Renault


I recently had an interesting trip up to Milton Keynes for a tour of Red Bull F1’s facility.  As you would expect given F1’s fondness for industrial espionage, security was tight. No cameras were allowed and all phones had their camera function disabled.  Our escorted tour initially took us around the design offices. These were open plan for all to enhance team working, though Messrs  Horner and Newey had their own huge offices. Presumably they don’t need to work in teams.. Interestingly there were three times as many aerodynamasists as there were other engineers.

Moving from area to area via touch sensitive security key pads we were constantly told about what a relaxed and friendly team Red Bull were compared to other teams. The demeanour of the people we met did not suggest that was necessarily the case. Sure, whilst the extreme dress down of the staff and the slight untidiness about the place would bring on palpitations in Ron Dennis, you get the impression that beneath the “hey, aren’t we fun” persona there is a degree of steely and ruthless determination. No bad thing in F1. You don’t win four consecutive F1 titles by being relaxed.

Formerly the home of Jaguar Racing and prior to that Stewart GP, Red Bull’s Milton Keynes HQ still accomodates people who worked for those teams, albeit in a facility now eight times bigger.

Unfortunately when we visited the race bays the current cars were out with only some reliveried older cars on show. I guess they didn’t want us to see the new aero screens shown this week at Sochi.

 

This vertically displayed show car highlights the new Red Bull matt paint finish. I tend to dislike matt paint finishes but it certainly seems to suit the Red Bulls.  Apparently Red Bull repaint the cars for each race to suit the expected climate and light conditions. That way the sponsors’ logos always look the same on TV wherever the cars are in the world and whether the race is a night race or day race. Great attention to detail.

 

 

The vast trophy cabinet on display in the reception of Red Bull F1. The drivers are not allowed to keep their trophies and must hand them over to the team. Red Bull are also so paranoid about their IP they throw nothing away nor do they sell any of their old cars. 

 

The Red Bull trial visor. It looks okay, does not seem to interfere too much with access and if it increases safety surely a good idea?

Red Bull seem to be doing much better this year. Apparently the new Renault engine is putting out substantially more horsepower than last year. You will not, however,  see the name of the engine builder on the side of the Red Bulls, their place having been taken by the wings of Aston Martin.

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Last year there was much public outcry (see my past posts on the subject) when the organisers of the London to Brighton Run scrapped the traditional half way rest stop on Crawley High Street in favour of a closed to the public stop at a Honda garage on the outskirts of the town. (A Honda garage mind!  A company with no connection at all with the Run and the cars taking part. Maybe it would not have been so offensive if it had been a Peugeot, Renault or even Mercedes Benz garage).

The organisers argued that the facilities available on the High Street were inadequate for the maintenance needs and comfort of the competitors. Whilst that may have been correct it would surely have been possible to use the Honda garage for maintenance (if needed) but still have the rest stop on the atmospheric High Street?  In previous years the High Street was always packed with the public who came in their thousands to get a really good close look at the cars when they stopped. In fact the whole High Street took on a carnival atmosphere. The local radio station broadcast live from the side of the road, the local Scouts did a roaring trade in tea and bacon sandwiches and the RAF cadets sold the programmes.  The Run organisers forsook all of this for a stop on a garage forecourt where the public were excluded and were unable to see much at all.  The crews did, however, have access to a plush Harrods catering facility.. The Scouts had nowhere to sell their tea and bacon rolls and pretty soon the Cadets had noone to sell their programmes to as the few dispirited members of the public who did turn up did not stay for long.

One could not help but get the feeling the organisers of the Run had decided that the public of Crawley just did not matter. Honda presumably paid for the privilege of hosting the stop, unlike Crawley High Street. And no doubt Harrods did the same to supply the catering. The Scouts, collecting for charity, would I guess have been seen as unwelcome competition. Its not unreasonable to ask whether the organisers really needed the extra income Honda and Harrods brought.  The Run is always oversubscribed. If they had additional costs they could always have put the price up. Afteral even the cheapest of the veteran cars taking part cost over £60,000. Many are worth well into six figures. Running a veteran car is not for the impoverished.

With the Run sponsored by a “Private Bank”, and Harrods supplying the catering, the unfortunate impression created was of a bunch of plutocrats enjoying their wealth with no regard for the public. Clearly that was not the case and I am sure many of those taking part were as unhappy as the public at the axing of the old High Street stop.  It would, however, have been understandable if Crawley Borough Council had decided that the disruption to their town caused by the Run was no longer acceptable if it was not going to bring any benefits to the town.

Clearly the concerted criticism last year had some impact on the organisers of the Run as this year they announced that the Run would once again pass down the High Street. The Honda garage would still host the rest stop but cars would have to stop at a check point on the High Street. It was hoped some would choose to take their rest stop on the High Street too and space was set aside for them to do so.  To show commitment to the event the Mayor of Crawley very gamely sat in her wheel chair by the check point to greet the cars as they drove down the High Street. Sadly very few stopped to allow the public to get a close look at them. This was perhaps understandable as if a car had just stopped at Honda they would lose too much time stopping again so close by. In addition the marshals seemed to signal all approaching cars to stop at the Honda garage so many presumably thought they had no choice in the matter.  Still, the Scouts, Cadets and the public were back in force on the High Street, clearly to the delight of many of the passing crews.  Maybe next year more will stop on the High Street like in the past. Or maybe the organisers will finally appreciate that without public support even long running events like the London to Brighton Run will face an uncertain future.

Almost how it used to be. Veteran Cars return to Crawley High Street. George Hudson’s US built 1903 8hp Flint leads Malcolm Ginn’s powerful 24hp 1903 Darracq to the time check point.

A big thank you to Tam Large and Mike Sewell who stopped their 1900 Clement on the High Street for a coffee and cake break. Whether they forsook the Harrods hospitality at the Honda garage I don’t know but theirs was the only car to stop for a break on the High Street in the hour I spent there. As such theirs was the only car that the public had an opportunity to get a good look at during that time.

One of the oldest cars on the run, the 1897 cart wheel clad 6hp Panhard Et Levassor of Roy Tubby. They were making very good time at this point.

Dick Shepphard’s 1901 7hp Panhard Et Levassor stops at the check point closely followed by the Pownall / Dimbelebe 1901 4.5hp De Dion Bouton vis a vis. The Mayor of Crawley Chris Cheshire looks on from the left. She gamely sat out in the cold greeting all the cars as they came through the High Street.

 

Thomas Hill driving the Caister Castle Trust’s 1902 12hp Panhard Et Levassor. The chap in the suit in the back looks somewhat underdressed!

 

Robin Morrison has a full crew for his 10hp 1904 Cadillac

 

Douglas Pope’s 1 cylinder 3.5hp 1900 New Orleans. Despite the name, this little voiturette was a Belgian design made under licence in Orleans Road, Twickenham!

 

Allan White’s very purposeful looking twin cylinder 12hp Renault Tonneau

 

The Farley’s little 1902 5hp Peugeot

 

Another Renault, Ron Walker’s 7.5hp racing two seater. The Renault F1 jackets are a nice touch for what must be one of the world’s oldest racing cars. And Renault still race 115 years on – where will Red Bull be 115 years from now?

 

Mary Crofton piloting the family De Dion Bouton 1900 4.5hp vis a vis.

 

Brian Moore driving another handsome and powerful 16hp Panhard Et Levassor, this one from 1902.

 

Geoffrey Grime’s rare 10hp Gladiator. Made in France, 80% of the cars produced were sold in the UK.

 

One of the ubiquitous Curved Dash Oldsmobiles on the run. This is Adam Barber’s 1903 model. Rugged and reliable they are a great entry level veteran car.

 

Not quite Lewis Hamilton’s car! This is the 1898 3.5hp Benz Dogcart of Nigel Safe being driven by Gordon Cobbold.

 

Flying the flag (or two) for Old Blighty is Rob Aylott in his 1903 5hp Humberette

 

Its easy to forget Scotland has a long history of making cars. Long before the benighted Linwood Imps and Avengers, Argyll also built cars near Glasgow. This is the 1901 5hp Argyll of Michael Hilditch. As with Rootes 70 years later, Argyll found out the hard way that economic success did not always follow initial enthusiasm..

 

Dirk Docx in the 1904 6hp Siddeley of Andre Convents

 

A rare German 1901 4.5hp Adler vis a , this one belonging to John Hankin

 

Philip Oldman looks the part as he navigates his 1902 15hp Mors up the High Street. 4 cylinders and a steering wheel – its almost modern!

 

Where are the horses? Ron Mellowship’s 1898 5hp Bergmann

Matthew Pellett on a 1899 De Dion Bouton Tricycle. It was these little trikes that ignited the public’s interest in motor sport. The first circuit motor races held were races for these trikes.

A non motorised interloper. This Penny Farthing bike was not going from London to Brighton!

 

The excellent Porsche 919 Hybrids that triumphed at Le Mans this year. Will they be back next year?

Leaving aside the likely impact of Dieselgate on Wolfsburg and the wider German economy,  the crisis rocking VW Group is likely to have a significant impact on their motorsport programmes and aspirations.  Will the money still be there to fund Audi, Bentley and Porsche works teams? Particularly the hugely expensive Le Mans hybrid racers?  If the Audi Le Mans programme was designed to show the excellence of that company’s diesel and hybrid engineering technology, how can it possibly continue when it and its parent have been exposed as using the excellence of their engineering to cheat the public and the regulators?  And if Porsche and Audi pull out of WEC racing will other manufacturers do likewise?
Just before Dieselgate broke there was speculation in the motorsport press that VW were about to buy into Red Bull.  The deal would have made sense. Red Bull have fallen out with Renault and Mercedes will not supply them with engines. The thought of only being able to run obsolescent Ferrari engines next year was understandably unappealing. A deal with VW would have allowed Red Bull access to VW Group’s proven hybrid technology  – rebranding as Red Bull Audi would have been a small price to pay.  Such a deal is now surely dead in the water. There will be no money to spare at VW Group for a luxury like a Formula 1 team.  And without such a deal will we see Red Bull and Toro Rosso on next year’s grid? I think there is a real risk that we will not.

One of the benefits of booking your Silverstone GP tickets nearly a year in advance is the free opportunity to attend a pit walk on the Thursday before the Grand Prix. Yesterday the crowds were out in force but despite an initial queue nearly half a mile long, things progressed smoothly and everyone had a good chance to have alook in the team garages.


Grosjean’s Lotus looked neat – imagine what it looks like tonight, half full of gravel!


Jenson’s McLaren Honda was in pieces, semi shielded from the public by a convenient trolley and some body pods. You could almost smell the despair..


By contrast Vettel’s Ferrari looked splendidly complete and ready for action.


Similar clean efficiency at Williams. They should be strong this weekend.


Bit more work on Massa’s car though!


The chaps at Red Bull were preparing Ricciardo’s car to a thumping house music beat. The other teams worked in silence. Deathly silence over at McLaren..


Meanwhile Nico Rosberg’s crew practiced tyre changes to the delight of the crowd.


Hulkenberg’s Force India was undergoing a rebuild


Former British GP winner Johnny Herbert was able to share some race tips with young Will Stevens of Manor.


Meanwhile Pastor Maldonado was being interviewed by Spanish TV


Will Stevens sporting weight saving haircut

   

New AMG GT safety cars. Nice looking but lets hope we don’t see much of them all weekend.

My first visit to Bombay for nearly 20 years was always going to surprise me. Much has changed since I was last there. International brands are more prevalent, poverty is less overt and wealth is more ostentatious.  Such is the pace of change in this vast metropolis (one suburb, Anderi, has a population equivalent to that of Greater London) that in twenty years I expect it will look little different to the cities of Southern Europe.

What appeared to me to be the most striking change was in Bombay’s road transport. Twenty years ago you were likely to see only three types of car on the city’s roads.  Hindustan Motors Ambasadors dominated the government market and were favoured by those with big families and a traditional mindset.  Fiat Padminis dominated the taxi trade.  The more aspirational consumer favoured the little Maruti hatch back.

In today’s Bombay I saw only one Ambi in three days.  Most of the Marutis had vanished too. Only a few battered Padminis hung on in the taxi trade but they were clearly fighting a losing battle with newer uglier Suzukis. Bombay’s streets are now thronged with Renaults, Suzukis, Skodas, VWs, Audis and lots of Mercedes.  

Skoda, Suzuki, Hyundai .. this Bombay street scene could be anywhere

The once ubiquitous auto rickshaws are now restricted to the suburbs.

The vanishing Bombay Auto Rickshaw

 I passed Aston Martin and Porsche showrooms and saw Land Rover, Jaguar and BMW heavily advertised. There is a Lamborghini showroom and no doubt, somewhere, Ferrari are plying their trade too.  Sadly comparatively few Indian brand cars were apparent. As in China, it seems that if you are aspirational you want to drive a foreign brand car even if it is built locally.

Ubiquitous Suzuki Taxi – so much less classy than a Padmini

 

Bombay’s impressive 3.5 mile long Sea Link, connecting Bandra to Worli. One stretch of road in Bombay where you can stretch a car’s legs!

A rare car in Bombay, Perseus Bandrawalla’s immaculate BMW 330. The car previously belonged to cricketing ledgend Sachin Tendulkar

The Dacia Duster is built in numerous locations around the world, including in India at Madras. It is sold in India as the Renault Duster and, unlike its Dacia sister, is aimed at an aspirational rather than budget market. In Renault form for the India market it comes with full leather seats, aircon and lots of other “luxury” kit as standard. They should sell similar specified cars in Europe!

Whilst in Bombay I saw very few of the much maligned Tata Nano, but I did get to ride in two. Whilst not great to look at they are remarkably spacious , easily taking four adults in a level of comfort surprising for such a small car. The Nano’s 624cc two cylinder engine sounded harsh under load but proved more than adequate for city driving. The Nano supplied to our (Tata owned) hotel as a courtesy car had leather seats , aircon and other bells and whistles. It was a great little car and I I think it would sell well to cool urban dwellers in Europe, particularly if produced (as promised in the future) in electric form.

Last summer I drove a Tesla for an hour. The sudden, smooth acceleration was a revelation. It dispatched nought to 60 in about five seconds but it’s nought to 30 time was the quickest I’ve ever experienced in a the car. Apparently it was quicker to 30mph than a Ferrari Enzo. It certainly felt it.  The new four-wheel-drive Tesla can apparently reach 60 in about three seconds, similar to a Bugatti Veyron for a 10th of the price! I can’t wait to try one.

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Tesla – good looking and fast

 

Whilst the Nissan Leaf was nowhere near as quick as a Tesla it still felt very nippy up to 40mph. In urban driving the Leaf’s acceleration is probably more than adequate, certainly more than enough to embarrass a warm hatchback.

When I picked up the car it had been fully recharged and showed a maximum range of 78 miles. To drive it home to Surrey the quickest route was via the M25, a Journey of about 30 miles. I drove the car like I would any other. As such I did not have it in eco-mode and I had the climate control, wipers and headlights on. By the time I reached home the range remaining showed only 22 miles. I was not that worried as I intended to charge the car overnight but I was surprised at how quickly the battery had depleted.

The following day I found the car had not not charged at all. I thought I had made a mistake in fixing the charging cable, although everything had seemed correct at the time.  As I only had a short journey to do that day I didn’t bother trying to charge it further. However my short journey, with wipers, climate control and headlights, again drained the battery faster than I anticipated. The last couple of miles home were rather fraught as the car was showing zero mileage left on the remaining battery charge. Range anxiety became a reality.

When I tried to charge the car again that evening I found it would not take a charge. It would start charging for a short period and then would cut out. The next day I rang Nissan to see if they could help. They thought it could be a problem with the charging cable or potentially the car. They told me to ring Nissan Assist who would arrange for the RAC to come and look at the problem. The RAC, however, said they were not able to look at any problems with electric cars as they were not qualified to do so. All they could do was recover the car back to me Nissan. This they did so after only two days my test drive was over.

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So what have I learnt about electric cars?

Firstly, home charging with a three point domestic supply is not practical. You really need a fast charger and to get that in the UK you have to do battle with the incompetent British Gas if you intend to buy a Renault or Nissan. You also need offstreet parking.

Secondly, the range of current electric cars (except the Tesla) is simply not enough even for average suburban or urban driving. This is especially true when driving in winter. Even the range of a Tesla is hardly sufficient for winter driving of any more than 150 miles.

Thirdly, unlike a petrol or diesel car, if your electric car has a problem, no one will be able to fix it at the roadside. The best you will be able to hope for is being recovered to the manufacturer’s nearest garage.

On the positive side I enjoyed the smoothness, rapid power delivery, silence, lack of vibration and zero emissions of the electric motors. Once you have driven an electric car anything with a combustion engine feels like driving an antique. Electric cars are undoubtedly the future, just not yet.

I have , in the past, wondered what was the point of hybrid cars. I can now see the point. Electric cars are just not yet able to provide the worry free motoring that the public require. Maybe in the future people will look at hybrid cars as nothing more than a complex and expensive step towards electric cars, but for the time being they seem to offer the correct balance between usability and efficiency. I hope to try some hybrids soon.

My daily drive is a Jaguar XKR. Designed to cover long distances in comfort and at great speed, it is perhaps not so well suited to short suburban journeys to the station and shops. In fact despite a top speed of 175mph I was surprised to find that in the last year I have averaged less than 30mph. If I stripped out longer journeys of over 100 miles I imagine my average speed would decline still further. In addition, whilst not an avid environmentalist, even I am embarrassed by my average fuel consumption over the year of less than 17mpg.

Suitably ashamed of my environmental foot print I am considering buying a second car for use as my daily driver which would allow me to reserve the Jaguar for more long-distance travel. Whilst I could have look at a frugal diesel hatchback of some description, the thought of an electric car caught my imagination. As such, when I was contacted by a journalist working for the Honest John column of the Daily Telegraph to see if I would like to run a Renault Zoe electric car on a long-term test, I jumped at the chance.

Arrangements were made with Renault to deliver a Zoe but first they insisted I had a domestic fast charger being installed at my house. Apparently the Zoe charges so slowly from the mains using a three pin plug that Renault required each car taking part in the test to have access to a domestic fast charger. This is where my troubles began.

Renault and Nissan have contracted British Gas to install home fast chargers. Ironically seeing they are sister companies, the chargers are different for each company. I tried ringing British Gas to agree a date for them to install a charger but it proved almost impossible to get a date within a six week window. Renault interceded on my behalf and gave me a special number to ring to get an accelerated installation. I eventually agreed a date with British Gas and then waited in all day for them to turn up. They failed to do so and when I complained they could offer no excuses as to why they had missed the appointment. This happened twice and in the end, rather than waste any more time, I pulled out at the test. As such I’m afraid I cannot tell you whether the Renault Zoe is any good or not. What I can tell you is that British Gas are not up to the job of installing domestic chargers for Renault or Nissan. I can also tell you that presumably it is not very satisfactory to charge a Renault Zoe from a domestic supply. So if you are intending to buy a Renault Zoe, make sure that you have a home fast charger installed before your car is delivered.

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The Renault Zoe is a nice looking little car. Here is one doing something I could not manage due to the incompetence of British Gas