On the Road... with Ed Foster
Carlin - Crack British team gears up for GP2
Trevor Carlin's squad is ready to take its winning formula to F1's feeder series
It makes for impressive reading: 187 race wins in 11 years in five different series, 30 of which came this year in two championships in the shape of British Formula 3 and the World Series by Renault. You can imagine my amusement when Trevor Carlin, co-founder and current racing director of Carlin, comments that it's "more of a can of lager team than a champagne team". A 'can of lager team' this may be, but it's the most successful in F3 history and one that will soon be competing in GP2.
When you arrive at Carlin it's not easy to picture such success coming from the small workshop in Aldershot. But once you walk in and climb the narrow staircase, flanked by photos of past drivers, you emerge into the main office — a room that has every single trophy the team has won on shelves on its walls.
These walls are overflowing with silverware and out of the corner of my eye I spot another 20-odd trophies on an extended desk. "After Narain Karthikeyan won his first race for us [the 1999 F3 Madras Grand Prix] he came into the office and put the trophy on my desk," explains Trevor. "Pretty soon another arrived, and we didn't get round to removing them. Now we always keep the current season's trophies on the desk." It's either that or there is physically no more space for them on the walls.
Recently things have been changing at Carlin. In November 2009 it was bought by Capsicum Motorsport Ltd, a company founded by Grahame Chilton, father of racers Max and Tom. "Before Grahame came on board we were a privately-funded small team and we had to do everything from our income," Trevor tells me as we sit down in a meeting room, also covered in silverware. "We grew very quickly, perhaps too quickly in hindsight, and we had a bit of bad debt. I spoke to Grahame 18 months ago and asked him for some advice and he liked what he saw, came on board and is now the majority shareholder in the team.
"What I want to do is go motor racing, win races and bring on young mechanics, engineers and drivers. That's the part I find interesting and exciting, and to me the business side is a necessary evil. I used to spend 80 per cent of my time worrying about the business and 20 per cent motor racing. Now it's the other way round and I'm really happy about that."
I ask him whether Carlin would have filed for a GP2 entry without new investment. "Absolutely not, and we wouldn't have even done GP3, we just wouldn't have had the funding."
This isn't the first time that Carlin has flirted with the Formula 1 feeder series as the company filed for — and was granted — an entry in 2004 for the 2005-07 programme. At that time, however, Trevor was working with Colin Kolles setting up the Midland F1 team. He didn't think it was sensible to be dabbling in GP2 as well and so let the entry go, putting all his eggs in the Midland basket — "those eggs got broken very quickly," he comments. Come 2008 and the next cycle of entries and the series didn't bring in any new teams, so 2011 is the first opportunity Carlin has had since '04 to take part.
Will Carlin be as successful in GP2 as it has been in F3 and the World Series? "I think we'd be dreaming if we expected to win the championship in the first year. Having said that, I'd be disappointed if we didn't finish in the top five — that's my target, anything more will be a bonus. The time is right for us to come into the series, as aerodynamically it's a new car and the tyres are a complete unknown. Anybody could be quick."
What Carlin won't be able to do is use its wind tunnel which has proved so useful in F3, as that sort of testing is banned in both GP2 and GP3 (in which the team has contested select events). Even without this, though, Carlin should be right up there. As Trevor says: "People who know us will realise that we're going to do everything possible to be at the front."
Competing at the front is exactly what Carlin has been doing for the past 11 years and Trevor is adamant that the reason for the team's success is down to hard work. "When we started in 1999 we were a new team by name, but every person in the team was very experienced in F3. We had a great teacher in Bruce Carey, who was an Australian engineer, a salt of the earth type of guy. He taught us the basics of getting a race car built and set up properly, and all we've done is carry on with the basics, there's been no magic. In fact, it's more a case of not messing up rather than doing something magic. We can go to any circuit, certainly in F3, and be on the pace immediately. That gives the drivers confidence and they then drive a bit quicker.
"One of the big factors over the years — as well as the ex-Yamaha and Brabham facility which houses the wind tunnel and model, carbon and machine shops — is that we had a couple of ex-F1 guys come to work here. What they've done is brought systems and organisation into the team that I didn't know about. Our chief race engineer Mark Owen and chief designer David Brown have made our cars more consistent. The engineers do reports after every event, they have debriefs, meetings and everything's planned. Junior motor sport used to be seat-of-the-pants stuff — lick your finger, put it in the air and say 'right, put the new tyres on now'. It's far more scientific and disciplined now."
The company has recruited various new staff, taking the total number of employees up to 60, but Trevor is keen that the GP2 outfit doesn't just consist of these new recruits. "I wanted the GP2 team to be 'Carlin-ised', so that we get a nice mix," he explains. "You've got to remember that although you can't put the GP2 car in a wind tunnel, you can either put it together well or put it together really well. We've now got a fantastic team to do that."
With all these ingredients in place Carlin should be right on the pace. If it is, could F1 be the next step? "I love watching it, and I love the technical side, but I'd be totally out of my depth on the business side of things. For me, it's the love of motor racing, winning and being competitive that I enjoy. With the greatest will in the world, how on earth is someone like Carlin ever going to compete with McLaren? It's taken them 40 years and billions and billions of dollars, and to get to that level would take years. A couple of the teams at the back of the grid now — and I don't mean this disrespectfully — aren't going to move from there. I suggest they will potentially change hands on a yearly basis because that's the nature of the beast when you're at the bottom — you're always a target."
Talk soon moves on to the current F1 drivers, quite a few of whom passed through Carlin on their way to the top. In order, Nico Rosberg, Bruno Senna, Robert Kubica, Sebastien Buemi, Sebastian Vettel and Jaime Alguersuari all raced for Carlin, but it was Vettel that really impressed Trevor in 2006 and '07 when he drove in the World Series. I ask whether anyone coming through the ranks at the moment has the same qualities. "There are an awful lot of good drivers, every year someone fresh comes on the scene," says Trevor. "Obviously I'm going to be biased and talk about our drivers, but Jean-Eric Vergne [who won the British F3 Championship convincingly this year] is a real class act. He's fantastic and potentially one of the best we've ever had.
"At Magny-Cours he started fifth in the reverse grid race and overtook two cars on the grass at the first corner. There wasn't a gap there, but he had committed and he just kept going. He must have planned it, must have known it was possible after going down there to have a look. He was P3 at the first corner, at the second corner he was P2, two laps later he was P1 and it was just the sheer aggression that amazed me." If some of Carlin's other drivers are anything to go by Vergne is certainly one to watch.
Near the end of our chat, Trevor neatly sums up how Carlin operates: "We win the race, get packed up and get to the bar. They're traditional British motor sport values — we work hard, play hard, enjoy it and then the next day get cracking again because you're only as good as your last race." If that's the case then Carlin is very good and deserves to be known as 'the team that every young driver wants to race for'.
PlayStation 3 Formula 1 2010 Game
Realism is the aim of the game with the latest F1 offering - just ask the pros
The other day in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix a certain M Schumacher blocked my lap. It was a little surprising given how blatant it was, but I feel that I got my revenge when I ran clean into the back of him at Les Combes. It was, without doubt, a less accomplished manoeuvre than Mika Flakkinen pulled off at Spa in 2000...
This, of course, is the PlayStation 3 Formula 1 2010 game, but it turns out that I shouldn't have been surprised that Schumacher's on-track behaviour had manifested itself on my console. "Each driver has individual Artificial Intelligence characteristics," explains Andy Gray, communications manager for the game. "Lewis Hamilton is quite aggressive, so if he comes up behind you during a race you know he's going to have a go. If you're behind Schumacher and trying to put pressure on him, he won't give two s****."
The PlayStation game is the latest F1 offering and the first from Codemasters, the firm behind the Colin McRae rally series. "We were keen to reinvent the game and take it back to where it should be," says Gray.
The latest gaming version of the sport is certainly a quantum leap from what Sony produced in 2007. But graphics and technology do move forward, so how much did Codemasters actually have to do? Gray's eyes light up at the thought of educating a very amateur gamer. "Because the '07 game was done by another company we couldn't take anything from it. The first step was to talk to Formula One Management and the circuit owners who gave us all the CAD data for the tracks — what angle the corner's at, what the camber's like, what the elevation is between each corner and so on. From there we sent a photographer to each circuit who literally walked round the track and every two or three steps stopped and took a photo front, right, left and back. We then built an asset bank of thousands of photos and after that was added we could start thinking about adding crowds, flags, cranes and all the stuff that gives atmosphere. To give you an idea, to create a single track in game form would take one man a year."
Where this game really amazes is in the attention to detail, and that was partly thanks to Peugeot sports car driver Anthony Davidson, a self-confessed avid gamer who provided a racer's perspective on the cars and tracks.
"Obviously these cars aren't something you can just jump into like Gran Turismo 5 and we wanted to get it right," he tells me after I've spent three laps being lapped seven times. "I must have answered a hundred e-mail questions from Codemasters over the past two years. Some have been absolutely tiny details, like 'how fast does an F1 car go backwards'? Well, I don't know! I'd have to check with a team.
"I spent a whole day getting the on-board cockpit view as good as we could, but I also made sure that every detail of the circuits was right — kerbs, undulation, track surface changes, grip and colour — all those things you wouldn't know unless you'd driven them."
Such is the attention to detail that Davidson says the current drivers would have been keen to try the Korean track, a circuit none of them had been to before. "I guarantee you that every F1 driver would have got hold of a copy of the game and would have gone straight to Korea. They'd choose their own car and they'd learn exactly where the track goes. It's not about improving your lap time in the real car using a computer game like this, it's about learning just how long the straight is, how tight the next corner is. You can look at a track map all you want but you'll never replace the graphical element and getting into a rhythm. Even Korea is very accurate because it's based on CAD and GPS data. I used computer games before I went to Le Mans and I did it for every single track in 2004 [when he was Honda's third driver] before I did my Friday running. It really does help."
The PlayStation 3 F1 2010 game (available on Xbox) is very addictive because not only can you build a career, race at every track, in every car and give obnoxious replies to Radio 5 Live's David Croft and Holly Samos in interviews, but it's just so realistic compared to what's come before. The plan is to bring out a new F1 game every year, but I'd urge you to give this one a go. In the meantime, I'm off to start the Belgian GP from 12th after receiving a five-place grid penalty for punting off another driver...
Bloodhouse SCC comes to town
Model goes on show as team gets closer to 1000mph BID
The Bloodhouse SSC full-size model arrived on The Strand in London for a twoweek stay at Couffs Bank in October. It was an impressive sight, with taxi drivers passing it wide-eyed, no doubt wondering how such a colossal machine or any machine could do 1000mph.
More perceptive passers-by would have noticed that there has been a fundamental design change over the past 12 months. "Over the past two years we've had a real problem with the car's aerodynamics," explains chief engineer Mark Chapman. "When we did the first run of aerodynamics on the original design we had something like 11 tonnes of lift At the time the car weighed five and a half tonnes, so it was never going to be a crafty sight. Although we'll get the low-altitude air speed record anyway, we didn't really want Andy (Green) to achieve that by actually being off the ground.
"A year ago we swapped over the jet and rocket (which now sits underneath) and that made the car more stable. The old version was stable, but it needed all the canards and winglets to work really hard.
The car's aerodynamic shape will be frozen by Christmas and the chassis build will start next year. "The rear chassis is arriving about Easter time and by summer we should have the front end, which is a composite monocoque," says Chapman. "Hopefully we'll have a car ready for runway testing in January 2012. Realistically the summer of 2012 is the earliest we'll be affempting a Land Speed Record."
Another recent change is that the V12 Superleague engine which powered the oxidiser pump (taken from a 1960s nuclear missile, Blue Steel) has been replaced by a Cosworh CA2010 Formula 1 unit. Mounted back to front, the 750-plus bhp V8 will have to endure deceleration of 3g for 10 times as long as in an F1 car.
Some of the best news is how successful the project has been at encouraging young people to study engineering and science. "After Lord Leech's 2005 report on skills in the country (which stated that 60 per cent of aerospace industry workers were aged 40-60), people realised that something had to be done," Bloodhound SSC project director Richard Noble tells me. "Farnborough Airshow tried to encourage kids to offend in 2005, but only 500 turned up. This year we were asked to bring our schools programme, and 169 schools offended. We've now got 4000 schools on the programme and it just keeps growing. It puts us under enormous pressure because we have to produce more educational material, but we're happy to do that."
Because the Land Speed Record rules are fairly loose compared to the likes of F1, all the cars are very different. It's thanks to this that Bloodhound can make its data available to study. "We're making the technological and performance data live, as it happens," adds Noble.
There seems to be a more relaxed atmosphere in the Bloodhound team since the aero problems were fixed. The numbers suggest the car can hit 1000mph, and it's good to know the project is on track.