Archives for the month of: April, 2010

With the chequered flag of the Grand Prix of China came crunch time in our competition to win a copy of Stuart Codling’s excellent new book, “Art of the Formula 1 Race Car.”

Now, I know I said I would narrow down the list and send it off to Codders, but frankly your answers were so good, so varied, and so well argued that I thought it only fair to let Stuart judge from them all.

And this, is what he thought…

First up, thanks to Will for the glowing review. Your cheque’s in the post!

Judging this one became more difficult as the comments rolled in. Every one of them reminded me of the arguments discussions during those crucial early stages as we tried to narrow 60-odd years of Formula 1 history down to a list of 19 cars.

Of course, we had to temper ambition with practicality (by which I mean we could only photograph cars that we could actually get hold of and get to a studio). That is why 19 became 18; the restoration of one car we intended to shoot went past the deadline, and with great regret we (James Mann and I, that is, not the royal ‘we’) had to leave that chapter out of the book.

So many cars, so little space! Clearly we would have to aim for no more than three or four cars from each decade, so we had to make some tough decisions. The 1950s cars chose themselves; the Alfa’s restoration wasn’t complete until perilously close to the deadline but it was worth hanging on for. The Maserati, Lancia and Mercedes are personal favourites and historically significant. So far as that decade was concerned we had to stop there.

The rear-engined revolution was the next obstacle. After some discussion we decided to roll with the BRM rather than a Cooper; James felt that the colour of the available Cooper wouldn’t work against the black backdrop. I concurred on the grounds that I preferred the look of the BRM, and that it had an interesting story.

The Ferrari 156? We’d have loved to include this beautiful car. Regrettably no originals are left and the only ones out there are copies (I know the D50 in the book isn’t an original car, either, but it’s made from mostly original parts). We considered the Eagle T1G as well. As Ben says, it’s a beautiful car. On art grounds alone it would have justified its inclusion, but in the end it had to give way to other cars from that era that were more successful and/or significant.

Obviously you could fill the 1960s and 1970s with Lotuses. After much hand-wringing we decided to leave out the Lotus 25 and 79 and go with the 49B and 72. Although there was a chronological gap between the 72 and 79, we thought that having two cars with the same very distinctive livery would detract from the book. Classic Team Lotus were prepared to lend us either or both. Ultimately the choice of 72 over 79 came down to pure nostalgia; James and I both had Matchbox toys of it when we were kids.

Why am I harping on about this in the style of an Oscar winner whose speech is going on a bit too long? Partly its because so many of the entrants found themselves in the same quandary as James and me when they tried to make their list. There are so many beautiful cars in the history of F1 that it’s hard to arrive at a definitive choice.

Marthambles relates an amusing and distinct tale and I agree with his choice. The Maserati 250F is a marvellous and beautiful thing, albeit inexactly assembled “with crappy materials” (says Stirling Moss). But I cannot award the prize to a fellow scribe; it feels too much like a violation of the “colleagues friends and family” clause you get in competition Ts&Cs. Sorry.

The Brabham BT52 is a stunning-looking car that comes with a fascinating tale I’d love to have been able to include in the book. Gordon Murray claims that its design process was so fraught that he went without sleep for months and had to use amphetamines to function. The engine alone is a thing of mystery. There are all sorts of stories about what Paul Rosche, BMW’s engine guru, used to get up to, such as storing the blocks outside and getting his staff to urinate on them. Apparently it had some sort of metallurgical effect (“I don’t know about that,” said Murray when I asked him about it, “but I wouldn’t put it past him”). The fuel was highly dodgy and definitely toxic; Rosche claims that he found a wartime lead substitute in BASF’s archives which prevented pre-ignition at high boost pressures. Over the years this has become the “Nazi rocket fuel” theory.

I thought that the only examples of this car belonged to Bernie so I duly fired off a fax to Princes Gate. I heard nothing back. Only later, after spluttering with rage and kicking a wall when I saw studio shots of the BT52 adorning the cover of Motor Sport, did I learn that BMW have one in their museum.

Anyway, enough of my wittering. Sasquatch – the book is yours!


And here, for you all, is Sasquatsch’s winning entry:

Brabham BT52 - Monaco 1983. N Piquet.

After reading your post I immediately knew which car I would choose. The rocket-like Brabham BT 52. But to put into words why, that’s something completely different. But I will give it a try.

Thinking of one particular car as the most beautiful is something personal. It doesn’t have to be a succesful car and sometimes it doesn’t even have to look good. It’s just a gut feeling. Tiny details or personal experience can make a car special. But somehow a beatiful car is always different than others.

Right from the start of the 1983 season, the Brabham stood out from the other cars that season. It was totally different with the short angular sidepods at the back of the car, which, with the engine cover, looked like the fins of a rocket (or dart). Because the ban on ground-effect made for a whole new design, designer Gordon Murray removed the obsolete parts of the sidepods, which now, after the ground-effect era, generated more lift than suction. An at the same time got rid of some weight.

Also the white and blue colorscheme made the car look very esthetic (and fortunately not as clinically white as Eccelstone would have preferred it). Add to this the legend of the BMW turbo engine, which was an adapted 1.5 liter, 4 cylinder engine, taken from normal road cars. Rumours have it that some of them had over 100,000 kilometres on the clock before they were transfomed into 1500 hp capable Formula One engines. These are the tiny details that make this car special to me, as well as the personal experience of seeing this car (already special to me) race in front of my eyes in the Dutch GP of 1983. Although an accident ended it’s race prematurely, I was a happy boy.

Although it was not the best car of the season, and sometimes not very reliable, the car led Piquet to the first turbo-powerd world title in 1983 by using ‘rocket’ fuel in the last couple of races. Apparantly Castrol delivered some special fuel for the final races of the season, making the car. Another tiny detail, which adds to its beauty.

After the 1878 fan car, Gordon Murray had done it again. He designed something special. Just as he would do a couple of years later with the (not so successful) radical low-line Brabham BT55 or the dominating McLaren MP4/4. Or the McLaren F1 road car. Or the Rocket Roadster or …

And although I am now 43, I still have a scale model of the Brabham BT52 on a shelf in my study.


The chaos in the world’s skies over the last week meant that many of us wondered how on earth we were going to get home from Shanghai. Being stuck in China wasn’t high on anyone’s lists of places to be stranded, but there was little one could actually do about the situation.

Some chose to book incredible journeys around the globe, taking in places as diverse as New York, Casablanca, Cairo, Porto, Vietnam, Moscow, Dubai and Istanbul. Others chose to sit tight and wait.

I, despite having a four week old daughter that I desperately wanted to see, sat in the latter half of the group. Having spoken at length with fellow journos Hans Seeberg, Tom Clarkson and Edd Straw, we decided that inaction was better than overeaction… and then we struck gold.

We’d heard that Lotus boss Tony Fernandes, who also owns one of the biggest commercial airlines in Asia, was putting on a flight to get his boys home as soon as UK airspace opened. And the four uf us had, completely independently and without knowledge that the others had also done so, approached him about the possibility of getting on board. I asked in the middle of an interview live on SPEED on the F1 grid, and Tony was most gracious in saying a very smily “yes.”

All we had to do was to get ourselves to Kuala Lumpur, and Lotus would take care of the rest.

And so it was that at 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, we left out hotel in Shanghai and took a 200+ km taxi ride to Shanghai Hangzhou airport. After a spot of dinner and a massive shunt with some horrible beers, we realised that another journalist, Adam Cooper, had not arrived. Turned out he’d gone to the wrong airport, poor bloke. Rather than risk wasting the £300 round trip in a taxi if he’d missed the flight, Adam dropped off the plane and it was just the four of us… here’s what happened over the next 36ish hours.

On the flight out of Shanghai. 23:20 Tuesday night

TC, equally delighted to be leaving China

Hans - officially loving Air Asia.

Snake's (not) on a plane. Shunt!

A few hours later, and Hans was most chuffed that we had made it to KL. Next stop, the hotel.

From KL’s smaller terminal we took a cab into the city to the Equatorial hotel, in which Lotus had sorted us some rooms. We checked in, grabbed some breakfast and then set about getting a few hours sleep. Three to be precise, because at 10am came the call we’d not even dared to dream would arrive so fast.

“Get your arses to the airport,” came the shout from Lotus’ PR man Tom Webb. “We fly at 2.”

Cue hasty re-packing of bags and speedy check out from the hotel which had cost us a rather amusing 50 pence per minute of rest. Genius! Well most of hastily re-packed. Tom couldn’t do much, having sent his clothes to the laundry. He’s hoping they’ll send him his stuff in the post, as this was not a flight any of us wanted to miss.

We arrived at the airport and caught up with Mia Sharizman Ismail, Lotus’ Operations guru who called us to the front of the queue to check in immediately for the flight. We caught up with some of the Lotus boys who’d arrived a few days before and whom their team boss Tony Fernandes had been looking after, giving them tours of the Air Asia facilities, letting them try out the aircraft simulators (£15 million a pop), and who had organised a day of go karting and a massive party for the evening we ended up having to leave KL. They adore him, to a man. And it is easy to see why.

A quick McDonalds later, and we had passed security and were tucking into a celebratory beer with Tom Webb. The gate was called and we made our way over to Gate 16… and look who was waiting for us…

You don't get this on BA! Tony Fernandes was on hand in the KL departure lounge to make sure we all got on the plane OK. LEGEND.

The gate at KL - full of Lotus boys, Cosworth, paying customers and four random and highly fortuitous journos!

Never had one letter and five numbers looked quite so wonderful.

Our Air Asia flight home on the KL runway. Tony waited by the steps to wish us all well.

10 hours into the 14 hour flight home, Edd and Hans were now slightly tired and bored of flying.

Just after 9pm on Wednesday night GMT, and after 40 hours of constant travelling, we land in London.

And look who was waiting! Mrs Will and baby Sophie.

So almost 40 hours after waking up on Tuesday in Shanghai, all four of us had made it home, thanks to the incredible kindness of our new favourite F1 team Lotus, and our new hero, Mr Tony Fernandes.

A huge thank you has to go to Silvi Schaumloeffel and Mike Gascoyne and a lifetime’s gratitude to Tom Webb, Mia Sharizman Ismail and, of course, the legend that is Tony Fernandes. Thank you all.

And for those still stuck in Shanghai, a heartfelt “keep your chin up.” Here’s hoping everyone gets back soon.

The Durango 95 purred away real horrorshow...

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of bizarrely far-fetched F1 bids, this week’s news that Durango has applied for the vacant 13th grid slot for 2011 should have you spitting out your cornflakes.

For all of you fellow Stanley Kubrick fans, I’m afraid to inform you that the Durango of which we speak is not the Durango of “A Clockwork Orange” fame. The Durango 95 car stolen by Alex and his droogs in the movie was, in fact, an M-505 Adams Brothers Probe 16, of which only three were ever made.

No, the Durango of which we speak is the Italian former GP2, F3000 and Endurance team which has, in its past, achieved a relative level of success.

Why then, should I consider this bid to be somewhat fanciful? After all, isn’t GP2 supposed to provide the future of F1? Well yes, it is… only, Durango is no longer a part of GP2 having been forced out of the championship when it ran out of cash.

Durango’s fall from grace last year hit its peak on September 5th, when Il Gazzettino reported that Durango was being investigated for criminal tax evasion and fraud, and that it had been using a system of companies which constantly changed their names to issue bills with inflated figures in order to reduce costs and lower the payable tax. Indeed, it was claimed in Il Gazzettino that the system put in place at Durango had seen unreported revenue of more than €12 million, false invoicing amounting to €11 million, unpaid tax of €3 million and a reduction of base tax to the tune of €16 million. All of this came, so the article said, at the end of a one year investigation.

Durango’s time in GP2 was not short of controversy. From as early as Imola 2006 the team was in hot water for contravening regulations by manufacturing their own parts rather than using Dallara’s spec equipment. In Imola it was only the car’s skirts that were the issue, but when Lucas di Grassi’s rear wing fell off at Silverstone later that same season, Durango was excluded from the weekend and sent packing from the paddock after it was discovered the team had sought to cut corners by conducting a botch repair job on structural parts of the car, rather than returning those parts to Dallara for an official repair.

Talk of Durango’s corner cutting came to the fore once again just last season when Stefano Coletti was involved in a huge shunt at Spa, when his GP2/08 went straight on at Eau Rouge. A paddock insider that weekend whispered to me that Coletti’s steering column had “snapped like a piece of balsa wood,” although I could find no evidence to substantiate this claim from anyone at GP2 or Dallara.

When the championship arrived at Monza for the next race however, Durango only had one car at its disposal and there were two contrasting reasons given for this, depending on who you spoke to: namely that Durango didn’t have the money to repair the car, or that the car was so littered with botch repairs that Dallara had impounded it as being too unsafe to use. Again, I found it impossible to find an “on the record” response as to which of these was the accurate version of events but rumours that it was the latter refused to disappear.

The team was ultimately forced out of that weekend and did not race at all.

Stefano Coletti - Spa 2009 © GP2 Media Service

Durango missed the final two rounds of the 2009 Main Series, missed the entirety of the 2009/2010 GP2 Asia series and will not compete in the 2010 Main GP2 Series. They have, however, found the funds to launch an F1 team… or so Durango’s boss Ivone Pinton told the team’s website.

“After the mishaps of last season we went into action full force to seek new partners for our racing activities. It did not take long to realize that the interest could be raised only when there was talk of Formula 1, therefore we have pushed in this direction and today I can say that, enter the maximum formula, we have the support of two large international groups. So while remaining with their feet on the ground, because for now it is only a serious attempt, I would say that after working many years to train future champions, now is the time to work hard to push to the top as the Durango team. ”

While I understand that it might be easier to drum up support for an F1 effort than a GP2 effort owing to the much higher levels of exposure in F1, what I do not understand is how a team which could not make a go of GP2 could even consider that they have what it takes to make a go of F1. After the USF1 debacle, and the StefanGP mess, the FIA will likely be wary of any and all 2011 proposals, and the due diligence on Durango is likely to be even more extensive than on most, given the very public financial issues which affected the squad so recently. Plus I’m pretty sure that if the team has found some money, then the first knock on their door is going to come from GP2 for unpaid bills and the serious fines that they will be contractually obliged to pay for two missed races and two entire missed championships.

Formula 1 cannot afford any more embarrassment from new teams falling by the wayside. That Campos / Hispania made it to the grid is nothing short of a miracle, and the aforementioned USF1 / StefanGP balls up did little for the sport’s image. As such, I wonder how seriously Durango’s bid will be taken.

When we have seen the likes of Prodrive, Lola and Epsilon passed over in favour of unknown entities which failed to make the grade, you can see why Durango would chance their arm. What have they got to lose?

But in all honesty you’d have to say that, regardless of the financial partners they might have got on board, so incredible does a Durango bid for F1 seem that it almost makes StefanGP look like a serious operation.

One of the great privileges of my job is that I am occasionally sent books to read and review. My office has, over the years, started to resemble a rather ramshackle motorsport library more than it does a working space conducive to intelligent thought and I am delighted to report that at the start of this week, the library grew once again.

The tome which arrived at my door is truly a book that all self respecting motorsport fans should consider purchasing, because to my mind it ticks all the boxes a book can tick. Beautifully written, gloriously illustrated, and printed to an exceptional level of quality, “Art of the Formula 1 Race Car” has instantly placed itself among my favourite motorsport books.

Its 208 pages are filled with some of the most stunning images of racing cars you will ever see, as the story of Formula 1’s history is told through its most beautiful cars. And that’s one of the things I like the most about this book – it’s not necessarily about the most successful cars, just the ones whose aching beauty has set them apart from the competition. The quality of the photography at the hand of James Mann also gives us a detailed look at the engineering excellence of these creations, all of which are the real deal, the proper racers and not museum replicas. Indeed, the very first car profiled, the Alfa 158 is THE car driven by Guiseppe Farina to victory at the very first Formula 1 Grand Prix in May 1950.

From there, we are taken on a beauty-driven ride through F1’s past, stopping to gaze at the Maserati 250F, the Mercedez-Benz W196 streamliner, Lancia D50, BRM P57, Brabham BT20, Lotus 49B, Lotus 72, Tyrrell 003, Tyrrell P34, Ferrari 312T3, Williams FW07, McLaren MP4/4, Leyton House CG901, Jordan 191, Williams FW14, Ferrari F1-2000 and finally the McLaren MP4-23. Some list, I’m sure you’ll agree.

What marks this book out from your regular coffee table F1 photo album however, is Stuart Codling’s wonderfully written commentary. Stuart perfectly captures not only the stories behind the concept, design and realisation of these magnificent cars, but also manages to provide a history of their racing careers whilst also reflecting the heartstring-pulling passion which their sumptuous lines evoke. And with expert analysis from design legend Gordon Murray, you’re pretty much in F1 heaven.

Stuart’s one of the best writers in the business, and his first book has been a long time coming. I would advise any and all F1 fans to check out his blog, and to invest their hard-earned on his rather brilliant book.

However, if you’d rather not pay for one at all, then you’ll be very pleased to hear that I was accidentally sent two copies, and Stuart has agreed that I can give one away to the readers of my blog. Hurrah!

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, simply reply to this post and let me know your opinion on the single most beautiful F1 car ever designed. It can be one of the ones from the book, or one which you think has been a staggering omission from the list. Let me know your reasons on why you love it so much and find it so beautiful, I’ll narrow the list down to my top five and get Stuart to pick his favourite from that list. Et voila, we’ll have a winner.

Shall we say all entries to be in by chequered flag at the Chinese Grand Prix?