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Friday, December 27, 2013

SpeedRead's ten takeaways from 2013

We are in the waning days of 2013, and barring a driver announcement from Caterham or Marussia, the year in F1 has faded down to Luca's annual complaints about all the things that are wrong with the sport that prevent Ferrari from winning. That seems like an ideal time to put together my list of thoughts on the year, so here goes...

1. Tires
Obviously the biggest story of the year. In the latest attempt by the sport to make things more exciting, Pirelli was asked to supply tires, well, crappy tires. It did as asked. A couple of teams figured out how to use the tires to their advantage, while others, notably, a struggling Red Bull, chose to play it their way and complain about things. Loudly and often. Things came to a head at Silverstone, where multiple blowouts forced Pirelli to go back to 2012 spec tires for safety reasons. From then on, Red Bull dominated, and that was that.

2. Engines
2013 marked the end of the V-8 era. despite Bernie's protestations, 2014 will introduce turbo sixes. This will be terrible for the sport, which has always raced with loud V-8s. Er, what? Oh... Seriously, though. I'm sure it will all be fine. The cars will be fast. You'll still need earplugs. We may have some failures, but not for long, as the rules are strict regarding engine allowances. Plus, it was enough to entice Honda to return (2015, with McLaren). Mission accomplished. It will be expensive, though...

3. Money
What a lead in, right? Money is a HUGE problem in F1. Or lack of, anyway. Reports have a majority of the grid hemorrhaging money, drivers aren't getting paid, and if you have aspirations to drive in the sport, you'd best bring a large portfolio of sponsors. Teams with storied histories like Sauber are on the ropes, and others at the sharp end of the grid are taking on the likes of Pastor Maldonado over Nico Hulkenberg. It's enough for serious talk again of a spending cap by everyone who isn't sitting on a large pile of cash.

4. Ferrari
I mentioned in the lead that Luca was complaining again. That was because the only reason Ferrari was within (extremely loud) shouting distance of post-Silverstone Red Bull was due to the talents of Fernando Alonso. And that relationship is deteriorating. Once again Ferrari hasn't gotten it right. Once more, Adrian Newey, armed with loads of Red Bull resources, has made the Prancing Horse look like total amateurs. The Scuderia keep adding engineering talent, but can't make it pay off. Again, it's the wind tunnel. Gone are the days of 24-hour testing around Fiorano. Adapt. Mercedes and Lotus are beating you. One has no money and the other Niki Lauda. How long does Stefano Domenicali survive this?

That leads us into the driver part of this list...

5. Vettel
It would be easy to say the only reason Sebastian Vettel wins is the team. Sure, that's part of it. Schumacher dominated when everything clicked. All champions do. But why is he in that seat? Not chance. He scored points in his debut for BMW. He won in a Toro Rosso. Scott Speed didn't. Sebastien Bourdais didn't. So there are skills there. And ruthlessness. Good guys don't often win. So we hated Multi-21. It was unsporting. But our true anger was in letting ourselves to be duped into thing he was that fun-loving boy who named his cars. Now we know. Right now, he is at the top of his game, with a team that is at the top of its game. He makes very few mistakes. Right now, he's the best. How would Fernando do in a Red Bull. I think he'd win the championship. He's probably thought about that. Now, we can hate the domination, the way many did Schumacher's. But it won't last forever. Ask Willams. Or McLaren. Or so many other teams that dominated for so long that you look up in the record books. By not being a spec series, F1 breeds domination. Enjoy it, or watch something else. And revel when someone beats Red Bull, for it will happen.

6. Grojean
A year ago, it looked like the Frenchman's short time in the sport would be done. The inability to rein in his vast talents would be his undoing. A little counselling, and suddenly he looks like championship material. Lotus will not miss a beat losing Kimi to Ferrari. Now, whether he will have a car next year to exploit his talent is an unknown. But easily, Romain Grosjean's turnaround from a guy who couldn't get out of his own way to one who looked destined to win this season is easily one of the feel-good stories of 2013. You're never sure when the next generation of drivers are going to make themselves known. The Kimis and Fernandos are now in their 30s. Grosjean will be one of them. First lap nut case no more.

7. Bottas
Valtteri Bottas gets the nod as the best rookie out there. His quali in Canada was very good, his performance in Austin sealed the deal. He was so good he had his teammate, the greatest F1 driver in the world, Pastor Maldonado, complaining of sabotage. Barring economics, it is hard not to see great things in the young Finn's future. If Williams can capture a bit of its former glory, take advantage of the rules changes and produce one of those tidy cars of old, he could well surprise in 2014.

8. Webber
This year we say goodbye to AussieGrit, as Mark Webber returns to sportscars with Porsche. Through his career, Webber has been honest, determined, and a team player (as far as F1 drivers go). After scoring points in his debut in a Minardi (a Minardi!), he went years before having the equipment to win. But he was finally in the right place with Red Bull, just the wrong time. He'll be remembered as the support to Vettel's championships, but on his day no one could touch him, and early on, he was all over Seb. Porsche, I think, has signed themselves a plum, and all success to Webber in his new job. Meanwhile, fellow Aussie Daniel Ricciardo gets to prove the Red Bull driver academy can produce more than one great driver...

That puts us into the home stretch. The final two stories of 2013 are U.S.-related...

9. Rush
For the first time in a long time, Hollywood made a decent racing film, and it was about F1. Ron Howard's Rush, a dramatized take on the '76 season, was entertaining fun that, for the most part, avoided cliches. Moderately successful in the States, the film did very well overseas, and was well received by the F1 community. This isn't an easy task. Driven, for example. Hopefully, awards season will get some who may have given it pass the first time around interested. Daniel Brühl, who was excellent as Niki Lauda, has rightfully been nominated for a Golden Globe. Hopefully the success of the film will spur interest for the sport in America.

10. The U.S. and F1
To do that, you have to have a few ingredients. One is a successful race. Austin proved this year 2012 was not a one hit wonder, as once again the city wen the extra mile and opened up for the community (something Indianapolis never quite pulled off). Attendance stayed strong, and the future looks bright.

A second race, the New Jersey event, continues to struggle. There is hope, and though postponed, it sounded good a couple of weeks ago. Then, the Bernie-sympathetic press suddenly opened a broadside. Not sure what prompted that, but things are definitely precarious. But I stick with the belief Bernie wants it to happen, so it will. Eventually. Austin looked dead many times. It's the way this stuff goes.

Finally, the sport is benefiting from better exposure on TV in the U.S. NBC did a good job in its first year, keeping the elements that worked on Speed and adding to it. Bob Varsha is missed, and maybe something will happen there in the future, but Leigh Diffey knows his stuff. The Hobbs/Matchett combination are part of the fabric of F1 coverage in America. Complainers complain, but it is no different than anywhere else. Ask about Sky vs. BBC. Hopefully, NBC will continue to build on this foundation.

As I look at the counter on the top of the site as I write this, we are under 80 days to Melbourne. Most of the seats have been set, and real testing begins in earnest soon. There will be surprises, I'm sure, and probably more of the same, too. So farewell, 2013, and bring on a new year!


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Friday, December 20, 2013

Musical chairs

And then there were three -- Two seats at Caterham, One at Marussia...

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo

Ferrari
Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg
Lewis Hamilton

STR
Jean-Eric Vergne
Daniil Kvyat

Williams
Felipe Massa
Valtteri Bottas

McLaren
Jenson Button
Kevin Magnussen

Lotus
Romain Grosjean
Pastor Maldonado

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg
Sergio Perez

Sauber
Adrian Sutil
Esteban Gutierrez

Marussia
Jules Bianchi
TBA
Giedo van der Garde, Max Chilton

Caterham
TBA 
TBA
Heikki KovalainenGiedo van der GardeMarcus EricssonKamui Kobayashi

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Great seats going fast... (update-3)

Since we last checked, Sutil has joined Sauber. Here's where we stand (updates with Gutierrez looking likely to be retained by Sauber):

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo

Ferrari
Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg
Lewis Hamilton

STR
Jean-Eric Vergne
Daniil Kvyat

Williams
Felipe Massa
Valtteri Bottas

McLaren
Jenson Button
Kevin Magnussen

Lotus
Romain Grosjean
Pastor Maldonado

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg
Sergio Perez

Here's where the conjecture comes in. Keep in mind these are mere guesses, unless someone has been confirmed, but based on the most reputable reports I can find...

Marussia
Jules Bianchi
TBA - Max Chilton
I'm going to stick with Chilton here. He's slow, but consistent, and he can fund the ride.

Sauber
Adrian Sutil
TBA - Esteban Gutierrez
Adam Cooper was reporting Gutierrez was set to be confirmed

Caterham
TBA
TBA
A lot of names tied to these seats. Heikki Kovalainen seemed to be favored, but it isn't known how his Lotus performance went over. In fairness, it was a lot to ask, tire management was the key last year, and without valuable testing time, it was bound to make the going difficult for him. Giedo van der Garde's and Charles Pic's names haven't much been mentioned. Pic, in particular, seems a longshot. Alexander Rossi, my favorite hope, I've only seen mentioned once, though by someone who would know. Young Marcus Ericsson has been connected with the team. And now, Kamui Kobayashi?

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Six guys, five seats?

A few day's back I made my first outsider's guess as to who will be sitting where when the music stops. Some things seem a little clearer now, so here's an update...

This much we know:

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo

Ferrari
Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg
Lewis Hamilton

STR
Jean-Eric Vergne
Daniil Kvyat

Williams
Felipe Massa
Valtteri Bottas

McLaren
Jenson Button
Kevin Magnussen

Lotus
Romain Grosjean
Nico Hulkenberg/Pastor Maldonado
The money is still the key on this one. If the Quantum money comes through and he is still available, Hulkenberg gets the seat. If not, and Maldonado still has the PDVSA money, he's in.

Marussia
Jules Bianchi
Max Chilton continuing seems likely

Sauber
Sergio Perez
Estaban Gutierrez
If the Sergey Sirotkin deal with the Russians has fallen apart, Sauber needs money. Obviously, there are drivers at the bottom of the grid that bring it, but a return of Perez, along with and improving Gutierrez is, at least, a possibility. There is history there. The Carlos Slim backing isn't huge, but two Mexicans lined up a year before a Mexican GP could be advantageous to all involved, and I would be surprised to see him let Perez go to one of the backmarkers.

Force India
Adrian Sutil
Paul di Resta/Nico Hulkenberg/Sergio Perez
Sutil claims a deal is, for all intents, done. I'll go out on a very sturdy limb and say he is returning to Force India. Rumors continue to tie Hulkenberg to the team, and they rate him, so I'd put money on him over Perez, who is being mentioned for practically any competitive seat. That would make the odd man out di Resta. I just get the feeling the relationship has soured, and I think there are some pretty credible rumors tying him to Dario Frachitti's seat Chip Ganassi IndyCar seat.

Caterham
Heikki Kovalainen/Charles Pic/Marcus Ericsson
Giedo van der Garde
It all still comes down to money. I'm not sure even taking 10th from Marussia in Brazil would change that. Obviously, the team is still high on Kovalainen, but it picked its current pairing based on cash. The BBC is reporting it also would like to run youngster Ericsson. Best guess? Ideally, the team would run Kovalainen/Ericsson, a traditional veteren/rookie pairing. More likely, continuing with Pic/van der Garde or swapping one of them for whatever remaining driver brings the most cash to the team.

So, the Lotus seat still seems to be the one on which everything else hinges. Hulk, Maldonado, Perez, Gutierrez, Sutil, di Resta. One seat at Lotus, two each at Force India and Sauber.


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Monday, November 11, 2013

Who goes where?

Well, it's all gotten a bit silly this weekend, hasn't it? Here's a mix of fact and an outsider's opinion as to where everyone will be when the music stops.

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo

Ferrari
Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen

Mercedes
Nico Rosberg
Lewis Hamilton

STR
Jean-Eric Vergne
Daniil Kvyat

Williams
Felipe Massa
Valtteri Bottas

McLaren
Jenson Button
Kevin Magnussen to McLaren, Perez out

Lotus
Romain Grosjean continues
Nico Hulkenberg or Pastor Maldonado, depending on money

Marussia
Jules Bianchi
Hard to say, Max Chilton would like to come back, but it all depends on who can bring the most cash. There will be a lot of odd men out this year, and a lot of them bring financing.

Sauber
Sergey Sirotkin if he can get the super license, Vitaly Petrov if he can't, and the Russian backers insist on a Russian. Possibly both. Esteban Gutierrez has shown ability in the second half, has the Telmex backing, but, could Sergio Perez return for the same reason? Nico Hulkenberg seems least likely.

Force India
Adrian Sutil has always been favored, can't imagine that changing. Paul di Resta has had a difficult season, is being passed over for the big seats, and Hulkenberg could find himself back here if he misses out on Lotus. Force India has always stressed the best available drivers, and Hulkenberg could be ahead of di Resta. It always seems the day will come when Force India runs out of money, but it hasn't happened yet.

Caterham
Really hard to tell. Heikki Kovalainen seems to be favored, if the team can afford him. Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde have not been spectacular, so either or both may return, or then again, may not. Would love to see American Alexander Rossi get a shot, but I have no idea of knowing if the team could afford it or would be willing to do it. If I had to guess, I'd say not.

In short, this is a really harsh business. Last year Sergio Perez was on the fast track, now he's the latest Heikki Kovalainen. Nico Hulkenberg faces a make or break. With paths bloacked at Mercedes and Ferrari, Lotus is the last hope. Paul di Resta? Blocked. Meanwhile, unknown quanities slip into the big seats at McLaren and Red Bull. Economics mean Hulkenberg may lose out to Maldonado, and Sirotkin takes a coveted Sauber seat.

Crazy.


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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The IndyCar conundrum

I grew up watching IndyCar. When I was a kid, in the U.S., IndyCar was open-wheel racing. This was pre-split. Primarily the '80s, and to a lesser extent the 70's. By the time I was getting into racing, Mario had returned home, and a few years separated him from the world championship.

It was natural for me to gravitate toward IndyCar. The 500 was still the premier American motor racing event. NASCAR was still very regional, and F1, though it visited the States on a regular basis, didn't have the footprint. Don't get me wrong, as a racing fan I followed the exploits of Senna, and knew about the rise of Schumacher, but IndyCar is where I became familiar with guys like Jacques Villeneuve, Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Eddie Cheever, Stefan Johansson and Bobby Rahal. In a pre-cable world, IndyCar was what was on, in all its glory.

Later, when first ESPN, and later SpeedVision, brought F1 back to these shores, I naturally gravitated back. I always preferred road courses to ovals, and the IRL/Champ Car split was the final nail in the coffin.

When F1 returned to the States at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was there. I didn't miss a race at the track, even after the debacle. Last year, I went to the Austin race. Unfortunately, I won't be there this year, as it is insanely expensive, in a way that the Indianapolis race never was.

That left a big hole in my schedule. Racing on TV is fine, but at least once a year, you should do a weekend at the track. You may not see much, but nothing compares to being there. The sights and smells are something that must be experienced.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to cover my first IndyCar event - the Grand Prix of Baltimore - as a working journalist.



IndyCar has come under a lot of criticism as of late. The aforementioned split was disastrous, and coincided with NASCAR's stunning rise to prominence. It seems hard to believe that a series whose crown jewel is one of the most famous events in racing, if not in all of sports, could be so totally eclipsed by another form of racing in this country, but that is exactly how it has played out.

Seriously. After Dario Frachitti's horrendous crash in Houston, mainstream media in this country either misidentified him as a NASCAR driver injured in a NASCAR race or as Ashley Judd's ex.That seems inconceivable in my book.

The knock-on effects have been numerous, but basically, you could call it a lack of money in all areas. Shrinking fees, smaller TV deals, teams needing to rely on pay drivers in lieu of sponsors, good drivers left on the sidelines for lack of financial packages, and lower car counts are just a few of the things that come to mind. And it's cyclical. It all feeds on itself.

In short, the perception is the quality of the product was sharply diminished.

The reality is something different.

Despite the odds stacked against it, IndyCar has three top teams populated with world class drivers making up nearly half the grid, midfield teams capable of winning races and even if the cars are spec, there is an entertaining engine battle. In short, on Sunday, anything is possible.

Additionally, the Baltimore event provided a classy undercard of the American Le Mans Series, Indy Lights and Porsches.



The product on the track was entertaining. There was excitement, a battle for the title in progress, and access. As opposed to my experience at COTA last year, or all those years of F1 at Indianapolis, IndyCar fans have access to their stars. For a reasonable price, you can gain pit and paddock access. Drivers speed by on mopeds, stop to sign autographs, pose for pictures, and are generally gracious to the fans.





Granted, IndyCar has a habit of shooting itself in the foot. The boardroom struggles, the controversial stewarding, and the problems inerrant with temporary street courses (in Baltimore, a squirrelly chicane and far too many stoppages for accidents on the tight, blind course) don't help. The glitz and glamour of F1 helps sell the image of "clockwork" precision and the marketing steamroller that is NASCAR overshadows that series' shortcomings. But those series also have their share of controversy.

Perhaps this is just my skewed American point of view, but below F1, no open wheel series (Super Formula, GP2, Formula Renault) rises to the level IndyCar does. IndyCar is a destination, something to aspire to. The others are just junior formula.

I'm not sure how to turn the perception around. NASCAR so saturates the racing landscape in the U.S. that regaining that lost ground seems like a mountain to climb. But both can coexist and thrive. I am convinced IndyCar is worth fighting for.

It was a great show. I would jump at the opportunity to attend another event, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend. So, next time IndyCar appears at a venue near you, think about attending. It just might surprise you.


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Happy 90th to Murray Walker

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: Rush

The long wait ended Friday as I finally got my chance to see Rush. Overall, a very entertaining film, if a bit "Hollywood."



In no particular order, here are 10 takeaways from the film:


  • Daniel Brühl, Daniel Brühl, Daniel Brühl
  • Loosey-goosey with the facts at times, but only so far as to move the story along
  • I'm sure if you were there, it was obvious the locations weren't accurate, but to the casual viewer, you were there
  • Not sure why the Nurburgring was "The Graveyard," "Green Hell" works for me
  • Hospital scenes are not for the squeemish, but it wasn't gratuitous
  • Agree beating up a journalist wasn't Hunt, but it seemed in line with the character "James Hunt" in the film
  • I wonder if playing the rivalry as a hatred shortchanged the viewer?
  • Using real cars helps the sell. The physics were right, oh so necessary is a racing film. CGI was only noticeable a couple of times.
  • You go in pulling for Hunt, you leave sympathizing with The Rat. Both are played heroicly, but the Hunt character's lack of drive post-championship portrays him almost as the bad guy
  • Despite the compromises to story, the aim for accuracy is evident, and Howard should be praised for honesty


If you are an F1 fan, you should see this film. If you are a film fan, you should see this film. Big thumbs up. Rush certainly ranks up there with Grand Prix, Le Mans and Winning as great racing films.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why Ferrari signed Kimi

John O'Brien/Reuters

Formula 1, and especially Ferrari, are all about Constructor's titles. If you had any question as to why Ferrari would "backtrack" and resign Raikkonen, here is all the answer you need:

Vettel/Webber-- 377 pts.
Alonso/Massa -- 274 pts.

Alonso/Raikkonen -- 336 pts.

Unscientific, I know. But, add in a "rookie" #2 next season at Red Bull, and new regs that could level the playing field, signing the Iceman becomes a no-brainer.


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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The fan's view: Enough


The British Grand Prix is in the books, and it was a thrilling race. A gearbox issue knocked out the championship leader, allowing his pursuers to gain some ground and make things interesting. Nico Rosberg wins his second race with Mark Webber breathing down his neck and Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton not far behind, all thanks to a late safety car bunching up the field.

But all that will be overshadowed by the multiple tire failures that plagued this race.

Tires, of course, have been the talk of this season. The rubber Pirelli was asked to design, to spice up the show, has shown a tendency to fail. Mercedes' inability to come to terms with the tires was the root of the testing soap opera we have been watching since it came to light in Monaco.

Red Bull has been a critic from the start, and admittedly, for a while it looked like sour apples. Tire issues seemed specific to certain cars, and cars that were designed to optimize the tire looked not to have the same issues. It looked like it should be down to the teams to come to grips with the problem.

But the problems experienced at Silverstone were altogether new ones, and appear to have played no favorites. More importantly, it isn't just about compromising the racing anymore, it is about safety.

I can totally understand the desire of certain teams to block changes to the tires simply because they don't suit certain teams in the field. But if Pirelli can solve these issues, and one would guess everyone has access to data that proves whether Pirelli can or not, then the teams should be overruled on safety grounds if they try to block the introduction of new rubber.

This is not all Pirelli's fault, though there are those with an interest in painting it that way. The fact that there is no way for the company to test the tires on a modern car is ludicrous. Safety of the competitors must be the number one priority, and I find it hard to believe, just as I did in 2006, that the FIA has not stepped in.


I sincerely hope someone acts. When drivers make comments like those above, there is a serious problem. Back in the 70s, the drivers forced the sport to become safer by acting as a group. I was in the stands at Indy in 2006. It was an ugly situation for all involved. It did irreparable damage to the sport's image in the U.S., but while others played chicken, the teams did what they thought was necessary for safety.

I would not have been surprised if something similar had happened today. It may be the only thing that gets the attention of the key players of this sport and motivates them to do what is right for everyone involved. There are more than points and money at stake.

Someone has to step up. They've got a week. Enough is enough.

UPDATE: Joe Saward reports the FIA will meet with Pirelli for an emergency meeting, and Jonathan Noble reports dissenting teams will not block any Pirelli changes. This is good news. Hopefully, the smart people will get quickly to the root of the problem and ensure there won't be a repeat. Perhaps a solution will also be found for the lack of testing. It's a start.


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Friday, June 28, 2013

A Fan's View: Catching up with the circus

The long break is over, and the series returns to Silverstone and the breadbasket of the F1 world. Finally, the saga of Tiregate is behind us, and we can return to the business on the track.

The Tribunal

Much to the disappointment of Christian Horner, Mercedes did not lose all of their points or receive a multi-race ban for the "illegal" test with Pirelli, which really was an unsurprising result. Few know how to exploit vague rules as well as Ross Brawn, and considering the scrutiny he is under this season, he was hardly going to throw it all away on something stupid. Granted, Mercedes' seeming ability to dictate its own punishment came off a little... well ... you know...

Did Mercedes benefit from the test? Of course it did. Why else take part? Did Mercedes take advantage of vague rules? Again, yes. It's just to the team's detriment its fiercest critic, Red Bull, has never done that (ahem).

How much the Silver Arrows have benefited we shall soon see. Critics claim its performance in Monaco and Montreal prove the test was everything. But both tracks are unique, and seem to suit the Mercedes. Sunday night we may have a better idea of the state of things.

In the end, this was never about what's on the surface, it's the battle behind the scenes. Battles between the FIA and Bernie, Germans, Concorde Agreements, and all such nonsense. But it is a testament to the idiocy of all involved that Pirelli does not have a platform on which to test. Had that situation not existed, it would never have come into question. Regardless, I doubt many would have reacted well to Merc being thrown out of the championship. Punishment would seem to fit the crime, in this case. Let's race.

Safety

"...when someone dies in the racing community, whether you are a driver, writer, or fan, it hits you like a brick.

We all know the risks of the sport - speeds of 180 miles per hour or more on crowded tracks can prove deadly. Somehow, we never seem to think someone will die, perhaps because drivers so often walk away from wrecks that to the eye look deadly."

I wrote those words in 2001 on the death of Dale Earnhardt. The intervening years saw a host of improvements in cars, barriers and equipment. Yet the specter of death still rides with us.

Twice in the past month we have been reminded the sport we love is still dangerous. The death of marshal Mark Robinson in Canada, and Allan Simonsen at Le Mans, cast a long shadow over racing. There will always be an element of danger to this sport. It's part of the thrill. But we must use those tragedies -- like the one that took Dan Wheldon before it -- to improve safety. We must honor their memory by continuing to advance the cause of safety for all who take part, whether they be track workers, fans, mechanics or racers.

Mark Webber

Mark Webber put the speculation to rest this week, confirming he will return to Le Mans next season as part of Porsche's new factory LMP effort. Webber has some unfinished business with Le Mans, to be sure, and he has secured for himself what looks to be a prime position. He'll be missed in F1. His straight-shooting honesty was highly appreciated by this fan. He raced hard, but fair, and was a team player. It's good to see a driver of his caliber able to leave the sport on his own terms. At least, that's the view from here.

600

Finally, congratulations to Williams for it's 600th race. Few teams are as iconic, and it is hard to picture F1 without Frank Williams in the paddock, a man who has seen all the pits and valleys of F1 existence. After last year's strong effort, things have not gone as well this season, but a clear path of transition, successful business offshoots and strong avenues of funding, it looks likely Williams will be around for a long time to come.



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Monday, April 8, 2013

Rush: Official trailer

 
 
And here's the U.S. version...

 
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The more things change...


Another F1 season, another team order controversy (or two).

F1’s second race, the Malaysian round, provided plenty of action, and it seems another interesting season is begun. But the big talk at the end of the race was Webber vs. Vettel and Hamilton vs. Rosberg.

The simple fact, team orders exist. The FIA has proven there is no way to ban them. It tried.

From DC pulling over for Mika, to Rubinho and Schumi, to “Fernando is faster than you,” team orders are a necessary ingredient to the ultimate team racing sport.

It is the team that puts up the money. It is the team that constructs the cars. And it is the team that pays the driver, simply put, another piece of the equipment.

So the team is completely within its rights to dictate who stands on what step of the podium, and when to dial back the mixture. It has always been this way, and likely always will be.

Let’s not forget the days when drivers gave up their car mid-race to support the team leader.

So let’s set aside the latest round of complaints about team orders. This is a bitter pill for many U.S.-based fans to swallow, because we are less obvious about the practice, but if you are going to be a fan of this sport, you have to accept it on its merits.

Thus, Mercedes’ decision to ask Hamilton and Rosberg to hold position is good business. Yes, Lewis may feel he didn’t “earn” the win, but he’ll savor the points in the end if they make the difference in his championship. And Mercedes will be happy getting maximum points from both cars, rather than “doing a Turkey” as Vettel and Webber did in 2010. So Nico is the odd man out, but he also needs to see the writing on the wall. If Mercedes felt he was the driver to win them the championship, they would have found him a much more supportive (and cheaper) teammate.

Someone like Mark Webber.

Let me preface this by saying I am a big Webber fan. I was a big Coulthard fan, too. But in our heart of hearts, as big a fan as we may be, we realize these drivers support the lead driver in the team. Maybe that is why we like them. They’re the underdog.

Teams like them because they follow orders. They dial it back. They save the tires. They hold up the train. They maximize the points when their teammate retires. They even get a few wins.

But when we talk championships, the names that come up are Vettel. Alonso. Hamilton. Raikkonen. Not Massa, Webber, Rosberg or Grosjean. Eddie Irvine didn’t even sniff a title until Schumacher broke his leg. Then Ferrari went out and signed a driver to support EI. Imagine that.

That isn’t to say those drivers aren’t capable of winning a championship. Some have. Massa and Webber were mighty close at one time. But we are several years on, and reality is reality.

And that is what eats at a guy like Mark Webber. It would most drivers. They are bred to win. And when Flavio Briatore says one of the drivers may not be back in 2014, he’s right. I’ll put  my money on the return of the triple world champion over the 37-year-old on the one-year deal. The window is closing, and Webber knows it.

So when he dials it back as per team orders, and assumes everyone will hold position, you bet he feels betrayed — on many fronts. Betrayed by his teammate, and betrayed by a pitwall that didn’t seem to fight for him when he was wronged. And he is anticipating the one man with an opinion that actually matters in the team — Helmut Marko (Not Dietrich, not Horner) will back the home-grown product. After all, he always has in the past.

So, Webber is right to feel miffed. But, he chose this contract. Probably because it was the best available option. He knew what he was buying into, so get on with it.

Which finally brings us to the crux of the matter — Sebastian Vettel.

We’d like to believe we are angry because Seb let us down, but, in reality, that’s our problem.

All along, we’ve let ourselves believe that the smiling boy with the mop of hair was Mr. Nice Guy. After all, it was easy. Fernando and Lewis where the whiners (an image Alonso has been able to get away from at Ferrari — not so much yet for Lewis), and Kimi has become the anti-hero since his exile. Vettel was the good boy who names his cars, has a prominent finger, won for Toro Rosso and has notched up three championships.

Yet, how does one win all those races, all those championships? He emulates the best. Racing “gentlemen” like Senna, and Seb’s idol (and Race of Champions teammate) Michael Schumacher. He takes points first, and answers for his trespasses later. He’s ruthless.

“Towards the end I feel I had quite a strong pace and obviously at the very end on a new set of medium tyres had a bit more speed and it was a close fight but I think… yeah… as you can see I’m not entirely happy. I think I did a big mistake today. I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologise. I know that it doesn’t really help his feelings right now but I think other than that, obviously a very good race for the team. We handed the tyres I think pretty well today. To sum it up, apologies to Mark, obviously now the result is there but… yeah, all I can say is that I didn’t do it deliberately.”

And when he apologizes, it sounds disingenuous. Because we know it isn’t the truth. Maybe some small part of it is. My guess is less that he feels bad about taking the points than he does about not exactly winning the race on merit. But it WAS deliberate.

But again — this is our problem. It is the age-old argument of expecting too much from our very human role model athletes. It might be better for all of us if we just accept race drivers as greedy and whiny with (dare I say) sociopathic tendencies, and let them surprise us by rising above expectations, rather than the reverse.

But Vettel DID do wrong here. Not to the fans, but to his team. He disobeyed orders. If he weren’t triple world champion, and the team’s best hope for another, that would be a fireable offense. Webber is right, Vettel is “protected,” but he has earned that right. Christian Horner, however, has a task in front of him. Somehow, he and Seb need to have a Come to Jesus meeting, or it will fast become obvious Horner does not have control over his team. His lead driver publicly emasculated him on global television, ignoring orders while the team principal was left to make impotent noises about “not being silly” from the pitwall.

That cannot stand.

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