Expensive Aerodynamic Games

Those people paid to watch very highly paid drivers parade
around lap after lap and throw fits if anyone upsets the tedium.

I just watched the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix.  I used to be a huge Schumie fan and watched F1 religiously, but I’ve wandered away since I starting two wheeling.  It was an historic race with Max Verstappen being the first Dutch driver and youngest ever driver to win a GP race, but it was tedious.  Sky Sports’ announcers tried to rev it up with one of the few attempted passes, which was then followed up by Sebastien Vettel complaining about an attempted pass.  Daniel Ricardo, the driver who attempted the pass said after the race, “I know no one tries to pass any more in Formula One, but I did, and it didn’t work.”

When you’re working the air around a car that hard,you make
a lot of turbulence, which makes it hard to pass.  If you clip
another car with wings on it like this, you’ve probably just
done a million dollars in carbon fibre damage.  No wonder

they all drive around worried at being passed.

Having not seen a grand prix in a few years, I was surprised at how complex the wings have become.  The new normal isn’t a front chin wing and a rear spoiler, it’s layers upon layers of carbon fibre.  Thanks to complex 3d modelling the wings now consider wind flowing over them in all dimensions, so the wings have become these origami type pieces of industrial art.  You can only imagine what it costs when one gets clipped by a wheel.

The upside of all this aerodynamic black magic are cars that can corner like they’re on rails because they have tons of carefully managed air pushing them into the pavement.  The downside is all that down-force creates huge turbulence, making passing next to impossible.  MotoGP doesn’t produce passing stats, but based on any criteria I can imagine passing is orders of magnitude greater in MotoGP.

MotoGP has played with aerodynamics before, but because motorcycles change their angle of attack (they lean) when they corner, it isn’t a relatively static shape that is always facing the oncoming wind blast.  As a result the benefits of consistent down-force while cornering aren’t there for motorbike wings, but that isn’t stopping MotoGP from pushing deep into it this season.

The vestigial wings on MotoGP bikes don’t do much to glue the bike to the ground in corners (the main purpose of F1 wings), but they do provide some stability while under acceleration (keeping the front wheel from rising).  Turning a wing sideways makes it fairly useless, so acceleration is the only place it’s facing the wind properly.  Even with these modest wings, riders are complaining that the amount of turbulence coming off machines has increased, making passing more difficult.  Between that and worries about wings clipping people in an off, there are obvious dynamic concerns around winglets.

Another problem with aerodynamics is that they’re incredibly expensive.  You can only go so far with computer simulations before you wind up in a wind tunnel testing your designs, and wind tunnels aren’t cheap.  Developing aerodynamics mean many models and constant refinement.  That the end results aren’t that significant begs the question: why do it?

What I’d like to see is MotoGP ban wings.  The aerodynamic costs limit other manufacturers from considering entering the fray.  A strong multi-manufacturer competition is a big part of MotoGP’s success.  That they create turbulence that makes following bikes unstable at speed and reduce chances of passing is another strike against them.  The aesthetic argument that they turn the simplistically elegant racing motorbike into a warty toad also rings true; winglets aren’t pretty.

I love the high tech nature of Formula1, but aerodynamics have made the cars fantastically expensive with no real benefit beyond the race track.  Improvements to engines, transmissions and safety have a clear connection to the evolution of automobiles in general, but massive wings and tons of down force don’t.  Watching a film like Rush reminds me of a time when drivers drove.  Today’s races are more like a Moon shot, and the drivers astronauts.  In the last race Hamilton couldn’t compete because he couldn’t get his car to reboot, and Vettel is probably still upset that his carbon fibre wings might have been touched.  If I wanted to watch people who can’t work computers I’d go to work, I hardly want to watch it in an F1 race.  If I wanted to watch people worried about how perfect their cars looked, I’d go to a concour d’elegance.

A Formula 1 with physically smaller cars and reasonable down-force limits could still explore the technical boundaries of driving on four wheels while encouraging something that looks less like a parade lap and more like racing.  Without the wings dripping off them and huge turbulence, passing could become a part of an F1 race again, perhaps so much so that drivers don’t complain about a single attempted pass.  If F1 wanted to explore a more functional aspect of aerodynamics they should limit the massive wings but allow small, adaptive aerodynamics.  That’s something that would once again be relevant to the evolution of the automobile.

I can only hope MotoGP doesn’t follow F1 down this evolutionary dead end of aerodynamic inflation.  A bike festooned with wings wouldn’t just be ugly, it would be irrelevant.

Can you imagine if the wings knocked each other, or got locked together?  I like my bike racing frenetic, fast and side by side.


Four abreast heading into the first corner?  The beginning of another frantic pass-fest in MotoGP.

F1 overtaking stats

Sepang Echoes And A Word To My Newly Found Countryman

My lovely wife convinced me to do the Ancestry.com DNA test.  Being very British, the results that came back were a bit surprising.  Genetically speaking I’m the result of the fact that Europeans love to get to know each other intimately.

My people are from Norfolk on the east coast of the UK, so a strong Scandinavian influence was to be expected (damned vikings!), but the rest is interesting.  I had no idea we were part Irish (evidently everyone is), and the trace bits at the bottom are also cool.  Realizing I’m made up of all these different cultures feels good.

I other news, Marc Marquez just won the MotoGP championship in Motegi, Japan.  I started watching MotoGP during Marc’s first year in the championship and it was thrilling to watch this astonishing talent blossom even as I was getting acclimatized to motorcycle racing.  It was hard not to become a fan.  I remained a fan up until last year when Marc made a young man’s mistake.

If he’s fighting for a championship, Marc parrots words of respect. but only because he’s going to win it.  When he’s out of the running his arrogance comes through and it isn’t pretty.

I find it hard to support a guy who thinks he’s more important than the battle itself.  Motorcycle racing is Hemingway-esque in the demands it places on participants.  If you do it wrong it will kill you.  When doing something that potentially lethal well you need more than quick reflexes and arrogance.  The world is full of fast, dead motorcycle riders.  Motogp, being the very pinnacle of motorcycle riding, should present professionals who respect the dangers of the championship they are chasing.  What Marc did last year in Sepang suggests that he thinks himself superior to others who face the same peril.  A rider who thinks he can dictate the outcome of a championship he can’t win is not only arrogant, but dangerous.

If you’re going to stare death in the face with only your reflexes to save you, you should approach your work with a degree of respect and humility.  I just finished the Australian GP, and watched Marc toss his Honda into the countryside while leading.  He’s far from perfect, though still no doubt a once in a generation talent.  I’d like to be a fan again, but not if he’s going to disrespect the brave thing these riders are attempting.

Now that I’m 2% Spanish and we’re coming up on the anniversary of Sepang, I want to say something to my countryman: 

“Marc, it’s not your place to dictate the outcome of a championship for anyone but yourself, and there’s something to be said for apologizing.  I want to be a fan, but unless you’re going to respect the battle you’ll never be more than an ego with quick reflexes.  

One day, as you get older and slower, you’ll be tempted to apologize for what happened in 2015, but when someone irrelevant tries to apologize in order to remain relevant it’s just another expression of arrogance.  Now that you’ve got another championship, and as MotoGP heads to Sepang again, it’s time to take on another dimension as champion and speak for the championship itself.  Perhaps you can direct other misguided young men away from disrespecting the thing you’re all fighting for.  We’d all thank you for it.”

Commitment to your craft means more than just making time on the track.
I wonder how a championship feels when you’ve just spent a year diminishing it.

Bike Bucket List: Ironbutt Glory & MotoGP photography redux

almost 1600 miles diagonally across North America.
My motorcycle bucket list includes earning the Ironbutt basics.  The first two rides are the Saddlesore (1000 miles in 24 hours) and the Bunburner (1500 miles in 36 hours).  The Austin MotoGP race happens to be just over fifteen hundred miles away, making it an ideal target for these badges of long distance endurance riding.
I’m not sure that I’d ever do an Ironbutt again, but it’d be nice to have done it once.
The MotoGP race in Austin is on April 10th this year.  Leaving on a Tuesday night would get me there for the event.  Even with a (more) relaxed ride back, I’d still only be on the road for seven days – 3 of them at the GP.

I roughed out hotel stops based on ideal distances, but it would probably be significantly cheaper to pick a hotel chain and stay with them throughout.  My hotel of choice would be Hampton Inn, so a revision based on where I can stop at those might be in order.

After Indy got cancelled this is the only other race on my continent and so my only chance to ride to a race event.  It’d be nice to see the circus in action again this year and Austin, while much further away, offers a chance at Ironbutt glory!

Video of MotoGP practice through the esses at Indianapolis.

It’d be nice to go down there with some good camera kit and see what I can capture.  I did pretty well with my little Olympus last summer, but another go with more effect gear would net even better results.

Many of the images I took had to be photoshopped a bit to hide the poor resolution and light intake of my camera (creating a simplified painted look in Photoshop hides these weaknesses).

I’m also getting frustrated with the lack of lens availability with the Olympus I’ve got.  I’m thinking of going back to a superzoom on my next camera.  The Nikon P610 has enormous reach (4x what the Olympus telephoto can manage with similar light loss).  What would be even better would be a full 1″ sensor superzoom like the Pentax FZ1000, then I’d have a multipurpose camera with excellent low light ability – though they are three times the price of the smaller sensor superzooms.

I had a fixed lens superzoom a few years back and loved the flexibility, though it was one of the first electronic view finder cameras and lagged annoyingly.  It’s light intake wasn’t great either.  The new ones will benefit from much faster electronics and dramatically larger sensors letting more light in.

The Olympus PEN is an entry level mini-SLR.  I’ve enjoyed the size and convenience but the lenses are expensive and hard to find, and the kit lens has broken.  The body itself also broke under warranty when I first got it.  A second failure in three years has me thinking about moving on.  I’m looking for the simplicity and flexibility of a fixed lens superzoom again.  This would be especially handy when travelling on a bike where all the SLR clobber takes up too much space.

As a photographer I’ve always enjoyed being able to do more with less.  I’ve often seen people with suitcases of gear worth ten times mine take worse pictures.  As long as it can keep up with my eye and offer the control I need, a quality fixed lens superzoom will let me do that in spades.

Rough Planning Maps:

Rossi & Marquez: A MotoGP editorial

WTF are you doing?  Falling over is what…

I’ve been watching replays and reading reviews over the MotoGP incident that rocked the world last weekend.  I think I’ve resolved it in my mind.

Here is what I saw:  Marquez was making a point of staying close to Rossi.  They stayed within inches of each other lap after lap on two completely different machines, one of which was a quarter second quicker per lap and 7km/hr faster in qualifying.  Marc says he was managing tires, but Dani Pedrosa, on an identical bike with identical tires was half a mile up the road riding away to the race win.  Marc’s demonic Bridgestones that suddenly go off when he’s in front of Rossi and come back to him when he’s behind seem like what they are: an excuse.  Pedrosa’s identical tires on an identical bike weren’t so cursed.

Data is where the answer to this would be found.  These bikes are wired to the nines with sensors and record everything.  A detailed analysis of Marquez’s laps will show whether he was delaying inputs to stay with Rossi, but I don’t imagine Honda will be forthcoming with that information.

When Rossi ran wide after sitting up and coming off the gas (he was 4 seconds slower on the lap the incident happened), Marquez stayed right next to him, coming off the gas at the same time.  On the slow motion video below you can see him angle in to be right next to Rossi even though he’d obviously missed the corner.  Provoking an incident is what Marquez was trying to do.  At any point when Rossi sat up and slowed down Marquez could have ridden around the outside of him or slowed down and cut under him, but passing wasn’t what he was looking for.

I’m in a difficult situation with this.  I haven’t been watching MotoGP for very long.  My first full season was Marc’s near perfect one, and I’m a fan, but this kind of riding isn’t worthy of him.  I’m not paying to see him playing mind games with people.  If I wanted to see that I’d watch politicians.  I’m paying to see him ride the fucking motorbike like no one else can.

At 0.25 seconds a lap, Marquez should have been seconds ahead of Rossi by lap 7.
His 7 km/hr straight line speed should have had them no where near each other in the last part of the track.

Marquez is playing a game that goes well beyond Rossi.  There is no one in MotoGP who would be angrier with the idea that Marquez handed him the title than Jorge Lorenzo.  Rossi only has a season or two left in him, but Lorenzo could be racing well into Marquez’ career, Lorenzo is an ongoing threat to Marquez.  Conspiracy theory makes this look like Rossi is the target, but he’s a bit player in a longer game.  Marquez is playing on nationalism (both he and Lorenzo are Spanish) while diminishing Jorge’s championship.  Jorge Lorenzo, 2015 world champion (thanks to Marquez) is going to piss off Jorge to no end.  Lorenzo doesn’t just not know of any ‘Spanish plan‘ to derail the legendary Italian’s chance at a tenth world title, he’d be actively against it.

If you’ve got a kid antagonizing another kid in the playground, and the kid being antagonized suddenly lashes out, you don’t just penalize the retaliator.  The kid doing the antagonizing is playing silly buggers and getting a smack in the face is what he can expect.  The antagonized kid should have just walked away, but sometimes that isn’t possible, especially when emotions are heightened.  Running to race direction the moment he went down after dogging Rossi for lap after lap makes Marquez look like whiner.  I’d have had much more respect if he’d taken it on the chin and then laughed instead of seeking legal advice.

Actually, I’d have liked to have seen Rossi wave Marquez by and let him get a couple of seconds ahead.  I imagine Marquez would suddenly have had brake/tire problems again and they would have been side by side once more a few laps later, only making the whole thing look even more obvious; Marquez was committed to an entanglement with Rossi.  That Rossi got played is bothersome.  That Marquez, after playing silly buggers, then rushes into the pit to lodge a formal complaint is worthy of a thick ear.  If you’re going to antagonize someone expect some beats… or, you know, just ride the damn bike!