Monday, 26 July 2010
If you cut through the bluster and navigate your way around the blasé attitudes of the battle hardened members of Formula One’s travelling circus, the underlying feeling among the stakeholders of the sport must be that events at Hockenheim on Sunday marked a dark day for its integrity.
Let’s disregard the fact that I have a vested interest owing to the fact that I attempt to make a living from writing about it. I am one of the millions of people around the world who share a passion for Formula One, and the question I have found myself agonising over in the wake of Ferrari’s antics is this: Does this passion outweigh all feelings of what is right and wrong? Does it blinker me in such a way that I shrug my shoulders, seemingly in unison with many paddock insiders, and accept that this is how it goes? The short answer is that no, it doesn’t.
I was annoyed when I realised that Ferrari were engineering a situation that would lead to a manufactured change of leader. I cringed while Fernando Alonso, Stefano Domenicali and the team’s press office treated the entire F1 world like fools with lie after pathetic lie as they squirmed in front of the media. These feelings were to be expected after what had happened, what I didn’t expect, however, was having to watch respected experts from the paddock, notable members of the racing fraternity, attempt to justify it. Yes, they said, the team had contravened article 39.1 of the sporting regulations by instigating team orders that interfered with the result, but it didn’t really matter. This is just the way it goes in the “business” that is modern Formula One. This ridiculous attempt to justify what in any other sport in the world would be called match fixing, was the aspect that disturbed me the most.
The BBC received a number of scathing emails from various members of the public on its F1 forum. David Coulthard, a man who I hold in the highest regard for his usual no nonsense attitude in the face of his excitable colleagues, brushed off the concerns of the correspondents by advising us not to get “all tabloid” about a situation that “has gone on for years”. Was he being serious? The overwhelming majority of fans of the sport felt that they had been cheated, the fans who not only pay the wages of the pundits, but also of every other person involved at any level of the sport. These people, if they felt anything like I did, felt as though Ferrari had violated their rights as fans to watch a fair battle between two evenly matched drivers. The viewers wanted the people who are paid to enhance their viewing experience to listen to these concerns and take note. What they got instead was a verbal pat on the head from a bunch of analysts acting as if they were telling their younger siblings that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. As for the ridiculous assertion that it is ok because it has been going on for years, so have assault and fraud, and yet I don’t ever recall ‘it’s been going on for years’ being used as a successful defence for either.
Somewhere else on Sunday, I was listening to another expert explaining the pressure that was placed on a modern day Grand Prix team to attract sponsorship. This was being cited as a justification for the Scuderia's actions, a statement which was both factually correct and ridiculous in equal measure. Of course, teams need to raise huge sums from sponsors to keep themselves afloat, but a “modern” company places huge emphasis on corporate responsibility, and aligning any brand with a team that have been labelled cheats, whether rightly or wrongly, has become a huge turn off for marketing departments around the world, just ask ING.
In terms of Ferrari, it is evident from the blank spaces on the car, that they are not an organisation which faces the sort of budget constraints which mean that they need to convey a squeaky clean image. However, surely even Ferrari cannot afford to alienate the whole of the watching public who reside anywhere but Italy and Spain. It seems that they have learnt nothing from the battering that their reputation took in the fallout from the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, a race which saw Rubens Barrichello forced to move aside for the Schumacher express to take a similar hollow victory. Michael himself was on hand yesterday to offer his support to his beleaguered former employers, insisting that he would have done the same, as it’s all about winning the World Championship. Erm, yes, we know you would Michael, you already have.
The real irony of the day of course is that while one half of the team made itself look pretty pathetic, the other side, particularly Felipe Massa, covered himself in glory. The way that he handled himself in the face of an impossible situation was full of class. It would have been career suicide for the likeable Brazilian to have disobeyed the order to let Alonso by, but the way he conducted himself afterwards only strengthened the betrayal felt by the neutral observer, especially on a day which marked the anniversary of his horrific accident at Budapest.
I have always found Domenicali to be one of the more likeable characters in the sport, and whilst I’d like to think that Alonso’s incessant whinging had led to yesterday’s call, there is obviously a greater degree of structure around the arrival at such decisions at an organisation the size of Ferrari. How the decision was actually made is pretty immaterial, the whole team lost a lot of respect this weekend, and not just by the decision to make their drivers switch places. Their biggest mistake was thinking that the viewing public were stupid enough to believe that they had not just witnessed them doing it.
My seven year old son watched the race, he is mad about F1. Even if he doesn’t realise his dream of competing in it when he is older, he will at least be one of the fans who will be propping up the next generation of superstars with his hard earned. He asked me after the race why I was cross about Alonso winning, and he genuinely didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I thought hard about the best way of explaining the events without dampening his enthusiasm, and I couldn’t think of any way to dress it up. “Because they cheated, son” I replied reluctantly, and from the look in his eye at that moment, it was as if I had told him that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. That is why I will struggle to forgive Ferrari for this sorry episode, and also why I think that the members of the F1 paddock who shrugged their shoulders and brushed it off should be ashamed of themselves.
Formula One is not a business, it’s a sport, and while it is of course undeniable that teams must generate the revenue with which to operate, this should never come at the expense of the enjoyment of the fans. There would be no Formula One without them and make no mistake, the fans are angry about this, mostly because of the human element surrounding Massa. Not only were we deprived of a fair result at Hockenheim, we had one of the greatest feel good moments in the modern era of the sport snatched from under our noses and replaced with a stench of rotten stallion.
Monday, 19 July 2010
Seeing as I haven’t stopped talking about it for the last two weeks, I’d be surprised if readers didn’t know that I spent a long weekend last week at the home of Formula 1, Silverstone, for the British Grand Prix. Welcome to part 4 of a regular feature that I post after our trips to watch motorsport, documenting the great (and sometimes not-so-great) and good that we have cajoled into adding their moniker to Christian’s autograph collection. The great thing about having a seven year old son is that it gives me an excuse to get over excited if I spot a racing driver, and his dimensions make him perfect for pushing him to the front of the crowd.
Highlights so far in this series have included Romain Grosjean, Darren Turner, Daniel Ricciardo and Tim Harvey, and although we were delighted with each of those at the time, the bar, as I’m sure you’ll agree, was set pretty low heading into the Grand Prix weekend.
So here goes, the international edition of Christian’s Autograph Book:
19. David Coulthard – DTM and 13-time Grand Prix winner. (DC was appearing at a Red Bull publicity event at the beer tent on our site, and was supposed to be coming with Christian Horner and Sebastian Vettel, although they were somewhere else trying to stop Mark Webber doing a Basil Fawlty on Vettel’s race car. Tester Ricciardo was also in attendance, but we already had his)
20. Vitantonio Liuzzi – Force India F1 driver. (The Italian was staying at the hotel on the site where we were staying, and spent time signing autographs for the fans)
21. Tony Fernandes – Lotus Racing team principal. (Thoroughly nice chap. Turned up outside the hotel and signed autographs and posed for pictures whilst asking everyone’s name and chatting away like he was one of the lads. Stayed for about twenty minutes, and then got back in his Aston Martin and drove off – he wasn’t even staying at the hotel, just came to meet the fans. Had the desired effect though; I bought a team hat the following day. Legend)
22. Fairuz Fauzy – Lotus Racing test and reserve driver. (I knew I had seen him somewhere before. He was a little taken aback when we recognised him, but didn’t mind signing for the people who wanted one)
23. Lucas Di Grassi – Virgin Racing driver. (Seemed nice, even smiled when my friend’s son asked him if he could have his team cap – then ignored him)
24. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari F1 driver and double World Champion. (Don’t get me wrong, I get just as mad as the next person when I hear his constant whining over the team radio, and when his car pulled up at the hotel, my head was full of pre-conceptions of how he would snub us all and head indoors. I was wrong. He headed for the far end of the queue and proceeded to sign for every one of the 100 or so people in attendance, smiling for photos, and being generally very pleasant, I couldn’t bring myself to dislike him for those ten minutes, there was something very special about being that close to a World champion, something very hard to explain. After he finished signing, he ran the full length of the crowd and remembered exactly whose marker he had taken to sign the autographs, handed it back and thanked them. He shocked me, did Fernando – I still cheered when he got a drive through on Sunday though)
25. Robert Kubica – Renault F1 driver and Grand Prix winner. (I don’t know if it was coincidental that his Renault Megane (I bet he doesn’t drive one on his day off) drew up at the hotel at the same time as poker-buddy Alonso, but it did. As a consequence, what would usually have been the one of the highlights of the evening passed by without much fuss)
26. Nick Heidfeld – Mercedes GP test driver. (Signed inside Christian’s programme, and then signed the cover as he pulled it away – nice touch?)
27. Gordon Shedden – Regular BTCC race winner. (Definitely the most random of the weekend. Parked in the space next to us at Stafford services on the M6 on the way home. He too was on his way back from the Grand Prix with his wife, and we had a good chat. Very nice guy.)
The ones that got away:
Michael Schumacher. (Saw the crowd outside the hotel and got his driver to go around the back).
Vitaly Petrov (and his mum). (Signed a few, but got bored before he got to our end).
Felipe Massa. (Pulled a very clever (if a little mean) stunt, by sending his brother out, complete with big shades, so everyone would think it was him. While everyone was calling over his bemused looking sibling, Felipe sneaked in on a moped (nearly running Alonso over [by mistake? You decide]), and went straight into the safety of the hotel).
Jean and Nicolas Todt. (Resisted some pretty half-hearted calls from fans for an autograph).
Next update will probably have to wait until World Series by Renault, at Silverstone in September, at the earliest, although it will probably be an anticlimax after this one.
Follow me on Twitter: @daimccann
My limited pictures will be up on Flickr page soon: Ifitsgot4wheels.
Saturday, 17 July 2010
Is it any wonder that Adrian Newey has got no hair? You design a car which blows away the rest of the field, you've managed to bolt on the exhaust blown diffuser that you have been aspiring to perfect since the fateful, never seen McLaren MP4-18 of early 2003, and through a combination of unreliability and the complete implosion of the operational team that you're working with, all of your hard work is in grave danger of being frittered away,
The problems are many, and during the early season when reliability seemed the biggest problem at Red Bull, most notably when Sebastian Vettel had to nurse his ailing car home at the opening race of the season after earlier having held a comfortable lead at the front. Newey was on the receiving end of some flak for making a car which was so fast that it was fragile by design, but he is now no more than an innocent bystander, wincing through a crack in the energy station door as his hapless colleagues bounce from one crisis to another, seemingly intent on throwing their championship challenge away.
It would be an absolute travesty if this car did not win one, if not both, of the titles this term after it's early dominance. If they do fail, where will blame be most likely, and justifiably apportioned? Here is a rundown of the key actors in this comedy of errors turned horror show:
Dietrich Mateschitz - Team owner, has ploughed vast amounts of his own money into the team, and remains largely in the background, perhaps only his recruitment policy could be called into question.
Helmut Marko - Never has anyone involved in sport had a more appropriate christian name. His role at Red Bull Racing is murky, but every problem encountered at the team usually coincides with his pearls of wisdom. Publicly blamed Webber for the crash at the Turkish GP, outwardly favours Vettel (likely due to the fact that he is a product of the Red Bull young driver programme), and seems to constantly make contradictory public statements about the team's affairs.
Christian Horner - Until recently, you would have had difficulty finding anyone involved in F1 who had a bad word to say about team principal Horner, but his thinly veiled suggestions that Mark Webber was to blame for the collision at Istanbul Park that cost his team the 1-2 saw his man management skills called into question for the first time. That, followed by the almost unfathomable decision at Silverstone, to take the surviving upgraded front wing from Webber's car and hand it to Vettel, without offering Webber any explanation in advance, has opened up many more questions about his leadership amongst even the most loyal Red Bull apologists.
Drivers - You couldn't conduct this discussion without analysing the drivers role in this debacle; Vettel, by the admission of people far more qualified than I, should have taken the lion's share of the blame for the Istanbul cock up, rather than parading around the run off area at turn twelve, gesticulating that Webber had lost the plot. As for Webber, there are only so many times that you can make a rash statement to the world's media and then retract them, citing "heat of the moment stuff", before you become a liability.
The fact of the matter is, is that none of the protagonists of the sorry affair come out with much credit, and if I were in their position, I would watch my back. Mateschitz has already shown that he is willing to put his money where his mouth is when he brought in Newey and the design team and should he find himelf in a position where he feels his operational staff, or indeed his drivers, are holding the team back, then expect heads to roll.
You can find me on Twitter: @daimccann
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Don't you hate it when people ask you if you're glad to be back when you've been away somewhere? I do. Especially when I have just come back from the best weekend I have had in years. We went to Silverstone this weekend, my seven year old son Christian and I, and camped with a great group of people at Whittlebury, the first Grand Prix I have attended since the 1999 Belgian round, and the good news is that it was at least as good as I remembered - maybe even the best time I have ever had at any of the seventeen races I have attended.
We left North Wales at 9am on Thursday morning so that we could get there nice and early and get ourselves settled before the rest of the group arrived, I even thought we might have a wander round inside the circuit while it was quiet, only to find that Bernie has now stopped anyone bar VIPs getting anywhere near the place before Friday morning. We had been to Silverstone in May to watch the FIA GT1 World Championship so we knew our way around the new layout, but it would have been nice to have a look around at the teams setting up, but it wasn't to be.
Friday morning Christian was up at 6am, and considering we had had quite a heavy night, coupled with the fact that we were sharing a caravan with my friend Lee, his son, Ben and mutual friends Gez and Phil, this didn't go down especially well, particularly the bit where Christian was using Phil's camp bed as a tunnel to race his toy cars through. Everyone seemed to excuse him because he was obviously so excited, and came out with responses to my apologies like "Don't be silly, one up, all up", it was very noble, but I could see they didn't mean it. We went and met the rest of our group at their motor home, Ronnie and Rhian, Steve and Dawn and their son Liam and the idea (well my idea) was to get into the circuit nice and early, in good seats ready for the 10am start of FP1. After negotiating the session times from a very confusing timetable on the tickets, which displayed everything in Central European time, we sat in the Becketts grandstand and waited for the first car to come out on track.
Christian was absolutely blown away by the sight of the cars that he watches on TV, and also by the noise, for which we needed to go and buy him some headphones, which was a drag because the view of the reconfigured circuit from Becketts is now absolutely fist class. We called back in the afternoon and watched FP2 from the pit straight grandstand, before ending our day at the track with a jug of Pimms, anyone would think it was Wimbledon; mind you had it been Wimbers, I doubt that we would have stolen the Pimms jug when we'd finished (does it count as stealing if you have paid a deposit?).
We spent another good evening on Friday at the pavilion bar, before heading back to the tent for the obligatory nightcap. I left the other three sitting up drinking when I called it a night about 1am, but heard them bouncing off the walls later on, on their way to turn it in for the night. When I woke up on Saturday morning there was an empty litre bottle of Bacardi (other Jamaican white rum is available) on the table outside that I know didn't even have the seal broken when I left them - no wonder I was first up. After a nice leisurely barbecued brekkie we ventured off to the circuit to find somewhere to watch qualifying.
The lads who we were staying with hadn't bought grandstand tickets so we all sat on the bank on the exit of Becketts and watched the Porsche Supercopa qualifying while we waited for F1 to start. We had purposely found a spot which was directly opposite one of the big screens so we could watch the action, but as we found to our frustration, they're great to watch the action, but unless you have binoculars (which of course we didn't) they're useless for the timing side. I began Q1 using the BBC live timing on my Blackberry for reference, but by Q2, I realised that the Twitter app was getting the news out much faster. I had already spotted that Jenson was in big trouble because I could see the green stripes of his option tyres half way through Q2, this was backed up by a tweet by Keith Collantine (F1 Fanatic) who observed that JB was in danger off missing out on the top ten shootout. The groans confirmed our fears, Button had qualified 14th, this wasn't supposed to happen. The rest of qualifying went as expected, Red Bull 1-2, Hamilton had wrung every last ounce of performance from the MP4-25 and put it on the second row.
Shortly after qualifying, news began to filter through about the implosion at Red Bull over “wing gate”, and some of our group saw this as maybe a chink in the armour and perhaps opening the door for a McLaren fight back on Sunday. After yet another barbecue on Saturday evening (I felt like I was on the Atkins diet by Monday) we headed off to the hotel within the grounds of our campsite where some of the drivers were rumoured to be staying, programme in hand, searching for autographs.
A nice security guard came out of the hotel and gave Christian a Ferrari hat, which was nice (although I was cringing with fear that he might proclaim his passion for McLaren – thankfully, he didn’t), and then a buggy turned up with some site staff on it, telling us that David Coulthard, Seb Vettel and Christian Horner were going to be making an appearance at the beer tent on the site at 5.30 to meet the fans and have a pit stop competition. When we arrived at the beer tent, surprise, surprise, Coulthard was there but had brought test driver Daniel Ricciardo along with him, stating that Horner had some management issues to address (I bet he did), and offering no explanation as to why the pole man was not in attendance.
After spending some time there we went back to the hotel where we met loads of other names from the world of F1, who I will tell you about in this week’s instalment of Christian’s Autograph Book (includes a World Champion), and we rounded the day off with pub again and bed.
The masterstroke of buying grandstand tickets paid off massively on Sunday morning as Christian and I didn’t have to rush when the rest of the gang were off to find a bank to watch the race from, and we strolled into the circuit at about 11am. We took up our seats which were dead opposite the McLaren pits, level with the start line, two rows up, just as the Porsche race was about to start, and I was made up to see Nick Tandy not only on pole, but win the race after holding off an early challenge from championship pacesetter Rene Rast. Fellow Briton Shaun Edwards drove the race of the day, battling up from the back of the field into points contention, only to be crudely stopped by compatriot Tim Bridgman. Great news for Tandy though, who after everything he has been through in the last year or so got an unbelievable reception when he mounted the top step of the podium, and I for one came over all emotional for him as he received the national anthem.
The F1 drivers then took to the circuit on a flatbed to wave at the crowd, and then the Red Arrows gave a great display which had the crowd ‘oohing’ and ‘aaghing’, I don’t know if they are much better than they were when I was little or whether I just appreciate it more now (probably the latter).
Then the action started, we watched as Martin Brundle went off with Coulthard for the grid walk, and as the cars went off on the parade lap, and then sat with tears in my eyes in awe of the whole package as the lights came on, and then went out and BANG, it was like an explosion, everyone jumped to their feet and the crowd went absolutely wild as we all realised that Lewis had got the jump on Alonso, another huge cheer half way round the lap when they showed Vettel limping round on the big screen. Everyone was back on their feet as the cars came round at the end of the first lap, willing Lewis (rather naively) to catch Webber, the roar doubled as Jenson came round in 8th.....8th from 14th on the grid, could the first lap have been any better? Further big cheers were heard as Alonso received a drive through, as Jenson drove a remarkable few laps prior to his pit stop to elevate him to within a few seconds of Rosberg, which ended up giving him 4th place, and Vettel’s battle back up through the field to 7th was well received (he could have finished even higher had he not made a meal of trying to get past Sutil).
We went back to the caravan after watching the podium celebrations feeling that it was about as good as we could have hoped for, Webber was a popular winner with Lewis a driving one of the performances of his life to even stay within touching distance for second. Sunday night saw one last Barbie and one last trip to the pavilion bar, where we were delighted to see Spain overcome the disgraceful Dutch hackers.
Next morning we were up early and the dynamic of the group had totally changed, we were all in ‘getting packed up and going home’ mode. It made me feel a bit sad to be honest; we had had an amazing few days, where acquaintances had turned into great friends sharing experiences that will never be forgotten. In some ways the racing becomes secondary to the atmosphere and the experience. If you want to know every strategy detail and sector time, you’re better off staying at home and watching it on TV (I have Sky Plus’d it to make sure I can still enjoy the geeky bits). Christian is still getting over it a few days later, my ears are still ringing from being too tough for ear plugs, but we are definitely going to go back next year, to the same place, with the same people.
If you are thinking of going for the first time, in terms of pure atmosphere, don’t travel in and out by car, it’s all about the camping. Even on Monday after everything had finished Christian didn’t want to leave, in some ways neither did I, it’s like being transported into a fantasy world of things that only usually happen on TV. But I thought we’d better go; as the golfers were ready to turn our campsite back into a driving range, and that wouldn’t be much fun - for us anyway.
Follow me on Twitter: @daimccann
I'll stick the photos on Flickr: ifitsgot4wheels this week.
Coming up this week, an international edition of 'Christian's autograph book, and various other waffle.