Ayrton Senna

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

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At some point it was decided that the Singapore Grand Prix was one of the marquee events of the Formula 1 season. While the nighttime backdrop of one of Asia’s premier cities is certainly stunning, the racing has always been kind of a slog. Sunday’s 61 lap running felt like a 2 hour chore compared to the brisk Italian Grand Prix 2 weeks ago. While it was refreshing to see neither Silver Arrow finish on the podium, Sebastian Vettel’s commanding drive from pole to the top step was very much the same plot we’ve seen all season long with a different actor in the title role.

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NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey did his very best to make sure we all knew that Lewis Hamilton was 1 win away from tying Ayrton Senna’s record in Singapore. Despite Hamilton and Nico Rosberg qualifying 5th and 6th respectively, it didn’t stop the network’s bias for Mercedes as the drivers were featured almost exclusively in the broadcast’s opening montage. What happened instead was the more significant achievement of race winner Sebastian Vettel becoming the 3rd all-time most successful driver in Formula 1.

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Daniel Ricciardo in the RB11 didn’t really have a shot at beating Vettel and ultimately finished 2nd. The numerous safety cars which have become synonymous with Singapore presented plenty of opportunities for a scrap but overtaking on the Marina Bay Circuit is a near impossible task. Ricciardo’s best opportunity was ruined when a lunatic fan entered the track on lap 37 – a gate onto the track which was left unguarded may have had something to do with it. The oversight is yet another occurrence where negligence by the staff at a flyaway race may have produced costly and dangerous results. Remember the trackside marshals’s treatment of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso in China earlier this year?

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Singapore saw the retirements of more big name drivers than any Grand Prix this season. McLaren executed a now routine showing of retiring both cars due to gearbox issues. This came after Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both had opportunities to score points. While it’s convenient for all fingers to point at Honda, Button’s overtaking tactics and the pit crew suffering from a bout of heat stroke didn’t help turn things around.

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The mishaps continued with a collision involving Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and the Williams of Felipe Massa exiting pit lane. The crash ultimately ended the races of both drivers with Hulkenberg receiving a 3 grid spot penalty for next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. It was a hasty ruling from the stewards who probably should have waited until the race was over and clearer heads prevailed. 50/50 blame could be taken from the situation but I’m of the opinion that Hulkenberg had the right of way. Surprisingly the 5th retirement of the day was the Mercedes of Hamilton who’s car lost power from a coupler issue on the turbo.

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Meanwhile, the Formula 1 drinking game just got more interesting with the addition of “American Alexander Rossi”. Rossi seems like a great guy and deserved of the Manor drive for the remaining 5 races, but this really is a non-story that took up way too much of the race broadcast. No folks, contrary to what Diffey or the NBCSN team might have you believe, there is absolutely no chance of Rossi winning a Formula 1 Grand Prix in a Manor and it’s highly likely he won’t score any points either. The day’s other non-story, Ferrari mechanics exhibiting “thug-like” behavior and shoving photographers aside to celebrate Vettel’s win on pit lane.

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What is becoming more and more clear every race weekend is that Formula 1 really isn’t that great anymore. It is in many ways like Sir Elton John. The days of hitting the high notes on ‘Tiny Dancer’ are long gone, but fans still amass because of what the singer was, not who he’s become. Formula 1 has a rich and celebrated history and most of us suffer through the current product because we’re still hanging onto that history. “This is Formula 1” we tell ourselves, hoping that this race will be different. The reality however is that there hasn’t been a genuinely great race since Bahrain in 2014 and Britain the year before that. It’s a sport that on average produces one good showing a season and when you consider the other 19 races are duds, that’s a poor success rate.

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Members of the Formula 1 media have been quick to combat this notion. Will Buxton told all of us to get over it following the Italian Grand Prix. He and many others hark back to the days of Ferrari-Shumacher dominance, but ultimately they’re as guilty as we are for using the past to justify the present. Too often are we concerned with Formula 1’s history, always hoping to find a way to weave it into the modern context of the sport. The MLB also does this as they become increasingly irrelevant on a playing field dominated by the NFL, NBA and European football. The only thing any of us should be concerned with is what is right in front of us and what’s in front of us isn’t Formula 1, it’s not even racing.

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The Japanese Grand Prix is next weekend and Suzuka should favor the Silver Arrows who will likely be back on form after today’s misstep.

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Right Place At The Right Time – 2015 Monaco Grand Prix

Part of racing is putting yourself in a position to take advantage of any and every opportunity that presents itself. Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel both found themselves in positions to overtake the race leader Lewis Hamilton during one of the most controversial pit stops in Formula 1 history.

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Overtaking rarely happens in Monaco and track position is all that matters. Qualify in pole and you have a 99% chance at winning. Screw up a pit strategy and you’ll end up like Hamilton, watching over 60 laps of hard work go to waste.

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The (mostly) British F1 Media will likely spend the next week denouncing Rosberg and his victory today on the streets of Monte Carlo. However, what they should be doing is calling both the judgment of Hamilton and his race engineers into question. Both parties are equally responsible for today’s botched strategy and both should take it on the chin as a harsh learning experience.

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Hamilton started the day the favorite to win after securing a dominant pole in qualifying. He went on to comfortably lead 64 laps of the race until the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen found itself in the barriers at Sainte Devote,after coming into contact with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. The crash was one of the most violent to happen in the sport this season. Luckily, Verstappen walked away without serious injury. The incident brought out a virtual safety car and prompted race leader Hamilton to stop for a set of super soft tires to finish the remaining 14 laps. Unbeknownst to the Mercedes driver or his engineers, the actual safety car went out on track enabling Rosberg and Vettel who were in P2 and P3 respectively to overtake Hamilton coming out of the pits. After some initial confusion, from pit lane the reality of their mistake began to set in as Hamilton found himself in P3 and very unlikely recapture his lead.

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The remaining laps saw Rosberg easily get away from Vettel who had the job of keeping a very angry Hamilton at bay. Nervous radio transmissions from Hamilton’s engineers followed, but they were little consolation for the situation they had all gotten themselves into. The arrival of the victors to the starting grid for the traditional Monaco podium ceremony saw Hamilton taking his time and eventually crashing into the “3rd place” sign. Even Charlie Whiting was smart to keep his distance as the Mercedes driver collected his thoughts before getting out of the car. The scene was certainly setting itself up to be one of the all time great meltdowns in motorsports. Shockingly however, Hamilton conducted himself with class and said all the right things during the interviews, even though he was visibly distraught. Rosberg meanwhile joins an elite list that includes Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher as a 3-time winner of the Monaco Grand Prix.

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Ferrari continue to be one of the most entertaining teams in Formula 1 this season. Between Kimi’s brilliant radio transmissions throughout the race to Vettel’s exuberance and “I’m just here for the show” attitude on the podium, they are the team to route for right now. Vettel’s PR has done a 180 since his time at Red Bull and it’s been genuinely fun to see him helping Ferrari get back on top.

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Speaking of Red Bull, outstanding performances from both Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo. Something about Monaco just seems to work for Ricciardo who had an excellent drive and was chasing the leaders up until the final laps, even if he did eventually return a position to his teammate.

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Elsewhere disappointment for Williams who were unable to score points. Saturday yielded subpar results in qualifying for Valtteri Bottas and a shunt at the start for Felipe Massa did his race in just as it was beginning.

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It was a bittersweet day for McLaren as a gearbox failure ended Fernando Alonso’s race on lap 41. His teammate Jenson Button however managed to secure the team’s first points of the season finishing 8th. That doesn’t sound like much to be excited about, but considering where McLaren started the season, it’s huge progress.

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It’s ironic to consider that just days ago, Lewis Hamilton signed a new 3 year deal with Mercedes that would not only make him the highest paid driver in Formula 1, but one of the 10 highest paid athletes in the world. Had that contract not been signed before the events that unfolded today, we may be seeing a very different story unfold for the World Champion. Perhaps Ferrari would’ve been back on the table?

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“Sad Lewis” will be the dominating storyline heading into the Canadian Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic & McLaren Honda.

Remembering Senna

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I often wonder what he’d make of Formula 1’s current state – the double points, tire/fuel conservation, pay drivers, the stewards involved in the most inane details… I like to think he’d be one of the sport’s most outspoken critics.

Happy birthday to the greatest of all time and may he continue to remind us of an era when racing was simply that.

The A Class Top 10 Most Read In 2013

2013 was another big year on A Class and I couldn’t be happier with all of the support. Despite it being one of the leaner years in terms of posts, there were some big milestones including the blog’s 5 year anniversary at the beginning of December! A Class also crossed the 1 million mark in total visitors and experienced its busiest day ever with over 1600 views on March 25. Take all of that into account and 2013 was a big success!

In honor of the new year, I wanted to take a look back at the top 10 most read posts in 2013.

1. F1 Legend: The McLaren MP4/4

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McLaren’s MP4/4 is considered by most to be the greatest Formula 1 car of all time. Its 6-cylinder, turbocharged Honda engine was capable of over 1000 HP and helped the car win all but 1 of the Grands Prix it participated in during the 1988 season. At the hands of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, there’s no better car and driver combo to earn the top spot on A Class’ most read posts of 2013. Read the full story.

2. NISMO Omori Factory: The R-Tune

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These days it’s become pretty common for car enthusiasts and bloggers alike to make to pilgrimage to Japan. However back in 2006 the closest most of us got to our Japanese tuning idols was through DVDs and YouTube. I was fortunate enough to make the trip to the Land of The Rising Sun and visit NISMO Omori Factory in Tokyo. My accounts of the visit are some of the articles I’m most proud of and they’ve also proven to be the most popular. The R-Tune parked outside Omori Factory was one of those “pinch me” moments that I’ll always cherish. Read the full story.

3. BenSopra 180SX At TAS

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Any Japanese auto enthusiast will tell you that 2013 was the year of Miura-san. The head designer for Rocket Bunny and a slew of other Japanese tuning houses was churning out a new build seemly every month. While things started with a bang at Tokyo Auto Salon last January, the style and the hype quickly grew tired. Love his designs or not, you have to respect that Miura-san took full advantage of his time in the spotlight and the way things are going, we’ll be seeing more of his work for many years to come. Read the full story.

4. Kansai Service 86 & BRZ At TAS

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There was no other car in 2013 that captured the collective imagination of the automotive industry quite like the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ. Many called it the savior of the tuning industry and for good reason because the car absolutely revitalized it. At its core the 86/BRZ is a throwback car, a greatest hits of what true enthusiasts love most about driving – a fizzy engine at the front, a proper manual in the middle and RWD at the back. Kansai Service did their part in creating 2 shining examples of what the aftermarket has to offer at last year’s Tokyo Auto Salon. Read the full story.

5. NISMO Omori Factory: Part I

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At its core, A Class has always been about my love for all things Japanese tuning and motor sports. I can’t think of a place where the 2 meet in perfect harmony better than NISMO Omori Factory in Tokyo. The articles I wrote about my experience there in 2006 have been some of the most read ever on the blog and 2013 was no different. NISMO has since moved to a new location but the old showroom was absolute magic. Read the full story.

6. Rocket Bunny FR-S

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More validation that Miura-san and the Toyota 86 dominated the Japanese tuning landscape in 2013. While you’re likely to see carbon copies at meets and shows around the world, this is the car that started it all, an imported Scion FR-S with a touch of madness. I’ve grown tired of the repetitive nature and overly hyped trends of the industry in 2013, but give credit where it is certainly due. Read the full story.

7. Throwback Thursdays: Lancia Delta Integrale

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I adore Italian cars and this is proof that I should feature them more often. Their presence and style are difficult to match and the Delta Integrale is one of those rare Lancias that actually drove and worked as good as it looked. In my dream garage there would most certainly be one of these in red with a tan interior. Read the full story.

8. Okachan’s C-SER GRB STi

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Yashio Factory’s Okamura-san is one of the most outspoken and well known personalities in the Japanese tuning industry. Known for his fascination with the color pink and building some of the fastest Silvias on the planet, Okachan began working with Subarus and started C-SER. The brand has become a mainstay in the Japanese time attack scene, offering a wide selection of power and suspension components for later model STis. Where other manufacturers have shied away from Subaru in recent years, C-SER has filled the void. Read the full story.

9. Tokyo Auto Salon 2013

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There are few things in the automotive industry more exciting than Tokyo Auto Salon. Every January the Makuhari Messe comes alive with the latest and greatest the Japanese tuning industry has to offer and 2013 was no exception. While the show has dwindled from its glory years last decade, it’s still something to behold. Many things really are bigger in Japan and car shows are certainly one of them. Read the full story.

10. ‘Leave Me Alone’ Tee

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The most famous quote in international motor sport in 2012. During the final laps on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, (then) Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen barked the now infamous words “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” to his engineer before taking his first win of 2012. In the last 2 seasons, Raikkonen was managed to win the Formula 1 fan base over by being himself. In a sport dominated by scripted responses and corporate contracts, Kimi has always been Kimi. Things got ugly at the end of 2013 between the driver and the cash-strapped Lotus, who weren’t able to pay him. Now off to Scuderia Ferrari in 2014, Raikkonen was just named the most popular driver in the sport by a recent poll on F1 Fanatic. Read the full story.

2013 saw many trends come and go within the tuning industry. It saw Mark Webber retire from Formula 1 amidst a major identity crisis for the sport. There was Audi dominating Le Mans, a new hyper car war between McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari and the tragic skiing accident involving Michael Schumacher – may we wish him the very best with his recovery. There was hype, there was bankruptcy, there was Chris Harris power sliding an all of our computers. But most of all, 2013 was a proper year to be a petrolhead. Farewell 2013 and hello to an exciting new year. All the best in 2014.

McLaren 50

McLaren have been celebrating their 50th anniversary all season long, but today is the day all that celebrating has been for. Employees and drivers gathered at the MTC for a celebration of one of the most storied teams in motor sports history.

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Similar to the MP4-28 release event, everyone gathered in the MTC’s lobby for the parade to roll in.

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All the major players were in attendance including the MK 8D, M23 and MP4/4.

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Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were also on hand. I imagine there was a lot of talk about next season.

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The spirits of seasons past.

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Button made an entrance in this midnight purple P1.

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2013’s Formula 1 campaign hasn’t been good to McLaren. They took a gamble with the MP4-28, which is more of a redesign than an evolution car. Had they done what most of their competitors did and ran an updated version of the MP4-27, we could be having a very different conversation now.

The team has made it abundantly clear that they are focusing all of their current efforts on 2014. While this season will likely be a wash, McLaren won’t stay midfield for long.

Until then, a happy 50th to McLaren.

Photos courtesy of McLaren.

McLaren MP4/4 At Motegi

Formula 1 geeks like myself have spent countless hours on YouTube reliving the glory days of the sport. I’m of the opinion that the 80’s were Formula 1’s greatest decade. They saw a massive shift in the sport as more sponsors became involved and it entered the World stage. The 80’s produced a dizzying array of talent with drivers becoming international celebrities. Despite all of this, Formula 1 was great in the 80’s for one important reason; it was the peak of the turbo era.

The turbo era produced many astonishing machines but none quite like the McLaren MP4/4. In my mind it’s the greatest Formula 1 car of all time. Its Honda RA168-E V6 was capable of over 1000 HP and in the hands of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, won 15 races in 1988.

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Despite its legendary history, the MP4/4 remains a recluse these days.

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It’s a rarity to see the MP4/4 stretching its legs on the track. I was encouraged to see Lewis Hamilton take Senna’s old car for a spin on Top Gear a few years ago. The chance to see one of the sport’s current World Champions take the reigns of such a fantastic machine was an exciting prospect. However, disappointment set in when the segment’s soundtrack overpowered the car’s bellowing V6 twin-turbo. I often find that the biggest complaint from YouTube viewers is that the engine sound isn’t a high enough priority in car videos.

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I was encouraged to come across this video of the MP4/4 at Motegi last July.

With HD footage and good sound quality, it’s not to be missed. The first few minutes get off to a slow start but once the car is warmed up, it’s pure engine pornography. Turn your speakers up to 11.

This MP4/4 was probably running a more conservative tune compared to it’s days at Monaco. Regardless, the video gives us a taste of what the car would’ve sounded like at WOT. I think it’s automotive bliss.

As a new season of Formula 1 gets underway in a couple weeks, it marks the final appearance of V8s in the sport. The new technical regulations of 2014 will see Formula 1 enter its second turbo era. While the new cars will hardly capture the ferocity of their ancestors, it’ll be nice to see Formula 1 using turbos again. I don’t think I’m alone in saying how eager I am to hear to 2014 cars. Internal wastegates will keep the noise levels down significantly, but the rumor is that they will sound great. I suppose we’ll have our answer a year from now. In the meantime, the MP4/4’s legacy lives on.

Video courtesy of Deckay.

Rivalries Come And Go

Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren form the biggest rivalries on 2012’s Formula 1 grid. Lotus could also be thrown into the mix, based on this year’s performance. But 20 years ago, a different rivalry was in full swing.

After years of McLaren dominance, Williams were shaking things up with their Renault-powered FW14. The Adrian Newey designed car, was the most technically advanced on the grid and at the hands of Nigel Mansell, won 9 races that year. He would go on to win the Driver’s Championship with Williams winning the Constructor’s Championship.

Meanwhile at McLaren, things weren’t going so well as Ayrton Senna struggled in the MP4/7A. The car was extremely unreliable and was retired from 7 races. Senna would still drive to 3 race wins that year, placing him 4th in the Driver’s World Championship. It would be the first time since 1987, that McLaren didn’t win the Constructor’s Championship.

Photo courtesy of Williams.

F1 Legend: The McLaren MP4/4

Ask any Formula 1 fan to name some of the sport’s greatest cars and you’ll surely hear mention of McLaren’s MP4/4. It was the last of the turbo era and one of the most successful Formula 1 cars to date.

Designed by Gordon Murray and Steve Nichols, the MP4/4 was the car that earned 15 of 16 pole positions in the 1988 Formula 1 season. It was also the car in which Ayrton Senna secured his first Formula 1 Driver’s Championship. Senna won it by just 3 points, over his teammate Alain Prost.

1988 was the last year before turbos were to be banned from Formula 1, so most teams were eager to shift their focus towards naturally aspirated setups. McLaren decided to hold back and stick with a V6 twin turbo, for which the MP4/4 was specifically designed. At the time Honda’s RA168-E was the most powerful engine on the grid and it proved to be a success for McLaren, who also won the Constructor’s Championship that year.

Senna drove the MP4/4 to 8 of the car’s 15 total victories, before its final outing at the Australian Grand Prix.

It’s quite amazing to look at the MP4/4 compared to this year’s MP4-27, driven by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. For today’s Formula 1 cars, the emphasis is primarily on aerodynamics, where as in the 80’s aero development was fairly limited and the focus was on power. The MP4/4 developed a whopping 1200 HP, hundreds more than the sport’s current V8s.

With the lack of aerodynamics, the MP4/4 remains clean and sleek. Today it’s a thing of beauty, even down the red and white Marlboro livery. I prefer this look to the current McLaren’s mirror finish and Vodafone livery.

The MP4/4 is now a regular at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and is considered one of the all time F1 greats.

For me, it could be the greatest of them all. The lack of downforce and driver aids, combined with the insane power output are things that would never be allowed by the FIA today. The turbo era in Formula 1 is similar to Group B rallying. Both were times of no holds barred, where nothing was out of reach, in the pursuit of ultimate performance.

Videos courtesy of McLaren.