Monday, March 27, 2017

ANOTHER AGP - 1980

As we put the covers on the F1 AGP until next year, I’m remembering attending an event of the same name back in November 1980, although one of a much more humble status.

The final round of the Australian F5000 series was due to be conducted on the 1.6 mile Calder Park circuit, and circuit owner Bob Jane decided to go all out and call it the Australian Grand Prix; make it an ‘open’ event; inviting participation from international teams (meaning – Formula One).


He convinced 1980 F1 World Champion Alan Jones to participate (although it didn't take much convincing for the patriotic AJ to come home for the event). Then Alan duly encouraged Frank Williams to fly an FW07B to Australia for the event.

Our dear friends at Alfa Romeo Australia also took the bait, and flew out Bruno Giacomelli and an Alfa Romeo 179. 

Didier Pironi also turned up, to drive a local Elfin MR8C F5000 car.

I was pretty good friends with Bob Jane, and he asked me if my company (Leyland Australia) would tip in some dollars, which we did, under the generic ‘Unipart’ parts branding.

Bob also cajoled the Publisher of Australian Penthouse, Mark Day, to cough up some cash, so the Williams was quickly rebranded.

A few nights before the race, Penthouse hosted a dinner for fellow sponsors, and some journalists at a noisy Greek restaurant in St. Kilda, and introduced the 1980 Penthouse Pet of the Year, the lovely Tracey Wallace.

Tracey was not only beautiful, but smart as well, and had a great sense of humour. She clearly understood the path to stardom was littered with false promises, and it was very obvious she knew that she was window-dressing, so to speak, but handled herself with maturity and aplomb.

The AGP at Calder was a runaway win for AJ, he lapped the field a couple of times, as the ground-effects Williams not only had the legs, but also dynamic cornering ability to literally run away from the rest of the field. Giacomelli managed second; and Pironi finished third, four laps in arrears.

Pretty easy money if you ask me. 95 arm-twisting laps around a tiny circuit, in an hour and a quarter, and then AJ was off to dinner with Bob Jane, and all AJ’s Melbourne mates; then he was back to Britain on Monday afternoon to get ready for the 1981 F1 season.

I got the best end of the deal. 

After a week of ‘managing’ the F1 world champion, which was not without tears, I got to relax over a very nice dinner at Florentino’s in Bourke Street with the Penthouse team (seated alongside Tracey Wallace), and managed to put the 1980 AGP behind me, with no trouble at all.


RED IS BEST!

The sight of a Ferrari winning the Australian Grand Prix was simply fantastic! There were many reports that the Italian team was, to a degree, 'sandbagging' during the official test sessions at the pre-season programme in Barcelona.



Yesterday Ferrari showed pace and reliability, and in the hands of a determined Sebastien Vettel, a will to win, which can only be great for the 2017 F1 season.

Mercedes-AMG's strategic fail also revealed what impact a single-stop tyre change event is going to have on the races to come. It will be imperative that the only stop is 'modelled' and fine-tuned, if Hamilton's relegation to second is anything to go by.

I'm sure everyone watching the AGP could feel for Daniel Ricciardo. To be robbed of being able to put on a show for his Australian fans continues the misery of the AGP that started last year when he was disqualified from second place, thanks to his Red Bull team violating regulations.


All the King's horses and all the King's men .........
This year, the expensive gathering of experts let him down again. But, Daniel is already moving on.

I am very much looking forward to the Chinese GP, after this weekend's results. I think we are in for possibly the best F1 season for decades, thanks to rule changes.

Force India made an excellent showing and I was really pleased to see rookie Ocon in the points.
Enrico Zanarini

For my money, the young man to watch is Antonio Giovinazzi, in the AGP driving for Sauber, but in reality he is Ferrari's number three. He showed great skill, and was unfazed by the chaos around him. Make a note of the name.

Young Antonio is managed by a dear friend of mine, Enrico Zanarini (L), who has coached and guided a number of young Italian drivers with great potential, my favourite being Giancarlo Fisichella.


F1's new supremo, Chase Carey, looked pretty happy with things in the pre-race grid video roaming.

I am confident those calling for changes to make F1 more entertaining will get their wish this year.

Friday, March 24, 2017

F1'S BIG DATA BATTLE

Two of F1’s most prominent teams went head to head today in Melbourne, at competing press conferences aimed at promoting their respective sponsors’ capacity for moving massive data loads from car to trackside, back to HQ in the UK, and back to Melbourne's Albert Park circuit.

Mercedes-Petronas trotted out its team from Qualcomm to show off a massive step forward in data transfer and diagnostics, while AT&T showcased Red Bull's technology.

Ray Shaw, from IT WIRE reports:

The Snapdragon 820am is Qualcomm’s venture into a drive data platform that will be used to provide high-level telemetry.

For now, it is exclusively Mercedes F1 team’s secret weapon to rapidly move up to 7 gigabytes of data per second of tire data telemetry gathered from thermal cameras over Wi-Fi AD (60GHz band) from the race car to the monitoring software – allowing instant changes to the car’s systems.

IT WIRE'S Peter Dinham attended the Red Bull AT&T media conference:

The Red Bull race team transfers up to 400GB of data across the AT&T network every Grand Prix. Much of the data feeding into Red Bull’s trackside garage will be relayed in near real-time, before, after and during the race, from AT&T’s Operations Room in the UK, over the AT&T global VPN in around 300 milliseconds between the Australian Grand Prix and headquarters.

The data is fed back to the UK operations centre in virtual real-time, using 100 sensors fitted to the Red Bull cars.

Even smaller teams now rely more heavily on data flow and management tools. Force India manages this with partnerships with Tata Technology and Univa. One of the key tools used by Sahara Force India is ‘Univa® Grid Engine®’, which is the most widely used resource management platform by industry across the globe.

This technology allows Force India to run large quantities of mission-critical, compute-intensive applications faster, more efficiently, and with lower overall costs.

It has played a pivotal role in developing the team’s Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) capabilities allowing the team to evaluate aero concepts more efficiently.


Otmar Szafnauer, Chief Operating Officer of Sahara Force India said: “As a Formula One team, we rely more and more on simulation tools so it’s especially important to have access to Univa’s technology to help us process the huge amounts of data we generate.”

So, does any of this hi-tech stuff have any relevance to real world motoring? Yes, companies like Qualcomm and AT&T are making big investments in autonomous vehicle technology, and while that's not going to happen anytime soon, the big data battle will bring a rapid change in automotive systems.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

AUSTRALIAN F1 GRAND PRIX 2017 - HOT, OFF THE TRACK!


My good friend Paul Gover is probably the best-connected of all the local journalists attending the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne this week. He’s on first name terms with world champions, team owners, technicians, mechanics and tyre-changers, and he’s at the centre of the gossip this week.

On Thursday morning he spent 30 minutes with Kimi Raikonen, whom he described as practically garrulous.
“At one point he had eight sentences when I didn’t talk. That’s amazing for Kimi,” he says.
Ferrari team supremo Maurizio Arrivabene and
Kimi Raikonen









Sometimes, actually fairly often, Kimi doesn’t want to talk. But today he and Sebastien Vettel were full of praise for the Ferrari team and their contender for this year’s world title.

Paul says some in the F1 inner circle are tipping Kimi to be world champion this year.

In the final pre-season test in Barcelona Ferrari topped the time sheets - a great portent for this year's F1 season.


McLaren CEO Zac Brown
Last night Paul was one of the very few Australian journalists invited to a dinner jointly hosted by McLaren-Honda, and was shocked by a frank admission by McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown that the team did not expect to be competitive at the year’s first GP.

However, he added that they were burning the midnight oil to be able to turn things around and become competitive before the season is done.

Such unusual honesty, and the fallout from poor results during pre-season testing, prompted McLaren-Honda to cancel ALL pre-race media activities apart from the official FIA press conference where Fernando Alonso lined up alongside Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Australia’s smiley Dan Ricciardo.

Daniel Ricciardo and Mark Webber
Gover added that the always-affable and approachable Ricciardo is his usual friendly self, and looking forward to the inhouse battle with young tearaway Max Verstappen.

Renault's new recruit, Nico Hulkenberg












Former Force India driver, Nico Hulkenberg, who this year pilots a Renault, says the French company may surprise everyone this coming Sunday.



And then there is the chef at the Pirelli hospitality centre in the F1 paddock, Spiros Theodoridis, who was the winner of the first series of Masterchef in Italy.

Gover reports today's lunch was 'perfetto'.

MAZDA MX5 - T-TOP FOR TOURING

I didn’t realize I was such a purist until I drove away in Mazda’s latest addition to the MX-5 range. The RF (Rectractable-Folding) turns the sports car into a targa-topped touring car, resulting in a cozy coupe.
In ten seconds, at 10 km/h you go from coupe to convertible and wind-in-the-hair motoring. However, I personally favor the cloth-topped version and even the 1.5L engine – as opposed to the 2.0L version in the RF.

The extra capacity is useful however, as the RF weighs just over 47kg more than the convertible. Changes include new materials for the folding roof and stiffer suspension settings.


The roof sections are a combination of carbon fibre and aluminium, with a layer of sound-absorbing material included in the headlining, making the RF much quieter, roof up, than the previous rectractable roof model.

However despite the weight increase, the MX5 has lost none of its agile handling and great driver feedback. It’s still great fun to drive, and my only real issue with this version is that I don’t think the flying buttress roof supports are an attractive look. Especially the front three-quarter view.
Whatever, I will have to be counted in the minority as Mazda Australia says it expects the RF to outsell the pure convertible, but the interesting thing is that the introduction of this model is as much about strategic action, as it is offering new choices. The convertible arrived in August 2015, so now is just the right time to introduce the RF, to rev up MX5 total sales.


Smart move Mazda!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

FORD MAGIC! KUGA BECOMES ESCAPE!

ABRACADABRA! With one swish of the magician’s wand the Ford Kuga, magically turns into the Ford Escape.


However, this magic trick is much more than mere sleight-of-hand. The ZG Escape comes with new standard equipment levels including rear-view camera; programmable ‘MyKey’; Sync3 plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; Digital (DAB) radio; rain-sensing wipers and auto on-off headlamps.

There’s three versions; Ambiente, Trend and Titanium.
However this Trend test car represents the best value, starting at AUD$32,990.


This model uses the 1.5L EcoBoost engine with a useful 110kW; and the 6F35 six-speed SelectShift auto transmission, and front wheel drive.


You can add more flim-flam, naturally for more dollars on the pricetag, but I think the standard Trend FWD with auto will be the big seller.

The powertrain is particularly impressive, matching the turbocharged engine with the (joint Ford-GM) six-speed auto, and around the burbs it’s a good combination. You even get steering wheel paddles! Ford says the combined cycle fuel economy is 7.2L/100km, and in the first 100km we did better than that.


Back to the magic trick. There was probably nothing wrong with the Kuga (except maybe the name), but it never seemed to do more than levitate above bare minimum sales numbers, because it participates in a highly competitive segment. The Escape brings back an old badge, but the facelift and the extra standard equipment indicates Ford is serious about getting better sales results in this segment.

As Holden will soon become, Ford is now a vehicle importer only, and chooses appropriate models from its global catalogue, but Ford Australia was very smart in the way it handled the demise of the locally-manufactured Falcon.

Ford Australia announced that the model name would die with the manufacturing operations, and that was very smart.


This completely avoids the situation GM Holden is in, trying to ‘pretend’ that the Opel Insignia is ‘really a Commodore’ – when nothing could be further from the truth. GM would have been cleverer to let the Commodore name die this year as well.



Ford’s new Escape is well-priced, well-equipped and delivers more than acceptable city performance, with all the versatility you expect from a compact SUV. It’s smart positioning, and smart marketing and I’d like to see it pay of for the Blue Oval.