Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Trip Through The Mercedes-Benz Museum, Part 1: Motorsport

Winners in German Touring Cars [DTM], Le Mans, Formula 1, Indy 500 and Truck Racing, all in one shot... and that's not all!
2014 marks a rather significant anniversary for one of the world's oldest car companies. On 22nd July 1894, an event widely considered to be history's first motor race took place, called Paris–Rouen, Le Petit Journal Competition for Horseless Carriages (when translated from French). The first four non-steam-powered cars to cross the line used internal combustion engines that were designed and engineered by Gottlieb Daimler, whose company would later become known through various mergers as Mercedes-Benz. 120 years after powering a Peugeot chassis 1192km towards victory, and 100 years after filling an entire podium at Lyon (read more here), Mercedes-Benz are now treating the current Formula 1 grid like Brazilian defenders, with the crushingly fast AMG F1 W05 having won nine of the ten Grands Prix held thus far. Back in March, I visited their gigantic museum in Stuttgart, where the company is based, and an entire floor was dedicated to showcasing their motorsport history, arguably longer and more illustrious than any other, and possibly the most varied to boot. Let's take a nice, long look.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

BMW-Mini Driver Almost Delivers Someone's Darwin Award

When you're learning to drive, the idea is to learn not just how to operate a vehicle, but how to use said vehicle as a user of the public road network in a way that isn't hazardous or obstructive to other road users. You know, like a good human being, one responsible enough to propel themselves along at 20-80mph in (usually) a tonne or two of metal, plastic, and maybe some carbon fibre. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that includes parking in such a way as well. The video above contains someone parking in a way Science would call "not well." Almost catastrophically "not well," in fact.

We join the action on the (in)famous Nürburgring Nordschleife, which is of course both a race track and a public road. Average schmoes pay their fee and tackle The Green Hell at full unlimited speed in whatever vehicle they've used to transport themselves and their GoPro cameras there. As you can see, this is awesome... right up until someone leaves their brain at the toll gate.

From what I can work out by pausing the video to analyse the scene - which the driver of this BMW "Mini" Cooper was presented with on the exit of a flat-out, blind corner - a Suzuki Swift Sport (red) has collided with a motorbike and wound up next to the barrier, on the grass. A BMW E36 Compact and Audi S3 (or rather the occupants thereof) evidently decided to stop and make sure the rider was OK. Perhaps they were right behind when it happened. I haven't been to the 'Ring yet, so I don't know what the etiquette is, but I think people pulling over to ensure the well-being of their fellow petrolheads is a thing that sometimes happens. There is also a marshal waving a yellow flag, as per race track rules, to warn drivers of an incident and that they need to slow down.

Standard procedure then, except that a total lack of basic commonsense has turned "standard procedure" into "serious hazard." The BMW driver just plain stopped on the spot, right in the middle of a race track, just after a blind corner on a fast section of the circuit. What's more, the sole marshal standing right next to the crash scene to warn people of an accident is about as helpful as someone in the park shouting "Watch out!" just as the boomerang hits you in the face.

The only one doing the right thing is the driver we're on board with, who stays calm enough to point his car between the stationary BMW and the people standing around as he stomps on the brakes, whereas I probably would've had a heart attack and ploughed straight into said 3-Series. He draws to a halt on the grass and out of harm's way, as the blue S3 awkwardly wanders off, and gets out to hopefully give everyone involved an earful once he knows the accident victim(s) is/are OK.

All it would've taken for this to be an uninteresting driving-past-a-crash video is even a little bit of situational awareness from the people originally at the crash scene.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Goodwood Festival Of Speed 2014

This year's giant sculpture was in tribute to 120 years of Mercedes-Benz in motorsport. It's the first one I've seen that actually stretches right over the top of Goodwood House, like a rainbow... but with no colours.
The Goodwood Festival Of Speed is so good that it's almost impossible to appreciate or even do everything it has to offer in one day, so I bought tickets for two days... and still didn't get around to everything. This automotive Glastonbury sells out every year - with attendance now capped at 150,000 people over the weekend - simply because there is nothing else like it on Earth. Over the last 21 years it has gained unrivalled pulling power in terms of car manufacturers and private owners of history's greatest and rarest racing machines, meaning that if there's a car you just wish you could see one day, it's either here or has been previously.

The festival deliberately takes place on the weekend before the British Grand Prix, so that Formula 1 has no excuse not to represent itself at the event each year, with its current racing and/or test drivers taking cars from the previous season - or perhaps historic championship-winning cars like the 1988 McLaren MP4/4, 1996 Williams FW18 and the 50-year-old Ferrari 158 - and showing them off up the short but sweet Goodwood Hillclimb Course. Some go slowly, some do burnouts, others (in recent cars) go the whole hog and do donuts. Drivers not pedalling F1 cars can even go as fast as they dare up the hill to see how they compare to the record time of 41.6 seconds, set in 1999 by Nick Heidfeld in a 1998 McLaren MP4/13. An exhibition, a motor show, a race against the clock, a celebration of fast cars in all their forms, a bloody great day out. Read on to find out why you should definitely go next year.