Monday, 30 April 2012

Remembering Roland Ratzenberger

Roland Ratzenberger and his MTV Simtek-Ford S941
This was originally posted in 2012 and was updated in 2014.

20 years ago today, the much-liked Austrian Formula 1 driver Roland Ratzenberger suffered a fatal accident at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, better known as the Imola circuit, while qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The front wing of his Simtek-Ford - which had become loose on a previous lap - broke off at high speed after the flat-out Tamburello corner and got caught under his front wheels, sending him into a concrete wall at 195mph and causing a basal skull fracture, despite the car absorbing enough of the crash to rip off the entire left-hand side of it. Of course, this was in an age with lower standards for chassis strength, not to mention a time before ear-height cockpit protection and the Head And Neck Safety (HANS) devices drivers now attach to helmets to avoid whiplash or worse. The day after this tragic accident, well, you know what happened, but I'll touch on that more tomorrow. After the last black weekend in Formula 1, the safety element of the sport was very closely examined, and it as a result, no drivers have died in Grands Prix since then.[*]

Roland was only in his first Formula 1 season, racing for the seriously underfunded Simtek team. Unfortunately, in his two races before Imola, he failed to qualify for the opening race in Brazil - one team too many meant they were effectively competing with the Pacific team for a spot on the grid each weekend in Pre-Qualifying - but he made the grid in race two, finishing 11th place at the Pacific Grand Prix at Aida (now called Okayama) in Japan. Granted, 11th back then was five places off the points, not just one, but in starting and finishing that race he had achieved his lifelong dream. Considering he had won his class at Le Mans in 1993 - Group C class 2 with Toyota - and came third in British Formula 3000 (the equivalent of today's GP2 Series) in 1989, this F1 record isn't really indicative of his talent, and it's a shame he was taken before he had a chance to get his F1 career off the ground.

He was well-liked in the paddock and rarely seen without a smile on his face. He had worked hard to get to F1, and just being there was awesome to him. His death at only his third Grand Prix weekend shook the entire paddock, especially after Rubens Barrichello had survived a brutal high-speed accident the day before. Perhaps they just didn't think it could happen anymore. Ayrton Senna in particular was deeply upset by what was the first driver death in F1 for 12 years, and on the grid for the race the following day, he had put an Austrian flag in his car to wave after the race in tribute to Roland. As you probably know, he never got the chance.

It's important that we remember Roland Ratzenberger in connection with this weekend just as much as Senna, because past records aside, both were men living their passion until the very end. What's more, while it's tragic that Senna died in his prime, if you ask me it's even more so that Ratzenberger died before he could even reach it...

[* Update (30/4/2016) - Tragically it is no longer true that 1994 was the last time an F1 driver succumbed to injuries from a Grand Prix event. Jules Bianchi's car went under a tractor during the rain sodden 2014 Japanese GP, putting him in a coma with a diffuse axonal injury. He fought on and on, but ultimately passed away on 17th July, 2015. His story is largely similar to that of Ratzenberger's, in the sense that he died before his true potential was ever reached. We did at least get to see him artfully fight his way to 9th place at the Monaco Grand Prix that year, halfway through his second and final season of Formula 1, with Marussia (now Manor), one of the slowest cars on the grid. It's the team's only points finish to this day, and it stopped them disappearing from the sport altogether at the end of that year. He too will always be remembered.]

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Video Sunday - Britain Invades Germany

18/4/12, 23:58 minutes, 147,692 Views (When Posted)

People say that the British car industry is dead. Maybe in the mass market - all the names still surviving are owned by someone else - but we make a lot of other people's cars. Honda makes Civics and CR-Vs in Swindon, Nissan builds cars in Sunderland, BMW makes 3-Series and "Minis" in Oxford, the list may even go on. That's not all, though. Aside from MG's quiet return with the MG6, we make a lot of "specialist cars". Cars such as the Caterham 7, the Ariel Atom, the Radical SR# and the BAC Mono. Aside from the McLaren MP4-12C, our only straight supercar is a raw, visceral turbo nutter akin to the Ferrari F40 (which recently celebrated its 25th birthday). Chris Harris pits this car - the Noble M600 - against a V8 version of the Ariel Atom, a car that's the definition of no-frills, and takes them both to the Nürburgring.

Assuming you haven't got much to do on a Sunday, I hope you can spare 24 minutes of your time to watch two full laps and some other footage of two British bruisers. It's 24 minutes worth spending.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Formula 1 - Bahrain Grand Prix 2012

Sakhir International Circuit, Bahrain
Five things about the race:
> No major protests, although some protesters set tyres on fire during the race, with no effect on proceedings.
> Apparently Lotus are fast when it's hot.
> Nico Rosberg defended two drivers off the track between turns 3 & 4, with no penalty.
> Sebastian Vettel partied like it was 2011.
> The track is still quite boring, even if the horrible section between turns 4 & 5 has been ignored this year.

So, despite all the political hoo-hah, despite arrested journalists and a protestor apparently being shot, beaten and burned to death, and despite unwittingly supporting a suppressive and unfair regime, the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix went ahead without a hitch. Attendance was poor, with the grandstands at only half capacity, but those who were there saw a more interesting race than they did in 2010, even if it didn't match up to China or Malaysia. Saturday saw Michael Schumacher surprisingly knocked out of Q1 by a Caterham, putting him in 17th place on the grid due to problems with his rear wing relating to the DRS (he and Pastor Maldonado then changed gearboxes, putting them 22nd and 21st respectively), but it didn't see Force India at all, as the team were deliberately not filmed at any point during qualifying as punishment for skipping the second practice session "for security reasons". Saturday also saw Sebastian Vettel back on Pole Position at a track known for little in the way overtaking, so you can guess the result...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Obscure Japanese Sports Car Of The Week: Kuruma (Inter Proto Series)

25/3/12, 3:44, 13085 Views (when posted)

Gran Turismo has taught me much about Japanese sports cars, from "Midnight Purple" Skyline GT-Rs and the Toyota Supra to the Honda Beat and Mazda/Autozam AZ-1 and much more besides (JGTC FTW), which has made me something of a fan of them, as you might imagine. As such, this new one caught my eye. The only problem is that it's only been reported on in Japan, so bear with me while I tell you what I can work out about this, the "Kuruma", thanks to the trusty Google Translate...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Formula 1 - Chinese Grand Prix 2012

Shanghai International Circuit
Whilst everyone's twittering on about the situation in Bahrain, let's take a look at the tremendous action that took place in that other haven of human rights, China. Nico Rosberg managed to take the aerodynamically innovative Mercedes W03 and realise its full potential, securing Pole Position for the first time, with Michael Schumacher right behind him due to Lewis Hamilton having a 5-place gearbox penalty. This was, as you almost definitely know by now, the first Mercedes-Benz front row since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, but would it be the first Mercedes-Benz win in 57 years?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Lamborghini Urus Is a Necessary Evil, Nothing More

The only time a Urus will ever drive on rocks.
Porsche. Maserati. Audi. BMW. Meredes-Benz. Bentley. All these prestigious names now have plushy, flashy, high-performance SUVs in their range (well, the Maserati and Bentley are on their way). Now we have the same nonsense from Lamborghini, previewed here as the Urus Concept. Urus sounds penis-related, which is ironic because comments about the owner of a Urus (or indeed a Cayenne, Q7, X6, ML63 or Maser Kubang) will also be penis-related. Clever thinking there, Lamborghini. Alas, you also thought to build an SUV. Frankly at this point it isn't clever to make such a vehicle. It's just following the herd. Lamborghinis don't follow the herd...

We now have so many of these stupid abominations now that it's not worth the time and energy to rant about it anymore, so I'll just tell you what has been leaked about it. The Lamborghini Urus will be based on the VW Touareg/Audi Q7/Porsche Cayenne/Bentley OMGWTFBBQ's shared platform, but will apparently weigh 100kg less than its cousins and be powered by a modified version of the Gallardo's 5.2-litre V10, producing around 600PS (592bhp). So you get a "commanding" driving position and the same power as a McLaren MP4-12C, although of course this won't accelerate or corner like a supercar, because it's big and tall.

Lamborghini can justify this new very anti-social vehicle by bringing up the preposterous LM002 of the 1980s, a failed attempt at a military vehicle that was then sold with a Countach's V12 and the footprint of a medium-sized house. Not even 10 years ago, a full tank of fuel would cost you over £1000 and it only did about 4mpg. Technically it would be classed as an "SUT", because behind the four-seat cabin was a short pickup bed with a small leather bench over each rear wheel. Think of it as an Italian Hummer (which is essentially what it was in concept), only being a Lamborghini it was much madder and would make an H3 look like a Skoda Yeti.

This, on the other hand, is an angular, low-roofed Cayenne with a V10. Big whoop. I bet it won't even be particularly adept off-road, not that anyone will ever test that claim anyway. The most saddening thing is that late last year, Lamborghini had to choose between a 4-door super-saloon (like an AM Rapide or Maserati Quattroporte) or an SUV, and they chose the latter... over this beautiful Estoque Concept from 2008:

Admit it, you'd rather have this than a Urus infection.
Still, at least this Italian X6M of sorts doesn't look as ugly as the Bentley EXP 9 F Concept...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Should the New Ford Mustang Really Try To Become A Sports Car?

2011 Ford Evos Concept, provider of the company's current design language
As the Americans would say, I'm just spit-ballin' here, but news of the next Ford Mustang (expected in 2013/4) tells us the new car will feature non-retro styling heavily based on the Evos concept that has given us the new Mondeo (Fusion in the US), and that it'll be on sale in Europe for the first time. Chances are that it will also be made into more of a sports car to appeal to this new market. But is that really necessary?

By all means, improve the handling, brakes and interior to try and impress Europeans, but I don't want the Mustang to turn into a sports car. To paraphrase Chris Harris, the world doesn't need another BMW M3, because we already have one, the BMW M3, and it's excellent. The Mustang is arguably the original American muscle car (or "pony car"), and American muscle cars are traditionally big, daft, hilariously-fun brutes that are more like cartoon characters than sports cars, with huge rumbling V8 engines, rear-wheel-drive and lots of tyre smoke left hanging under a freshly-green traffic light. That's what they do. That's their place in the world. Their brutish, simple charm is what characterises them, and a refreshing break from the super-serious European and Japanese sports cars. Yet, it seems, the muscle car is something of a dying breed. When the new Camaro came out, TopGear magazine compared it to the 2010 Mustang and the Dodge Challenger, and said that while it handled closest to a European car, it had lost some of its muscle-car character in the process. Will Ford run the same risk here? The world doesn't really need yet more sports cars, but it's running out of muscle cars. There are only four now, and even that number is threatened.

The thing is, American sports cars (of sorts) do exist already. The Chevrolet Corvette C6, in ZR1 guise at least, has set some impressive lap times on the tracks that matter to people, and the outgoing Dodge Viper SRT-10 was turned into a semi-racing car (dubbed ACR-X) in order to set a Nürburgring record for some publicity. But their makers know to keep sporting pretences separate. As well as the Corvette, Chevrolet has the Camaro. As well as the Viper, Dodge has the Challenger. I think Ford should consider doing the same, and while I'm perfectly happy that they're dropping the nostalgic styling - retro is so bloody overplayed now - they can do this in one of two directions while playing to their illustrious history. They can either bring back the (smaller) Capri to tackle the Toyobaru GTBRZ86 or they can make a new (sportier) Ford GT supercar, which supposedly they are in fact doing.

That way, the Mustang can remain a symbol of America, like the Statue of Liberty, stars and stripes, baseball and big guns. Pandering to Europe compromises American-ness, and the ultimate American car shouldn't do that. It should stay American, and be proud of its American character. Will Alfa Romeo's re-entry to the US market see it making a big, heavy, V8-powered Brera? No. They're Italian. They wouldn't do that. It's the same thing here. That's what I think, anyway.

SmallBlogV8 is now on Twitter! I don't say much as I mainly joined to read other people's tweets, but with more followers I might think of things to say! Follow me @Odaekim (Mikeado backwards)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Taste of Rallying

These seats were in the reception building. The other seat says "Nicky" on it underneath the hair net.
Last Saturday was an educational day for me, despite it still being the Easter holiday (just). I finally used the last of my gift experience vouchers - the other of which was something of a dream come true - and went to drive a rally car on a nice muddy course near Chipping Norton. Sure, it was front-wheel-drive, but they're hardly going to let amateurs let rip in a Subaru Impreza STI, are they? Besides, I didn't miss the lack of driven rear wheels at any point, what with all the oversteer I was enjoying...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

So Lotus Have Just Shot Themselves In The Foot

The Sniff Petrol guys are funny. Lotus aren't, as you'll see...
As you may have heard on the grapevine, Lotus are in a bit of a jam at the moment. According to various reputable sources, their Formula 1 team (the black one with Kimi Räikkönen in it) is no longer owned by them but is still called Lotus GP until 2017, the road car company is on the cusp of going into administration after Proton were bought out by DRB-HICOM - threatening their ownership of Lotus and thus Lotus's main funding - and CEO Dany Bahar, who plans to strip the Hethel-based car maker of its very character and turn it into just another fancy-badged prestige car 'brand', has allegedly been fired after officially going "on leave" in the last couple of days. The petals on Colin Chapman's Lotus flower are all falling off, it seems, but like many, many people, I still don't think that's enough reason to issue an official press release on Facebook (of all places) effectively trashing nay-sayers with something that reads like a ranting, well, blogger, actually. Well it's time to rant back at them!!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Video Sunday - Senna vs Prost, But Not As We Know It

Uploaded: 31/12/07
Running Time: 10:09
Views When Posted: 266,891

Senna vs Prost. Prost vs Senna. It's the classic battle. Like Lauda vs Hunt, or perhaps soon Button vs Vettel or Hamilton vs Massa (only with more winning). In this video, however, they're using vehicles a little less potent than the fearsome turbocharged F1 cars (or the singing V10s that followed) that they normally competed with, as they do an indoor karting event, possibly for charity, in 1993. Unfortunately, reliability problems cut the battle short, but there's some pretty decent racing before it does! Enjoy.

Koenigsegg Asserts Its Awesomeness With 250mph Nürburgring Run

2012 Koenigsegg Agera R on the Nordschleife
At a recent supercar owner's event at the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife, Koenigsegg owner (and partial Koenigsegg owner) Bård Eker waited for a clear run at the 1.5-mile Döttinger-Höhe straight before unleashing his Agera R's 1140 horsepower and 885lb/ft of torque on the 'Ring, giving it green hell until the Norwegian maniac in his Swedish hypercar reached two-hundred-and-fifty-miles-per-hour. In slightly less than a mile and a half. Well OK, it was specifically 249.54mph, but that's definitely close enough to just round it up. Is Koenigsegg the most awesome car company in the world? Maybe even the most awesome company of any kind?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Formula 1 - Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix 2012

Malaysian GP - Turns 1 & 2
OK, so I haven't reported on the first two races of the 2012 Formula 1 season yet. That's not because I didn't watch them, it's just sort of ended up that way. If you want a full report, you'll have to read this one (Rd.1) and this one (Rd.2) on the official Formula 1 website. Results tables are here and here, and F1Fanatic's very interesting Stats & Facts pages for each race are here and here. Perhaps I shouldn't be linking you to more helpful sites, but I can at least give my opinion, which you won't find anywhere else! I promise I'll report on China properly. For now though, here's extended highlights of the first two races. Well, you know how it is these days...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Toyota Prius C is The Best Car In The World

Gaze Upon The Glory
There are many kinds of cars out there, but today I have realised, that when it comes to the question "What is the best car in the world?" there can be only one. It is not something silly and pointless like a Subaru BRZ or a Bugatti Veyron or a Pagani Huateveritis. Those are environmentally-damaging distractions. No, the correct answer is the Toyota Prius, which we all know is the car which is single-handedly saving the world from pullution with its amazing Hybrid Synergy Drive, and in these modern times, the only car you should buy is a smaller one, which is where this compact Prius C comes in.