Archive for November, 2017

From time to time, I wonder about the competitiveness between different racing leagues or even different teams within the same league. Just as Sebastian Vettel is maligned for having the best car in the field during his four-years as Formula 1 champion with Red Bull Racing, now Lewis Hamilton is tagged the same way for winning the 2017 F1 championship in a seemingly-dominant Mercedes.

The way I see it, there are degrees of advantage gleaned from 1) Lewis Hamilton’s acumen as a driver 2) The reliability and speed of the Mercedes team and 3) The mistakes and errors made by Lewis Hamilton’s competition.

Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas is the #2 driver at Mercedes. He has the exact same car as Lewis Hamilton, yet has only taken two wins to Lewis Hamilton’s nine during the 2017 season. Never mind that Bottas himself is a five-year veteran of F1 racing who had scored many podiums with the Williams team previously to his time at Mercedes.

The average person will perform much worse in initial competitions. This can come down to equipment, conditioning, inexperience or simple incorrect emotional responses.

A really good example of this phenomenon is evidenced by a Jalopnik article where an automotive journalist takes her mother’s Hyundai Genesis drag racing against amateurs at the Texas Motor Speedway. Despite the car’s factory horsepower, she gets creamed by other similar makes within her class.

It’s very wrong to judge the journalist unfairly. It takes courage to try to do something you’ve never done before–and even more to put those results out in a story and video saying “I lost, badly.”

Because it’s completely normal to make huge gaffes or fall short in your first few attempts at something. This is evidenced in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), where nearly all of the time when new participants roll and end up getting submitted. This will happen if neophytes compete in chess or tennis or even algebra because you cannot base your expectations on how someone performs straight out-of-the-box.

It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to just get to the point where you don’t suck at something. That point has to be addressed and reached before you can call yourself competent. After that, if a lot of factors (including your own hard work, timing, luck, etc) are in your favor, you obtain mastery.

So to suggest that either Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton’s cars drove themselves to easy F1 championships is incorrect. Truly, they gained really degrees of competitiveness from their cars, but most of the effort in actually competing and winning came from themselves.

As a side note, I would not mind seeing a second story or video from Jalopnik where the same journalist who drove her mother’s Genesis returned to the same track with a new strategy, car and outlook. Could they have done better with the benefit of planning and experience?

In all things, we must try and try again. We don’t know the full truth if we do otherwise.


The Ferrari-Ford Cobra Wars

I was watching Need For Speed, the 2014 movie that sought to establish Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul in the feature film genre when I kept hearing a plot point about a “Carroll Shelby designed Ford Mustang” over and over again. Yes, I’ve heard of a Shelby GT500 Mustang, but I got curious and decided to learn more about the iconic American behind the car’s design.

Carroll Shelby was a chicken farmer and a highly-decorated professional race car driver who had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 with British automaker Aston Martin.

When he retired from racing in October 1959, he took his talent to Chevrolet in order to convince them to build a new prototype of sports car. Chevy already had the Corvette as their signature car, so Shelby went to Ford and got a small amount of money and some Ford engines to begin work on the AC Cobra.

In 2002, the BBC produced a good documentary about Carroll Shelby and his role in developing the Ford GT40, which would usurp Ferrari at Le Mans, winning four times from 1966 to 1969. The GT40 itself was in development before Shelby joined the project in 1964, but his contribution to the team helped defeat the Italians, who had a solid lock on the Le Mans title, winning it every time from 1960 to 1965.

The other really good resource for understanding this era in car racing is the 2016 documentary The 24 Hour War:

“In the early 1960s, Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari went to war on the battlefield of Le Mans. This epic battle saw drivers lose their lives, family dynasties nearly collapse and the development of a new race car that changed racing.”

Today, auto racing has completely changed. Privateers are virtually nonexistent at the highest levels of racing. Even major teams with solid financial clout flail and seem noncompetitive against those with greater backing.

You also have to wonder: How much does a manufacturer’s success carry over into consumer sales? For instance, if a Toyota Camry wins the NASCAR title this year, will people go out and buy that car? Is there incentive for Ford to create a Mustang for NASCAR?

As it stands, the Ferrari-Ford rivalry was a good thing because of how it radically advanced technology and expectations about performance. I believe there are things to be learned that can be passed down to consumer versions of cars–but filtering out the truth from a million options available is where the buyer has to educate themselves.

Anyway, Carroll Shelby certainly made a huge contribution to the American car industry and researching him was really worthwhile.