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Nov 29 2015

Formula One 2015: Yas Marina

So, did you ever play with slot cars?

Depending on when you may have had very different experiences. One thing that has not changed is that there is one track that is clearly superior because it’s an inside line (no matter your layout and because it’s electrically easier). Your gun controllers vary in quality a lot with bad ones being either just slow or slow without much control. Early cars didn’t stick to the track very well so the trick was to go as fast as you could without sliding off. Even on the hard rubber rings you could drive at scale speeds in the mid-hundreds (150 mph or so), at least in the straights, and if you bought a super-soft wide tire kit and some wide pins you could pop that up to a little short of 200 and fall off the track about 50% less for about $5.

Then they introduced magnetic downforce (about the same time Chapparals were making that point in the real world) and everything changed. Racing was all about keeping your trigger pulled, seriously- you could run these cars upside down, heck you could even park them that way, and in commercials they did.

Now admittedly this is a lot less frustrating because you’re not diving around your elaborate layout wreaking all kinds of Godzilla-like havoc (though that can be fun too) or relying on your opponent who has every motivation to be a tad slow to reset your car. And you can zip around at scale speeds well in the 300 mph range (more if you buy modded engines and upgrade your power supply and controllers).

But racing was a little bit… predictable. Sure a superior car could win in the outside lane now, but that wasn’t exciting enough for some people and you began to see innovations like slotless tracks with lane changing gimicks that were incompatable and never really worked anyway.

Sound like another “sport” we know?

Now the reason I posit this metaphor is that there is a proposal for an all-electric series. Great say I, it is the wave of the future and the Tesla shows that electric cars don’t need to be slow and uninteresting. The technology is available today to make them faster and more maneuverable than anything under the current Formula One specification (CART cars were). Also as an emergent formula there is much more room for underdogs and surprises.

Instead they want to spoil it from the start by replacing the drivers with electronics.

I must admit, though I appreciate a finely tuned algorithm as much as anyone and that motor “sports” are hardly sports at all (at least in the sense of being athletic competitions), I find the prospect of a room full of engineers and computer geeks staring at screens in pit lane, perhaps tapping their keyboards once in a while, to be less than compelling entertainment. Toto Wolff of Mercedes agrees

Toto Wolff has dismissed plans for the world’s first driverless motor racing series as having little to do with sport, despite the German carmaker’s interest in the technology.

“Autonomous driving is going to eventually happen on roads in road cars. It’s going to make our lives easier. And that is the way the technology goes,” he told reporters ahead of Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“We are all here (in Formula One) mostly because we like to see racing drivers racing each other, gladiators in machines that are fascinating to watch,” added the motorsport director, whose team have won both F1 titles for the last two years.

Back to Abu Dhabi-

Sort of. Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams (which is a surprise probably attributable to their Mercedes power plant and the weakness of Red Bull’s Renault about which more shortly). Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel (no surprises there). Nothing will change, it’s like the laps around the Champs-Élysées.

Softs and Super-Softs. The Super-Softs have an 18 mph advantage and Mercedes has more of them than anyone. Massa was excluded from Interlagos result because his tires were too hot at inspection. The regulation imposed after a spate of tire failures this year.

Mercedes started experimenting with the chassis in Singapore, thus Rosberg’s ascendance and relative increase in Ferrari competitiveness with Mercedes (again, more about Renault soon).

Alonso is contemplating a hiatus unless Honda can deliver a competitive engine-

Ferrari, however, could be in trouble with race officials, after Mercedes wrote to FIA stewards following concerns that the Italian team might have benefited from extra wind tunnel time, made accessible through their working relationship with the new F1 team Haas. A ruling is expected before Sunday’s race.

Sebastian Vettel rued a costly error by his Ferrari team after he was surprisingly knocked out at the first stage of qualifying. Vettel, the four-time world champion, will start 16th at the Yas Marina Circuit after Ferrari miscalculated the cut-off time required to make it through to Q2.

That’s not the only problem with McLaren. Honda promises a much better engine next year, but the McLaren chassis is rated mediocre at best. Button has had minor success, as has Alonso, but when you’re World Champions and only barely ahead of Ericsson in a Sauber there is something wrong with the car.

Engine Talk

It’s all about the engines (and money) as we finish the season and the key players are Renault, Red Bull, Ecclestone, and Lotus.

First of all, Red Bull was desparate enough to leave Renault that they even approached Honda. Honda’s McLaren contract prevented it from supplying them (though presumably they would have wanted to), but contracts cut both ways-

Red Bull to stick with Renault engines next season despite fraught relationship
by Paul Weaver, The Guardian
Friday 27 November 2015 05.34 EST

What they have done, after failing to find a better power unit elsewhere, is hold Renault to their contract for next season, even though the two parties have had an acrimonious relationship for the past two years.

(The team’s billionaire owner, Dietrich) Mateschitz has warned on a number of occasions that Red Bull could pull out of F1 unless they found a competitive engine. No one took his threats lightly.

If that ever did happen then their junior team, Toro Rosso, would go the same way, involving a total of about 1,500 employees.

Allow me to pause to point out-

And also seriously threatening Ecclestone’s guarantee to field at least 14 cars a race (20 – 4 == 16)!

Red Bull have bought another 12 months, largely because the French manufacturer has agreed to receive outside help developing their underperforming engine. Beyond that, though, the situation is uncertain. Renault have not been specific about their Formula One plans, if indeed they have any.

That means Red Bull will again be looking to sort out a supplier for 2017 and it is unlikely to be Renault. It could be the new independent engine, which everyone will learn more about in January.

This year Honda were blocked from helping out Red Bull next season by the McLaren Group’s chairman and CEO, Ron Dennis.

Told you so.

But it gets worse for Bernie (and couldn’t happen to a “nicer” guy).

Renault’s hesitancy in confirming a long-term commitment to F1 may also have dire consequences for Lotus, who could go into administration unless their future is secured by Monday 7 December. It is understood that a deal is in place for Renault to buy out Lotus but this has not been confirmed because of a dispute between Renault and Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s chief executive, over commercial rights income.

Hmm… 16 – 2 == 14!

Lotus’s participation in this weekend’s grand prix was in considerable doubt until Ecclestone stepped in to pay outstanding bills, allowing the team to transport their equipment from the airport to the track. Mechanics had little time to put their cars together before Friday morning’s practice session.

Lotus had to beg a delay in pre-race inspection because their cars had simply not arrived yet.

So what is Ecclestone’s (and his toady Jean Todt’s) solution? Why, run two different formulas in the same race just like LeMans and the SCCA do when they can’t fill a race!

Engine talk revs up in Abu Dhabi with F1 teams looking to the future
by Paul Weaver, The Guardian
Thursday 26 November 2015 06.07 EST

Engine talk will dominate the weekend, following the decision by the F1 Commission earlier in the week to reject the idea of a cheaper, alternative engine for next year. That represents a victory for the two strongest teams, Mercedes and Ferrari, and a defeat for the sport’s chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt, president of the FIA, which governs the sport. Forget what’s happening on the track – this power struggle has been the real contest in recent months.

The idea from Ecclestone and Todt was to run a cheaper power unit alongside the very expensive turbo hybrids. But if this ends up with the manufacturers lowering their engine prices most people will be happy. Nobody really wants a two-tier championship. The manufacturers, along with the FIA, will present a proposal by 15 January.

Ahem. Regular readers know what I think. When they talk about that January 15th meeting, it’s for the 2017 rules.

Interestingly enough, while Torro Rosso has to suffer the same Ferrari “B” support handicaps all the mid-pack teams (Mercedes does it too) do, Haas Racing, Bernie’s Great ‘Murikan hope to bail himself out of the fact that everybody in Formula One is pissed at him because he’s a greedy lying cheat who plays favorites all the time and has for years, will get Ferrari “A” level support down to the suspension. They only have to build a chassis.

USA! USA!

Lewis Hamilton reveals ambition: ‘I really fancy a race in Nascar one day’

Because we really need more Turn Left Bumper Car racing.

Flaming Chunks of Twisted Metal! See you in March (just in time for the Madness).

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