Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Yesterday (Saturday 9th April) I completed the Tough Mudder Pennsylvania 2011.  This is best left to another blog.  The important thing to point out here is that after 10 miles, 830 feet of elevation change (up red grade ski slopes in snow and mud) and 25 obstacles (including fire, freezing water, electrocution and more walls than I care to mention) I was not going to wake up at 3am to watch the Malaysian Grand Prix live on SPEED.  So, here I am instead at 8am watching the DVR’d coverage. I slept well. I can hardly move. I already cannot remember what it feels like to walk without pain.

Off we go…

It’s SPEED’s Hollywood-style intro and it’s telling me that Vettel is “running free on the racetracks of the world”. I don’t know what this means.

Ah, the other drivers – Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher… wait a second – Schumacher?

BIG, DAY-DEFINING, NEWS – Leigh Diffey (an Aussie it appears) is standing in for Bob Varsha this week who is apparently “on assignment at Barrett Jackson!” Barrett Jackson is a televised Florida car auction by the way. Priorities Bob, priorities…

Leigh tells us “SPEED’s F1 royalty” are still with him in the commentary box and… yes, sure enough, there’s the Hobster and Steve-O next to him looking like Team America puppets. If you need an introduction or reminder as to who the others are, please see here.

“If it rains here, it will be monsoon rain.” says Steve-O the meteorologist.

Steve: “Emmanuelle Pirlo, the 4 (he later confirms it is actually 5…) time Le Mans 24 winner is here”  Le Mans 24hrs? No, “Le Mans 24”.  I wonder what the 24 stands for..?

Will Buxton interviews Chrisitan Horner. Really good interview this. He is asked about which side the pole should be on and gives the pros and cons without whinging. Back in the studio, the Hobster is asked what he thinks and literally repeats exactly what Christian Horner just said. There begins a day of zero added value.

Oh look, there’s Michael Schumacher – because we haven’t seen him in at least 2 mins.

Vitaly Petrov is next to be interviewed by Will Buxton. Vitaly seems really nice. I like Vitaly.

The drivers put on their cool-vest tank-top thingys. Even F1 drivers cannot make this look cool.

The Aussie newcomer Leigh is keeping it simple but is at least getting things right. I am not missing Bob one little bit right now.

Nick Heilfeld looks like a late-70s East German spy.

Beumi says the DRS was not much use because “when you get out of the last corner and you slide and you cannot get close enough even with it” So, what you mean is that DRS is not enough to make up for your lack of talent then, Sebastien?

Interesting range of views on DRS – Lauda hates it (has he ever liked anything?), Nico loves it.

Ad break. Apparently the Dodge Durango has been away for a couple of years “getting handling lessons on those sporty European roads” – presumably the advertising team has never been in a traffic jam on the M40 or driven through the Po Valley south of Milan.

Back to the F1 coverage and it’s another SPEED promo – “In Australia it’s the flickering light, in Monaco it’s the narrow streets, in Singapore it’s the time zone halfway round the world and in Malaysia it’s…” another time zone halfway round the world? No? I mean, it’s the same time zone as Singapore, so..?  No, apparently it’s the weather.

Malaysia is pronounced MAY-lay-sha, and Sepang is pronounced Sea-pang according to the guy doing the voiceover.

On board with Vitaly on his Q3 hotlap who, it turns out, is a MAJOR throttle featherer. Old school Senna style. Nice lap.

Sergio Perez has GREAT hair. Like an 80s TV cop.

DRS is too artificial. So, at a given point on the track it measures whether you’re within a second of the car in front and then, depending on the answer, around the next corner you may or may not be allowed to press a button and flatten… no, sorry… bored already. Stop it. Ban carbon brakes instead. Thanks.

Warm-up lap: Leigh lets me down for the first time – the “main storyline” is not “will Renault repeat their performance in Australia?”

Start: Vettel gets a decent enough start. Webber bogs down. Renaults get a flyer. Hamilton closes on Vettel coming down to the braking zone. Vettel moves to his right,  then left, then slightly to the right and finally left again as he keeps Hamilton behind braking into the apex of Turn 1. If I was Clerk of the Course I would not call it in but technically that’s weaving and should be a black flag. Just saying.

Lap 1 – 2007 Hamilton takes himself and Nick Heidfeld out of the race at Turn 4. 2011 Hamilton sees the gap closing and decides his race should last at least one more corner.

Lap 2 – Steve is amazed that those drivers that are not in the top 10 are racing so hard. I mean – they should just give up, right?

Lap 2 – Leigh: “Schumacher’s made a great start – that’s good.” Is it?!?

Lap 5 – Vitaly runs out of talent and goes wide, letting both Ferrari’s through. I grumble.

Lap 7 – Kobayashi breezes past Webber by using KERS and the DRS. Exciting? Not really.

Lap 11 – Someone in the commentary box uses their graphical device to draw all over the screen with yellow digital ink like they’re testing a biro.

Lap 11 – Webber comes in for new tyres. It then immediately starts to rain. Not, please take note meteorologist-Steve, ‘monsoon rain’, but instead drizzle.

Lap 13 – We listen in as Hamilton says something from the cockpit. You cannot tell what it is. Steve guesses (without admitting he is) it’s about the rain.

Lap 15 – Hamilton outbreaks two cars into the last corner through sheer driving talent. It’s fun when you can clearly see the difference between the good and the great on TV like that.

Lap 16 – Great move from Perez on Algusuari. Nice start to your F1 career my Mexican friend.

Lap 17 – Alonso overtakes Button. At least that’s what I just saw on the screen. What I heard was three commentators speaking over each other.

Lap 17 – Alonso takes Kobayashi.  He’s on new rubber which helps, but it was still damn good.

Lap 18 – Hobster (two corners from the end of the lap): “Is Alonso closing on Hamilton here..? Yes… I think he is!”

Lap 19 – Hamilton pulls out the fastest lap of the race.

Lap 23 – The Hobster thinks Paul Di Resta is “pretty awesome”. This sounds like the Saturday Night Live Miley Cyrus saying he’s “pretty cool”.

Lap 23 – A replay of Heldfeld losing it mid-corner, running through the grass and gravel and back onto the track. “Ooohhh! Errrrr… oh!” is what we hear as a soundtrack from Hobbs.

Lap 25 – Vettel enters the pits. “Yes! Yes!” says Steve, without explanation.

Lap 26 – Hamilton takes Petrov aggressively but cleanly. Hobster: “Ha hah! Yes! Petrov will be saying (attempt a Russian accent that comes out as vaguely German) “Vot ‘are ou do-inge!!” Hannah and I cringe in unison.

Lap 27 – Massa gives up a perfectly defensible lead to Vettel, who makes a mistake in overtaking him but is still able to easily hold off the Brazilian. Sepang is a Massa circuit – one of the new ones with constant radius corners and 7 miles of runoff at every corner (see China, Bahrain, Turkey etc). Either the Ferrari is rubbish and Alonso is even more out-of-this-world than I thought, or Massa really has completely lost it.

Lap 28 – Hobster: “Red Bull may be just a drinks company but they have the top car designer of the last 40 years in Adrian Newey.”  Really? As simple as that? Gordon Murray, Colin Chapman, Steve Nichols, John Barnard etc etc. Newey is on the list, but no more than that.

Lap 30 – Hobster (really gunning for LVP – Least Valuable Player – on this broadcast) “Button on the soft tyres is a touch quicker than his teammate, but Vettel who is also on the softs is only a touch quicker than Hamilton.” What?

Lap 31 -Vettel starts kicking some ass. Fastest lap by a mile.

Lap 34 – We watch Petrov easily pass Kobayashi down the straight using KERS and DRS. Now clear front-runner for the LVP, Hobster: “The old combo of KERS and DRS really gives ya some welly down the old straight ey?!”

Lap 34 – Vettel, another new fastest lap, starts running away with it.

Lap 36 – I’m worried about Williams. I would hate for them to leave F1, but they’re becoming more irrelevant every year. Sad. Hopefully the history books will show they bottomed with the hiring of Barrichello and it only gets better from here.

Lap 37 – It’s a little bit processional right now is this race. I don’t trust it.

Lap 38 – Really slow pitstop from McLaren and more hard tyres for Lewis with only 18 laps left. Weird.

Lap 39 – Button comes out ahead of Hamilton on the strength of a normal pitstop.

Lap 40 – Lewis fights to keep Webber behind him. The coming overtaking move has a certain sense of inevitability about it.

Lap 42 – Stunning stop from the Red Bull boys for Vettel, who goes onto his set of hard tyres.

Lap 44 – Schumacher runs wide. Steve: “Where’s the grip?”.  Me: “Or the talent?”

Lap 44 – Petrov makes the mistake of giving his teammate too much room to overtake and allows Massa to draft and take him down the main straight as well. He’ll learn.

Lap 46 – Back from an ad break and we’ve missed Webber taking Hamilton completely (and they have not mentioned it). Alonso misjudges a move on Hamilton and takes his front wing out on Hamilton’s right rear.

Lap 47 – Alonso pits for a new nose.  I’m stunned Hamilton’s car is ok. Alonso’s fault 100% – nowhere near a braking zone, he just got it wrong.

Lap 48 – Ahhh. Hamilton is now lapping 3 secs a lap slower than Button. That’s not exactly normal. Probably something wrong with the car huh guys? Guys..? Anyone…? No…? No. We’re won’t talk about that then. Ok.

Lap 50 – Webber dives down the outside of Massa and feathers the throttle to keep the inside line for Turn 2. Standard stuff, but a nice move all the same. What I hear: “Waaa!  Oooh! THEY TOUCH! (they don’t) Ooooh golly! Ho ho ho ho! Woooo!

Lap 50 – Leigh “Here comes Massa again! He’s setting up an inside move on the outside!”

Lap 51 – Steve-O:  “There’s some problem on Lewis’ car”. Finally.

Lap 51 – I re-adjust my position of the sofa and nearly burst into tears as my thighs scream at me for making them move.

Lap 52 – Heidfeld flies by Hamilton, who then runs wide.

Lap 53 – Hamilton pits and shakes his head as new rubber goes on with 3 laps remaining.

Lap 54 – Petrov is off.  Steve-O: “What HAS he done?!?” We don’t know.

Lap 55 – Replay. He runs wide (looks like he has no grip left at all) and over a kerb as he tries to rejoin the track, takes to the air and his steering column breaks on landing sending him out. Leigh: “Wow! Golly! He motorcrossed it!  That’s some serious air he could go err..  super-crossing.  And that’s a nice segue into our next event on SPEED, super-cross from….” I throw up in my mouth a little.

Lap 55 – Hobster: “Maybe, er, well, um, the way Petrov drove off on that right hander, he did just, um, er, the wheels did not seem to turn so maybe the steering column was broken before that happened.”  Sure – it wasn’t the six foot drop at 120 mph that did it.

Lap 55 – Leigh – As if an alien has just landed on the track. “Ahhhhhh!!!! Lock up from Heidfeld!!!!!”

Lap 56 – “At the moment it’s the same podium as Austraila, but different drivers are involved.” I kind of know what he’s saying, but he didn’t say it.

Lap 56 – Webber runs wide, ruining any chance of him passing Heidfeld.  He’s been really poor since halfway through last year has Mr. Webber.

Lap 56 – The drivers come across the line for the last time. Hobster:  “Wow!  Wow indeed! How about that!”  How about what?

Parc-Ferme – Vettel climbs out of his car, jumping off the tyre in celebration of another well earned win. Steve-O: He gets on top of Kinky Kylie (giggles in the background). That’s the name of his chassis I should say (more giggles)”. In other news, how have I gone through 32 years of my life without releasing that “innuendo” is itself a bit of an innuendo?

Post-race: Nick Heldfeld walks down a corridor on his way to the podium with Malaysian grid-girls lining the walls either side of him applauding.  They are all taller than the man who is seemingly the world’s most hopeful for a remake of Magnum PI. Vettel is taller, with Button taller still. Didn’t know that.

Podium: Vettel is his usual chubby cheeked happy self bouncing around like Tigger on the top step. Button seems happy, as he should be – a very, very solid drive. Heidfeld attends to his mane and should also be content with an excellent day’s work. Adrian Newey picks up the constructors award. Hobster: “Of course when Williams Honda was at the height of their fame, Adrian Newey was the man behind them as well.” No he wasn’t. Adrian Newey came into F1 designing the March / Leyton House as the Patrick Head / Franck Dernie Williams Honda ruled 1986/1987.  He did later join Williams to design their Renault powered cars of the early 90s. I hate David Hobbs. He adds nothing, knows nothing and what he thinks he knows he get wrong. A dominating LVP performance from the Hobster today.

Driver interviews: Vettel suggests that having Heidfeld behind him in the early laps was an advantage because it kept Hamilton from challenging him in the first stint. Heidfeld looks suddenly glum. Jenson is very happy. He is starting to use his hands a lot when speaking like an Italian would. I’ll have to watch his development closely.  He does the ‘thanks to the team, they did a great job yada yada’ stuff – I’m pretty sure Lewis will not share those sentiments. Heidfeld talks through nearly every lap of his race. The interviewer mails in his last question asking Vettel if he feels positive going into the next race. Vettel mails in his answer.

The Hobster rounds of a near flawless LVP day: “The points. Wow-ee! Look at that! Vettel (50) could drop out and, well, um, Button (26) would only be a point ahead of him…”  You mean, if Vettel did not finish the next race and Button won it then Button would carry a one point lead going into the race after? Ok, then SAY SO.

Leigh wraps up with the news that Bob Varsha will be back next week.

Promo for next week’s GP in China which…. wait for it…. was the venue of…..? “Michael Schumacher’s last win in F1…” The race begins at 3am NY time.  Cannot wait for Europe.

Final thoughts: Of the ‘big 3’, Seb was dominant – again. The combination of him and the Red Bull seems completely unstoppable right now, but things rarely work out like that in F1. Hamilton was strangely very off colour. I don’t buy the theory that he needs to have the car working properly to drive well – just look at 2008 – but something went very wrong in the 2nd half of the race today. Alonso also made a very uncharacteristic mistake which effectively ruined his race.

Epilogue: Alonso is penalised 20 secs for running into the back of Hamilton. Considering he apparently only damaged his own chances through doing so and it changes nothing about the results this seems a little harsh and also a little pointless – which is almost what Hamilton found he left Malaysia with after he too was penalised 20 secs for weaving (blocking) in front of Alonso. He dropped a place in the classified standings as a result. The TV coverage did not show this so I cannot comment on the offense it self, but I do know that Vettel technically ‘weaved’ in front of Hamilton at the run down to the first corner and was not penalised.

We don’t ask our stewards to get every decision correct. They are human. What we do ask is that they are consistent and avoid just penalising high profile incidents. I really hope we don’t see this setting precedent for picking on every small infringement that goes on in the future.

The fact remains that there was simply no need to give either penalty today. The way Vettel drove, neither Alonso nor Hamilton needed kicking while they were down.


Saturday morning. Hannah is finishing up on breakfast. I settle down into the section of our apartment that bears the most evidence that I was here in New York three months before Hannah – the big L-shaped sofa facing the 50” Samsung plasma TV. If I were a lottery winner there would be a highly secured section of my house with a room set up like this. There would be a large screen centrally, with four smaller (I’m thinking 42”) TVs/monitors around it to cover simultaneous live sports coverage, internet, playstation etc. Full surround sound, intruder alarms, beer fridges and a separate outside entrance to cover takeaway deliveries.

The 1st Grand Prix of the 2011 season is in Melbourne, Australia. This means two things to me: One, my sister is there in person. Two, I will not be watching it live. I used to watch every Australian Grand Prix live. When I was little, my parents allowed me to. When I was a little older, my body still allowed me to. Now, it doesn’t matter if I have approval from everyone in my life, I arrived back from Bermuda yesterday and I fly to Costa Rica tomorrow and my body is saying ‘screw you if you think I’m going to let you live if you try not letting me sleep between’. Welcome to old age.

In other news, the bread that is just about to pop-up out of the toaster is good! Hannah got a breadmaker for her birthday. This completes the only void in our New York lives. There is no such thing as good bread one can purchase in New York. You can tell because it all lasts about 3 weeks before going stale. That cannot be right. We wanted a good old English loaf that is exceptional for about 3 hours after purchase before beginning a quick decline into becoming a bad rock cake by the next morning. The stuff you can buy here is mediocre at best from purchase through three weeks later. So I’m excited.

Then I get downright giddy. F1 in HD!!!

There’s an o-so-pretty HD montage of the new cars and all I can say is “Ayche Deeeeeee!!!” over and over. I’m so stupidly happy. Right up until the point…

They speak.

It’s F1 on the SPEED channel once more and we have the same clowns from last year:

Bob Varsha, the American anchor who speaks in catch-phrases and knows nothing.

Brit commentator Steve Matchett who is bland and knows nothing.

Squeaky-yet-somehow-gravelly-voiced colour commentator, David Hobbs, whose job it seemingly is to know even less than the others while providing “Ooooh!” “WOW!” “Ahhhh!” “WOWZER!” sound effects over other people speaking. This drives Hannah nuts.

Will “the pit lane guy” Buxton. Will not only speaks with more clarity, enthusiasm and knowledge than the others combined, but also does so to the extent that he’s one of the best in his role that I’ve ever heard on any channel. Which makes it all the more irritating that he’s the one we hear the least of. Anyway, let’s see how this unfolds.

1 min in: Bob starts us off with dreadful quasi-similes about the chilly Melbourne weather and the chilling performance of Vettel in practice. He says “now, they must qual-if-iiiiiiii!!!” as if he’s auditioning for a movie trailer voiceover job. Hannah sighs as I begin to get frustrated already.

2 mins in: Webber names everyone other than McLaren when asked about potential rivals this year. I immediately reach out to log onto Betfair to bet on Lewis and Jenson for the race before remembering that I’m not allowed to in the US. Two things I don’t have here. Good F1 coverage and the ability to make money out of other people’s lack of sports knowledge.

5 mins in: Bob tries to explain the 107% qualifying rule, gets it wrong, tries to correct through clarification and gets it wrong again. Steve helps by chipping in and getting it wrong in a whole new, third way.

6 mins in: Ad break. Breakfast (poached eggs, bacon and good-bread toast) is great.

Q1 20mins: Bob reads the qualifying rules from a script. He then mentions the cool temperatures for the third time.

Q1 17mins: Petrov is the only one out on track in the black and gold (and red, but we don’t talk about that) Renault. He looks good – smooth, tidy and deliberate. Bob calls it a “Ren-OH” and I grate my teeth.

Q1 15 mins: Will brings up the DRS moveable rear wing. I hate the DRS because it falls foul of the ‘Carbon Brakes Rule’. This is the rule that says things should only be allowed in F1 if they will be remotely useful for road cars in the future. It’s so named (by me) because carbon brakes need to be heated to about 1000 degrees before they work – meaning they do not work on road cars. They also, by virtue of the fact they single handedly halved braking distances and took away a huge margin of error (or skill), did more to kill overtaking in F1 than anything else including the deliberate messing up of the airflow out of the back of the car which doesn’t allow the car behind to get close through corners. The stupid DRS (“Drag Reduction System”) involves the driver pressing a button on the steering wheel to flatten part of the rear wing. In qualifying this reduces drag in a straight line allowing the cars to be faster, but reduces downforce in the corners giving them less grip. Allowing the drivers to change this as they are going around the circuit means that every time they get on a straight they press the button to flatten the rear wing, which they then release as they break for a corner. There is no rocket science about when to apply it – they will all do it at exactly the same points around the track. In a race, you are only allowed to engage it if you are less than 1 second behind the car in front. The car in front is not allowed to engage it, giving you an advantage and better enabling you to overtake. I want to see more overtaking in F1, but I want to see it because the better driver/car combination is overtaking the not-so-good driver/car combination not because the car behind has a clear advantage simply because it is behind!  Stop meddling and sort out the real problem. Take away carbon brakes and clean up the airflow coming off the back of the cars. If you don’t believe me please see every form of bike racing, non-oval Indycars and Nascars, sportscars, single seaters in F3 or below, rallycross, karting, errr… every other form of motorsport with no carbon brakes.

Q1 5mins: Perez goes fourth in car that my mother could get through Q1. The commentators go inappropriately yet predictably nuts.

Q1 4 mins: Way too early to tell but Sauber look quicker than Mercedes. Things that make you go hmmm.

Q1 3 mins: Kobayshi runs a little wide onto the kerb and gets it a little sideways. David reacts by shouting “HEY – GOOD OLE’ BOY THAT’S IT MY BOY GIVE IT SOME WELLY!!!” as if young Kamul had deliberately done a power slide coming out of the corner for our benefit. I’m sure Kobayshi will be delighted that The Hobster celebrated him losing 2 tenths of a second on a hot lap. Ladies and gentlemen, David Hobbs.

Q1 Checkered Flag: Quick thought – do Ferrari still pay Felipe Massa?

Q1 Checkered Flag: Petrov finishes 3rd among 16 cars to have made it through Q1, 10 of which were cruising. “What a development!” exclaims Bob. “Please stop grinding your teeth honey” asks Hannah.

Q1 Checkered Flag: Bob: “We’ll take a break and do the numbers”. I have no idea what this means.

Q2 Back from the ad break: Karthikeyan walks into his pit having got within 9 seconds of Vettel and clearly outside of the new 107% rule. “He gave it he best shot. You could argue he did very well under the circumstances” says Bob. Did he Bob? Could you Bob? Is there anything else you would like to share that you can know nothing about Bob?

Q2 14mins: Steve says that if Massa is not confident then it affects his performance. Allow me to save you five minutes of your life by not typing my response.

Q2 13 mins: Dannii Minogue is there. Apparently, says Hannah, this will please Madi. Dannii looks awful – she appears to have (if this is even possible) a botoxed nose. Bob: “Is that Kylie Minogue?” Steve: “Dannii, possibly Dannii”.  Hannah: “Ohhh noooo…  really??”

Q2 13mins: Vettel has apparently named his new car “Kinky Kylie”. The reason for this, Bob explains, is not repeatable for an American broadcast. I bet Brundle would have said it.

Q2 12mins: “Wooooaaaahhhh!” shout Steve and Dave in unison as Barrichello gently spins into the gravel trap. They then shout over each other to try and get across that he may not be able to get out of it – something which is already evident from the fact his wheels are spinning and he’s going nowhere.  SPEED’s F1 commentary team – we do anything but add value!

Q2 12 mins: The replay arrives and it’s immediately evident that Rubens got his left wheels onto the grass as he was braking and turning in and spun the car. End of discussion.

Q2 11 mins: Bob starts to talk about the harder compound tyres that Rubens had on being harder to get heat (and therefore grip) into. This is all fine, but irrelevant as he had two wheels on the grass which caused the accident.

Q2 11mins: No, now Bob is actually claiming that cold tyres were a factor. HE HAD TWO WHEELS ON THE GRASS.

Q2 10 mins:  F1 is HD is pretty. Bernie – where was this 3 years ago?

Q2 9 mins: Oh no. Now Steve is claiming that Barrichello’s crash was caused him releasing the DRS button on his steering wheel. They show the in-car camera of Barrichello making a mistake by letting the car continue onto the grass as he is braking (with no evidence whatsoever of a suddenly change in trajectory) and Steve claims that the DRS unsettled the car. Dave to Steve “You have eyes like the rat that lives… (a full three second pause) under the ground.”

Q2 8 mins: Bob: “Look how quickly the engines rev!”

Q2 7 mins: Hamilton locks up his right front under braking and clearly flat spots it.  You can clearly see the patch of darker, chewed up tyre as it begins to rotate again on the slow motion replay. Steve: “Hamilton has terrific reactions and manages to avoid flat spots.”

Q2 6 mins: Steve: “This is a wild guess, but I wonder if the electronics on Barrichello’s car were operating the wing in the wrong way, causing the accident?”  Me: “AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!  He got two wheels on the grass! It was a mistake!” Steve: “Just putting it out there” Me: “Don’t. Ever.”

Q2 5mins: Australia looks cold.

Q2 4 mins: Alonso, 2nd favorite for the championship behind Vettel puts in a lap that’s a full 1.1 secs slower than the shabby-haired German’s Q2 best, putting him into 4th at the moment. Dave “Nice time from Alonso there – 4th”. Yes Davey-boy, I’m sure he’s delighted being 3 grid slots and over a second behind the front-runner. It’s not like he’s a double world champion driving a Ferrari with a zombie teammate and a highly realistic goal of becoming world champion this year, is it?

Q2 4 mins: In car with Massa. It looks messy, un-committed and, well… plain un-coordinated. It looks kinda like someone driving on a Playstation game for the first time when they don’t know what they’re doing yet.

Q2 2 mins: Will gets hold of Barrichello in the pits and asks him what happened. Rubens: “I put a foot wrong going into the corner, got on the grass and turned it around, unfortunately.” I punch my own head.

Q2 2 mins:  Rubens adds that the pace of his car (the Williams) was quicker than the team had expected in qualifying, so they’re hopeful for the race. Back in the knowledge-vacuum that is the SPEED commentary box, Dave adds: “That’s interesting eh? The pace of the car in qualifying is quicker than we thought it would be? Those Red Bull guys (laughs) have been playing their cards close to their chest all day yesterday.” Now, was he simply not listening to what Barrichello said and did not understand it, or he thinks Barrichello drives for Red Bull? Either way, he is a muppet.

Q2 1 min: Sutil gets up onto the kerb coming onto the main straight, loses it, overcorrects and spins 360 degrees. I swear this is an accurate transcript of the commentary (they do not stop speaking over each other at any point):

Steve: “Ohhh!” He’s going to be out.. ohhh! I… oh… no he’s not…  woah… and there he is… wow!  Ha ha ha! Woah!”

David: “Woah! Ohhh! Woah! Ooooooo! Ha ha ha! Jammy devil!! Ha ha ha! Woah!”

Bob then adds what sounds like: “Kick, save and a beauty!”

Hannah looks up at the TV: “What?!”

Bob then adds: “Just the way the coach drew it up on the blackboard!”

Q2 Checkered flag: In car with Schumacher who is fighting what is clearly a badly handling Mercedes and trying to get into the top 10 for Q3. Some of SPEED’s best analysis coming up once more… over to you David and Steve: “Ooooh he’s trying hard! Ooooh! Push it! Oooooh!” Look, he is! Here it comes! (onto the main straight) Go on son! Come on my boy! Get over there!

Q2 Checkered flag: Schumacher fails to reach the top 10. Steve adds “The car is not fast enough”. We cut to the results showing Schumacher’s teammate Rosberg in 8th.

Q3 10 min: Hannah is right, you do not expect Paul Di Resta to be Scottish.

Q3 6 min: David: “Hamilton has the quickest hands in the business.”

Q3 5 min: Vettel looks so, so quick, so, so committed and so, so comfortable. This is really fun to watch in-car.

Q3 3 min: We get to see a minute or so of Buemi looking really solid. Very accurate, using all the road and keeping extremely smooth.

Q3 2 mins: Massa spins coming out of the pits. Trick question: Who is more overpaid, Massa or the SPEED commentary team?

Q3 Checkered flag: Hamilton somehow bumps Webber into 3rd. This is either amazing from Lewis or completely pony from Webber. I cannot make up my mind which.

Interviews: Vettel somehow manages to contain his justified smugness. Lewis does the same by doing the thanking-the-guys-back-in-the-factory thing. Webber looks and sounds beaten already. Quick thought – Vettel is tiny.

Last thoughts: Faster than expected: McLaren and Renault. Petrov, Rosberg and Di Resta. Slower than expected: Ferrari and Mercedes. Webber, Schumacher, Sutil and Heidfeld. Massa should still not have a job in F1. I will watch live races with radio commentary this year.

Latest pre-race odds from Betfair:

Vettel 20/21 – way too short. At the first race of the season with reliability issues etc no one should be odds-on.

Hamilton 11/2 – about right

Webber 13/2 – should be 2nd favorite as he’s in what is clearly the best car at his home grand prix.

Button 10/1 – good value for 4th on the grid at the first race of the season.  He has won here before.

Alonso 15/1 – good value because of Ferrari reliability.

Petrov / Rosberg 69/1 – good value

Massa 79/1 – way too short…

Other good value, 1/3 for there to be a safety car – it will happen. 3/1 for a McLaren to win. Hamilton 4/1 to finish the 1st lap in the lead – he’s on the front row!?! Best value of all – 3/1 for Massa not to finish in the top 6 .

The best looking F1 car ever

Posted: March 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Every week I speak to the treasurers of 10 different countries in the Americas.  We speak about what is going on there, the bank, the economy, the country.  It’s great – these countries are all so different from each other and the people are all different too with their own unique experiences and perspectives. At the end of each call, we usually spend a few minutes going over what our view is on the rest of the world and how it impacts or may impact on them.

For the last few months this part of the conversation has been dominated by food and energy prices.  Most of these countries are ’emerging markets’ which is one of those horrible catch-all phrases that basically covers ‘second’ and ‘third world’ countries (oh, look – more horrible generalisations! – yes, American computer, generalisation is spelt with an s, not a z).  In these markets, food price inflation can mean everything to the economy – even to the extent it can cause governments to fall.

In these countries – generally – people spend a higher percentage of their disposable income on food.  In 2006, Americans spent 6.1% of their disposal income on food at home.  UK 8.3%, Germany 10.9%, Japan 13.4%. Indians spent 39.4%, Indonesians 49.9%.  It makes sense – you need to eat to live and if you have less money to start with you’ll spend a higher percentage of it on food.

Food is not as incrementally as expensive when comparing ‘poor’ to ‘rich’ countries as the difference between how comparatively poor and rich those countries are to begin with.  Put another way, if a loaf of bread costs “1” is a third world country, it may cost “3” in a first world country, but the average disposable income in that first world country may be “100” compared to “10” in the third world country. So if the price of a loaf of bread increases by “1” for both then it has a far smaller effect on how much disposable income remains in the first world country (100-3-1=96, or a ~1% decrease) than in the third world country (10-1-1=8, or an ~11% decrease).

So when this happens

it’s a pretty serious problem for a lot of the world.

So, what happened to food prices?  Well, less supply and same demand equals higher prices. Torrential rains in Canada restricted the supply of oats – Canada supplies 80% of the world’s oats by the way. Unseasonably hot weather in some parts of Europe and heavy rain in other parts mean that European wheat prices are up from €120 per tonne in April 2010 to over €200 per tonne today.  Monsoon rains affected storage of wheat in India – the world’s second largest wheat producer. Russia’s worst drought in 130 years destroyed a fifth of the land sown for grain and the Russian government reacts by restricting export supply, worried about the supply available at home. In August 2010 Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan – yeah, read through that list of countries again – launch grain tenders (‘if you’ve got supply then we’ll buy it’) to replace the rapidly decreasing supply from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  They said at the time that they were not desperately concerned as they expected better than forecast supply towards the end of the year.  They were wrong.

When an increasing percentage of the population can no longer afford food things tend to reach a breaking point quite quickly.

Yes, I’m certain that a lot of the population of the Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain have suffered from oppressive regimes. I am also sure that is the case in Yemen, Palestine, Iraq and particularly in Iran, Sudan and Libya.  It is also the case that the percentage of the population under 30 years old in these countries – between 52% and 74% in those I listed above – means that there is a large ‘young generation’ some of whom desire change and want to ‘do it for themselves’.  The recent surge in internet usage in these countries has expanded from nothing 10 years ago to being probably the most important factor in this spell of regime change.

More of this in a moment. But first a tangent. Because I love me a tangent. These relatively peaceful uprisings seemed to have been celebrated in the UK and the US with a mixture of hippy ‘power to the people’ and right wing ‘power to the individuals’ and everything inbetween.  “Yay – the people overthrew them! And they did it without bloodshed!” Yes – yay indeed. But, firstly maybe we should wait a few months and see who takes over the power void and how they go by it before we go nuts with optimism. Secondly, although what has been going on most recently in Libya has obviously soured this euphoria slightly, how much of the relatively peaceful part of these uprisings has to do with the restraint of the military? Everyone loves a David vs Goliath story – the big bad institution vs  the plucky individual. The real world simply isn’t like this. How many of the soldiers have friends and family members who can no longer afford basic foodstuffs? It’s not rocket science. So, kudos to you big bad army people and to your leaders too. It’s braver not to start the fight when you have the bigger guns. Tangent over.

Anyway, back to the internet thing – the sheer speed at which this ‘revolutionary zeal’ has spread through the world is utterly remarkable and absolutely down to the fact that this generation can immediately see what is going on in their neighbouring countries simply by logging onto their laptops and not only seeing the news from outlets all over the world, but by contacting their friends on Facebook and Twitter and using them to organise demonstrations. None of this was available 10 years ago. For further proof of this look no further than China banning LinkedIn immediately after protests were organised using it this last week.

It’s truly fascinating. I now expect that “The Social Network 2” will be a sprawling epic, based from North Africa across the Middle East and hopefully with Mark Zuckerberg in a vastly reduced role.  It will not be based in Europe where, despite the recent protests in Greece, enough people generally realise their troubles are by and large absolutely of their own making. “What do you mean I can’t enter a Greek public sector job at 18, work 20 years and retire on a full pension anymore?  It’s sooo unfair! Overthrow the government!  It must be their fault!”

However, the internet did not cause all of this – it merely accelerated the spread of change across the world. So what did cause this?

60 minutes here in the US would have us believe it was a stall owner in a small town in Tunisia that ‘had enough’ and set light to himself in the street to protest at how poor he was. His friends were so outraged that they ended up organising mass demonstrations which directly led to the overthrowing of the government and spread to cause revolution across oppressed countries all over the world and now everyone will live happily ever after…  (let’s ignore the bit in Tunisia where people are now protesting at the interim government – which is all of three weeks old – because their lives aren’t perfect yet and concentrate on how “it was Facebook wot won it”).

So what is more likely? That this sudden surge of regime change came from decades of oppression, corruption and all round dissatisfaction from a population with a lack of choice in who runs their countries and that all this was romantically triggered by a flash mob uprising in Tunisia?  Or was it simply because those same oppressed people couldn’t afford to eat anymore?

The simple yet admittedly boring answer, at least when compared to Mark Zuckerburg saving the world, is that all this was triggered by that most basic of desires – to eat. Demand and supply – the most simple economics. Remind me again why we don’t teach this stuff to every child?  Why is economics not in the basic curriculum in the UK? A lot of those who have grown up without this in their basic education think that economics is about money. It’s not – it’s about what’s going on right now across North Africa and the Middle East. It’s about what’s happening in Bahrain.

In Bahrain, where in a week’s time the opening round of the F1 World Championship will no longer take place.  F1 has taken the decision that it is better to leave the country to, in the words of Bernie Ecclestone, “heal”.

So, in front of my sister in Melbourne a fortnight later, this new Lotus Renault will debut in it’s black and gold livery.

For those of us who have been watching F1 for a long time this is a pretty evocative paint job. You see, there was a time when F1 cars looked different from each other, and that difference was not only because of their sponsors colours and decals. The last car that raced in these colours was Ayrton Senna’s John Player Special 1986 Lotus. The last car that won a World Championship in these colours, a 1978 Lotus 79, began life racing against a six-wheel Tyrrell P34 and a Brabham BT46 ‘fan car’ (more on this later). They looked completely different – if you painted them all black and removed all sponsorship, you would have had no difficulty in picking out which car was which.

You would certainly have difficulty today.  In fact, a German magazine did just this exercise in 2008 using graphical software – only 1 of the 22 F1 drivers that year could pick out all 11 cars without their fancy makeup.

Before we get to the reason why, let’s map the changes basic changes to F1 cars over the years. We’ll take a Ferrari from each half decade starting in 1960.  I’ve chosen Ferraris firstly because they’ve been around that long and secondly because they’ve always been painted red which helps in comparison.

It’s 1960 – Front engined. Thin wheels. Enormous steering wheel.  No seatbelts. Six drivers have been killed in the last two years.

It’s 1965 (ok, 1966) – Rear engined. Fat wheels. Seatbelts and roll bars. Exhausts – cooool! Held together with blu-tac. Wolfgang Von Trips has already been killed in an earlier version of this car and Lorenzo Bandini will die in one next year at Monaco.

It’s 1970 – Front ‘aerofoils’ and rear wings. Made from paper mache. Fuel tanks exploded if you looked at them the wrong way. You had more chance of surviving the Battle of Britain in a pink Spitfire than a full season in one of these.  The list of fatalities and serious injuries (particularly burns) is horrifically long.

It’s 1975 – Proper front and rear wings increase downforce sticking the car to the ground better. Rollbar and sidepods aerodynamically designed to guide airflow efficiently and into the engine to cool it. Still seemingly built specifically with the specific intention of burning the driver to death, which this car will (just) fail to do to Niki Lauda next year.

It’s 1980 –  and ugh…  sorry. Bigger engines in the back push forward the drivers. Front and rear wing configurations played around with to try and increase downforce. You can’t see it here but this car had a flat bottom and ‘skirts’ along the side at track level to suck the car to the ground to increase grip.  That’s until they lost grip, at which point they would tend to throw their driver a few hundred feet into the countryside. The driver pictured below, Giles Villeneuve, will suffer this fate in less than two years time.

It’s 1985 – Skirts banned.  Carbon Fibre monocoques keep the driver safer and soft fuel cells mean less fires, but the huge engines with turbos attached push forward the drivers so much that you wonder where their feet go (the answer is in front of the front axel – meaning if you crash head-on your legs don’t do so well). Huge rear wings and sidepods to cool the engines. No one has died at an F1 meeting since 1982.

It’s 1990 – Ahhh, pretty.  Back to normal aspiration (no turbos) meaning roughly half the horsepower of two years before, regulation changes limit everything to do with the aerodynamics meaning front and back wings in particular are limited in size.  Driver further back for safety (compare this to 5 years before!).

It’s 1995 – This Ferrari was one of the last cars of it’s era not to have a ‘raised nose’ (see all the cars the followed it).  Note the little ‘winglet’ in front of the front suspension to ‘clean’ the airflow beyond the struts.  Last year, For the first time since 1982, an F1 meeting witnessed a fatality when Roland Ratzenburger and Aryton Senna were killed – note the sides of the cockpit have been raised to protect the driver’s heads as a direct result.

It’s 2000 – Raised nose.  Thinner cars due to regulations.  More winglets, smaller sidepods. Engines smaller and lighter.

It’s 2005 – Err..  more winglets?

It’s 2010 –  Err…  even more winglets?

And here is every other Ferrari from the last decade:

I have no idea whether they are in chronological order or not. And does it matter? Minor changes in sponsorship aside they look the same right?

Oh, not one driver has been killed driving an F1 car since May 1994.

I am not morbidly interested in driver deaths. The reason I stress the changes in safety is the fact that increasing design regulation largely introduced to protect driver safety (along with limiting costs) has meant that all F1 cars have basically looked the same for the last decade. The single downside of increased driver safety has been the lack of difference between today’s cars.

The only way of differentiating between F1 cars today is therefore their colours, which is why I’m pleased with this year’s black and gold JPS-style Lotus Renault. Today’s cars may be pretty and they may not.  I don’t really care as they’re so ubiquitous that it’s very difficult to get excited about it.

There is also an old adage that says ‘the better the car looks the faster it goes’. Now, this makes as much sense as the basketball rule that says the better the player’s name is the better the player – the starters on the NBA 2011 All-Star teams: Lebron, Amare, Dwyane, Derrick, Dwight, Carmelo, Kobe, Yao…  Chris and Kevin. Anyway, it’s nonsense frankly, but the fact is that a lot of the cars below were also very successful. F1 cars are not designed to look great, if they do it’s a bonus.

Other than that, like anything else aesthetic, it’s all in the eye of the beholder (how else can one explain Barbra Streisand?). So, in the eye of this beholder (in some kind of order because it has to be a list) here are my favorites ever:

10: The 1979 Brabham BT 46

It raced once and won and was then banned forever more. That giant fan type thing at the back under the wing was supposedly for engine cooling but was in fact simply an exhaust for the main fan which was under the car, sucking it to the ground.  Regardless, I like it a lot.  It was designed by Gordon Murray.

9: The 1975 Lotus 72

To me, the quintessential 1970’s Lotus.  Huge airbox above the engine.  Big rear wing held on tiny struts way behind the chassis.

6 (equal): The 1988 Mclaren MP4-4 and 1989 McLaren MP4-5

Gordon Murray again. Twice more. Two of the most dominant F1 cars in history driven by the two most dominant drivers providing two World Championships in two years. Clean simple lines and I love the sharks fin end plates on the front wing.  When I drew an F1 car as a kid – this is what it looked like.

5: The 1975 Brabham BT44b

Gordon Murray again (I only found this out afterwards – so it’s not on purpose). Cool. The best front wing ever, the best airbox ever, and just look at the size of those rear wheels… Underpowered against the Ferrari, it finished 2nd in the constructors championship.

4: The 1991 Jordan 191

Maybe the outright prettiest F1 car ever.  Beautiful curves an slopes everywhere. Jordan were a tiny team and this car, along with the first F1 drive of a certain Herr Schumacher, was a huge success.

3: The 1969 Lotus 49b

For these two photos of Graham Hill at Nurburgring alone. The late 60’s F1 car. Won the driver’s and constructors championship in 1968.

2: The 1983 Brabham BT52

The coolest, sexiest, fastest looking F1 car ever.  The thing looked looked like a rocket ship on wheels. Pointy, angular and fire breathing. The fire breath came from Castrol, who provided some ‘special’ fuel they developed during 1983 (reported to have caused skin cancer on contact which ceased development after the season) which did this (below) to it’s BMW engine and powered Nelson Piquet to the championship. Oh, Gordon Murray designed this car as well.

1: The 1990 Ferrari 641

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NY put this Ferrari 641 on exhibition. That kinda kills the conversation as to whether this can be considered art if you ask me. To me, it’s the most beautiful F1 car ever.

The Jordan 191 is the most modern car on this list. 1991. I searched long and hard for for a post 1991 car that was deserving, but the closest I got was a 2007 McLaren, but this would have been mostly for the bizarre aerodynamics and silver and red paint job.  It’s still was fundamentally the same as every other car out there.  The best looking car of it’s generation? Maybe. One of the top 10 ever? No.

I also – I’m sure criminally in the eyes of some – ignored anything with no wings (basically pre-1967). To me, F1 cars have wings. My list.

So is it the regulations that have killed the art of F1?  What would happen if we did away with he regulations?  What would an F1 car look like then? Adrian Newey, designer of last year’s championship winning Red Bull (and also my sister’s 7th favorite person of all time), was asked to design this F1 car in a world with more relaxed rules for the video game Gran Turismo 5.  This is what he came up with. The Red Bull X1.

Is it better looking than today’s F1 cars?

I guess the real point is that in an F1 world with less regulations another designer would at least come up with something totally different.

What I want most of all is some balance between ensuring – as far as is possible – we maintain and improve driver safety but also allow enough slack in the regulations so that designers still have room for ideas. Ideas that result in change beyond more efficient winglets. I’m bored of the way the 21st century F1 car looks.

Give the designers freedom to change please; freedom to progress. I am certain the beauty would come as a happy by-product.

My 25 best things of 2010

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

25. Leslie Nielson Tributes:

“Have you heard?  Leslie Nielson is in a better place.”

“Better place? What is it?”

“It’s an emotional construct designed to deal with grief – but that’s not important right now”

Well done that person.

24. Visitors.  We are blessed to have a nice place to stay in New York.  Our visitors this year have been of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds. What they have in common is that they’ve all been fun to have to stay.  We look forward to welcoming more in 2011.

23. Own Goals. This could easily have made a Worst 25 things list as well, but it was as hilarious as it was depressing.  I liked being a student.  I’m absolutely for everyone having the opportunity to study at university.  With the greatest will in the world however, I also remember how little the average student works on any given day and I’m pretty sure most people who were university students remember just as well as I do.  So choosing a Wednesday to go on a protest march through London and allowing some of your number to vandalise private and public property which will either 1) have to be paid for through insurance policies – meaning they will be more expensive for everyone going forward, or 2) will have to be repaired using taxpayers money – you know, the same taxpayers sitting in offices working… yeah, those ones you’re asking to help pay for your further education, well, it’s not the brightest idea in the world now, is it?  And I’m not Winston Churchill’s greatest fan, but… really?  The goal you’re wanting to shoot at is that way *points in opposite direction*.

Nice one. Brilliant.

22. Busting the 2010 unintentional comedy scale: Trailers for the Norwegian TV show ‘Gylne Tider’ (means “Golden Times” and who’s to argue having seen these).  I mean – what were they thinking?

21. The Thomas Mars Experience:

Part 1: Thomas Mars is the lead singer of Phoenix, officially the best French band of all time. Due to Hannah’s planning brilliance, we saw Phoenix in the Santa Barbara Bowl – one of the best places ever to see a live show – on holiday in September.  It rocked.

The support band, Neon Indian, had a guitarist who looked like a Musketeer and their main song used the riff from Dream Weaver that Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World used to simulate a fade-out into a dream sequence, waggling their fingers down in front of their faces. “Dedeleeloo, dedeleeloo, dedeleeloo”. Hannah and I spent the next five minutes doing the Wayne and Garth hands in time with Neon Indian, who were suddenly taking themselves waaaay too seriously.

For no discernible reason, there was a guy just in front of us in the audience dressed head to toe in purple lycra.  We thought it may be Tom Cruise trying to do the fan experience incognito. He was short. Anyway, part of the crowd nearby sang “Purple guy, give us a wave, purple guy purple guy give us a wave”. He obliged, which was also fun.

Give us a wave

Part 2: I was in the LAN (airline) lounge in JFK waiting to go to Chile in November, and Thomas Mars sat down opposite me.  He looked tired and I didn’t want to disturb him to tell him his band are great, so I left him alone.  But he was wonderfully, impossibly French – speaking his native tongue over his phone and shrugging Gallically in that ‘je ne sais quoi?’ way. Awesome.

20. Lucy Roberts’ X-Factor updates on Facebook: I have not been as consistently amused by anything else this year. Brilliant and roughly 743 times better than viewing it oneself. I’m also really going to enjoy the “Vote TV” backlash that’s coming. Right now, half the new shows on TV ask the audience to vote on their outcome. Roughly 5% of them are vaguely good. There is nothing wrong with them in limited numbers but today we find ourselves one step from “Celebrity Accountant” – being asked to choose which of the 12 random celebrities from the Gylne Tider promo best audited the accounts of Tesco. Enough is enough and ‘enough’ happened in 2010.  I welcome the backlash as Betjeman welcomed the friendly bombs to fall on Slough. (NB: If you only click on one link – make it this one).

19. What I haven’t seen and heard from 2010 yet – I was trying to figure out what music and TV I had been listening to and watching this year and found that, by and large, it was from 2008 and 2009.  I’m busy, I work a lot, and I therefore don’t have much time to stumble across things and tend to rely on recommendations. I therefore can’t wait to see Breaking Bad, Waking Dead, The Secret In Their Eyes, and all of the great music and books that 2010 will bring me in the coming years.

18. The US version Top Gear being utterly rubbish. Maybe it will finally teach the Americans not to try remaking great British TV.  Some things we really do best.

17. Inception and The Social Network – big films with big pedigree.  One had Christopher Nolan with Leo Di Caprio and a giant budget, the other had an Aaron Sorkin script directed by David Fincher.  Both should have been great. Both were. Nolan produced a big, bold and badass film that simply asked it’s audience for a little concentration and a little faith and I loved it.  The Social Network reminded me why Aaron Sorkin is the best – he only writes characters in shades of grey.  Baddies are never black, heroes never white. You know – like real people. Also, he makes you care about characters. Everything I’ve seen that he has written has me routing for someone.

16. The continuing excellence of The Daily Mash

15. Stephen Fry’s piece on Twitter. Everyone I know who uses Facebook uses it like Twitter. Status updates are usually not status updates – they’re tweets.  It’s weird.  Not wrong, just weird.  Makes me wonder if both will survive and how they will evolve. And besides, Stephen Fry says things better than nearly everyone else.

14. The Trifecta. The idea of owning a Playstation 3, and Xbox and a Wii.  One of our friends in NY has this. I’m one third there. Hannah is scared.

13. Teaching the Americans how to chant.  World Cup 2010. USA vs England.  English fans in a NY pub outnumbered 10 to 1 respond to chants of “U-S-A!, U-S-A!” – “It’s here, it’s there, it’s every f***ing-where, BP’s oil…. BP’s oil…”

12. Driving. I drove on the 14th October 2009.  I remember exiting the roundabout at the top of Blackheath that evening and sinking my right foot into the footwell.  The corners of my mouth curled upwards, perfectly synchronized with the woosh of the turbo.  The next day I flew to New York.  I didn’t drive again until 14th September 2010.  That evening I drove us from beautiful, quiet little Yountville in the Napa Valley to nearby Sonoma where we had dinner.

Exiting Yountville onto the main road with nothing coming.

Me, in a 315bhp 4.6 L V8 rear wheel drive Ford Mustang with great big fat tires.

Angry looking muscle car. Fun.

Really?  I mean, really?

A depressed right foot, healthy amounts of opposite lock, a wonderful sounding engine complaining at it’s rev limiter and a resigned sigh of ‘honeeeeey…?’ from my wife in the passenger seat.  11 months later, the corners of my mouth curled upwards into a grin once more.

11. The iPad. A guy I used to work for in London, one of the brightest people I’ve ever met, was in New York this week. He had purchased an iPad for his mother, who must be pushing 70. My current boss mentioned how impressed he was that she could use it.  The guy from London replied that she couldn’t yet, but would be fine as…  as… “have you used one?” That’s the point. Great design in technology is not about just making things look pretty or making them last along time – OK, it is a little about making stuff look pretty to -it’s about making the experience of using it easier and better. That’s what Apple does better than anyone else right now. It’s a dream to use, it really is. Downloading magazines also means I save a few trees and annoy my wife less by creating stacks of them everywhere.  Talk about a win/win.

10. Getting a year closer to Virgin Galactic. Another generation of those who said “not in my lifetime” now say “oh” instead.

9. New York.  Keeps on making me love it more.

8. The Barnes and Turley weddings. I love the way my friends do weddings.  The most enjoyable things from start to finish.  We’re running out of opportunities.  Some of us need to start getting divorced so we can do it all over again.

7. The Stags. Barnes’s in New York and Turley’s in Blackpool.  Polar opposite stags, both hilarious.  The weekend in New York was just magic.  Flying from New York to spend the weekend in Blackpool was one of the most surprisingly worthwhile things I’ve ever done.

6. Seeing the Seahawks: Roughly 24 years after getting a Seattle Seahawks keyring and beginning one of the more random fan experiences I know of, we interrupted our holiday so I could see a Seahawks game in person for the first time. They beat the heavily favoured 49ers 31-6 and I had a simply great time.  Thanks honey x

5. The little people. Meeting Ollie, catching up with Bea, Toby, Georgie, Ruby, Sandy, Rory and getting pictorial updates of the apparently extremely happy life of Dominic:  Our family and friends have great kids.

4. Thanking Harry Redknapp. Spurs 3-1 InterSpurs 3-2 Arsenal.  Thanks, and ‘ave an ‘Appy Christmas ‘Arry.

3. Making new friends in New York. They’re not any better or any worse than old friends. They’re just more friends.  Fun.

2. Madi’s Blog – speaks for itself better than I can.

1. The world getting smaller and smaller. I live in NY with my wife but travel all the time. My sister lives in Australia. My parents live in England.  We all speak face to face over Skype on a regular basis.  Blogs, e-mails, texts, Facebook, cheaper and more frequent flights.  It doesn’t matter where we are, it’s easier to stay in contact and be together. Don’t go telling me progress isn’t good. It’s just that – progress. Let’s have some more in 2011.

F1’s Best Driver

Posted: April 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

OK, so this started a couple of weeks ago when my boss – no newcomer to F1 – stated that he thought Sebastian Vettel was currently the best driver in F1.  Time Warner Cable had deemed it best that I miss the Australian GP by only supplying me with one second in every three that was filmed. Tangent – F1 on the SPEED Channel (that’s right, all caps – shout it!!!) is pretty much unwatchable even when the broadcast reaches me intact.  After years of complaining about commentary on the BBC and ITV, SPEED’s team shouting about the “AWESOME PITSTOP!!!” make me miss them thoroughly – tangent over.  So I was informed by my boss that Vettel had been outstanding in Aus, only for his car to break late in the race.  Come the end of the Malaysian GP, again dominated by the shabby-haired German, and my boss was convinced.

This got me thinking.

That evening I made the mistake (number one) of looking at the ‘comments’ section at the bottom of an article on the website Planet There I found a considerable amount of uninformed opinion on who is currently the best driver in F1.

This annoyed me and got me thinking more.

I did a bit of an internet search (mistake number two) and found many polls. The Castrol Rankings, a points based system which tells me that Nascar driver Jimmie Johnson is better than Lewis Hamilton, got me chuckling.  However, most of these polls were asking ‘Who is the Greatest F1 Driver of All Time?’ rather than who is the best currently racing.  If you are ever so inquisitive you’ll find they range from the sublime (Jim Clark No.2 – The Times, go and pour yourself another drink and get all nostalgic again) to the ridiculous (Rubens Barrichello No.7 ahead of Alain Prost No.9 – The Independent, whatever you guys were smoking was gooooooood…).

This upset me.

You see, I started watching Formula One Grand Prix racing on 22nd May 1983.  That day, my Dad and his friend Neil explained the nature of a lap to me (aged 4). I had thought that this kind of race, just like every other race I had known up until that day, would start at point A and finish at point B. I was delighted to be wrong. I watched as Alain Prost drove his yellow Renault up the sweeps of Eau Rouge at 170 mph over and over again on his way to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix and, barring a couple of years in the early part of this century when F1 was basically in a coma, I have been watching ever since.

I can name, as I have been able to since about the same time as I learned my capital cities and times tables, every F1 World Champion since 1950 on demand. Before the age of every race being televised live, I used to watch whole, two hour long, races on Ceefax. Every now and then a friend will call me mid-pub quiz where an F1 question has just come up. I have seen ground effect, active suspension, turbos, slicks, fuel stops (more than once) and more points systems than I can remember come and go over the years. Today, if I could have one job in the world it would be an F1 driver. It has been that way since 22nd May 1983.

I am therefore comfortable that, barring those who spend their working lives traveling with the Grand Prix ‘circus’, I have F1 knowledge to match anyone.  Which is why I get upset at the kind of ignorance it takes to place Rubens Barrichello above Alain Prost on an all-time list and publish it.  This is like saying ‘Joey’ was better than the ‘West Wing’ – the fact that some idiot somewhere probably thinks so still doesn’t make it true.

So, with my little resume in mind, please humour me for a while by letting me explain the two major reasons why it is so difficult to rank F1 drivers.

First – and very much foremost – the cars. They are not the same.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso’s highest finish in his maiden season in a Minardi was 11th.  He won the first of those world championships three years later.  Three time world champion Nelson Piquet managed only a 9th place finish before he landed a competitive drive. Another three time champion Niki Lauda even managed a 5th place in his third season before landing a plum Ferrari drive.  I would need to invent some kind of statistical analysis to prove this properly, so for now you’ll have to trust me when I say that Senna, Prost, Schumacher, Fangio, Vettel, Hamilton or anyone else would not have won a race in Alonso’s Minardi through anything other than sheer luck. It was not a good car.

Likewise, there are great cars.  If you were not in a Williams in 1992, you were not going to win the championship. Ricardo Patrese, driving one of those, managed only one victory (where his top three rivals failed to finish), did not finish 5 of the 16 races and still ended the year in a clear second place in the drivers’ championship. He basically finished second to Mansell in every other race. Was he the second best driver? No. Was he the second best driver/car combination? Absolutely.

The cars are not the same.  Some are fast, some are slow.  Some are fast, but break very often.  Some are slow but will always finish. Some are fast and always finish (yep, these are the ones that will normally have the Drivers’ World Champion sat in them at the end of the year).

So, while one can compare teammates over the course of a season it is extremely difficult to compare drivers who happen to race for different teams, as separating the relative performance of a driver from their car is nigh on impossible.

Secondly – and although this one is more about judging performance over different eras, I cannot stress this enough – the competition. F1 goes through phases, like any sport, where competition is high, and where competition is low.

Despite what The Independent would have you think, Rubens Barrichello is not the seventh best F1 driver of all time.  He had six seasons driving the best car in F1 at the time.  He has 11 career wins.  And how is this for a stat?  In all but three of his sixteen F1 seasons before the present one he was beaten over the course of the season by his teammate.  Read that again – thirteen times in sixteen years he was beaten by his teammate. Incidentally, Prost, a four time world champion, was beaten by a teammate twice in thirteen seasons, both by three time champions, Lauda and Senna (the latter of whom he actually outscored by 11 points in 1988, but still lost the championship due to the most absurd points scoring system ever, in which he had to drop certain results).

Barrichello is also the biggest knock against Michael Schumacher’s claim to being the greatest F1 driver of all time as he was, along with Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Juan Pablo Montoya (all in vastly inferior cars), pretty much all Schumacher had to worry about for five years.  Those were five years in which Schumacher coasted to five of his seven world titles.  Would he have won a title with Prost and Senna anywhere near their peaks?  We have no idea.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise.  And that’s why comparing drivers over different eras is as difficult as comparing drivers in different cars.

Right then. With all that said and done, here is the list.  And, because I’m a man, I like lists.

Rules:  This is done on the basis of points value.  Let’s pretend that you run an F1 team and there is a draft of all the current F1 drivers for the next season only.  Who do you choose?  We will ignore money as there is no salary cap in F1.  Nor is this a ‘who is fastest over one lap’ quiz.  This is simply a choice of who one thinks will get the most points over the course of the season for your new team. That’s how we’re defining the best F1 driver, ok? I make the rules here.

The Ryman League Division 17:

24.  Karun Chandhok – Hispania

Pop Quiz 1: What do you do with someone who finished 10th in GP2, the formula just below F1, in 2008 and then finished 18th in GP2 in 2009?

Answer: Give him an F1 drive of course!

In completely unrelated news, Bernie Ecclestone has been outspoken in his desire to have an Indian GP over the next few years.  Good luck to young Karun, hope he’s enjoying himself.

23.  Bruno Senna – Hispania

Every driver in F1 is a good driver.  However, right up until just a few years ago one could always find a drive on an F1 grid.  It just took a lot of cash and the proof you had previously driven something that didn’t require you to change down gears when going uphill.  One could find plenty of drivers who were not as good as the talented guys in the lower formulas – equally as desperate but more deserving of the drive – but these little minions had considerably more cashish to hand so it didn’t matter.  There is still an element of this in F1 and being the nephew of the driver most agree is the greatest of all time doesn’t hurt either.  Here is the killer fact.  He and Sebasiten Buemi are the only F1 drivers I am aware of to have reached the premier formula in motor racing without having won any junior championship.  From now on I’m calling him ‘The Nephew”.

Pop Quiz 2:  What’s worse – the Hispania F1 car, or who the team hired to drive the thing?  I don’t know the answer, but they are both unprecedented levels of suck.

The “TV’s hit series – Lost” (why is this still in my life?) Division

22.  Jarno Trulli – Lotus

Three facts about Jarno.  One, he is very good over a single lap. Two, he has never, ever, sustained this speed over the course of a race. Three, most amazingly, he still has a drive.

21.  Pedro De La Rosa – BMW Sauber

Pedro is apparently a good test driver.  Hmmm, economist Adam Smith’s theory of specialisation comes to mind.

20.  Rubens Barrichello – Williams

I once saw Rubens out at a club in Valencia following the 2008 European Grand Prix.  He was very drunk.  So was his teammate, Jenson Button.  They had been racing a very bad Honda that day.  Both looked like they had needed the drink.  Button looked like a guy who was sick of being in an awful car, a guy who wanted a chance in something that could challenge.  Rubens looked lost, like a dad who had come in to find his teenage daughter to take her home only to start dad-dancing to the ‘groovy’ music.  Fast forward a year, a lot of rule changes and a new team name, they had the best car on the grid.  Button then had a chance to show he had what Rubens has never had. Speed.

“But, he’s smooth…”.  No, he’s not – he’s slow.

The “Isn’t This Why We Test Kids in Junior Formula Before F1?” Division:

19.  Lucas Di Grassi – Virgin Racing

A bridesmaid.  Technically he’s in the Bruno Senna camp of never having won anything, but I’m claiming his victory in the 2005 Macau Grand Prix (a sort of ‘cup’ rather than championship) on technical grounds because he’s in a different class to Senna.  He finished 2nd or 3rd in everything before F1.  Hmmm, I don’t believe in giving someone like that an F1 drive.  He’s been supported by Renault his entire career.  If he stays anywhere near teammate Glock, I’ll pipe down.  For now, I don’t know why he’s here.

18.  Vitaly Petrov – Renault

The “Vyborg Rocket” is Russia’s first ever F1 driver.  He’s a two time winner of the Lada Cup.  It’s amazing the things I don’t have to make up.  He also won a series called the “Lada Revolution”.  Brilliant.

He’s not too bad at all actually.  Especially considering he never drove in karts, as there weren’t any in Russia.  He had a better than average record in GP2, he scored 6 points with a seventh place finish in China, but he also being destroyed by teammate Kubica.  And let us not forget that Bernie also wants an F1 race in Russia.  Still, good luck Vitaly.  You’ve come a long way from the Lada Revolution, that’s for sure my friend.

17.  Vitantonio Liuzzi – Force India

Has displayed nothing that makes me believe he will still be driving in F1 next year.  Has nearly double his points haul from 2005-2009 already this season, but has clearly been outclassed by Sutil in what is an average, reliable car.  Was lucky to get the second chance in F1 and will have to do something special to keep his drive next year.

16.  Jaime Alguersuari – Toro Rosso

Cool name.  Only reason he’s in F1 was a decent British Formula 3 season in 2008 when aged only 18.  He broke Mike Thackwell’s 29 year old record when he became the youngest driver to start an F1 race halfway through 2009.  His Toro Rosso drive became available after Bernie Ecclestone decided there couldn’t be 3 Sebastie(a)n’s in F1, making Toro Rosso choose between Bourdais and Buemi – they immediately sacked Bourdais.  Alguersuari wasn’t dreadful in Malaysia a few weeks ago.  That’s as good as it will get.  He will not be in F1 in three years time.  By the way, I only made up one of these facts.

15.  Kamui Kobayashi – BMW Sauber

Not awful.  Came in to drive the soon to be gone Toyota for three races at the end of 2009 and impressed.  Has not finished a race yet this year, but has out-qualified De La Rosa in the last two races.  He has done nothing to suggest he’ll be around in a few years, but hasn’t had the chance to prove why that shouldn’t be the case yet either.  He could just be really good you know…  Incomplete grade.

14.  Sebastien Buemi – Toro Rosso

Another bridesmaid.  Never won anything, but unlike The Nephew he had the decency to finish runner up in nearly everything he competed in prior to F1.  He’s quick enough  but I don’t believe he’s ever going to be really competitive.  Sorry, that’s it really.  What else..?  Ummm…  he’s the fourth best Swiss racing driver of all time?  There you go.

The Best Of The Mid-Table Aston Villa Division of F1 Mediocrity

13.  Timo Glock – Virgin Racing

Oh Timo.  In a decision that threatens to haunt him evermore, he decided against a Renault drive for 2010 as they weren’t guaranteed to take part following ‘crashgate’.  He picked the ‘safer’ option of Virgin, who can’t build a car to get him to the finish of a race.

Glock had three podiums in two years in the quick but horribly inconsistent Toyota, never ‘breaking through’ or doing enough to show he was ever going be elite.  That could have changed in the Renault.  Now he’s relying on luck and a more competitive team needing a driver with some kind of prior record next season, who are also willing to forgive this season.  Because this season, in this car, he’s doing nothing.

12.  Adrian Sutil – Force India

The most famous motorcycle saying of all is “you can teach a fast rider to stop crashing, but you can’t teach a slow rider to be fast”.  Sutil crashes a lot, but he is undoubtedly fast. The problem here is Andrea De Cesaris.  Dear, dear Andrea raced during the 1980s and basically crashed every single race he started (he holds the all time record for consecutive non-finishes – 18!).  He was quick, but he never made it over the hump and stopped crashing.  This may be why it’s a bike saying and not an F1 saying.  I like Sutil, I’m just not sure he’ll ever make it over the hump.

11.  Heikki Kovalainen – Lotus

Super, super Heikki Kovalainen.  The most important thing you need to realise about Heikki Kovalainen is that he is fast. Like, really fast.

Proof lies in a little known charity endurance karting race that took place in Hertfordshire in the summer of 2003 when Heikki had graduated from F3 to the Nissan World Series (which he won).  Heikki was in a team of current and ex F3 drivers, who comfortably won the event.  I too was racing that day, and recorded the second fastest lap.  Hekki’s fastest lap of the day (which I think was around the 40 sec mark) was a full three seconds quicker than mine.  Observers on the day congratulated me, and pointed to the fact that he was about 5 stone lighter than me (he’s tiny…) and the fact that I was recovering from surgery three weeks before – I actually couldn’t take my helmet off once I had put it on because the swelling was so big on that side of my head.  Excuses, excuses I say.  No, I was beaten by the better man.  One of the world’s best.  I don’t like talking about it really.

Heikki won a GP driving a McLaren two years ago.  That’s probably as good as it’s going to get (barring that glorious day in 2003).  He’s had his shot really.  After getting the better of Fisichella in 2007, he was completely outclassed by Hamilton over the next two years.  He’s well on top of Jarno Trulli this year, but it’s going to be a long road back if he’s ever going to get another chance with a competitive drive.

The “Quick, but are they really quick enough?” Division:

10.  Felipe Massa – Ferrari

Is a bit like the hit TV show ‘Lost’.  I saw him a few times and he looked promising. But then, the more I watched him the more he looked like nothing special.  Then, every now and again, he would do something ridiculous.  So I kind of stopped paying attention.  But everyone raved about him. He got a drive in the best car on the grid and had a default shot at the title with a teammate apparently so bored and disinterested in racing that he must have been surfing the net while he was supposed to be racing (here’s looking at you Kimi!).  He didn’t win the championship.  Now Alonso has joined Ferrari and is wiping the floor with him.  And suddenly in his fifth season (see: Analogy, Lost) everyone is acting all disappointed and I could not be less surprised.  Sorry, he’s good, but he’s simply not that good.

9. Nico Hulkenburg – Williams

Let me get this out of the way early – I like Nico Hulkenburg. His pre-F1 resume is a thing of beauty.  He has won five titles in six years of junior formula.  Dominant.  That’s Prost / Senna / Schumacher territory.  Although he won the Formula Three Euroseries in 2008, he still went to GP2 rather than straight to F1.  Then he won GP2 too.  I don’t understand how Williams, rather than anyone more competitive, were able to snag him for this year but good luck to them.

He has a mid-table car, an established teammate (Barrichello) who he should be beating consistently by the end of the year (he has no right, Barrichello knows these tracks far too well after all these years) and…  well… that’s not a bad position to be in.  It’s a position that is good enough to turn people’s heads if he is indeed good enough.

Godspeed Nico Hulkenburg.  I’ve got my eye on you.

The “Threatening Their Own Legacy with an Ill Advised Comeback Division”

8.  Michael Schumacher – Mercedes

Statistically the best F1 driver ever, Schumi is clearly on the downside of his career, but the question is how much has he lost already?  A sure fire Hall of Famer, at his best he would be a lock for the top 3, but his comeback so far has been less than impressive and he is being out-qualified and out-raced by his teammate Nico Rosberg.  With the lack of testing allowed due to current regulations, do I want to give him some kind of mulligan for this season and rank him on the basis of years gone by?


The Contenders Division

7.  Robert Kubica – Renault

Has only once had a really competitive car, the BMW in 2008, and was quick in it.  He won a race, had six more podiums and finished 4th in the championship.   A great pedigree – from karts up and onwards until a Formula Renault championship netted him an F1 drive.

He suffered horribly in an awful BMW last year, but has begun this season in the Renault very well indeed, scoring a 2nd place in Australia and finishing in the top 5 in the last two races.  There are rumours that Ferrari is losing patience with Massa’s mediocrity and that he has until the British GP to impress them or they’ll approach Kubica to take over his seat.  I would kind of like this to happen.  You see, I’m not sure Kubica’s got it.  He’s very quick for sure, but is he elite?  Can he compete if he has Alonso for a teammate?  Not sure.  I’d love to find out though.

6.  Nico Rosberg – Mercedes

Son of one of my favorite racing drivers ever, Keke Rosberg. This was a man who used to smoke 20 a day, was ragged as anyone ever and still won a world championship in 1982.  Loved Keke.

Nico doesn’t smoke, at least I don’t think he does.  Then again he hasn’t won a race, let alone a championship, yet.  He is, however, quick.  He had a very decent 2009 in his fourth season for Williams, having eight top-six finishes.  This season he is proving consistently quicker and getting better results than Michael Schumacher, his teammate in the all German (except for the bloke who runs the thing, Ross Brawn, who’s as British as Marmite) Mercedes team.

He’s currently second in the championship.  What does he need to firmly cement himself in the second tier, the level just below the elite?  He needs a win.  He needs to finish in the top five in the championship.  That means finishing higher than Schumacher and Massa.  Yes, if he does that, I might just start to really believe in young Nico.  They’re not bad these Nicos you know…

5.  Mark Webber – Red Bull

I really like Mark Webber.  I was there when he, as a 20 year old, won the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch.  He never had the easy route (he drove the Minardi a couple of years before Alonso), never had the big money, or big sponsorship but has always been quick.  More often than not he’s beaten his teammate.  He’s won two races.  He’s a nice guy.  I like him.

He is probably the best ‘number two’ driver in F1 today.  The most clear examples from the last 30 years: Rene Arnoux, Ricardo Patrese, Gerhard Berger, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine, Heinz Harold Frentzen.  Every one of these drivers won a Grand Prix (Coulthard won 11), but were never going to win a championship.  Irvine came closest in a ridiculously good Ferrari, but even he couldn’t make it.  Tangent alert – Nick Heidfeld would have made this list except he holds the record for most amount of points without a win (219!) – redefining the phrase ‘always the bridesmaid’. Having these guys as number two to someone better means you have a very good shot at a constructors championship.  In that way, Webber is very useful, fantastic over a single lap, but is also second best to Vettel in every way.

Please note the carefully embedded irony in the fact that I exclude Barrichello from this list of ‘number twos’ because he is a ‘number two’ (ahem) F1 driver and always has been.  I thank you.

The “2010 Tottenham Hotspur, Wait Just A Second – Are They Actually Challenging?” Division

4:  Jenson Button – McLaren

Oooh, the quandary.  World Champion, Jenson Button.  He had the best car last year he did (ok, everyone else caught up halfway through the season, but he won six of the first seven races and had Barrichello as a teammate…).  Yet here we lie – early days yet – with ‘Jense’ atop the championship standings once more, and the McLaren is not the best car right now.  Quandary.

The thing about Button is the he was secretly always great at fast tracks.  Really, really good through fast corners. Committed, smooth and consistent.  Great at Spa and Suzuka.  He just couldn’t deal with the slow stuff.  Modern F1 tracks demand that one attacks slow corners by throwing the car over kerbs accurately while dealing with the bumps and adjusting through mid-corner corrections.  Senna was unbelievably good at this, Schumacher too.  Coulthard was very good.  Now, Alonso and Hamilton rule the roost at Monaco, Valencia et al.

What he has now over those who rank above him here is race-craft.  At some stage over the last couple of years his experience started to count.  He tends to make decent tyre choices where Alonso doesn’t, chooses not to overtake where Hamilton may lose a front wing trying to do so, and he may get his car to the finish intact more often than Vettel does.

So why does he not reach the top tier?  One, he’s never done anything in an average car.  Two, he seems to struggle if track conditions / his car require him to adapt driving style.  He’s never been a master of wet weather driving and tends to fade if his car is not working for him.  Two minor knocks – and this season could see him disprove these and make this a top four, rather than a top three.  But that would be getting greedy, because…

The Premiership, Champions League Final, Superbowl, World Series (of poker), World Cup Elite Division:

…there is a very good chance we have never seen an era like this one.

Eras dominated by drivers in F1:

1950 – 1957: Juan Manuel Fangio

1963 – 1965: Jim Clark*

1969 – 1973: Jackie Stewart

1975 – 1977: Niki Lauda

1984 – 1993: Alain Prost & Ayrton Senna

1994 – 2004: Michael Schumacher**

2009 –         : The three best F1 drivers racing today

* This is pushing it.  In an era of privateer teams and gentlemen drivers where it was not uncommon to race in two or three series of racing a year, Clark was probably the superior driver of his day, but only managed two championships before his untimely death racing in one of those series at Hockenheim in 1968.  I took him out and put him back in about seven times.  He is basically filling a 1960s gap where no driver(s) became really dominant.

** Schumacher didn’t win a championship from 1996 to 1999, but he was absolutely the best driver.  He simply took a very average Ferrari and challenged every year until the team became half as good as he was.  When they did (and without any competition) he won five in a row.

There is a famous picture of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet sitting on a pit wall before the Mexican Grand Prix of 1986.  This was the penultimate race of the season and each driver was still in with a chance of the championship.  Bernie Ecclestone brought them together that day so the photographers could capture the ‘fab four’.  In reality, he need not have bothered.  F1 had never had (and has not since) a duel like the one that we would witness over the next years.  Within a year of this photo being taken, Senna would sign with McLaren and join Prost at the pinnacle of the sport for three incredible years from 1988 to 1990.  Prost had been the best driver in F1 for years – only Renault self combusting in ’83, a rain shortened race at Monaco in ’84 and a vastly superior Williams in ’87 denying him every championship from 1983-1987.  All Senna needed was a half decent car.  Senna and Prost were as different as could be, but every bit as good as each other.  They are the two greatest F1 drivers in history and they raced at the same time. But that’s for another day.

The point is that F1 had never seen a period of two dominant drivers at the same time.  It hasn’t since.  Clark / Hill / Brabham were in the wrong era and never in competitive cars at the same time for long enough.  Lauda was not at his best when Prost came through and eventually was blown into retirement.  Piquet won three championships but was always in a far superior car to Prost when he did so.  Alonso / Schumacher came close, but Alonso was too hungry and Schumi wasn’t at his best.

The last couple of years have been a breath of fresh air for F1.  These three drivers are a large part of the reason why.  They have a very good chance of giving us an era to match the Prost/Senna years.  They are all absolutely as talented as anyone who has come before them and are nigh-on impossible to split.  But here goes:

3:  Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull

Outstanding.  The youngest F1 driver to basically do everything except win the championship.  Constantly quick, aggressive without being dirty and has learnt the knack of lights to flag wins very early on in his career.  Competitive from his first race and actually won a race in a Toro Rosso.  Ran Button extremely hard in 2009 and if he’s in a competitive car, looks like he will challenge anyone for the next 10-15 years. Has as much upside as anyone in F1 history.

Why is he only third? Because he hasn’t won the championship yet and he still makes tactical errors.  He can also fade when not absolutely in contention (in a way Hamilton never does).

Slight, and sad, tangent.  I’ve been around long enough to have seen two other equally talented German drivers.  One, Michael Schumacher, became statistically the greatest F1 driver of all time.  The other, Stefan Bellof, died in a World Sportscar Championship race on 1st September 1985 at the same Eau Rouge corner I first watched Prost navigate over and over again two years beforehand.  People often speak of Senna’s wet weather brilliance and point to the Monaco GP of 1984, where the race was cut short just before he passed Prost for the lead.  Bellof, in third, was lapping three seconds a lap faster than Senna, and had the race run it’s full distance would surely have won himself.  He also completed a ridiculous 6 min 11sec qualifying lap of the old 13 mile Nuerburgring in a Porsche 956.  I firmly believe his death, along with Johnny Herbert’s ankle shattering accident at Brands Hatch in 1988 robbed us of an even greater era than the one we enjoyed.

2:  Lewis Hamilton – McLaren

Like him or loathe him (see: Spaniards), Lewis Hamilton has had more to do with F1 returning to a fantastic sport once more than anyone else.  He is, without doubt, the most exciting F1 driver today, almost single handedly announcing to the world that overtaking was still possible in his debut F1 race in 2007.  In that debut season he finished his first nine races on the podium, took six pole positions and won four races – all records.  Yes, he was in one of the best cars, but still…

To the best of my knowledge and research skills, he’s won every series he’s ever completed a full season in.

His 2008 British Grand Prix drive (which would have been easier in a boat, such was the weather) is one of the top 10 I have ever seen.  It was ridiculous.  He won by over a minute, the biggest winning margin since 1995, having eased off dramatically over the last few laps.  It was elite in every way.  If you ever want to know what I’m talking about when I say there’s a clear difference between say, Hamilton and Massa – watch that race.  Just watch it.  They’re simply on different levels.

After becoming the youngest ever driver to win the world title in 2008, he even dragged the wretched 2009 McLaren to two victories to end up 5th in the championship.

So, why is he not clearly number one?  Firstly, Vettel and Alonso.  In nearly any other era, Hamilton would dominate alone.  Secondly, he’s the closest thing we’ve had to Senna (minus the horrible “God is on my side not yours so I can do whatever I like” stuff) since Senna.  That’s good and bad.  The bad is typified by the sole reason he didn’t win the championship in his debut season – the stupid, needless crash in China in the penultimate race of that year.  He can lose concentration.  He can (and does) make mistakes.

So do you, as our fantasy team manager, take Hamilton – the quickest driver in F1 today, the best pure racer, the guy who will win far more often than not.. if only he would stop making those errors – as the driver in your team?  Will he get you the most points?  Will he win you the championship?  Do you take him?  Or do you take the guy who is a maybe a fraction slower, a fraction less aggressive in overtaking, but hardly ever puts a tyre wrong…  do you take…

1:  Fernando Alonso – Ferrari

Alonso’s career so far is very similar to Michael Schumacher’s.  Both won back-to-back titles early in their careers in cars that were not the best on the grid at the time (Schumi in the 1994-5 Benetton, Alonso in the 2005-6 Renault).  Both left that team after that second title.  Both, at this equivalent stage in their careers, have yet to win it again.  Schumacher has one thing over Alonso, he has never been beaten by a teammate.  Alonso technically lost out to Hamilton in their season with McLaren, but even then they finished with the same amount of points.

Alonso therefore is the only one of these three elite drivers who has won multiple races and championships in an inferior car.  He has dominated every teammate, bar Hamilton, he has had in F1.  I believe he will effectively end Felipe Massa’s career this season by continuing that trend.

He has a funny knack of being quicker than he looks.  He’s not edge of your seat Hamilton or Vettel quick, but he records the same lap times.  In pure driving terms, he’s very much Prost to Hamilton’s Senna.  Vettel is more Schumacher-like.  This also means he tends to get a reliable car to the chequered flag more often than Hamilton or Vettel does.  He’s most likely to score good points in every race, winning his fair share in the process.

And that’s why he’s number 1.  That’s why I would pick Alonso today, because he is most likely to score more points than any other driver on the grid today over the course of the season for my fantasy team.

However, the important thing here and the real beauty of all this is that I’m not sure he’s the best driver in F1 today.  Is he better than Hamilton?  Is he better than Vettel?  I don’t know.  They are all brilliant, elite and as good as anyone that’s come before them.

And that really is the best news for us all.

Martin Luther King Day is one of those Monday’s that Americans seemingly have off every three weeks or so.  Just like President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day and all the others, MLK Day helps make up for the fact that most people in the US get about 3 days holiday each year.  I’m sure that there are plenty of very appropriate events, exhibitions and other such things to do on this day to celebrate MLK’s life, however Hannah and I decided it was best to spend the majority of it on an aircraft carrier.

The Intrepid is a proper aircraft carrier.  It’s huge.  And it’s docked off 46th street on the Hudson.  As well as being able to look around the carrier itself, it’s got a submarine docked next to it which one can wander through, about 20 aircraft on the deck including a SR71 Blackbird spyplane and an F14 Tomcat (that’ll be the ‘Top Gun’ plane to you…), and also Concorde – which is as beautiful now as it was 25 years ago when I used to watch it fly past in the distance as it approached Heathrow from the sitting room window in Belsize Park.

You can go onto the Concorde and walk through part of it, which is nice.  Hannah and I were following a 300 pound (20 stone) guy and his little (~6yr old) boy through the isle looking at all the seats and the tiny windows.  The boy must have asked what the life jackets were for, because his Dad answered that they for ‘if the plane had to land in water, they ask you to put these on so you can float’.

The boy/Dad then combined to enter the top 20 greatest question/answers I’ve ever heard:

Boy – “But what if there are sharks?”

(Hannah and James mouth at each other – “Best question EVER..!!!”)

Dad – “Well then best you know Jesus”

Hannah and I were in pieces the rest of the way down the isle, which was then compounded by the fact that the now clearly concerned boy loudly asked “How the hell do we get off the crazy thing?!?”.

We then went bowling.  Bowling is fun here, if a little pricey.  My backhanded bowling motion (which will one day redefine the way in which the game is played) once again was ridiculed before emerging victorious averaging over 125 in a game I play once ever 5 or so years.

I’m off to Costa Rica tomorrow, then I’m back in NY for two days before flying back to the UK to have lunch with Mum, work for a week and then go with my friends to see James Turley in Leeds.  A stressful and crap week bookended by fun.

I’ll then be looking forward to coming home.  Strange to leave London to go home, but NY is home now.  And a very nice home at that.

All Around The World

Posted: January 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’m noisy.  That person you know who is always drumming on the table?  Yeah, that’s me. When I get a song stuck in my head, the only thing that stops me singing that song over and over is the next song that gets stuck in my head.  Currently it’s this – All Around The World . This is a brand new top-20 entry (No.11) into the Top 50 Things Despite Which My Wife Still Loves Me.

Anyway, I, like La Murph, will be writing from my travels.  Factoids, essays, Tweets, comments, vignettes, whatever it may be labelled, it will be here.