Archive for March, 2010

The First Motor-Race

March 31, 2010

It is little known that motor-racing is an off-shoot of bicycle-racing, indeed that the modern automobile is part-derived from bicycle technology.

The horseless carriage dates back to the Cugnot Steam Trolley in 1769, a carriage with a steam-engine. In 1806, Swiss engineer François Isaac de Rivaz, devised a vehicle with an internal combustion engine fuelled with hydrogen and oxygen. Early such vehicles relied on hydrogen or coal gas until 1870 when Siegfried Marcus of Vienna attached a gasoline/petroleum spirit engine to a handcart.

It was Karl Benz that is credited with inventing the modern automobile. Following lack of success in an earlier business, 1883 saw Benz joining with two owners of a bicycle-repair shop to start Benz & Cie producing industrial machines and in 1885 creating the Benz Patent Motorwagen. Unlike it’s predecessors, it had not wooden wheels but wire-spoked wheels and was essentially a tricycle chain-driven by a four-stroke ~0.8 hp engine. By 1888, after modifications (including wooden spoked wheels), it became the first commercially available car leading to the development of the motor-car industry.

The first city-to-city bicycle race was Paris-to-Rouen in 1869, sponsored by Le Vélocipède Illustré (The Bicycle Illustrated; French fortnightly newspaper). This event was curtailed by the Franco-Prussian War before returning as an amateur race still held annually. (Other examples include the Bordeux-to-Paris race that ran from 1891 to 1988 and the Paris-to-Robaix that started in 1986 and is still held as a round of the road-racing World Cup.)

Motor-racing got off to a false start with an 1887 event, also supported by Le Vélocipède Illustré, which saw a 2 km ‘race’ except it attracted only one entrant, Georges Bouton driving a de Dion-Bouton (with de Dion as passenger).

(Georges Lemaître’s winning Peugeot)

Most consider the first motor-race was the, “Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux” (Competition of Carriages without Horses) held from Paris-to-Rouen on 22nd July, 1894. Some of the competitors were cyclists and some event officials were from cycling. It was sponsored by the Paris magazine, Le Petit Journal. The organisers ordained that the cars were, “not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey”, and held a 50 km heat which selected the twenty-five to enter the 128 km main race from 102 entrants. A jury judged on the cars’ handling and safety attributes but the main prize was for the best time. The fastest finisher was Comte Jules-Albert de Dion with a de Dion. It says much about motor-racing that he was disqualified from this first race on a technicality – because de Dion’s steam-car required a stoker which the judges considered outside their objectives. This gave the win to Georges Lemaître in a Peugeot.


1    Jules-Albert de Dion    de Dion    6h48m00s, 18.66 kph
2 Georges Lemâitre Peugeot 6h51m30
3 Doriot Peugeot 7h04m30
4 H Panhard Panhard 7h21m30
5 Emile Levassor Panhard 7h43m30
6 Kraeutler Peugeot 7h46m30
7 Mayade Panhard 8h09m00
8 Le Brun Le Brun 8h12m00
9 Michaud Peugeot 8h25m00
10 Dubois Panhard 8h38m00
11 Louis Rigoulot Peugeot 8h41m00
12 Vacheron Vacheron 8h42m30
13 De Bourmont de Bourmont 8h51m00
14 E. Roger Benz 10h01m00
15 M. Le Blant Serpollet 10h43m00
16 Gautier Gautier Wehrlé 12h24m30
17 Ernest Archdeacon Serpollet 13h00m00

Some historians discount the Paris-to-Rouen race because it was part reliability trial, part time-trial and part-judged for other prizes. The first event that saw a simultaneous start was the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris Trial. This was a distance of 1178 km starting on 25th February, 1895. The first to finish was Émile Levassor. He overtook early leader, de Dion (who was refilling the water tank of his steam car) and his Panhard reached Bordeaux much earlier than expected so the relief driver was still asleep in an unknown hotel. Thus Levassor (after pausing for sandwiches and champagne) drove back finishing in 48 hours 47 minutes, six hours ahead of the next competitor. The result information seems to be incomplete and states that the first two finishers were ineligible for prizes for being in two-seater not four-seater cars. That would give first prize to A. Koechlin.


1    Emile Levassor    Panhard    48h48ms, 24.54kph
2 Louis Rigoulot Peugeot 54h35m
3 A. Koechlin Peugeot 59h48m
4 Doriot Peugeot 59h49m
5 Thum Benz 64h30m
6 Mayade Panhard 72h14m
7 Boulanger Panhard 78h07m
8 E. Roger Roger 82h48m
9 Amédée Bollée Bollée 90h03m

City-to-city races led to The Gordon Bennett Cup for nations that ran from 1900 to 1905. As speeds grew, racing moved to closed public or private road circuits and subsequently purpose built circuits.

(Comte Jules-Albert de Dion lead a group of wealthy individuals that set up L’Auto newspaper in France. In 1903, L’Auto instigated Le Tour de France to reverse flagging sales.)

Australia Snippets

March 28, 2010

I do not want to live in a world where F1 drivers have to apologise for driving exuberantly. It seems Victoria has something known as “anti-hooning” laws, “hoon”, being a slang term in Australia and New Zealand for a young person involved in loutish behavior, especially referring to wild driving such as burnouts or doughnuts. Politicians looking to look tough on this anti-social behavior gave the police powers to impound cars, and for a third offence confiscate the vehicle permanently. I have mixed feeling about racing drivers getting involved in FIA road-safety campaigns; do any F1 drivers practice that much caution on the open highway? Hamilton got caught out, it is embarrassing for him, but did he have to be made to issue a humiliating apology on top of that?

After Bahrain, the idea of two mandatory pit-stops reared it’s artificial head. Tyre-strategy in Australia, once everyone changed the inters, was interesting because some stopped to change their slicks and some did not. Perhaps scrapping the need to use both compounds in a dry race would make tyre strategy more pertinent. The Melbourne race saw cool conditions which helped the tyres last plus drivers had gotten out of the way the first segment of the race when the car is heaviest and hardest on the rubber. It looks as if in a typical dry race the top-ten will qualify on the softer option and all stop once about the same time to switch to the harder tyres. Without the need to use both compounds, perhaps drivers would be split between those trying to go the distance on the harder tyres they qualified on or choosing to qualify and start on the soft tyres with a stop to change them. The danger is they would all manage the entire race on the tyres they qualified on which would be dull.

Maybe it is because I belong to a generation that grew up able to go to the shops without taking a water-bottle but am I the only one that thinks that drivers having a problem with spending five minutes on the grid without their physios to wipe their noses is a bit pathetic?

I am glad to hear Pedro de la Rosa’s assurance that the appearance of the F-duct system in practice on the BMW Saubers and his prior knowledge of the technology as a former test-driver for McLaren is pure coincidence. We should all put out of our minds that when Mike Coughlan was in procession of Ferrari data, that de la Rosa was the only other McLaren employee shown to be happy to use that inside information. Many of us were surprised when Pedro was given the nod to drive for Sauber.

It was brave of Mark Webber to admit fault over the collision with Hamilton. Vettel admitted fault after his 2009 crash with Kubica and that was seen as contributing to the punishment he received.

Those of us that follow Branson know too well his unerring ability to be smug in the face of anything but is Nick Wirth imitating the master? His boasting after Bahrain qualification that the use of CFD was proven justified seemed mightily premature and when explaining why the fuel tanks on his cars were too small gave the smug impression it was nothing to do with anything that was his fault. Of course, we all know that when Branson has to don the air-hostess uniform after the end of the season, that he will be unbearably smug about it, and generate more publicity for Virgin than it will afford Tony Fernandes’s AirAsia.

Brains And Brawn

March 22, 2010

What has been the ultimate clash of the Titans in modern, super-budget Formula One? Schumacher v. Hill, Hakkinen or Alonso? Alonso v. Hamilton? Hamilton v. Massa? Perhaps you are thinking it is obviously McLaren v. Ferrari. What else? The answer is what it has been since 1994, Adrian Newey v. Ross Brawn.

After leaving University in 1980, Adrian Newey joined the Fittipauldi F1 team. He then joined March, initially as an F2 race-engineer, before designing the IMSA title-winning March GTP sportscar. Next was Indycar for March with his design skills netting the 1984 Indianapolis 500 and 1985 and 1986 CART titles. Newey returned to F1 with the FORCE team which soon folded. March F1 took up his services with the team becoming Leyton House and Newey promoted to Technical Director. The team declined with suggestions that Newey was too focused on aerodynamics and he was sacked in 1990.

Ross Brawn started his career as a trainee engineer for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. In 1976, he joined March Engineering soon becoming an F3 mechanic. Brawn became a machinist for the young Williams team in 1978, and was promoted to R&D and then to an aerodynamicist position. After short spells with Haas Lola and Arrows, Brawn was recruited in 1989 by Jaguar, designing the cars that won the 1991 World Sportscar Championship.

It was 1990 when Adrian Newey joined Williams as Chief Designer, and ’91 when Ross Brawn joined Benetton as Technical Director. They worked under Patrick Head and Tom Wilkinshaw respectively, but emerged to have the most influence on the cars of the teams they worked for.

The Newey-penned Williams-Renault shone in 1991 with seven wins but no titles, before dominating for two years giving Mansell and Prost World Championships. Ross Brawn had joined an initially mid-field team but 1994 saw Michael Schumacher taking his first World Championship for Benneton-Ford, with Williams-Renault winning the Constructors’ Cup and the two teams winning fifteen out of sixteen races. In 1995, Schumacher and Benetton-Renault took both titles and the two teams won sixteen of seventeen races. Benetton having built the team up around Schumacher’s wishes, floundered after his departure and Williams-Renault blitzed both titles in ’96.

By 1997, Ross Brawn had followed Schumacher to become Technical Director at Ferrari and Adrian Newey had the same job-title at McLaren-Mercedes. All seventeen races were won by the four teams Brawn and Newey had left or joined.

However battle re-commenced in earnest in ’98 with McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen beating Schumacher to the title in the last round and in ’99 beating Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine also in the last round after Schumacher broke his legs at Silverstone. Constructors’ Cup honours went to Mclaren in ’98 and Ferrari in ’99.

We all know what happened next. Five years of double-championship success by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. McLaren-Mercedes (Constructors’) managed next-best in 2000 and 2001, third-best in 2002-2003 and stank in 2004. In 2000, Ferrari and McLaren won all seventeen races.

Fernando Alonso and Renault broke the Brawn-Newey stranglehold in 2005 and 2006. By ’06, Adrian Newey was at Red Bull Racing. RBR remained mid-field in 2007/8 but in the latter season Sebastian Vettel won for STR at a wet Monza in a car with indisputable Red Bull DNA. Ross Brawn took most of 2007 off before joining Honda, writing off the 2008 car to concentrate all efforts on 2009.

I hardly need remind readers of Honda’s withdrawal and 2009 being between Brawn-Mercedes and RBR-Renault, the two teams winning fourteen of seventeen races.

In the last eighteen years (1992 to 2009), Brawn and Newey have been involved in 13 Driver World Championships and 13 Constructors Cups. In the other five years, three can be excused as they were both rebuilding with new teams or on leave. Otherwise only in the Renault years did they between them only manage second-best and Pat Symonds may not be around for a while (besides Renault’s singular advantage may have been the mass-damper).

So who is the best, Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey? First, it should be observed that they differ in approach – Ross Brawn heads the racing side of the team (or the team) and Adrian Newey leads the design of the cars (imagine if they joined forces). Statistics unsurprisingly favour Ross Brawn with an eight:five advantage both in Driver titles and Constructor titles. In race wins (going back to 1992), Brawn has 113 and Newey 95. This is a total of 208 out of 304 races which is 68.4% (includes STR win).

And will it be RBR and Mercedes in 2010? RBR’s bugbear in ’09 was lack of consistancy in both the car and the driver. Vettel had two avoidable accidents, one engine failure and one suspension failure whilst Button had 16 points finishs and one unavoidable accident. It looks to be a strong year for Alonso and Ferrari but RBR look faster and do not be surprised if Schumacher and Mercedes clock up points with more consistency than any other combination plus Michael finds more of his speed in coming races.

TMR Scores

March 22, 2010

This week saw some strange driver choices including Kevin Karvick (Jon) and Jordan Stewart (RG), but I think we know who they meant. Jackie and Dank both have outstanding NASCAR carry-overs. James missed the deadline and his F1/IRL carry-over did not score.

All the ALMS picks centred around five cars, the two Peugeots, the Lola-Aston Martin, the Drayson Lola-Judd and the LMP2 Honda. The Speedgeek and Sebastian took the high-risk strategy of picking all six Peugeot drivers.

  Player   ALMS    NASCAR    Week 8   
Sebastian 305 106 411
The Speedgeek     305 76 381
Jon Waldock 208 150 358
RG 186 160 346
Sean 210 132 342
Burwellian 215 125 340
Pat W 173 147 320
Startledbunny 143 155 298
Dank 0 175 175
10  Jackie 0 132 132
11  James 0 0 0

Pos.  Pre.  +/-  Player   Prior     Wk 8     Total  
The Speedgeek    1250 381 1631
Sebastian 1169 411 1580
RG 1192 346 1538
-1  Pat W 1200 320 1520
Sean 1099 342 1441
Burwellian 1094 340 1434
Jon Waldock 1033 358 1391
-7  James 1286 0 1286
Startledbunny 789 298 1087
10  10  Dank 734 175 909
11  11  Jackie 421 132 553

These results are unofficial subject to Pat W’s verification.

(Too Much Racing)

Previous Stuff

March 22, 2010

I have written two pieces that were used by podcasters.

The more recent was some topical comedy I wrote for Sidepodradio consisting of news headlines from the future which Mrs Christine recorded. Being topical, it’s up-to-date-ness was already slightly compromised when broadcast, and of course even more so now but I am still pleased with it. The three-minute .mp3 of the clean recording is ready to listen to on this page.

I also once submitted an article to the F1Weekly podcast on the first hundred drivers to win GPs, which was read out in it’s full seven minutes. The original podcast is here and it is about 22 minutes in. However, on hearing it read out, I thought it might have benefitted from being trimmed slightly and probably works better in written form as reproduced here:

100 Winners

With Heikki Kovalainen being the one-hundredth World Championship race-winner, here are a few facts and figures about this exclusive club.

Firstly, it transpires there are only 90 drivers with WC Grand Prix wins since Farina’s Alfa Romeo won the first round at Silverstone in 1950. Of course, in the early years, 1950 through to 1960, the Indianapolis 500 was offhandedly included in the World-Championship to make the series look more intercontinental, despite the Indy 500 being to different rules and impractical to enter without missing European events. Those eleven Indy 500s, with Bill Vokovich winning in both ’53 and ’54, add ten winners, completing the one-hundred.

Ignoring the anachronistic Indy 500 results, as F1 statisticians often conveniently do, this leaves a less climactic ninety Grand Prix winners from 785 races, meaning, in both senses, an average of approximately eight-point-seven wins.

The list encompasses drivers of 20 nationalities headed by twenty Brits, fourteen Italians, twelve Frenchmen, six Brazilians and five each from the USA and Germany.

Only drivers from Italy and Argentina won before the 1953 French GP, which saw British Mike Hawthorn’s career-defining victory over Juan Manuel Fangio in a Reims slip-streamer. It was 1955 when Trintignant added a French victory and ’59 when Brabham, Bonnier and McLaren won for Australia, Sweden and New Zealand.

Drivers that won the World Championship the same year as their debut wins include, of course, Farina in 1950, as well as Jack Brabham in ’59, Graham Hill in ’62, Denny Hulme in ’67, and Keke Rosberg in ’82.

Whilst Michael Schumacher greedily snaffled 91 wins, eleven-point-six per cent of the 785 Grand Prix, for twenty-three drivers, their virgin victories remain singular. These include Trulli, Button, Kubica and Kovalainen. Listeners can guess amongst themselves which will add to their tally.

Two of the twenty-three solo winners did not win solo. Back in the ‘fifties, a senior team-driver whose car had conked out could have a junior driver called in to annex his healthy car for shared points. The maestro, Fangio, won two races with drivers that never won another race, Luigi Fagioli for the ’51 French Grand Prix and Luigi Musso in Argentina in ’56. Only one other race was a shared win, the ’57 British GP, but Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss both won other rounds.

Moss was the first to win first on home tarmac, in the 1955 British GP at Aintree, when out of the last corner he waved by Mercedes Benz team-leader, Fangio, but did not lift off.

Unsurprisingly, Monaco is the most popular track to break the duck, with nine drivers doing so, followed by Monza with six.

1982 produced a record five debut winners in a season that produced an amazing eleven winners from seven teams in sixteen races. Ricardo Patrese’s first win at Monaco was book-ended by Group C Sportscar wins making him the only driver to win World Championship races on three consecutive weekends. The German, Austrian and Swiss GPs gave the only three consecutive first-time winners, Patrick Tambey, Elio de Angelis and Keke Rosberg. Michelle Alboreto won his first at the season-finale in Las Vegas.

It took Jenson Button 113 starts plus two DNSs and two races Honda were banned from to win in his seventh season at Hungary in 2006. In 1961, Italian, Giancarlo Baghetti won the first two Formula One races he had ever entered in a customer Ferrari, albeit non-championship GPs that the “works” team missed, but then won his first World Championship race, the French Grand Prix, after the three factory Ferraris had two engine failures and a spin. His gigantic mistake was not promptly retiring because the rest of his F1 results were comparatively awful.

The opening race in South Africa of the 1971 season saw Mario Andretti win his first F1 World Championship race with Ferrari. It was 82 rounds in the ‘championship and 5 years, 7 months, 18 days before he won his second with Lotus – the last of the 1976 season in Japan – the very famous, very wet race at Fuji in which Hunt raced to the title after Lauda retired from the conditions. However, transatlantic Andretti missed more than half the intervening races. John Watson, after winning the 1976 Austria GP for Penske-Ford, the team’s only win, took 75 starts plus one DNQ to notch up the second win in the 1981 British Grand Prix – the first win for the McLaren team under Ron Dennis and also the first for a newfangled carbon-fibre car.

Seven drivers followed up their first win with victory again at the next opportunity. Nigel Mansell took advantage of the 1985 South Africa GP being held on a Saturday to wait only thirteen days. Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen both won their next two races.

So, who will be the one-hundred-and-first? Quick Nick for BMW, Vettel for Ferrari or Danica Patrick for Force India? Excluding the Indianapolis 500 results, is the hundredth driver to win listening to this podcast instead of doing their schoolwork? Has Ron Dennis already signed him? If we knew the answers, it wouldn’t be Formula One.


March 21, 2010

There have to be better reasons for starting a blog than that I am playing in the prediction competition at Too Much Racing, with Pat away this week I said I would post the game scores and since tables do not work in comments, I figured WordPress was the easiest way to post the results.

I have long thought about a blog as I am very opinionated and have a tendency to leave over-long comments on other people’s blogs. However, I greatly fear I will fall into the usual pattern of doing a few entries and then not posting for ages because I do not get around to it.

Since this is my introduction entry, I will allow myself the parliamentary indulgence of the maiden speech that allows a certain amount of self-indulgent waffle.

I am shocked by how early my first Formula One memory is, it being watching the highlights of the 1973 British Grand Prix. I do not remember much but the second lap crash triggered by Jody Scheckter’s McLaren (YouTube link). My next vague recollection is my Mum explaining to me what was going on in the highlights of the 1976 Japan GP. Something to do with James Hunt – I doubt she has watched a race since.

I began to watch occasionally for myself in 1978 with the black-and-gold Lotus cars in Andretti-Peterson formation making the races I saw very one-sided and somewhat uninspiring. It was 1980 when I switched from The Beano to Autocar that I began to read the race reports and started seeking out the races on TV.

My love of the sport grew. I learnt to love Williams and hate those yellow Renaults and especially Alain Prost. My teenage hero was John Watson who unexpectedly won the 1981 British GP in the first win of Ron Dennis’s reign at McLaren. In ’82 and ’83, he was partnered with Nicki Lauda out-scoring him both years and making a habit of qualifying badly at street races and charging through the field to win. (I will undoubtedly post on 1982, a year I harbour an ambition to write a book about.) And then Ron Dennis (I still have not forgiven him) signed Prost to replace Wattie for 1983, no one telling John until it was too late for him to get a drive worth having which ended his career. It was bad enough Nicki Lauda won the ’83 title for McLaren but the salt in the wound was Prost winning the next two.

I stopped watching F1, although this also had a lot to do with doing a lot of hitching to see bands and not having a TV. I missed the 1987 Piquet-Williams year and most the Prost-Senna years. I was not a huge Nigel Mansell fan, notwithstanding that he came from Birmingham, but it was good to see Williams on top again albeit a shame about the Renault engines. Then in 1993 I was torn in both directions, the hated Alain Prost dominating for Williams-Renault!

I was a big Damon Hill fan and his three wins in ’93 helped a lot but I learnt to hate Schumacher well before he collided with Hill for the ’94 title. After a painful ’95, it was good to see Hill and Williams triumph in ’96 before Williams sacked him. 1997, another good year for Williams (and twelve lousy years since). 1998/9 saw McLaren driver-title wins but at least it was not Schumacher. And then the dark years…

Year after bloody year of pre-season hope that it would not be M. Schumacher dominating again. In the end I survived by putting bets on him to win the races which proved to be quite profitable.

Ever since, all title-winners have had the blessing of not being Schumacher. Good for Alonso and Renault (at least back then). I like Räkkönen’s diffident attitude. Possibly dangerous to admit it but I am a huge Hamilton fan, and blow me, Jenson Button making it two British champions in a row. I will skate over the return of the dark one.

I find it worrying that I spend about five times longer a day reading F1 news and blogs than I do checking the BBC for my general news. I am very interested in the history of the sport and can reel off every World Champion from memory. My all-time hero is Jim Clark. I read Motorsport every month and will probably crib some of my posts from that publication. The podcasts I listen to are Sidepodcast,Chequered Flag, F1 Rejects and Motorsport. I regularly check the GMN stories because although I agree wholeheartedly with the criticism, I like reading them as rumours (I know just how unreliable the sources can be as I once read a rumour in a story about Richard Branson that I started myself in a comment on Sidepodcast three days earlier). I have never been to a race but I have seen Juan Manuel Fangio driving a Mercedes Benz 300 SLR in Birmingham in 1980 for The Lucas ‘On The Streets’ Motor Sport Spectacular used to pave the way for the Birmingham Superprix.

My other sports-watching includes cycling, especially the Tour de France, and snooker (I think people miss the subtleties of the match-play and psychological swings). I would watch GP2 if I did not have to pay for it and I miss the pre-split Indycar. I collect radio-comedy.