Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Inside Koenigsegg Marathon

2010/11 Koenigsegg Agera
The Drive Channel on YouTube just keeps on giving. First Chris Harris's reviews and now Inside Koenigsegg, an 8-part series whose title explains its purpose and which has proven to be a fascinating insight into how the Swedish hypercar maker thinks and operates. The series has now finished, but unlike with TV, you can still watch all the episodes whenever you want... for free! Here's the quick introduction from founder and big boss, Christian von Koenigsegg (who wouldn't make a bad Bond villain):

Intro (1:17)

The eight full episodes (each 10mins or less) are after the jump.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Alfa Romeo 4C Update: Exactly 250bhp/tonne

2013 Alfa Romeo 4C
So as you've no doubt noticed, the Alfa Romeo 4C Concept is no longer a Concept. But what we were missing was an interior shot and the final key performance stats: Power and weight. Well, we have both now. The 1750cc Turbo engine from the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde (or Cloverleaf) is producing 240bhp. Because they promised a weight/power ratio of 4kg/bhp (equal to 250bhp/tonne), that means an also-official kerbweight of just 960kg (with a dry weight of just 895kg). That's the same weight as a VW Up!. The only real downside - aside from the likely-£50k pricetag they still haven't announced - is that it's only available with a dual-clutch transmission. That said, the Giulietta Cloverleaf from whence the engine came is available with a 6-speed manual, so there's always the opportunity to swap the lighter, more communicative option in later.........

Also, here's the interior. The dashboard and vents combine to look like a happy frog! Look how happy it is!!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Why Don't We Have Full-On Rear View Cameras Yet?

The Future! Probably.
Whether supposed purists like it or not, so much of the modern car is digital. The throttle and more recently the steering are by wire now, there's a big screen in most cars with all the Infotainment gubbins loaded onto it, and some come with creature comforts like rain-sensing wipers, dark-sensing headlights, automatic climate control and radar cruise control that slows down for you if you're too busy tweeting #YOLO to your other idiotic friends (but hey, if someone needs to be told that "You Obviously Love Owls", then telling them should be priority one, right? Right?). Many cars even have reversing cameras with a superimposed parking aid display on that there TFT screen, which leads me back to the titular question of this here post right here: why not cameras for all the rear views?

Concept cars, like the Porsche 918 Spyder posted above, have had little fins or sticks with cameras on them for a few years now, or in the case of the surprisingly handsome Panamera Sport Turismo Concept, integrated into the side vent for the smoothest airflow. Airflow is an important part of modern cars of course, because a slippery body means a low drag Cd, and it also gives a smoother look to have a wee camera on the door instead of a big chunky mirror. Light sensors would give them the auto-dimming qualities of modern glass units, and mirror-sized screens mounted at the ends of the dashboard top would be right where your eyes naturally look for mirrors, so it wouldn't feel that different to use, but would add an MPG or two (Fun Fact: when the DeltaWing added glass mirrors to replace the cameras by request from the ACO, it added 8% to the car's drag coefficient because it was so low-drag to start with), look cooler and, as this rough picture shows below, would be within the width of the car, which goes some way towards negating the counter argument that they would be expensive to fix when you clipped or were clipped by another car and it broke off, because the chances of that are significantly lowered:

Caution: May contain horsemeat MS Paint

But I know what you're thinking: Is it safe? Technology is great only when it works, after all. What if you started the car and they didn't switch on or had a faulty connection? I'll admit that's a potential flaw with any early attempts that don't age well, so perhaps the stalk with the camera on it could have fittings for backup glass mirrors until the problem is developed out (the tip could pop off to reveal a tripod-style screw thread, assuming the camera in the above image is mounted a tad down from the top of the fin). The other potential issue is the picture they provide not being clear enough for high speeds, but again this would be something that would improve quite quickly over time. Considering the quality of some cameraphones and compact digicams, it probably wouldn't take long for the picture to be HD, although I draw the line at 3D door cameras, because 3DTVs are a pointless fad. That said, 3D parking cameras wouldn't be the worst idea...

Really though, the most beneficial place for digital rear view is indoors, above your head (not directly, mind). What with being part of a family and all, I've spent a lot of time sitting in family cars, and with a family hauler full of humans, camping gear, cardboard to take to the tip to recycle or all of the above, it's not always the clearest view out when you look at the central mirror, especially if someone's sitting in the middle. Enter an HD camera mounted at the top of the rear window. No interruptions from front to rear, just a clear view out, perhaps with distance readings when reversing, and auto dimming for that jackass with their high beams on. Oh, also night vision. Almost forgot about that. When such cameras become commonplace, an ability to actually see into the pitch black night behind you might well be beneficial. If the interior screen system fails, switch the screen off and rotate the unit to reveal a glass backup mirror mounted on the other side. Just in case.

A rearview camera system for the interior mirror is already used in the Gumpert Apollo, what with that not even having a rear window and all, so it wouldn't be a big leap to imagine it in a normal car either. Initially all this would be notably more expensive than the traditional option expensive, yes, but so was HD TV once upon a time. And flatscreen TVs. And TVs of any sort. And cruise control and all the other fancy stuff in modern cars. And the car itself. When something becomes commonplace, it develops and gets cheaper. You can't deny that in the comments via your pocket touchscreen camera-equipped telephone...

So what's stopping it? Regulations (and should they be changed)? People playing it safe? A flaw I haven't thought of?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Alfa Romeo 4C: Witness The Fitness

2013 Alfa Romeo 4C (Production version)
This gorgeous shape may seem familiar to you. In fact, you're probably sighing and thinking that I'm nearly two years late to that party by showing you pictures of the Alfa Romeo 4C Concept from the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. Well, swap that sigh for a gasp, because this, despite looking 99% identical to the show-stopping concept, this is the production 4C, so called to reference the legendary 6C and 8C racing cars of old, as well as the number of cylinders. OK, I am now a day late in showing you this, but in my defence I spent much of yesterday gazing at it. It's still gorgeous all right, glitzy new headlights aside. The wheels have been updated with rings that are now more like painted swirls with a thick start and thinning end. The skinny mirrors have been replaced with normal ones, which is perfectly normal in the journey from concept to reality. Those details are the only changes to the outside.

Inside? Well, the original concept had an amazing weight of just 850kg, which would've narrowly undercut a Lotus Elise despite the car having a turbo engine and, sadly, a DCT. The target price two years ago was also £35,000, which would've also been mightily impressive for an all-new flyweight sports car on a carbon fibre chassis. They won't deliver on either of these come production time near the end of the year, but they're not miles off - Alfa Romeo say the weight-to-power ratio of the finished car is under 4kg/bhp, which is the same as a power-to-weight ratio of over 250bhp/tonne. That makes it quicker than any four-cylinder Lotus bar the 2-Eleven track car.

The best designs even look sexy from above.
That's important, because this is also a four-cylinder MR-layout car measuring in at under four metres - with a wheelbase of "under 2.4m" - and made of lightweight materials. In the case of the big-budget Alfa, a carbon fibre monocoque chassis and aluminium subframes are the main reasons for the lightness. Power, however much of it there is, comes from the 1750cc turbo four from the Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde, which in the hot hatch is making 235bhp. The same power here would mean just 940kg or less. Any more than 250-260bhp and it weighs more than 1000kg (2200lbs), which would be disappointing to say the least. The power is exclusively transferred through Alfa's "TCT" dual-dry-clutch flappy-paddle transmission to the rear wheels. The lack of a manual gearbox is disappointing for such a driver-centric car (but Alfa will make up for that with the MX-5 based "Nuova Spider" they're currently co-developing, which will cost less too). Perhaps this is meant as a poor man's 458 Italia with its super-fast, super-smooth DCT?

This is actually part of Alfa Romeo's big push to stay alive and finally re-enter the US market after much beating around the bush. At the moment they only have two models left in their range, the Grande Punto-based MiTo and the bigger Giulietta, both of which are exclusively front-wheel-drive hatchbacks. To avoid fading into obsolescence, they're launching their first mainstream rear-wheel-drive car in 20 years (the limited-run 8C Competizione and Spider came a couple of years before this, of course), and will soon bring out a Giulia mid-size saloon to compete with Jaguar, Infiniti, Lexus, Cadillac and Volvo for the title of Best Interesting Alternative To A German Saloon. Once it finally reaches the US, Alfa actually wants to outsell parent company Fiat, which sounds like optimism until you look over the pond and see that the only cars Fiat are selling over there are 500-based cars (there's a fat-looking 500L and soon there'll be a 500X crossover, because monies). With a more diverse range, Alfa Romeo could just compete if it gets it all right.

But first, the 4C has to be right, and considering the basic ingredients you have to assume that even if it does miss the mark, it will be far less disappointing than the beautiful-but-blunt Brera and other models in recent years whose bodies have written cheques their chassis and suspension can't cash. Helping the handling is further employment of Alfa Romeo's "DNA" system, which has three drive modes that tune stuff like throttle response and steering, and probably damper rates as well. D is for Dynamic, which is the sharpest one, N is for Normal, which I don't need to explain, and A is for All-weather, which again is self-explanatory. However, the press release reveals that in the 4C, this system incorporates "an unprecedented Race mode". Good lord! A Race mode in an Italian sports car? How unprecedented! Continuing the mini-458 feel, Race mode turns all the settings up to 11 to improve handling and response on a track. It will also be the least comfortable setting everywhere else.

One area unlike the 458 is the turbocharger, but to eliminate lag, it features what Alfa call a "revolutionary scavenging system". How that works, I have no idea. Maybe they'll tell us more when they reveal it in the flesh at the Geneva Motor Show next month. Until then, continue to gaze.

UPDATE: More pictures and stats here.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Enzo Farmyard Hoonage Is So Wrong It's Wonderfully Right

11/2/13, 1:59, 302 views (when posted)

I've posted a video on here before about a Rolls-Royce being driven inappropriately, and how watching it was strangely satisfying, as if the glorious but pretentious Roller and its driver had finally let their metaphorical hair down. Well, imagine that sort of thing on a farm, and then replace the stately limousine with a Ferrari Enzo. Prepare your body for the most glorious 2 minutes of its life as a one-of-399 king of supercars is hooned by its bored owner While it cost upwards of £450,000 when new in 2004, a mix of desirability and increasing rarity as people find out that money doesn't equal talent means that you're probably looking at more like a million pounds of Italian superiority, being treated like a cheap '80s Volvo. Enjoy.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

So My Childhood Family Wagon Has Been Scrapped

Nissan Serena (not ours. This is a JDM version, yo. It's got a spoiler and curtains, but ours had an extra door)
On Jalopnik's off-topic forum, one commenter posed the question, "What car did you hate as a child?". Immediately, the answer popped into my head, except that, in retrospect, I don't hate it anymore. I started to wonder if it was still out there somewhere, so I did that text evaluation thing and, as it turns out, it was scrapped nearly 3 years ago, so I've extended my answer into a eulogy of sorts.

When I were a lad with a new sister to complement my two brothers - actually, not much complementing goes on, to be honest - my parents had to get an MPV on what must've been a shoestring budget, because they ended up going with one of these: A Nissan Serena 2.3 d LX.

In many ways it was almost comically shit. Not only does it look horrid, but it was actually a van, complete with van tyres and a gutless non-turbo van diesel engine. All they basically added was side glass and more seats, along with an embarrassing paint colour that's probably called Failed Attempt At Purple. But not on the grey bumpers. There was no air con at all, so on a hot day you were "welcomed" by this horrendous heat haze when you opened the loud, clattering doors. We then had to sit on boiling hot and rather uncomfortable grey-fabric-on-elephant-arse-vinyl seats and put up with all-manual windows that only rolled halfway down at the back for no apparent reason.

But still, all the better to hear that loud, clattering diesel van engine! I mean seriously, you'd think with 2300cc and diesel torque it would be able to get out of its own way, but the official 0-60 time was... are you ready for this?... 27.5 seconds. I'm pretty sure if you pushed a dead orangutan down a hill it would reach 60mph faster than that. Speaking of hills, it was also worse at going up them than I am, and it would probably be a close sprint race between me and it. We actually had to egg it on, and I like to think it would've ground to a halt one time if we hadn't. The top speed was about 85mph (probably 84mph just to be extra disappointing), making motorway journeys so noisy you could barely hear the weedy, fuzzy radio or the CDs you can't listen to anyway because there's only a cassette player. You could argue that any car is slower with six people and some bags on board, but what the hell kind of people carrier isn't designed to put up with carrying people?!

You know what though? It had eight seats (well, six proper ones and a little central pew in each bench), all of which could be folded to make it into the van it not-so-secretly is, with the back ones folding down and then up next to the side windows to give a low floor, and the middle ones rolling up against the front seats. It was a cave in there. It also started up first time without protest every single day of its long, long life, and the reason it couldn't go up hills very well is probably because all its torque was at the bottom of the rev range - although there was no rev counter so it's hard to say - because my parents could pull out of junctions in 2nd or even 3rd gear, they said. Its crapness blended with its honesty and dependability to give it an endearing place in your heart after all. Of course, this was only something that dawned on me when we were getting rid of it after it had vomited brake fluid everywhere on a long motorway journey and had to be stranded in Potter's Bar so we could complete our journey to a wedding or whatever it was.

Not long after that, we came to the decision that it was on its last legs and we should let it go. We got £300 part-ex for a 2007 Ford Galaxy 1.8 TDCi, which is MUCH better. Its only real flaw is the lack of bottom-end torque compared to the Serena and the very sudden turbo. I think they compensated for the fact that the engine came from a Fiesta by turning the little turbo up to 11. At least it's got one though, along with glorious A/C, a CD player and an Aux socket for 21st century music. It's also a much quieter car.

Still, while I don't miss sitting in it, I'll always remember that wonderfully awful Nissan Serena. Farewell N83 EFA! You're finally over the steep hill of family service.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Remember The Green Cross Code

5/2/13, 12:27, 111818 views (when posted)

Hollywood teaches us many things, such as that if you're rich and pretty, everything works out, or that ridiculous coincidences are in fact either fate or God. It teaches us that horror monsters are racist and that if you're a muscly man with a gun, you become nigh-on indestructible. This video, however, highlights an important lesson from both TV and film: DON'T JUST STAND IN THE SODDING ROAD.

I mean, seriously, walking backwards and not noticing the height difference between kerb and road is apparently a basic human trait, so please, when arguing with someone, don't wander backwards if you hear traffic. If your heart is being broken by what you see on the other side of the road, don't let your bones follow suit. Basically, always, always remember the Green Cross Code.

THINK! Find the safest place to cross, then stop.

STOP! Stand on the pavement near the kerb.

USE YOUR EYES AND EARS! Look all around for traffic, and listen.

WAIT UNTIL IT'S SAFE TO CROSS! If traffic is coming, let it pass.

LOOK AND LISTEN! When it's safe, walk straight across the road.

ARRIVE ALIVE! Keep looking and listening.

Well, that's the 2005 version of the Green Cross Code. Back in MY day it was just the simple Stop, Look and Listen, and we worked out the rest either for ourselves or with help from a family of hand-drawn hedgehogs. Silly nanny state! Did any of us get slaughtered by a bus with our easy-to-remember version? No we didn't! Aside from people looking at their phones instead of the road. Bah...

Anyway, this code clearly needs to be introduced in America, where it's either unheard of to wait and check for traffic before crossing the road, or a place of death and destruction where buses run rampant and encourage taxis and vans to do the same. If it's the latter, then hopefully they can move on very soon from all this gun malarkey and focus on Bus Control!

Also, if you're walking across the road willy nilly and see a bus, whatever you do, don't stop walking and stand there looking at it like a melon. You IDIOT. Just run faster!

I hope you can learn from 12 and a half minutes of people making the same mistake and suffering consequences of varying goriness.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Stillborn SAAB 9-3 Reminds Us All To Feel Saad

2012/13 SAAB 9-3
It feels like it was quite a while since SAAB Automobile died off and their museum collection was under threat of being separated off into the hidden garages of the world. Since then, the museum was saved, but SAAB wasn't. They auctioned off the last 68 cars they produced, some of which were examples of the 9-5 SportCombi that never made it to production - they were either pre-production or ready to be sent to dealers and/or journalists, I think - although if you're desperate to own a unique SAAB estate, you can painstakingly get it legalised in some countries where it would pass all the necessary government tests. There's no point offering you that possibility though, because they were all sold off months ago.

Anyway, like Rover, SAAB had big plans for its resuscitation in the works just before it went bust, and pictured above is one of the most important ones: the next 9-3.

Styled by Jason Castriota, he of Maserati GranTurismo fame, it combined the Swedish firm's then-current (and still excellent) design language with a retro nod to the 900 and 99 that put them on the map, mostly in that sloping rear end, but there are also similarities in the windows as well. The tailgate is flatter though, probably because it makes for a more saloon-like rear end that buyers not aware of the retro reference would've appreciated. Another image (below) also shows what must be a hatchback version that's truer to the 99, 900 and 9-3 five-doors of old. The blacked-out A-Pillar is fast becoming a cliché in car design, but its jet fighter reference suits plane makers SAAB perfectly.

As well as this new volume model, SAAB had considered bringing back the 92 as a hatchback to tackle the VW Golf, but in their own unique way, with a teardrop shape like their early cars but probably not featuring a 2-stroke engine or a V4, and featuring styling akin to the last 9-5, a car that looked very good and a car whose "face" Castriota modified and put onto the PhoeniX in 2011. That concept car also featured features of his own like flying buttresses (think Ferrari 599) and lots of little circles, in this case to make up the tail lights within a body-coloured cluster. It looked great, although not all that much like a SAAB from the A-Pillars back in my opinion. Nevertheless, the "9-2" would probably have started out as being based on GM's small hatchback platform, but then modified so heavily to suit the wants and needs of the Swedes that it became almost unrelated to the Vauxhall Corsa or any other small GM car.

Here's the hatchback version, complete with little black spoiler, and tail lights akin to those on the 9-5. Castriota has actually caught wind of these picture leaks from within SAAB, and has commented to Auto Motor & Sport (Swedish) saying "Obviously it is disappointing that the images were leaked without my knowledge, especially when they're bad pictures. But it's fun to see the response to the design. My design has a strong character. Some like it, others don't. But everyone has an opinion. I like that. Design work was still in progress and the final product is different from what you see now. I worked on the 9-3 all the way until the end of 2011. But conceptually correct, the images agree with the final product. It was this design tracks we worked with - a five-door hatchback." The translation from Swedish may not be brilliant in places, but these pics are from when he joined the 9-3 project in early 2011, and are quite similar to what would've been the final product, if not exact. What's here is good though, so tweaking and developing this look would've made something fitting for a car company that, legend has it, primarily sold cars to architects and designers. No wonder I like them!

Also in the works was a convertible, which hopefully didn't pay homage to the 900 convertible, a car that became the dictionary definition of scuttle shake (when a convertible isn't stiff enough and starts flexing in the middle over bumps). It would probably have started off being based on a Pontiac G6 convertible and then been modified so heavily to suit the wants and needs of the Swedes that it was effectively unrelated. Well, if GM had held on to them, perhaps, but because this car was conceived post-GM, it would've been on its own bespoke "Phoenix" platform, which can't have been extremely expensive to develop at all...

SAAB 9-3 Convertible. There are no shots of the front, but imagine a 9-5's grille on it.
Engines would probably still have been GM ones, with a variety of petrol and diesel units, all turbocharged no doubt. SAAB was big on turbocharging, being the first people to fit a low-pressure turbo, and only the third car company to turbocharge a car at all. The 99 Turbo then made a name for SAAB. The blend of increased power and high efficiency is exactly what everyone's targeting now, so it turns out they had the right idea all along. Typical.

SAAB tried to escape the stifling clutches of General Motors after they'd made it clear they didn't want their platforms and technologies going to another company. Ironically, GM's refusal to sell the financially-scatterbrained company on those grounds is exactly what stopped them making their in-house breakaway car in the end. It sucks. SAABs were solid (900 cabrio aside), very well thought-out, ergonomic, extremely safe and always very handsome cars, with their "hockey stick" rear pillars, turbine wheels, windswept headlights and latterly iced tail lights. The jet connection was never more than superficial, but it made them cool. Sadly, not enough people bought into their ways and here we are, in a world lacking this interesting and innovative car maker. One could argue that sticking so bloody-mindedly to their beliefs is why they lost so much money for so long, but it certainly didn't help that their American parents were too oppressive for almost their entire 23-year ownership of a company many will miss, not least the residents of Trollhättan in Gothenburg, where the company was based and built its cars.

There's talk of electric SAABs, coming from National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS) with Chinese investment from Qingdao, a city with about the same population as Sweden itself. Nothing seems to have come of that little venture, though. Still, if there's even a flickering ray of hope, it's from them, so keep a look out for them. Maybe they'll use the finished version of the 9-3 renders you see here. In the mean time, it's always worth combing the classifieds for a used bargain, as a company is supplying parts for SAABs in the UK. Might look for a manual black 9-3 Turbo X...

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Marussia MR02 and Caterham CT03 Launch, People Struggle To Care

2013 Caterham CT03
2013 Marussia MR02
So, with HRT gone for good and Williams being "that team" to not have a new car ready yet (last year it was Mercedes who had to run an old-spec car at Jerez), here are the last two F1 cars to launch for now, the Caterham and the Marussia. Due to the extreme amount of money needed to do anything at all in Formula 1, these two teams, formerly three, haven't really been able to break into the middle of the pack beyond scoring some 12th-15th places between them at chaotic races. They also struggle to hang onto drivers, with Charles Pic making a sideways jump from Marussia to Caterham after just one season and both Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen now absent from the sport after showing much promise at higher teams in their careers. How sad for them.

Ok, first up, the Caterham:

Long car is long. The wheelbase has to exceed 3000mm by regulation.
The first thing you'll notice about this car (in the top pic at least) is that it still has a stepped nose, something it gained infamy for last year as it was the first stepped-nose car to emerge, leaked by a magazine before knowledge of the new nose rules had even become widespread. Presumably a Vanity Panel costs too much. The second thing you'll notice about it is that it no longer has a yellow stripe. I do not have an explanation for this, beyond the guess that it may coincide with it no longer saying 1Malaysia on it, which in turn coincides with the absence of team founder and QPR owner Tony Fernandes, who also owns the 1Malaysia airline. The third thing you'll notice about it is that it's called the CT03. This is confusing because last year's car was the CT01. Did they just forget or something? Actually, the CT02 is their super-awesome collaboration with Renaultsport to make the Alpine sports car come back to life, which is a perfectly valid reason for screwing up a brand new naming system. Because road car.

The CT03 is going to have new wings and a new diffuser put on it, but not in time for testing or the first race, because they haven't got enough money haven't been finalised yet. In the mean time it has lots of revisions to it that include deeply undercut sidepods like everyone else has, to improve airflow into the diffuser area.

Piloting the Caterham-Renault that isn't a road car will be Charles Pic and reasonably fast Dutch gentleman Giedo van der Garde. He's shown much promise and not quite delivered on it yet, so driving for Caterham gives him a prime opportunity to... keep doing that.

Now the Toyota Marussia MR02:

Good livery is good. Simple but effective. If only they could fill the black area with sponsors...
Because Russian-owned Marussia uses the same wind tunnel as McLaren, they too went with a low nose too last year. How convenient that two teams sharing a facility ended up with the same solution as eachother. The top surface is now a little smoother, but the big news is that they're finally bringing a gun to a gunfight, because the MR02 is this team's first ever car to feature KERS. How modern of them! It also has a Coanda exhaust for the first time, so the fight between these two teams (Marussia and Caterham, that is, not Marussia and McLaren) should be close and more exciting than last year. Not that you'll notice, because the TV cameras tend to focus on the top half of the grid in races and it's down to the commentators to occasionally fill time with news of the battle for last place. But you never know.

Driving the Marussia - which thanks to HRT's departure is now the only Cosworth-powered F1 car left - will be British GP2 person Max Chilton, so expect to see him on the BBC and Sky, and, err, ummmm......

OK, they haven't got another driver yet, because Timo Glock's left to go race DTM after saying that he was tired of always finishing nowhere in races. But they'll get one. Soon. Maybe. Perhaps Force India can tempt them into a merger so they don't have to find a team mate for Paul di Resta.

Orange sidewalls are new for 2013, on the Hard compound tyre. People couldn't see the silver one paint after a few laps.
We'll see how they get on, but for now just enjoy the fact that there are still 22 cars on the grid, and there's no Narain Karthikeyan to get in the way or crash into something, so the races will go more smoothly.

Hi-Vis green is paint to see the airflow, not a way to protect the workforce.
If you care, there are more Caterham pics here and more Marussia pics here.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Toro Rosso STR8 Narrowly Avoids Another F1 Naming Scandal

2013 Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8
In 2011, Ferrari wanted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian independence by naming their F1 car the F150. Unfortunately, that didn't go down well with Ford, who have had their own F150 seemingly forever, so they sued them for potentially causing confusion between the two, what with a big pickup looking exactly like a Formula 1 car and all. Toro Rosso, Red Bull's Ferrari-powered B-Team, should thank the Italian language for putting the adjective after the noun, or else the STR8 you see here could easily have caused similar upsets with Chrysler/Dodge, who use "SRT8" on their V8-powered hotrodded versions of cars. Mind you, with Infiniti exploiting the Nissan-Renault Alliance to sponsor Red Bull, maybe Dodge could exploit the new Fiat-Chrysler alliance to similar effect. But they haven't, so forget about it.

Piloting the Challenger Charger STR8 will be Daniel Ricciardo, who may or may not still have braces on, and Jean-Eric Vergne (or JEV to his team). Strict team boss Franz Tost is "expecting" a 6th place finish in the World Constructor's Championship, which means that Vergne's new car will have to be 20,000 leagues better than last year's car, which only managed 9th with the same drivers thanks to a mix of surprising performances, poor ones and some bad luck as well. Riccirado often battled with Schumacher for tenth in last year's races, which may have taught him something.

Ooh, I think the braces have come off.
The STR8 has a smooth, straight nose that's still very flat, giving a huge gap for air to get in and under the car. You might think that getting air under the car would be a bad thing, but the various underbody aero wizardry and the fact that ground effect is now so well understood mean that they can control the air better, channeling it to where it's needed, which is ultimately the diffuser. Speaking of air and the diffuser, there's a Coanda exhaust here as well. Surprise surprise.

Unlike many of the new cars, you can actually see where the vanity plate fits on here.
Nothing much else to say at this point, so here are some more pictures. You know how it goes by now.

Intricate 2013 front wings are intricate.
The diffuser is blocked off, much like the Ferrari's was. Well, it's rude to go getting upskirt shots anyway!
Want to sit in there? It'll cost you roughly 1.2 metric tonnes of bank notes. Any currency will do.
More pictures here.

Mercedes GP Gives Up On Online Launch, Drives W04 Instead

2013 Mercedes-AMG F1 W04
After watching one side of the Superbowl last night, you're probably more comfortable seeing a Mercedes F1 car at an angle as if it's on a NASCAR oval for no apparent reason. So here you go: the new F1 W04. See how easy launching a new car is when you don't use Twitter?

This car has been eagerly anticipated, partly because we didn't really get to see it on Saturday when their online launch plan crashed their website harder than Michael Schumacher crashed into Vergne at last year's Singapore GP, but also because it's Lewis Hamilton's new office, after he left his home at McLaren to move in with his BFF Nico Rosberg, who had a room going spare after the old man retired to a life on his Texas ranch. Seriously. Of course his real plan is to have a fast team in 2014 when the new engine rules come into effect, but having a year to settle in first and see where he can get this new Silver Arrow to finish is good for him and us. Can he pull an Alonso if this car ends up being no more competitive than last year's W03?

Mercedes-AMG F1 are now sponsored by Blackberry, so Lewis can BBM about how he's going H.A.M in the AMG.
Last year's car showed great promise in testing, as well as showing innovation in the form of a clever air channeling system dubbed the "W-Duct", wherein air would enter a little hole in the tip of the nose and go down the front wing struts and out of tiny slots at the front of the front wing's underside, stalling the wing in a straight line and increasing top speed by as much as 10mph with the DRS open. This evolved into a "Double DRS", wherein a little hole was exposed when the DRS flap was up, which channeled air all the way from the rear wing to the front to do the same thing as the W-Duct but more effectively. This along with some solid driving by Nico Rosberg got the team their first ever win in Mercedes guise, making it the German marque's first F1 victory since it pulled out of motor racing in 1955. Although of course, this is what used to be Brawn GP, so the actual team's former successes have been more recent than that.

Naturally the camera car is a Mercedes-Benz. Is the camouflage really necessary?
Photographed doing some promotional filming today, the 2013 F1 W04 features a nose that's the same shape as last year's - with ridges at the sides of the high step - except for the Vanity Panel making the middle of it a much smoother incline. They've also tidied up the usual areas, those being the wings and sidepods, with an exhaust exit that sticks out over the top of the tightly tucked-in rear bodywork, probably as a way to exploit the Coandă Effect like everyone else. Piloting the car today is Nico Rosberg (finally allowed to have the lower racing number), who will be hoping to add to his win tally of one this year with an evolution of a car that actually seemed to get steadily worse as 2012 went on. Hopefully they can flip that trend upside down or just be fast all year. Otherwise Ron Dennis will look smug all winter.

Interesting gills flanking the exhaust pipes. Rear brake ducts are as busy as Lotus's.
Nico Rosberg puts the W04's downforce capabilities to the ultimate test by driving down the side of a building.
Random shot of their new driver pandering to their new sponsor.
And across the line! It's easy to win when you're the only one racing.
Those are some very big seagulls behind them...

[obligatory credit to F1Fanatic for getting these pictures]

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Off With Their Heads

Oh, by the way, there's going to be a convertible version of the ToyoScio'baru GT86-RSRZ. It'll be previewed at the Geneva Motor Show next month as the Toyota FT-86 Open Concept.

Just thought you should know.

Red Bull RB9: Purple Haze

2013 Red Bull RB9
First of all, there are no official pictures from the launch of the reigning World Constructor's Champion's new car, so I tried opening this post with their official reveal video, but not only will it not embed, YouTube Downloader can't download it. So please click this link to open it in another tab.  All I can do is show you horribly over-exposed cameraphone shots from the launch, as the press was strictly told no photography, and 1080p screenshots from the video. So here some of it is: the Red Bull RB9.

There's also sod-all information about it beyond what we can work out from looking, although team principal Christian Horner has called it an evolution of last year's car, saying that continuity and stability will hopefully be key to them getting their fourth world title in a row.

The other side. Turns out it's symmetrical. Who'd a thunk?
He's partially referring to the fact that their driver lineup is the same for the fifth year in a row, meaning there are just familiar faces testing out a better version of something they already know very well. But what changes can we find? Well, first of all there's the purple highlights on the sidepods, its of the front wing and other places too, although the Red Bull blue still shines through underneath. There's also a large Infiniti logo on the side, showing their increased sponsorship money involvement in the team. Frankly their link with RBR is very tenuous, because they're the luxury brand of Nissan, who's in an alliace with Renault, who supply RBR with engines. Still, being two steps removed from any link won't stop them cashing in on Red Bull's runaway successes.

As for what's under the paint, the stepped nose remains, although the mysterious air intake has vanished, being replaced by a ramp that's at a shallower angle to last year's car courtesy of a short Vanity Panel that doesn't stretch to the tip of the nose, due to the added grams. The exhaust area will no doubt be improved with lots of cleverness as well, although the video doesn't show the rear end at all. Reports are coming in on Twitter that the press have no 3G signal and are being threatened with having their cameras and phones confiscated, which combined with the lack of a live launch like all the other teams have done makes you wonder why the hell they're even bothering to launch the damn car at all. Here's an over-exposed secret snap anyway:

The exhaust is another low-set Coanda affair, while the mullet has been trimmed back, much like the Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari. The front suspension looks like a pushrod setup rather than the lower pullrod system of Ferrari and McLaren. The diffuser isn't really visible, which will cause Adrian Newey to breathe a sigh of relief.

Wait, THIS JUST IN: Three official pictures:

More purple on the rear wing, and the dark blue stripe has been replaced by a purple one as well.
Of course, this won't be 100% accurate anyway, because people might actually learn something that way...
This counts as a shot of the rear end, right?
Lastly, a comparison image from a fan. The angle isn't quite the same from picture to picture.
So now you know what most of it sort-of looks like. Plus we all know that there is something worth hiding on the show car, or else they wouldn't be being such jackasses about letting people take pictures of it. Even McLaren let people get right up close to theirs. It's also ridiculous to assume that nobody will be able to take pictures of it when it's moving at Jerez on Tuesday anyway, so they're just being silly about their secrecy. Regardless, here's hoping Mark Webber - having finally healed from his terrible biking accident two years ago - can knock Vettel off his perch this year. It would be very satisfying to see.

UPDATE: More pictures.

Infiniti are now title sponsors of Red Bull Racing, but like Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, you needn't say the whole name.
Typically, Vettel's side of the cover was tweaked to come off faster...
Large turning vane between the front wheels not copied by other teams... yet.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Sauber C32: 1 Shade Of Grey

2013 Sauber C32, painted grey in tribute to its first ever F1 car in 1993.
Sauber had an awesome year in 2012. Their car was surprisingly quick after testing and Sergio Perez went from zero to hero in only the second round when he weathered the Sepang storm of the Malaysian Grand Prix to finish second behind an almost-as-surprising Fernando Alonso in his supposedly awful F2012. The Mexican went on to score podiums at Canada and Monza as well, the latter race seeing him climb from 12th to 2nd thanks to his famous tyre management skills (hence why he and Jenson Button are a great pairing at McLaren this year). To cap it all off, Kamui Kobayashi scored his first ever podium with second place at the Japanese Grand Prix and the wonderful Suzuka Circuit, a track he doesn't actually know that well, having started racing in Europe. It was the first Japanese home podium and only the third time a Japanese driver had scored an F1 podium at all, which I find odd considering their love of motor racing.

However, with both drivers now gone from the team, it's the car that stays on, with the usual raft of improvements and a new grey livery. The C31 was innovative enough to be copied by Ferrari and even Red Bull around the exhaust area, but its performance level was erratic, going from the aforementioned podiums and high points finishes to a few races of dismal starting and finishing positions, and occasionally having bad luck dealing with other young drivers like Pastor Maldonado at Silverstone and Romain Grosjean causing that crash at Spa-Francorchamps, which took out both drivers. So the new C32 - finished in all-grey as a reference to their first F1 car that raced 20 years ago this year - will be worth keeping an eye on, as its performances in 2013 will be difficult to predict ahead of time...

It's nice that the exhibition centre in Birmingham is still sponsoring them. No Chelsea FC logos on this one, though.
If you've read any of the other four unveil posts on here (or elsewhere, of course), then you'll know that the changes are basically developed wings, an improved exhaust system and a new nose. This one's new nose is very interesting, however, because not only is the Vanity Panel a complex shape unlike the other three, but the nose itself is a lot lower than before, which is the exact opposite direction of everyone else. Sauber say they've gained a better understanding of the C31's qualities and set about "eliminating its few weaknesses", so clearly they've devised something clever with the front end.

Ah, there's a Chelsea FC logo after all, ahead of the cockpit.
The Vanity Panel looks from the side like it just rises smoothly up like everyone else's, but actually, it just has high sides to channel air into much the same step as last year (it also appears to be the first VP with a visible seam). Perhaps it makes some downforce and the vertical sides clean up the airflow? Who knows? Well, Sauber's aero people do. What's more, the apparent vent on the front chassis, just behind where the nose attaches, is still there. You can sort of see it in this image, just ahead of the telemetry aerial that looks like an Allen Key:

Right click and select Open Image in new Tab to view in full size
From this angle it also looks like they've got a Force India-style "chin" under the nose and between the vertical front wing struts, so maybe that Coanda's the air into a secret intake that then shoots it up and out of the vent? That's a complete guess and it may not even be legal, but I can't for the life of me think what that vent is for, as there's no little hole in the tip of the nose like some cars have (McLaren treat theirs like a little grille and put a tiny badge on it). At the end of the day though, as long as it's fast it's not overly important to us what it does... unless it's too fast. They have also said that they'll experiment with a passive Double-DRS in pre-season testing.

Also of note is that the show car is on Medium-compound tyres because the white suits their livery better. It's the little things.
Sauber's driver line-up this year comprises of Force India defectee Nico Hülkenberg and Mexican person Esteban Gutierrez, a man I harbour a certain amount of irrational hatred for as he's the same age as me and is about to start his first Formula 1 season. The 21-year-old has been part of Sauber for a while now, being their most recent third driver. His presence means they can continue being sponsored by Mexico, by which I mean the quite incredibly rich Carlos Slim, whose Telmex company is apparently a long-term sponsor. So that probably means that he'd support their finances even if Gutierrez wasn't there. Well, they've been called BMW-Sauber without a whiff of BMW in their car before, so it's not unusual for them. On the subject of names, Sauber is of course not really run by Peter Sauber anymore, after the 69-year-old transferred a 33% stake to Monisha Kaltenborn, who ascended late last year to his ex-position as team principal, becoming the first woman to do so in F1. This will be her first full season in charge, and therefore the first ever full season that sees a team run by a woman, of course. She's playing down expectations, but is quietly confident about this season.

The Hulk-Gutierrez pairing will be an interesting comparison, because they both raced for the ART team in junior formulas (they're good at bringing skilled young 'uns into the sport), so in some ways Esteban is like Nico three years ago. Let's see how long it takes to even out, although of course The Hülk is fast around Interlagos, having nearly won last year and put a Williams on pole in his debut year (2010) at the Brazilian venue, so comparing Australia to Brazil might not be strictly fair. But who knows where Esteban is quick? Its not a scientific comparison at all, really...

From left to right: Robert Frijns (new Dutch third driver), Esteban Gutierrez, Nico Hülkenberg, Monisha Kaltenborn, Peter Sauber
So now you know about five of the eleven different 2013 cars (HRT went bust), and the others aren't far away aside from the Williams. Patterns are starting to emerge, but if Sauber has pushed the boat out early with its Vanity Panel, who knows what Red Bull have done with the RB9? It could be anything. They could've stretched the mysterious air scoop, done the same thing as the C32, left it the same as last year, put a tiny hole in it that channels air all the way to the diffuser, hidden a red shell launcher in it, anything. We'll find out a 13:00 tomorrow.

Bonus picture comparing it with the three previous Saubers: