Injustice and justice

From this afternoon’s MLS game between the Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids:

  • Injustice: giving a penalty for handball against a guy in the wall who was protecting his face from a hard-struck free kick.
  • Justice: the penalty hits the woodwork.

It was an enjoyable game, which the Sounders won 3-0. The last 20 minutes were a bit flat, because the third goal knocked the fight out of Colorado. Freddie Ljungberg was the inspirational playmaker for Seattle, but the win was largely due to the collaboration between Nate Jaqua and Fredy Montero. Oh, and the attendance was a record, 32,526, beating the previous highest total by just 3. (Obviously our last-minute decision to attend was significant!)
I wanted to see at least one MLS game in Seattle, and now I have. I’ve also seen the Mariners playing baseball, but I never made it to a Seahawks game. (I don’t really enjoy American Football, anyway.) What can we look forward to in California? The Giants baseball park up in San Francisco is nice. In San Jose they have an MLS team, the Earthquakes, but they seem to be struggling rather badly. In any case, we will no longer be able to walk across the street to take in a game on a whim…

Formula 1

I’ve been trying to decide whether I trust myself to comment on the current state of affairs in my favourite sport, but reading Only In America‘s amusing but information-free rant persuaded me to offer a few thoughts.
For those who haven’t been following things, here’s my analysis of the situation. First, the players:

  • The FIA: the governing body of motor sport, with self-described non-Fascist Max Mosley in control.
  • Formula One Management (FOM), the company that runs the business, wheels and deals with the teams, picks and discards circuits to race at, and generally does whatever Bernie Ecclestone’s Napoleon complex dictates.
  • The teams: Ferrari, McLaren, Brawn, Williams, Red Bull and so forth. Most are members of FOTA, the Formula One Teams Association. Each builds its own car (nominally independently), and gets engines from one of the…
  • Engineering power-houses: Mercedes, Renault, Toyota, BMW, Fiat. Some own teams; some supply engines to one or more teams; some do both.
  • The drivers: the stars that we all know and love (or hate). Each is under contract to a team; playing games with supposedly binding contracts is a popular pastime.
  • The circuits: the venues where the races are run. There are classics like Monza, Monaco and Silverstone, and new built-for-TV extravaganzas like Bahrein and Turkey.
  • The fans. Though it might not be obvious, the vast majority of these live in Italy, Germany, France, England and Japan. (There are plenty of fans in the US, too, but Bernie doesn’t like dealing with American motorsports businessmen because they than play the game of divide-and-exploit even better than he can.)

Next, supply and demand. There is an oversupply of circuits, so Bernie can play them off against each other and dump anyone, like Silverstone, that doesn’t toe his line. There is an undersupply of money, which means that although there are more drivers and teams that want to take part, the wannabees can’t afford to join. This is because there’s an oversupply of technology, which has two causes. First, the engineering powerhouses want to leverage F1 for promotional purposes: their investments really come out of the advertising budget. Second, Mad Max and a few others are worried about the image of gas-guzzling racing cars at a time of high fuel prices and environmental sensibility, so they browbeat the engineers into building esoteric things like Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems.
(It would be nice to say that this was necessary to promote R&D that would benefit everyday cars; in fact the R&D has already been done and cars like the Toyota Prius use KERS everyday. It makes sense in commuter stop-and-go; not so much at 148MPH around Silverstone.)
The recent crisis was provoked by Mad Max declaring that he was going to change the rules to save money, with preferential rules for new teams so that they could participate on the cheap, and that all of the other teams had damn well better sign up immediately, even though the rules weren’t fully worked out. The idea that savvy commercial players like Toyota, Mercedes and BMW would sign up without even knowing what they were agreeing to is… well, delusional. And they didn’t. So yesterday FOTA called Max’s bluff and declared that they were going to participate in an alternative championship series next year. Of course this has provoked threats of lawsuits all round.
Speaking as one of the fans, which I have been since 1964, here’s my opinion. The fans care about three things:

  • drivers
  • teams
  • circuits

That’s it. The fans appreciate the role that the engineering powerhouses play, and they are glad when the business is run well enough that they can attend races where possible and see the others on TV. But they love the drivers: the heros of today, like Button, Hamilton, and Vettel; the giants of the recent past, like Schumacher and Senna; and the legends like Moss, Clark, Fangio and the Hills (Phil and Graham). They follow the teams, like Ferrari, McLaren and Williams, with the family feeling that football supporters accord to the teams they support, and they remember the legendary teams of the past, like Lotus and Tyrrell. And they appreciate the importance of the circuits, because, like tennis fans, they understand that each circuit makes special demands on the skill of the driver and the engineering talent of the team. (This is, perhaps, why the rash of new circuits are so uninteresting: they all seem to test the same skills.)
Although Mad Max is the instigator of the latest and greatest stupidity, I actually blame Bernie more than Max. It has been Bernie who has treated Formula One as his personal plaything, cutting deals which pay little attention to the teams and none whatsoever to the fans. In a way, Max is reacting to the bloated state of Bernie’s cash machine. but he is responding by trying to out-Bernie Bernie, to be even more dictatorial than Napoleon.
I want Formula 1 to continue and succeed. Frankly the only group that seems to have a clue is FOTA, and thankfully the drivers seem to be supporting FOTA 100%.
One final thought, thinking about tomorrow’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Back in the day – specifically between 1964 and 1986 – the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. I really liked that scheme: both circuits had their own distinctive features, and it seemed like the ideal compromise. I’d prefer that the race remained at Silverstone, but if Bernie really wants to include Donington perhaps we could alternate once again.

Amazing deal on "Truth in 24"

OK, fellow petrol-heads: I just discovered that “Truth in 24”, the documentary about the 2008 Le Mans 24 hour race, is a free download at the iTunes Music Store. Regular or HD! (Mind you, although I chose HD (which is 2.9GB), it looks as if both versions are downloading. They should be finished in 5 hours or so.)
I’ve always been a fan of the 24 Heures du Mans; I can remember taking a radio into the National Trust woods near our house just before dawn in 1966, and listening to the race commentary as the sun came up. That was the year that Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon scored the first win for the Ford GT40 Mk II. I always thought that was a rather crude, brute-force design; the Mk IV that won in 1967 was much more elegant, and remains one of my very favourite designs.
Ah, well. Grab that documentary while you can. What a deal…

McLaren and basic commonsense

If you’re living in a world of totally transparent communications, and you tell a lie about something you said, you will be found out. What’s so hard about that? So (obviously) you don’t tell lies.
Somehow McLaren F1 failed this basic intelligence test in Australia, and the result is that Hamilton has been disqualified. The fact that the team accepted the decision without a peep of protest shows that they know exactly what they did.
There should be a lesson for politicians somewhere in this (Gonzalez? Cheney?), but maybe I’m overreaching.

Unmitigated B.S. quote of the day.

Lewis Hamilton dominated today’s Chinese Grand Prix. He led from pole, and steadily extended his lead to about 16 seconds, being careful not to over-stress his tyres. Kimi Raikkonen was in second place, unable to catch Hamilton, and Felipe Massa was third, unable to keep pace with Raikkonen. But since Raikkonen was no longer in contention for the title, he deliberately slowed and allowed Massa to take second place at the finish. Raikkonen explained what he’d done and why, but Massa came up with this nonsense:
“I was strong enough to catch and pass [Raikkonen] and that was the best part of the race for me – but it was not enough.”
Pure B.S. What a wanker Massa is…

Good news, bad news dept.

The good news: I was able to find an Indian cable TV channel that carries Formula 1 races live, so I’m able to watch the Hungarian Grand Prix live today.
The bad news: the channel is ESPN Star Sports, which has two of the most incompetent commentators I’ve ever heard. I think that the chief fool is a guy called Steve Slater, working with a straight man called Steve Dawson. Almost every technical observation that he makes – from the fuel rig problems to Adrian Sutil’s “shattered brake disc” – is simply silly.
Fortunately I’ve programmed my DVR to record the US broadcast, so when I get home I can listen to a competent team of commentators (especially the irrepressible David Hobbs).
And the race? Well, it was quite interesting until Hamilton’s left front tyre failed. (And the way Slater reacted to this event was monumentally clueless.) After that, the only question was whether Glock could hold off Raikkonen for third place.
And now Massa has just blown up! Slater’s asinine comment: “And now that podium will remain empty!” Sheesh! Anyone remember Colemanballs? And so Kovalainen gets his first win, while Glock nails P2 after Raikkonen backed off. Hamilton comes in 5th, and retains the championship lead by 5 points over Raikkonen; Massa drops to third.
UPDATE: The biggest upset from this race was in the Constructors Championship. Ferrari stay in the lead on 111 points, while McLaren jump to second with 100, leaving BMW in the dust.

Lewis Hamilton… WTF?

What a bizarre Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton rear-ends Raikkonen at pit out.After a sublime performance in qualifying, Lewis Hamilton threw it all away with a stupid mistake. Oh well: it was great to see BMW scoring a 1-2, with Robert Kubica getting his first win. And it was nice to see David Coulthard, the grand old man of F1, up there on the podium.
But Lewis… WTF? Really….

40 years ago today: RIP Jim Clark

Jim Clark was the perfect driver. Double F1 world champion. First Brit to win the Indy 500. There were fewer Grands Prix per year back in the 1960s, but he always had to be racing – if not in Formula 1, then Formula 2, or thrashing a Lotus Cortina around in the British Touring Car series. I was 13 when Jim Clark won his first World Championship, and 17 when he died. Motor racing was a really dangerous game: every year we lost one or two drivers. But not Jim Clark: heros are meant to be immortal….

"Watching" a Grand Prix in text mode….

The first Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season has just started in Australia. Unfortunately the Stanford Terrace Inn in Palo Alto doesn’t offer SpeedTV, so I’m reduced to reading the text stream at the BBC website, refreshing every couple of minutes. With 8 laps gone it’s
1. L Hamilton (McLaren)
2. R Kubica (BMW Sauber)
3. H Kovalainen (McLaren)
I hope I can stay awake until the end; it’s been a long day. First, breakfast with my son and daughter-in-law at Hobee’s in Palo Alto (where else?), and then a 62 mile hop down to Carmel for lunch with Merry’s parents. (They’ve just acquired their first Mac. Excellent!)
UPDATE: An excellent result. I won’t put the details here, in case any reader is time-shifting, but you can read them here.