Wednesday, March 24, 2010

HOW LOTUS CAN WIN MALAYSIAN GP

Below is an article lifted from Malaysian Insider. Fun reading and of course these suggestions will never see the light of day, but still an interesting read to say the least.


As season openers go, Bahrain GP turned out to be the biggest yawn in recent F1 memory.[1]

A snoozefest in the baking hot Arabian desert, it was so spectacularly boring that even the camels performed synchronised spitting in protest.

On my part, I managed to grow a beard, knit a sweater and negotiated a cease-fire in the Middle East while watching the race.[2]

F1 is in danger becoming mind-numbingly pedestrian affair this season, rather than the pinnacle of motorsports that it is.

But that is for Bernie Ecclestone to figure out with a little help from his friends. My focus and main concern is the pace — or rather, the lack of it — of our very own Malaysian team, Lotus F1 Racing.

The team qualified five seconds off the pace and the race wasn’t much better, although the team insisted that they were happy to have reached their target as Kovalainen and Trulli finished the race in 15th and 17th positions respectively.[3]

Not exactly something to write home about but rather bizzarely, it was enough to prompt a celebration, and the team popped the bubbly in Sakhir.

I hate to spoil all the warm and fuzzy feeling but before we go all cigar-and-confetti, it should be noted that this is F1 and completing a race is the minimum expected from competing teams.

As Lord Browne of Madingley [4] famously observed,[5] there is a huge difference between blind optimism and denial, and positive PR spin cannot obscure the yawning chasm between Lotus and the front-runners.[6]

I admit that I am not particularly enamoured or impressed by the Lotus F1 venture. Having said that, I’d like to think that I am as patriotic as the next person, so I suppose I should help by coming up with some ideas which can help Lotus F1 team to boost its chances.

I have come up with a cunning plan to improve Lotus F1 performance and spare everyone from further embarrassment.

In fact, the strategies that I am going to outline below will allow the new incarnation of Team Lotus — which is a private venture and not using taxpayers’ money — will score its maiden victory at Sepang Circuit on April 4th, 2010.

This should give Lotus F1 — which is a private venture and not using taxpayers’ money — some semblance of respectability and silence the critics.

My humble suggestions are as follows:

Road blocks
Setting up road blocks is a skill that our authorities have perfected on Malaysian roads not only during festive seasons and musim-musim perayaan (Ops Sikap et al), but also during normal peak hours. If we can put this obstacle in place at Sepang Circuit, then it will be a more effective way to slow down the cars than, say, building more chicanes. This will allow Lotus Racing to catch up and — dare I say it — overtake the rest of the grid. First win of the season, here we come, baby!

Pot holes
Mr Ecclestone did mention last season that our Sepang facility looked a bit tired and shabby. Although we have the budget to spruce up the track,[7] don’t spend the money just yet and don’t fix the potholes.[8] Once the race starts, bring out our JKR guys and this should trigger a Safety Car [9] situation. Behind the pace car, everyone will travel at more or less the same pace, so we won’t be 5-6 seconds off the pace anymore. Problem solved.

Tolls
We can install temporary toll booths at the entry and exit of the pit lane. Teams will be asked to pay cash and you can imagine the stunning spectacle of Fernando Alonso fumbling over foreign coins to pay the right amount of toll charges, and cars queuing for their turn. For Lotus, of course we will equip the car with a state-of-the-art technology called “Smart TAG.” I know it doesn’t always work [10] but it is certainly faster. This should allow Lotus to gain a few precious seconds against its rivals.

The benefit of this intervention is limited because of the no- refuelling rule and most teams will probably make only one pit stop to change their tyres during the whole race. Therefore, we should consider introducing mandatory toll charges every 10 or 15 laps.

Strategic placements of sign boards
If you are driving at Sepang Circuit, you will see two types of signboards along the 5.543km track viz. (a) the advertisement by sponsors, and (b) the 200-100-50 signages which indicate the distance to the next turn and, by extension, your braking point.[11] I would suggest that we replace these signboards with the confusing ones we normally have on our roads in Klang Valley. For instance, we know that if we were to follow a signboard that says ‘Damansara’, we either promptly end up in Hulu Langat or arrive in Damansara three days later.

We should install something similar at Sepang Circuit to confuse the drivers and they will probably end up in Dengkil or Senawang instead of finishing the race. Alternatively, we can also replace the advertising boards with photos of grinning politicians wishing the rakyat Selamat Hari Raya/Gong Xi Fa Cai/Happy Deepavali.

Teams to use different fuels
We should insist on using RON97 for Lotus F1 and RON95 for the rest of the grid. If we believe half of the things that the self-proclaimed motorheads in Malaysia are saying about how RON97’s extra oomph and vroom, then Lotus F1 has a good chance of outpacing its rivals.

And just to spite everyone, RON97 will be available to Lotus F1 at the current subsidised rate of RM 2.05 while the subsidy elements in RON95 pricing will be removed completely. Now, THAT will hurt them financially.

Compulsory road tax for F1 cars
The teams must now apply for a special road tax, and we must make them believe that it’s easy to apply for one. All they have to do is go online, click a few icons, and Nor Fazura will miraculously appear infront of them, bearing the proper documentations. In reality, we will of course frustrate them by making them work through the bureaucracy juggernaught.

Imagine having team representatives ambil nombor and queueing, while the officers in charge disappear for their 3rd mid-morning teh tarik and return hours later to inform everyone that ‘fail hilang’. One more distraction for the teams [12] and I can already imagine Luca di Montezemolo [13] fuming over this matter.

Change the food in the paddock
Say goodbye to pasta and all the healthy options, and say hello to nasi lemak, nasi kandar, mee goreng mamak, chee chong fun and ewe char koay. And of course, the invigorating and all-pervasive teh tarik. It will upset the diet of their drivers and they will not be able to perform at their optimum level.

Expect some comic moments as the likes of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton dashing for the toilets just before the race, no thanks to nasi kerabu with budu. That would make for excellent TV – a perfect antidote the somewhat boring race we’ve seen so far.[14] Trulli and Kovalainen on the other hand will have no such problem because they are Lotus drivers and Lotus is a Malaysian team (not British, mind). They both would have been properly conditioned by now and can withstand the rigours of nasi kandar ayam madu kuah campur and a helping (or two) of teh tarik.

Teams to travel on Air Asia
This is part of our two-pronged strategy (see also ‘Hotels’ below) to make it difficult for all teams right from the start. Seduce them with cheap Air Asia fares, which means (a) everyone can fly (b) everyone has to cope with the usual delays, and (b) everyone has to use the LCCT, which has rubbish facilities, really. The teams should also be asked to get their own taxis from LCCT to their hotels (good luck with that). A frustrating time is guaranteed for all.

Hotels
To compound their misery, put the teams in hotels that are far from the circuit. Traditionally, teams stay at KLIA Pan Pacific and Putrajaya Marriott which are a short drive to Sepang Circuit. The trick is to put all the teams (except Lotus F1, which can remain in either hotel mentioned earlier) in hotels closer to KL so that the traffic jam will absolutely kill them. There are plenty of 5-star hotels right smack in the middle of KL, and there’s no shortage of rumah tumpangan. But of course, the best option is Tune Hotel (ahem), which is on Jalan TAR, where the traffic can be a bit of a nightmare. There’s an LRT station nearby, but you know how LRT works in this country. Again, the key is to frustrate the teams.

Use outriders
If all of the above measures fail to curtail the speed of the rivals relative to Lotus’ own tortoise-sque pace, then we have one more ace up our sleeves: use of outriders, courtesy of Polis DiRaja Malaysia. Instead of wasting their time weaving in and out of heavy traffic in KL to make sure VIPs/VIPs-wannabe can breeze through in their non-JPJ-approved tinted Mercedes, they will be better utilised to provide police escort to Lotus F1 team. All other cars on the grid will be forced to slow down and give way, so Lotus cars can gently move themselves up towards the sharper end of the grid, all the way to the chequered flag.

Now, you will have noticed that most of the above measures will require some fairly minor tweaking of existing regulations, and possibly renegotiations of commercial rights owner, Lord Bernie.

You may argue that there’s no way on earth that the FIA is going to allow this to happen, but here comes the clever bit. We can — in fact, will — use our very own secret weapon within FIA: Datuk Seri Jean Todt, the current FIA President.

We can get him to allow special dispensation and bend the rules a bit only for the Malaysian Grand Prix. I mean, if he cannot help us with this, then what for we gave him Datukship? He thinks can simply get, issit? How can. We already scratched his back, so now is time for him to scratch our bottoms.

To sweeten the deal, maybe we can offer him to buy one of the islands off Terengganu waters at a heavily discounted price.[15] Alternatively, the price of land and houses in Selangor is pretty good too.

According to an ex-government servant who shall remain nameless, you can actually purchase a 50,000 sq ft house/mansion/estate for as little as RM3.5 million, which is probably how much Jean Todt makes in 20 minutes for looking all serious in the F1 paddock and occasionally rubbing his belly. An amazing deal and a win-win situation, I’d say.

As for Bernie Ecclestone, we just have to work things out with the F1 chief and negotiate some kind of commercial deals to get him to support the regulation change. Presumably, everything has a price, and Tony Fernandes is a businessman extraordinaire and an excellent deal-maker.

As things stand, we have one week before the race in Melbourne and two weeks before the F1 circus comes to town. We should start putting the measures I just suggested in place. We don’t have a lot of time but everything can be achieved if we do our work with unwavering patriotism.

If the suggested strategy actually works, I am confident that Lotus F1 Fan Club membership will swell beyond its current tally of three shareholders, an electrician, a slightly deaf Gal├ípagos giant tortoise (Geochelone nigra)[16] and a Nepalese goat (Nepalianus Capra hircus).[17] But if it doesn’t work, we can remain optimistic and grin like a bunch of idiots, and our prospects will be immeasurably enhanced.[18]

If Lotus F1 actually wins a race, there will be another interesting thing to observe. The Italian/Finland national anthem will be played first [19] followed by the constructor’s national anthem. Now, considering that Lotus is a Malaysian entry, the national anthem that will be played is ‘Negaraku’ and not ‘God Save The Queen’.[20]

I am sure Malaysians will be proud and swell with pride, but I wonder how the British public will react. After all, Lotus F1 is really part of British racing heritage and they are mighty proud of it. And we already promised to protect the legacy left behind by the legendary Colin Chapman.

But that’s a different discussion for another day in a different column.

In the meantime, all together now: Malaysia Boleh!

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Notes
[1] It really was worse than watching paint dry.
[2] OK, I’m exaggerating, but it was excruciatingly bland.
[3] You can argue that they didn’t actually finish the race because by the time Spanish Matador, Fandango Alonso took the chequered flag, Kovalainen was two laps down. Trulli was three laps down and later stopped because of hydraulics problem. Technically, they were classified 15th and 17th.
[4] John Browne, former Group CEO of British Petroleum.
[5] Actually he did not. I just made this up.
[6] The team is fairly confident that things will improve when their new aerodynamics package is ready for Barcelona. But traditionally, everyone will have aero updates by the European season get under way. Lotus will have to hope they will take greater strides relative to other teams’ progress.
[7] Assuming we have some money allocated and it’s not being channelled to other pursuits.
[8] If there is none, I would suggest that we make some.
[9] It goes without saying that the Safety car will be a Proton instead of Mercedes. This is not a problem because Proton is an international car manufacturer just like Mercedes. The only difference is that the Marshals will be spending a bit more time struggling with the power window, which doesn’t always work.
[10] I said it’s hi-tech but I didn’t say anything about it being hi-fidelity.
[11] Typically installed after a long straight.
[12] Except for Lotus, whose paperwork will be sorted by a runner.
[13] Ferrari President.
[14] In Bahrain, it was sand, more sand and still more sand. How exciting can sand be?
[15] I’m assuming this can be legally done in Malaysia.
[16] The largest living tortoise, native to seven islands of the Gal├ípagos archipelago, which can weigh over 300 kilograms and measure 1.2 meters long. They have an estimated life expectancy of around 100–150 years, but populations have fallen dramatically due to hunting and the introduction of predators and grazers by humans since the 17th century. (Seriously, you’ve got to love the internet).
[17] Obviously I made this one up.
[18] Or we can all wear a uniform and get ready for transatlantic flight duties.
[19] Depending on either Jarno or Heikki who clinches P1.
[20] A really rocking song, right up the with United States of America’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner’, Italy’s ‘Il Canto degli Italiani’ (The Chant of the Italians), and France’s ‘La Marseillaise’ (The Song of Marseille).