Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Review of the 2009 F1 Season - Thrills and Spills!!!

In this edition we look back at the thrills and spills of the last year's Formula One.
  • Jenson and Ross's highs
  • Flav, Pat and Nelson's lows
  • Max's goodbyes

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The demise of SAAB?

The team discuss the possible demise of SAAB...:


Thursday, 17 December 2009

2010 F1 Calendar

Next year's F1 dates have been formalised by the FIA... Assuming no last minute changes, they are...:

14/3 Bahrain

28/3 Australia

4/4 Malaysia

18/4 China

9/5 Spain

16/5 Monaco

30/5 Turkey

13/6 Canada

27/6 Europe (Valencia)

11/7 Great Britain

25/7 Germany

1/8 Hungary

29/8 Belgium

12/9 Italy

26/9 Singapore

10/10 Japan

24/10 Korea

7/11 Brazil

14/11 Abu Dhabi

With 19 races, new teams, and new drivers, it's going to be a busy year....!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ice & snow? Mind how you go..

As the first major cold snap of the Winter descends upon us here in the South of England UKMotortalk's Graham Benge gives us all some timely advice on how to make safe progress on icy roads.

The second freezing morning in a row, it's obviously very cold everywhere as not only do I have to scrape my car's windows - it's minus 3 where I live - but also, while doing so, I get yet another radio request to do a piece on driving in bad conditions.

Interesting that my piece over the mobile phone while parked up, was preceded by a man from the county council on the gritting and salting they would be doing, yes they had plenty of everything, including, by the sound of it, complacency.

This wasn't so in February when we had a lot of snow, local authorities are still smarting from the drubbing they took for that error of judgement..

Fact is there has been no gritting yet on any of the roads I travel involving an A and B road transit across 3 counties, so are they holding off until the weather is worse? Didn't do much for the several areas of black ice I encountered this morning, remember the shinier the road the more dangerous it is!

There's plenty more bad weather driving advice on our website -

but the most important things to remember in driving in adverse conditions are:

1:leave earlier,

2:leave enough time that you can go slower than usual, and

3: drive more smoothly than you would normally, most accidents on ice and snow are caused by excessive speed, coarse steering and too agressive braking and accelerating - gently does it!

Graham Benge

Friday, 11 December 2009

Brighter, Better Headlight bulbs...

A few weeks ago, I was driving home from my regular pub quiz night... You can picture it... Wind, rain and dark, country roads.... I thought the road just looked a bit, well, dull!

When I got home, I confirmed that the dipped headlight bulb had blown.... So, the next day, once the rain had stopped, I replaced it with a spare bulb I had bought some time ago for this exact purpose...

Job done, I thought as I switched the lights on and did a full bulb test to make sure all was ok....

And, yes, the job was done... The car was legal again... All lights showing as they should....

But then I drove in the dark again... And I didn't think the road looked any brighter than it did before! So I checked the lights again.... Yes, all working...

It was now I began to wonder if I had got used to all of those bulbs that come with great claims for extra brightness that most of us would find hard to quantify....! 40% extra... 50% extra... And with price tags that are possibly exponentially inflated with the claims!!!

A little internet research, and a few tweets later, I had decided that I wouldn't mess about... Osram Nightbreakers claim an extra 90% at the same 55W.... That'd do me!

But, hang on a minute... The Passat takes 4x H7 bulbs for its dipped and highbeam headlights... This could get expensive! A quick (made all the briefer by the pain in the wallet!) search of the internet suggested more than £30 a pair.... Did I really want to spend £60 just to make the road a little brighter?

One more journey in the dark gave me the answer... YES!

So, I then dared to dive into ebay... and suddenly the prices didn't seem as extreme! In fact, roughly half as extreme!!!

I decided to buy from ebay seller wattbulb07 .... You can't generally argue with a 100% feedback rating...

The next day a package appeared......

So, £35 and a couple of damaged knuckles from the fitting, (that's a different story!), and the road ahead is, once more, a brighter place...

I guess this kind of thing may well sound trivial, certainly not as thrilling as driving the new Bentley or Aston, but in terms of road safety, and saving your eyes whilst driving at night, I find it money very well spent...

Of course, a lot of cars have clever headlight arrangements these days... HID, projector lenses, DLR, LED.... the technology and acronyms are endless... But if you go and put a "dull" bulb behind them, they might as well have candles!

Andrew Denyer

Monday, 7 December 2009

Every Cloud Has A Silver(stone) Lining.

There were those who said back in the Summer of 2008 that Donington's surprise award of the British Grand Prix would never come to pass.

Too ambitious they said, too little time to turn the appealingly quaint circuit next to the East Midlands Airport into a venue fit for the premier tier of four-wheeled motorsport.

Well, as it transpired, they were correct, although the major global recession probably contributed more than anything to the demise of Donington's dream of once more hosting Formula One racing.

Whilst we were sorry to be saying goodbye to Silverstone, F1's traditional permanent home in the UK since 1987, we did want Donington to succeed as they seemed to be putting so much time, effort and funding into a project which they assured us would result in state of the art facilities and an exciting circuit for Bernie's circus to come and play at in the Summer.

Alas, as we all now know, the aforementioned recession did for Donington's plans what it had done for Lehman Brothers, Woolworths and the entire Icelandic banking system and after some to-ing and fro-ing between the British Racing Drivers Club and Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Administration it was looking likely that an insurmountable impasse was the end result of the tentative negotiations.

With the two sides entrenched, motor racing fans started to fear the worst as deadlines were mentioned and alternative venues around the world lined up to fill Britain's gap in the F1 calendar. One enterprising 'Tweeter' even went so far as to start a #savethebritishgrandprix 'hashtag' to spread the word of the potential end of Britain's unbroken run of hosting Grands Prix.

Well, today after much muttering and leaked internet rumours on forums, Twitter and various other social networking websites, a delighted UK motorsport community got the news that they so desperately wanted - Silverstone would, after all, be hosting the British Grand Prix in 2010 and for the next 16 years after that.

It seems that after much hard bargaining and promises to comprehensively update the circuit and its facilities, common sense has prevailed and the race is to remain at its spiritual home for the forseeable future.
In awarding a contract for such a relatively long period, Ecclestone has finally given the BRDC the stability it needs to raise the neccessary funds to update and enhance Silverstone - something even the most diehard fan of the Northampton circuit would admit is a well-overdue requirement.

So, with one piece of the jigsaw well and truly in place for next year, we can finally look forward to the mouthwatering prospect of two consecutive Formula One World Champions racing one another in equal machinery at their home circuit - a circuit they both love and enjoy the challenge of and one which has regularly seen history made since its first appearance on the F1 calendar way back in 1948.

And, whilst we spare a thought for those behind the ultimately unsuccessful bid to re-introduce Grand Prix racing to the other Midlands circuit, and in particular Tom Wheatcroft who sadly passed away as Donington's plans were unravelling, we congratulate Damon Hill and the BRDC and look forward to what will undoubtedly be an amazing 2010 and beyond for the British Grand Prix.

David Wakefield

Friday, 4 December 2009

Astra La Vista.

As the fifth iteration of Vauxhall's ubiquitous Astra makes its way off the end of the production line to be replaced by its shiny new progeny, Alex Henry takes a parting look at a car whose replacement may well be the product of fashion rather than neccessity.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Mk5 Astra was launched.

Actually, it wasn’t that long ago – 5 years.

Back in 2004 GM gave us the first Astra that for once someone might actually want to buy, rather than choose off an unimaginative fleet list. Nicely styled inside and out, convincingly well made and with a staggering variety of trim, engine and specification it really made a case for itself.

It was even good to drive.

Fast forward to 2009 and the Mk6 is just about now landing in Vauxhall showrooms. It’s a car that has a lot of weight resting on its shoulders, but fortunately, reviews to date have been very positive. Certainly the larger Insignia model, the Vectra replacement which bears more than a few similarities to the new Astra, has been well received and an undoubted success.

Model cycles these days are really very short and this is made clear on reacquainting myself with the Mk5. This particular car, a 3 door sport hatch, has remained basically unchanged since launch nearly 5 years ago. As nearly always seems to be the case, promises of a more sporty, sexy looking version of the plain old 5 door hatch didn’t quite come to fruition when this body shape was revealed but it would be hard to argue that this car looks staid. Yes, it’s got a bit of a fat arse and is slightly ill proportioned, particularly on the smaller wheels of this SXi version, but the design has stood the test of time.

The same applies to the interior design. The dashboard mouldings, door cards and instrumentation have not overly dated due to their restrained, functional style and decent quality rubberised materials, which are in stark contrast to the nasty, shiny effort of the Mk4. The only thing these two cars have in common is the rather old-hat orange dot matrix display of the radio and trip computer.

During this model’s lifecycle I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of engines, from smaller petrols right up to the 2.0 turbo petrol and full fat 150BHP 1.9 Fiat sourced turbodiesel, and none of them have disappointed. This 1.6 litre petrol probably best illustrates the car in typical trim although it’s interesting to note that naturally aspirated petrol engines will not feature in the Mk6 Astra at launch.

This engine delivers 115BHP smoothly and despite some resonance, enjoys being revved hard. This is a good thing because the only way the car can be coaxed along at a decent pace is to work it hard through the five speed gearbox. This too is nice to use, a light, precise action with a short throw across the gate and a positive feeling clutch. The only real fly in the ointment is the detectable hesitation on the electronic throttle – a delayed response which always seems to catch you out and which makes its presence felt in stop start traffic. It’s easy to make yourself look like an amateur even after familiarisation with it, the car sometimes still jerking along even after convincing you that you had mastered the use of it.

Ride, steering and handling are all good. These days it would be hard to imagine anything else, so high has the standard become on even the cheapest of cars. Even on sports suspension, ride is firm but well damped, steering action is fast and feedback plentiful and large reserves of grip are on offer. As is usual, an emphasis on safe understeer is apparent when really pushing but this is not something most people will even begin to approach. It’s a good drive.

There are some niggles. Some of the interior plastics are poor. The dashboard interfaces are not as simple as their looks would suggest and it’s easy to mistake the stereo volume control for the heater and vice versa. Navigating the stereo and dash menus takes plenty of patience and no reason can be found for some of the buttons being so small. The air conditioning button is a good example, being on the wrong side of the gearlever for right hand drive and really tiny. GM never seem to be able to get these sorts of things right - despite first appearances they always manage to make you feel that the accountants were in control inside rather than the designers. Little things like the cheap feeling mirror control buttons, the semi-flexible front seats and the awful, awful indicator and wiper controls with their electronic cancellation. Much was made of these at launch but they are noticeably AWOL on the new model. They cause misery. The speakers on the stereo are very tinny. Little things like these make a big difference.

What’s most remarkable about this outgoing car is that it doesn’t feel like its time is up. When the Rover 800 was replaced by the 75, it was quite clear that this was long overdue. Likewise the Mk4 Ford Fiesta and so many other tired cars. It’s a bit like when a new version of the iPod comes out less than a year after the previous version. As cars increasingly become part of the throw-away world, earning their owners scrap payments whilst still being serviceable, this sort of thing is inevitable and increasingly common. It hardly seems five minutes ago since the last generation Renault Scenic was launched and now there is a new one. The Ford C-Max too. The Fiat Grande Punto is on a major facelift after just over three years, and there was nothing wrong with the way it looked in the first place.

The new Astra will no doubt move things on a little further, with some new technology and better environmental credentials but I get the impression that new model launches, although important for the manufacturer, just aren’t as significant as they used to be. With every year lopped off model cycles in the name of fashion, the anticipation of the replacement decreases. Perhaps it would be worth bypassing the Mk6 Astra altogether, and waiting for the Mk7 generation for real excitement. By then we are promised much in the way of propulsion system changes and superefficient motors, not just a new badge design and traditionally cancelling indicators.

Alexander Henry

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Stuttgart's dream team (HQ, Brackley, Northants)

With the ever persistent rumours this week that Michael Schumacher may yet be coming out of retirement to join forces with his former associates Mercedes and Ross Brawn, Graham Benge asseses the potential of a Mercedes 'Dream Team'.

Schumacher to Mercedes?

Dream team or stopgap?

Will the seven times champion return and join forces with former mentor Ross again, neck permitting?
Surely, for the German paymasters the avuncular Sebastian Vettel is the prize?
The rising star?
One bonus should Schumi's neck hold out is that it brings Lewis' dream to fruition, the opportunity he thought he'd never have to rate himself alongside Michael Schumacher - the one living great who still potentially has the ability to grab a World Championship.
Could this be the real 2010 highlight and relegate Lewis vs Jenson to a ho hum B movie..?

Graham Benge

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Mercedes musical chairs as Jenson heads for Woking

As the dust settles on the news that Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button is Mclaren bound for 2010 and beyond, UKMotortalk's Graham Benge takes a look at what he can expect as he takes the coveted number 1 to Woking and speculates on the bigger picture which might well have helped engineer his move.

"Don't mention the war" they used to say in Fawlty Towers but now we have two moustachioed RAF types flying red white and blue Spitfires yet powered by Messerschmitt engines!

How times change, & despite knowing that Lewis and Jenson get on really well I never thought they would both be signed by McLaren at the same time.
Will Martin Whitmarsh be able to hold the two of them in check, to prevent a major ego clash? Will McLaren, as they have always done, field identical cars and show no garage bias, or will it degenerate into the Senna/Prost rivalry of the early 1990s?

Even if it did that rivalry produced one of McLaren's most successful eras, winning - between the two drivers - 15 races out of the 16 in the 1988 season despite their drivers coming to blows very publicly at least twice!

But to see what's really going on one needs to step a lot further back.

Only with sufficient perspective do we realise that both Lewis and Jenson are just very well paid and very talented pawns in a much bigger and longer game. The driver moves and their inflated salaries are really but a nickel and dime side show.

McLaren will doubtless become a major player in the sports car market within the next two or three years, probably rivalling Ferrari and Porsche and seriously hurting Mercedes sports car sales, especially at the premium end of that particular market niche.
The 722 SM we talked about recently is the last of the supercar collaborations between Mclaren & Mercedes and has only a few weeks left to run before they have all been completed. This expensive “niche of a niche” has shown no decline whatsoever, indeed those with the financial wherewithal to spend a million euros a pop on a car can still afford those sums of money.

The great game seems to be one of major power shifts in the car industry at its most expensive. Mclaren have no desire to be a volume car producer, they will be a high tech, high cost, high profit constructor, and want to go their own way in car making; therefore Ron Dennis and the other investors certainly don’t want to sell out completely to Mercedes Benz.

Indeed they are probably very glad to be able to buy back the 40% Mercedes currently own, I’m sure that opportunity came as a very pleasant surprise to Ron and Mansour Ojjeh.

At the same time Mercedes found that they could do a deal with Mclaren where they continue to provide engines to the F1 team at a price, dramatically reduce their financial input into the Woking squad yet keep their name on the car and still have spare change left over to buy the 2009 World Championship winning F1 team, repaint the car as the legendary Silver Arrows, hire two very capable German drivers – Rosberg and Heidfeld – retain the services of master tactician Ross Brawn to work alongside Norbert Haug, (putting a substantial profit into Ross’s pocket as he capitalises 70% of a team he paid just a £1 for - in addition to a substantial dowry from Honda) and achieve all of this at what would seem to be bargain basement prices in global terms.

The end result is that Mclaren get the best drivers and the best engines while they still want them, and in addition get to design and build their own road cars whilst Mercedes get to own their own F1 team with their own name on it, their choice of drivers at lower outlay than they expected and get to strengthen their brand image against Mclaren’s road car division into the bargain.

As Ron said last week “for all parties it’s a win-win scenario”.

I think we are going to see a lot of wins for McLaren in 2010!

Graham Benge

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Chic & Cheerful - Fiat's Nuova Cinquecento finds a fan..

Unless you're registered blind or housebound, you cannot have failed to have noticed the steady influx of the cuddly new Fiat 500 onto the nation's roads.

This unashamedly-nostalgic reworking of Fiat's classic from the 50s has stolen the hearts of thousands of style-savvy motorists not just here in the UK but throughout Europe and even further afield.

Even BSM have chopped in their fleet of staid Vauxhall Corsas as they rush to embrace the cheap running costs and undoubted stylistic attaction of the little Italian bambino.

Everyone it seems is anxious to get into one of these fun-filled retromobiles, and contributor Alexander Henry is no exception..

Unlike many people, I was never a fan of the original Mini. Perhaps it was memories of being driven to school in musty smelling British Leyland era versions in awful colours with plastic seats, bouncing along on rusted out subframes, or perhaps something else. But I didn’t like them. The reinvented BMW version when it came along in 2001 didn’t stand a chance then. Although I wasn’t keen on Issignosis’ original I was at least able to recognise its place in motoring history, an important brick in the wall of car development – clever use of space, suspension, drivetrain and value for money making it accessible to most. The new one to me missed the mark totally. It was none of these things. It had room for the driver and front passenger and nobody else. Or their stuff. It was bloody expensive. It wasn’t really British even. And worst of all, it rapidly became adopted by legions of estate agents. The MINI (as it is now known) could do nothing more to make me hate it, despite reports of it being good to drive.

This whole retro thing, started with the Beetle, taken over by the MINI didn’t float my boat. Both of these attempts to recapture the youthful, swinging spirit of the original cars seemed to be excessively cynical. The Beetle, built for pennies on an outdated Golf platform in Mexico, and powered by a VW Transporter engine in the wrong place was never going to last surely? And then came the reports of Citroen reinventing the 2CV and FIAT the 500. Citroen’s claims arrived in the form of the lumpen C3, but FIAT came good on their word, previewing the Trepiuno concept which was clearly on the verge of crawling down a production line. This new 500 confused me. I wanted one.

The fuss died down, I still hated the MINI and its estate agent clients, the Beetle continued to look more and more ridiculous, and occasional reports of nuova 500 progress appeared in the motoring press. I rediscovered my love for small Italian cars at about the same time FIAT was doing this themselves, purchasing one of the first of the excellent Grande Punto models – the first decent small Fiat since the Panda a few years beforehand, itself the first decent small Fiat since the original Punto was launched. FIAT had discovered their mojo again. Finally, the nuova 500 was a reality. The press had their cars, James May test drove one on Top Gear and pronounced it a joy, and not being able to wait, I set to work on the Italian language car configurator, forming my ideal car. All of a sudden this made sense. I was transported back to my childhood – seemingly infinite variations of colour, trim, specification, stickers, brightwork, engines. No limits. Every engine could be had in every trim, every colour, every option. I ordered the teaser brochure. This in itself was a marvel – a glossy A5 sized ring bound funpad, with stickers to move about and reposition, overlays and colour swatches.

When they announced it was only going to cost £7,900 in the UK, it was clear that my relationship with the Punto was coming to an end. Not so my outstanding finance on that car however, so it had to wait. A trip to the dealer managed to assuage any fears of it being too small to consider but a test drive had to be put off until February 2009. With my girlfriend in tow (actually, she was just as keen as I and drove it first) we set off in a posh Lounge specification car, powered by the 1.3 diesel engine. The ability of the car was remarkable. It felt solid, grown up, well made and put an enormous grin on my face as it was thrashed out of creepy Crawley on a test route. I always say that the worth of a car is always clear once you’ve had it up on two wheels and this demonstrator did not escape. It showed it was a proper FIAT, responding to every demand in the way I would expect.

With a motoring history averaging one car a year over 13 years, surprisingly only two of them were brand new. Choosing a new Clio in 1998 and even the Grande Punto in 2006, was fairly easy if underwhelming. Set the budget, choose the colour and that’s about it. When sat opposite the dealer having completed the test drive and committing to purchase, actually choosing a 500 is really rather difficult. Much was made of the MINI’s umpteen million spec combination and the 500 is much the same. Start with a blank canvas and make your own choice. To be honest, this could have been very difficult for me. As most around me will attest, I suffer from a form of selection anxiety. I find it distressing choosing breakfast cereal in Sainsbury’s and often linger here for several hours. Choosing a multipack of crisps has much the same effect on me. It’s one of the reasons my local supermarkets recently started opening 24 hours. And to the best of my knowledge there are only 83 kinds of cereal and 52 types of crisps. I had 500,000 Fiat 500 specifications to choose from.

Fortunately I had been practising for nearly two years already, since the car was launched in Italy. Many an evening definitely NOT wasted, spent configuring, saving, naming and recolouring – all in the name of research and an eventual aim. So where best to start? Number one consideration was budget. I’m not wealthy. I work in Insurance. I have a company car already which is quite posh. It was always going to be the Pop version, the entry level car. Not only this but the Lounge model which is the next one up has horrid seats and a glass roof which robs headroom. I didn’t like the wheels on the Sport version. These concerns and a firm belief that a small Fiat is always at its best in basic, solid paint and wheel trim form started me off. When it comes to cars, I believe in a law of diminishing returns – the basic car is always worth paying for if it’s good. You drive the chassis, the engine, the brakes, not the trinkets. Trinkets break and fall off, get tarnished and don’t pay you back what you forked out for them in the first place. With a basic version you get most of what the car means, for the least outlay.

You also get nicer seats.

The 1.2 petrol engine was chosen. This was the same motor as in my Punto, which was quite a lot bigger. It did the small FIAT petrol thing perfectly – loved to rev, sounded great, provided pace that belied its miniscule power rating and rewarded being driven HARD. In the 500 it’s a revelation. This engine is actually really old, but here it is clean, refined yet fizzy and economical. It’s the only motor to emit under 120 grams of CO2 and thus place it into £35 a year tax country, unless you include the diesel. A diesel in cars this size is always a false economy so this was rejected. It was always going to have the black ambience – steering wheel, seat belts, dash trim and inserts and seat tops and despite worries about stains, the red seats.

What colour outside? White. The only free colour. And the colour that works best. Everyone else seems to agree, literally every other one I see is finished in this colour. The car was ordered 14th February and duly Christened Valentino. I’ve never named a car before. I don’t think I have ever admitted in public that I have now done so either.

Valentino was delivered the day after my 30th birthday and we celebrated together with a tour of the South coast – Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. Everywhere we went, the road ahead was scanned for other 500’s. Every one we spotted was flashed and (nearly) everyone waved back. This is a game I play over 6 months later and I never tire of it. It seems the 500 makes people smile. A Spring outing to the AutoItalia festival at Brooklands brought an enormous amount of pleasure with Valentino being parked with dozens of other cars, driving through the crowd thronged event on a beautiful sunny day sandwiched between Ferraris and Lamborghinis is something I will never forget.

The funny thing was that this modern interpretation of the original 500, a car which has a passionate following, was never questioned. Many an Issignonis Mini can be spotted wearing a ‘100% BMW FREE’ sticker. I’ve never heard nor seen any unpleasant comment from the original 500 brigade, despite the new one’s engine being in the wrong place, Beetle style. In fact, at Brooklands, new and old were parked up together like boys and girls at a primary school barn dance, only voluntarily.

The new 500 is a marvel. It’s £3000 less than the cheapest MINI. It’s smaller, yet has more space inside. It’s cleaner, more accessible and isn’t identified with hateful estate agents. OK, it’s not perfect – the ride is a little bouncy, the steering has no feel to speak of and some of the components feel a bit cheap but the return on the investment is staggering. And confidence must be high – BSM recently agreed to replace their entire Vauxhall fleet with the little FIAT and this can only be a good thing for residuals, with demand for used examples surely being pushed up by new drivers with wealthy parents looking to buy their offspring something they feel comfortable in. I’ve only seen girls learning in them though, which makes me wonder – how come I never feel at all.... metrosexual driving this car? How come I see so many blokes driving them and how come so many blokes seem to be driving powder blue examples? This is something I can never explain, although I did note that every original 500 I see is being piloted by a man, generally with a large beard.

Alexander Henry

Friday, 23 October 2009

All change!

There is an ancient Chinese proverb - or is it a curse? - "may you live in interesting times".

The old order changing as Moseley leaves....? Jean Todt, has been voted in as President of the FIA.... the protector of the current regime.... rather than the candidate for change...

Meanwhile, back at FOM/FOA, Bernie, the owner of all other three letter corporate acronyms, has a bit of a problem....

Simon Gillet at Donington seems to have blown it in a very big way and clearly cannot raise the money to prepare Donington for the 2010 British GP. Bernie will probably reluctantly go back to Silverstone who will surely hold out for a multi-year deal, their recent improving financial position suggests they can afford to play a tougher game of poker with Bernie this time around.

Is it the end of the British GP? I doubt it, even Bernie recognises what a PR disaster that would be for him and for the FIA.

Other gossip suggests Jenson Button may go to McLaren for 2010 and not stay at Brawn after all.

I doubt it, somehow, for many reasons.... Money is not his prime motivator, but loyalty is important to him. McLaren, I think, will not want two recent world champions at the same time and maybe could not even afford them!

Toyota's last minute bid for the McLaren bound Raikkonen is, according to Toyota team boss John Howet very cash limited and I am convinced Ross will reach a deal with Button although Ruben's position is perhaps more fluid....

Looks like we shall have lots to talk about in Abu Dhabi!!

Graham Benge

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Jenson Button - F1 World Champion 2009

The champagne has all been drunk, after a few hours fitful sleep the hangover is easing and for Jenson Button realisation dawns that he is, indeed, the

2009 F1 World Champion

.... even if he will never win a Karaoke competition.

After 21 years in karts and working his way up through the lower formulae, Jenson reached F1 with a surprise - to him - call from Williams to join them for 2000. Frank and Patrick recognised that there was some great talent buried deep inside Jenson but they probably never really drew it out.

As Jenson started to earn some very good money he didn’t always spend it wisely quickly earning him a reputation as a bit of a playboy driver, a reputation that has dogged him throughout his F1 career.

During the last fifteen years I have met and interviewed Jenson many times and never found him to be the sort of arrogant wastrel he is often portrayed as by the red tops. On the contrary I always found him to be charming, friendly and likeable. I have also never found anyone inside F1 with a bad word to say about him, he is, unusually, both liked and respected up and down the pitlane.

Yet in many ways the last 9 years in F1 have been bit like his earlier career with flashes of brilliance interspersed with long periods of being just a journeyman driver. Even some of his staunchest allies have had their doubts that he had the talent to really go all the way to the very top. The podiums were slow to come, until this season only 1 win - in Hungary – was on his score sheet.

I often thought in the last couple of years that in many ways Jenson’s career could be compared with that of Sir Stirling Moss, indeed, they have great respect for each other. Stirling could probably have won even more races and even been a worthy F1 champion if he had not always preferred to drive British cars rather than any other even when they were clearly the worst cars on the grid.

Similarly, many have felt Jenson stayed loyal to Honda too long. Accepted they looked after him very well but they never gave him a car he could really shine in and then pulled the plug when it suited them leaving him and the rest of the team with a bleak – or no - future at the end of 2008.

But the collection of people that had been Honda F1 had one ace in their pack, Ross Brawn. Persuaded to return from a sabbatical and already having guided Benetton and Ferrari to 6 World Championships, Ross, when we met him early in 2008, clearly had massive belief that the team and its drivers, could deliver. In the absence of anyone else coming in to buy the team Ross put his money behind that belief and his name over the door.

For Brawn GP 2009 has been a fairytale season. The new car was immediately quick. They won the first 7 races. And despite having a lower scoring mid-season they have now captured both the Drivers and Constructors titles in their first year of existence. Truly remarkable.

Congratulations to Jenson and to all at Brawn … everything they have achieved is much deserved, determination, talent and hard work proving to be an unbeatable combination.

Graham Benge

Saturday, 17 October 2009

F1 - Brazil Qualifying

Brazil... Samba, sun, carnival.... Wrong!

With a soundtrack by Wet Wet Wet and even the weatherman struck by lightning, Saturday Qualifying in Sao Paulo was a 3 hr marathon of torrential rain, huge accidents and, for very nearly 2009 Champion, Jenson Button, massive disappointment.

With Red Bull rival Sebastian Vettel failing to reach Q2 all seemed in favour of an all Brawn front row, but seemingly with the wrong tyres at the wrong time, Jenson slumped to 14th.

But worse was still to come for Jenson... Team mate and rival Rubens Barrichello got through to Q3 and as the weather improved, so did Barrichello, the local crowd going wild as the Brasilian took pole in the frenetic closing seconds.

The title could still be settled tomorrow with Button too far back to see much of the action... Or, as we suspect Bernie would prefer, it will go down to the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi?

It is tomorrow's weather that may decide the 2009 champion... An unmissable race is in prospect!

Graham Benge

Monday, 12 October 2009

Daytime Running Lights - A Bright Idea?

Car manufacturers are fond of their acronyms - even the most basic of cars on the market these days sports ABS, AC and quite possibly EBD..

The majority of the sytems or features to which this cacophony of capital letters refer evolve as the result of legislation - airbags (or SRS in Acrospeak) being pretty much a standard legal fitment to cars and vans these days for example - and on the whole are accepted by the motoring public - enthusiast or not - as A Good Thing, so long, in the eyes of the aforementioned keener driver at least, they don't impinge on the act of driving.

Indeed, it's hard to remember a time when the wearing of seatbelts wasn't a compulsory part of the whole driving experience and one would probably have to go to some lengths to track down a hardcore non-wearer these days as the vast majority of drivers and passengers quite rightly understand the benefits of buckling up.

I think it is safe to say then that we here at Motortalk Towers are keen proponents of non-invasive safety ideas but certainly do not adhere to the nannying approach which some would have us follow (I'm thinking here of the ever-threatened speed limiters which groups such as Brake believe all cars should be fitted) and eye with interest any new ideas which may find their way onto the roads in the name of 'safety'.

Which brings me onto our Acronym Of The Day:


For those not familiar with this latest collection of capitals, DRL stands for 'Daytime Running Lights' and while not by any means a new idea, they are seemingly becoming a more regular sight on our roads.

Here in the UK we are probably pretty familiar with Volvos and Saabs driving around with their sidelights & more recently headlights on during the day.

This is as a result of the law in Scandinavian countries requiring all cars to display their lights as soon as the engine is running - a sensible idea on the face of it given the short days and limited amount of ambient light available for a good part of the year at such relative proximity to the Arctic Circle.

Other countries are following suit too - since as long ago as 1990 Canada has required all vehicles registered for use on her roads to feature DRLs and more recently Italy, Hungary and the majority of the European Union's recently-admitted former Eastern Bloc countries have passed legislation requiring their use.

Whilst it is not yet a UK or even EU-wide law that cars have their lights on during the day, it would seem that the feature is likely to become a standard fixture on new cars as they are replaced or even facelifted by the manufacturers as the economies of scale make it simpler to include the functionality on all cars built for that particular market.

And this then, coupled with the explosion in popularity of LED lighting in the automotive world, is why we are seeing more and more cars driving around with what appear to be very bright sidelights during daylight hours - ostensibly glowing as a warning to other road users and pedestrians that the vehicle has its engine running and is thus presenting a potential hazard, but also increasingly I suspect as automotive jewellery; the equivalent of motoring 'bling'.

Probably the most dedicated follower of this particular fashion is Audi whose offerings from A3 right up to the range-topping R8 feature some form of DRLs - whether it be the humble incandescent filament on the family A4 or, more overtly, the oh so glitzy swoop of light-emitting diodes which hug the headlights on the aforementioned R8 & are most certainly attention-grabbers, which, ultimately I suppose is the point..

Opinion is seemingly divided on DRLs - whether as safety equipment or as sparkly addenda - with some seeing them as nothing more than a legitimate way for the fog-light brigade to tool around with the equivalent of a tackily-festooned Christmas tree on the front of their cars (aftermarket LED kits are already on sale in Halfords - expect to see them hastily attached to a Saxo near you sometime very soon) whilst others think that they are a waste of energy and only serve to increase fuel consumption at a time when filling up is already almost prohibitively expensive.

Motorcyclists particularly are concerned about the increasing use of these lights, believing that their own particular safety margin of riding with headlights on in daytime will be negated as they disappear into the glare of light from every other road user.

Those on the pro side say though that having some form of light showing at the front of the car can only be a good thing and point to studies which show that accidents in countries where DRLs have been used for some time are reduced - particularly in territories such as Scandinavia where daylight is at more of a premium.

Whatever your view though, it seems that manufacturers are keen to equip their designs with the latest must-have technology and with everyone from Audi through to Vauxhall fitting DRLs to their cars, whether they be there purely for safety reasons or increasingly as aesthetic features with which designers can enhance the 'face' of their brand it seems that daytime running lights have a bright future..

..sorry, couldn't resist..

Dave Wakefield.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Land Rover Rally - Rural Life Centre, Tilford, Surrey

Can anyone think of a better way to spend a few hours on a Sunday than walking round a collection of Land Rovers, new and old?

OK, I can hear some sarcastic comments so don't answer that....

As regular followers of UKMotorTalk will know, 4x4s, and specifically Land Rovers, have long been my particular area of interest in the motor world... A Ferrari just doesn't have the same appeal to me as a Series 1 Land Rover!

So, a slight drizzle in the air as we arrived at the Rural Life Centre in Tilford in Surrey was not going to dampen my spirits...

Set in the fascinating surroundings of the museum, (well worth a visit any other day!) this fine collection of Land Rovers came from near and far... But, of course, it is not only the cars that we came to see, their owners were also on hand to chat to and share their own stories...

Amongst the early examples was this fine 1948 Series 1 which, as it says, was the second off the production line.

On a purely practical note, having information sheets, such as this one, on each and every Land Rover on display, was great for the casual observer... I realise that to some a 1948 Series 1 will not differ in any great way with a modern Defender (can I hear those sarcastic comments again?), and to have a concise note of age, model and any interesting historical points was really useful.
It wasn't all 60 year old nostalgia of course... We also spent many happy minutes talking to owners of much newer craft.... Freelanders, Range Rovers and Discoverys also being included.
On a very anoraky note, I was pleased to see a Discovery that was probably registered just minutes after my own... Its registration number only differing by a few numbers... Why does this give me a warm feeling??? Answers on a postcard!
All in all a really enjoyable few hours... Even of interest to the most junior member of the UKMT team... Though I will have to encourage him (and his father!) to not refer to all Land Rovers as 'tractors'! The owner of the Overfinch Range Rover would probably NOT be impressed! ;-)
Sites of interest:

Monday, 5 October 2009

Japan GP Report

Red Bull and Vettel arrived at Suzuka ready to go for broke. They knew that the constructors' and drivers' titles were just still within their reach but only if they scored a big haul of points.

Unfortunately “go for broke” also applied to Mark Webber who did just that in a big way in final practice, so did not even take part in qualifying.

But Vettel was peerless all weekend, his pole was by a huge margin and his early race laps were more like qualifying laps as he built a very substantial margin over the rest of the field to take a very impressive race win on this most tricky of circuits.

The double Championship leaders Brawn had a rather more torrid weekend, team boss Ross Brawn admitting the cars were simply not at their best. They lacked speed, downforce and favourable tyres. They also suffered from the safety car period after Alguersuari’s massive accident – his second car-destroying crash in 48 hours! – and were lucky to bring the cars home with Barrichello 7th and Button 8th, Button’s drivers' championship lead cut to just 14 points from his team mate, Vettel in with a slim chance to win the driver’s title if he scores heavily in the final two races.

In front of their home crowd Toyota’s second with Trulli was very welcome, especially at a circuit owned by Honda, and Lewis Hamilton’s third could so easily have been second but for the first KERS failure.

Worthy of a mention is Heikki Kovalainen’s cheeky move on Fizzy in the Ferrari as both exited the pits. He caught the old timer napping and undertook him, best move of the race by far and one of the best of the season!

The Brawn points might have been improved as the Stewards investigated Nico Rosberg’s pace into the pits under the safety car but they, after several hours’ consideration, allowed the results to stand.

So, onwards to Brazil where the championship might well be decided although conspiracy theorists will explain the title will go down to the last race, it being the first race at Abu Dhabi. Only time will tell....

Graham Benge

Monday, 28 September 2009

Singapore GP Report

Perhaps "lighten our darkness" was an apposite phrase for Button and Barrichello for the Singapore GP....

A disastrous start to the weekend for Brawn GP with Barrichello in the wall in qualifying and Button in a lowly 13th place among the mid-field runners was turned (using a mix of luck and strategy) into a championship saving haul of points that looked very unlikely on Saturday night.

In the other championship challenging camp, Red Bull started the weekend well with what looked likely to be a championship rescuing night under the lights. However this soon turned to utter disaster with Mark Webber the victim of a very nasty 180 mph rearward shunt caused by brake failure.

But the ill fortune was not over with possible brake failure also hanging over Sebastien Vettel as his probable second place, and possibly even first place, was taken away by a drive through penalty for pit lane speeding which he served immediately after a car damaging beaching on the huge new humps of the Singaporean track.

Vettel's double Asian adventure has probably cost him the championship and has certainly made Button's first world championship much more likely as he increases his lead over his team mate - and anyone else - to 15 points with 3 races to go, at least 2 of which seem likely to suit the characteristics of the Brawn car. It is still a bit early to celebrate but the odds are now hugely in his favour!

But for all the rivalry between the two teams none of their drivers got onto the podium after 61 incident filled laps. It was Lewis Hamilton who stood on the top step following a faultless pole to flag victory demonstrating that McLaren are back. He was followed by Timo Glock in the Toyota and Alonso in the Renault. A podium of surprises!

Onwards to Suzuka next week.

Graham Benge

Friday, 25 September 2009

So long and thanks for all the exposure..

So the fallout from the recent 'Crashgate' continues to settle as we learn that two of Renault's principal sponsors have jumped ship in the light of the recent murky goings-on.

ING, the Dutch bank which has been the team's title sponsor since the beginning of the 2007 season has effectively torn up its contract with the Oxfordshire-based outfit, citing its disappointment in their actions at the 2008 Singapore race.

Whilst this is obviously a blow to Renault, it should be remembered that ING along with fellow banking giant and Williams F1 backer RBS were to cease their sponsorship at the end of this season anyway in the light of the recent banking crisis.

There had been much debate regarding the legitimacy of these corporations 'frittering away' huge sums of money to have their names emblazoned on what might be seen as the playthings of the rich and famous when only a few short months ago the taxpayer was bailing them out to prevent their demise..

The other aggrieved party in this sponsorship retreat is the Spanish insurance company, Mutua Madrilena, who whilst continuing to back driver Fernando Alonso following his absolvement from having any part in the matter, has also shredded its agreement with the team demanding that their branding be removed from the car with immediate effect.

This will undoubtedly be a humiliating experience for the team as they head into the closing stages of the year, their car and uniforms denuded of the arguably somewhat gaudy livery (in ING's case at least) of their former backers and troubled by the knowledge that they are, for all the hand-wringing and penitence, damaged goods.

Their task of enticing a new title sponsor to put their name over the door will not be made any easier either by the fact that a whole new gaggle of teams are heading to the grid next year - all of whom will be presenting squeaky-clean and untarnished (as yet) 200mph billboards for potential suitors to adorn with their product names.

Couple this to the fact that number one driver Fernando Alonso is almost certainly going to be wearing red overalls next year and it looks like the Anglo-French operation are going to be experiencing a couple of lean years - assuming of course that the French board don't decide that enough's enough and it's time to throw their considerable weight behind a World Rally Team again..

These withdrawals by the two backers at such a late stage in the year could be seen as slightly cynical opportunism on the part of the two financial institutions, given that Renault aren't going to be clinching either Driver's or Constructor's title this year & earning them some much needed brownie points in a climate where banks in particular are seen as publicly-funded bonus-generating machines, but whatever the reasoning, it's a sad day for Formula One & the Renault F1 Team in particular when much needed revenue is cut off under such controversial circumstances.

Formula One relies on patronage from big business whether we like it or not and long gone are the days of visually-uncluttered cars circulating in their national colours with maybe just a small sticker exhorting the public to buy Bloggs Oil or Meldrums Patent Mechanical Widgets adorning their flanks.

The FIA have long wanted to see a drastic reduction in costs and, perhaps, if more big-name corporations decide that they don't want to be associated with what they see as a 'tricky' sport they might just get their way as funding becomes harder to come by.

I think that the best we can hope for is that this unpalatable incident is put behind us as soon as possible and that any potential sponsors thinking of entering the fray see what has taken place as a bizarre aberration rather than the norm.

Otherwise we could soon be watching a grid full of cars that all look like a Brawn..

Dave Wakefield

Monday, 21 September 2009

Renault vs FIA

So the FIA deliberated and, in possibly one of his last acts of vengeance, Max got exactly the result he wanted.

A non-penalty for Renault - in my book a two year suspended sentence does not count as a penalty, there is not even a fine - Renault saved themselves by throwing Flav and Pat to the wolves, in the one case possibly deserved but now we shall never know, in the other case a man of undoubted integrity took " took a hit for the team " as a well known US racer described it to me at Goodwood using American football parlance.

Relations between Max and Flav could not have got worse than they were, Flav was far too voluble in his support for FOTA and now Max has completely isolated Flav, effectively for ever, the sentence being non-involvement in FIA sanctioned events for "an unspecified time".

Pat Symonds is possibly one of the most genuine men in F1. Whether he knew or acquiesced to the Picquet jr crash we shall never know now but banning him from F1 for 5 years probably exiles him to Indy cars.

For Renault, struggling as are all other European car makers, the verdict makes their possible decision to quit F1 less likely in the short term, exactly the result Max and Bernie wanted, they were not keen on another major desertion, but did they dispense with corporate morality with just a gallic shrug or was their prime concern to protect the jobs of over 500 Renault F1 employees.

And what of Alonso, we shall never know how much if any he knew, how much he was involved in the decision, he will simply go off to the FIA's preferred team - the red one - with a clean license but will his conscience be as spotless?

But, if one is to believe the rumours, the bloodletting is not yet over, other very highly placed F1 personnel will yet be required to "fall on their swords" to appease Max's desire for vengeance over the rise of FOTA, be afraid, be very afraid, no-one is safe.

Graham Benge - 21st September 2009

Spitfires and Vulcan above Goodwood

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Race results..

Amid all the nostalgic revelry, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are races taking place here.

Well, those taking place in the races wouldn't thank us if we didn't acknowledge their participation in the weekend's on-track events so here is a potted list of the final placings for Sunday:

Richmond Trophy for Mid 1950s Grand Prix cars;

1st: Richard Attwood, Ferrari 246 Dino

2nd: Frank Stippler, Maserati 250F

3rd: Jochen Mass, Lancia-Ferrari D50A

Barry Sheene Memorial Race;

1st: Pemberton/Gardner, Matchless G50

2nd: Rutter/Russell, Manx Norton

3rd: Witham/Parrett, Matchless G50

St. Mary's Trophy - Saloon Cars;

1st: Gavin/Swift, Mini Cooper S

2nd: Aaltonen/Stanley, Mini Cooper S

3rd: Baldwin/Churchill, Mini Cooper S

RAC TT for 1960s Le Mans-style cars;

1st: Newey/Rahal, Jaguar Lightweight E-type

2nd: Verdon-Roe/Pirro, Ferrari 330 LMB

3rd: Hall, AC Cobra

Brooklands Trophy for Pre-War, Brooklands-era cars;

1st: Nick Mason (yes, THAT Nick Mason), Aston Martin Ulster

2nd: Blakeney Edwards, Frazer-Nash

3rd: Wills, BMW 328

From the Earth to the Moon to Sussex!

Guest of honour this year at Goodwood is none other than astronaut Buzz Aldrin who forty years ago joined Neil Armstrong in a giant leap for mankind.

On a slightly more 'down to Earth' mission today (pun intended), he thrilled the crowds here as Lord March's special guest.

After arriving in a very American Vietnam-era 'Huey', he proceeded to take part in the judging for the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation concours event - a kind of Cartier Style et Luxe for the finest airborne machinery - but not before he'd told the rapt audience how he saw the space programme progressing and informing them that they could thank him for bringing the sunshine with him from the 'States..!

Sunday at the Revival - This is the big one..

Sunday is always seen as The Big Day at The Revival.

The biggest crowds watching the biggest names in the biggest races.

For example, just one hour from now, the TT Celebration - a one hour, two driver race similar to the Le Mans format with two drivers per car will be waved off at 2 o'clock.

This grid of GTs features cars that raced at Le Mans in the early 1960s and are now reputedly worth in excess of £50 million pounds collectively.

Yes, FIFTY million.

And this year is expected to be once more a recreation of those Ferrari versus Aston Martin battles that took place at the beginning of the '60s, featuring a hand-picked retinue of drivers, some from that very era, others plucked from the current Formula One grid.

This might best be illustrated by five-time Le Mans winner, Derek Bell lining up alongside Ferrari F1 test driver Marc Gene (pictured) in a Jaguar vs Ferrari Battle of The Titans.

The TT is the absolute highlight of the weekend for very many of the thousands of spectators who crowd the fences to see some awesome wheel-to wheel action.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Stirling Moss 80 car tribute

Expert opinion on the current Formula One controversy

With privileged access to the Drivers' Club here at Goodwood, Graham has been collaring the great and the good for some expert opinion on the Singapore 'Crashgate' incident which is currently troubling the motorsport community.

Sirs Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart are both vocal in their disappointment with the current state of motorsport's premier category - both speaking their minds as racing's elder statesmen.

Predictably-enough, Red Bull Racing's head honcho, Christian Horner is somewhat more reticent when it comes to the industry in which he is such a major player but even he is perturbed by the incident which took place at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

BBC Radio in the South were keen to hear just what Sir Jackie and Christian had to say about the matter and took the interviews via ISDN line for playout in their Saturday afternoon sports show .
Hear what Sir Jackie had to say about the matter.

Saturday at Goodwood September 19 2009

Well, the sun is shining and the crowds are already thronging the circuit for what promises to be another day of high octane historic action, both on track and in the sky.

It's been said many times in the past but it bears repeating - coming to the Revival is like walking onto a huge film set as one is picked up up from the 21st century and deposited firmly in the immediate post war era, just seeing so many military uniforms worn in the crowd sets the scene, sets the period perfectly.

Even as I write this, US motorcycle despatch riders ride past our studio window - a vista of the very early '40s when the world was a very different place indeed..

Friday, 18 September 2009

Oh, the glamour..

Some slightly less exotic machinery located in "our" back garden.

(observe the sewage pipe in the background(!))

Out and about at the circuit

Queueing up for their turn on the circuit this Friday morning, a Lotus-Climax 15, Porsche 718 & Elva-Climax Mark 4, whilst Sir Stirling waits patiently in his beloved OSCA in the paddock.


Friday at the Revival is traditionally practice and qualifying day where drivers vie for their places on the various grids.

Look carefully at the names on these timing sheets and you'll see some quite illustrious faces are here to take part in the races held over the weekend.
(c) Goodwood!

Don't Panic!

Traditionally our neighbours at the Revival have been the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon (or at least some very convincing look-alikes) and we are regularly treated to Captain Mainwaring parading his motley band up and down past the studio window.

Here they are in their full glory playing to an appreciative audience of Revival attendees..

Well, we're finally in..

Yes, the nice techies from Goodwood have not only installed our ISDN line but they have also come prepared with the front door key to the studio (otherwise known as the Hampshire Aeroplane Club).

So, now we're in, the kettle's on and we can get out there and start looking at some cars..

Watch this space..

In the meantime - here's a view from the back door of the studio.

This paddock often contains many millions of pounds worth of irreplaceable metal and is a real assault on the senses with the sound of thoroughbred engines revving accompanied by the heady tang of Castrol R..

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Looking forward to the Goodwood Revival 2009

Yet again, UKMotorTalk will be at the Goodwood Revival producing radio content for a wide variety of clients.... But the best thing is, the largest selection of interviews, photographs and videos will be available on the UKMotorTalk website (www.ukmotortalk.co.uk if it helps!) as they are prepared throughout the weekend...

Keep checking here for progress... Follow us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ukmotortalk)... And, of course, check out the website www.ukmotortalk.co.uk