Monday, March 27, 2017

New F1 season, new Hamilton complaints, new arms race between the FIA and the engineers

Regular readers will know two things about me and F1. First, I love the sport no matter what it's detractors have to say. And second, I think Hamilton is quick to blame everyone and everything but himself when stuff doesn't go his way. It's never his fault. It's the team, the pit crew, the chassis, the tyres, the suspension - and this time it's the floor of the car.
Could it be that he's just not the amazing driver everyone thinks he is?
Anyway the F1 season kicked off in Australia this weekend with some good racing, some interesting incidents and failures, and with Albert Park possibly being slapped with the mother of all FIA fines for letting the crowd on to the track while the cars were still present.
The cars look so much better this year than they've done in the last few years - lower, wider, better-looking aero, smarter wings, more doodads around the radiator intakes, and the raked front wing looks so much better. Of course this was yet another attempt by the FIA to slow the cars down, and as always happens, the drivers and teams have found ways to make the cars faster again.
As usual at the beginning of the season, the arms race between the engineers and the FIA is in full-swing. Right now it's the 'whale tail' T-wing up on top of the shark's fin behind the airbox. It's an "unregulated area" of the car from the FIA's point of view, so the aero guys instantly found a way to capitalize on that.
I expect that particular feature will be ruled out by the second or third race, just like when Brawn Racing had their blown double-diffuser a few years back.
It will be fun to see how the technical regulations change during the season. It'll be fun to watch everyone complain about Verstappen's blocking (because - you know - he's a race driver). And it'll be fun to play the Hamilton drinking game where you drink every time he complains.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tesla Model S autopilot crashes. Again.

I'll just leave this here. A Tesla model S, a couple of weeks ago outside Dallas. A lane-shift comes up, the autopilot doesn't see it and slams into the bright yellow barrier. Airbags deployed, a lot of smoke, car comes to a total stop. The insurance company wrote it off. This is another case of autopilot missing a really obvious obstruction or change of circumstance. Not only did it not alert the driver (who should have been paying attention anyway) but it did absolutely nothing to avoid the barrier. Never slowed down, never steered.

But tell me again how accidents will become a thing of the past with drone cars ....

The exploded left-front wheel, left-side damage and all the detonated airbags:

The full sad, sorry story is over at Reddit for everyone to enjoy: My Tesla hit a barrier while I was on autopilot

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to ACTUALLY drive in the snow

After the last couple of weeks of how not to drive in the snow, this week a short primer on what you should be doing. This is true for snow, ice and wet weather, but also holds true for dry roads.
It's simple: let your tyres do one thing at once and you'll be fine.
Brake in a straight line, then let off the brakes and corner, then as you're leaving the corner, begin to accelerate.
This doesn't seem too complicated but I'd wager 95% of drivers don't understand this. You see if you brake and turn at the same time, you're asking the tyres to do two things instead of one. The forces on the contact patch become divided between the braking force and the cornering force, and both become compromised. You can't brake as efficiently and you can't turn as efficiently.
The same is true for accelerating out of a corner - if you plant the right pedal half way through the corner, again you've compromised the tyre's ability to do its job.
This is why ABS anti-lock brakes exist. In the good old days, people would lock up the brakes and try to steer. Once the wheels have locked, the tyres are compromised and they're not even gripping properly for braking. Turning the wheel does nothing at this point. ABS prevents that by allowing the wheels to keep turning meaning more of a chance of the braking force being able to slow you down and more of a chance of a cornering force allowing you to turn. It's compromised because you're braking and turning at the same time, but it's better than nothing.
This whole principle is why - if you start to get out of control in a corner - any corner in any condition - the last thing you should do is touch the brakes. Once a car starts to skid, the contact patch has been compromised and if you hit the brakes, you're going to destroy any last chance of the tyre gripping. Take your foot off the throttle gently and steer into the skid until you feel grip again. ONLY once you have grip should you be using the brakes.
So to snow, ice and wet weather : when you come to a corner, brake in a straight line. If it's snowing or icy you should have snow tyres on which means you'll be able to control your car slowing down in a straight line. Once you're down to a decent speed, let off the brakes and turn into the corner smoothly. If you've done it right, there will be no side-slip and no drama.
Driving in snow is not inherently dangerous - it's drivers who don't know what they're doing that make it dangerous. Drivers with summer tyres, bald tyres, drivers who are texting, reading, eating, screaming at their kids. If driving in snow was somehow dangerous and accident-ridden, then countries like Sweden, Norway and Greenland would have the highest accident rates in the world. But because they train their drivers to drive in the snow, they actually have some of the lowest accident rates in the world - much lower than the US for example. Using road fatalities per 100,000 head of population, the average annual rate for those countries is Sweden (2.8), Norway (3.8), Greenland (3.5) and America (10.6). Driving in snow is NOT dangerous if you know what you're doing.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How not to drive in the snow - part 2

Last week I showed you some special little snowflakes who had no clue how to drive around snow plows. This week I'm going to talk about the drivers who come out in the morning to find their car covered in snow or ice, and just drive off. Take a look at this guy - I took this photo last week at some traffic lights on the way into work:

The rear window is completely covered in snow, so he has no idea what is behind him. When I passed him, the side windows had not been scraped and the only part of his windscreen that was clear was the bit being swept by his wipers. This is so unbelievably dangerous. At this point this driver has zero rear or peripheral vision. It doesn't matter that the wing mirrors are clear - he couldn't see them because of the snow on the side windows. Sadly the police don't pay any attention to this sort of thing (unless he was doing 0.1mph over the speed limit in which case he'd become a career criminal in the eyes of the cops).
It takes literally seconds to clear your windows of snow. Buy a snow brush - they're less than a tenner - and keep it in the car. You can clear all six windows in 30 seconds. It will make exactly zero difference to when you get to where you're going, and you'll be able to see out of your car and potentially not kill someone else because of your reckless stupidity.
If it's icy instead of snowy, here's an idea - leave the house 5 minutes earlier so you can scrape the ice off the windows, and let the engine warm up so the heater blows warm air inside to help the ice outside. PLAN AHEAD. It's really not that difficult.
(Point to note: don't leave your car idling with the keys in it, unlocked, to warm up the engine. The chances of it getting stolen go up thousands of percent when you do something stupid like this. By all means warm the engine up to help melt the ice, but either sit in the car, or wait next to it. Yes it's cold, but you'll survive, you're not that delicate).

Monday, February 27, 2017

How not to drive in the snow - part 1

If you live anywhere where it snows, you'll be used to people driving like dicks because apparently it's just not "the thing to do" to learn how to drive in snow. So people go about their lives, on bald summer tyres, driving as if it was a lovely, dry, sunny day. Texting, doing their hair, eating their breakfast, reading books, surfing their snapchats and generally not giving two shits about anyone else. This is doubly true on snow days and more so around snow plows where people seem to lose their mind completely.
You'd think this would be common sense (but I guess there's nothing "common" about common sense any more): don't overtake snow plows. At the back they're spewing grit, sand, salt and chemicals that will rust your car before you get where you're going, and at the front there's a huge plow with a tidal wave of snow coming off it. In between there's 10 or more tons of angry truck.
Of course the texting, hair-drying, book-reading brigade are entirely oblivious to this with their "me first" attitude, meaning that stuff like this happens.
In the first video we have a typical Utah driver who barely knows what a car is let alone how to drive. Sadly they got away with a spin but happily they didn't kill anyone else in the process:

And then we have this special individual who decides to hip-check a snow plow with his trailer because he's going too fast and overtaking too close on a downhill, off-camber bend covered in ice (why the hell he wasn't in the inside lane I'll never know). Fortunately this plow driver survived but not before being subjected to a 100m sheer drop off the side of the canyon:

The message is pretty simple - leave the plow drivers to do their jobs. The road behind them will be clearer than the road in front. You're gaining absolutely nothing from trying to pass them.

Monday, February 20, 2017

If you're a nervous driver, perhaps you shouldn't be driving .....

I understand that there are people who don't like driving, otherwise why would we be rushing towards a soulless future of self-driving cars. But we're not there yet, and we won't be for decades. So my advice to you - if you're a nervous driver - is that maybe you shouldn't be driving.
Let me explain.
I live in Utah. We have mountains here. Lots of them. There are wide mountain passes - like I-80 which is a six-lane motorway. And narrow mountain passes, like Huntington Canyon, which is a single lane in each direction. It's sunny, and it rains, and it snows. These are all known facts around here. This makes it all that much harder to accept when I get on to one of the narrower roads, when I get stuck behind someone doing 20mph in a 50mph zone because they either don't like the curves, don't like how narrow the road is, or don't like the drop-offs either side.
Here's an idea - if you don't like driving on those sorts of roads, then DON'T. People that do this are a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road with them.
I'm talking about this today because this weekend I went up one of the narrower canyons to go skiing. The roads were wet but not snowy and I came across a tailback of cars and at the front was someone barely doing 15mph. You know they were going slow because not only were all the cars passing them on a double yellow line, the ski buses were also passing them. Going uphill.
When I finally got to the front, the guy driving was grabbing his steering wheel so hard that he literally had white knuckles. He was pale his eyes were forced wide open. He was absolutely terrified. But he kept going. He didn't do what a logical, sane person would have done which was pull over in any of the many, many, many places that are available to do so. He didn't turn around at any of the parking areas. No - he kept crawling up the road, pissing off everyone behind him so much that we were all passing him at speed on double yellow lines.
I've seen the same in California in the mountains. I've seen the same in England in the narrow hedge-lined roads in Cornwall. I've seen the same (albeit not very often) on the Autobahn in Germany.
Learn to figure out your driving weaknesses and either do something about them (courses, training), or don't drive on roads that expose you to the things you don't like. You'll be safer and everyone else will be safer.