News and views on motorsports

Monday, December 18, 2006


Granted, I have not read the F1-Racing article on which this article is based on, but nevertheless, I detect a little irony here. Yes, may Ron Dennis has a point and perhaps Mr Robertson did misrepresent his client's disposition.

But I say Mr Dennis, I'm sure all these years you also promised young Kimi a championship winning car. And yet again, for the umpteenth time, you and your German friends have failed to deliver. Last year, not only did Kimi not had a championship winning car, he didn't even get a car capable of taking a single race.

With that in mind, can you blame your former charge of wanting to switch to a different team? Even if you do build a car to take the rest of the field to the cleaners, I cannot blame Mr Raikkonen of being just a little bit sick of things at Woking and seek a breath of fresh air.

Stop grumbling Mr Dennis. At least you will be gaining a world champion behind the wheel of your car once more. And that young eager beaver Hamilton looks to be shaping up nicely so far and the fans seem to be pleased. Now if you could only build a proper car for the two of them that would be splendid. Because as far as a lot of people are concerned, you aren't doing your job very well, sir. And I'm sure Kimi would feel a little deceived himself after all these years.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

At Jerez 10 Seasons Ago

Murray Walker : “Case of champagne from Ferrari to Sauber, because the Argentinian newcomer Norberto Fontana, up from Formula Three, really, really, helped Michael Schumacher on his way there."

Martin Brundle : “What engine have they got in that Sauber, Murray? Isn't it a Ferrari?”

Murray Walker : “Well, it is, yes. Martin you are a cynical chap.”

At Jerez in October of 1997, something sinister was afoot. That Michael Schumacher attempted to punt Jacques Villeneuve off the road that day is plain to see. But less obvious was the collusion between the Ferrari and Sauber teams. Ferrari have often denied any unsporting behaviour and they continue to do so. Recently, Jean Todt was heard denying that there ever was a number one driver at Ferrari. Which we all know is complete rubbish.

I had just spotted this new article by that man of controversy, Tom Rubython, which was published in F1i a few days ago. And it sheds light onto events of that day. Now, collusion between teams to my mind should be allowed and it is all part of the game. But as the article explains, this was a case of colluding to force a back marker to delay the progress of Jacques Villeneuve. Not a front runner fighting for the lead of the race but a back marker under blue flags. All because that back marker was in a car powered by a Ferrari engine and with it came certain obligations.

Well, Michael would be paid back 2 years later at Suzuka when David Coulthard delayed his progress during the race when David was about to be lapped. But the funny things was, Michael the cheek to complain about it in the post race interview. Takes one to know one eh Michael?

In any case the events that day forever destroyed the career of the back marker in question, not that he was especially brilliant in a Formula 1 car that day. However romantic the story of Ferrari's success in later years with their string of championships, at the heart of it all was a team that had very little moral principles about them.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Something Interesting

Whenever I'm bored nowadays (like now when I'm in the midst of a major recursive portupgrade) I kinda like to click on the Stumble Button on the Firefox Stumble Upon toolbar. This time, this quite fabulous add-on brought me to this site: Basically, the authors of the site claim to have created a new form of 4 stroke engine that basically replaces the old valve running gear.

I'm no mechanical engineer (my comment above should tell you the industry I work in) but this invention looks interesting (if it is indeed theirs). I have no idea if it is even theoretically possible but for a guy who's spent a lot of his life looking at various people taking engines apart and fixing them up again, this idea seems brilliant.

The engine utilizes a basic 4 stroke engine block. In the case of the "inventors" an old Fiat short block was used. Then, the cylinder heads are replaced with their invention. Now instead of having the intake and exhaust cycles controlled by cams and valves, the new heads have a single crankshaft. Yes, you read correctly. The heads have a crank. Attached to this overhead crank (??!!) are two pistons per cylinder. One piston is tasked with the air/fuel intake and the other lets exhaust gases out. The pistons move in a reciprocating manner but is pushed by the overhead crankshaft. This in turn in chain driven by the bottom end crank (at least it seems so in the gallery pictures).

Too complicated to explain further, you should have a look for yourself on the website in the How It Works section. Then the mechanical engineers among you can perhaps tell me if this engine should work or not. More importantly, can it burn hydrogen? All I know is right now, this type of engine is automatically banned by the current Formula 1 rules.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Toyota Way

Last night I watched a repeat of the documentary called Anatomy Of A Formula 1 Team that was shown on Discovery channel. The documentary featured the Toyota F1 team and highlighted various aspects of the operations of a modern grand prix racing team. Track testing, design, manufacturing and logistics were some of the topics covered on it. The documentary featured events prior to the 2006 Canadian Grand Prix.

One thing that was repeatedly emphasized was the Toyota Way embodied by the Toyota Production System (TPS). This incorporate the Kaizen philosophy, which is Toyota's process of continuous evolution and improvement. The idea being taken from management guru W Edward Demming. At the time the documentary was made Mike Gascoyne had already been sacked (oops, I should say voluntarily parted company) and replaced by Pascal Vesselon, formerly of Michelin.

You get the impression that the whole Toyota F1 team is organised using the TPS principles, which had been proven successful in the design and manufacture of Toyota road cars. One gets the impression that the team exists to validate Toyota's methodologies. As Patrick had pointed out, the whole project seems like some sort of corporate flagship exercise. A big promotion exercise if you will with the Toyota Way being the product ultimately on display. Success in grand prix racing if achieved, would serve as a parade of its superiority both on the track and on the road.

So, the question is after billions spent and some 5 years in grand prix racing, why hasn't it worked out? Never mind championships, even a grand prix win has not been achieved. Although the team has come close. There is very little doubt that the Toyota way has been very successful in producing road cars. To some, the Toyota production line is among the very best in the world, if not the best. Cars are produced efficiently, cheaply and comes built in with very high quality and reliability. All the things you need to produce some of the most boring vehicles on the planet. But then Toyota knows that the average joe on the street is just looking for some boring, reliable car with huge space to stuff his shopping, the grandparents and the rugrats into. And therefore, its methodologies work there.

But could it be that the Toyota way is simply the wrong way when it comes to racing? Essentially the TPS is a design by committee methodology where everyone focuses upon his domain but with emphasis on open communication among the various groups and team members. Theoretically, why shouldn't this philosophy work? After all it had worked for Ferrari. Up until the new aero rules introduced in 2005, Formula 1 Ferraris have been constantly evolving a basic design reaching back, oh I don't know, perhaps to 1998. Some innovations were introduced here and there but it was a work of evolution rather than revolution. So why hasn't it produced magic in Toyota?

Perhaps magic is indeed the missing ingredient in the form of an excellent technical director. I hear howls of protest but bear with me a moment. The 2005 Toyota challenger was the first car under the Mike Gascoyne. It had to be all new. For with the new aero rules, a revolution was indeed the right step. I mean look at Ferrari. Whilst Luca di Montezemolo lay blame on tyres but Ross Brawn was more forthcoming. The basic design itself was wrong. It evolved the F2004 into the F2005 but the basic DNA was all wrong for survival in the new aero environment, no matter how much it was mutated. A revolutionary leap in the basic design was needed. Gascoyne produced it with Toyota, the Ferrari F2005 was basically an extinct dinosaur.

For a brief moment, the 2005 Toyota was the only match for the Renault R25 until McLaren's MP4/20 hit form. If Ferrari hadn't stolen victory at Indianapolis and if Toyota hadn't screwed up Ralf Schumacher at Spa, then for sure the team would have had their maiden win and in turn would have beaten Ferrari to third in the constructors.

So what the hell happened in 2006? Well, thats what happens when marketing idiots tamper with racing objectives. And marketing of course, is a huge thing in a road car company like Toyota. Some clever genius decided that it would be good for the team to use Bridgestone tyres for 2006, since that is the brand that is used on all Toyota road cars. The decision of course came late in the day after plans for the TF106 had already been in place and the car optimized for use with Michelin rubber. Do not underestimate the effect this had. It was enormous and no matter what Gascoyne attempted to do, it was to no avail. The car was simply unsuited to its rubber. Whatever is said of Gascoyne, I think he was made the scapegoat for the debacle.

And now the team lumbers on. Like McLaren, that other ailing Formula 1 team, the principals at Toyota believe a team approach, a design by committee arrangement is the best way and of course would fit in that holy of holies, the TPS. Now I realise, no one can do everything these days. Even 20 years ago, the thought of one superstar designer doing everything had long been banished. Gordon Murray, the man in charge of the mighty McLaren MP4/4 pointed out way back then that he never drew up the detailed blueprints of the car. At most, he sketched a few lines on a piece of paper. But I still feel a strong technical director, that is able to aggregate all the minute detailed work of others, with a clear understanding on the application of various technologies and able to provide strong design direction is still needed.

Of course, all Formula 1 teams have extremely clever people working for them. Its just that some are brighter still than the others. In the book, the Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki, the best results are apparently obtained when a group contains people of many different backgrounds, experiences and even intelligence. A group of similar minded people rarely produces the best results mainly because points of view are the same. In a group of the extremely talented then, everyone is useful from the merely smart to the Einsteins of the team.

That is the ideal situation but in small groups, it has been found that force of personality can dominate and set the direction of the group, whether it be right or wrong. The guy who talks first and most often usually drowns out everyone else, even those who may have had better answers. Situations like these have led to disasters like the NASA Columbia accident. If this is so and groups will be dominated by forceful individuals or leaders, then risky as it may be, you may just as well put the most clever person in charge of the whole group. Like a superstar designer for instance. Constant evolution is also a Ferrari philosophy but just look at the people at the helm of the technical team. Would anyone argue that Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne were key ingredients to Ferrari's unprecedented success?

Watching the documentary, I have no doubt that the Kaizen methodology at Toyota works beautifully on the production side. Once designs are approved, I wager the Toyota team can then produce a component faster, more efficiently and cheaper than any other team in the paddock. But in racing and in Formula 1 especially, speed and lap times are the ultimate priority. The design team led by a genius is key to such objectives. The Toyota Way I feel is unlikely to achieve that performance leap required by the team to be "the best ever team in Formula 1." Great at pumping out cars in volume but hey, in Formula 1 you only need two.

Toyota must break away from their current thinking. Showcasing corporate philosophies and marketing are really not the point of racing. Racing should be done for racing's sake alone with winning being the only objective. Toyota would be best served by looking at the way Renault organise. Just let the team get on with the business and stay out of their way. Thats how you win.