Battle of the Driver Egos?

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 150 Italia. Gran...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, I’m not proud of myself, but I needed to find some way of blocking out the seemingly constant coverage of the Euro 2012 football championships.  I have, instead, been watching the television programme Battle of the Brides.  This programme takes what should be the most special and spiritual day of a bride’s life and turns it into the emotional equivalent of a two car head on collision.  Just watching it makes you feel like a rubber-necker.  The premise of the show is that two brides are offered £25,000 to hold a joint wedding, but they must agree to choose the same style of dress, decor and entertainment.  Inevitably, the entertainment value relies on pairing brides with wholly incompatible wedding tastes.  So, for example, a black clad Goth will share her big day with a pink Barbie fan, or a bride who’s always dreamt of a Marie-Antoinette style historical wedding will find herself walking down the aisle dressed in a Star Trek uniform and with her ring being carried by a remote controlled K-9 robot dog.

All this is by way of preamble to a word or two about the current discussion of the unlikely coupling of two of Formula One’s current three leaders of the pack, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.   According to the speculation, Ferrari are reportedly playing a version of “Snog, Marry, Avoid” in deciding their future driver line up.  There has been surprise expressed at current incumbent Alonso’s suggestion that he would be entirely relaxed with sharing the Ferrari motor home with either of his main rivals.  However, this is hardly a shocking revelation.  Which Formula 1 driver would say publicly that he doesn’t want to compete against a particular driver in the same car, even if he is manoeuvring behind the scenes to keep his competitor locked out?  No, the unexpected element of this scenario is that the Ferrari Team would consider this approach.  All suggestions are that Alonso is carrying the Italian team this year, so why upset the famously touchy toreador.  Also, for at least the past 15 years, the Prancing Horse team have been the ultimate exponents of the one trick pony approach to driver couplings.  The first line of any Ferrari no.2 contract since Eddie Irvine’s in 1996 has been “Michael / Fernando is faster than you.”

Alonso and Vettel or Alonso and Hamilton at Ferrari or, possibly even Vettel and Hamilton at Red Bull, would be fascinating, mouth watering prospects, if the various pre-nuptials could be agreed.  However, the previous experience of star driver pairings (Jones & Reutemann, Prost & Senna, Mansell & anyone else) does not bode well for much in the way of loving, honouring or obeying.

Of course the other player in these silly season shenanigans is the poor cast-off current partner, Felipe Massa.  Will he end up in the Ferrari equivalent of the First Wives Club, along with Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer?

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Formula One 2012 – More Complicated than a Subtitled Danish Police, Political Drama?

Day 53 - Every Brilliant Thing : Scandinavian ...

Scandinavian Thrillers! (Photo credit: Menage a Moi)

In the wake of the Canadian GP I have been considering the similarities between the current Formula 1 season and the Danish political police drama The Killing.  We are currently half way through watching the box set of series 1 and I figure by the final disc I will be close to being fluent in Danish, at least in terms of police and forensic procedures.   The series follows the aftermath of the murder of a school girl, investigated by female police detective Sarah Lund.  Homicide cop Lund sports the sort of knitwear that even Fernando Alonso wouldn’t be see dead in at the Ferrari annual ski event. Like Alonso, Lund is teamed up with a less stylish and rather slow sidekick.

Similar to this year’s Formula 1 season, in each episode a new suspect comes to the fore and appears a certain candidate to be ‘the man’.  However, by the time the next episode comes around the suspect is dismissed and drifts back out of the picture.  One minute it looks like it’s got to be Button, no Rosberg, or Maldonado, maybe Hamilton?  Like any good suspense thriller, I suspect the outcome won’t become clear until close to the season finale and we’ll all say, “Well I knew it was going to be him all along.”

In The Killing, the murder story is intertwined with a political drama, involving dishy widower and aspirant mayor, Troels Hartmann.  He’s like David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all rolled into one, except he’s also got integrity, personality, looks and charisma.  Overall, Danish politics appear to involve a never ending series of negotiated alliances which instantly break down, very similar to the experience of the Formula One Teams Association.

Also just like The Killing, the American version of Formula 1 is a steaming pile of gødning.

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Five Signs That You Are a Formula One Fanatic

Photo: By Author

Are you worried that you are becoming too obsessed with Formula One motor racing?  Here are 5 key warning signs that you are taking your fan boy fanaticism over the rev limiter:

  1. When sending your kids off to the local comprehensive school at the beginning of term, do you find yourself sewing on name tags with the Christian names “Fernando”, “Mika”, “Rubens”  or even “Nigel” on them?
  2. When the 2009 financial crash brought devastation to the world’s financial markets; the misery of redundancy and foreclosure to millions of innocent people across the globe; instability to the Euro and national budgets with crippling debts that will take decades of swingeing austerity to clear, was your first thought to wonder how the Williams Team would get by without its RBS sponsorship?
  3. Having watched all three Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions; qualifying; Sunday morning free practice, the race build-up show, full race coverage and after-race analysis, do you find yourself still holding on at the end of the evening news broadcast to see the 20 second summary clip of the race?
  4. Do you own any of the following: George Harrison’s “Faster”; the album “Grand Prix” by the band Teenage Fanclub; “Samurai” by the band Grand Prix; any song by Leo Sayer or a CD of Formula One engine noises?
  5. When the overall clad salesman in your local Kwik-Fit offers you a perfectly serviceable set of tyres from a Korean manufacturer you’ve never heard of or a set of Pirellis for £200 more, do you pause and wonder if you could keep the Pirellis up to temperature better than Jenson Button?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, ask your medical specialist to prescribe the following: “A Complete History of Formula One Racing at Valencia” DVD;  the Kimi Riakkonen autobiography “In His Own Word”; and “Facial Hair Grooming” by Lewis Hamilton.  These should have you back on the road to healthy F1 scepticism in no time at all.

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Lewis Hamilton, the Fantastic Four, Jenson Button and Spiderman – All Missing from Action

marvel's heroes

marvel’s heroes (Photo credit: thewhitestdogalive)

This Sunday we took our boys to see the new Marvel movie spectacular, Avengers – Assembly.  Pitting Iron Man, Captain America, et al, against the Norse God Loki and some space aliens, it was decidedly not based on a true story.  It was outstandingly loud and violent, but also had some good comic touches and was, overall, tremendous fun.   The movie did, however, prompt a pertinent question from my older son.  If the world was in danger and they were bringing the super heroes together, where were Spiderman and the Fantastic Four?  Surely also, the franchise differences between Marvel and D.C. Comics would be set aside in the interest of human preservation.   At least no one asked Ben Affleck’s less than super,red leather clad Daredevil to join in.

This was the second time in the week when heroes were missing from the action.  With their World Championship in mortal danger from technologically superior alien forces (if you count Austria, Germany and Italy as alien) and an evil genius scientist, in the form of Adrian Newey, where were Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the Mugello F1 test?  Instead, McLaren chose to send their second-string heroes into the fight, Garry Paffett and Oliver Turvey, Hawkeye and Howard the Duck, if you will.

I’ve seen the arguments that Hamilton and Button don’t know the Mugello circuit and McLaren doesn’t have any major updates (why not?), but then all the other teams sent at least one of their regular race drivers, who have experience of the cars in race conditions.

Jenson Button proclaimed himself “relaxed” about missing the test, Lewis Hamilton was, allegedly, less so.  If it all works out and McLaren lead the way in Spain then all should be well.  If it doesn’t, how long can Hamilton keep up his Bruce Banner impersonation and how long before he is rampaging down the pitlane?  “Is it ‘cause I’m green?”.

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McLaren F1 – An Omni-Shambles?

York as Logan 5, with blinking red lifeclock i...

Logan 5 watches another McLaren pit stop go wrong. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the Chinese and Bahrain double header, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton might be forgiven for launching into a few Malcolm Tucker of The Thick of It style, expletive laden, tirades. 

This post is not intended as further criticism of the Team’s unfortunate right rear gun-man.  Almost every TV show I’ve seen over the past couple of decades, with the possible exception of the Antiques Road Show and Songs of Praise, has at some stage run a Formula 1 pit stop demonstration.  Despite this, I still have not the slightest inkling of what it must be like to be a member of an F1 pit crew in the heat of a Grand Prix.  No, the McLaren Team’s problems run much, much deeper than a few fumbled tyre changes. 

Whilst other teams might wax and wane, McLaren, along with Ferrari, is accepted as one of the Formula One royalty.  Yet, the bare facts are that the McLaren Team hasn’t won a constructers championship since 1998 and has secured just one driver’s title since 2000, and then only by the skin of a Toyota’s Bridgestones.  A significant chunk of this period was, of course, the Schumacher and Ferrari era of dominance.  However, lesser resourced teams such as Renault, Brawn and Red Bull have all secured multiple titles in recent years.

Where is the flaw in the Woking Team’s world?  The fault can hardly rest with the drivers.  Of the 6 current or former World Champions on the present F1 grid, 4 have driven for McLaren during the past decade.  The Team can’t be criticised for its engineering ability or willingness to innovate – just look at the F-duct and the turn-around in their 2009 season.  McLaren doesn’t lack first class facilities – the McLaren Technology Centre and circuit Brand Centre are testaments to Ron Dennis’ unbending commitment to efficiency, presentation and silver paint

 

McLaren is like one of those futuristic utopias in a 1970s science fiction film.  On the surface, all is gleaming perfection, but underneath there is a rotting flaw waiting to undermine the whole edifice.  McLaren is the Logan’s Run of Formula 1.

What all the teams that have succeeded over the past decade have had – whether Ferrari, Renault, Brawn or Red Bull – is a clear philosophy running through from the design to the race tactics.  That may also be the case with McLaren, but it isn’t so obvious to see.

For the sake of a good 2012 season, I hope that McLaren can sort out the problems they have experienced so far this year, post-Melbourne.  If not, they are likely to face some significant criticism.  An attractive car and some funny Vodaphone adverts will only carry good will so far.

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Formula One Teams Boycott Race

Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles Villeneuve (Photo credit: Janex & Alba)

Exactly thirty years ago this week, the Formula One circus was preparing for a race mired in acrimony, with the threat of team boycotts.

There were a number of significant differences from the current situation in Bahrain.  On that occasion 10 of the teams decided that the issue in dispute was serious enough for them not to race.  Amongst the rebels was one B. Ecclestone, then owner of the Brabham team.  The race was the San Marino Grand Prix of 1982 and this was the height of the clash between the teams of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and the sporting authority FISA.  The subject of the disagreement was not about human rights, the struggle for democracy or state repression, but the slightly more prosaic question of whether teams should be allowed to top their cars up with “brake-cooling” water at the end of a GP race.

The water topping up was a clever, if hardly subtle, ruse by the normally-aspirated Cosworth powered teams.  It allowed them to run their cars underweight during the race and, therefore, compete against the more powerful turbo-powered manufacturer-backed so-called “grandee” teams.  The Brabham of Nelson Piquet and Williams of Keke Rosberg were excluded from the Brazilian Grand Prix for using this trick, which was subsequently banned by FISA.   In protest, 10 teams, including Ecclestone’s Brabham, Williams, McLaren and Lotus (mark 1), withdrew from the San Marino event.

Although 14 cars lined up to race at Imola, just 4, the two Ferraris and two Renaults, were genuine competitors.  When the fragile Renaults expired, the Ferrari’s were left alone far out in front.  This was the infamous race in which Didier Pironi duped teammate Gilles Villeneuve, passing the Canadian on the last lap as the Ferraris ran in 1-2 formation.  Villeneuve’s prophecy that he would “never speak to Pironi again” was proved tragically correct two weeks later when the gifted Canadian lost his life in a practice accident at the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.  A few months later, Pironi would suffer a career ending accident himself at Hockenheim, robbing him of a likely World Championship.

It is hardly worth speculating whether the outcome of the San Marino race might have been different had the 10 Cosworth “garagistas” been present to mix up the race between the two Ferraris.

The carnage of the 1982 season largely brought an end to the FOCA vs FISA dispute.  By the end of the 1983 season, almost all the former Cosworth teams,  were running manufacture provided turbo powered engines in their cars.  Ecclestone continued his progress from team owner and representative to the sport’s commercial rights holder and dominant force.

However, as he tours the Bahrain paddock with the Crown Prince and insists that the F1 show should not be distracted by a “few kids” causing trouble, it is worth knowing that 30 years ago, Ecclestone along with Frank Williams and McLaren’s Ron Dennis  were willing to take a different view on standing up on a point of high ”principal”.

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Is Formula One the Most Fickle Sport?

Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Nico Rosbe...

 

Is there any sport more fickle than Formula One?

Following the first two races of the season, Nico Rosberg was variously accused of being a F1 choker, unable to string a decent qualifying run together when it mattered; failing to win after 110 attempts, shaming his World Champion father’s name and being shown the way by his elderly retainer team mate at Mercedes.  After his excellent China win, apparently, everyone always knew that Nico was a huge talent, with the potential to be a multiple race winner and future World Champion, who was previously held back only by the poor quality of equipment at his disposal.

After his run to second in Malaysia, ‘Checo’ Perez enjoyed a similar transformation, from obscure mid-field runner and tyre preservation specialist, to virtually being fitted out for a Ferrari race suit.  Sebastian Vettel experienced the reverse trajectory from semi-deity to under pressure “cry baby”.  Lewis Hamilton’s reputation seems to swing around like a weather vane, largely dependent on whether he cracks a smile or not.

Admittedly, there are other sports with reputations for inconsistency.  Football is notoriously impatient, particularly of managers.  However, most managers get at least 5-6 matches (3-4 if they manage Chelsea) before their reputations are trashed.  Even the England manager usually gets the chance to fail spectacularly in one major tournament before his head is replaced by a root vegetable.

American sport is also famously capricious, with whole teams shifting identities and locations overnight.  The Wichita Wombats can become the Baltimore Beavers in the time it takes the ink to dry on a franchise contract.  However, America sport tends to be sentimental – almost anyone with a pulse who played professional sport in America ultimately makes it into one ‘Hall of Fame’ or another.

Only in Formula One is it literally true that you’re only as good as your last race.

There is, of course, always one exception to prove the rule.  In this case, one driver whose reputation never seems to vary.  It appears that Fernando Alonso could spin off the track, crash through the barriers, ram raid an orphanage and run off with their teddy bears and the commentators would still say: “And their goes Alonso, the most complete driver in Formula One.” Annoyingly, they’d probably be right.

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