Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tilke to the Max

F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke has revealed that, with Bernie Ecclestone's blessing, his future designs will be "much more to the edge." Coming from Tilke, this has all the credibility of a pledge from Kim Jong-il to introduce a North Korean Freedom of Information Act.

Hermann continues to claim that his insipid portfolio of track designs are a consequence of the financial, geographical and safety constraints placed upon him. Whilst such constraints undoubtedly exist, people of genuine creativity always find ways to express their imagination, irrespective of the restrictions placed upon them. Yet, with the exception of Turn 8 at Istanbul, Tilke's work has been nothing but the output of a sterile, mechanistic, and utterly unoriginal mind.

So, for anyone such as Hermann, wishing to design a classic track for the very first time, here are some guidelines:

1) Don't design the circuit on a computer. Use your imagination, rather than selecting curves from the palette of geometrical arcs available in a piece of software.

2) Get involved with the selection of the land. Do not allow this to be presented to you as a fait accompli.

3) Select a piece of rolling countryside, with good drainage, good access, and some degree of forestation.

4) Allow the circuit design to be determined by the topography of the land rather than vice versa.

5) Use the natural contour, gradient and elevation of the land.

6) Introduce successive corners which swerve in alternating directions, i.e. esses. Make these esses tighten up or open out. For full effect, combine these esses with uphill or downhill gradients.

7) Introduce blind crests and blind apexes. Don't cut down trees.

8) Introduce corners with positive and negative cambers.

9) Don't use constant radius corners.

10) Introduce fast corners which can't quite be taken flat-out with the level of downforce prescribed by the current F1 Technical Working Group.

11) Introduce at least one point on the circuit where an F1 car will briefly take-off unless the driver has a confidence lift.

12) Don't try to pastiche corners from other classic circuits.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Proustian memory

I remark that Barry Sheene recently told me how much he admires Alain Prost, that, as well as being a wonderful driver in his day, Prost is also a thoroughly decent chap. "That's bullshit," snaps Brundle. "I was never a Prost fan. I didn't rate Prost as a person." (The Independent, 2nd August 2000).

Involuntary memory is a conception of human memory in which cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort...The term was coined by French author Marcel Proust. (Wikipedia, Involuntary Memory).

Why did you leave the Renault team at the end of 1983? "I knew that if the team lost the title that year, there'd be a witch-hunt in an attempt to find the people responsible. I was the ideal culprit, so I protected myself by getting in touch with McLaren. The team had just signed a contract with Porsche, and I had the opportunity to learn alongside a world champion [Niki Lauda]. I didn't hesitate for very long; it was just the right moment to try something new." (Alain Prost, Autosport, August 26th 2010).

Persistent rumours linked [Prost] with the pretty and charming wife of one of his superiors in Renault; the gossip columnists of France (with no more mercy than the tabloid press in England) pursued him to beyond and back. Alain denied the rumours, but to no effect; to me, he admitted he had been indiscreet. At the same time, John Watson, who had had a satisfactory but not earth-shaking season with Lauda at McLaren, was pushed by his agent to ask for a gigantic sum...and got the sack. That left a vacant seat at McLaren, a scandal at Renault (Alain said he walked out of his own accord, Renault said he had been 'dropped', and the truth is that Renault did a deal with McLaren) and Prost signed with Ron Dennis. (Keith Botsford, The Champions of Formula 1, p165).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

My Monza babe

My gorgeous, blonde Monza babe,
We met betwixt leafy wooden colonnade,
And forbidden, ran hand-in-hand, 'long secret path and russet glade.

Passing from howl and bark of modern V8 song,
'Cross ancient banking, suffuse with heroic, ghostly throng,
Into secluded, Sun-dappled, perfumed bower,
Far beyond sight of start-finish tower.

There, limbed 'tween stocking-top and shameless hem,
Inviting arc of Parabolica unveiled,
Golden locks dancing on ivory skin,
Unzipped Curva Grande exposed, replete with sin.

Locked together, one hundred nights elapse,
Across Europe we passionately plunder,
'til one fateful day by Clapham market stall,
Beneath cruel wheels of omnibus did she fall.

And now I lay sombre flowers by marble headstone grave
And shed silent tears for my gorgeous, blonde Monza babe.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hawking and God

"There's so much I don't know about astrophysics. I wish I read that book by that wheelchair guy." (Homer Simpson).

Good news for Anglican priests! Generally regarded as a metaphysically deluded collection of harmless buffoons, these men of God have today been press-ganged into various TV and radio studios across the country, and invited by unimaginative news editors to step through the familiar rhetorical choreography of the science vs. religion debate, in tango with an equally surprised, but delighted, collection of media-savvy physicists.

And the cause of this unholy ecclesiastical flood? Stephen Hawking's latest contribution to the philosophically ill-informed interpretation of science, and in particular his headline pronouncement in The Times that God did not create the universe. Coming in the same week as Tony Blair's revelation that he didn't like Gordon Brown, it seems that we are to be disabused of all our delusions in one fell swoop.

The Times are serialising Hawking's new book, The Grand Design (co-written presumably with Kevin McCloud), and in this momentous tome Hawking argues that the existence of the universe can be explained as a spontaneous creation from nothing, in accordance with known physics, and that this is why there is something rather than nothing. This claim is based upon an interpretation of some speculative quantum cosmology, and the interested reader is referred to a paper published a few years ago in Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, which critically analysed such theories and interpretations in detail.

The other 'news' is that Hawking appears to have abandoned the notion that there will actually be a theory of everything, yet at the same time he waxes lyrical about M-theory. This is slightly odd, because M-theory, the theory which was supposed to unify the various superstring theories, has still to be defined, fifteen years after it was first hypothesised. The philosopher of physics Craig Callendar picks up on this:

"I was surprised when the authors began to advocate M-theory. But it turns out they were unconventionally referring to the patchwork set of string theories as 'M-theory' too, in addition to the hypothetical unified theory about which they remain agnostic."

And herein lies the fundamental philosophical contradiction in Hawking's position. He seems to advocate what might be called an instrumentalistic approach to the philosophy of science. In other words, he thinks science is no more than a tool for generating reliable predictions, controlling the world, and organising observational and measurement data. Hawking doesn't believe that science actually represents the objective structure of the world; as such, this is an anti-realist position in the philosophy of science. Thus, we have Hawking's acceptance of a patchwork of different theories, in lieu of a single theory of everything.

However, if Hawking is arguing that science can solve fundamental metaphysical questions, such as the question of why there is something rather than nothing, then he needs to adopt a realist philosophy of science. Under an instrumentalistic approach, there's no reason to believe what any particular cosmological theory happens to say about the ontology of the early universe, for such theories are, ex hypothesi, merely tools for organising measurement data and making reliable predictions. If physics cannot capture the objective ontology of the world, then physics cannot derive metaphysical conclusions about the world.