It turns out that Lewis Hamilton has, so far this year, been driving his Formula 1 car without a drinks bottle aboard.
It seems that this year’s Mercedes F1 car is a touch overweight and that Hamilton volunteered to go without the bottle, which brings the car a couple of kilos closer to the 728kg minimum that the cars can run at – or it lets Mercedes ballast the car precisely where they want to, to improve the handling.
Maybe it made the difference in the Spanish Grand Prix the other week, and the adequately lubricated Sebastian Vettel could have held Hamilton at bay if only he’d been prepared to be thirstier. Or maybe not.
Anyway, when it comes to going fast, weight counts – and on a circuit, losing weight is the virtuous thing that keeps on giving.
Which is, presumably, why you’ve been able to buy some limited-run Porsches, Ferraris and McLarens – and Renaults and Volkswagens – without radios or air-con over the years. Engineers and test drivers at sports car companies realise that shedding perhaps 15kg or 20kg from the inside of a sports car will make it go faster and be more enjoyable.
To add these features back in is usually a no-cost-option. And when these cars get configured and ordered by their future owners, with very few exceptions, they put them back in: a move I can understand entirely. A Porsche 911 GT3 RS without a stereo and air conditioning is a strictly fabulous track and road car. But a Porsche 911 GT3 RS with a stereo and air conditioning is a car that isn’t really annoyingly noisy and sweaty to drive several hundred miles to a circuit in.
And therein lies the issue, I suppose. We all like cars that are as light as they need to be, but we also, quite understandably, rather like creature comforts. What happens in the automotive world is merely mirroring the rest of our lives. The environment would quite like it if we used less energy. But without one of those patio heaters, how would you stay warm while eating outside as the sun goes down? Put on another jumper? Don’t be ridiculous.
Anyway, in the automotive world, as our report on the next-generation Audi A8 discovered, what we give with one hand, we have to find a way of taking with the other. Every time Lotus reveals a new Elise, it claims to have cut so much weight from each wheel that I swear if you filled an Elise’s tyre with helium and failed to hold on to it, it would float away like a balloon from a forlorn child’s hand at a village fête. And yet still a modern Elise weighs more than the original, because it has to crash better, and emit less.
Things that help you crash well, and systems that stop you crashing at all, aren’t light. Nor are those that make pleasing noises, or keep you at just the right temperature, or massage your back as you drive. During the mid-2000s, every sports motorbike launched seem to get lighter by the hundredweight. Yet riders did not, and every kilogram saved on a bike makes the weight of its rider more influential on the outcome.
The idea of reducing car weight is a virtuous one. But as Lewis Hamilton proves, we’ll only make real progress if we’re prepared to make personal sacrifices.