August 23, 2010
Posted: 2222 GMT
In the absence of any action on the track for a month, the world of Formula One has instead been sidetracked by an unseemly spat between two of its household names.
The war of words between Ferrari and three-time world champion Niki Lauda seems all the more cheap and unnecessary given the Austrian won two of his titles with the Italian team in the 1970's and was a decade later appointed to a consultancy role by current Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo.
The controversy was sparked by the continuing fall out from the German Grand Prix, when Ferrari appeared to instruct their Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who was leading the race, to allow teammate Fernando Alonso, in second, to overtake him.
The actual words used by Ferrari’s race engineer Rob Smedley over the radio were as follows: "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand?" Seconds later, Massa slowed down, Alonso moved into the lead and the Spaniard went on to take the checkered flag.
July 24, 2010
Posted: 1510 GMT
The alarm bells will no doubt be ringing loud and clear in Michael Schumacher’s helmet after another disappointing display in qualifying for his home grand prix.
Eleventh fastest would have simply been unacceptable for Schumacher in the past, but it is now becoming the norm.
Since his return to the racetrack for the 2010 season after a three-year hiatus, Schumacher has looked a shadow of his former seven-time world champion self and it's beginning to look like a big mistake.
May 24, 2010
Posted: 1719 GMT
Over recent months, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has given the biggest hint yet that the sport may be returning to American soil, confirming his hopes to stage a U.S. grand prix again by 2012. But given the country’s troubled history with F1, does the country even want it to return?
F1 hasn’t always been so unpopular in the United States. America’s first ever Formula One grand prix took place in California in 1959, inspiring a generation of homegrown drivers to compete on the international stage, including its only world champions, Mario Andretti and Phil Hill.
The race has been held at various locations across the country, from Florida to Phoenix, to Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, before settling at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway ten years ago. And the Speedway, which hosted the last U.S. Formula One race, can also boast the largest ever attendance at a grand prix of 225,000.
February 2, 2010
Posted: 1751 GMT
There is still a scar above Felipe Massa’s left eye but it is hard to see under the peak of his cap – even up close. The light, red patch on his forehead is a mark left from surgery to insert a metal plate and is not from the crash itself.
If Massa's grid opponents are looking for signs of vulnerability, an indication the Brazilian has not recovered from last July’s horrific accident in Hungary quite as well as he claims, they will be sorely disappointed.
Prior to his first test drive of Ferrari’s new car for the 2010 Formula One season, it was hard to ignore the fierce determination that bubbled beneath his affable exterior as he spoke confidently and intelligently during interview.
Members of the Ferrari camp say Massa has changed from this time last year. He is more quiet and focused, leaving his new teammate Fernando Alonso to be the excitable one, jumping around the garage.
However, Massa’s circumspection should not be mistaken for timidity. In his first drive of Ferrari’s F10, he was faster than any of the Formula One drivers on the opening day of testing in Valencia.
Formula One's biggest comeback maybe that of the legendary Michael Schumacher, but Massa's return is odds-on to have more impact on who will be crowned world champion.
Massa certainly has the support needed to be successful if the scene in Valencia is anything to go by. Engineers buzzed around the garage, where everything is organized to maximize efficiency and, ultimately, the speed of the car.
Formula One has always been thought of as motorsport’s pinnacle, and despite the controversy and acrimony of last season, not mention the financially challenging times we live in, the sheer size and cost of the F1 "circus" is something to behold at close quarters.
For example, each team possesses at least half a dozen articulated lorries – designed to transport mechanics, engineers and support staff around the world during the course of a season. Like something from a Transporters movie, they then transform into semi-permanent buildings at each venue.
Testing in Valencia has whet the appetite for the start of the new season and while rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone is undoubtedly the ringleader, Massa will hope to be the main draw this season.
January 15, 2010
Posted: 1257 GMT
Like everyone else, sportsmen and women have watched in horror and disbelief as the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake has continued to unfold. In the cosseted world of professional sport, where mental focus is everything, it would be easy to switch off to the reality of world events in favor of concentrating on your next match or race. But athletes are famed for responding to tragedies like the one in Haiti with compassion and generosity.
When the Tsunami struck Asia in December 2004, the response of the sporting world was almost universal. In cricket, Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, led an All-Star charity line-up in a match to raise funds for the relief effort, while players and officials from India, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were among those to make donations.
Tennis players also responded, with superstars like Roger Federer and Andy Roddick lending their support to UNICEF’s disaster fund-raising program.
In Formula One, seven-time champion, Michael Schumacher, made a $10 million personal donation to the relief fund. While footballers, who are often maligned for being self-centered and materialistic, made a mockery of that assumption by staging "Football for Hope", a FIFA sanctioned match in Barcelona, Spain featuring the likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko, and Ronaldinho.
And so it continues. The Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005, which devastated the USA’s Gulf Coast, brought swift reaction from American sport. Aside from visits to the stricken region by stars from the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League baseball, there were also generous donations from men like Baron Davis of the Golden State Warriors, who put $50,000 of his own money into the relief fund; and Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who, through his family foundation, donated $200,000 to help Katrina evacuees in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, and Ohio.
And the commitment of sport to the relief effort did not wane, with the NFL organizing the "NFL Hurricane Relief Weekend" late in 2005, which included a telethon involving more than 30 current and former NFL stars who raised money for the Katrina cause.
But it is not just the glitterati of sport who channel their compassion into tangible help for disaster victims. In 2008, track and field athletes who competed in the NCAA collegiate championships pitched in to help with the flood relief effort in Iowa. While going way back, runners of every age and ability joined forces in the global event that was “Run the World” in 1986, in which some 20 million people in 76 countries took to the streets in a mass jog as part of Sport Aid, which raised millions for famine relief in Africa.
I could go on, but as you see, sportsmen and women have rallied round in the past, and will surely do so again to help the victims in Haiti. Sport has a conscience. And, while that fact can often get lost amid all the drama and scandal that surrounds the sporting industry, it should not be forgotten.
January 5, 2010
Posted: 1655 GMT
By ruling in favor of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds in their appeal against bans for the 2008 "Crashgate" scandal, the French courts have essentially rendered the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) impotent. The FIA is the governing body of motorsport, so how can it possibly have exceeded its authority, as the court stated, by banning the pair? If the sport's governing body doesn't have the power to include or exclude whomever it wants from its own competitions, what's the point of having a governing body? Isn't regulating the sport its sole raison d'etre?
Nowadays, almost every sporting dispute you care to mention goes to appeal. But in the past, at least the ultimate arbiter has been a sporting entity - the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In this case, however, the sporting judgment was trumped by the law, rendering the FIA and its new president Jean Todt essentially powerless.
And, while we're at it, how did this happen? FIFA, for example, will not countenance government or state intervention in the running of football, and bans associations where external tinkering is suspected. It is subject to no courts for doing this. Yet the FIA has been walked all over by the French judicial system. And, besides a half-hearted threat to launch its own appeal to delay Briatore's return to motorsport, it appears to be taking the judgment lying down.
And it's not only the FIA's right to make decisions that has been usurped, it's also the decision itself. Briatore appealed the ruling on the grounds that a) he wasn't guilty of ordering Nelson Piquet Junior to deliberately crash his car at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, and b) even if he was found guilty, the punishment didn't fit the crime as the severity of it reflected his tense relationship with then FIA president Max Mosley.
So, by ruling in Briatore's favor, the French courts have issued the FIA with a double whammy, saying its disciplinary process is flawed and its judgment is subjective rather than objective, and therefore not impartial.
If I were Todt, I'd take real exception to that, even though he didn't preside over the case, as it's damning of the very institution and office to which he was appointed. Guilty or not, and who knows the truth, Briatore and Symonds received a hearing and judgment in the court of their peers. Unfortunately, after Briatore and Symonds "lawyered up", that decision wasn't binding. And, to my mind, that sets a dangerous precedent.
December 23, 2009
Posted: 1257 GMT
Anyone who thinks Michael Schumacher is going to win the drivers’ title next year in Formula One is either German and blinded by patriotism or have allowed the festive spirit to cloud their judgment.
He’ll be aged 41 when he hits the grid for Mercedes at Bahrain in mid-March and most of those drivers around him will be nearly half his age.
It’s a massive factor, even if you have the experience of winning seven drivers’ titles and have your old boss, Ross Brawn, back at your side.
New rules come into play; no scheduled pit stops next year means that the physical demands on the drivers has been cranked up a few notches. Only the youngest and fittest will survive and Schumacher will be neither.
Let’s not leave out the fact that Ferrari and McLaren will be back to their best after throwing away the last third of last season to develop their 2010 cars. They won’t get caught asleep by Brawn like they did this year.
And both the Italian and British teams boast three former world champions between them who desperately won’t want Schumacher to steal their glory.
Throw in a few more technical rule changes coming Formula One’s way next year and testing for all teams can’t start until February 1 and Schumy has a mountain to climb.
He won’t have the technical advances over other teams like he did at Ferrari as well as the bigger budget or the bigger team.
The greatest thing for Formula One through his new deal is that it offers the best build-up to the start of a season in recent memory. Even throughout the year there will be some great battles involving the former champ.
Picture this: It’s Silverstone and McLaren’s all English driver set-up takes on Germany’s Mercedes team with Rosberg and Schumacher in the cockpit. A mouth-watering battle; let’s just hope it doesn’t rain or Schumy’s got it in the bag.
His decision comes at a time when the sport desperately needs a boost after the ugliest and most controversial season in 2009 in living memory.
Car makers have dropped out and so too many sponsors. Schumacher will bring attention to the sport on track for all the right reasons and current sponsors of the sport will be jumping for joy. Potential sponsors might now decide to put pent to paper.
There are many reasons to welcome Schumacher's return but there's more chance of bumping into Rudolph the red nose reindeer than another title going the way of the legendary German.
October 26, 2009
Posted: 2126 GMT
By one of those strange coincidences that happen so often in sport, both Valentino Rossi and Sebastien Loeb wrapped up their respective world titles on the same day, making no mistake with the sort of assured performances which have marked their remarkable careers.
MotoGP ace Rossi was winning his seventh title in motorcycling's premier class and his second in succession, Loeb made it sixth straight world rallying crowns, an all-time record.
Both had to endure significant challenges during the course of the season, Loeb from Ford Focus ace Mikko Hirvonen, Rossi from his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.
And both showed their incredible winning mentality when it mattered the most, with Loeb having to relegate Hirvonen to second place in the season-ending Wales Rally GB to leapfrog the Finn in the final standings.
Rossi wrapped up his title with a race to spare, needing to finish fourth in Sepang to clinch it, he claimed the final podium spot behind Australian Casey Stoner, keepng Lorenzo one place behind him.
It is a feature of great champions that when the question is asked they come up with the answer and both Rossi and Loeb have solved puzzles a plenty to stay at the top.
But are they the greatest of all-time in their respective sports ?
Statistically, Loeb has few peers, with his 54 wins a world rally record, but questions have to be asked about the overall competitiveness of the championship in recent years with this year's title race effectively a two-horse race between the Citroen and Ford teams.
Rallying fans may well point to the merits of the great Finns Tommi Makinen, Juha Kankunen and Marcus Gronholm while Spain's Carlos Sainz had few peers. Throw into the mix the late and much-missed flying Scot Colin McRae and there is room for much-debate.
Who do you think is the greatest rally driver of all time ?
In the same vein, Rossi has been a winning machine with nine world championships from 125 cc to MotoGP, but his fellow-Italian Giacomo Agostini is the all-time record holder with 122 grand prix wins and 15 world championships.
Australian Mick Doohan won five successive world 500cc championships and was totally dominant in the 1990s, while flamboyant British ace Mike Hailwood
So who is the ultimate maestro on two wheels ?
October 20, 2009
Posted: 1807 GMT
So, nice guys can finish first after all. Jenson Button’s rise to the top of the pile in Formula One having provided the sport with its second straight British world champion and 10th British winner over all.
And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, except perhaps his Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello who, despite the disappointment of failing to win his debut world championship, was fulsome in his praise of his younger colleague and even loaned Button his private jet so that he could stay longer in Brazil to celebrate. What a guy!
But then it’s been obvious for most of the season that there is no “side” to either of the Brawn drivers.
Both are wholehearted competitors. Both dealt graciously with being number-two at previous teams –Button at Williams, Benetton, Renault, and BAR; and Barrichello at Ferrari; and both have conducted themselves without apparent ego or tantrums throughout this scandal-ridden season in which they've been treated by Brawn as equals.
As a result, I doubt there’s anyone out there who begrudges Button the ultimate success. Not even those who believe that he’d not have won the title if it hadn’t been for the rear-diffuser advantage the Brawn’s enjoyed at the start of the season that helped him win six of the first seven races. He didn't make the rules after all.
No, Button is cynic-proof. A genuine “Aw shucks” type champion that you just have to like.
Branded as an unfocussed underachiever after he failed to justify the hype that greeted his early days in the sport, he’s plugged away, without taking himself too seriously, and can now legitimately ask his critics, “How do you like me now?”
But, to my knowledge, he hasn't done that, preferring instead to modestly enjoy the applause, notably from a British public that's always loved his boyish charm, while re-committing himself Brawn GP, should they want him, despite the prospect of bigger and better offers.
Like I said at the beginning, this is a genuinely nice guy. And while nice isn't "sexy", it may be just what this troubled sport needs to get it back on the right track.
October 2, 2009
Posted: 1529 GMT
With three races left in the Formula One season the musical chairs have begun.
So far, the exchange of drivers will see Fernando Alonso of Spain switch from Renault to Ferrari next season in a three-year deal said to be worth in the region of $36 million to the two-time world champion.
At present, he is due to spearhead the Italians' 2010 title challenge alongside Felipe Massa, provided the Brazilian sufficiently recovers from the life-threatening head injury he sustained this season.
Of course, that means there is no place at Ferrari for Kimi Raikkonen, who won the title for them in 2007.
The Finn is apparently reluctant to leave, but the blow could be softened if, as is rumored, he gets to join Lewis Hamilton at McLaren next year.
All this is very interesting, as the teams start forming their ranks for what will be a very important season for the sport next year, when Formula One will surely hope to banish the memories of another scandal-ridden campaign.
However, just for the sake of argument, how about this for a radical idea to shake things up even further.
Why not make the drivers independent in future? By that I mean, sign them to the FIA but not to any specific team, and make them race in a different car at each grand prix?
As you know, there is an on-going discussion as to whether it is the driver or the car that makes the difference.
And, while it is obviously a combination of the two, it was interesting to hear Lewis Hamilton describe his title defense with McLaren this year as a “non-starter”, simply because his car was not up to scratch.
Here is how it would work. Drivers would test in all the cars during the off-season when the various mechanics and designers would do everything needed to get the dimensions and set-ups as close to ideal as possible for each man.
Come the start of the season, the drivers would then compete for each team in a season-long rotation.
To start the process at the opening grand prix, the last place finisher from the previous season’s driver’s championship would be first behind the wheel for the reigning constructor champions, and so on down the pecking order.
Newcomers to the F1 circuit would take the position in the order of the driver they replaced.
It is a similar idea to the worst teams in the NFL from the previous season getting the first pick in the draft for the following season in order to promote more parity, at least on paper.
Obviously, there would be a lot of technical issues to overcome, and I am interested to hear your views on the impracticalities.
However, some of the plusses would be that the potential for corruption and cheating would be reduced, as no driver would be affiliated to any one team.
It would provide some of the smaller teams, who currently just make up the numbers in Formula One, with a major boost, as a star driver might actually make them competitive.
At the end of the season, we’d not only know which is the best car, as the constructors championship would still exist, but also who is the best driver per se, not who had the best technology behind him.
What do you think?