Monthly Archives: July 2009

Insanity

Sometimes you wonder what’s going on.

Having ranted two weeks ago about Stewards and incompetence, perhaps I should not be completely surprised by this evening’s news… and yet…

I think that most multi-cellular organisms understand that sports teams are – and here I generalise, naturally, so bring me not your ‘Shoeless Joe’ stories – quite keen on winning.

There do seem to be obvious exceptions; the England football and cricket teams (frequently) and Toyota (how else do you explain their signings over the last decade?) but, by and large, sports teams compete to try and win.

In most sports, this is a given. It is understood that an athlete/competitor or a group of athletes/competitors will try as hard as they can to beat their rivals. In horse racing, for instance, this is not just understood but demanded; riders will be punished severely for ‘not trying’.

Many sporting rules are put in place by the authorities that govern them to try and rein in the more excessive elements of competition, to ensure safety, fair play, survivability and so on.

Not many professional sports teams go for a Sunday morning kick-about. They tend not to be doing it just to get some fresh air or work off last night’s Bhuna. The element of competition is pretty fundamental to them. They like it. Indeed, they’ll tell you, they NEED it.

Why, if not, would we have just witnessed more than a hundred men spend three weeks riding bicycles, surviving – nay, thriving under – the sort of conditions that would cause a righteous media outcry if they were inflicted on civilians? To win a race, that’s why.

Why, if not, would teams be spending the criminally obscene amounts they spend just to put two cars on a track 20 times a year? To win a race.

Given all of the above then, explain to me in words of one syllable, please – because I am having a problem understanding this one – why anyone, never mind anyone purportedly involved in the sport in any way whatsoever, would imagine that the Renault team would have “knowingly released car no. 7 from the pitstop position without one of the retaining devices for the wheel-nuts being securely in position, this being an indication that the wheel itself may not have been properly secured.”

And having done that, why would the team have “being aware of this, failed to take any action to prevent the car from leaving the pitlane….failed to inform the driver of this problem or to advise him to take appropriate action given the circumstances, even though the driver contacted the team by radio believing he had a puncture.”

Obviously, only if they were either certifiably insane, criminally reckless and negligent, totally uncaring or not at the track at all. Because NO team would, with certainty and deliberation, risk a good race finish (we should remember that Fernando Alonso, the driver of car 7, was at this stage in the lead of the race) by purposefully sending its car out with a loose wheel. No team would put a valued (to the rate of several million dollars a year’s worth of salary) employee at risk to his health, nor is it realistic to imagine that – even at Renault, a nominally ‘French’ team – having discovered that the wheel was loose, they just shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘oh, well…’

Yet, that is exactly what the Stewards at the Hungarian Grand Prix are suggesting, as they ban Renault from the next race.

To ensure that Renault will appeal, they have come down with the most incredibly stupid decision imaginable; penalising human error by robbing the team’s former World Champion driver of the chance to race at home, in Valencia.

To suggest that is was anything other than pure human error that Fernando’s wheel was not properly attached is palpable insanity.

To suggest that the team, being aware of the problem, did nothing at all about it, is also madness.

To penalise such utterly dedicated professionals as Formula 1 teams for human error is certifiable.

What next? Drivers banned for driving too fast and crashing? Teams banned for using the wrong tyre/fuel strategy and not winning races?

Perhaps Stewards ought to be subject to Article 3.2 of the Sporting Regulations, and banned for rank stupidity.

Or is this just another element in Max’s grand plan? To force another stand-off with FOTA? Because, if Renault’s appeal is turned down and the ban stands, surely no team, FOTA or otherwise, can afford to race in Valencia. Not if the consequence of human error is to be banned from racing.

Surely this can’t get any worse?

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Bitter, sweet

This weekend has been one of the starkest contrasts imaginable.

Two fathers are in my thoughts at the moment, for the very worst of reasons and the very best – John Surtees and Jaime Alguersuari. One lost his only son in the most tragic of circumstances, while the other celebrated the news of his only son’s impending Grand Prix debut.

Both Henry Surtees and Jaime Alguersuari raced in last year’s British Formula 3 International Series and I am sure that Jaime Sr. will be deeply moved by Big John’s tragic loss.

That Henry should lose his life in a modern, Grand-Prix standard car is bitterly ironic, given that his father survived not only an illustrious single-seater career at a time when death stalked almost every grid, but was also a multiple World Champion on two wheels before that.

Tragic, too, that after struggling to combine a flourishing racing career with his school-work, Henry was starting to reap the rewards of his toil. With his last A-level completed before the second race weekend in Brno, Henry and John were looking forward to a summer of racing, racing, racing.

At Brands Hatch, Henry was in his element. Putting the disappointment of Brno and Spa behind him, he qualified strongly and snatched third place in Race 1, becoming the first British driver to stand on an F2 podium.

After claiming the British F3 title last season, Jaime Alguersuari graduated to World Series by Renault for 2009 – a logical progression, given that he cut his teeth in the same paddock in the Formula Renault Eurocup and that his dad’s company administrates the World Series weekends.

At just 19, Jaime has been called up mid-season to Formula 1, following in the foot-steps of fellow Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel and he will become the youngest driver ever to sit on a Grand Prix grid, breaking Mike Thackwell’s long-standing record. If he has understandable nerves before his debut, I doubt they will show in his dark eyes.

Henry and Jaime’s paths crossed only briefly yet their young lives were both dedicated to the same end. That Henry tragically perished in the pursuit of his goal won’t be lost on Jaime, even as he seizes his opportunity with both hands.

Two proud fathers, two talented sons.

My thoughts are with them both.

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Ban the Blazers

Sport has moved on a great deal in the last 30 years. No longer are the world’s top sportsmen gifted amateurs or wealthy thrill-seekers, they are utterly dedicated professionals.

Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Lance Armstrong, Valentino Rossi, Michael Schumacher: to a man, legends in their respective fields and all bywords for single-minded dedication to the pursuit of their chosen sport.

In motorsport, it’s not just about the sportsman, there are teams involved too. From Formula 1 down, they’re packed with equally dedicated men and women, who live and breathe their sport. Utterly professional.

And yet, the sport is administered by amateurs.

While this may have been (almost) understandable in the ‘30s, or even, perhaps, the ‘60s, it is utterly unacceptable in the modern era.

When Federer questions a line-call, there is recourse to camera replays and electronics to decide whether the line-judge’s call was correct. No longer does the Umpire in the chair have to second-guess.

Slo-mo video decides who won a stage on the Tour de France, even when there’s barely a single tyre’s width between the contenders. No reliance there on somebody who’s been standing out in the sun or rain all day (or worse, been well-lunched) to decide the fortunes of the race in a split-second.

So, how is it that in motorsport, where there are millions of dollars (or hundreds of millions) at stake, lamentable decisions and penalties are doled out willy-nilly, seemingly without any recourse from the competitors or any retribution for the officials who conspire, through inattention, lack of understanding or plain incompetence, to ruin races for teams, drivers and – crucially – fans?

Let’s consider Formula 1. We have a permanent – and competent – Safety Car driver. We have a permanent – and competent – Medical crew. Surely it’s time to have a similarly proficient College of Stewards to rule on the on-track activities.

Former drivers have an understanding of the sport that mere bystanders cannot possibly achieve and will see incidents in ways that you and I cannot. They have lived the life and their eyes see things – like all competitors – that we mere civilians don’t. A former pro should be a permanent part of every race weekend’s group of Stewards.

Like diving and shirt-pulling in football, everyone laments questionable on-track tactics sometimes used in motor racing. Because no Steward has ever raced at the top level, they don’t  appreciate where intimidation ends and dirty driving begins. We may argue about the pros and cons from our sofas but most of us Armchair Experts can certainly see moves in most races that we’d, at least, question but which go seemingly without mention in F1.

Fans want to see wheel-to-wheel racing. What we don’t want is some well-fed and inexpert old duffer in a blazer penalising drivers for close, clean racing. What we wouldn’t mind is seeing drivers who use back-down-or-crash intimidation being pulled into the pits for a thorough dressing-down.

Imagine how Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher’s attitudes might have been changed, had they been pulled into the pits during a race and given a public telling-off for woeful driving tactics, in full view of the cameras.

If a driver knows he’ll have to choose between holding/making up a position by dint of some ‘questionable’ driving and serving a long stop-and-go penalty, with the cheek-burning embarrassment of a public dressing-down, then the standards might well creep back up.

But who, in the current system, is even remotely well-placed to make such decisions? No-one. And there’s the problem.

It’s not just the driving standards that would be improved by having ex-pros, properly paid, as Stewards. So would the racing. How? By not having good close race battles broken up by stupid penalties.

Like that imposed on Lewis Hamilton in the wet Spa race. Not giving back enough of his advantage after a failed overtaking manoeuvre on the clearly-struggling Ferrari? Pathetic, whether you’re a Lewis fan or not. For goodness sake, don’t dissuade racing in Formula One!

The GP2 Sprint race in the Nurburgring this weekend started on a wet track that, very slowly, became drier, leading to some – no, make that a lot of – very exciting wheel-to-wheel action, all the way down the field. But Vitaly Petrov’s chance to win the race was taken away from him by an ever more unfathomable decision.

At the (very wet) start, Petrov – shot away from 5th and, in the scramble through the streaming-wet Mercedes Arena first-corner complex, the Russian drove around the inside/outside of everyone else to grab the lead.

Feature-race winner Niko Hulkenberg fought his way pretty swiftly from 8th into second place but by the time he set off after Petrov, the leader was getting on for 8 seconds up the road.

A fantastic battle ensued, with the pair swapping fastest laps as the lead slowly but surely shrank, for which the cameras barely had time, as there was frantic, multi-car action just about everywhere down the order. Just as it seemed the fight for the lead was about to be properly joined, however, it was over before it could begin, courtesy of the Stewards. Petrov was handed a Drive-Through penalty.

A replay of the start, from the camera of second starter Lucas Di Grassi, showed that, as Petrov had jinked past the Brazilian (and everyone else,) the Russian’s right-rear tyre had made glancing contact with the front-left of Di Grassi’s car. The penalty, therefore, seemed to have been for ‘Causing a Collision.’

Pur-lease!

To come to this stupendously idiotic decision had taken the Stewards 13 laps. That’s around 35 minutes.! Presumably breakfast was over-running…

And the result was to kill the thrill of the lead being fought out tooth-and-nail into the closing laps stone dead.

Never mind the effect it will have had on the championship race. Never mind the effect it may have had on the fortunes of Petrov and his Barwa Addax team. Never mind the effect it will have had on the team and driver’s sponsors. Decisions like this – crucially – affect the fans.

The very people who pay for the racing and, through the FIA, fund the over-paid nincompoops who continue to ruin our enjoyment of the sport on an almost weekly basis.

No more. This nonsense MUST be stopped, as a matter of extreme priority.

Ban the blazers and give us the professional administration that the sport is crying out for.

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