A Broke F1 Team Is Using Crowdfunding to Keep Racing

Competing in Formula One is notoriously expensive even for lousy teams, and not one but two teams have been driven into bankruptcy this season. One of them, Caterham, has missed two races and is so desperate that it’s turning to fans to help it reach the season finale at Abu Dhabi. To do this, it is trodding a well-worn path followed by entrepreneurs, do-gooders, and the occasional celebrity: It’s started a crowdfunding campaign to raise £2.35 million ($3.72 million).

You laugh, but within hours of its launch on Crowdcube, an English crowdfunding site, the campaign had raised nearly £300,000, 12 percent of the goal Caterham must hit by November 14. “That’s not a bad start,” says Finbarr O’Connell, Caterham’s interim principal and administrator, the UK equivalent of a Chapter 11 trustee.

O’Connell has been given the difficult task of doing whatever necessary to save the F1 team and the jobs it provides to scores of people—none of whom were paid on October. Those people will “have to move on” if someone doesn’t buy the team, and soon. It’s hard to attract investors when your cars can’t even race.

And those investors must have deep pockets. Running a team costs between $110 million and $130 million a year for an outfit at the back of the grid; highly competitive teams might spend far more than that. For large corporations like Mercedes-Benz and Red Bull, that easily fits within the marketing and motorsports budgets. But for independent manufacturers like Caterham with individual owners, O’Connell says, you’ve “got to know you’ve got the sponsorships every which way sorted out to fund that.”

The economics of the sport make survival dicey for all but the wealthiest teams, which creates something of a vicious cycle because the sport’s revenues are allocated to teams based on their performance. It takes money to win, and only winners make money. This season, Caterham hasn’t placed higher than 11th in any race, so it is dead last in the points, with a grand total of zero. Mercedes, on the other hand, has more than 600 and locked up the constructor’s championship with three races left in the season (its two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg handily lead the race for the driver’s championship). “As more wealthy teams progress, and as they have got better cars, the other teams clearly try to keep up,” O’Connell says. “That puts them under cost pressures.”

Attracting Attention

Raising the money is a temporary solution. “This is a one race project, just to show the team off,” O’Connell says. Giving Caterham a future means finding a new owner, and the best way to tempt interested buyers is by proving the team can still race. There are interested parties, including one wealthy Middle Eastern family, but they don’t want a broken business, O’Connell says. Caterham has “ironed out” the problems with the car, and getting on the grid at Abu Dhabi “shows them it is completely there.”

The Crowdcube campaign could double as a rally the troops moment, giving Caterham’s fans a chance to play a role in a sport where the economics are far beyond most millionaires. It’s also the chance for fans to grab some rare goodies. Rewards for investors include standard F1 swag—baseball caps, t-shirts, polo shirts—but also pit team overalls, boots, and gloves.

For more money, you can actually take home chunks of Caterham’s 2012 and 2013 race cars: £2,200 gets you an aerodynamic bit called a turning vane. You can buy a nose cone for £5,500 or a rear wing for £3,000. Someone’s already claimed the front wing from the 2013 car for £2,500, though Caterham won’t say who plunked down the cash. You have a better chance of picking up one of four bargeboards from the 2012 car, for just £400—that’s cheaper than the overalls. For £1,000, you can have your name painted on the car, in print size that should be big enough to see on television.

The risk that comes with crowdfunding is that it’s all or nothing. If Caterham doesn’t hit the ambitious £2.35 million mark, it doesn’t get a tuppence, and no one gets a nose cone. But if it works, Caterham could survive, and will at least have one more race. “Everybody who helps this will look at the team on the grid at Abu Dhabi and say, ‘That’s my team,’” O’Connell says.

Ken Block’s Wildly Modded ’65 Mustang Puts Out a Nonsensical 845 HP

If you haven’t lost a few hours to watching Ken Block’s gymkhana video series, you probably should start now. Without spoiling the spectacle, the episodes follow Block as he uses overpowered cars to terrorize racetracks and public roads by drifting within inches of barriers and occasionally humans.

The star of Block’s next video, “Gymkhana 7,” is a heavily modified 1965 notchback Mustang with 6.7-liter Ford V8 overflowing from the hood. Also known as the Hoonicorn, it produces a nonsensical 845 horsepower. That’s like tying 845 adult horses to a car, and have them all start running at the same time. The best part is, it’s in the hands of a guy who can handle all that power.

“I’ve always been a Mustang fan,” says Block, “but especially the old Mustangs. It’s the original muscle car.” He wanted to find a car that would even appeal to kids, like a big Hot Wheels car. Out of respect for the vehicle, Block turned to eBay for a banged up model to work with. “I didn’t want to take a nice restored one,” he says, “so we worked had to find one that was beat up.”

he huge engine is set far back in the hood to accommodate the drivetrain.

The huge engine is set far back in the hood to accommodate the drivetrain. HOONIGAN RACING DIVISION

That was the start of two years of work by Block’s team Hoonigan, ASD Motorsports in Charlotte, North Carolina, and with RTR, a Michigan-based company that specializes in tuning Mustangs. Underneath the classic body, the tubular chassis, roll cage, and three-piece wheels are all custom. The tires are specially-made Pirelli Trofeo Rs. The body panels are carbon fiber. The side fender flares give the car a wider stance, which translates to better handling at speed. A six-speed transmission sends the motor’s 845 horsepower to an all-wheel-drive system.

One of the biggest challenges was adding the all-wheel-drive system to a car with such a big engine. “No one’s really put an AWD system in this sort of car,” Block says. The huge engine is set far back in the hood to accommodate the drivetrain. The team also made sure to make the suspension is nice and soft. By being able to compress the shocks and send all the weight to the front of the car, Block can easily get the rear wheels loose and drift as needed (which is a lot).

The video series in which the Mustang will make its debut started in 2008. Block, a pro rally driver and co-founder of DC Shoes (which sponsored the videos) went viral, driving around industrial sites with trains and cranes for obstacles to dodge, making the tires scream through turns. Our personal favorite is “Gymkhana 6,” in which Block takes a blown-out Ford Fiesta through a desolate San Francisco, laying rubber around streetcars and catching air over intersections.

But given the glory of this Mustang, we’re thinking Gymkhana 7, whenever it comes out, could top even that.

Gadget Lab Podcast: The Echo Is Amazon’s Latest WTF-Worthy Gadget

Amazon's Echo voice-powered personal assistant.

Amazon’s Echo voice-powered personal assistant. Amazon

Have you seen Echo, Amazon’s always-listening, occasionally snarky, voice-powered purchasing, media playback, and informational assistance device for the home and office? It’s amazing. Mat and Mike talk about this new thing from the company, which joins a long list of left-field WTF-worthy hardware releases from the retailing giant. Also, the hosts discuss the latest Nexus devices, for which the reviews have started to roll in. Mat thinks Android Lollipop is the best mobile OS we’ve got out there. And Mike thinks you’d be crazy to buy a tablet with anything more than the minimum storage. Listen to both of them and get angry. The show ends, as always, with some cultural criticism.

Listen to this week’s episode or subscribe in iTunes.

Send the hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds (Mat Honan is @mat and Michael Calore is @snackfight) or to the main hotline at @GadgetLab.

Optical Networking: The Key to Enabling Mass 4K Ultra HD Adoption — and Beyond


Capt Kodak/Flickr

Film and television have come a long way from the old black-and-white, standard-definition (SD), analog broadcasts to the superior high-definition (HD), digital color broadcasts we almost take for granted today.

What once were manual processes are now automated, with many in the industry adopting content distribution networks to send gigabytes of files digitally instead of full reels via courier. This enables production efficiencies and collaboration, workflow acceleration, cost reductions, multi-platform distribution and – most important to the bottom line – a quicker time-to-market for content.

However, yesterday’s legacy networks weren’t built for this type of bandwidth-heavy data transfer. And today’s HD and high-resolution video is putting even more strain on available network capacity.

With files only bound to get bigger as we head into the 4K era and with 3D almost a prerequisite now for any blockbuster film, it’s clear these legacy networks built to support limited SD video will not be able to cope with the increased demand. So, network architectures must evolve to efficiently and effectively support the transfer of next generation video formats. Specifically, the network must be both scalable to meet the significant bandwidth demands as well as programmable to deliver the exact service performance required. This transformation will involve the consolidation of multiple, discreet and single-use legacy networks into high-capacity, secure and low-latency packet-optical infrastructures.

Here are a few reasons why the network is moving in this direction.

Future-Proofing to Meet New Standards

Both HD and 4K Ultra HD are now industry standards. In large part, networking technology has enabled us to get to this point, even facilitating live demonstrations of the seamless transport of 4K imagery across the Pacific Ocean. But don’t confuse “industry standards” with the idea of mass adoption, as legacy SD networks are still the norm rather than the exception.

Yet the industry is already preparing to move a step further, with HD-3G and 8K gaining traction among producers. So, if we think legacy networks have been slow now before 4K has really taken hold, just wait. The next bout of bandwidth-hungry formats will devour even more capacity and demand even greater flexibility to support higher pixel density, color depth and frames-per-second.

Catering to this expected demand, and the next generation after that, networks must be tremendously scalable, support multiple formats and deliver an on-demand experience. A packet-optical network can provide for these attributes in a future-proof, format-agnostic and scalable platform, with the added bonus of software-defined networking (SDN) technologies to turn capacity into capability for the performance- and bandwidth-on-demand required to make it all work.

Transporting Uncompressed, High-Definition Video

It’s easier to maintain picture quality when you can keep it in its raw form, whether that’s high-or-standard definition, and keeping it that way for as long as possible. Packet-optical networks have the capacity to transport HD and other high-end video and film in its native form, and can do so far quicker than a legacy network. With coherent optical transmission, distance is not an issue as, so data transfers from an external venue (sports ground, for instance) to the studio are quick and relatively painless.

Supporting Today’s Storage and Archive Methods

The old days of the physical film library are long gone since automated content archiving replication technologies came along. Still, legacy networks make retrieving those old pieces of footage a chore, especially when multiple files are sourced. A packet-optical network enables the swift transfer of images and video to a library off site and allows them to be retrieved easily as required.

Preparing for the Unexpected Outage

Disaster recovery is becoming more important, and having a plan for media and entertainment companies invariably requires the need to maintain constant access to in-production and archived content. A packet-optical network opens up greater options and resolutions when faced with a disaster like an unexpected network interruption or power outage as meshed optical connections can readily include a connection between a mirrored broadcast site.

The network needs to keep up with the radical changes in digital formats and standards across the media and entertainment industry. The evolution is occurring at an alarming rate, particularly when compared to how long it took us to move from black-and-white to color, from analog to digital, and from SD to HD. While we once enjoyed a sense of predictability in film and television production – we had analog signals from the dawn of TV up until just a few years ago when the NTSC systems were abandoned – we no longer have that luxury.

We need to jump ahead of the curve and future-proof our networks to continue making film innovations a reality for the mass market.

Steve Alexander is Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Ciena.