Abu Dhabi GP this weekend
The Abu Dhabi Yas Marina grand prix circuit hosts the GP this weekend. Abu Dhabi
is the most oil-rich in the region and the 5.55 kilometer Yas Marina Circuit has
been built using the motorists’ money, extracted at the petrol pumps. Roll on
electric power! It was also one of the most boring race tracks and has been
universally christened ‘Yawn’ Marina.
Located on Yas Island, the PR blurb said the track was set to revolutionize the
design of future Formula One circuits. Boasting top speeds of 320 km/h and
average speeds of 198 km/h, it features nine right turns and 11 left turns and
is one of the few venues on the calendar to run in an anti-clockwise direction.
It was designed by circuit architect Hermann Tilke (so need I say more?), and
Yas Marina has a waterfront setting scenic enough to rival the likes of Monaco
and Valencia, complete with a hotel that even changes color, but was just as
boring as that former pair of venues.
All of the grandstands, including the massive hairpin seating area, are covered
to protect spectators from the desert sun, whilst the state-of-the-art pit
building boasts 40 garages.
As well as the waterside marina area, there are high-speed sections, tight
corners for overtaking, and even a twisty street circuit-style sector. However,
none of this prevents Yas (Yawn) Marina from being boring if the F1 cars cannot
pass each other.
The race will start at 8 p.m. our time Sunday (also 8 p.m. Saturday for
Back to the future
New Caterham-7 clone.
Caterham Cars (builder of the Lotus 7 clones) has opened the
order book for the Seven 165 - its new entry-level variant of the iconic sports
car, powered by a very-compact, turbocharged Suzuki engine.
Priced from €19,995 (+ local taxes), the car’s live-axle rear suspension,
compact engine and low weight embody the pioneering spirit of early Sevens and
represent a new entry-point to the Seven range.
The Seven 165 - UK customers will get a different version, called 160 - produces
80 hp from its 660 cc, three cylinder, turbocharged engine, enabling it to
accelerate to 100 kph in a brisk 6.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 161 kph.
(That is what the Caterham PR handout said, but I consider 6.9 and 161 kph
rather slow, to be honest.)
With fleet-of-foot charm and handling finesse, rather than outright performance
dictating the driving experience, the new car redefines the budget sports car
segment while introducing new levels of efficiency and value for money to the
Caterham Cars CEO, Graham Macdonald, said, “As the Caterham Group as a whole
grows and expands into new sectors and industries, our commitment to keep
evolving the Seven is very much alive.
“The 165 offers something truly different to the entry-level market. It’s more
economical, more accessible and every bit as fun on the road as other Sevens but
has its own unique personality.”
The new rear axle, a throwback to early Sevens in terms of simplicity and purity
of design, complements the Suzuki Motor Corporation engine and lower overall
body weight, while delivering Caterham’s acclaimed, intuitive handling
experience and a balanced yet playful chassis.
To meet the desired performance criteria, the Caterham Group’s engineering
consultancy, Caterham Technology & Innovation (CTI), fine-tuned engine
performance from its standard output of 64 hp to 80 hp, while boosting fuel
economy and reducing vehicle emissions. The vehicle conforms to EU5, EU6 and
JC08 emissions regulations.
Macdonald continued, “The engineering challenges we faced when developing the
new vehicle were significant. The engine, suspension and the overall dynamics
all needed to work in harmony and the various arms of the Group have been
successful in pooling facilities and expertise to achieve that.”
Latest Smart version is electric
Not so Smart.
Mercedes-Benz’s tiny Smart city car is the champion European
money-muncher of all time, and electric cars are likely to be the next big
loser, according to a report from Bernstein Research in London.
The little two-seat Smart has lost a total of about $4.6 billion over the
lifetime of the project. That’s the equivalent of $6,100 per car, Bernstein
analyst Max Warburton said in a report, published at the same time as a survey
from Foster City, California-based CarInsurance.com pointed to the Smart as the
most embarrassing car to be seen in.
“Our guess for the (future) most likely failures? We’d argue electric cars -
from Renault to VW to BMW - look likely to qualify. Electric vehicle evangelists
seem to be enjoying a Tesla-powered rush of blood to the head, after the
American company’s sales success,” Warburton said.
Renault of France has committed to spending $5 billion to produce a range of
electric cars, and once said global sales of battery-only vehicles would reach
10 percent of global sales by 2020.
“But we’re not convinced that these European electric products can make money -
in fact for the ones with big volume hopes like Renault, they have the potential
to lose a huge amount,” Warburton said.
Warburton compiled a top 10 of losers, with reasons for their failure.
The Smart, which started life as an idea from Swatch Swiss watches rejected by
VW, was too expensive to build and sales never reached high enough during its
first iteration. The semi-automatic gear box was a clunker too.
“We’re not convinced the current one makes money either, even with all its fixed
costs written off,” Warburton said.
Mercedes is now collaborating with Renault to make small cars more efficiently.
After the Smart came the Fiat Stilo, which lost $2.9 billion and $3,700 each
time one was sold. Fiat’s sales goals for the Stilo - beat the biggest selling
VW Golf - were never met. Production was established for 400,000 Stilos a year
but only reached about 180,000 a year in 2002 and 2003.
3) VW Phaeton - total $2.7 billion - $38,000 a car. Tried to match Mercedes
without the brand power. A new Phaeton is coming. Some people never learn!
4) Peugeot 1007 - $2.6 billion - $21,000 a car. Small car with rear sliding
5) Mercedes A class - $2.3 billion - $2,000 a car. Failed the “elk-test”,
toppling over in Sweden during lane-changing test which destroyed both car and
sales of it.
6) Bugatti Veyron - $2.2 billion - $6.2 million a car. VW owns Bugatti. “R&D
costs to rival Concorde”. Total sales so far 369, with most in the Middle East.
7) Jaguar X-Type - $2.3 billion - $6,350 per car. Small Jaguar based on parent
company Ford Mondeo. Lost out because it was seen as a Ford-based luxury car.
Silk purse from a sow’s ear comes to mind.
8) Renault Laguna - $2.1 billion - $4,800 per car. Big car charged with
competing with the German premium manufacturers, but failed.
9) Audi A2 - $1.8 billion - $10,200 per car. Small car, expensive aluminum body.
10) Renault Vel Satis - $1.6 billion - $25,400 per car. Another failed attempt
to move upmarket.
What did we learn from the Indian GP?
Well, we confirmed that Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) has been
the class act all year and is now the youngest driver to win the World
Championship four times. Undoubtedly the quickest driver in the quickest car, an
unbeatable combination. I just wish he would stop using the extended digit. It
makes him look very arrogant, and apparently he is not, but is certainly sending
the wrong message to the fans.
His retiring team mate, Mark Webber had once more an alternator failure and
scored yet another DNF. Red Bull has been able to produce an ultra-reliable car
for Vettel, and a bucket of bolts for Webber. Or does Helmut Marko have a
special remote control with a red button for Webber?
Despite Vettel’s win and consequently wrapping up the championship, the driver
of the day was Romain Grosjean (“Lotus”) who started on grid 17 after a
misjudgment in the first round of qualifying. From 17 to third, was a superb
finish, including passing his reluctant team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who is headed
to Ferrari next year and looks as if he is already packed and standing in the
airport with his plane ticket to Modena.
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) had a good race and finished in second, eclipsing his
much vaunted team mate Lewis Hamilton, who might find his salary envelope a
little lighter next year.
The only man who could have slowed down Vettel’s drive to the championship was
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), but the Spaniard had a GP to forget. The race began
badly for him, damaging his front wing rubbing against Webber, who had been
pushed over by Raikkonen. Since the regulations allow wings as wide as the front
track, they are totally vulnerable. If the FIA could come up with logical
regulations (which they have shown they seem unable to do) they should limit the
width of the wing so that it is inside the wheels at the front. But that would
be too easy.
Alonso’s team mate, Felipe Massa, who has been dumped by Ferrari for 2014, is
showing an amazing resurgence of form, out-qualifying Alonso (again) and
finishing fourth to Alonso’s 11th. He will be an asset to any team that picks
him up, and he is another who is in line for Raikkonen’s “Lotus” seat.
The air quality at the Buddh circuit was incredibly poor. Towards the end, I
thought they might have to fit fog lights, the visibility was so bad. Not a good
advert for their country.
Finally, F1 racing has become farcical following the FIA’s intervention with
regulations to ‘spice up’ the racing with tyres having a short life, making the
drivers come in for pit stops. At the Indian GP, some drivers were coming in
after two laps! This is nonsense. Pirelli, the suppliers, had been recommending
teams restrict running on the soft tyre to 15 laps and the medium (prime) to
just 35. This is the first time the company has openly recommended restricting
running on its tyres, and having been forced to change its tyre construction
mid-season and have the FIA enforce recommendations surrounding tyre swapping
(where teams were running tyres on the opposite side of the car to what they
were designed for), the news has certainly not done Pirelli’s reputation any
good at all. If I were Pirelli, I would not be supplying tyres for 2014.