Formula One: A Simulating Solution


How can F1 start to make sensible changes to rules and regulations? The answer is simple and might be sitting in a gaming console next to your television. F1 needs to set up a winter virtual test season to try out new ideas that come forward through out the season to improve the sport. A virtual test session for every new tweak to anything that impacts on-track action would at least add some structure to a process that currently looks more like “stuff”-thrown-at-a-wall than sound governance.


VR Driver in a Box



The new qualifying was ‘implemented’ (if that word applies since no one, repeat: no one was having anything to do with it) in Australia. Then it was summarily rejected on Saturday night with a return to the old process to go into effect immediately at the next race in Bahrain.

Formula One must avoid fiascoes like this. The lack of preparation by everyone involved showed exactly how not to introduce a major rule change. And a thrilling race on Sunday made the obvious heel dragging and lack of enthusiasm, the more galling to fans. It’s okay to not like a change. It’s another thing to see it sabotaged due to unprofessional behavior.

The decision taken on Saturday night, to return to the old qualifying system seemed justified, if a bit premature since it was still possible that the much hated and poorly prepared for new qualifying format might have a dramatic impact on the race itself. Solely blaming the teams and the TV press for not having a clue is unfair. But making TV pundits look fools on air is a good way to ensure you will not be gaining their support. Whoever is in charge of the rule change: FOM, FIA, Bernie, or a shell corporation on a channel island must realize this process cannot be repeated.

What if…F1 tried car shapes of 1966? Raced at Monza without chicanes? Ran a non-championship time trial at the Nordschleife? All of these scenarios could be tested with sim racing.

As it turned out the new qualifying did make a difference in the race. Almost. Except for a red flag, Ferrari’s qualifying strategy reinforced by a great launch setup should have seen a Maranello 1-2 shock. The 2nd row might as well have been the first for the bright red cars as they squirreled past the gludgy grey Germans. Qualifying strategy did matter and the boredom of Saturday was reversed by an exciting race that offered even more.

The fact that the new format was already binned before the race, should come as no surprise. While TV wouldn’t admit it, it was unprepared and didn’t know how to package the new package. In the USA, NBC Sports focused on the wrong driver’s lap, time after time, not anticipating the timing of the new cutoff process. And only grumbling when Ferrari parked their cars with little discussion of the possibilities for the race.

Nor, will anyone who follows the sport be shocked to find that Force India (along with others now) are  protesting the hasty decision taken, demanding the continuation of the now traditional (after one attempt) format. Mclaren and Red Bull claim they will only accept a return to the old qualifying format, but that’s beside the point of not getting in this position in the first place.

One thing does makes sense. The drivers have protested. They are the few putting their necks on the line for entertainment value and they are justifiably unsure if anyone has considered their necks. Or perhaps more accurately: their own opinions about the state of safety. Don’t forget some drivers believe the new halo concept is an ugly bad idea. The GPDA would like regulations implemented in an orderly fashion indicating that some (any) thought has been used in the process.

A virtual test season would do just that. It could be established at the end of every season to evaluate ideas for the upcoming season. These virtual tests would add some interesting copy to the off season when F1 falls off the radar, except for what events Lewis Hamilton is attending or snubbing.

The virtual season would only encompass one or two weeks in which all of the teams would connect via the Internet with all required weekend race staff  in attendance. This would give a chance to run virtual races and evaluate the effects of new rules like: radio communication regulations, new qualifying rules, changes in tyre regulations, even the effect of the halo on line-of-sight at most circuits.

While computer physics and CFD are imperfect, they can give a strong indication of how changes will impact the racing. Certainly, something as simple as widening the cars by five inches can be studied in a racing simulation to determine how drivers feel it affects overtaking, drafting, etc. If it doesn’t work then why have teams spent millions developing the technology?

Much more aggressive rules changes could be tested in virtual reality. What if F1 tried a formula to make car shapes conform roughly to those of 1966? What if F1 raced at Monza without the front straight chicane? A race or non-championship time trial at the Nordschleife? All of these scenarios could be tested using current sim racing technology. It might even open up new revenue streams with online vehicles heavily sponsored by tech companies…

Admittedly, it’s probably a stupid idea. But, we just saw the results of not testing new innovations. So, it’s much better than the current state of affairs. In racing if an idea proves superior to the current state of the art, it is usually adopted universally. Does that mean it would get unanimous support from all of the teams? Does it need unanimous support? Maybe Bernie or Jean Todt can simply demand that all of the teams participate in virtual winter testing.

One thing certain about this sport is something Mr. Ecclestone realized a long time ago. If you build it, they will pay. That’s why we have a 21 race season. So one final question remains about virtual F1: who will buy the streaming rights and how many millions will they pay?

The F1Jester





Why We Need Alfa Romeo

“We don’t need Alfa Romeo anymore.”

From all corners of the Alfisti world, we hear these slow grumbles turning into a chorus of disenchantment, as the ground breaking Italian marque veers into grey areas like: manufacturing in China, joint developments with Mazda (MAZDA!), rebadged efforts intro’d in the USA with lacklustre results under the Dodge moniker, and the intrepid Canadian missing every new date he claims he will introduce the brand in North America. But, notice I did not use the past tense in describing the ground breaking attributes of the venerable Italian brand. I don’t, because first: I believe Alfa needs to be part of the future of the automotive world. And, second, I’m excited to explain to the non-believers a rich history they have probably overlooked or missed important details.

First, let’s examine the passion of the Alfisti ourselves (I must admit this is the one club I’ve joined and enjoyed in my life, in the Woody Allenesque conundrum of never wanting to join a club that would actually have me as a member.) The Alfisti will accept you and trust me, you want to join. The brand is fanatically followed and admired by a certain type of goofball, automotive enthusiast, who probably knows as much about cars, as he does about F1, Joe Strummer, urban gardening, or Donald Rumsfeld. Alfisti are passionate, not just about cars but about life.

Let’s start with the only Alfa I ever owned, a 1982 GTV6. Did you know the GTV6 was chosen by a panel of experts (those idiots at BBC Top Gear) as the classiest James Bond car ever? EVER! It was. In fact the lads at ‘Top gear’ in Engerland, believe you can’t count yourself as a real gear head, until you’ve owned an Alfa. I have a theory about that too.

When I owned my Alfa, I paid for repairs until I was broke. I didn’t care. But, I was broke. So, I had to start doing my own fixes. The biggest job I ever undertook was changing a beautifully cast water pump, that I was able to get to, by pulling almost all of the ancillary components and top of the engine out of the car. And, I had to do it quickly as, of course, this was my daily driver (as it should be with Alfas) and I was fixing it in a warehouse of my employer at the time (who was none too pleased, but hey, I’m a mechanical engineer with long hair, they kind of expected that kind of shit from me).

So, I lived and I learned. Most of the repairs were done by a great shop in St. Louis. My mechanic and I, became great friends, even so far as he knew the impact my Alfa was making on the social scene in the CWE (but that’s a completely other story…) The friendship crashed a bit when I scuffed up a resto he was working on. But he is the kind of wild enthusiast who keeps the fire burning. And, the kind of mechanic who knows the price of maintenance on inboard mounted rear brakes was never meant to be cheap.

What a great bit of kit, though, when you think of what that car offered. A V6 that generated 250+ HP, a rear mounted (Alfetta style) gearbox, the above mentioned rear inboard brakes, and styling unlike anything else on the road.

And while the GTV6 is the first on my list of reasons “Why Alfa Romeo must not die”, it isn’t my last. Next on the list is “styling” as alluded to above. While the Italians are noted for styling, sometimes Alfa’s contributions are lost on the non-Alfisti. The next post will explain how every Alfa Romeo is an important new design concept.

More to follow.


Gran Turismo 6: Seasonal Challenge LCC Rocket

This is one of the best seasonal’s for Gran Turismo that has been put out in the year or so the game has been on the market. And, the reason is simple: this feels like what I imagine driving an open wheel racing car with no aero aides, skinny tires and just a tad too much horsepower would feel like. In some ways, this is the quintessential 1960’s era open wheel racer experience for the PS3.

Why yes, I am a nerd with Frito bits stuck all over the front of my somewhat greasy and in need of changing wool sweater.lcc-rocket


Click on Photo for a link to the GTPlanet News Article on the LCC Rocket Seasonal

But that doesn’t really matter, now does it. Because, the whole idea of sim racing is to allow scruffy sods like myself to imagine ourselves propelled into the world of high speed motoring. Overall, I’ve found the greatest satisfaction in this medium from console based sims, due to a number of factors, not the least of which being my lack of a dedicated gaming computer.

The idea of a gaming sim on a computer holds greater potential than any console based title. Most computer sims include modding options that blow the doors off any console based sim. But, modding doesn’t necessarily equate into a better sim experience. Here the sim experience of Gran Turismo 6 stands out, by providing a lightweight, rear engined modern vehicle: the LCC Rocket, as a stand in for mid-60’s F1, F2 and F3 kit.

The suspension and drive train are more advanced on the gaming model, providing minute alterations to power, and differential settings. Plus, the game provides various elements of traction and stability control that can be turned off or on, either in the rules of the current competition, or simply to fit players’ tastes.

The idea that console racing sims, when played with a pedal/wheel setup, are nothing more than video games equal to shooters of the console genre, grossly undervalues these titles. They might not be the equal of top end PC based sims, but those sims also require hefty investments in hardware to achieve realism at levels quantum leaps beyond the consoles. Otherwise, we are talking about differences of percentages, degrees and preferences.

Bottom line, the currently running — it ends in early December — Gran Turismo 6 Seasonal competition is one of the best yet, and portends well for the future of the series that shares a bipolar, love/hate relationship with it’s staunchest users, it’s staunchest critics.

The BRM P25 and “THAT” Photo Explained, Maybe

EDIT: Contacted by the son of the original photographer: Lee Hashbarger. This, I believe is just one in a series of excellent photos he took and my drawing honestly doesn’t do the original photo justice. Thanks to him for providing the information and my apology for not crediting it previously.

If you want to know about something, write about or draw it. For example, I’ve slowly been sucked into the BRM universe of the 1950’s. I believe in a self-controlled universal solipsism. Once you discover a topic, more information begins to appear. Maybe this is what the internet is best at. I’m pretty sure if I post this theory, there is someone willing to prove me wrong. The BRM P25 was an awful racing car, and part of that awfulness was it’s single disk rear brake.

Having just read Ken Gregory’s excellent memoir of his time with Stirling Moss, I was confused by his explanation of the accident: disk brake failure. I was confused until I recently found this photo posted at the ORMA BRM Facebook page.

Photographer Michael Pitkins, (reproduced here from the website

The photo is actually the back of the 1960 BRM P48, but I understand the single disk brake on the back of the gearbox was also used on the P25. This explains the reason the BRP flipped when it’s rear disk brake failed. Probably, in the Avus accident the brake failed by locking up the main drive shaft, creating a force on the rear wheels capable of flipping the car. Am I right? I don’t know, I wasn’t there and I’m very capable of adding 2 and 2 and getting 5. It’s also possible Hermann lost control and the car didn’t start flipping until it hit the runoff area. As a rule of thumb, a change in forces on the tires is usually necessary to flip a car. This often happens when the surface changes dramatically.

I’m basically throwing this theory out to see if anyone who was there (or knows the history) can confirm or deny that this is what actually occurred. One argument in favor of my theory is that this is emphatically not how rear disk brakes were used in subsequent racing or street vehicles. A single disk brake makes sense as most of the braking force is applied to the front wheels. In general, front brakes are still sized larger than rears. Inboard braking was pioneered by Lotus to reduce unsprung wheel weight and was even present in the Alfa Romeo GTV6. But, not the single disk that I say, flipped Hans Hermann onto the tarmac at Avus.

Mystery solved? Probably not, I’m just curious what happened and if anyone can help me understand why the car flipped when the brake failed. There were other terrible things wrong with this design, oil and debris being thrown on the rear brake often caused failures, as did a lack of cooling and the solid pipe used for brake fluid, mounted to the gearbox, vibration often caused a union failure. Ultimately, right or wrong, the photo and drawing just remind me that we have come along way, and racing does improve the breed.

And, rereading this post, I was contacted that the rear single disk brake was not considered the problem in this case. The more I learn about the development of automotive technology through racing, the more respect I have for all of those involved. Thanks. (Update 08-21-2015)

Greedy Bastards – One Wish Per Customer

The last few months I’ve turned around and tried to take a look at myself, using a lot of simple methods. These are things anyone can do and I would encourage you to try. Not in a “Follow me! I’m RIGHT!” kind of way. Just, because, a life unexamined, something, something, something profound. The methods include: daily reading, daily writing, daily lists of ideas, daily exercise, a Seinfeld calendar, reduction in alcohol consumption, and (for me the most difficult part) trying to connect more with the people in your life who matter while deleting the haters.

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The Seinfeld Calendar is a list of about four or five things you need to do everyday to become a successful stand up comic. You don’t need to become a success overnight. But, by getting the items done that will lead to your success, you should find that this focuses your attention on becoming a successful stand up comedian. I don’t want to become a stand up comic, but the principal applies to any endeavor. If you want to go to the South Pole, there are a set of skills and equipment and experience that will lead you to the South Pole. Four hours a day of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and NBA basketball are probably not on that list. See how it works? By focusing on the necessary I’ve been able to eliminate some of the extraneous activities that were – honestly – wasting my time.

Wasting time is worse than wasting money. I have no chance of winning a lottery that will immediately make me 15 years old again. And, wasting time is a purely subjective judgement that only a mature adult should be allowed to make for them self. If you want to live a comfortable life concerned about Dr. Phil, MLB, and the Today Show, then who am I to judge? Nobody. It’s your life. Rather than trying to convince you to become the “greatest” the “Best” the “richest” the “poorest” or whateverest is your highest mountain to climb, I’m saying first: “think” (probably my favorite line from any Beatles’ song).

Think about what you want in life, where you are going and where you want to go. Most of these ideas I am boiling down through what I’m learning from James Altucher. Critics might claim Altucher is nothing more than an apologist for the failed hedgefunders generation that drove the country over a cliff in their shiny BMW’s and Mercedes. That might be true. But, in his angst, Altucher is at least trying to reach some baseline restart. I see the real significance not in the results he achieves, but in the chronicle of his struggle: a modern day Gatsby who has had it all and thrown it all away.

So, what about these greedy bastards? Who are they and how can we stop them? Are they the oligarchs and the moneyaholics appearing daily on CNBC? Nope, they’re you and me. Or, at least, they are me. I am them. I am one of them anyway. And in the past six months, I’ve slowly started to realize the blessings I possess and the foolhardiness of my ways. Like most Americans, I’ve been striving my whole life. I haven’t hit the home run YET. But, it’s just around the corner. It’s just one more sales meeting, or trade show, or new product away. But, I’ve sort of lost sight of that dream. For reasons I won’t go into here. But, what I do want to discuss is my greed in wanting everything.

Taking a life inventory. I’ve been married mostly happily for 20+ years to a beautiful, intelligent woman who loves me more than anything else on earth. That right there puts me in the top half at least, of people who measure happiness by marriage success. I have two great children both in college now, who I know will do their best to do their best. They both work hard and enjoy life way more than I did when I was in college. Success. I’m not trying to create a jealousy pot of things I have that you don’t. Trust me, you probably have a lot of cool things that I don’t. And, they’re probably things that I would really, really, like to have.

See, I’m a greedy bastard. I’m not satisfied with the great family, the loving wife, the crazy dog who greets me every day when I come home, happily surprised to see me again. I’m not happy with my safe neighborhood and my heat in the winter, AC in the summer lifestyle. I always want more. Because, I’m a greedy asshole. The cartoon below, put that all into perspective for me in four short panels. No matter how you slice up 24 hours in a day, there will only ever be 24 hours in a day. The myth of the CEO who sleeps 3 hours a night and has it all is just that: a myth. If we keep believing these myths: that the Oprahs and the Dr.Phils and the Abramovichs and the Kardashians of the world, really, really, really, really (and I mean really) have it so much better than the Archie Bunkers of the world, we are deluding ourselves into a nightmarish death spin into a dystopic future of parking lots full of BMW’s that can’t be driven anywhere.


I say, “Hurray for Oprah! Hurray for Dr. Phil! and Hurray for Wayne Rooney and making $750,000 a week.” Wayne Rooney must train like a madmen to make that money, and if he just pushes himself a little too hard “POOF!” the magic is all gone. And, as we see way too often in life, money makes as many people ill as it saves. Recognition of that fact though, is slowly dawning on me. I talk in platitudes (like the above paragraph) like most people at Sunday coffee after church. But, mostly we all try to forget all of that for Monday morning and our chance to grab the brass ring. I hope: my goal, now as I go through my midlife crisis and realize the truths about life that no one tells us – the one s we have to learn – is that I can accept those truths and still get up every day ready to do good work and good things and try to get the half dozen items on my Seinfeld Calendar checked off.

Because I can do this. Because I can think and I can write and I can draw and I can plan and I can dream, I feel like I owe it to the planet to do something with all of this, this amazing ball of human talents that we all possess in varying degrees and shades and temperaments. I know intellectually, I don’t need to be the smartest, the richest, the whateverest in life, but there’s still that nagging sensation that “if only we had opened a store in Albuquerque six years ago, we’d all be rich and famous now…” I just need to be me. As old as I am, I still hope to find some joy in discovering who that me is. Thanks to for creating an image I will forever carry folded up in my wallet.

BTW: the sad look on their faces really breaks my heart. She loves him. She knows he wishes he had a jet pack or a spaceship. Don’t make the love of your life a consolation prize, you lucky bastard. I wish I’d known that 20+ years ago.

James Altucher & The Crap I Carried

About nine months ago I took James Altucher up on his bet. I paid for his book “Choose Yourself” with the guarantee that if I wasn’t completely satisfied, I could return it and get my money back. Altucher asked that I at least read the book, before deciding. No problem, I’m a satisfied customer. I’ve started a number of changes in my life based on what Altucher has “discovered” and in my case, it has had interesting consequences. I haven’t suddenly turned into a millionaire, I haven’t written the great American non-fiction book (still doing research), but I have discovered some interesting things about myself and about life that I now think are worth sharing.

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The Crap I Carried

The photo above is the pile of stuff that is literally stopping me from doing what I want to do. I call it “The Crap I Carried”. I’ve been staring at this pile for longer than I care to admit. But, in some ways, that’s a good thing. Today, it dawned on me why I haven’t gotten into Tony Robbins’ 4th quartile — or whatever it’s called — you know, the productive work you love. That’s where I want to be. This pile of stuff, is not anywhere near there.

Normally, my desk is a neat, tidy, work area. It doesn’t usually look like this. But, in the past, I’ve always been willing to jump on: every new demand of my time, every new request for my services, every new volunteer organization that needs my help, etc. I hope you get the picture. I’m a normal adult. I’ve always been glad to help, but in so doing, I’ve always pushed my projects to the background. So, I haven’t learned to: play the trombone, or dance like Fred Astaire, or develop an App to allow Twitter users to use 140 words instead of just 140 characters. I haven’t been doing the stuff I want to do. I’ve been doing the stuff the world assigned me.

This is probably why good students fail — yes, I was a good student — because we are always willing to take on the next assignment. We are always willing to do the work for the whole group (not because we like the group, we hate the group, but because we want the good grade more than anyone else does). Life, takes good students and just keeps giving and giving and giving: more assignments, more projects and more crap that the real smart people don’t want to do. You will notice: wealth, self fulfillment, and personal happiness are not in that list.

This morning, it dawned on me why I have this pile of stuff on my desk. I’ve been struggling to get to some of the projects I really want to do — the things that I’ve been interested in since I can remember. At Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned to my family how most people don’t understand the Gettysburg campaign and how it shaped the Civil War. The “universe” didn’t respond with some enlightenment. Instead, my sister responded at Christmas with a book on the Gettysburg campaign. So, some of the time that in the past would have been devoted to “the pile of stuff” went into reading an hour everyday about the battles from Brandy Station to Lee’s recrossing of the Potomac. But, I’m interested in a lot of things right now. So, the pile has grown as I’ve rediscovered my enthusiasm for my own life.

Life, takes good students and just keeps giving and giving and giving: more assignments, more projects and more crap that the real smart people don’t want to do.

But, now I realize something. It’s impossible to fly with a two ton weight around my neck. I need to take a step back and solve the issues that are causing the pile of stuff to build up separating me from my real goals. I need to cut through the stuff and address the distractions that they represent. Basically, I need to say “No.” to a lot more stuff in my life. And trust me, in the last nine months I’ve said no to a lot of stuff already. I cut back on Cable TV: it costs too much and wastes my time. I cut back on a couple beers a night: to a beer with friends on special occasions (bonus with that one, my sleep improved dramatically). I cut back on my volunteer work, and organizations where I was worrying about issues that honestly have almost no impact on my life. I cleaned out the old books in the basement and gave away clothes.

But, I still have a long ways to go. So, it’s back to the pile of stuff to whittle it down and ask myself harder questions about why I think I need so much stuff in my life. Do I need Olympic bobsledding in my life? It sure seemed like it this weekend… My goal right now is to minimize that stuff in my life, by saying no to pointless distractions. Amazingly, saying “No.” opens up a lot more opportunities than saying “Yes.” ever did. But, to get to those opportunities, I’ve got to do even less. Wish me luck.

BTW: This blog post was inspired by James Altucher’s “Ten Good Ideas List”. I jot down a list every time I make myself coffee in the break room at work. Today’s morning list was titled: The Crap I Carried.

The Nurburgring Bernie Ecclestone Solution: Six Pence None the Richer

Bernie Ecclestone, as we all know, is in some legal difficulty in Germany. The Nurburgring, as we all know, is in some financial difficulty in Germany. Why not, combine the two problems into one elegant solution? Instead of paying back the money he is alleged to owe German banks who backed a scheme to takeover F1, Ecclestone should be allowed to use the money to buy the Nurburgring and turn it back over to the local German government that owned it before the whole Disney-Nurburgring fiasco.

This elegantly solves at least two problems. One, it forces Ecclestone to pay back his alleged ill-gotten gains, something he will undoubtedly do anyway to prevent the case going to court. Second, it solves the problem of the German government, or any entity of government in Germany, paying directly for the buyout. Apparently, a direct government buyout of a distressed asset like the Nurburgring is not allowed under current EU rules.

Simple, clean, effective: a Solomonesque decision for the benefit of the racing community worldwide, the local economy around the Nurburgring specifically, a fair punishment (if necessary) for Ecclestone’s alleged bribery, and the banks end up six pence none the richer. I’m sure Ecclestone would love to see his money going to support an iconic race circuit, rather than former business partners who perhaps should have read their contracts a bit more closely.

When dealing with Bernard Ecclestone, after all, one must always read between the lines.