Formula 1: Japanese GP 2019 Thoughts

The 2019 running of the Japanese grand prix at Suzuka wasn’t really that interesting to me, which is a shame since the circuit has hosted some truly classic races in the past, and is one of the all-time greats of circuit design. That said, the final result was an unexpected one. Due to Typhoon Hagibis, qualifying had to run on Sunday, right before the race itself. Ferrari blitzed the opposition to lock out the front row but it was the return of Finger Man as Seb Vettel blew away all challengers to snatch pole and set a new lap record of Suzuka in the process.

Ferrari’s speed advantage over Mercedes pointed to the red cars dominating the race, but clearly nobody informed Valtteri Bottas of the script. I don’t know what he had for breakfast that day but I want some of it! Driving like a man possessed, he got a mega start and bolted from the second row of the grid, around both Ferraris and into the lead of the race. He would stay there until the chequred flag, beating both Ferraris and his illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

I have nothing at all against Hamilton but when Mercedes put the two drivers onto different strategies, I thought, “here we go again…” Hamilton was to do a one-stopper while Bottas was put onto a two-stop and it was predicted that he would have to pass Lewis on-track to win the race. So it was that I expected Merc to play a crafty one and have Lewis magically appear in first place after benefitting from Mercedes controlling the outcome between their two drivers. Thankfully, I was wrong on this occasion and Valtteri was able to win the race – a win that he thoroughly earned.

f1suzuka2019-1
[Image Source]
Hamilton was, in fact, not happy. He didn’t agree with the team’s tyre strategy and felt that he could have challenged for the outright win. As it turned out, he was on the radio a lot, clearly displeased with the team as he found himself stuck behind Vettel during the race’s closing stages. It was a big battle but no matter what Hamilton tried, Vettel stood firm and just about managed to hang onto his P2.

Away from the front three, Charles Leclerc had an uncharacteristically bad day at the office. He under-steered wide at the first turn and collided with Max Verstappen who was attempting to take the Ferrari on the outside of the corner. The two young chargers – billed by many as the next two protagonists of the sport – clashed and Verstappen was ultimately eliminated from the race, being forced to retire later on as the damage to his car rendered further running pointless. Leclerc continued a clumsy weekend by trying to continue with his damaged front wing dragging on the ground and sending up a shower of sparks. The damaged bodywork on his car eventually parted ways, showering a chasing Hamilton with carbon fibre, ripping the W10’s right-hand mirror off. Hamilton was lucky not to get hit by the debris; Leclerc and Ferrari were fortunate not to get penalised for causing a dangerous, avoidable incident.

The race opened with the above drama and closed with the Hamilton/Vettel battle but the middle was fairly uneventful.

Albon continued his streak of good results by coming home in fourth – some small consolation for the team after Verstappen’s earlier elimination. Elsewhere, Sainz and McLaren impressed once again by finishing fifth.

My main closing thought here: Valtteri Bottas was superb this weekend but how I wish he could be more consistent with it! He is often absolutely nowhere in the races, trundling around well off the pace of Hamilton and also – frequently – Vettel, Leclerc and even Verstappen. Then, out of the blue, he will morph into a completely different driver and annihilate the opposition (as we saw in Australia). Valtteri can mathematically still win this year’s driver’s championship but he will have to carry his Suzuka performance through to every single remaining race of the season. I never say never but all of the smart money is still on an inevitable – and deserved – sixth for Hamilton.

Car Talk: Honda turn their back on Swindon

Last month, Honda shocked Britain by announcing the closure of its Swindon factory, scheduled to cease producing the Civic by 2021. As a British bloke, a petrolhead and – above all – a Honda owner this was pretty disappointing news. Of greatest importance however is the impending loss of well in excess of 3,000 jobs from the factory with further reprocussions likely as supply chains and other associated businesses (even down to the snack vans and local eateries that benefit from the trade of the Honda workforce) are hit by the domino effect. Honda’s Swindon factory has been producing cars since 1989 and so Swindon IS Honda. The plug being pulled on operations there is going to hit the town harder than the Honda-powered Mclaren MP4/4 pummelled the rest of the Formula 1 grid in ’88.

hl-1

But why was this decision taken? The first inevitable suspect is the big bad arch-demon in the room that some whisper can be summoned by sitting in the centre of a pentagram and chanting the word “Brexit”. So far though, Honda have denied that the economic uncertainty being felt as a result of our embarassing divorce from the EU is to blame and I actually believe them (for reasons I will explain in a moment). Instead they have cited vague global market shifts and a need to adapt quickly. Sales of diesel cars are falling and electrification is now seen as essential.

None of which really explains why Swindon had to close; not in black-and-white plain-speaking terms at least. One rumour I read online (and I have to stress the word “rumour” given that I have no hard evidence to back it up) claimed that the equipment and robotics necessary to manufacture electric vehicles was actually on the way from Japan but the ships were turned back. Other inside sources claim that Honda had been promising upgrades to the factory to enable production of more technologically advanced vehicles for years now.

So it seems like a very sudden snap deicision and I would be accusing Honda of side-stepping the citation of Brexit as the true reason but the company also announced the closure of a Civic plant in Turkey. Obviously, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit will not help any business make decisions and long-term commitments to the UK but I don’t believe that Brexit itself is the sole motivator for Swindon being axed. Honda, it seems, are simply pulling out of Europe.

As dire as this is for the town of Swindon and the UK economy, I do want to take a balanced viewpoint and ask if this was really such a surprise. After all, the Swindon plant only produces Civics out of Honda’s current range of cars. Additionally, one of the production lines has been dormant for some time now. Finally, should warning signs have been visible? The automotive landscape is shifting towards electric vehicles and it’s odd that Honda has lagged behind the likes of Toyota and Nissan in this field, especially since they were one of the first manufacturers to “go green” and sell the hybrid car to the masses with the gen one Insight and hybrid Civic saloon.

ctr-2
[image: carscoops.com]
Then you have to consider the fact that Honda, as a Japanese business, will always want to be seen prioritising the industry and workforce in their homeland and that could well be another reason for bringing more work home. That and cheaper wages + reduced costs in an industry that has slumped sales-wise. This is understandable of course because if it were the other way around, I’m positive that British people would want manufacturing to return to the UK with little regard for overseas job losses. It sounds harsh but it’s the truth, as cold as it may sound.

Whatever the reasons behind Honda’s decision, one thing must certainly be held against them and that is the way in which the workforce at Swindon became aware of their upcoming job losses. Employees didn’t get the word from their employer; it broke on social media first and the first that many knew of it was when their exit from work was met by TV cameras and reporters. Clearly somebody from higher up said “fuck that” to confidentiality and squealed. It’s a shitty business and make no mistake about it.

Finally, I have to mention the ridiculous idea that Civic Type-R production is going to be axed altogether with the current FK8 generation since Swindon is the only Honda factory producing these winged hyper-hatches. Production is just going to shift to Japan and these cars will still be sold to us as usual…at a higher price no doubt once taxes and import duties have had their say.

Car Talk: The 2019 Toyota Supra is just a fake

Is that a harsh statement to make? A blunt assessment perhaps? Well I don’t particularly care. Remember which blog you’re reading here. After all, I am petrolhead amongst other things and a big lover of Japanese metal at that. The A80 (1993-2002) Supra from Toyota is the car I’ve always lusted for the most but good luck acquiring a nice condition manual car here in the UK without some good money in the bank. I’m not the only lover of Toyota’s winged beast either and fans have been eagerly anticipating the A90 follow-up for eons. We’ve had to make do with countless rumours, concepts and prototypes in the meantime, none of which ever amounted to anything concrete.

Until now.

Except…the car is just a fucking BMW with a Toyota shell on top of it. Now I’m not knocking BMW as they make some fantastic cars and you’d better believe that several have made it onto my wishlist over the years. You will be getting a well-engineered product for sure but it’s not Japanese, not a Toyota and certainly not a real Supra.

It’s like an attractive German lady wearing a kimono and playing at being Japanese. The European facial features and German accent are impossible to conceal however.

Toyota-supra-2019-1
[image: carmagazine.co.uk]
The Supra exists on a BMW platform. It has a BMW interior with that instantly recognisable steering wheel shape/design and large tablet-like screen. Even the HUD and menus look the same as you’d find on a BMW’s. The biggest sin is reserved for the engine bay however as Toyota have again borrowed from BMW, using their 2.0 turbo’d four cylinder or a turbo’d 3.0 straight-six. There’s no manual ‘box option either. The BEST part? Probably the Supra badge on the rump that uses the same font as its predecessor’s. That’s a pretty crappy realisation.

It’s a Supra in name only as far as I’m concerned. A generation of car lovers has grown up on the likes of Gran Turismo and The Fast and the Furious, eagerly awaiting the day when Toyota release a new Supra for their generation to buy and enjoy. This is, in my opinion, a sorry excuse for a final product but it’s not really Toyota’s fault.

Y’see, the market has changed since the 90’s and early 2000’s. Estate cars, saloons, coupes and sports cars have all been killed off by the rampant SUV disease. All that consumers appear to aspire to these days are big, blobby, artless crossovers that foster a superiority complex with their jacked-up driving positions. Ugly, nondescript boxes that all look the same (regardless of manufacturer) and are leased on popular PCP finance deals. Add to this the growing number of drivers that have no interest in cars and treat them as mere appliances and you hardly have an ideal environment for sports cars.

You can’t blame Toyota for supplying what people are buying. It’s business after all. So it’s a miracle that the 2019 Supra exists at all and if it wasn’t down to Toyota president, Akio Toyoda and his love for sports cars, then nobody else would have forced the project through to production. The cost was grave though and meant that money needed to be saved hence the collaboration with BMW and use of their engines. Even so, the Supra is still unlikely to turn a profit for the company (from what I’ve read at least).

toyota-supra-2019-2
Welcome to the new BMW Z4…sorry, I meant SUPRA. [image: carmagazine.co.uk]
So we have to be thankful that we are even at this stage then. But who is going to buy it? Show-offs and trendy types possibly or buyers who genuinely don’t realise that they are buying a BMW Z4 in drag. Not everybody looks into these things after all and your local Toyota dealer is unlikely to tell you that it’s a BMW you’re buying. Many will doubtlessly buy it for the name or to be different to the M-car crowd which is irony on a gourmet scale.

I can’t see true JDM diehards salivating over this though because there’s no way you can drive this thing and continue to profess a love for Japanese cars. Go back to the 90’s and if you were to choose something from Toyota’s sports car range – be it the Supra, Celica or MR2 – then you KNEW that you were buying a car that was designed and engineered by Toyota with a Toyota-built engine under the bonnet. You could legitimately pin your colours to a flag. If the A90 Supra at least had a 3JZ engine and a bespoke interior then we’d be talking.

In summary, it’s good to see the Supra name back again and the BMW DNA means that buyers WILL get a good car. I have no doubt that it will drive well and perform stonkingly too. To deny this would be pretty moronic. However, if you want an authentic Japanese designed and built sportscar that does the legacy of the country’s 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s output proud then this isn’t it. The sad truth is that we may NEVER see such a thing again if boring shit like the Qashqai and CH-R continue to bring home the bacon.