This month we ran a competition called “Performance Reinvented”, in conjunction with Shell, giving three lucky winners the chance to do some performance driving with former F1 racer Gimmi Bruni, get into a proper F1 Simulator and to get a ride with Ferrari test driver Giancarlo Fisichella at the launch event of the new Shell V Power Nitro + fuel at London’s Battersea Power Station. We’ve already heard from Rich Gibbons.
Here are the other two guest blogs, from long time JA on F1 poster “Hero was Senna” (Carlo Carluccio) and Robin Middleton.
Guest Blog by “Hero was Senna”
When I’d originally seen the Performance Reinvented “Winners Announced” I practically leapt around the room.
My first thought had been, oh dear God, I’m going to embarrass myself on the simulator, I’m going to crash and everyone is going to laugh. I watched Alonso drive this around Singapore and then watched youtube videos of Fifth Gear trying one. Then it occurred to me, 1) I’m not a professional driver, 2) How many people have ever tried this technology, or had the privilege of sitting in the simulator? 3) How many people would love to say they had spun into a wall?
My second thought, and one that was causing me turmoil, was whether to take my race helmet. I designed it back in 1982, after my first ever GP, my father sprayed it when I began competing and I have used it for every motor-sport event that I have competed in.
Thursday 18th April
My guest, Roy and myself, left Maidstone and headed into South London. Inevitably, traffic built up the closer we got to Battersea Power Station. Maybe I’m giving my age away but when I first read the location, my immediate thought was Pink Floyd..
The satnav suggested 3 miles and ten minutes. Forty five minutes later we finally got to the security gate. I parked up and we walked past a couple of beautiful Maserati Quattroporte with sinister looking men inside, no doubt the chauffeurs for the celebrities present today.
By the entrance was an Ferrari Abarth 695. I knew these cars well as I used to sell Abarth at a dealership in London. We entered the Shell enclosure, and signed in at reception. From there we made our way to the main area where Jake Humphrey was being interviewed by a television crew and people sat around drinking coffee and tea. In the middle of the room was a Ferrari F10 decorated in the 2013 colour scheme. I took a few pictures as it rested behind corded barriers.
We were introduced to the Shell marketing director for the UK and Netherlands and he introduced Jake Humphrey as the compere for the event. A polished TV presenter, and a familiar voice from the last few years of presenting F1, he singled me out almost immediately, “there’s someone here who has brought his own helmet”. If I had felt inner turmoil before this, I was positively churning now. It was almost as though I had invited ridicule if I didn’t succeed! I was clutching my helmet and as Jake spoke, I remembered when my late father came to my first race. As I prepared for the race, he came over and wished me “Goodbye!” He was more nervous than me. He would never watch me race again.
The day would progress with half of us being shown the latest breakthrough by Shell chemists and the other half would be competing against the clock with Abarth cars before swapping over.
Our group stood in front of 3 highly intelligent chemists and the presentation explained the latest research that the combination of Ferrari and Shell had produced for road cars listing the significant breakthroughs in better performance and better reliability from just simply putting Shell V-Power Nitro + in your tank. Watching videos, actually looking at inlet valves and the differences that the fuel would make was fascinating. Even the diesel advancements were staggering. At the end we were assigned a computer, per 4 people, and told to juggle with different ingredients to increase the brake horsepower as a form of competition between the two groups of individuals.
Someone once told me, that if you speak with passion, you will captivate the audience, irrespective of the subject matter. Fuel is something that most of us never consider aside from complaints of it’s cost. Today has truly been an eye-opener.
From here, we were invited outside to the Abarth challenge. A massive screen with times and names of individual drivers was mounted above a timing area, 2 Abarths ticking over and with Gianmaria Bruni and Davide Rigon waiting patiently. If it had been a circuit to drive round, I would have felt a lot more confident, but they had set up the challenge of an auto-test. Something I could never really get my head round because it involved reversing!
Auto-testing is a pursuit where you navigate a car around cones and into and out of temporary garage enclosures. The course slalomed between 5 cones, to then return and drive into a garage space, before reversing into another space back at the start line.
I stood watching as the others took their turns in the little cars. Jake Humphrey had come out and I introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes. A really nice guy. I talked to Grace, Mary and Fiona of the events team, and finally jumped in the passenger seat of the Abarth next to Davide.
He started to explain in English about the course layout, and I asked, in Italian, if it would be easier to tell me in Italian. “You speak Italian?”
It seemed easy enough once he had gone through the course and it was my turn to take the wheel. I spoke my name into the camera that was filming the driver and we took off. There followed 2 practice runs before the third was timed. Through the cones as smoothly as I could, then massive understeer looping back to slot into the garage, engage reverse and get back to the start box as quickly as possible. My time was 23.0 dead with a few others still to run. Maybe it’s not politically correct but I wished them all bad luck, I wanted the Ferrari experience.
In the end, my time was beaten by Rich, another competition winner when he set his time of 22.8, but I was going to be in a 458.
We assembled back inside, with staff passing by with food. I chose a goat’s cheese and pear and another dish with beef and rice on it, all quite exquisite and a far cry from burgers burnt in catering caravans you normally find at circuits.
Jake took over the presentation at this point and read out the 2 prize winners, “in a time of 23 dead, we have Carlo Alberto..” I held up my hand and after his commenting about my helmet, he almost took a double take. Rich and I stood with Mr Humphrey and the drivers for a photo shoot. I asked him if he missed F1 and he replied massively.
We were introduced to Fisichella and made our way out to experience, heaven.
The 458 was sitting with it’s engine burbling as we approached and I took the opportunity to get in first. I opened the door with the little catch and settled myself into a Ferrari for the first time in my life. The seat enveloped me perfectly, in fact the only time anyone would experience that level of intimacy would be with their spouse!
“Piacere, sono Giancarlo.”
“Piacere, io sono Carlo Alberto”
A few exchanges from the events people and Fisichella apologised that it was only this small “pista” to take the Ferrari round.
I was filmed by a Shell TV crew after the run and they asked me questions of what the experience had been like, how did Fisi control the car, was it aggressive etc. I hope to watch it one day, as I think I came across as bumbling idiot. Thinking back, it was the engine that dominated everything. He revved it and the sound was everything I’d ever imagined a Ferrari engine to be, sat literally inches from my back. You could describe it as music, or a cacophony of sound, but the only way I can describe it, is a savage assault of the senses.
He accelerated hard into the temporary circuit, and immediately performed 2 donuts. Then once the smoke had cleared, he accelerated round the track and had it practically on oversteer throughout the 10 or so laps. I could hear the tyres protesting as they lost traction, I could feel the engine propelling us forwards and from about the 2nd lap, I could hear an alarm in the car sounding off periodically. When I looked across, Fisichella was caressing the steering wheel, hardly any input and despite my own video showing it as violent, the experience was surreal.
I had my friend take some photos later with me in the drivers seat, I absorbed every contour, every surface, every emotion and realised I need one of these.
The last part of this incredible day was the simulator. After the BBC had finished filming, we queued to have a go. I chatted to one of the guys running the program and found out he traveled all over the world with this. I’m definitely in the wrong job!
I climbed into the car, posed with my helmet on for a picture and just stared at the steering wheel with that iconic badge in the middle. The guy before me measured about 17ft so with my little legs, I had no hope. Thankfully, there were adjustments to be made, and with the pedals set up, I made my way out on to the Fiorano circuit.
I completed my first lap without spinning off, actually feeling downforce through a flat out corner and managing to stay on the black stuff.The accelerator is harsh, the brake pedal immovable, the gear paddles are surprisingly heavy to operate and the movement of the chassis as you drive, unsettling.
So unsettling, in fact, that as I started my second lap, and steered to go across the bridge, my head went completely and I spun out. With some regret, I said I couldn’t continue and I unclipped the steering wheel and staggered out. Motion sickness is the only way it can be described and apparently it affects a few people.
A storm hit shortly after, hail, heavy rain and strong winds. At one point, part of the structure gave way and pushed over a large speaker stand. At this point, a man with a walkie talkie instructed us all out and we moved to a permanent building adjacent to us. It seemed an apt time to be heading home.
This has been an enriching experience. I have fulfilled a dream I have had since I was 13 years old, of driving an F1 Ferrari. So what that it’s virtual? It is still a tool used by Ferrari for the development of the cars and drivers. This was a 2009 F1 Ferrari chassis.
I haven’t added to the legend in anyway. My name wont come up on the footnotes of their history but I have driven a wheel-less F1 Ferrari.
James, I would love to have met you at the event as the team said you usually attend, but obviously you were in Bahrain. I want to express my sincerest gratitude to yourself, Shell and Ferrari for this wonderful journey. I would also like to thank Grace, Mary, Fiona and the rest of the Edelman team who made the day truly memorable.
Performance Reinvented, by Robin Middleton
A car park outside the gothic looking Battersea Power Station was the setting, a gathering of journalists and bloggers, as Giancarlo Fisichella and Jake Humphrey supped espressos and talked about dark liquids, that being petrol not coffee.
Jake Humphrey is Shell’s V-Power Nitro + Ambassador and he introduced us to the day and to the man Fisichella, as we sat mesmerized by an F1 Ferrari standing subtly in the middle of the room.
Then it was out to the “track,” 2 two-tone (seriously 70s) Abarth 595’s sat ready and waiting for us pseudo race drivers (I say pseudo as one guy brought his own helmet, not that it was needed). @scarbsF1 was in my group and we chewed the fat over our potential abilities against the clock. Those 595s were sprightly little machines as they zipped (sort of) between the cones. Third place wasn’t too bad but I wasn’t going to get a trip round the parking lot with Fisi in the Ferrari, ne’er mind.
Then back to the dark liquid stuff. Three Shell Scientists in white coats (why the white coats, surely blue’s in this season?) told us how the Shell V-Power Nitro + pushes out more power than your normal dark brown liquid. We even played with the mixture to see how you can make more oomph from your petrol, as they do in F1.
So I learned that Shell V Power Nitro + dark smelly stuff we put in our car’ really does make them go quicker than basic dark smelly stuff, and that 99% of what they put into Alonso’s car is part of Shell V Power Nitro+, and that a Abarth 595 is a cracking little number.
Thanks to Shell and James for the fun time and the lesson in the dark arts.