The cars Karun would love to drive19th December 2013
For this month’s column, I was racking my brains trying to come up with a subject that I should write about, when it finally clicked – cars! Now, before you laugh about me stating the obvious, I’ve actually never sat down and thought about all the cars that I would love to drive until today, so this idea actually does make some sense.
People often ask me what car they should buy, or what I think about x, y or z road car. The reality is, I never really had a huge interest in road cars growing up and, even today, it’s only since I started racing in GTs and also doing some manufacturer work that I know the names of some of the cars being sold in the market. My passion has always been racers and therefore my bucket list of cars to drive is filled with famous track machines. I’ve set myself two rules of firstly not including any cars built since 2012 – that rules out some cars that are still in circulation which I genuinely hope to race myself – and secondly, cars that I've already driven.
So, here we go…
Williams FW11 and FW15C
My first two choices are the great Williams cars from 1987 and 1993 respectively. The 1987 British Grand Prix was the first ever race I watched on VHS, and it was the race won of course by Nigel Mansell after that tremendous battle with Nelson Piquet.
Powered by the superb V6 Honda turbo, the car had beautiful simple lines and was hugely successful in the hands of both drivers on their way to 1-2 in the championship. I spent a Eurostar train ride with Nigel talking about cars from that era and he talked about how the 1987 car was one of his favourites and I would love to experience that sort of turbo power.
The FW15C is probably the most technologically driven car ever produced with active suspension, traction control, ABS and launch control. Driven by my childhood idol Alain Prost, it was a very good-looking car before the era of aerodynamic flips and curves, and it was hugely effective along with the Renault V10 used to deliver Alain his fourth and most comfortable world championship.
I think that one of the best parts of our sport is the technological innovation and the genius people behind it. I would have loved to work with engineers like Adrian Newey, Paddy Lowe, Geoff Willis and, of course, Patrick Head who were all with Williams in that era.
The most successful car in F1 history – with 15 wins out of 16 races in 1988 – is just an icon of our sport. Who is responsible for the car is under debate, with both Steve Nichols and Gordon Murray staking their claim, but what isn’t up for debate is just how good the car was.
The low-line Honda V6 turbo was key along with a chassis that had the drivers in a very reclined position within a narrow cockpit, allowing the aerodynamic packaging around the monocoque and engine to be very effective.
Having the best two drivers of their generation in the team was certainly helpful, but in any case, a car which was so dominant would probably have won races with just about anyone half decent. I would absolutely love to experience a car that was so close to perfection.
For 1990, Ferrari had ex-McLaren men Alain Prost and Steve Nichols on board. The 641 was an evolution of the John Barnard car from the previous year, but the aerodynamic package was re-worked. The car, especially the semi-automatic gearbox which was revolutionary in 1989, was much more reliable and it allowed Prost to take the battle to Ayrton Senna all the way down to that famous collision in Suzuka.
This, in my opinion, is the most beautiful Formula 1 car of all time and was the last true championship challenger from Maranello before the Schumacher/Byrne/Brawn era.
Red Bull RB7
The 2011 Red Bull RB7 is the standout car of the current era of Formula 1. Using the blown diffuser to good effect and producing an incredible amount of downforce, the car finished on the podium at 18 out of the 19 races in the hands of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
It was the first car to win the championship in the new Pirelli era and, while the entire pitlane were often left to scratch their heads for answers on how to get the best out of the tyres, the RBR/Vettel winning machine took 11 victories on his way to the world championship. To be able to get that blown diffuser to work so effectively was fantastic and I think any driver would love to experience that kind of downforce.
My first memories of Le Mans are of seeing video tapes of the Rothmans Porsche 956 from the mid-1980s charging down the Mulsanne straight at night. That was when I decided that one day I must do this incredible race and it’s been every bit as incredible as I thought it would be then.
The 956 was a great-looking, hugely successful car and what was particularly impressive from Porsche’s point of view was that they had customer teams being able to win races. It was a real testament to the quality of the car and the people behind the project. To be able to experience power and grip like that in the dark at La Sarthe must be truly special.
The Gordon Murray car designed for the 1983 season appeared at a time when F1 design was still revolutionary, rather than evolutionary. The BT52 was the first car designed with in-race refueling in mind (although the team had done re-fueling stops in 1982, this was the first car designed with a smaller fuel tank on purpose).
Nelson Piquet was powered to his second world championship by BMW's small 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine that astonishingly produced an estimated 1500bhp in qualifying trim! I've driven some pretty powerful cars in my life, but I must admit I can't even comprehend what that sort of accelaration must be like.
The Lotus F1 cars in the 1960s and 70s were not known for being the safest cars in the world. Colin Chapman always pushed the boat out in terms of performance, which sometimes compromised the safety of the drivers, but the Lotus 49 was truly revolutionary.
The 49 was the first car to use the iconic Ford DFV engine. It was also the first time the engine was used as an integral part of the overall stiffness of the car by bolting it to the monocoque at one end and the gearbox and suspension at the other, something which is still common today.
The 49 was also the first to use aerodynamic wings in 1967 and to be involved in that whole process of chassis and aerodynamic development must have been fascinating. The car was raced by greats such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt amongst others from 1967 until 1970 and is a huge part of racing car history.
Outside of Formula 1 there are a handful of top-notch operations who you would say are at the very top of our sport. Penske is unquestionably one of them. I remember watching the red and white cars run at the forefront of Indycar racing through the glory years for the series in the 1990s.
The PC-23 was probably its most successful car winning 12 out of 16 races in 1994 and absolutely dominating the Indy 500. It wasn’t all plain sailing however – at Indy the PC-23 was powered by a very special Ilmor-Mercedes engine. The pushrod system engine was designed using a loophole in the regulations about stock-block engines. It produced nearly 1000bhp and caused massive uproar throughout the Indycar world but nearly 20 years later, it's a standout car from a truly outstanding race team.
Bentley Speed 8
The Le Mans winner from 2003 would look 100 per cent at home on the grid even today.
I still think that this is the most beautiful car to have ever won Le Mans. My former team-mate David Brabham who led Le Mans in the car, often tells me about how great it was to drive and while many people believed it was an Audi wrapped in different skin, the reality is that, apart from the engine, this was very much a Bentley project. Also by 2003, Tom Kristensen was already on his way to becoming a legend and the Speed 8 delivered TK his fifth win at La Sarthe as part of a 1-2 ahead of the Johnny Herbert/David Brabham/Mark Blundell car.