Formula One in 2015

The start of the 2015 F1 season might two months away, but there is still plenty to discuss in the offseason.  Most of the driver lineups have been announced.  The 2015 calendar has been finalized.  Testing dates are all set.  The next big event will be the car reveals.  A list can be found on the SkySports website.

Currently, only Force India has set a date for their car reveal.  The rest of the teams should announce theirs pretty soon.  The first test in Jerez, Spain, begins on February 1.  I expect most of the teams to be there, although there is still some doubt over whether or not Caterham and Marussia, now known as Manor F1, will be racing this season.  In the long term, I worry about the longevity of some of the independent teams.  Formula 1 is unbelievably expensive.  The divide between the top spenders and the back markers is only growing.  Cost cutting policies don’t seem to be working.

Sauber had their worst season ever. The team has two new drivers who have some backing.  Hopefully these improved funds will help the team in 2015.

Lotus struggled as well, but their more experienced drivers lineup helped drag an uncompetitive car into the points on a few occasions.  The 2015 Lotus will be Mercedes powered, which at the very least should improve straight line speed.

If any team can show how quickly fortunes change, it’s Williams.  Their 2013 campaign was their worst since their first full season in 1978.  They scored a total of five points and finished in ninth place, just ahead of the back markers of Marussia and Caterham.

In 2014, the team finished third in the constructor’s championship, with one pole position and nine podiums.  The team finished 104 points ahead of Ferrari, the team Felipe Massa left at the end of 2013.  He must feel pretty good about finishing ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, the man who replaced him at Ferrari.

The are some major driver changes for 2015.  Most notably was the news that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving Red Bull to replace Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.

This was huge.  Red Bull backed Vettel all through the junior categories.  His first full time F1 drive was at Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team.  Vettel won four championships in four years from 2010 through 2013 in a Red Bull car, finishing second in the championship in 2009.  Leaving the team couldn’t have been an easy decision.

He’s going to Ferrari to pair up with Raikkonen.  Ferrari’s 2014 car was a complete dog.  Alonso only managed two podiums, while Raikkonen never finished higher than fourth, obviously struggling with the handling of the car.  This was the first season since 1993 that Ferrari failed to score at least one race win.  The team finished fourth in the constructor’s championship, ahead of McLaren, another great team that seems to have lost their way.

Many people have asked why Vettel would leave the comfort of Red Bull.  He has 38 race wins and four world championships with the team, plus his first race win in 2008 at Monza in a Toro Rosso.  Yes, 2014 wasn’t the best year for him, but Red Bull still seems like a better choice than a struggling Ferrari.

I think for Vettel the lure of Ferrari was just too much to pass up.  This is the oldest, winningest team in F1.  Vettel’s idol, Michael Schumacher won five titles with the team.  Some of the greatest drivers of all time have worn red overalls.  The idea of a new challenge, the privilege of racing for Ferrari and teaming up with Raikkonen, one of Vettel’s closest friends, had to be very appealing.

Some people have speculated that Vettel left because he was beaten in 2014 by Daniel Ricciardo.  I don’t think that’s it at all.  Vettel showed a maturity that seemed to be missing during his years partnering Mark Webber.  He never showed and resentment or frustration with Ricciardo and praised him on many occasions.  The two, at least by all outward appearances, seemed to be the best of teammates: competitive, yet complementary.

There were some major changes in staff this season at Red Bull.  Adrian Newey, arguably the one greatest designers in the history of F1, announced his role within the team would be greatly reduced.  His protege, Peter Prodromou, was poached by McLaren last year, returning to a team he left in 2006.  The team’s 2014 car was well off the pace of the Mercedes cars.  This has a lot to do with the Renault engines, but with their chief designer gone, there is uncertainty whether or not the team can get back to their winning ways.

Alonso is back at McLaren, a team he left after a single season in 2007.  He left the team on less than friendly terms.  Alonso had expected to be the de facto number one.  Instead the team gave equal preference to both drivers.  Alonso’s teammate was the young rookie Lewis Hamilton.  The two were tied on points at the end of the season, but Hamilton’s better finishes meant he finished second in the championship, ahead of Alonso.  There was also the whole espionage controversy.

Although that season was seven years gone, it still surprised many to see Alonso move back to McLaren.  Once it was announced that he was leaving Ferrari, he move to McLaren became F1’s worst kept secret..  The only question was who was going to lose their seat to make room for Alonso: Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen

Button, one of the most experienced drivers ever in F1, was the 2009 world champion and could be relied on to deliver solid performances as well as solid advice on how to develop the car.  His age is a major factor, though.  He is currently the oldest driver in the sport, and it is unclear how many more years in F1 he’s got in him.

Magnussen, just coming off his rookie season, has a lot going for him.  He’s young, which means he is much more of a long term solution for McLaren.  He’s also been groomed by McLaren for years, much the same way Lewis Hamilton was during his years in the junior categories.  Magnussen though, not surprisingly, was never as quick or as consistent as Button, but, as a rookie, no one expected him to be.

So it came down to experience versus longevity.  This couldn’t have been an easy choice for the team.  Reports say that there was disagreement among the board members, which led to a prolonged wait in the team announcing their 2015 lineup.  In the end the team chose Button, giving them a driver pairing with a combined 501 race starts, 147 podiums, 30 pole positions, 29 fastest laps, 47 wins and three world championships.  Based on stats, McLaren has one of strongest driver pairings in the history of Formula 1.

I believe there are three factors that led to Button retaining his seat.

First off, it has become clear that Alonso preferred to be paired with Button.  The two had previously worked together at Benetton in the early 2000s.  They are friends off the track and McLaren needs stability within the team.  There have been a lot of staff changes in the past year or so.  Having teammates who can’t work together would only further drag the team down.

Secondly, Button soundly beat Magnusson over the course of the season.  McLaren was coming off one of their worst seasons in their history.  Despite being the most reliable car on the grid, with 36 finishes out of a possible 38, the team finished fifth in the constructors.  Button’s results show that his talent hasn’t yet expired.

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, Honda is coming back into the sport as an engine supplier.  In 2015, McLaren will be there sole customer.  That essentially makes the team the works Honda team.  Button raced for Honda from 2006 to 2008.  Before that he raced for BAR, a team that Honda had a 45 percent stake in.  At the end of 2005, Honda purchased the remaining 55 percent.  Button’s relationship with Honda and the fact that he has a huge following in Japan were major contributing factors.  It’s also believed that Button was Honda’s choice for the drive.

The biggest question for McLaren is how the new Honda power unit will perform.  They’ve had a full season to observe the other teams hybrid power units performed, most importantly Mercedes.  Just this past week though, the teams seemed to have found a loophole in the regulations allowing Mercedes, Renault, and Ferrari to further develop their engines.  Because Honda didn’t compete in 2014, their engine can’t be be changed once it’s homologated.  Expect further news as this situation develops.

I’m looking forward to 2015.  I want to see how Vettel and Alonso perform in their new environments.  I want to see if Hamilton can defend his championship.  I want to see how well Honda’s power unit works.  I want to see if Caterham and Manor make it to the grid.  Mostly, I just want to see some racing.

Cubans are free to purchase cars, but the costs keep them in their classics

Cuban drivers are now free to purchase cars after the government passed a law reducing restrictions last December, although steep prices mean fewer than 100 cars have been sold since January.

This move is just the latest of several moves by the government to introduce more free market ideas and allowances into the communist country.

The average price of a new car in Cuba sits around $23,000 dollars, but when monthly salaries average $20, even for professions like doctors, few can afford the price of a new vehicle.

A Kia Rio hatchback, which starts at $13,900 in the US, costs $42,000 in Cuba. Of course owning a car means eventually having to fix the car, and modern vehicles are far more advanced and complicated than the yank tanks – pre-revolution cars – that Cuba is famous for.

Many of these yank tanks are fitted with Soviet-era technology that citizens have made work since parts for these cars became unavailable after the start of the US embargo. In the years following the Cuban revolution, the government seized any vehicle that was not purchased and registered before 1959. It is estimated that around 60,000 of these pre-revolution cars, mostly American made, are still on the roads today.

Because buying a car is so expensive, Cubans will go to great lengths to keep their cars in running order. No replacement parts have been widely available since the embargo, although there is a market for parts smuggled into the country. Old cars are left to sit, waiting for the day they are either repaired or parted out in an effort to save other cars.

The government still controls all new car sales, owning all 11 can and motorcycle dealerships in the country. They say that 75 percent of the income from these car sales is going to fund public transportation in cities like Havana. The public transit in the country is in need of a heavy refresh, with many busses and taxis dating back decades.

Used cars are also subject to high prices. Many of these cars are former taxi and rental vehicles that come can have well over 100,000 miles on the odometer and still cost tens of thousands. A result of the new laws was an increase in the price of used cars. One of the most important points of the new law is the allowance of used car sales between private citizens. Previously, permission from the government was required even for transactions between private citizens. Permits were handed out and traded as a commodity on their own.

In the years following the revolution, most of the new cars imported to Cuba came from the Soviet Union. These cars were mainly used for government, taxi and rental services with very few reaching public hands.

Cuba’s unique situation, being caught with a vast number of cars but no convenient way to maintain them, has led to a unique car culture. Cuban streets are filled with a mixture of Soviet Era Ladas and Chevrolet, Ford and Packards from the 1950s. Fidel Castro famously road in an Oldsmobile to the Bay of Pigs.

There are many car clubs and organizations in Cuba, each with their own flavor of enthusiast. Alex Cruz Rangel is a member of Amigos de Fangio or Friends of Fangio, one such group. Rangel said, “The fact is that we are not a club, but rather a group of car enthusiasts that once, seven years ago, met inspired by the figure of Fangio.”

Juan Manuel Fangio, an Argentinian racing driver and considered by many to be the greatest Formula 1 driver who ever lived, was set to take part in the Cuban Grand Prix in 1958. He was kidnapped by revolutionaries and was unable to take part in the event. After his release, Fangio remained friends with his captors.

“So, in memory of these events was that we began to meet,” Rangel said. “But with over time it resulted in, as I said before, a group of classic and vintage cars enthusiasts.”

The idea of Havana filled with classic cars has become sort of iconic in the eyes of many non-Cubans. There are websites dedicated to profiling some of these cars, filled with photos, history and even the vehicles registration number.

Filmmaker Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt is currently finishing up work on “Havana Motor Club.” The film focuses on the efforts of several drivers to put together the first official race since the Cuban Revolution. The drivers, like most in Cuba, drive classic American cars.

Cubans remain hopeful that the prices of these cars will eventually drop. Inexpensive cars from China are some of the cheapest available to buy. Korean manufacturer Kia is also making a pretty big presence in the country. With more and more voices speaking up in support of lifting the US embargo, there is also the faint hope that not only can new American cars be sold in Cuba, but also that collectors and enthusiasts can share their parts as well as knowledge freely.

2014 Kia Soul

I spent five days with a rented a 2014 Kia Soul. Roxy was having some cooling problems and I decided to let Volkswagen take care of it. At Enterprise I was given the option of two cars in my price range: a Kia Soul or a Nissan Versa Note. When I interviewed Ezra Dyer a few months ago, he called out the Versa Note as one of the worst cars on the market today. While I thought about choosing it anyway, I’ve always kind of liked the Soul, so I figured I would give the new one a try.

My base Soul came in Kale Green with black interior. I was rather smitten with the exterior color. I’m usually not a fan of green cars, but that’s because I always picture a ’90s Buick LeSabre.  Jeep, Volkswagen and Kia have recently been offering a range of flat colors that I find to be really appealing. This was no exception.

The exterior of the second generation Soul is more of an overall update than a clean-sheet design. It keeps the look fresh while maintaining the not-quite CUV proportions. The ride hight is higher than most cars, but it also doesn’t feel truck like.

I was worried the black interior on the Soul was going to bake me in the August hear, but the dark tint on the rear windows managed to keep the interior relatively cool. This was aided by a wonderful A/C system that far surpasses the system in my GTI, though that’s not saying much.

I liked the layout of the interior, though the dash was filled with OK but cheap feeling plastics.  I’ve heard it was an upgrade over the previous model, but my eight-year old GTI has a better interior.  The Soul does get it right on all of the major touch points, so I can’t complain too much.  Fit and finish was great, while ample sound deadening kept the car quiet unless the engine decided it needed to drop down a gear or two.

The base sound system was OK and I liked having the auxiliary input right in the bottom of the dash with space to hold a device or two.  The Kia also featured two 12V ports on either side of the auxiliary inputs, a 120W and a 180W.

The manual seats had a lot of room for adjustment and combined with the tilt and telescope wheel, I easily found a comfortable driving position.  I prefer to sit low in a car, with a slightly upright seat and the steering wheel close.  I wasn’t a fan of the fabric used for the seats.  They felt cheap to the touch and I would worry about wear after a few years.  They also didn’t feature much in the way of bolstering, though I never felt like I was sliding around in them either.

The hatch of the Soul was relatively roomy, with 24.2 cubic feet of room with the seats up and 61.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.  My biggest complaint was the high load floor.  It’s fine for light items, but I would worry about lifting heavier items and not scratching the bumper.

The biggest surprise of all was how much I enjoyed driving the Soul.  The ride was smooth without being bouncy and I could take a corner at speed without the fear of rolling over.  It’s no hot hatch, but neither is it a wallowing SUV.  The car I drove rode on 16″ alloys with 205/60R16 tires,  an upgrade from the full-face hub caps standard on the base car.  Higher trim levels have optional 17″ and 18″ wheels, though I wonder how much the ride would be compromised with a smaller, stiffer sidewall.

The steering featured three setting for effort.  Comfort was far to soft, and while normal was fine, I kept it in sport mode most of the time.  The steering wheel itself was just the right size and featured all the typical controls you would expect on a modern car.

Power was an adequate 130 hp, plenty enough to move around a surprisingly light vehicle.  Kia lists the curb weight at 2784 lb., and the engine only ever seemed strained while passing at highway speeds.  I hate a touchy accelerator, and I found the tip-in on the Soul to be just right.  I’ve driven cars that make up for their lack of power with an accelerator that throws you back as soon as you even think about pushing it.  The six-speed transmission shifted smoothly, and I never felt like it was hunting for the proper gear.

Over my five days I achieved 26 mpg combined.  I typically do a lot of highway driving, so I was a little disappointed, but I admit that I fall in the aggressive side of the camp when it comes to driving style.

Overall, I quite enjoyed my time with the Soul.  It competes in a weird, not-quite CUV segment that was previously filled by the Honda Element and Nissan Cube.  This segment banks just as much on style as it does substance, and I feel like the Soul has both.  It’s a surprisingly refined vehicle with surprisingly good driving dynamics, and I have no doubt that Kia will equal the great success of the original Soul.

Memories

I shot this after deciding I didn’t like what I had put together before.  My first video had no story.  No soul.

I know John Raiford – the subject of this video – through his son, also named John Raiford, though he’s not a junior.  I met John working at Starbucks, and he introduced me to his father some time after that.

One of the first times I was at his house, Mr. Raiford took me to his garage to show me those two wonderful machines he has stored there.

One is a 1964 Chevrolet Impala, the other star of this video.  He also owns a 1952 Chevrolet 3100.  I might have enough footage of the ’52 to put together a second video.  You’ll know why I chose the Impala if you watched the video.

It is a fantastic story.  Talking to people, like Mr. Raiford or John Skinner from my earlier project, is the reason I really love what I’ve been doing.  I get to meet people and chat with them about the cool things they do and own.  In my experience, people are more than willing to talk and share if you can show them you care as much as they do.  And I do care.

Unfortunately, whenever I went to shoot video, the vehicles wouldn’t start.  Mr. Raiford said the batteries were probably dead.  I was just disappointed that I couldn’t hear the rumble of a Chevy small-block.

This whole semester has been wonderful.  I finally get to work on what I want to work on.  I get to write stories about cars and meet people that I share a deep interest and connection with.

One of the hardest parts of shooting this video was keeping my damn mouth shut.  I kept wanting to ask more and more questions, but it meant I would have to add another cut.

I had a really good time making this video.  I actually went out and bought a camera this week, so there will be more to come soon enough.

I chose the song “Avalon Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt to bookend this video.  The song is about Hurt’s move to New York City.  As great as the new can be, Hurt still longs for the past home, Avalon, Miss.  Mr. Raiford expressed a similar sentiment:

“I enjoy old cars.  I enjoy just being around them.  I’d rather drive a ’64 or a ’52 – if it’s in good shape – probably more than I would a new Corvette.”

So, I’ll admit this isn’t the best shot video.  Moving around in Mr. Raiford’s garage was cumbersome, so most of the time I had the tripod in hand, balancing it when I could.  That means there is a lot of camera shake, and for that I’m sorry.

Next time – and there will be a next time – the quality will improve.  So will the one after that, so on and so forth.  I promise I’ll master the use of a tripod at some point, or at least figure out a more stable camera setup.  Maybe a helmet mount.

One day I hope to put together something as good as what Petrolicious puts together.  These are two of my favorites.  Both of these feature sons driving cars that once belonged to their father.  I know how much it means to me when Dad lends me the keys to his car.

Senna

This is a reblog of a wonderful article written by the great Will Buxton.  I just wanted to make a little comment of my own.

So, as you know I am a huge F1 fan. Unlike Will here, I didn’t discover F1 until far latter in my life. I can only go back and watch footage, read race reports and listen to interviews about what Ayrton Senna was like, or even Schumacher for that matter.

I really encourage you all to read this, F1 fan or not. Imola in 1994 was a tragic weekend, but it was a weekend that brought about the huge safety measures that we have in F1 today. Senna was F1’s last death. I hope it will always remain so.

A few years ago, to celebrate what would have been Senna’s 50th birthday, Top Gear put together a really amazing tribute.

While Lewis Hamilton may not be my favorite F1 driver, I can’t discount his talent.  This is a video of him driving Senna’s McLaren Mp4/4 and talking about what Senna meant to him.

The Buxton Blog

I never met Ayrton Senna. I never even saw him drive in the flesh. And so I’m afraid that this article will give you no amazing new insight into him as a person or as a racing driver on the 20th anniversary of his passing. But May 1st 1994 changed my life forever, and would come to influence every day of my life that followed.

In 1994 I was a 13 year old chorister at Worcester Cathedral. As such, Sundays were always busy; Eucharist in the morning, home for Sunday lunch, then back to the Cathedral for Evensong. I sung so many times and for so many years in that magnificent place of worship that, over 20 years later, it has all pretty much merged into one. Except for that one Mayday.

I remember leaving the house to go and sing Evensong, wondering whether my hero was alive or dead…

View original post 2,275 more words

Top 10 Favorite Formula 1 Circuits

These are my top 10 favorite Formula 1 circuits. First off, I want to point out that I’ve only been watching the sport since 2009, so I didn’t include any circuits that have not held races since then, like Imola or Paul Ricard for example.

If this goes well, I might create another map featuring non-F1 tracks like Le Mans or Laguna Seca.

Also, this is my personal list. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

1. Suzuka Circuit
Home of the Japanese Grand Prix.  This used to be the final race of the season leading to some epic showdowns.  The most famous are the title deciding races between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988, 1989 and 1990.

The Honda-owned track is beautifully laid out, crossing over itself and making a figure eight if viewed from above.

There are so many wonderful corners such as the S curves or the fast right-hander Degner curve, but none can match 130R, the nearly flat-out 130-meter radius turn 15.  The speed drivers pull through this corner is astounding.  One slip-up and they’ll end up in a fence, just like Allan McNish in 2002.

Watching drivers master this circuit is something else.  It amazes me when someone manages to do it so right, like Sebastian Vettel has done in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

I’ve played enough Gran Turismo to know this course like the back of my hand.  Of all the races on the F1 calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is the one I want to see most.

2. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Spa is home to the Belgian Grand Prix.  This is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar at 7.004km, which is down from the original 14.1 km layout.

This is also one of the fastest tracks out there.  Sebastian Vettel’s record lap of the current circuit in 2009 had an average speed of 235 kph.

The racing is almost always amazing.  With the long layout, it can be raining on one end of the course while the sun is shining on the other.  This leads to some interesting car set-ups and great overtaking.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Eau Rouge, one of the most famous and difficult corners in the world.  Drivers will take this corner flat-out, going downhill before suddenly turning right and going uphill.  If you fail to take this corner correctly, you won’t be set up for the long straight that follows.

This is a speed comparison between F1 cars and FIA GT cars at Eau Rouge.

3. Silverstone Circuit

Home of the British Grand Prix and the second longest circuit on the calendar at a distance of 5.901km.

Of historical note, in 1950 Silverstone  hosted the first race in the first Formula One World Championship.  Before that, the track was actually an RAF airfield.  The original track was essentially just marked out with barrels around the airfield that first year.

The track has changed a lot in the past 64 years, but it still produces some of the best racing out there.  The technical, high-speed corners favor drivers willing to push the limits of their car’s grip.

4. Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace – Interlagos

Interlagos, home of the Brazilian Grand Prix, sits in the middle of Sao Paulo and has been both the first and final race on the calendar.

This is a short-circuit, coming in at only 4.309km long.  The track rests on a hill, giving it a bit of an uphill/downhill feel.

Sebastian Vettel’s drive in the 2012 race led me to fall in love with this course.  Dropping down to 22 in the order and fighting the rain, Vettel came back to finish fourth and clinch his third consecutive title.  The look in Fernando Alonso’s eyes after the race are something I’ll never forget.  That season he fought tooth and nail with Vettel, only to be lose out in the end.

5. Autodromo Nazionale Monza

The land of Ferrari.

That should sum of the feel of Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix.

This track has held an F1 race every year from 1950 to now, save 1980 when the track was being revamped.

This is the fastest track on the F1 calendar, with an average speed of 250 kph and the drivers at full throttle for 74 percent of the lap.  This leads to some clever engineering on the cars, the goal being to reduce drag and gain top speed, which is about 340 kph.

While there are only eight corners, a driver must attack each one perfectly in order to get on the power early and maximize the use of the long straights.

Rubens Barrichello’s 2004 lap record still stands 10 years on, unlikely to be broken in this age of downsized engines and focus on efficiency over outright speed.  It is a must-watch video.

6. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

The Canadian Grand Prix takes place on a man-made island in the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, Canada.  The circuit is named after Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, widely considered one of the greatest F1 drivers to never win a championship, who passed away in an accident in 1982.

This track has produced some spectacular racing.  My personal favorite is the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.

This race was the longest race in F1 history, due to a long rain delay.  Winner Jenson Button’s final time was 4 hours 4 minutes 39.537 seconds.

Button fought through tire punctures, five pit stops, an accident that knocked his teammate out of the race, and serving a penalty that put him in last place to make 27 on-track overtakes and win the race on the final lap.

7. Istanbul Park

While Istanbul Park and the Turkish Grand Prix are no longer part of the F1 calendar, the track made quite a mark in its short history.

The final few laps of the 2010 race were some of the most stressful both Red Bull and McLaren fans have ever experienced.  One team won out, the other ended up in a feud that didn’t end until Mark Webber retired at the end of 2013.

Istanbul Park features one of my favorite corners, the four-apex turn 8.  Drivers must hit every one, every lap in order to get around faster than the other guy.  The on-board footage here is fantastic.  I count every apex aloud as the driver flies through this sweeping left-hander.

It saddens me to know that great tracks like Istanbul are dropped in favor of newer, flashier circuits.

8. Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit – Albert Park

OK, so I know the Australian Grand Prix might not be the favorite of a lot of F1 fans, but the 2009 race  was the first grand prix I ever watched.

Late in 2008, I decided I wanted to start watching Formula 1.  I can’t recall what prompted it.  Maybe I was bored of NASCAR.  Maybe I just wanted to be that one guy who talks about that one thing that no one else is into, but doesn’t notice so he keeps on.

Well, I’ve accomplished my goal.

The 2009 Australian Grand Prix was the start of something wonderful, both for me and for F1.  Brawn GP, the team built from the ashes of the former Honda F1 outfit, made a turnaround that people still talk about to this day.

The team wasn’t even sure they could make it to the grid.  They had no money, no sponsors and no engine supplier.  Brawn essentially retrofitted a Mercedes-Benz engine in the place of the Honda motor and sent it out.

Jenson Button went on to win six of the first seven races and the 2009 World Driver’s Championship, while Brawn GP captured the World Constructor’s Championship.  At the end of the season, Button was signed by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz bought out Brawn GP and turned it into a factory works team.

Now, I don’t recall many details of the race, other than Button won, but I don’t think it matters.  It piqued my interest, and I’m still watching races today, always looking forward to the next.

9. Circuit of the Americas

This is supposed to be the race that saves F1 in the United States.  We’ll see in a few years time.  Maybe if Gene Haas’ team works out and NBC continues to give coverage, it could finally work.

While they’ve only been racing on this track since 2012, the potential is there.  The racing has been exciting, the location seems great and the drivers seem to enjoy it while still finding a challenge.

My favorite feature has to be the steep uphill climb to turn 1.

From the bottom.

From the top.

Imagine trying to judge a braking point while going uphill.  You lose speed in the climb, so you’re forced to accelerate harder to make up for it.  Your braking distance is shortened because of the speed loss, but because of the way the track widens, there is no “proper” racing line to take, making it difficult to judge when and where to brake.

Brake too early and you let the other guy pass you.  Brake too late and you’ll run off the track.

10. Marina Bay Street Circuit

Home of the Singapore Grand Prix and F1’s first night race.

This track gets a lot of flak.  It’s understandable.  The race is long, the track is hot and because it uses public roads, it can be a bit of a rough ride for the drivers.

I don’t care.  I really enjoy watching this race.  I feel it’s the closest thing I’ll get to an endurance race in F1.  Driving these cars isn’t supposed to be for the faint of heart.

This circuit is really stunning at night.  Watching the cars go around this track is like nothing else.  You can see blue flames spitting from the exhaust and the red glow of the brake discs.  The drivers’ eyes are visible through their thinly-tinted visors.  Drivers who don’t watch themselves and take too much curb pay the price.

Singapore is a race I’ll show to a friend who has never watched F1.  The sights and sounds distract from the occasionally bland racing, but if you really want to see a driver work, watch Singapore.

‘Murica

So Gene Haas was granted entry in the 2015 Formula 1 world championship today.  There hasn’t been an American F1 team since the ’80s, and the failed USF1 entry in 2010 made me wonder if one could ever compete.

Now, this is all tentative.  I’ll believe it when I see them on the grid in Australia next year, but I believe Haas Formula LLC has the best chance in a while.  Haas’ NASCAR team has won a championship, and he has the money behind him to be competitive.

The two biggest questions in my mind are who will supply the chassis/engine and where will the team be based.  As much as I would love for it to be a truly American based team, it makes sense to base their operations in Europe.

Now he just has to get some talent in the seat.

 

Audio slideshows: enjoying the fruits of the students’ labors

I want to say thanks to everyone in the class.

Michael Fuhlhage, Ph.D.

The students in Multimedia Journalism voted on one another’s audio slideshows after we did a screening and critique in class last week. Winners got their choice of two versions of Auburn University College of Liberal Arts T-shirts as a reward. Around here, that means either orange on blue or blue on orange. Either’s a great option.

Hands down, the students’ favorite was Reese Counts’ piece on a Triumph Motorcycles shop not far from campus on Opelika Road, a place called Skinner’s. As you’ll see, Counts had free range of the place, and access means a world of possibilities when shooting still photos.

Kate Seckinger’s piece on Chick-Fil-A took second prize. You can see the rest of the audio slideshows by clicking the links below. Please enjoy!

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A Tribute to a Classic

At the end of 2013, Volkswagen ceased production of the Type 2, known around the world by several names: Transporter, Kombi, or Microbus, Bus or Camper.  The Type 2 has been in continuous production since 1950, a remarkable 63 years.

This vehicle is an icon.  It followed the Beetle, officially known as the Type 1, as Volkswagen’s second automobile.  While sales in the United States ended years ago, production continued elsewhere.  The last Kombi rolled off the line in Brazil on December 20.

Volkswagen put together a great little video dedicated to the Type 2’s life, legacy and importance.  If you’ve ever felt any connection to or have even seen a Type 2 on the road, I encourage you watch this.  It is one of the greatest tribute videos I’ve ever seen.