Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lewis Hamilton: Hoon or Hero?

Surprise, surprise, our favorite boy racer Lewis Hamilton was yet again involved in a race incident at the Canadian GP, and this time it involved his teammate and fellow Brit Jenson Button.  Getting into a crash with your teammate is a cardinal sin in motorsport, so it follows that Hamilton should’ve offered penance for his wrongdoings.  Problem is, according to Lewis Hamilton, Lewis Hamilton did nothing absolutely wrong.  Well then…

Button went on to win the race in spectacular fashion while Hamilton had to retire from the contact.  Canada wasn’t the greatest weekend for the dynamic duo, but judging from this bit, despite its commercial intentions, their cameraderie and friendship seems genuine, and they’ll get over their little mishap.

I admit I’ll never be the president of the Hamilton Fan Club, but as a racing fan I have to say he is one of the most magnetic personalities on and off the track.  It’s pretty much guaranteed regardless of the circumstances, Hamilton will drive the wheels off his car to the ragged edge, which is what you want in a driver.  But the flip side is he places himself in precarious situations where conflict is inevitable, and as a result he makes himself a target for criticism from other drivers, race officials, and the media.  Hamilton recently spoke out on the brewing controversy over his racing mentality, and was adamant that he “liked” his racing style and had no intention of changing.

More so than any of the current drivers on the grid, Hamilton channels the spirit of the late Ayrton Senna, the greatest driver of all time.  They are pure racers, they drive with at times reckless abandon, and they are capable of putting on spectacular demonstrations of racing at the absolute limit.  Which embodies what F1 at its heart is all about.  On second thought, deep down I am a fan of Hamilton, I think any fan of motorsport has to be.  Just stay away from my boy Alonso and his Prancing Horse.

MP

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Banning off-throttle blown diffusers and the FIA’s (un)intentional attempt to create a silly circus

So the FIA is at it yet again, and this time their decision is going to directly affect the racing on the track, as opposed to determining when and where F1 will race.  Now the hot button issue is the teams’ use of off-throttle blown diffusers and the FIA’s decision to ban them midseason, just in time for the British Grand Prix.  To clarify, here’s a quick background on diffusers and their storied technical history in the past several years.

A diffuser is a shaped section of the rear underbody of a car that manipulates its aerodynamic properties.  A diffuser increases the velocity of the air exiting underneath the car, which in turn reduces pressure, and the subsequent effect is the slower velocity/higher pressure air flowing above the car generates a downward pressure effect on the car, creating the mystical yet very tangible and beneficial aerodynamic principle of downforce.  In its simplest terms, think of a diffuser as an inverted wing installed on the bottomside of a car, and the faster the car goes, the more atmospheric pressure presses downward on the car, ultimately improving its grip and handling.

Now that’s a rear end only an F1 fan could love.

Starting last year, Red Bull Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey designed the RB6 so that the exhaust gases are discharged from the bottom undercarriage of the car, essentially dumping the hot gases into the airstream flowing underneath the car and out through the diffuser.  The net result from the artificially energized air flow was an increase in downforce without any increase in drag, which is the holy grail for aerodynamic engineers.

Fast forward to 2011, and Red Bull took their design a step further by “mapping” the engine to leave the throttle slightly open to blow exhaust gas into the diffuser even when the driver is off the throttle pedal, hence the term off-throttle blown diffuser.  Not to be left behind, the other teams responded with their own off-throttle diffuser systems, with only a small minority sticking with a “cold blowing” diffuser design.

One of the general design doctrines in F1 is the strict ban on moveable aerodynamic devices other than the ones permitted by the regulations.  The FIA chose to interpret the use of off throttle diffusers as in violation of this rule by declaring that the engine was now a moveable aerodynamic device because of use of exhaust gases to influence aerodynamics, specifically during the off-throttle stage.  Clever buggers.

After several months of debate and a meeting by the FIA’s Technical Working Group, the decision was made to ban the use of engine mapping to artificially blow exhaust gases during the off-throttle stage, with the British Grand Prix set as the deadline for the teams to modify their designs.  Several of the teams using the innovative diffuser design in conjunction with the off-throttle engine mapping, Renault and Red Bull in particular, voiced their dissenting opinions with the FIA’s decision, with other teams either supporting the decision or staying silent on the matter.  Point is, the FIA decided to change the rules of the game mid-season, which could potentially lead to a dramatic change in the teams’ performance for the remainder of the season.  Imagine the NBA deciding to shorten the shot clock by tw0 seconds or MLB deciding to shrink the size of a baseball midseason.  Does that sound fair to you?  It’s not an apples to apples comparison, but hopefully you get the gist.

Skeptics will claim that the FIA is trying to manipulate the outcome of both Championships this season, in particular because Red Bull is the team that pioneered the off-throttle diffuser design and has fielded the strongest car on the grid for the past two seasons.  Pragmatists will claim that the FIA is simply executing their duty to ensure the teams adhere to the technical design regulations.  Personally speaking, it seems a little absurd to force teams to come up with new designs midseason, especially considering the current trend in F1 to reduce costs in the area of car design and testing.  But if Ferrari manages to benefit from the FIA’s decision, then who cares?  Forza, and off to Valencia!

MP

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Senna: The sound of speed

Senna.  Just saying the name evokes a reaction.  Whether it’s a sense of relief from chronic constipation, or confidence from a flawless complexion, or perhaps the memory of the greatest motorsport driver of all time, it can mean many things to different people.  For me, the memories of Monaco ’84, Monaco ’88, Japan ’88, Japan ’89, and of course the tragic events at Imola in ’94.  For the past six months, film festivals abroad and here in the States have been giving new life to the legend by screening the feature film bearing his name.

Even if you’re not a fan of F1, Senna is worth the 2 1/2 hours it’ll take up in your increasingly hectic lives.  It’s not just merely a documentary of a deceased race car driver; it’s a time capsule of the storied history of F1, a window into the past, to simpler times when tv pictures were fuzzy, hair was cheesy, and the romance and bravado of F1 was at the peak of its modern era.  Sure F1 today is still awesome, but in the wake of its technological revolution in the 90’s and 00’s, a small part of its soul was lost forever.  The death of Senna marked the beginning of a new era in F1, one that emphasized safety, aerodynamics, and ironically enough, the car over the driver.  Schumacher may be the winningest, Vettel may be the youngest, but Senna will always be the most celebrated and beloved.  For all disciples of F1, in Senna we trust.

MP

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Reflections in the sand: The saga of the Bahrain GP

I know I know, it’s been awhile, and I can’t promise I will resume writing regularly.  A lot has happened since my last post and there’s plenty to talk about, let’s get on with it.

Chelsea: I don’t want to talk about it.  I don’t want to talk about the absurdly volatile season we had in the Premier League(although I did somewhat foresee it back in November in my post) or the meek showing against ManU in the Champions League, I don’t want to talk about the 50 million pounds spent on Torres, the axing of Ancelotti twenty minutes after the last match of the season, or the potential arrival/departure of Lukaku, Aguero, Neymar, Drogba, Anelka, and whoever’s name is on the hot list.  I would like to say, however, that I give the thumbs up for next year’s kit.

More importantly, what do the players think?

So it’s unanimous, we all like the kit.  Interesting how Drogba was omitted from the interviews, could it be an omen of his pending exit from the Bridge?  And yet his jersey is on sale at Chelsea’s website.  I think I’ll hold off on my purchase until I’m certain of next year’s roster.

Formula 1: Coincidentally enough, my last post on F1 was on last year’s Monaco GP.  I’ll try to summarize last year’s season and the first six races held so far this season, just to bring you up to speed.

Turkey: Vettel and Webber take each other out fighting for the race lead, gifting the win to Lewis Hamilton.  Teammate fail.

Canada: Lewis doubles up with a win from pole.  Meh.

Europe: Vettel wins, while his teammate Webber flips his car rearending a Lotus.

Definitely crash of the year.

Britain: Like a champ, Webber bounces back with a dominant win at Silverstone.

Germany: Alonso and Massa take a Ferrari one-two! So what if Massa let Alonso pass?  Forza!

Hungary: Webber wins again, and takes the lead in the Drivers championship away from Hamilton.

Belgium: Hamilton responds with a win to retake the DC lead, it’s turning into an epic championship prizefight, they’re trading blow for blow!

Italy: Alonso responds with his own win from pole for Ferrari on home soil.  Forza, cue the music!

Singapore: Alonso wins back to back!  And he made sure not to spit on the sidewalk afterwards.

Japan: Vettel wins for the first time since Valencia.  The Drivers championship is shaping up to be a three horse race, with the Spaniard Alonso taking on the charging Red Bulls.

Korea: Alonso wins again, taking the lead in the DC!  Granted Red Bull gifted the race win to him with Webber’s crash and Vettel’s blown engine, but so what.  It’s not how you start the race, it’s how you finish.

Brazil: Vettel and Webber respond with a 1-2 at Interlagos.  Off to Abu Dhabi for the final race of what’s been one of the most epic seasons in F1 in years.

Abu Dhabi: What a dud.  Vettel takes the win and Drivers championship with a dominant start to finish performance.  But what robbed the race of its drama and intrigue was Alonso’s engineers boneheaded decision to have him pit to cover Mark Webber, only to find himself stuck behind Vitaly Petrov for the entire race.  Heads ended up rolling at Ferrari for that decision.  I felt robbed of a grand finale, I almost cried myself to sleep from boredom at one point.  Bah.  On to 2011!

Bahrain: Cancelled because of the civil unrest and state of martial law due to anti-government protests.  Or should I say postponed?  More on this later…

Australia:  Vettel wins dominantly from pole position.  Despite the introduction of DRS(Drag Reduction System), Pirelli as the principal tire manufacturer, and the reincorporation of KERS, Red Bull look as dominant as ever.

Malaysia: Vettel wins again from pole.  Jesus, if you go back to the end of last season, that’s four straight wins by Vettel.  Would anyone like to challenge him?  Bueller?  Anyone?

China: I never thought I would say this, but thank you Lewis Hamilton!  The Brit hoon reels in Vettel with just a handful laps remaining to take his first win of the season in an awesome race filled with numerous overtakes.

Turkey: Vettel returns to his winning ways with another win from pole.  Not much else to say.

Spain: Vettel wins gain, but does so with Hamilton stalking him the entire time.  While the race action this season has been far from boring with DRS and the new Pirelli tires that degrade far more quickly than the Bridgestones from past years, the championship race is turning into a real snoozer.  But who cares, off to Monaco baby!

Monaco: Vettel wins again.  A lot happened in the race, with Hamilton playing the role of the protagonist(or antagonist), depending on how you look at it.  Hamilton managed to get involved in two race incidents, take a look for yourself.

#1

and #2

As a result of both incidents, Hamilton was penalized by the stewards and finished in 6th place.  But the real buzz came from his post race interview.  Take a look.

Oof, he (half)jokingly plays the race card.  For what it’s worth, a few days later he apologized to both drivers and to the public for his comments.  Love him or hate him, he is undeniably one of the biggest personalities in the sport.  Sort of like the Kobe of F1.

And here we are to present day!  So the Canadian GP is this weekend, but the real focus during the past week was on the furor and outrcy among the F1 teams and the public over the FIA’s decision to reschedule the Bahrain GP.  As mentioned earlier, the race was postponed and seemingly cancelled after the Bahrain government instituted a state of martial law to quell pro-democracy protests by the Shia majority.  As a result of a brutal crackdown by the Bahrain police, 36 people were killed, nearly a thousand were wounded, and thousands more were detained.  F1 responded by declaring the race was cancelled with no rescheduled date in place.  As weeks passed, however, the issue of the Bahrain GP resurfaced, and the FIA convened last week to hold a vote to determine whether the race should be rescheduled for October 30th, taking the place of the inaugural Indian GP, with the Indian GP rescheduled for December 11th.  Despite the protests of humans rights groups and the F1 teams, the FIA elected to reinstate the Bahrain GP, and then things got really ugly.  Civil rights groups blasted the decision, promising statewide protests the weekend of the race, even going so far to call it a “day of rage.”  Meanwhile, the teams also protested the decision to race, citing safety concerns and the unfeasibility of racing in December, claiming it would put a strain on their staff and resources and their ability to develop their cars for next season.

Where does one start?  First, shame on the FIA, who turned a blind eye to the social issues surrounding their decision to reinstate the race.  What made their decision even more ludicrious was that they relied on the report of a single council member who stated in his visit to Bahrain that the country returned a normal and peaceful state.  To add to the ignominy was an independent news report that over 100 employees of the Bahrain circuit were detained during the protests.  And shame also to the F1 teams for sidestepping the issue and claiming their own safety and logistics concerns as the main reasons for not wanting to race.  Waaaa, are you worried your diamond crusted racing shoes will get bloodied?  But to be fair, many individuals in the F1 sphere voiced their grievances with the FIA, and that F1 was morally obligated not to race in Bahrain.  In the end, the right decision was made, but the path taken was a twisted and shameful one at best.

The reality is that F1 is as much a business as it is a sport, and the motivations behind the decision were influenced by economics as much if not more than social standards.  Something tells me that the $40 million dollar fee the owners of F1 receive from the organizers of the Bahrain GP(who not so coincidentally are mostly members of the Bahrain royalty) for hosting the race played some role in the decision.  Much like soccer,  F1 attracts the attention of sporting fans and institutions worldwide, and the influence they empower to the sport makes it a lightning rod for debate and criticism.  F1 is the greatest sport in the world, and so I beckon the powers that be, choose wisely, because the eyes and ears of the world are upon you.

MP

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