMW HQ and took a receptionist hostage.
Fontana eventually surrendered to police before harming anyone and now faces
more serious jail time.
Look for a billboard campaign from Audi of France proudly proclaiming “AUDI: Our
customers don’t try to kill us.”
Pro Series at Bira this weekend
Retro Pro Series action. (Photo
courtesy Edd Ellison)
The very professional Pro Series event is on at the Bira
circuit this weekend. As opposed to the other promoters, the Pro Series runs
generally to time. After getting four hours behind at the last meeting,
punctuality is very much enjoyed by drivers and spectators alike.
They have a category for the Retro cars (pre 1985) such as our 1973 BBX/Acorn
Pub Ford Escort Mk1, making the car one of the oldest in the class. The driver
has also probably passed his use-by date, but at this stage we are still up the
sharp end of the grid.
If you would like to come along and barrack for the little Escort, up against
cars like Gavin Charlesworth’s 4.4 liter V8 BMW E30, we have a hospitality tent
that you can avail yourself of during the afternoon. To find the tent, come into
the circuit by the pit entrance (not the main entrance), go through the tunnel
under the track and then turn hard right and go up the hill. You will easily see
the red AA Insurance tent, with catering done by the Acorn Pub (first floor The
Avenue shopping center on Second Road) with burgers, sausages and beer on tap!
Yes, you read that correctly! It is a real picnic atmosphere, so bring your kids
There are many categories running, from 2 liter sedans, trucks, amateurs, and
sports cars. We will join you after our race, and a cold beer will certainly go
The technology is here now! Self driving cars are reality.
And if you don’t believe me, talk to the owner of a new Ford Focus, a car which
parallel parks itself after you select reverse and take your hands off the
steering wheel. Not a gimmick - it does it perfectly every time, after the car
measures the space to park in and away you go!
I was at a lecture the other day (Automotive Focus Group) and the Thomas
Chambers MD of Continental mentioned the coming era of driverless motor cars. I
remember that probably 30 years ago, Continental was experimenting with
driverless cars, which followed a cable buried in the roadway.
Jeevan Vasagar, a journalist based in the UK, experienced being passenger in a
driverless car, a modified Volkswagen Passat. This vehicle was devised by a team
at the Free University of Berlin, and their Passat is a highly advanced
autonomous car, which it is claimed is capable of navigating a safe path through
unpredictable city traffic.
This Passat has a spinning silver cylinder mounted on the roof, a laser scanner,
which generates a million data points per second to give the car’s computer a
real-time map of its surroundings.
Cameras and radar sensors provide further detail, alongside an ultra-precise GPS
based on the navigation systems used in aircraft. According to Jeevan, it will
be many years before a car this sophisticated is commercially available, but
Germany’s luxury car makers have begun introducing a number of autonomous
features that enable some of their leading models to drive and steer themselves.
Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, predicts that at low speeds - such as in
traffic jams or parking - cars will operate with full autonomy “in a matter of
years”. At higher speeds, several manufacturers plan for highly automated
driving within the structured environment of a motorway.
The latest Mercedes S-Class is the most significant advance yet in automated
driving for the mass market. The luxury sedan comes equipped with a camera that
scans the road ahead and an array of radar sensors. The images it captures are
analyzed by an algorithm, allowing the car to alert the driver to danger and
take corrective action itself if necessary.
“In critical situations, the driver assistance systems in the car react more
quickly than humans ever could,” says Professor Ralf Herrtwich, director of
driver assistance at Daimler. “Unlike drivers, they are never inattentive.”
The aim of greater automation is not to take away the pleasure of the open road
but to save motorists from some of the tasks that make driving a chore.
Raul Rojas, a professor of artificial intelligence at the Free University of
Berlin who leads its autonomous car project, predicts the public transport of
the future will be fleets of robot taxis, cheaper and safer than the human kind,
operating for 24 hours a day without fatigue.
In a few years time, Professor Rojas suggests, people will use their mobile
phones to summon a robot taxi, dropping it off at their destination ready for
the next passenger.
There are still technical barriers to the mass production of automated cars. The
key problem is vision. The laser scanners used by the Free University’s car
cannot pass through a solid barrier, so a pedestrian stepping out from between
two parked buses would be invisible until the last moment.
An automated car “does not just need to watch out for other cars”, Professor
Herrtwich says. “It needs to check for pedestrians and cyclists, for lanes,
stopping lines, traffic signs, and traffic lights. It needs to understand that a
lane ends in a few hundred meters or that there is a stalled vehicle on the
highway ahead of it.”
It goes without saying that this technology does not just need to be reliable,
but affordable within the budget constraints of a typical mass production
The Free University’s team is working on improving the computer’s vision, but
face a huge challenge replicating the human ability to see.
“Almost a fifth of the brain is just for image processing,” Professor Rojas
says. “Computer visual recognition is still very, very primitive.”
One vital question is legal liability, as a BMW spokeswoman says, “Who is
responsible for an automated driving system in case of an accident or failure?”
So there are many questions still unanswered, and human reluctance to hand over
the “reins”, is just one of them.