Valencia - Red Bull Racing driver, Mark Webber, has blamed his crash with Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen last Sunday on a faulty voice activation switch which engineers fitted to the car prior to Sunday's race. It was designed to engage a new turbo-boost device, the concept apparently borrowed from the 1980's US based hit TV show, Knight Rider, after chief designer, Adrian Newey, and Team Principal, Chris Horner, were flipping channels in a hotel room during the Canadian Grand Prix.
"We were watching telly after the first practice session in Canada, shooting the proverbial," admitted Horner, "when suddenly we get Michael Knight and K.I.T.T leaping over obstacles. Adrian turned to me and asked if I was thinking the same thing he was. Turbo-bloody-boost! A lot of people think Adrian gets his ideas from being a brilliant engineer, but to be honest with you, those Eureka moments come out of random TV shows and re-runs of sci-fi shows especially. Adrian's a huge Blakes 7 fan actually."
Turbos haven't been used in F.1 for several years having been outlawed in the late 80's. However, Newey, whose Red Bull chassis design is the envy of most other F.1 teams said, "We're always looking for an edge. Technically it's not really a turbo anyway, we figured we could modify the exhaust outlet and give one of the driver's a boost to get round back-markers, especially at slow speed where the down force of the car's wings are not fully in play. You'd simply leap over a slower car out of a corner or something. Webber has experience with getting cars airborn so he was eager to, 'give it a whirl', as he put it."
The device was quickly assembled by Red Bull engineers in time for the European Grand Prix, but the plan came unstuck thanks to voice activation software reverse engineered from Microsoft Office's Word.
"I came up on Heikki pretty quick after I buggered the start and was playing catch-up. We hadn't really tested the software thanks to the stupid testing ban to save money, so it was going to be bit of shot in the dark. I was supposed to yell, 'Yo, KITT, give me turbo boost!', but I think the aussie accent startled the computer and we ended up with an error message on the steering wheel dash and the next minute there was carbon fiber everywhere, and I was upside down. Not really the result we were looking for."
"It was a disappointing result, but we know the problem is in the software." revealed Horner. "We'd hoped to just add another one of those buttons on the steering wheel but there's already a plethora of those on the wheel as is and it distracts the drivers a lot. We know for instance that [Michael] Schumacher's slow pace this season is the result of him texting while driving. We encorporate that feature into the wheel so driver's don't need their phones in the car, but we've asked them not to use Face Book games, especially during the start."
Newey, who was seen busily programing an LED sequencer to fit to the front of the Red Bull F1 cars, ala like the real KITT, believes retuning the software to Webber's accent will be the key to getting the software up and running before the British GP. "It was a horrifying accident, but with the crash data and our tech guys rewriting the software we should be good to go.
It's no different to one of those huge downloads you need from Microsoft really, a patch or three and everything's good to go. We've actually successfully ironed out the kinks of this before; Vettel's collision with Webber at Turkey was a voice software issue too, so we'll be up and running at Silverstone."
Webber, who was unharmed in the accident, was more reticent about the use of the programme. "It's not the first time this has happened to be honest. I had that debacle with Mercedes at le Mans a few years back so I'll be more cautious about using it next time. Newey has recommended some time with the speech therapist - I'll be having a few beers on him I think for all the extra hassle."
The FIA is still investigating the incident but other teams have yet to lodge an official complaint since Red Bull has not benefitted from the device.