Category Archives: Formula One

Your Helmet is Your Brand

Dear Formula 1 drivers.

Did you know that most fans don’t actually like it when you change the design of your helmet every single race?

It’s not big and it’s not clever.

In fact, it’s quite irritating.

And it’s reached a point where the FIA have decided that, rather than focus on the immediate threats for our beloved sport, like the financial state of some teams or the noise your engines make, they must spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with a rule that says you can’t change your helmet each race.

So stop doing it, ok?

Yours

An F1 Fan.

Now, I don’t particularly like it when drivers change their helmet designs on a race-by-race basis. Sebastian Vettel began the trend and everyone thought it was cool, and then they realised it was quite annoying. Vettel has had around sixty different designs since he started his career.

The Autosport news article.

The Autosport news article.

And, by the time the fans had realised it was quite annoying (probably the second race), the other drivers had thought it was cool, too, and started doing it.

The fact is that, even in this digital age of high definition TV and on-screen graphics, fans and pundits alike still look for familiar traits to identify a particular car/driver combo heading towards them on the track.

If this changes regularly, it’s hard for anybody to identify a driver and we have to wait for Anthony Davidson to point specific drivers out to us on the Skypad afterwards.

I think it’s fine to have a commemorative design for a specific occasion; a centenary race, an anniversary event and so on. Or to have a new design at the start of each season. After all, it’s what the teams do with the liveries of their cars so why can’t the drivers do it with their helmets?

Nevertheless, teams don’t change their liveries every race so neither should drivers change their helmet designs so frequently.

And yet, should the FIA have gone to such pains as to introduce a rule that physically bans such practice?

No, I don’t think so. It smacks of the FIA procrastinating. They don’t know how to resolve many of the issues on the table in front of them, so they’re nit-picking at little issues that rankle but, at the end of the day, aren’t killing the sport.

I think it should have been a recommendation, a piece of fatherly advice handed down from the governing body and then left up to the drivers’ and teams’ respective PR machines to recognise the simple value in fans identifying with a single image.

Just look at Ayrton Senna’s iconic design. Pretty much unchanged throughout his career, the yellow and green colours of

An iconic helmet design

An iconic helmet design

his national flag can be identified by true F1 fans of all ages even twenty one years after his death.

When shown Vettel’s helmet, would fans still be able to identify it? And in pub quizzes will they now be expected to know not just who’s helmet it is, but which race they wore it at?

So I don’t think there should be a specific rule enforcing it, but I do think the drivers should stop doing it so frequently.

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Sixteen Year Old Gets Formula 1 Drive

“It is now more dangerous to ride a bike through a big city than it is to drive a Formula 1 car…” Max Verstappen.

This week, the news broke that Max Verstappen, son of former Formula 1 driver Jos, will be driving in Formula 1 next year for the Red Bull junior team, Toro Rosso.

Click here to read the BBC story

Click here to read the BBC story

That in itself isn’t necessarily news. New drivers come along each year, some go on to do amazing things (Sebastien Vettel won his first race in a Toro Rosso before going on to win four World Championships (so far) with Red Bull; Daniel Ricciardo moved up to the reigning world champion team this year and is so far the only driver to properly take the fight to the Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg) but the big news about Verstappen is his age.

Right now, he’s only sixteen.

By the time the season starts next year, he’ll be seventeen.

The previous youngest driver to ever get behind the wheel of an F1 car was Jaime Alguersuari in 2009, who was 19 at the time. And this year, Daniil Kvyat, also 19, became the youngest ever driver to score world championship points.

The connection between these two is that they both started out their F1 careers with Torro Rosso, as will Verstappen.

The media and public are, of course, split. Some say it’s a fantastic thing for Verstappen – and it is! Don’t get me wrong; what 16 year old wouldn’t be ecstatic to be handed such an opportunity on a plate? It generates fantastic media for a sport that is often very good at shooting itself in the foot and it will give other teenagers the boost they so desperately need to prove they can make it in top flight motorsport.

The other point of view is that he’s too young, and so often we see young drivers come and go from Formula 1, used up and spat out by a machine that craves publicity and sponsorship dollars. Alguersuari, above, had departed his F1 career by the end of 2011.

But there is another way to look at this and, sadly, it’s the terrible reality of the situation.

The recruitment of Max Verstappen, at age sixteen, to drive a Formula 1 car unfortunately says less about his ability as a driver and more about how dumbed-down Formula 1 has become.

The FIA and team bosses have been hankering left right and centre this year for a way to ‘improve the show’; audience figures continue to decline and this takes with it the revenue the sport so craves.

In its heyday, Formula 1’s fans looked forward to crashes, engines blowing up, tyres exploding and while the FIA has done a fantastic job in saving drivers’ lives, the spectacle of the show has been diluted by the need to reduce costs and save money.

There was a time when no matter how well a driver had done, there was no guarantee of him finishing the race. History is littered with drivers not quite making it to the finishing line because a tyre exploded or the engine imploded on the final lap. Just look at Mika Hakkinen in Spain in 2001:

The need for reliability and austerity has taken away these uncertainties and thwarted the spectacle that Formula 1 once was.

The worst thing that can happen in a pit-stop now is that a driver can be released in to the path of another car; with the absence of fuel stops there’s little chance of anything worse than a wheel gun operator breaking a nail as a car exits his slot and occasionally a wheel nut won’t get attached properly.

Gone are the days of fuel hoses snaking off down the pitlane behind its charge or a hose not being able to connect to dispense fuel and, from time to time, the belch of flame when the fuel ignites. See Max’s dad in 1994…

I’m not suggesting, of course, that we return to the days of men dying every week and maybe I’m being too flippant – accidents do still happen, some with terrible consequences, but unreliability and uncertainty bred intrigue, not the fact that a driver has to push a button to open a flap on the back wing at certain points on a track if he’s within a second of the car in front to help him overtake (or sometimes defend from) another driver. Or pushing another button to engage a boost of electrical energy via a KERS system.

Formula 1 was once the pinnacle of motorsport. It bred heroes and gladiators and the cars were notoriously difficult to drive. No mere mortal could ever hope to get one started or to hold their neck up straight after a few corners. Drivers from lesser formulae would drive a Formula 1 car and marvel at its braking power and the grip it had in a corner.

Now, they have to worry about lifting off and coasting in order to conserve fuel rather than fighting to use every last drop in a battle to reach the finish line.

But perhaps the most damning evidence of Formula 1’s plight comes, ironically, from its newest, and youngest, driver: “it is more dangerous to bike through a big city than race in an F1 car,” says sixteen year old Max Verstappen.

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Formula 1: to fix the spectacle, stop meddling with it

Bernie Ecclestone has recently called together a working group to look in to the growing decline in television audiences for Formula 1 and to establish why the sport is losing popularity. The working group, which includes team members, journalists and the exiled Flavio Briatore, will aim to establish what is wrong and what changes can be made to improve the spectacle.

But here’s the thing – no changes need to be made.

Let’s take a look at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix: rain before the race left the track slippery and the prospect of more rain had strategists wracking their brains to understand which tyres should be on the cars at their next stops, Lewis Hamilton was starting from the pit-lane with the sole mission of beating his team-mate, and Sebastian Vettel figured he was in with a good shout for the win.

The team that got the tyre strategy most wrong was McLaren. A safety car caught the leaders out, leaving no time for them to dive in to the pits to change tyres but Button, along with much of the rest of the pack, came in and found himself fitted with another set of intermediate wet tyres while the rest of the field were switching to slicks.

Returning to the track the Briton found himself in second place but questioned the tyre tactic. Confidently, the team told him that more rain was due but as the field followed the safety car round, Button’s concerns grew as a drying track lay ahead of him.

When the safety car came in Button was able to quickly despatch the Red Bull ahead of him, which was on dry tyres, as the McLaren’s wet tyres worked better on the still-damp track.

But within a few laps a call on the radio from the team confirmed Button’s fears: no more rain was due and the track was drying. He had to change tyres, a decision which took him from first to eighteenth in twenty-five seconds.

Mayhem and melee continued, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso leading for much of the race. The tantalising prospect of a Ferrari win lay ahead of us as Vettel pirouted on the damp final corner and car after car slipped and slithered off the track until, in the last three laps, Alonso’s tyres gave up.

Ricciardo, who had managed to get past the unbelievably second-placed Hamilton, bore down on the Spaniard who, struggling for grip, found himself easy meat for the Australian, who went on to win.

It was a true race and proved, if nothing else, that Formula 1 isn’t boring. But here’s why Ecclestone doesn’t need a working group to decide what’s wrong with the show. He just needs to tell the stewards to keep their noses out.

Despite the variety of incidents the stewards didn’t penalise Button for an unsafe pitlane release, Alonso wasn’t punished for gaining an advantage after cutting a corner, Hamilton wasn’t criticised for being firm with his team mate, pushing him wide to prevent him overtaking. Perez and team-mate Hulkenberg didn’t find them on the end of a post-race review with the stewards for their coming together.

Everything was deemed a fact of racing, and the show was all the better for it.

What lets Formula 1 down at the moment and is putting off fans is how often the race is manipulated by the powers that be, how results are changed for the most minor of infractions.

Let the drivers do their jobs, let the teams do theirs, and the quality of the show will improve immensely.

McLaren win Formula One World Championship…

2012’s crop of Formula 1 cars appear to have hit every branch of the ugly tree on their way to earth and bare more resemblance to a duck-billed platypus than they do one of the most advanced racing cars on the planet…

Usually, at this time of year, I get quite excited. Testing for the next Formula One season is getting under way, drivers

Ferrari F2012

Two Ferrari F2012s, ready for the F1 challenge ahead

are back on track (some in new overalls), teams are launching their new cars.

This year, potentially, there’s more to be excited about. New rules, new broadcasters. Things in the world of Formula One are going to look a little different in 2012. Starting, unfortunately, with the cars.

When the rebranded Caterham F1 team launched their car on January 26th I thought there surely had been a mistake. I’m no aerodynamicist (clearly), but with that strange walled lump halfway down their nose I immediately relegated them to back-marker territory once again. Then, on February 1st, McLaren launched their car, and all was well in the world once more.

It went horribly wrong a couple of days later when Ferrari launched their car to the many gasps of terror and every mirror in my house broke. To top it off, Ferrari – clearly knowing something was wrong with the gaping maw at the front of their motor – decided to take the pressure off by issuing their drivers with the ugliest company cars in the world.

Usually known for providing their drivers with posh Fiats and expensive Ferraris to laud it up in, this year Alonso and Massa have been provided with a Scuderia Red Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 each which, quite simply, makes the new Ferrari F2012 look lovely. And I never thought I’d be able to say that…

Duck Billed Platypus

A duck-billed platypus, the inspiration for many 2012 F1 cars, including Ferrari...

So far, however, manufacturer after manufacturer have revealed their 2012 challengers, complete with the “stepped nose” concept apparently necessitated by the change in rules for this season. Even Adrian Newey, that bastion of beautifully designed F1 cars, has fitted the Red Bull RB8 with a similar monstrosity. And Michael Schumacher’s title hopes this year rest on another Ornithorhynchidae-inspired design, as these spy pictures of the car’s first outing at Silverstone attest to.

How on earth can that wind block at the front in any way shape or form aid the smooth flow of air over the car? I’m sure somebody will tell me but, despite it being fair to say that I have pretty much worshipped at the alter of Ferrari since I was a three-year-old, McLaren – who are so far the only manufacturer to produce a nose that’s smooth and attractive – have already won the championship, by deed of fact that their car does what a Formula One car is supposed to do: look as if it’s going damned fast even when it’s standing still.

The others all look like they’ve been hit over the head with an ugly stick and appear to be more genetically connected to a duck-billed platypus than being one of the fastest racing cars on the planet.

With such a disappointing looking grid of cars to face, I find myself hoping that Sky’s new Formula 1 channel can produce something spectacular to ease both the pain my eyes will feel each time I switch to F1 on a Sunday and the loss of the simply brilliant BBC coverage we’ve all loved these past years.

When you see the figures, it’s understandable that the BBC were struggling to justify the ongoing broadcast of the sport but it is painful to think that the only way we are going to be able to see the opening race of the season is by subscribing to Sky’s HD service (which I’ve just done – more about that in a later blog…) and everybody is hoping that they will produce something simply stunning to blow us away and make us grateful for their existence.

Because, right now, I’m struggling to generate much interest in Formula One this year. And I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my almost forty years…

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Formula 1 2011 – bad science fiction or great motorsport?

“The rules for Formula 1 2011 might have been conjured up by a bad science fiction writer, but the season ahead looks exciting. And I get to wear my Ferrari dressing gown…”

At last, it’s that time of year again, and isn’t it exciting?!

No, I don’t mean the fact that the sun is shining, or the clocks are going forward at the weekend, giving us much more daylight in which to enjoy a beer at the end of the day.

Nor am I talking about the fact that I go on holiday next week, although that is quite exciting for me…

Instead, I’m talking about it being the first Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season, and it seems like it’s been an incredibly long wait for it to come round.

Clearly, some of that wait was caused by the postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix due to the troubles there, but while I wish the people of Bahrain well, did we really miss the race itself?

Apart from the season not starting quite as early as it should have, the Bahrain Grand Prix is not exactly renowned for giving us exciting starts to the season.

Indeed, last year the red top headlines heralded the 2010 inaugural race as Bore-ain.

Fears that the rest of the year would prove to be a Sunday afternoon snooze fest were quickly allayed at the Australian Grand Prix when the sport actually kicked in to gear and gave us one of the best seasons ever.

So with Australia now hosting the opening race of the season, what do I think we can expect from F1 2011?

The first is that it’s going to be more complicated for the average Sunday “viewer” to understand, as new rules introduced for this year aim to make the racing more exciting, but appear to have been written by somebody who just watched Death Race.

Simply put, KERS is back for 2011 – a “green” aid to help boost overtaking or defend a position, KERS is operated by the driver when he feels he needs it, receiving an extra 80.5bhp … but only for a total of 6.67 seconds per lap. After that, they’re on their own.

This year also sees the introduction of moveable rear wings.  Last year’s F-Duct system, which was operated by the driver to block air to the rear wing and therefore ‘stall’ it to provide extra speed down the straights, has been banned for 2011 and replaced with the new, electronic system. The rear wing, as with the KERS system, can be adjusted by the driver to help gain an advantage on track.

However, this is where the rules become particularly complex: the system is constantly available to drivers during all practice and qualifying sessions, but in the race itself it cannot be activated until two full laps have been completed. After that, access to the system will be electronically controlled by the FIA Race Control; it will also automatically deactivate under braking, and cannot be used for two laps after any Safety Car period.  On Formula 1’s own website, the rules are described as thus:

The driver may only activate the adjustable bodywork in the race when he has been notified via the control electronics that it is enabled. It will only be enabled if the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit.

This basically means that at each circuit, access to the system will be available at different points, meaning armchair viewers will never quite be sure when the driver is allowed to change their rear wing, and when they aren’t. There will be lines painted on the track at each circuit to try to make this function clearer, but I can’t help thinking that the BBC’s new HD broadcast of Formula 1 is going to see the TV screen littered with graphics explaining who’s got their wing in what position, KERS on/off and a myriad other bits of information that are probably too mind-boggling to understand.

The other big change to Formula 1 for 2011 is the introduction of Pirelli as the sole tyre manufacturer, after Bridgestone ended their long association with the sport at the end of 2010. Various compounds will be available to the driver and, to make them easier for television viewers to spot, the name of the tyre will be painted a different colour for each compound, which – according to Formula1.com – will be coloured as such:

There is new system for visually differentiating tyre types, using various colours for the sidewall lettering: wet – orange; intermediate – light blue; super soft – red; soft – yellow; medium – white; hard – silver.

Expect to see a veritable Willy Wonka kaleidoscope of colours on the track, especially early in the season, as drivers and teams try to establish the best tyre for their car, and at nearly 200mph will you really be able to tell the difference between white and silver?

Finally, a reintroduction of the 107% qualifying rule for 2011 means that any car not setting a qualifying pace within 107% of the Pole sitter’s car will not be able to take part in the race. Back marker teams, beware… the opportunity for your sponsors to get TV coverage could be very thin!

Other than that, it’s pretty much business as usual. So, which driver or team do I think is going to be the one to beat this season?

It’s always difficult to gauge from pre-season testing, as the form book changes so frequently, but the sad absence of Robert Kubica will be felt terribly by Lotus-Renault, even though I’m sure Nick Heidfeld will do a sterling job of replacing the injured Pole.

Expect the Red Bull boys to be very strong, especially reigning Champion Vettel, who will be sublime now that he has the championship duck off his back.  Webber will be keen to prove he’s not over the hill yet, and the Red Bull car will surely be one to beat.

The McLarens of Hamilton and Button look to have fared poorly during pre-season testing, and neither driver has seemed to jump up and down with enthusiasm about the car. McLaren are usually quick to develop though, so if they’re not strong at the start of the season expect them to make a huge leap forward quicker than the other teams. (I started writing this blog yesterday, before the practice sessions had taken place, and have chosen to leave that comment in despite the fact that in second practice earlier the McLaren duo were fastest, with Button just pipping Hamilton…)

The Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Schumacher could be the dark horses of the season, and it would be great to see Michael come to form and prove his critics wrong. Who knows – podiums are very possible for both drivers, and race wins might also come on the odd lucky day when it all goes wrong for their rivals.

I’m expecting Williams, Force India, Sauber and Torro Rosso to be strong mid-fielders, ready to pounce and make advantage of any errors from the big boys in front, and Team Lotus (or whatever their name might become as the season moves on!) to make huge strides forward in to the mid pack.

HRT and Virgin will undoubtedly continue to be the back marker crowd, and the most likely to fall victim to the new 107% qualifying rules on a Saturday if they’re not quick enough.

But the team I think will ultimately be the one to put the smart money on this year is going to be Ferrari … and that, unfortunately for his Brazilian team mate, means that Fernando Alonso will be the driver to beat in 2011.

2011 then. It’s going to be exciting. Even more importantly, this year it will finally justify my owning a High Definition telly. The only trouble is, now I want a bigger one!

And there’s one other thing: this weekend doesn’t just bring sun and Ferrari Dressing Gown logo...motorsport and the end of Britain’s winter. It also means I can hang up my winter dressing gown and put on my bright red Ferrari one until the end of the season.

Roll on seven o clock Sunday morning. (But remember to change your clocks … It’ll still be 06:00 to us!)

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Alonso is NOT faster than you, Sebastian Vettel…

Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull on winning both the driver’s and constructor’s championships in the 2010 Formula One competition…

As the sun set on Jenson Button’s year as a Formula One World Driver Champion, I couldn’t help but have mixed emotions for the possible outcome of this weekend’s F1 finale.

A lifelong fan of Ferrari, to me it’s always great to see one of the scarlet cars win a race, and one of their drivers win a title.  But not Alonso.  I’ve never been able to warm to him; no matter how much I used to enjoy watching the sport’s other Dick Dastardly, Schumacher, rummage around desperately trying to scupper everybody else’s race in an effort to gain his own advantage, Fernando Alonso’s petulant, toys-out-of-the-pram approach to underhand tactics has never quite matched the German’s despicable panache.

And there’ll always be a question mark over the Spaniard’s innocence in the whole Singapore Crashgate of 2008.

So as the cars lined up in Abu Dhabi yesterday, with Alonso having to do little more than ensure he was on the podium to win the title, I couldn’t help feeling a little … discombobulated.  A Ferrari driver winning the world championship?  Great.  Fernando Alonso being world champion?  To me, not so great.

As the lights went out and the race started – with Alonso having qualified third and his only real title rival, Mark Webber, sitting fifth – it seemed that for me and my mates in the pub all we were going to have to do was sit there, drink a few beers and get ready to raise a toast to the Spanish guy’s third driver’s crown.

A safety car period followed the end to Michael Schumacher’s ignominious return to F1 as Liuzzi tried to drive over his head, but when the Mercedes SLS peeled away and the race resumed Webber and Alonso snapped away at each other until, stuck in traffic, the Australian made a decision to pit.  Tactically, it seemed the right thing to do; sadly, it turned out to be a woeful error.  By doing so, he almost certainly handed the championship to Ferrari’s driver.

Except that Ferrari made the rare tactical error of deciding to cover Webber’s stop by pitting Alonso straight away too, rather than calculating where he might sit if they watched the race ahead of them.

The result was catastrophic for the two main title protagonists, leaving them in positions outside of the points and stuck behind Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who in turn was driving for the glory of his team and to save his own F1 career from going up in smoke after just one season.

Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Vettel, who had been a rank outsider for the title at the start of the race, set about doing what he needed to do: win the race.

Despite stiff opposition from the McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who were racing to secure McLaren’s position of second place in the Constructor’s Championship, the young German went on to ensure he finished the race first.  It was up to Webber and Alonso to get themselves in to a position to stop him and sadly, for them, they couldn’t do it.

The result was a new world champion in the form of Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull, while second and third place on the podium alongside him was taken by the driver’s champions of the preceeding two years.  Alonso and Webber could only manager seventh and eighth respectively; not enough to dent Vettel’s victory.

In frustration, Alonso pulled alongside Petrov in the warm-down lap and shook his fist at him, clearly blaming the Russian for scuppering his title chances.  Unsurprising behaviour from the Spaniard, who seemed to have spent much of the race just hoping that Petrov would get out of his way, rather than challenging him for position.

Even Alonso’s race engineer was getting frustrated: “we know you have a lot of talent,” he said to his driver over the radio. “Now use it!”

Fernando was, however, magnaminous in defeat and did at least praise the Renault driver on a good race when interviewed later.

And that, as they say, is that.  The 2010 Formula One season is over.  It started with an Alonso victory in Bahrain, a race so dull that it belied the level of excitement that was to follow, and ended with Red Bull taking both the Constructor’s Championship and the Driver’s Championship in well-deserved, hard fought victories.

One is left to wonder what 2011 will bring.  Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari will all be strong, each determined to win, but Mercedes could be a good outside bet.  After a year sitting around in the doldrums, they’ll be keen to make their mark and give their German drivers a car capable of winning the title.

But the big question now is this: what am I going to do to fill the next 117 days until Formula One returns…?

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F1 2010 – so realistic Karun Chandhok could actually win…

“I chose the HRT-Cosworth team, with the idea in my mind of being able to usurp Bruno Senna and at least give India’s Karun Chandhok a shot at completing the whole season.”

This week, the game I have been waiting for only slightly less eagerly than Gran Turismo 5 arrived through my postbox in a flurry of jiffy bag and celophane.  F1 2010 has been hyped as the most realistic Formula One driving game ever, and the biggest difference between waiting for it and Gran Turismo 5 is that the F1 game was announced about a year ago, and turned up on time, whereas I got my PlayStation 3 almost three years ago and have eagerly been awaiting the release of GT5 ever since!

So, is it really as good – or as realistic – as the heady praise it’s receiving suggests?

One thing was for certain as I watched the game come to life initially is that it is visually stunning.  Only seconds in to my experience I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the graphical representation of the Formula One world.  Some camera angles would have you believing you were watching the real thing, rather than a game console’s adaptation and the rendering of this year’s cars is superb.

But what’s it like to play?

Codemaster’s F1 2010 is based on the 2010 season,with this year’s teams and drivers and this year’s rules and new points scoring system (something I am still struggling to get my head around after fifteen races).  When you first start your career within the game you are given a choice of low-end teams to start with, and asked how many seasons you intend to compete in.

The aim, ultimately, is to impress other teams enough to get yourself a seat in a better car and then become World Champion.  Seems straight forward enough, so I chose the HRT-Cosworth team, with the idea in my mind of being able to usurp Bruno Senna and at least give India’s Karun Chandhok a shot at completing the whole season.

However, the game is so realistic that what it did was drop Chandhok instead and set me up as team mate to the Brazilian.

You then find yourself in the cockpit of your car, with access to data, team-mate information, your race engineer and the chance to fine tune your set up.  And then you’re out for practice.

With the controls configured to my liking, I quickly got the hang of the car and went back in to the pits to prepare for qualifying.  And this is where the realism got stretched a bit…

For a game that has lauded its credentials on being the closest thing to actually driving a Formula One car as I’m ever likely to get, it seemed impossible that I could take a back-marker car like the HRT and stick it on Pole Position at the opening race of the season in Bahrain.  Yet that’s exactly what I did.

My team mate, Senna, put his HRT exactly where the rest of us expected it to be: 23rd.

The game had given me a qualifying objective of placing 20th or better.  I think I achieved that.

It was a few hours later before I got the chance to take part in the race, but once I was sat in front of my telly with the controller in hand and lined up in Pole Position I expected the game’s realistic traits to kick in.  After all, alongside me on the grid was Alonso in his Ferrari, and the row behind me consisted of the McLarens of Hamilton and Button.  With my trusty steed being effectively a back-marker car I figured my position there was a fluke and I would be mugged by the much-faster cars behind me before I’d even made it to the first corner.

As the red lights began to go out in front of me I felt a surge of excitement, and even though I knew I stood a good chance of losing my first place position I revved the engine up and prepared to race.

But the other cars didn’t catch me.  I was scampering off towards the first corner as the lights went out and the three drivers behind me were left fighting over who was going to be in second place as we entered the first corner.

In fact, I had quite simply the fastest car on the circuit, until corner three when I put a wheel on the kerb, lost control and span out on to the gravel.  I had to sit there, dejected, as the pack surged passed me while I waited for a clear gap to rejoin the race and by corner four I was plumb last.  Right where I expected to be, I admit, but I blame the three pints of Kronenbourg I’d had before playing the race for my third corner crash than I did the slightly-lacking-in-reality traits of the game.

Still, I’d been set an objective by the game of finishing the race in 18th place or above, so I headed off to try and catch my opponents up.

It would be at this point that I could tell you that I managed to make some headway, but the truth is that my Hispania Racing Team car was still the fastest thing on the circuit and, despite a pit for a change of tyres, I fought valiantly through the field, only narrowly missing out on a podium finish.  Fourth, on my first attempt, in a car that has struggled in real life this year, seemed a little false to me and I found myself traipsing through the game’s settings in an effort to make it a little more difficult.

The problem, it seemed, was that when I’d first started the game it had asked me what level I thought I could play at and I’d opted for the easy option.  This was because the last time I played a Formula One game on a PlayStation the car was impossible to drive, even with all the driver aids switched on, and I’d found it relatively unenjoyable.

This new game, with all the driver aids switched on, seemed to make me super human and so I’ve decided to change the options slightly.  I’ve found options for the tyres and damage and traction control that all allow me to change to a setting called realistic.

The telly in front of me has just loaded up the first practice screen for Melbourne, the next circuit in my season, and I’m about to go out and see what sort of lap time I can set…

F1 2010, then.  Visually great, and even in easy mode it’s caught my attention.  The level of detail, from menu system to pit crew to racing features are phenomenal.  I just hope it’s more challenging now I’ve changed the options.  But I can’t help wishing that it would be great if, in an act of realism, Karun Chandhok could get back behind the wheel of his car, switch the mode on his steering wheel to PlayStation 3, and go out and kick Bruno Senna’s butt…

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Why is Senna a Saint and Schumacher Satan?

I bet that if Senna had lived long enough to compete with Schumacher properly, we’d have seen many great battles, many great arguments … and many, many spectacularly controversial accidents.

Michael Schumacher as Dick DasterdlySo Michael Schumacher has apologised for his Dick Dasterdlyness and Derick Warwick has announced that, had there been more time on Sunday, the German would have been black-flagged for his manouevre against Rubens Barrichello in the closing stages of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

The Brazilian himself slammed Schumacher’s move as one of the craziest and most dangerous he’s ever faced in all his time driving a Formula One car and Schumacher finds himself on the receiving end of a 10-place grid penalty when he arrives in Spa later this month as punishment for his wreckless driving.

But, as criticism of the German’s tactics mounts, I find myself wondering why we are all so surprised.

Michael Schumacher is, after all, no stranger to despicable tactics.  Just look at how he won the 1994 championship, for example.  Or his move on Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.  Or how about blocking the road in Monaco?

It’s a trait of Schumacher’s to attempt to use whatever tactic he can to his advantage, and he is despised for it.  He is Formula One’s pantomime villain.  We love to hate him, and yet he remains statistically the greatest Formula One driver of all time.

In these politically correct, eco-friendly, safety conscious times, Schumacher’s tactics might seem old fashioned and reprehensible, but we’re talking about a man who retired for three years and has come back to a very different Formula One.  He doesn’t understand and is having to learn new forms of Public Relations.

When, in the old days, did you ever hear Schumacher apologise for being hard on somebody?

Despite all this, I love Schumacher.  His poor performance this year might be indicative of an old man who is struggling to make it in the high octane pinacle of motorsport amongst men much younger, and fitter, than he is these days, and I believe he should have remained in retirement with his image unsullied by the attrocious results achieved so far in 2010, but it gauls me more to hear criticism of him in one breath and then in the other, in hushed tones, praise for Ayrton Senna.

Senna and Schumacher sadly did not get to race together for too long but I suspect the battles between them would have been epic.

Schumacher, like the Brazilian legend before him, has the unnerving ability to know within a hair’s breadth exactly where his car is on the track – and neither were afraid to be ruthless.

Senna’s tactics on track were, quite often, equally as ignominious.  Look at the rivalry between Senna and Prost and the number of incidents that occurred between the two of them, not least Senna taking Prost out at the first corner of Japan in 1990 in a deliberate and callous move to ensure he won the championship – and prove a point to the FIA.

Ayrton Senna was undoubtedly a brilliant driver, one of the best; but so is Schumacher.  Which other driver would

Ayrton Senna ... equally Dick Dasterdly

have said: “I knew I had five centimeters to play with…”?

I bet that if Senna had lived long enough to compete with Schumacher properly, we’d have seen many great battles, many great arguments … and many, many spectacularly controversial accidents.

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Ferrari – new look logo

The formal name for Ferrari’s F1 racing team is, after all, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro… So, no subliminal tobacco advertising there at all then.

Even though tobacco sponsorship has been banned from Formula One for some time now, the Ferrari Formula One team have constantly battled to beat the system by ensuring that the branding on their car, and their team uniforms, pretty much conformed to the Philip Morris tobacco brand, Marlboro.

No subliminal advertising here...

Up until the early part of this season, the team’s cars even ran with a Marlboro barcode on the engine covers, although recently that graphic has been removed as the team caved in to pressure that the logo could be considered subliminal tobacco advertising.

Today, as revealed by the Autosport website, Ferrari have revealed a new look logo for their racing team that will become the default brand from the start of 2011. It’s an effort on their behalf to show that they are not trying to subvert the ban on cigarette promotions within the sport.

One or two comments on the social networking website Twitter, however, show that people believe the new logo might still take its influences from a packet of Marlboro cigarettes.

Not to mention, of course, that the team’s official name also includes the Philip Morris brand. The formal name for Ferrari’s F1 racing team is, after all, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro…

So, no subliminal tobacco advertising there at all then.

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F1 returns to BBC

I have just read perhaps the most exciting bit of news I’ve seen all year.  It’s so good I actually think I might have wet myself a little bit when I saw the headline.  The news isn’t that Jennifer Aniston has finally discovered I exist and wants to have babies with me, nor is it that Ferrari have decided to give me a brand new 612 Scaglietti absolutely free.  It’s not even the news that a Macedonian court have found a bear guilty of stealing honey or that greeting card companies have voted to make Steak and BJ Day a genuine holiday that we can all enjoy without guilt or stigma.

Amazingly, it doesn’t even have anything to do with Sir Paul McCartney punching Heather Mills squarely in her whingeing face, which I think we’d all like to see right now.

It is, in fact, the news that, after twelve years of advertising drudgery, Formula One is returning to the BBC, where we’ll be able to enjoy uninterrupted coverage of the world’s greatest motorsport.

Since 1996, Formula One fans have had to put up with ITV’s policy of deciding to show an advertisement break just as something really exciting is happening but, from 2009, this will no longer be the case.  According to a man named Dominic Coles, who apparently holds the rather convoluted title of being the BBC’s Sport Director of Sport Rights, “fans will be able to enjoy uninterrupted, state of the art and innovative coverage from BBC Sport, across all of our TV, radio and new media platforms, for the first time since 1996.”

Whilst Bernie Ecclestone has said that he doesn’t have any complaints about ITV’s coverage and that the decision to return to the BBC is purely a commercial one, hardcore Formula One fans have long complained about the number of advertising breaks shown during races and their appalling timing through the events, which has lead to a number of fans to ask why the channel has received so many rewards for their coverage.

Me – well I’m as giddy as a school child waiting for Christmas Eve and, even though the first race of the 2008 season has only just happened, I now can’t wait for the 2009 one!  As well as a return to uninterrupted coverage, rumours continue to build that for next season Formula One cars will return to using slick tyres for even better overtaking opportunities.

Now all the BBC need to do to recreate the whole nostalgic effect is to re-employ Murray Walker!

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