CARACAS, Monday May 16, 2011 | Update
102nd Anniversary
Driving without blinking

The first checkered flag marked the end of a car race more than 100 years ago. At that time, a French noble drove a steam-fueled car to the finish line at an average speed of less than 12.5 mph. Today, Formula 1 racing cars easily surpass 186 mph thanks to sophisticated engines and aerodynamics, which is capable of using the most innocuous elements and turning them into live power

Monday May 16, 2011  06:08 PM

In its July 12, 1913 edition, El Universal reported the first crash in Caracas, at the Las Gradillas corner, to be exact, between two motor vehicles, "those that are improperly called automobiles and run at 9 and even 12 mph..."

However, much before, on July 22, 1894 in Paris, races of these "blazing iron machines" had already started. As a matter of fact, on that day 21 bold men sat at the wheel of their respective machines at the start line of the first car race in world's history following the invitation of the Le Petit Journal daily newspaper.

It's worth quoting one of the rules of this unprecedented competition: "cars that are not horse drawn have to be safe, maneuverable and economical."

The aim of the race was to cover the 78 miles between the French capital and Rouen. Seventeen of the 21 cars that started the race completed the distance. Drivers took more than 6 hours to cover the route. The winner was the Marquis of Dion who was accompanied (just in case) by his mechanic Georges Bouton.

The winner drove a vehicle with a steam engine at an average velocity of "almost" 12 mph.

Formula 1
Many things have happened since that times and, even though the fundamental goals of driving faster and getting first to the finish line remain inalterable, numerous variations have been added to the four-wheel sport.

After decades of races of all kinds, the Formula 1 competition, which today unleashes passions throughout the world, started in 1950.

From the first champion, Giuseppe Farina, to Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, and Sebastian Vettel, car racing has witnessed track heroes and loyal fans.

The idea that remains until present times was to take advantage of technology breakthroughs to make more reliable, endurable and faster cars, and transfer these advances to common vehicles.

In any case, FI, in particular, is capable of renewing itself year after year, thanks to those ever-surprising technology breakthroughs.

Not everything is related to accelerating, much less to the most powerful engine. The best example of this is the success of the Red Bull motor-racing team in the two past seasons.

The energy beverage racing team has managed to take to the track single-seaters that take curves at vertiginous speeds without even altering their line.

Firm and constant, these cars are also capable of leaving broken segments faster than their rivals and aerodynamics has a lot to do with this.

Who better than the magician Adrian Newey to leave his mark in these competitions?

The Red Bull's simulator is the best of all Formula 1, because it copies in detail each one of the "Great Circus" tracks.

In addition to this advantage, Newey works with some 200 first-level engineers from the greatest motor-racing teams who were recruited with attractive monetary offers over recent years.

One of them is said to be the creators of Renault's Mass Damper, the inertial mass damper that was banned in 2006 and which today, applied to the monocoque, could be the "culprit" of how the RB7 perfectly takes advantage of aerodynamics.

The Mass Damper, banned in 2006, kept a constant height from the ground and improved efficiency; however, Adrian Newey's and his team's achievements in 2011 appear to go much further.

Experts point out that the blue single-seater tilts forward if the curve is fast and slightly swings backwards if the curve is slow, depending on the air pressure and suspension flexion.

This represents a major breakthrough, as it improves the aerodynamic grip because it always maintains the optimum position, practically reaching perfection, above all in classification races with new wheels.

Since that crash at Las Gradillas corner 98 years ago, up until present time, car racing has considerably developed. The limit would appear to be much beyond the checkered flag.

Translated by Álix Hernández

The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil." Estampas
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