The Big Price

As you probably know, 'Grand Prix', is French for 'Big Prize', today it should more correctly be known as the 'Big Price' ... In all of my (now considerable) lifetime, I have been a fan of Grand Prix, or more correctly, Formula 1 racing. Despite both of my parents' total disdain for the sport, and a complete lack of any form of transportation, I managed to attend my first of several British GP's at Silverstone in 1971. I paid for the ticket out of my 17 year old 'pocket money' and also managed to contribute to the 'petrol' cost for the ride down and back in a friend's Mini. My guess is that the complete trip probably cost in the order of 5 GBP or less, with admission probably 3 GBP. For my money we managed to negotiate the traffic jams and arrive (just) in time for the race, and then stand at the inside of Abbey curve while Jackie Stewart and the Tyrrell ran away from the field; finishing an easy winner from Ronnie Peterson's March and Emerson Fittipaldi's Lotus. For me the highlights of the race were a rare appearance of the Lotus 56B, 'wedge', turbine powered car (which only raced 3 times), with it's distinctive whine, and the thrilling, hair raising sound of the two works V12 Matra's passing by at full chat, the clear memory of which still gives me chills to this very day. As a side note, I have now seen the Lotus 56B twice in the last few years. It was displayed at the Goodwood festival of speed in 2012, the year that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Lotus. Then, this past week, I visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum, and there it was again, displayed in a special exhibition of turbine powered cars. It's one of those strange coincidences in life, only made a little more strange that in my working life I have spent the vast majority of the last thirty-five years around the aviation version of the engine that powered that car, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engine. Which, in a roundabout way brings me to the present. If we take that 3 GBP general admission of 1971 and double it a generous 3 times, we end up with 24 GBP, or roughly $40 in today's money and look at what that would buy you today at the upcoming US Grand Prix in Austin TX, just 200 miles down Interstate 35 from here. The answer, unfortunately, is nothing; lowest raceday general admission is more than $150 which, by my math, is 4 times the equivalent 1971 price. So, for my 4X money, is the value better? Well that's a matter of perspective, certainly the track is much safer and the amenities are streets above the porta-potties, dirt spectator banks, endless traffic jams, muddy car parks and marginal food of 1971 Slverstone. But is the racing any better, probably not, it's the history of Formula 1 to be dominated by the best car, with few exceptions, that turn races into processions. Access to the cars and drivers today is nonexistent, even if you could get into the paddock, for the average spectator; whereas in 1971 a paddock pass was a modest incremental price, drivers were open, friendly and willing to chat, you could walk up to and touch the cars. And if you were to look at the cost of decent seats today ... well, as they say, OMG, this is a wealthy person's privilege only ... Today, as much as I find the idea of the hybrid engines technically exciting, they will never, ever replace the visceral thrill, of the screaming sound, of a French V12 passing by in a blue flash at 180 mph. Try it for yourself ... just Google 'Matra V12 sound', and listen to that glorious noise ... So, come Sunday November 2nd, I'll be watching this race, not from the stands at the Circuit of the Americas, but from the comfort of my living room ...

Is there a silver (or BRG) lining?

The changes roll on ... So in July Tony Fernandes finally lost patience with his underperforming F1 team and sold it to a "a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors"; advised by erstwhile Jordan / Midland / Spyker / Force India team principal (and former dentist) Colin Kolles and fronted by F1 journeyman driver Christijan Albers. Given the hyper competitive world of F1 it is very early days and much too early to show much in the way of improvement over their dismal record this season, and the firing of a significant number of team staff almost immediately after the takeover will not help. The latter group have filed suit against the team for unfair dismissal and who knows where that will lead ... In the meantime Fernandes retains control of the Car company and cannot be particularly happy that the negative publicity surrounding the team will continue to be associated with Caterham itself due to the convoluted F1 rules which essentially eliminate name changes during the season. Speaking of Caterham, the new distributorship system is now in place which includes the change to selling only rolling chassis rather than kits. Prices for the new chassis have risen dramatically and I'm forced to admit that it looks to be a positive for me with respect to my investment. On the less positive side it does seem to me that it will deter those enthusiasts who wanted to save a little money and have the undoubted pleasure of knowing that they had assembled the car themselves. Caterham continue to announce new models including a Suzuki Hayabusa powered basic model that to some extent returns the car to it's simple roots, 175 HP, 11,500 RPM and very light. Quite where the company ends up in the future who knows. Can it meet Fernandes' expectations going forward, especially now that the much vaunted Renault deal has been terminated? Or will he decide to sell and devote all of his attention to his beloved airline and new toy, Queens Park Rangers? Only time will tell ...