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Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Marussia L'Oreal Team" takes on "Williams Wonderbra". It could have Happened

With HRT not going to Mugello and given the statements of Williams and Marussia in respect of the driver line-up I think it's significant that none of the three high profile signings are racing at Mugello.  You would have thought that publicity would be high for any of the foregoing teams were they to give lap-time to either the first Chinese driver (HRT) or the two female drivers (Williams and Marussia).

With HRT not attending there is no high profile opportunity to launch Ma Qing Hua onto the F1 scene - something which would no doubt impress potential Chinese sponsors as to the teams commitment to their "young driver development programme".

But really it is Marussia and Williams who have missed the trick.  Their hiring of female racing drivers has provided them with a massive publicity opportunity, much greater than that achieved by their original decisions.  If the teams are serious about this gender balancing act then the appearance of Maria Villota or Susie Wolff in testing would have generated reams of column inches and TV coverage - all the better to gain valuable sponsorship.  I can see it now: "The Marussia L'Oreal Team" taking on "Williams Wonderbra" - The latter with the Bernie tag:

"If Susie is as quick in a car as she looks good out of a car then she will be a massive asset to any team and on top of that she is very intelligent."

Sky would just love to cover that!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It takes a lot to rouse a Nation...

I don't know if you've read Joe Saward, Brad Spurgeon, and David Tremayne in respect of their experience during the Bahrain GP weekend however all three reported pretty much the same thing, their meeting with three moderate voices within Bahrain, both Sunni and Shia, and how this gave them a third perspective on life on the island.

Joe reports that he was contacted by one of the readers of his Blog and asked whether he'd like to come for coffee and discuss the Bahrain situation - he then brought the other two guys along with him. Brad Spurgeon, while he was in Iran during the overthrow of the Shah in the late '70's is, as he describes himself, a Sports Reporter: Joe, who has researched and written books on the French Resistance, is a sports reporter with a strong interest in History, and David Tremayne, Motor Racing Journalist.

Now I like reading these guys blogs and articles and I think they are very good at what they do, and their reports on the three moderate voices do introduce an element of caution however they are not nor do they purport to be news journos and this must be considered in any reading of their findings.

Joe will appreciate that rebellion/revolution or whatever name you wish to attach to an uprising by those who feel disaffected always begins with a minority of citizens who feel the need to express that disaffection through peaceful demonstration.  It is a truism in such situations that a minority within that minority group will turn to violence should they feel that their voices are not being heard.

A case in point is best expressed through the historical example of a small island where the majority of citizens had only a minority voice within the ruling parliament as a result of which they were unable, through the machinations of the ruling parliament, to achieve any level of self regulation or any sense that they could ever achieve recognition of their concerns.

Much like Bahrain today, the primary hope of this minority voice, was simply to have their voice heard within parliament; to effect change which would give a strong voice to the majority, who were being oppressed as a result of their religious beliefs, within the political system.

Much like Bahrain, the majority just got on with life, kept their heads down, and kept out of the eye of the authorities.  That is the way of the oppressed.

History tells us that the primary desire of the vocal minority was for a form of self governance which would be subordinate to that of the ruling parliament, but would have real powers to affect change for the betterment of the majority.

The ruling parliament made promise after promise to this group and even brought forward a bill to introduce self governance, however, the introduction of this bill was postponed time and again and eventually a minority within the minority determined that the only way to effect change was through violence and a complete separation from the ruling parliament.

On the 24th April 1916 a very small group of people occupied a number of strategic buildings within the Capital and declared the Island to be a Republic, they held out for one week against the superior forces of the army and 15 ringleaders were executed by the Government.

The public attitude towards the rising was one of hostility and confusion however after the executions that attitude altered completely.  Suddenly it was the case that those who had advocated a form of political self governance subordinate to the ruling parliament were no longer returned in elections.  A new political party arose within the country which sought the complete overthrow of that parliament and independence, and those who had previously kept their heads down and accepted their lot threw in with this political and militant group.

Eventually, the island gained independence (apart from 6 counties), however this might never have been the case if the ruling parliament had sought to address the disaffected in the first instance and it is likely that if matters had been properly addressed the population would still be part of the overall ruling parliament, with a degree of self-governance, would be politically content, and would have been politically stable for the past 96 years.

The case of Ireland, my country, as set out above, mirrors that of Bahrain today to some extent, the majority of the populace have few political ideologies and are just trying to get on with life - while they may sympathise with the peaceful demonstrators they are not willing to get involved - the violence of the minority they abhor.  However the reports from Bahrain over the weekend of the GP point to a shift on the part of the peaceful demonstrators towards the politics of the extremer elements.  The voice of the opposition has previously called for a meaningful say, in tandem with the current rulers, in the governance of the island now the reports are stating that they are moving towards a call for the removal of the "regime".

I am not one for forceful revolution.  I was born into a world where violence took place on the streets of Northern Ireland on a regular basis.  My education was based on 800 years of occupation by a foreign power and the continued occupation of part of my island.  Through it all I learned abhorrence of the violence perpetrated by both sides against the innocent and guilty alike.  I do not wish it on any country.

However if the history of Ireland has taught me anything it is that you cannot ignore the voice of the people.  Minorities can quickly become majorities as a result of one inappropriate action on the part of the ruling party.  The creation of a culture of Martyrs will stir and foment revolution and the greater the number of martyrs the more violent and extreme the revolution becomes.

Bahrain is on the cusp and it is the ruling family that must seek to address the problems which obviously affect Bahraini society.  If they do not then they would do well to read their Irish history in order that they might fully understand the consequences of making promises which do not materialise.

Maybe you can now understand why I could not support the Bahraini GP, why F1 should have stayed away, and why, for the first time since Imola 1994 F1 moved me to tears.

On that day in 1994 it was sorrow caused by tragedy, in 2012 it resulted from my revulsion at the politicisation of my sport.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Signing Off

This Blog is shutting down for this weekend due to my opposition to the event on the grounds that it will be used to promote a regime that has obviously failed to enter meaningful dialogue with opposition leaders.  The news media continues to report on arrests of opposition leaders, the refusal of visas to "news" journalists rather than "F1" journalists, and the shoulder to shoulder media briefing with Bernie and the Crown Prince which was obviously PR in motion.

For those who will watch, I disagree with your stance; for those who take part I'm massively disappointed but I hope you are all safe; and for all others I will resume discussing other F1 matters, including the fall out from this event - and hopefully lighter topics.

over and out

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I can already see Martin Brundle giving Massive Amounts of Live Airtime to the Ruling House of Bahrain

Given that I'm not going to watch the Bahrain GP and I fundamentally disagree with the FIA decision to race there I've decided that I'm going to treat it like a non-championship race which were "de rigueur" in the '50's and '60's.  Therefore, for the purpose of this Blog and for the purpose of the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships no championship points will be scored at the Bahrain (political) rally.

Effectively, in F1 terms, this means that the entire race is without purpose from an F1 perspective and only serves the purpose of the ruling authority and the pockets of those who have provided them with this global marketing opportunity.

While I won't be watching I can already hear Martin Brundle giving massive amounts of live airtime to the ruling house where they can sell their message that everything is OK in Bahrain.  The thought of it sends shivers down my spine.  Worryingly, it may well be the case that Jake Humphreys and the BBC does something similar.

Neither Jake nor Martin are journalists and as such their lack of experience will only serve to provide a platform through which the message of the ruling house can be launched onto the Global stage.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Frank (Legend!)

I'm delighted for Sir Frank Williams today - not only for the reason that he's celebrating his 70th birthday, nor for the fact that the two young boys brought both cars home in the points on Sunday.  I think the overall performance so far this year is the best birthday present that could be given to him after last year's debacle.

Old blood out, new blood in, and the promise of continued success to come.  The team look as if they are there or thereabouts at the top of the midfield this year.  My sense of the season so far is that no team has shone through as utterly dominant, either at the front or in the midfield.  The early away races (i.e. not Europe) often flatter to deceive in the case of a number of teams and it is really the upgrade packages that come through on the return to Europe which provide the clearest picture as to who is where in the pack.

One team may emerge utterly dominant with several teams fighting for second and third respectively.

Williams have the opportunity to do just that should they continue to work hard at getting the package ready for the European circuits.  The basic speed appears to be there and they would have scored in all GP's so far if it hadn't been for a little bad luck on the last lap with Maldonado chasing 5th in Melbourne and retiring from 10th in Malaysia.  Sergio and Nico coming together then put Kamui and Kimi up the ladder into 6th and 7th giving both Sauber and Lotus Constructor's points which have flattered their actual lead over Williams.

A little bit of luck along with a lot of hard work can see Williams fighting for 3rd in the constructor's this year if Pastor Maldonado can show a bit of consistent form and if Bruno Senna can continue to impress.

I haven't been the greatest fan of either in their short histories in F1.  I don't think Senna impressed with Renault last year and I said that I didn't think Maldonado was a great driver - I'd like to be proven wrong. I have a lot of Gra (Irish for Love) for Williams and for Sir Frank and hope it all comes together to revitalise this magnificent team.

Unexplained resignations and the hiring of wives of Board members as development drivers are, hopefully just blips on the Williams radar and I look forward to great racing for the team come Barcelona in May.

Friday, April 13, 2012

FIA, Teams and Bernie Cop Out on Bahrain

I won't be watching

The FIA gave the go ahead this morning to the Bahrain GP.  In their statement, which other websites have reproduced in full.  The FIA decision is stated to be based on the following:

The 2012 calendar, as presented by the CRH, was ratified by the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in September 2011. Since then no request from the F1 Commission or the CRH has been made to the WMSC to either postpone or cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Now, if we break the basis of this decision down into its component parts, having regard to recent statements made as well as this final decision the question of who makes the call is clear.

Firstly Bernie came out with the statement that everything was OK but then laid blame off himself around Easter and said it was up to each individual team to decide whether they would go.

The teams then said it was up to the FIA.

And now we have the FIA saying that the F1 Commission or the CRH (Commercial Rights Holder) made no request to the World Motor Sport Council to postpone or cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix - implying that either of these two groups could have done so if they had chosen to.

Who makes up these groups?

The F1 Commission is made up of Teams, the FIA, FOM, and Circuit Owners.  It is chaired by Commission President Bernie Ecclestone.  The 2008 breakdown of seats on the Commission was as follows:

Under the terms of the 2008 Formula One Sporting Regulations the 2008 Formula One Commission consists of six representatives from the competing teams, five representatives from the race promoters, one representative from the commercial rights holder and one representative from the FIA.   

The Formula One Group includes FOM (the CRH) and so sits on the F1 Commission in the guise of President Bernie Ecclestone

Are we all confused?

Well we have a press release from the FIA which seems to imply that Bernie, the Teams, and the FIA (Bernie wearing his numerous hats of F1 Commission President and FOM member, with the FIA and the Teams forming a fundamental part of the rest of the F1 Commission) never asked the FIA to postpone or cancel the Bahrain GP.

Let's say it again - slowly so we and the FIA can understand what the FIA are saying:

1.  Bernie said it was up to the teams to decide
2.  The teams said it was up to the FIA to decide, and
3.  The FIA have said it was up to Bernie, 6 Team representatives, their own FIA representative, and 5 race promoters to decide.

So, Is the FIA in essence saying that 6 F1 Teams and Bernie could have carried the vote to postpone or cancel the Bahrain GP if they had wanted to? And on that basis 6 teams could have carried the vote alone if Bernie and the FIA representative had "recused" themselves from the process.

Of course the figures are all fantasy land stuff because the F1 Commission didn't meet to discuss Bahrain, which means that there was no desire on the part of the Teams, the FOM, Bernie, or the FIA to cancel or postpone the Grand Prix.

One of the F1 Bloggers/Tweeters made an interesting observation earlier in the week about the decision making on this issue and said that what are the chances that it goes full circle, from the FIA, to Bernie, to the Teams and back to the FIA.  How sad that he was right. I wish I could remember who it was

I won't be watching, will you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

US Statement on Bahrain

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Situation in Bahrain

The United States continues to be deeply concerned about the situation in Bahrain, and we urge all parties to reject violence in all its forms.  We condemn the violence directed against police and government institutions, including recent incidents that have resulted in serious injuries to police officers.  We also call on the police to exercise maximum restraint, and condemn the use of excessive force and indiscriminate use of tear gas against protestors, which has resulted in civilian casualties.
We continue to underscore, both to the government and citizens of Bahrain, the importance of working together to address the underlying causes of mistrust and to promote reconciliation.  In this respect, we note our continued concern for the well-being of jailed activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and call on the Government of Bahrain to consider urgently all available options to resolve his case.  More broadly, we urge the government to redouble its ongoing efforts to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and renew our call for the government, opposition parties, and all segments of Bahraini society to engage in a genuine dialogue leading to meaningful reforms that address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Did Newey dump Buemi and Alguersuari from Toro Rosso?

My Italian isn't up to scratch but in Autosprint's April edition Alesi discusses F1 and Vergne as well as his upcoming Indy racing. The online PDF Mag for April can be downloaded here

I may well be wrong - and the internet translator is pretty bad too for the purpose of exactly understanding this story but it would appear to me that at a meeting of the Red Bull board Alesi alleges that Newey raises Vergne as a Toro Rosso prospect, saying something like "Toro Rosso is our breeding ground for young talent" to which Marko says "yeah and?" to which Newey seems to reply "because I don't want the two that are there now" ( perche, Io non voglio i due che ci sono adesso) being Alguersuari and Buemi. "I'd say one to get is Vergne" (Secondo me uno da prendere e Vergne).

If Alesi is telling it as it is then the call to dump Jaime and Sebastian from the Toro Rosso race seats came from Adrian Newey and not Marko. Interesting - this story is growing legs

Toto Wolff's wife named Williams "Development Driver"

Susie Wolff (nee Stoddart) has joined Williams as a development driver.  A DTM racer by trade Williams would appear to be following in the footsteps of Marussia who took on a Spanish female test driver last month - Maria Villota.

The fact is that neither of these two racing drivers have any history of winning in their current respective championships.  Susie's best result in DTM has been 13th in the DTM championship of 2010 with 4 points coming courtesy of two 7th place finishes.  She has, to give her her due, been on the podium a number of times in Formula Renault UK Championships in 2003 and 2004.

While she would no doubt kick my a**e in any motor racing event the real question is whether or not she is F1 material.  I understand the pressure is on F1 to introduce female drivers into the formula but surely such introduction should be based on merit rather than on PR opportunities.

Toto is a major player in Williams these days and, with the resignation of Parr from the team (touted as FW's successor) it would seem as if his influence extends well beyond the boardroom with this particular appointment, while Frank's influence/interest would appear to be waning.

Frank said of the appointment:

"As Susie is married to Toto Wolff, a director of Williams, her appointment was carefully considered and then approved by the board, with Toto recusing himself from the process."

Who on the Board is going to go up against the next chairman?

While Bernie in typical style reportedly said in a non-committal and sexist manner:

"If Susie is as quick in a car as she looks good out of a car then she will be a massive asset to any team and on top of that she is very intelligent."

My opinion - for what it's worth - it's a difficult environment for Susie to walk into and work in given her connections to the board.  I don't know why she would take it up unless she felt she got it on merit which is unlikely given her DTM results.  The appointment says more about Frank's position within Williams than it does about her abilities in the car.

BBC Reports Teams expect Bahrain Cancellation

In a new story on the BBC Sports site it says that the majority of teams expect the FIA will cancel the Bahrain GP

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bernie's Easter Hand Washing Exercise

Funny how events in the Middle East from 2,000 years ago provides an interests backdrop to the ongoing F1 Bahraini GP question.  Not being particularly religious allows me to reflect on the past and present and the threads that run through to today.

Bernie has obviously been reading his New Testament over the last couple of weeks - he's taken a leaf out of Pontius Pilate's famous "This is how a Roman rules his Empire's outpost" tablet and has proceeded to wash his hands of the entire Bahrain affair.

While he did the same thing last year in the run up to the race this year is particularly poignant on the basis that we have all the Easter ingredients in play - the potential martyr Abdulhadi al-Khawaja - the (once again) increasingly repressive minority regime - Bernie in the role of the F1 Governor - The 3 day event culminating in the Bahraini rising from the dead.  I'd like to think that I've overplayed the connections (just a tad!) but the conclusion to the events surrounding the death of Jesus was Martyrdom followed by the inevitable rise of Christianity.  What was the role of Pontius Pilate in these events? The plea that it was not my fault hasn't stopped history from judging him harshly in respect of his actions (or lack of them).

Eusebius says that Pilate was recalled to Rome for his treatment of the Jews, was exiled, and eventually committed suicide.

Bernie must "man up" at this stage and make the call which, while it may be unpopular to the Ruling house of Bahrain will be popular with F1 fans, teams, journalists, and all those who only wish to place pressure on the country to resolve its issues in a non-violent, peaceful and democratic manner.
It's time for the Bahraini Royal Family to "man up" and face the fact that their rule needs to be tempered by some form of democratic, fully representative and inclusive Parliament with real power to effect change, and
It's time for the ruling Saudi house to leave Bahrain to its own devices rather than attempt to prop the country up through use of its troops and weapons against the Bahraini people.

It is not the job of F1 to lend credibility to a Government which over the last year has slowly been evolving from Government to Regime and if, as Bernie always says, F1 is not about Politics then it should abstain from any situation where the sport can be seen to underpin a Political system which is under pressure.

Bernie, it is not enough to wash your hands and leave it up to each individual team to decide whether to "break" their commercial contracts by not going.  This simply provides you with leverage in any future team negotiations.  It's time for you to give leadership and remove the GP from the calendar indefinitely. Man up Bernie - Black Flag the race.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ma Qing Hua - Cynical (Not Me!)

Not to knock the guy but a couple of things strike me about the HRT announcement that Ma Quing Hua is joining their young driver development programme.

Firstly He's not particularly a young driver in F1 terms; born in 1987, he's now 24 years old and should really be at the peak of his driving powers.

The second thing: Has anyone heard that HRT even had a young driver's development programme before this announcement? You would have thought that they would have announced that they were starting a young driver development programme before announcing that a 24 year old Chinese driver is joining it.

Forgive my cynicism but an announcement like this coming just before the Chinese GP, where the HRT website says

"Ma Qing Hua will perform his first official act with HRT Formula 1 Team on Thursday the 12th of April at a press conference previous to the Chinese Grand Prix (13th to 15th of April), which takes place at the Shanghai International Circuit".

leads me to believe that a) they are going to sign a major Chinese sponsor to their car or b) that they intend to assault the Chinese market with HRT merchandise hoping to move a massive volume on the basis that this lad might be driving for them in the future.

I apologise if I'm wrong but backmarker history...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Silverstone Sadness

I'd normally be jumping up and down with delight at the announcement that Silverstone are adding more grandstand areas to the circuit for the race could sense there was a but coming couldn't you?...but this year I'm heading over for the race on a General Admission ticket and I'm worried that the two grandstands are going to remove GA viewing areas at Luffield and along National Pits Straight.  Luffield grandstand is categorised as a Gold ticket while the Silverstone grandstand on the National Pits Straight will be Silver.

Now having expressed my little worry I'm wondering where they're going to put the two grandstands.  National Pits Straight is the start finish straight and Luffield is the last part of the old infield complex which comprises the hairpin and from there onto Woodcote.  Having been at the circuit for testing on a few of occasions back in the day I'm wondering if there's any space for new grandstands in those areas.  Luffield has a number of small viewing stands which I'm guessing they might redevelop but the pits straight is chockablock with Grandstands.

Not having been there since the redesign my major worry for the guys in the existing stands at Luffield is whether or not this new grandstand will obscure part of the existing view of the redesigned circuit.  Having paid my money I'm hoping that any new viewing area is sympathetic in location and design and doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of recession-hit fans (like me) or with those guys who've already paid a premium for a view of the circuit which might now be curtailed.