Archive for the ‘Design 101’ Category

Don’t get too excited about this, but at some point in the next few days you’ll be reading about motor racing again.  First, though, this.

Nowhere on this site does it say, “Writing under the pseudonym Petrolhead Blogger, our hero is a dark and mysterious character but oh Doctor, does he understand sartorial elegance.”  If you cannot see me naked, then my clothes are performing the only role I really require of them.  For that reason, it’s very difficult for me to pass comment on exactly what Lewis Hamilton was thinking of.  I can however make this request: if you ever see me in public dressed like that, don’t just stand and watch.  Help me.

Never let it be said that I don’t keep my promises.  It takes me a while sometimes, but I get there.

I’m a car guy.  You’ve probably noticed.  A friend of mine picked up on this sometime around September or thereabouts – I thought I was doing a reasonable job of hiding it, but feminine intuition is a wonderful thing – and asked me what my favourite cars were.

You would think, dear reader, that a car guy would develop favourites over time, in much the same way as we develop favourite people or favourite songs.  To an extent, you’d be right – I want a Pagani Zonda Roadster in silver and I want it now, if not sooner.  Coming up, though, a bold, slanty however.

However…what’s my favourite racing car?

I felt like I should have had an answer instantly.  I couldn’t have spent 20 years watching motor sport, diligently learning its history as I went, without having a favourite racing car.  I had, though.  I promised I’d have a think about it and then write something for the lady in question, a considerable length of time went by and even though she probably has no recollection of our conversation ever taking place by now, we eventually arrived here.

I knew it wasn’t something from the recent past.  Last February I described the modern racing car as “something that fell from the ugly tree atop Minger’s Hill, smacking every physically repulsive branch on the way down before rolling helplessly into the nearby settlement of Repugnant, where the residents immediately set about beating it with aesthetically displeasing sticks.”  Watching a current-spec F1 car is like listening to the top 40 on the radio and realising I have entirely no idea who Mr Saxobeat is.  Sounds like a lucky fella, whoever he may be.

Come to that, I don’t really have a favourite song either.  Way back, years ago, I had one favourite song, until I stopped wearing a groove in my copy of The Blue Album and started listening to other bands instead.  I’ve ended up with a pool of songs I absolutely love and I’ll pick one as my favourite if you ask me to, but it won’t be the one I picked as my favourite last week.    I have different reasons for loving them all; some of them bring back memories, some of them suit a mood, some of them just make me happy.

That got me thinking.  Can I match them up?  Is there anything from my pool of songs that matches up with my fantasy racing car garage?  Do I really not have anything better to do with a Sunday evening than this?  The answers, it would appear, are a) kind of, b) to a degree and c) nuh-uh, but you can be the judges.  I’ll link to the different songs as we go too, just for laughs.

Ferrari 641


I quite like the Bee Gees.  There, I’ve said it.

It’s not a grand love affair, I’ll admit, but they’ve got a song on my list.  You know that I love high speeds, the throaty growl of a race-tuned engine and the adrenalin rush of wheel-to-wheel combat, watching knights of the track jousting in a quest for ultimate supremacy, so it’ll come as no surprise at all when you discover the song I’ve got in mind.

How Deep Is Your Love is beautifully arranged, has a lovely melody and features the kind of harmonies that make my heart sing.  It’s an “I love you and I have to tell you now” of a song.  She’s everything you could possibly want and when you’re together, in her arms is the only place in the world you could ever imagine being.  More than that, it’s the only place in the world that exists.  Alright, you understand she’s not perfect, because nobody is, but she’s perfect for you.  Nothing else matters.  Nothing else ever will.

“What’s that got to do with a Ferrari, Simo?” you’re probably asking.  I know I am.

The 641 wasn’t perfect.  It won 6 races and Alain Prost might even have won the 1990 championship with it had Ayrton Senna not dispensed vigilante justice heading into Suzuka’s first corner, but 641 wasn’t quick enough in qualifying trim, lacked a little top-end power and (particularly if the driver’s name began with “N” and ended with “igel Mansell”) broke too often.  It was the most successful Ferrari for some years, but the Tifosi tend not to worry about being better than before unless their beloved scarlet cars are being better than everyone else at the same time.

The thing is, though, that I don’t really mind.  The car gave everything it had and came up a little short, but that’s no disgrace.  Besides, if a car can look so elegant and if it can sound like this, I can forgive it anything.  It’s not perfect, because no racing car is.  Just perfect for me.

Eifelland

I don’t speak Korean.  As a consequence, I haven’t really got a clue what Epik High are on about at any stage of their song Fly.  They might be saying, “That Adam Simpson fella can’t write for toffee, got his foot stuck in a car the other day and I’ve heard his hugs are rubbish too,” and there’s no way I’ll ever know.  Sometimes, I hear the occasional English snippets and think I’ve cracked it – “fly, fly, get ’em up high” and “you can fly higher”, so perhaps it’s encouragement to chase your dreams – until I watch the video and realise that if chasing your dreams is the message, Epik High’s dreams aren’t exactly the same as mine.

All I can tell you with any certainty is that I love the bassline, the chorus is dreamy and I’m glad that Fly exists, even if I don’t understand what it is.  All of which leads me, reasonably neatly for once, onto the Eifelland.  Under the skin is a plain old March 721, but the skin is what we’re interested in here.

I haven’t really got a clue what possessed Luigi Colani to draw the Eifelland.  I know his entire design philosophy has always been based around curves – the Earth is round, it orbits in a circular fashion, the heavenly bodies are round, therefore everything Colani draws must be round – but the answer to the question, “What would make a March 721 go more quickly?” is not and was never going to be, “A surface you couldn’t stand a teacup on.”

What the car needed, in all truth, was redesigning from the ground up (which March subsequently tried twice for their own team with 721X and 721G, neither of those cars faring very much better), but in the absence of that, it might have been worth being a little less wilfully peculiar.  Colani studied aerodynamics in the 1940s but, since the Eifelland displayed no real desire to go round corners at speed, it’s probably worth assuming that his knowledge didn’t translate all that well to a 1972 F1 car.  Thanks to the all-enveloping bodywork, his machine also possessed an alarming tendency to cook its own internals every hour on the hour.

It really didn’t work.  In fact, the car gave so many problems that the team reverted to using standard March parts in place of Colani’s work, continuing until only the periscope mirror remained.  What’s it doing here, then?

You couldn’t design that car today, not in the one-size-fits-all series that our major worldwide formulae have become.  Major motorsport is so tightly regulated, innovation so quickly stamped out, that there’s no way to stand out and differentiate yourself.  You just can’t produce a racing car with an all-in-one front end, that mirror, a big air scoop in front of the driver and a launch ramp where the rear wing should be, even if you think you should.  For that reason, I’m glad the Eifelland exists, even if I don’t understand what it is.

Jordan 191

Before we get started, a word about that low purring noise you’ve suddenly started to make.  What you’re experiencing is a totally natural reaction, nothing at all to worry about.

My fondness for the Jordan 191 has nothing to do with performance.  The car scored 13 points in 1991, good enough for 5th place in Jordan’s first season as an F1 constructor, but each time the car scored points, the winner had crossed the finishing line over a minute ahead.  Nor does it have anything to do with how it sounds.  Ford’s HB V8 engine was a decent enough powerplant but the noise it gave off was coarse and unrefined.  My only reason for having the Jordan 191 on this little list is that it’s a gorgeous piece of kit.

Scrap that.  Let’s go with ‘stunning’ instead.  What I really want from a racing car is a design that looks purposeful without being imposing, something that’s clearly built for speed but maintains at least an element of poise at the same time.  191 scores in every way.  It looks like it’s doing 100 miles an hour before it even starts moving, with every eye-catching curve intended to bring a level of performance as well as an admiring glance.  A few paragraphs ago, I had a bit of a grumble about how modern racing cars all look the same.  If they all looked like a Jordan 191, I’d probably get over it.

About a year ago, I crafted some kind of imaginary nightclub where, even though you were clearly interested, the 191 had decided she could do better and gone home with your best mate.  In truth, you’d probably have got bored after a while anyway, because you can only spend so long admiring beauty before the whole ‘only fast enough for 13 points’ thing comes up, but that wasn’t the point.  In my mind, Head Automatica’s Beating Heart Baby was the soundtrack, but what I’ve just written probably calls for this instead…

This seems as good a time as any to stop writing, doesn’t it?

Just when it looked as though we’d have to throw the entire 2011 grid into the file marked ‘avert thine eyes, children’…

This is the new McLaren MP4/26, launched during a piece of street theatre in Berlin in which Vodafone competition winners carried pieces of the car into the performance area, where they were assembled by waiting McLaren mechanics.  Everything you’ve just read is true.

Take a moment to end the “think unsexy thoughts” conversation you’re having with yourself, then have a look at the most distinctive feature of the car:

The striking U-shaped sidepods, as with everything in F1, are designed with a function in mind.  As the car moves, the airflow closer to the centre of the car is cleaner and has more energy than the flow towards the outside of the car, where there are two front tyres leaving turbulent air in their wake.  By sculpting and crafting the sidepods in this way, McLaren’s aim is to channel as much of that better quality air as possible towards the rear wing – the more effectively they can get an undisturbed airflow to the wing, the more rear downforce the car will generate.  More downforce leads to less sliding, which makes for an easier car to drive while also improving rear tyre wear.

There’s a trade-off to be made, since teams would usually seek to have the cleaner airflow channeled into the sidepods to provide effective cooling for the radiators.  Here, McLaren have the air inlets mounted outboard and are having to use a tall, wide opening to ensure that enough of the turbulent air coming off the front tyres finds its way to the radiators.  Wider inlets mean increased drag but this shouldn’t have any great effect on the car’s top speed and with this year’s rules banning the trick diffusers used to generate greater rear downforce from the air passing under the car, gaining that downforce back using the rear wing is considered crucial.

History is littered with examples of cars whose unique looks utterly failed to bring about any obvious performance gains.  It’s not all that long since McLaren produced an example of their own, the deeply unimpressive MP4/10 of 1995.  The hopes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, two past world champions desperate to reclaim the crown, rest on the MP4/26 bucking the trend.

Let’s give this a shot and see where we end up, shall we?  Follow these simple instructions, boys and girls:

Close your eyes and picture the least attractive current-spec racing car you can imagine.  Think of something that fell from the ugly tree atop Minger’s Hill, smacking every physically repulsive branch on the way down before rolling helplessly into the nearby settlement of Repugnant, where the residents immediately set about beating it with aesthetically displeasing sticks.

Craft a vision of yourself in a nightclub at 4 on a Sunday morning.  It hasn’t been your most successful night’s work.  You’re drunk.  You’re bedraggled.  You’re alone.  The Jordan 191 has gone home with your best mate, the Eagle Mk1 is far too classy for someone in your state, you’ve only got one racing car left to make a play for and yet you can’t.  No matter how hard you squint, close one eye or look the other way, irrespective of you having brought your best prescription beer goggles for exactly such an occasion, it’s still not coming back to your place because you’re still not asking.

When you’ve done that, join me after the little page break.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All done?  Good.  This is what you saw: