Auto blogMon, 28 Oct 2013 10:01:00 EST
The smog around the Buddh International Circuit got so bad over the weekend that the FIA had to change the practice sessions. Then the soft tires that Pirelli brought to be the options were found to degrade so quickly that teams had to change their qualifying and race strategies. The only man it didn't seem to affect was - guess who? - Sebastian Vettel, who put his Infiniti Red Bull Racing on pole position.
Behind him came Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas, Mark Webber in the second Infiniti Red Bull and on medium tires, Felipe Massa in the first Ferrari, Kimi Räikkönen in the first Lotus, Nico Hülkenberg in the first Sauber, Fernando Alonso in the second Ferrari, and the McLaren duo of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button. The tire strategizing didn't work out for Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus, who didn't get out of Q1 after only running the medium compound tire and lined up 17th.
The Indian Grand Prix has been held twice and Vettel has led every single lap of both races. If nothing else, we knew there would be at least one new thing about this Indian Grand Prix: there'd be a lap not led by Vettel since he qualified on softs and would have to pit before Webber and Alonso who were both on mediums.
Remember when we reported the long-lost-but-found-again Lotus Esprit submarine used in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me had sold at auction in London for $966,560 (well, $863,000 plus a 12-percent buyer's premium)? At the time, the buyer's identity remained a mystery, but Jalopnik has reported and confirmed that the man with money to burn is none other than billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX. What's even more shocking (maybe not for Musk) is that he wants to install a Tesla electric powertrain in it and make it transform into a road-going car.
The story of the submersible Lotus' journey from movie star to prized possession of the eccentric Musk is remarkable. After filming ended in the '70s, the car was shipped to Long Island, NY and placed in a storage container that was paid in advance by the studio for 10 years. After the money ran out, the contents of the container were sold off Storage Wars-style in 1989 and won by an area couple. It was shown in public on occasion throughout the years, but its value remained a mystery until the gavel fell in London last month. While far from the most valuable Bond car to be auctioned off (that honor goes to the Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldfinger and Thunderball, which sold for $4.6 million at auction in 2010), the Lotus submarine is definitely the most unique.
Also worth noting is that the Lotus sub is more than just a prop. Without the aid of CGI, the film's producers needed an actual submarine that looked like a Lotus Esprit, and so they hired a company called Perry Oceanographic in Florida to build it and hired former US Navy Seal Don Griffin to pilot the sub during the film.
Japan's Suzuka circuit is a great track that all the drivers love, but it doesn't usually provide the most thrilling, head-to-head racing. Where it does excel, however, is with surprises and "What just happened there?!" moments, and this year it was no different.
It started with Mark Webber in his Infiniti Red Bull Racing out-qualifying his teammate Sebastian Vettel for the first time this year. They were followed closely by Lewis Hamilton in the first Mercedes-AMG Petronas, the still-solid Romain Grosjean again outdoing teammate Kimi Räikkönen, Felipe Massa racing for another seat in Formula One and putting his Ferrari in fifth, then Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes, Nico Hülkenberg in the first Sauber, Fernando Alonso in the second Ferrari, and Räikkönen continuing to do himself no favors by qualifying tenth.
For the second year in a row, the lights going out was the cue to start the first corner action...
The end of qualifying for the 2013 Korean Formula One Grand Prix left us with five pairs: two chassis each from Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Mercedes-AMG Petronas, Lotus, Ferrari and Sauber. Yes, Sauber. The last time the Swiss team had two drivers in the top ten was Japan last year, when Kamui Kobayashi converted the grid spot into a podium.
But let's start at the front of the top ten, where Sebastian Vettel put his Red Bull on pole for the 42nd time in his career. He was followed by Lewis Hamilton in second place by two-tenths of a second, Mark Webber in the second Infiniti Red Bull, and Romain Grosjean in the Lotus in fourth. Out-qualifying teammate Kimi Räikkönen again, the Finn would line up in tenth. Nico Rosberg put the second Mercedes in fifth, Fernando Alonso got the first Ferrari into sixth ahead of teammate Felipe Massa, while Nico Hülkenberg led with the first Sauber in eighth, teammate Esteban Gutiérrez showing the promise he was hired for (okay, and his money) in ninth. Except they'd all move up a place because Webber had to serve his ten-place grid penalty after getting his third reprimand of the season in Singapore. That would get Sergio Perez in his McLaren into tenth. Yes, McLaren needed a grid demotion ahead to make it into the top ten.
It was an entertaining top ten that no one would have expected. When the red lights went out, we were treated to one of the most entertaining races of the year - it was Gangnam Style at 300 kilometers per hour.
With the $966,560 sale ($863,000 plus a 12-percent buyer's premium) of the white 1977 Lotus Esprit S1 submarine used in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, we now know "the Roger Moore discount."
Recall that Sean Connery's silver 1964 Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 was sold by RM Auctions in London in 2010 for $4.6 million. Three years later, the same auction company in the same city has sold the aforementioned Lotus for just under $1 million.
An unscientific poll of those in the room showed that people preferred Sean Connery's Bond to Roger Moore's by a rate of four to one. And thus it translated into the bidding for their respective cars. No word on the identity of the buyer or his plans for what is, in fact, a working submarine.
Kimi Raikkonen, easily one of our favorite current drivers in Formula 1, may be making a move from Lotus to Ferrari, according to a Finnish tabloid called Ilta-Sanomat. Raikkonen, who won the driver's championship in 2007 with the Italian brand, is in high demand and is also rumored to have options on the table from Red Bull and his current team.
Of course, a move by Kimi to Ferrari means at least one of the Maranello-based outfit would need to find another ride. Driving ace Fernando Alonso has publicly voiced his displeasure with the Ferrari chassis, and rumors have the Spaniard considering a move to Red Bull to replace Mark Webber. Buckle up, folks, this Silly Season is shaping up to be bumpy...
Lotus is getting a shot in the arm courtesy of corporate parent DRB-Hicom, which has announced a 100-million pound ($152.3M USD at today's rates) investment in the Hethel, UK-based manufacturer. The troubled brand was also in the news last week, with DRB announcing a new, three-year plan that would see variants of existing models introduced.
The money will create 100 new jobs in Hethel, with 45 new engineers, 40 manufacturing operatives and 18 university grads joining the team. Lotus has already seen an uptick in sales this year, according to a Norfolk-based news site, with 40 to 45 cars being produced per week and 722 road cars and 45 race cars sold between January and May. Even sales in the UK have seen a big jump - Lotus only moved 70 units in 2012, but it's already sold 80 cars in the first half of 2013.
Better yet, Lotus is citing an increased demand for its cars around the globe as the motive behind the new hires. While still quite uncertain, Lotus looks like it might finally be on the right track.
Last year about 80 examples of the 2011 Lotus Evora S were recalled over an issue with the oil feed pipe. The same number of 2011 Evora S', but with different manufacture dates, are back in the recall box again for a very similar issue; this time it's the engine oil cooler hose that could rupture and spray oil either onto the rear wheels or a hot engine part. Neither of those cases is good, and the latter could potentially lead to a fire.
Lotus is working on a solution, so a recall date hasn't been announced. The bulletin below from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more information.
It took 1.5 years, but a DRB-Hicom managing director told Malaysia's Business Times that the company has "cleaned up" the situation at Lotus from its finances to its marketing and image. The clean-up job we're most interested in, the product portfolio, will be demonstrated by financial investment in a three-year program of "variants based on existing products - variants with improved technology, improved performance."
You'll notice mention of the word "variants" three times but no mention of the phrase "new models." We knew that with the death of the five-new-model turnaround plan dreamed up by ex-Lotus CEO Dany Bahar DRB-Hicom said there'd only be three distinct lines - which is the current number - but during Lotus' trouble-plagued 2012 it sold just 80 cars all year, and for a tense spell it really wasn't clear if DRB-Hicom would commit to even keeping Lotus alive, much less investing in it.
It's not clear how much is being put into in the three-year program of offshoot models like the 345-horsepower Exige S Roadster (pictured), but it might be fair to say this is where Lotus' revival really begins, and does so with baby steps. Autocar reports that DRB-Hicom has already put 100 million pounds into the English carmaker, and as its issues were worked through Lotus has sold almost as many cars in the first five months of this year as it did all of last. That has not only convinced the Malaysian minders to throw more money its way, but the UK's business secretary has also approved a 10-million-pound investment into Lotus through the Regional Growth Facility program.
Just like at Silverstone last weekend, the German Formula One Grand Prix started with Lewis Hamilton putting his Mercedes-AMG Petronas on pole. The only thing missing at the pointy end of the grid was his teammate Nico Rosberg, who lined up beside him in England but back in 11th in Germany because of a team error in qualifying. So instead it was Vettel in the first Infiniti Red Bull in second, his teammate Mark Webber in third, the Lotus duo of Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean.
Again, just like at Silverstone - and Canada - Daniel Ricciardo used his magic beans to impress with the Toro Rosso, lining up in sixth, followed by Felipe Massa in the first Ferrari, Fernando Alonso in the second. Jenson Button in the McLaren, Nico Hülkenberg finished up the top ten.
When the lights went green, it didn't take long for the race to become a black-and-blue affair...