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Posts filed under ‘Racing’

A Commentary on Formula 1’s
Regulatory Philosophy

August 27, 2014 by Matt

Ferrari F14T

So just because I haven't done my Formula 1 race reports since, oh, 2012 doesn't mean I haven't been following the sport.

Granted, it did get a bit boring last year when every team except Red Bull essentially gave up halfway through and allowed Sebastian Vettel and his RB9 to collect a stunning 9 consecutive wins through the final race of the season on his way to the championship. Still, so far, from a racing excitement standpoint, 2014 has been a banner year, with many riveting on-track battles and driver-vs-driver intrigue.

That said, despite the fact that the racing action has been very entertaining, for those of us who like to probe deeper and savor the more technical angle of the sport, the 2014 rules are more restrictive than ever, with some unintended results like the hideousness of the 2014 F1 cars shown in this post (from top: Ferrari F14T, Caterham CT05 and Lotus E22), the lower noses and higher bodywork around the front suspension area dictated by new impact protection regulations. And, true to form, the FIA's (F1's governing body) favorite way of solving a problem caused by over-regulation is to impose yet more rules: If you can believe it, there's been talk of mandating a specific taper to the nose cross-sections in order to improve the cars’ appearance. Who specified a required taper for F1 cars’ bodywork in, say, the mid-’80s? It’s yet another sign that the rules have gotten out of control.

Caterham CT05

I would be (mostly) fine with the regulatory oppressiveness if it only impacted external elements of the car like bodywork and aerodynamics. But the real tragedy is that mindset is crushing technical innovation under the cars’ skin. Once the pinnacle of automotive technology, the average hybrid family sedan is more sophisticated than an F1 car, what with variable valve timing, ABS, dual-clutch transmissions, traction control and other features banned from F1. This isn’t to take anything away from the execution of what’s allowed in the rulebook—what’s done is done to a staggering degree of perfection—but the tech behind it all peaked in the early ’90s. Sure, the FIA has introduced a hybrid 1.6l V6 turbocharged specification this year, but read the fine print and you’ll discover just how restrictive the rules are concerning everything from fuel flow and turbocharger orientation to cylinder bank angle and even the number of gearbox ratios. Formula 1 is for all intents and purposes a spec series, with a dozen or so manufacturers making what amount to nearly identical cars almost totally devoid of the kind of engineering creativity that we saw in past decades of F1. There’s a reason the period extending 20 years forward from the mid-’70s has been called F1’s golden age. The drivers were great and tamed their monstrously turbocharged mounts, but the variety of engine configurations on the grid on any given Sunday, the electronic sophistication that increased at a blistering rate—it was enough to satisfy those of us interested in more than just the mere “spectacle” of drivers going wheel-to-wheel around a circuit. The technical creativity on display fascinated us, made us dream. With fewer rules, F1 felt more…complete, fulfilling. Now? There’s precious little to get excited about under the cars’ bodywork.

2014 Lotus E22 F1 Formula 1 One

The solution? Fewer rules. Give the teams some basics and then let them go at it. Let them innovate from within; don’t impose “progress” from the outside. What about development costs? Wouldn’t they skyrocket? Not necessarily—give the teams a budget cap and apply the same diligence used in enforcing the current rulebook toward a strict interpretation of what’s allowed to be billed in the teams’ budgets. I think it can be done—but it won’t. F1 is a business, and there are far more paying fans that don’t give two licks about what makes the cars go, but just want to see an exciting race, than there are those of us who geek out on the technical side of the sport, and the at-times thrilling wheel-to-wheel action on the track this year will be taken as a vindication of the current regulatory path. Sadly, I think the kind of outside-the-box technical thinking of years past has been banished from F1 forever, and the sport is the poorer for it.

Image credits:,,

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Regulatory Philosophy

Top Fuel Dragster Engineering, Part 2

July 25, 2013 by Matt

5-Disc Clutch Top Fuel Dragster

After the awesomeness of the first installment, I can’t resist putting up a link to the second part, wherein the author geeks out on the intricacies of actually putting 10,000 hp to the ground. Fascinating details abound, like 5-disc clutches, crazy rear tire deformation at full speed and 5.5 g launches. Enjoy.

Image credit:

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Oak Tree Landmark Falls at VIR

July 4, 2013 by Matt

VIR Oak Tree Corner

The motor racing community lost an icon on Tuesday.

No, not a driver or a team—a tree. The slowest corner on the Virgina International Raceway (VIR) circuit, named for the massive oak tree it passes around, lost its namesake. According to the official report from VIR management, the tree fell of natural causes, splitting near the base.

Being somewhat local to the circuit (it’s 1.5 hours away in Danville, VA), I initially thought a gust of wind must’ve toppled the tree; there had been some fairly severe windstorms in the area in the past month, so I was mildly surprised to read there was no warning; the course’s caretakers apparently arrived at work Tuesday morning to find the tree in pieces.

Oak Tree was at least as iconic as the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca and nearly as renowned as the tunnel at Monaco or Eau Rouge at Spa; VIR won’t be the same without it. From the circuit’s initial opening in 1957 through its closing in 1974, then from its reopening in 2000 through the present day, Oak Tree had been a fixture of the track; its most recognizable feature, to the point where it made it way onto VIR’s official logo. I’m glad I got to drive around it one last time with my son a month and a half ago. It will be greatly missed.

Image credit:

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The Brilliant Lunacy of
Top Fuel Dragster Engineering

June 25, 2013 by Matt

Top Fuel Dragster Racing Engine Motor Block

If my racing tech represents “arrested development” (the way that of all major series except endurance racing), I’d rather go all out. In other words, if I can’t geek out on technological breakthroughs in the racing machines that interest me for the simple reason that the technology in my 7-year-old minivan is in many ways more advanced, I can at least remain in awe of those who push a specific formula to its complete, utter, ludicrous limits.

Like these guys.

Top Fuel drag racing represents the elephant man corner of motorsports. It’s the freak show. The bearded lady and conjoined twins sit in the audience, cheering on these cars-in-name-only, distorted out of all resemblance to anything you or I would drive to the grocery store. The machines are designed to do one thing extraordinarily well, do that thing for about 4 seconds, then stop doing that thing. In what other arena of competition, nevermind just motorsports, is the window of opportunity for success so small? All the sound and fury of an entire NASCAR race, compressed into a handful of ear-splitting, pavement-cracking moments. How can I look away?

The tech in particular fascinates me. Sure, it’s not envelope-shattering in the innovative sense, but the amount of attention lavished on every decision combined with the sheer scale of it all, from distributor size to exhaust gas temperature to speeds to decibels to power output… I just can’t help but stand and gawk at it all. The above article does a great job documenting the geeky details of a Top Fuel racer’s engine prep. Check it out!

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Top Fuel Dragster Engineering

Spectating at VIR, 2013

May 13, 2013 by Matt

By the start / finish line.

My son and I made our annual trek to the Double SARRC / Double MARRS club race Saturday morning. As in years past, it was a great event, featuring many classes of racing around Virginia International Raceway (VIR)’s full course.

Click here to view the photos!

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New Ron Howard Film Chronicles
1976 Hunt-Lauda F1 Rivalry

April 12, 2013 by Matt

It’s difficult to overstate how much I’m looking forward to this film.

Ron Howard’s upcoming movie Rush depicts the action, tensions and interpersonal drama that characterized the epic 1976 Formula 1 season. Chiefly concerned with the rivalry between two top drivers—charismatic British playboy James Hunt and methodical, determined Austrian Niki Lauda, both supremely quick in their own ways—the film’s trailers (you can see the first here) have set the online automotive community ablaze with commentary and anticipation.

The director, of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind fame, is an avowed Formula 1 fan, so there’s hope for we internet F1 geeks that the gestalt of the sport will be convincingly translated to the big screen. A quick review of the trailers certainly promises a gripping, action-packed film true to the spirit of the 1976 season.

That said, I do have a couple of concerns:

  • Chris Hemsworth seems slightly miscast as Hunt. He may convey his affectations and joie de vivre, but his face has a kind of boyishness irreconcilable with that of the more grown-up looking, rakish Hunt. Casting Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda was a masterstroke, however; he seems to have the Austrian’s appearance and mannerisms nailed.
  • Biographical accuracy. I’m not so much concerned about technical precision—the filmmakers used a combination of CGI, replicas and vintage racers for the action scenes, and Apollo 13 is renown for its level of technical detail—but the personalities, themes, and events must be presented as they existed and happened from a historical standpoint. I would less concerned if Howard’s award-winning effort A Beautiful Mind hadn’t taken rather large liberties with very crucial elements of its subject’s life story. If the new film turns out to be “inspired by” rather than “based on,” (the latter implying a more faithful rendering), I’ll be very disappointed.

Rush hits theaters in the US on September 20, 2013.

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1976 Hunt-Lauda F1 Rivalry

My Monaco Grand Prix, Part 2: 1994

January 9, 2013 by Matt

1994 Monaco F1 Grand Prix Commemorative Postcard

1994 Monaco F1 Grand Prix commemorative postcard.
Click the image to enlarge.

Perched in the grandstands overlooking Tabac and Louis Chiron corners, here are selected photos from our second trip to a Monaco Grand Prix qualifying session, this time in 1994. In contrast to the usual fanfare that attends an F1 race, this was a somewhat somber event, being as it was the first race after the death of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna.

Senna’s Williams teammate Damon Hill raced alone that weekend, and the first two grid positions were left empty in tribute to the fallen Brazilian champion and Roland Ratzenberger, a Simtek driver who experienced a fatal crash during qualifying at Imola. German Michael Schumacher in his Benetton-Ford, having a penchant for the tight, twisty circuit, was widely expected to win the race, especially given his dominance of the early part of the 1994 season.

As for my experience, it was much as you’d expect: The smell of race fuel, the clear blue of the Mediterranean just a few hundred feet away and the wails of exotic V8s, V10s and V12s reverberating off the high-rises all around… Heaven. Enjoy the photos!

1994 Monaco F1 GP Ticket Billet

Race ticket. Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 Grand Prix

Coming down the post-chicane straight toward Tabac corner.
Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

Blasting away from Tabac toward Louis Chiron. Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

Qualifying leaderboard. It was early in the session.
Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

A Footwork leading a Ligier and a McLaren through Tabac. Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

Future first-time world champion Michael Schumacher rounding Tabac in his Benetton. Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

The bitter end: One of Team Lotus’ last races. Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

Senna’s teammate Damon Hill soldiering on alone in the sole Williams
to race at Monaco that year. Click the image to enlarge.

1994 Monaco F1 GP

My driver: Gerhard Berger in the incomparably beautiful Ferrari 412T1.
Click the image to enlarge.

Want more? Here are some pictures from our earlier trip to the Monaco GP in 1987.

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Fantastic Documentary on F1’s Turbo Era

January 8, 2013 by Matt

Dovetailing nicely with the previous post, if you have an hour or so to spare, enjoy this clip. It’s part 1 of a 2-part documentary detailing what qualifies for some as the most technically fascinating period of Formula 1: the Turbo Era of the 1980s. It comprises a span of time, ending roughly with the banning of most electronic “driver aids” in 1994, when F1 technology was truly at the vanguard of automotive innovation. In some ways, the F1 Turbo Era is akin to the Apollo Era of spaceflight in that it stirred a sense of wonder with respect to its engineering achievements that really hasn’t been felt since. Sure, modern F1 tech is sophisticated in the sense that the execution is unparalleled and the engineers sweat the details, but in many ways an average sports car’s engine trumps its F1 racer’s counterpart, what with its variable valve timing, direct injection and advanced materials. At least for a little while, up until the early ’90s, engineers were given much more leeway, and in the process created absolute monsters of race cars that thrilled us and made us stand in awe of the men who could tame them around a circuit.

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My Monaco Grand Prix, Part 1: 1987

January 5, 2013 by Matt

Monaco F1 Formula 1 GP Grand Prix 1987 Williams Honda V6 Turbo Engine Motor

The dominant Williams FW11B and its turbocharged, 800+ hp Honda V6.
Click the image to enlarge.

I wish I’d been more into the F1 scene at the time, but I was only 8 years old, and thus the whole spectacle was little more than a collection of extremely noisy cars. It’s not that I wasn’t into automobiles—a white Countach poster proudly adorned my bedroom wall—but to me at that age the F1 race cars were a different animal altogether from the relatively “tame” Lambo.

Monaco F1 Formula 1 GP Grand Prix 1987 McLaren Marlboro

McLaren MP4/3 bodywork in the pits. Click the image to enlarge.

I borrowed these from my parents’ photo albums last weekend. Fortunately for us, my parents have always been into photography, and my dad in particular has always taken it upon himself to organize and catalog our photos. Consequently, we have an almost unbroken chronicle of our family history, from the early ’80s to the present day. Needless to say, I’m glad he decided to bring the camera along for our visit to the Monaco F1 circus in late May, 1987.

Monaco F1 Formula 1 GP Grand Prix 1987 West Zakspeed

A Zakspeed 871. Click the image to enlarge.

We actually got to stroll through the pits. We lived in France at the time, and attended the Trans World Radio church in downtown Monaco; I don’t know if our ability to get so close to the cars was thanks to our connections in town, or simply a byproduct of the more relaxed F1 atmosphere in that era, but regardless, it was amazing to see all the machinery so close.

Monaco F1 Formula 1 GP Grand Prix 1987 Anthony Noghes Corner

Coming ’round Anthony Noghés corner in qualifying. Click the image to enlarge.

Sadly we didn’t see the actual race. A friend of a friend had an apartment overlooking the harbor, though, so we were able to observe one of the qualifying sessions from a vantage point above the grid area.

Monaco F1 Formula 1 GP Grand Prix 1987

Eventual 1987 world champion Nelson Piquet in his Williams.

So many racing legends… I did gravitate toward the Williams cars at the time, and Mansell particularly, for some reason.

Monaco F1 Formula 1 GP Grand Prix 1987 Stefan Johansson McLaren TAG Riccardo Patrese Brabham BMW

Stefan Johansson in the McLaren leads the Brabham of Riccardo Patrese.

Want more? Here are some pictures from our subsequent trip to the Monaco Grand Prix in 1994.

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