F1 Jester

"Man braucht nuer richtig Gas geben." - Stefan Bellof

Making F1 Af-Ford-able Again

If you believe that F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and doesn’t need anyone coming around mucking things up, getting more money, teams, and drivers involved in the sport, then you might want to stop reading right now. With Bernie “I have as many bad ideas as Sepp Blatter” Ecclestone’s latest plan to cut prize money to the team outside the top 10, he has basically doomed the Marussia Team, or possibly Caterham if they continue to falter. Is it any surprise that the erstwhile owner of QPR has throw his dummy out of the pram on the day his former club was relegated from the Big Boys with Pants Football League?

If Russian money can buy football safety, our boy Bernie appears to be dead set on it costing them in Formula One. But let’s back away from a conspiracy theory of bickering billionaires and look at the real issues and the background history that shows how the Bambino Supremo (The Big Baby) took a thriving industry at the end of the 1970’s to the top heavy brink of failure.

Doing some research on Giles Villeneuve, I looked back at some of the statistics from 1978 about the time Bernie budgied his way into his role as promoter extraordinaire, Here is an amazing statistic from that year: there were over 60 drivers, men and women, who took a shot at F1 in 1978. They tried in year old or older machines. They got full race run outs in big teams. They paid for drives in their home races. They built their own tubs. And over 60 of them had a go at racing in Formula One.

There were so many, in fact, that GP weekends had to start featuring pre-qualifying to qualify for qualifying. And then in qualifying, drivers had to qualify to just make the field. Some big names fumbled their lines at various races and failed to qualify. Riccardo Patrase qualified 5th for the British GP at Brands Hatch in an Arrows. His teammate Rolf Stommelen failed to qualify, due to mechanical problems at the wrong moment in the weekend. That and the fact that Patrase was fast. 

There were five Mclaren-Fords entered for that British GP with the privateer, American, Brett Lunger finishing 3rd best amongst the lot and ahead of Jame Hunt. Giacomelli, Tambay and Hunt were driving factory vehicles. Unheard of in todays multibillion dollar Formula One, a team running an extra car, but fairly common back in the day when everyone was much closer to broke.

Oh, but that could never happen now, because F1 cars today are such high strung, mechanical pieces of intricacy and engineering technological development, blah, blah, blah… Hah and Bah! Most every component of the current F1 chassis, engine and suspension is defined in the regulations down to the point where teams scramble to develop tiny aero advantages by bending rules in directions they were never meant to be bent. Furthermore, these “innovations”  are almost guaranteed to have no impact on road car development. Do you expect to buy a VW GTI in 2020 with incredible blown stub axles? Is that what you are going to point to and brag to the boys at the pub, that you’ve got the latest blown stub axles? 

Irrelevant.

F1 is expensive because teams have the resources to make it expensive. Teams have the resources, not because one man is a genius, but because they are standing in front of a fire hose shooting money out at them called international television and internet rights. Over the past 30 years cable television companies have come and gone. F1 management hasn’t so much brilliantly promoted the sport, just simply managed the World Cup of motorsport without any of that nasty “Football for the Community” nonsense. Just: Give me some money by The Thamesmen 

So what would work better? Simple, an equivalency formula to go into effect next season in F1. Not a 3 liter normally aspirated engine, but a 5 liter equivalency. Plus, adding 220 pounds (100 kilos) to the minimum weight requirement. Let the engine manufacturers and gear box builders go crazy. Let’s get back to racing and hoping the cars make it to the finish ala Colin Chapman. That type of development can happen in a low cost environment. The way to control the costs is by creating a low cost equivalency formula that can compete with the most exotic of the high tech beasts. David vs. Goliath. Brains vs. Brawn. Seems like themes us human beings cotton onto and enjoy picking sides.

One of the most expensive bits of kit on an F1 car are the carbon brakes. They make the cars stop quick. They make it almost impossible to overtake without some whiz bang gizmo like the DRS (DRS System, by the way, is redundant: say it out loud once while waiting at the ATM machine). They are prohibitively expensive.They are pointless.

The basic argument is simple. If the governing body of Formula One wants to make the racing more affordable and interesting it can. But that risks upsetting the apple cart of current manufacturers involved in the sport. The FISA won the war and they have now driven F1 into a pointless, NASCAR like, spec car cul-de-sac. It will take more than a billionaire baby to solve this one.

There are those who will argue that large fields of competitive cars with interesting technology and multiple drivers doesn’t make for exciting racing. No wait, nobody in their right mind would make that argument. The austerity push by the world’s banking community could set off a second economic crisis (When did the first one end?) that could see a Mercedes, Renault, or even FIAT rethink their commitment to a racing series only tenuously related to real life motoring. The much maligned small teams, the Garagistas, are the buffers between the manufacturers and reality. One of them will be disappearing at the end of this season, which means one less team to possibly step up and take over a factory squad. 

A Revolution in Bahrain: The Drivers’ Spring

For years, those of us watching Formula One in Bahrain have wondered: will this race ever cause a revolution in this country? Will the worldwide media attention focused on this little patch of desert islands ever so embolden the young discontented men that they will rise up? throw off their shackles? and demand to be respected as individuals? The answers are finally in and they are an emphatic, “Yes, Yes and YES!”

The young men in question, however are not the local Shiite Muslims who have been cowed into submission by the ruling Sunni monarchy. I now refuse to be drawn into that debate. Yes, Democracy is good – much better than having a leader chosen for you from the wealthy elite (they tend to have a distinctly different agenda then the “working class”) – but if Democracy requires bloodshed then that is a sacrifice that must be faced; must be decided upon, by those shedding the blood. I have opinions, but given recent events in Syria and Egypt, the Arab Spring could be a long term event like the Cold War, settling down to that reality means not wanting to fall into the Radio Free Europe trap of promoting revolution, until revolution breaks out, then slowly slinking away to a corner while Soviet tanks rolled into Warsaw and Budapest.

The young men who staged a revolution on Sunday had names recognizable to the western world. Names like: Perez, Hamilton, Alonso, Webber and above all Vettel, their inspirational leader. It seems the drivers have seized control of Formula One and decided the game will be played on their terms. And, what a delight for the fans who have grown bored with “multi21” processional lapping of the circuits.

Amongst the GPDA, it seems that a quiet gentlemen’s agreement was tossed aside on Sunday. It’s as if the Wellington Polo & Cricket Club of The King’s Road, Fulham, has traded stripes with the Brixton & Wormwood Scrubs Fight Club. And, jolly well about time old lads. Bloody well about time.

In Sunday’s Bahrain GP we witnessed the beginning of The Drivers’ Spring, a new revolutionary movement to stop the rot that has become the boring, parade lap racing instilled by FOTA and the Bambino Group (Incorporated in the Channel Islands since The Great Train Robbery). This is just the first sortie however in a battle that will have much more lasting implications for Formula One then any blown diffusers, blown axles, Coende (I’m not even going to bother to spell it right) Effects, or any of the other technical minutiae that keep F1 scribes scribbling about the amazing competitiveness of cars built in completely different factories to exactly the same specifications.

So, while the FOTA members could all buy Dallara chassis and save a ton of money (Why not, they basically have spec’d a standard chassis and engine?) What no one can do yet, despite Frank Williams best efforts, is buy a plug in driver who works equally well in all conditions. I’m a big fan of the underdog, but for Williams Engineering, this single lack of innovation in the cyber-driver category has more to do with their demise from competitiveness than any lack of technical ability or financing. A long time ago Sir Frank decided that drivers were as interchangeable as shock and struts, and fortunately that theory lies in the tatters of his team’s long forgotten leadership on the grid. Even Caterham this weekend was forced to admit that a fast driver is fast because he has experience in interpreting how the car operates.

My question: What the hell did they think they were paying these guys all that money for?

But, of course, the team owners and Channel Island Syndicated Racing Promotions, want to cling to the belief that pay drivers can go just as fast as the pros, a theory that was discredited as far back as Le Mans in 1924, when the pros quickly established that they were much faster than any gentlemen amateurs. The British especially, are in love with the idea of the amateur racer. The pay driver, after all is the built in excuse for every incompetent engineer who ever worked at ERA or BRM.

But, at least on one Sunday in the Middle East, perhaps frustrated by the recent Red Bull debacle and the good-school-boys at Mercedes, the drivers took matters into their own hands. And why not? The paying public can barely remember one drivers’ world champion from year-to-year. No one can name the winning constructor, unless the championship was so lopsided that it fell to the team with the world champion driving.

Next the drivers need to take on the way prize money is awarded. All of the end of year prize money being split amongst the constructors is unacceptable. This leaves the best drivers with almost no clout when it comes to contract negotiations. The drivers should demand a few chips be thrown their way, that they can then use to bargain with for the best deals. The Drivers’ World Champion should make as much as the Constructors’ World Champion.

By listening to Bernie the constructors have backed themselves into this untenable corner. Who cares if a blue car, or a red car, or a green car, or a silvery orange, or a silvery green car wins the race? Only the F1 wonks wandering around fretting about the ramifications of blown axles. Yes, I’m one of those people, but millions (maybe billions) more have heard of Sebastian Vettel. The drivers hold all the cards, they just perhaps haven’t realized it yet. Or, put another way, does the exhaust geometry of the new Lotus give you the same visceral thrill, as the difference between a flat 12 boxer Ferrari and a Cosworth V8? If it does, you need to step back from the AutoCAD screen for a moment.

So here’s hoping for more internecine battles as team leaders with fading tires openly battle with young freshly rubbered upstarts. Let’s hope Perez is given the freedom to challenge Button. Let’s hope we have seen the end of Mark “Multi21” Webber and the return of Mark “the toughest man to pass” Webber. Let’s hope Lewis slices and dices fools on old rubber driving between him and an apex. To all of you “gentlemen” drivers of F1, I say congratulations. Throw the gloves off boys and lets have it. Drive it like a stolen rental kart and let’s test the lateral strength of some of these carbon fiber suspension components.

I thought they held up pretty well on Sunday. Turns out that just like the drivers in the cars, their not as fragile as we all might have been led to believe by some of the bigger egos in the garages.

Niki Lauda adopted the “Super Rat” moniker after a run in with a true legend of F1, David Purley. At the wet/dry 1977 Belgian GP at Zolder, Purley led briefly in his own F1 car, the LEC-Ford as he held off switching to dry tires. Lauda called him a ‘silly rabbit’ for holding him up as he chased eventual winner Gunnar Nilsson. But, Purley stood his ground and told Lauda where to go if a works Ferrari driver couldn’t pass him in a straight fight. The helmet was Lauda’s public acknowledgment of Purley’s toughness and the eventual humor of the situation. Purley added a white rabbit sticker to his own car at the next race.
Drawings like this just remind me of what F1 used to be, beyond heroes like Purley, Lauda and Gunnar Nilsson, racing had a real human face, maybe typified by Purley’s willingness to face the risk of that era, but at the same time demanding ever improving safety standards. I guess I think those are lessons we shouldn’t forget.

Niki Lauda adopted the “Super Rat” moniker after a run in with a true legend of F1, David Purley. At the wet/dry 1977 Belgian GP at Zolder, Purley led briefly in his own F1 car, the LEC-Ford as he held off switching to dry tires. Lauda called him a ‘silly rabbit’ for holding him up as he chased eventual winner Gunnar Nilsson. But, Purley stood his ground and told Lauda where to go if a works Ferrari driver couldn’t pass him in a straight fight. The helmet was Lauda’s public acknowledgment of Purley’s toughness and the eventual humor of the situation. Purley added a white rabbit sticker to his own car at the next race.

Drawings like this just remind me of what F1 used to be, beyond heroes like Purley, Lauda and Gunnar Nilsson, racing had a real human face, maybe typified by Purley’s willingness to face the risk of that era, but at the same time demanding ever improving safety standards. I guess I think those are lessons we shouldn’t forget.

This Alfa SZ from the Targa Florio in 1969 was one of my first marker drawings. If I have the date right, the car was well past it’s ‘sell by’ date as a front runner. But it placed 34th overall & 5th in class (1.3 Liter - Sedan?). It was driven by Santo Scigliani and Giusseppi D’Amico for Scuderia Etna. Last I knew, this drawing was paying for future repairs I might need on my GTV at a garage in Portland. You can also Google this and use it on your “myGoogle” page as a custom banner. It might be incorrectly labeled Alfa TZ, as that’s what I thought it was until I just did some checking.

This Alfa SZ from the Targa Florio in 1969 was one of my first marker drawings. If I have the date right, the car was well past it’s ‘sell by’ date as a front runner. But it placed 34th overall & 5th in class (1.3 Liter - Sedan?). It was driven by Santo Scigliani and Giusseppi D’Amico for Scuderia Etna. Last I knew, this drawing was paying for future repairs I might need on my GTV at a garage in Portland. You can also Google this and use it on your “myGoogle” page as a custom banner. It might be incorrectly labeled Alfa TZ, as that’s what I thought it was until I just did some checking.

Surface to Air Missiles & The Olympic Ideal

We need to follow the Olympic ideal. We need to put it into practice. At the simplest most actionable level this reduces to: war must stop during the Olympics. I was reminded of my belief in this ideal, by the recent news that London is considering installing Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems for the Olympics. Straw, camel, back.

A country currently engaged in war should not be allowed to participate in the Olympics. Period. Yes, that means the USA would not be allowed to participate in the Olympics. That’s what it means. Neither would most of the world, as almost every country keeps a little war going on the side. China has Tibet to deal with.

Unworkable. Ridiculous. Impractical. Yes, very true, but for those who make such assertions, I might suggest checking the Wiktionary website and looking up the word “ideal”. The Olympics need to stand for something more than just the best athletes jumping and running the furthest the fastest.

Countries should only be allowed to participate in the Olympics if they agree to a complete ceasefire for the duration. And, I’m not talking about a sit on your hands ceasefire. I’m talking: send the troops home ceasefires. If this type of cessation of military activity is impractical or impossible, then the country has already made it’s decision of not participating in the Olympics.

We’re told that military missions are critical to national security. But, we live in a society unwilling to make any sacrifice for martial security. We pretend that we have freedom and rights and truth and justice, but if a citizen of the United States strays too far over the line in condemning a government perpetually at war they risk charges of treason. It can be no other way during war time. And, by perpetually generating a wartime mentality, the government (and the ruling elite) creates a buffer against criticism.

So, in the end, the Olympic movement is being used as a tool to perpetuate the myth that we can be at continuous war throughout the world and we can still play our whimsical games. This is the basic belief that leads me to protest events like the recent Bahrain GP, and now question the upcoming Euro 2012 football tournament as former Ukraine prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko remains a political prisoner in Kiev.

We live in Orwell’s dystopic future world of the book ‘1984’. We are told we are constantly at war with an enemy we can’t see but whose threat is being continuously promulgated by the secret police whose jobs depend on the continued threat of this illusory foe. We send our sons and daughters to fight a real enemy, while those of us who wait at home pretend we’re not at war and try to maintain economic normalcy. Else, we’re told: the terrorists win.

Well, when the banks collapsed and the housing bubble burst and Europe was thrown into crisis and the Middle East screamed for Democracy, what was all that? Was that the terrorists winning as well? Or, do the terrorists only win when the elite are inconvenienced? 

I hope London has a lovely Olympics and the SAM batteries are not needed. I hope the Euro football championship goes off without a hitch and the Germans get to play someone in the finals. I hope F1 continues as a superlative global branding opportunity for those multinational corporations ready take their advertising campaigns worldwide. I hope the ideal of the Olympic movement, the core meaning of the Olympics is somehow, somewhere reignited and we use the 2012 games to reflect on what it means to live in a world where war is an ever present reality.

But, above all that, I hope war ends. And, I think it’s hypocritical for countries participating in international competition to attempt to maintain a level of ‘normalcy’ in sport and culture, when we are so clearly involved in global warfare. No matter what I think of the validity of my own country’s mission in Afghanistan and our sabre rattling with Iran; the civil war in Syria, and the continued conflicts arising from the Arab Spring, I know that in ancient Greece, the Athenians never worried about locating SAM installations to protect the games that were meant to ensure a regular end to armed conflict and provide a societal respite upon which to reflect on the validity of our current conflicts.

F1: We DO Need Another Hero

I wish I could guide you back to a prescient article that appeared in the American magazine “Road & Track” in the early 1980’s. The clairvoyant author of the essay envisioned a dystopic futuristic Formula One, with seats filled by nothing but unthinking, young automotons, raised on karting from the age of 5, with no world outlook beyond what they could see out their helmet visor.

Fast forward 30 years and while modern drivers have their apologists, I think most longtime F1 observers pine for the days of Hunt & Lauda. Maybe that’s why there is so much interest in @RealRonHoward’s upcoming film “Rush” that will chronicle their rivalry. Unlike Tina Turner in Thunderdome: We DO Need Another Hero.

Yesterday, Johan Cruyff turned 65. I doubt that any of the current batch of F1 superstars could hold a candle to Cruyff in a debate. Cruyff, Lauda, Hunt, Prefontaine, Ali: these were the anti-heroes that gave average fans hope. When the Nethrlands banned wives from making the trip to Argentina, Cruyff said: Fine, count me out. After the firing of Ermmano Cuoghi, Lauda walked into the most powerful man in F1’s office, and told Enzo Ferrari where he could go, if he was going to treat his personal mechanic that way. Hunt was Hunt: He was real: He was human: He was mad: He was one of us. Prefintaine fought tooth and nail with USOC and USTF, working as a bartender to make money while training in his spare time. Ali walked away from the heavyweight boxing title over the Vietnam War.

Those are great counter culture references. But, is there even a driver today who would stand up for safety like Sir Jackie Stewart? Stewart didn’t fight the establishment: he was the establishment. Bernie Ecclestone saw Stewart’s approach to F1 and realized there was a ton of money to be made in the sport. In his heyday, Bernie stopped races over safety concerns. You don’t have to be anti-establishment to fight for what’s right.

What was right about the recent Bahrain GP? Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t say which side is right or wrong. My politics are hung up on: the regimes unwillingness to allow reporters free access and blocking some journalists from entering the country; versus some of the radical, anti-feminist rhetoric I heard from the Shiite majority. But politics aside, does F1 belong in a country where teams have to run a gauntlet of Molotov cocktails to get to the circuit?

And please, don’t try to use Bernie’s sad, chest thumping macho argument that it was only one and it missed completely. It was sickening to see a little 81-year-old man trying to kowtow professional F1 personnel into taking on unreasonable personal risk. A lot of the personnel in F1 work 24 hour days on race weekends and beyond. It seemed that Bernie felt this sloven devotion to the cause should trump ANY concerns for personal safety. The fact that it was a wealthy Brit chiding Team India also didn’t go unnoticed as a bit of colonial theater. The churlish revenge of not showing Team Force India on TV during qualifying should certainly raise the ire of the team and their drivers. Paul Di Resta, get some of that vaunted Scottish backside up and let the world know you support your team. Nico Hulkenberg: you have $25 million backing you that deserves to be seen on TV. This type of chicanery should be fought! 

If I was on my way to work and saw rioters/protesters throwing Molotov cocktails across the road, I would  turn around, go home and call in sick. That’s not an option on an F1 weekend. So, it was unsafe to race in Bahrain: end of argument. F1 teams have to deal with the lawlessness of Brasil, simply because its a traditional venue. But why shouldn’t a driver like Jenson Button say, “Enough is enough. If attempted kidnapping is part of the job in Brasil, then F1 shouldn’t return to Interlagos.” If Molotov cocktails are part of the F1 experience in Bahrain then Bahrain should be off the calendar regardless of your political stance.

Just below the surface it appears that most of the current generation of drivers are every bit as cantankerous and opinionated as their counterparts of previous generations. Webber, Raikkonen, Alonso, Hamilton, Schumacher, et.al. give off a vibe of tense aggression. But, it goes no further. Drivers in the past drove for small teams, whereas modern F1 has been taken over by corporations of millions of employees. FIAT, versus Mercedes versus Renault versus Red Bull. A media handler is always nearby holding the corporate leash when the cameras are on, lest an actual opinion not strictly approved by the BOD should escape.

Yes, F1 does need another hero. We need Kimi to come out of his shell and be the plain talking, vodka loving jokesters we hear rumors of. We need Webber to take the political positions and safety opinions he has in the past. Let hamilton be a young lad in a fast car, Alonso the brooding Spaniard you can tell would sometimes just like to be left alone. 

More than anyone else though, Michael Schumacher has the right to say exactly what he thinks whenever he chooses. Schumacher is bound to the elegantly efficient German Mercedes brand, but he can speak out as much as the Austrian Lauda did a generation before. Schumacher needs to have opinions beyond tire wear vs. degradation.

In the end, though, it should be the drivers (and technicians) decisions to maintain their own personal beliefs and be free to express those beliefs. While large corporations have given us everything from iPhones to XBox to F1, we are in danger of losing our colorful and intersting humanity to a grey, bland, conservative conformity of corporate speak, if we muzzle even our superstars.

Cheers, @F1Jester

My Take on 2012 in 2011

Post Japanese GP update: The results of the Japanese GP further cemented the link between 1963 and 2011, with the top three contenders in the title race, the top drivers for the three biggest teams standing together on the podium. Button first, followed home by Alonso and 2011 world champion Seb vettel.

This post originally appeared in my Blogger account in October 2011. Seems like a good time for a reprint now that Mercedes and Nico Rosberg have broken their duck.

With Sebastian Vettel probably wrapping up the 2011 World Championship in a few hours, I thought it time to start looking forward to what could turn out to be the most exciting F1 season in recent memory. Because, if 2012 follows the pattern of past dominating seasons, it could be as good as the 1964 season, a season that followed perhaps Jim Clark’s best year in F1. The similarities between then-and-now extend beyond the championship winning drivers and teams.

Jim Clark’s domination of the 1963 Grand Prix season is the stuff of legend. The fact that Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 season is being considered in the same breath goes further than any other accolade in praising the young German, Adrian Newey and the Red Bull squad. Newey pushes aero design the way Colin Chapman once pushed mechanical design. Vettel has a smooth aggression in his driving style, tempered by his clinical ability to bring the car home in one piece, in first place, just enough ahead of his rivals. Red Bull has the same joie de vivre of Team Lotus from the early sixties.

The facts of the 1963 and 2011 seasons read like mirror images of excellence. Clark won 70% of the races, unprecedented for that era and a feat that would only be beaten decades later by Ayrton Senna. But not just the wins, Clark finished nine of ten races on the podium. He only missed a podium finish at the first race of the season at Monaco suffering gearbox problems. Vettel’s 2011 has been a similar season of over topping success. The Red Bull team currently rides an unprecedented run of sixteen straight pole positions.

In 1964, Surtees took the championship, Lotus were put on the back foot and Graham Hill remained Graham Hill, which by all accounts, was a damn fine fate…

So, some pundits point to more of the same and Red Bull mastery of the same F1 field in 2012. But in racing as in life, nothing stays more constant than change. Just as 2011 has been dominated by three top teams: Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari; 1963 was dominated by Lotus, BRM and Ferrari. Just as the workmanlike and efficient Jenson Button has managed to push the Red Bulls down a step on the podium this season, Graham Hill managed two wins in 1963 in his BRM. And, just as Fernando Alonso showed bursts of mid-season speed resulting in wins, John Surtees managed a home win at Monza for Ferrari.

But surely the writing is on the wall for next season. Short of a complete collapse, Red Bull will push on to a third consecutive driver’s title, probably with Vettel again taking the honors. But there are signs pointing in the opposite direction. 

Its just damned hard to stay ahead in a racing car. There’s a technical draft almost as powerful as the aerodynamic draft, and the longer a team dominates the more their designs get scrutinized, dissected and copied. After two seasons of Red Bullying, the rest of the paddock must be cottoning onto some of Adrian Newey’s aero-tweeks and the more subtle mechanical bits that make the Bulls Rampante so quick. Lotus was in a similar position in 1964. The 1964 grid looked even more like Lotus 25’s painted in various national colors than had 1963.

 Mercedes looks set to become a race winner in 2012. A quick look at the back pages of Autosport www.autosport.com over the past few months has seen Mercedes looking to beef up staff in all areas. They have just poached two experienced tech wizards from their opponents. The Michael juggernaut is now getting into gear and 2012 very likely will be a make-or-break year for the Silberpfeilen. Dan Gurney served a similar purpose in 1964 winning two races in the Brabham-Climax and taking important points from the front runners, breaking their momentum.

If the might of Mercedes can’t be ignored, then the outfit from Maranello are the proverbial 800 pound ‘rosso scuderia’ gorilla in the room. Ferrari races for Italy and to quote @MrSteveMatchett “Italy Expects” is not taken lightly. Ferrari have struggled with the switch to Pirelli, so they could gain more than any other team with chassis changes to match the Italian rubber compounders. Than as now, Ferrari was in the midst of a run of competitive vigor in the early sixties. In 64 they’d caught up with the rear engine garagistas and gave John Surtees just enough reliability to win the championship.

Two talented newcomers picked up wins in 1964 whereas the wins were shared amongst the three top drivers in the three top teams in 1963. This season, only the top three teams have looked like picking up wins and unfortunately, the three number twos in each team have unexpectedly fallen off peak performance. Massa, Webber and to a lesser degree Lewis Hamilton have not had the race results they would have expected coming into the season. Throw in Nico Rosberg looking to prove he is the equal to Shumacher whilst not forgetting the anticipated return of Robert Kubica and wins will likely be shared amongst more drivers next year. If not, the 2012 silly season will get going earlier than usual.

So, just as in 1964, next season we will see: a young champion looking to consolidate his reputation,  a car that has been dominant long enough to allow the other teams a proper look, the big teams will not take second places laying down, more competitive drivers, and probably the three main teams still battling for the championship but with more teams pushing for wins. All, pointing towards a more exciting and varied 2012.

As a final footnote, in researching some of these facts, I came across the odd fact that Graham Hill outscored Surtees, 41 to 40 on total points for the season. The championship came down to the last race of the season in Mexico, where either Hill, Clark or Surtees could take the title. Clark would have been champion except for an engine giving up on the last lap of that last race when he had the complete scenario setup to just nick both championships for himself and Lotus. Hill, became a victim of possible Ferrari team orders when he was delayed by an incident with Surtees’ teammate Bandini, and more conclusively when Bandini moved out of the way to gift Surtees second in the race and first in the championship. In 1964, only the best six finishes counted towards the title, so Hill’s fifth place at Spa was to no avail. Surtees was champion in 1964, and deservedly so. Lotus was temporarily on the back foot, but history shows they recovered. And Graham Hill remained Graham Hill, which by all accounts, was a damn fine fate and repeated as world champion in 1968.

GET F1Jester2, F1jester3 & F1JesterASIA: CALL Your Cable Provider NOW!

Please don’t “call your cable provider today” for access to fictitious blogs that I don’t have time to create. It isn’t out of a lack of greed or hubris, that I’m not asking you to do my marketing for me. I’m just lazy.

If ESPN, SPEED TV, and Fox Sports were as lazy as I am then instead of foisting demands for new Internet based television channels on me, they would just make available the stuff that I’ve already paid for.

This argument about paying for internet content twice goes back to the days when Napster was a “free” music service. My argument (lawyers told me) wouldn’t hold up in court, but it makes sense to anyone who has ever paid for Internet service.

Here it is in a nutshell: It might be possible to download free music or get free TV on the Internet. To do that: go to the local public library, get free access to the Internet. There, access some website that provides free music or TV, download it onto the library’s computer and take it home on a usb storage device. Free download accomplished.

But, at home: consumers pay for the internet. They pay someone called an ISP. Internet Service Providers have received a lot of money from me (about a motorcycle payment a month) so that I can access “Free Stuff”. The problem is, and pardon my French: free stuff online is usually horse manure. In fact, it’s usually worse than horse manure. Horse manure just smells bad if it gets on my shoes. It won’t take over my computer with ads and viruses. Just because I clicked on a FIAT ad once, I spent many months being chased around the Internet by J-Lo in a FIAT 500.  

At some point in the value exchange of using the internet, the idea that the consumer is paying, and paying a lot for “Free Stuff” got lost. Why? Because the content creator isn’t receiving much or any of the money. It all goes to my ISP.

So, the content providers (the sports channels) are looking to cash in. Reasonable. 

But being unreasonable, I unleashed a torrent of Twittriol at SPEED TV in the USA this past Sunday.

Let’s backup. I woke up early that day, checked the Twitterverse and saw a link to a free Live YouTube video service for the FIA GT1 qualifying race at Nogaro. Amazingly, the link worked! As I drank my first cup of coffee of the day, I was marveling at Lamborghinis being chased by Audis, Porsches, BMW’s, Ferraris, Ford GTs, et.al. on my smart phone. This was cool! I know of the series and I’ve seen highlights but never watched live. What a great introduction to an exciting new form of racing…

As I continued to watch though, I grew concerned about data downloading. We all know that downloading directly from a phone network costs lots of money once over the plan limit. So I stopped to check that my phone was set to pickup my home’s wireless network.

Yup. Back to the race.

Not so fast…

This time, I got an error message. The Live Youtube feed was not available in my area. I checked back on Twitter. Did a quick #FIA #GT1 search and came up with some links to SPEEDTV2.com which was showing the race. 

My ISP does not carry SPEEDTV2.com. But SPEEDTV encouraged me to harangue my ISP to carry their service to give me access to a wide range of motorsport events. Under normal conditions, I might have even followed their advice. I’m a fan of road racing and rallying, so the motorsports I follow aren’t always on TV. This time, I was watching what I wanted to watch for FREE, until I was blocked for some nefarious reason.

FIA GT1 racing while admittedly fascinating (did you see the list of manufacturers in the series a few paragraphs ago?!?!) doesn’t have a following in the USA. Even drug dealers know to hand out free samples. Same goes for marketing obscure motorsports. If SPEEDTV really wants their internet offerings to succeed, they need to entice viewers in. I was getting the feed for free, until it was mysteriously blocked.

I often put two and two together and get five, or 3.1416, or something else entirely. So, I’m just speculating about a connection between my free viewing of a new and exciting form of motorsport being ruined by a company demanding that I make some phone calls for them. But that exactly what it felt like. 

And, of course, as mentioned above, SPEEDTV is far from the only guilty party. As consumers pay out the nose to Beta test smart phone apps, the app providers are constantly working the money machine to squeeze more out of our pockets.

So, I made a decision a while back:. I don’t need to pay for ESPN5, SPEEDTVaufDeutsch, FOXSoccerAfrica, or any other speciality internet channels. If I have free time, Peter Windsor on SMIBs TV is free and way more entertaining than Kaiser Chiefs vs. Orlando Pirates.

I do find it discouraging that a great racing series featuring production silhouette super cars won’t be part of my viewing future, but hey, I’m saving a motorcycle payment a month. I might save enough for an Abarth 500 payment. And lets face it, if you’ve read this far, you’d probably rather spend Sunday mornings tearing up the countryside than tearing up the internet.

Cheers, The Jester

F1 Finances: Solved. Next.

Ha. Of course a guy writing a blog in his kitchen at 6AM waiting for the coffee to boil isn’t going to solve the conundrum of F1’s spending cap. But the answer is obvious and simple. So obvious and simple, I can almost guarantee it will never be implemented. F1 teams need to simply have all finances coming IN prechecked by an FIA approved accounting firm. While expenditures still need to be reconciled, whatever the current system is, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve sponsors making all payments to a quasi-governmental agency overseeing Formula 1.

But it should.

If FOM or Bambino Holdings or CVC or FOTA or DORNA or FIM or whoever is actually in charge of Formula 1 wanted to get serious about an enforcable spending cap, a clearinghouse for all payments coming into all of the teams would be the first place to start. Did you notice the little juxtaposition there, of a bunch of shadow companies affiliated with the Ecclestone brand that no one really knows much about. These are holding companies and corporations that Bernie Ecclestone has had a hand in creating. Even the FIA, to a large degree, is a holding company Bernie Ecclestone has had a hand in creating.

So there’s the rub.

How can fans of Formula 1, let alone the team principles, expect generally approved accounting practices from an organizer generally in the business of creating shell businesses to avoid accounting practices? We can’t, so they can’t. So, maybe it’s time to stop talking about the ludicrous idea that Formula 1 teams are being held to any kind of a spending cap.

It’s no news that Bernie Ecclestone is involved in a bribe scandal in Germany. Fortunately, for some ‘mysterious’ reason that scandal slides off of Bernie’s Teflon bespoke shirts, like enquiries from the home office concerning his tax status. There isn’t a bureacracy yet built that can play the shell games of the wealthy, as well as they play them themselves.

Sure, racing history is littered with the stories of tax swindlers and drug runners who took things too far too fast and ended up with their race cars impounded, their garages shuttered and their employees unemployed. Fast is loose.

I believe any F1 supremo worth his salt would have a word for a lowlife like that: amateur.

You don’t scrabble out of the rubble of postwar London, bootstrapping yourself from selling bikes, to selling motorbikes, to selling tiny cars, to selling family cars, to selling Bentleys, to owning F1 teams, to owning F1 by being sloppier than the world’s sloppiest governmental tax authority. You don’t do it consistently for decades in the hope of being the next Bernie Ecclestone. If you had, you would be the next Bernie Ecclestone.

So the answer to financial transperency is obvious and simple, and therefore unimplementable and impossible. If all of the sponsors simply agree to pay into the General Reserve Formula 1 Fund, which will then immediately coordinate payment of their funds provided to the appropriate team, a spending cap in F1 can be easily implemented. The office could be well staffed by several top accountants with lower level assistance at not much cost at all. The input side of the financing of F1 should be relatively straight forward and simple.

Checking payments going out would be nothing more than a standard IRS tax audit. Explain how you bought that piece of equipment. Where does it show up on your books? How much is that inventory worth? Where are the receipts for what you paid for it? Definitely stickier than dealing with the input side, but the point is this: if the major, significant, monetary inputs to the teams were controlled up front, there would be a lot less room for jiggering the numbers on the backside. And, I seriously doubt amongst the high flying entrepeneurs and capitalists involved in F1 ownership, you are going to find any real support for this type of honest, traceable, accounting.

And then six little people said. Haha.

What’s needed to complicate any financial arrangement enough to keep the government tax collectors at bay is a long list of interacting companies interacting in sometimes nonsensical fashion. Thus, the current state of F1 finances. F1 teams get travel allowances from this stakeholder, parking garage rental from that stakeholder, pit facility usage fees from over there, storage expenditure reimbursements from somewhere else, points prize money from another fund, end of season prizes, payment fees for penalties, driver incentive bonuses, testing cost allocations, etc. The whole Byzantium system is designed to be as clear as the muddy Bosphorous.

Is everything in this post fact checked and accurate? Haha. Nope. So, I’m guessing that puts me on par with the financial cap that is currently in place governing the competition and the racing itself. Short of my fantasy solution here, what do I think is the real solution? Unbridled financial competition. Why F1 is even talking spending cap, I’ve never understood. It’s unworkable, unmanageable and if implemented could send a wedge between teams cognizant of the need for budgetary controls and those who oppose them. If that were to happen, the teams would lose political clout, power would be further consolidated in Bernie’s hands and who knows, he might even float the idea of an F1 IPO.

Cheers - The F1Jester

Review: F1 Timing 2012

I just finished watching the 2012 Malaysian GP on my Android Razor, the whole thing, red flag and all, using the F1 2012 Timing application. It’s a whole new way to watch F1, or something like F1, or something. There’s loads of promise exhibited by the “F1 Timing 2012” application for Android. Not surprisingly, the promise far outstrips the reality. For now, the user watches circles with numbers and driver three letter abbreviated names (EG. HAM = Hamilton) float around a very nice track map. Not exactly Rindt passing Jack Brabham, last lap, Monaco 1970 with a delirious German announcer (as seen on YouTube). But since it’s F1, still engrossing.

Caveats aside, the reality is pretty cool and it only disappoints as you constantly think, I wish the app would do…this or that or this…and it just won’t; not yet anyway. But, my guess is it will eventually. And hopefully, if the developer is well funded, eventually will come sooner than later. This is the technology the geeks are pointing to and saying, Bernie: spend more cash on this. Invest in new technology for F1, don’t just farm it out to the highest bidder.

So, what are the caveats? Well, first. let’s go over what you get forthe $32.00 price of admission. You get the circles going around the track with regualarly updated timing for all F1 sessions for the whole season. For me, that in itself was a no brainer. Twitter has exposed me to the joy of instant F1 gratification. If this appliction doesn’t give me the same information they’re getting in the F1 press room, it’s way ahead of what I was getting in the USA on SPEED TV’s F1 broadcasts.

That’s not to say SPEED TV is doing a bad job, but F1 is about data: reams and reams of lovely, parsable data. OK, the data is being received. But, parsable it is not. And, there in lies the rub and all of the — as yet — unmatched promise. I’m receiving boatloads of information with this app, but it feels like it’s all just washing overboard and being lost.

I didn’t watch the race live on my phone. I downloaded it Sunday morning local time to watch at my leisure. So, if you are going to use the application live, my experience might not match yours. Which, I think would make some of the glitches even more annoying. First, the information flies by and appears to be irretreivable. Perez is on a purple lap. He’s catching Alonso. Alonso’s lap time flashes on the screen, just as Rosberg drops a place. Distracted, I miss Perez’s lap time and as far as I know, that information is no gone forever.

That’s the basic problem, a double whammy of: information overload with no easily navigable way to retreive said flood of information. That, and the bar for scrolling back and forth through the race is woefully innaccurate, making said scrolling an exercise in frustration. I realize there are technical limitations to a phone app, but compared to scrolling through other longish videos, accuracy was lacking.

It being only my first race, I won’t complain too much about the less than intuitive track map zoom and spin option. By the end of the race I was able to watch what I wanted, where I wanted at any zoom level. But, I just decided to keep spinning until I got there, rather than solving the issue of how to spin and zoom which way how…

What would improve the experience the most the fastest? First, simple navigation to stored data. So, for example, I can easily retrieve the gap between Perez and Alonso over the last five laps. Second, improved gui navigation. The map is a thing of beauty that spins like an out of control dervish, everytime I touch the screen. I will accept some of the blame, but I still think it could be more intuitive. Third, maybe petty, but could we get somewhat representative car graphics as opposed to the boring circulating circles?

But, perhaps before all of those technical glitches are resolved, I would most like to see improved in race commentary. I realize the commentary is being typed in, in real time. But, for this race anyway, it seemed that the comments were few and far between, and sometimes inaccurate (EG. The race has been Red Flagged, No it hasn’t, Wait, no it has been Red Flagged).

For all my bitching, it is absolutely lovely to see the whole track, see the race unfold and see, how all the races inside the race are progressing. And, I have to say that I was surprisingly engrossed, watching the little Sergio Perez circle reeling in the little Fernando Alonso circle. When the little PER circle mysteriously slowed at turn 14 as he had just caught the ALO circle, I was afraid he’d thrown his (and the whole Sauber team’s) race away. The little PER circle stumbled, then got going again about five seconds back. Since the little circles occasionally stumble throughout the race, it took confirmation from the text commentary that this wasn’t just a GPS glitch, but that Perez had almost thrown away 2nd place.

What goes around in racing comes around, and I foresee a bright future for Android and ipad based race coverage. All it takes is deeper data analysis capabilities, more realistic and intuitive GUI, and improved in race commentary. But don’t forget, this was the first time I’ve ever seen this technology and for all of the drawbacks, the positives far outweigh what amount to my, as usual, petty bitching.

Cheers - F1Jester