Monday, 29 February 2016

Bugatti Chiron - The Last Great Dinosaur

Hybridisation. Downsizing. Impending autonomy. The world of cars is changing dramatically, and fast. Everything from tiny eco cars to the height of performance dreams is being affected by seismic shifts in trends and motivations for both paying customers and manufacturers alike. Naturally aspirated V12s, manual gearboxes, all that stuff may well be gone within a decade or so of now. Even some of the great champions of high-performance engines like Koenigsegg, Ferrari and Porsche have now built hybrids with (semi-)automatic transmissions and electric-only driving modes. Top speed and 0-60 matter less, emissions and gadgetry matter more.

However, while some car manufacturers are succumbing to this sea change, others are raging against the dying of the light. One of those is Bugatti, who have just unveiled their new road car for the Geneva Motor Show to replace the almighty Veyron. It's called the Chiron, and dashboard aside, the only thing electric is the steering assistance. A hybrid system was deemed insufficient for this car. Like before, the engine is both huge and turbocharged in a display of engineering brute force. In fact, this could well be the last all-engine milestone in performance cars... ever?

Named after Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron - who raced for Bugatti in the 1920s and '30s, won the 1931 French Grand Prix and still holds the record for the oldest man to race in F1 (at 55!) - Bugatti's latest car could easily be seen from the outside as an overhauled Veyron. The engine is the same layout and displacement, the proportions are the same, some of the interior looks similar and its aims in life are much the same too. However, we are reassured that it's not some plebian facelift. This is new-new. The leviathan 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16 engine has been completely redesigned, every part reconsidered and re-engineered to be better at whatever it need be better at. This has included such things as two-stage turbocharging with better turbines, improved charge cooling, 32 fuel injectors (two per cylinder), a titanium exhaust and carbon fibre air intake parts. Not to mention "the largest and highest-performance clutch ever fitted to a passenger car." The result of all this and much more is 1500PS (1487bhp) at 6700rpm and 1180lb/ft (1600NM) of torque. That's a 50% increase in power over the original Veyron from 2005 and also in with a shout of being the most powerful production car ever made. Only the Koenigsegg Regera matches it and that needs three electric motors helping its engine to do so. To make the delivery of this massive firepower a bit smoother, only two turbos are running when you pull away. The other two don't wake up until 3800rpm to generate maximum boost, the result of which is an "absolutely linear" power/torque delivery from 2000rpm upwards. The full 1600NM of torque is available from 2000-6000rpm. The rev counter goes up to 8000rpm with no red line. The speedometer goes up to 500km/h...

The top speed, however, doesn't go up to 500km/h (311mph). On the road, for safety and durability reasons, the top speed is limited to a nice and sensible... 420km/h, or 261mph. What speed it can do down the main straight at Ehra-Lessien on a clear day is yet to be found out, but Bugatti are once again targeting a new top speed record for production cars. That will have to be over 270mph at least to really put the matter to bed for a few years, ideally closer to 280mph. You might have guessed that this is no easy task, hence the somewhat sleeker body to cut through the air a mite better than the old jelly-mould Veyron. There are some comedy figures involved in getting this car to make such progress - the Chiron can pump over 60,000 litres of air and over 800 litres of water per minute through the engine!

The airflow is clever too. The shape is carefully refined to keep laminar air flow attached all the way along the sides of the car to the short kamm tail, there's the obligatory huge diffuser with active flaps front and rear, and then we get to the cooling. The headlights sit under a distinct eyebrow which also doubles as an air intake, just next to the innermost LED light cluster, used for brake cooling. The signature "Macaron" grille cools one of the nine radiators, while a small horizontal slot underneath it cools the front differential. The corner grilles below the headlights cool low-temperature radiators (and an "air condenser") while also hiding secondary brake ducts. The Veyron's iconic twin air scoops flanking the engine have been integrated into the sides for the Chiron. The section behind the side windows is a ram-air intake, while the main section below feeds an oil cooler on each side (more radiators!). A small vent in the side skirts draws air out of the front wheel arch to lower pressure and thus lift in that area. Huge vents in the tail do the same for the rear arches (although the smaller area above the tail-light bar is venting the oil cooler). There is still a retractable wing/airbrake doing things too, and when it's standing up an extra cooling vent for the engine and exhaust is revealed, presumably only needed when the car is working hard. The engine itself remains partially exposed, albeit underneath plastic covers again, to aid cooling and look awesome. It will also sound awesome - the sheer immensity of that thing means it still sounds like it's started an avalanche.

But you want performance figures, don't you? OK, then: 0-100km/h is done in under 2.5 seconds, 0-200km/h is done in under 6.5 seconds and 0-300km/h is done in a staggering 13.6 seconds. Quick doesn't describe it. The Chiron embarrasses the Veyron. Even the 1200PS Veyron SuperSport is a whole second less quick to 300km/h, while the original car is a whole 3.1 seconds off the new pace. The top speed is limited to 420km/h (261mph) in most driving modes, but in Handling Mode with more downforce generated, the top speed is lowered to 380km/h (236mph) to protect the tyres and/or suspension from greater forces. At its lowest the drag coefficient is 0.35, but with the airbrake fully up it's 0.59Cd. You still need a special "Speed Key" in a special slot before you can shoot for the top speed, because it makes doing so feel like more of an occasion. As it should!

Of course, if you can go fast then you need to stop fast as well. The front brakes have eight-piston (!) calipers, the rear six, letting the car stop from 100km/h in 31.3m, from 200km/h in 125m and from 300km/h in 275m. The central tub chassis is made of carbon fibre to save weight and Bugatti claims it has "LMP1 levels of torsional rigidity" at 50,000 NM-per-degree. Given that they're part of VW Group, which currently has two LMP1 teams in Porsche and Audi, I'd be inclined to believe them. Once again it needs specifically-developed Michelin tyres (285/30 R20 front, 355/25 R21 rear) to withstand the uniquely hellish punishment of a heavyweight car closing in on 300mph, but this time they've been designed to also be easier and cheaper to fit. What with the Veyron's tyres costing about as much as a Golf, that seems prudent...

Lightness is rightness, and despite the industrial-strength engineering in the powertrain, Bugatti chased rightness in the all-new chassis. As well as the tub, the entire body and even the airbag housing (the latter a world-first) is made of carbon fibre. The centre console of the interior is made of carbon fibre as well as other trim bits. In the show car, it's blue carbon fibre, which the the best carbon fibre. The result of all this is that the Chiron weighs... about 100kg more than a Veyron?! How is that even possible? It could have something to do with being roughly 3" longer, 2" taller and 1.5" wider than a Veyron, to create more interior space (and possibly more room for radiators). The wheelbase, however, is only 1mm longer.

The old car's weight stopped it setting a TopGear lap record, but evidently the heavy-duty approach works for these people. Keeping it all under control is an electronic centre diff which can send any amount of the power forwards or backwards, and a torque-vectoring rear axle which allegedly makes this beast "easy to drift." Versus what? A tectonic plate? The different driving modes include different ride heights for the new active air suspension, including a lift function to get onto ramps and over speed bumps.

Design-wise, it's certainly a decade of progress over the Veyron, which looked a little too VW from some angles. Dipping into Bugatti's history invariably brings about a somewhat Art Deco feel to the curves, with the "Bugatti Line" curving from the front bumper, along the side skirt and around the door to make the A-pillar being the most obvious highlight of the exterior. The eight square headlights reminded me to a certain extent of the controversial Alfa Romeo SZ and RZ, but other than that the nose is just as sharp as the Vision Gran Turismo concept from which this style truly spawned. The central crease running from nose to tail is a reference to the Type 57SC Atlantic, and the way it bisects the interior spaces is impressively dramatic for a production car. The crease also reaches out over the exposed engine in a similar way to the large fin on the V-GT concept, and looks cool whether it has an aerodynamic effect or not. One nice detail is the bone line behind the side glass, which carries on underneath the Bugatti Line to stretch back over the rear wheel arches. At the rear it looks a lot less chubby, and that one-bar tail light is like something straight out of Tron. The four central tailpipes contained in a strange dual trapezoid metal housing complete the tail, but I'm not sure it's quite what I would've done. Overall the shape is sleeker, sharper, cleverer, artier and yet there's enough left in the silhouette, proportions and haunches that it's identifiable as a new Bugatti. Job well done.

The interior attracts the same observations. Much like the Vision GT, the Bugatti Line is repeated between the seats and emphasized with a light strip ending in overhead switches, while there is much (blue!) carbon fibre doing many curvy things and some oh-so-elegant slimline air vents. There's a pleasing lack of huge touchscreen on the centre console, too. Instead there are some very cool knobs with screens inside them and auxiliary driving information is housed in the instrument cluster, controlled by wheel-mounted buttons. It's satisfyingly minimalist, modernising the old-school ways like the mechanicals do under the skin. Plus of course, as it's a Bugatti, the quality will be nigh-on unsurpassable. The stereo reflects that, featuring four tweeters with one-carat diamond membranes and "the world's first mid-range speaker with two separate membrane zones," whatever that means. It also has WLAN/Wi-Fi internet so you can record telemetry about the car when you drive it (and so Bugatti can track what you're doing with your car...) while the passenger tweets on their phone about how good the music sounds. Or where their spleen has been relocated.

But obviously the best thing about it is that you can also have THE ENTIRE OUTSIDE IN BLUE CARBON FIBRE so of course I want one a lot now.

Beats "blue steel" a million times
If only I was a billionaire. The average Veyron customer owned over 80 cars already(!), and the price of this one isn't going to attract the kind of person who only has 79 - Bugatti state the price in Europe as €2,400,000 after taxes. That's been translated to approximately £1,890,000 or $2,600,000 [US] by other websites. So basically, don't expect to see one parked outside Lidl. Or Lydden Hill.
Bugatti will build 500 and a third of them are already spoken for.

So it ticks all the Bugatti boxes. It's got a huge engine, Art Deco style, mad yet clean interior design and a bonkers high price which will probably rise in time. It also looks to be a proper successor to the "the Concorde of the road" by righting the aesthetic wrongs and turning the performance up to... 15, or something. The Chiron is one of the last bastions of high performance through purely mechanical engineering (if we ignore the active all-wheel-drive, driving modes and paddleshift DCT). A Toyota Prius would cower in fear at the mere sight of something so gratuitous, with such a no-fucks-given attitude towards ecomentalism. The Art Deco-ness is entirely appropriate for such a proud speed machine of such classic values.


The only thing is, Art Deco machinery was about powering us into a prosperous new age in the near future... but we've seen the near future already, remember? The previous article on this blog was about a car with over 1000 horsepower, 1180lb/ft of torque, mind-bending acceleration and technological marvels... and the Rimac Concept_One damn well doesn't have the equivalent of four Golf GTI engines booming away behind the seats.

In fact, let's update the comparison table from that post, shall we?

That 0-200km/h time everybody's raving about on Twitter is no better than that of an all-electric vehicle developed by a handful of people in Croatia. Not only does the Rimac burn no fuel, but it costs less than half as much money and will 62.5 times rarer. If you are worried about the environment, then using European mains electricity to charge the EV's batteries could give it the equivalent of around 89g/km of CO2 emissions. The Chiron is predicted to emit about 450g/km, which is in itself much lower than the Veyrons. The Rimac also weighs over 100kg less and will have much more adjustable handling thanks to its fully independent all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring.

Really, what is the electric car missing? Heritage, noise and gear shifts... and that's pretty much it. Oh, and the top speed is a relatively feeble 221mph (355km/h), but honestly how often is that going to matter outside of a dick-measuring contest? Even an autobahn can't promise you enough road to get to that speed and you'd be irresponsible to try it there anyway.

Cars like the Bugatti don't make sense in 2016. It's irrelevant to everything. Ten years ago when the previous one appeared, this was emphatically not the case. The Veyron completely outclassed and out-hyped the Koenigsegg CCR so much that everyone forgets it was the Swedish car that beat the McLaren F1's top speed record first, not the Franco-German one. It was the undisputed king of supercars (or hypercars), and no number of marginal gains from some two-bit American shed projects managed to change that image in ten whole years. There is no guarantee the Chiron will have the same impact because, well, it's a sequel. It might be a really good one, but it'll need to get awfully close to the end of its 500km/h speedometer to make it count for anything.

It's huge, heavy, thirsty, outrageously expensive and relatively old fashioned in its style and philosophy. Yet, it is also mighty, unapologetic and brutally fast. It's new and clever now, but will very soon be seen as a dinosaur, possibly long before the end of its planned eight-year production run.

But you know what? Dinosaurs are fucking cool as hell. Let's be glad that Bugatti saw fit to give us one more before the electric asteroid pummels the surface of the automotive world into silent oblivion once and for all.

[Full press release and images here]

This article was written exclusively for SmallBlogV8. If you see it copied elsewhere then please report it.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

All-Electric Croatian Creation Out-Accelerates Veyrons

2016 Rimac Concept_One
A few years ago, Mercedes-Benz came out with an all-electric version of the AMG SLS sports GT car. It had all-wheel-drive, true active torque-vectoring and a high-visibility paint job. Reviewers marveled at how big a difference it made to switch it into Sport mode, how much sharper and more aggressive it became, how docile it was in lesser modes, and so on. Sure it was expensive, but it also surprised a lot of people. Of course, you'd expect impressive engineering from one of the world's largest and most established car manufacturers in history, right? Well... what if I told you that the electric drive systems all came from a small start-up company in Croatia? Oh, and have you seen the astonishingly potent Koenigsegg Regera hybrid hypercar? The one with "no gears" in its transmission that has over 700 horsepower of electric drive to supplement its 5.0 twin-turbo V8, and which can do 0-250mph in 20 seconds? Koenigsegg do not mess around when it comes to engineering, and take pride in coming up with new innovations themselves... and yet, it's that same little technology company just outside Zagreb in Croatia which has also provided the batteries and relevant control electronics for the most powerful production car yet made. Or maybe you follow the Pikes Peak Hillclimb and wondered whose technology really powers Monster Tajima's 1340-horsepower "E-Runner" that outpaced every engine-powered car last year?

Finally, do you own a PS4 and the game Driveclub? Have you driven the electric Rimac Concept_One that can out-accelerate the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari? Yeah, I'm talking about those guys. That car is real, and it's going on sale this summer. If Rimac has just entered your life out of nowhere, let's go through some backstory...

In 2007, a 19-year-old Mate Rimac [Ma-té Ree-mack] was just out of university when he decided to buy a BMW E30 two years his senior and go racing with it. Unfortunately, the engine packed up. Fortunately, he had been studying "mechatronics" very successfully the year before - he wound up touring his native Croatia and then the world to win awards for his wearable keyboard/mouse replacement meant for future smart TVs - so he decided to have a crack at turning his old 3-Series into an electric car. Initially it was underwhelming and he was mocked for his "washing machine" which people joked might strike them with lighting, but through perseverance and eventually with help from an assembled team of experts, Mr. Rimac made his E30 into something of a monster. A "Green Monster," no less. It was overhauled and reinvented a total of five times, its ultimate iteration setting five Guinness world acceleration records in 2011 for electric vehicles over 1000kg. With a relatively modest 1150kg kerbweight and chucking 600 horsepower and 664lb/ft at the rear wheels, it could do 0-60 in 3.3 seconds, or travel up to 180km (112mi) on a charge.

Somewhere along the line, Rimac realised that there was so little of the original car left that he ought to try building one from scratch. A car designed specifically to be electric would be a better test bed for his technology, after all. By 2009 he had sold enough patents and got together enough investment money to found his own company for the task. A few months after the world-record run in 2011, the Concept_One first appeared at the Frankfurt Motor Show, to much interest. Since then, the weight has risen and fallen, the claimed torque output has dropped from "preposterous" to just "bloody hell that's a lot" and the top speed has slowly risen. There have even been a couple of development cars entering private hands, while one has served as the Formula E race director's course car. Finally, after five years of being repeatedly reinvented, the Concept_One has reached its ultimate iteration and will appear at the Geneva Motor Show next month as a finished road car.

It's quite something, too. Unlike a lot of small-time supercar companies who start with tried-and-tested parts to save money, everything from the batteries and motors down to the lights and interior switches is developed entirely in-house, within a single facility in Sveta Nedelja. Only the Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin tyres and the wheels (possibly HRE) are brought in from external suppliers. This amount of 'vertical integration' allows them to keep a close eye on quality and develop everything in a more unified way.

Each wheel gets its own oil-cooled permanent magnet AC induction motor (fellow Croatian, Nikola Tesla invented the AC motor, of course), and each motor gets its own reduction gearbox in order to translate a spinning motor into a spinning wheel with more control and a different ratio. The front two motors use single-speed gearboxes, while the ones at the back get two-speed (automatic) dual-clutch affairs. The thing about electric motors is that they make their torque instantly, which is great for low-end shove but it means the power delivery drops off quite quickly once past a certain point. With an extra gear for each rear wheel, the car gets a second wind at somewhere above 80mph and continues accelerating like crazy when single-speed EVs would run out of puff.

"But does it really need four gearboxes?" you ask. It's all part of the company's Rimac All-Wheel Torque Vectoring (R-AWTV) system, in which each wheel is individually controlled 100 times per second to give the right amount of torque for what you're doing... and what you want to do; the system can be programmed to effectively give the car any kind of cornering behaviour you want, from mild understeer to powersliding lunatic, both through precisely measuring out the torque and by decelerating the wheel(s) electronically with negative torque to give faster-reacting traction/stability control than a conventional car's mechanical system ever could. As well as some factory pre-set modes (normal/track/drift/etc.), you can customise your own to match your driving style by adjusting things like default torque and brake force distribution. This isn't some puny "Sport Mode Button" that just sharpens throttle response and dampers, the system completely changes the way the car takes corners. An early version of it was in that electric AMG SLS. An article in a previous issue of evo magazine suggested that because each wheel/motor is completely independent, it's technically possible to make the left and right wheels spin in opposite directions to make the Concept_One "turn on the spot like a tank." This probably won't be a selectable mode for customers, though...

Of course, however you tell it to go around corners, the straight-line performance will be the same. It's a good thing it's utterly bonkers, then! The four motors' combined max power of 800kW translates to 1073bhp, while you also get a whopping 1180lb/ft of instantly-delivered torque from 0-6500rpm. In case it wasn't obvious, those are really high numbers. Like, really high. The rear gearboxes only having to change gear once during a flat-out run also saves a lot of time compared to engine-powered cars of similar performance. Speaking of which, let me put the Concept_One's numbers into context:

All figures are as claimed by the manufacturers
Yeah. This car is in the big leagues, make no mistake. It can take care of a Veyron SS from 100-300km/h quite comfortably, despite lacking 110 horsepower and weighing slightly more. Given that the big bad Bug' took twice as long to develop by the world's biggest automotive powerhouse (Volkswagen Automotive Group) in a money-no-object manner, I think you'll agree that's more than a little impressive for a growing start-up company currently employing fewer than 200 people. The one caveat with a Veyron comparison is that the Bugatti was engineered to work just as well a decade after it was built, whereas we can't possibly know about the longevity of this new electric car. The Rimac's top speed is 221mph (355km/h), which doesn't touch the three cars above but could very well make it the fastest all-electric vehicle ever made.

Let's also point out the weight. The Veyron may have an engine the size of some small cars, but the Rimac's got 8450 battery cells to store all the electricity needed to give such a powerful car "an acceptable range" of realistically around 330km/205mi. While they're improving all the time, batteries still weigh a lot, so even though the Rimac's overall package is much simpler mechanically, it can't score a significant weight advantage until even more size-efficient batteries come along. But look at the bigger picture here - this car has four big motors, four gearboxes and thousands of batteries, yet it weighs 390kg less than the most powerful Tesla Model S, and only 55kg more than the very conventional Lexus RC F V8 coupé which is a lot slower. This car isn't inexcusably heavy, it's just no lightweight either. Besides, with the centre of gravity extremely low and central in the car, it should keep its bulk under control quite nicely. Distribution is 42:58 front-to-rear, so it should generate good traction even with all that torque.

The battery system itself can discharge up to a megawatt of energy under full acceleration, while regenerative braking can send as much as 400kW of energy back into the battery. In fact, the car's electronic brakes can generate 0.6g of deceleration without even activating the mechanical brakes. So it stops as well as it goes.

Inside, you will find no plastic at all. Everything visible and touchable is made of billet aluminium, carbon fibre or alcantara. Don't go looking for borrowed switches either - they machined all the knobs and pedals and such in their own facility using machines and tools of their own design. Instead, you find chunky metal switches to control the car's dynamics, and a touchscreen just above it for infotainment and secondary adjustments to the car itself, using software written by Rimac. As explained above, you could go to a track and get super nerdy with adjusting your brake force distribution/torque split/regen-braking level, or you can just turn a knob and engage "track mode" to let the car sort it all out. You can even record telemetry gathered from over 500 sensors in the car and either look at it live or store it on a cloud server using 4G internet to look at later on your computer or phone, if you're that way inclined. Alternatively you can just invite people for passenger rides, tell them nothing about the car and then do 0-185mph in about 14 seconds. Just make sure to film them if you do!

The LED tail lights also vent heat through the middle of them
Purists will scoff, but forget them. I can't even imagine what it must be like to have nearly 1100 horsepower delivered in one sustained surge. Maybe it's like a tube train multiplied by ten, or hitting Warp Drive on a spaceship! To almost-silently annihilate any car on the road at a set of lights would also be pretty entertaining, I suspect. Especially as matey boy in his M3 would have absolutely no idea what just blasted past him. I can't wait to read about what it's like to drive. As for corners, Rimac's test driver Miroslav Zrnčevič told evo magazine that the car feels 500kg lighter and requires less steering lock with the RAWTV system activated, the effect being comparable to a Mitsubishi Evo IX's Active Yaw Control in his opinion.

The Concept_One will go on sale soon, with a target price of €800,000 before taxes. I translate that to £630,102, plus 20% VAT is £756,122. On the one hand, that's a hell of a lot for an all-new car from a company most people have never heard of. On the other hand, there will only be eight of them, it's all completely bespoke and it's the ultimate expression of what is possible, both for current electric sports cars and for a little start-up company in Croatia who mainly do business by applying their knowhow and facilities to other people's projects. Oh, and it can outperform cars worth over £1million, so there's that!

You can learn more about Rimac by watching this presentation by Mate, and read the full Concept_One press release here, where you will also find more images.

Images are from Rimac. Article written for SmallBlog V8. Please report if it is republished elsewhere.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Gene's Italian-American F1 Car HAAS to be Good

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new team in Formula 1... and when I say new, I don't mean they bought out an existing team. I mean they're starting from scratch. What's more, it's an American* team! Say hello to HAAS F1 Team. Then find a way to memorise the pronunciation - ignore Sky F1, it's not pronounced "Hass." That is the wrong way to pronounce it. Did these people see the name SAAB and pronounce it "Sabb?" No I bet they didn't!! So ignore them. It's pronounced with a long A, like "ah." In other words, it rhymes with arse, not ass, as was rather pleasingly confirmed by Romain Grosjean, who initially called them "Team Arse" thanks to his French accent.

*Well, it's mostly American. Their main headquarters is in Kannapolis, North Carolina, but they also have a UK base in Banbury in Oxfordshire (former Marussia F1 HQ) where they employ local engineers and others with Formula 1 experience to run things during the European races. The UK is where the vast majority of F1 engineering talent is, so it makes sense to have a presence here and that's why all but three teams on the grid have one. On that note, team principal Günter Steiner says that around 90% of the team staff were hired from other F1 teams. What's more, while HAAS designed the tub chassis, front crash structure and aerodynamics of the car, they buy in everything else from Ferrari and get Dallara (who build Indycars, GP2 and GP3 cars among others) to actually manufacture the chassis. This was all done to save time and money, which is prudent when you consider that the top teams are spending upwards of $300million per season in total and that, of the previous three "new teams" that joined in 2010, only a re-branded and relocated Manor Racing survive... and by the skin of their teeth at that. Besides, as team founder Gene Haas (who pronounces it "Haas" and not "Hass," remember) pointed out during a September press conference, "like any business, you have to learn it [F1], and the best way to learn it is from other people." As we enter the third year of the hybrid era, prior experience matters. Still, I'd speculate that if they grow into a big team in the coming years, they'll gradually move more things in-house.

So here you have it, the USA's first real presence on the Formula 1 grid since the 1980s (by the way that old Haas team is unrelated to this one in any way, but was probably pronounced "Haas" and not "hass"). They said last year that they would paint the car bright yellow to stand out on the grid, but of course that was too good to be true. Instead, it's a light silver, black and red colour scheme to reflect HAAS Automation's machine tool products. Similarly, its name of VF-16 refers to both the Vertical CNC mill the company created in the '80s and Formula 1. They have also been saying that, for 2016, 'VF' can stand for 'Very First.' As in their car, that is, not their expected finishing position - Americans are overtly proud folk of course, but the team's expectations are realistic for their first year. Steiner makes clear: "First, we need to go out there and show that we can do the job, that we can finish races, that we are respected by the fans and other teams in the paddock. Then, we want to score points. That is the ultimate goal."

Helping them to try to score points are Romain Grosjean, who joins the team from ex-Lotus, and Ferrari reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez, who after two unspectacular years at Sauber in 2013-4 is mostly known for having a massive neck and eyebrows, and saying "Woah, what was that?!" after being flipped over by Maldonado. Oh, and being Mexican, hence the Telcel logos on the car's mirrors. Grosjean was chosen for his experience of last year's cars, while Gutierrez is there on the strength of Ferrari's technical partnership with the team. Theoretically, both drivers could be in line to replace Kimi Räikkönen at the red team if he decides to leave Formula 1.

Given that it's an American citizen but with very strong Italian roots, if the VF-16 could talk it would probably sound like an extra from The Sopranos. Or Fat Tony from The Simpsons. The power unit and running gear are all Ferrari, the chassis was manufactured just outside Parma and the aerodynamics were at least partially developed in Ferrari's wind tunnel in Maranello. The team were originally aiming for a 2015 entry, but decided another year of setting up and developing their first car was required. Given that they didn't enter last year, they weren't restricted by in-season development rules, so they've been free to develop the non-Ferrari parts of the car as much as they can. Given all of this, it would be cruel to predict that they'll only do as well as Caterham, Marussia and HRT did in their short lifespans. I'd say that, if all goes well, they will be racing against Sauber (another Ferrari engine user) as a strong midfield team by the end of the season. For now though, we of course have to exercise patience.

You can follow the beginnings of America's Formula 1 team on their YouTube channel and other social media outlets in the obvious places. Testing starts, well, today!

Just please whatever you do, don't pronounce it "Hass." A four-letter word should not be difficult to comprehend. Unless you work for Sky, which is actually pronounced "Skah." Not really.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Mercedes W07 and McLaren Honda MP4-31 Revealed

2016 Mercedes-AMG W07 and McLaren-Honda MP4-31
Earlier today, two more Formula 1 teams unveiled their 2016 challengers. Stable regulations mean they look really similar to last year's cars and also they're both grey-scale with coloured details, as is fashionable in the boring new world of F1 liveries that are boring. Since McLaren and Mercedes parted ways not long ago, their fortunes have been completely opposite to each other, so let's see what 2016 might hold for each...

2016 Mercedes-AMG W07 Hybrid
Die Silberpfeile have been undeniably wunderbar since the hybrid era started in 2014. They made comfortably the best power unit and with the added advantage of being able to design the chassis around it from day one, it's been their championship to lose... which they haven't. However, it hasn't quite all been plain sailing - a bizarre drop-off in performance at Singapore, a few strategy glitches and the occasional electronics problem have opened the door for the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull (not to mention Williams at Silverstone after a tardy start from the Mercs) to capitalise and snatch a few wins and points off them in the two previous seasons, so despite winning back-to-back driver's and constructor's titles, the people at Brackley and Stuttgart have been working hard to stay ahead and tighten the proverbial and literal loose nuts. Oh, and the livery has more black on it, but whatever.

The exterior changes are chiefly at the rear, with the usual tightening of the tail (smaller cooling outlets), but also a rather large air intake above the driver's head. Occasionally we see extra little "ears" flanking the main airbox on F1 cars at races where cooling will be an issue - well it would appear that they've been integrated into a single bigger unit here. The areas of the engine cover near the airbox are slightly enlarged to accommodate the resultant enlarged pipes. The large air inlet is also angled top-forwards to manipulate the airflow underneath it, which looks rather sleek I think.

Up near the middle, the leading edge on each sidepod has a ridge curving away from it, much like last year's Ferrari.

All that extra air being drawn in will feed another beast of a V6-turbo hybrid power unit. In fact, earlier this year we heard that this year's power units will be making over 900 horsepower in total. That figure needs context: the V8 engines of 2006-13 produced a peak of ~750bhp. The new 1.6-litre turbo engines on their own are now marginally more powerful while using around 30% less fuel in the process. Add in the extra 160bhp or so of ERS power and these hybrid machines have matched the almighty V10s of the early-mid '00s... while using 48% less fuel. 100kg/hour vs 194kg/h. For the same power!! Or rather, the most powerful F1 engine Mercedes has produced. Another eye-popping comparison is this: the most efficient V8 F1 engines had a "thermal efficiency" of 29%. The 2016 F1 power units are at 47%. In other words, nearly half the energy produced by burning fuel and generating electricity is horsepower/torque. They may not scream like the engines of yesteryear, but these things are absolutely astonishing feats of engineering. No wonder they cost so damn much...

As an aside, the reason the lap times aren't record-setting (aside from at Brazil, whose high altitude favours turbo power) is because of the reduced downforce, extra ~150kg of weight and narrower tyres. The actual firepower is approaching an all-time high hitherto only seen in the '80s when engines were turned up to "qualifying boost" for over 1000bhp on Saturdays. Unlike those old fireworks though, these new engines are heavily restricted and must be able to last for at least four whole race weekends in order to get the team to season's end within the rules, which this year stipulate five power units (up from four) must stretch across a record twenty-one races.

Think about that next time Lewis Hamilton cruises to another victory while Nico Rosberg complains that he was overtaken too aggressively again.

McLaren Honda MP4-31
As I just pointed out, the 2015 regulations stipulated that each car must only use four power units - or rather the various elements thereof (engine/turbo/MGU-H/MGU-K/battery/control electronics) - during the season. Due to unreliability, some teams had to use a fifth or sixth one, incurring increasingly steep grid penalties in so doing. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso had to use ten power units. Each. This lead to hilariously idiotic grid penalties of 25, 50 or even 100 positions... on a 20-car grid. It got so farcical that the FIA changed the rules instead of continuing to give out impossible penalties. Suffice to say points count was more 2008 than 1988 for the returning Honda. It was McLaren's worst season for 35 years, with the only highlight being a surprise 5th place at a chaotic Hungarian GP courtesy of Fernando meme-o-tron Alonso. The only team slower was Manor, so hopefully the only way from here is up for the 53-year-old team...

There was talk at one point that Honda had found a whole 200 horsepower over the winter, but Honda themselves quickly managed our expectations on that one. Nevertheless, the winter brought a fresh allocation of development tokens and a chance to overhaul that pesky power unit. Last year it used a small turbo nestled within the vee that was meant to spin at a higher speed than is conventional to make the same power while weighing less. This didn't work; it was unreliable at full boost and at a safer level couldn't charge the ERS enough for it to have full system power down a long straight, meaning that at certain points of the lap the Honda was a full ~240bhp down on the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. "GP2 engine... GP2... AAURRGH!!" was Alonso's famously astute and insightful review of this issue on the pit radio during the Japanese Grand Prix, for all Honda's home fans to hear. Honda listened and has, among other things, modified (possibly enlarged) the turbo while keeping it in the vee of the engine for that compact "Size Zero" package - sure enough, I'd say the MP4-31 possibly has the narrowest tail of the ones we've seen so far. Maybe. Just.

The chassis team in Surrey have been busy too, evolving lots of clever little details like the "S-duct" at the top of the nose cone that channels air (in an 'S' shape) from the underside to the top surface, a hollow rear axle through which air flows from the brake ducts to the diffuser area, and running the central rear wing support straight through the main exhaust pipe to stabilise the air leaving the engine. You can see a full super-nerdy analysis here of all the changes visible.

The "dynamic predatory graphite" remains, although it's possibly even darker now.
TAG-Heuer and Johnnie Walker have both left as sponsors, replaced by Richard Mille and Chandon
Having so much ground to make up gives McHonda the opportunity for big gains in performance this season, potentially bigger than what Ferrari managed between 2014 and '15 if all goes well. For the sake of the increasingly senior driver lineup, I hope they do turn things around quickly. Ron Dennis believes that "MP4-31’s developmental trajectory has been usefully steepened over the winter," which is Ron-speak for "things are going very well at the moment," so maybe the optimism of the tag #BelieveInMcLaren won't be misplaced in 2016. They will certainly be hoping there are fewer #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe, to say the least...

Friday, 19 February 2016

This ACTUALLY IS the 2016 Ferrari Formula 1 Car!

2016 Ferrari SF16-H
Scuderia Ferrari just haven't got a clue, have they? When you "launch" the "new car" it's supposed to just be a drawn-out livery launch using an old car, ideally with an unfinished colour scheme on it and very few official pictures, if any. But noooo! They've only gone and revealed the 2016 SF16-H in full using multiple official images showing the car from various angles! Despicable... although they did at least have a faulty live stream.

Images from F1Fanatic
The first bit of news is that, following much speculation, the new car does indeed have a lot more white on it, and I quite like the graceful new look. Officially it's a bit of a '70s throwback to recall the cars driven by Niki Lauda (who ironically is now a big cheese at Mercedes...) but some out there reckon that Philip Morris - owner of Marlboro cigarettes - has asked for some kind of subtle subliminal influences to work around the strict ban on tobacco advertising. Hmm...

As for the bodywork itself, the big platypus nose of last year is gone in favour of something a lot more Williams-like. This much shorter nose changes the way the air flows through the car and is apparently better, which explains why nobody else had such a big floppy nose in 2015. The sidepods are also much tighter as a result of the hybrid power unit and its cooling systems being comprehensively overhauled to improve packaging and combustion (done by modifying the turbo, air inlet system and other stuff). Maybe McLaren-Honda's "size zero" philosophy isn't such a bad idea after all, eh?

In fact, the red car has been getting noticeably narrower at the tail year-on-year, as you can see here on here:

The other big change is in the front suspension. Since 2012 Ferrari have been using a "pullrod" system on its front suspension, which is essentially an upside-down version of the way all the other teams do it and was chosen to lower the centre of gravity at the front and be marginally smoother in compression. This year, it's been turned the right way up again to make it a "pushrod" system. Chief designer Simone Resta says of it that "the weight is better and it is a step forwards from last year," whatever that actually means.

Ferrari made a big, big jump between 2014 and '15, and I wouldn't bet against them being even closer to the all-conquering Silver Arrows this season. Four-time champ (and Race of Champions overall winner) Sebastian Vettel still has a decent-but-beatable Kimi Räikkönen as his team mate, while there are rumors that their reserve driver will be shared with the HAAS team, who have a close partnership with the Scuderia. So far in this new V6 Hybrid era of Formula 1, Mercedes have won all-but-three races in both seasons. In 2014 it was Daniel Ricciardo that spoiled their party and last year it was a reinvigorated Vettel. Whether more wins are possible this year remains to be seen. Hopefully it won't just be another year of waiting for Mercedes to drop the ball...

This is Most Of the 2016 Williams-Mercedes FW38

Williams FW38 Mercedes
"Hey look, a new F1 car!" Williams Martini Racing proclaimed. "Hey look, it's exactly the same!" people replied. Well, don't be so sure on that. This is indeed the 2016 Williams F1 car in its 2016 livery, but it's sporting the 2015 nose cone and front wing, and will do during the pre-season tests. Apparently there will be a new Mercedes-style pointed nose at the Australian Grand Prix in mid-March.

So rather than focus on that, try to pick out the subtle differences from the front axle backwards. The sidepods have a different-shaped air inlet hole. The rear end is narrower. The cockpit protection is around 30% taller. There are new slots and raised sections in the floor. It may look almost identical at first, but the team have been working on this car for longer than they usually would and there are even more unexplained changes under the sexy skin.

Here's a comparison from F1Fanatic (perspective and zoom are different in each image):

The sidepods are actually about the same size, it's just different photography. You can see the higher cockpit sides, though.

The car in many ways reflects the team; the driver lineup and all the main staff are the same as last year, but Pat Symonds tells us that there have been "several operational changes" that are "not particularly visible from the outside." While the two previous cars by this team have been fast in a straight line and very consistent in high speed corners, they have struggled with low-speed traction... a problem made much worse when it rains. As such their main efforts have been in identifying design and setup changes to improve mechanical traction without spoiling their strengths in lightness and aerodynamics.

I can't wait to see what it looks like without a "thumb tip nose" when it appears in Melbourne. I also hope they win a race this year, although the red cars will be harder to beat...

UPDATE (20/2) - I decided to get an idea of what this car would look like with a pointed nose, so I cranked the starting handle on my Photoshop-o-matic and it churned out this mockup. Better? Worse?

Williams FW38 Mercedes - pointed nose mockup

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

This Is The Red Bull RB12... Livery

Have Formula 1 car launches become completely pointless? Earlier this month we "saw" the new Renault factory team launch event in which we saw last year's car with a display livery on it that won't be used in races. Today we have been shown the 2016 Red Bull Racing livery on last year's car instead of the new car, which will actually appear at the start of pre-season testing next week. Is it just that teams are too afraid to let each other see clever new pieces of aero, or are the real cars simply not finished enough yet... or do the teams just not really care any more? We'll see plenty of photos during testing, after all. Who knows...

In the case of Red Bull, it might be that the RB12 isn't quite ready to show yet anyway. In fact, the new chassis only passed its final crash test today, less than a week before testing begins. Being whole weeks behind other teams in this regard is most likely down to how long it took the team to secure an engine deal - after a whole year spent slagging off Renault and threatening to switch engine supplier, they are running...... Renault engines. Except they're not called Renault engines, they're branded as TAG-Heuer power units. I can almost guarantee there is no Swiss engineering back there, though...

See, Red Bull wanted Mercedes power for 2016, but a miscommunication issue followed by Mercedes not wanting their factory cars to be beaten put paid to that deal materialising. Ferrari would've made sure Red Bull were second-best to their car during the season and really weren't interested in giving them the same hardware as the red cars (as such Toro Rosso are getting late-2015 spec Ferrari engines this year, not fresh ones), so that's another no. Honda, with all the will in the world, aren't exactly looking desirable at the moment after McLaren's own year-long struggles. There was a lot of talk that Volkswagen or their Audi brand would enter as a factory supplier to Red Bull, but before that could be set in motion the German behemoth got landed in one of the biggest automotive industry scandals of all time, so they've decided to focus on dealing with that instead. Besides, Audi are still at the sharp end of LMP1 and a switch wouldn't make total sense... yet.

So in the end, after all the smack talk and frantic meetings, Red Bull are seeing out the final year of their contract with Renault after all. Nevertheless, between the new Renault factory team and all the badmouthing in 2015, the engines have different logos on them, pinched after TAG-Heuer ended its long-term partnership with McLaren. The eleventh-hour deals have rather compressed the amount of time in which to design and build the new car in full, but the team remains bullish, as it were, about their chances.

Enough of that for now though, let's look at the new livery everyone!

Infiniti have also left the team, as they're a "Renault-Nissan Alliance" brand (selling deluxe Nissans, if you haven't head of them). This means the purple flashes have gone, and with a chance to revamp its colour scheme Red Bull have made the traditional dark blue so dark it's almost black. The "RED BULL" logos no longer have a white stroke around the edges, the bull has a yellow outline instead of a white one, and the whole car now has a matte finish, following the trend set by Williams Martini Racing last year. We've been reassured that there is no issue with weight or aerodynamics when using this finish, thank goodness. It will make the sponsors easier to read in different lighting conditions, but it will also make any changes to the body shape more obvious by the same token. Overall I think it's quite a nice, clean update to their signature look, although I hope it looks a little more blueish in broad daylight than it does in some of these under-lights images found online.

It would appear Puma will have a noticeable presence sponsorship-wise, by the way. I know you find that sort of thing terribly interesting...

Behind the scenes, aerodynamics supercomputer Adrian Newey will take another step back from his responsibilities this year, but aside from that the main faces are essentially unchanged from 2015, with the driving done by smiley metalhead Daniel Ricciardo and pronunciation challenge Daniil Kvyat. GP3 driver Alfonso Celis Jr. of Mexico will be the reserve driver, replacing full-time Formula E driver (and Renault-Nissan man) Sébastien Buemi.

Team boss Christian Horner said at the launch event that their first aim is just to be comfortably into Q3 in Australia, and they'll set their ambitions for the season from there. The 2016 Renault power unit is allegedly much more promising than last year, with British engineering company Ilmor aiding in its development. Normally a customer team - as Red Bull have essentially become - is on the back foot compared to the factory team, as they get the power unit delivered in a box instead of being able to design it alongside the chassis for perfect harmony... but Red Bull's lengthy experience with Renault power combined with the factory team in Enstone being fresh and switching away from the Mercedes power Lotus used there last year could neutralise much of that disadvantage - and don't go thinking the late engine deal will make a big difference to that; it's not exactly like Renault bought the Lotus team with time to spare either...

This season has a number of question marks over it before you even wonder about Lewis v Nico. Is Renault's new power unit actually better? Is Honda's, for that matter? Where will Renault-at-Enstone be in the pecking order? Where will the all-new HAAS team fit in? Will Manor be able to score points with Mercedes power and Williams tech support on its side? Have Ferrari caught up to the Germans in terms of raw power? We must remain patient for now. If you need distractions in order to do that, here's Daniel Ricciardo on stage with a metal band called Parkway Drive:

A video posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

Monday, 8 February 2016

Ferrari GTC4 Lusso Fixes FerrariFour's Flaws

2016 Ferrari GTC4Lusso
When Ferrari announced the FF, it was a bit hard for me to swallow as a concept (as you can read here if you're bothered). It was Ferrari's first all-wheel-drive car, it had a hatchback tailgate and it sort of looked like a big angry Pokemon with a fat arse. "Oh no! It's the first step towards a Ferrari SUV!" many exclaimed in panic. Also the name was silly - FF stands for "Ferrari Four" as a nod to AWD and four seats, but that meant its full name was the "Ferrari Ferrari-Four" and that's just messy. It was only once you'd seen through all these layers and the ~£240k price tag that you realised there was a 660-horsepower V12 shooting brake with a prancing horse on it and extra stability in slippery conditions, which should be loved as a concept. A practical everyday car that's also a V12 Ferrari? Who can argue with that?!

Now, Ferrari are making it slightly easier to love with a revised version. Firstly, it has a new name: GTC4Lusso. Much like the F12berlinetta and F12tdf, it reads like Ferrari's keyboards are broken, or like they were considering making it a hashtag and then chickened out at the last second. I am not following their silly lack of punctuation, because all my spacebars work...
Still, the "GTC/4 Lusso," if you prefer, is a mishmash of historic nomenclature, referencing the likes of the 330 GTC and 365 GTC/4 as well as Ferrari's first luxury-oriented car, the 250 GT Lusso. It is unclear what the 'C' in 'GTC' means here - previously it meant Coupé which doesn't apply here - but the '4' refers to the number of seats and driven wheels rather than the number of camshafts (which probably is four anyway). After the 488 GTB, it's another pleasingly old-school name of sorts.

But enough about the name. There's a V12 shooting brake to look at, and doing so is a lot more pleasant this time around as they're reshaped it all to cut both drag and ugliness quite effectively. The nose design is cleaner, the side surfacing is more elegant and dynamic, plus the change from two big tail lights to four smaller ones (a bit of a #Throwback) has done wonders for the subtly reprofiled tail. Overall, the proportions are just better, as are the details - the side gills are exactly as you'd find on some of Ferrari's '60s grand tourers such as the 330 GTC or a 275 GTS. The full-length sunroof ought to help rear-seat passengers feel a bit less claustrophobic too.

Speaking of occupants, the interior design has also been revamped, featuring a "Dual Cockpit architecture." Translated from designerese, that means the front passenger gets their own set of instruments to read, including the car's speed, gear and revs. Depending on who your passenger is and how you're driving, this is either a brilliant idea or a terrifying means of being judged. If you're stuck with someone who makes it the latter then feel free to distract them with the 10.25-inch touch-controlled infotainment screen while you enjoy the improved driver ergonomics on and around the steering wheel (partially made possible by a more compact airbag). To make room for more cubby holes, the central gear selection pod is now sat alongside the driver's knee, while the passenger gets a similarly-shaped handle to grab when they see, hear and feel that you've just floored it in 3rd gear and almost doubled your speed in mere seconds.

Not that it should come as any surprise; the 6.3-litre V12 now produces 20 more horsepower to make 680PS in total at 8000rpm, with 514lb/ft of torque at 5750rpm (80% of that [411lb/ft] is available at 1750rpm for low-end shove). Despite weighing a hefty 1790kg (47:53), the GTC/4 Lusso hits 62mph in 3.4 seconds and rockets on to about 208mph up top. To make you less nervous than you newly informed passenger, Ferrari have updated their clever "4RM" all-wheel-drive system to include rear-wheel steering, much like the F12 TDF or a Honda Prelude. On top of that, an active electronic differential and adjustable active dampers combine with active electronic "Side Slip-angle Control" to keep things sane even on slippery surfaces. This despite the fact that the front wheels only ever get 20% or less of the total available power and torque.

Rear seats can still be folded down for wagon-like luggage space
That's about all the information we have at the moment, but more will be revealed at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show in March. In the meantime there are a few more words in this weird PDF-ish thing from their website. Oh and these other press images. That face look like it knows something sneaky...

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

This Isn't Actually The RenaultSport RS16 Formula 1 Car

2016 Renault Sport F1 RS16 - by which I mean 2015 Lotus-Mercedes E23 in a temporary show livery
As you have no doubt heard, Mr. or Mrs. F1 Follower Esq,, the financially troubled Lotus F1 team was bailed out recently when they were bought by the competitively troubled Renault. Today, many things have been confirmed, including the new name of Renault Sport F1, the new Twitter handle of +Renault Sport F1 and the new driver line up of Jolyon Palmer and Pasto--- wait, no!! Kevin Magnussen! Trouble with Maldonado's sponsor PDVSA has seen him ousted at the eleventh hour in favour of McLaren reject Kevin Magnussen, who lest we forget scored a podium finish on his debut at the 2014 Australian GP before being replaced by Fernando Alonso for a difficult 2015. That ought to save on Renault's repair bill a bit!

Thing is, the brand and staff is all established... but despite official images of a Formula 1 car with Renault logos and some initial sponsors on it, we haven't actually seen the car they'll be using.

What you see here is last year's Lotus-Mercedes E23 decked out in new colours. See, because last year it was black with yellowy bits on it, whereas now it's black with yellow bits on it but different bits are yellow. Very important distinction, that.

Seeing the initial images of the "RS16" show car made me bitterly disappointed. Who the hell do Formula 1 teams employ to design their liveries?! Do they just get one of the engineers to do it or something? Last year McLaren had a chance to rebrand and refresh their car with the arrival of Honda power, and they rocked up with a 2005-spec livery instead. Force India went from multi-colour to silver-on-black and the green of Caterham had disappeared, meaning the majority of the grid just had a "monochrome with stripes" look. Given that Renault's Formula E car (present at the event) is blue with yellow over the top, and the RS01 GT racing car was launched in bright yellow like all RenaultSport's road cars, I was hoping for something refreshingly bright and bold from this car. Especially as the typically-purple Infiniti has now joined the team having left Red Bull.

But no. It's monochrome with a few painted panels. I mean, the matte-finish shapes at the back are OK I guess, but that's only noticeable under lights.

But much like the McLaren-Honda failure (the livery one I mean), there's hope! Senior team staff have admitted that this is just a show car and that the one we see in pre-season tests will look different. They only talked about the bodywork changing shape, but some sources are suggesting the livery could be changed however much as well. Hopefully they'll paint the black bits yellow and the yellow bits black for Melbourne and beyond. Is there no imagination in Formula 1 anymore?

In terms of performance, the fact that Renault did the deal so late in the day has lead to compromises in the car's development, because suddenly they had to redesign the rear chassis area to accommodate the Renault power unit instead of the Mercedes one used for a single season. Aero development was also slow as Lotus clinged desperately to life in the face of bailiffs and mounting debts, so the team admit to being a little bit behind on that too. In other words, don't expect them to shoot up the grid straight away just because they've had a cash influx. I'd imagine they'll start in roughly a similar place as 2015, fighting for points here and there, but the added ability to develop could see them creep forwards over the next 12 or 24 months and beyond. They're here to win, but it will take a bit of time.

(left to right) Jolyon Palmer, Esteban Ocon, Kevin Manussen
Unlike McLaren, Renault's drivers have time to wait for the results to come. 25-year-old Jolyon Palmer won the GP2 championship in 2014 before spending a year as the test driver at this team, making him an obvious signing after Romain Grosjean's move to HAAS (which rhymes with arse, not ass). 23-year-old Kevin "K-Mag" Magussen was let go by McLaren on his birthday four months ago mostly for a lack of a place to put him, so he has been fighting for a new seat in F1 and Maldonado's financial setbacks caused by falling oil prices and the huge depreciation of Venezuelan currency was his opportunity to get back in. Thirdly, 19-year-old Esteban Ocon had prior connections with the team in 2015 through the Mercedes driver development programme and spent last year winning the GP3 championship, so he is the team's new third driver and will appear in the occasional Friday practice session when he's not doing simulator work and the like. It seems his career will nevertheless continue to be overseen by Mercedes, who do have a tenuous connection with Renault-Nissan having co-developed the new Smart car and Renault Twingo together.

Carmen Jorda, the headline-grabbing development driver signed last year, was not mentioned at any point in any official press material or announcements, but was present at the event and is apparently still working for the team in some capacity or other. It is not known what she actually does, even by the team at this point.

The actual Renault Sport RS16 F1 will be fired up soon and will appear at every pre-season test, all of which starts late this month. Hopefully they will have found a creative French person to devise an actual colour scheme by then...