The Don in full flow

September 2, 2008

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a small fortune is not in want of a wife, but is instead inclined to spend his money on idle entertainment, such as drinking or cricket. Or both. There is no better place to idle away such cost-effective moments than in the hamlet of Marsh Baldon, where in the summer months, the reassuring plunk of leather on willow can often be heard, when one sits outside the Seven Bells public house.

It is a sound that means nothing to men from foreign parts, but to an Englishman is as beloved as the laughter of his own children.

Marsh Baldon is an eccentric place. The cricket field is bisected by a road, which runs between pitch and pavilion, adding new dangers to the life of the outfielder. One must keep one’s eye not only on the ball, but also on the traffic.

Sitting with his picnic lunch The Mole wondered whether any batsmen had ever been run over on the walk to the crease.

It was a lovely sunny day in England, as rare this summer as a good Sage Derby, but The Mole found that he needed to use his Saturday to catch up with The Don, an academic he knows in Oxford, who helps out with strategic thinking. Knowing that The Don is a bit of a cricket fan, The Mole proposed a picnic and Mrs Batty was enlisted to create the perfect meal, which included one of her signature pork pies and even Scotch Eggs. There was carrot cake and even some chilled elderflower cordial.

The Mole was under strict orders from Mrs Mole to ensure that he had only one beer at The Mole Inn in nearby Toot Baldon.

The Don was delighted at the idea and as the two men watched the gentle pace of the game, they were able to discuss a little business, watch the cricket and appreciate the genius of Mrs Batty.

Occasionally a car would pass through the outfield, but no-one paid much attention.
“Perfect multi-tasking,” said The Mole.

“The problem that Formula 1 has is that unless it is raining the racing is not much good these days,” said The Don. “This chap Tilke has designed all these expensive race tracks but the parameters have changed. I think it is the fault of the technical regulations, notably the engine freeze. All the teams are reporting that they are getting diminishing returns from the wind tunnels and the cars are sporting all these horrid wings, buckets and fins, in an effort to find more downforce. The cars look like Christmas trees with too many dangly things.

“Freezing the engines has meant that the timesheets have become much tighter. A tenth of a second can mean the difference between sixth on the grid or 17th, which makes most of the teams seem really inconsistent and creates wrong impressions about how well a team is doing. The fact that we have seen odd results like a Honda or Nelson Piquet on the podium shows that any small disruption can make a difference. There is no longer any room for error. That is why the cars are so reliable.”

The Mole nodded.

“And the drivers cannot make the difference any more,” added The Don. “They want to overtake one another, but they cannot do it. I think it is great that we will be getting rid of downforce next year and I think KERS is terrific. This will create more overtaking and will also be useful technology for the car industry. That is good thinking. The next thing that needs to be done is to find technology to enable the cars to deal with aerodynamic disruption at the front of the car. I think it would be terrific to see active wings and turbulence sensors that can activate systems to change ride-heights. Add that to standard underbodies to stop all kinds of tricky flexing that teams are now using and I think we would see more racing. I do not think push-to-pass buttons will work because when you work it all out a driver gains more by using the KERS power in each corner than he would with a big burst of it on the straight. And anyway if the other guy has KERS power as well, the driver with the push-to-pass button would not be close enough to challenge.

It all made sense to The Mole.

“And I think that the engines must follow the car industry,” The Don went on. “They must be what the industry wants. No-one needs thumping great engines these days. They are heavy and wasteful. If the sport wants manufacturer money it needs to give them what they want, so they can sell more cars, lower their company-wide emissions, improve fuel efficiency and yet still be cost-effective. And if you look at the industry you can see a shift going on towards smaller turbocharged engines, operating with direct fuel injection systems and ethanol-gasoline mixtures. These can match the performance of the best hybrids, but at a fraction of the cost of development. The engines are smaller and lighter so the cars weigh less and thus require less fuel to move them. The direct injection improves fuel economy dramatically and the turbochargers use energy from the exhaust gases to produce more power. And the ethanol in the fuel helps to cool the engines and reduces the emissions. It is a very good solution. The European manufacturers need to reduce the fleet average CO2 emissions by 2012 to meet new European Union rules and this is the fastest way to do it. Small capacity turbo engines would also create a new challenge, better perceptions about the sport and would help create better racing because the engine freeze is not helping the racing. In addition if you have KERS and other such energy-recovery systems it is good for the sport.”

“Oh good shot!” said The Mole, as one of the batsmen hit a six, with a splendid hook. The two men applauded.

“I thought turbocharging was too expensive back in the 1980s,” said The Mole.

“Well, it was,” said The Don. “The development was running wild with material research, advanced fuels and major work on software. That is all standard these days or controlled by the rules, so the costs will not be as bad. These people are always going to spend money in order to win but if you can reduce the amount they can spend it is a good thing. They will go on spending on new technologies but if these have little effect then everyone has more chance.”

“What a perfect world,” said The Mole. “More elderflower cordial?”